The Mists of Time

"I cannot believe that these humans will be enough. What we need are the Rades. The Shi'hel'ar Rades would be able to take care of this easily," the minister of culture said to the ambassador's aide.

"The Protectors would be most welcome. They were the best. The Rades would solve everything," she replied.

"We do thank you for the compliment, Kind Ones," Remy LeBeau said with a bob of his head. "But the Rides are needed to protect the clans at the moment. We would never turn our backs on the Friends of the Hill, but the current situation on earth is too volatile to be left untended."

The Empress Lilandra of Shi'ar's ears caught the wildfire rumors as they were whispered through the room. A Shi'hel'ar? A Protector? Here? Her eyes roamed over the crowd, picking out the X-men easily by their somber clothing as they mingled with the ambassadors of the Empire colonies. There was Charles, her eyes softened at the sight of him. No, it couldn't be him. Cyclops stood in attendance near his mentor. He was a possibility, but he hadn't left Xavier's side. Storm was talking to one of the off-world priests. While she had the calm bearing that was legendary of the Shi'hel'ar, she did not have a command of the language and relied on translators.

Wolverine was talking to the defense minister and his friends. They appeared to be discussing ancient arms. No, it wasn't Wolverine. He did not have the figure or the carriage. That left Gambit. His formal attire was a bit more flashy than his teammates, though still tame in Shi'ar terms. She smiled fondly. Gambit had mastered the psi-nuances of the Shi'ar language, even if he did have an accent. She wished Charles would practice with the young man. Either that or use translators like the rest of his team.

She watched as the Terran flirted with an ambassador and his aide. She saw him raise his hand in a trade gesture and her eyes froze watching him. Yes, he was using Shi'ar non-psi sign emphasis. How had he managed to learn the Shi'ar trade language? But if Gambit was Shi'hel'ar why hadn't her told her? She looked over at Charles who had seemed to catch her confused thoughts //Do you need me?// he asked.

//No, dear one.//

//Is Gambit causing trouble?//

//No, of course not. His kind never do. Don't worry, Charles.// The ambassador noticed the empress' attention and informed the young X-man. Remy kissed the ambassador's hand and the man's musical laughter rumbled under the trills of Shi'ar speech. Remy picked his way through the crowd until he was at the platform where Lilandra was seated watching the proceedings in full ceremonial armor.

"You look resplendent, milady," Remy purred, still in flirting mode. "What may I do for my lady's favor?" he asked switching to English for more privacy.

"Don't let Charles hear you. He might get jealous." She smiled. "We would have you come closer," she said more formally.

Remy jumped lightly onto the stage and settled in the indicated chair. "Shouldn' le professeur be here, chere?" Remy asked nervously. He glanced at her honor guard.

"That will be determined with a single questions. Are you Shi'hel'ar?"

Remy went very still. "Yes, Empress, I am."

"Then we offer you our most humble apologies," she said. "May I know your rank, Friend of the Eyrie?"

"Prince Royal, Heir Apparent t' the First House of Sea-hel, husband of the Queen of the Un-Sea-hel." Remy's posture straightened as he spoke. The Empress stood and Remy followed. She offered him a traditional warrior's greeting followed by grasping his hands.

Her voice rose in formal Shi'ar: "We welcome our nestmate thought lost to time. We offer thanks that our sibling has been returned to us in our time of need. We rejoice in the knowledge that our family will be regained. Welcome, Shi'hel'ar Prince of the Sea-hel and Mate of the Queen of the Un-sea-hel. Your grace has long been missing from our court."

The X-men stared in shock as Gambit responded. "We revel in your pleasure as a heart long separated from its love. Though our court changes faces, our memory is long for the Friends of the Hill. May we ride together again in protection of the innocent."

He brought her hands to his lips and there was a deafening cheer. "If you'd told me, we could have planned this," Lilandra hissed through her smile.

"Sorry. I been here before an' no one noticed," Remy replied similarly through his teeth.

"Come, sit with us, Prince."

"Thank you, Empress." They were seated. Now that she looked at him she saw the iridescence of his white shirt and the small pin on his lapel that held a tiny chime and the sparkling stone in his ear. Taken together the signs were very clear.

"Dear nestmate, we have fabric and lace. Please accept our gift and let us outfit you in proper Shi'hel'ar style."

