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Strong as Stone

Chapter Text

Smoother than the stone that has been washed over by the strongest river. That is how they must be. Outwardly placid, unreadable, stoic, statue-like, only to become hard and invincible when pressure is placed upon them. Unyielding, unbreaking, unfeeling.


 

The Dora Milaje are well known to the people of Wakanda. Fierce warriors, protectors of the king, master strategists that make up a tightly knit clan of the best women that each tribe has to offer. They are both terrifying and awe-inspiring, and almost untouchable in a way that the King and Black Panther never will be.

To the outsiders, the colonizers, they are nothing but women dressed in flattering, smart-looking dresses with shaved heads that accompany the royal family wherever they go. Woe to those who underestimate the power and wrath of the Dora Milaje.

Stones, however, have the distinct advantage of neither thinking or feeling.

This was where Okoye was grateful for the many hidden nooks of the royal garden. Night had fallen in Wakanda. The palace was much like a tomb, without all the advisers and servants moving through the halls. Only the night guards, also members of the Dora Milaje, moved through the palace now, and woe to whomever might be stupid enough to try and break in.

Okoye, of course, was just a call and quick run away, should things really fall apart. However, night shift was a frustration that she was promoted out of many years ago, and she was grateful for the shadows and silence of garden. She sat on a bench under one of the many trees --not too far from the palace, she knew better--and she let herself stop being a stone, just for a moment.

She thought, she felt, and, yes, she cried.

Of course, her friends and sisters among the ranks of the Dora Milaje would've stepped up to comfort her if she asked them to, but there were times when one just had to do some things in private.

She had loved W’Kabi, loved him in a way that she hadn’t loved anyone else. He had been so earnest with his animals --not just the rhinos, that man had an entire farm that he cared for--and so gentle with her. He was so warm, so loving, so different to the stone she had trained, struggled, and worked for years to become. Stepping into W’Kabi’s arms, on her few days and nights off, was like becoming human again.

Okoye grimaced as she wiped bitter, angry tears away from her eyes.

Of course, losing the warmth wasn’t the worst of it. It was never the worst of it. Maybe, if Killmonger had taken W’Kabi’s life, she wouldn’t hurt as much. Yes, she would’ve mourned him, grieved for him, but it would have been so much... cleaner.

Okoye drew in a shaky breath as she glared up at the branches of the tree that she sat under. For Bast’s sake, he made a mess worse than one of his rhinos ever did.

Because it wasn’t just about losing W’Kabi. No, instead, he’d gone and betrayed the King, betrayed T’Challa, and backed a foreigner, the bastard son of a traitor prince. He’d indirectly caused T’Challa’s near death, and forced her to live to the word of her vow as a Dora Milaje and serve a homicidal maniac that wanted to use vibranium to launch an attack against the colonized world. All because T’Challa had lost Klaue.

Okoye clenched her teeth together as she tried to hold back more tears and leaned back against the rough bark of the tree. Maybe I should have let the King kill Klaue, cameras be damned. Maybe we would’ve avoided this whole mess.

Never mind the fact that T’Challa went out of his way, by thousands of miles, to find Klaue. Never mind that T’Challa had gone toe to toe with the American foreign intelligence agency --a massive pain in the neck that no one should ever have to suffer or bear witness to--to try and make sure that Klaue was brought back to Wakanda and to justice. Never mind that T’Challa had jumped on top of a fucking grenade to keep her and Nakia safe --never mind the fact he had the Panther suit, that man needed a crash course in thinking things all the way through--and chased the attackers into the alley --in the direction of gunfire; again, he really needed a crash course in thinking things through--to try a recapture Klaue, only to be hit with the full force of the stored energy blast.

The King had done his best. He was panther-blessed, not the goddess Bast incarnate!

And then, to add insult to injury, after all of T’Challa’s efforts, W’Kabi had backed N’Jadaka. Just because the maniac had presented him with a dead body.

Okoye pulled her knees to her chest and tried to quiet her sobs.

The final burn, the final dash of salt on an already gaping wound, was the damage it had dealt to her reputation. The royal family had forgiven her with ease --T’Challa had actually issued a formal statement, outlining what happened and stating that neither the Dora Milaje or the members of the Border Tribe who had acted under the orders of W’Kabi were to be judged or condemned for following the traditions that had been the backbone of Wakandan society for centuries. Nakia, too, had forgiven her easily, and chalked the whole thing up to an impossible, horrible situation that no one could’ve anticipated.

Unfortunately, the word of the King and the forgiveness of the future Queen only went so far.

The stares, suspicious looks, and hushed whispers were still there. She was easy to pick out as the General, with her gold armor and elaborate scalp tattoos. After years of serving as the King’s guard, she knew when people were watching the King and when they were watching her.

Everyone knew that the Dora Milaje followed the orders of the General. If she had left, all the others would’ve followed.

And yet, she had stayed and served N’Jadaka.

Okoye rubbed her cheeks harshly and sniffed inelegantly. He made me betray my friend, my family.

With one choice, W’Kabi had thrown her world into turmoil and not spared her a second glance.

Pain shot through her chest, as though she had torn open a wound anew.

Okoye gritted her teeth, clenched her hands into fists, and did everything within her power to hold in the pained, grieved screams that were clawing at her throat.

“And here I thought the night-life of the Milaje general would be more interesting.”

Her spear was out and pointed at the throat of the stranger in a minute. Okoye launched herself to her feet, blinked away the salty tears stinging her eyes, and Bast dammit.

M’Baku stared down at her, seemingly neither annoyed or ruffled by her attack.

