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5 steps to peeling an onion

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1.

Erik isn’t surprised when he wakes up strapped to a slab in what Wakanda considers a hospital room. Not really. T’Challa’s soft fucking heart and desperate desire for a do-over masquerading as wisdom and foresight means he didn’t really expect his wishes would be respected.

At least little Shuri won’t go near him, letting others take care of healing Erik’s organs, feeding him when he’s too weak to move, knocking him out with fancy drugs whenever he makes a sudden move. At least that’s something. Shuri knows a reckoning is coming. T’Challa’s forced Erik to live, and well. Erik will make sure they all regret it.

As soon as he gets his strength back. As soon as his lungs can take in air again. As soon as the lights stop hurting his eyes.

Waking up in the hospital isn’t a surprise, but what happens after… Erik doesn’t see any of it coming.

“Where are you taking me?” Erik says, after days of lying in bed, still feeling woozy. He thinks he knows the answer already, but getting your guards to talk was Escaping A Foreign Prison 101.

“The royal apartments,” one of the women holding him up by the arm says. Is she dragging him or supporting his weight? Could he throw her off? Is he strong enough to run? Once they get him to the next destination the trial would probably start, and he’ll be much better guarded.

T’Challa’s sitting at a desk in what looks like a reception room. Less impressive than the throne room but still plush and luxurious, bathed in light from the massive windows. Coming up in Oakland, Erik’s never lived anywhere with so much natural sunlight.

“Welcome to your new home,” T’Challa says.

“You’ll be keeping me in your office until the cell’s ready?” Erik says, studying the books lining the walls. This place is like its own library, even though Wakanda supposedly invented e-readers like a hundred years ago. Amazing. “Do y’all even have prisons?”

“We don’t, not in the way you think of them,” T’Challa says, “and you’re not moving to a cell. You’re part of the royal family, and you’ll have these quarters. This is the study, there’s also a bedroom and living room, for entertaining guests.”

“Oh,” Erik says, “this is the wing of the palace where you house everyone who tried to kill you, huh?”

T’Challa gets up, smiling. “I’ve had a lot of time to think. You should rest, gather your strength. I'll ask them to bring you food in a little while.”

The guards who’d delivered Erik to the room stand back, as if expecting Erik to advance, take T’Challa’s place at the desk.

“A prison’s still a prison, cousin,” Erik says, leaning against the wall in what he hopes looks like nonchalance but is mostly the fact that the room is starting to spin. “How long you think you can keep me here? Be honest.”

T’Challa pauses on his way out the door, a step, maybe two away from Erik. He looks strong, clean and composed, with none of the blood and desperation Erik remembers from their last battle.

“We’re going to do what you wanted,” T’Challa says. “Outreach. Revealing ourselves. Intervening in the world. It’s the right thing to do,” he nods, as if still trying to convince himself.

“That’s not what I wanted,” Erik says.

“Isn’t it?” T’Challa says, and for a moment Erik questions his own sense of time. But no, he’s certain he’s been out for no more than a few days. His nails, his hair, the way his skin feels. It hasn’t been long enough for T’Challa to forget how their last conversation went.

“I wanted justice,” Erik says. “I wanted to remake the world. Not whatever bullshit you have in mind.”

“You’re right,” T’Challa nods. “What I have in mind means a lot fewer casualties.”

And then, before Erik can tell him where he can shove that logic, T’Challa smiles that fucking smug, honest, kind smile of his that makes Erik want to put his fist through something solid, and says: “Anyway. Rest, recover from your injuries.” He puts a hand on Erik’s shoulder, fingers squeezing lightly, before letting go. “We’ll talk more later.”

 

2.

It takes a few more weeks before Erik is fully back to himself. The more he learns about Wakanda the more he wonders if it wasn’t Shuri’s plan, or T’Challa’s, to let him go early, before the medical technology could fully restore him. Maybe it was just that T’Challa didn’t want Erik around his little sister once he was strong enough to do real damage.

Erik’s rooms are never guarded. He gets everything he asks for, promptly. In theory he can go anywhere. Explore the city, try to hustle a transport back to… somewhere. He tells himself he’ll start working on a real plan when he feels more like himself. What is there to do with a life you never asked for, after all your dreams and ambitions have been shattered? Everything he knows how to do well feels pointless, somehow. He tried getting the one thing he’s wanted all his life and he failed.