"We would be most overjoyed to accept the gift, dearest sister, but we do not wish our vanity to interfere with the preparations for protection."

Lilandra brushed a stray lock of hair back with one gold-taloned finger. "Dear brother, we could offer no less than the finest no matter what the circumstances."

"We shall consider it a great honor, Flying-sister."

*****

Once the party had broken up and the X-men were safely housed in their quarters close to the Empress, Scott looked Gambit over carefully. "What was *that*?"

"Dat was somet'in' ole Remy had hoped t' avoid." Gambit was sprawled out over the couch, half-in Storm's lap. She was running her fingers through his hair, an activity she often indulged in. His hair was like cool silk under her fingers. He smiled appreciatively and snuggled closer.

Lilandra came in without knocking. She shut the door, leaving her guard in the hallway. "Charles, why was I not informed?"

"Because he didn' know, chere," Remy soothed. "We ain't public. Gonna have t' make dem take a blood oath. All exceptin' Stormy who done it already."

"Your Shi'ar is better than your English," Lilandra sighed. Gambit grinned at her, eyes twinkling.

"We would have you know that our English is just fine when we need it to be," Remy stated, arching his brows at her.

"We are not amused, Hill-brother." She smiled. "Gambit, we need to make plans."

"I need an oath from these kids. Not'ing y' see or hear about the Shi'hel'ar may be repeated on Earth. To anyone."

"You have my word, padnat."

"Merci, Stormy." She didn't call him on the nickname. Instead, she placed a hand on his chest to keep him in her lap.

"No problem, kid. I ain't gonna tell," Logan assured.

"You have my word," Xavier said after a long pause.

Cyclops considered his words carefully as the others looked at him. "Unless it becomes a matter of team safety or your safety I will keep your secrets."

"I can live wit' that," Remy conceded. "What do y' need from m', chere? I can't call the Ride."

"Nor would I ask that of you. I need you to be yourself. And if we get these bastards to the table, I need you to be Shi'hel'ar."

"I will do that. You mentioned cloth?"

"We have spider silks and lace and ornaments. We've kept them since before my house ascended to power. Not to mention quarters more fitting to your rank."

"Merci, dear Flyer, but I'd rather stay wit' the team."

Lilandra frowned.

"Out of respect f' the warriors of the Empire, an' the sufferin' of our friends we will not take more than our fair share."

Lilandra nodded. "That it most generous of you. But there will be additional security. I wouldn't be good publicity for you to be assassinated by our enemies."

"They kill m' they call down the wrath of the Gods," Remy stated. "We are neutral unless attacked."

"You have come with the X-men. You fight with them."

"As a Protector, Lilandra. Or was the attack provoked?"

"We have not provoked this. As Shi'hel'ar you have full access to our records. I will let you determine the reality from those."

"I will do that," Remy said lazily. "Though obviously y' are tellin' the truth y' believe. Why are the Dun'le'bel attacking?"

"Because they are predators and the Empire is still rebuilding."

"And why call humans to aide you?"

"Because the X-men have often brought us hope."

Remy nodded. "We will aide at the negotiation table. I *was* trained for this." He stood and went to her. "We'll give it a few days and see if the tides turn. If they don't, they will call for a surrender and negotiations will begin. What good is an empire if there is nothing left to rule?"

"Unless their aim is genocide. I have a favor to ask."

"If it's within my power."

"Will you attend the council meeting tomorrow? In full regalia?" He laughed at her wicked smile.

"Yes, Empress." He swept her a bow.

"Shall we take a short trip to the memorial?"

"Memorial, Flyer?"

"Our people though the Shi'hel'ar were lost when their land was destroyed. We have maintained a memorial to preserve what was left."

"Dieu," Remy whispered. "Do you have the books, Sweet-Flyer?"

"We have a copy of the histories. And several manuscripts that no one can read."

"I thought the old knowledge was lost. Your compassion and love for us is overwhelming." Impulsively, Remy settled a kiss on each of Lilandra's cheeks.

"Such impertinence," she mock-chided. "I think it would be best if all of you came to the memorial. And, I would like to have one of my physicians examine you, brother. There are unique concerns that most Terran doctors cannot or would not check."

