Ororo followed the two Wakandian sentry guards silently through a long dome covered corridor, her bare feet moving soundlessly across cool inlaid marble, but the beaded anklets she wore made soft clacking noises with each step. She watched the two lithe females in front of her, their movements graceful and controlled. The dark tattoos on their bald heads and backs testament of their high station in T’Challa’s circle of protectors. His Dora Milajae; his wives in waiting.
They rounded a corner, entering a wider, longer corridor that led directly to the Royal Gardens. Clever T’Challa, she thought. With each step Ororo took towards the oversized, mammoth gold doors at the end of the corridor, the closer the walls seemed to draw in on her. She tried to shake the feeling, but couldn’t entirely rid herself of the discomfort.
T’Challa’s palace was grand by any standards. It’s magnificence rivaled Khan’s celestial palace, however, like Khan’s palace, Ororo saw it for what it was. A cage. An opulent, gilded cage, but a cage none the less.
“You may enter.” One of the two Dora Milajae spoke.
Ororo blinked, realizing they had stopped. Lost in her own thoughts she had not noticed that they had reached their destination. “Thank you.” She adjusted the knot on her sarong before stepping forward. The carved doors swung inward with a great rush of wind, but no sound. T’Challa’s home was also a technological marvel, Ororo reminded herself.
The moment she was through, the doors swung shut behind her. In her mind she almost her the ominous ‘thwoom’ that accompanies such events in the movies. Relax, Ororo. She took a deep breath, inhaling the scents of several exotic and hybrid flowers native to Wakanda alone.
Not seeing anyone at the moment, Ororo moved along the cool grass, touching some budding flowers of species that she didn’t recognize. One in particular caught her attention, drawing her to it. Long, slender stark white petals lay almost closed over each other, but on closer inspection Ororo noticed that once the flower bloomed it’s hidden inside would be revealed. Midnight blues. purples and reds swirled inside the flower, mixing and touching, creating colors the like of which Ororo had never seen before. It was exquisite.
“It’s called the hidaya mvua” Beautiful storm.
Ororo turned to see T’Challa walking towards her. He wore a custom suit of dark blue with a sky blue shirt beneath. He certainly was easy on the eyes, she admitted to herself. At six feet he was a well muscled, athletic man. His dark skin reminded her of melted chocolate and was just as smooth. His deep eyes held an intelligent spark, but also more than a hint of arrogant mischief. But it was his smile that disarmed her every time they met. It was boyishly cocky and hard to resist. He was smiling now.
“I didn’t believe it when Luke told me you had finally agreed to meet with me.”
Ororo shrugged turning away from the flower. “As persistent as Mr. Cage was, it only seemed fair for me to see what it was you wished to speak with me about.”
“Remind me to give the man a raise.” He gestured towards a clear spot of grass on the ground. “Please, join me,” he reached for her hand.
“I am fine where I stand, King.”
T’Challa gave a small chuckle. “Very well.”
Ororo crossed her arms over her chest. “What is it you wished to speak with me about?”
He gave her a slanted look. “We both know the answer to that, Ororo.”
She frowned slightly. “Yes. You’re ‘Bride Hunt’ has become most legendary. So many to choose from.”
He gave her a heavy stare. “And yet there is only one I want.”
Ororo glanced away. “Why?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Why? Why me?”
T’Challa took a step towards Ororo, intent on telling her exactly why he wanted her.
“Is that her?” A boisterous voice called from the door.
He rolled his eyes. Perfect. He gave Ororo a lopsided grin. “You remember my mother?”
Ororo nodded. “She’s difficult to forget.”
“T’Challa? Is that her?” N'Yami called again as she approached, her long robes fluttering behind her in her haste. “Is this your bride?” N’Yami was a small women, almost fragile in appearance, yet she radiated authority. Her persona was strong and forceful, catching most people off balance with her direct, forthright and often blunt approach.
T’Challa cleared his throat. “That has yet to be determined,” he murmured, kissing his mother’s cheek.
N’Yami gave Ororo a long once over. “You have not changed,” she commented.
“I’d like to think I have,” Ororo murmured, inclining her head in respect.
N’Yami circled her, clucking her tongue as she did. Ororo suddenly felt very much like a brood mare at auction. “Looks sturdy.” Ororo nearly yelped when she felt N’Yami swat her backside. “Firm.” She nodded at her son. “She’ll bear strong children. Good choice, son. A Goddess is a most excellent selection for your Queen. I approve wholeheartedly.”
Ororo turned faintly glowing eyes on the Queen. “I beg our pardon, Highness, but I have yet to agree to anything.”
N’Yami looked taken aback. “Why ever not? Do you have so many offers to weigh? A more substantial candidate for your affections than a king?” Her tone was incredulous, but beneath lay a genuine curiosity, Ororo could tell.
“I am without suitor,” Ororo answered vaguely.
T’Challa cleared his throat. “That is not entirely true.”
Ororo chose to ignore that. “I have no suitors,” she stated again.
N’Yai grinned. “Then it’s settled! I’ll have the cooks prepare a celebratory dinner. We can begin planning the wedding immediately.”
