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Midnight Songbird

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Midnight Songbird

(Alternative Universe to Nightingale)

By: Lalaith Quetzalli

Some warriors are born out of strife and grief, others from choice and pride; birds may be creatures of beauty and song, but they still may choose to fight. In the end it always comes down to choices, and sometimes the choices of one girl, may change more lives than she ever imagined possible...

Guardian

Sometimes life chooses to take us down paths we never expected.

I was fourteen years old when I came to live in Wakanda. My life had never been exactly normal, or at least not the normal most people applied to their own lives. Born in Wales, in the UK in 1992, to Sebastian Salani and Aislinn Kinross-Salani. Mama died when I was very young, barely three-years old. It was that same year that Aunt Kathryn returned, after having spent fifteen years working for the government, and she, Papa and I moved to the US. We lived in Salani manor, in the outskirts of Westbrook, Maine (twenty minutes or so away from Portland). At four I was diagnosed with leukemia, blood cancer, and after some awful years, I entered remission at nine.

Something changed in my father afterwards. While I'd never doubted that he loved me, and he did spend time with me whenever he could, his job had always seemed to be his greatest priority. Someone had said once that maybe it was because of how much I looked like Mama, her same eyes, and hair just a shade or two darker than hers. Some believed that he'd loved her so much... that maybe it hurt him to look at me. It was a sad thought to have. But things changed after the cancer was gone (or as gone as cancer could be, anyway). He began having dinner with me and Aunt Kathryn at least every other night, and at least once a week we would all spend time together, either at home or going out somewhere: the park, the cinema, theater, it didn't matter. I finally had a family, and it was great.

When I was thirteen we went on vacation to Europe. It was late October of 2005, not exactly the most recommended time to be vacationing in Southern Italy (according to my own research, the best time was somewhere between June and early October...). But one of Papa's bosses had insisted, had even lent him use of his own villa in Sicily, so we went. It was a beautiful place. I kept taking pictures, wanting to show them to Luka...

Luka was my friend, the friend neither Aunt Kathryn nor Papa had ever seen, and there was a very good reason for that: he wasn't human. He was, in fact, an Aesir (an alien), Loki, the God of Mischief and Lies, and second prince of the Golden Kingdom of Asgard. He was my best-friend (my only true friend), and he'd told me how bad an idea it'd be for others to know we knew each others, that many people would never understand, including his own people, so we kept our friendship a secret, he only visited sporadically, when he knew I was alone in the rose garden (which, granted, happened less often since Papa had insisted on us spending more time together... I didn't mind, I knew Luka was still my friend).

It was Papa's idea to get on that yacht. They offered sightseeing, and it was a beautiful place, so we went. It really was amazing, the Mediterranean was like nothing I'd ever seen before, and I could hardly believe how comfortable the weather was, even though we were fast approaching winter (and I knew well enough that, had we been in Maine, we would have been buried beneath several layers of sweaters already). I spent at least an hour wishing Luka could be there, could see such beauty with his own eyes. I knew he'd visited Midgard (what he insisted on calling Earth) before, but still. And then the storm came.

It came out of nowhere, or at least that's how it seemed to us. We weren't ready. The Captain had no experience with sailing during a thunderstorm such as that one (either it had really come out of nowhere, or he hadn't been vigilant enough of the weather before we left the docks), and the rest of us just had no idea what to do. A lot of that day has long since been blocked from my memory, and that's alright, Aunt Kathryn said once that some things I didn't need to remember, and I believed her. Some things were evident enough though; like the fact that Aunt Kathryn and I survived that day... Papa didn't.

They found his body a week later, washed up the coasts, along with the Captain's second and another of the passengers of the yacht that day. The rest of us survived. It was the beginning of the change though. The rescue crews had gotten all of us straight to the hospital, even when most of us didn't have more that a slight cold and minor bruises. Except I did have more, something that had nothing to do with the sea or the accident. Something odd came up in the basic tests, and more were ordered. In the end the results were staring us all in the face: the cancer was back.

I'd always known it was a possibility, and I knew that we had time on our side. Awful as Papa's loss might be, the accident had given us that one good thing, the doctors had realized the cancer was coming back sooner than they'd have if they'd waited until my programmed check-up. That didn't change the fact that there was no known cure. Aunt Kathryn took me to every respectable hospital and doctor across Europe for three months straight, no one could give us a treatment and guarantee it'd work. At most they offered me some additional months, and even that was with the most extreme treatments, treatments that were as likely to kill me as they were to help me.

Days after my fourteenth birthday I was about ready to stand my ground. I was about finished with all the doctors, and the tests, and the assurances, only to end always the same way, with stupid platitudes, useless apologies and no positive result. If I was going to die, there was no way I was going to do so in a hospital, with no consciousness of time, place, or even of self. A part of me even wished there was a way I could get in touch with Luka in order to say goodbye, but he was so worried about me, about Asgard finding out about me, I knew the chances of him visiting anytime soon weren't very high. So I'd rather not focus on that.

I wasn't expecting it when Aunt Kathryn told me where we were going next. I hadn't even gotten the chance to tell her I didn't want any more hospitals, any more doctors...

"I know you're tired of this, darling." She told me quietly. "I know it's been an awful three months. Just give me one more chance. There's one place where they might be able to help you. I promise you if it doesn't work we'll be going straight home."

She sounded so down, like someone holding onto her last hope... and then I realized that's exactly what she was. I was her niece, I was the only family she'd left. Her brother was gone, her parents were long gone (I never knew them); I didn't know her to have any other family and had never seen her meet with any friends. I was effectively all she'd left. So I agreed to give it another go, one more chance... I never expected that decision to bring us to Wakanda, or everything that would follow that particular choice.

We arrived to the International Airport of Wakanda two weeks after my fourteenth birthday. It had taken us that long because I'd suffered from a cold that laid me out for over a week. I still wasn't fully recovered, but Aunt Kathryn had insisted on us traveling as soon as possible, worried as she was about me getting worse. I had no idea why we were there, had never even heard about a country called Wakanda. Could have never known what was waiting for me there.

We were received by an imposing black woman in elegant African robes in shades of green. I knew instinctively that she was someone important and bowed my head respectfully at her.

"Your Majesty..." Aunt Kathryn bowed deeply at the woman. "I wasn't expecting this."

"We will always be happy to receive an esteemed guest such as yourself, Ekaterine." The woman greeted my aunt with honest respect, and something else I could quite place.

And then I noticed something else. A girl standing a couple of steps beside the woman (the queen, apparently). She looked to be about a decade older than me, and so very beautiful. She also reminded me of a dream I'd had several times, of a beautiful Egyptian warrior-princess... she looked nothing like my dream, but her aura was the same. I reacted automatically, holding my off-white long skirt loosely in a hand and doing the best curtsy I could in my weakened state.

"Your Highness..." I murmured quietly.

"So you told your young niece then?" The Queen inquired of my aunt.

"Your Majesty, aside from informing her we were coming to Wakanda, and the obvious reason for our coming, I told her nothing." My aunt admitted quietly.

"Really?" She turned her penetrating gaze towards me then. "How did you know then, young one? That the one standing behind me is my daughter, the Princess Shuri. Or did you guess?"

