Homecoming: The Return of an Heir

Part 1

 

Six months later:

A cold February wind was mercilessly howling across the grounds at the Xavier Institute. The same wind had brought with it large snowdrifts that had already coated the estate’s grounds with over a foot and a half of snow that day. The sky shone a pale blue, bordering on white, in an early morning sunlight that gave no heat. The cloud cover of the day before had broken suddenly, leaving an empty sky this morning. Unfortunately, when the clouds had departed, there had been nothing left to hold in the already minimal amounts of heat, thus leading to even lower temperatures.

Remy viewed the entire scene from his bedroom window with no small amount of apprehension. Having been raised in the humid bayou regions of Louisiana, he had never developed an appreciation for the colder temperatures of New York. This particular cold front, which had every X-man in the mansion, with the exceptions of Iceman and Storm, huddled next to fireplaces, grated particularly on his nerves. If he and Xavier hadn’t already planned their trip to Chandilar, the Cajun would have seriously considered trying to talk Rogue into slipping away to Miami for the weekend. Fortunately, He remembered Xavier mentioning that, at this time of year, Chandilar was in it’s equivalent to late Spring. Remy gave silent thanks for that fact.

Turning from the window, the former thief returned to his present task of packing. Considering the half-filled suitcase in front of him, he idly wondered what type of clothing would be considered politically kosher for the as yet un-born son of the Empress of the Imperium. He was fairly certain that his usual shredded jeans and tight-fitting tank-top combo would be ruled out and was even less sure about his spandex and kevlar combat togs. Remy had even put out a good six-thousand dollars for a Gianni Versace, then belatedly realized that Earth fashion designers would probably mean little to the Shi’ar imperial court. He didn’t regret buying the suit, though. Rogue loved it on him.

Remy plopped down on the edge of his bed with a frustrated sigh. Normally, he wouldn’t have even cared what an entire court of alien nobles thought of him. In fact, the devil-may-care attitude in him probably would have thrived on creating as much of a shock effect as possible. However, this time the issue was a little bit bigger than just his personal image. Xavier had told him that in many ways, the impression that he conveyed of himself would reflect greatly on Lilandra’ political standing once she revealed that he was indeed her son. And Remy didn’t want to do anything that was going to be detrimental to Lilandra.

That was why he was here, still sorting through clothes with an indecisiveness that he probably would have mocked and ridiculed in any other given situation. And he wasn’t sure that he didn’t want to ridicule it anyway. The Cajun gave a sour grunt of amusement as he balled up a pair of shorts that he had been considering and tossed them in the corner of his room. It seemed that family always managed to make him do things that he never would have even considered in other situations.

The concept of Xavier and Lilandra being his parents still seemed somewhat unreal even now, six months after the knowledge had been revealed. However, the events of the past summer, though incredible, made it impossible to refute the fact. He was the son of Professor Charles Xavier and the Empress Lilandra Neramani. And he was a man whose time was limited in a very real and harsh manner. Telling Lilandra about the paradox that would eventually take his life was the one event that he was dreading above everything else in the upcoming trip.

Remy shook his head to dislodge the dark and heavy thoughts before they had a chance to fully form in his mind. There was nothing that he could accomplish by dwelling on that fact, other than driving himself and others to distraction with self-pity. He still had nine and a half years of his life left to him and that was more of a guarantee than most people who lead normal lives, without the perils of being an X-man, could claim.

The Cajun shot back to his feet, intent on dismissing thought with action, and promptly found himself facing his prior dilemma as he stared blankly at the still half-filled suitcase. Sighing, he crossed the room to collect the pair of shorts that he had launched from his bed only a few moments before. In what was probably his first decisive action in the past half-hour, he carefully folded the shorts and placed them on top of the meager pile of clothes already contained in his luggage. After all, they were one of the more comfortable pieces of clothing that he owned and he was certain that there would be some part of the palace where he could just dress casually.

"Mah o’ mah," Remy had to grin as he turned to face the sound of the southern drawl that wafted over from the doorway to his room. "We ain’t just a tad bit nervous, are we shugah?" He had been so absorbed in his present task that he hadn’t sensed her approach.