N’Yami rolled her eyes. “Very well, I shall leave you two to your ‘discussions’. Do not waste time T’Challa. I am not getting any younger and wish to be a grandmother before I am too old to enjoy it. In your Queen you will breed the future of Wakanda.” She returned her assertive gaze to Ororo. “Don’t be foolish, woman. My son adores you.”
“I’m going. I’m going.” She waved her hands, walking away.
“I apologize for her,” he said once they were alone, or as alone as they had been before with the sentry guards nearby.
Ororo shook her head. “Why? She obviously cares very much for the future of her country, and you.”
He smiled, once again boyishly charming. “Yes, she’s always been a good leader and a better mother.”
For the first time in a long time Ororo felt a sadness stir to life in her chest. “I envy you.”
Strong, warm hands cradled her shoulders. “I am sorry that you were so alone in your childhood. Would that I could I would have traveled with you when we were children.”
“You were but a child too, T’Challa. A child who needed to return to his kingdom.”
“A kingdom I would give up for a life with you.”
Ororo’s mouth parted in surprise. “You can’t mean that.”
“But I do.”
She searched his face for signs of deception. Seeing none, she murmured, “You’re even more crazed than I originally thought.”
“I--I need time…” She had thought this conversation would have gone differently. She expected him to approach her from a humanitarian angle. She was prepared for his “How their union could benefit Africa and Wakanda“ speech. She knew of all the good she could do for the country. These were things she was prepared to rebut, refute, and negotiate. What she hadn’t expected was his unabashed affection.
T’Challa brushed her hair from her shoulder, his fingers lingering. “Time is unfortunately a luxury I do not have.”
“I don’t expect you to wait for my answer, King. By all means continue your hunt.”
His brows furrowed. “Why is it you don’t see yourself as worth waiting for?” When she didn’t answer, too surprised by the accuracy of his statement to form a rebuttal anyway, he continued. “All I meant was that I must leave Wakanda soon. I have UN meetings to attend and many refugee encampments to see to.”
Ororo felt a flush on her face. “Oh.”
“Yes, ‘oh’.” T’Challa smiled down at her. “You are my choice, Ororo. If I can not have you, then I want no one.”
“That’s unreasonable considering your duties as King.”
“I never claimed to be a man of sound reason. You said yourself I was crazed.”
Ororo searched his eyes. “I do not know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything. I will have my UN schedule and itinerary delivered, along with all of my public and private phone numbers and internet accounts. I’ll make my personal jet and car service available to you. Whenever you need to reach me, Ororo, you will be able to. Twenty four hours a day.”
“That is not necessary.” Ororo couldn’t help but feel a momentary rush of flattered pleasure that he would go to such lengths so that she could reach him.
They stood staring at one another n the garden. “Ororo.”
“I’m going to kiss you now.” T’Challa lowered his head but his mouth met fingertips as opposed to silken lips.
“No.” Ororo said firmly. “I need a clear head to consider everything.”
Though he looked disappointed T’Challa’s grin widened. “So I make it hard for you to think?”
Ororo couldn’t help the frustrated sigh that escaped. “You are so obnoxiously arrogant at times.”
“And irresistibly charming?”
Ororo looked him dead in the eye. “No.”
“Hm. I’ll work on that.” He stepped away from her, encouraging her to walk with him. “At the risk of a lightning bolt curling my toes, what is there to think about? You’ve had one foot out the door of Xavier’s for awhile now. You and I both know the X-Men are not what they used to be. They made a debacle out of what I could have easily handled with Paine.”
Ororo’s steps faltered. “The X-Men have suffered substantially in the past few month’s T’Challa. The world’s mutant population has been drastically altered, the government is monitoring every move that we make, we do not even know whether or not Charles is alive…” she took a breath. “Do not insult my friends, King. They are struggling to find there way.”
“And you? Are you not also struggling?”
She remained silent.
Ororo stopped in her tracks. “And what is it you think you see, oh wise and mighty King?”
“I see a woman bent on trying to fix the entire world’s problems all by herself if need be, with no thought to herself. I see a dear friend struggling to find her way, and refusing to accept a light in the dark.”
She snorted. “I suppose you see yourself as that light? My hero?”
T’Challa let out a frustrated breath. “If you’d let me, then yes, Ororo. Yes, that is exactly what I’d be.”
She gave a short, bitter laced laugh. “I do not need to be saved.”
“No doubt. Most Goddesses are self sufficient.”
“Is that sarcasm?”
It was his turn to be silent.
“I should go.” Ororo moved towards the door, but the sentries stepped together blocking her way. She felt her chest tighten in anger. She glanced over her shoulder at T’Challa, her eyes softly glowing. “Is this how it would be?”
He came up beside her. “No.” He dismissed the guards. “Ororo, please stay.”
She shook her head. “You have given me much to think on, T’Challa.”
“But I am still enjoying you.” His tone was gentle and warm.
Ororo closed her eyes against the memories those simple words brought to the surface. Clever, T’Challa.
“Thank you, but I must be going.”
“Is it the Troll?”
Ororo winced, but evaded. “I will pray to the Bright Lady for your continued good fortune and for your people.”
“Our people, Ororo.”
As silent as she entered the corridor Ororo raced back through it. She could feel T’Challa’s heavy gaze on her back the entire way.