"Of course, Empress, whatever you feel is best." Remy's sneer of distaste did not go unnoticed. Lilandra smiled at him in amusement. She pinned a tiny gold bell to his lapel. His sneer changed immediately to an "o" of surprise, followed by a grin. He set it jingling with a forefinger. He peered at hit. "This enameling is exquisite. How. . . where did you find this?"

She smiled secretively, practically preening. "That is a royal secret."

Remy laughed. "Oui, chere. Je comprenz."

//If you're done flirting with my girlfriend. . .// Xavier teased the young thief, //I, for one, am very interested in this memorial.//

//Oui, Professor.// "Shall we go, my sister?" He offered an arm to Storm and one to Lilandra. The Empress declined, resting a hand on Xavier's shoulder as he came to her side. The X-men were surprised to see extra guards accompanying them.

The museum-like chamber was well protected. Remy gazed around the room in rapt wonder. He stepped close to an alcove containing what looked to Scott to be a blank-paged book. "Bon Dieu," Remy whispered. "The history. We only have fragments. Translations. It's beautiful."

"It's blank," Logan stated.

"Non, mes amis, far from blank." Remy's smile turned sad. "If only I could show you what I see." The soft, whisky drawl shivered up Storm's back.

"You can," Lilandra stated. "Press the red button on the side there, and it will create a reduced spectrum version."

"Merci." The panel covering the book wavered, then darkened. Projected against it was an illuminated manuscript. "Well, loses somet'in' in the translation, but close."

"Why can't we see that on the page?" Scott asked.

"It's painted in ultraviolet colors. My eyes see above and below the human spectrum." Remy turned to the rows of silks and lace. "Ain't it going to be too delicate t' use, Flyer?"

"No. Spider silks never degrade when kept in an airless environment. The replicators can recreate it though. Except for some of the detail work on some of the finished pieces."

"That would be best, I think. Iím worried about. . ."

"No, Prince. You have been here three times to defend us. You have never made the demands you are entitled to. I won't allow you to lessen those demands out of guilt."

"It's common courtesy, Sister. The Empire must rebuild."

"Consider it a contribution to the people. If you can rally their hope, inspire their faith, we can continue to find reasons to fight. The Shi'hel'ar are part of the history and the mythology of *all* the worlds within the Empire and many without."

Remy actually blushed at that statement. "Yes, Empress. And the finishings?"

"Can be replicated. This is not negotiable, Hill-brother. You will need something for the council meeting, something for the reception and something for everyday wear. I assume you prefer your usual armor for battle?"

"Yes," Remy nodded as his fingers traced delicate cobwebs of lacework through the glass. They left him to design the clothing on his own, guarded by two of the Empress' personal guards.

*****

Gambit flopped onto his bed for a few hours' rest. Scott muffled his laugh with an arm when he went to wake him for breakfast. The thief was sprawled on his back, his suit-coat flapping open. One arm was over his eyes, the other was hugging a pillow to his chest like a teddy-bear. "Shut up, homme," the Cajun grimaced. "Dieu!" he groaned, curling around the pillow.

"Come on, Gumbo. Time for your morning stimulant infusion.

"Fuck off, Cyke."

"Mouthy brat," Scott said cheerfully.

"Mornin' person," Remy shot back. "Been up all night, me. Weren't by choice neither. Now, Le Empress de le Shi'ar be plannin' t' make me work. Now, you know ole Remy don't mind fightin', but I *hate* politics." Scott leaned against the wall.

"So what is a Shi'hel'ar in English?" he asked bluntly.

"Merde. Um, literally, the Shi'ar of the Hills. To an American, I think it'd be fairies. But more like Elves from _The_Hobbit_. The Shidhe, the people." Remy gestured at the air frowning. "I'm from the Sea-hill. Bella's from the Un-sea Hell."

"So, your father's what? Oberon or something?"

Remy blinked in surprise. He nodded slowly. "Oberon is a title. An Eron is a lord. Ob-eron is an over-lord."

Scott stared at the thief for a long moment. "So you're an elf?"

"Oui."

"No points on your ears?"

"That'd be a Vulcan, homme."

Scott laughed and shook his head. "And how did you end up on my team again/"

"It be all Stormy's fault."

"That figures. Breakfast in fifteen."

