Black Panther and Storm
Chapter 4: Starting Anew
Shuri looked out onto the plains taking in the heat of the evening, the chirp of birds off in the distance, and the rustle of small animals moving in trees and grass alike. From her perch in the baobab tree she could see as far as the palace gates and the burnt remains of the grass surrounding the enclosure.
Two weeks had passed since Morlun attacked the small African nation, since T'Challa's near death, since Ororo's miscarriage, and since Shuri became Black Panther. So much had happened in such a short period of time-life altering events that would impact all of Wakanda in the years to come especially the royal family.
Shuri looked down from her tree to see a meditating Nezhno sitting legs crossed bare feet and chest on display. 'His marks are beautiful,' thought Shuri as she watched the mysterious mutant assigned to protect her. She huffed at the idea of needing a bodyguard but remembered the Dora Milage and how they had saved her brother time and time again and paid the ultimate price for their loyalty and devotion.
Nezhno had tracked her every move since being assigned to her by Ororo but had uttered very little in the past two weeks. She remembered Ororo telling her that he was shy and reserved but she had no idea how accurate her characterization truly was for if a conversation had transpired between them these last two weeks it had to have occurred without her notice.
Nezhno was polite and respectful and showed her the deference that all citizens bestowed to any member of the royal family. However, he was distant and Shuri realized she had never, outside of Ororo, spent time around a mutant or a Wakandan who had traveled to America or any other place far from home. His life was so unlike hers and at times he seemed terribly sad and lonely. The only time he seemed to venture out of his shell was when he was in the presence of Ororo. They had a unique relationship Shuri observed one that included respect, friendship, and mentorship. Their relationship was so much more than queen and citizen and Shuri realized that she would like to have a true friendship with someone that wasn't based on her privileged position.
She jumped silently out of the tree beside Nezhno who failed to visibly acknowledge her presence. She sat beside the meditating mutant and said, "How can you protect me if you are sitting under a tree with your eyes closed?"
"Are you displeased with my service Princess Shuri?" Nezhnzo asked without opening his eyes. "I am honored to serve as your bodyguard and if I have done something to displease you I humbly apologize," he continued opening his brown eyes and looking into hers.
Feeling like a child for taunting the young man Shuri corrected, "No Nezhno I am not displeased with your service. You are doing a wonderful job. I was only making a joke and I guess it wasn't a very good one."
Nezhno nodded his head in relief and showed the slightest of smiles which made Shuri smile in return.
"I just wanted to have a conversation with you," admitted Shuri. "We have spoken little over the past two weeks and I just thought that it would be a good idea if we got to know each other better. Seeing that you have been given the ungodly task of looking after the newbie we should at least be on speaking terms."
"I..I… didn't think it proper to broach a conversation with a person of your standing your highness," Nezhno quietly contended. "It never occurred to me that you would be interested in anything someone of my status had to say."
Shuri winced at his words. She had led such a sheltered and privileged life and never felt comfortable with the absolute respect bestowed on her by the citizens of the nation she was now sworn to protect. "I am no better than you Nezhno," assured Shuri despite the disbelieving glance he gave her. "I would like for us to be friends someday if that is at all possible. I see how you are with the queen and perhaps in time we will develop that level of trust."
Nezhno was too shocked by Shuri's words to respond verbally but was pleased inside. He didn't understand why Ororo had requested his service when there were plenty of qualified full-blooded Wakandan trained soldiers that could have performed the task. She left the choice in his hands but assured him that no one was more qualified for the honor. "You can protect her in a way that they cannot and you have a wealth of experience and knowledge that doesn't come with living in an isolated nation," Ororo argued. "You two will complement the other each possessing a strength that the other lacks. This assignment is as much for you as it is for Shuri." He didn't fully comprehend her words at the time but now as he sat next to his princess he knew from his time with the X-Men that two seemingly different people could indeed work together and become friends. Like Shuri Nezhno also wanted a friend who would appreciate him for himself and not judge him based on his mixed heritage. He wondered if such a friendship could be found in a privileged princess.
"So what do you want to talk about?" asked Nezhno meekly as he rose to his feet to continue their patrol. Smiling Shuri took his extended hand and said, "Tell me about your time in America with the X-Men."
T'Challa struggled to hold himself straight up on the parallel bars under his immovable legs. He had been holding himself in this position for the past twenty minutes and hadn't moved an inch. His arms were burning from fatigue but he refused to ask for help or give up.