Mostly, he goes to see T’Challa. The palace is buzzing with T’Challa’s decision to reveal the country fully to the world, to establish contact openly with other countries. Even Erik can sense it. And of course, once it’s on TV in a million languages, it can never be undone.

“You’ll be the last king of Wakanda, by the way,” Erik says, when he and T’Challa are eating dinner together one day. He doesn’t know when eating with T’Challa had become a common occurrence. “I guess it’s no big deal that I destroyed all your heart-shaped herbs.”

“We’re working on cultivating a new crop,” T’Challa says, casually, while chewing the rice and meat dish they’re being served tonight. “But I’m flattered you’re worried about my legacy.”

Erik takes another bite of his own food. It tastes good, as always, familiar and foreign at the same time. Every meal since he woke up has been like an act of archeology, deciphering how his father incorporated this spice or that texture into Erik’s food as a kid, without ever arousing suspicion. Every bite is another memory, another puzzle piece slotting into place, and it always makes Erik feel a little bit off balance. Maybe that’s why he always finds himself eating with T’Challa. It’s easier to deal with when someone else is in the room. Fuck, if that’s what it is Erik has to cut that urge out of his system, with a knife if necessary.

He licks his lips, temporarily numb from the hot peppers. “Well, you’re a fucking idiot,” Erik says. “Revealing yourself without having a plan of attack. What do you think will happen now? All these white governments that spend more money on their military than their schools are gonna sit back and let you keep everything? Nah. You’re on borrowed time.”

T’Challa’s eyes crinkle, and he gathers more rice with his fingers. Erik’s still learning how to do it without getting sauce all over his hand. Of course, the palace staff provide utensils for every meal, probably for Erik’s benefit, which is why he fucking refuses to use them. This country chose to forget him, chose to let him grow up a foreigner. T’Challa can deal with the mess.

“I appreciate your concern,” T’Challa says. “It’s good that you’re keeping up with the news. Staying busy is good for you, according to our doctors.”

Erik is smothered by a sense of exasperation, a cloud of heat going from his sternum to his throat. Was it being given everything that made T’Challa this way? So blind about what the world really is?

But other than rolling his eyes, what can Erik do? There’s no way to wrestle control of Wakanda’s resources from T’Challa now, not after he was publicly defeated. Not after he caused a civil war and lost. If T’Challa wants to destroy the marvel that gave him life, the one beacon of hope in the world, he’s welcome to it.

At least not everyone in the palace is as delusional as the king. Erik discovers that on the way to T’Challa’s quarters one day – just a few minutes away from his own, but much bigger and flashier.

He hears Nakia’s voice before he even gets close to the doors.

“You can’t keep him here!” she’s saying, in Xhosa. Erik taught himself the language in high school, using his father’s diaries and the one dictionary he managed to get hold of.

“Where else should he live?” T’Challa says. “He’s where he’s always belonged.”

“Is he?” Nakia says, voice getting softer rather than louder, which Erik has learned is her way of getting angrier. “He almost destroyed everything this country is. Nearly started a world war! You have him living practically in your bedroom. Why not just give him a knife and paint a target on your chest?”

Erik can’t help but smile to himself. At least someone here knows what she’s talking about.

“You worry too much,” T’Challa says, but that clearly doesn’t go over well because his tone changes immediately. It loses its humor, gets more serious. “He’s ours, Nakia. Good and bad, we created him. We have to fix him. Or at least try. I refuse to be my father, no one else is getting left behind--"

Erik forces the doors to slide apart in front of him, stepping inside the room. T’Challa and Nakia turn their heads, startled. Well, that’s what the brilliant decision not to have guards outside your door at all times gets you, your majesty.

“You’re looking good,” Erik says, in English, looking at Nakia, after a brief pause in which he desperately tries to come up with something to say. “If this one isn’t satisfying you, you know where I’m staying.”

Nakia doesn’t respond, instead giving T’Challa a look of really? which somehow makes Erik feel even more queasy than before. Fuck.

“Erik is here because it’s time for dinner,” T’Challa says, ignoring both of them. “Join us?” he asks Nakia.

“Under serious protest,” she says, “and only because I’m leaving on assignment tomorrow.”

 

3.

