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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30


Written by Valerie Jones
Last updated: 03/23/2007 01:26:56 AM

Chapter 9

Remi settled onto the thin pallet with a sigh and rubbed his temples. The last four hours had been, without doubt, the most intense grilling he’d ever had. Cyclops at his worst was nothing compared to Jamison. Remi wasn’t quite sure how or when, but somehow he’d been elected to speak for the four of them, and for the last four hours, Jonah had been digging every tiny detail about the defeat of the Shadow King in his own timeline out of his head.

"So how’d it go?" Cody asked. He was sitting cross-legged in the center of a second pallet. Along with a couple of ragged blankets, they were the only contents of the tiny room.

Remi shrugged. "O.k., I guess. He wanted to know about Muir Island." Cody? Think you can handle a double-layer conversation? "Everything--" Remi tried to put as much disgust into his voice as he could. "About Muir Island."

Cody chuckled. "See? That’s what you get for acing all those history exams." Sure, just take it slow, o.k.?

"Ha!" O.k. Remi breathed a silent sigh of relief. He desperately needed to talk to Cody-- privately. And he didn’t really believe that there was a single conversation that went unobserved in this place. Betsy was everywhere. Even if he could keep the conversation shielded from her, she would know that they’d been talking, and that they didn’t completely trust their new benefactors. So the only thing he could think of to do was to mask one conversation with another. They’d done it a few times-- when Remi had been grounded and someone was actually monitoring him telepathically to make sure he wasn’t cheating. He’d found he could strike up a boring conversation with Gladiator and be talking to Cody on Earth at the same time. It was a lot of work-- more than it was worth-- but he’d loved the process of figuring out how to do it, and then getting away with it.

"Where are Rachel and Renee?" Jamison was asking some real specific questions.

Cody shrugged. "I dunno." About what? "Renee said she was going to talk to Forge about his leg. I haven’t seen Rachel since this morning."

"Renee isn’t pushing her powers too hard, is she?" About how much telepathic power it takes to blow the Shadow King away.

Cody considered that for a moment. "I don’t think so," he replied thoughtfully, and his psychic tone echoed him. Are they planning to attack him? "I think it’s helping her to keep busy."

"Maybe we could do the same. I saw an old Chevy Nova out there--" Remi jerked his head in the appropriate direction. Yeah. And guess who’s going to be right out there in front? "It might be fun to see if we could get it running."

"Hey! Sounds good. I’ve gotta tell you, this place is pretty boring." You?

Remi rolled his eyes. "You haven’t had to play answer-man." Us, cousin.

Cody was silent for a while. Then, "Did you notice if the engine’s still in that Nova?" Do we have another choice?

"It’s there. All gunked up though." Remi relaxed a little. Finally, an inane topic. They could talk about cars forever. With you, we can go anywhere.

They started in on a typical discussion of classic cars, rebuilding engines and the like. It was no different from a dozen conversations they’d had in the past few years, which made keeping the double-talk straight much easier.

Cody’s expression was solemn. Yeah, but then we’d just be walking out on the X-Men. And on the Earth.

Remy suppressed his sigh. Earth was only his heritage, not his home. He very much wanted to go back to Chandilar. There’s not a whole lot left of the Earth, he told Cody. I saw a map and some stats.

What kind of stats?

The Shadow King has spent the last ten years overrunning the planet by force. He feeds on negative emotions-- hate and fear, like that-- so he’s kept a lot of the population alive. Remi had to pause there for Cody to make a comment, though there were no words hidden beneath it.

But he doesn’t care about the conditions they live in. The more miserable they are, the better for him. Hank made a comment the last time I saw him, that even if the Shadow King were beaten today, at least half of the people still alive would die from disease or starvation.

Cody’s green eyes reflected his horror. He understood reality as well as Remi did. Without the Shadow King to telepathically sustain them, many of the weaker ones would simply die from physical causes. Others would starve before an economic system could be re-established. And medical care would be non-existent in many parts of the world for a long time to come.

Isn’t there any way to change it? Cody finally asked.

