The first time Erik knelt in front of his throne, T'Challa could not breathe. His arms were spreed out, and he was on his knees, but his eyes were blazing on T'Challa's face.
“Isn't this what you wanted?” and T'Challa could not breathe.
Erik had arrived at court with a dead body and a swagger and T'Challa wasn't certain he'd had a solid night of sleep since then. He had come with their grandmother's ring on a chain around his neck, a match for their grandfather's that T'Challa wore every day and had since his father had given to him. He came with canine teeth covered in gold and an anger that he spat out on the whole court.
“Who is this?” the queen mother had asked when Erik had waltzed into the throne room, W'Kabi at his shoulder.
“We found him at the border of space,” W'Kabi said and there was something dark in his expression T'Challa was not used to seeing.
“Then why did you bring him here?”
T'Challa stared at him from atop his throne, frowning, because there was no reason to know the man or to recognize him, he was an outsider, but there was something to the tilt of his chin and the arc of his smirk that spoke of familiarity.
“Because he brought us the body of Ulysses Klaue,” W'Kabi said and the court erupted into murmurs. “He also has our mark,” and the murmurs turned into something louder.
“A War Dog tattoo?” Shuri asked, from beside T'Challa's throne. “Do we have record of him?”
“No,” Okoye said, having opened a screen, scrolling through their records. “There is no one who fits his age or description.”
And he had not spoken, he kept smirking, his eyes on T'Challa and the emperor felt something crawl up his spine.
“Brother?” Shuri asked, her braids draped in purple and gold and silver on both her wrists. “Brother, what do you think?”
“I am curious if he has anything to say for himself,” T'Challa said, in his heavy dark robes and the smirk on the man's face only became more pronounced. “You did us a great service, bringing us a criminal we had been unable to catch ourselves.”
“Yeah, and I'm all about the service,” the man said, tilting his chin up, and his accent was rough, different, making T'Challa's fingers twitch. He glanced at his mother, wondering if she knew the accent. “As to what I want? I'd like your throne,” and the court went dead silent for the first time since the stranger appeared. T'Challa blinked once, too shocked to even react. “But it's not like you have an easy path there, is it? No duel for the throne business so I guess I'll have to satisfy myself with something else.”
“Something else?” T'Challa asked, still surrounded by complete silence.
“Yeah, I'll have to let you know. I'm planning on sticking around for a while.”
“You are?” Shuri asked. “After a statement like that? After saying you want my brother's throne you just think you'll have a right to stay around court?”
W'Kabi shifted, and T'Challa registered it from the corner of his eyes, but he had not broken eye contact with the stranger since his pronouncement.
“Yeah,” the stranger said. “Why not? I'd have the same right to the throne as he does,” and no one had moved.
“How?” Shuri asked and W'Kabi lifted his hand, a chain dangling from it.
“He had this,” W'Kabi said and T'Challa finally broke the other man's gaze to stare at the ring, recognizing it as a mate for the one he wore on his own finger.
“How—” Ramonda asked, rising to her feet.
“Because I am the son of N'Jobu,” the man barked, lifting his chin. “Left out in space, abandoned by your empire even though I share the royal blood of your ruling family. Nice to meet you aunt,” and he meet T'Challa's eyes again. “Cousin.”
“N'Jobu had no children, he was lost,” Ramonda said, having returned to her seat, though her hands were white as they gripped the arms of the chair.
“More like murdered,” the man said. “But maybe that story can wait for a while, huh, cousin?”
“Yes,” T'Challa said, rising, and he could not remember the last time his court had been so silent. “Release his bindings.”
“But, majesty,” Okoye started.
“Do it,” T'Challa said, an edge in his voice. “Escort him to the royal chambers. This discussion should be continued in private. Mother, sister,” and he swept from the room, expecting Okoye to follow his orders and bring the stranger to him.
“Brother, do you believe him?” Shuri asked, as his sister and mother fell in beside him, a pair of Dora Milaje behind them.
“He has grandmother's ring,” T'Challa said. “And the mark.”
“That doesn't mean he is N'Jobu's son,” Ramonda said.
“He is Wakandan, though, that seems certain,” Shuri said.
“We will find out,” T'Challa said, sweeping through the door that slid open as he approached, keyed specifically into the bio signature of the royal family.
“He wants something from us,” Shuri said. “That much is obvious, no matter who he is. He brought us Klaue, knowing the Empire has been seeking him for years.”
“He might just be looking for family,” T'Challa said. “He might be looking for home.”
“Does he truly seem like the sort of person looking simply for a home?” Ramonda asked and T'Challa had no answer.
When the stranger arrived, T'Challa stood alone waiting for him.
“Nice place,” the stranger said, looking around the rooms and finally focusing the same intense stare he had displayed in the throne room on T'Challa, who gestured with his chin for the Dora Milaje to wait on the other side of the door.
“What is your name?” T'Challa asked, feeling like the stranger was trying to get him to rise toward some bait.
“Depends on which name you want. N'Jadaka was the name my father gave me. Stevens was the name my master gave me. Erik Killmonger is the name I took for myself.”
“I recommend you not call me that,” Erik said, an edge in his voice.
“Erik Killmonger then,” T'Challa said. “You came here, now. Why?”
