The urge to pick at the freshly formed scab was a half-formed desire of Kymera’s, one more so born of a need to be provided with a distraction (than a genuine interest in removing the ugly, curled over abrasion curving just above the knee joint).
Avoidance was a sweeter pill to swallow than embracing the daunting grip of reality.
Her return had been as quiet and unceremonious as she could’ve wished for. No banners or balloons strewn throughout the school; no limp paper plates stacked with piles of processed snacks and goodies; no gaudy music blasting throughout the gym, streamers stuck to the walls or party poppers half-crushed under a stampede of nimble feet, twirling and bouncing to the pulse and rhythm of song. There seemed to be nothing more terrifying as far as she was concerned than gaining some over-the-top celebration at the behest of people who didn’t owe her it.
Uncertain hands had gingerly clasped her mothers’ once she’d noticed the sunken shouldered figure standing limply just past the threshold of the front doors; swamped by acquired luggage, figure bound underneath a series of coats and scarves in an array of mismatched colours and patterns. Fashion statements weren’t exactly a top priority when you were traveling under the pretence of half-hearted soul searching. The desire to escape an unfulfilled bond she’d desperately been hungering after. A new universe hadn’t brought about the quick fix that had once seemed just within her reach – an overwhelming understanding between her and her mother; albeit one from a new world – one where there hadn’t even been an uncomfortable annulment to accompany the bewildered child left in the wake of such a painful separation.
To them – King T’Challa of Wakanda and Ororo Munroe of the X-Men – it’d been as simplistic as ripping away a bandage to expose the wounds to fresher air; a new invigoration of life, intended to heal and refresh better than limping forwards could ever achieve. To her – N’Shara (a name she barely went by nowadays; at one point not even recognising it initially when her mother first attempted to scold her after a particularly outlandish attempt at teenage rebellion – the tried and tested nose piercing formula), the not-quite-princess in some people’s eyes – it’d dawned a new age and a tennis inspired blame game that’d lasted longer than she could properly pinpoint. Life tended to be funny that way (at least when it was laughing at her).
The soft padding of footsteps pulled her away from her musings – those of memories long suppressed (and for good reason) – as her peripheral vision caught onto the figure cautiously pushing her bedroom door open (lucky for them the door hinges hadn’t been battered enough to properly squeak yet; but still not careful enough to avoid her sensitive ears from detecting the faint scrape of wood on barely scuffed carpet).
T’iani had never been quite as sneaky as she seemed to presume herself as being.
She had the mentality of someone prone to being painfully obtuse; even if it was a sweeter form of honesty than that of the one Kymera had been rounded by. It mostly lay in her own powers – the psionic gene was bound to have emerged in some manner within her, especially considering the power her maternal family was famed for – but nature played into it too. T’iani was gentle in her intrusion. For the most part she was unnoticeable – her sharp questions coated in a heavy layering of sugar toned dusting and soft voiced caramelisation, dulling them so those around her remained oblivious – but her openness made her susceptible to her own techniques once you wrapped your head around them, and Kymera wasn’t delusional enough to claim she hadn’t been mistrustful of such elements of her half-sisters’ persona; came with the territory. Different mothers’. Different realities of origin.
“You’ve got to get better at opening doors.” Kymera almost winced at the flatness of her tone, and how T’iani’s eyes flashed with an uncomfortable deflation (even if her control over her apprehensive smile was unshakable).
In the pale strips of the moons’ natural lighting and without the glow of the hallways artificial; her tattoos covered; makeup removed; elaborate jewellery gone, replaced with simple gold hoops in her ears and a small silver gem embedded in her nose (the one she’d always complained about being ‘too round’, despite Kymera not seeing any problems with it; T’iani was beautiful in a softly romantic way, even if she did joke about requiring a nose job, resembling her own mothers’ unsuspicious loveliness in a mirror to her elder sisters’ striking – daresay dramatic – features, plucked from the hands of maternal genetics); and carefully picked clothes stripped back into an oversized Deep Purple concert shirt (a gift from Sabahnur, courtesy of his not-quite guardian, who she’d taken such a shine to ), she looked younger than her sixteen years, borderline vulnerable, and unfairly normal.
“I have been trying!” T’iani protested, but it lacked any fire, and her smile still remained; evidently more relaxed now, once she’d taken in Kymera’s posture (and noticed the lacking accustomed tension), ceasing her from resorting to the old comforting technique she’d surmised of tugging at the ends of her wild-curl formed ponytail. “Sorry it took me so long to come and see you…I only just got properly changed! Jubilee wanted to take Shogo to the mall today and we almost lost him in a ball pit!”
