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I've Been Waiting to Smile

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One.

The Dora Milaje met Tony Stark multiple times as they accompanied King T'Chaka to the Accords drafting negotiations. He left quite a first impression, trailing behind a stern-looking Pepper Potts and carrying her briefcase. It was rare to see a woman in power and rarer to see a man happily following her lead.

They paid attention to him since, not only for their king's security but their own curiosity, then later, to correct their bias against the man and form their own opinions.

During private meetings with King T'Chaka, Tony accepted their presence in the room without complaint. Never perceiving their company as a slight against his own security measures or a challenge to his trustworthiness. Unlike other entitled politicians, he did not order them about as though they were servants. The Dora Milaje were a group of elite bodyguards, not maids. For a man known by the size of his ego, he was surprisingly and genuinely respectful of the Dora Milaje.

Okoye took a liking to him when, at one of the meetings, Tony got up and poured himself a glass of water then tilted his head and asked if he could get them anything. This was not a man of entitlement.

Despite their fearsome reputation, there were still those foolish enough to dare attack their king. These incidences were handled promptly and ruthlessly, those who witnessed it and lived to tell the tale tremored at the Dora Milaje's deadly efficiency. Naturally, other leaders and diplomats had their own security team and a certain level of competition always arose during battle. Who could incapacitate the intruders first or who had the most number of captures. Tony, as Iron Man, was in charge of his own protection. He demonstrated his battle prowess when a group of assassins interrupted King T'Chaka and his meeting.

The repulsor gauntlet was impressive but Ayo found his willing readiness to serve as back-up even more so. He was a team player, who also applauded enthusiastically when she landed a stunning back kick in a midair twist.

The Dora Milaje knew the challenges ahead when they left Wakanda and joined the rest of the world, not only the physical ones but the societal ones. Conventional gender roles still bound women across the globe, and they found themselves irritated and confused by these bizarre double-standards. Men either flirted with them outrageously or shunned them coldly, both acts likely associated with their threatened masculinity. Tony did neither, always greeting them kindly and offering compliments ranging from their looks to their abilities.

Nakia was particularly pleased when Tony noticed the subtle change in her hair as well as the half-inch adjustment to her battle stance. She wondered how anyone could see him as a playboy who had no respect for women.

Tony treated the Dora Milaje as any Wakandans would, and in return, they treated him as they would any Wakandan. 

 

Two. 

Isolating itself from the rest of the world did not necessarily mean Wakanda was ignorant of the world, it simply wouldn't be prudent if they didn't at least keep up with technological advancements to better protect themselves from cyber-attacks and surveillance attempts.

The Information Technology department acquired all the latest electronic devices on launch day, disassembling the hardware and analyzing the software. They had a love-hate relationship with StarkPhones and StarkPads, the lines of codes were both works of art to be admired and obnoxious challenges to lose days, sometimes weeks, of sleep over. 

It was a strictly hate-hate relationship with HammeTech.

The latest StarkPhone came with a holographic feature that had the technicians and engineers salivating for months after the announcement. It was rumored that Tony Stark designed his work using the same holographic technology and his workshop resembled a small galaxy. They had seen footage of the man behind such ingenuity, grinning like a delighted child during the launch day press conference. So they recognized him immediately when they broke through the last firewall to bypass the digital rights management inherent to any devices and a three-dimensional image of Tony Stark popped up out of the screen.

"Hello there!" The miniature version of the genius filled the room with his charisma and presence like his normal size self. "Congratulations on jailbreaking my awesome tech, you heathen. My codes are beautiful and I hope you at least took her out to dinner before you ravaged her!" The Tony hologram gasped mockingly and clutched at invisible pearls at his neck. "But seriously, nice work and if you're in the market for a job, come find me. Bye bye, butterfly!" He blew a string of kisses and batted his eyelashes flirtatiously.  

"Um." The engineer could only stare.

It should have been the end of that except the other team working on hacking StarkPhone succeeded as well. They, too, were greeted with a Tony hologram.