Remy flashed his most charming grin at the Southern belle, known as Rogue and, more recently, Tamara. "Non. Dis jus’ be an ancient Creole custom, chere. Ya’ gotta’ spend a mandatory five hours packin’ before any trip ta’ visit family. Ot’erwise, ya’ bring bad luck."

He took a moment to appreciate the view in front of him. She was currently wearing one of the stylized inhibitor collars that had been modified to look like a necklace. Thus, with accidental skin contact not being a great concern, the southern belle had donned a pair of slinky shorts and a close fitting tank top. She caught his roaming gaze and pinned him with a glare of mock outrage. Remy responded by shrugging his shoulders and giving her a completely unrepentant smirk.

Rogue flashed him a sultry grin and slowly began to cross the room. "And here Ah thought that ya’ were always the rebel, bucking at tradition."

Remy slowly wrapped his arms around her shoulders, letting the scent of her fill his nostrils. "Dat just be an image I created ta’ attract women."

Rogue’s arms snaked around his waist as she met his gaze with a mischievous glint in her eyes. "Does it work, shugah?"

"Seems to," he responded, bringing his mouth onto hers in a passionate kiss. He then pulled her into his arms in a tight embrace, allowing one of his hands to freely stroke through her hair.

"So, how are ya’ really feelin’ about this?" she murmured softly into his shoulder.

"I don’t know," he finally responded honestly. He rushed to elaborate when he saw Rogue’s brow crease in concern at his statement. "T’ere be to much goin’ t’rough m’ head at t’is moment. Too many t’ought an’ hopes an’ worries an’..." Remy trailed off helplessly. "I been tryin’ t’ figure out myself what it is t’at I be feelin’ about t’is trip for de last couple of weeks." He shook his head. "I still don’t know what ta’ tell ya’."

The thief sighed deeply, pulling back away from the comfort of her arms. He had asked himself the same question nearly thirty times in the past hour alone. Yet, despite all of his self-examination, he still had not been able to produce a response. The myriad conflict of emotions that was currently running though his heart and "

Rogue nodded, her eyes filled with understanding as she drew him into another embrace. "Ya know, it’s kinda’ funny."

"What is, chere?" he whispered into her hair.

"As a little girl, Ah always dreamed of growin’ up ta’ meet Prince Charmin’." He felt her tremble slightly at a repressed giggle. "But, Ah never, not in a million years, dreamed that Ah would bag mahself the prince of an entire galaxy."

Remy snorted in amusement at her assessment as she lifted her head to stare into his eyes again. "If ya’ think about it, it almost seems like a strange, twisted version of some fairytale."

"Yeah, but de difference be t’at in dis one, when de clock strike midnight, I’ll disappear along wit’ de carriage an glass slippers." He saw her expression fall and immediately wished that he could reach out and take those words back. She was already more than aware of impending fate. He knew that she had cried herself to sleep several nights when they had first learned of the paradox and how it would affect all of them.

"I’m sorry," he said quickly, but the words rang hollowly in his ears. Rogue simply nodded and disengaged herself from his embrace, walking over to his suitcase lay open on the bed.

Remy wanted to kick himself. Even though their relationship had experienced several breakthroughs in the past six months, they would still instinctively push each other away at times. Still, they were making progress and more and more they were learning to identify and thus eliminate such behaviors. He moved behind her, placing his hands on both of her shoulders, but didn’t say anything else. After a moment, she leaned back into him and he could tell that the dark moment had passed.

Rogue seemed to come out of her reverie and stepped forward to snatch up the pair of shorts that he had carefully folded and placed in the suitcase just moments ago. "Shugah," she cried in outrage. "How can ya’ even think of bringin’ these horrible things."

Remy tried not to grind his teeth in frustration as she disdainfully tossed the shorts aside. For the next twenty minutes, the two lovers found themselves engaged in a contest of wills with the suitcase as their battleground. In the end, they finally managed to meet a consensus, were ready to sign a treaty, and began post-war relations, when the incessant beeping of a communication’s badge interrupted them.