It was hard to ignore the ache in Kymera’s chest at the thought of one of her few friends, and the little boy she’d strived so hard to help realise his potential (even if he was still so small...). The deep pinch of shame in her stomach – at the hole left with her departure (even if it was so minuscule), not helped by how sudden and fleetingly it had occurred. Just the dire impulse to run away and find something different; something new. A total abandonment of the grandiose plan she’d once had about forging the perfect mother-daughter bond with the woman who replaced her former active verbal sparring partner – caused her fingers to pinch the ends of her shirt in an urgent solution to stop her nails from being drove into her palms.
“You don’t have to apologise T’iani, you’re not honoured bound to visit me the moment you hear I’ve shown up again.” Her words were more fashioned into a sigh now, but it was beyond blatant whom the negative implications were directed at, and now Kymera wanted to run her hand through her own hair.
She’d been fastidious in keeping it short throughout her travels; always stopping when necessary to prevent her own appearance from becoming a hindrance to the real issue at heart (a lack of belonging…). It was hard to tell whether or not she looked as exhausted as she felt. Having stripped away her layers of travelling clothing, she remained properly dressed in her scuffed simple jeans (with their unintentional rips, exposing a left kneecap and more than she’d wanted of her upper right thigh) and hugging black jumper, feet now bare. The necklace – one woven of hand dyed fabric, scrubbed and stained with the seeds of healthy earth; tiny beads, each one carefully hand painted, dancing amongst the loosened threads – her father had gifted her remained hidden by the high neckline, pressed tightly into her throat, and it stung her heart slightly to see T’iani’s similar one displayed so openly.
Envy was increasingly hard to ignore at such a time (when, now allegedly ‘home’, she still remained so internally unsettled).
She’d met T’iani’s mother (albeit not her birth one – one from this reality opposed to T’iani’s natural place of origin) during her trip – an ill-timed encounter with the Avengers, or at least one of their sub-units, whilst sightseeing in Madripoor (it never hurt to become a little more embroiled with the underworld, specifically for research based endeavours) – and it had been a painful reminder of how easy T’iani’s new reality was to her in some ways.
Heather Grey was intelligent – if not a little evasive when pushed with harder questions (that was something Kymera had overheard Wolverine muttering on multiple occasions when her name had come forth in conversations; usually one’s instigated by Cyclops’, and his sister-in-law, the living one, had been decided on as a contact in the face of future conflict) – especially in the art of emotion. She was painfully maternal – it was no wonder Miles Morales had seemed to shadow her almost instinctually – and overbearingly empathic; the traits already surfacing within T’iani (what with how she allowed Shogo to cling onto her back, and her remarks after battles becoming increasingly selective), to a point of being almost overwhelmingly unfair.
The Phoenix insignia printed on her uniform – a leotard primarily of green and gold, but with a black offset to enhance the brightness of her symbol and its identity, backing the prominent sheen – and quiet confidence she’d held herself with (even if she was a slight woman, at just 5’2”), had been upsetting reminders of the parentage T’iani had been able to slip into with her arrival. She’d been unfairly kind – politely asking Kymera how her travels were going, as well as if she knew much about what the other X-Men were up to (it was unclear how much contact she and Summers’ had been having; that seemed to be kept between them and them alone) – before being pulled away with the Falcon’s cry of ‘found him!’ (it was Crossbones they were looking for, if Morales’ brief remark had been enough to go by) hurriedly wishing her the best of luck before flying off.
“Still, I shouldn’t have left it so late!” T’iani sighed once more. “I didn’t want to come see you with mustard all over my pants. Shogo went a bit crazy dishing out condiments for the first time!” Her grin faded somewhat then as her hazel eyes – the lime flares flickering slightly; overwhelming the touches of honeyed bronze – met Kymera’s darker own then. “How’d…how’d the trip go?”
“It was alright.” That was a lie. Kymera had been miserable for the most part of it – alone and hopelessly disillusioned (not that she wanted to admit that to anyone) – but T’iani was polite enough to not correct her (even if the telepathy likely said otherwise). “Managed to go pretty far.”
“Mom said she saw you in Madripoor!” The smile was back now, and it was impossible to not melt slightly at its sincerity. “Apparently Spider-Man was kinda crushing on you, I don’t know if you’d have noticed – the mask helps him in that way!” She did manage a small smile of her own then, breathless fractions of a chuckle accompanying it as she shook her head, but it barely had chance to blossom when her eyes glanced back upwards to T’iani’s face. She was chewing on her lip now, gaze firmly averted up to the skies, hands ringing one another now. “Father knows you’re back…”
Kymera’s throat instantly tightened at such words, and when their eyes’ met, it was hard not to fight the impulse to begin snapping. Instead the words came out in a choked gasp. “He put you up to telling me that?”
It was typical – so typical; incredibly typical; practically the status quo – for their father to use T’iani as his answering machine where his other daughter was concerned.