"I knew not for sure, your Majesty." I admitted quietly, not really looking at the floor, though not looking at her either. "But your daughter possesses an aura... I cannot quite explain it other than to say that she carries herself as one of high blood..."

"Interesting the way you choose to state it." The Queen just wouldn't stop staring at me. "Are you aware, young one, that the term 'high blood' is used to refer not only to those of royal blood, but also warriors?"

"I am aware, yes." I nodded, and before she actually had to ask, I added. "I meant it both ways."

The Queen nodded. I wasn't sure why it was so important, my choice of words, my knowledge of such terms; was just glad they didn't keep asking why I was using them (not sure saying it was due to a dream would have been an acceptable explanation...). That was the first time I talked to the Queen and Princess of Wakanda, the first but not the last.

I didn't understand then, how odd it all was, the fact that we, outsiders were being accepted in Wakanda. That doctors saw to me. That they agreed to give me the cure... because apparently Wakanda has a cure for cancer! One that is available to no one but their own citizens. In the end it was none other than Princess Shuri who explained it to me:

"Ekaterine has never told you, has she?" The young princess murmured as she sat on a comfy armchair beside my hospital bed. "The reason why she has our respect and regard. Why you're receiving the cure even though you're both technically outsiders..."

"No, I'm afraid I do not know the reason princess." I told her softly.

What I did know, at least, was why they kept calling her Ekaterine. Ekaterine Kasun was one of the aliases Aunt Kathryn had used while working for the government (I'd eventually come to learn that for most of that time she'd worked specifically for SHIELD), pretending to be a Serbian immigrant, sometimes a nurse, while in missions either in the Middle East or Africa (it was one of the few aliases she'd apparently used more than once).

"She saved my life." Shuri said simply, before elaborating. "Spring of 1995, a group of black ops from one of our enemy nations, possibly Latveria, infiltrated Wakanda. In the past they'd tried to conquer us by force, but it never worked. I was about twelve years old back then, almost thirteen. We don't know if I was their target all along, or if they'd been sent after my father or my brother and they simply failed in that task. My bodyguards were killed, my mother poisoned and I was kidnapped. From what I've been told they intended to ransom me, they wanted vibranium... which isn't exactly news." The princess shook her head. "Ekaterine found me in Uganda. I know not what it was that alerted her to the fact that something wasn't right. She'd finished her own mission, whatever it might have been. She somehow knew that something was wrong, saved me from my captors, and then brought me back to Wakanda herself. Without telling her superiors a thing. Her knowledge of nursing, mixed with her experience as an agent also meant she had the missing piece to produce a cure for my mother. So you see, your aunt managed to save not only the life of the princess of Wakanda, but also that of its Queen, which in turn meant she also saved the King in many ways. Us royals, the Panther tribe and Wakanda as a whole owe her a life-debt that seemed impossible to pay back... until today."

"That's why you're giving me the cure." I realized. "A life for a life."

"That might halve the debt, but it doesn't erase it, not completely." She added. "I realize this might seem a bit soon but... you will be offered a chance, to gain citizenship, if you wish it. I truly hope you will consider it."

"What about my aunt?" I was intrigued she hadn't been mentioned in that instance.

"She has citizenship, has had it for over a decade." She pointed out evenly. "Though, for obvious reasons, no one outside of Wakanda has ever known."

It was probably obvious in hindsight. I didn't give her my response then, didn't want to seem like I wasn't giving the matter the consideration it deserved; though I'm sure we both knew in that moment what my answer would be.

xXx

Four weeks later the cancer was gone, and I was legally Silbhé Kasun, daughter of Ekaterine Kasun, both of us citizens of Wakanda and part of the Panther Tribe (the same tribe to which the Royal Family belonged). I found it a bit odd, that on the day where I'd be usually celebrating the highest point of the Spring (for some reason I'd always liked and believed more in the 'wheel of the year' than the modern seasons), the Equinox, to Wakanda it actually marked the beginning of Autumn. It was also the beginning of the wet season.

While not everyone seemed to agree with two outsiders becoming citizens of Wakanda, we had most of the people on our side, even if it mostly was due to what Aunt... no, to what mom had done when I was a baby. I promised myself I would make her proud, as well as the tribe. So I dove straight into my studies. In the following year I'd learnt Wakandan, and the basics for a couple of other Bantu languages (and by that point I already knew more than half a dozen of other languages). At Queen Ramonda's and Princess Shuri's insistence I was sent to Oxford to study for five years, it was certainly an experience.

A week after my arrival to Oxford, Loki found me. I was kneeling on my small balcony (because I was sponsored by the royal family of Wakanda, I was given certain luxuries, like a room to myself); the first thing I'd done was buy a few roses and was trying to create a tiny garden, something that might remind of home (both of them, it was something mom had had built for me in Wakanda as well, while I was recovering from the surgery). I sensed the change, and then turned to find him standing in the middle of my room, examining his surroundings.

"Luka!" I cried out in delight as I rushed to him (I'd never say his real name out-loud).

It'd been more than a year since I'd last seen him, closer to eighteen months, and I was delighted to be seeing him again. Though that did not mean I forgot what he'd said about the risks of us meeting too often, of someone finding out about me.

"Is it safe?" I asked softly. "For you to be here?"

"It is." He assured me. "I cannot visit often, but I've made sure they won't be able to follow me. I will never do anything that may put you at risk, Nightingale."

"I believe you." I assured him.

"Why are you here and not back home?" He inquired, intrigued. "In your garden?"

I could tell he was looking at my poor excuse for roses. What I wasn't expecting was when a spell of his left them suddenly looking perfect. I didn't even know there were spells for such things!

"I'm enrolled in Oxford, for College." I explained to him. "I also don't live in the US anymore."

"I could tell." He nodded. "Why? What happened?"

I told him everything. Starting with the ill-fated vacation to Sicily, the yacht, the cancer... and ending with the eighteen months I'd been living in Wakanda thus far.

"Oh Nightingale..." He murmured, embracing me. "Great is my relief at know you're well, almost as great as my despair at discovering how close I came to losing you, and without being able to do a thing, or even knowing something was wrong at all. I knew not where you were!"

"Why not?" That confused me. "Have you never been in Wakanda, in Africa?"

"I've been to Africa, yes." He nodded. "I spent some time during my youth in Egypt, it was in the time of the pharaohs. Met men and women both great and terrible. As to Wakanda... I'm afraid that is not the kind of land where one as me can stride in uninvited."

"What...?" I wasn't expecting that.

"We Aesir are not the only gods to exist, Nightingale." He explained to me. "There are others, granted most exist no more. The ones your people call the Greek Gods depended on the faith of their worshipers, and when that failed, they were lost. It's actually how my own daughter, Hel, came to be in charge of the dead, after years of that realm being with no ruler, since the loss of Hades... Other gods chose to join their lives to those of mortals, such choices made them mortals, but it also allowed a part of them to live on, to this modern age even. The African gods did not mix their blood with humans, but they chose to pass on nonetheless, eventually. The power they left behind when moving on made a great many things possible, the magic that to this day hold the Sphinx and three pyramids of Giza is one such example. Another is the ward that keeps your new country free from interference from any 'outsiders' so to speak."