“I think you need something to do,” T’Challa says, one morning, coming into Erik’s bedroom just after breakfast. Erik is in his underwear, curled up on the softest bed he’s ever slept on, flipping the pages of a book that was definitely written at least a thousand years ago but the pages are laced with vibranium so it looks brand new.

He uncurls and stands up, too quickly for it to be casual. Why doesn’t T’Challa ever have guards with him? And anyway, he shouldn’t be quiet like a cat without the suit. “Got any vacancies for a motivational speaker? I’m good with the youth.”

T’Challa smiles that awful, narrow, whimsical smile again. “The only youth work we're doing is at the outreach center, and unfortunately Nakia informs me you might not receive a warm welcome if I sent you there. I was thinking of something… closer to home. You must be getting bored by now. You’ve spent your whole life training, haven’t you?”

A question that weighs like a an Egyptian pyramid, despite T’Challa’s attempt to toss it into the air like a handful of sand.

“Yeah, I’ve trained,” Erik says. Trained for the life you denied me. “Haven’t seen any gyms around here though.”

“Well, we don’t have gyms like you’re used to,” T’Challa says, going over to the magical closet in the wall where Erik’s clothes always clean and fold themselves, no matter what state he tosses them in there. “But we have ways of training our bodies, of course.”

He picks out a shirt and pair of pants and comes back to hand them to Erik. They’re similar to what T’Challa himself is wearing – dark, not too tight, made of the same Wakandan fabric. Erik had been wearing whatever showed up in his closet every day since the hospital, not giving much thought to who had been picking out his wardrobe, until this moment. Was it T’Challa’s decision to dress Erik similarly to the American clothes he grew up with, instead of something more old school, more traditionally Wakandan?

“Besides-” T’Challa starts, then stops to watch as Erik pulls on the shirt. They stare at each other for a moment, and for the first time since he asked T’Challa to let him die, Erik feels like he has the upper hand. He’s spent his entire life putting his clothes on and taking them off in front of other men. T’Challa looks thrown for a moment by the intimacy of watching Erik cover himself up.

“Enjoying the view?” Erik says, pulling down his shirt and smoothing out its edges. He makes sure his eyes are locked on T’Challa’s.

“I, uh--it looks good on you,” T’Challa says, as if it’s a polite, friendly compliment rather than an obvious last minute save.

Erik’s father never talked to him about Wakandan sexual mores, but some of the books he’s been reading have been pretty explicit. Two hundred years ago, for example, Wakanda had a queen who was married to one of the Dora Milaje.

“I meant something closer to a job,” T’Challa says, now fully recovered. “Like I said.”

Erik looks down to button his pants, biting his lip as if in concentration, and then looks up suddenly and catches T’Challa staring again.

It doesn’t last, this time, because the world has never been into giving Erik anything he wanted.

It turns out the next stage of his torture, or redemption, or detainment, or whatever T’Challa imagines it to be, is dealing with Okoye.

To T’Challa’s credit, at least she’s not surprised to see Erik. Still, she’s clearly not happy. Erik wouldn’t be either, in her place.

“I have no idea how this traitor is supposed to be useful to us,” she says, in lieu of a greeting. They meet in a sleek room painted with traditional Wakandan motifs with a giant table-like surface in the center.

“You and me both, sis,” Erik says, shaking his head to let her know he also thinks it’s a terrible idea, whatever it is.

“You said you needed intelligence,” T’Challa says to his general. “I brought you the best we have.”

“We have people in every country,” Okoye says. “Ongoing reports on all important matters, especially in the United States. He’s useless to us.”

“He understands their mindset,” T’Challa says. “Not all of our people do.” He puts a hand on Erik’s shoulder, making Erik stare at the point of contact. “He knows not only their methods but their intentions, their hearts. He’s been one of them--"

“I’ve never been one of them,” Erik interrupts.

T’Challa gives him a long look. Okoye is silent.

“He’ll be useful to you,” T’Challa says, finally, looking back at Okoye. “More useful than any of our spies.”

“And if he proves himself to be the liar and murderer he is,” Okoye says, looking straight at Erik, “I can just kill him where he stands.” She looks back at T’Challa. “I suppose he could be useful, under those conditions.”

“Excellent,” T’Challa says. “I’ll leave you to do the initial debrief, General. I think it’s best you personally determine who he should work with on this matter.”

“Wait,” Erik says, as T’Challa turns to leave. “What is this? I thought you were all about the outreach and the sharing? Everyone’s your ally now and all that. Suddenly you need to upgrade your intel?”