He made the nurse assigned to him by Dr. Somide leave once he had helped him out of his chair and to the bars. A week and a half ago Dr. Somide was forced to release a very agitated King T'Challa from the hospital once it became quite obvious that the patient would tolerate his confinement no longer. While the doctor consented to the early release T'Challa had to consent to the 24 hour on-call service of a nurse of his choosing. T'Challa agreed with the plan wanting nothing more than to extricate himself from the hospital that held nothing but bad memories in exchange for the privacy of his bed chamber and the warmth and comfort of having his wife beside him at night.
T'Challa stared down the length of the parallel bars and slowly and painfully inched one leg then the other. The bars were old and worn from years of use. T'Challa knew every texture, dent, and scrap in the bars. They were his old friends and had served him well over the years as he trained his mind and body to be the Black Panther. Now, they were a cruel reminder of what he used to be, the man he used to be and the man he was relegated to.
Like the story of the tortoise and the hare T'Challa pulled one heavy leg along behind the other in no hurry to reach his destination but having faith that with determination he would. "Slow and steady wins the race," he muttered to himself as sweat glistened on his brow. He continued, "Slow and steady wins the race, slow and steady wins the race, slow and steady wins the race." He finally reached the end of the parallel bars, looked at the clock and saw that it had taken him fifteen minutes to walk the short distance.
With great effort T'Challa turned himself around and started his slow trek in the opposite direction muttering, "Slow and steady wins the race, slow and steady wins the race."
Ororo entered the council room in an audible silence followed closely by Shuri. The councilmen were already present and some clearly annoyed by the impromptu meeting called by the queen. In all of their years on the council never had a queen called a meeting or even entered their sacred lair.
Ororo looked the men over and took her seat at the head of the table. It was T'Challa's seat and now it was hers until he could return to full duty. While Ororo refused to be Black Panther and didn't like the circumstances under which she had to fill her husband's role as ruler of Wakanda she was uniquely capable of commanding not only this room of sexist men but the national and international fallout of the change in leadership. While Ororo was a warrior she was also a diplomat and understood the delicate balance of power under which nations worked and fought to maintain. Shuri as Black Panther served as the sword of the nation and Ororo served as its' shield and as the men looked on they were about to find out why women were the deadliest of the species.
"Good afternoon gentlemen," greeted Ororo. "I am pleased to see all of you in attendance." She smiled politely at them as she scanned their faces and bodies for attempts at concealed emotions or unconscious signs of discomfort or deception. Shuri walked to the back of the room dressed in full panther regalia and men who had never shown the slightest signs of fear from the young princess now viewed her with new eyes.
Placing her hands in front of her on the long mahogany table Ororo asserted, "Wakanda is in a state of flux and it is imperative that we secure all of our interests nationally and abroad. Our enemies will more than likely take this opportunity to test our resolve and push limits where they wouldn't have in times past. T'Challa was a symbol of our strength and independence and now that he is temporarily incapacitated we need to reinforce our sovereignty and strength." She paused allowing the men to absorb her words.
They looked at each other and the two women who flanked them none yet brave enough to comment.
She continued, "As T'Challa's council you are in the unique position to help secure Wakanda's position internationally and the rebuilding of our destroyed towns and cities and military recruitment and training. However…"
At this word the men looked keenly at Ororo not knowing where she was going or whether they truly wanted to hear what came next.
"However, I do not know you personally and am unsure whether I can trust any of you seated here before me. I have heard many things since the Skrull invasion and if I was one to believe gossip a few of you would be held over for treason right now."
At this Shuri stepped forward in a clear attempt to intimidate the men as a sign of support for her queen. Between Ororo's words and Shuri's aggressive posture the councilmen were clearly intimidated with clear currents of anger that slowly infiltrated the room.
"What are you saying?" asked one of the men. "We have been loyal to T'Chaka and T'Challa alike and for you to question our loyalty is an insult."
"Perhaps," responded Ororo cooly, "but it is my job to protect Wakanda from all threats internal and external and your coveted position as council member doesn't preclude you from this inquiry."
"Inquiry?" snorted another council member. "We have just survived the worst attack that this great nation as ever suffered and now the loyalty of its' very citizens are in doubt. This is a grave insult Queen Ororo."