I don’t think so, Remi answered slowly. This is how things are with the paradox undone. The doubts that lurked in the depths of his heart surged forward. The world would be a lot better place if Gambit existed instead of me.

Cody didn’t say anything, but his silence was answer enough.

"Remi? Is everything all right?" Hank was staring at him in concern. Remi came back to himself slowly, blinking to force his eyes to focus. Ever since he’d talked to Cody, he’d been unable to shake the certainty that the desolation that surrounded him was entirely his fault. Not that he’d ever done anything to ruin the world, but just by existing, he’d caused things to turn out like this.

"Yeah, Hank. I’m fine." He could tell that Hank didn’t believe him, but he was willing to let the subject drop.

Hank slid a notebook across the table with one clawed finger, his expression still filled with concern. "I was hoping we could go into a little more detail about this La-- La’TyEichin Principle." He stumbled over the Shi’ar mathematician’s name.

Remi shrugged. "Sure." They’d been in San Francisco for nearly four days now, and Hank had managed to co-opt several hours out of each one of them to spend learning Shi’ar developments in several rather esoteric fields. Remi knew a tremendous amount of physics, both human and Shi’ar, because it had been a focus of his education since he was small. His parents believed that, because of the nature of his powers, he ought to know as much as possible about the sciences that might help him to understand them. In turn, Remi was hoping that Hank might be able to help him figure out how they’d ended up in this timeline, and why they seemed to exist outside of the normal rules of paradox. They hadn’t made much progress, in Remi’s opinion, but Hank was too excited to notice. He glanced at the page of notes that Hank opened to, but the neat lines of equations for once failed to spark any interest in him.

He was barely aware of Hank watching him. "Do you want to tell me about it?" Hank finally asked.

Remi couldn’t look at him. "I told you about Gambit."

"The other version of you? Yes, somewhat." Hank set his pencil down quietly and folded his hands on the table.

Remi stared at his hands, and the quiet rage inside him began to boil over. "I’ve always felt like I was... in his shadow. Like I was always trying to live up to who he was."

"Hmmm." Hank adjusted his glasses. "What was he like?"

Remi glanced up at him through the long bangs that habitually fell across his eyes. What could he tell him? That Gambit was a professional thief? A killer? An X-Man? That he was Charles Xavier’s son and Rogue’s husband? And that, no matter what life he’d lived, he’d sacrificed everything he had to save the people he loved?

"I don’t know, really. He... died when I was five."

"By ’died’ you mean...?"

"He disappeared because of the paradox." Hank’s eyebrows rose at the sharpness of his tone.

"And you wish he hadn’t?"

Remi gripped the edge of the table, trying to resist the urge to pour power into it as if he could destroy his thoughts as easily as the cast metal. "It doesn’t work that way." He looked quickly at Hank and then away from the curious concern. "It’s a paradox. We couldn’t both exist past that moment."

"What would have happened if you had disappeared instead?"

Remi had to sort out a comprehensible answer to that one. It helped to bring his anger back under control. "I could never just disappear." Hank’s eyebrows quirked in interest. "I’m the me that’s supposed to exist. But, in one timeline, the X-Men were betrayed and killed. When that happened, I accidentally sent myself back in time and then grew up to be Gambit. But because they stopped the betrayal, that didn’t happen when I was five, and so Gambit couldn’t exist any longer." He paused.

"In our timeline, he just disappeared. Nothing else changed. But here, everything he did has been undone. Retroactively, I guess."

Hank’s expression was thoughtful. Then he grinned. "I think I followed that."

"But don’t you see--" Remi didn’t understand how Hank could take everything so lightly. "It was Gambit that saved Storm from the Shadow King. All of this--" He swung his arms wide, taking in the whole of the world around them, "wouldn’t have happened if Gambit was alive instead of me!"

"Ah." Hank nodded slowly. "Then I begin to understand."

Remi shook his head vehemently, feeling the first burn of tears. "No you don’t. You can’t. Gambit gave up his life-- twice-- in two different timelines-- so that the X-Men would live and the Earth wouldn’t turn out so bad. He-- he kind of gave his life to me, I guess. And just because I’m alive instead of him, it’s all been ruined!"