Okoye gave Erik a smirk that was half contempt and half pity. “Do you really think we would not prepare for the possibility of attack from our new allies? Do you think everyone is as foolish and incompetent as you?”

“It’s good to see you two are already getting along,” T’Challa says, lips curving into a smile. “Erik, as much as I believe that it’s time to share our technology with the world, I know there are risks. I intend to do everything possible to prevent a war, but I’d be irresponsible not to prepare for every possible outcome.”

“Well,” Erik says, feeling something close over his throat like gauze, like a too-warm blanket. How could T’Challa be this person? Was he keeping it from Erik all this time? Did all of Erik’s training fail by letting him underestimate T’Challa? Letting him fall for T’Challa’s nonchalant, kumbaya act? No. It had to be a trick. There had to be something Erik was missing. T’Challa didn’t understand the first thing about how the real world worked.“You’re an idiot if you think you can withstand a fight on your own, even with all your tech.”

He expects T’Challa to smile again, reassure him that none of that would happen, treat Erik like an anxious child. Instead, T’Challa’s face is as serious as Erik’s ever seen it.

“That’s why you’re here,” he says.

 

4.

Okoye assigns soldiers to work with Erik in shifts, learn the methods he was trained in, the protocols and priorities of the CIA and various military units he’s been part of. She claims it’s so she can get all the useful info out of his head and dispose of him as quickly as possible. Partially he thinks it’s her way of keeping Erik busy and keeping him away from T’Challa.

Which isn’t the worst idea, as a strategy. He knows how counterintelligence works. Part of being a prisoner is handing over any information his captors could use to work against the people who trained him. And just because T’Challa doesn’t see him as a prisoner, doesn’t mean Okoye doesn’t wish he was one.

He doesn’t see T’Challa for days. Instead every pair of eyes he comes in contact with sees him as something between a curiosity and a menace. The soldiers speak Xhosa around him, thinking he doesn’t understand it at first. When he proves them wrong they just laugh, making fun of him for his accent. He’s grateful for it, in a way. It lets him stay in his own head, not get too comfortable. Not spend too long thinking about T’Challa’s plans, and what they might lead to, what they might accomplish.

Not dwell on the intricacies of his own former masterplan, on how differently he’s starting to see it with each passing day. Did he really mean to just send weapons out into the world and assume people would use them to fight their oppressors, instead of each other? Did he really think he’d be able to control any of it? Why didn’t he give himself more time?

But no, that’s easy. He had no idea what he’d find in Wakanda. He’d burned every bridge, spilled every drop of blood, cut out every piece of himself necessary just to get through the gate. Whatever he told himself at the time, everything after being let through the gate was pretty much improvised.

Working out again, being physical, using his brain after weeks of lazing around as if in a haze feels good. But instead of settling him it creates some kind of ticking inside his head, the distant countdown to an explosion, and every day, every hour the ticking grows louder.

Wakanda’s military is strong. They have so much tech, so many resources the world still doesn’t know about, that T’Challa maybe has no plans to reveal. But they’re still vulnerable, sheltered. Enamored with a belief in their own untouchability.

Erik comes back late one night, exhausted, and stares at his hands in the artificial light that doesn’t require fossil fuels to generate. His hands were always enough; he never needed to hold a gun to be considered a deadly weapon. He never carved scars into them because part of him would always be public, would always be seen, and those pieces had to tell a lie. He had to convince people he wasn’t dangerous, wasn’t alien, wasn’t awake.

His hands have killed so many people. People who didn’t deserve it. People who lived on this continent, whose tragedy was that they were born in a neighborhood even poorer than his hometown.

He doesn’t know how much time passes, doesn’t notice his surroundings for a while, but when he looks up from staring at his hands the room is a mess. There are dents in the walls; beautiful trinkets that are probably priceless heritage items are smashed on the floor. The soft seating area in the living room is torn to shreds.

When he looks up from surveying the damage T’Challa is standing in the doorway. Hands over his chest, calm but wary.

“Did something happen?” T’Challa asks.

Everything Erik wants to say. Everything happened. You left me to die like a dog and the world was as cruel to me as it wanted, and I gave back as good as I got.

“Whose rooms are these?” Erik says, instead. “Right next to yours, come with their own ridiculous library. Who are they actually for?”