"So it's not only the isolationism." I realized. "There's more to it."

"I cannot set foot in a place like Wakanda without permission from its chosen guardian." Loki nodded. "And doing so would set off alarm bells neither of us are truly ready to deal with."

Which meant that as long as I was in Wakanda, I wouldn't be able to see him. And yet Wakanda was my country, even if I'd only been there for a year, I already loved it, loved the people in it, and I wouldn't give up on it, on them... Which meant that while I was studying college Loki and I'd be able to meet every so often (not too much, there was still a level of risk), but once I had to go back to Wakanda... we'd see.

xXx

In 2012 things got messy. I finished my studies, earned two Master Degrees, one in Sociology and the other in Applied Linguistics, as well as an Undergraduate Degree in History (I'd also finished rounding my languages into a perfect dozen: English, Spanish, Irish (Gaelic), Norse, Portuguese, Italian, French, German, Greek, Wakandan, Swahili, and a little bit of Rwandan and Russian (the last one was an enduring headache with me).

I could remember a time when I'd wanted to study History and Folklore, European Literature and Mythology (I'd even sent applications to a number of universities in the US), how I'd planned to one day help Loki connect with our world, when the existence of the Aesir was revealed. I'd hoped that might earn me a place with them... all of that had been pushed aside.

Mom, Shuri and two Dora Milaje had attended my graduation ceremony and we'd gone straight to Wakanda afterwards. I was ready to serve my country in the best way I could. Things had been tense for a month, ever since the sky had opened above New York and aliens had poured out. It had been shocking, especially when some of the footage had revealed that none other than Loki was leading the invasion. What the hell had happened?! I had no idea, but suspected it could be nothing good. The last time I'd heard from Loki was a year prior, in May, just before Thor's would-be coronation; then my Maverick had confessed to me he'd planned on doing 'something' to show his father how wrong an idea it was to make Thor King, that the blonde wasn't ready. I never saw him again. Didn't miss the mess that had gone down in New Mexico, or the rumors that there had been a lot more going on than a crashed satellite and a military test gone wrong.

However, that wasn't the worst part; no, the worst part was that I'd no way of finding out more about the situation, not the one from the year before, or from weeks earlier; or even trying to help in any way. My love was in a heap lot of trouble, and there was nothing I could do about it! (Not that he even knew he was my love... and I so regretted not telling him that last night I had with him... what if I never got another chance?!) Still, there was just nothing I could do about any of that, so I somehow forced myself to push all that away, to focus instead on what I could do, and that was fulfill my duties to my tribe and to my country. So I went back to Wakanda and tried to find a place for myself.

It wasn't easy. Mom had had five years to find her niche, and the people had already loved her dearly before that. She worked as a nurse for the Panther Tribe, and even trained with the Dora Milaje whenever she could. She'd proven herself, as both a healer and a warrior, and they respected that. Me? I was a white girl, a member of the Panther Tribe who wasn't really a warrior, or a royal. None of them could really even see how my chosen degrees were supposed to help.

And then, completely by accident, I happened to be walking down a hallway when I overheard a group from Mohannda, who were there to do business, talking among themselves. They were talking in a mix of Rundi and Rwandan, and while I only knew the latter, I understood enough of Bantu languages in general to be fairly confident of what they were discussing, it wasn't good.

"Are you sure, Silbhé?" Mom asked, worriedly.

We were standing in Queen Ramonda's private sitting room, the three of us, as well as Princess Shuri and several Dora Milaje. I couldn't even think of a way to bring my findings to the King, or Prince T'Challa (who was the one actually dealing with negotiations), but I couldn't just keep quiet. Not when it was against my tribe and my country.

"I am, Ikumkani wam (my Queen)." I bowed my head at her. "It's... it's about more than just the words I heard. It's... it's in them, their presence, their aura. They wish to do harm to Wakanda, not through violence, but through a deal that will not help us. It might not seem obvious now, but I just know if this business goes through, we will all come to regret it."

"I believe her, umama (mother)." Shuri offered. "If Silbhé believes the outsiders wish harm to Wakanda through this business, then it cannot be allowed to go through."

I never knew what was said, exactly, between the royals. The businessmen were sent away by the afternoon, and soon it was made public that 'negotiations had gone sour'. It also eventually came out that the deal the group was trying to make, which would have required a group of Wakandan scientists working with some of their country, was but an excuse for some spying to be done into our technologies...

It was more than I imagined when I overheard a piece of conversation, but I'd been right.

That little event didn't exactly buy me a place in Wakanda, but at least the people began to accept that I was loyal to the country, to the tribe. That the color of my skin, my name, mattered little when compared to that. I saw it as a good start. I also made a point of mingling with other people more, trying to get them used to me, to stop seeing me as an outsider and instead as one of them.

Eventually I found a 'job' of sorts, and began teaching European languages to the princes and the Dora Milaje. They each knew some already, but were always interested in learning more. And so I came to be almost like their tutor (regardless of the fact that I was a decade younger than the princess, and that and a half more younger than the prince). I also applied myself to learning more African dialects (and to finish learning Russian once and for all), so I might be ready for the future, whatever form it might take. Every once in a while I'd remember Loki and wonder what had gone wrong with him; but I knew there was nothing I could do about him, I had to focus instead on the things I could do. All in all, it was a good life.

I learned to fight, of course; though defensive techniques only. Mostly because my duties meant that I was in the company of one or more members of the royal family most of the time, and it was considered a good idea, for both my own protection and theirs. Of course the fact that I was barely an inch over five feet tall didn't do much for me, but I still did my best. I trained hard with Teela, the only Dora Milaje who seemed to really like me. She was one of Princess Shuri's bodyguards, along with Nakia; she was also the leader of the Midnight Angels, a top-secret sub-group of the Dora Milaje, which I saw as their equivalent of the black ops.

Two years after my return to Wakanda, things changed again, in ways I could have never planned for. Shuri (she insisted I only use her title when necessary), Teela, Nakia and I were in the market. It was the day of the month when luxury items from other countries were on sale, and we were looking for presents for mom, her birthday was fast approaching.

When the attack came, we didn't see it coming. There were several small explosions, followed by a bigger one, something had apparently gone wrong in the fireworks stall. (And we'd been standing before it just a minute before! If we'd taken any longer...). Nakia and Teela rushed us away from the stall, letting other people approach to try and help those who'd been seeing to it.

"We need to call my brother, he'll send some help..." Shuri murmured.

She broke off as Teela hit the ground, hard, blood on her temple. By the time I realized something was very wrong, it was too late. I barely got a fraction of a second to see Shuri's betrayed expression as she fell, and then consciousness was robbed from me as well.

xXx

I went from unconscious to conscious in a heartbeat, hand automatically reaching to a delicate-looking (but actually quite stern) silvery chain around my neck, from which a silvery pendant of a bird with its wings open hung. It was a nightingale pendant, a small, seemingly innocuous present that had arrived for me through a courier the day before my graduation. I had no doubt about who had sent it, and could even imagine why he'd chosen such a method to get it to me... still didn't explain had the hell had brought him to leading an alien invasion on New York!

