Danielle Moonstar was nine years old when Black Eagle first tried to teach her patience. Strong-willed and hardheaded, she'd adamantly refused his lessons. She loved her grandfather. Respected him. But she would not be restrained. Most days, she was convinced nothing would ever tame her… except maybe Joey McIntyre but he'd have to sing for her, like, every day.
He was resolute in his teachings. He told her a great many things. Stories of the Cheyenne, the brave and noble people who'd come before her. Histories and language nearly lost in time. But it was the things he wouldn't tell her—the questions that remained unanswered—that frustrated her so. "The riddle of life was meant to teach us all patience, little one," he told her one day. "Would you not heed its wisdom?"
The answer, it seemed, was no. Though she would not defy her grandfather with her words, Black Eagle could see she was defying him with her actions. It was her way. Always bold, she had to strike out and push her own path through. The lessons of those who'd come before her were falling, once more, on deaf ears. It was not such a surprise but still disappointing.
"It's going to be a long winter," Black Eagle commented one day as they were sitting together on the porch at her family's ranch. The Colorado air was cool and the young girl beside him was bundled up tightly.
Furrowing her brows, she tried to understand what he meant. It was still fall. She shrugged it off, though, knowing he probably wouldn't answer even if she bothered to question him. "When will you leave?" she asked him instead. Her curious brown eyes were sad as she peered up at him. "You've been gone from the Res for a very long time."
He smiled at her, placing an arm around her shoulders. "I know, little one," he said in a calm voice. The soft, deep baritone always comforted her. "As fall goes, so too must I."
Those same sad eyes began filling with tears as she turned and hugged him tightly. "I don't want you to go," she cried into his chest.
"I know," he repeated, patting her back gently. "But I must." He held her shoulders, pushing her back so she was looking at him again. There were tear tracks smearing her face. "Someday you will understand."
She pulled away from him and shook her head violently, braids swinging around her face. "No!" she shouted, standing up. "No, I will never understand why you leave me! Never!" Her face was twisted with anger, new tears racing down her cheeks. "I hate you!" Then she raced inside and slammed the door behind her.
"She doesn't mean it," a new voice offered and Black Eagle turned to see his daughter standing nearby, holding a horse by the reins.
He smiled at her, his face wrinkled and tough from years of enduring the elements. "Yes, she does," he said, standing and dusting his knees. "But she will understand eventually. And when she does, hopefully she will have learned something."
Peg Lonestar only smiled back at him as he made his way inside as well. They were both so stubborn. She shook her head and began leading her horse back to the stables. She'd given up trying to figure out her father long ago.
Danielle was just a hair over fifteen years old when her parents died, leaving Black Eagle her sole guardian. Heartbroken and wracked with guilt, she was a shell of her former self. She loved her grandfather. Thanked the Gods every day that he was still with her. But even he couldn't bring her out of it. She blamed herself. Nothing could convince her otherwise… the nightmares her parents had tried to chase away were hers, after all.
He tried everything he could to pull her from her depression. He tried so hard but she fought him at every turn. Some things, it seemed, would never change. And there were other concerns looming on the horizon. A dark cloud heading their way. For his granddaughter—the only family he had left—it would get worse before it got better. For him, it seemed the fight was nearly over.
Night fell and they sat together in his small cabin, eating a mediocre dinner (mostly from cans). She was poking at the food half-heartedly while he gazed out the window behind her. And, for the first time, he saw things as they really were. Looking down at his plate, he hoped he was mistaken. Looking into his heart, he knew he wasn't.
He looked upon the face of his most beloved granddaughter and smiled softly. She would hurt for a long time, he feared. But she was strong. She would survive. "It's going to be a long winter," he said, breaking the silence between them.
Her eyebrows drew together creating a deep crease between them. "Grandfather," she replied slowly, trying to decide how to respond to such a comment, "it's still summer."
The smile did not dim. "I know, little one."
Neither did the crease. "But…" She slammed her fists upon the table as anger trumped confusion. "I don't understand what that means! I never know what you mean. Why won't you just tell me?" There was something of a whine in her voice, but it was mostly masked by her resentment.