“They’re mine,” T’Challa says, like this is a normal conversation. “The crown prince or princess is supposed to live here. Shuri didn’t want them, after our father died.”

Erik nods. Looks around at the destruction and the luxury underneath it all. To grow up here, loved and cared for, lacking for nothing, never treated like an animal, never told you were worthless by every system that was supposed to protect you. What a life that must have been.

“My mother left, when I was a baby,” Erik says. He looks down at his hands again and for the first time notices they’re bloody and bruised. “Didn’t see her again till I was grown. My first winter break at MIT I tracked her down. She was living in Miami, in a nice big house.”

T’Challa nods. Of course he knows all about it. He must have gotten all of Erik’s files in exchange for his enthusiastic cooperation with the CIA.

“She had a husband,” Erik says. “Two kids. Getting out of Oakland did her nothing but good.” He sounds so bitter, to his own ears. He’s spent so many years of his life trying to make sure he never sounded bitter, only angry.

“I know,” T’Challa says. He looks mildly uncomfortable, like someone who’s never heard of broken families, nevermind encountering a survivor of one in the wild. “I’m sorry it happened that way. Sorry for my father’s part in it.”

“I don’t need your sorry,” Erik says. The ticking in his head is deafening, tick tock, tick tock.

T’Challa unwraps his arms, takes a few steps, comes closer until they’re finger lengths apart. “What do you need?” He says,

“To choke the life out of you,” Erik says. “Watch you bleed out on the floor, like my dad did.”

“Give it your best shot,” T’Challa says.

Erik’s hands drift to T’Challa’s throat slowly, as if the air is molasses. They settle on the skin exposed by his shirt, gentle, exhorting no pressure. Erik runs his thumbs over T’Challa’s collarbones, over the fabric there, runs his fingers up T’Challa’s neck to his ear. He’s always so clean, skin so soft, hair looking perfect. Kingly. Like his body itself is an instrument of the crown.

The beat in Erik’s head feels like a frantic pulse, thrumming in his eyes, his chest, his cock.

He leans over until his lips meet T’Challa’s.

 

5.

Erik doesn’t remember anything from the year following his father’s death, but somehow his grades stayed as perfect as ever. When he got older he started skipping half his classes and still acing the tests. His peers were two, three years older than him by that point. He loved watching the faces of teachers who kept telling him he’d fail if he didn’t “pull himself together” when the results came in.

He could have gone to a good school, gotten a scholarship despite his disciplinary record, but he didn’t want that. Not back then. He was drawn to the military and the kind of man it turned you into. Strong, confident, impossible to fuck with. He was going to be seen as a thug for the rest of his life no matter what he did, so at least he’d have the skills to stand up for himself.

Everyone said he’d last maybe a day at the USNA. No one would tolerate his attitude in the Navy. But everything about being a soldier was easier than his life before. There were clear rules and consequences to everything, and none of it felt personal, even when it was. Nobody knew him or cared about who he was. He learned playing a character was easy. Hiding himself in plain sight, taking what he wanted from the system and only giving back tiny fractions of himself.

He fucked a guy for the first time when he was still a plebe at Annapolis. Blowjobs in the shower with some white boy who was barely keeping up with their classes. Erik helped him with his homework in exchange for getting his dick sucked and it was the easiest relationship he’d ever had.

How different would his life had been if he’d been raised in Wakanda? Would he have even learned how to fight? Would that have any appeal to him? Or would he have built himself the biggest lab in the palace while Shuri was still in diapers?

He could ask T’Challa’s opinion, but he doesn’t want to. Too busy kissing T’Challa right now, undoing the buttons on the pants of T’Challa’s suit. It’s the one he usually wears when he’s out talking to white people on TV, he must have just come back from doing another press conference.

The books in Erik’s room have taught him Wakandan genealogies are full of cousins marrying each other. It’s unavoidable, he supposes, in a relatively small country that closes itself off for centuries, especially since their medicine was always good enough to cure most things. But he doesn’t want T’Challa’s fucking hand in marriage. Nakia can have that. He wants something else.

T’Challa moans and grabs Erik’s hand as soon as it’s wrapped around T’Challa’s cock.

“I want to see you,” T’Challa says, staring straight at Erik with eyes like two burning embers.

“You’ve seen me,” Erik says, relaxing his grip but not pulling his hand away.

