Julia woke and stretched in her warm, cosy bed and listened happily to the faint hum of the TARDIS engines just on the edge of her hearing. They were still in the vortex, she knew. The sound was different in temporal orbit, and different again when they were landing somewhere.

She turned over and kept her eyes closed. There was no need to get up yet if they hadn’t landed. Chrístõ’s plan for today was a rather pretty planet called Tamula with rolling hills and watered valleys to ramble through. Natalie had said they could do some natural history and maybe some art lessons with sketch pads and watercolours. She had appealed to Chrístõ but he said that HE was on field study too and there was no harm in a little outdoor education.

But no need for any of it yet. Another half hour of sleep, then breakfast, then field study!

“Hey, sleepy-head!” A pillow dropped on her head and she opened her eyes and threw it back. She didn’t know WHY Chrístõ insisted on her sharing a room with Christine. It wasn’t as if the TARDIS couldn’t create plenty of rooms. He said they could be company for each other. And in a way they were, of course. After being alone for so long it WAS nice to have a friend her own age.

But Christine could be a pain sometimes. She never needed as much sleep as she did, and was always impatient in the morning.

“Ten more minutes,” Julia protested and put her own pillow over her head and tried to go back to sleep. But it was no use. Now she was awake, she might as well get up. She sat up and looked at her roommate, and raised the pillow defensively just before a powder puff full of talcum powder plummeted towards her head.

“I’ll get you for that,” she laughed and grabbed the powder tin and chased her out of the bedroom and towards the bathroom. Julia got her at the door and they fell together, talcum powder flying everywhere as the lid came off.

The bathroom door opened and Chrístõ stepped out looking as if he had just dressed from the shower. He looked at the two girls and sighed.

“Christine! You ought to know better. And Julia! You’re never this much trouble on your own.”

“Oh Chrístõ,” Christine stood up and hugged him around the neck, kissing him on the cheek. “Don’t be so grumpy. You know you’re my favourite brother.”

“I’m your only brother,” he answered her. He bent to raise Julia from the ground, and she claimed a kiss from him too. He might have forgiven them both if Christine had not poured what was left of the talcum powder down his shirt.

“I’ve just showered,” he complained. “Now I’m going to have to change this shirt. “And it’s flower scented, too. What kind of man do you think I am?”

“The best,” Julia told him and planted another kiss on his cheek. And he definitely had to forgive them both then. He told them they had to clean the mess up though before he headed back to the wardrobe to shake off the excess powder and change his clothes.

As he was changing his shirt he thought about how Christine had ALWAYS been a mischief maker. Ever since she had been old enough to reach the doorknob and get into his bedroom he had lived in terror of what she might do. Ink all over his bedsheets, waterbombs, cúl grubs in his sock drawer, the lot. He had been her target every time he forgot to lock his room. Father had berated her every time, but it never stopped her doing it.

And he doubted she would change even now, out here with him in the TARDIS. He had hoped Julia’s influence would calm her, but it seemed to be working the other way. Julia was getting as mischievous as Christine. He had TWO teenage tearaways to cope with. It was more than he deserved. He was only a teenager himself, really. He had the burdens of an older man – and he didn’t mean caring for those two – but he WAS only 192. He should have more time to let his hair down and have fun himself.

Let his hair down! Chrístõ smiled ruefully as he remembered the time. He used to have long hair that he wore in a pony tail. The girls in his class used to be quite impressed by the look. Christine had crept up on him one day while he was in a third level meditative trance and hacked off the pony tail with a pair of dressmaking scissors. He had looked dreadful until Caolin, their old butler, had taken him in hand and properly cut and styled the rest of his hair. And the girls in class had been just as impressed by his short haired look. But that didn’t stop father being very angry at her. He never raised a hand to her, or to either of them, but he had shouted at her. She had cried herself to sleep, he remembered. But when father looked in on her later, he had called Chrístõ and told him to look, too. She had woven the piece of his shorn pony tail into a wristlet, twisted around with ribbons, and she wore it on her arm. As mischievous as she was, she was also a loveable child. She loved him, her big brother, a lot.

“I still smell of flowers,” he complained as he met them in the kitchen. Natalie was cooking this morning. She was looking well. One of her good days. He was glad, because he wanted to take them all for a pleasant day out.

“You smell lovely,” Julia told him and Christine stifled a giggle as she drank her orange juice. Natalie brought the scrambled eggs and grilled cúl nut cakes to the table and everyone ate heartily, remembering that today’s plan was for hiking in hills.

