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Eternity: Far Longer Than Forever

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Disclaimer: I only own a few original characters in this story. All references that you recognize from the X-Men belong to Marvel and Stan Lee. I’m just playing in their sandbox for a little while. I promise to return everything to its proper place when I am finished, and not to leave the characters too badly damaged.

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Chapter One: A Cry For Help

“Far longer than forever
I’ll hold you in my heart
It’s almost like you’re here with me
Although we’re far apart.”
- ‘Far Longer Than Forever’ by Liz Callaway

Aerie, the Shi’ar home world, the Royal Palace…

Lilandra, Empress-Majestrix of the Shi’ar, was uneasy and she didn't know the cause of it. For once, everything in her empire was calm and under control. There was no unrest or rebellion, so she should have been taking the time to relax. True, there were pressures and responsibilities upon her every single day that she sat on the throne, but recently they had all been normal, ordinary problems – nothing that required frantic debates with her councilors, no all-night Council sessions or negotiations, and no need to send the Imperial Guard out to deal with a problem.

Lilandra wished she knew why she was so uneasy. She hadn't been working any harder than normal of late, so it wasn't a figment of her imagination caused by stress or lack of sleep. For the first time since she claimed the throne, she was on relatively good terms with the leaders and people of the Kree and the Skrull empires, both of which had a long history of conflict with the Shi’ar and each other. She was psychic, so her uneasiness could be a sign that something was looming on the horizon that could impact her empire greatly – although her powers ranged more towards empathic and telepathic projection and reception, and not precognition or clairvoyance.

For a moment, she wondered if it could have something to do with Charles, although she dismissed that thought almost as quickly as it occurred. He had been silent of late, but she was used to that. She had once told him, quite truthfully, that as Empress of the Shi’ar, part of her would always be alone, for the Empress needed to be able to make difficult decisions, even if they went against what she felt in her heart. Their telepathic bond was powerful enough to allow them to speak mentally, even across galaxies, although they rarely did so. For the sake of both of their hearts, until the day their duties could be put aside and they could be together, they had agreed to use the bond only in times of greatest need. If he needed her, however, he would not hesitate to contact her.

Perhaps she merely was tired from the daily responsibilities that her rank and title required of her. Her entire life had been one of sacrifice, not privilege as some might believe, what with her having been born a princess. She had dedicated her whole life, even before becoming Empress, to her people, keeping nothing for herself except her bond with Charles. For a brief time she had hoped that he would join her on Aerie, but he felt that his responsibilities to his students had to come before the desires of his heart, just as she knew that her royal duties had to come before her desires.

The last time we spoke, Charles did ask if I would consider coming to see him. It is much easier for me to go to him than it is for him to come to me. Maybe I should consider it. Of course, the moment I did, a new situation would erupt and I wouldn't be able to stay. Of course, that was a depressing thought which only added to her somewhat gloomy mood. And of course, there are other things to consider…the consequences if I was discovered for one.

Lilandra sighed as she left her throne room where she had just finished working with her secretaries on some minor imperial business that she had been putting off while she dealt with more immediate concerns. She tried to do everything that she possibly could for her people – her care and devotion to them were the reason that they were so loyal to her, even after the lies that her brother had spread in his madness. Over the last few years, those lies had been overcome when her people had realized that she would give them everything that she possessed, and then push herself far beyond her limits to give them even more. For that, she was one of the most beloved Empresses of recent times.

She had barely taken two steps from the throne room, her Imperial bodyguard Gladiator following behind her at his customary distance, when she was hit by a psychic cry that was so powerful the shock of it drove her to her knees. A jumble of images and feelings crashed over her with no clear order to them. All she could do was ride it out and then try to make sense of it.

“Empress!” Gladiator cried, leaping to her side.

Pain, fear, regret, love, hope, pride, peace…it made no sense. There was a flash of a man’s face, twisted with madness…fear! Something…small, electronic…pain! Another face she didn't recognize, although she had the sense that she did know him…old, chiseled, with snowy hair and hard blue eyes…regret, friendship. Then…faces that she recognized…pride, hope, love…Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm, Beast, Rogue, Gambit, Jubilee, and Wolverine…the X-Men!

Peace…

“Empress, what is it? Are we under attack?” her bodyguard pressed.

It was a valid question, because Lilandra was a powerful psychic, as her bond with Charles Xavier had proven. Having a telepathic bond with someone didn't automatically mean that you could contact them from anywhere, and especially not from across a galaxy. Yet, between Charles’ powers and her own, that was exactly what they were able to do. Clairvoyant or not, if her people were under attack and dying, there was a good chance that she would sense their pain and “hear” their cries.

“N-no, Gladiator,” Lilandra managed to say as he helped her back to her feet. She was still trying to sort through the chaos of images in her mind. The only way that she could have received those images was through her bond with Charles, but he was normally so clear and articulate when he spoke to her.

Then, from the depths of the jumble of images, a faint, whispered cry.

Lilandra…help…me.

“Charles…” she breathed. Without hesitating she turned to Gladiator. “Go! Have my star cruiser ready for launch by the time I reach it. We must get to Earth as quickly as we can. There is no time to waste.”

Gladiator, normally so stoic when it came to expressing himself, cast a briefly concerned look her way, before he nodded. “I hear and obey, my Empress.” Using his powers, he launched himself down the corridors, flying towards the hanger as she followed in his wake. Fortunately, the royal star cruiser, Lilandra’s personal craft, was kept prepared and ready to launch at a moment’s notice. Things could change so quickly in an Empire the size of hers, that her crew knew there would be times when she could give them almost no warning.

Charles? I’m coming, Charles. Please, hold on. She wasn't sure if her response reached him or not. Usually once he had made a connection with her, he clung to it so they could speak, and it usually required her complete focus and a meditative state to maintain. This time, however, something was very wrong. That message…it was as if he knew his time was limited, and his voice had been so weak…

One moment she was in the corridor of the palace, the next she was standing on the bridge of her cruiser, and they were lifting away from Aerie. “Set the fastest course for Earth,” she ordered the navigator. “The X-Men…” and Charles, she thought to herself, “…are in need of me. We must get there as soon as possible. Engage engines to full power.”

“Yes, Empress. Course is set,” the woman replied calmly. “Engaging engines for the planet Earth.” The last time she had made this journey it had been a time of great fear and sorrow, which had made the trip seem to take forever. She had gone to Earth knowing that she would have to break the hearts of the people who were her friends, but not having any other choice. Now, if her fears were right, she would be going to break their hearts again…but this time, perhaps she could offer them some hope. She wouldn't know for sure until they got there.

At the fastest speed that her star cruiser was capable of, it would take only a few minutes for them to reach the vortex that separated her galaxy from Earth’s and head into it. Lilandra sat on her throne, eyes closed to help her focus, trying to contact Charles, but something was very wrong.

Normally, she could sense the bond dimly, in the back of her mind, like a weak energy cell on low power, radiating constant heat. Although they rarely used their bond, she could still sense it and draw comfort from it. But now, it pulsed oddly, weakly. It almost felt as if something about it – or the other half of it, namely Charles – was fractured or fragmented.

Charles…speak to me. Touch me and draw on my strength for your own, she called out to him, using their bond. If he was able to respond, she knew that he would not hesitate to respond to that request. It was almost like a code between them, since it hearkened back to the first time that they had met, when she had been fleeing from her brother.

And yet, she received no response from him. That scared her more than the fact that he had called out to her for help in the first place. What could possibly be so wrong that his X-Men couldn't protect him from it?

“Empress, we've reached the other side of the wormhole. Arrival on Earth is coming up.”

“Have the medical bay standing ready, and prepare to send me down as soon as we are within range of the X-Men’s headquarters,” she ordered. She reached into a small compartment in the arm of her throne and removed the communication cell that she wore around her wrist whenever she left her ship. Although she was psychic, she disliked using her powers to communicate with her people via telepathy. She preferred that only Charles receive the benefit of her gifts.

Almost on impulse, as she watched Earth’s blue-green colors swirl into view on the forward screen, she reached back into the compartment and removed a small device. It was a neural stimulator – she always had one nearby, for they were especially useful when she was in a situation where she could not afford rest or sleep. She didn't know why she felt the need to bring it, but something was telling her that she would need it.

“My Empress, I will accompany you,” Gladiator said as he watched her.

“No. I will be perfectly safe among the X-Men, who are our friends and allies. You will wait here, and I will call for you if I need your aid,” she ordered. Gladiator was the most loyal and fiercest of all of her Imperial Guard, but his overprotective attitude could often become stifling. He forgot, at times, that she had once been Grand Admiral of her brother’s war fleet, fighting in battles any time D’Ken asked it of her.

“Empress, we are in range,” the navigator said. “Medical is standing by. Initiating transport now.”

The bridge of her ship faded away in a flare of white light, only to be replaced by a sterile, cold, metal room. Years of practice allowed her to set aside the minor disorientation from the transport as she took in the scene.

The X-Men stood between her and the bed on which Charles lay. There was not a single dry eye among them, and she knew all of them by sight. She owed them her life and her throne – they had given her the world and everything she had could be traced to them. If not for them, her brother would have killed her. If not for their trust in Charles and their willingness to believe her solely at his word, their world would have been lost.

In a slightly different way, they all cared about Charles as much as she did – to them, he was father, mentor, and friend, while to her he was a lover, a piece of her heart, mind, and soul. They did not seem surprised to see her there; rather they seemed to have expected her arrival.

But it was Charles who held her attention. He had not changed much since the last time she had seen him, almost two of their Earth years before. His face was still handsome, although at the moment he looked much more haggard than she remembered. His eyes were closed, as if he was sleeping, but his face was oddly slack, although peaceful. The primitive medical displays around the bed, however, were echoing with an odd tone – and although she was not a healer or surgeon, she knew enough, when combined with the tears in their eyes, to know they believed that he was dead.

She knew differently however. At the moment, he might not breathe, but their bond was still intact. Charles’ mind was still fighting, still trying to cling to life. If he had been truly dead, beyond all help, their bond would have broken – and that was a sensation that she would never mistake for any other. Something about their bond was giving him strength, although he was not consciously reaching for it. However, as long as his body did not breathe, he was slipping further and further away.

The sorrow – and the faint hope on the faces of the X-Men when they had seen her arrive – tugged at her soul, and their thoughts were so obvious that it took no effort at all to understand what had happened. She barely had to reach out and touch their minds with her psychic powers to see it as if it was happening in front of her.

For the last several weeks, their governing body had been debating the idea of a Containment Act designed to restrict the movement and rights of mutants, like Charles and his X-Men, along with all of the other mutants in the country. One of the leading proponents of the project was a man named Gyrich, a long-time enemy of the X-Men, who had been doing everything he possibly could to get them arrested or destroyed.

Charles, of course, had been opposing the pending bill as fervently as Gyrich had been trumpeting it. The hard weeks had been draining him, for he was not a young man any longer, and between his duties to his students, his responsibilities as the X-Men’s mentor, and now this campaign, he had been on the verge of collapse to begin with. It had all come to a head when they had met for a debate at the government building where the vote would be held.

“I have seen what these monsters can do. Don’t be fooled by bleeding-heart mutant appeasers! We are at war! The human race must take measures to survive! We must ratify the Mutant Containment Bill!” Gyrich’s words were inflammatory and angry, designed to rile up the listeners.

“Containment, Mr. Gyrich? Your precious bill speaks of taking innocent American citizens,” Charles paused to cough, before he resumed his speech, “and treating them like prisoners of war. There has been much strife between mutants and traditional Homo Sapien humans, with mutants usually the victims.” He directed his comments to the audience. “Mr. Gyrich’s ‘terrorists’ were actually heroes, risking their lives to save hundreds of innocent humans.”

“They aren't like us! They don’t want rights! They want to destroy us!”

“Mutants are human beings!” Charles coughed again, the strain showing clearly on his face, as he forced himself to continue. “They wish only equal protection under the law, to be accepted as…”

“I've always wondered why you’re such a mutant lover, Xavier. Xavier, the great peacemaker, friend of poor, misunderstood mutants. Could Charles Xavier be a stinking mutant himself?” The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a small device that he aimed at Charles and activated. The energy from the device hit Charles before he could react and when it did…

Lilandra pulled back from her psychic touch on their minds, her own mind still ringing with the sound of Charles’ scream. Only long years of patience in ruling her own empire allowed her to keep her face passive, despite the rage building up inside her.

How she loved this man…his passion, which was hidden by a veneer of calm and control, his kindness, his wisdom, and his integrity! Though she didn't know if he fully understood the strength – or meaning – of their bond, she did know that her heart was his to command if he chose and she could not refuse to help him. Gyrich had done something unforgivable, not only by Earth laws, but by the laws of her Empire, even though he didn't realize the grave error he had made.

The device that Gyrich had used on her beloved had been designed specifically to incapacitate him – to disrupt and confuse his neural patterns. But unless the man had gone completely mad and no longer cared, he had not taken into account what would happen to someone when such a device was used on them. The mind was extremely sensitive to disruption, and had Charles not been a powerful, highly trained telepath, with a determined, disciplined mind, he would have died immediately. But his mind had fought back long enough for his X-Men to get him under life support.

Beast had done everything he could, but they had not had any hope of Charles living through the night until Jean had realized that magnetic energy – such as the kind wielded by Magneto – could enhance Charles’ fractured brainwaves and temporarily restore his ability to control his conscious and subconscious mind. That ability was what had allowed Charles to reach out in desperation to her, as he had known subconsciously that she was the only one who might stand a chance to save his life.

She moved towards the bed, and the X-Men parted before her. She sat on the edge of it, and almost without thinking about it, placed the neural stimulator on his brow and activated it with the control on her wrist band. “Oh, my poor Charles…” she breathed as she carefully adjusted the power.

“You’re too late, Lilandra,” said a gruff, accented voice from her right.