“Take off your clothes,” T’Challa says, and Erik feels heat spread through his chest. Something about this feels like too much, too close, too dangerous, but he can’t pull back now.

“Is that how you talk to your girlfriend?” Erik tries, a desperate attempt to push T’Challa off balance, give himself some breathing room.

“Nakia and I don’t keep secrets,” T’Challa says, ignoring Erik’s question and answering the one Erik deliberately didn’t ask instead.

T’Challa and Nakia have talked about this. Talked about T’Challa’s feelings, desires for Erik. That was the implication.

It should have felt weird, gross, like a violation, but it didn’t. There was no scenario in which Nakia hadn’t given her blessing, if T’Challa was here, doing this. The thought of that, of the two of them deciding that all things considered, all of Erik’s crimes weighed and measured, this was right, acceptable for T’Challa to do, it made Erik’s blood too warm for his veins, made the air too thick to filter through his lungs.

“Take off your clothes,” T’Challa says, and Erik does it.

He takes off his shoes, his pants, his shirt, his underwear. The scars go down to his thighs. T’Challa looks at him, taking in his body like he’s memorizing building schematics.

“Which one was the first?” T’Challa asks, and Erik realizes he’s talking about the scars.

“This one,” Erik says, putting his finger against one of the dots over his heart. “Did it with the standard issue knife, on deployment. Got infected, had a fever for two days.”

T’Challa puts his hand over Erik’s chest, as if he can still feel the heat from the wound.

Standing here, having T’Challa fully clothed while he’s touching Erik like this, it makes every part of his skin feel raw. Erik reaches out again, pushes the jacket off from T’Challa’s shoulders, unbuttons his shirt. T’Challa lets it all fall to the ground but keeps at least one hand on Erik throughout.

This too starts to feel like yet another battle.

Erik pushes T’Challa away and he goes, not unsteady on his feet but yielding to Erik’s desire. Erik kisses him again, with tongue and teeth, and walks them backwards to the bedroom. The bed is covered in debris, shards of clay and feathers from the masks decorating the room, but T’Challa sweeps it all away with an easy hand and lies down, pulling Erik along with him.

“Nobody ever told me about this part,” Erik says, half-crouching on the bed, pushing his hands back into T’Challa’s underwear. The buttons of T’Challa’s pants are still only half undone and Erik likes it. He feels more under Erik’s control this way, more restricted in his movements. If T'Challa wants his dick touched he’s gotta stay exactly where Erik has him. "Does the king save himself for marriage? A model for the people, keeping yourself chaste and pure?”

T’Challa laughs. “There’s nothing impure about this,” he says, and his hand reaches out to touch Erik’s balls. His fingers wrap around the sack, hard enough to hurt and the shock of it makes Erik gasp and let go, twist away, pull his hand out of T’Challa’s pants.

T’Challa lets go of Erik’s balls with that clever, full-of-himself smile that somehow manages to be tender, and undoes his own pants, shoving them down, along with his underwear.

They’re both naked now, and Erik still feels a ghostly soreness in his balls, his stomach tied up in knots for some reason. It feels like they’re going to spar now, like T’Challa got them both naked in a bed to test Erik, see how resilient he really is. Erik’s heart is beating faster and he can feel the fog from earlier, the ticking, starting to come back.

T’Challa’s hand is on Erik’s shoulder. Erik looks down, sees the fingers resting just above his scars. T’Challa’s caressing him, slow, measured movements up and down Erik’s skin.

“Turn around,” T’Challa says. There’s no challenge in the words.

Erik turns, slowly, to lie on his stomach.

T’Challa’s hands run over his back and Erik’s face sinks deeper into the mattress. He doesn’t know what they’re doing anymore. He just knows this doesn’t feel bad or wrong. He’s barely jerked off since they let him out of the hospital, his body taking a long time to heal and his mind too on edge, too paranoid about being vulnerable in a space he doesn’t control.

But T’Challa’s hands feel good. They’ve always felt good, when they weren’t actively trying to hurt Erik.

He feels T’Challa’s hands run over his ass, fingers dipping in between his cheeks. T’Challa’s thumb rests against Erik’s hole, rubs against it in gentle circles. T’Challa’s not applying pressure, not trying to push inside, just touching him the way he’d touched the scar over Erik’s heart, and something about it is like an electric shock, like a live current that hits Erik’s chest from the inside, making his ribs hurt, making his lungs heavy.