“You need one of your injections before we go out,” he told Natalie, and she nodded. The daily doses of the medicine Chrístõ gave her held off the cancer and stopped it from sapping her energy. It couldn’t completely cure her, and one day it would become less and less effective, but for now she was able to live life to the full – and by Chrístõ’s kindness she was doing that as she never did before. She had never really felt, even when she travelled in a space ship, that SHE was travelling. She was still just a teacher escorting the children who were enjoying the new experiences. But now, she was a part of something wondrous. A life’s adventure that almost made up for the greyness of what had gone before, almost made up for not having any future at all.

The planet was everything it promised to be. The two girls, with their food and drink in backpacks, were always way ahead of Chrístõ and Natalie. Chrístõ might have been ahead of them both, but he kept pace with Natalie. She was doing her best not to be the slow, fat woman who everyone else had to wait for.

“How is Julia doing in her work with Christine in class with her?” he asked, using the opportunity to talk to her about his responsibilities.

“She is livelier,” Natalie admitted. “A little restless sometimes. She is aware that Christine is far more advanced – being one of YOUR kind, of course.”

“Christine is a very average student in OUR education system,” Chrístõ said. “She messes about too much and doesn’t apply her brain. But I think that’s beyond either of us to sort out. I think she might pull herself together when she is a little older.”

“They’re both a JOY to teach,” Natalie added, lest Chrístõ think she wasn’t capable. “Julia loves to learn. She was asking if she might learn some of the history of your people, though. And I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

“I’ll let you have some books on our history and culture,” he said. “You can work out a lesson plan. Teach Christine some Earth history at the same time. After all, our mother came from there. She ought to know about it.”

“You should take her there,” Natalie said. “She would love it.” She smiled as she watched the two girls racing to the top of the hill. “Your father has an odd view of things. He decides it is unsuitable for you to travel with one young girl, so he sends you another one to look after.”

“Yes,” he said with a laugh. “But it seems to work. And after all, Christine IS my sister. So that’s perfectly appropriate. It only seems wrong with Julia because she isn’t.”

“It's wrong with Julia because you say she is going to marry you when she grows up.”

“She is,” he insisted. “One day… we’ll walk together somewhere like this, Julia and I, and a child of our own will run ahead full of the joys of life.” But talk of the future disturbed Natalie. She remembered only too well that she had no future.

“I would love to see your children, Chrístõ.” She said. But her sad thoughts had no time to coalesce. Suddenly the girls began to scream. Chrístõ folded time as he began to run. The accelerated time bubble included Natalie, too, and she was surprised to reach the scene of the problem almost at the same time he did.

“Help it, Chrístõ,” Christine and Julia both begged as they stood warily but at the same time grimly fascinated by the injured animal that lay tangled in a thorn bush. It looked like a small Earth lion, or a pathiza, the equivalent creature on Gallifrey. It had teeth and claws and what should have been a luxuriant golden coat if it was not matted with blood from dozens of wounds.

“Keep back, all of you,” Chrístõ said. “And keep alert for whatever attacked it!” He knelt just out of reach of the animal and pulled out his sonic screwdriver. He adjusted the setting and aimed it at the animal’s head. It didn’t knock it out, but it did take away the pain that was enraging it so that he was able to approach it. He untangled it from the thorn bushes and laid it gently on the softer grass and examined it carefully.

“I’m sorry,” he said to the girls who were already sobbing in sympathy with the creature. “It is badly wounded. The best I can do is end its suffering.”

“Do that,” Natalie said. “Girls… come on…” He looked as she took them both further down the other side of the hill and sat them down on the grass. Then he turned back to the wounded animal. He WAS a little uneasy about what had attacked it. It wasn’t a predator, because it had been left for dead, not eaten. He guessed it was a territorial fight with another of its own kind.

“I am sorry,” he whispered. “But that is the way life is in the wild. I suppose you knew that.” He ran his hand through the soft fur and then placed his hands on its head. He sent it to a gentle sleep with the power of his mind, then with a quick, sharp movement he broke its neck. He felt the life go from the animal, then he lifted it and placed it under the thorn bush again and pulled the branches over it. There was a natural process that must happen, but let it happen under cover, he thought. Let it have some dignity in death.

The girls cried all the louder when he came to them, because they knew what he’d had to do. They both hugged him as he sat down with them and he comforted them as best as he could.