Okoye drew in a ragged breath through her teeth and forced herself to retract her spear. “Chief M’Baku. I did not realize you would be in the gardens tonight.” She should’ve known, dammit. The Jabari were isolationists and prideful in the simplicity of their life. The natural, unmarred lushness of the garden was a welcome respite to the modern Wakanda.

M’Baku smiled faintly up at the tree they were standing under. “It’s nice to know that the rest of Wakanda hasn’t completely lost its taste for nature in its purest form.” His smile faded as he looked at her once more. “You seem less content here than I do, though.”

Nope. No. Absolutely not. She was not talking about her ex-lover with the leader of the Jabari.

I would rather chew on my own teeth.

Okoye set her shoulders. “I was just leaving.”

“No, you weren’t.” M’Baku sat down on the other end of the bench and motioned for her to sit as well. “If you need to speak, I am willing to listen.”

“And why would I talk to you?” The question came out sharper than intended, and for a moment Okoye was worried he might be offended. Not that she cared of what he thought of her, but offending political leaders generally wasn’t a good idea in her line of work.

Instead, M’Baku laughed. “Who better than the leader of the isolationist tribe who wants as little to do with the rest of Wakanda and the world as possible? Your secrets have nowhere to go after me.”

He has a point, she admitted to herself. After a moment, she sat on the other end of the bench.

“So, what has the General of the Dora Milaje weeping like a schoolgirl?”

Okoye glared at him. “I was not weeping like a schoolgirl.”

“Bawling like an infant, same difference.”

“Do you want me to use my spear on you, or do you want me to talk?”

M’Baku laughed again. “I would rather you talked.”

Okoye glared at him for a moment longer, then stared down at her hands. “It is... it is about W’Kabi.”

“The Border tribe midget that backed the outsider? Why are you crying over him?”

Because life isn’t simple, Okoye thought bitterly. She swallowed hard. “He was my lover,” she admitted in a muted voice. She could practically hear the gears in the large man’s head turning as his mind tried to process the statement.

M’Baku let out a sigh. “Well, that... was not the answer I was expecting.”

“You’re not the first person to say that.”

“He must’ve been one hell of a lover if you’re crying like this over him.”

Okoye let out a startled snort, then let herself cackle into the night air. “He was very proficient, yes.”

“Right, which is why you are laughing like a hyena.”

“I just wasn’t expecting you to say that!”

“Mm, that’s what they all say.”

She found herself laughing again, clutching at her gut as the pain from crying so hard mixed with the pain from laughing so hard. When she calmed down enough to look at M’Baku, she realized that he was grinning at her. “Well, I wasn’t,” she defended herself. “And I’m not crying over sex.”

“There’s no shame in it. You wouldn’t be the first.”

“Oh, stop it!”

Once she had calmed down again, he nudged her shoulder. “So, if not over sex, then what does Okoye, mighty General of the Dora Milaje, cry over in the royal gardens during the dead of night?”

She rolled her eyes at his dramatics, but smiled nonetheless. “When you are a Dora Milaje, you are a stone, a stone that has been washed over by the strongest river. You are smooth and strong, and you feel nothing.”

M’Baku grunted. “Sounds boring.”

Okoye rolled her eyes at him. “I have seen more of the world than you ever will.”

“And I can feel the full spectrum of human emotions whenever I choose. Your point?”

Okoye sighed and shook her head. “Being with W’Kabi...” She felt her throat constrict as her pain threatened to overwhelm her once more. “It was like being human again. No formality, no discipline, just... me.”

M’Baku clasped her shoulder with his massive hand and rubbed his thumb in small circles against her skin. “There will be others out there that you can be human with. W’Kabi is not the end.”

“It’s not just that,” Okoye said as her voice shook. She clenched her teeth together and stared up at the canopy of the tree as she tried to hold back her tears.

“Then what is it?” M’Baku asked, voice soft and gentle.

Okoye drew in a stuttered breath and gave M’Baku a pained look. “He made me betray my friends.” She let out a choked sob, and let M’Baku wrap his arm around her shoulders and pull her in into a semi-hug. “He didn’t even think of the position that would put me in! He didn’t even spare me a second glance! He just went and betrayed his King, his friend, because of a failed attempt! He backed N’Jadaka, and forced me to serve that monster, forced me to betray the family that I’ve loved and protected for years!”

“He isn’t worthy of you.”

Okoye shook her head. “I could’ve left! I can make my own choices! I let the rules of my job dictate my actions, instead of serving the people that have been like family to me!”

M’Baku stared at her, expression pained and sympathetic, then pulled her all the way into his arms.

Okoye sobbed against his broad chest as guilt and shame overwhelmed her. She was a Dora Milaje, yes, and she was loyal to the throne. But one question had kept her up many nights over the past few months: Where did the job end and did she begin?

Where did the stone Okoye stop and the human Okoye start?

She wished she had gone with Nakia, had protected the Queen Mother and the Princess, had been by Shuri’s side when Killmonger had attacked her. Instead, she had stayed and done her job.

“It wasn’t your fault,” M’Baku said as he rubbed slow, soothing circles up and down her back. “It isn’t your fault.”

“I can make my own choices.”

“Yes, you can, but that’s not the point,” M’Baku insisted firmly. “You should have never been in the position to choose between your job and the people you care about in the first place. W’Kabi should’ve thought of you before he thought of himself.”

“But I-”

“No, not ‘you.’ You didn’t turn in Nakia or the rest of the royal family, you tried to dissuade the outsider from his plan, and the second the King showed up, you turned against the outsider and fought for the true King of Wakanda. You did your job. W’Kabi is the only one to blame here. End of story.”

Okoye huffed against his shoulder. “You need to work on your writing if that’s your idea of a story.”