“For human science, yes,” she replied frankly. As soon as she had the stimulator calibrated and powered up, she felt their bond beginning to stabilize. Not only would the stimulator help to focus his mental patterns, for a temporary amount of time it would function as a life support system with the settings she had programmed into it. She never used that feature for herself, but these stimulators had been designed originally to provide field treatment in battle for badly injured fighters, until an evacuation unit or a healer could reach them. Over the years, another benefit – serving as a stimulus without the need for chemicals or drugs – had been discovered, and she found them extremely useful during situations when she could not afford to take the time to rest. One stimulator would serve to help her stay awake and focused for up to three days before her body simply couldn't take it any more and was required to rest.

However, she had to be careful with it. It was designed for short-term use only, and because Charles had never used one, she couldn't set it on the highest settings – the power had to remain low, or she could do more damage than good. No matter how disciplined his mind was, with his mind and body as weak as they currently were, he couldn't tolerate the highest settings.

She glanced up at the man who had spoken. She had never met him before, but she knew him immediately from Charles’ memories and descriptions. His name was Erik, though he called himself Magneto because of his ability to control magnetic fields and metal. He was the X-Men’s chief enemy…and one of Charles’ dearest friends. “But you were correct in assuming that we Shi’ar have techniques beyond your comprehension, which will be of use,” Lilandra continued.

The sudden hope on their faces as she spoke was almost too much to bear, for there was an aspect to this that she had not mentioned. Their tears stopped and they all caught their breaths as one. “Then he will survive?” Beast asked.

She had almost been hoping that he wouldn't ask that question. She didn't want to have to share the bad news with them. “Yes, but only under Shi’ar care.” There was incomprehension on their faces before she continued, spelling it out for them as simply as she could. “I must take him back to my home world. There is very little I can do here, and not much more on my ship.”

The hope on their faces was immediately replaced by sorrow again. She forced herself to continue. “I know you cannot bear to see him go, but it is the only way.” She leaned down and gently kissed his brow so they could absorb her words without her watching them.

The neural stimulator was doing its job, as he opened his eyes in response to her lips on his skin. He registered her presence, before he looked around and saw his X-men. I seem to have…quite the audience. Lilandra…I knew…you would come. He managed a weak smile.

I would always come if you needed me, Charles. But now you must come with me to Aerie. It is the only way to save your life, she told him over their bond as she caressed his cheek.

Together at last…he replied softly, for her “ears” only.

Jubilee sniffled. “Can he ever come back?”

“I do not know, little one,” she replied softly. “But if he responds well to the treatment, and if the damage wasn't completely irreversible, it may be possible. If not, I may still be able to bring him back for brief visits. I will need the weapon that did this to him, so that we may structure the treatment around the exact effects of the device.”

“I have prepared it for you,” Beast replied, handing her a small object that she recognized after seeing it in their memories. “I’m afraid it was broken when Gyrich was being arrested and he dropped it.”

“That matters not, for my technicians will be able to repair it.” She could feel the bond weakening again. The damage that Charles had suffered had been extreme, and the neural stimulator was having difficulty keeping up with the cascading effects. She didn't dare increase the power further. “I’m sorry, X-Men. We must leave if he is to survive.”

They all nodded in understanding. One by one they stepped up to the bed and gently touched one of his hands – or in the case of Jean and Jubilee, kissed his cheek.

She smiled, in what she hoped was comforting to them, before she activated her communicator. “Lilandra to Captain Jubér. Initiate transport of myself and Xavier to the medical bay.”

“Initiating transport…now, Empress,” he repeated from the small communication cell she wore. The light filled her vision again, and as it cleared, she was in the infirmary, with Charles lying on a bed next to her. Immediately, the healer and his assistants began analyzing his condition so they could begin treating him, although most of the work would have to be done once they reached Aerie.

As they worked, she stood beside the bed, unwilling to leave his side, and they did not dare ask her to. She was their Empress, and this was her beloved – she would not leave his side until she was sure that he was out of danger. Without comment, they worked around her, connecting him to a more advanced system of life support than was available on Earth, although they did not actually initiate the system while he was breathing on his own, which he was doing at the moment, thanks to the neural stimulator.

She should have given the order to return to Aerie, but she wanted to wait and make sure that the healers didn’t need anything further from the X-Men before she gave that order. It was true that they would be better able to treat him on her world, but she had only a second-hand understanding of what had happened. If they went back to Aerie, they would not be in communication range with Earth, and if it turned out that the healers needed more information, they would have to send another ship, or reverse course in order to get it.

“His mental patterns have been badly disrupted…stabilize his life signs until we get him back to the throne world, in case the neural stimulator fails. Be ready to put him on life support at a moment’s notice,” the chief healer finally said after studying the computer readouts. He turned to her and bowed swiftly. “Empress, do you know what caused this?”

She handed him the device Beast had given her, with a brief explanation while the assistant healers worked to stabilize her beloved. “According to the X-Men, it was broken in the chaos after the attack.” She felt the bond flickering again, and noticed that Charles’ eyelids had slid shut again, and his breathing was faint.

“Charles?” Closing her eyes, she reached out with her powers, trying to stabilize his mind, which was deteriorating further, and attempting to give him something to hold onto. Stay with me, my love.

She felt him respond, hesitantly, but continued to encourage him until she felt she had firmly wrapped him in the link. She didn't know how long she could hold on to him, since her powers had never been tested in this fashion, and to her knowledge, neither had the kind of telepathic bond that they had.

“Now this is odd…” the healer murmured softly. “How very interesting…” He tapped several commands into the computer and studied the readouts. Lilandra could hear him muttering to himself, but paid no attention to what he was saying. All of her focus was on Charles. It seemed with each moment that she sent psychic energy to him, he seemed to reach out to her further, but she couldn't tell if he was actually improving or just responding to the psychic stimulus. Telepathy was as natural to him as it was to her – not using it would be like he was missing a sense.

“Majestrix?” the healer moved to stand beside her shoulder. “Majestrix, can you hear me?”

She nodded and withdrew some of her focus so that she could concentrate on him.

“Empress, the neural stimulator alone is not enough to stop the disruptor’s effects from accelerating,” the healer, Brith’ta, said softly when she opened her eyes again to look at the man she loved. “But something very interesting happened just now. He seemed to respond to some type of stimulus, yet we have not administered any treatment. Were you in contact with him psychically?”

Outside of Gladiator and her two most trusted advisers Araki and Oracle, the only people who knew about the link that she and Charles shared were his X-Men. But even they did not know the truth about the link. They believed it was simply due to the fact that they were both powerful telepaths, and yet it was so much more. It was not something that she had chosen to announce to the empire because of certain political complications that would arise – accusations of favoritism, rumors of inability to produce an heir, and interference in a world that had been part of a long understood, but never official, treaty between the Shi’ar, Kree, and Skrulls, among others. It was a risk that, until now, she was not willing to take, and it was yet another reason why she had been unable to remain on Earth with Charles.

She was reluctant to disclose the truth now, but the healer seemed to sense her hesitation. With a signal he sent his assistants out of the room, waiting until they were gone before he went to the computer and ordered the room sealed shut. Without regard for the fact that she was the Empress, he fixed her with a very pointed look. “Empress, my loyalty is to you, but as a healer my first loyalty must come to my patient. You have asked me to care for him, but I cannot as long as I do not have all the information.”

“I must have your oath that this information will not leave this room,” Lilandra replied first.

“You have it, by the sacred ancestors of the Shi’ar,” Brith’ta said, swearing the most formal oath a Shi’ar could make.

“Charles and I share the lidhje shpirt,” Lilandra spoke the ancient name with all the solemnity it deserved. It was the first time she had acknowledged the truth of the bond out loud, although she had known it for what it was from the moment it had formed. But to speak it aloud…to name it for what it was…the ramifications were too crucial to the state of the empire. But for Charles, for his life, she would call it by what it was and admit it to her empire and the universe if she must.

Brith’ta narrowed his eyes for a moment, as he recognized the phrase. “The lidhje shpirt? But that has always been nothing more than a legend.”

Lilandra nodded. “It is not. At any time, we can speak to each other, even when we are a galaxy apart.”

The healer’s eyes widened at that news. “Such strength of the lidhje shpirt is unheard of, save in the oldest legends and writings.”

“And the consequences for the Empire could be severe if this became public knowledge without the proper rituals being observed,” Lilandra replied. “Only three of my most trusted advisers know of the link save you and Charles’ students, of which there are only a handful. But none of them understand the full impact of what this means. There has not been the opportunity to disclose the full truth.”

“But that does explain the readings…if the ancient writings are correct the link is holding the two of you together. When you use your psychic powers…” Brith’ta stopped speaking for a moment and looked thoughtful. “I would not have expected this…but perhaps…”

“Perhaps what?” Lilandra demanded.

“Until we know more about this device and what it was designed to do, the best thing – the only thing we can do is keep him alive. But the damage is severe, Majestrix. I do not know if artificial means alone are enough. Your bond with him may be the only thing that can save him until we can devise a treatment. Keep his mind active and focused. The more he can focus, the longer we can keep him alive and functioning while we get him to somewhere we can treat him.”

Lilandra’s eyes widened slightly at that news. She had known that what had happened to Charles was dangerous, but even she had not comprehended the severity. As Empress, she had been unable to specialize in any one field. Instead, she had been trained in a great many, so that if she had ever been called upon to rule, she would at least know enough to understand the advice given to her by her councilors. “I understand. I need to stay in psychic contact with him.”

“Not entirely, Empress. I am only theorizing…but if you could enter a rapport with him as you were doing before, I can take more detailed readings of the effects and see if it actually is helping him the way I noticed earlier, or if it is only going to work on a temporary basis like the neural stimulator.”

Lilandra nodded and turned back to Charles. He was so still and quiet, but the bond between them was still active enough to tell her that she was holding him back, keeping him away from the edge of death that was trying to devour him. Closing her eyes, she reached out to him again. Charles, you must stay with me. Take as much of my strength as you need, my love.

What she was offering was exceedingly dangerous. If Charles’ mind fragmented much further and she was still linked this closely to him, he could pull her into death along with him, leaving her people without a ruler, for she had not yet birthed or named an heir. With her brother and her sister both dead, no one remained to continue her family’s legacy – an unbroken line going back to the very beginning of the Shi’ar Empire. If she died, her empire would fall into chaos or be set upon by the Kree or the Skrulls.

Lilandra…no…your people…

She had given her life for her people and while his protest would normally be enough to deter her from this course, right now she couldn't care; not while he lay so close to death. Right now, you are my main concern. Stay with me. My strength, my heart, my soul is yours if you need it.

She could feel him starting to pull away, and she knew that he did so out of love. He knew very well what this might cost her, and he didn't want to chance it. But in his weakened state, he was no match for her. Had he been stronger, she might have had a fight on her hands, but at the moment, she easily pulled him back to her and refused to let go. Charles, you must stay with me. Think, remember, ask me questions…anything to keep your mind functioning.

He was silent for a moment before he replied. Help me…message…my X-Men.

She understood. His children, his X-Men, had been first in his heart for a long time. They were the reason that he had chosen not to go with her after they had saved the universe from the M’Kraan Crystal and her brother’s madness. He had made a commitment to them and had not wanted to abandon it simply because he had fallen in love with her. She had understood, because it was her duty to her people that had kept her from remaining with him. I am with you, Charles. My strength and powers will enhance yours.

She pulled back just enough to speak to the chief healer. “Healer Brith’ta, open a visual communication to the X-Men please. Charles would like to speak to them using his telepathy, but he would like to see them.”

He nodded and walked over to the console, sending the signal to the X-Men, who had received a Shi’ar communication device along with several other pieces of Shi’ar technology as symbols of their informal alliance and with her thanks for what they had done for her. The screen came on and she could see them all clustered together. She moved to stand at Charles’ side, holding his hand to provide a physical link that would enhance their psychic one.

“Professor!” Jubilee cried.

Although he was too weak to speak, Charles could still use his telepathy, as long as Lilandra used her powers to enhance it. Her strength would feed him, so that he could broadcast his mental voice into their minds.

“Charles has something that he would like to tell each of you before we depart,” Lilandra told them before she turned her attention back to Charles and focused all of her energy on acting as both an energy supply and a telepathic enhancer.

“Thank you, Lilandra. We’re ready,” Jean said, despite the tears on her face.

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

Charles felt like he was drifting in a haze. It was so hard to concentrate…something was pulling at his mind, almost as if it was urging him to let go…to take the peace that he had craved for so long. But on the other side, Lilandra’s bright, stubborn spirit clung to him, channeling psychic energy to him, refusing to let him go. The sight of his X-Men on the view screen, although his vision was somewhat blurred, gave him something else to focus on.

He had loved and sheltered his X-Men for so long…he understood why he had to go with Lilandra, but he didn't want to leave them without letting them know just what they had meant to him. It was the least he could do for them, since he didn't know if he would ever see them again.

My X-Men…I am grateful to have this chance to say goodbye. Although Erik was not one of his X-Men, he addressed his old friend first. He regretted that their beliefs and ideologies had kept them apart for so long. If only he had been able to help Magneto overcome the trauma he had suffered in the camps, he would have made a valuable ally.

Erik, old friend. We have so long been at odds, yet I have always considered you one of my truest friends, for you do not shy from the truth, no matter how painful it may be.

“Your idealism was certainly strong enough to counter my realism, Charles,” the older man replied, and for once his normally hard eyes were soft.

Just…do not forget about hope. Hope brings light…to the darkness. ‘Darkness cannot dispel darkness…only light can do that. Hate cannot dispel…hate, only love can do that.’ Charles told him, before he turned his attention to his X-Men. Morph…it is good to see you home. In facing your fears…you have proven yourself…truly an X-Man.

The shape-shifting mutant nodded and stepped back slightly, although he remained within view of the screen.

Gambit…how often must the scoundrel prove himself a hero before he believes it himself?

“Gambit do not know, Professor. He will t’ink about it.” The Cajun thief stepped back as well so that Jubilee could step forward. He gently rested his hands on her shoulders to support her.

Jubilee…you are the future. When I look at your face…I see hope. The youngest member of the X-Men covered her streaming eyes and choked back a sob. She had been like a daughter to him – bold, courageous…at times rebellious and defiant, but always strong and caring.

Storm, my beautiful Storm. Mighty as a hurricane, but gentle as a summer rain. You honor me with your friendship. The African beauty nodded gracefully, her tears pooling in her eyes to run down her cheeks in flowing ripples.

