Souls in Velvet Night

Interlude I - Tragedy

Being dead, Christine thought idly as she watched Spock meditate, was a lot more boring than she would have imagined. Killing herself really had been one of the stupider things she'd ever done...in this incarnation anyway. She was starting to remember other lifetimes and other actions, some nearly as ill-conceived as the one that had landed her here. Not that she was being punished. She had elected to stay near Spock. And she'd had plenty of time to think about her suicide since she had first awakened to find her mother waiting for her. Time was something she had in abundance in this in- between state she had chosen.

She watched as he rose and pulled off his robe, exchanging it for a uniform that he then inspected carefully. It was immaculate and wrinkle-free. For a moment, as he looked in the mirror, he seemed almost nervous. Christine felt her interest perk up. What could make Spock so concerned about his appearance?

A chime sounded and he schooled his features into their normal serene state. "Come."

A woman walked in. Young, lithe, vibrant, Vulcan. Of course. Valeris, Christine felt a surge of irritation. Once a constant fixture in his life. But less so since graduating from the Academy. Her first assignments had kept her away from her sponsor, if that was how Valeris thought of Spock. Christine had long suspected that the young woman wanted to be more to him than just a protégé.

Christine moved closer to study this rival. Valeris was pretty, in a stark sort of way. But what was this? Christine leaned in closer. Not a smile, but her eyes seemed to twinkle. She was clearly glad to see Spock.

And he was very happy to see her. Christine recognized the look on his face. She had seen it often enough when he was with Kirk, or sometimes McCoy. And later, after V-Ger, during their second five-year mission, she had seen it displayed for her. But that was before he died. And came back. Before she died. And didn't come back. She wondered if he even thought of her at all anymore. It had been...well it had been some time since she died. She found it difficult to track the passing years.

"Lieutenant Valeris." His resonant voice filled the room. "I am gratified to see you."

"Captain Spock. I was most pleased to be invited to accompany you on your upcoming mission."

"We needed a helmsman and you were available. A fortuitous coincidence of situation."

"Fortuitous indeed." She moved closer to him, her voice dropped huskily. "I have missed you, Sir."

She lacks subtlety, Christine thought sourly.

"As I have missed you, Lieutenant." His face had not changed expression but Christine could tell he was pleased by the woman's admission. He moved toward the door. "We will not leave for some months. We will have much time to get reacquainted, Valeris. Now, it is time to report to work. Will you walk with me?"

She followed him out with a slight smile. Christine considered going after them but found the idea too depressing. Maybe I should have listened to Mom. Thoughts of Fiona filled her mind.

"You can still come back with me, you know. Anytime you want." Her mother, called by Christine's thoughts of her, smiled in greeting as she pulled her daughter into a hug.

Christine felt the welcome snap of energy when her mother touched her. Her rational self realized that the body Fiona used was only a construct, chosen because it was familiar and made Christine comfortable. She knew that the touches she had come to love were really exchanges of energy not flesh and bone. But it made her feel better now to hold on to what she knew and to accept what she felt at face value. Truth was at times overrated.

"If Valeris stays around I may have to," Christine smiled. "But it still feels right to be here."

"So you'll stay?"

"For now. How is Dad?"

Fiona's face became softer as she thought of her soul mate. "He's doing well. We're working on our next life now. Trying to find something a little less emotionally wracking."

"I'm all for that." Christine thought back to the first time Fiona had brought him around to see her. He had elected to wear a body that bore no resemblance to the man who had sired her, but she had known him immediately anyway. Phillip Chapel had held open his arms and said, "Where's my girl?" She had happily fallen into them. Since then he had come to visit her many times. Unlike her mother, he never tried to convince her to come back to the fold. She had asked him why once.

"You'll come home when you're ready. Sometimes it takes a while especially after a traumatic end. And I trust your judgment, kiddo. If you think you need to stay with Spock, then stay with him."

She loved spending time with him, but she enjoyed even more watching Phillip and Fiona interact. They had shed the angry passion that had so repelled her when she was alive. They seemed somehow both serene and more animated than she had ever seen. And their love for each other was clear. Her mother had tried to explain it to her.

"When we're here, in our natural state, we just understand each other. There isn't the confusion that reigns when we are incarnated. We truly know each other. Far more than we ever did when we were mortal. You call us Phillip and Fiona in your mind as if that is who we really are, but they were just temporary roles. We are so much more than that." They even had different names, Rondo and Melissa, but she found she could not get used to calling them that.

"It doesn't matter," her mother allowed. "You aren't really Christine either, but since you haven't come fully back it is still easy for you to identify with that persona. When you join us you'll have no trouble remembering it all."

"Is that why I'm not as calm as you two? Why I get annoyed or angry and sad?"

Fiona nodded. "You still feel those things because you have not completely shed your last life. But you will eventually. And the longer you stay here, the less you'll be tied to Earth."

"So this woman," Christine focused for a moment and then they were in the conference room standing behind Valeris' chair, "won't bother me someday?"

Her mother laughed. "That's right. But I have a feeling it won't be anytime soon." Her look became unfocused for a moment. "That was Rondo. I have to go. We have to choose soon."

"Are you happy about going back?"

Fiona nodded. "I want another chance. So does he. And we're willing to try it together again." She suddenly laughed as her gaze again turned inward. "I really have to go. I love you, Christine."

"Love you too, Mother," she replied affectionately as her mother flashed away.

****************************

"Personal log," there was a long pause, "I must report that," again a pause, then his hand reached out to delete the entry. He took several deep breaths. He must find balance. Had to control this dark emotions he felt inside.

But they were so strong. Hopelessness and fear. Pain and grief. Anger. So much anger. He had never felt such blackness threatening him before. This was too much to bear. Yet he must. He owed her that.

"Personal log. After months of battling illness, my mother passed away yesterday on Vulcan." There, much better. Logical, precise, but not cold. She would not want cold.

Cold. Was it cold where she was now? Was it anything? She was not Vulcan. She had no Katra to place with the ancestors. What became of a human when they died? His mind flashed back. To brown hair and blue eyes. What had become of Christine when she had brought about her own death? He remembered her better than he wished to.

Remembered the few short months they had shared as lovers. Before he left for the training cruise. Before she thought he would never come back. Before he did. He tried to feel now the grief he should have felt then. When McCoy had come to him. Tired eyes pleading with him to show some emotion. "Spock. It's terrible," his voice had broken, then he had fought for some semblance control, "Christine Chapel died today."

Spock had not reacted.

"Maybe you weren't listening, Spock? I said," McCoy's eyes had been angry, "that the woman who loved you killed yourself today."

He had looked at him dispassionately. "I regret the loss of the life, Doctor. I wish that I remembered her better."

"Damn your green Vulcan hide, Spock!" McCoy let his emotions fly.

Spock dimly recalled the doctor behaving this way in the past. It was still so confusing. "You were friends with her. I grieve with thee."

"Grieve with yourself, you cold-blooded monster. She wasn't my lover. She was yours." The doctor had stormed out.

McCoy had forgiven him eventually. By that time, Spock could remember what had been lost. It had hurt but in a more distant way. Not with the immediacy of this.

The comm unit buzzed and he considered ignoring it. It buzzed again. He reached over and answered it, voice only. "Spock here."

"Sir, I just heard. Can I get you anything?" Valeris' voice was rich with sympathy.

He wanted to ask her to come, wanted her with him. But he did not wish her to see him in such a turbulent state. "No ensign. I would like to be alone."

Her voice showed no offense. "Of course, Captain. I grieve with thee."

"Thank you, Valeris."

He reached over and cut the connection. She was kind. His mother would like her..

His mother. His mind seemed to stall over those words. Did he still have a mother? She was gone. No, that sounded as if she had just left for a trip. His mother was dead. She was dead. Dead. No katra. Lost. Never coming back. Never. And he had not been there. Had not gone. His thoughts whirled, a maelstrom of emotion that threatened to overwhelm him. He sat rigid in his chair, unmoving as he fought a silent battle with grief.

Grief won.

*******************************

Christine watched as Spock tried to complete his personal log. She had taken to letting her attention drift away from him for long stretches of time. When something interesting happened she focused on him, otherwise she allowed herself to delve into all the memories of her own lives that she was gaining access to. But now, something was wrong. She could feel his distress as if it were her own. What has happened, she wondered.

Suddenly a figure appeared in the room. It took Christine a moment to realize that the woman could see her. And that she recognized her. Amanda.

"You're dead," she whispered.

The woman nodded. She walked to Spock, put her arms around him, held him tightly. Or tried to.

"He can't feel you. Or see or hear you."

"But you can?" Amanda frowned. "Of course. You died. I remember now. I'd forgotten so much at the end. But now I remember."

Spock was just ending a call. His pain radiated to Christine and she winced at a sensation she herself had ceased to experience directly.

"He hurts."

Amanda's eyes were luminous with compassion. "Yes." She leaned in again as Spock broke down.

Christine watched for a moment. The she allowed herself to drift, giving Amanda time with her son.

When she came back to the cabin, it was empty. More time had passed than she realized. She thought intently of Spock and found herself in a cemetery, standing next to him as the coffin was lowered into the ground. His pain was still apparent to her, but he had it under much better control. She looked around for Amanda but did not see her. But on the other side of Spock stood Valeris. Christine watched as the woman laid her hand on top of his for just a moment. He looked at her and nodded. "I grieve with thee," she whispered. He only nodded as their eyes met and held.

He doesn't need me now, Christine realized. She considered going to her mother, but something told her that she should not abandon Spock.

Fine. She wouldn't abandon him. But she also wasn't going to watch the play by play of this courtship. She laid her hands on his back, felt the resonance of his sadness. This will draw me back, she thought. If he feels this again, I will come back.

With a final look at the couple, she flashed out.

**********************************

Interlude II - Rage

Spock felt buoyed by a sense of hope he had not known for some time. He had worked so long for this, struggled against those who would fight change. Now it was finally happening. He sat again on this ship, served again with this man he would die for, had died for. And this time Valeris was at his side.

He could imagine her excitement as she piloted the ship out of spacedock. He remembered the effect that Kirk had had on him when he was first exposed to him. The man's charisma and unexpected innocence were a powerful combination. He had often heard it said that Kirk was a Captain you would cheerfully follow into Hell...and back out again. Because Kirk always brought them home. Always.