“I just happen to be a best seller among my people.”

“Try widening your consumer pool. I guarantee you’ll see more accurate results in days.”

M’Baku leaned back and pressed his hand against his chest, feigning offense. “Is this how the honorable General of the Dora Milaje treats her King’s trusted ally?”

“I’ll send you a colonizer to feed to your children as an apology.”

M’Baku let out a loud, gleeful laugh. “You heard about that, did you?”

“It was hard not to. I think it’s one of the Princess’s favorite stories.” She shot him a look of mock disapproval as he started laughing again. “Cannibalism? Really? For Bast’s sake, who did you think you were fooling?”

“The colonizer. It was fun.”

Okoye sighed, and settled against his shoulder once more. “Fair enough.”

They sat in silence for a moment, and let the sounds of the night wash over them.

Okoye let out a shaky sigh as the cool night breeze dried her damp cheeks. She felt gutted and beaten down, but lighter as well, somehow, as though a great burden had been lifted off her shoulders. After a while, her brain finally started registering the position she was in.

Her head was nestled against the fur M’Baku wore over his thick shoulders. She was pressed up against his substantial chest, and his massive, warm arms were wrapped around her in a hug that was surprisingly gentle, considering his size.

It almost felt like home.

This has probably gone on long enough, Okoye told herself, and she immediately tamped down the inner whine of ‘I don’t want to move!’ She was a General first, and that meant being able to wake up in time for her duties in the morning.

“So, what now?” M’Baku asked, breaking the silence before she could. “What happens next to the great General of the Dora Milaje?”

Okoye didn’t bother to fight the tired smile off her face. “The great General is going to bed.”

“I am in no hurry.”

“Neither am I, but I have training to conduct in the morning, and Ayo likes waking late risers up with buckets of ice water.”

“Something tells me you taught her that trick.”

“I am nothing if not a good teacher.”

“You’re a good person, too.”

Their gazes locked, and Okoye felt her chest constrict as she stared into M’Baku’s dark, expressive eyes. Bast help me. This was not my plan for tonight.

Fortunately, M’Baku seemed equally entranced by her. “So,” he said, his voice barely above a murmur. “You become a stone again.”

“That’s the way of things, yes.”

“And when will you become human again?”

Okoye smiled sadly at him. “When I feel like I can risk it.”

M’Baku smiled back, but caught her quiet hint nonetheless. He loosened his hold on her and shifted back slightly. “Make sure you find someone who is worthy of you.”

Okoye studied him, studied his handsome face for a moment, before answering, “I think I already have.”

M’Baku’s smile broadened into a grin that seemed to light up his face despite the darkness of the night. “You should get some sleep,” he said softly, “lest you risk an icy wake up call.”

Okoye laughed and stood. “Yes. Should I send a guard out to escort you through the garden?”

“I am the Chief of the Jabari. I am capable of protecting myself.”

Okoye smirked at him. “Well then, Chief M’Baku, I will leave you to your wanderings and bid you a goodnight.”

“Rest well, General Okoye.”

Okoye walked back to her quarters with a smile on her face and slept well for the first time in many nights.

Chapter Text

 

Breathe in, then out. Be like the wind. Flow around whatever obstacles come your way, carry whatever you need, and, when you don’t need it anymore, let it fall away from you and move on, unburdened.

Breathe in, then out. Let everything flow over you, like the stone at the bottom of a stream. Be refined by your struggles, but don’t let them break you.

Breathe in-

Okoye gritted her teeth as she tried to reach a mindset of relaxation, but her usual state of calm awareness was alluding her tonight. She’d tried meditative yoga, rhythmic breathing, and practicing martial forms, but nothing seemed to shake the edge of irritation that had been creeping up her spine all day. Out of options –and patience–she’d retreated to the palace gardens once more.

She sat under the tree she had sat under with M’Baku only a few nights earlier in a meditative position, mentally running over the various platitudes and proverbs she’d learned during her years as a Dora Milaje.

Okoye ground her teeth together as the irritation roiled underneath her skin. Platitudes and proverbs only go so far. If she had hair, she would’ve torn it out by now.

The day began as it normally would. Okoye woke with the sun, trained with Ayo in the courtyard for half an hour, then began morning training with the other members of the Dora Milaje. However, halfway through the session, she was interrupted by a messenger from the King: an emergency council session was being called, and she was needed immediately.

The last time a council session had been called so early in the morning, T’Chaka had died.

Okoye had freshened herself up as fast as she could, yanked on her dress armor, and practically sprinted to the throne room, only to stumble into a world of frustration.

The night before, the United Nations Security Council had issued a statement declaring that, due to its advanced technology, Wakanda could prove a threat to the rest of the world, and that the King needed to permit an inspection committee to come visit Wakanda to ensure the ‘good intentions’ of the Wakandan leaders, lest tensions and suspicions rise too high.

Okoye clenched her hands into fists and let out an irritated growl. Honestly, where did those colonizers get off? Wakanda hadn’t made any moves to claim other independent nations, hadn’t leveled any threats against any the outside world, and had just launched a massive outreach program to try and aid communities in need. The King himself had visited every new Wakandan outreach facility to ensure that everything was up to proper standard, and had listened to countless experts and social workers to make sure that Wakanda’s efforts to help the rest of the world were properly tailored to each respective community.

Granted, Okoye was ninety percent certain that some of T’Challa’s over the top thoroughness was to woo Nakia, if the red and purple hickeys peeking over the edge of his collar were anything to go by, but still!