It was a bit of a surprise when I woke up first. Shuri, even being a princess, was very much a warrior; there was a very good reason why she'd been chosen to be the next Black Panther once the current holder of the title, her brother T'Challa, had to step down. It was actually a bit of an anomaly that one man held the title of King, and another that of Black Panther (protector of Wakanda and leader of our tribe); but T'Challa didn't believe himself ready to hold the mantle of King, along with his other responsibilities; and King T'Chaka did not mind giving his son more time to get used to his current duties before adding yet another one.

In any case, Shuri was a warrior, literally the second best warrior of our tribe, and quite possibly of Wakanda as a whole... yet I'd woken first. Something told me that somehow, impossible as it might seem, the pendant was connected (not an impossible option considering who exactly had given -or sent- it to me).

I opened my eyes just a sliver, seeking to try and see something without any possible 'enemies' seeing I was awake. I also focused on my hearing. For the longest time I got nothing, and then the voices approached. One of them belonged to Nakia, and while one side of my brain was busy processing the fact that one of the Dora Milaje had apparently betrayed us, the other side was fully focused on the ones approaching, trying to learn as much as I could from them. It wasn't good, they didn't speak Wakandan, or Swahili, or any of the better known Bantu dialects, rather one of the more obscure versions. I knew enough dialects to piece together a few things, but not everything. What I did learn wasn't good though: Nakia was, indeed, a traitor. Only I wasn't part of the plan. Shuri was the target, she was supposed to help with kidnapping the princess, and then use her against King T'Chaka; I should have been left behind, like Teela, either that or killed. But Nakia had something against me (I'd no idea what) and so she'd taken me too. I just hoped that I'd be able to use that in my favor at some point.

Eventually the voices drew away. I waited until I was reasonably sure there was no one around and then, pretending to just be waking up, I sat up. I soon realized I was in a cell; or more precisely, a cellar or a big cupboard or something like that, that had been re-purposed into a cell. There was a single door, no windows and no way to open said door from the inside. I didn't bother with that. I also had no idea where Shuri was, only knew she had to be nearby.

The next few hours passed in a sort-of game. I took to speaking loudly, sometimes even calling out in every language I knew. Not stopping or changing it until I got some kind of response. I went in order of learning, was just about to try Russian, when the door was abruptly opened and two quite huge men stepped into my 'cell' (nevermind that I was so small). I gave a step back, considering. I was still in the exact same clothes I'd been wearing in the market, and since it was the middle of winter that meant a rather heavy floor-length skirt (brown with near-geometrical flowers printed in shades of purple), a brown long-sleeved blouse and knitted, dark purple shawl with some elegant designs in lighter shades of the same color. Dark leather boots finished my ensemble. My short dark-auburn hair was held somewhat loose, I was missing half the pins I usually put in it to keep it in place, but I consoled myself with the fact that it wasn't a complete loss. What no one knew was that beneath the skirt I was wearing leggings, that there was a thin, stiletto dagger hidden in my right boot, or that the pins in my hair doubled as either lockpins or lesser weapons as necessary. Not much, in the grand scheme of things, but still something.

I didn't even consider doing something right then, knowing that even if I took the big brutes down, I still had no idea where Shuri was, or where we were; I couldn't attempt a full escape without those two. So instead I adopted a slouched posture, making them see me as less than I truly was; as a small, helpless girl. Then Nakia appeared.

"What?" She asked, practically scoffed at me. "You're not even going to try and fight your way out? You're such a weakling... I told Teela you were unworthy, unworthy to be seen as an honorary Dora Milaje, and as a suitor!"

I blinked, I just couldn't help myself... suitor?!

"Think I'm stupid?" She challenged. "Of course I know. And I shall never allow an outsider, a white, weak little girl such as you to steal our Prince, to take our crown..."

She was absolutely insane! I could tell, by the way her volume went steadily up, the way she became angrier the more she spoke, that she truly believed every word she said. She thought I wanted T'Challa, wanted to marry him, to be Wakanda's Queen... that was ridiculous! I had nothing against him, of course not, but he just wasn't my type! (Also, I was very much in love with someone else already... even if no one, not even he, knew). Nakia also grew angrier as I failed to respond to her words. Next thing I knew I was going down, result of a rather vicious backhand against me.

It didn't actually hurt that much, the surprise far exceeded the pain. But I played it up, knowing that it was better to be underestimated.

The two brutes manhandled me out of the pseudo-cell, down several hallways (at times escorting me, at times pretty much dragging me... and what could I do? They moved faster than I could really keep up, for the most part). We eventually made it to another room, one that had three different locks, two of them that could only be outside, by the look of things. There was a window on the door, with thick, somewhat dirty glass, and bars. I was summarily thrown inside, with no care to the fact that my wrists were chained together, which in turn made balance difficult, causing me to fall almost on my face. The door was slammed close behind me.

"Silbhé!" I recognized Shuri's voice instantly. "Oh thank the Panther God you're alive! I thought you to be dead. Oh Spirits! Teela..."

"Teela's alive, princess." I interrupted her, not quite realizing I'd just interrupted the princess of Wakanda, my princess, until I'd already done it, I could only wince.

"She's alive!" Shuri was delighted by the fact.

"They had no interest in her." I shrugged slightly as I managed to sit up straight. "Actually, they only had interest in you... I was a bonus of sorts."

I managed to see her properly then. The princess was chained, much like I was, except she also had an ankle chained to a wall. Like a bloody animal! All my instincts screamed at me to fight. It was odd, because I wasn't a violent person. The second reason why I'd never been able to truly learn to fight, beyond defensive techniques, was because I simply didn't have the instincts for it. But in that moment my desire was to protect one I saw as dear to me, as family, and to achieve that I was willing to do anything.

Shuri was wearing a beautiful sunflower yellow long-sleeved, floor-length dress, with a strip of cloth in several colors of the rainbow falling down the left side of her body, and over her left arm. Another strip of similar cloth had been around her head, but no more. I could also see the tears in her clothes, it enraged me.

"Inkosazana (princess)..." I began, very softly.

"I've told you before, call me Shuri..." She murmured, just as softly.

"For this, I'll need to do it this way." I insisted, then switched fully to Wakandan as I recited: "Inkosazana yam (my princess), will you let me be your shield? Will you let me be your blade? Will you allow me the honor to serve you?"

They were words I knew well, words I didn't truly have the right to pronounce. I wasn't Dora Milaje, I could never be; but my princess needed someone to protect her. It was something I would do, regardless of any protocols. But I wanted her to see, to understand how seriously I took the situation we were in.

"I will stand behind your shield, I will guide your blade and I will honor your service with the promise to never betray your faith in me." She eventually responded the right way.

She didn't ask if it was truly what I wanted, she knew me enough.

Then we got down to talking. My little experiment the previous hours had provided me some very valuable information. The fact that those involved were from several countries, they had knowledge in a variety of languages; in fact, the only ones I'd gotten no response to, at all, was Irish and Norse. Thankfully Shuri knew Irish, so that meant we had a way to communicate without alerting others to what we were saying. I also knew what Nakia had given away, her belief of my intentions regarding T'Challa... I suspected that had influenced her decision of taking me along, though I still did not understand why.