Wolverine…loner, you have found a family. Wolverine lowered his mask in order to look him in the ‘face’, with Logan’s eyes. Wild savage…you have found dignity. Cynic, you have found faith.

Rogue, unable to touch, yet look around. She did so before she turned back to look at him. You will find you have touched us all.

He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to muster the strength to continue for the three people who had known him the longest out of his students. There was so much that he wanted to say to them, but he didn't have the time or the strength. He could feel Lilandra channeling more strength to him, but it was losing its effectiveness.

Lilandra’s “voice” came to him, distantly, but clearly. Keep going, Charles. This is helping. Your mental patterns are stabilizing. Stay focused.

He opened his eyes with an effort, determined to speak what he must. Jean’s red hair was a beacon, even to his tired, blurry vision. Jean, first in my heart. Your courage has allowed you to see things no other human has, yet remain the same innocent child I met so very long ago. What she had experienced, both as Phoenix and Dark Phoenix, showed a power that he would never have expected when he had first met her. He only hoped that she could always retain that innocence and purity – for it was such a large part of who she was.

Hank…“The friends thou hast through adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.”

Now for the last, and possibly the hardest. Scott…were I your father, I would say no truer son could ever be. I am proud…proud of all of you…my X-Men.

“We’ll miss you, Professor! Please get well and come back to us!” Jubilee cried. The others echoed her sentiments.

We’ll see, my children. If not in body, my spirit will remain among you where it was always meant to be. Farewell…

The darkness beckoned, and this time he didn't fight it, content to know that he had had the chance to let the ones he loved best know how he felt. He pulled back and fell into it.

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

“Empress…Empress, please pull back,” the healer was saying in her ear as he cautiously touched her shoulder to refocus her attention.

Lilandra disentangled some of her mind and powers from Charles, only to feel the drain on her energy hit her right between the eyes. She blinked somewhat dazedly as she tried to focus on Brith’ta. “Is he - ?”

“Whatever you did, it helped. His mental patterns are more focused, but it will still take more therapy and treatment to reverse the damage. We were able to stabilize him further and we should be able to return to the home world without you needing to enhance his strength further.”

She nodded, understanding. “Contact the bridge. Tell Captain Jubér to make best speed back to Aerie.” As the healer looked away, she turned to the view screen where the X-Men were still waiting. “I am sorry, my friends, but we must leave. He will have the best of care, and I will send word to you as soon as we know anything more.”

“We heard what the doctor said, Lilandra,” Jean said. “At least we know that we could help him in this way, by being here so he could say good-bye. If that helped him at all, that is enough.”

“You will always have my friendship and alliance, X-Men. So long as I am Empress, your names, and Charles’, will be honored in the Empire,” Lilandra said.

“Empress, when Charles is more coherent, will you tell him something from me?” Beast asked. As she nodded, he smiled, a fanged smile, and spoke softly. “‘That though the radiance which was once so bright be now forever taken from my sight. Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, glory in the flower, we will grieve not; rather find strength in what remains behind.’”

“I will pass on the message, Beast, although I do not know what it means,” Lilandra promised.

“Charles will know,” he replied simply.

“Farewell, X-Men. I shall be in touch,” she promised as she felt the ship suddenly accelerate. In seconds, they were out of communication range.

“Empress, please sit,” the healer hurried up to her. “You have exhausted yourself.” He offered her a chair, and she took it gratefully, still holding onto Charles’ hand.

“He is stable for now, Empress,” Brith’ta said. “You do not need to continue to support him.”

“I am not. I am simply holding his hand for the comfort it brings me,” she replied softly. She reached up with her free hand and stroked her beloved’s brow, careful not to disturb the neural stimulator, which was still pulsing with its soft glow. “I am sorry that this had to happen to you Charles, but I am not sorry that I am finally getting to bring you home with me.” She leaned down to kiss him gently. “I love you, Charles Xavier.”

I love you, Lilandra. His eyes opened, very slowly. I am so tired…

“I know, Charles,” she said softly. “It’s all right. Just rest. We’ll be back on Aerie soon, and we’ll be able to help you more there.” She continued to gently stroke his brow until his blue eyes fluttered closed again and he exhaled softly, slipping lightly into an exhausted slumber.

She turned to face Brith’ta. “Yes?”

“We’ll be arriving at Aerie soon, and we’ll see to it that he is transferred over to the care of your personal healers. Right now, the foremost issue that we have is keeping him alive and maintaining his neural network.”

“He’s still in danger,” she stated, as she glanced down at him.

“Quite serious danger, yes, my Empress,” the healer agreed. “We can keep him alive and breathing, and his body functioning without a problem, but until we've had time to analyze the device that was used to disrupt his neural paths, the most important thing we have to do is find a way to keep the disruption from spreading further. His mind has already seriously deteriorated. I am unsure what the Earth people did to check the initial spread – from what I can tell, he should have died within moments of being struck by the energy from that device.”

“Charles is a powerful telepath, with an extremely disciplined mind,” Lilandra said quietly.

The healer shook his head. “That wouldn't have been enough. Our brief analysis shows that the damage should have been compounded the more he tried to resist or block the effects. But something slowed the progress of the deterioration. However, it was only slowed, not stopped, and in the areas that were damaged, the damage was severe.”

“We have techniques that can help to heal a damaged mind,” Lilandra said. “They were used to try to help my mother after Cal’syee…” she trailed off as the healer shook his head again.

“I remember that, Empress, but I am afraid that those techniques would be of little use. Your mother’s mind was damaged, but her neural paths were intact. In the case of your mik shpirt, his core neural patterns have been completely disrupted. Given time, we may be able to adapt some therapies and treatments to help him reestablish those paths.”

“How long can you keep him stable?” Lilandra asked.

“That is unknown. The neural stimulator did help, but as you know, it is not designed for long-term use, nor was it designed to reverse or treat this kind of injury. Being in mental contact with you also helped, but I don’t know if either of those things together or separate would be enough – and you do not have the strength, even with the aid of the lidhje to stay in constant rapport with him for as long as it takes to devise a treatment, nor could I permit it, even if you were willing to make the attempt.”

“Majestrix?” Gladiator said over the inter-ship communication system. “We are coming up on Aerie.”

“Thank you, Gladiator,” she replied before she turned back to Charles. “Right now there is nothing pressing demanding my attention, healer. I will be remaining with him, and if I must be in psychic rapport with him to keep his mind stable and to help stave off the deterioration I will do so. A neural stimulator of my own, along with the lidhje shpirt, and Charles’ own powers should allow me to maintain several days of rapport.”

“Empress…that could be dangerous. We do not know what that could do to you, nor if the rapport would lose its effectiveness over such a long period of use. If the rapport can keep him away from the very edge of death, it might be wisest for you to use your rapport only if he suddenly slips into critical condition.”

Lilandra could see his point, but she did not want to leave Charles’ side for any reason other than a crisis that could only be solved by her authority, spoken from her own lips. Araki and Oracle could be trusted to act without her eyes on them every moment, and if any such emergency should arise, they would notify her immediately.

As she had noted before receiving Charles’ cry for help, most of the matters that she dealt with were things that quite honestly could be handled by her secretaries or her advisers. She had simply gotten into the habit of handling them herself during the first few tumultuous months of her rule, when she was still trying to combat the lies that her brother had spread about her. Putting her personal touch on every single matter that had arisen had been a political maneuver that was designed to show her people that she was capable of ruling an empire the size of the one controlled by the Shi’ar, and also to prove that she was not what her brother had claimed she was.

“Majestrix, we have arrived on Aerie. The ship has docked, and we are awaiting your orders,” Captain Jubér’s voice said. “Councilors Araki and Oracle are also requesting an audience with you at your earliest convenience.”

Lilandra sighed, her exhaustion suddenly seeming to be tripled. She had not had time to notify Araki and Oracle that she was departing Aerie, so they had probably been frantic with worry. All she wanted was to stay with Charles. “Captain, inform my councilors that they can meet me in my private audience chamber immediately. I will join them there momentarily.”

“Yes, Empress.”

“Contact the palace healers and order them to prepare a place for Charles,” she replied. “Then have them contact Brith’ta to consult about what will be needed to transfer him from the ship to the palace.”

“I hear and obey, Empress.” Jubér closed the channel so that he could begin seeing to her orders.

She looked back down at Charles. The neural stimulator was still blinking, emitting the steady glow that signified its lowest setting. She leaned down and kissed him again, gently. She could tell by the feeling of their bond in the back of her mind that the intensive bout of telepathic communication with his students had done some good, for she hadn't felt him slipping away from her again yet.

Once again, her kiss seemed to have done the trick. His eyes opened again. She hadn't wanted to wake him when he needed to sleep in order to heal, but she also hadn't wanted him to wake in the hands of strangers and have her not there to comfort him. Lilandra?

Despite her own exhaustion, she reached out to him over the bond. It’s all right, Charles. I’m here. We've made it back to Aerie, to my home. I must go and attend to some state business, as much as I want to stay with you. My personal healers will be attending you, and they’ll see to it that you are taken from my ship and made comfortable. I will come back to you just as soon as I may.

She could see his understanding and his acceptance, and it made her heart weep. He was so generous! What he was going through must be terribly frightening to someone who prided himself on his control and poise, and yet he was putting his faith completely in her and in people he’d never met. All right. I trust you…

Go back to sleep, Charles. I won’t be far away. If you need me, call out to me and I will come. She picked up one of his hands and squeezed it gently, before she kissed him again. Sleep, Charles. It will help you heal.

Despite his weakness, he managed a small nod before he drifted off again. Her sense of him through their bond remained strong, and she sighed as she released his hand and rose to her own feet. She was still somewhat drained from using her powers so strenuously, but it was no worse than it had been when they had been on opposite sides of the galaxy and she’d contacted him.

She headed for the doors, which were still sealed from Brith’ta’s earlier command, but she was able to override them from the control panel on the wall. Just before she stepped through, she turned back and looked at Charles sleeping so quietly on the bed. She caught Brith’ta’s gaze and he nodded reassuringly at her. “He’ll be in the best of hands, Empress. I won’t leave him until you’re able to return.”

“I thank you, healer.”

Chapter Text

"I heard the sound of voices in the night

Spell-bound, there was someone calling

I looked around, no one was in sight

Pulled down, and I kept on falling..."

- "Street of Dreams by Blackmore's Night

Lilandra strode into her private audience chamber with her cloak billowing behind her, and Gladiator following her like a silent shadow. She wanted to get this nonsense over with so that she could get back to Charles. The only reason she was putting up with it was because Araki and Oracle served her well, and they deserved an explanation. She was Empress, and she did not answer to them, nor was she obligated to inform them of her comings and goings, although she usually did, just so that if some problem arose while she was gone, they would either have the authority to handle it or they would be able to contact her.

However, the urgency of Charles’ cry for help – and the nature of their bond – had made that impossible this time, which was the only reason she was willing to answer the “summons” – framed as a request – from her Councilors. Either way, this would not take long.

Her two Councilors were waiting for her, and they bowed as she ascended the low dais at the far end of the room and took a seat on her “throne”. Unlike her main audience chamber, this room was designed for comfort, not to inspire awe or fear. In this room, she could meet with small groups – consisting of no more than ten – which made it ideal for diplomatic meetings with allies and envoys, away from the eyes of her Court.

“Empress, we are glad to see that you are well,” Araki began. “We were worried when we could not find you.” There was a hint of censure in his voice, although he would never openly rebuke her.

“It was only the fact that we could not locate Gladiator – and the fact that he had not called out the Imperial Guard – that made us check to see if your star cruiser was still here,” Oracle added. “We had not heard that there was trouble in the Empire.”

Lilandra was not accustomed to apologizing – as Empress, it was a habit that she could not afford. While she was always polite to the folk who served her, apologies could make a ruler look weak and ineffectual. She was not about to offer an apology to her Councilors, but she would give them an explanation. There would be no hiding the fact that Charles was being tended to by the Royal Healers, after all.

“I received a call for help from the X-Men. Their need was quite urgent, and I do owe them a debt,” she told them calmly.

Araki frowned. “The debt was paid with the technology that was sent to them.”

“The debt has not been repaid. I owe them my life and my throne. A few paltry pieces of technology do not even begin to cover that,” Lilandra replied. Her patience with the formal word games was quickly ebbing, not that she had much in the way of patience with such formality to begin with.

“What was so urgent that the Earthman Xavier felt the need to contact you?” Araki asked. The only way that the X-Men could contact her was through Charles and their bond, because Aerie was far out of communication range with Earth. Both of her Councilors were aware that she and Charles were able to communicate telepathically across the distance. They knew that she and Charles shared a link, but because Lilandra had never explained the full extent of the link, they didn’t realize the true power of what their Empress shared with the “primitive” Earthman.

“The Earthman Xavier had been attacked and was dying,” she briskly stressed the title Araki had bestowed on him – which some people might consider a slur, although her Councilor had not intended it as such – as she spoke. “He knew that our technology was the only thing that could save him, and as I owe them my life…” She rose to her feet, intending to end this farce and return to Charles’ side. “If that is all that requires my attention, I am going to see to my guest.”

Both of her Councilors blinked in surprise. “Xavier and his X-Men are here?” Araki asked. “But why?”

“So that the healers may save his life,” Lilandra answered. “He will need extensive treatment, for his mind was badly damaged – but Charles is the only one who returned with me. His people are still needed on their world.”

“I thought that he had chosen not to leave Earth, Majestrix?” Oracle commented.

“That was before he was nearly killed and his mind destroyed,” Lilandra explained, her patience just about gone. “I could not refuse him, and not just because of the debt I owe. The lidhje shpirt would not permit it.”

There was stunned silence from all three of her advisors. Although Gladiator did not sit on her Council, she often sought out his advice, for he had seen much in his service to the throne of Shi’ar. This was the first time she had given the bond its ancient name in their hearing – and they knew the ramifications as well as she did.