Looking around at the familiar faces, Spock experienced a tug of nostalgia. This was so like those times on the older version of this ship. The one that Kirk had destroyed for him. The same dear faces. Or nearly the same. Sulu was gone, lost to the siren call of his own ship. He had taken Rand with him. But Uhura and Chekov were on the bridge, Scott was back in engineering, and McCoy again ran sickbay.

Another name came to mind. Christine. He tried not to think of her often. He saw no logic in it. Yet her loss still haunted him. He had loved her. Not for very long it was true. But for the time that she had allowed him in, he had been drawn to her in a way he would never have predicted. He had always wondered how much more intense it would have become for them when they finally bonded.

But that had never happened. Genesis and Khan had ripped them apart. The refusion had left his memories confused. He had not remembered her. Not in time, anyway. She had mixed a lethal dose of meds and put an end to a life that had already sustained too much damage. She was gone. Forever. Yet at times, he could swear he felt her near.

He pulled his thoughts back to the present. The ship was clear of spacedock and on her way to the rendezvous with the Klingons. He turned to his station but not before indulging in another look at Valeris. Her body, held so taut during the undocking, was relaxed now. She seemed content to be here on this ship, with this crew...with him. He was filled with satisfaction. He had worked long and hard for it and now everything he wanted was finally coming to pass.

*********************

Christine was abruptly drawn back to Spock's side, called by the rage she felt within him. They were on the bridge of the Enterprise. What were they doing here? And how long had she been away?

Valeris was there. And she was clearly in trouble. Standing alone in front of the viewscreen. The other members of the bridge crew staring daggers at her. She seemed to be defending herself for something. What had Christine missed here, she wondered frantically?

Kirk asked tensely, "Who is *us*?"

She was calm. "Everyone who stands to lose from peace."

He was impatient, "Names, Lieutenant."

She was the quintessential Vulcan. "My comrades will make certain all your ship to shore transmissions are jammed."

"Names, Lieutenant!" Kirk was getting angry.

"I do not.remember." She turned her back on them all.

Spock's voice rang out. "A lie?"

She looked back at him. "A choice."

Kirk said one word, "Spock."

And then Christine felt it. The rage was exploding inside him. He wanted to hurt this woman. She jumped in front of him, intent on keeping him away from Valeris. He walked right through her.

"Spock, no..." She screamed it.

No one heard.

Then he was on the young Vulcan. Pulling her to him when she sought to escape, forcing her to give up the names. Christine had experienced his mind touch, it was formidable even at its most gentle. What must this feel like to Valeris? To have him tear through her that way? She began to speak, his voice joining hers as they called out names. Kirk wanted the location of a peace conference. She resisted again. Don't do it, Christine urged. Just tell him what he wants.

But she didn't. And Spock seemed to go deeper. It was clear he was hurting her. There were tears. Christine had never seen tears from a Vulcan, or heard one cry out that way. She heard Uhura gasp.

Christine moved closer to Spock. Tried to touch him. Then pulled them back a bit when she couldn't. She felt something. There. If she just held back a bit. An energy field. Around his body. She could feel her own body respond. She concentrated on him as she searched for the field with her other hand.

*Spock. This is wrong. Stop this. Don't hurt her anymore. Stop this.*

He dropped his hands abruptly, severing the link.

She breathed a sigh of relief. Unsure if she had reached him or not.

His voice was broken. "She does not know." Slowly he made his way up to where Kirk stood.

They questioned Valeris a bit longer then security dragged her away. Spock continued to work, to fight, for something that Christine didn't understand. It had to do with Klingons, and with a conference. She didn't really care. All that mattered was inside of him. She could feel his emotions. Rage, disappointment, shame. And these feelings didn't go away. Not when they beamed down and prevented a murder. Not when the mission was over and the Enterprise was on its way home. Not when Valeris was removed from the ship. He was a changed man. Alone and in pain.

Christine was afraid for him.

And so was Kirk. He came to him repeatedly. Worried for his friend, feeling guilty himself. Spock began to retreat from him. Not physically, but emotionally. This man he had followed into every danger became someone that he took pains to avoid.

Kirk sought him out when the ship was near Spacedock. "Spock? Something is wrong between us and I want to put it right. But I don't know what it is."

Spock said nothing.

"Please. If I've offended you?"

"You could not offend me, Jim. But I have offended all that is Vulcan. What I did, on the bridge...it was wrong. And it was at your behest. Or so I tried to tell myself. But it was also for myself. Because I hated her. Because she had betrayed me."

"Because you loved her?"

Spock nodded. "I have become too human. Too at ease with that part of myself. I have allowed emotion to take hold of me. It was acceptable for a time. But now it is not. I need time away."

Kirk seemed aghast. "Not Gol again, Spock? That isn't you."

"No, not Gol. I would not be welcome there in any case. I will find my own balance. I will do it my own way."

"But, you'll stay here? You won't leave us all again will you?"

She was as interested in the answer as Kirk was.

"I must be alone for a while. I plan to return to Vulcan for a time. We have a retreat in the mountains. It will give me the peace I need to find my true path."

"Vulcan?" Kirk's voice was very small. "For how long?"

"I do not know." He suddenly seemed impatient. "This is not about you, Captain. This is about me and about how I could possibly be capable of the violence I committed against someone for whom I cared."

"Spock, it was understandable. The stress of the moment..."

"Might be an acceptable excuse for you. But not for me."

They stood in silence for a moment. Then Kirk gave him a defeated half- smile. "So when are you going?" His smile faded when he heard the answer.

"As soon as we dock. I have already arranged a leave of absence with Star Fleet and I have reservations on a shuttle headed for Vulcan."

"Just like that?" Kirk seemed angry now.

"Yes, Jim." Spock's voice was hard. "Just like that."

"Well. Good luck with that then." Kirk, lips tight, turned. Without looking back, he said, "There are people here that love you, Spock. Just because she betrayed you doesn't mean we will. Just because you reacted badly doesn't mean you will again. Stay here. Stay here and fight for the life you've made."

"I no longer want that life."

The captain's shoulders drooped and he walked out of the room. His whispered "Good-bye" was nearly inaudible to her.

If Spock heard he gave no indication.

What have you done, she thought miserably. What have you done?

***************************

Interlude III - Loss

Spock's world compressed down to one small point of consciousness. As he had been taught so long ago, he sought the stillness, embraced the dark peace. I am nothing, he focused. I am solely a speck in this infinite space.

*A sadistic speck.* Valeris' mind voice rang loud in his head. He did not know if she was really there or if his own mind provided this distraction.

*I did what was expedient. There was no time for any other course of action.*

Her voice was bitter. *So you claim, over and over.*

He instructed his mind to ignore her emotion. It was not logical to assume his former protégé actually spoke to him. There was no reason for such a link. They were not bonded. And she was far away, locked up in a rehabilitation center. She could not be talking to him. Yet his mind chose her to speak to him. Why?

He had come to this place to find a balance. This retreat was both laboratory and sanctuary. He had been examining his life, his actions, all the things that had led up to Khitomer...to Valeris. He had made little progress at first. Found it difficult to view his own existence with any kind of objectivity.

He had almost given up. Then she had begun to speak to him. At first he had been too startled to answer her accusations. But as he grew accustomed to the sensation, he had begun to appreciate her assistance. She always started at the same point: her violation at his hands on the bridge. But once that was over, she would challenge him on some other previously unexamined part of his past.

*You have a history of mental trespass.*

He ignored her.

*You have no respect for the borders between what is right and what is wrong.*

He considered this. As a Vulcan, he had been well taught in ethics. What did this new line of attack mean? *Specify.*

*Witness.*

He was suddenly flooded with memories. First the scene on the bridge, his hand on Valeris' arm, pulling her to him savagely. His mind shied away.

*Then see this.*

He was drawn back so many years ago. He lay stretched out on a bed, his hands again on the face of a woman. Christine. *I saved her.*

*You trespassed. She invited you in and you took extreme advantage.*

He remembered Christine's anger when she awoke to realize he was reliving her memories. *It was not like that.*

*At least for her you left the memories intact.*

*What do you mean? I did nothing to your memories.*

*No, not to mine. But to his.*

A scene from even earlier began to play. Kirk sat at his desk, head on folded arms. Exhausted. Spock stood behind. Touched Kirk's face. Spoke one word. "Forget."

He felt anger fill him. He yelled at the Valeris-voice. *I was trying to help him. He was in such pain.*

*It is the nature of humans to grieve for what has died. Pain is part of the process.*

*Too much pain.*

*Was that for you to decide?*

*He was in no shape to discuss it.*

*But you didn't even ask him, Spock. Perhaps he would have preferred to remember Rayna, even if pain were the price.*

*He was my friend. I did not wish to see him hurting.*

*You did not wish? It is not always about you.*

Spock was weary of the discussion. He sought to escape it.

*Don't run away. I only have one more thing to show you.*

He was in the engine room. McCoy was telling him not to go into the warp core. He pretended to agree, then stunned him. "Remember."

The scene froze. *Would it have been so hard to ask him? To warn him?*

*There was no time.*

*Yes, I know. It was expedient.*

*I had to do it.*

*Why?* The voice was genuinely puzzled.

He almost answered then at the last moment fell silent.

*Why was this permissible, Spock?*

His thoughts were but a whisper. *I had to go on.*

*Ah. Finally. You do admit it. This was about you. Your pride. Your need to go on.*

*But I was correct. I live now, against all odds. I would be but a shell if I had not left my katra with him.*

*The odds now are entirely in favor of that. But at the time, refusion was a fantasy, even joining with the ancestors was a dim possibility. You were desperate. You risked his life, his very sanity, so that some part of you would not die.*

He was quiet for some time. Finally he breathed, *Yes.*

*He did not invite you in.*

*No.*

*You trespassed.*

His voice was pained. *Yes.*

*Think on that and consider us all as you do. Determine what it means for your future.*

*My future?*

Her voice was tender. *If you always assume you know what is best, then how will you ever be open to the other possibilities?*

He could feel her presence weakening.

*Wait.* He felt her stop for a moment. *Are you real?*

Her laugh was sweet. *I am a true voice, Spock. But perhaps not so real...just the voice of the only one you will listen to.*

With a rush she was gone and he was fully alert. He looked at the chrono. He had been at this for hours. Talking to Valeris...to himself?