*****

Gambit fought the urge to check the mirror again as one by one the X-men stopped in mid-action to stare at him. "What?" he asked defensively.

"That's. . . not yer normal look, kid."

"Damn," Scott muttered. "We're going to have to lock you up."

"Very nice, brother."

Xavier didn't comment, but his eyes grew very large.

Gambit was dressed in Shi'hel'ar formal day attire. The green shirt had billowing sleeves with slits to reveal the silver lame layer underneath. Black silk lace adorned the cuffs and collars of the shirt. Camel colored trousers slid easily into thigh high green boots. The gold bell Lilandra had given him was high on the collar on the right. The silver bell on the left. A wide belt of pale green with silver cobwebs of embroidery was tied at his waist with a flat fold to display the mirrors dangling from the fringe. A silver thread ran through his simple braid, drawing out the red of his hair.

When they arrived at the informal breakfast, Lilandra and her attendants stopped in mid-sentence. Gambit felt the heat creeping up his cheeks. A guard hurried to pull out the chair to her left that Lilandra indicated. Remy shook his head. "Please, let's keep this somewhat normal. Cyke always sits there. An' I still recognize him as the boss."

"As you wish." The empress smiled in amusement.

"Oh, fine, *now* I'm the boss," Scott muttered into Gambit's ear on the way by him. Gambit winked at him. He took his usual seat across from Storm. The professor suppressed a smile.

Breakfast was a mixture of battle-planning and the latest reports Lilandra had available. Gambit frowned, chewing absently at one of the pastries he adored. Storm tried to snag one of them and he caught her hand. "Have t' be faster'n dat, padnat." He turned her hand over and placed one of the sweets on her palm.

"Thank you, brother."

Scott found his eyes drawn towards the unusually *dressed* thief. It was very distracting. And he knew the Cajun wasn't even trying to draw attention. Lilandra caught his glance. "You aren't used to noticing him, are you?" she asked.

"No, not unless he's irritating me usually."

"It is part of *what* he is as well as a matter of personality. The Shi'hel'ar can disappear in plain sight when they wish to. The mirrors and bells in their formal attire is a way of announcing their intentions are harmless. This is a day formal outfit. According to my guard he started muttering to himself the instant the traditional patterns came up. They are much more elaborate. I'm afraid you won't see much of Gambit at the meetings today."

"No, this is Gambit, just dressed differently."

"You'll see."

*****

The council gathered in the chamber. The bickering was almost deafening. It still as the empress entered. Ripples of shock ran through the crowd when she was accompanied by Scott and Remy. The field-leader of the X-men had become a fixture since the team's arrival. But there had never been a second member of the team present. Not even the Empress' consort.

"Empress, I must protest," the minister of defense began.

"My presence here is, to the best of my knowledge, merely ornamental. We do not interfere in internal court affairs," Remy interrupted firmly. He settled himself next to Lilandra. He rested his elbows on the arms of the chair and his fingers against his mouth.

Lilandra conducted the session as if Remy weren't there. He remained impassive as the nervous glances rested more and more often on him. Scott was the only one who was able to ignore him completely. He was used to Gambit not talking during briefings.

"Empress, I beg your indulgence," the minister of finance stated.

"In what matter?"

"Would you explain why the young prince is here today?"

"How can we ask him to support us if we do not give him the full access to our knowledge his position allows him?"

"I beg your pardon, Empress."

*****

"Empress, please," Remy begged, "I need to burn off some energy before the temptation to blow the table sky high becomes too strong to resist."

"After you visit the physician," she soothed.

"Cyke, please, help po' Remy."

"Oh, no way, Elf-boy. You agreed to see the doctor yesterday."

"Fine." Remy sulked all the way to the sickbay. The doctor smiled widely. Her crest of white feathers made her look like a grandmother.

"Hello, Hill-Prince," she said cheerfully as he was seated on the exam table. "Let me see your arm."

"Don' leave me here, Cyke," Gambit whispered desperately, even as he let the doctor take his arm.

"It's okay, Gumbo. Lilandra isn't going to let anything bad happen to you." Remy's grip on Cyke's arm tightened. Scott wavered, then decided to stay. "Okay." He sat down on the visitor's chair.

"Merci."

"Someday, you'll tell me what this is all about."

