Sorrow and Solace
Her first memory is of being told no.
Perhaps it's not that uncommon a thing—she was two, almost three years old, at the age when all children push their boundaries and are routinely rewarded by exasperated denials.
This no was etched into her heart, though, into her soul, a wave of terror and denial and utter shame from her mother, from one of the people who defined her whole world at that time, and it is a painful memory.
She hadn't meant to hurt her mother. She hadn't meant to frighten her. She didn't understand what she was doing, what it meant when she touched her fingers just so to her mother's face, only that it was comforting, only that it meant she could feel her mother's love envelope her, her mother's pride in her quick development both physically and mentally, and she had expected her mother to share in her sigh of giddy delight.
Instead she froze, and horror swept from her into her daughter, and even though she ripped her hands away from her mother's face and apologized through tears of confused shame—for it was wrong, what she did, utterly wrong, and her mother couldn't countenance such a thing in her child—she could never wipe the memory of that no and all that it contained from her mind.
She doesn't remember learning not to touch other's thoughts and emotions. It is simply one of the rules of her life. She is to go to school. She is to study hard. She is to learn to fight. She is to make friends with the other children, particularly those who are from more influential houses than her own.
And she is never, ever to let on to others that she can touch their minds.
"It isn't proper for a Romulan heir." Her father tells her this often, too often, but in her memory she is always five, always being helped to dress impeccably in her family colors for some kind of inspection or other. "We love you, child, believe me, or we wouldn't take the risks we have for you, but you have to be worthy of it. You have to hide this… aberration of yours."
They never say the last word, but it hangs unspoken in the air. She is defective. It is only because her parents love her dearly that she hasn't been turned over to the Tal Shiar or been left abandoned in some dismal desert to die.
She tries to be worthy of their love and sacrifice. She studies hard. She is near the top of her class in almost all categories, though she is better at languages than she is at math. Her mother is disappointed in that; her father shrugs and accepts it, saying that all warships and all governments need communications workers.
She is a decent fighter, though not the greatest, perhaps barely in the fiftieth percentile. She takes more risks than she should, her instructors say, and she nods and thanks them for their input and continues to fight with her own style.
She doesn't tell them that it is the only way she can fight. She can practice just fine, the cool repetitiveness engraining moves onto her muscles, but once she is put in an actual sparring match something… slides in her mind. If she stops to think, if she does more than analyze and react to the motions in front of her, she sees… things.
Some of them are terrible, liquid spread across landscapes in shades of red and blue and sometimes the recognizable hues of green blood, bodies broken, empty eyes.
Some of them are beautiful, eyes that she knows though she has never seen them, images that make her throat ache with longing and a sense of purpose and belonging that she has never known, will never know. She draws those images, sometimes, if she can keep them in her head for long enough, and cries over the pictures.
All of the things she sees when she fights freeze her breath in her throat and her blood in her veins and ensure she loses more soundly than any mistake made by rash decisions, though.
She doesn't tell anyone about the things she sees. She hides the pictures, especially once they are better, once there are features recognizable—once it is clear that some of them are not Romulan.
She is already defective, a child who owes her life to a leniency that she wonders, sometimes, if her parents should have shown.
She doesn't need to let them know that she is mad, too.
She's fifteen when she finally breaks all of her parent's careful rules.
The female is beautiful, a fierce fighter, built more solidly than she is, with sharp dark eyes and close-cropped dark hair and cheekbones she could stroke for weeks and ears that taper to an almost needle-sharpness. She's been lusting after her body for months; she quickly falls in love with her mind, too, once they become friends.
The girl has such dreams. She wants to command a Bird of Prey by the time she's twenty-five. She wants to be a fleet commander by the time she's thirty-five. She wants to live to see the Star Empire stretch beyond its borders, rolling over the Humans, reintegrating the Vulcans, taking its rightful place as the dominant force in the universe.
The girl's eyes shine like stars when she talks of her future, her voice sibilant with the hiss of the thousand suns she wants to explore as she whispers her plans.
She writes poems for the girl who stole her heart, poems about her, drowning in the beauty of her belief and desire.
She never shows the girl the poems, though, because they never end like they should. There is always a line of doubt, a thread of sorrow, a hint of death in the words that end the poems, and though the girl knows she's not as much of a warrior as the girl is she doesn't want her to know that much.