Remy sighed heavily as he withdrew from Rogue’s arms. He snatched up the X-man com badge and tried to keep his voice as civil as possible. "Gambit, here. What do y’ need?"

"Hey, gumbo, hope I wasn’t interuptin’ anything important." Rogue’s face turned slightly red at the sound of Logan’s gruff implied statement.

"Non, of course not." Remy replied sardonically.

"Good." He could here the faint amusement in Logan’s voice and made a mental note swap his Cuban cigars with exploding ones. "We just got a call from the Shi’ar cruiser. They said that they should be within teleportin’ range in another two minutes. Chuck wants ta’ know if yer’ ready ta’ go."

"Yeah, tell him dat I be down in a second." Remy moved to switch off the communicator. 

"Sounds good, Cajun. Oh, and one last thing." Remy stilled his hand right before he was about to flip the activator switch. "A few minutes ago ya’ got a call from someone named Moreno."

Remy hesitated a moment before responding. "What he have ta’ say."

"Not much. Just said ta’ tell ya’ that he hadn’t gotten a nibble yet." The thief found himself frowning at the import of Logan’s statement.

"T’anks Logan, Gambit out." He didn’t bother waiting for any response from the Canadian before switching off the communicator.

Remy stared grimly at the com badge, trying to decide what to make out of Moreno’s message. Moreno was a very talented street informant, who happened to owe him more than a couple of favors. Remy knew where too many bodies were buried for the informant to ever consider shrugging off one of his requests. The fact that he hadn’t been able to find any information concerning the thief’s latest request was more than a little disconcerting.

About three months ago, another one of Remy’s old associates had informed him that some new mysterious individual had been asking a great deal of questions about him. At first, he had shrugged it off as just another private investigator trying to locate him. After all, being the third best thief in the world meant that he would often have to deal with unwanted "admirers." However, this mysterious individual seemed unusually tenacious. All the circles that Remy frequented to keep himself informed on the activities of the underworld indicated that, in the past few months, there had been an unaccountable increase in interest on the subject of Remy Lebeau.

Remy had finally decided to make his own personal inquiries into the matter. Unfortunately, this mysterious new entity was keeping itself shrewdly hidden. After more than a month of investigating, Remy was yet to find a single name to attach to this new element. That fact was why he had finally decided to put Moreno on the search. As a well known though not very well respected informant, Moreno would inexorably attract the attention of anyone who wanted to know what was going on in and around New York City. And as Gambit had been particularly active in that area in the past couple of years, Moreno would be the perfect bait for drawing out his unknown admirer.

"Problems, shugah?" Rogue asked with just a touch of concern.

Remy considered carefully before responding. "Non. Not’ing dat be important right now." He could see that she wasn’t happy with that answer. "Just someone been tryin’ ta’ dig up some information on me for some reason." He shrugged his shoulders and dismissed the train of thought from his mind. His shadowy new friends would have to wait until he returned from Chandilar. By then, Moreno should have been able to discover something.

Remy felt a familiar sensation of anticipation settle in his stomach as he turned his mind back to the prospect of the upcoming journey. It was the only emotion of the convoluted myriad currently running through his heart that he could readily identify. It was the same gut rending and adrenaline fueled rush that he would get every time he planned and executed a pinch. Only this time, the stakes were far more personal than any for which he had previously played.

The former thief slung his carry bag over his shoulder and turned to face Rogue once again. He was tempted to ask her to come along with him, but squelched the desire, knowing that every available X-man was desperately needed on Earth. The entire team had been run ragged these past couple of months, trying to maintain the peace ever since Graydon Creed’s assassination. Things had calmed down considerably in the past weeks, which was the only reason that he and Xavier had managed to slip away. However, the entire situation was still far too volatile to be able to spare more X-men.

"Well, chere, dat’s my ride." He watched her nod slowly, memorizing the details of her face as she did so.

The sight of her face filled his eyes as the smell of her hair filled his nose. A contentment more complete than anything he had every known filled his heart as he stared into the eyes of the woman he loved. His last coherent thought as their lips met was that the Shi’ar cruiser would probably end up running a little bit behind schedule when it left Earth.