Hank could only stare at boy who had such anguish in his face. What a terrible burden to place on someone so young. To be the focus of critical events that shaped the world around them would be more responsibility than even he could desire. And Hank had always wanted to change the world. He was suddenly glad that he had decided not to tell Jonah about Remi’s ability to travel through time. The last thing they needed was a bunch of people trying to use the boy to rearrange the world when his power had already done so much harm already, albeit unintentionally.

But before he could respond, a young man stuck his head in the door. "The chopper’s ready Dr. McCoy." He glanced meaningfully at Remi.

Remi straightened, and Hank watched as the boy’s face became a mask. Hank could see him gathering himself, and refusing to surrender to his fears. For a brief moment, Hank had a glimpse of the king he had been meant to become. Hank had no idea what had happened to the Shi’ar empire-- they’d had no contact for years-- but he was certain that they were losing a precious resource in this one. He smiled to himself. But perhaps he should expect no less of a son of Charles’s.

"You’d better go," he told Remi softly.

Remi nodded and smiled briefly. "Goodbye, Hank."

Hank found himself gripping the boy’s shoulder, more moved than he expected. "It will all work out better than you think. You’ll see."

Remi’s smile quirked wryly. "You always were an optimist."

Hank opened his mouth to say something about still having a dream despite the Shadow King, but then his thoughts turned toward the lab that resided just beneath his feet, and he found that he couldn’t get the words out.

"Goodbye, Remi," was all he said as the boy turned to leave.

In the heart of a city, the wind began to pick up. It scattered the dust and grit that lined the streets, and sent old aluminum cans tumbling with a hollow clatter. In the tattered makeshift marketplace, an old woman looked toward the sky and crossed herself. She called her two grandchildren to her, gesturing urgently. As she gathered her meager goods, she continued to watch the sky, starting fearfully at every new gust of wind. Others on the street also scurried for cover, bent double as if to protect themselves from an unseen predator soaring the afternoon skies.

The little market was deserted by the time the wind grew from a breeze to a howl. The wind had an animal voice, and seemed to dip and dart through the alleys as if it were, indeed, a hunter. In her tiny home, the old woman hugged her grandchildren to her and shivered as the wind rattled the windows and threw itself against the door. All the while she muttered prayers, to God and his Saints, to the X-Men, and even to the Demon in the Tower that they might survive another day.

In the Tower, a young woman sensed her fear and laughed. Fed by the terror of those who huddled in the dark, hoping to escape her, and filled with the heady power of the atmosphere coursing through her blood, the woman flung her arms wide and commanded the winds. Like the warp and woof of a master weaver, she held lines of power from the very atmosphere itself, to weave as she so desired. She acknowledged no god but herself and the One whom she served wholeheartedly.

Her laughter was drowned by the shriek of the wind. It twisted about the Tower with such force that the floor beneath her bare feet began to vibrate. The stone itself was singing in time with the beat of her heart, and Storm exulted in the pure power at her command.

"My dear, do you plan to topple us as well?" asked a smooth voice behind her.

Storm turned slowly. She had sensed his approach through their link. "Of course not." She retreated from the balcony and approached him, greeting him with an unrestrained kiss. "I am but playing, my lord."

The Shadow King smiled as she leaned back in his embrace. Her blue cat’s eyes watched him, slowly smoldering, as she ran one finger lightly along the line of his jaw. His silver hair shimmered in the sunlight as Storm lightened the gale to a gentle breeze. Then he stiffened suddenly, and Storm turned to see what had attracted his attention. She was unafraid, for there was little in the world that could threaten them and certainly none that would dare approach them in the Tower.

The air shimmered like a heat mirage, coalescing into a giant face. It appeared to be made of intricate circuitry which glinted in the afternoon light. The Shadow King released Storm and stepped forward.

"So we meet again, Gamemaster."

The projection simply stared at him, expressionless. "I have much to tell you about the young mutants who have so recently joined Xavier’s forces," it said.


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