She doesn't want her to know that it saddens her, each time the girl talks of glorious battle.
She doesn't want the girl to know that she questions all they've been taught, that she thinks of the Humans, so soft and weak and utterly determined, and wants to aid them rather than subjugating them.
She is an abomination, an aberration, a child who should have died. She cannot afford to draw that kind of attention to herself—to draw the Tal Shiar's attention to herself.
She loves to see the girl's eyes shine with hope and faith, though, loves to curl next to her as she works on her schoolwork—slower, but intelligent enough—loves to see the girl smile when she catches her eye from across the room.
She waits three months to kiss the girl. She waits for the perfect moment, the sun shining down bright, glinting off the girl's hair, her head tilted back and a smile on her face as she allows the rays to caress her, no one else near them as they take the park road home.
At first it is beautiful, perfect, everything she wanted it to be and more. The girl's lips are warm under hers. The girl's arms wrap around her, hold her just a bit too tightly, and the girl's tongue slides along her lips, along her teeth, is edging its way into her mouth before she has time to think. She doesn't mind, though, returning her haste and aggression, backing her until they are against one of the tall, scraggly trees that make up this park, her hands stroking her hair, teasing over her face.
She wishes it was an accident. She wishes she could say that, at least, that she merely was caught up in the moment, caught up in the rush of desire, that she failed to think.
She did think, though. She wanted to do it. She wanted to touch the girl's mind, to see that the girl loved her as much as she loved the fire in the girl, and her hands were on the girl's face and it was so easy to just let go of her control and reach out…
The girl pulls away from her with a startled cry, and there is something new in her face, in her eyes, something that has never been there before, a sharp wariness. Her breath comes in panting heaves, but within thirty seconds she has that under control, every inch the eventual soldier. "What did you just do?"
"It… it's nothing bad, I swear." Her voice sounds weak, pathetic, begging in her own ears, and she forces her reeling thoughts together and straightens her spine. "It was a mind meld. I was telepathically touching your mind."
The girl's eyes narrow, one hand clenching into a fist. "Are you Reman?"
She shakes her head.
"Tal Shiar?" The girl asks the question with a hint of uncertainty, eyes glancing left and then right, and she's not sure if it's the name of the secret police or the fact that she's accusing them of using non-Romulan telepathic techniques that disturbs her more.
"No. I'm just me." She reaches toward the girl. "I'm just Jean."
It's the worst thing she could have said. She knows it as the girl's face closes off, all sympathy disappearing from it. "Jean? What kind of name is that?"
It's her name. It's her soul-name, or at least half of it, a name that's come to her over and over again during the strange visions that assault her sometimes while she's fighting. It's not something she's shared with anyone else, telling her parents that she was still looking for her soul name those few times they've asked.
It's not something she should ever have shared with anyone else, she realizes, looking into the girl's eyes.
"You're not Romulan." The girl backs away from her, wariness in every tense muscle, her eyes hardly blinking. "You stay away from me."
She does. There's no use in chasing her, after all. She can see that the girl's already far away from her, too far for her to call her back, and so she watches as the girl turns and flees toward her home.
Heart aching, head pounding belatedly from the hastily-forged and hastily-broken meld, she turns toward her own house and possibly the end of her life.
Her parents take the news better than she expected. They don't scold her. They don't remind her of her place in the world, of her heritage, of how damaging it could be to the whole family if her failings were to become common knowledge.
Instead they ask for the girl's name, her address, her family connections. Then her parents share a look, a brief, dark look, and her mother dons a coat while her father escorts her to her bed and tells her to sleep.
She doesn't comment on the way her father avoids contact with her skin, taking her by the upper arm, shying away from her hand when they both reach to trigger the door mechanism to her room.
She doesn't ask where her mother went.
Her mind's already too filled with sorrow, too aching with the rejection that echoed through every fiber of the girl's being as she saw what she was.
She'll wonder, later, if her questioning things would have made any difference.
The girl never makes it home.
Her body is found five days later, ravaged by wild animals, and Jean knows, as soon as the announcement is made, how she died.
She knew before, when the girl didn't appear for days, but she'd been able to pretend that the girl was somewhere else, that she was with the Tal Shiar, that it would eventually be her who disappeared forever.
She skips her afternoon classes, leaving as soon as the notice of death is posted. It's only once she's home that she realizes her parents won't be back until after school would have ended, and she spends hours pacing the hallways, her hands clenched into fists at her side.