"Maybe."

"You will," Scott stated firmly.

The medical exam was fairly routine. Remy grew more and more tense with each moment. "There are a couple of things that need correcting," the doctor chirped. "If you'll lie down for just a moment, Prince."

"What are you planning?" Remy demanded in Shi'ar.

"Calm, my poor dear nestling. I am merely correcting and oversight. I assume you were away from home when it was scheduled."

"What was?"

"The activation of your life-span. The elders created a way to control the expression of full healing until the children reach their full heights. Your bones have been fused for over a year. Now, sit back and relax," she ordered. Remy laid back timidly. Scott frowned, having caught only parts of the exchange. He laid his hand over Gambit's forearm. The thief threw him a tight smile.

The machinery activated and Remy's eyes fell closed. "He'll sleep for awhile, the poor dear," the doctor told the field leader. "Someone tampered with his genetics. It will be a shock when he wakes up. You'll stay close to him?"

"Maybe I should call his sister."

"No, he asked you to stay. If he'd wanted someone else, he'd have asked for someone else."

"I'll stay."

*****

Gambit woke quickly as he usually did. He gave Cyclops a self-mocking grin. "Just a slug-a-bed me."

"How are you feeling?"

"M' head aches. Merde! What did she do?" He held up a hand. "Non. Bon Dieu. Non. She restored m' powers."

"Restored?"

"Oui."

"Calm down, Gambit. The bed's glowing." With a visible effort Gambit withdrew the charge. He took a series of deep breaths. He straightened.

"I'll be okay, Cyke. Mais, I don' like m' powers, but dey be one Hell of a tool f' negotiatin'." He stretched. His back popped and Scott winced. Remy winked at him.

"I think we have to talk."

"Bout what?"

"About what a Shi'hel'ar means here. About your powers. About why you're so scared of this place. And when the Hell did you learn Shi'ar because I didn't think humans could make sounds like that."

"Humans can't, non? Part of my Guild trainin'. Part of m' powers. Remy can learn languages real quick." Gambit shrugged and the little bells on his collar chimed.

"Since you're being so unusually cooperative, who manipulated your genetics?"

"T'ink about that, homme."

"I was hoping I was wrong."

"I doubt it. That's why y're the Fearless Leader."

"Why do you annoy me at every possible minute?"

Remy's eyes danced. "Y' get t' guess that one too."

"Because you're a brat?"

"Mais, y're so harsh. Mebbe Remy likes y'?"

'Then why piss me off?" Gambit settled back, resting on his elbows. "I know. I know, because you like me." Scott paused. "Is that why you dyed Storm's hair?"

Remy blinked. "How y' find out that was m'? An' y' told her yet?"

"Bobby didn't cave under my usual threats. You're the only other person stupid enough to do it."

"Courageous, oui?" Remy corrected.

Scott felt a smile tug on the corners of his lips. "Oui," he agreed.

"How good is y'r French, really, cher?"

"I'm fluent."

Remy blinked once, then twice. "And where is Grandmama?" he nodded in the direction of the machines.

"She'll be back as soon as the alerts tell her you're awake."

"Ah, my little nestling is awake." She stroked his hair back from his face. "Just one more thing and you will be free to go." She placed a strip against his forehead. It chirped twice at her. "Perfect. Now, run along and play, little ones." She shooed them from the room.

"I haven't felt more like a toddler in years," Scott muttered.

"Dat's okay, cher, love y' anyway." Remy switched to French. "I am worried about this place. Lilandra believes that they didn't start this war, however, I need to see the files myself. And I cannot do it with her there. I have to be given full access to the machine. That means I will be hacking into her personal files and those of her generals. I will need either a distraction or a guard."

"See what they offer first, then springboard from there," Scott counseled in the same language. He could see the guards that were following Remy frown. They obviously didn't know what the two men were saying. "Are you afraid that someone will try to kill you?"

"Oui. Le Empress, she is right. It would be a great scandal. And if the aggressors of this little problem truly want to bring down the empire, this would do it. I've made comments around here before, but no one jumped to the conclusion that I am what I am."

Scott noticed the circular wordings and made sure that he avoided words that were too similar to English. "Then you think they meant to set you up as one of what you are even if you weren't?"