"Nakia... she fancies my brother." Shuri explained after I said that (we were talking completely in Irish by then). "She always has. At first it didn't seem that bad. It's not like she's the only one to ever fancy him. Years ago, before we ever met you, my brother was in a relationship with an American called Monica Lynner. They were set to marry, until she broke off the engagement, for reasons known only to the two of them. A year before you came to us the two of them met again, one of our father's enemies tried to use her against T'Challa. It seemed like the romance might be reviving... until Monica disappeared under odd circumstances. Rumors reached me that someone might have gotten rid of her, in an attempt to 'protect' my brother. But I refused to believe such rumors. She'd already left him once, I believed her fully capable of doing so again." She let out a breath. "I'm not so sure anymore. Nakia... I would have never believed her capable of betrayal, and yet here we are..."

She broke off then. I knew what she was thinking, even if I couldn't really get my head around it. The Dora Milaje had always seemed like the example of unity, honor and loyalty to me, a very representative fraction of the whole of Wakanda, the envoys of each of their tribes... though perhaps that, right there, should have been a warning. After all, the tribes weren't completely united, they never had been. Though, thus far that hadn't seemed to really be a problem.

It was three days before we were faced with the one responsible for our kidnapping. I didn't say a word when she went in just ahead of Nakia. When she exchanged heated words with Shuri, my princess. I just stayed on the floor, beside the cot where Shuri sat, curled up on myself, keeping to all appearances like the small, weak girl our captors expected me to be. The princess didn't quite understand why I insisted on that, but didn't argue on it.

The two statuesque women only turned to look at me a moment before leaving. I didn't really understand the world that was said, but the widening of Shuri's eyes, and the half-snarl that seemed to abandon her lips instinctively told me it couldn't be anything good. I was right.

"They're planning to subject you to ritual combat." Shuri informed me the moment we were alone again. "One that will be transmitted, live, to all of Wakanda. Then they'll express their demands, while still holding me hostage."

"When are they planning this?" I asked, oddly calm, all things considered.

"Two days." She answered, looking at me oddly, like she didn't expect me not to panic. "They need to get everything ready."

"Two days..." I repeated absently, nodding mostly to myself. "Good thing I don't plan on us being here by then."

"You have a plan then?" Her eyes narrowed in concentration.

"I've had a plan practically since the moment I stepped into the room." I deadpanned. "But first I needed to understand more about our situation. I still have no idea where we are exactly, but I suppose that cannot be helped." That reminded me of something else. "Who was that?"

Shuri didn't really need me to elaborate. The question was obvious enough.

"Her name is T'Channa." She answered honestly. "This is something else that precedes your coming to Wakanda. Years ago she tried to get into the royal family herself, not by gaining my brother's regard, but by claiming to be of our own blood."

"What...?!" I wasn't expecting that.

"She claimed to be our half-sister." Shuri nodded, then made a pause before adding. "She's only a year younger than T'Challa."

The implications of that hit me like a bucket of iced water. Everyone knew how much King T'Chaka had loved his first wife, Queen N'Yami, the prince's mother, who'd died in childbirth. It wasn't that he didn't love Queen Ramonda, because of course he did, but it had taken him a long time to even consider the possibility of loving someone again... to then imply that he'd in fact been with someone less than a year after his first wife's death... it was ridiculous, beyond ridiculous, it was an impossibility!

"Exactly." I hadn't said any of it out-loud, but apparently I didn't need to. "Of course, Wakanda has good enough technology that it was child's play to prove her lie. She didn't like it. She'd hoped to have enough time to get people to like her, to believe her despite any tests; that didn't happen. As we later learned, her mother was of high-blood, member of the Ape Tribe; there was a time, when Father was younger, when the suggestion was made, for him to marry her in order to better secure Wakanda's peace; but father fell in love with T'Challa's mother, and Wakanda will never force one of its citizens into an unwilling marriage. Asya did not like that. When Queen N'Yami passed she pushed for a political match for a second marriage, even tried to get involved with the raising of T'Challa, at a time when Father was so drowned by grief... thankfully his own brother took steps. It was how Mother came to be in the palace, she was initially hired to help care for T'Challa. When Father eventually fell in love with her and made her his second wife..."

"Asya must have snapped." I nodded in understanding. "What about T'Channa, is she tribe?"

"She'd have been." Shuri admitted. "Her sire certainly was. A warrior of our own tribe, one of the candidates for Black Panther, the one that came closest to taking the title from Father, actually. Themba was a good man, gave his life for Father's, in the same battle that left our King unable to don the mantle of Black Panther again."

I knew what she spoke of. The battle where many warriors had died, where King T'Chaka had almost died. Prince S'Yan, the King's brother had taken his place as Black Panther, though had never allowed the tribe to see him as leader, or the crown to be anyone's but his brother's. It would take a few years, but eventually the day would come when T'Challa would take both the title of Black Panther, and that of tribe leader, while still leaving the one of King to his father. I thought it was a good thing, each man knew where they belonged.

"So, T'Channa is obsessed because she's not allowed to play princess, Nakia... pretty much the same except she wants to be bride..." I summarized, a wicked grin beginning to appear. "Do any of them realize how incompatible their aims are?"

Shuri blinked, it was possible the thought hadn't occurred to her before, we both laughed.

"So, you say we're getting out of here..." She commented off-handedly. "Any plans on how we're going to do that?"

"A few." I nodded evenly. "How good are you at climbing, inkosazana (princess)?"

"Trees?" She still seemed to be confused.

"It would be my preference, but I believe we'll be left climbing through the concrete jungle this time." I deadpanned.

That certainly served to give away what I was planning. If she thought I was insane (which I certainly thought I was) she said nothing, Shuri probably realized we didn't really have a lot of options. Time was running out.

We waited one more day. To better calculate the times between patrols, and to rest, for we both knew once we began running, we might not be able to stop in a good while.

xXx

We escaped an hour or so before dawn. It was the best time, while it wouldn't take long for a patrol to realize we were gone, I was expecting that the late hour would make them slower; it'd also make it less likely for people to get in the way and in danger. We still had no idea where we were, but had to be ready for both a bustling city or an empty dessert.

As it turned out, it was a little bit of both. When the time came I shrugged off my long skirt, as it would only get in the way. I tore it into pieces and created a simile of a rope out of it, tying it to the most secure spot I could find, close to the window.

"I thought we'd be climbing." Shuri commented as she looked down.

"We are." I nodded. "I'm not even sure that thing would support our weight. It's meant to be a decoy. Hopefully those who see it will expect us to have gone down, to be on ground-level."

"And meanwhile, we'll be on the roofs." Shuri finished for me.

"Exactly." I nodded. "Time to go."

The window was broken already. She'd made sure of that the day before. Breaking it during what we passed as a tantrum. It hadn't been repaired, as our captors thought a bit of cold air would work well enough as punishment, they'd no idea.

So we slipped out, onto the ledge. It was probably the first time in my whole life that I was thankful for being so small. Shuri wasn't exactly small, but she was lithe and very nimble. We took advantage of that. Soon enough we were running.