“Empress…” Araki exchanged a look with the other two. “Your link to the Earthman Xavier is strong, but to name it the lidhje shpirt in the ancient tongue…”

Lilandra’s temper – rarely seen – snapped. She had already spent a full day dealing with business related to the empire – and that was before she had received Charles’ cry for help. Then she had undergone an intense psychic rapport with him twice – once when she had received his initial cry, and then again when she was helping him bid farewell to his X-Men. She had little energy and no patience left.

“Should I refuse to name it what it is, and deny it when it exists?” Her tone was coldly acidic. She rarely yelled, even when her temper was roused. Instead, her voice took on an arctic chill and she would verbally flay any fool who approached her unwisely – including her councilors. Everything in her life was about duty and sacrifice, except the bond she and Charles shared.

I will not deny this any longer! “The bond I share with Charles is not a temporary link formed by the strength of our shared telepathic powers! Even when we were a galaxy apart, I could feel him in the back of my mind. If that is not a lidhje shpirt, though undeclared, nothing is.”

There is no reason now to deny it. Charles is my mik shpirt, now and forever. But until he is recovered enough to understand, I must say nothing to him about it. I have no reason to believe that he will not accept it, but that will be his choice, and before I make any formal declarations to the Empire, I will be certain he understands!

Araki bowed in the face of her anger. “Forgive me, Empress.” He took a few steps back.

Lilandra closed her eyes and took a deep breath to calm down. Araki is only voicing caution, which is his duty, she reminded herself. “You are forgiven. That will be all.” She descended the dais. She was going back to Charles.

Gladiator followed her out of the audience chamber as she headed towards the healers’ wing of the palace. That was where they would have taken Charles until he was well enough that he wouldn't need constant monitoring or life support. While she wanted him with her in her own chambers, for the time being that wouldn't be possible.

She was preoccupied and at first didn't notice Oracle’s quiet presence. When she finally realized that the other psychic had accompanied her, she sent the other woman a weary look that was half exasperation and half expectation.

“Empress, does the Earthman Xavier know of the true meaning of your bond?”

“He knows only that we share a powerful link, but does not know the full meaning, nor does he understand the ramifications of it. Until now, I deemed it was wiser not to speak of it for the sake of the Empire.” Yet another sacrifice I have made in the name of duty. If I had confided the full truth to Charles at the beginning…would it have changed anything? Would he have come with me and stayed by my side, helping me save my Empire?

She would never know.

“But by the ancient laws and sacred writings…”

“I know, Oracle. But the effects to the Empire, especially in the immediate aftermath of my brother’s death and my coronation are exactly the reason why I chose not to say anything.”

“What will you do?” Oracle asked.

“What future do you see?” Lilandra countered. While her psychic powers were telepathic and empathic in nature, Oracle was telepathic as well as being a true clairvoyant, and often times could use her powers to see into the future. That was the reason that Lilandra had appointed her to the Council from her place in the Imperial Guard. She could often see different pathways, depending upon what choices Lilandra made.

Oracle closed her eyes for a moment and when she opened them they had turned a solid, pale, translucent blue. “The future is in shadow, my Empress. There is no way to see what may come, for a shroud has been cast.” She closed her eyes again, and when she opened them they had returned to their normal soft pink. “I cannot advise you through the use of my powers.”

Lilandra sighed, but she wasn't that surprised. Normally, the more important a decision that she had to make, the less use Oracle’s powers were. The fact that the young woman could not see anything told her that whatever she decided to do, it could very well determine the fate of everything – including her empire. But that had been something that she had expected.

What will I do? If the sacred writings speak the truth of the lidhje shpirt...“For now all that I can do is see to it that he receives the best of care. The attack against his mind has imperiled his life, Oracle.” And I must pray that not speaking of the bond has kept it merely to a telepathic link – although I fear that is not the case.

Together, the three of them entered the healers’ wing. Charles had been placed in a bed at the far end of the wing, hooked up to a monitor that was much more sophisticated than the equipment the X-Men used. Not only did the device serve to monitor his life signs, but it could function as life support if his body suddenly failed.

At the moment however, it appeared to be acting merely in a monitoring capacity. Her beloved appeared to be asleep, his features calm and peaceful, and his breathing slow, deep, and at ease. Her telepathic rapport with him from earlier seemed to have stabilized his condition enough that he wasn't in danger of dying at any moment the way he had been. Either that or the healers at the palace had found some treatment that had pulled him further from the brink of death.

“How is he?” Lilandra moved to the side of the bed and picked up one of Charles’ hands as she took a seat on the edge of the bed. With her free hand, she gently caressed his face, although this time he did not respond to her touch.

Brith’ta had been sitting beside the bed as he had promised until she approached. Now he rose to his feet and bowed. “We were able to move him from the ship to this bed without incident, Majestrix.”

“Does he sleep?”

“Once we had him settled in and the monitoring system attached, he slipped into this state, and we have not been able to rouse him.”

“Empress!” Another healer (Lilandra was not certain, but she believed his name was I’zra) who was stationed in the palace rather than on her star cruiser, approached from a door a few yards away before she could ask Brith’ta to clarify his answer to her question. “Your guest is resting comfortably, and we've begun analyzing the device that Brith’ta says did this to him.” The healer shook his head. “For a primitive device, it was highly efficient.”

Lilandra nodded. “All that a weapon must do is perform within its design specifications.” She turned to the others, including Gladiator. “You are dismissed. I will be staying here.”

Oracle, Gladiator, and Brith’ta bowed before they left the room. The other healer checked the monitor and made several adjustments before he turned to the Empress. “Please excuse me, Empress. I wish to return to the analysis.”

She nodded silently and waited until he was gone before she looked back down at Charles. “I pledge you, Charles. We will find a way to help you. You are my mik shpirt, and I want you to learn what that means – just as I want you to be with me for the rest of our lives,” she whispered. She raised the hand that she held to her cheek and pressed it there, wishing that he was conscious and could touch her.

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

Later…

“My empress?” A voice said softly from behind her.

It was very late at night and the soft voice was the only sound in the healers’ wing. Lilandra blinked and turned to look in the direction of the call. Brith’ta was standing there, a look of concern on his face. It took her a moment to put a name to his face however, because she was so tired. “Healer Brith’ta?”

“Empress, will you not consider getting some rest?” he whispered, approaching her with a slight bow. “You appear to be exhausted, and I know you used a great deal of your energy when you were in rapport with him. You cannot help him by exhausting yourself, and if the healers need to you reach out to him using the lidhje shpirt, you will have no energy.”

“I do not wish to leave him alone,” she replied, reaching out to caress Charles’ cheek again. She’d been sitting here in the healers’ wing for hours, but there seemed to have been no change in his condition. Unlike earlier, her touches had not awoken him. Part of her was relieved at that, since he probably needed sleep in order to heal, but part of her wished that he had woken so that she could talk to him.

“I’ll stay with him, Empress,” Brith’ta promised. As she turned to look at him he met her eyes squarely. “I’m a trained healer, Empress. This will not be the first time I've sat watch over one of my patients. If there is any change at all, I’ll send for you, I pledge it.”

She hesitated further. Somehow, it didn't seem right that she should return to her luxurious rooms to sleep while her beloved lay in the healers’ wing alone with only a stranger for company. She was weary, but…

The morning would bring another round of diplomatic and imperial matters that she would have to attend to, and she would most likely be kept busy all day. It wasn't easy to rule an empire the size of hers, and she probably wouldn't get to be with Charles again until the evening, unless his condition worsened again. She wanted to spend as much time with him as she could, since she couldn't simply abandon her responsibilities to sit with him constantly. Brith’ta had told her that Charles would have a long recovery once they worked out a treatment for him.

“Empress,” Brith’ta knelt in front of her so that he could look up into her eyes. “I understand how important he is to you. I will not leave him alone.”

Finally, she nodded. “Agreed. You will send for me…?”

“At the least change, Empress, whether positive or negative, I swear it.”

She nodded again and rose to her feet. “Thank you. I will be back in the morning.”

“Of course, Empress,” Brith’ta stayed kneeling on the ground until she had turned and walked out of the room. Then he rose to his feet and walked over to the monitor and studied the readouts. From what he could tell, his Empress’ mik shpirt’s condition hadn't changed since that afternoon, which was both a good sign and a bad one. The good news was that their technology was keeping him alive and stable. The bad news was that the rapport that she had shared with him earlier had apparently only worked as a temporary measure.

Brith’ta had seen a lot of injuries in the time that he had served as a healer. He had been stationed with the Empress from before she had become Empress, back when she had been Princess-Grand Admiral Lilandra, although at that time he had merely been an apprentice healer himself. Yet, in all that time he had never seen quite as unique an injury as the one that this Earthman had sustained. He honestly didn't know where they would even begin to look for a treatment for it. Whatever the madman who had done this to the Empress’ beloved had had in mind…it was cruel on a level that Brith’ta had never seen before.

He sighed. If the Earthman Xavier died…the wrath of the Shi’ar Empire would fall upon the man who had done this…and not even the Earthman’s X-Men would be able to stop the Empress from seeking her rightful revenge.

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

Lilandra retreated directly to her sleeping chamber as she entered her rooms. It had been a long day, and despite her determination to stay with Charles, she knew that Brith’ta had been right. She was exhausted, and she would do Charles no good if she drained all of her energy and had nothing left to give him if they needed to use the lidhje to help him. The only thing that had truly convinced her to listen to him however was the strong sense that she had of Charles in her mind. It was stronger than it had ever been since the last time she had been on Earth – back when the Dark Phoenix had been a threat to the universe. The strength of his presence in her mind was enough to reassure her that if something were to go wrong, she would know it almost immediately.

She quickly readied herself for bed before she slipped beneath the silken sheets, wishing yet again that she was not going to bed alone. She had had ample opportunities to take a lover before now, but her love for Charles had prevented her from doing so. He was the only man who had ever fascinated her, the only one she had ever desired. As Empress, she could ill afford the rumors and gossip that would abound if she simply took lovers and did not choose a consort and produce an heir.

With the exception of one brief period in her life, she had always gone to bed alone, and it had always been Charles whom she had wanted beside her. It was yet another sacrifice that she had made for her empire – but she had known that the time would soon come when her Councilors would begin insisting she consider choosing a consort. The empire could not afford not to have an heir-apparent, or ideally, more than one. Unless she had been prepared to tell them about the lidhje shpirt, she would eventually have been forced to cede to their wishes and choose someone who could perform the duty of helping to give her an heir, no matter how repulsive that idea was to her.

There were many fine young Shi’ar males who would serve admirably as a Consort for their Empress. She had spoken with many of them at diplomatic functions and receptions, and she knew that each of them had done his best to try to win her attentions and considerations. None of them had stirred so much as a flutter of desire in her heart the way that the mere thought of Charles did. Even if she had chosen one of them, they would never have been Emperor and co-ruler alongside her. That was a right that was reserved exclusively for the man who held her heart – Charles Xavier. Fortunately, as Empress she had the right to decide if her chosen consort would share the right of rule and title of Emperor-Majestor with her. It was a provision that had been written into Shi’ar law at the very beginning of the empire in order to keep a political marriage from turning into a way for important families to manipulate the consort into granting them more power.

She could afford to give Charles the right of becoming Emperor-Majestor because he had absolutely no ties to her people except for her. He was completely neutral and knew very little about her people and her empire, so he would have an unbiased view. There would be no grappling or scrambling for power among his relatives, because he had none. A marriage between them would be one of love, not political ambition. It would scandalize her Councilors if she did so, but she had never particularly cared.

There had been very few of her ancestors who had wed for love, so for the most part, the position of Consort had been just that. But there had been a few, including her mother and father, who had shared equally in the responsibility of ruling their empire, even though it was her father who had been the rightful heir. As a child, she had dreamed of having a marriage like the one her parents had shared, but had resigned herself to the likelihood that she would be forced to make an alliance marriage – and that was long before she had become Empress. As the youngest child, the odds that she would be the one ruling the Empire had been slim. Yet here she was, the supreme ruler of the Shi’ar Empire, in love with a primitive Earthman – one who would likely be considered completely unsuitable as her Consort, let alone co-ruler and Emperor.

She sighed. There would be time in the future to convince her Council that Charles could make a good Emperor and Consort – once he was well. Her Council advised her, they did not rule her. Ultimately, she was the final and supreme authority, and if she chose to take Charles as her husband, that was her right. He certainly could not be a worse choice than some of the so-called consorts that had married her predecessors. His people might be “primitive” by the technology standards of the Empire, but their race simply wasn't as old as the Shi’ar.

Given time, the Earth folk could easily overcome their difficulties and unite – and if they did they could make a formidable ally to any empire with whom they chose to support. That was the reason for the unofficial treaty between the Shi’ar, Kree, and Skrulls – Earth was a valuable planet, for more than one reason, and it would be interesting to see how they developed in the future. Of course, marrying Charles could bring up political problems with the other two empires…

Lilandra sighed again and rolled over. Her thoughts were unusually serious tonight, but she knew exactly why. Normally these moments before slumber were her one chance to relax and put aside the burdens that being the Empress placed on her. But tonight she could not relax. It was her mind’s way of keeping her from dwelling on the fact that the man she loved was hovering near death, although he was stable for the moment. But there was no guarantee that he would remain that way.

But I must sleep, or I will be useless tomorrow, she told herself firmly. There is a great deal that I must attend to tomorrow. There is the diplomatic reception in the evening for Lord K’trell, which I cannot put off or neglect to attend. I have a High Council session tomorrow, and that also cannot be delayed. I will need to meet with my secretaries and discuss having them work more closely with Araki to sort through the matters that I personally must attend to. I intend to be with Charles every step of the way through his recovery, and I cannot afford to spend hours each day dealing with minor matters that Araki or Oracle could handle.

Firmly putting Charles out of her mind, she concentrated on a meditative discipline that was designed to force her to relax. If she could calm and center her turbulent thoughts, sleep would come that much more easily. It took much longer than it should have, but she finally felt herself beginning to relax, and once relaxation came, sleep followed quickly.

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

She was cold, and it was very dark. The darkness was pressing in on her, as if it was fighting to steal her away, to trap her from the light that she so desperately craved.

She looked around frantically, but she might as well have been blind for all the good it did her. Wherever she was, there was not as much as a spot of light that could be seen. The darkness – the air around her – tasted thick yet cold. It was so cold it actually made her gasp and struggle to breathe – which only made her panic all the worse.