"Oui. Bring hope, then kill it. It will demoralize the population and make them easier to overtake."

Scott nodded. "Logical. We'll just have to make sure it doesn't happen."

"Anyone else on the team speak French? Or do you speak anything else?"

"I speak a few words of German, but that's it. I don't even know when I learned French. Just that I started cursing in it one day and it ended up that I could speak it perfectly."

"You sound like a Parisian."

"I would like to think that's a compliment, but Iím sure it isn't."

"Non. Armpit of the world, Paris."

Scott shook his head. He tugged at the Cajun's braid.

The guard looked shocked. He moved to catch Scott's hand, but Remy pinned him with a harsh gaze. "Were he someone else, I would welcome your intervention. The only people I like touching me are my court, and of course, our dear sister."

"I understand, my prince." The guard bowed quickly. His eyes turned to the hall around them.

"You trust him?" Scott asked softly in French.

Remy nodded. "He didn't want you to touch me. That means he's truly doing his job. No one may touch royalty without permission."

"I didn't catch all of what you said to him."

"Don't worry, cher," Remy said switching to English, "they won't care if you want to show your feelings now."

"Don't tempt me like that," Scott replied. He did, however, put his arm around Remy's shoulder. The guard to their left hid a smile. So that explained why the prince had come in the first place. The gossips would love it. It was so nice to have something besides the war to talk about. When the prince entered the chambers he shared with his court, they would give them some privacy, but only after checking for traps.

"Please, sir, wait here."

The guard from the left went into the room to investigate. He returned a short while later. "It is clear, my lord." Remy entered, trailing his fingers against the doorframe. The door closed behind them. Remy could see more guards through the windows.

"Cher, dey tryin' t' be nice and give us cuddle time. Dey at war after all." He changed languages again. "There's a computer in my room. If you'd be so kind as to watch over me', I'll get to reading."

Scott nodded. "I'm not as practiced as Logan. Maybe you should tell them *he's* you're lover."

Remy laughed. "And have y' ready t' kill dis po' boy? Non, cher. I ain't that silly."

Scott perched on the desk, eyes scanning the room. He repositioned the mirror so that he could see the entire room from his angle. "And why do you think I'd be ready to kill you?"

"Everyone knows y' had somet'in' wit' him."

"I never did, you know."

"Non?"

"Never."

"That's not what the rumors say," Remy told him switching to French again.

"I know. There was a bet."

"A bet?" Remy asked as he broke through the layers of security. He'd studied the Danger Room and Hank's computers until he understood their programming language. Now, he was putting that knowledge to good use.

"Wings bet me that I wouldn't be able to trip Logan into bed. There was a flurry of betting after that. The upshot of it was, I talked to Logan. We split the pot fifty-fifty and both take the reputation. It was over two thousand each by that time. And Logan, true to his word, told Warren when he asked obliquely that I was damned good and he even had the temerity to tell the man that I was on top. That did wonders for my reputation actually."

Remy snickered. "I'm sure it did, cher. Look at this, these are battle plans. They are stupider than I thought. You don't go against a force like this head on. I think Deathbird needs to be shaken."

"I'll help you do that. But seriously, Remy, did you tell them I'm your lover or are you just teasing me?"

"Ain't exactly what I implied. I implied that you're my . . . merde, I don't know how to translate it actually. I think it's 'perfect companion' in this language. Anyway, it will also give you access to things that you wouldn't have had before. Maybe not from the Empress, but from her court. They'll treat you with more respect."

"That would be nice, but I'm used to not being respected by the people I'm talking to."

Remy rolled his eyes. "You're a caustic bastard aren't you?"

"Moi?" Scott said innocently. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Remy snickered. Scott was pleased to see the smile curling up the sides of they young man's mouth. He really had been missing the normal Gambit.

****

Wolverine was the first one through the door. He went directly to Scott, ignoring the Cajun who was busy reading files. "You cheating on me, Slim? I'm hurt."

Scott snorted. "Asshole."

Wolverine grinned at him. "Now, pookie. . ."

Scott mimed a gagging motion. Logan ruffled Scott's hair, much to the field-leader's annoyance. The rest of the team filtered in soon after. Charles pinned Scott with his best hurt look. "I cannot believe that you didn't confide in me, Scott."