As it turned out, we were in the outskirts of a city, and not just any city. We were in Alexandria. Something told me that it wasn't a coincidence. We had been moved through countries, and it wouldn't have stopped there; no, probably after my death they'd have moved Shuri again, most likely across the Mediterranean, to somewhere in Europe. A corner of my mind whispered Latveria; I wasn't ignorant to the animosity between both nations, though if Doom was really involved... then things might be bigger than I expected.

There was no time for us to focus on that. We needed to keep on the move. It took us three days, walking as long as our bodies could endure it, avoiding highways and places with too many people. We had no idea all the people that might be involved, and the only hope we had was making it to the Wakandan embassy in Cairo before we were found (Egypt was one of the few countries with such an embassy, considering that Wakanda was still pretty isolationist).

Of course things had to go wrong in the end, because why wouldn't they? We couldn't keep avoiding roads and people once we made it to Cairo. Less than five minutes after reaching the city we were running for our lives. The fact that our pursuers soon began shooting at us didn't help us any, either.

I saw from the corner of my eye the moment someone ordered the shooting to stop. They had probably realized that killing the princess of Wakanda wouldn't help them. The order didn't reach one of them fast enough, though. I saw the bullet... I didn't even think about it, the decision was made before anything even happened. Shuri was my princess, but more than that, she was my friend, the closest thing I had to a sister, I would protect her. So I dropped from the ledge I was on, sooner that I'd have otherwise, and straight into the path of the bullet. The pain with my back was pretty bad; the worst part though, was that the impact of the bullet was hard enough to throw me off course. Instead of dropping onto the rooftop were Shuri had just landed (from where she was staring at me, horrified), I fell off the side of the building, in the direction of the street. Thankfully the pain from the bullet-wound was enough to knock me out just a moment later (the last thing I wanted was to be conscious when my body hit the ground).

xXx

Surprisingly enough (for me, especially) I woke up. I was still, not quite there, though I heard some voices in my vicinity:

"You did not tell me she was an Old Soul!" A low, female voice called intensely.

"Because I did not know!" A second voice, lower, almost dark, and full of authority, replied.

"Girls..." A male voice intervened.

I recognized that voice, it made me react before I fully knew what I was doing or saying:

"Sharifa? Kontar?" I mumbled, beginning to open my eyes very slowly.

"I am here, Rossi..." The same male voice murmured, softening as he spoke directly to me.

"Rossi?" The second female voice inquired, curious.

"Rossignol, the name by which my consort and I knew her, many lifetimes ago." The man stated, I sensed the moment when he turned his attention back to me. "The name in this life is Carter Hall. As, I believe, yours is Silbhé Kasun."

He did not mention Sharifa, not a new name, or anything else, I knew not to ask, and not just because of an instinct, as I usually did. In that moment I could literally feel the pain, like some kind of... something, simmering just beneath his skin.

And it wasn't just his feelings, I could sense the confusion, mingled with worry and relief from Shuri, and a mix of wonder and shock from the other young woman.

"The other girl you've heard is Kendra, she's my daughter." Kontar... no, Carter, informed me.

"So what? You knew Silbhé a lifetime ago?" Shuri wanted explanations.

"Not only her, Serrure as well." Kontar clarified. "Her consort."

His words pushed memories to the forefront of my mind, both new and old. My love, not just in one life, but in every life... though I only remembered two. And as shocking as it could have been (and in a way it most definitely was), to think about having once been an elven princess, falling in love with a prince of Asgard, marrying him, giving him a daughter, only to later on die at the hands of an insane, jealous bitch of an Enchantress... My focus wasn't really on that, though, I'd have time to fully incorporate the memories of my old life; no, in that moment my focus was on a more recent memory of mine, a beautiful reunion...

When I first recovered awareness of self I wasn't quite sure if I was dead or alive, finding myself surrounded by mists that seemed to defy the natural laws (in that I could see them but couldn't really feel them, most of all), pointed to the former. Then, as if that thought weren't bad enough, I heard a voice I knew all-too-well, right behind me:

"Nightingale?!"

I spun around, only then noticing the fact that I wasn't wearing the tight, warm clothes I'd been wearing during our crazy run across Egypt for three days; instead I was wearing a sleeveless, floor-length princess-style pale-lilac gown with a white sash, thin soled, white slippers on my feet; also, my hair felt a bit longer than I usually kept it.

"Loki?! Wha...? How are you here...?!" I was in shock (the fact that I'd gone down while running across rooftops for my life, and trying to keep someone I saw as a sister safe probably wasn't helping matters any). "Where is here?!"

"The edge of Helheim... you shouldn't be here Nightingale..." Loki murmured, moving to stand before me, but not quite reaching to touch me.

"I sussed as much." I nodded half-absently. "I got shot... I think I might have died."

"I know." He nodded grimly at me. "I sensed it." He signaled at the pendant I was still wearing. "I put a lot of protective magic on that pendant, it was intended to keep you safe... it wasn't quite enough this time." He shook his head. "You aren't dead though, someone managed to pull you back before you could fully cross over."

There was something he wasn't telling me. I knew it, could sense it somehow, I could almost feel the anticipation in the air...

"That cannot be all." I said out-loud. "Me almost dying would explain my standing on the edge of Helheim, but not you. What's happened to you, my Maverick?"

"I've been here for a while." He admitted with a slight shrug.

"What?! Why?!"

"Got sentenced to the pit after the events in New York. Unsurprisingly, no one bothered to ask why I did the things I did... I'm the monster after all..."

"You're not a monster!" The words were out of my mouth before I could think better of it, and certainly louder than I ever intended (not that regretted either).

"Nightingale..." He began, obviously surprised by my vehemence.

"I mean every word."

"You cannot know that. There are things you don't know about me, about what I am..."

"I know all that matters. I know who you are, my Maverick, that's all that really matters."

It was then that he finally caught onto something.

"Yours...?"

"Mine." I didn't allow the embarrassment to control me. "If you'll allow it."

"There's nothing I'd wish more... but there are things you need to know first."

He told me then, everything. His plan to show Thor's true colors, how wrong it had gone, Thor's exile, the Allfather falling into the Odinsleep, Loki's own unexpected chance to be King, the way everyone seemed to be waiting for him to show he was a monster. And the reason, the fact that he was no Odison, not by birth; no, instead he'd been born the son of Laufey, King of the Jotuns...

I was actually rendered speechless the moment I wanted his skin change before my eyes. From pale alabaster to dark indigo, with darker tribal-like markings. His eyes went from jade green on white to oil black on red, and they stared straight at me, as he waited for my judgment. My reaction was instinctive, as I raised a hand and traced his face with just the tips of my fingers. His shock was such he didn't even try pulling away.

"You're amazing..." I breathed. "You change so much... yet not at all." He looked at me like I was crazy. "Yes, your coloring is completely different, but beneath that it's still you. I can still see you Loki. You're still the same man... and yes, I mean man, I care not about the specifics of your genetic code... You're still the same man I've known for years, the man I love..."

I didn't quite see him move, but from one moment to the next I found myself in his arms, my body cradled against his chest... he held me like I was precious, and so very fragile, yet at the same time kissed me with enough passion to melt ice... it certainly melted his skin, back to the image I knew better of him.

