“Ready?” T’Challa asked, as one of the Primes let him into M’Baku’s suite. He frowned as he noticed M’Baku in his Jabari leather vest and breeches by the balcony. “You’re not ready.”
M’Baku muttered something under his breath. He’d been looking out over Geneva, oblivious to the biting cold. Below, people were hurrying past on sidewalks under the morning frost. “I don’t like this city.”
“It’s not so bad. Compared to some others. Come on, M’Baku. I had a set of clothes sent to you.” T’Challa looked at the Primes, who were all dressed in full Jabari wood armour. “And your Primes.”
M’Baku looked T’Challa over. “Oh, so it wasn’t a joke.”
“Would I joke about something like that? Get changed. Please.” T’Challa was already dressed in his silver-accented tuxedo, a rich scarf wrapped at his throat. He strode over, grabbing M’Baku by the elbow as M’Baku started to protest, dragging him into the bedroom of the suite and pushing the door closed with his foot.
M’Baku pulled at T’Challa’s sleeve. “I suppose it looks like the long jackets you like to wear in Birnin Zana. But even less practical.”
“The clothes I sent you were made in Birnin Zana. Sewn with vibranium. They just look like Outsider clothes.”
“And why are we wearing things that look like Outsider clothes? What’s wrong with Wakandan clothes?”
“… But?” M’Baku grinned sharply.
“Certain people sadly have narrow sensibilities,” T’Challa said, choosing his words delicately. “And in the practice of diplomacy sometimes it is better to reassure. To give people what they want to see, rather than appear as what you are.”
“So like what Wakanda has been doing all this while, but on a micro sale.”
M’Baku sniffed. He walked over to the large bed, trailing his fingertips over the thick quilt on top. The Four Seasons hotel didn’t skimp on luxury for its suites, but M’Baku’s lip was curled in amused condescension. “You’ve already decided not to hide. So why keep up the charade? Besides, I’ve seen some of the other diplomats. Quite a few wear the clothes of their people. Why shouldn’t I?”
T’Challa sat on the edge of the bed. “Because I don’t want all those people out there to look at the Jabari and come to a conclusion out of… of ignorant assumptions.”
M’Baku stared at him. Then he started to laugh. “You don’t want those fancy people outside to think that the Jabari are savages.”
“Because you’re not.”
M’Baku grinned, shaking his head. “Because you fancy people in your golden city used to think the same thing. Some of you still do, eh? Even now.”
T’Challa exhaled. “M’Baku.”
“Just because we don’t use vibranium?”
“I don’t think the Jabari are… are somehow less than the other tribes. In any way. Just different. And yes, there are still people in the other tribes who will cling to centuries of old assumptions, but they will change.”
M’Baku looked amused. “The Jabari have never cared what the other tribes thought, O King. From the very beginning.”
“Why? Because I now share your bed?”
“Because it’s wrong,” T’Challa said, trying to stay patient. “It’s wrong and it’s insulting and yes, I’m ashamed that I used to be the same. That I used to think that way.”
“Ah, there we go. Progress.” M’Baku shook a finger at him, still amused. “We’re really talking about your guilt. Most excellent.”
“Please take this seriously.”
“I am. You asked me to get changed. I’ve changed. If you don’t like what I’m wearing, then I won’t go to this big important meeting that you want me to attend by your side. The Jabari don’t care what the other Wakandan tribes think of us. We care even less about what Outsiders think.”
“All right,” T’Challa said, disappointed. “If that’s how you feel. Fine. Let’s go.”
“And now you’re getting upset.”
“Frustrated, maybe. Yes.”
“Hmmm.” M’Baku sprawled down on the bed. His legs dangled easily off the edge as he squirmed to get comfortable. “This really matters to you.”
“I do happen to be King of Wakanda.” T’Challa shifted closer, until their thighs were pressed together. “Diplomacy matters.”
“There’s something else, isn’t there? Other than the clothes.”
“Well.” T’Challa reached over, nudging fingertips through the fur trim of M’Baku’s bracers. “This is also a country that doesn’t approve, in general, of the use of fur.”
“Why? It’s a natural material.”
“Probably because of the way they produce fur clothes outside Wakanda. It’s often a cruel practice where people keep animals in hundreds of tiny cages, crammed together. Then they kill them and skin them.”
M’Baku wrinkled his nose. “Really? They do that to their animals?”
“Not just the ones they farm for fur, but yes, that’s why, in a way, some of them will look at what you wear and misunderstand.”