Where was she? What was this hellhole? There must be something, somewhere that she could use to orient herself…yet there was nothing. She tried to focus on something familiar…faces, names…but nothing came to her. She could not remember anything. Who was she? Surely she must be loved and cared for by someone? Surely she must have interacted with someone in her past? Her entire life couldn't have been spent in this oppressive, icy darkness!

Lilandra…

That voice…she knew it from somewhere! But where? Who was it? Where was it coming from?

Lilandra…are you there?

Lilandra…was that her name? Her identity? The name was so foreign…but something about it was familiar as well.

“I am here!” she tried to call out, but again the icy coldness stole her breath, muting her and leaving her gasping.

Lilandra? So cold…alone…dark…help me!

That voice was so tortured…so frightened! She wanted to help, but how could she when she couldn't see, couldn't feel anything except cold?

Lilandra!

She woke with a start, a cry of fear and panic leaving her lips as she realized that darkness was pressing all around her. She took several heaving gasps, but this time the air was warm and pleasantly scented with the barishte that grew in small bowls of water all around the room. The scent was rich, yet soothing.

The scent helped her to place her location. “Lights,” she ordered, and a moment later the lights came on dimly in response to her voice. She looked around for a moment, realizing that she was safe in her own bed, before she drew her legs up and wrapped her arms around herself, trembling in reaction to the dream.

The dream…

“Charles!” she cried as she suddenly realized that the bond was weaker than it had been when she had gone to sleep. Once again it was no longer the warm, steady presence that it had been. Now it was flickering and shuddering, as if it was on the verge of breaking. Her distress – her dream – was a direct result of their bond weakening.

Without a second thought she flung the covers of her bed aside, snatched up her robe and threw it over her shoulders as she raced for the door. She flung the door open so hard that she actually startled Manta, whose ability to see in darkness made her an ideal night-time guard outside the Empress’ chambers.

“Empress? Are you all right?” Manta asked as Lilandra raced past her without stopping. The confused bodyguard hesitated before following Lilandra down to the healers’ wing.

Lilandra burst through the doors and raced down to where Brith’ta was still seated beside Charles’ bed, calmly studying a small, portable data reader. He looked up, startled, as his Empress charged towards him, and quickly stood. “Empress? What is wrong?”

“Why didn't you contact me?” Lilandra demanded, stopping at the bedside and seizing Charles’ hand.

Brith’ta frowned. “There was no reason to, Empress. Nothing has changed since you left a few hours ago. He is still deeply unconscious.”

“No! Something is wrong!” Lilandra snapped. “I can sense it! Our bond is weak, almost completely beyond my ability to sense!”

Brith’ta moved over to the monitor and studied the readouts. “According to this, nothing has changed, Empress. He has not stirred since we brought him here.”

Lilandra shut out his protests and confused face as she closed her eyes and almost flung herself into Charles’ mind. Her psychic self raced along the bond, trying to reach him, to pull him back from whatever was pulling him away from her.

Charles! Charles, it is Lilandra! I am here. Come back to me, Charles! Stay with me! Recklessly, she dove as deeply into his mind as she could, following the tatters and navigating the disrupted neural paths, trying to find the part of his mind that was him, the part that her people referred to as the thelb, the part that made a person who they were. It was deeper than the soul, deeper than the mind. It was that part of a person that was joined into the lidhje shpirt. She finally found him and reached out for him, filling his mind with light to drive away the darkness.

Where…who? A faint, whispered cry reached her, and she knew it was him. Leave me alone! He started to fight her, frightened by her bright, fiery presence in the darkness that was devouring him. She refused to let him go, holding onto him with all her strength.

I am here, Charles. I have you! she told him as she reached out to him and wrapped him inside her, gently guiding him back, pulling him closer to her. She poured her psychic energy into him, and into their bond, trying to strengthen and heal what had been tattered and weakened, to give him someplace where he could rest in safety without being cast aside into the closest approximation of true oblivion that she could imagine. She used her empathic powers to pour her love into him, allowing him to feel comfort and peace so that he would recognize her and stop fighting.

Lilandra? She felt him relax as he finally realized just who held him so tightly, keeping him safe and secure, and as soon as he relaxed, so did she, confident that she had him and he wasn't going to slip away from her again.

Yes, Charles. I am so sorry I was not here. I will not leave you again, she assured him. Rest, my love. Let my strength be your light and your safety.

Lilandra… This time there was no fear in his tone, only comfort and peace.

I am here, my beloved. Just rest. Rest and heal. You are safe.

The fear and panic that had been pounding at her mind - that had pulled her into that nightmare - slowly began to ebb as she held him cradled and allowed her psychic energy to act as a “light” for him, designed to comfort and protect him from the darkness. Finally, she felt him “relax” and ease back into a “sleep” of sorts. She made certain that he was secure before she released him and drifted back to her own conscious mind, although she continued to channel psychic energy to him to act as that “light” and to allow him to feel her as if she was holding his “hand” and keeping him safe and supported.

She slowly opened her eyes to find Brith’ta, Oracle, Araki, Gladiator, and the other healer I’zra surrounding her. She swayed slightly, drained again by her intense use of psychic energy, and Gladiator quickly helped her into a chair.

“Empress, what happened?” Araki asked.

“I – I don’t know how to explain it. Charles was…he was so distressed. His fear and his panic leaked into my dreams somehow and pulled me along with it. I could feel everything he was feeling, as if I was the one feeling it,” she murmured.

“Empress, he is not feeling anything right now,” I’zra said. “He is so deeply unconscious, and his mind is in such disarray, there is no way he could feel anything strongly enough to process it.”

“No…Charles is still there. His thelb was what was so frightened,” Lilandra replied absently. “I don’t know how I was able to sense it, but I just knew that something was wrong when I woke and the fear didn't ebb.”

She took several steadying breaths. Why did I leave? I knew that he would need me! If it hadn't been for that nightmare…I would have lost him forever. His mind would have been gone beyond repair, even if his body was intact. Her guilt and self-recrimination hammered at her. It had been so close!

She looked up at the group that was gathered around her. “He is safe for now,” she told them softly. “I have been able to bring him back to a place where he is no longer so close to oblivion – but I don’t know if I would be able to if he slips again. His mind is so…so confused.” She looked over at the healer. “Have you finished the analysis of the device that did this?”

“Not quite, Empress, but we do have a better understanding of what it was designed to do,” he told her. “There has been no physical damage to his mind. The only thing that was damaged was the neural paths that are formed through thought and habit. Most people have chaotic minds and their neural paths reflect that chaos. They leap from one thought to another, and they are the people who tend to broadcast their thoughts so loudly that a psychic cannot help but overhear them.”

Lilandra shook her head. “But Charles is a telepath. His mind was one of the most disciplined and orderly that I have ever seen. There was never any chaos or randomness in his thought patterns.”

“And that was, we believe, the reason why this particular device was used. It was tuned specifically to react to his mental patterns, not to the patterns of anyone around him. From what you indicated to Brith’ta, he was attacked in a public place, yet he was the only one affected.”

“That was what I understood from his X-Men, yes,” Lilandra agreed. She thought back to the memories that she had taken from them when she had probed their minds. “The man who attacked Charles shot him with this device, and Charles just…screamed, in complete agony. His mind lashed out, out of his control and the X-Men did suffer as a result of his powers going wild, but it was only for a few moments before he collapsed. Until they got him back to their craft, they were certain that he was dead.”

“For all intents and purposes he was,” the healer agreed. “Their primitive medical science could never have saved him. Frankly, I am surprised that they managed to keep him alive as long as they did. One thing that we did discover was that because of the way this device was designed to act solely on one person, there should have been no way to block the effects, yet somehow he did. Resisting what was happening should only have compounded the damage and accelerated his death. Yet, oddly enough, that did not happen. Something slowed the effects of the disruptor and prevented it from killing him outright.”

Lilandra raised her free hand and rubbed at her forehead. A low, throbbing headache was beginning to form behind her eyes – a side effect of the amount of psychic energy she had expanded that day, and it was only going to grow worse since she was still channeling energy to Charles, although she was not in full rapport with him.

“Empress, are you well?” Gladiator asked sharply.

“Yes, I am fine,” she answered absently. “Just tired.” She shook her head slightly before she looked up at the healer. “Have you devised a treatment for what ails him?”

“Treatment?” I’zra asked, puzzled.

Lilandra stared at him. “Yes. That is why I brought him to you, so that he could be treated and his mind restored.”

“Empress, I do not believe any such treatment exists, nor that it is possible to treat this condition. I was under the impression that you wished only to make his last days as painless and peaceful as possible.”

“If I did not desire him to be saved, I would not have brought him here!” Lilandra said sharply. “I could have left him on Earth, for he was at the very edge of death when I arrived.”

“The deterioration cannot be stopped, Empress. Not even we have the technology or knowledge to do so. At best, we can only slow it down and prolong his life by a few days,” I’zra said. “Even if we could find a way to stop what is happening, it would not be in time to save his life, nor could we guarantee that we could reverse the damage that has already been done.”

“I do not believe that!” Lilandra snapped, outraged that he wasn't even going to attempt to save her beloved. “We have treatments that can help to heal psychic damage – with the number of psi-talented members of this empire, we would have to. Why do you not start with one of those?”

“Empress, I understand that this Earthman is important to you,” the healer said. “But randomly experimenting with treatments could be just as devastating to his mind as simply allowing him to die from the original attack. All we would do is prolong his agony and destroy what dignity he has left.”

“Leave us!” Lilandra ordered. “You are not to attend to Charles any longer.”

Healer I’zra looked shocked for a moment, before he bowed and began backing away. “I am sorry, my Empress.”

“Go!”

Lilandra turned her attention back to Charles. He still lay on the bed, his beautiful blue eyes closed. He had not stirred so much as a muscle since she had brought him from her ship. She closed her eyes and pressed his hand to her face. Could the healer be right? Am I only prolonging your suffering by continually pulling you back from death? I know you, Charles Xavier. If you had a choice in the way that you died, it would not be slowly suffering as your powerful mind decays. You would be content to die surrounded by your X-Men, or to die fighting for the peace that you crave so much. Could it be that the only thing I can do for you is to let you die in peace and dignity? No, I cannot believe that. I pledged that we would find a way to help you, and I always try to uphold my pledges.

“Empress?” Gladiator’s voice was concerned as it drew her out of her musings.

She opened her eyes and looked wearily up at Gladiator. “I am well, Gladiator. I am simply trying to decide what I must do.” She looked back down at Charles. “I love him, Gladiator, but I also know that if there was no hope, he would not want his suffering prolonged. He would rather go all at once, in peace.” She leaned down and gently kissed his brow. “But I cannot bring myself to admit that there is no hope for him.”

“I believe that there may be hope yet, Majestrix,” Brith’ta said.

Lilandra looked up at him, sharply. “How so?”

“I have been studying the readouts and the analysis done by the other healers since I arrived earlier,” he replied. “You are correct that we have treatments for psychic damage, and that is essentially what this is. Even though it was an electronic device that caused the damage, it is replicating the effects of a powerful psychic attack.” Now Brith’ta looked curious. “When you are in psychic rapport with him, Empress, are you able to get any clarity of thought from him?”

Lilandra nodded. “Yes, of course. He can speak quite clearly to me, and he recognizes my presence.”

Brith’ta nodded in satisfaction. “I suspected as much when you came in here a short time ago. His readings had not changed at all, but your bond was telling you that there was something drastically wrong. The two of you are linked very closely. He has been unconscious since you left, Empress. We had no difficulty in moving him here, and putting him on the more advanced systems seems to have helped to stabilize him further. His mental patterns are still highly disrupted, however. I suspect that until we discover a way to treat the condition, he will only have clarity of thought when he is in rapport with you, for his readings dropped back to a more disorganized level once you departed the ship.”

Brith’ta set down the data reader he had been studying. “I also suspect that the reason that he did not die immediately from the effects of this weapon was because of the bond you share with him. I have also done some reading on the lidhje shpirt since this afternoon. The legends about it are not entirely clear, but the one thing that all the accounts agree on is that in a time of danger, the bonded ones will not only seek each other out, they will literally draw strength from each other.”

Araki frowned. “From even a galaxy apart?”

Brith’ta nodded. “It is possible. Both Lord Xavier and the Empress are powerful telepaths, and the stories all claim that the lidhje shpirt links those of strongest hearts and minds, because it must be a link between equals. If their powers were strong enough, and their bond a true one, distance would not matter. We are speaking of matters of the heart, mind, and soul – and distance would have no effect on those things.”

“I was rather uneasy in the time leading up to the psychic cry I received from Charles,” Lilandra said slowly. “I could not understand why I was feeling so. I even considered that it might have something to do with Charles, but I couldn't imagine what could be going on that would be so devastating to him that I would feel it from that far away.”

Brith’ta nodded in satisfaction. “He had been attacked, and instinctively was reaching out for your help. You knew it, you could sense that something was wrong, but it was such a foreign sensation to you, my Empress, that you didn't understand what you were feeling, because your mik shpirt is always so controlled and calm. I believe that your bond literally helped to slow the progression of the damage. He was linked to you, and you were still well, and healthy, so your bond was able to check the initial damage long enough for his X-Men to get him under life support, and then to keep him alive until he was able to muster the strength to cry out to you.”

“But what does all of this have to do with a treatment for him?” Oracle asked.

“Most of the treatments that we have for psychic damage begin with some type of outside stimulus, to allow the mind to focus on what was done and to help the one who has been hurt recognize the damage and acknowledge it. From there, it is usually followed by intense psychic therapy sessions – a healer and a psychic literally helping the victim to reconstruct his or her mental patterns, erase whatever trauma might have been done, and help to restore balance,” Brith’ta explained. “I would have to look into what the best form of initial treatment would be, and I would like to examine the weapon again once the analysis has been finished, but I think from there I could recommend a treatment and a therapy schedule for your mik shpirt, Empress.”