"When I went back to Wakanda... after the mess in NY and everything else, all I could think was how stupid I'd been not to tell you I loved you." I admitted very quietly. "That last day we had in Oxfordshire, when we went to the theater and the private dinner... I should have told you then, but I was too afraid. That you might think me too young, that I might not be enough... then the nightmares... there were nights when I thought you dead, and my heart broke a little more each and every one. And now you're here..."

I'd no idea where the words came from, but suddenly I was hearing them, and something told me it was the right thing to do, so I began echoing them:

"I promise you that from this day on, you will be my only one. I shall look at no other the way I look at you, I shall think of no other the way I think about you, I shall talk to no other the way I talk to you, I shall desire no other the way I desire you, and I shall with no other the way I lay with you. I shall be with no other for you are now and forever shall be my one and only; my friend, my lover, my partner, my match..."

I was vaguely aware of the ribbon-like filaments of colorful light, almost like solid magic, that seemed to burst from inside my very soul and then latched onto him. I could feel them, deep inside; a connection. There was something missing, though I couldn't pin-point what, and I had no time for it, as Loki was calling to me:

"My Nightingale..." He whispered, voice a mix of awe and confusion. "Are you aware of what you just did?"

"What felt right." I answered simply.

"Those were the Ancient Vows." He explained. "You just tied yourself to me, not just for this life, but for every single one..."

"Wouldn't be the first time." Yet again the words were out of my mouth before I could stop and think about them (not like they felt wrong or anything).

His eyes narrowed, and for a moment I thought he would deny it; in the end he did none of that, instead he entwined our hands together, left to left and right to right. Our bodies forming a vague infinity symbol, though I wasn't really focusing on that. Because right then all my attention was on the words coming out of my love's mouth:

"I promise you that from this day on, you will be my only one. I shall look at no other the way I look at you, I shall think of no other the way I think about you, I shall talk to no other the way I talk to you, I shall desire no other the way I desire you, and I shall with no other the way I lay with you. I shall be with no other for you are now and forever shall be my one and only; my friend, my lover, my partner, my match..."

As the second set of ribbons burst into existence and then bound us together, this time from him to me, I felt something settle deep in my soul. That was what I'd been missing. And yet, even as the bond took, a corner of my heart kept insisting it wasn't the first time I felt like that. I'd felt it before... just like I'd pronounced those vows before. And then it came... all of it: it was probably a good thing we were holding onto each other, probably the only reason we didn't collapse the moment the rush of images, sounds and feelings hit us both. It was breathtaking, a whole lifetime worth of moments, of experiences. I'd been right, that wasn't the first time we'd pronounced those vows, we'd been together before, had always been meant to find each other again.

As the memories fit themselves into the back of my head, a particular one called my attention: one that was in no way romantic, yet meant so much more, to me, but especially to my match:

"You need to talk to your family, love." I told him softly. "I know so much has gone wrong, but it's not their fault. Not yours either. You need to really talk to one another."

"What's the point?" He scoffed. "They don't remember anything!"

"Neither did we, until a minute ago..." I reminded him calmly. "I have a feeling things are about to change, a lot..."

"I will try." It was the best he was ready and willing to promise me.

For a minute or so neither of us said a word, we just stood there. Internally sorting out things, memories, trying to better understand them, and what they meant for each of us. There was one thing I knew for certain, though:

"I cannot just leave." I told him quietly. "I love you my Maverick, you know I do. But Wakanda, King T'Chaka and his family... they've just done so much for me... I will not forsake them."

"I know you won't." Loki assured me. "You wouldn't be the woman I love if you did." He kissed my hair tenderly. "But promise me you'll take better care of yourself, my beloved. I do not want our next meeting to be in this realm again."

I had to agree with that completely. Much as I loved seeing him, I did not want to get so close to death any time soon.

One (other) good thing came from being in Helheim though, I got the chance to see my beloved light, my darling daughter again... that made it worth it.

"Are you back with us, Rossi?" Kontar's... no, Carter's voice brought me back to the present. "Should I call for a doctor again...?"

"I'm here Carter." I muttered, taking a deep breath before slowly opening my eyes. "And the name is Silbhé, nowadays. I haven't been Rossi in centuries."

I saw him shrug. I could imagine the reason. He'd lived so many lives... separate names had probably become a bit superfluous to him.

A couple of feet behind and to a side of him was a young woman (a girl, really, even though I probably looked young and small, I was confident she was younger), in an off-white long sleeved blouse, khaki pants, tanned-leather ankle boots; her eyes were dark brown, almost golden in a certain light, her straight, ebony black hair was half-covered by the long, black scarf wound around her neck, the same I imagined she used as a veil while out in the city.

"That is my daughter, Kendra." Carter informed me evenly. "The last gift my Shayera left me before she was lost to me, again..."

"You'll see her again Kontar." I told him, purposefully using the name of his other life.

"You sure about that?" He arched a brow, almost challenging.

"Matches cannot be apart for long." I stated confidently as I sat up.

Shuri went to help me as I was doing that, and it was then that I could finally look at her. She was wearing black pants, a long-sleeved tunic-style forest-green blouse, black boots, and a gray scarf around her neck.

"Oh Inkosazana yam (my princess), how happy I am to see you!" I didn't even notice that when I began babbling, I did so in Wakandan. "I was so afraid something might have happened to you..."

"Something mi..." Shuri interrupted me, before breaking off herself, I wasn't quite sure if she was dismayed or outright livid. "You almost died Silbhé! You almost died and it was all my fault!"

"No Shuri." I forced myself to focus. "Not your fault, never your fault. My choice."

"I take it back." She stated abruptly, completely serious. "I don't want you as my guardian, no shield, no blade from you, not if that means I will end with your blood in my hands. I'd rather have you as my sister, by my side."

"Being your sister would be a great honor to me Shuri..." I purposefully used her name to show her I was serious, and not just saying things because they were the right thing to say. "But you must know that even a change in title wouldn't stop me from doing everything in my power to keep you safe. I don't do it out of duty; it's my choice, a choice I would repeat time and again, without any regrets."

"And if you died?!" She demanded.

I didn't dare answer. Just the day before I would have said it would have been worth it, and not hesitated for a second. And while a part of me still believed that... there was another that was aware (oh so painfully aware) of what my loss would do to some people: to mom, as we were the only family the other had left; to Shuri, for whom I'd have died; and most of all, to my beloved match, we'd only found one another once again...

Shuri just nodded, seemingly taking my silence as enough of an answer.

"Don't throw your life away, ever." She stated seriously, before crushing me in a hug.