He rose and walked to the comm unit in the main room, called the Vulcan Embassy on Earth. The aide that answered recognized him immediately. "Captain Spock."

"I need to speak with the Ambassador."

"At once, Sir."

The screen went black for a moment, then Sarek's face appeared. "My son. Are you still on Vulcan?"

"I am, my father. The retreat is most comfortable."

"You must use it whenever you like, Spock. Consider it your own."

"Most kind."

Sarek studied his son carefully. "Trading pleasantries is not why you called."

"It is not. I wish to know the progress that has been made with Valeris."

Sarek's expression darkened. "I did not wish to trouble you."

"Trouble me?"

"With bad news. I know you have been on a course of reflection. I chose not to disturb it. I knew you would emerge in time."

"Then the treatments have not been a success?"

"Spock, we were somewhat mislead on the nature of her incarceration."

"We?" Spock was suddenly suspicious. His father had access to places he could never go.

"You, then. It was believed that not all the conspirators were unmasked."

"But I was the one that questioned her. She had no more information. I am sure of it."

"Oh we did not believe that she knew who they were, but we allowed word to leak that she knew far more than originally thought."

"You hoped to draw them out. You used her as bait."

"Yes. And it worked. Three separate attempts on her life. The assassins were quite unwilling to take the blame."

"And Valeris?"

Sarek looked uncomfortable. "She lives."

"In what fashion?"

"During the last attempt, she was wounded, quite severely. There was massive trauma to the head. The healers saved her life. But the brain was too badly injured. The Valeris you knew is gone. She is little more than a child."

Spock remembered the quick mind, the sparkling wit of the young woman he had cared for. All of it gone?

"She is an innocent now, Spock. She was released to a care facility where she will live out her days. I have made sure that she will never lack for anything."

"Guilt, Father?"

Sarek frowned slightly. "I have nothing to feel guilty for."

"But you gave her no choice. You just did this to her."

"It had to be done, Spock. For the sake of..."

Spock finished his thought, "Expediency."

"Exactly."

"When do we stop? When is it no longer right for us to impose our will on another?"

"Spock, your reaction is not logical. We did only what had to be done."

"At the cost of a life."

"To save others. The good of the many, Spock."

"I am aware of the saying."

"I have a meeting. I must go. Perhaps we should continue this discussion later?"

"That is not necessary, Father." Spock's tone was final.

"As you wish. Live long, my son, and prosper."

"Peace and long life," Spock answered as he cut the connection.

He roamed the garden for a while, idly taking in the new growth.

So the voice was not hers. He was disappointed in a fundamental way. He suspected that when he next engaged in meditation it would be his own voice that tested him.

Valeris. Gone now. Like Christine. Like T'Pring even, when her presence was wrenched violently from his mind the evening she and Stonn joined.

And Jim. What of his friend? He had left him behind when he came here. He had ignored the messages, tried to distance himself from a man he feared had come to mean more to him than he should.

He was suddenly overcome with the need to hear Kirk's voice. He went back to the comm unit, dialed the code he knew by heart. There was no answer. He replayed the messages, starting with the oldest. Kirk was worried for him. Couldn't he help? Couldn't they talk?

Spock could tell that Kirk was bored being planet bound. As the messages played he could see the unhappiness become more etched into his friend's face. Until the last message. It had come in yesterday.

Kirk looked haggard. His voice was raw. "Spock? Can't you even tell me that you're there?" He paused, trying to push down emotion. "I don't want to do this alone. You should be there. The Enterprise was our ship, Spock. Not mine...ours. Won't you come? We should do this together. Please?" Another pause. The captain forced a devil-may-care grin. "They think that tomorrow will be the last hurrah for me, Spock. But I'm going to show them they're wrong. I'd rather do it with you...but perhaps not." His smile was brave but did not reach his eyes. "I miss you, old friend. Kirk out."

Spock closed his eyes as regret overwhelmed him. He should have been there. But it was too late to go now. He would contact Jim when he returned. He would not lose this too. Resolved, he returned to his meditations.

*******************************

Christine was finding it increasingly difficult to focus on Spock. He had mastered the art of meditating for many hours, which, while it no doubt was providing useful to him, was excruciatingly boring to watch.

So she drifted through the days, exploring memories, checking in on friends still alive, and drifting in a misty haze.

"You really should come home."

Christine snapped to full consciousness at the sound of Fiona's voice. She easily hugged her mother, enjoying the feel of her love. But, she realized, something was different. She pulled back to look at the other woman.

Fiona appeared as she always did, but Christine could sense something was off. "Mom, has something happened? You don't feel right."

Her mother nodded, "I've gone back, Christine."

"You mean to Earth?"

"Well to Q'onoS, actually. But yes, you've got the basic idea."

"So your energy is there?"

"Most of it. We always leave something of ourselves here. But this time I took a lot more, figured I could use all the help I could get."

"So you're not Fiona anymore?" Christine felt the same fuzzy confusion she always felt when she thought about this.

Fiona frowned. "See, this is why I wish you'd come home. It would all be so clear." She held up her hands as Christine started to protest. "I know, I know, you're not ready. I'll explain it again. The part of me that lives here, the true soul, is Melissa. Fiona was an incarnation identity. Now I'm Kevrilk. I'll be someone else the next time.

"And Dad?"

"Oh, he'll be Klingon too."

"Because the two of you didn't get enough yelling in your last life?"

"Despite the way we fought with each other when we were your parents, we were both rather passive people, especially your father. We never faced things, never confronted anyone. Being Klingon will allow us to work on that."

"Plus you'll get to deal with bad hair days, armor chafing, and revolting food. Doesn't seem like a big step up to me, Mom."

"It's not. It's more a step over. Each life we choose allows us to work on one or more aspects of ourselves that needs attention. What may seem like a strange choice from your perspective, may be exactly the situation needed to teach us something valuable, like courage and honor."

"I feel that you're right even if I don't understand it." Out of the corner of her eye, Christine saw Spock rise. "Hey, he's actually doing something."

Spock walked to the comm unit and turned it on. It was a message from Uhura. "Mr. Spock..I." Her face was tearstained. She swallowed hard and started again. "I have some bad news."

He waited.

"Captain Kirk...there was an accident, he was trying to save the ship, save them all. Sulu and Scotty. Chekov too. They can't find him."

His eyebrow rose. "You've lost the Captain?"

"They think he's dead."

There was silence on both ends of the comm unit. Then Spock seemed to rouse himself. "They think?"

"They've searched everywhere. They can't find him."

"Understood. Spock out."

"But, Sir, don't you want to come to the memorial? It's..."

"I shall not be there," he said curtly as he switched the comm unit off.

Christine watched with concern as he began to pace. He was muttering softly. "Should have felt him die. Out of touch. An accident."

As he continued to pace, Christine could see guilt and grief warring on his face.

"Should have been there. By your side. Take your place. Can't feel you. Can't reach you."

Fiona moved to stand near her. "He is holding it in. Trying to rationalize pain. He needs to let it out."

"It's not his way," Christine told her. She looked around the room.

Her mother followed her gaze. "What are you doing?"

"Waiting for him. He'll come here surely?"

"Who?" Fiona was clearly confused.

"Kirk."

"Why would he show up here?"

Christine frowned. Why was her mother being so dense, she wondered. "Because I did, Amanda did."

"But you were both dead."

"Haven't you been paying attention? So is Kirk."

Fiona sighed heavily. "I forgot that you can't feel them all. Can't just know how things are. Kirk isn't dead."

"But they said..."

Fiona interrupted her impatiently, "See for yourself."

Christine glanced over at Spock. He had stopped pacing, was saying nothing. He stood in front of a mirror. She wondered what he saw. She remembered the last time she had stared at herself that way. It was one of the last things she ever did.

She walked over to him, moved her hands until she could feel his energy. "Not your fault," she repeated until finally he moved to his meditation area again, sank into position. He was all right for the moment. She thought of Kirk.

And found him. In a place where nothing was real but it was everything a person could want.

Fiona appeared beside her. "It's called the Nexus. It's a dream world that he controls. Anything he wants will become real."

Christine moved over to where Kirk was standing on a deck of a house high in the mountains. She gingerly reached out to him. He was still real but he felt different somehow.

"He's not alive. Not in the same way. Think of this as a sort of very active suspended animation."

"He'll be okay?" Christine asked her.

"Oh yes. Nothing can hurt him in here."

But Spock was hurting; Christine could feel it throughout her entire being.

"Go to him," Fiona urged.

"Yes." Christine agreed as she winked out.

*********************

Interlude IV - Separation

Spock adjusted his robes as he waited for his father to beam over from the Vulcan Embassy. He was unsure why Sarek wanted to see him but found that he resented the intrusion. He had little time between missions and he had been anticipating some relaxation alone with no distractions.

He heard the whine of the transporter and then his father stood before him. He had not come alone. Standing beside him was a young human woman. She smiled when she saw Spock.

Sarek stepped forward. "My son. It is good to see you. I trust you are well?"

"I am." Spock's voice sounded cold even to his own ears. There was an uncomfortable silence.

"You do not ask, but I too am well. In fact," he turned to the woman, indicated she should join him, "I wanted to introduce you to part of the reason why."

She smiled at Spock's father in a way that made it clear she adored him. "You do me honor, Sarek."

"The honor is mine," he said fondly. He turned back to Spock. "This is Perrin."

Spock was about to greet the stranger when his father continued.

"She who is my wife."

He heard the words with shock, watched in disbelief as Sarek held his fingers up in the ritual gesture, saw Perrin return it unhesitatingly.

"Your wife?" He kept his voice calm.

"Yes. It would please me if you welcomed her to the family."

Spock felt anger build within him. "No doubt."

Perrin began to look uncomfortable. She turned to her husband. "Sarek, this is a shock for your son. He must feel many things hearing such news." She smiled warmly at Spock.

He knew his tone was almost mocking as he answered her. "If you knew anything about Vulcans you would realize that I do not feel anything at all about you or your marriage to my father."

As she reddened, Sarek's face grew cold. "You give much offense, my son. You owe better to she who is head woman of our household."

Spock knew he should apologize but found that he could not. Instead he turned his back on them and walked out to the garden.

