At A Distance

I cannot tell you this.

I owe you my life, love, and more. My throne, the safety of my people. The lives of all my empire, and the entire universe, and freedom from the burden that my eldest brother was. And more. You taught me to love, you taught me I could be desired for myself and not my power, you taught me what it means to have a soulmate, to love without the complications of power games interceding. You helped a callow young princess become an Empress of weight, and this is how I repay you.

I cannot even tell you why.

And so I speak to you long distance, where even you cannot hear the things I do not say. And I make excuses why I cannot so much as visit, knowing you haven't the technology or the power to make the journey yourself any longer. And I wonder if you know, if you already understand the truth I cannot tell you, and if that is why you've never confronted me, never asked to know why I hold you at a distance. People do not always need telepathy to know the things their lovers will not tell them. Sometimes I hope you know, for then you'll never ever ask me, and I need never admit my cowardice to you. But more often I hope desperately that you don't know. The truth would hurt you so much, love, and I cannot bear to hurt you.

So I am silent, and we speak nothing of our relationship, as I keep you at a distance.

Some of the happiest moments of my life were spent by your side, as we and the Starjammers fought to regain my throne. We were hunted, and afraid, and often running out of resources, with no luxury beyond what a single pirate ship could afford us. But we were together. If not for the suffering of my people under my sister's yoke, and the burden it placed on me to undo it however I could, I would have been happy to remain at your side forever.

But I had to take back my throne from my sister, to save my people, and you stood by my side to see that happen. I remember how happy we were when we won, our dreams of what we would do now that we'd taken back my Empire, how I would persuade my people to accept an alien Consort-Majestor and how you would then rule at my side, my soulmate, my love, my other self.

But then you changed.

And so did I.

I see your face in my mind, my love, and I remember.

I remember torturing dissidents, enjoying their screams of agony because they pleased you, because you stood at my side and told me to make them suffer, and so I had my guards torment them. And so they suffered, and so I enjoyed, for you wanted it that way.

I remember raining fire upon my innocent citizens, leveling their homes so my sister would take the blame for their genocide. And so parents wept for their children, blaming Deathbird for the blood I had shed, and so it pleased me, for it pleased you and that was all I wanted.

I remember lying bound in my own bedroom, naked and exposed as you beat me and burned me and lashed me with whips, and how I reveled in the pain even as I wept and screamed, for my agony pleased you and your pleasure was my own.

I remember a sexual hunger so terrible that I let you take me in my council chambers, in front of my advisors. I remember their shock and disgust, and how the crushing humiliation of being seen this way only added fuel to my lust as I begged for you to use me harder. I remember crawling across my throne room to take your manhood in my mouth in full sight of my courtiers, part of me deep inside screaming at the humiliation, that Lilandra Neramani could be brought so low, but the rest of me trembling with desperate desire. And so I did these things, because they gave you pleasure, and the only pleasure I could imagine was in pleasing you.

It wasn't you, love. I know it wasn't you. It was a Skrull impersonating you, stealing your powers and using them to enslave me, using my love for you to humiliate me, and through me all the Shi'ar Empire. I know this, but it makes no difference.

When I see your face in my mind, I remember what he did, wearing your face. And I cannot think of you without remembering, and shaking with the horror of the memories.

I never feared you, before.

You could have enslaved me at any time. I know that now. I knew it then, but it wasn't real, wasn't anything I truly feared. You were my love, my soulmate. And I-- I was Lilandra Neramani, sister to the Emperor and later Empress myself, a power to be feared in my own right. I was strength, and pride, and power, and in my youthful royal arrogance I could not imagine being broken.

I feared your student, yes, your Phoenix bright and terrible, but not for what she could do to me. I feared for my people. And I feared D'ken, for the sake of the universe. And I feared dying, for it meant I would be leaving my people in Deathbird's hands. But I never, ever feared for myself.

He taught me fear.

He taught me to fear you.

Because I know you would never enslave me as he did. Never force me to betray my people. Never shove all that I am into a tiny corner of my brain and make me nothing but a tangle of lust, hungering so badly I throw away everything I believe only so I can win your approval, only so I can taste your body once more. It wasn't your body. It wasn't you.