It hurt a bit. I was still considerably sore. While I hadn't actually hit the pavement, like I thought I would when the bullet threw me off course, and the bullet-wound itself hadn't killed me, thanks to all the protective spells on my nightingale pendant; I still hadn't walked away scoot-free. As I later learned, it was Kendra who saved me. She and Carter had become aware something dangerous was going on and went to check it out. Donning the beautiful golden-brown wings that had once belonged to her mother, she had been the one who caught me. The angle had been a bit off though, and we'd collided with a bit more force that recommended (and while she had a degree of enhancement, which allowed her to be mostly unaffected, such wasn't the case with me... I'd felt it all. Still, I would heal, which was more than I could say would have happened if I'd actually hit the ground so...).

xXx

Things got really interesting the following days, if I did say so myself. Shuri and I discovered that we'd been kidnapped a total of five days; then there had been the three days we'd spent running across Egypt; I'd spent a full day unconscious in the Hall's house. Even when I woke up, could speak and move I was still seriously week, so it was really no surprise that we'd to wait until the end of the week to go back to Wakanda.

T'Challa and mom arrived to Cairo but hours after I woke up. Having been informed of where we were and what had happened as soon as Shuri could get her head on straight (apparently she'd been more than a bit hysterical when seeing me fall). And that was when things got really, really interesting. T'Challa and the Halls knew each other! And not just that, Kendra was promised to T'Challa in marriage.

Not an arranged marriage, of course not, I knew Carter would have never allowed something like that. They were a match. Apparently T'Challa had spent some time in the US (both before and after Monica Lynne). He and Kendra had met at some point, but she'd been too young. Still, the two of them knew they were meant to be together, and while it had taken them a while to deal with everything that implied: Kendra, initially feeling like her choices were being made for her, and T'Challa, fearing their difference in ages to be too great. Things had gotten better. The two really had a lot in common, and their differences only allowed them to complement each other beautifully. Shuri already loved Kendra like a sister.

Kendra was still young, though, nineteen years old. She had two years to go before she was finished with her schooling, she was aiming for a Master Degree in International Relations, with an Undergrad in Law, to help. The plan was for her to do that, and once she was done, she would be moving to Wakanda, joining the panther Tribe and taking a year to get to know her new country and people before marrying T'Challa and officially taking her place at his side.

Another interesting development was when I discovered I'd acquired several tattoos, seemingly overnight. First (and more importantly), was the black one that formed a claddagh ring on the base of my left ring finger: the best kind of wedding band I could have ever asked for. Second was the runic 'bracelet' of sorts that went around my right wrist; Nordic runes, the main of which was a double infinity in a black ink that looked almost green in a certain light, that one seemed to have been almost engraved on my skin, rather than just painted on it, it was on the inside of my wrist. The last one was a bird, a nightingale, only the colors were much darker than the real birds, blue and brown, shades so dark they looked almost black; that one was in the nape of my neck, just high enough to be mostly hidden by my hair. The first two I understood easily enough, the third... I was confused until I remembered something my Maverick had said right before I left his side to return to the real world:

"It would seem the gods like you..."

He'd run a finger down the back of my neck as he said that too... I just hadn't realized there was any special meaning beside the words. Thinking he meant himself, rather than a deity from a different pantheon... the tiny glyph for guardian painted on the half-extended wing explained that part, at least.

Also, I did not know it then, wouldn't know it for a while, but T'Challa, Shuri, Kendra and Carter went hunting, while I was recovering, with mom by my bedside. They went after those who'd tried to kill us. Their intention was never actually to kill them (though I was later reassured that, had I been permanently hurt, or worse, their response would have been much stronger). Still, by the time they tracked down the place where we'd been they found only the remains of a massacre, one caused by Doombots (Lady Doom, was what T'Channa was called... and wasn't that telling?). All the thugs were dead. A fight still broke out, and in the end T'Challa was more-or-less forced to kill Nakia after she knocked Shuri down and tried to hurt Kendra. T'Channa fell off the bridge where they somehow ended and into the Nile... hard as they tried they couldn't find the body (though they suspected she wasn't dead... she was too crafty for that).

So yeah, quite the interesting few days, all things told.

xXx

We got the warmest and cheeriest reception I could have ever expected, when we got back to Wakanda. I certainly wasn't expecting it when, dropping any and every sense of protocol and royal decorum, Queen Ramonda practically rushed in our direction, and then she went to embrace not Shuri, but me, tightly.

"Ikumkani wam (My Queen)..." I gasped, not having been expecting that, at all.

"Thank you..." She whispered straight into my ear, also in Wakandan. "Thank you so very much, intaka encinane (little bird)..."

The moment she saw those words I knew she'd seen the tattoo on my neck.

"Welcome home," King T'Chaka was suddenly beside his wife, looking at me with so much love I was speechless. "Intomba (Daughter)..."

I couldn't find words, could hardly breath, I recognized the offered in that single word, and it was more than I'd ever expected or even imagined possible. All I could do was bury myself into the kind Queen's embrace and hope they'd be able to sense what I'd no words to express.

It was how I became Lady Silbhé, adopted daughter of King T'Chaka and Queen Ramonda, foster sister to T'Challa and Shuri, and as such Princess of Wakanda myself.

A month later a courier delivered a package, from Egypt. Inside I found a leather-bound journal, it was a true work of art, and I suspected it must have been handmade. There was a short letter attached to it, from Carter; he wished me the best (made a couple of jokes about me being the one with the royal title this time around... of course, he didn't know that I'd had one in my other life as well...), he also informed me that the journal was actually from my match, he was just passing it along. I found the explanation for that written in beautiful calligraphy I knew very well, in the first pace of the journal:

My beloved Nightingale,

You were right, I'm sure you'll take great delight in learning that. Things have, indeed, changed. No one knows how exactly, but you and I weren't the only ones to recover our memories. I awoke to find myself, not in the pit, but back in my rooms. Eir had been looking over me, none of them seemed to be quite sure as to why I reacted so negatively to my stay in the stars-forsaken prison. Not until Erynion and Thenidiel arrived, and reminded everyone of the need Ljósálfar have for the stars... and the fact that I am very much bound to one. They send you greetings, their best wishes, and express a hope to see you again someday. And yes, my love, they're bound now. Your muindor (brother) is happy.

Everyone remembers you, and they remember me as well, who I used to be before I lost you, who we used to be together. Sif sends her best wishes for your current life as well. As do Ylva and Fenrir, they came to see me as soon as things settled down for the most part. Worry not, no one knows where you currently dwell, or the name you bare, I've made sure they will not be able to find you, until you choose to step forward yourself. I know you're happy with your life, and wish to keep it; something we both know the Allfather would not allow, were it in his power. I know we will be together again one day, when the time is right, there is no need to rush... for the time being, this journal will be our means of communication. I've spelled it, it's one of a set. Whatever you write on it, will appear on its twin, which I shall always keep on my person. We haven't consumed our bond in this life, which makes it impossible for us to share dreams now, but I hope this will serve us well, until the time comes for us to be together again. Worry not, my beloved, I understand the reasons behind your choices and support them, and you, completely; I always have, and always will.

Yours till the last star falls out of the sky, your Maverick.

I smiled, wide. Shuri, who was standing right beside me, having been curious about the package, smirked at me:

"Good news, usisi omncinci (little sister)?" She asked, laughter in her voice.

"The best." I answered honestly, hugging the journal tightly to my chest.

As soon as I could I was sitting at the desk in my new bedroom (the others had insisted that, with my legal change in status, I should move into the Royal Wing of the palace). I took out my favorite pen, and after thinking for a moment what I wanted to say, I began writing:

Hello my love...