The healers who served on her personal star cruiser were on a rotating cycle, so that those who had family needn't be constantly away from their loved ones. It was the healer's school which recommended the healers for their placement, and an administrator who approved the staffing of her ship, unless she personally recommended or denied someone's placement on her vessel. Although she had the power to command him, she chose instead to ask. “Healer, would you consent to remain here on Aerie, until my mik shpirt is well? You know the truth of the bond between us, and you are familiar with his condition – the palace healers are not.” She paused. “After what happened with the other healer, I do not trust them to have his best interests at heart. I trust you – because you are the only one who seems to care for his well-being as much as I do.”

“Empress, I am yours to command. If what you require of me is to stay, then I shall stay until you no longer have need of me,” Brith’ta answered.

Lilandra nodded. “I thank you. What must be done? What must I do in order to help him?”

“Right now, Empress, you need to rest.” Brith’ta raised his hand to keep her from protesting. “Your bond with Lord Xavier makes you the logical choice to enter a rapport with him for the psychic therapy sessions. I suspect that he will respond with you where he will not with any of the other psychics. If you do not have the energy for the sessions, which will be very intense, we could do more harm than good.”

“At the moment I am psychically supporting him, even though I am not in full rapport,” Lilandra blinked several times as the headache behind her eyes worsened. For Charles, however, she would endure it. “What I felt when his distress leaked into my dreams…cold, darkness, pressure…it was almost what I would think of as complete sensory deprivation – awareness that something is wrong, but no control over what is happening. If I let him go now, he may slip back into that state, and the next time I may not be able to pull him back out.”

The healer looked thoughtful. “However, you cannot support him indefinitely, Your Majesty.” He tapped his fingers along the edge of the small table he was standing beside. “But if he slips again…” After a moment, he nodded as if to himself and turned away, heading for a cabinet further down the ward. He opened it and removed something from inside, then returned with a neural stimulator in his hand. He fastened the device to Charles’ brow, in a slightly different location than where Lilandra had placed hers earlier, and activated it, setting it to a much higher power level than Lilandra had dared to use.

“Charles has never used one of those before today,” Lilandra said, alarmed. “It takes conditioning to use at the highest levels.”

Brith’ta nodded. “Normally, that would be true, Empress. But we are not attempting to keep him awake and focused, we are trying to further slow the deterioration of his mind, so that you do not need to support him.” The healer made a few more adjustments to the stimulator before he appeared to be satisfied with what the readouts were showing him. “Empress, please release your psychic hold on him. I believe that I have this set at a high enough level that the stimulus it provides will substitute for your psychic energy without adverse effects.”

Lilandra wasn't as sure, but she knew that she could not psychically support Charles’ consciousness indefinitely. Very slowly, she cautiously pulled back the flow of psychic energy to him before she slipped out of contact with him. To her relief, the bond didn't waver or fluctuate in strength. But it took several marks before I noticed it the last time.

Brith’ta was watching her closely. “Do you sense a difference in your bond?”

“Not yet, Healer,” she replied. “But there was no noticeable change before until some time had passed.” She shivered slightly at a minor chill that went through the air, but dismissed it for the moment. “What might I expect to happen next?”

“For now, sleep,” Brith’ta responded. “I understand that after what happened before you do not wish to leave, but I must insist that you rest. I will have another bed readied for you here beside your bonded, and I will give you a very light sedative to help you sleep.” He looked at her more closely, a concerned look crossing his face. “You are exhausted, Majestrix.”

He turned to face Araki and Oracle. “Clear the Empress’ schedule for tomorrow. I want her to get a full night’s rest, and I will need her assistance in beginning Lord Xavier’s therapy.”

“There is a Grand Council session as well as a diplomatic reception that cannot be postponed,” Araki replied.

“Postpone the Council session until after the mid-day meal, and free up my morning,” Lilandra ordered. “Sort through the issues that were going to be discussed and pick the four most critical things that must have decisions tomorrow. The minor issues will have to wait until the next session.”

Araki and Oracle both nodded. “And the reception?”

“Will still be held as planned, with a few minor changes,” Lilandra said after some consideration. “There will be no formal receiving line for Lord K’trell and I to greet the guests. If he still wishes one, the reception can begin earlier than scheduled, and it can be finished before I arrive. Also, arrange with the staff that the reception will not last as long as was originally planned.”

“Understood, Empress. We will attend to it,” Araki said, dipping his head in a short acknowledgment of her instructions.

“Dismissed,” Lilandra told them, and her advisors left, followed by Gladiator at a subtle gesture. She remained sitting by Charles’ side while Brith’ta quickly prepared another bed for her alongside Charles. As soon as the healer indicated that it was ready, she leaned down and gently kissed him good-night before she moved to the bed, where Brith’ta was waiting with an injector filled with a clear liquid.

“This is just a mild sedative, Empress. It will help you relax, despite your worries, but it will not force you to sleep, nor will it keep you asleep,” he explained as he pressed it lightly to her arm. “That way if something does go wrong, you’ll still be able to sense it and rouse yourself. I expect that your exhaustion will do most of the work in helping you to sleep once you’ve relaxed.”

“I understand,” Lilandra told him as she felt the tiny prick on her arm.

“Are you comfortable, Majesty?”

“Yes,” she told him, just before she shivered slightly again. It did not escape the healer’s trained eyes.

“You've almost drained all of your energy, my liege. Your body is chilled from the drain on your resources.” Brith’ta went to another cabinet and pulled out another blanket, which he carefully draped over her shoulders before he ordered the lights lowered and stepped away from the bed.

Lilandra rolled over so that she could watch Charles. True to the healer’s words, she could feel herself relaxing under the sedative’s influence. Being closer to Charles was also helping.

As the last of her worried was forcibly suppressed, her exhaustion caught up with her, just as the healer had predicted, and the darkness rushed in to claim her.

Chapter Text

“Till two hearts beat together, underneath one sun,
One very special moment, can turn a destiny,
And what some would say, could never change,
has changed for you and me…”
- “We Are One” by Westlife



Chapter Three: Restoring the Tie

The next morning…

“What do you need me to do?” Lilandra asked as she took her seat beside Charles’ bed again. After the late night that she had had, she had slept much later than she normally did. When she had woken, to the reassuring strength of the bond, Brith’ta had asked for her to go about her morning routine before returning to the healer’s wing for the first session.

“I've spent the last few marks varying the power and the stimulus level that the stimulator has been emitting as the first stage of treatment. I checked prior case histories regarding psychic damage, and according to everything that I have read, the changing stimulus should have served as a ‘shock’ of sorts, to make sure his mind will be focused and aware when we begin the therapy. What I will need for you to do, Empress, is to link with me and then bring me into the rapport you share with Lord Xavier. It will be up to you to help him reconstruct the neural paths again, while I act as a guide and a counselor. The first few sessions will be the hardest, but if this treatment works the way I hope, soon you and he will be able to work without my presence.”

“I have never been trained in any kind of healing,” Lilandra reminded him.

“I’m aware of that, my Empress. However, once we get past the initial stages and sessions I suspect that a great deal of the treatment will involve the two of you in a very close rapport, along with many personal memories that you would not wish an outsider to see, let alone experience. That is why I am going to assist for the first few sessions, in order to teach both of you what will need to be done.”

Lilandra nodded and readied herself as the healer fastened a small device to his wrist before offering her an identical one. “What is this?”

“These first sessions will be the hardest, not only psychically, but also emotionally and mentally, so I want to impose a time limit. I want to spend no more than two marks on the first session – partially to keep either of you from exhausting yourselves again, but also to avoid doing damage by trying to do too much too soon. When the two marks are up, these devices will act like psychic breakers and force the link apart. They won’t – they can’t – interfere in your lidhje shpirt, only in this secondary rapport.”

“Won’t Charles be frightened when we are suddenly forced apart?” Lilandra asked. “What I saw last night…he was confused and lost until I was able to convince him I wasn't going to hurt him, until he realized it was me. If the damage is as severe as you say…”

Brith’ta shook his head. “We’ll feel a warning tug to let us know that we’re getting close to the time limit before we’re forced out of the rapport. It will give us enough time to explain to him what is going on if he is as confused as you saw last night.” He touched the control to activate the breakers. “Whenever you are ready, Majestrix.”

Lilandra nodded and focused her energies before she reached out to link with Brith’ta. To her surprise, his own psychic shields were down and he was waiting with a “hand” stretched out to her. She clasped her “hand” to his and pulled him close to her.

I have a touch of empathic sensing, my Empress, he said with a “smile” that she felt more than saw.

With the healer firmly linked to her psychic self, she changed her focus to Charles and reached out to him, trying to once again establish a rapport with his unconscious mind. Charles. Charles, it is Lilandra. I am here to help you, as I promised.

Who…?

Lilandra, she told him. Reach out to me, beloved.

There was a flash of confusion, followed by recognition. Lilandra.

Yes, Charles. I’m here with one of my healers. We’re going to help you piece your neural paths together so that you can heal. She and Brith’ta “manifested” their astral forms inside Charles’ mind. His astral form was there as well, hovering, uncertain, as if he was ready to flee at a moment’s notice. When he saw her, some of his tension eased, reassured by her presence.

I love you.

And I love you, she replied as she reached out and secured him to her with another temporary link like the one she was maintaining with Brith’ta. With the temporary link in place, she would be able to subconsciously monitor his energy and support him without distracting from what they were doing.

She “felt” Brith’ta moving closer along the link, “introducing” himself to Charles. In a link like this, even though he had no telepathic ability, he was still able to “articulate” because of the way Lilandra was temporarily sharing her powers with him. Lord Xavier, my name is Brith’ta, one of Her Majesty’s healers. Your mind has been badly damaged, but I believe that I can help you and Empress Lilandra heal and restore it. Do you understand?

Yes…there was some uncertainty in his reply.

Good. Your neural paths were damaged and your memories disrupted and mixed. This will be a long, often frustrating process, but I pledge you that I will help you see it through to the end. The healer’s words were kind, but frank.

Lilandra could feel Charles’ hesitation and hurried to reassure him. I’ll be with you the whole way, Charles. You won’t be alone.

Lilandra.

Brith’ta interjected before she could reply. Lord Xavier…may I call you Charles?

Charles? he echoed back, uncertainly.

Yes. May I forego the formality and call you by your name? It will make these sessions much easier.

Again, Lilandra could sense his hesitation. It’s all right, Charles. Brith’ta can be trusted.

Yes, came Charles’ decision after several moments. But there was something…Lilandra couldn't figure out what was wrong. This wasn't the man whom she had supported so that he could bid his children good-bye. Charles had been articulate, if weary then. This time…something just wasn't right.

Thank you, Brith’ta said, his mental voice calm and reassuring. What I would like to work on right now is helping you re-establish full contact with your body, so that you can function on a normal level, with periods of true sleep, not unconsciousness. It is not healthy for you to remain unconscious for so long.

Yes.

Lilandra sent him a warm wave of love using her empathic powers. You can do this, Charles. I so want to see your eyes again, and feel you respond to my touch.

She sensed his fear and hesitation again, and again she reassured him. Help me.

That’s why we’re here, Charles. To help you, Brith’ta said soothingly. Empress, he will need your help with this.

Of course. What must I do? she asked.

We need to locate his anchor – the link between his mind and his body when he astrally projects. Every person has one; most just don’t know how to use it or that it is there. I believe that the anchor being destroyed or deteriorating would explain the dark oblivion you described last night. He would be separated from his body, without a way to restore that damaged link, and if the link was completely severed, there would be no way to help him.

Lilandra “nodded” and, holding Charles and Brith’ta close to her, pulled them further into Charles’ mind. At this level, had his mind been intact, she would have been able to see his memories, but there was only tattered fragments that drifted into her awareness and back out, so quickly and ephemeral that they barely registered to her. It was at that moment that she realized what Brith’ta meant when he described Charles’ recovery as a “long, frustrating process”. When Charles regained consciousness, he would likely be suffering from extreme amnesia. Each of these memory fragments would have to be slowly pieced together and placed back in their appropriate place.

She hid her concern with difficulty and continued to pull them deeply into her lover’s mind until she found the anchor that was Charles’ psychic link to his body. Although it was purely a psychic link, it manifested to her “eyes” as a long silver cord, normally strong and tightly woven. Now, however, it was frayed and tattered and almost severed in several places. Had it broken completely, as Brith’ta had pointed out, they would never have been able to restore Charles to consciousness – he would have been effectively brain dead, even if his body still breathed.?em>

Charles, this is where you must take over, the healer said after studying the situation. This is your mind – we cannot force healing upon you. Empress Lilandra will channel energy to you, but you must use the energy to repair the anchor that ties your mind to your body.

H-how? More uncertainty, confusion.

Through willpower, Charles. In the mind, everything is about will and desire. Brith’ta suddenly manifested a small glowing ball of light, and then made it disappear just as quickly. Empress, please begin channeling energy to Lord Xavier.

Lilandra reached deep inside herself and pulled. Just as Brith’ta had, she visualized her energy flowing from her to Charles’ “hands”, where it settled, waiting to be used. But from that point, it just hovered. It was as if Charles didn't know what to do with the energy, which made Lilandra wonder just how badly his mind had been damaged. Could Charles have completely forgotten how to use his telepathy?

During their previous rapports, she had forcibly willed the energy to conform to her desires, bypassing Charles’ ability to use and control it. Had she somehow compounded the damage by doing so? She had been so desperate to save him, to keep him from slipping away from her into death that she hadn't stopped to think what her forced rapport was doing to him – and the healers had said that it appeared that any attempt to block or slow the effects of the device would only accelerate the damage.

It appeared that although their bond was keeping him alive, it was adding to the damage that had been sustained. Charles’ hesitancy, his one-word answers…he was reacting on instinct and answering the way he thought they wanted to hear.

Healer, he is like a child. He doesn't understand what we want him to do, she said along the link she held with Brith’ta, being careful to keep her words out of Charles’ hearing range.

I was afraid this might happen, although I was hoping that it wouldn't, given what you told me about his ability to speak coherently with you when you were in rapport, Brith’ta replied.

What do you mean? Lilandra demanded.