“It's how nature is,” he said when their tears dried up. “It’s sad when we see it that way, but it IS how it is, and how it SHOULD be.”

They both understood that, of course. But they reacted as two young girls were expected to react. When they were ready to go on again they stuck near him. Just in case the other animal WAS around, they said.

“People would laugh at me for crying on Gallifrey,” Christine said. “Emotional half blood with Human tears.”

“People don’t cry on Gallifrey?” Natalie asked. “But…”

“Chrístõ and I inherited tears from our Human mother,” Christine told her.

“But what do others do then? When they are upset?”

“They don’t really GET upset very often. Not in that way. Gallifreyans are rather a stoic race. We have emotions, but we don’t show them much. In times of mourning… there are rituals – keens that are sung, special clothes that symbolise grief, vigils and rites that we perform.”

“Your people sound so COLD,” Julia said. “But your father… he is nice. Kind.”

“Yes, he is. And there ARE kind people. We’re not cold, really. I suppose we may seem it to others. But there is love and joy and sadness, too. But we just don’t have tears.”

“Except you and Christine?” Julia put her hand in his as they walked. Christine came the other side and claimed him. Natalie walked beside them, the fourth part of their family. The walk seemed to be doing her good, he thought. They would take a rest soon though. She would never tell them if she was in pain or struggling to keep up with them, so he had to make sure she didn’t have to struggle.

He made out himself that he was tired and wanted to lie down. That gave Natalie a motive to sit down and rest. And he noticed that she did, after a while, lie down and go to sleep. He put his jacket under her head and used his backpack for his own pillow. The girls went off with their sketchpads and a warning not to go too far – and a reminder that there WERE wild animals about!

He closed his eyes and sighed happily. For all the problems he had to overcome, it was worth it for days like this.

He was drifting to sleep, his consciousness still holding on by its metaphorical fingertips when a startling notion came into his mind. He sat up and looked at the two girls, sitting with their sketch books.

HOW did he have a sister 180 years younger than he was when his mother died when he was only six?

His lay down again and tried to make sense not only of the question, but how he had never even asked the question before. He remembered his mother’s death. He was an only child then. And yet, he also remembered Christine being born. He remembered her as the tiniest baby, wrapped in blankets, in his mother’s arms. He remembered her smiling happily and inviting him to kiss his new sister. And he had done.

He remembered comforting Christine when their mother died. She was only six years old.

No. Another memory overlapped. HE was the six year old and he had no sister.

What was going on?

He sat up again and looked at her. She was his sister, Christine. He had loved her all his life, even though she had plagued so much of it with her naughtiness. And everyone put that down to attention seeking because she missed her mother.

But he had been the one who missed his mother. And he had never been naughty because of it. Rather he had become a reserved, shy child for quite a long time, until kind adults like his father’s friend, Lady Lily, an elegant grand dame of Gallifreyan society, had brought him out of himself and taught him to love life again.

He seemed to have two sets of memories. One with her in them, the other without.

And the one with her in them seemed the fictional one. His mother was Human. How could she have had two children 180 years apart? The more he thought about it, the less it made sense.

But she was HERE. She existed. His sister, Christine, whom he loved dearly.

He sat up again and watched her and Julia, having given up drawing, tickling each other until they collapsed onto the grass in fits of giggles. Two girls from different parts of the universe, born in different centuries, but the same age, more or less, and the same mental development. Of course, Gallifreyans went on being treated as children until they were much older. Nearly 180 years of adolescence was very frustrating. Especially for him, being of mixed blood and knowing that on Earth he would have been regarded as a young man from the age of 20, whereas on Gallifrey even now many people still saw him as just a boy.

He fell asleep thinking about the frustrations of Gallifreyan puberty and woke maybe an hour later blinking into the bright blue sky above him. He sat up and looked around. The girls were back at their sketch pads, quietly, as if they had not wanted to wake him. Natalie was eating the left over sandwiches from the picnic lunch. Years of dieting had never made any difference for her, and now she didn’t see the point in denying her hunger.

He felt fuzzy-headed from being asleep, and maybe that was why he was still getting those conflicting thoughts. The logical problems seemed to buzz in his head now. The memories of being an only child whose Human mother died when he was six seemed to him to be the ones that made sense, that had the ring of truth about them. But the other memories seemed so much more satisfying. They seemed nicer memories in so many ways. They had been a REAL family for so much longer. But they just seemed so fictitious. Like a nice, nice, dream.