"Gambit, remember when I said I'd guard your back earlier?"

"Oui?"

"I think I lied. You get to deal with them."

"Wait for Lilandra. It'll get mo' interesting then," Remy promised with a wink. He patted Scott's knee absently much to the shock of the team. Storm sat down, head filled with imaginings that she refused to acknowledge aloud.

Lilandra's feathers quivered as she stalked into the room. "Gambit." Her voice was stern. "Is there something you meant to tell me, nest-mate?"

He blinked at her. "Why, Flying-sister, whatever could you mean?"

"You have a Compassion here? And you didn't tell me?"

"Is that what it translates t'? I always t'ink of it as Shield-Brother or Companion."

"Is that not compassion the main of his role?"

Remy smiled. "I tol' y' it'd get more interestin'."

"Cul."

Remy snickered. "Y' really did start wit' cursin'?"

"Of course." Scott shrugged. "So, you may as well give the full explaination now."

The thief tossed his head, bangs shifting wildly. "Well, I basically tol' the court via gossip that Scotty here is my, um," Remy frowned. "It just don't have a real English translation. He's m' Perfect Companion. That means he's m' advisor, m' brother, and mo' than I can explain." Remy leaned back in his chair, bouncing a little from his lack of exercise during the day. "It really does come close t' 'shield-brother', but it ain't. I still outrank him in the court, but he don't got t' treat m' like I do. He's the one that gets t' tell m' off when I'm doin' the wrong thing. He's also m' compassion. As a prince of the people, I must remain objective when I'm judgin' the worth of a battle. We don' go int' battle unless we on the side of the innocents. Scott'll be m' compassion. He's the one who gets to be passionate, t' remind m' there be folks dyin' and hurtin'. He the one that I can talk t' wit'out reservation about anyt'in' I learn because he's m' advisor, m' protector too. It be accepted in de Guilds that I would have a companion. Belle's got one an' I used t', b'fore. . . b'fore evert'in' happened. But I ain't had one f' awhile." Remy smiled sadly.

"Why Scott? Why not Storm?" Xavier wanted to know.

Lilandra looked faintly scandalized at the suggestion. Remy pursed his lips.

"I couldn't have a female companion. What would m' wife t'ink?"

"So having an affair with a man is okay?"

"Mais, having an affair if she don't know about it ain't a big problem. She ain't fait'ful t' me neither, but an acknowledged companion? Non. That'd be like, merde, like spittin' in church."

Scott considered. "Who was your Companion?"

Remy blinked. "Lapin."

Scott nodded, thinking hard. "You don't talk about him."

"Why would I? There's some t'ings better left alone." There was raw pain in the statement and no one dared probe any more. Scott put a hand on the younger man's shoulder.

"So what exactly does this change?" Scott asked.

"Well, it does explain why we allowed you to interfere in our planning sessions," Lilandra smiled. "I think we ought to dress him, brother."

Scott shook his head. "No."

Lilandra's laugh trilled through the room and Remy smirked slyly at the field leader. "But, cher, jus' a lil' touch of lace here an' there."

"What part of 'no' didn't you get? I can say that in six languages if you need me to."

Remy pouted. Scott rolled his eyes. Lilandra considered. "How long *have* you been together?" she asked. Both men stared at her. Scott's hand snapped back as if he'd been burnt. Remy started to speak a few times before he figured out how to say it diplomatically.

"Sister, we aren't together. Never have been."

"Never will be," Scott muttered. "My wife would kill me."

Remy was distracted. "Really?"

"Definitely."

"Have t' pursue that then." Remy winked.

"Don't make me hurt you, Cajun. What does this change in terms of court procedure?"

"For you? Nothing." Lilandra smiled. "We've always allowed you the access of a Shi'hel'ar."

Charles looked at her, startled. As her consort, he was regarded highly in the court, but he'd never had true access to the planning sessions. He'd just assumed that Scott's knowledge of the team was why he was given such freedom in meetings. After a long pause, Scott found his voice. "Why?"

Lilandra smiled sadly. "When you were sworn in as my honor guards, it was believed that all humans had a trace of our sibling's blood. Mutants are especially gifted as our nest-mates were. Out of respect for that, we recognized you as Shi'hel'ar. Not with the full access of a prince, of course, but all the access that your blood demands."