 ***************************

Lilandra Neramani glanced up from the reports scattered across her desk at the sound of her chamber door opening. She felt the tension increase marginally in her stomach at the sight of the man who now stood at the threshold. Gladiator stood respectfully at the entrance, awaiting her summons to enter. Lilandra sighed, knowing that she had been putting off this moment for far too long already. There had always seemed to be something of great importance that needed her attention, especially with the Festival of lights beginning in just another ten days. However, with Xavier and Remy now en route to the to Chandilar, there could be no further delaying.

"Greetings Gladiator," she formally greeted the warrior. Indicating in front of her desk she bade the man to enter. "Please, come in."

Gladiator approached her desk and gave a dignified bow, the living epitome of solemn duty. "You summoned me, Empress."

"Yes, how proceeds the investigation?" She knew that she was stalling again, but justified it by the fact that it was her duty to see that see that perpetrators of heinous crime were brought to justice.

"I turned in my final report to the Imperial magistrate this morning," Gladiator replied straightening to his full height once again. "Magistrate Talm was to inform you of our findings."

Lilandra belatedly remembered that she had been forced to cancel a meeting with Magistrate Talm that morning when a hostage crisis had developed in on Pravis IV. She hated to admit it, but she had almost been relieved that an emergency had occurred, to excuse her from what she was certain would have been an extremely tedious morning. Apparently, he had planned to inform her of the findings during that meeting. Still, protocol demanded that he should have seen that a copy of the report had come into her possession regardless.

"Apparently, he hasn’t quite gotten around to it yet," Lilandra replied with a carefully neutral tone. "Would you please brief me on the highlights?"

She noticed his features darken considerably at her statement. The disrespectful nature of Talm’s gesture was not at all lost on the Warrior and it was obvious that he did not approve of it. "Certainly, your majesty." His voice was slightly clipped with anger. "The perpetrators were indeed Skrull terrorists. There was a great deal of damage done to the dwelling indicating a rapid and violent assault on the structure. We have managed to identify one of the murder weapons, a Skrull crescent blade, obviously left behind as their own private signature."

Lilandra nodded. Such brazen and brute methods were common enough among the Skrull. "Have you been able to determine the exact perpetrators?"

Gladiator nodded. "We have determined that Clan Rasharn was responsible. They had the man-power, the motive, and most importantly, skin samples found underneath the fingernails of Lady Teleranni were a positive DNA match with Kull, their clan leader."

"Have they been sought for questioning?" Lilandra queried.

"A Shi’ar cruiser was dispatched to find them. When they encountered Kull’s ship a firefight ensued and Kull’s ship was destroyed." She could tell by the tone of his voice that he held no regrets in the matter. "It is believed that most of Clan Rasharn perished."

Lilandra nodded and slowly leaned back into her seat. She supposed that she should have felt some sort of relief at the knowledge that her friends’ murderers had been brought to justice and would no longer plague the galaxy. Instead, she just felt empty, hollow, and strangely unfulfilled with the news of their demise.

Lilandra said a quick prayer for the souls of her lost friends then turned her mind back to the present. "Have you returned to your normal duties as of yet."

"No, my Empress. There are still a few detail regarding the investigation that I wish to see to." He replied solemnly.

Lilandra paused, trying to decide how to proceed. She knew that no matter what she asked of him, Gladiator would obey, unconditionally and without questions or need for explanation. Yet, she felt that for what she was about to ask of him, he deserved to know the truth behind her motives. She only hesitated because she was unsure of how Gladiator would react to the news.

"I have an unusual request to make of you, old friend," she said gazing at him intently, her voice raw with sincerity. "A request as your Empress and your friend."

She saw Gladiator’s face twitch slightly in reaction to her sudden shift from formal manner to a much more intimate one. "Yes, of course my Empress," he replied in earnest confusion.

"You are aware that my consort, Charles Xavier, is arriving today to attend the Festival of Lights with me?"

Gladiator nodded slowly, obviously unsure what to construe from her statement.

"Would you like me to provide a personal security escort for the Professor during his stay?" the warrior asked, going with the obvious assumption.

