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Black Panther and Storm
Chapter 1: Midnight Flight
"Shh, don't cry. It's all right, N'Dare," Ororo cooed, her voice pitched no louder than the whisper of a rabbit's scurrying feet across a patch of absorbent luscious grass.
Ororo hoisted her three-month old daughter onto her chest, tightly pulling a large swath of sturdy pink and white fabric across her breast, and around her back. Many Wakandans preferred to carry their children on their backs. Ororo, on the other hand, enjoyed having her children in front of her, snug against her bosom, their beating heart matching pace with hers, their wondrous eyes able to look into her own as she peered down lovingly into their trusting orbs.
Once securely tied, Ororo ran a delicate hand through N'Dare's short, wavy, white hair, the color matching Ororo's perfectly, the texture unbelievably soft, the scent, floral and light like angel wings. And her daughter gazed up at Ororo, N'Dare's eyes still wet from her tears. But it was to be expected, the child seemed wholly incapable of understanding the rules of night and day.
"Her entire sleep pattern is off," T'Challa had complained a week after Dr. Somide released them from the hospital, his worried eyes rimmed with exhaustion.
"She sleeps during the day when everyone else is up and about." T'Challa paced the floor of their large bedchamber, the light dim, N'Dare perched against his solid shoulder, steadily sniffing and whining with each measured step her father had taken.
"Yet," he'd said, turning once he'd reached the balcony doors, beginning the next leg of the endless journey, "she's wide awake ready to play at night. And if she doesn't get her way, she cries like a banshee until she awakens the entire household."
Ororo had said nothing, simply allowed her sleep-deprived husband to vent. He was right of course, but he also didn't understand. N'Dare couldn't help it. She was a weather-controlling mutant like Ororo, her body responding to the ebb and flow, rise and fall, tilt and twirl of the Earth on the most fundamental level. Right now, little N'Dare's body was adjusting to life outside of her mother's protective, well controlled body, her own now communing with the elements she would one day summon to do her bidding.
But an infant's body understood none of this, nor could the mind. Action and reaction was all N'Dare was capable of doing now, her body subtly and naturally tuning itself to work with not against itself. Even Ororo, as an adult, had to make slight adjustments—both mental and emotional—whenever she entered a different geographic region. No two places—elementally—were identical, and no one place stayed the same from one day or even one hour to the next. Thus, Ororo was always cognizant of small environmental shifts. It had taken her a while to not allow them to dictate her mood.
But N'Dare was far from that level. Ororo and T'Challa had years before N'Dare came fully into her mutant powers. Right now, her body was simply going through an adjustment phase. Ororo guessed by the six-month mark, the baby would've attuned herself to Wakanda's elemental wavelength.
Yet she'd hesitated to tell her husband he may have many more months to contend with a child who seemed to have more in common with a police officer pulling midnight shift than her twin brother who was sleeping soundly in the adjacent nursery. As he did most nights, conking out like Logan after he's had one too many beers, Ororo's breast milk—apparently—having the same effect on T'Chaka.
Six weeks after the birth of the twins and Dr. Somide's all clear, Ororo resumed most of her normal monarchial duties and activities, including flying. Now, without fail, Ororo takes N'Dare out for a midnight flight, soaring high above Wakanda, traveling—some nights—as far as Kenya.
And each night, Ororo could feel N'Dare's unaware body respond naturally to her surroundings, curious blue eyes open, taking in the scenery, the tiniest smile shimmering each time a gentle wind current caressed her flushed cheeks, softly pulling her hair as it went past.
Wearing simple black silk short bottoms and a matching top, Ororo took one last look back at a sleeping T'Chaka, blew him a kiss, closed and secured the balcony doors, then lifted slowly into the air. Ororo looked down and smiled, N'Dare's head rested against her chest, middle two fingers jammed in her mouth, eyes open and aware, not one sign of fatigue.
That would change soon enough, Ororo assured herself, lifting higher and farther away from the royal palace, slowly picking up speed, turning to her back to give N'Dare a different angle from which to view Wakanda, her home.
Yes, her home, the home T'Challa and Shuri had fought to keep under their control, out of the hands of the traitorous Desturi and others of their ilk. Ororo rubbed N'Dare's back, appreciative of every moment she had with her children, thankful her husband and sister-in-law prevented the witch from following through with her plan.