But it was your power he did it with, my love. And that means you could do it, too. And I would have no more defense against you than I had against him.

I was strong, and proud, and powerful, and he broke me to his will in minutes. I never imagined being brought so low. I never imagined I could fall--

Now I know, and I fear.

And I can never be near you again, so long as you could do the same.

I truly didn't mean that it would be forever, when I bid you goodbye. Your students had just freed me of his control, and you'd defeated him, and I felt overwhelming relief at my freedom, and at knowing the man who'd so abused me wasn't you. When you had to leave to fight your old enemy, back on Earth, I truly did regret your leaving. I didn't lie.

The nightmares didn't start until the night after you were gone.

I began to remember all that I'd done. All that he'd done to me. All that he'd made me do. The abuses of my people, so terrible they made D'ken look sane. The tortures he made me inflict on my people. The sexual torments he inflicted on me. The petty cruelties and humiliations. All of it... and when I remembered it, I saw your face smiling in approval as I killed, heard your voice bestowing praise for the horrors I brought on my people. Felt your hands, your mouth, on my helpless body. I know it wasn't you... but he made me believe he was, and used the love I truly felt as the weapon to break me, and now I cannot entangle him from you in my heart.

The Empress cannot be weak. I take drugs to keep myself from dreaming, because every night I dream, I dream of what he did to me, and I dream that it was you.

So I have not come to see you, or to let you near my person. I tell you it's responsibilities that keep us apart, mine to my people, you to your X-Men, and you accept this. I assume you accept it because you have never disagreed, even though I make up an excuse every time you ask if I could take a week's vacation and come to Earth, even though I have said it's concern for your health that keeps me from bringing you here to fix your damaged spine, even though I tell you I love you and yet never let you any closer than a hologram, a million light-years away. I am amazed you still believe me, and fearful that you don't, for I do still love you and I don't want to hurt you--

I could tell you it was the fears of my people that keep me from you. How, despite the number of times I've explained it wasn't you, my advisors still swear that they will kill you if you set foot on Chandilar again, and kill me if I go near you to be enslaved. That much is true, but I could fight them if I truly wanted to. I am the Empress. I could make my decision law, if I decided I wanted to be by your side... and all I would need is to want that.

I could tell you it's fear for my people that keeps me from you. How it's too dangerous to allow the majestrix of the Shi'ar Empire to consort with an Earth human of such devastating power. Such a conflict of interest, for if Earth were ever to come out into space and take the place that should be its, it would be far too dangerous to allow a loyal Terran such access to the Shi'ar Empress. Your people could conquer ours bloodlessly through your influence on me. And all that is true, but it was true before as well, and if I loved you and trusted you as I did once, I would fight my people's fears in that regard and have you for my own whatever the danger, for I would not believe the danger was true. And all I would need is to trust you.

I know it wasn't you, and I know I am being cruelly unfair. The Skrull took your face and name and powers, hurt you, enslaved you no less thoroughly than he did me. Tortured people you'd sworn to aid. Broke people you counted friend to his service.

Raped your lover and made her think it was you.

You suffered so horribly at his hands as well. Am I now to tell you that it hasn't ended? That he took me from you, linked your face and voice with humiliation and horror in my mind so tightly that I do not think I will ever break the link? That he ended my love for you, all because I am too shallow, too fearful, to see beneath the surface that looks like his and trust the mind inside again? How can I tell you this?

Forgive me, my love. I cannot bear to tell you this, I cannot bear to hurt you so. And so I let you go on believing that we still have a relationship, that it's only responsibility that keeps us apart, in hopes that you, at least, can dream for a while of a happy future for us.

For me, there is no happy future, nothing but deadening responsibility to my people and power games to be played with the men who want me and nightmares I dare not have, dare not admit to. There will never be hope again, never be love again, never be happiness again. The woman who loved you is dead; he killed her.

There is nothing left but the Majestrix.

And I cannot tell you so.