The most annoyingly patient expression—the one Black Eagle always seemed to wear when she was truly frustrated—was on his face. "Someday, you will understand," was all he offered.
Standing, she fought to make her expression as neutral as possible. "No," she bit out, voice cold and furious and hands shaking as she picked up her plate. "I never will." Then she stomped over to the sink, deposited her plate and flew outside, slamming the door behind her.
Black Eagle thought of Peg and how she always believed in her daughter. Always hoped she didn't mean the hateful things she said. Always prayed she'd someday calm her vicious temper. He wiped a tear from his sagging cheek and began to clean the kitchen. He would just have to hope and pray for the both of them now. For as long as he could.
Danielle had been able to communicate with animals for over a year when she came to live with Black Eagle. He envied her, just a little, for this rapport. But even an old man could still have his follies. She'd seen it as a blessing. A gift from the Gods. He didn't dispute this—he was a shaman, after all—but knew enough to stay in contact with his son-in-law's schoolmate.
He didn't know Charles Xavier himself but David had trusted the man enough to confide about his daughter. That spoke volumes for his character. Over the passing weeks, as autumn drew upon them, he knew this connection would be important. Just as he knew she would fight any help offered by him or Xavier at every turn. She was still headstrong and independent-minded, after all.
And they were fighting more and more frequently. She hurt so much, felt so much pain. It consumed her until she was suffering from the guilt, day in and day out. Unable to suppress it, she lashed out. He only wanted to ease her anguish… for as long as he still could. But she wouldn't allow it. She wanted to feel it. She felt it was what she deserved. And it wasn't his place to take that away from her. But he wouldn't stop trying. He could be just as stubborn as she was.
It was after one particularly nasty fight that her real powers manifested. Black Eagle saw for the first time his greatest fear right before him. And it wasn't his own death by the hand of man. That, he had long since accepted. But for Danielle to know such a thing—to bear witness to his burden—that was what he had so desperately tried to prevent. The weight of his failure hung heavily upon him.
Danielle stood before him, tears streaming down her face. "No," she whispered, argument already forgotten. "No, no, no, no, no, no, no! I won't allow it! I won't! You can't—you can't leave me. Grandfather please—please! Say something!" Her appeals were desperate, her voice full of panic. "Please. Please, say something…"
"I think," he said slowly, pushing himself up from where he'd fallen, "it is time for us to speak of a great many things."
She shook her head and he enveloped her in a hug as she sobbed against his chest, still begging him to stay. They, neither of them, could deny the reality of the vision. He would not lie to her. He could not. She would face enough pain without that to trouble her as well. But he still comforted her as best he could. "We must leave here," she said when she'd calmed herself. "We must go where it is safe."
Black Eagle only continued to hold her. "Little one…"
The tone of his voice was enough to send her off again. "No!" she cried, spirit already strengthening again. "We have seen the vision. We must go. We must save you. I will not lose you, too."
"I will not leave my home," he said in a voice that brooked no arguments. "It will be because it must be."
Fresh tears stung the corners of her eyes as she backed away from him, hugging herself tightly. "No… please…" She took his hands in hers. "I don't want to be alone."
Squeezing her hands, he could only offer her honesty. He hoped she would trust him. "You will never be alone. I promise."
"There must be something we can do," she insisted. It was too big. And she couldn't let go. "Something—anything! Please."
He smiled gently, wiping her tears away with his calloused fingers. "As fall passes, so I too must go," he told her softly.
Her face screwed with pain and she let out a sob. "I don't want you to," she choked out.
"I know." He pulled her into another hug. "But I must." He waited until he was sure she would hear him. "Someday, you will understand."
She was already moving away from him. "No," she whispered, wiping her eyes with the back of her hands. "I will never understand. I could never understand something that hurt me so much. Or how it could be right." She took a breath. "So don't ask me to." Then she turned and ran away. As fast as her legs would carry her. She couldn't stand his calm demeanor a moment longer. Not when her heart was breaking all over again.
Watching her go, Black Eagle nodded slowly. Perhaps it had been he and not his granddaughter who needed to understand all along. "Good-bye, Danielle," he whispered to the winds, hoping his words would carry to wherever she had sought refuge. "Though I leave this world, I will always watch over you."