When you first entered the rapport with him on your ship, although the damage was extensive and cascading, something – most likely your bond – was slowing the progression of the damage. That is the only reason that he could have survived so long. But the weapon still acted like taking a mallet to something fragile. There was enough of his mind and memory intact, however, to allow him to speak and act coherently with you. Now, however, the deterioration has progressed to a point where it is beginning to affect even those small fragments. His mind has regressed further, but again, your bond is acting to help him preserve what remains of his mind.

Part of his explanation made sense, but there was still something that didn't. But then why does he still cry out to me? Why does he know me and know that he loves me?

I can only theorize, Empress. It must have something to do with the lidhje shpirt itself. Given how unclear the legends and accounts of the bond are, my only guess is that the bond will not allow him to forget those things – or if he does, they would be the very last things to fade. Although by that point, there would not be enough left of his mind to save, so it would be a rather insignificant detail.

What he was describing was so horrible, that Lilandra would have shivered if she had been in her own body. What can I do for him?

I do not know, Empress. Again, I can only theorize. I’ve never seen a case like this before, even though I have treated other forms of psychic and physical damage. I believe that, for today, if we can find a way to help him heal this weakened link, he will regain consciousness and he will be able to communicate with us. Because there is no physical damage to his brain, if we can find a way to help restore his neural paths, he will start to become the man you remember. With patience, we should be able to help him heal. Had there been physical damage to his mind in addition to the psychic damage, I do not know if we could have found a way to help him.

Lilandra looked over at Charles, who still looked lost and confused by the energy that he was “holding”. She wanted to weep at the emotions that she could sense coming from him. He was so bewildered…nothing like the confident, passionate, loving man that he had been when they had first met. He had stood up to his step-brother so bravely then, trying to protect her, and nearly died as a result. He had defied her when she had tried to take Jean Grey away because the Phoenix had been too strong, too dangerous, and his gambit had succeeded. There was such power and passion in him, no matter how tightly he leashed it, but now he was a broken shell of himself.

With time, love, and patience – assuming that Brith’ta was correct – what was broken could be mended. She had not come this far to give up on him now. Instinctively, she stepped forward, placed her “hands” over his and deepened the rapport between them so that she could show him what to do, guiding him in molding the power to his will, showing him how to use it to strengthen and reinforce the tie between his mind and his body. He fumbled with it at first, but she continued to teach him what she wanted him to do, and he slowly caught on.

That’s very good, Charles! I am very proud of you! she told him, sensing his confidence increase under her praise. She released his hands and stepped back slightly, but continued to channel the energy to him now that he had caught on to what he needed to do.

Lilandra!

I’m still with you Charles, she assured him, sending a reassuring burst of love to him that was designed to warm him and comfort him. Now that he had the understanding of how to repair the worst of the damage to his mind, he was moving more quickly now, strengthening the mental tie between his body and his mind. The tattered and weakened places were slowly coming back together with the combined forces of Lilandra’s and Charles’ powers – and she was glad to see it. Any bit of progress brought her hope that the Charles she knew and loved would be restored to her.

Just as he finished reinforcing the final place on the tie, Lilandra felt a small shudder along the links she was holding. She turned her attention to Brith’ta. Was that the warning for the psychic breakers?

Yes. We need to pull out of his mind, the healer replied, before he turned to Charles. Charles, the Empress and I are going to leave now, but we’ll be back soon. With the progress you've made, you should be able to wake up now, and you should be stronger.

Lilandra could sense that Charles was uncertain about the healer’s words, but even she could tell that there was a difference now that they had affected some healing. He didn't seem to be quite as uncertain or afraid as he had been, and he seemed more aware of where he was and what was going on.

Of course, he wasn't completely back to his old self yet. Lilandra? His tone was uncertain as he said it.

It will be all right, Charles. I’ll see you soon, Lilandra reassured him. I look forward to seeing your beautiful eyes again.

Gently, she released the link that she had with Charles, allowing his subconscious to drift back to a level that wasn’t so deep. There was still work to be done, but at least they had made a start. She “rose” out of Charles’ deepest unconscious mind with Brith’ta, reaching a shallower state of awareness just as the breakers activated and sent a jolt that broke the link and sent both of them back to their own minds.

Lilandra opened her eyes and blinked twice as she focused on Brith’ta. “Did it work?”

“That was a good first session, Majestrix,” the healer confirmed. “We’ll have to see what impact it had on his physical condition.” He rose slowly to his feet to avoid the dizziness that could come from such a deep psychic rapport. As a telepath herself, Lilandra was more used to the sensation that could arise from such intensive use of psychic powers, so as she rose to her feet, she was able to move directly to Charles’ side, leaning over to touch his cheek with no dizziness afflicting her.

The healer moved to the monitors and studied the readouts closely, tapping in several commands to compare them with the readouts from the night before. There was an intense look on his face as he raised a finger and traced it over the screen, interpreting what he saw in some fashion that made no sense to Lilandra, since she had no healer training. “Healer?”

“I do believe that it worked,” Brith’ta said after another few moments of studying the monitors. “His life signs show a marked improvement, and he’s definitely stabilized. I see no reason why we shouldn't attempt to wake him.”

Lilandra’s heart beat a little faster at the thought that Charles might wake up, able to speak to her in his rich, deep baritone, able to touch her gently, but with the passion that she knew he was capable of. She loved him so much, and seeing him so still like this was painful. She watched closely as Brith’ta leaned over the bed and touched Charles’ shoulder.

“Charles? Lord Xavier, can you hear me?” he called. “It’s time to wake up.”

For a moment, nothing seemed to happen, and Lilandra found herself holding her breath, wondering if Charles really had improved, if he was strong enough to regain consciousness and come back to her. Then she saw him twitch slightly, and his eyelids flutter, which was more movement than he’d made in a full day.

“Charles? Beloved?” Lilandra tried, taking his hand and squeezing it gently. “Wake up, Charles. Please.”

More movement in his face, and this time Lilandra also felt a weak, answering squeeze in her hand. She raised his hand to her lips and kissed his knuckles gently, while her other hand found his brow and brushed across the smooth, pale skin. He was so different from her people – but that only made him even more attractive to her. It wasn't just his outward appearance that was so different and attractive, but the kindness and wisdom of his mind and spirit that attracted her.

“Keep trying, Empress. He’s responding to you more than he was to me.” Brith’ta glanced at the readouts on the monitor again. “His life signs are still improving. If we can get him fully awake, we’ll get the most accurate readings on his condition.”

Encouraged by the healer’s words, she continued to call out to him, squeezing his hand, touching his cheek, calling his name repeatedly, and finally leaning down to kiss his lips. As she pulled away, she was rewarded with the sight of his eyes opening slightly, then closing again. His eyelids fluttered for a moment, as if he was struggling for control over them.

“Charles? You can do it.” Open your eyes love. I’m right here, waiting for you.

His blue eyes flickered open again, blinked once, and then stayed open as he focused on her face.

“Charles?” she breathed, hardly daring to hope that they might have succeeded in bringing him back to a level of awareness where he was no longer constrained by his damaged mind.

“L-lil-” he croaked slightly, before he coughed.

“It is all right, Lord Xavier,” Brith’ta held out a cup of water. “Just relax. We are glad to see you awake.” He slid an arm carefully beneath Charles’ shoulders and raised him up enough that Charles could swallow without choking. “Easy, my lord,” the healer soothed as he carefully tipped the water into Charles’ mouth.

Lilandra watched as he drank, swallowed, and coughed again. When the healer lowered him back to the pillow, his blue eyes locked on hers. “L-Lilandra?”

Brith’ta stepped back and Lilandra picked up his hand and raised it to her cheek. “Yes, Charles. I’m here, just liked I promised you I’d be. How are you feeling?”

He blinked slowly, as if he was considering his answer. “Tired. Where - ?”

She brushed his cheek with the back of her hand. “You’re on Aerie, my home world. Do you remember what happened?”

He started to respond, but then an alarmed look crossed his face. “No.” Panic filled his blue eyes, which was a look that she had never seen on him before. Always before, he had been calm and collected, no matter what chaos was going on around him.

“It’s all right, Charles,” Lilandra hastened to reassure him, wanting to remove that panic from his eyes.

“Lord Xavier, my name is Brith’ta, one of Her Majesty’s healers. Do you remember me?”

Charles studied him for a moment, and then slowly nodded. “I – I think so, yes.”

“At my Empress’s request, I have been attending to you since yesterday when she brought you to us,” Brith’ta said. The healer set the water on a nearby table where it was accessible but out of the way. “You were attacked on your world and nearly died. We've managed to stabilize your condition. However, it seems that one of the side effects of the device that was used against you was memory loss.”

The panic, which had begun to ebb, returned in full force. Lilandra didn't give him a chance to say anything, as she quickly touched his cheek to focus his gaze on her. “Calm down, beloved. Try to relax. Everything will be all right. My people have treatments that will help to restore your memories. We will be able to help you, but it will take time. I’ll be standing beside you the whole way. I promise.”

Uncertainty clouded Charles’ eyes, warring with hope. “You’re sure?”

Both Lilandra and Brith’ta nodded. “Yes,” the healer said. “The Empress is correct. Restoring memories is simple, and since you are a telepath, it will be easier than if you weren't. It will be long process, for your mind was badly damaged, but the actual technique will not be difficult for either of you to learn.”

Charles nodded slowly, the hope overriding the uncertainty. “I – I don’t remember much, except my name…and Lilandra.”

“There is a good reason for that Charles, but you will know and remember everything in time,” Lilandra said softly. “I promise you, beloved. I am just glad that you are awake and out of danger.” She leaned down and kissed the top of his head. “Are you hungry, love?”

“No, just confused,” Charles said.

“For now, Lord Xavier, I think it would be best if you got some rest,” Brith’ta said. “Tomorrow we will begin trying to piece together your memories.” The healer turned back to the computer and began to enter a series of commands. “The best thing for you at the moment is sleep – true sleep. It will help you to restore more of your strength for the therapy.” He tapped one more button, and then turned to Lilandra. “Empress, may I speak to you alone for a moment?”

Lilandra looked at him in surprise. “Of course.” She squeezed Charles’ hand before she rose to her feet and followed the healer further down the hallway, out of Charles’ earshot. With his memories so scattered, the chances that he would remember how to use his telepathy enough to overhear them was minimal – but that was something else they would have to work on as well. So much of who her beloved was, was bound up in his powers and his choices in how and when he used them. She would help him to learn his powers and his control again, for she could not imagine him without them.

When the healer stopped and turned back to face her, she didn't hesitate. “What is wrong that you could not speak in front of my mik shpirt?”

“Empress, I am quite pleased to see that he has such awareness and precise speech, especially after what we saw in the rapport, but I feel I must caution you. We have stabilized his life signs for now, but the effects of the weapon were designed to be cascading. It is entirely possible that his current condition will worsen again – we simply don’t know yet. Whoever created the weapon did not have enough understanding of the mind, especially considering that your mik shprit was a telepath. Without knowing if he intended to kill Lord Xavier, and without knowing the exact specifications of what the device was designed to do, we have no way of predicting how long the cascading effects will last, especially since there was no way to predict that your lidhje shprit would be able to slow the effects and keep him alive.”

“So Charles is not out of danger?” Lilandra asked, feeling a touch of alarm.

Physical danger? For the moment, yes, he is. But the weapon attacked the link between his mind and body, which was what imperiled his life. It is possible that the weapon’s energy could continue to do so, and continue to erode the work that was done today. We’ll simply have to keep him under observation for a few days. If nothing happens, we can probably release him to his own suite at that time.”

“I would rather move him into my own suite,” Lilandra said.

“Of course, Empress,” Brith’ta bowed. “You may sit with him, but try to encourage him to get some rest. I know he just woke up, but sleep – true sleep, and not the unconscious state he was in before – is the best thing for him right now. And if you will excuse me, I require some rest myself. I've programmed the computer to alert me if his condition worsens, and one of my assistants has been notified to check on him later.”

“Thank you for everything that you have done, healer,” Lilandra replied softly.

Brith’ta bowed and quietly left the room as she turned and made her way back to Charles’ side. He had been watching them, though she was fairly sure that they had been out of hearing range. She sat down in the chair that had – for the moment – become a permanent fixture at the side of the bed. “Is something wrong, Charles?”

“What is wrong with me really, Lilandra?” Charles blue eyes were bleakly serious. “No healer would need to speak out of earshot if there wasn't more to what you have said.”

“Nothing is wrong, Charles. Everything that I have told you is true. You were attacked and nearly killed, but you’re starting to recover. Your memories are going to be scattered for a time, but that’s all.”

Charles shook his head against the pillow. “Why do I remember you, but I cannot remember anything else? If my memories are as confused as you say…”

“You and I share a very special link, Charles. In a way, we’re always together even when we are apart. That’s why you remember me. I cannot explain the full extent of the link to you until you have more understanding of what your powers are and who you are.”

“I don’t like not knowing.”

Before she could respond, a slight cough from behind her caught her attention. She turned to see Araki standing at a respectful distance. “Yes?”

“Your pardon, Empress, but the Grand Council is beginning to convene.”

She sighed. “Very well, Araki.” She turned back to Charles. “I know it is hard beloved. But I will be with you every step of the way. Right now you need to rest.” She reached out and picked up his hand. “I have to leave for a short time to meet with my Council, but I’ll be back as soon as we adjourn.” She leaned down to kiss his brow. “I love you, Charles.”

He waited until she pulled back so that he could look her in the eyes. “I love you, Lilandra.”

“Get some rest if you can,” she whispered. “Dim lights.” In response to her command, the lights lowered to an adequate level for sleeping, without extinguishing all the way. Then she rose to her feet and left the bedside to follow Araki, feeling Charles’ eyes on her the whole way. She had a Council meeting to prepare for…but all she wanted was to stay by the side of the man she loved. Once again, she had to be Empress Majestrix, when all she wanted was to be Lilandra.

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

A larger boy with reddish-orange hair stood over him. “Let’s get something straight. We’re not brothers, we’re stepbrothers! And I intend to step on you every chance I get!”

Flash

“Magnus, you've brought me here, the next move is yours.” He was floating in midair, while an inferno raged around him, facing a man dressed in flamboyant purple and silver. Somehow, he knew the man, and he felt sorrow for him – and anger.