Her solid instincts had come from both of her parents – beyond obvious, that little info nugget – but motivation was far easier to surmise in her fathers’ case she’d always noticed. T’iani was naiver, and subsequently, harnessed an approachability to her character Kymera knew she was sorely lacking. They’d met this realities Black Panther a matter of hours apart, but it’d always been painfully apparent he found his younger child easier to speak to. Why wouldn’t it be so?
T’iani had embraced him with open arms, immediately jumped into telling him all about the world she came from, how glad she was to have him here in a strange new place, if he knew secrets and fighting techniques the man she was accustomed to did not, what he thought of people long gone where she was, how different Wakanda’s state had become across the dimensional border. She was a plethora of excited questions and delighted relief, more than willing to throw herself into a new relationship, fully acquainted with all the customs that came alongside being a princess but still blissfully eager to learn. Kymera hadn’t been quite that level of an open book.
Her memories of her father were hazed and spacey – albeit weighed down with a distinct unpleasantness; one that seeped into her attitude towards her mother, and that had helped the souring between the two of them to properly expand. He was an evasive man, one who seemed distant and uninterested; associating her with the painful relationship breakdown he’d always been evidently more enthused in avoiding. He couldn’t communicate with her – a toxic mixture of unwillingness and unsureness – nor did he appear to have much in common with her. Naturally, she received presents every year (birthday’s and Christmases – to avoid her being excluded amongst her peers at the Institute), and eventually invitations to visit Wakanda and be indoctrinated into sovereigncy wheedled their way into her letters and postcards (even if her heart and soul were the true destinations), but eventually, it all needed to be rejected before true hope had a chance to kindle.
Being standoffish was protecting herself, casing her heart in a fine armour of coldness and decisiveness. Stopping the same failures and mistreatment from being cooked up again. She needed to keep to herself and refrain from falling into childish excitement at promises only crafted to be broken. He had another daughter – one more than willing to play princess and go on tours with his family – so he should’ve been contented to be happy. It was just common sense. T’iani got upset about this – her tries at bringing them together always crashed and burned miserably in a deluge of awkwardness (from him) and resentment (from Kymera herself); sometimes resulting in her crying, providing Kymera a selfish relief as their father would usher her away somewhere to be soothed and mollycoddled – but she needed to grow up and learn not everything could be fixed. Family wasn’t a project for her to devote herself to. And her half-sisters’ life was indefinitely off-bounds in her wannabe Fairy Godmother exploits.
“Kymera…you know it isn’t like that. He’s worried about upsetting you…what with how things went in the world where you’re from. He just doesn’t want to make the same mistakes that version of himself did. He cares about you-”
“He has a funny way of showing it, T’iani, doesn’t he?” She couldn’t help but snapping now, although it didn’t elicit a tell-tale flinch as it would’ve before.
“I’m visiting him soon.” If there was one thing Kymera couldn’t fault T’iani for though, it was her resilience; once an idea had formed in her brain, she pursued it with astounding (and often slightly unnerving) vigour. “He wants you to come with me.” She added, and Kymera balked slightly then. Their father had never been so open in one of his requests before; and going for a lie wasn’t T’iani’s style. Not only would it be a form of cruelty her soft heart couldn’t abide by, but it would be a childishly concocted one; a promise of a balloon all too easy to pop.
“…He asked for me to come?” A hand was up before T’iani could barrel on forwards with her speech. “Honestly, T’iani, he asked for me to come? Personally? Not just a tagged on remark or vague implication?”
“Honestly.” Her sister pressed on, hands flying out to take a hold of Kymera’s own and squeezing tightly in a comforting gesture then (the same one her mother had displayed in Madripoor, when they’d politely shaken hands and she’d applied a gentle added pressure). T’iani had small hands – the skin more calloused; a tell-tale of her hours spent writing and page turning, instead of carding through soft lion fur, and fingers sharper – which matched her tiny stature. She was only just five foot tall, hips a little too wide for her slim waistline, and distinctly waifish. “Kymera, I know he can seem a bit…difficult sometimes. But he doesn’t have children in this world, he hasn’t had a chance to try being a parent…he’s learning, and he thought…”
“He thought?” She couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow then. Disappointment was hurtling towards her now, she knew it-
“You might not want to come.” Came the nervous response, accompanied by more lip nibbling. “He tried saying something about you being tired from all your exploration but I didn’t need to read his mind to know what he was really thinking. That he’d ruined things between you both and you didn’t want to see him now.”
Guilt flared amongst Kymera’s ribs then – twisting through the bone, slithering patiently upwards to the thrumming heart valve – and it was her turn to look away; casting her gaze – the intensity of those naturally dark eyes, such a rich mahogany brown the green glow that accompanied her powers could pale next to them, landing upon the twinkling stare of the stars cast in the blanket of the dark skies.