He grabs fistfuls of the sheets - laced with vibranium and impossible to tear, he’s discovered - and holds on, makes himself still. Turns his head to the left so he can breathe easier. Closes his eyes against the turmoil in his own head.

T’Challa’s mouth kisses the top of Erik’s right thigh, and then his left. He moves in closer, forces Erik to part his legs wider, before settling his hands to pull Erik’s cheeks gently apart.

Erik’s done this and had it done to him, more than once. He tells himself that, as T’Challa’s mouth closes like a hot oven, like a brand over his hole, licking around and around the rim, kissing the spot with his lips, making a loud, ridiculous sound.

Erik reminds himself of it while he lies still, while T’Challa’s finger runs up and down Erik’s taint, pressing down and massaging gently, while a warm heat spreads from Erik’s stomach to his chest and up to his throat. Like a light, summer rain dispelling the fog, leaving his mind clear for the first time in what feels like forever.

T’Challa keeps licking him, encouraging Erik’s hips to move by pushing against the most sensitive, vulnerable parts of him with his fingers, and Erik wishes he could be lost in this until he dies. Lying in a bed he should never have had any claim to, in a kingdom that does and doesn’t call him a son, in the ruins of the riches he destroyed because somewhere along the way he made the choice to forget what’s important, what his father taught him about solidarity and justice and protecting those weaker than you.

T’Challa’s mouth keeps giving him pleasure and Erik feels wetness leak from his closed eyes into the high tech fabric he’s lying on. He moves his hips to make up for it, rubs his half-hard cock against the bed.

T’Challa’s mouth is gently sucking on the rim now, tongue dipping in occasionally to tease inside. His hands are still caressing Erik’s cheeks, keeping him open, keeping his legs spread.

The thing trying to crawl up from his throat gets stronger, and Erik can’t hold it back anymore. The tears turn into a sob and he can feel T’Challa pulling away, unbending over Erik’s body, probably with a fucking concerned look in his eyes.

“Just keep going,” Erik says, but his voice isn’t his own. It sounds like he’s been eating gravel.

T’Challa crawls up the bed without untangling himself from Erik, and Erik’s traitorous fucking body responds by crying harder.

T’Challa lies next to him, one leg over Erik’s thighs, snug up against his ass, his chest pressed against Erik’s arm, and brings their faces together, kisses Erik, tastes the tears smeared all over his face.

“I killed so many people for them,” Erik says, as T’Challa wraps his arms around him, one over Erik’s back and one wrapped around his head. “So many of our people. Done so many unforgivable things. Because they told me, because it was a way to get what I wanted. Because…” he tries to get the words out, needs to have them out in the world because inside his own head they’re threatening to strangle him. He has to let another sob out before he has control of his mouth again. “Because I was one of them. I didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to admit it, but I made a choice. I let their poison consume me.”

His whole face feels swollen. There’s snot dripping from his nose and he can’t muster the strength to get up, shake T’Challa off. He turns his head away, in the opposite direction, wiping himself off on the sheets in the process.

T’Challa doesn’t say anything for a long time. They both stay motionless, with only their breathing moving their bodies against one another. Erik doesn’t know where things go from here. Part of him hopes some alien threat attacks and blows the palace to smithereens. Or maybe the aliens just use some laser weapon on him, vaporize him from existence.

T’Challa’s hand pushes Erik’s dreadlocks up and out of the way before Erik feels T’Challa’s mouth settle on the back of his head. It’s just a short, dry kiss, but then T’Challa rests his cheek on Erik’s head. “I think it’s time to make some new choices,” he says, almost whispering it into Erik’s ear. “Don’t you?”

Erik doesn’t say anything.

“You’ve been helpful with Okoye,” T’Challa says. “I think it’s time you see my sister’s lab. See if you can keep up with her and maybe contribute anything, with that big brain of yours.”

His hands caress Erik’s back and Erik shudders. Not from the touch but from the words. He feels exposed and vulnerable, like three layers of his skin have been peeled back and the air is touching raw nerves. He can’t see Shuri yet, after how he treated her when they last met. He just can’t.

“Shh,” T’Challa says, and Erik wants to turn around, punch him in the face like he’d punch anyone who dared talk to him that way, but he doesn’t.

Instead he stays motionless and breathing.

“We can do it later," T'Challa says. “There’s time.”