Aluna Otieno, Ororo was informed two days after giving birth, had been the wife of the very Desturi who sentenced her to death. Aluna had also been pregnant with twins, and upon learning of her husband's death at the hand of Princess Regent Shuri, had taken a disastrous fall down the stairs, miscarrying, leaving her with no husband and no children.
Ororo stayed the shudder that always threatened when she thought how awful that must have been for the woman. Ororo stroked N'Dare's chubby cheek, needing to feel the live warmth of her child, know that she's safe and real, not some witch-induced illusion.
Yes, Ororo knew about the illusions as well, the mystical mind traps that had held Shuri and T'Challa captive for more than a day. And while Aluna survived the savage beating, care of the Black Panther, she had not survived prison. Perhaps she thought she would be executed for her foul deeds, perhaps she envisioned years of mental and physical turmoil that came with being incarcerated, maybe she simply believed herself to be untouchable. Whatever the thinking, Aluna Otieno managed to take her own life within a week of being transferred from a local hospital to the small prison that held other Desturi conspirators.
T'Challa had yet to discover exactly what she'd used to commit the heinous act, ending her life in what appeared to be heart failure. Ororo stifled another shudder, her long, French braid whipping in the wind when Ororo quickly circled and stopped, turning herself upright to enjoy the emerging rainbow from the north.
Aluna Otieno was no older than thirty and she'd died of an apparent heart attack. An otherwise healthy woman didn't die of heart disease. But, T'Challa had mused, the woman was a witch, and as far as they knew, she conjured a spell that ended her pitiful life. A life she probably thought wasn't worth living alone and unloved.
Tragic, Ororo thought morosely, pointing out the rainbow to little N'Dare, wondering if her weak, baby eyes could see the glorious phenomenon. Ororo moved closer, slowly shifting her body so N'Dare could see the brilliant colors, and when the child's eyes widened, Ororo knew she was close enough. She saw vibrant hues mirrored in her light blue eyes, tiny fingers gliding from warm, wet mouth, stretching, trying to capture the essence of the world in her drool-laced fist.
Ororo laughed when N'Dare bellowed a frustrated cry, her prize of colors having deftly alluded her, unwilling to succumb to her call.
"Someday, N'Dare. Someday, you will call and it will come. Just. Like. This." Ororo concentrated, and like three wayward cows breaking from the herd, so too did pieces of the rainbow—red, orange, and yellow—moved languidly through the air, as if pulled by an invisible string. The piece was small indeed, just enough, a child's size portion, in fact.
And then there were no more tears, no more wails of anger, only a wondering smile of a baby, holding something in her unknowing palms that she could only comprehend in her mutant body, her mind too immature to grasp the meaning of what she was holding. The mini rainbow wrapped around N'Dare's fingers, mewing like a cat, recognizing and reveling in her latent powers, her innocence.
Then Ororo released it, but N'Dare did not cry. Ororo nodded with pride. It was a start, a beginning. She would learn because Ororo would teach her, be there for N'Dare always, the way she had been for Shuri these last few weeks.
"I had to defend myself against a demon hell bent on raping me," Shuri had confided in Ororo only a month ago. "He reproduced himself I don't know how many times over. And each time I vanquished one of the clones, another would appear, and another." Tears had flowed from Shuri's eyes; her hands trembling as she'd reached up to wipe them away.
Ororo had rarely seen Shuri weep, like T'Challa, her stoicism concealed a wealth of checked emotion.
"I was so tired, Ororo. My entire body ached, each punch, every kick I threw felt like I was pulling a five ton anchor through waist high sand. But I knew I couldn't give up, couldn't allow the demon to win."
Shuri had shifted uncomfortably, rays from the mid-morning sun raining down on them as they walked through the royal garden, Ororo pushing the twins in a double stroller, rows of baobab trees surrounded by African violets cradling the stoned path on which they strolled.
"When the bolt of lightning finally came," Shuri paused, her eyes dimly brown and egregiously haunted, "my spiritual form had exhausted, five clones, including the real demon held me down."
Ororo had stopped walking then, pulled Shuri to her, wrapping her sister-in-law in a cool blanket, allowing her overheated body to absorb the calming chill now cascading over tensed muscles. Ororo didn't need to hear the rest, she could tell from the tremor of Shuri's words that she hadn't been spiritually raped, but apparently, the demon had come damn close, which explained why Aluna Otieno almost died at Shuri's hand in that abysmal house on the beach of the Nigandan River.