Sarek came out a moment later. He looked at his son with disapproval.

"Is she in tears?" Spock taunted his father.

"She is not. She comports herself as befits a member of one of Vulcan's oldest houses. If only you could do the same."

"Do you want my approval, Father?"

Sarek stood tall. "I do not need your approval for this or anything. But you are my son. I seek to include you in my life. And you have been distant of late. I knew you would not like the idea of my having taken a new wife, but I would have thought you would get to know her before you judged her."

"How old is she?"

Sarek seemed on the verge of sighing. "I fail to see..."

Spock interrupted. "Was she your student? Someone that worked at the Embassy? A daughter of a friend?"

"She worked at the Embassy."

"Ah," again Spock's voice was mocking, "she was nearby then when the burning came upon you and you had no choice but to reach for the closest thing, no matter how unsuitable."

"It was not like that."

"Why else would an old man choose to bond with a woman who could be his great granddaughter?" His knew his tone was bitter.

"You go too far, Spock."

"I disagree. I'm sure my mother would as well."

Sarek looked genuinely angry. "Your mother made me promise on her deathbed that if I found someone I cared for I would marry again. She did not see me thriving alone. It is a shame that you did not inherit her generosity, my son."

"You care for her? This child?"

"She is not a child. And yes, I care for her."

Spock let disdain cross is face. "I find that hard to believe."

"You cannot accept that I might truly care for Perrin?"

"No, my father, I cannot."

Sarek shook his head. "I am sorry you have such limited experience with love, Spock." He saw his son's shock. "Love. I can say the word. Can you?"

"I have no need to say it."

Now it was Sarek who mocked, "Perhaps because the three women you loved have all either betrayed or deserted you?"

The blow hit home. Spock's anger grew. "Leave me. And take your child bride with you. She is not welcome here."

Sarek drew himself up with a dignity that Spock suddenly envied. "I would not ask her to lower herself to come here again. You have shamed us all, Spock."

He said nothing as his father disappeared into the house. When he finally went back inside, there was no trace that his father and stepmother had ever been there.

*****************************

In the middle of her own meditations, Christine felt the compulsion to look in on Spock. She arrived when Sarek introduced his new wife. She stood appalled as the two men argued about the young woman standing forlornly in the living room.

Spock was unyielding in his disapproval. She could not believe that he would say the things he had. Then to hear Sarek's taunt that the women Spock had loved had betrayed him. She had been one of those three women. She had had a hand in making him who we was. Maybe the biggest hand. If she had stayed with Spock, loved him, she could have eased the sting of T'Pring's rejection. And if she had been with him, Valeris would not have had the hold on Spock that she had enjoyed. If Christine had loved him, he would be more understanding of his father. So much seemed to be her fault. She could stand it no more.

"I want to go home," she said firmly, and a little desperately.

She was instantly in a new place. Very bright. There was lots of activity. A man stepped forward. She had never seen him before and she recognized him at once. "Roger!" she yelled as she rushed to hug him.

He spun her around, his exuberant laughter at odds with the retiring scientist she had known.

He put her down and took her hand. "Come on then. We've been waiting forever for you. We've got to get you to the Council. Then we can get to work."

She hesitated. "I screwed up. Everything. I couldn't stand it down there so I ran away. Just like I always run away. I'm such a coward."

He laughed again. "You're not a coward. And you didn't run away."

"But you don't understand. Because of what I did Spock is now so bitter he won't accept his father's wife." She explained all the consequences of her action.

"That's a great theory. Just one problem with it."

"What?"

"You didn't flee here. You were called. Why now?"

"I don't know."

He tapped her head. "Quit thinking as Christine Chapel. You've got a much larger mind at your disposal if you just reach for it."

She tried to grasp beyond her memories and suddenly she remembered. Everything. "Oh," she said in wonder.

"Overwhelming at first, isn't it, Galen?"

Her name. Her true name. Not Christine, that was just a role she had played. Just one of many she had already played, would play in the future.

"Malvus," she smiled at this beloved member of her soul group. He had volunteered to be Roger, to be the one who was lost. They had all played such roles for each other. It was the way things worked in a group.

"Now do you remember why you're here?"

She concentrated. Her mind was sharp and fast, it seemed to run many hundreds of times faster than when she was alive. She knew it was the clarity that this perspective gave that made it seem so amazing. She could remember every moment of every life. She could see the connections, the lines of convergence, the unnoticed triumphs, and the unaverted disasters. And she could see why she was here.

"I was supposed to die today. In a lab accident. Toxic gas."

"Yes. Hours before Sarek's visit. He would have had to meet with his son after you died. Spock's mindstate would have been the same. Bitterness at the betrayals replaced by bitterness that Sarek could so easily replace a wife when Spock felt as if he would die without you. This estrangement was agreed upon."

She thought of Spock, no, of Varant. He was a youngish soul. They all were. It was the way of things.

Sarek, or Calidon, was from a more advanced group. He had agreed to raise Spock. He could provide some wisdom, but he had worked with souls at his level for too long. This young being tried his patience at every turn. Why would he do this?

Malvus interrupted her thoughts. "Calidon will be a novice guide when he returns. All that he learns as Spock's father, all that he fails at, will help him be a more effective teacher."

"Where is my guide?"

Malvus grinned. "Tired of waiting for you, that's where. You've been working, even while you drifted, Galen. He did a lot of talking directly to your soul down there while you weren't paying attention. It eased your transition. Made you ready to go to the Council."

"I'm nervous. I really screwed up."

"Yeah, you really did." The firm squeeze of his hand softened his words.

She thought to her mother's frequent visits to her. "Well Fiona was allowed to continue on as Melissa so they must not have been too upset with her. Hopefully they'll let me off easy too."

Later, much later, although she couldn't say how long, the Council finally let her go. They had dissected every part of her life. Or rather helped her to examine it, to understand the consequences of her actions. There was much studying and preparation to be done before the next one.

Malvus met her as she left the Council's presence. "You're still here," he teased.

"Barely. I can't imagine going through that right after you've arrived."

"Most people don't," he reminded her. "They rest, they reintegrate the current incarnation with the rest of the soul. They just get over dying for a while. And for others, the more advanced, they don't find death as traumatic, as confusing. They're comfortable with it. They go into the Council practically as soon as they arrive."

She smiled as she remembered an assignment of watching the death of an advanced soul. The woman had barely left her body before she was on her way. The energy level seconds after her death was higher than most souls after resting. Christine, no Galen she reminded herself, had found it inspiring.

Malvus, apparently tired of waiting for her, disappeared.

"Hey!" she laughed and thought of him. She appeared next to him, in the area her group used as a classroom. Everyone in the group was there, some complete, others limited to the part that remained while they were incarnate. It was strange at first, looking at them. They were pure energy, yet she saw also the face they chose to wear. The two images were constantly interchanging. She felt dizzy for a moment, then the feeling retreated as she got used to the sensation of seeing the soul in several forms all at once.

She smiled to see her parents and her crewmates. Sulu.Marcus.was missing. She focused her thoughts on him and was suddenly in the classroom of a much more advanced group. Sulu's soul remnant wandered over.

"It's customary to ask permission before intruding on a class." His tone was amused.

Of course it is, she remembered. Maybe they shouldn't have let me have free run of this place quite so quickly, she thought ruefully. "I'll let you get back to what you were doing."

"Nice seeing you, Galen."

"You, too, Marcus."

And she was back. Her group ribbed her about her faux pas. She allowed herself to sink into the love and approval she sensed from them. Is it ever really possible to feel at home away from here, she wondered, knowing somehow that we've lost this, even if we don't remember exactly what this is?

Suddenly a familiar energy touched hers. She felt her whole being respond immediately with a strong humming. "Varant," she murmured.

"Yes. Welcome home, Beloved."

She allowed herself to sink into the embrace of the soul that remained apart yet ever connected to Spock. He was connected to her too. Soulmates. "I screwed up," she said sheepishly.

"We're young," he countered. "Screwing up is what we do best."

"I wasn't kind to you."

"Christine Chapel wasn't kind to Spock. You, Galen, have been here with me the whole time. No matter what happened to them, there was always a part of us that loved unswervingly."

"I had forgotten."

"I will remind you." Varant increased the energy of his contact. There was only love and acceptance in his touch. He was calm and amused, serene and passionate.

"I've missed this. It's so hard there."

"I know, love." He smiled as another soul came up. Gwydion, she thought as she recognized Kirk's higher self.

Gwydion chose to represent itself as female. She smiled in welcome. "It has to be hard, Galen. What kind of schoolroom would being mortal be if it wasn't challenging?"

Kaspur walked up, McCoy's face still barely discernible in her female visage, and put her arms around Gwydion. The soulmates exchanged energy. She remembered what a sacrifice they had made for Varant and her, forgoing their accustomed relationship as lovers to be friends, in order to help their group mates. She knew she and Varant had done the same for them in lives before.

She tried to remember what it would be like to have everyone here at full strength. Only a few of their group had died already. She looked for Scotty, the last to go in that terrible wreck with the Dyson Sphere. His soul, Curtiss, was only a remnant. "But how?"

Gwydion laughed. "We have an amazing ability to cheat death in this group. Scotty's caught in a transporter buffer. Won't turn up for a long time."

"Wow."

Suddenly a more experienced soul entered their space. She recognized him as Korel, their mentor, instructor, guide. An oversoul.

He smiled at her. "Ah, Galen. I heard you finally got tired of being a ghost. I hope you're ready to work hard?" He scowled at her but his eyes were twinkling.

She smiled back. "I'm ready."

"Ok then, everybody, let's get serious here. I gave you all assignments last time on parallel universes. Who wants to go first?"

A hand shot up.

"Yes of course. Gwydion, what did you discover in your quantum travels?"

As Gwydion began to answer she listened with an intensity impossible as a mortal. She didn't just want to learn; she yearned to do so. When Korel asked who wanted to go next, she realized that she was jealous she would not get a turn.

*Don't worry, you'll be presenting next time.* Korel's voice in her mind was amused.

*Thank you.*

*Good to have you back, Galen. I missed you.*

She felt a warm snap of affectionate energy follow his thoughts. She surrendered to the sensation. It was so good to be home.

**************************

Interlude V - Release

Spock arrived back on Vulcan expecting to find his homecoming unattended. He was surprised to see T'Kel, the new matriarch of his clan, waiting for him. He knew what she wanted, had hoped that she would just leave him alone.

