The night before the rituals of remembrance and mourning, I paced the living area round and round and round. We had a new jigsaw to piece together, but it sat in a corner, ignored.
"You'll wear a hole in the floor if you keep on like that," remarked So'Kath mildly. "What is troubling you, Na'Tiel?"
I paced some more then stopped. "Tomorrow it is a year since my brother died. I must mourn his death for three days."
"You've mourned his death for the last year."
I turned to So'Kath and bowed my head, acknowledging the truth of what he said. He had seen into my heart. I closed my eyes against what I saw in his and came to a decision. I sat down and picked up a candle, held it in my hands. I watched it flicker and stutter, so like a life, so easy to brush out if fate rolled the wrong dice.
I looked past it to So'Kath. "Have you ever loved someone more than your own life, So'Kath?" His eyes held mine steadily as he nodded. I chewed on my lip for a moment and regarded the candle.
"Na'Tal and I brooded together in our father's pouch. It was a great source of amusement to our parents that rather than fighting, we were usually found nestled in each other's arms, sometimes even kissing.
"We were inseparable. We learnt to fight together, how to wrassle each other and how to work together. Our older brother, Na'Tol, helped us by never stopping from picking on us. Together, we could defeat him. Apart we didn't stand a chance.
"We had each other and that is all either of us needed." I rubbed a hand over my face and put the candle back on the table I had taken it from. Just thinking about the past was too much to bear. "We were always together. Even the military finally acknowledged that we worked better together than apart. We never failed in a combat mission and rarely brought our fighters home damaged.
"One day that changed. One day raiders hit Na'Tal's ship. In my rage and thirst for vengeance, I left my brother alone and chased the raiders. I wanted to destroy all of them.
"The damage to Na'Tal's ship was greater than we thought. He lost his oxygen supply. It is my fault that he left me - I should have stayed with him. We had never been apart. I listened to him tell me the words of love and belonging and farewell, and listened to his final gasps for air and listened to his death. I never -"
I pounded the floor with a fist. "He died and it is all my fault." I reached out and snuffed the candle flame between thumb and forefinger. "He's dead. Gone. He was everything and he is gone and I never told him." I laid my head on the hard, enduring stone of the table. Why and how had I survived this last year? Why take only Na'Tal - why not me too? Was I not worthy? I wanted to weep, but there are some hurts that do not allow tears.
I felt, as from a distance, So'Kath gather me up like a pouchling. He lifted me up and carried me into my room. There he sat us on the bedstone. He held me close, so very close and stroked my hide gently. His heart thudded to a steady rhythm and I slowly remembered what it was to be loved. So'Kath could never take Na'Tal's place, and nor did I want him to, but he had find his own place in my heart. I stretched out against his beloved body and slept.
So'Kath helped me perform the initial and most important of the rituals of mourning. He steadied me so that I could complete them properly. Then he left me to meditate and grieve in private.
It was at this time of meditation that I heard Na'Tal speak to me. At that moment I understood the Human phrase "I nearly died of fright."
He told me, "Do not despair. Remember me but look to the future. It holds much for you. I will always be here as long as you are here." Formal words for a formal occasion, but I could hear his smile in them. "So'Kath is a good Narn. Remember me, my sib and my love."
I was stunned. My mind was playing tricks on me. Na'Tal was dead and gone a year, and yet here he was speaking to me. Memory and grief must be combining to form words in his voice within my mind, for his voice it certainly was. I could not tell anyone this for they would say that I was mad, and I did not want to be Outcast again. Even So'Kath would regard me strangely, and I could not bear that.
At the end of three days prayer, mediation and fasting, I felt ready to face the world again. I had been dreading the rituals of mourning, not knowing what my response would be and whether I could cope with them, yet here I was. I had survived. Oh, I missed Na'Tal with every breath, but he was still with me. I could feel the thought of him within me. He would be there when I needed him.
Not long after, I felt something else stir within me. Now I had another reason to never forget that first night of passion in So'Kath's bed. As it turned out, it was probably when I conceived. I had not thought of using contraception - my medication supposedly made me infertile. My belly grew rounded, much to So'Kath's delight and amazement. By the time I had realised that I was pregnant, it was too late to do anything about it. I couldn't have aborted this fetus anyway. I wanted to give So'Kath something to remember me by.
Pregnancy and birth are not as hard for Narn as I have heard they are for other races. We gestate for shorter terms than humans or Centauri and brood our relatively immature young in our male's pouches. So'Kath was so very proud when little Na'Kath was placed in his pouch. He had a daughter and I had an heir to ensure my mother's mother's mother's line would continue.
I loved them both, my daughter and the male who would be my husband if I asked, but I could not stay with them. I had a prior promise to keep, one that would see my piloting my own ship, which should have been shared between Na'Tal and me, plying my trade throughout the galaxy. I had all these quite frankly romantic images in my mind, based on the stories of Earth's tea clippers and the great voyages of our own seafarers - I don't know what I was thinking of. I needed to fly again and not even my loves could hold me planet bound forever. Also, on a purely practical level, I had to bring something with me to better So'Kath's position as a formal alliance with him would benefit me. My owning a freighter would mean that So'Kath would no longer be so dependant on outsiders transporting his goods.
My time with So'Kath, and lately Na'Kath, had healed me. I could never be the same as I had been with Na'Tal. The wheel turns and life continues. I grew increasingly restive and short-tempered. So'Kath despaired of me. Eventually he bade me leave, asking only that I remember them. How could I unremember them?
That last night together was spent holding each other close, with Na'Kath kicking away in her father's pouch. I told So'Kath of the entirety of my dreams - I had not told him everything before then - and why I had to leave. I had to fly between the stars again, and I could not take such a small pouchling with me. Nor could I think of making So'Kath give up his business. He offered to finance my venture but I explained that I had to do this myself. As dawn broke, we made slow, gentle love as Na'Kath gurgled in her father's pouch.
So'Kath is one of only two males I have ever utterly and completely loved. I truly regret that I had to leave him and fully mean to make good the promise I gave him and Na'Kath before I left. Once my ship is paid off, I will return to him and Na'Kath, and formalise that promise. At that stage our situations will be equal and both of us can contribute to the welfare of the other and to our progeny.