"If you are innocent then you have nothing to fear. If you have indeed been loyal servants to your king, nation, and god then you will come out of this investigation unscathed. However, if I find out that anyone in this room has conspired to weaken this nation or threatened our security in any way he will answer to me."
At this real threat her eyes turned a frightening white and a strong breeze consumed the air. Ororo stood and said, "Make no mistake gentlemen treason will not be tolerated nor will deception of any kind. I do not care of the opinion you may harbor against me as a mutant or non-Wakandan as long as you do uphold your sworn oath. Sitting on this council is a privilege not a right gentlemen and with due cause I have the power to remove you from your post and install another from your tribe. Like I said you are my husband's council that doesn't mean by default you have to be mine."
The men around the table gasped more from her words than the breeze that was sucking air from their lungs. As Ororo retook her seat the breeze stopped and her eyes returned to their natural state.
"According to my records you are all behind in your monthly reports and that is an oversight you will rectify today."
"But…" one man said but quickly retracted the rest of the sentence as Shuri moved closer to him.
Ororo continued ignoring the looks passing from one man to the next. "I have taken the liberty of clearing your schedules for the rest of the day. You will have until close of business today to get me your monthly reports. There is a guard placed on the outside of each of your offices and they will remain to make sure that no one disturbs you."
A man huffed and said, "Are we under house arrest your highness?"
Smiling coyly the queen said, "Of course not Mr. Kunjufu the guards are there for your protection and will guard you until I'm sure that no one poses a threat to this council."
He understood the subtle message in her polite words and the real purpose of the sudden presence of the guards. She didn't trust them and until she was sure that she could the guards would remain.
Standing Ororo said, "I expect the reports on my desk by 5:00 pm no exceptions." Before the men could wrap their minds around the fact that T'Challa's injury meant more than the appointment of a Black Panther but a total upheaval of the royal court as they knew it and their role within it Ororo dismissed them without a second thought to their feelings or concerns. She had her own concerns to contend with and had no time to tend to the fragile egos of grown men. As far as she was concerned the council members will serve with honor and loyalty or they wouldn't serve at all. It was her decision to make and if she had to she was more than willing to replace the lot of them and start anew.
T'Challa awoke with a start heart throbbing fast and sweaty hands reaching for an invisible foe. Punching wildly into the air T'Challa growled his displeasure at his enemy and his inability to reach him. T'Challa continued to lash out in the dark looking but not truly seeing when Ororo placed two soft hands on his shoulders and lovingly pulled him back down and into her reassuring embrace. She held his head to her chest soothingly stroking his face to calm him repeating the words, "It will be alright you are safe now."
This had been their routine for the last week and a half. T'Challa rarely slept peacefully through the night, his mind recreating the events of Doom's attack and the death of his Dora Milage. Their deaths weighed guilty on his mind and he refused to talk about them even to his wife.
Every night he woke in a sweat and only Ororo's comforting words and touch would allow sleep to find him once again. The nightmares had been worse while he was in the hospital and when he awoke then there was nothing but the sterile quiet room for him to hold on to. Now he held tightly to his wife relying on her strength to see him through yet another fitful night.
Ororo awoke the next morning to the gentle circular rub of her stomach by T'Challa. She looked at him and her heart sank in grief with realization as tears suddenly welled in her eyes. He continued to stroke her stomach with his left hand over which she placed her own.
Still lovingly caressing Ororo's flat belly T'Challa looked deeply into his wife's sad eyes that reflected his own pain and sang a lullaby to their child who was never meant to be.
See the mother bird tenderly singing,
Away in the treetop high,
Where her cozy nest is gently swinging,
In time to her lullaby.
In their cradles the babies swing,
All the world loves to hear mothers sing.
Hear the good night song tenderly falling,
O'er cradles where babies sleep,
Where, in love, a prayer softly is calling,
That angels, their watch will keep.
In their cradles the babies swing,
All the world loves to hear mothers sing.
See the stars, their watch steadily keeping,
O'er birdies and babies fair;
All night long, while dear babies are sleeping,
They're safe in the Father's care.
In their cradles the babies swing,
All the world loves to hear mothers sing.
Tears now streaming down both of their faces T'Challa leaned in and whispered, "No words can express how much I love you and the depth of my desire for us to have a family of our own. The gift our child gave to me will not be squandered or taken for granted. Our child lives inside of me and every day I am reminded of what we created and she is beautiful."
Read the Epilogue: Black Panther in Journey. A short POV fic.
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