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Black Panther and Storm
Doomwar: Coming to Terms
Author's Note: Okay, Doomwar is over and I have to say the mini was quite disappointing. I won't go into the litany of reasons here, but there was a lot left unsaid between the royals, especially between T'Challa and Ororo. For those of you who actually read (suffered through) the mini, like me, you know what I'm talking about. Anyway, I can't fix the mini but I felt compelled to write a little gapfiller of what I would have liked to have seen between the pages of the much too hyped Doomwar. It picks up from the last page of issue #6.
Chapter 1: The Royal Family
T'Challa and Ororo stood on the balcony off of their bedchamber looking down at their friends. The Fantastic Four had been invaluable in helping fend off Doom's plan of worldwide domination. Of course, they've had more than their share of practice at such a relentless and tiresome task. They knew, above all others, how dangerous Doom could be and how true Lord Action, historian and moralist, words were when he argued that 'Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.' And such it was for Doom and, for now, as in times before, the man had been defeated but not destroyed. Yes, never destroyed for he was a virulent plague, a blight on the world that could never, would never be exterminated. Not as long as his foes, no matter how powerful, had a moral code, a code that wouldn't allow them to take his life, no matter how much such a death was well deserved, well earned.
So, they stayed and helped clear away some of the debris from the bomb the brother and sister team used to destroy the nanites Doom used to spy on Wakanda and to destroy their farmland. It was a drastic strategy, one they engaged in as a last resort, to save their nation, their people.
And while the external threat was no more, Wakanda had to rebuild, start over without the aid of vibranium, for T'Challa had destroyed that as well. He'd blown up the cache of vibranium Doom had stolen and was using to power him and his mechanical minions. Another drastic move, it ended the war, but left Wakanda a different nation. What kind of nation it would develop into was yet to be known, but the royal family would be the ones to guide the small country into a new era.
T'Challa peered across the courtyard. His mother and sister were standing on a balcony overlooking the same scene. One person, however, was missing from this family reunion, his uncle, S'Yan. Doom had killed the former Black Panther while he tried to protect his sister-in-law, Ramonda, the Queen Mother. Shuri and T'Challa weren't there but Ororo was. She was there for everything, a witness, a victim, a pawn.
T'Challa looked upon his wife, wrapped his arm tighter around her waist, and kissed her hair. This was the closest they've been, the most intimacy she'd allowed since returning home a day ago. They shared a bed last night but nothing else. In fact, they hadn't shared that for months, T'Challa deliberately avoiding her while he trained with Zawari, the witch doctor, and tried to figure out how to handle the knowledge that his wife, his beloved, was contaminated with nanites and broadcasting to Doom. What was a man to do?
Ororo smiled warmly up at him before moving away. "I think I'll prepare for the funeral."
"It's not for several hours yet, Ororo, you have plenty of time," T'Challa said, feeling the silent barrier pushing against him like an emotional tide lapping against the shore of his heart. She was pleasant, polite, even warm, at times, but something was missing. After the fog of battle had cleared, the threat vanquished, and it was nothing else to occupy her mind, well . . . they needed to talk.
"I know," Ororo said, elevating a few feet above the balcony, "but there is something I must do first before the service begins."
"Where are you going?" T'Challa asked, his calm voice belying his concern. She'd done the same thing the night before, leaving for hours and returning in the middle of the night. She was gone so long, T'Challa had begun to think that she wouldn't return. Paranoia. Right? If she intended to leave him, T'Challa's logical mind reasoned, she would've done so after the battle with Doom. Or perhaps, his insecure mind contradicted, she was waiting for the dust to clear, for the country and its people to stabilize, not wanting to burden them with another upheaval, another news worthy event.
"Don't worry yourself, T'Challa, I won't be late for S'Yan's funeral."
He could hear the grief in her voice as she spoke the name and smell the guilt she was trying to conceal.
"It wasn't your fault, beloved," T'Challa said, reaching for her.
The winds took her higher, just beyond his grasp. Her somber blue eyes bore into him and while she didn't speak the words, he heard them anyway. No, it was your fault. You asked me to stay, to allow myself to be captured, to be used by Doom, condemned by the Destauri.
She didn't answer, only lifted higher and higher into the sky until T'Challa's keen sight could no longer make out her beautifully confused form.