"Greetings, Spock."

"My lady. Your presence here, while of course welcome, is most unexpected."

She frowned slightly. "Your words do you no credit. You most surely knew I would be here the moment we heard that you had declined your father's invitation."

Not wishing to have this conversation, Spock began to walk to the entrance. She easily fell into step beside him.

"Yes. My father's...invitation."

"You have a duty as eldest son to attend."

Spock thought back to that time long ago when Sybok's disgrace had made him the keeper of the birthright. From that day on, the task of trying to measure up to his father's expectations had become almost unbearable. "As you well know, my father and I are estranged, indeed have been so for some years now."

"Yes. Twenty-six point seven to be precise," she corrected.

"Yes." He walked a little faster.

She too increased her pace. "Would you outrun your duty, Spock?"

He stopped, turned to her. "I seek only to reach my retreat before night falls. I am not interested in my duty."

"Then why did you come back? There are many other worlds you could have sheltered on during this time. You came here. If not to do your duty, then why?"

His voice was dangerously clipped. "Because this is my home too. I do not choose to be run off it simply at my father's whim."

"It is not a whim, Spock. Sylar is not a whim."

Spock sighed. "No. He is the son that Sarek always wanted yet failed to find in Sybok or myself. Finally a child that, despite his human mother, has fully embraced the Vulcan way. How he must rejoice in such a model son." His voice was bitter.

T'Kel's was surprisingly gentle. "You will be head of the household when Sarek is gone, Spock. You must show yourself at the ceremony."

Spock could envision Sylar and his bride standing before the assembled venerables of Vulcan. The decorations a visual merging of the two Houses, a reminder of what had already been joined a month earlier during Sylar's burning. He had even done that correctly, the Pon Farr finding him exactly when it should, as if he had no human blood to get in the way.

Now he and T'Janra would declare their union, surrounded by the approval of family and friends. How could they not smile on such a merger? Two brilliant scientists from the oldest of Vulcan's Houses. Two shining stars in the already bright ranks of the young men and women who would be Vulcan's future. Spock felt unaccustomed envy. He had never been so easily a part of Vulcan culture as Sylar seemed to be. He knew it was illogical but he often resented the young man's success.

T'Kel's voice interrupted his reverie. "I am disappointed in your stubbornness, Spock. A most unpleasant trait." As she stared at him her expression again softened. "I know it has not been easy between you and Sarek. But can you not put aside your difference this once?"

He said nothing.

She shook her head, finally defeated. "Your stubborn pride will be your downfall, my cousin."

Spock faced her silently, unwilling to argue any further with the head of his clan.

"Very well, Spock." Her tone now was carefully indifferent. "You must do as you see fit. I have a ceremony to oversee. I do not intend to let this fruitless excursion make me late for your brother."

"Half-brother," he corrected, his voice strained.

Her face darkened. "I will not stand here arguing semantics with you. Live long, Spock, and prosper." She did not wait for his response.

Spock could feel the curious glances of the other Vulcans in the spaceport. He felt suddenly like one of the bacteria under Sylar's instruments. He needed to get to his retreat. His retreat. He almost laughed in the wash of bitterness he felt. Nothing was his here. On this unforgiving, unwelcoming world, everything he treasured belonged to his House. He had plenty of his own money, some from his mother, other earned during his service off Vulcan. Yet he had never used it. He had sat like a leech, sucking at the hospitality of a clan that had never really felt like family.

But Sylar belonged here. Perrin had somehow succeeded where his own mother had failed. Her son was accepted. Spock remembered the boy he had seen from afar. Always quiet and poised, never a hint of the scandal that had followed his own childish outbursts. The humans who met Spock might consider him the most Vulcan of acquaintances, but he knew differently.

So why had he come back here? To be alone in his retreat? To ignore his duty? To flaunt his independence? Why?

He considered Sylar again. This child, this young man, would stay on Vulcan, would do it honor in the traditional way. He had a place to fill and had earned the right to fill it entirely.

Spock felt a sudden resolve. He walked over to a chair, sank down in it as he sat pondering the impulse that had overcome him. It was radical, true, but also logical. And necessary. He saw that now. He deliberated for some time, finally rising and making his way to the exit. He hailed an aircar. Soon his home was in sight.

His feet walked the long, familiar path to the door. It was unlocked, welcoming to latecomers. He entered silently, strode down the hall to his old room. It had been converted to a study, Perrin's from the look of it. Spock imagined the triumph she must have felt as she eradicated all traces of him from the house.

Momentarily adrift in his own home, he felt a sudden rush of presence, a sensation of energy, of love. *Who are you?* he asked silently. There was no answer. There never was.

He steeled himself and made his way to the large gathering room in the back of the house. The murmur of voices grew louder as he approached the door. He opened it quietly, trying to slip in unnoticed.

Perrin saw him first. Her expression did not change but he could feel her enmity across the room. Long ago, she had reached out to him and he had attacked her and his father. It was not unexpected that she should hate him now.

As he made his way to the group, his father looked up, surprise coloring his face for a moment before he forced his features back into the impenetrable mask they normally wore.

T'Kel was standing next to Sarek. "What are you doing, Spock?"

Sarek's eyes gave nothing away as he examined his son. "T'Kel said you would not be attending, my son."

"I am not staying. I came only to give Sylar a wedding gift." He turned as Sylar and T'Janra walked up to the group, a Star Fleet lieutenant in tow.

Sylar nearly hid his shock at seeing his brother at his wedding. "Spock. A most welcome surprise to see you here. May I introduce Lt. Picard."

Spock bowed agreeably at the young man. "A pleasure, Lieutenant. I must ask your indulgence however. I need to speak with my family privately."

The young man nodded pleasantly. "Of course, Captain Spock." He left them.

"So, my brother," Sylar's voice was resonant and low, "You do me honor."

"I should like to do more than that, Sylar."

His brother's eyebrow rose but he did not interrupt.

"The occasion of your marriage calls for a gift. But I find that I have only one thing I can give you." He turned to T'Kel. "I wish to renounce my claim as eldest son of Sarek."

Perrin gasped in surprise. The Vulcans just stared. Sylar found his voice first. "Do you mock me, brother? Giving away this right as if it were nothing more than a service of fine pottery?"

"I do not mock you, Sylar. You are everything a first son should be. I am rarely on this world. You will be an excellent holder of this House. I would not, as I am unlikely to relinquish my avocation working among the stars. You are solidly of this planet, Sylar. I am, at best, at uneasy rest here."

T'Kel cautioned, "Act not in haste, Spock. This is a grave matter. Once done, it can never be undone."

"I know. I have considered my actions." He turned to the couple. "You will be holder of our House. You will represent us to our Clan. I relinquish my claims and give them to you."

His voice rang out so that all in the hall could hear him. "Hear me. I am Spock, no longer eldest. I have relinquished my claims. This, my brother Sylar, is now eldest son. His honored wife will be one day chief lady of the House."

A hush fell in the room at his words. He turned back to his family. Quietly he said, "My lady T'Kel, my family, may you live long and prosper."

His eyes met Sylar's. His brother's confusion was evident. He knew his own gaze was placid as he turned and walked away. A feeling of liberation filled him. He was finally released from the obligation that had hung from his neck like a stone all these years. He was at last free to find his own destiny.

Behind him he heard T'Kel reply. "Peace and long life, Spock, son of this house."

**********************

Galen found herself enthralled with her new life. She was so busy studying her choices and actions as Christine that she lost track of Spock for large chunks of time. But she did not abandon him. Strong emotion on his part pulled her to him. She was there at Sylar's wedding. Spock had even felt her presence. She had felt a stir of pleasure when his mind had spoken to her.

When he relinquished his birthright she had been worried for him and had stayed with him for some time. But soon it became apparent that he was suffering no remorse, indeed seemed to be reveling in his freedom. He did not need her, so she happily returned to what she now considered home.

Varant was waiting for her. As he merged his energy with hers in a sweet hello, she felt his easy humor rise to the surface. *So did you have fun with your other lover?*

She laughed as she sent him the memories of all she had seen.

Varant pulled her along as he took in what she relayed. *So I prosper?*

*Yes. You have found your way.*

He frowned. *It is such a lonely path I have chosen for myself this time. He lets so few people love him, loves so few himself.*

She moved close to him, her energy combining with his own in a way that made them both tingle with pleasure. *You are not alone now.*

*No, never alone here. But Spock can't remember this. Very few of us ever can. It is what makes us feel at times like visitors only to a strange world. It is what makes us long for a love we believe in but cannot remember.*

She protested, *Sometimes we find it. When we meet someone and know instantly they will be our friend. Or more than a friend. We may be ignorant but our souls know when they have met a member of the family.*

Varant nuzzled her with a tendril of energy. *Galen, my ever love. We are young now and we think we understand how it works. But we don't.* He paused and she could feel the intensity of his emotions. *The older souls, have you not noticed? They are not always with their soul mates. Sometimes they meet and interact only for a short time. Other times they share only a brief glance across a room. They do not always love. I do not wish to be separated from you.*

Galen thought of the older souls she knew. *Perhaps they do not share lives because they must learn other lessons like self reliance or perseverance without assurance of success.*

*I know. I just don't look forward to incarnations without you.* Varant nudged her again.

She allowed herself to merge completely with him for a moment. Everything that needed to be communicated was. There were no misunderstandings. There was only love.

Galen felt a new energy beckon. She laughed and pulled away from Varant. *Korel is holding class for us.*

Varant was already winking out as he shot back, *You know how he gets when we're late.*

Classwork and research took more of the group's time. Korel already had them working toward their next life. To her relief, she and Varant would again feature prominently in each other's lives, only this time in a way less fraught with problems. They would know each other from childhood. Born from parents who both loved them and each other deeply.

Galen wondered if someone from her group would be raising her, but Korel took her aside and asked her to follow him to a slightly more advanced group. Two souls waited there. When she appeared, they sent her open and welcoming energy.