“Skinning animals? We’re not barbaric.”
“You’re wearing leather.”
“This?” M’Baku tapped his vest. “This isn’t made by… wait. How do you think. How is leather made outside Jabari lands?”
There was a long silence. M’Baku pulled a face. “All right, I don’t want to go to your meeting thing anymore. I’m going home. Wait till I tell everyone about all this. I’ve heard some horror stories about their food farms, but I thought things might have been exaggerated. Skinned animals. Eh. Hey. Are you actually… are you actually just joking? Because if you’re trying to disgust me it’s working, but now I’m confused.”
“I’m not joking, no.”
“So we’re in a land of barbaric people but you’re concerned that we might look barbaric. To. People who farm animals in little cages and wear their skins.”
“Diplomacy is a strange but necessary practice of maintaining appearances, yes.”
“Why are we trying to be friends with all these people again?”
“In the hopes that they can do better?”
“Right. Suuure. Any other surprises?”
“Well,” T’Challa admitted, “it might be… controversial showing up at this diplomatic event with you as my partner as it is. Which is why I was hoping to ease them into one shock at a time. Outsiders can be fragile.”
M’Baku puzzled this over. “Because I’m taller?” he ventured doubtfully.
“What? Taller? No?” At M’Baku’s blank stare, T’Challa said, “Because we’re both men. This part of the world has leaders who are a little more enlightened, but most of the rest of the world isn’t.”
“… So tell me again about your magical plan to save all these barbarians from themselves.”
“Don’t.” T’Challa lay beside M’Baku, stretching out, shoulder to shoulder. “There is a lot of misery in the world. A lot of ignorance and cruelty. I do want to change that.”
“I know, I’ve heard your speech. Several times.” M’Baku sounded unconvinced. He was about to say something else, then he frowned, squirming, groping under his shoulder. “What’s this?” He held up a small foil-wrapped square stamped with the hotel logo.
“You say that like it means something to me.”
“It’s a type of sweet. Dessert. You might like it.”
“… Made of animals?” M’Baku asked, clearly now suspicious forever more.
“Let me see that.” T’Challa took the square from M’Baku and read the back. “Mm. What is the Jabari opinion of cow’s milk?”
“… Suspicious but cautious acceptance?” M’Baku watched as T’Challa unwrapped the square, popping the piece of dark chocolate into M’Baku’s mouth.
M’Baku frowned, chewing slowly. It looked like he was grimacing. T’Challa looked around for tissues, but just as he was about to get up from the bed to get some, M’Baku made a low moan, squeezing his eyes shut. T’Challa grinned. “You like it?”
It took M’Baku a few moments to find the words. “That. Was amazing. That’s an Outsider food?”
“Cacao trees grow in a limited geographical zone that doesn’t include Wakanda, but since most of the world’s crop is grown in West Africa, we do import it to Birnin Zana now and then. But yes, to answer your question, it’s an Outsider food. Switzerland has some of the world’s best chocolatiers.”
“Hmm.” M’Baku considered this. “Maybe I’m not in such a hurry to go home.”
“Let’s negotiate,” T’Challa said, rolling up onto his elbows.
“You want me to compromise my principles for sweets?”
“I wasn’t going to put it that way—”
“Done.” M’Baku laughed at T’Challa’s blink. “Jokes aside, if this is really important to you, fine. I’ll follow your lead. I’m not unreasonable. I was going to change. I just wanted to understand why you thought it was important. And I might not agree with you, but I respect your opinion.”
T’Challa leaned over for a lingering kiss. “Nevermind those Outsiders, I think I don’t deserve you.”
“Keep that in mind, O King.”
“The fit of these clothes is very uncomfortable,” M’Baku whispered back.
“It’s fitted.” T’Challa tried, not for the first time, not to consciously stare.
M’Baku was a gorgeous man, and would’ve made anything look good, but the tuxedo clung to his broad shoulders and long thighs like a sleek second skin. A scarf ran over his shoulders and down his torso. It only highlighted his powerful chest, one that was stretching the tailored shirts to their limits.
Dinner was going to be excruciating.
“I don’t like the shoes either,” M’Baku muttered, casting a glance down the long dining table. “And I think I’ve seen more dead animals today than I’ve ever wanted to.”
They were speaking in Xhosa: M’Baku was pretending not to know any other languages. Beside T’Challa, the French UN ambassador said, in French, “The food is not to your… partner’s tastes?”