She’d had to sit through three hours of the council members raging, debating, and –at times–insulting each other, before T’Challa had finally called the meeting to a close when the Mining Tribe leader had called the Merchant Tribe’s leader’s son an ‘uneducated pile of rhino shit.’

Okoye closed her eyes and leaned back against the tree she was sitting under. He had to call it off when it was finally getting good, too, and not an hour earlier, when they were just repeating the same three arguments.

The one fortunate part of that ill-fated meeting was that M’Baku had been there. Okoye had traded sly, faintly amused looks with the Jabari chief during the course of the debacle whenever one of the leaders said something particularly ridiculous. Despite the differences between the united tribes and the Jabari, Okoye was pretty sure that the hulking man held the same opinion about politics that she did:

Using a spear made everything move much faster.

She’d hoped to talk to him briefly after the meeting adjourned, to thank him for his kindness towards her a few nights earlier, only for T’Challa –and, by proxy and duty, her–to be whisked away because of another burgeoning disaster:

Donald Trump.

Okoye was perfectly willing to admit that her taste in politics –and, by proxy, political leaders–wasn’t a varied one; save for the King and his late father, she really didn’t have patience for any of them.

Okoye let out an irritated huff. Squabblers, the lot of them. Give me my spear and ten minutes, and I could accomplish as much as they could in two hours.

At any rate, the man that Shuri kept referring to as “the Annoying Orange,” had issued an egotistical statement during a press conference about Wakanda that, once one moved past all the insinuations about ability to woo a woman and dick size, boiled down to:

Wakanda’s refusal to share vibranium made them selfish, and thus potential enemies of the Western world.

Okoye remembered seeing red as the stupid man kept droning on and on about the “great dangers of Wakanda.”

At that moment, T’Challa had dropped his head into his hands and let out a sigh that sounded more defeated than the sobs of a grieving widow.

He’s talking out his ass! Okoye thought irately. He doesn’t know the first thing about us!

Unbidden, W’Kabi’s voice spoke in her mind: Enough, my love. You are with me, now. Leave it all behind.

Okoye clenched her jaw hard enough that it should’ve cracked her teeth.

No. Not now. She was not going to think about W’Kabi. He didn’t deserve the effort. Okoye moved back into her meditation stance. Be calm, like the lake in the early morning. Let yourself flow, and deposit your burdens on the shore with the tides of your emotions. Breathe in, then–

“I take it this tree is a favorite of yours?”

Her spear was in her hands and ready, and she was on her feet, pointing the tip of her –Bast dammit.

M’Baku grinned down at her. “I would think that you’d recognize the sound of my voice by now.”

Okoye narrowed her eyes at him, but didn’t bother to hide the smile playing on her lips. “I might if you spoke more in the council meetings.” She retracted her spear. “What brings you into the gardens so late?”

“Enjoying the beauty of nature, hoping to run into you.” He motioned to the tree. “So, is this one a favorite of yours?”

Okoye blinked slowly. “It… it is a tree. I have no feelings towards it.”

“Ah, but the last time I found you here, you were crying. Tonight, I find you here in a rage strong enough to scare a rabid lion. So, clearly, you have a connection to this spot or you wouldn’t be able to come here to express yourself.”

Okoye looked up at the tree and its wide canopy. “I suppose I never thought of it that way.”

“I take it you had a long day?”

Okoye dropped back onto the bench with a weary sigh. “That would be one way of putting it. You saw the council meeting this morning.”

M’Baku grimaced as he sat down next to her. “That I did. It reminded me of why the Jabari are isolationists.”

“I keep telling the King to give me ten minutes and a spear.”

M’Baku chuckled. “And how does he react when you tell him that?”

“He laughs, then tells me to play nice.”

“And what happens when the legendary General Okoye stops playing nice?”

Okoye smiled at him wryly. “Files are redacted and witnesses go missing.”

M’Baku laughed, loud and hearty. “Remind me to never find myself on your bad side.”

Okoye managed to smile, but found herself groaning with exhaustion again. “Would you believe me if I told you that the day got worse from there?”

“That’s not possible.”

“Oh, but it is,” Okoye said with grimace. “So, in addition to the statement given by the UN Security Council, the United States President also decided to launch a statement of his own.”

“How bad was it?”

“Before or after the innuendos and talk about seducing women?”

M’Baku groaned, and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Hanuman help us, what did he say?”

“He claimed that, given the actions of Killmonger, Wakanda likely had terrorist idealizations against the rest of the world, claimed that the outreach centers are secretly installations to brainwash the citizens of the ‘free world,’ and compared the King and the tribal leaders to the likes of North Korea, China, and the Islamic State.” At M’Baku’s blank stare, she said, “You don’t know what those last three mean, do you?” When M’Baku shook his head, she did her best to give him the basic idea of the atrocities committed by the other entities that Wakanda had been compared to.

M’Baku let out a savage growl. “This! This is why the Jabari are isolationists! This is why Wakanda should’ve never revealed itself! We try to extend a gracious hand to the world, only for it to be spat upon!”

Okoye crossed her arms over her chest. “It probably would’ve happened anyway. This latest president is a real ass. Besides, whether you agree with the King or not, you can’t deny that Wakanda couldn’t have hidden in the shadows forever.”

“No, but this was not the right time to reveal ourselves!”

“We’re talking about colonizers. There’s never going to be a ‘right time.’“

M’Baku slumped against the tree and let out a heavy sigh. “Fair enough.”

Okoye leaned forward and braced her arms against her knees. “You know what the worst of it is? The King looked so defeated by the end of the ‘speech.’ He looked so broken down at the words of a mindless idiot!”

M’Baku raised an eyebrow. “You clearly think highly of our King.”