*Mothri and Bakur have looked at your last life. They believe that in the right kind of environment you can not only live up to your current potential but far surpass it. They welcome you to consider them as parents in your next life.*

The two souls offered to merge with her to show her their vision for the life they could share. She eagerly accepted. She saw that they were already incarnated, were young now but eventually would meet for the first time. Mothri would become a spiritual man, gentle and loving. Bakur was a dynamic and forceful woman who would learn much from him. The two of them would fall in love but circumstances would initially prevent them from acting on that devotion. In time, they would be free to love and to give life to her...if she wished. She was so excited by what she saw that she wanted to start immediately.

Korel laughed. *Galen, you must wait till Varant and a few others are reunited with their missing lives. But I am happy to see you are eager and not hesitant to try again as so many who suicide are.*

*I just want another chance.*

*That's what this place is all about.*

There was still much to do, planning and selecting, trying to engineer a life that would allow her to grow. Galen was happy and busy.

One day she was working with Kamerin, who had newly reunited with her Uhura life and was planning to be Galen's younger brother in the next life. They were deeply immersed in scenarios, picking situations and running them out to see how well they worked toward the goal. It took Galen several minutes to realize she was feeling a call from Spock. She sent a quick explanation to Kamerin and disappeared.

She emerged on a world she had never seen before. Spock and Sarek stood on a balcony overlooking a large city. Perrin stood at the doorway, but it was unclear if she was guarding their privacy or watching over Sarek, her expression as she looked at him was fiercely protective.

Spock stood impassively as Sarek berated him. Galen was surprised at the emotion she felt pouring from the older Vulcan. Perrin did not appear taken aback at all. What Spock felt was a mystery; he was shielding heavily.

"Why will you not stand with me on this matter, Spock?"

"Because I do not agree with your position, Father. Do you expect me to bow to your will just to please you?"

Sarek turned away, his tone was bitter. "You never have done anything simply to please me."

Spock was quick to respond. "Perhaps because you have been impossible to please?"

Galen did not expect Sarek's voice to rise as it did.

"If you had not been so willful, so stubbornly proud."

Spock joined him at the balcony. "Should we not be discussing the negotiations and not your view of my shortcomings?"

Perrin moved to her husband's side. "Let it go, Sarek. What does it matter if he agrees or not? Peace is the goal."

"Yes," he whispered as he looked over at his son, "Peace is the goal."

"We are not at war, Father."

"We have always been at war, Spock. Always. From the time you were capable of saying, 'I will not,' you have defied me. You would never bend."

"Never break would be more accurate. I recall you trying to crush me on several occasions." Now it was Spock who was bitter.

"Your mother indulged you too much."

"And you not at all. In all things balance?"

Sarek turned away. Galen was stunned to see his hands shake, as he appeared to try to get control of himself. "I need you to stand with me, Spock. Just this once."

"I cannot."

Perrin interjected again. "The matter is trivial, Spock. Surely you can reconsider?"

"My lady, the matter is not trivial. Neither to me nor to Sarek."

Her anger burst forth. "You aren't even arguing about this point. All this goes back to you blaming Sarek for the way he raised you. I doubt the fault is all his. Your mother..."

"You will not speak of my mother," Spock said sharply. "And this recess is over. If you champion this proposal, Father, I will oppose it." He turned and walked to the door.

Galen could feel Sarek's anger as he said loudly, "If you oppose me then you will finish it forever between us. I will not tolerate such disloyalty."

Spock raised an elegant eyebrow, the only movement on an otherwise neutral expression. "You must do as you see fit, Father." He met Sarek's gaze calmly, then disappeared into the room.

Sarek slumped. Perrin rushed to him.

"He is gone. Has always been gone. I could never reach him. Nothing was good enough or at the right time. Now he is forever lost."

Perrin pulled him into a tight embrace. "Shh, my love. Don't say that. He is not gone. It is the disease talking."

"Cursed disease," Sarek muttered.

Galen racked Christine's memories for the possible illness they were discussing. The only one that she could recall was too horrible to contemplate Sarek enduring.

Perrin was pleading now. "If you told him?"

"Would he not crow in triumph? Sarek the merciless brought low by his own emotions."

"He would not do that. I don't like him, hate the way he has treated you and me. But he would not desert you if he knew you had Bendii's."

"No!" Sarek's shout startled both his wife and Galen. "No," he repeated in a quieter tone. "I will not have him give to me in pity what he would not offer otherwise."

"Then you really will lose him forever, Sarek."

"So be it," the Vulcan said bitterly as he turned back to stare at the city. "So be it."

Galen watched as Perrin stood close to him, offering love and support. He seemed nearly unaware of his wife's presence, as he stood lost in a dark place only he could see.

***********************

Interlude VI - Purpose

Spock stood in the shadows, waiting for his contact to find him. The road to Romulus had been long and circuitous, with much backtracking and sidestepping. The Federation must not suspect his motives, nor could the Romulan government know that he was about to arrive on the planet. Pardek had set this up carefully. The man was nothing if not cautious.

Spock thought back to his first meeting with the Senator. So long ago at Khitomer, they had discovered a mutual interest in their shared origin. Over time, as they had learned to trust each other, they had also uncovered a mutual passion for bringing their peoples back together. They had met often in the course of diplomacy, generally sharing a meal or two and discussing the future.

He had expected nothing more than talk, had been unprepared for the message that came to him soon after the Cardassian peace treaty was signed. It had been from Pardek, characteristically brief and cryptic. "The time is now. Can you come?" Spock had known immediately what was being asked. He had begun to write the response down but the messenger had stopped him.

"Yes or no, Sir. That is all that is required."

"Tell him I say yes."

The man nodded and left hurriedly. Several days later another messenger showed up. It became a pattern as Pardek and he planned his journey. A diplomatic event several months later allowed them to meet in person, to go over much that needed discussing. Pardek had said there were many ready to receive the message Spock brought: the wisdom of Surak, the equilibrium of peace. He was honored to be chosen for this outreach. Thrilled even to be following in his ancestor's footsteps, and to be finally walking a path of his own, one not dictated by Sarek or by the Federation or by anyone but himself. This was for posterity, but he believed that he too would grow in the experience.

He knew the risks were grave. If he were discovered by the Tal shiar it would be grim. Death would be the least of his worries. But Pardek had told him that the danger was within acceptable parameters. He had been planning this for some time. Spock had faith in the wisdom of his preparations.

He assessed his emotional state. Was there anything he regretted leaving behind? Sarek? His mind refused to dwell on his father. Their last meeting had ended everything. He was not sure why, but Sarek would not bend at all. It was most illogical. But he would not think of this. It was over between them. Sylar would take on the role that his half-brothers had never been capable of, and Spock would join Sybok as a bitterly ignored lost son.

Spock thought of his human friends. Kirk was foremost in his thoughts. Lost also. Irretrievably gone. The man who had risked everything to get him back and Spock had not even returned his comms. He felt the familiar rush of regret, of shame. Yet there was also confusion. They had been close, closer than friends, certainly closer than his experience of brothers. Yet he had no sense of his death. It was as if a light that had been on had disappeared rather than simply been turned off. It was most strange.

He thought of his other shipmates. He would miss many of them, did miss some of them already. But they were not enough to hold him...had never been enough to keep him. Only Kirk could. And Christine.

So much lost. He thought back to the first time he had lost her. When she had run from him and he had used her rejection as a reason to flee his life and head to Gol. How much different would life have been if he had gone after her? If he had forced her to confront her fears and accept what he could offer her. Would they be together now? Would children, perhaps grandchildren play at his feet?

The call of his contact put an end to his musings. She was gone and he would never see her again. That was all he needed to know. It was a bitter knowledge. But reality often was.

He followed the Romulan to the waiting shuttle. By this time tomorrow he would be on Romulus, embarking on a new life, a new mission. Probably his last mission. It would be one filled with satisfaction. One in which he could truly make a difference to the Romulan people, to his own, and to the whole of history.

"Jo lan tru," he whispered as he turned his back on his past.

****************

Galen was working quietly in the library her group used when she felt a tug on her energy, then a sudden increase in her sense of the soul group. Someone was coming home.

*Who?* she queried.

The part that remained answered. She thought of him and appeared moments later on a desolate planet. She watched as he lay on the ground, breathing his last taste of the air. Galen smiled softly as the other captain watched over her friend's death. .

"Christine?" His voice was incredulous.

"'Fraid so," she grinned as she turned away from the body to see him standing near her.

"But you're..."

He had never been comfortable with the idea of death, she remembered. She would go easy on him as he transitioned. "Yes, I am."

He gulped, "So I'm...:"

"Yes, you are." She let her eyes drift to his body.

He turned to look and his jaw fell open. "I really am..."

"Yes."

He moved to look at his body, then sat down heavily next to it. It was a common reaction.

"You thought you could cheat death forever?"

He considered the question. Then he grinned. "I think I did."

She grinned back. "You've already saved the world several times and had two heroic deaths, even if one wasn't real. What more does any soul need?"

He thought about that. She could feel him unconsciously accessing group memories, charting his progress against the goals he had before he left them. He would find that he was the shining star of their group. They all loved him for it.

"It's good to have you back." She indicated he should rise. "I came as soon as I realized it was you."

"I kind of thought David would be here." He looked chagrined and said quickly, "Not that I'm not happy to see you."

She laughed. "Don't worry. I know what you mean. David is in another group, you can see him when we leave here."

"Another group?"

"Soul group." She saw his frown. "You'll remember it all when we get back home. Don't worry about it now." She touched his hand and thought of home. They were flashed to a place that she recognized as his home in the Nexus.

"I just left here." He said looking around. They were the only beings there. The wind through the pine trees the only sound outside their voices.

"It's the last place you held in your mind, so that's what you built. But this place can be anywhere, anything."

"Like the Nexus."

"Very much like that. Only here, you can get away."

"Get away?"

She smiled gently. "There's work to be done. But not till you've rested."

"For how long?"

"Until you don't want to rest anymore." She remembered the confusion. But as he merged with the part of himself that had never left this place he would be filled with clarity. The fuzziness would depart.

"But I'm alone here?"

"Of course not. You're surrounded by everyone. Anyone you've ever known, and many more that you haven't, are here. If you want to see someone you think of them very hard and you'll be there."

"Just think about them?"

"Uh huh. It's easiest to find your own group. All you have to do is reach out with your mind."

"Our group." He struggled to remember.

"Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, many others who you didn't know in this life but were important to someone else in the group. Even some you wouldn't expect. Gary Mitchell, Roger Korby, T'Pring, Stonn."