“Well, I found my way in, didn't I?” Erik asked, and started walking back and forth in front of T'Challa. “You wouldn't have just let me stroll in, tattoo or not. Besides, Wakanda is not on any of the starcharts. You made yourselves hard to find on purpose.”
“True,” T'Challa said, watching Erik pace in front of him, his eyes constantly moving around the room, to T'Challa's face. “We have made ourselves hard to find.”
“Yeah, you and your empire, hiding in the middle of space, like no one is going to notice you,” Erik said.
“No one has,” T'Challa has. “Or at least they haven't found us.”
“You have all this wealth,” Erik said, gesturing around the room. “All this power. And your solution to all of that is to hide? Unify what, five worlds—”
“Four,” T'Challa said, though Jabari technically belonged to the Empire it was a technicality only in name.
“Four, whatever. You unify four worlds and just stop right there. You hide away here, hidden in plain sight and that's enough for you? Doesn't matter what happens in the rest of the galaxy, so long as you remain pretty on your throne? It was luck of the draw, that you ended up here, in this hidden place, with these resources. You could burn the rest of the galaxy down and rebuild it, if you had any ambition.”
“Why would I have that ambition?” T'Challa asked, voice mild though his heart rate had kicked up the longer Erik talked. “We have everything we need here.”
“Maybe because the people of that galaxy deserves your help,” Erik said and T'Challa noticed as he talked that his bottom canines were covered in gold.
T'Challa blinked again, dragging his eyes back up. “You mentioned you had a master.”
“Yeah, well, there's not many systems that outlaw slavery,” Erik said with a shrug. “Poor little lost boy. I did what I had to to stay alive. I got caught, I killed him, and I've fought my own way across the galaxy, and now I came back to where my blood came from.”
“Do you want safety?” T'Challa asked and Erik laughed, stopping his pacing for the first time.
“Safety? I came into your throne room and said I wished I could challenge you for the throne, why the fuck would I want safety? No,” and he stepped forward, making T'Challa's spine tighten. “I want Wakanda's power. I want to show you you're wrong. I'm going to convince you to have ambition.”
“And how exactly are you going to do that?” T'Challa asked, meeting his eyes.
“Don't know yet,” Erik said, voice suddenly light. “What method of persuasion works on you?”
“And what if you can't,” T'Challa asked. “Persuade me?”
Erik's mouth twitched. “I don't know. I'm not an assassin, if that's what you're asking.”
“Can you prove that you truly are N'Jobu's son?” T'Challa asked.
“You want to run a test, don't you?” Erik asked and T'Challa inclined his head. “Run any tests you want. Take what blood you need, it doesn't matter to me. But,” and he took another step closer, T'Challa's brows twitching up because since he became emperor no one dared stand so close to him anymore. “I am your blood. I expect that to be known.”
“Once proven conclusively, yes,” T'Challa said, hands curled loosely into fists at his side.
“Good,” Erik said. “Then do what you need to do. I can wait.”
T'Challa nodded, taking a step back, planning on leaving. He paused. “How did you find Klaue anyway? We had our war dogs search for him for years.”
“Sometimes to find scum you simply have to already be where they are,” Erik said with a smile, showing all his teeth and T'Challa was struck by the gold again.
“Please stay here,” T'Challa said, heading for the door and knowing that if Erik really was of their blood, he would be able to pass through it without escort. Perhaps it was a minor test, to see if Erik meant what he said.
“I ran every test,” Shuri said a few hours later. “I invented a couple new tests just to make sure the old ones were up to snuff. His genetics are ours.”
“So N'Jobu did have a son,” T'Challa said. “And he grew up out there, alone. How? How did this happen?”
“We lost N'Jobu,” Ramonda said. “We did not know what happened to him. We did not even know he had a son. The galaxy is large.”
“So there is another prince,” T'Challa said. “Who was raised in slavery, who became a soldier out there and now has come home. He says he wants to convince me to take Wakanda out into the galaxy at large, to use our influence.”
“You must not give him the chance,” Ramonda said. “He is dangerous, and not one of us. In body, in blood, yes, but not in spirit or soul.”
“You would have me send him away again.”
“Reward him,” Ramonda said. “Give him gold and technology for his trouble but to allow him to stay in Wakanda would be madness.”
“He is one of us,” T'Challa said. “He is our cousin. Your nephew. I will not send him away if he does not wish to go.”
His mother stared at him a long moment before she slowly nodded. “It is, of course, your choice, my son.”
“I agree with mother,” Shuri said, holding her holoprojector. “He will be dangerous.”
“He seems convinced he can persuade me,” T'Challa said. “Perhaps I can turn the tables and persuade him instead.”
Neither his sister nor his mother looked confident in his abilities.
“You are who you say you are,” T'Challa said, meeting Erik again, finding him lounged out across a couch, his legs kicked out and arms folded behind his head.
“Of course I am,” Erik said. “Don't think I'd actually be stupid enough to come here lying, did you?”
“I am starting to recognize that,” T'Challa said. “You are welcome to stay. You are a member of my family. There are certain protocols, however, in this court. You shall have to learn.”
Erik's smile was obviously feral and it made something slither up T'Challa's spine. “Learn how to fit in at court? Maybe your court just needs to be shaken up,” and T'Challa had a sudden sense of the magnitude of the change entering his life.