“The years have been kind to you, Charles.”

Flash

“You are a fool, Sinister. The most powerful mutants on Earth will hunt you down to avenge Charles Xavier!” The same man now stood at his side, facing down another, this one garbed all in black and purple, with the visage of a terrible monster, a creature out of a nightmare.

Flash

“I've always wondered why you were such a mutant lover, Xavier. Xavier, the great peacemaker, friend of poor, misunderstood mutants. Could Charles Xavier be a stinking mutant too?”

Charles woke with a start, his heart pounding and the words and images he had seen and heard still echoing in his mind. Who were these people? Under what setting? Were they friends or enemies?

He had fallen asleep shortly after Lilandra had left, wanting to have the strength to be awake to talk to her when she returned. He had spent a few fruitless minutes trying to remember something – how he had met her, when they had fallen in love, anything – for that was the only thing he was certain of. But all he knew for sure was that her name was Lilandra and that he loved her.

Who am I? They keep calling me Charles – but who am I? And why does this feel so familiar? Have I lost my memory before? he wondered to himself. What kind of a person am I? I must be a good person, to have the love of a woman like Lilandra – but why do I not remember any of it?

He closed his eyes, trying to concentrate on a memory, anything that would help him remember who he was – but with no luck. Every time a thought drifted close, it slipped away before he could focus on it.

I can do this! he thought, frustrated and angry. This should not be as hard as it seemed. The memories must be there! Surely I can come up with one memory!

Lilandra…she seemed to be the key. Somehow, he could remember her when he could remember nothing else; so perhaps that would be the key to restoring his lost memories. Whatever she meant by the two of them having a “link”, he knew that if he could just learn what she meant, it would help him to remember the rest.

All right. I’m going to concentrate just on Lilandra, try to find the memory of how we first met. If I focus just on one thing at a time…

“Lilandra, how can you do this? The X-Men were your friends!”

“You are my friends! I owe you my throne and my life, but I must act!” Lilandra turned and ascended the step that led to her throne, which put her above his eye level, in a position of superiority. This was not the soft, gentle woman he loved so passionately. This was the Shi’ar Majestrix, a ruler of implacable strength and power. “Phoenix must be destroyed!”

A woman with brilliant red hair and green eyes moved closer to him, hovering at his shoulder in fear.

He opened his eyes. Phoenix…who is Phoenix? And who are the X-Men? At least they were names, another avenue to explore, another link to the past that might be a key to uncovering the rest. But he still wanted to know about Lilandra. He closed his eyes again, concentrating on Lilandra, picturing her beautiful face in his mind, hearing her sweetly accented voice.

“I am fire, and life incarnate! Now and forever more, I AM PHOENIX!” the woman with the brilliant red hair proclaimed as she rose out of the water in an aura of light, fire, and power.

Again, he opened his eyes. Phoenix again…why does everything keep coming back to Phoenix? Who is she? And what does she have to do with how I know Lilandra?

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

The Grand Council Chamber…

“…according to the last report from Captain Eluke, the raiders have been pushed back, but he expects that they’ll either move to a new territory or wait until his star cruiser leaves before they resume their tricks.” The representative’s eyes were bright with frustration as he spoke through the insta-link’s viewing orb.

“The raiders grow bolder with each new season,” Samédàr, one of the Lords on her Council added. “Something must be done!”

Lilandra mustered all the calm that she could. They had already discussed the four issues that Araki and Oracle felt were the most critical, and just when she’d been about to adjourn the session, word had come that Captain Eluke had routed a pirate attack on one of the outlying worlds of her Empire. “Something will be done, my Lord Samédàr, Representative Vtra. I will dispatch the Imperial Guard immediately, to join Eluke and help to capture these pirates.”

This was one of the times when she wished that she was not required to be the Majestrix. She had to remain firm and in control. She had come to realize, on the day she was crowned, that in order to carry out her duties, she would have to become three people in one – the Empress Lilandra, kind and wise, able to lead her people with a caring hand; the Shi’ar Majestrix, always strong, refusing to never yield or retreat, no matter the odds; and the woman Lilandra, the part of her that could be herself, the one who loved Charles Xavier with all her heart and soul, the one who specifically wanted nothing more than to remain with him and live in peace, free from the concerns of being Empress.

“The pirates are as slippery as Grotonvo mud-worms,” the representative spat. “What good can the Imperial Guard do?’

“They will be able to bring additional firepower –” Lilandra began, before she trailed off as a powerful memory rose from her mind.

“It’s all right Moira…” Charles replied in answer to the door chime.

A sudden crash, a small explosion a moment later, and a hulking man in red armor stepped through the hole in the wall. “The name’s Juggernaut, little brother!” The massive monster stepped forward and she felt herself lifted up. “And you must be Lilandra!”

Lilandra gasped as the vision released her so suddenly. She remembered being grabbed and held by that brute so tightly that her breath had been stolen. It was one of the few moments in her life that she had felt completely helpless.

“Majestrix?” Araki was at her side, a steadying hand on her shoulder. “What is it?”

Lilandra blinked several times, before she took a deep breath. She looked out at her Council, many of whom looked worried and puzzled. “I apologize. As I was saying, sending the Imperial Guard in will provide Captain Eluke with additional firepower and resources to pursue and track the pirates. I will consult with Gladiator tonight and they will be sent out to Captain Eluke’s position tomorrow. I would expect that with their assistance, the Captain should be able to detain the raiders within one standard week…”

“Lilandra! Arin’nn Haelar!” Charles yelled from his position in Beast’s arms. “I have invoked the ancient challenge. You cannot refuse!”

Deep despair washed over her as she realized what her beloved had done. Now everything had been made worse. Charles didn't understand what he had just done, since he had no knowledge of what the ancient challenge of the Shi’ar meant, nor what it would cost him. “You have no understanding of what you have done. You have only compounded the tragedy!”

“Empress?”

Lilandra shook off the memory flash again, only to find that her eyes were filled with tears – tears that she hadn't dared to shed at the original time of that conversation, but had wanted to nonetheless. Where were these memory flashes coming from? And why now? Lilandra rarely devoted the energy to dwelling on her past, her time was too precious to allow it. When she did dwell on what had been, it had always been Charles who had been her focus – wistfulness for what could have been, had they not been who they were, or at least, had she not been the only possible royal heir when her brother had gone mad.

“Empress Lilandra?”

She blinked again before she focused on her Council, the members of whom were staring at her with concern and wariness. She had never been so easily distracted during a Council session before. Why is this happening to me? She cleared her throat, somewhat self-consciously. “I believe that we have covered everything of greatest importance for the time being. I hereby declare this Council adjourned.”

As one, her Council rose to their feet along with her, waiting respectfully as she turned and left the Council chamber with Araki, Oracle, and Gladiator following her. She did not speak until they were well away from the Council chamber. “Gladiator, assemble a team from among the Imperial Guard stationed on Aerie and the central worlds and deploy them to Eluke’s aid.”

“Yes, Empress.”

Lilandra moved through the hallways of her palace, towards the healers’ wing, her advisors trailing her. She didn’t know what was causing those flashes, but she suspected that it had something to do with Charles and their link.

“Do not worry, Lilandra. The X-Men will help you safeguard the Crystal.”

A low humming noise filled the air. “A ship! It is my brother!” she cried, her eyes going to the skies, looking for her brother’s Imperial War Cruiser.

Charles closed his eyes for a moment before he opened them and took her hand to reassure her. “It’s not your brother, Lilandra. They are friends.”

Lilandra staggered and was forced to brace herself against the wall as the memory released her from its grasp. Before her advisors could say anything she held up her hand. “I am well. I believe that something is going on with the lidhje shpirt.”

She recovered her balance and continued down the corridor towards where she had left Charles. They were only a few corridors away, but the memory fragments were becoming more and more emotionally tense, as well as more powerful. She knew somewhat of the lidhje shpirt, having studied it upon her return to Aerie after stopping her brother’s mad plan – but she didn't remember ever reading about memory flashbacks traveling down the bond to affect both members so randomly.

She entered the ward and strode down the middle to where Charles was resting, his eyes closed. There was no sign of Brith’ta or his assistants.

“Charles?”

Her lover opened his eyes immediately. “Lilandra?” He reached out his hand towards her.

“What are you doing?” she asked as she reached his side. “You are supposed to be resting, beloved.” She took his hand. The moment that she did, a jolt went through her as her mind joined with Charles’ – completely out of her control.

“Are you out there?” Charles was seated in his hover chair at a window, gazing out at the night sky as he probed psychically for the source of what had been troubling him for many weeks. “I fear you, but somehow I sense you may be the answer to my loneliness.”

“Are you out there?” The quiet question reached her mind, filling her with hope. She had seen his face so many times recently, but never had any understanding of who he was, or why she was seeing him. She had to reach out to him though, because somehow she knew he was the only one who could help her safeguard the Crystal.

Mustering all of her strength and psychic energy, she lanced out a powerful psychic probe along the tentative link that had formed as a result of the previous probes that she had sent. Somehow, she had to get him to reach out to her, to complete the connection that they had begun to forge.

“Aaaah!” Charles screamed as the probe penetrated his mind with such force – and in the wake of the probe came an image of a helmeted figure reaching out to him. “You are driving me insane! But I must…not…fight you!” He stretched out a “hand” and “felt” it taken.

There! The link was complete! She knew where to find him and what his name was, and even how to speak his language thanks to the knowledge that she had been given by the completion of the link. She tapped in a set of coordinates. “Navigator, send me down immediately!”

A flash of light heralded the end of the probe. Charles was slumped in his chair and groaned softly. He opened his eyes and looked up to see the figure from his delusions standing in front of him for only a moment before it crumpled to the ground. “Who are you?”

“My name is…Lilandra,” she replied, removing her helmet as she rose to her feet. There was something special about this man – he was so much more than he seemed to be.

Another jolt threw her out of the link, and instinctively she pulled her hand away from Charles’. She brought her hand to her chest, gasping for breath that didn't seem to want to come for a moment. The emotional and mental shock staggered her again as she tried to regain control.

Hands touched her shoulders and she numbly allowed them to steer her into a seat. It took all of her willpower just to try to absorb what had happened in that moment when she and Charles had joined hands.

“Empress? Empress Lilandra? Can you hear me?” Hands took hers, rubbing them firmly, trying to bring her back to awareness of what was going on around her. She blinked, and then blinked again as the world slowly came back into focus. Brith’ta was kneeling on the floor at her feet, and it was his hands that were rubbing hers.

“Y-yes.” She freed one hand and slowly raised it to her temple. She was still feeling distant and dizzy, but the immediate shock of the connection was fading and allowing her to focus more closely on her surroundings. Now that she was able to draw a complete breath, it was easier as well. “W-what was that?”

“What did you see?” Brith’ta asked gently as he released her hand and stood up, moving to the side and retrieving a small device which he began to pass over her head.

“The – when we met – when the lidhje shpirt formed.” She shook her head slightly and instantly regretted it as white light filled her vision and her head throbbed in agony. After a moment, it cleared, although the throbbing didn't end. She looked over at Charles, who was several beds away, being tended to by one of the other healers. “It wasn't just remembering what happened – every detail, every emotion, every sensation was there, as if I was reliving it.” She looked over at Charles. “Is Charles all right?”

Brith’ta nodded. “He received more of a psychic jolt than you did, most likely because his telepathic shields have also been disrupted by the weapon’s energy blast. Your shields were still up, so the jolt you received was not as severe.”

She looked closely at the healer. “Why is this happening? I’ve been experiencing memory flashes for several minutes – they kept interrupting my focus during the Grand Council session.”

“I believe that Lord Xavier was merely trying to remember, to try to prod some of his memories to return on their own – but his telepathic powers are not under his control at the moment, and when combined with the link that the two of you share, what fragments he could recall were sent back along the bond to you, because he had no way to stop it.”

Lilandra nodded. She still felt somewhat dazed by the telepathic assault, even though it had not been intended as such. It did serve to drive home the fact that her telepathic shields – while normally more than strong enough to guard her mind – were not strong enough to block the bond she shared with Charles, especially while his powers were unchecked and free to respond in unpredictable ways.

She started to rise, but Brith’ta blocked her path.

“Empress, please rest for a moment. You received an intense psychic shock, shields or not – you need to rest. I promise, your mik shpirt is quite well, just shaken. He’s not hurt, and this incident doesn't seem to have caused any damage.” The healer steered her back to the bed and gently forced her to sit down. “It is quite apparent that your bond with Lord Xavier does not answer to the normal rules regarding a telepathic link – nor, so far as I can tell, the rules for a lidhje shpirt as the old legends speak of.”

Lilandra looked over at Charles, who was nodding in answer to a quiet question posed by the healer attending to him. “Was it the bond that caused this?”

“I do not know, Empress. So little is known about this type of bond, and there is no record of what could happen if one of the bonded pair loses his memory as Lord Xavier has. There is no way to predict how his powerful mind might respond under the influence of the bond.”

“I must see to it that he learns how to control his powers again,” Lilandra said. “His mind is too powerful – that much has been proven quite clearly, and his powers cannot be allowed to remain unchecked while we try to recover his memory.”

“Teaching him control will also help to restore his memory, Empress,” Brith’ta said. “He knows the control, he had it once before. As he relearns the use of his powers, many of those fragmented bits of memory may restore themselves under the influence of the new teachings.”

“Then that is where we shall begin,” Lilandra said firmly. “Anything that will help to restore his memory and strengthen our bond can only be a good thing.” She would have to work on strengthening her own shields while she worked with Charles. She was pleased that the bond was so strong, but at the same time she could not afford for it to become a liability, as it almost had with her Council that day. But Charles could relearn the control, and then the bond would not be able to influence her unconsciously without both of them invoking it. At least, she hoped that would be the case. There were good reasons why she had not spoken of the bond to him in more than just the vaguest of terms before now – good reasons why she had never called their link by its ancient name. There were ramifications that she could not predict, and she had hoped to limit the bond’s influence on them until the day that they could be together and she could speak freely of it with him.

It appeared that that day would come sooner that she had planned on. But if that was what was meant to be – then so be it.