Ororo sighed and began her descent, the royal mausoleum her destination.
Once landing, Ororo entered, and lit the wall sconces as she made her way deeper inside the marble tomb. It smelled of stale, confined air, the solar powered air recycling system turning off when Mother Sun gave way to Father Moon. But it was cool; the budding Wakandan spring heat not strong enough to penetrate the depths of the sacred place. Or perhaps, Ororo thought with a wry smile, it was the two guarding statues of Bast that flanked the entrance to the great building that scared away more than tomb robbers.
After S'Yan's murder at the hand of Dr. Doom, Ororo often came to this place of death and mourning, wishing there was a cemetery or such where she could visit her own parents. But no such place existed, Ororo having no idea what happened to her parents' bodies after the plane crashed into their home, stealing them away from her, all those wretched years ago. And while T'Challa always said the departed resided in one's heart not within a cold, unfeeling slab of rock and mortar or the time weathered ground of dirt and decay, Ororo still ached, a child's broken heart trapped in a woman's body.
She stood in front of King T'Chaka's tomb, a loving prayer—written by the child T'Challa—engraved below the great man's name, birth and death dates. Ororo ran her fingers over the Wakandan words, a language she was well adept in: May the Panther God watch you, bless you, and keep you safe.
Ororo took three steps to her right, S'Yan's tomb— a much recent death date recorded—only three years ago. A death she still blamed herself for even though there was very little she could've done to prevent it. Still, irrational guilt runs deep. Another engraving, her words this time: We enter alone, die alone, but the path between the two are never lived alone, in loneliness, without love, without family.
Finally, Ororo glided on sour air currents to the top left of the fifty-five foot building. In the far corner, in a tomb built hundreds of years ago to hold and protect the remains of Wakanda's royal family, was one stone, the ivory coloring distinct from the cool onyx of every other stone. Ororo closed her eyes, extended her hand, one finger sliding over raised letters. Letters she'd memorized. And they flowed, as they always did, unbidden from her lips and into the air, giving the briefest of life to the souls that once were.
"A stitch in time for eternity, a daughter never forgets."
Behind the ivory covered slab of marble were two limestone boxes with gold plates attached to the front in the shape of a cloud with a bolt of lightning sparking through. And engraved on each plate was a single name: N'Dare Munroe and David Munroe—her parents.
Inside the exquisitely crafted boxes were three small jars: one with dirt, one with water, one with crushed forget-me-not flowers. The dirt and river water were from each of her parents' homelands— fertile silt from the banks of the Nairobi River in Kenya and the Bronx River in New York. The Forget-me-nots were plucked with care from a riverbank in New Zealand where the blue flower with the yellow center grows wild and free.
And next to the jars sat a purple velvet satchel that contained locks of hair: hers and her grandparents, linking past to the present to the future—a cycle of life and death and love.
It was T'Challa's anniversary gift to Ororo, the first anniversary after their reconciliation. That very night she'd decided it was time for them to expand their family, begin the next generation, solidify their bond, their everlasting commitment to each other.
And when asked why he placed her parents' tomb so high above the others, he had simply replied, "Your parents belong wherever you are. Wakanda is your home, beloved, but even here, in this place of Bast's children, you deserve your own mourning space. A place where no one but you can reach without wings or a hovercraft," which, Ororo knew, was how T'Challa managed to reach the desolate area of the mausoleum. And it was true, Ororo feeling the spiritual shift every time she floated upward, knowing without seeing, exactly where T'Challa had buried the symbols of her parents' unique union, differences that blended together to form an unbreakable bond—a Kenyan princess and an African American photographer. It was a telling reminder that while similarity may breed contempt, difference often produces greater understanding.
And Ororo loved T'Challa even more each time she came to this place, a tangible reminder of the depth of her king's love, the breadth of his forgiveness.
As she made her way back to the palace, N'Dare's shiny blue baby eyes beginning to wane, Ororo remembered, her heart gently squeezing as those sixty days T'Challa requested of Ororo slowly pulsed through her, reminding Ororo that if T'Challa hadn't swallowed his pride and come after her, she would now only have the X-Men and their relentless mission. And while that used to be enough, it was no longer, the ache in her heart had yearned for something more—a family of her own, a different kind of mission, one of vital, personal importance.
And so the memory flowed, like rain water through the veins of a thirsty carnation.
TO BE CONTINUED