Erik says, through clenched teeth, that he would rather die.
T’Challa – hands tight around the blade nestled in Erik’s chest, stopping Erik from pulling out the only thing separating him and inevitable death – doesn’t let him.
The sun sets over them, warm light dipping over the curves of Erik’s jaw as he watches, lids heavy but gaze unresting. Sharp.
He passes out, eventually, from the dizzying pain and T’Challa sucks in a breath, crouching and tugging one of Erik’s arms over his shoulder, picking him up. He’s careful not to disturb the blade as he shuffles, slow and steady, down the mountain and towards Shuri’s lab.
Shuri glares, mouth pressed into a tight line but motions for T’Challa to put Erik down despite it.
“I could not let him die,” he says after a while, sprawled in a chair in a corner of the lab while Shuri works with clever fingers and furrowed brows.
She looks up briefly before turning back to Erik’s still body, applying a thick gel from a tube around the outline of the blade, “I know, brother.”
“He is our blood,” T’Challa continues and Shuri doesn’t reply.
He feels tired, so incredibly tired, as if the weight of the air sits heavy on his shoulders. As if Erik’s eyes, sharp and gleaming, watch him. That if he simply moved, the weight would crush him.
Among it all, in the whirlwind of chaos inside his mind, he realizes he failed Erik. He failed his duty.
Thanks to Shuri, Erik wakes up within a day.
He’s in a council meeting when Erik does and T’Challa can’t help but hurry things along, anxious to see what became of him.
Erik looks weary and weak but alive. His gaze never falters as he watches T’Challa approach, cautious, as if approaching a scared animal.
“How do you feel?” He asks carefully.
Erik sniffs and then laughs, dry and raspy, “how do you think?”
He’s shirtless, exposing planes of scarred skin and smooth muscle, the area in the middle of his chest scarred pink from the blade.
“I am sorry,” he says, because he doesn’t know what else to say. What else could he say to a man who suffered his entire life and was denied his dying request?
Erik doesn’t reply.
Silence falls into the lab with the exception of machinery whirring softly.
“No one must know you are alive,” T’Challa murmurs and Erik looks up sharply, mouth pulled into a frown.
“You didn’t tell anyone?”
“No one but Shuri knows.”
“They hate me, man,” Erik stands up and then stalks towards T’Challa.
For a brief moment, with Erik’s eyes on him, heavy and filled with indescribable emotion, and the visible scar on his chest, T’Challa does not feel kingly.
“You kept me alive,” Erik jabs at his own chest, at the fresh scar and shakes his head, “and now you’re keeping me a secret from your people?”
T’Challa narrows his eyes, “you expect me to tell the people whose king you tried to kill that you are still alive?”
Erik shrugs, “why am I still alive?”
“You are blood,” it comes without hesitation, “you are a royal,” his hand shakes slightly, against the silky material of his shirt, “you are family.”
It’s brief but Erik sees, gaze flickering to T’Challa’s clenched palms. He doesn’t say anything else.
“I must leave,” T’Challa says, “there are DNA scanners around this lab which prevent you from leaving temporarily.”
As he turns to go, Erik grabs his shoulder hard, pulling him back.
“Prisoner already?” His voice is cold.
T’Challa lifts a hand and locks it around Erik’s wrist, tugging his hand off.
“Do not touch me,” he says, “I am your king.”
“I said temporarily,” he continues but Erik doesn’t seem to hear as he shifts away from T’Challa and turns his back.
T’Challa sighs, straightening his back slightly, and leaves.
He first brings it up to the queen mother, a week later.
She shakes her head and takes his hand within hers, “I can not tell you what to do,” she tilts her head back and then lifts his hand, pressing a soft kiss to the palm, “but you have always been much too merciful, my son.”
He wants to say it’s different this time, that Erik deserves better. He wants to say, desperately, that Erik was the doing of their own family and they must be the ones to help him heal. He wants his mother to stop looking at him with those gentle, sympathetic eyes and to help him decide.
Instead, he nods and leans toward to press a kiss to her forehead and smiles slightly.
“Thank you, mother.”
He tells Nakia next and then Okoye and somehow manages to convince them it’s a good idea. Nakia shakes her head and purses her mouth and mutters something about being able to trust him. Okoye, loyal and dutiful, only nods, despite the obvious opinion bubbling inside her.
The council, as expected, is surprised and angry.
“This is not a debate!” His voice rings sharply, fingertips pressing harshly into the meat of his thigh.
“N’Jadaka is the way he is because of my father’s doing and I will not aid in his suffering any longer,” he lets his tone drop, “we have the resources to help him and we will use them.”
“My king,” one of the tribes leader speaks up, carefully, “he committed treason against the throne and he tried to kill you.”
T’Challa nods slowly and takes a deep breath, “do you think I do not know what he is capable of? He is dangerous and attempted to harm my family more than once,” he pauses, “but he is of royal blood and of my family and I will not imprison him in his own home.”
If anyone else thinks to protest, they don’t. T’Challa stands, dismissing the meeting and leaves the throne room, two Dora Milaje marching behind him.
His hand continues to shake.
The council does not support it, but Erik is moved to the farmost wing of the palace and 4 Dora Milaje are posted at his door at all times.
T’Challa won’t risk it.
In the aftermath of the battle, things become hectic. There’s council meetings and discussions and plans that need to be made that snatch his attention from anything else. He supposes being a king isn’t a job you can ever be free from. T’Challa doesn’t find the time to visit Erik until a week later.
He knocks twice and then enters cautiously, slipping through the small crack of the door and into Erik’s chambers.
“Hello,” he says and it feels awkward on his tongue.
Erik tips his head up from where he’s sprawled on the bed, shirtless and in nothing but loose pajama bottoms and shuts the book he was reading.