“It isn’t that…”
“I know that.” Her hands received another squeeze then, and the ‘empath’ flashed through Kymera’s brain before her eyes even met back with her younger siblings’. “I know how much the version of him you knew let you down…” T’iani shook her head then, loose tendrils of borderline black hair (but not quite; the auburn flashes proved otherwise amongst the heady deep brown) quivering in the still winds with the quick motion. “And, I think he’s scared that’s all you see in him now.”
The sigh was impossible to hold back. “That isn’t true, and I’m sure deep down he knows it. I’m just-”
Kymera couldn’t even be annoyed at T’iani’s interjection then. It was beyond obvious. Only a fool would’ve denied such an abundant truth.
“Yeah…scared’s the right word for it.” She tried to laugh then, but the sound came out meek and half-strangled. “Scared of a lot of things. Mostly him rejecting me. Growing tired of me, of how strangely I’ve acted, all those times I’ve made it abundantly clear I don’t want to see him, how much of a failure I might be to him, that being a potential heir in this reality would be a joke, when he’s got you-”
“Yes, you, T’iani.” She couldn’t help roll her eyes at the bewildered, upset tinted wide eyes she was met him. “You’re the poster of ideal child for him! All enthusiastic and you know how to be a princess, how to be a superhero as well as an heir. You opened your heart the second you saw him, not caring he wasn’t the person who raised you. You treated him like your father. You’re not a reminder of a failed marriage.”
“And you’re not either, because what happened there had nothing to do with you!” It was always a little surprising seeing T’iani getting so incensed, as she pulled her hands back and flung them down by her sides in apparent frustration. “He doesn’t blame you for that, nor has he ever, nor will he ever! Most things are different depending on which world it is, but he’s my father, no matter what reality I’m in! And he wants to be yours to – if that’s what’ll make you happy. He’s our father, Kymera, not just mine.”
The air settled then, the rages of fury sputtering back into the depths of checked emotions, and the urge to exhale properly was overwhelming – a deep breath escaping from Kymera’s lips as she allowed her shoulders to finally quiver properly, no longer forcing a limp display of composure upon them, once the upset had begun to dissipate.
“I was going to let Aunt Shuri take me to her lab again.” T’iani muttered as she wrapped her arms around herself. “So…if you came with me, you’d have time with him that wasn’t spoiled by my loitering in the background, asking lots of annoying questions.”
“I never said your questions were-”
“The look on your face said enough!” Was the sharp reply she got, and it was impossible to miss the smile flittering at the corners’ of her sisters’ lips; her own nerves diminishing properly now. “You need time to talk to him properly, so you can let him know how you feel, given time.” The last part was added in quickly, but if T’iani felt even the slightest bit embarrassed she masked it perfectly. “I just…I hate feeling like I’ve pushed you out. That I’ve stolen him from you.”
“T’iani…” Kymera couldn’t help but sigh once more now, her own brow furrowing as she reached forwards and wrapped a better muscled arm around those slighter shoulders. Her expanse of earrings brushed slightly against the wild mane of frazzled curls battered down into a ponytail as she pulled her half-sister closer to her; the scent of mangos and raspberries hitting her hard as T’iani’s favourite perfume clouded her heightened senses. “You didn’t do that…”
“At least let me help fix things?” The younger girl implored, turning properly now to pull Kymera into a tight hug, burying her face into the worn jumper fabric; and she nodded, eyes squeezing tightly shut as the tell-tale butterflies of anxiety sprung to life in her stomach.
Trips always brought this over her though – that almost felt like the easiest part.
“Alright…” She nodded softly. “When’re you going?”
“Three days.” T’iani positively beamed when their eyes met again; smiling a grin so broad it looked capable of splitting her tender skin. “I wanted to give you some time to catch up with Jubilee before going!”
It was impossible to ignore the pure happiness that shone within T’iani’s gaze at those simple words – gold and green bursting to life; shimmering in a trickle of glittered fireworks, illuminating the now smaller smile on her lips – accompanied by her grip around Kymera’s shoulders tightening slightly.
“Help me pack?” She asked as they pulled back, steering her sibling through the doors opening onto the tiny balcony (still, the extra space helped when you had a giant tiger curled up in your quarters – said kitty by then rolling around eagerly on the powder blue carpet, eager at the thought of T’iani showering her affection upon him after his identical extended absence from her life. Frickin’ attention seeker – not like Kymera could blame him for being so attention hungry). “My clothes got a bit muddle throughout the trip…I wasn’t exactly banking on remaining organised whilst dashing through Latveria!”
The smile she received spoke more than a sonnet could have.
“What kind of sister would I be if I didn’t agree?”