“It’s not what he’s used to,” T’Challa replied in French. “And he’s a strict vegetarian. Our hosts were kind enough to accommodate him, but he’s never been outside Wakanda before.”
“For good reason,” M’Baku said, pitched just for T’Challa’s ears.
“Ah, well, I hope it’s been a good experience,” the ambassador said, smiling over at M’Baku. T’Challa ‘translated’.
“You’re French. You people force-feed ducks to eat their fattened livers? Disgusting practice,” M’Baku said, still in Xhosa, having clearly done some interim reading. He ignored T’Challa’s warning stare, smirking as he turned his attention back to his plate. The rest of the dinner was interminable, and T’Challa was relieved by the time they returned to the hotel.
“You’re terrible,” T’Challa said, once they were alone in T’Challa’s suite, the Primes and Dora Milaje dismissed for the night.
“Me? Speak for yourself. I think you were staring at my ass the whole night.” M’Baku smirked. He plucked at the lapels of his jacket. “Can I take this off now, your Majesty, or do you want to admire it some more?”
“Terrible, just terrible.” T’Challa walked over, leaning up on the balls of his feet. He pulled M’Baku to the bed by his scarf. They shed their clothes with growing impatience, shoving jackets and tailored trousers and shoes off the bed as they kissed bared skin and inked muscle. T’Challa regretted that it was too late in the day to prep for anything too strenuous. He treasured the slow days he shared with M’Baku, the precious few they could spend learning each other’s bodies, away from their schedules. M’Baku nipped down his throat, nuzzling his collarbone. His hands were yielding over T’Challa’s thighs, waiting for T’Challa to choose.
They ground together, spit-slicked, cocks pushed into the tight circle M’Baku made with his big hands. Everything about M’Baku was big and T’Challa loved it. He loved to fit M’Baku’s fingers in his mouth, running his tongue over large, rough pads. He loved how long his hands took to travel down M’Baku’s flanks. He loved the powerful thighs, the thick muscle of M’Baku’s arms. And of course T’Challa liked how impressive M’Baku’s cock was, how heavy it sat in his palms, in his mouth. He gasped worship against M’Baku’s cheek, shivered as he thrust against him. M’Baku grinned mischievously, leaning over to run his tongue teasingly over the triangle links of T’Challa’s necklace, making him gasp. They buried their moans together.
M’Baku shrugged. “I like children. Besides, if I wasn’t wearing this, they’d be staring at you instead.”
“And you can’t have that?” T’Challa smiled, teasing.
“If we’re going to be a spectacle either way to these people then I might as well be at the centre of attention.” At least M’Baku seemed more amused than offended.
“The world still has much to learn,” T’Challa said. They stopped outside the glass-fronted Teuscher store, waiting as Okoye and Ayo stepped through to inspect the interior. Once within, M’Baku’s excitement was palpable. He studied the shelves, reading each label. The staff brought out samples. M’Baku tried each sample as solemnly as he would inspect a new treaty.
“You’re the richest man in the world, aren’t you?” M’Baku asked T’Challa. His grin was playful.
“In a sense,” T’Challa said dryly, “but if you’re going to ask me to buy up all the chocolate in Switzerland and have it flown over to Jabari lands, I’m probably going to have to demur.”
“Well, if you want me to go with you to the next boring meeting, or function, or whatever it is, maybe you should buy enough to impress me.” M’Baku smirked. “I’m joking. Though I think Ce’Athauna might like some. And my uncle. Maybe one each of these?”
“Everything you have in stock,” T’Challa told the attendant. “Delivery to the Four Seasons.”
“I was joking,” M’Baku said, when they were outside.
“But you’re impressed.”
“Some part of me is shallow enough to be, yes.” M’Baku drew T’Challa close, grinning. They kissed on the street, for anyone to see. T’Challa tasted M’Baku’s pleasure on his mouth, chased chocolate on his tongue. He would not let the world take this from him. Not Outsiders, not even Wakanda.
“Maybe the outside world isn’t as bad as I thought,” M’Baku said, as they walked slowly back down the street.
“Some of it, yes. I’d like to show that to you. All that is beautiful in it.”
“And all that is ugly in it too,” M’Baku said, to T’Challa’s surprise. “If you want me to understand what our place in all this should be, then I don’t just want to look at the shiny bits.”
“It’ll be an honour and my pleasure,” T’Challa said, and leaned up, brushing a kiss over M’Baku’s cheek as he laughed.