“Hey, man,” his face is unreadable and narrowed, the high juts of his cheekbones hardened.
“How are you feeling, Erik?” He asks and then, despite his brain’s protest, glances sparingly at the lines of muscles that smooth over Erik’s scarred skin.
Erik shrugs and then throws his legs over the bed and stands, snatching a cotton shirt from the closet and slipping it on.
It feels wrong to be here with Erik’s eyes watching his every move. As if he’s intruding on whatever Erik was doing before he showed up.
T’Challa clears his throat, nods, and leaves.
He spars more often now. He spars with Okoye and the guards and trainers until his knuckles go white and he can taste the metallic twinge of blood in his mouth.
He spars after meetings and missions and sometimes in the middle of the night when the rumblings in his mind get too loud and the conference of Vienna flashes in his brain, sharp and vivid, every time he closes his eyes.
He spars and spars until the taste of ash and smoke in his mouth and the phantom sting of crumbling rock hitting his skin disappears.
It’s one of those nights where he’s tired, achingly tired but it feels as if something has crawled inside his skin; he turns restlessly until finally, the itch becomes too much.
T’Challa shuffles out of his bed, sliding out of his sleep clothes and pulls on a pair of shorts and a thin shirt. He considers waking up one of the fight trainers to spar with him but decides against it as he heads to the gym room, nodding at the two Dora Milaje that stand alert at his door as he exits.
He feels weary as he enters, flexing his fingers against his hand until he can feel the dull pinch of his nails dig into the meat of his palm.
T’Challa’s surprised to see Erik, jabbing mercilessly at a heavy bag, shirt thrown carelessly to the gym mat.
He clears his throat.
Erik turns immediately, dropping his hands to his sides. He’s not subtle as he drags his eyes over T’Challa’s slightly hunched form with lidded eyes.
“Erik,” he says and motions to the bag.
Erik shrugs, “couldn’t sleep.”
T’Challa moves forward, and then laughs, a short, dry sound, “likewise.”
For a moment, silence drops between them.
“C’mon, your highness,” and for the first time since he woke up, Erik’s voice goes light.
T’Challa sniffs and then nods, stepping into the sparring ring. Erik follows.
It starts off easy enough, with no real threat and just lazy jabs until finally Erik swipes at T’Challa’s torso and he barely manages to dodge.
“You are quick,” Erik comments and T’Challa shoots him a bare smile.
Erik lunges forward and T’Challa ducks, swinging at Erik’s jaw. He moves just in time.
The fight isn’t as much of a fight as it is a dance; Erik jabs and T’Challa dodges, over and over and over again until it feels like a routine that none of them are willing to disturb.
Erik manages to get a punch in, fist smacking hard against T’Challa’s solar plexus, knocking him to the ground.
T’Challa lands hard against the mats with a soft thump, sucking in a slow breath on impact.
“I believe I won this round, you’re majesty,” Erik cranes his head barely and then grins, sharp and wolf like, breaths coming hard and fast.
T’Challa shakes his head and when Erik turns slightly, he swipes a leg across the backs of Erik’s knees.
Erik topples to the mats, expression morphing to one of surprise as he spreads his legs in time to avoid kneeing T’Challa in the chest. He lands above him, one hand hitting the mat on the side of T’Challa’s head for balance.
“You’re just a sore loser,” Erik breathes and T’Challa becomes painfully aware of their proximity; he can feel Erik’s warm breath beat down against his cheek, his heart thumping wildly against T’Challa’s own.
If he simply jut his chin forward, he could touch his mouth against Erik’s. He wonders, briefly, if that is what he wants.
Right now, with Erik panting softly above him, catching his breath and the fact that the only distance between them could be closed by a single move, it feels like a good idea.
“I am not a loser,” T’Challa mumbles and with the help of the adrenaline vibrating his veins and the wild beating of his heart, tips his head up and presses his mouth to Erik’s.
Unlike him, Erik does not hesitate.
He shifts, knees bracketing T’Challa’s hips and drops his other hand beside T’Challa’s head on the mat and kisses back. Hard.
His mouth is soft and warm and slick; Erik swipes his tongue across the seam of T’Challa’s lips and makes a soft noise when he opens his mouth, letting Erik in.
The sinking feeling in his chest disappears and T’Challa feels as if something has opened up inside him. It feels good. It feels right.
Warmth slides down T’Challa’s throat and into his stomach as Erik kisses him, sucking gently on T’Challa’s bottom lip, one hand cupping the side of his face almost gently.
T’Challa makes use of his hands where they’re lying uselessly against his sides, one hand sliding leisurely over the curve of Erik’s ass, the other running slowly over the ridges and bumps on his back.
Erik shifts slightly and T’Challa groans against his mouth at the feeling of his dick rubbing against T’Challa’s.
“You like that, your highness?” Erik pulls apart briefly with a grin and then, experimentally, pushes his hips down against T’Challa’s again.
T’Challa grunts, canting his hips up to catch Erik’s, fingertips digging harshly into the meat of Erik’s ass.
“You do, don’t you?”
“You,” T’Challa nudges his nose against Erik’s cheekbones and pressed a fleeting kiss on the corner of his mouth, “talk too much.”
Erik raises an eyebrow and then drops his head, kissing T’Challa again and again until he’s breathless and hard, mouth slick with saliva and bitten red.
“Touch me,” Erik mutters through aimless kisses, separating their mouths in favour of T’Challa’s throat.
It all seems to happen so quickly, Erik’s weight becomes comfortable on T’Challa, his hands curved perfectly against his face.
Dazed, T’Challa nods.
(After a harrowing mission, T’Challa finds himself in Erik’s chambers, one hand around Erik’s throat, hips thrusting hard and fast until he’s drained and already forgetting.)