"Why? Why would you go breaking my heart?" Tony bemoaned, placing the back of his hand on his forehead as if he were going to faint like a delicate Southern belle. "My heart is my tech and you broke my tech. Why?" He staggered back a few steps and almost collided with the worktable behind him if not for the robot steadying him with a careful claw. "Seriously though, I kind of want to know why and how we can improve. So drop me a line, alright? After a while, crocodile!"

Looks of manic glee appeared on every face when they realized Tony must have recorded multiple messages for jailbreakers.

They were not prepared for what they would find. There was Tony in a suit, doing a stellar attorney impression and reciting a list of user agreement violations for all of three seconds before dissolving into a fit of giggles. There was Tony in his Iron Man armor, seemingly recording the message while in flight if the rush of scenery was any indication. There was Tony, with a spectacular case of bedhead, yawning into the camera and mainlining coffee for the entirety of the message.

By the end of this ordeal, the entire technical department felt like they knew Tony and thought of him fondly, with his ridiculous sign-offs peppered into their vernacular. See you later, alligator. Gotta bail, nightingale. That's that, kitty cat.

T'Challa was particularly fond of the last one, when he reviewed the data and footage gathered by his I.T. department.

 

Three.

The children of Wakanda loved Tony Stark, probably because the man was much like an overgrown child himself, if James Rhodes' fondly exasperated looks were anything to go by.

Tony happily entertained the children with his technology and turned play into teaching seamlessly.

A question about the Iron Man gauntlet became a discussion of aerodynamics, mechanics, programming, and a myriad of scientific fields explained in layman's terms. It helped that Tony was fluent in Xhosa, a language similar to the one spoken by Wakandans, so he could communicate with the younger children who had not had the mandatory English courses in their schooling.

Xhosa was not one of the spoken language listed in Tony's file, the one submitted when he first applied to be part of the Accords process. One could only assume that the genius learned it for the sake of removing another barrier between himself and the Wakandans. He never mentioned it, but his effort did not go unnoticed.  

A comment about the hologram messages, now famous among Wakandans, turned into a life lesson on the willingness to listen to dissenting opinions and seeing potential instead of faults. Tony urged the children to see what can be instead of what is, to understand the world before seeking to change it, and to know their achievements do not define their worth.

"I am Iron Man." He declared cheerfully and confidently, meaning every word though he was without his armor.

A complaint of hunger ended up with Tony surrounded by children, reluctantly leading by example and eating a bowl of salad. "This would taste so much better in smoothie form, but DUM-E isn't here and I don't think olives would go well in a smoothie."

"Why do we need to eat green things?" A boy asked, one hand raised high in the air while the other held a sandwich with bits of lettuce peeking out between the two slices of bread.

"Um, from what I was told, green food is growing food." Tony shrugged, stabbing at a tomato rather viciously and scowling when the punctured fruit sprayed his shirt with juice.

"So you didn't eat green food when you're a kid then." A girl stated with authority. "Because you stopped growing."

Tony gaped, a piece of cucumber hanging off of his lip. "Hey!"

The parents watched on, amused, then began trading stories of their kids' antics with Rhodes, who had more than enough embarrassing stories of Tony to share.

T'Challa enjoyed the ones of Tony's M.I.T. years the most, the sheer adorableness of a young Tony awkwardly navigating through college life made his heart warm and stomach flutter. Even more so when Tony charged at his friend, flushed and panting, to stop the retelling of a particularly embarrassing tale of misunderstanding a costume party's theme of Grease as Greece.

The image of Tony wearing a toga, draped artfully across his compact frame, made T'Challa blush for a reason that was not shyness.

 

Four.

Tony's causal mention of DUM-E spurred Wakandans' interest in the genius' other creations, his children, so to speak.

Wakanda had a long and proud history of honoring artificial intelligence as persons, even the most rudimentary ones. But their most advanced version paled in comparison when Tony summoned his armor and called for FRIDAY.

"Hello." The gentle Irish tilt from the Iron Man suit caught them by surprise. "I am FRIDAY."

"Like the day of the week?" Someone asked in the crowd.