“I have watched that man push himself to the brink to make sure this project goes well. He’s invested into each site, made sure that he’s targeting areas that really need our efforts, consulted with hundreds of experts to make sure that each center targets the specific needs of each community, he’s visited each center upon its opening, and for what? No one talks about the good that Wakanda’s doing, no one acknowledges the King’s efforts, it’s just ‘vibranium this’ and ‘vibranium that!’“ Okoye smacked her fist into her palm. “We are more than just vibranium!”

M’Baku placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “You’re frustrated.”

Okoye drew in a ragged breath. “I’m just… so… tired. I can’t tell you how many colonizers I’ve watched over the years belittle the royal family and making disparaging comments, just because of our perceived economic status, or our ancestry, or our skin color! And now, now that we’ve proven that we’re capable of impacting the world –now that we’ve opened up the idea that we might even be superior to the Western world–all they see us as is another pool to drain resources from, like they’re entitled to it.”

M’Baku rubbed his hand up and down her back. “They’re small-minded and prideful. Eventually, they’ll fall, and their foolishness will reveal itself.”

Okoye shook her head. “That’s the trick with colonizers. They always find a way to hang it on someone else’s shoulders.”

M’Baku moved his arm around her shoulders, and squeezed her in a gentle half-hug. “Not this time. This time, we’re watching, and there won’t be any room for them to hide.”

Okoye let out a derisive snort. “Pah. Watching is a politician’s game. Give me my spear any day of the week.”

M’Baku let out a quiet laugh. “May the Western world learn to fear the day when the indomitable General Okoye loses her patience and uses her spear.”

Okoye smirked as she let her head rest against his shoulder. “‘Indomitable?’ Have you been reading from a thesaurus lately?”

“I like to keep my conversations riveting.”

For the second time in almost as many nights, she found herself drained, yet strangely freed by talking to M’Baku. There was an odd comfort to it, in leaning against his solid, muscular form and listening to his rich, deep voice.

Riveting conversation, indeed, Okoye thought as his thumb traced small circles on her shoulder. She sighed as the warm night breeze swirled around them. “I need to go back to bed,” she said, despite the immediate inner protest she felt. “I’ve taken up enough of your time.”

“I’m still not in a hurry.”

“Well, I still need sleep so that, when the fateful day comes, I’m rested enough to use my spear.”

M’Baku laughed as he stood with her. “You’ll have the world knocked into order in no time.”

Okoye smiled up at him. “Are you including the Jabari in that statement, or not?”

“Why, do you think we would slow you down?”

Okoye snorted, and rolled her eyes. “Hardly. I just want to make sure I have the most efficient path of action possible, and that means knowing what I’m up against.”

M’Baku grinned widely at her. “You are a force to be reckoned with, General Okoye. I pity the next opponent that underestimates you.”

“I never was able to thank you,” Okoye blurted out before he could depart from her. “For your kindness the other night, when I…” Her throat tightened as the guilt and pain surged forward, and she did her best to tamp it down. “When I was.. overwhelmed. You didn’t have to do any of what you did. Thank you.”

M’Baku stepped towards her, and took her hand in his. “Kindness creates kindness, General. I try to create kindness where I can.”

Okoye smiled, feeling shy in spite of herself and her training. “I know. Any man who could lose a fight, then turn around and save his opponent, truly knows kindness.”

M’Baku smiled –almost blindingly so, despite the night–and squeezed her hand before letting it go. “Goodnight, General Okoye.”

“Goodnight, Chief M’Baku.”

Chapter Text

In order to be a strong team in the field of battle, you must be a strong team in times of peace as well. The women you stand beside will be your sisters, regardless of which tribe you hail from. When you are Dora Milaje, you are family.


 

 

“Is it just me, or are you out here waiting for me?”

“Don’t make me pull my spear on you.”

They’d fallen into a comfortable routine over the past few months. On the nights that their schedules overlapped, they’d meet in the garden under the tree. It was practically an unspoken agreement.

“Oh, come now. Do I really deserve a spear attack every time we meet?”

“You’ll notice it’s still on my belt and not pointed at your throat.”

During the day, they were General Okoye of the Dora Milaje and Chief M’Baku of the Jabari tribe. Nothing belied the cool professionalism aside from the subtle, easy to miss smiles they’d shoot each other during council meetings when one of the Tribal leaders started going on a tirade.

“Tell me, General Okoye, was your father a thief? If not, then you must tell me who stole the stars and put them in your eyes.”

Bast, not that one again!”

“That’s one of my best ones!”

“I’ve seen dairy farms that were less cheesy than you.”

Once the sun set, an entirely different story was told. Under the cover of darkness, they shed their formalities and simply went to being...

Well... it was... complicated.

If pressed, Okoye would have admitted that she... admired M’Baku. His kindness and dedication to his people reminded her of T’Challa in many ways.

In private, to Ayo and Ayo alone, she would have admitted to flirting with the Jabari chief a little. But only a little.

To herself, in her room, when she was waiting for sleep to claim her a night, she would have admitted that she found the man extremely attractive.

“I’ll have you know that plenty of women like my lines.”

“Really? Were they asleep when you tried them?”

He was easy to connect with. He wasn’t so awed by her --as many were, given her position as a Dora Milaje--that he couldn’t speak when he was around her. He didn’t view himself as being so far above her that he just wouldn’t approach her. He simply treated her as he would any other person --with an openness to his speech and a mischievous glint in his eyes.

Well, he treated her almost like any other person.

“Are you saying you don’t like my lines?”

“I never said that I didn’t like them, only that they were incredibly cheesy.”