Lilandra shook her head slightly. "No, not exactly." She could see that he was genuinely confused now. This was turning out to be even more awkward than she had thought it would be. Sighing, she decided to plunge directly into the heart of the matter. "Xavier will be accompanied by one of his X-men. Because of certain...," she hesitated, searching for the right word,"...circumstances, I believe that he may become a potential target during his stay."

Gladiator’s look of confusion increased marginally at her statement. "Which X-man is he bringing with him?"

Lilandra knew that her response would be greeted with incredulity, but proceeded non-the-less. "Gambit."

The consternation that crossed Gladiator’s face might have provoked the empress to a most undignified state of amusement in any other set of circumstances. However, the underlining manner of outrage that she could sense beneath his surprise also summoned a hot flash of anger in her before she could stop it. Lilandra quickly grabbed hold of her emotions, knowing that Remy had not made the greatest impression on Gladiator during his previous trip. It was thus understandable that the Warrior would be less than enthusiastic about the knowledge of becoming the man’s personnel guardian.

"Yes, Gambit," she responded slowly, to his unspoken question. "Or, perhaps I should say Remai’llon Neramani as that is his real name." 

"He is Shi’ar?" Gladiator asked in disbelief.

"Yes, He is Shi’ar," Lilandra studied the warrior carefully, wanting to gauge his reaction to her next statement, "and he is my son."

Gladiator’s jaw stiffened sharply and his eyes opened wider than Lilandra had ever seen them open before. The Empress could easily read and understand the disbelief and incredulity written all over his face. Her own reaction had been somewhat similar. If any but Charles had tried to convince her of the fact six months ago she herself would have dismissed it as nonsense. However, it wasn’t nonsense and the simple act of dismissing it was not going to make the matter go away.

Gladiator seemed to be regaining a measure of his former composure. His eyes were no longer bulging though his face was still somewhat stiff. "My Empress, may I be so bold as to inquire how this is possible? It was my understanding that during his time on Chandilar as your consort, you and Xavier did not conceive." The personal nature of the question almost seemed at odds with the completely formal tone in which it was delivered.

Lilandra nodded fractional, conceding the point. "You were correct, Gladiator." She sighed, not completely certain what to say by means of elaboration. She knew that Gladiator would never intentionally delve into her private affairs. In all likelihood, he did not even fully realize the how his inquiry could be construed in such a manner. That fact, however, did not make it any easier, or less embarrassing, to have to discuss such aspects of her own personal life.

Still, some detail could be added without going into any unnecessary specifics. "At this point, Charles has been unable to inform me of all of the details, but it would appear that Gambit was cast backwards in time as a child. He hasn’t actually been conceived yet."

Gladiator wore an introspective expression and for a moment Lilandra feared that he may ask some rather embarrassing questions such as when exactly Gambit was supposed to be conceived so that he could notify the guard and make preparations for the heir’s own private escorts. Not only would it be rather awkward to have to speculate on such a matter, but she was not even certain if it would be an eventuality. The Empress had studied of temporal theory and it seemed quite possible that Gambit could originate from an alternate future, completely unassociated with their own timeline, much like the girl, Rachel Summers, had been. Otherwise, she wasn’t entirely certain how two versions of the same individual could chronologically coexist. Fortunately, Gladiator’s mind had gone down a completely different line of thought.

"If I may inquire, how was Gambit cast back in time as a child?" Lilandra blinked in surprise at the expression of shame that now crossed the Warrior’s face.

"I am not altogether certain." Lilandra admitted after a moment’s consideration. She had only spoken with Charles sparingly on the subject. For some reason he seemed reluctant to divulge a great deal of detail on the matter. "I only know that it involved the betrayal and death of the X-men by one of their own. He apparently possesses a type of Chronal displacement ability that was triggered by the attack."

Gladiator’s darkening demeanor prompted her to ask, "Gladiator, what is wrong?"

The proud Warrior bowed his head in response. He was silent for so long that Lilandra thought that he would not respond to her inquiry. However, he finally tilted his head upward fractional and whispered, "Empress, I humbly beg your forgiveness."