Except that she was there. He called to them and they both came running and hugged him. She was real. Her two hearts were beating fast from racing Julia to be by his side first. Her eyes shone. They were the same eyes as his. A lighter brown than Julia’s, which were so dark as to be almost as black as the pupils of her eyes. They matched his and they matched their father’s eyes. Their mother, he remembered, had soft slate-grey eyes. But Gallifreyan DNA tended to overrule Human and they had their father’s eye colour and the Gallifreyan abilities to adapt their eyes to the dark and binocular vision for viewing the distance, but they had a Human retinal pattern and they had tear ducts and a Human sensitivity to emotional stimuli that made those tear ducts overflow into tears.

“My sister,” he said, hugging her. He didn’t understand his own mind, but he understood one thing. She was his sister and he loved her. And he was glad she was with him. He was glad that his father trusted him to care for her while he was offworld.

“My brother,” Christine whispered with a grin.

“My boyfriend,” Julia said with a laugh.

“A sister is worth more than a girlfriend,” Christine teased her. Julia insisted that was not true and a playful fight ensued, only broken up when he chased them both halfway down the hill and they all three collapsed into one big heap.

“I love you both,” he said. “I have two hearts, and I have love enough for you both.” And that settled the argument. Natalie came down the hill to join them, bringing his jacket that he left behind and they continued on for the afternoon, enjoying the fresh air and the flora and fauna of an unspoilt and beautiful planet.

In the evening, they ate supper in the dining room of the little lodge hotel in the valley he booked them into. He let the girls have a half glass of wine each with their meal and he kept an eye on Natalie in case the long day had overtired her. Indeed she went to bed quite early, leaving him sitting with the girls on the balcony overlooking the hills they had walked across. They talked together for a long while, the girls apparently trying to stay awake as long as possible without being sent off to bed. Julia lost that game, of course, being Human. But that was a good thing, because he really needed to talk to Christine alone. He left Julia on the long bench with his jacket over her and brought Christine to the other side of the balcony, with a view over the river at the bottom of the valley.

“Who are you?” he asked in a firm voice, but he hoped, not a hard one. Even so the abruptness of the question seemed to startle her.

“I’m Christine,” she said. “Your sister.”

“I don’t HAVE a sister,” he told her. “I am an only child. My mother died when I was a little boy. Even if she hadn’t, she was Human. She would have died by the time I was sixty or seventy. She couldn’t have lived long enough for you to be born twelve years ago.”

“Chrístõ….” She looked hurt. There were tears in her eyes. He felt guilty hurting her. He had never deliberately hurt her in his whole life.

She had not been PART of his life. In fact, he was almost sure she didn’t exist in his life before he woke up this morning. All those memories had been planted somehow, overwriting his own memories, his REAL memories. Except somehow they didn’t stay overwritten.

“I don’t know who you are. I wish you WERE my sister. You are lovely, sweet, a little demon and an angel at the same time. The way a sister should be. But you are NOT my sister. I don’t have a sister.”

“Don’t raise your voice. You’ll wake Julia and this will hurt her.”

“That much is true,” he admitted. “But if I don’t hear the rest of the truth…” He grabbed her arm and held it firmly. Her eyes betrayed the pain he was causing. “If you are some demon…. Some creature taking on a form….” He paused. “If you are, then why the charade? Why have you messed with my head, and with Julia and Natalie’s heads? Why are you doing this to us?”

“Chrístõ, don’t be angry with me,” she said. “I wanted… I wanted to live, just for a little while. To feel what it was like to be a part of a family. To feel my brother’s arms around me, hugging me. To play and laugh with you. Even… even to hear you shout at me in anger, knowing you are only angry because you care for me. ”

“What do you mean?”

“Chrístõ, I AM your sister.”

“I don’t HAVE a sister.”

“I AM,” she insisted. “Or at least I should have been. Only not your little sister. I should have been older than you by fourteen years. I am your sister who died before you were born.”

“WHAT!” He gasped in astonishment at what she was saying. He remembered his father telling him a little time ago about the little girl who had breathed for a short while, unlike the stillborn babies and miscarriages that his mother had suffered before then.