"My name originated from the term girl Friday, made into popular culture via the movie His Girl Friday . It is a reference to mean I am Boss' go-to person." FRIDAY replied, earning some nods of approval from the Wakandans gathered.

"That's what he told you." Rhodes smirked. "He told me that it's from the expression Thank God It's Friday because–"

"Ignore Rhodey!" Tony tackled his friend. "He doesn't know what he's talking about, he's losing it in his old age."

"Really, Boss?" FRIDAY's voice wavered, as though shocked and touched by the sentiment.

The surrounding Wakandan looked impressed.

Tony released Rhodes with a huff. "Well, yeah?" He scratched the back of his head, looking sheepish. "I mean, I am thankful for you and all you do."

"Boss, I'd like to hug you if that's alright?"

"I suppose." Tony rolled his eyes, but there was a pleased curve at the corners of his lips.

The crowd positively cooed as the Iron Man armor gently wrapped its creator in an embrace.

The Iron Man suit stepped back after a moment and Tony fidgeted with his hands.

"Perhaps the next time you visit, you can bring your other creations? Maybe this DUM-E you spoke of?" T'Challa asked gently. "I'd like to meet those who are important to you."

"I'd like that too." Tony smiled, awkwardness from the rare emotional display fading with the change of topic. "Though I have to warn you to hide all your breakables because DUM-E is why I can't have nice thing."

"I'm not nice?" T'Challa affected an air of wounded sadness.

"You're not a thing." Tony corrected quickly, turning faintly pink as he added. "But you are nice."

T'Challa hummed happily, pleased at the small step they'd both taken forward in this dance between them. There were other obstacles to be addressed before proper courting could take place, but they were considered trivial now that he knew Tony returned his feelings. It made him feel invincible and properly motivated to tackle the issue at hand.

As such, T'Challa did not take Tony's advice regarding DUM-E's, unintentionally, destructive powers seriously, though he definitely should have. Because when DUM-E visited, T'Challa found himself with multiple sets of incomplete stemware and no one to blame but himself.

 

Five.

T'Challa found himself awed by Tony Stark on a daily basis, either through direct interactions as they worked to amend the Accords or by recalling one of the other man's expressions throughout his day. It would be concerning except he really did not mind.

Tony was well-versed in the language of subterfuge and manipulations, deciphering what was unsaid with proficiency and coating his own words with honeyed flourish to achieve his aims. T'Challa had been trained for this all his life, and even then, sometimes he found himself floundering. It was astounding that Tony had not only taught himself this game of politics but also reinvented it to suit his own needs. T'Challa found himself absolutely smitten the intelligence shining behind those chocolate eyes.

Of course, there was no denying the man was gorgeous.

The tousled brown hair beckoned T'Challa to run his fingers through, testing the silky softness against that of his imagination. The intricate goatee framed lush kissable lips, undoubtedly tasting of coffee given Tony's caffeine dependency. The enticing lines of his body, the tantalizing angles and tempting curves lit T'Challa body aflame with desire. The need to run his hands down Tony's shoulders, tracing the lean shape of his torso before catching in the dip of his trim waist then pivoting to caress the delicious arc of Tony's lower back and move his hands lower.

The physical attraction was definitely reciprocal, Tony's appreciative glances lingered on T'Challa's form.

Tony had the biggest, kindest, and softest heart of anyone T'Challa had known, capable of forgiveness for everyone but himself. If only he had pushed harder for more lenient protocols. If only he had properly explained Wanda's precarious situation after Lagos. If only he had known what Ross was up after capturing the team in Germany. If only he hadn't lost his temper after witnessing his parents' death while standing next to their killer.

Those words of regret tore at T'Challa heart, feeling his beloved's pain as if it was his own. Tony held himself responsible, accountable, and punishable, however undeserved. In contrast, his former teammates' behaviors were disgustingly delusional, foolish, and childish.

T'Challa had heard, from both the ex-Avengers he was forced to house and the reluctant staff who tended to their basic needs, of the numerous transgressions and betrayals committed by Tony.