It's her mother who comes home first. Jean wheels to face the door, and she can see the moment that her mother realizes she knows.
Her mother doesn't say anything. She merely stops, allowing the door to close behind her, and studies Jean with a sad, serene expression.
"You killed her." Her voice trembles on the words, guilt and shame.
"No." Her mother raises her chin, just slightly. "I protected you."
"You killed my girlfriend." Saying it makes it real, and she feels the truth like a blow to her stomach as bile fills her throat.
"She was going to kill you. She was going to destroy you utterly." The compassion she sees in her mother's face makes everything worse. "I did what had to be done."
She needs to scream. She needs to cry. She needs to turn herself in, but that would make the girl's death pointless, the loss of that fire in the universe utterly without purpose.
Jean wheels away from her mother, pacing again, and catches sight of her reflection, her face pale, her eyes round and haunted.
Before her mother can stop her she's put her hand through the mirror and the wall beyond.
The sight of her blood dripping Romulan-green onto the floor calms her, and she finds herself breathing in time to the steady splash of drops.
She is Romulan. She was born here. She has lived here. She loves here. She bleeds Romulan blood. Why does no one else see that? Why must she hide what she is in order to be accepted as one of them?
Her mother doesn't say anything. She simply fetches a med kit and begins fixing Jean's hand.
Her eyes flick to Jean's, questioning, but still without any remorse, without any guilt.
Jean settles down against the wall, sliding into a sitting position. "Is it true that some of the Tal Shiar can meld like me?"
"There are rumors. There are always rumors that the Tal Shiar have special abilities, special weapons, special technology." Her mother sits next to Jean. "You don't want to be Tal Shiar, though. You want to be a warrior. You want to vie for a seat on the Senate. While the Tal Shiar might be necessary, they're… less than desirable."
It's how all those in her parent's social class think. It's a result of the power that the Tal Shiar hold, power to make and break the military careers of almost all Romulans with a few words whispered in the right ear, to destroy reputations with pictures that shouldn't exist, videos that shouldn't be taken.
She wonders, briefly, if she should defy her mother, defy her father, turn herself in to the Tal Shiar and see if it is true, if they are like her, if they would accept her melding as something natural and desirable rather than something to be condemned for.
She does not want to be Tal Shiar, though. She does not want to search through other's lives for moments to damn them with. She does not want to assist the Star Empire in its expansion.
Perhaps she truly isn't Romulan, after all.
"You are hurting. I'm sorry." Her mother's hand is gentle on her head, but she knows these are the hands that snapped a neck days before, and so she cannot take the comfort in it that she would have last week. "I will not say you will forget what happened—you should not, for to forget would be to repeat the mistakes that led to such… undesirable outcomes. But the pain will fade. And you will have a great and glorious future."
Jean says nothing.
The words she wishes to say will not bring the dead back, and she wants them to be sharp enough, true enough to cut through her mother's love and show her how unforgivable their society is.
She becomes a rebel when she's sixteen.
She had heard vague suggestions that they existed for years, whispers that there were those who actively defied the Tal Shiar, but she had no idea how to go about contacting them.
So instead she begins publishing her work, hoping that if she can manage to make her allegiances known the rebels will find her. It's a difficult prospect, trying to integrate the themes that she wants without immediately summoning the Tal Shiar to her house, but she manages, including small subplots with subversive themes in her short stories, trying to cloak them under the guise of young emotions; she hides poems within poems, the words from the first lines of each stanza giving messages unrelated to the odes to nature and love and honor that fill the standard-length verses.
She feels strangely calmer with each publication. The words are dangerous. Her ploys will not protect her for long, and if the Tal Shiar come for her, she will not be able to deny her faltering belief in the Empire. But the words are her own. The action is one she desires to take. And the things she sees in her battle-visions, things that had become darker and darker in the months after her mother took such awful actions for her, begin to become more balanced again.
She sees a Human with blue eyes and blond hair, and the devotion and love and belief in his expression is enough to bring tears to her eyes.
She sees a man who could be Romulan or could be Vulcan, and he is laughing so happily as he wades into a fist-fight that it makes Jean smile to see him.
She sees a group of small, furred creatures, three of them, huddled together, but it is a huddle of warmth, of camaraderie, and she knows that they are looking at her as they beckon someone closer to them.