Lilandra stared at the man in open surprise. "For what do you beg forgiveness?"

Gladiator still would not meet her gaze. "I have been charged with the task of safe-guarding the imperial family. Whatever event that transpired to cause Gambit’s displacement was therefore a result of my negligence of that responsibility."

Understanding flooded through the Empress and she too felt a brief flash of shame. It had not been her intention to lay such a burden of guilt in the palace guardian’s charge, though she should have realized that he would see it as a great failure on his own part. In her own opinion it would be completely pointless for him to accept the blame for something that had not yet happened, and would probably never happen in this timeline. Unfortunately, what was done was done, and she knew that no attempts to assuage his conscience of guilt with vague explanations of chronal theory would be successful.

"Your forgiveness is granted," she intoned formally, knowing that any attempt to try to dismiss his concerns as unnecessary could easily be a blow to his honor.

He straightened slightly at her words and finally brought his gaze to meet her own. She could see the shame still burning behind his eyes, coupled with a look of complete devotion that bordered on worship. "Your majesty, It would be my greatest privilege to honor your request and act as your son’s personal guard."

Lilandra smiled in gratitude. Inside, however, her emotions still whirled and heaved about in a nearly nauseating manner. She just hoped that Gladiator’s protection would prove adequate once the Imperial Magistrate, Noble Council, and Shi’ar public learned of Remy’s existence.

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

Charles Xavier closed his eyes and gently massaged the two pressure points on either side of the bridge of his nose. He opened his eyes back up to look down in his lap at the copy of The Odyssey that he had been attempting to read for the past half-hour. He set about the task again, and after a few moments realized that he had been re-reading the same page now for at least ten minutes. With a sigh, Charles closed the book and placed it on the cushioned seat next to him. Apparently, not even one of his favorite Greek authors was capable of sufficiently distracting him from his present situation.

Charles glanced briefly over at the young man who, to a large degree, was responsible for that situation. At the present moment, Remy was seated casually across the cabin from him, completely engrossed in a Shi’ar guide to royal protocol. The book had been generated by Cerebro a few days ago and was written in Shi’ar, so that he could brush up on his vocabulary. However, between a last minute emergency concerning a Friends of Humanity riot and other necessary planning details for their upcoming voyage to Chandilar, he had not yet had time to even crack the book’s spine. Thus, Remy had been using the monotony of space travel as a time to catch up on his reading.

The trip thus far had been made in a tense, though not uncomfortable, silence punctuated only occasionally by his own brief comments. Most of those comments had been, in one form or another, related to the explanation of the Festival of Lights, which they would be attending during their stay. Remy had acknowledged most of Charles’s comments with a quick statement, brief nod, or an indifferent shrug before returning to his own silent studies and contemplation’s.

"Okay," Charles’s head snapped up at the unexpected sound of Remy’s voice, "when would I need ta’ use dis? Pascian d’arve contal."

Charles recognized the statement, despite Remy’s mispronunciation of it. It was a formal Shi’ar greeting, though rarely used. It was sometimes extended between dignitaries and other important figures of government. "Close," he conceded, "It’s pronounced Pascian d’arve contal."

"But, t’at’s what I said," the Cajun protested.

Charles almost nodded in sympathetic understanding. "In a certain phonetic sense, yes. That is exactly the way that you pronounced it. However, you said it in the incorrect..." he paused, searching for the right word, "...pitch."

Charles had expected a questioning look from the young man at his statement, but instead nodded in understanding. The Shi’ar language was far more musical than their own. After all, the Shi’ar descended from Avian ancestors, whose first forms of communications were variations in whistles and chirps. This had been one of the more difficult concepts for him to learn while attempting to telepathically assimilate the Shi’ar language. The modern evolution of that language incorporated not only the pure phonetic structure of a word, but also the tone, pitch, or key in which the word was said to determine its meaning.

"To answer your question, that type of greeting is traditionally only extended between members of nobility." Charles explained. "I myself have never used it."

"Well, den," Remy said grinning, "When do I need ta’ worry about using it."