He scowled.

"Once you've been here a little longer you'll remember why you don't hate them."

"Guess I should get used to surprises?"

She thought of Gwydion's current choice of gender. "Oh yeah."

"You said Spock was one of us. So I just think of him? Just remember him. Spock..."

"No, wait there's a little more to it..." She broke off as he winked out of sight. "Just great," she ranted as she followed him not to Varant but to Romulus, to Spock. The sight that met her was tragic. Spock, deep in the system of caves, on his knees, keening slightly as he rocked back and forth. In another room his Romulan students talked or slept, unaware of the turmoil their teacher was in.

Kirk had his arms around Spock but each time he tried to hold him his arms failed to connect. "Spock," he whispered brokenly. "Old friend."

"We can't reach him."

He was angry, resented her intrusion. "Maybe you can't."

She felt no flare of hurt at his words. This was too soon for him. He was reacting as a mortal.

"He's in pain and I can't help him." Kirk finally gave up trying to touch Spock.

"You were his greatest friend. He thought he'd lost you once and it was awful. But now, to lose you again and to realize that you were never really gone the first time...it may tear him apart."

Kirk looked frightened.

"He'll survive though," she rushed to reassure him. "He's very strong."

"Did your death hit him this hard?"

She laughed. "No. By the time he remembered me enough to mourn, I was long gone. And Valeris was there. I was spared watching this."

"We can't reach him?"

She moved to Kirk's side and guided his hand to rest just above Spock's body. "Feel that?"

His eyes widened. He nodded.

"It's energy. Matches our own. Just rest your hands there and think of how much you love him. How concerned you are. It will get through...maybe as a word or a picture but probably just as a sensation of your presence, as a comfort."

She sensed his need to be alone with Spock. "When you're ready to come back think of the place you created and you'll get there. Or think of me and I'll help you."

"What if I can't do it?"

She laughed. "Then I'll come get you. Don't worry, Jim. No one is ever lost here."

************************

Interlude VII - Flight

Spock sat alone, deep in the caves. His people were dispersed for safety. No more large gatherings, no more sharing of ideas among the group. Only two faithful acolytes to see to his needs. Fortunately he had few.

The last several years had been difficult. Learning the hard way of Pardek's treachery, having to choose to stay when he was uncertain as to the impact he had actually had. Then the war had come. Romulus had not stayed neutral, aligning itself with first the Cardassians and now with the Federation. Each time Tal shiar operatives had searched the caves for sympathizers. He and his people had only been lucky so long.

His people. Spock felt a surge of humor where once he would have felt pride. Had he really fancied himself a latter day Surak? Had his hubris been so great that he though he could unify the Romulans and his own people? That seemed so long ago. Now he was content to learn that a new believer had been accepted into their little band.

He heard Kenir outside the opening to his chamber. He had been out foraging for their next meals. They lived day by day, as they could not afford to leave evidence of their presence. They had only what they could carry away. The food was carted in and the refuse taken back out. They had learned the hard way what evidence of their habitation could bring.

Spock closed his eyes in pain as he remembered how many of his people had died in that raid by the Tal shiar. Good people, precious to him. Friends, kindred spirits. All gone. That had been the end of their community. They had disbanded and met in groups of twos or threes from then on. Each member carrying news and ideas to one or two others. Spock and his aides had retreated deeper into the caves where the heavy metals in the walls played havoc with sensors and the Tal shiar was forced to search by more conventional means. They had not lost anyone since. Or at least not to Romulan Intelligence. He had heard that several of his band had been killed in the war. Victims of Cardassian retaliation in some cases, willing fighters against the Dominion in others. He could not blame them. They were fighting for their homes, their futures. He did not fault their motives, but he did mourn their loss.

Just as he still mourned the loss of his friends and his father. All those he loved most had left him. Christine, his mother, Kirk-he had lost him twice-McCoy just last year and his father. That death was haunting him, just as Jim's supposed loss in the Nexus had dominated his thoughts at the time. He had been estranged from them both. At least he had been on his way back to Kirk, but Sarek and he had cut their ties forever. It was only when Picard had told him of Sarek's death, had offered to bond with him, that he understood why his father had acted as he had when they had last met.

Bendii's. It brought a chill to every Vulcan. It was to lose those things that made a Vulcan what he was. There was no dignity in it. Logic was forever hidden when Bendii's took over.

He should have realized that the disease had been to blame when Sarek had fought with him. He should have sensed without being told. But the nature of their relationship was not given to closeness or to the revealing of hidden truths. Spock could not guess and Sarek would never tell. A vicious circle of stubborn pride. He and his father, for all their differences, were so fundamentally alike in their inability to bend.

He would never have known had it not been for Picard's generous willingness to share memories from his own meld with Sarek. Through him, Spock had been able to touch, if only indirectly, the essence of his father. He could feel the rampant emotions that Picard had helped Sarek lock down. He had been chilled by his father's loss of control. Horrified yet impressed by Sarek's indomitable spirit. His father had not given in, not while there was fight in him.

Spock had touched more than just the disease though. He had touched love. An emotion that, if asked, Spock would have denied Sarek was capable of feeling. Love for Perrin, the companion of his last years. Tender pride in his youngest child Sylar. An enduring love for Amanda. And a tortured love for his lost sons. First Sybok, then Spock. An emotion that at the end he knew he had never adequately shared with either. He had scorned the need to show or speak of it, had been so sure that they would understand his deep feeling for them. But ultimately he realized his sons never knew how much he cared. He died sure that Spock would never know.

Fortunately one human preserved those memories for him. Spock had not really recalled Picard until he saw himself reflected in the captain's memories of Sylar's wedding day. Picard had never forgotten that meeting. Now Spock never would either.

A gentle buzzing sounded from the outer chamber. Kenir bustled inside. "We must move on, Master. They are searching the tunnels again."

Spock gathered his things quickly, resigned to the life of a fugitive. It was worth all the tense trouble if he could bring a new way to even one Romulan. He followed Kenir deeper into the catacombs. Behind them, the cave bore no witness that they had ever made camp.

****************

Galen saw Varent look up suddenly from where he was studying. For a moment he seemed startled, then his face was transformed by a smile of pure joy. Galen felt a tug on her own energy. Spock! She turned to her mate, smiled lovingly at him.

*It is time,* he said simply.

She could feel his anticipation. *I must go to him.*

His laughter was clear, following her as she winked out. *You'll have your work cut out for you, my love.*

She arrived in time to see Spock's body being carried to the foot of Mt. Selaya. Four Romulans walked behind, their expressions mournful yet triumphant. From the look of it, they had been finally caught in a raid like the one she had watched years earlier. The one that had killed so many of Spock's followers. She could see that Spock had been grievously injured but somehow these Romulans had managed to bring him back to Vulcan in time. She marveled at how they must love him.

She approached Spock's litter, reacquainting herself with the familiar lines of his face. He had added a few since the last time she had checked on him. But his face was as beloved to her as ever.

A woman stepped out of the crowd. Christine recognized her from the wedding so long ago. She had aged since then and her bearing and the rich robes she wore marked her as an important personage now. She knelt in the red dirt of Vulcan, cradling Spock's head in her lap.

For a moment there was complete silence. The wind whistled around them, blowing up little dust storms. One of the Romulans wiped a tear from his eye. Galen felt her soul swell as she sensed the end approaching.

The Vulcan leaned over Spock. "Cousin, it is I, T'Kel. I am here to take you to the bridge to the ancient ones. Sylar is here, with T'Janra, she who is his wife and the lady of your house now. Their daughters T'Chal and T'Pren honor their uncle at the time of his passing.

T'Kel placed her hands just above the meld points. "Those who went before are ready to receive you, honored son of our house."

Galen felt another twinge as she watched T'kel rise and lead those who lifted the litter up a flight of stone stairs to a heavy door. She knocked twice firmly and the door opened soundlessly. A priestess, her face and hands covered in heavy black fabric stood blocking their way. Her voice rang strongly through the veil. "Who comes to the Bridge?"

"T'Kel and Sylar, bringing home Spock, son of Sarek."

The priestess opened the door wider and motioned them in.

They took the litter from the carriers and entered. The others stayed behind.

The priestess closed the door behind them before approaching the litter. "Put him there." She pointed to the far side of the room.

They carried him to a rock slab. The litter fit it perfectly.

"Do not touch him," she instructed them. Then she motioned to a corner far from the slab. "Stay there. Honor your house from the shadows."

Galen stood near Spock. His breathing was increasingly labored. It would be soon.

She studied the chamber. The slab was set diagonally in front of the corner. The two walls were covered with intricate carvings, each representing the clans and houses of Vulcan. The ones on the right wall were ancient. As she moved to the left to study the carvings she saw how the newer clans had been added to the walls. There was intricate lettering running back and forth. She could not strictly speaking read the writing, but if she concentrated on it she knew what it said.

"The place of the ancients, the time of transition. We welcome our child, our sibling, our parent, to join with us. We seek completion in the severing of life and the beginning of communion. Our minds are touching, our katras rejoined."

Galen watched the priestess as she touched Spock on the meld points, the heavy black fabric of her gloves and veil hiding all of her.

Galen felt a stir. He was coming.

The priestess tensed. In the shadows there was the sound of T'Kel and Sylar leaning forward in anticipation.

Galen stepped closer and saw the energy that was Spock's essence spill from the crown of his head and onto the gloves of the Priestess. For a moment the soul hovered, unable to meld with the woman, but stuck outside a body that no longer lived.

The priestess' voice rang out. "Go now. Find your place among the ancient ones. Welcome home, son of Vulcan."

The soul seemed to be pulled to a place high up on the right wall. Galen recognized the seal of Spock's house. There was a flash of light and the soul disappeared into the wall.

The priestess walked to Sylar and T'Kel, nodded solemly. "It is finished. Your watch is completed. Take and prepare the body." Then she walked to the door and held it open for them.

They rose and retrieved the litter, carrying it slowly out of the chamber.

Once they were out of sight, the priestess walked around the room extinguishing the lamps. Then she whispered a blessing and closed the door behind her. The chamber was plunged into blackness.

Galen imagined light. She looked up at the wall and saw through it to the soul that was Spock. The soul was communing with its ancestors, happy to be home...or thought it was. To Galen's eye the soul stood alone, talking to nothing.