Remy had gone very still. "Dat makes sense," Remy murmured, eyes very far away. "Dat explains everythin' actually."

Scott paled as his mind caught the jump. "No way."

"Oui, cher," Remy dropped into French absently, "that's why he's so interested. I'm the product of a breeding program. People fought over me when I was born. I was stolen and given to a patron who was well-blooded. Papa took me in because of my eyes."

"But that would mean he'd tracked how many bloodlines over the years?"

"He's got the technology and the reason."

"What reason?"

"To save the world. The enemy of the People is the one who sent them underground."

"Later, we'll discuss this in detail," Scott promised. "Right now, people are staring."

Remy laughed. "What? Y' didn' know his spoke French?"

Logan snorted. "I was there when he started. Don't know how he got it though."

"Well, there was this girl. . ." Scott started, "but that's a different story."

Lilandra was still smiling.

"Who set m' up, Sister?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, who decided that this time it was time to tell folks I'm Shi'hel'ar?"

"The whispers were all over the room."

"But you'd talked about it b'fore, oui? Wit' an advisor? What t' do if y' we ever came back?"

Lilandra stared at the young man. "Of course. It's standard training for the royal family. We have always believed that the Shi'hel'ar would return. My mother told me stories of the Rades. There has been protocols in place for years."

"But y' talked recently about it."

She blinked. "It was a wish I made one night. I wished that the Protectors would come and save my Empire. I never spoke to anyone about it."

"But y' spoke it aloud, oui?"

"Yes."

"To whom?"

"The stars."

"Meanin' the head of y' security force an' maybe y' assistant."

She smiled. "One would think that you have had an assistant of that sort for years."

"Mon pere did." Remy shrugged. "It'd be the same as Stormy talkin' t' her plants around me when I'm up writin' letters in her loft." He settled his arms on Scott's lap and propped his chin on them. Scott rolled his eyes heavenward for patience. It was his own fault for sitting on the desk. "I been here three times, Sister, and no one has ever mentioned the Rades b'fore. No one has ever reacted t' me as a Shi'hel'ar though I've probably made half a dozen comments t' folks that I regretted almost immediately because they'd tip someone off. What happened?"

Lilandra considered. "I'll speak with my assistant in private. It won't be the first time I've thrown my guard outside."

Remy smiled. "Merci, Sister." Scott's hand settled comfortably between Remy's shoulders. He resisted the urge to pet the soft fabric. "And I'm gonna dress him up f' the party, don' y' worry, chere."

"No. I am not a doll to be dressed up for special occasions," Scott stated. He tugged the Cajun's braid. "I don't care what you think I should be wearing."

Remy smirked. "Oui, cher, you will be dressin' up. This is a formal affair, and bein' as y're my Companion, y' better be dressed or someone'll try t' steal y' from me."

Scott's mouth pinched into the severest frown Lilandra had ever seen. "We'll discuss this later," he ground out.

"Ah, cher, y' know y' gonna give in, jus' do it here."

"I need a better reason than you wanting me to." Scott switched to French.

"Because it's expected. Because this mind-fuck's only gonna work if you go along with it. Besides, think of all the juicy blackmail pictures Logan can get."

"You are a bitch, Gambit."

"Y' love me anyway," Remy replied taking them back to English.

"Fine," Scott nearly spat the word. "But minimal. Absolutely rock bottom minimal dressing up. I hate suits for God's sake."

"Oh, cher, y' too pretty t' put in a suit."

Scott was glad that he couldn't blush. Jean would have been bright red at a comment like that. "You are not making me feel better."

Remy grinned. "Don't worry, cher, I won't make y' look bad."

Lilandra shook her head. "Charles, shall we let the children fight?"

Remy pouted at them as they left the room. When the door closed he sat up and looked at Scott. "Can y' trust me?"

"About as far as I can throw you."

Remy grinned at him. "Now, cher, I won't even tell y' wife 'bout it. Though it might be interestin' t' see her reaction."

Scott caught the Cajun's chin in his hand. "I swear to you, I will make your life a living hell if even one little comment makes it to her ears. Are we quite clear on that?"

Remy smirked. He winked. "Oui, cher. He's so possessive, ain't he Wolvie?"

Logan snorted. "I'll take the pictures."

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