“I died in our mother’s arms after only a few hours of life,” she said. “They buried my body in the family plot with a little marker stone with the name on it that mother wanted me to be called. Christine. A Human name that was near enough to our father’s Gallifreyan name. My spirit… should have been at rest. All the others are. The three brothers and two sisters that came before me. Their spirits rested quietly. But I didn’t. I stayed near my mother and father. I watched when you were born, my little brother. The one who lived. The one with the Mark of Rassilon, the one destined to grow up and do great things. I watched you grow up, and I loved you. Even though you never knew I was there.”

“You’ve always been near me?”

“Yes, Chrístõ,” she said. “Always. I hated it when the bullies hurt you. I wanted to protect you. But there was nothing I could do. I cried for you. Or… or at least I felt like crying. Spirits can’t REALLY do that. But I was there. I used to try to kiss you and make you feel better. But I could never get through to you. I stayed by you though. I came with you when you set out on your own in your TARDIS to be an explorer. Oh Chrístõ, I have been so afraid for you sometimes. You’ve had some terrible dangers. The time when those people tried to burn you to death. And that horrible machine crushing the life out of you. But you are so very brave, Chrístõ, and I have been so proud of you. And then… when Julia came along…. At first I was jealous of her. She was the sister I should have been. You loved her as I wanted you to love me. Then I realised I couldn’t be jealous of somebody you loved so much. But I realised… if you loved one sister… you could love two. And I decided to try to give myself a body. I may be a ghost, after all, but I AM a Time Lord ghost.”

“You’re not a Time Lord. You never went to the Academy. You didn’t transcend.”

“I went to the Academy beside you, Chrístõ. I learnt everything at your side. And I was there with you when you transcended. I felt all the pain you went through and your triumph when it was over. My Time Lord brother.”

“Ok, but…”

“That means I am as powerful as you are. And I was able to create a body for myself. A flesh and blood body that would be the same age as Julia so that we could be friends and you would feel the same love for me as you do for her. And I planted the memories in their minds - Natalie and Julia, of me, joining you all in the TARDIS. And memories in your mind of us as a family.”

“Christine!” His eyes were full of tears. So were hers. He reached out to hold her. She felt real. He felt her telepathic pattern. She FELT like somebody whose DNA was almost identical to his. She WAS his sister. And he loved her.

“How long can you stay?” he asked her. “This… surely it can’t be permanent. It would be against every precept. How long….”

“A week,” she said. “That’s as long as I can maintain the form. After that…. The body will die.”

“Doesn’t seem long enough,” he said. “And Julia loves you. So does Natalie. How can you just….”

“After I go, they won’t remember. The memories that were planted in their minds, and all memory of the things we do together in this week – it will all be wiped away. They will remember this week, coming here to this place and everything else we might do – but I won’t have been a part of it.”

“And me?”

“I can take your memory too, if you want. You have the choice.”

“That’s a hard choice, Christine.”

“You don’t have to make it yet, Chrístõ,” she said. “We still have the week.”

“We’ll make the most of it,” he promised. Then he hugged her tightly. “I love you, Christine. I don’t know if these feelings are real, or if you planted them, but I feel as if I have loved you all my life.”

“Only the memories are planted,” she said. “Not the feelings. Those are your own.”

“Then…” he started to speak, but he couldn’t. He hugged her again. He sat down on a bench and kept on hugging her for a long time. He still had two sets of memories in his head. But he could live with it.

He sat with her for a while as the moon came up on a lovely cool evening. A week seemed a long time and not enough time. He wanted to make the most of it all. Even a precious hour sitting with her quietly, without talking, just being aware of her Gallifreyan hearts beating in time with his own. He had been scared. He had been suspicious. Now, he felt blessed. And he was determined to make the most of the week of grace they had been given.

“We’d best all go to bed,” he said after a while. Christine walked by his side as he carried Julia to the suite of rooms he had booked. Christine got herself ready for bed as he gently took Julia’s shoes and socks off and the cardigan that went over her dress and put her into the bed as she was. Then he kissed her and his sister goodnight and went through to the other bedroom. He took off his shoes and jacket and lay down on the bed and stilled his brain and quietened the whirling thoughts that were in it until he was at last able to drop down into a fourth level trance and let his weary body refresh itself for the morning’s adventures.

 

When he announced the next morning that there would be no lessons for a week because he was declaring a holiday, the two girls were delighted. Natalie was puzzled. She protested at first about the curriculum, but he promised at least some of the treats in store would be educational.