And with that, he turned and accepted his fate. It was what it was, and it was coming for him. There would be many long winters ahead for his Danielle but she would persevere. She was smart. She was strong. She was Cheyenne. And she wouldn't be alone—she would never be alone. It would be enough. He had faith. He could only hope she'd share in that certainty someday.
Danielle Moonstar was sixteen years old when she died the first time. For most people, the first time was the only time. But most people didn't have to deal with cosmic beings like the Beyonder. When she returned, she was a mere shadow her former self. All of her friends—the new family she'd built before her parents also returned (though they'd never actually been dead)—were in the same predicament. People weren't meant to die and come back. Not mutants. Not Valkyries. No one.
It was because she was both mutant and Valkyrie that she was able to become whole again. It was a gift she'd not had long but the touch of Asgard left her changed. She could see signs of death. It didn't faze her too much, though. Death was frightening and she dealt in fear. At least, it didn't until she saw the signs over her friends. And in the mirror. Death was following her. It wanted her. Try as she might, she could not escape it. None of them could.
But they were lucky. They came back. Death did not hold them. She wondered if Black Eagle had felt as she did in foreseeing his own death. He must not have—he accepted it. And look where it'd left him. He had not come back. If only he'd fought—if only he'd tried to stop it! What had it brought him? Nothing but an end! Acceptance of death was nothing but a self-fulfilling prophecy, she was certain.
When she'd traveled home… run away, she'd wanted nothing more than to escape the mark death had left upon her friends. Instead, she'd found another. It followed her. Attacked an old friend. She'd been determined. Though it hadn't wanted her this time, she'd fought it all the same. She was not going to lose another. She refused. And she'd won! She'd proved the old man wrong. Or so she'd thought.
She'd taken her friend to an old hospital. There an elderly Cheyenne woman (who reminded her far too much of Black Eagle) came to speak with her. She hadn't wanted to listen. She didn't want her to speak of deeper truths. But the woman, she did not lie. And Dani was left with an empty feeling as she lost another. But she knew it was her burden to bear. Finally, she was beginning to understand.
Wishing her parents a safe winter in their Colorado ranch, she began the journey back to New York. She visited the grave of Patrick Roberts to bid a final farewell as she left Boulder. It hadn't been easy but few things worth doing ever were. Another lesson from Black Eagle she'd taken to… undoubtedly driven home by her hard times at the Institute.
There was one more stop to make before she returned to Xavier's school, though. Brightwind landed atop a mountain, not far from where she'd seen her grandfather for the last time. Sitting cross-legged on the snow covered peak, she closed her eyes and tilted her head back. Nearby Brightwind was kneeling, resting his wings.
"Well, grandfather," she said in a serene voice, "you were right." Then she smiled ironically, opening one eye to peer at the grey sky. "But, then, you usually are." She closed her eye again and took a calming breath. There was a long pause before she whispered, "It has been a very long winter."
She could almost hear his laugh, hearty and sincere. And never mocking. He was so good. "I know I was difficult. It seemed like I never listened to you but I did. I swear. And I… I'm sorry. I know you promised, and I didn't believe you." A few tears slipped out from between her eyelashes and she could feel them warming her cold cheeks. "But I do now. I understand."
A hollow laugh that felt more like a sob rocked her chest. "I didn't want to. I fought her. Again and again I fought. But I could never win. Not for me, not for my friends… and now I know why. She explained it to me." She wiped her eyes and cheeks, sniffling loudly. "Sometimes it's better that way. To find peace."
Standing, she felt Brightwind nuzzle her back and patted him gently. "I still don't know why you had to go, but… it's okay. I just wanted you to know." She took a breath and smiled faintly. "I'm sorry. I miss you. And I love you." Satisfied—or close enough, anyway—she mounted her winged steed. "Come on, Brightwind. Let's go home…"
As they took to the skies, an image of Black Eagle watching still smiling that same patient smile entered her mind's eye. The wind gusted around her and Dani could've sworn she heard his deep, soft-spoken voice in it. Remember, little one, after every winter—no matter how long—comes the spring. She smiled. "I know, grandfather," she whispered, hugging her horse's neck tightly. "I know."