"Stark wrote that bullshit Accords as payback for us kicking him off of the team after he made that murder bot."

"Stark killed my parents, he's a monster!"

"Stark threw us in the Raft, I don't even know why I'm still surprised by his pettiness."

"Stark never listens to anyone but his own voice, he thinks he's always right."

"Stark was called the Merchant of Death for a reason, just think of the thousands that will die because of him for keeping the real heroes away."

It was offensive. It was repulsive. It was unacceptable.

Outsiders had no right to treat one of Wakanda's this way. 

 

One.

Steve didn't know what to expect when T'Challa requested a private audience. They had not seen the young king much since Steve returned to Wakanda with his rescued teammates. Wanda and Clint had been particularly volatile after their time at the Raft and T'Challa had looked disgusted by their emotional outbursts and the property damage from Clint's angry punches at the walls and Wanda's erratic straying powers. T'Challa had left with a sharp warning to control his teammates and a curt reminder than they were guests.

It seemed harsh to judge Clint and Wanda by those moments and incidents. They had been through hell and back at the Raft and Steve thought it was unreasonable to expect them to behave rationally. They were human, not machines. He did not voice his thought though, partially because T'Challa was not there and partially because he did not wish to jeopardize Bucky's safety. 

This meeting, however, might be the perfect time to bring up some of the complaints they had. Sam reported plumbing issues, where the water was either scalding or freezing. Clint said his meals' portions were too small, enough to be sate the pangs of hunger but not enough to ease it completely, and the snacks he requested never came. Wanda pouted that she had not received the movies and books she'd asked for. Scott asked when he could go home.

"Mr. Rogers." T'Challa nodded but not rise to greet Steve as he had expected.

"Your Highness." Frowning at the lack of manners but otherwise unconcerned, Steve took a seat and tried not to flinch when the Dora Milaje moved soundlessly to stand behind him.

"There has been some developments regarding your stay in Wakanda."

Steve's shoulders eased at those words. Developments were good, that meant things were finally going to change and people were seeing the right side of things for once. The world needed the Avengers and it was unfortunate that it took withdrawing their protection for the world's government to finally realize where they went wrong with the Accords. "That's great news. When can we go home?" He grinned. "I think Bucky would feel better to be back on American soil too, no offense of course."

T'Challa expression was almost pitying, if not for the annoyance. "No, Mr. Rogers. You will not be returning to your home country, for it has barred you and your companions' entries." He carried on as though he hadn't heard Steve's cry of confused outrage. "Most of the world, one hundred and seventeen countries, to be exact, had declared you and your band of fugitive personas non grata. Wakanda included."

"What?" Steve jumped to his feet. "You're kicking us out? You can't do–"

Two pairs of strong hands pressed him back into the chair, the two other Dora Milajes in the room withdrew their weapons.

"It is not my doing, but that of my people. My country has spoken and they voted unanimously to evict you. Wakanda does not harbor terrorists." The smile T'Challa offered had too many teeth. "Also, you will find that as king, I can, in fact, kick you out."

"Bucky–"

"Mr. Barnes will remain in cryostasis, as per the terms of our agreement, which was only extended to you and your teammates as a courtesy and has thus been revoked."

"I will not leave Bucky behind!" Steve said through gritted teeth, both from anger and the bone-crushing grips of the Dora Milaje. "I don't abandon my friends!"

"You had no qualms doing so in Siberia." T'Challa's smile widened and took on a serrated edge. "Pardon me, I forgot that you do not consider Tony Stark a friend."

Steve scowled. "Tony–"

"You are not worthy to speak his name." Okoye snarled.

Nakia hissed in agreement. "You will not defame one of Wakanda's own with any more of your lies."

Steve's bewilderment was enough to drain some of his fury away.

"You will depart within one hour and never to set foot in our borders again. If the New Avengers happened to be waiting to capture escaped international criminals, then Wakanda is bound to provide support for the team of actual superheroes who are operating within the guidelines of the Accords." T'Challa waved a dismissive hand at Steve. "And that's that, kitty cat."