She sees visions of blood, still, of death—of the same beings from the beautiful visions dead—but she doesn't mind so much if she can see them happy, as well. If she can have the balance, if she can be worthy of the good as well as the bad, then she is content with what she is doing with her possibly-very-short life.
It's only three months into publication when the woman finds her.
She says woman, though she later learns they are the same age. The female has a bearing and stance to her that speaks of surety, though, of certainty, of maturity, and Jean finds herself drawn to the female almost as soon as she sees her.
They don't share classes, but they watch each other for a week, until the female finally approaches Jean.
"Hello." The female falls into step next to Jean as Jean heads home, along the park path that now holds dark memories.
"Hello." Jean says the word cautiously, studying the female through lowered eyes.
"You're the writer. You've been making quite a name for yourself. Full of talent, though with some youthful follies to your writing that they hope will be sorted out as you age." The female grins, and it is a dangerous grin, sharp-edged, achingly familiar in a way that Jean doesn't quite understand. "I'm fairly certain that's because they haven't found the secondary poems yet. It's a clever way to beat the censors, though once they catch on you're rather damned. One accidental call for a peaceful universe in a poem about how beautiful Romulus is can be called an accident; five is definitely a pattern."
"Oh?" Jean draws a deep breath, somehow calmed by the simple statement of fact. "And what did you think of those poems?"
"I loved them. All of them." The grin fades from the female's voice, leaving an utterly serious expression behind that Jean can't quite read. Is that fear, in the female's eyes? Is that longing, in the way her lips are tight? "I love the way you describe Romulus. I love the way you love all of it, the trees, the desert, the life, the death, the beauty that is clear in the light and the beauty that is hidden in the darkness. And I love the way you describe the universe, the vision that you have a future that isn't based on military conquest and slavery."
"You haven't gotten to hear too much about that." Jean's voice is tight, taut with anticipation, though she doesn't know what she's expecting next. "They were just a few lines, a few verses snuck into other things."
"I know." The female comes to a halt. "But I'd like to hear more, and I have some friends who would, as well. If you'd like, we might even be able to get things published for you without having to go through a censor. Under any name you want."
"I…" Standing, facing the female, Jean finds herself at a loss for words. "How do I know I can trust you? How do you know you can trust me? I could take what you've said and go to the Tal Shiar."
"You could." The female's smile is sharp and pointed now. "But that would involve you first getting away from me, and then my still being somewhere they could find me, which I promise I wouldn't be."
"Unless I didn't tell you what I was planning. Unless I tell you I'm going to help you and then give them the time and place of one of our meetings."
"Yes." The smile fades again, replaced by quiet consideration, an intense scrutiny that Jean meets evenly, without flinching. "But I don't think you would do that. And since there's no way other than melding for me to be sure that you're telling me the truth, and for you to be sure I'm telling you the truth, I suppose we'll have to agree to trust each other."
Jean flinches back at the word meld, at the casual way with which this female names the talent that has been her greatest joy and greatest shame since childhood. How can she say it so calmly, as though it were simply another tool, another trick, not something that the Romulan people have tried to quell and cut out of their population for centuries?
"Jean?" The female straightens, looking intrigued. "You can't meld, can you?"
"I—" Licking her lips, Jean thinks of what the female called her, and all other thoughts fade away. "That name. How do you know that name?"
"Oh." Just a small, quiet word of dismay, but Jean can see the female freeze, all expression wiped away to a carefully neutral façade. "I… it's just… a name I've been associating with you since I started reading your work."
"Why? Why that name?" Out of all names, foreign and Romulan, how had that one come to be associated with her? There has only ever been one being she shared that name with, and she knows that girl never had a chance to speak it to another.
"Can you meld?" The female looks away. "Because if you can, I think that would be easier than trying to explain it."
She doesn't answer in words. Instead she leads the female off the path, to a secluded spot, and backs her up until she is standing against a tree.
The sun is warm. There are more clouds than there had been the last time she stood like this, a hint of rain in the air, but the conditions are still similar enough to bring tears to her eyes and a burning to her throat. "Don't panic. Please."
"I won't." The female's words are the quietest whisper, and her hand strokes through Jean's hair, gently, almost reverently.