Charles balked for a moment, realizing that he really didn’t know how to answer that question. He was fairly certain that Lilandra was yet to reveal the true nature of Remy’s lineage to the Noble council. And when that knowledge was eventually revealed there was no guarantee that he would even be excepted as Shi’ar citizen, much less a noble.

"Oh well," Gambit said closing the book. "I suppose, dat if worse comes t’ worse I can always try 'Bah weep granna weep ninny bom'."

Charles felt his forehead crease in puzzlement. "I’m not quite familiar with that phrase. Is it something else that you remember from your childhood?"

 

"Non, not ‘zactly, Xavier," Remy was grinning openly now, obviously amused, as he fished a cigarette out of his ever-present coat.

Remy didn’t light the cigarette, opting instead to simply fiddle with it instead. From the onset of this particular voyage, the captain, a stern-looking old Shi’ar woman had made it clear that all incendiary devices were prohibited while in the cabin of the cruiser. And seeing how Remy had already gotten on the woman’s bad side for delaying the cruiser’s departure from Earth, he was wisely choosing not to incur her further wrath. It had already taken a considerable amount of persuasion on his own part to convince the captain that the Empress would indeed be upset if Remy was left behind.

Gambit had withdrawn back into his own private contemplation again and Charles was only able to guess what they may be. The young man’s strong, impenetrable psionic shields were firmly in place, and his careful poker face revealed nothing. However, he imagined that the prospect of confronting Lilandra with the issue of the time paradox was weighing heavily on the young man’s mind. Charles could easily understand Remy’s apprehension as he shared it.

He knew that as difficult it had been for him to accept the certainty of losing his own son, it would probably be even more difficult for the Shi’ar Empress. It would be even more bitter reality for Lilandra, who had probably never even fully allowed herself to believe in the possibility of a child between the two of them. It promised to be a bittersweet reunion for all of them.

As he had many times before, Charles once again questioned if it would have been wiser to inform Lilandra of Remy’s dismal fate in a subsequent communication. Unfortunately, each transmission from Chandilar had been limited greatly by a time factor and Charles felt that this was definitely an issue that demanded more than two minutes to discuss. Thus, he had chosen to wait until the moment when he would be able to discuss the matter in person with his love, and then provide a modicum of comfort that would be impossible to convey by subspace frequency.

"Ya t’inkin’ of how ya’ gonna’ tell her?" Remy was staring intently at him as he spoke. There was no need for the younger man to clarify what he was referring to.

Charles gave a slow tired nod. "Unfortunately, I have yet to experience any sudden strokes of illumination as to how keep this news from causing a her a great deal of pain."

Remy considered the cigarette that he was still rolling between his fingers before he made it disappear somewhere with a sharp flick of his left hand. He smiled humorlessly. "Too bad makin’ de pain disappear ain’t so easy." With a flourish he drew the cigarette out from behind his right hand and continued to roll it between his fingers.

Charles closed his eyes and leaned back against his seat, suddenly feeling very old, tired, and completely unequal to the task that now lay before him. "No," he responded slowly, "it’s not that easy."

Naturally, from that point the conversation waned as a heavy silence fell across the small cabin. This silence, however, held a note of oppressiveness that the earlier, tense, anticipation-filled silence had not possessed. It was a silence that Charles loathed, but was unable to banish. Fortunately, the ship’s captain performed the labor for him.

"All passengers, please prepare for final approach on Chandilar." The Cruiser’s intercom system suddenly crackled to life. "We will be coming out of the sub-space wormhole within the next few moments."

Both Charles and Remy complied with the captain’s orders and secured themselves in the cabin seats. A few moments later, they felt a sickening lurch as the Cruiser pulled from subspace back to conventional reality. Charles knew from experience that the disorientation would only last for a few moments, at most. After that, they it would be safe for them to move around the cabin again.

Once the ship had stabilized, Remy immediately released himself from his restraints and walked over to a large observation window. In the distance, Charles could see the glowing blue orb, which was Chandilar nestled in the blackness of space. Remy was watching intently as the orb slowly grew larger with their continued approach. For that moment, he wore the entirety of his heart on the expressions of his face.

"I’m home," he whispered softly.