"Spock!" she called.

There was no reaction.

She appeared next to him. "Spock!" She tried to startle him.

Nothing.

It would take some time before his beliefs lost reality enough that he would see her. "Stubborn to the end," she teased his unhearing spirit. "Nice to know some things never change."

She allowed herself to drift as she settled in for the long wait.

*********************

Interlude VIII - Realization

At first there was confusion, then a strong compulsion to join with something or someone. Many someones. Spock felt nothing as he sought his place among the voices that he heard all around him.

He bumped against something and felt the need to merge but he was rebuffed by a powerful will made stronger by a fabric permeated with ritual protection. He turned away and the voices became stronger. The ancestors. Calling him, his katra.

He heard his father's voice among the tumult, moved toward it. Felt himself going faster and faster. There! He sensed them, his family, his clan. He followed the thread and dived in and found all the ones who had gone before. Accepting. Approving. Welcoming. He was home.

And so he stayed there for a long time, finally feeling a complete part of something. The existence was everything. He was one with Kor-at-fal, the all-the-ones. Pure essence. Pure spirit. Pure logic.

Time moved but he did not notice. Life endured outside the chamber but he did not care. He was at peace.

And yet...a feeling began to grow in him. A remembrance of words past.

"Is this all there is? Is there nothing more?"

A vague unease filled him.

And then he heard her.

"Spock?"

A trick of his mind. Yet he had no mind. How could he imagine her here? She was human. She could not be with the all-the-ones.

"Spock?"

She could not be impatient either. He was essence, in the chamber of the ancients, in the presence of spirit. Dead human lovers were not a part of this.

"Spock, could you come out of the wall now? I'm really bored."

He could not help himself. He moved toward the voice. And realized he was staring down at her.

"Christine?"

Her smile lit up the chamber. Literally. How could this be? He reached back for the Kor-at-fal but they were gone. And he was suddenly on the ground next to her.

"Christine."

"Hello, Spock. I was starting to wonder if you were ever going to come out."

"I do not understand? My katra..."

"No such thing."

She grinned and he was struck at how beautiful she seemed to him. Just as he remembered her from the days before Khan. He frowned slightly. "Again. I do not understand."

"You will eventually, Spock. But I know it's confusing now."

"How can there be no katra?"

"Well there was, for a while. I mean as long as you believed in it. But eventually the unreality of it sank in and I could reach you."

"You have been trying long?"

She laughed. "You might say that."

He looked around the room.

"Starting to feel pretty cramped in here?"

He nodded slowly.

She held out her hand to him. He studied her for a moment, realizing that the tenseness, the anger, and unhappiness that had always shadowed her were gone. She seemed filled with bliss. He reached out his hand to hers.

The minute they made contact their surroundings changed. Gone was the dank chamber. Now they stood in a place of pure light.

"Welcome home, Spock."

He looked around. The place did feel oddly familiar. He saw a building ahead of him, felt drawn to it. He started to move but Christine's touch stopped him.

"Wait a moment. You need to rejoin before you go in to the Council."

"Rejoin?"

Christine touched her head to his, then she transformed into pure energy. *Remember this, my love?*

His first reaction was to resist her. Then he felt her essence fluttering at the edges of his consciousness. Like a meld, only more complete, more powerful. He experienced a thrill of recognition, then felt his own body turning to energy. As he opened himself to it, he began to remember. *Galen?* She was here with him, his lover, his mate. The other half of his soul.

*Varant.* Her mind voice was everywhere, inside him and yet separate. How could he have forgotten this? He reached out and felt Gwydion's touch and Kaspur's joyous welcome. He sensed the parts that remained of Curtiss and Kamerin. How had he ever forgotten these much beloved souls?

*It is the way it has to be. Total immersion, near total amnesia. We need it to get to work.*

He could feel the part of himself that had never left reinforcing what Galen said. Such an odd dichotomy. He was Spock, yet he was so much more. He remembered only his life as a Vulcan, and recalled every life he had ever had.

Galen's voice was rich with laughter. *You're over-thinking this, Varant. Let go and allow yourself to become whole.*

He quit fighting and surrendered to his larger self. As he did so, all the hurts he had experienced, the anger and sorrow, fell away to become clear but distant memories.

Galen increased her energy flow to him. He felt a rush of pleasure envelope him.

*I have missed you so, my love,* her thoughts were a caress.

A new mind voice interrupted them. He recognized their Oversoul Korel. *The sooner you get in to the Council, the sooner you'll be out and with us.*

Varant felt a moment of trepidation.

Galen nudged him toward the entrance. *At least you didn't commit suicide. Don't think we didn't have to examine that at length.*

He nuzzled her. *I had other failings, love.*

She nodded. *Yes, we all do. We're not perfect. But we're learning.*

Yes, they were learning. He gave Galen a final caress and headed toward the door, ready to examine his past and prepare for the future.

***************

Galen felt her whole essence expand now that Varant was wholly with her again. He had acclimated quickly as they all usually did. It was no hardship for him to come back to this place where all was clear. She remembered her own hesitancy to return. Ending a life prematurely as she did, or committing great evil could keep a soul timid about returning. But the Oversouls were there to help through the transition. In cases such as hers, the souls many times remained in a ghostly state near the incarnation point till their natural death time occurred. It wasn't required, but it was often how things happened.

But that life was past now. She and Varant were heavily into planning for the next one. Like many younger souls they would not wait long between incarnations. The experience of living was the prime way to grow, to evolve, for souls in their age group. As much as they loved their home, they knew they had to go back.

And the timing was right. Their future parents had been chosen, siblings and friends selected, all involved agreed on the arrangements. Varant's parents, Nimith and Crandal, were from the same soul group as Galen's future father and mother. Varant and Galen's new personas would grow up together in a group of family and friends who had been through some of life's ultimate trials and had bonded tightly because of it.

Galen felt an energy approaching. It was Kamerin. They merged affectionately for a moment, then separated.

*It will soon be time.* Kamerin's mind voice was wistful.*

*You won't be far behind me, silly.* She thought of the life they had been planning together. They would be close friends as well as siblings. She would always have that support as well as loving parents and honorary aunts and uncles. It was a life much more inclined to success and happiness than her last one. Not that it would be without trials. No life was. What would be the point?

Another energy joined them. Varant. She opened herself to him joyfully, felt his answering love. And something else. Her spirits sank even as she fought the reaction.

*Do not be sad, my love.* His mind voice was sure and strong.

*It's just so soon.* She fought the descending sorrow.

Kamerin leaned into them both, sending love and strength. Then she left them alone.

*Come with me,* his voice had turned melancholic in response to her emotion.

She felt a duty to cheer him. *It's not like you have to stay there all the time at first.*

He agreed, *No, I can come and see you. At least until I fully fuse with the life I will become.*

*And by then you will want to stay there.*

It was the way things worked. At first the link was tenuous. And a baby did so little when it was just born. The soul could easily leave and come back as it willed with little to no effect on the host. But later, as development began the soul would be needed. And as it fused, became one with the child, it would begin to forget. Soon this place would only be a dim yearning.

*Come with me?* Varant repeated quietly. *Share this moment with me?*

*Of course I will.* Galen sensed the pull on him. She would watch him be born. Maybe her own future parents would be there.

*It is time.* He disappeared and she followed him.

They emerged in a room where a young woman strained to push her child out into the world. Her husband urged her on. A doctor barked orders. Galen was startled as she realized he had no life energy. He was not as them, yet a soul shone brightly in him. She did not understand.

*Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations,* Varant teased her with Spock's voice. *The soul is there even if he is not strictly speaking a living being.*

She accepted his words, distracted by the crowning head of the infant.

*Soon we will be together again in body, my only one. We will share the pleasures that are only possible in life. And we will do better than last time. I have faith in that, in us.*

She joined with him one last time. Then he began to lose substance as he merged with the child. Even as she sent a whispered *Good-bye,* she could feel the part of Varant that remained back in their home also bid himself farewell.

With a squalling cry the baby was born. The doctor handled her gently, then gave her to the father. He cradled her tenderly and knelt down to show his exhausted wife their child.

"Oh, B'Ela, she's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."

His wife's smile was one of pure joy. "Hello little one." She reached for the child and held her to her breast. The child fed contentedly as the woman pulled the covers around them both.

There was a knock, then the door opened and a group of people crowded in. Galen felt herself drawn to the two who stepped forward. She felt a shock of love as she recognized her future parents.

Her father smiled at the new family. "We won't keep you long, but we all had to see our baby."

The new father laughed. "And she can't wait to meet all of you."

Galen's mother started shooing the others out. "Ok, you've seen her, now give them some time together." The doctor followed the others out. When the four were alone with the new baby, Galen's mother leaned forward to touch the baby's cheek.

The new mother smiled at her. "You should have one of your own. You've had to mother all of us. Isn't it time to do it for real?"

Galen's mother looked at the man standing next to her.

He beamed and took her hand. "Tell them, Kathryn."

She nodded. "Nobody knows yet except the Doctor. It would seem a little celebration that the Commander and I had," she grinned at the man next to her, "got a little out of ahem...control. In about eight months this little one is going to have a playmate."

The four shared a happy smile and Galen's father wrapped his arms around her mother. He smiled wistfully. "I hope it's a girl and looks just like you."

Galen smiled as her mother got a faraway look, then turned to glare at him. "Don't be silly. It will be a boy. As strong and handsome..."

"...and patient," he interjected with an evil grin.

"And patient," she agreed, "as you."

"Well I'm sure no one is going to argue with Captain Janeway about that," laughed her father. He leaned in and kissed her cheek gently.

Galen lost herself in watching them. She reveled in the love and kinship in the room. Finally it was time to go and leave them alone to enjoy the new child and the promise of another. She could hardly wait to get back to share with Kamerin what she had seen and felt. And to continue working hard, to prepare while she waited for her next life to begin.

And then it would be her turn to join with a new life. To be the child of these two wonderful people who would love and protect her. To again fall in love with the soul that made her complete.

Galen smiled as she winked out. It looked like it would be one hell of a ride.

FIN

If you like this view of reincarnation and the life between lives, read "Journey of Souls" and "Destiny of Souls" both by Michael Newton and/or the "Oversoul 7" series by Jane Roberts.