She closes her eyes. She doesn't want to see the female's expression. She doesn't want to know if fear starts to cloud those eyes, or if disgust twists that strong mouth into a look of loathing. Instead she allows her fingers to explore, tracing over the female's eyebrows, sharp and straight, over the cheekbones, smooth and low, and her hand is shaking as she opens her mind but she wants this, so badly, always wants this, every time she touches another's skin, and it's glorious to be able to do it again. To be able to reach inside and take down the barriers, to reach out with all that she is and wait for the mirror-echo of this female's identity, and between one breath and the next they are linked.
She sees him first, the man with blue eyes and blond hair, the Human who is made of more fire than some Romulans, and she gasps out a sound of shock and joy because this female both knows him and thinks he is beautiful and wonderful too.
Then she sees the rest, and the sound that escapes her is a strangled cry of bewilderment and relief, the tears that run down her face ones of stunned comprehension.
The reason this female's grin is so familiar is that Jean has seen it before, though not on this face, not in this lifetime. It is a grin she has watched go into battle after battle, some sport, some deadly serious, and she doesn't break the link by moving her right hand but she does wrap the female in a tight embrace with her free arm before diving even further into the other's mind.
Easy, Jean. The female hugs her back, a strong, firm embrace. There's a lot of information in there.
Bahorel. The name is a sob, not recognizable by ear but holding the key to memories in Jean's own mind. Your name is Bahorel, and I've known you before.
Yes. A flash of images, other people that they both know, that they've both found in so many other lives, smiles and hugs and kisses and quick friendly touches on the shoulder except for when they are flashes of blood in all the colors of the rainbow, corpses they've left in so many lives, and she wants this information, she needs this information, but the sheer scope of it drops her to her knees.
Bahorel is the one who breaks the connection, her fingers gently prying Jean's hand away from her face, her voice repeating their names—their true names, their soul names, and it wasn't madness it was memory, it was purpose, it was right—over and over again until Jean can finally open her eyes.
"Always so fast to jump in over your head." There's no censor in Bahorel's words, only fondness in her smile. "I'm so glad it's you, Jean. I'm so glad I've found you."
"You've found me." She's crying, still, but she doesn't think she could stop, relief and sorrow and joy all wrapped up inside her like a knot. "You've found the others?"
Bahorel shakes her head. "Not all of them. Three of them—or, rather, they found me. But we're still missing a lot."
"But we'll find them." Jean stands on knees that feel too shaky, too weak, and swipes pointlessly at her face as the tears keep coming. "We'll find all of us, and we'll change this world."
"We will." That feral edge returns to Bahorel's smile, and a wave of love and familiarity almost drops Jean back to the ground. "We'll save each other, and then we'll save the world."
"Do I need to stay where I'm at, or…" Jean draws a deep breath, steadies herself to say the words. "Do we have somewhere we can stay?"
"We have contacts, safe places we can move you if you can't stay where you are." Bahorel leans forward, and her lips press against Jean's forehead, her hand slides along the curve of Jean's ear. "But take a moment. Think about what you'd like to do, what will be most helpful. Your whole world's just changed."
"For the better." Jean knows she should wait until her majority comes to leave home, finish her schooling, get what resources she can for the rebels from her own funds. The thought of staying there when there are others like her—others who will understand and accept her… "You don't care that I can meld?"
"It's a useful skill. I've yet to learn the knack, though Courfeyrac is a damned master at it, always has been." Bahorel shrugs. "Combeferre thinks the ability is still dormant in most of our people, it's just been suppressed by culling and general cultural repudiation of anyone who flaunts the talent. It gives the Tal Shiar an edge, because they can snap up anyone with a strong talent for their ranks and no one else will have the mental ability or training to withstand the attacks they're trained to give."
Courfeyrac. Combeferre. Enjolras, blond and blue-eyed again, fire in a Romulan body this time, and Jean shivers in overwhelmed delight.
"Come on. I'll take you to meet them." Bahorel smiles, holding out her hand for Jean to take. "I think you should probably stay with your parents for a little longer, provided it's safe, but that doesn't mean you can't come home when you need to."
Somewhere that she can be herself. Somewhere that she can write what she wants. Somewhere that she can give her soul-name and not be called mad. Somewhere her ability to touch their minds will be a gift and not a cause for murder.
Blinking the tears from her eyes, she takes the proffered hand, relishing the warmth, the buzz of contented emotion that she can read off Bahorel even from this casual touch if she allows herself to. "I would very, very much like to go home."