And some of them were. They learnt about the life of Mozart by attending, in the one evening, three of his most famous concerts at the beginning, middle, and end of his life, while exploring his beloved Salzburg. They explored the golden temples of the Marre Plains on the planet of Nefritei, which came close to the great pyramids of Egypt for their ancient wonder. They did many things that Natalie could consider educational.

But they also did things that were purely fun, like the day they spent in the water park, where they even persuaded Natalie to go down the giant chute into the pool, and the day they spent on Earth in the 1990s, at what Chrístõ declared was the best place for roller coasters in the universe – Blackpool. Then they spent an evening watching meteor showers on Algro Delta, a planet that lay in the middle of an asteroid field and which had spectacular displays every night as the smaller rocks got caught in its gravity and burnt up in the atmosphere.

Another evening he brought them all back to Earth in August 1966, to see the Beatles in their last public concert at Candlestick Park, San Francisco. Then he took them to 1928 and they rode the Orient Express for a day, enjoying the scenery and several sumptuous meals in the first class dining car.

Everything he could think of that was fun, that they could do together, that he could pack into just seven days that were given to them to be together. And at night, when tiredness brought them back to the TARDIS, their travelling home in all of those wonderful places, he sat with his two girls, quietly, savouring their nearness. Julia, who he knew he must part with one day, and Christine who he must part with all too very soon.

Because even for a Time Lord time moves on. He could not stop it. And all too soon it was the last day. They spent the afternoon at the circus on Hegrion IV, and Julia, especially, appreciated the trapeze artists and acrobats and the girl who performed ballet steps on a high wire, and did things with their bodies even she couldn’t do. Natalie loved it, too. Christine looked excited, but Chrístõ knew she was sad and distracted. She clutched his hand all through the performance.

He was sad, too. But when they emerged from the marquee, blinking in the sunlight, they both smiled and gave no hint of their secret sadness to the others. Instead, Chrístõ took them for a tea that involved as much multi-flavoured ice cream as anyone wanted and then they spent the early part of the evening gently rowing down the placid river that skirted the main city of Hegrion IV. Chrístõ did all the work and enjoyed watching the women of his little family unit relaxing and enjoying the view. Julia and Christine sat together on the seat opposite him, both equal in his affection. He smiled at them as he rowed. He would have liked to have taken a picture of them together, but Christine said nothing like that would remain after she was gone, so there was no point. After tonight she would live only in his memory.

But they made what they could of every minute. Supper was a cheerful affair at another nice restaurant. And then they returned to the TARDIS – the comfort of home and familiar things. Julia declared herself tired not long after Natalie had gone to bed, and Christine went with her.

Chrístõ sat quietly for a while, wondering what would happen, when she would leave him. And how. Would they wake in the morning to find her dead? But she said that Julia and Natalie would not remember her. They would not be grieved that way.

He heard the door open and Christine came to him.

“Julia is asleep,” she whispered.

“What about you?” he asked.

“Sleep is for real people,” she said. “I am… I am not real.”

“You feel real,” Chrístõ reached out to her and she came and sat on his knee, her arms around his neck. “My sister, Christine. I am so glad to have known you.”

“I’m glad to have had the chance to know you, and Julia. And Natalie, too. You are a wonderful family. You take care of each other so well.”

“I wish you could be a part of it for longer,” he said.

“So do I, but I can’t. I really can’t. It is starting to hurt. Holding this form is becoming a strain. I must go tonight.”

“Stay with me until the end,” he said. “Let me hold you.” She really DID seem to be in pain now. Her face was pale and drawn and her eyes losing their sparkle. He put his hand on her forehead and drew out the pain. She sighed and smiled and thanked him for that.

He held his arms closer around her and felt her double heartbeat next to his own. He stroked her long dark hair and kissed her cheek lovingly. He felt very sad. It really felt as if she was dying. He hurt inside as if she was.

“Christine,” he whispered. “I want to remember you. Don’t take my memories of you. I want to be able to remember it all. Even the time when you cut my hair.”

“I will remember you holding us both on that big swing,” Christine said. “You, with me and Julia, both of us safe with your arms around us. You’re a wonderful brother, Chrístõ. Julia thinks so, too.”

“I know. Julia is a wonderful girl. I think… I think she’s a lot like you. I think there’s a bit of Christine in her. I wonder is that why I loved her from the first moment I met her.”

“No,” Christine said. “That was because you are destined to be with her.”

“Maybe. But I think I like my theory, too.”