As much as Okoye... admired M’Baku, she was also certain that the Chief was flirting with her. She’d been on several missions with T’Challa not unlike their ill-fated trip to South Korea; she knew what flirting looked like.

It also didn’t hurt that, as with almost anything else, M’Baku was incredibly straight forward in his attentions.

“So you do like my lines.”

“Eh, I prefer the man to the lines.”

There was a certain thrill to being flirted with, especially with a man as powerful as M’Baku. He made her laugh and smile, but he also made her feel like she was a princess being courted in secret by a dashing rogue.

The former was something anyone could see. That latter was something that she’d take to her grave.

“Well, as fortune would have it, I am far away from running out of man or lines.”

“Well, I guess one out of two isn’t so bad.”

It was easy to be human around M’Baku, to shed her stony exterior and reveal the soft, warm, inner workings of her heart and mind.

Unfortunately, taking her stony exterior off was easier than putting it back on.


 

 

It happened when M’Baku arrived for the next official council meeting to discuss what would be done about the increasing pressures from the UN and the United States President.

Okoye could physically feel the alarm running through her system at the sight of the young woman walking next to M’Baku. She schooled her face into a practiced calm, and immediately started assessing the situation.

The young woman was about her height and was built broadly, similar to the rest of the Jabari women. She wore fur and leathers, but her leathers had stitching and work on them that matched M’Baku’s.

So, she’s definitely elevated in status, Okoye thought as the King greeted M’Baku. And she’s not his daughter or niece. She looks too old, but not old enough to be an aunt or mother. She fought the urge to narrow her eyes. He’s never come with another woman before. It’s only been his guards.

M’Baku motioned to the woman. “May I present Dewani, the innovator of our tribe. She wished to see the Golden city and how politics were conducted here.”

Dewani bowed before the King. “Thank you for hosting me, your Majesty.”

If she was his wife, he would’ve introduced her as such, Okoye told herself as she followed the King inside. Perhaps she’s just a colleague. A member of his council.

She couldn’t shake a creeping feeling of numbness as Dewani sat next to M’Baku while the council assembled. There’s nothing to be upset about. It’s not like he’s your lover. You have no claim to him.

In her chest, her heart began protesting.

It happened after the meeting ended.

As soon as she could, Okoye slipped away and followed after M’Baku and Dewani. She needed a closer interaction with the two to accurately assess whether there was any connection between M’Baku and “the innovator of the Jabari tribe.”

She rounded a corner and froze.

Down the hall, M’Baku was hugging Dewani against his chest. His hand moved up and down her back in a way that was clearly meant to be soothing.

It looked too familiar, too intimate, for there to be no romantic connection.

Perhaps he found a bride during his last trip back to the Jabari lands, Okoye thought as she watched the two.

Honestly, she shouldn’t have been surprised. M’Baku was the leader of his tribe, and he was a young, attractive man. His council and people would expect him to continue his lineage, and the gaps in between his visits to the Golden City were long enough that he could’ve found a suitable woman.

He must’ve have met her after our last night together, Okoye thought. I doubt he would’ve flirted with me if he had someone else. She watched as M’Baku placed a kiss on top of Dewani’s head, and felt her heart crack in two.

Well. That settled things, didn’t it.

Far be it from me to interfere with someone else’s relationship.

Okoye turned on her heel, did her best to become a stone once more, and walked away before she was seen.

Inside her chest, her heart grieved.


 

 

Sleep didn’t come easy that night.

Okoye stayed clear of the gardens. Why wait out there for him when I already know what I will hear? Instead, she retreated to the training gym used by the Dora Milaje and did her best to wear herself out. She moved through her martial forms with the ease and precision of a skilled master, and tried to crush the pain and sense of loss deep inside her chest.

You two weren’t even an official couple, Okoye told herself. Just familiar strangers that flirted in a garden at night where no one else could see. I mean, if anything, that should’ve been your biggest indicator that this wasn’t going anywhere. You have no reason to grieve him like you did W’Kabi.

“General.”

Okoye paused, mid-kick, and realized that Ayo was in the gym as well. Okoye sighed and dropped out of her stance, panting slightly. “Is everything alright, Ayo?”

“Yes, General.”

“Good.”

“...Okoye?”

Okoye sighed again.

Ayo was a strict adherent to the rules and traditions that came with her job. She took her calling as a Dora Milaje seriously, and seldom --if ever--dropped the formalities she had learned during her early years as a soldier.

Which meant, whenever Ayo actually used her name, Okoye could expect a few... less than comfortable questions.

“Yes, Ayo?”

“Are you alright?”

And there it is. “Yes, Ayo, I am fine. Sleep is coming late tonight, is all.”

Ayo moved closer to her, watching her with an intensity that anyone else might described as “hawk-like,” but Okoye knew was just really concern. “You didn’t know about Dewani, did you?”

“What is there to know? We weren’t lovers. He had no need to tell me everything --or anything.”

Ayo frowned as she stopped a few steps away. “You said he flirted with you.”

“People can flirt without meaning it, Ayo,” Okoye muttered.

“Yes, but... the Chief is not open with affections to just anyone. I doubt he would flirt randomly.”

“Why do I care who he flirts with or gives his affection to?” Okoye asked, half to assure Ayo, half to convince herself. “I’m not his mother.”

“But... you do love him.”

Okoye shot an indignant look. “Who said anything about love?”

“You are the same with him that you were with W’Kabi. Besides, regardless of how the Chief flirts, I know you. You don’t just flirt with anyone and everyone.”

Okoye sighed, cornered and defeated. “And what of it? He has someone else. End of flirting.”

Ayo pressed her lips together as she fidgeted with the hem of her nightshirt. “I think that, if Dewani was his betrothed, he would’ve introduced her as such.”