Two hours after the funeral, the royal family retired to the main dining room for dinner. It was a somber affair, the fifth seat at the table conspicuously empty. The silence hung heavy and thick in the air like a toxin eating away at the corners of trust and love.
"Ororo, dear," Ramonda said, "please rejoin us at the table. You've done all you can today to cleanse the land of those dreadful nanites. And looking out that window at your rain won't make the process go any faster. Besides, you've hardly eaten at all. You've had a trying week. Now, come and sit."
The last words were lovingly forceful and Ororo turned from the gloomy weather and smiled at her mother-in-law. It was a genuine smile of love, T'Challa noticed. The kind she hadn't bestowed on him or Shuri since their return. One he ached to see directed at him.
Ororo walked over to Ramonda, leaned down, and kissed her soft, wrinkled cheek. "I'm not hungry, but I promise to have a bite before it gets too late."
"Well, at least sit with the family while we discuss what we're going to do about the economy and military," Ramonda said, taking hold of Ororo's hand.
Ororo looked from Shuri to T'Challa, and finally back at Ramonda. "I'm sure T'Challa and the Princess Regent are quite capable of plotting the course of this nation without me."
She had unsheathed her blade now and it sparkled at the siblings, dangerous and lethal.
"Indeed, they've done it before and we've seen how well that worked out for us all."
And the cut, accurate, deep, brutal. It stung and bled with barely repressed anger, hurt, resentment.
"We did what we thought was best, Ororo," Shuri said standing. "We didn't think Doom would kill our uncle," she said, moving around the table and closer to her sister-in-law.
"Well, what did you think was going to happen, Shuri, once you and T'Challa abandoned us? You knew what Doom wanted the same as me, once I realized he was the puppeteer to the Destauri's puppet. Did you think he was going to ask please and say thank you?"
"I thought you would be able to handle it. I thought you would find a way, keep everyone safe."
Ororo gave a harsh, disbelieving laugh and turned fully to Shuri as she rounded the table.
"And how was I supposed to do that, Princess Regent, when they clamped power dampeners around my neck and wrists and locked me in a cell that had the same effect? A cell, I might add, that my beloved husband commissioned to be built"
"Not for you, Ororo," T'Challa blurted with force. "It was never meant for you, but I needed something to dull the powers of a mutant who may try to do harm to my people. A mutant like Magneto, for example. You have to know that."
"I do know that, T'Challa. But did you ever think where they would put me once I was arrested? Did it ever occur to you that they would hold me in that small, white cell of yours? Or did you think they would simply trust this mutant witch not to run away or harm them and allow me to stay in our bedchamber like a good little dethroned queen?"
She was hurt, her voice critically harsh at being the scapegoat used to explain Wakanda's economic woes, blatant anti-mutant sentiment spewing from the mouths of fearful and conservative Wakandans. T'Challa stilled his tongue. All the things he considered, he never thought about his wife being imprisoned, his claustrophobic wife locked in a cell of his own making, powerless and at Doom's mercy.
"You're a warrior of the highest caliber, Ororo," Shuri said. "You've been through much worse, and you've always survived."
Ororo glared at Shuri, and with a weary heart, shook her head like a frustrated mother would to a teenager who was too old to be spanked but too inexperienced to truly understand the world. "You're very young, Princess Regent," she said, not as an accusation but as a matter of fact.
"Since when did you start referring to me by my title? Am I no longer Shuri to you, Ororo?"
"It was the Princess Regent who lied to me for months while plotting with my husband. It was the Princess Regent who fled as strategy and left the country in my care without a clue as to the real threat. I would like to think that the Shuri I know would have found another way, would have treated me more like a sister than a pawn on her chessboard, to be moved and manipulated."
"It wasn't like that, Ororo, there were no good choices. Doom had completely invaded our nation without sending in one soldier," Shuri defended. "You are my sister, and I took no pleasure in lying to you, or Mother," she said, reaching for Ramonda. "We defeated Doom together; don't let this defeat us, Ororo."