“You WILL remember, Chrístõ. And I am glad you want to.” She kissed his cheek again and he smiled to feel it and held her ever closer. He felt as if the love of a lifetime for the lifetime they ought to have had together, brother and sister, was welling up inside him and he wished he could find a way to express it.

“I wonder what you would have been like as an OLDER sister,” he said. “That would have been different. You would have bossed me about, I expect. But I would have loved you.”

He tried to imagine what it would have been like to be the youngest of seven, if all of his siblings had survived. He would have been a different person. He thought he would still have had his share of his father’s love, but he would not have been his primogeniture. That was a special position and special relationship, of course. One he had never fully appreciated until it came under threat by the birth of his full-blooded half-brother. Not for the inheritance, the power, the money, but for the closeness to his father.

And yet, he would have been glad to be the lowly youngest child for that different life that he would have lived.

Christine gave a soft cry and tears welled in her eyes. He felt her hearts beat out of rhythm for maybe thirty seconds. It was beginning. Her hold on this life was coming to an end.

The pain was returning. He again drew it out of her and kissed her tear streaked cheeks. She thanked him for that kindness. But it was becoming increasingly harder for him to stop the pain. Her body convulsed as the forces holding it together fought to tear it apart now.

She looked frightened. Even though she knew what was happening and knew it had to happen, she was at the same time a frightened child who was going through a terrible experience.

“Did you know it would hurt so much?” he asked her.

“Yes, I did,” she said. “It hurt creating this body, too. So very much. But it was worth it.”

She cried again and he felt her hold on him slacken. He looked at her face. Her eyes were half closed but she was calm. He had taken the pain away for her.

“I love you, Chrístõ,” she whispered and then her head fell back against his shoulder. He felt her hearts slow and stop. He kissed her cheek one more time but he knew that her spirit had already left this body. He rose, holding her in his arms. She seemed so very light.

He laid her down on the floor and put her arms straight beside her. Then he knelt quietly and waited. He wasn’t sure what he thought was going to happen, but he knew something would. He wasn’t entirely surprised when her body simply began to slowly disappear. He reached out and touched the almost transparent body and he could only just feel her, as if she wasn’t quite physically there.

And then she wasn’t. He felt a grief overwhelm him such as he had not felt since his mother died. And even then he was too young to really understand the loss.

“I’ll always be watching over you.” He thought he heard her voice whispering, and then his hearts seemed to flutter as if something had touched him inside. She was in his soul, he thought. A child spirit within his own soul.

“Can you stay there?” he asked. But she was unable to answer him now. Her chance to communicate with him, to tell him how she felt, was gone.

But he thought she would always be there in her way. In his memory, in his hearts and soul.

He stood and wandered through the corridors. He quietly opened the door to Julia’s room. It had changed. Now there was only the one bed in it again. All Christine’s things were gone. Every trace of her. He knew it would be the same in the minds of Julia and Natalie.

They wouldn’t remember her. And that was easier for them than coming to terms with losing her.

He thought he could bear it himself. The memories were still there. As illogical as it was, he still had those two sets of memories. His real ones of being an only child – happy enough with his father’s love enveloping him, but very lonely. And the ones Christine had planted in his mind, of all those misadventures with her in his life. And he was glad he still had those memories. Even if they were false ones, he cherished them.

He came in and sat down in the big easy chair in the corner and watched Julia sleeping. She fulfilled that role of little sister in his life at the moment. Whatever else she was going to be in the future, she WAS that right now. And he loved her that way.

He thought of the times in this past week when he had chastised them both for letting their exuberance go too far. It was a side of Julia that he had not seen before. A hint of what she must have been like before she had to survive by her wits on a ship full of monsters. Though he hated having to chastise her, he hoped some of that exuberance might still be in her, and might yet show itself again.

“Chrístõ?” She opened her eyes and saw him sitting there in the glow of the little nightlight. “Is something wrong?”

“I just wanted to watch you sleep,” he said. “I wanted to be sure you were really there. I… I never had a sister. It's nice… to have one now.”

“Oh Chrístõ.” She slipped from her bed and came to him. He almost sobbed as she sat on his knee just as Christine had done earlier. He held her as he had held Christine. But he knew she would not go away. She was his forever. That thought was a pleasant one. He couldn’t stay here in her room all night, of course. But he wanted to take a little while like this, a small comfort as he mourned the death of the one who shared his blood, his parents, who had been one with him.