“They might not be official yet,” Okoye pointed out. “We both know that the Jabari like giving away as little information as possible.”

“Yes, but--”

“I saw them, Ayo,” Okoye said, pain surfacing in her voice. “I saw--” She paused as tears welled up in her eyes. Enough. This is not the time for crying. “He kissed the top of her head and held her in his arms. What is there to misinterpret?”

“Oh.”

‘Oh,’ indeed.

Ayo looked at Okoye, visibly hesitated, and place a hand on her shoulder. “If... if he tries to pursue you after he and Dewani are... are official, I would gladly impale him myself.”

Okoye smiled, and patted Ayo’s hand. That was as close as Ayo got to affection, in her own way. “Thank you, Ayo.” She put her arm around her second in command’s shoulder, and walked to the door with her. “Come on. You need to sleep.”

“Don’t think I didn’t notice that you left yourself out of that statement.”


 

 

As misfortune would have it, the council meeting turned into a week-long session dedicated to finding a solution for assuring the outside world of Wakanda’s intentions without compromising the safety and integrity of the nation. As the leader of the Jabari, M’Baku had to stay until a solution that all tribes could agree on was reached.

Okoye couldn’t avoid seeing him during the meetings. As the General, it was her business to oversee the security of Wakanda, in addition to the King and royal family. As a result, she saw M’Baku --and Dewani--for several hours each day.

Fortunately, the council meetings didn’t accommodate much in the way of conversation. Okoye simply stopped trading looks with him during the meetings. Once the meetings were over each day, Okoye buried herself in her duties, which kept her further away from M’Baku. After that, all she had to do was keep away from the gardens at night.

Did it hurt? Yes. But, as Okoye kept telling herself, she was respecting Dewani, and that’s what mattered.

She knew that M’Baku had noticed. By the third day of avoiding him, she could feel his burning gaze during the council meetings, on her back when she left the throne room as soon as the meetings drew to a close, and on her face the handful of times she passed him in the hall.

It hurt, but she also knew it would pass in time.

Please, just let this pass.


 

 

It happened two days later.

Nakia had the good sense to call a break on the meetings for a day, so that the leaders cool down and so that T’Challa could catch up on rest.

Admittedly, Okoye was perfectly content to watch the Mining tribe and River tribe leaders shout until they were hoarse, but the bags under T’Challa’s eyes were proof enough that the meetings were taxing on all of them.

Now, she was watching with Ayo and Aneka as the King took time to relax in the garden. He was lying down on a blanket by one of the many streams that crisscrossed the garden with his head in Nakia’s lap. Of to the side, Shuri and Dewani were sitting off to the side.

Okoye raised an eyebrow as Shuri showed Dewani how the kimoyo beads worked. Dewani was showing a surprising amount of patience and interest, despite being from the Jabari tribe. Well, M’Baku did introduce her as the innovator of the tribe. Perhaps this is the start of reuniting the tribesAlthough, I hope the Princess doesn’t--

“You’ve been avoiding me.”

If it hadn’t been for years of training, she would’ve jumped. Still, even though she kept her face neutral, she couldn’t stop the sudden swell of happiness --and lurch of pain--that seized her heart at the sound of M’Baku’s voice. “Chief M’Baku. I’m afraid that this week has kept me both busy and tired. The council meetings eat up enough time as it is, but the extended sessions have pushed my normal work into my free time.”

“No, it’s more than that. You won’t even look at me.”

“I am on duty right now. I must ensure the King’s safety.”

“You know that’s not what I mean.”

Sorrow pooled in Okoye’s chest as her gaze shifted to Dewani’s youthful, pretty face once more. May as well make a clean break. “I must congratulate you on your successful betrothal, Chief. I’m sure Dewani will make a good match for you.”

M’Baku went dead silent for a moment. Then, with a bewilderment that Okoye had only heard from the UN delegation when T’Challa had revealed the true nature of Wakanda, he said, “You think Dewani is my betrothed?”

Okoye sighed, and managed to look up at M’Baku. “You two are clearly close. Anyone can see that. Besides, you’ve never attended any of the council meetings with a woman before.”

M’Baku stared down at her like she had grown three heads. Then, he pressed his fist against his mouth and started laughing.

Okoye narrowed her eyes into slits. “I am afraid that I’m missing the humor of the situtation, Chief.”

M’Baku shook his hand. “Just a moment.” He waved at Dewani. “Dewani! Come here for a minute, please.”

Dewani smiled at Shuri, then jogged over to where Okoye and M’Baku were standing. She tucked her hands behind her back and looked up at M’Baku with large brown eyes. “Yeah?”

Okoye fought the urge to run. It’s never comfortable being the jealous one. She eyed M’Baku, only to find that her discomfort grew. I know that smile. He’s up to something. What does he have planned?

“General Okoye wanted to congratulate us on our betrothal,” M’Baku said in a tone that only confirmed her suspicions.

Dewani’s eyes widened in horror, and she made a dramatic show of retching. “Oh, what? Hanuman, no! Never in a thousand years!”

“Okay, enough, it wouldn’t be that bad,” M’Baku said, significantly less amused.

Dewani leaned towards Okoye and pointed at M’Baku. “No, no, no. He’s my brother.”

Realization dawned in Okoye, followed by a great deal of self-directed internal frustration. “I see. My apologies.”

Dewani whirled on M’Baku, hands on her hips. “See? I told you that your idea wasn’t going to work!”

M’Baku rolled his eyes with the air of an argument that he’d been through before. “Dewani--”

“This is the fourth person in one week to congratulate me on our ‘marriage!’”