Unmoved by her words, Ororo ignored the olive branch, blue eyes unwavering, jaw stubbornly set. "I'll leave you to your family discussion," Ororo said, turning away from the three set of eyes boring into her. She walked towards the door and then stopped. Without turning she said, "Black Panthers live and die for Wakanda, its people, its land. I'm not of Wakanda which is the reason I didn't want to be its ruler, its Black Panther. But I love this country and would give my life to keep it safe. The two of you made your choices, as hurtful as they were. And we are a family, but even the most loving families harm each other. We'll get past this, I'm sure, but not now, I need time."
T'Challa moved to follow his wife out of the room.
"Let her leave!" Ramonda commanded.
"She just asked to be left alone, son, give her that at least. The two of you have done quite enough." Her voice was that stern steel T'Challa and Shuri knew all too well.
Shuri sat beside her mother, a sad, concerned look on her face. "You agree with us, don't you, Mother?" she asked, taking Ramonda's hand in her own. "You must know we wished no harm to come to you or Uncle S'Yan."
T'Challa joined his mother and sister, taking his place on the opposite side of the Queen Mother.
"Did Doom hurt you, Mother?" T'Challa asked, guilt seeping from every pore. "I should've taken you and S'Yan with me. The Destauri made their move sooner than we anticipated."
Ramonda spoke firmly but honestly, both her hands held securely in that of her children's. "You both were raised to put the many before the few, the one, even when the one is your mother. I would have died rather than give that monster access to the vibranium. But," she said, taking a deep, thoughtful breath, "Ororo has a different spirit. She may be willing to die for Wakanda, but she's unwilling to stand by and allow Wakandans to die, if she can prevent it."
T'Challa knew this truth, knew his wife's heart.
"She refused to help him," Ramonda continued. "Ororo would have never given him what he wanted but he threatened to kill me. He placed a gun to my head," she said, bringing her fingers to her temple, imitating the gun pressed cold and hard against her.
T'Challa and Shuri winced in anger at the dramatic reality of their mother's plight and the role they played in her near death.
"If it wasn't for Ororo and S'Yan, he would've done the cruel deed."
"So, she picked one of the locks," T'Challa stated. "I knew she would be the only one who could do it. That lock surpassed even Doom's ability."
"Under extreme duress," Ramonda said. She sighed, rubbed her fatigued eyes. "Did either one of you think how Ororo would defend herself while trying to protect me and your uncle? Or how she would feel if something happened to one or both of us during her watch? If Doom had shot and killed me because she refused to pick that blasted lock, how would she have reacted?"
Silence was her answer. "In her rage and grief, she would've destroyed him, this palace, and Panther God knows what else. And in the end, she would've killed the part of her that we all respect and love," Ramonda said, answering her own question.
They all sank back in their chairs, the weight of the last few months weighing morbidly heavy on them. Doom had done this to them, their country, their family. And he was free. They let him go back to Latveria to lick his wounds and start again. For Doom always bounced back, stronger and more lethal than before.
But T'Challa and Shuri would be waiting for him, having already vowed to never allow Wakanda to succumb to internal or external conquest ever again. But one piece, a vital piece of their triumvirate was missing.
T'Challa kissed his mother on the cheek and then stood. "I have a lot to make up for, don't I?"
"You do, indeed, son."
"Do you think she'll forgive me?"
"She fought for our cause, big brother," Shuri said, "of course she'll forgive you."
Both Ramonda and T'Challa gave Shuri a look she didn't appreciate.
"I'm not that young," she huffed, crossing her arms over her chest.
"You are young, Shuri," T'Challa said, "and there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, I was just a year or two older than you when I became Black Panther and King of Wakanda. They are huge paws to fill and it takes time to grow into them. And you'll get there, little sister. But you know nothing of marriage and apparently neither do I."
"You're learning too, son," Ramonda reassured. "And right now you have to learn patience." Ramonda stood and straightened her silk, green dress. She took in her son's determined expression and sighed. "Go to her then, T'Challa, but don't expect too much. A woman like Ororo knows her mind and heart, and if you push too much she may just push back."
"Ororo would never use her mutant powers to hurt T'Challa," Shuri said, rising and pushing in the antique cherry wood chair.
"That's not what I meant, Shuri, and T'Challa knows it," Ramonda said. "If you don't give her the space and time she needs to come to terms with what you did, T'Challa, she'll take it."
"I know," he admitted forlornly, before briskly exiting the room in search of his wife.
TO BE CONTINUED