“I said I was sorry--”

“If you had just gone along with me idea and introduced me as your sister, we wouldn’t have run into this mess!”

“You were the one that said you didn’t want any of the elders asking you about your plans for marriage.”

“Yeah, well I’d rather that than everyone thinking I’m marrying you.”

“Hey!”

Okoye couldn’t help but smile slightly as she watched the two siblings argue. They’re so much like T’Challa and Shuri. She shot a glance at T’Challa and Nakia, and found that they were smiling as well as they watched the argument.

“Okay, okay! You were right! I’m sorry!”

“I mean, first it was the King,” Dewani said, ticking off on her fingers, “then the Queen mother, then the princess, and now General Okoye thinks--”

Okoye watched as recognition lit up in Dewani’s eyes, which was quickly replaced by the all too familiar malevolence of a younger sibling who was about to make life hell for their older sibling.

She’d know. She’d seen it on Shuri countless times.

“Wait, that’s right. You are General Okoye,” Dewani said in a tone that was not to be trusted for a second. “The fearless leader of the Dora Milaje.”

M’Baku seemed to have realized that Dewani was up to something as well, and tried to shove her away. “Yes, thank you, you can go now--”

“Oh, no, brother mine,” Dewani said as she ducked his efforts with the grace of a sibling who raised hell on a routine basis. “If this woman was convinced that I was your beloved, then she ought to be reassured of where she stands in your affections.”

Okoye bit back a smirk. Oh, this ought to be good.

“Okay, you can leave--”

“You should know that he never stops talking about you,” Dewani said to Okoye with a conspiratorial grin. “Can’t seem to help himself. It’s all ‘General Okoye this’ and ‘General Okoye that.’ Absolutely lovestruck, in my opinion.”

“I will drop kick you out of this garden!”

“I’d like to see you try.” Dewani smirked as she stepped out of reach of M’Baku’s swipe, then refocused her attentions on Okoye. “He thinks that your smile is ‘dazzling,’ and that your laugh is ‘more enchanting than a chorus of birds singing the sun awake.’“

Okoye had to admit, aside from Dewani’s mischief being absolutely hysterical, the tales of affection warmed her from the inside out. Perhaps things aren’t as final as I first thought.

“Actually,” Dewani said, tone shifting from teasing to serious. “He’s been pretty dejected this week because you’ve been so distant. I’d say he misses you.”

Okoye swallowed a smile, and glanced at the Jabari chief.

M’Baku had crossed his arms over his chest, and looked simultaneously annoyed and embarrassed.

Okoye decided to take pity on the poor man. “Well, in fairness, I missed him too. I just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t intruding on another relationship.”

Dewani grinned, and shook her head. “Nothing to intrude on.”

“Good, wonderful, excellent. Now that we’ve settled that, are you done?” M’Baku asked.

“Patience, you! I still have one more question for the General.”

Okoye raised an eyebrow as M’Baku gave Dewani the stink eye. Well, this should be interesting. “You may ask your question.”

Dewani glanced over her shoulder, took a step closer to Okoye, and whispered, “Do you know if the Princess is seeing anyone?”

Ordinarily, Okoye would’ve found the question cute, but it was as if, in that moment, they had been transported from the royal city to the heart of the Jabari lands.

M’Baku had gone downright stony next to her. His hands had clenched into fists at his side.

For a moment, Okoye wondered if the Jabari didn’t have open views on queer relationships, and if Dewani was using the setting to her advantage. No, Okoye realized, he’s watching me. He’s waiting to see how I’ll react.

Well, that raised a number of questions all on its own, but she could wait to satisfy her curiosity later.

“Look,” Dewani added, cheeks flushing, “I just want to know if I’m even barking up the right tree. If I’m not, I don’t want to ruin a potential friendship.”

Okoye looked at Shuri, then back at Dewani. “Before I answer you, I will warn you that if you hurt the Princess in any way, the wrath of the Black Panther will be the least of your concerns.”

“I expected nothing less.”

Okoye shot one last glance at Shuri, then favored Dewani with a small smile. “There is no other man in Wakanda that could compete against you.” 

The smile that lit up Dewani’s face was worth the entire week of pain and confusion.

“Just remember, I never kid. Treat the Princess well, or I use my spear,” Okoye said with a wink.

Dewani grinned back, and shot Okoye a small salute.

“Dewani!” Shuri ran over and wrapped her arms around one of Dewani’s arms. “If you’d like to see more of my inventions, I’d love to show you my lab.”

“Sure. I’d love for you to corrupt my mind.”

Okoye had to bite the inside of her mouth to keep from laughing. Next to her, M’Baku seemed like he was going to choke, and she could just catch T’Challa clapping a hand over his mouth in the background.

Dewani shot a wicked glance at M’Baku, then added, “Yes, Princess, please show me more of your technology. The more information I have to annoy my brother on the trip home with, the better.”

M’Baku rolled his eyes and sighed deeply. “Go. Before I change my mind.”

Okoye smiled as the two teenagers ran off towards the palace. “Your sister seems like a lot of fun.”

M’Baku made a noise somewhere between a groan and a growl. “Try to not encourage her, if you can help it. I have a hard enough time reeling her in as is.”

“She takes after you.” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw M’Baku smile.

They stood for a while longer, until T’Challa and Nakia got up and started moving towards the palace.

“Will I see you in the gardens tonight?” M’Baku asked. “Under the tree?”

Okoye managed a nod before following after the King.

Inside her chest, her heart beat as wildly as a hummingbird’s wings.


 

 

The bark was rough against her back, and pressed uneven indents in her skin. The night breeze was soft and gentle against her arms, and caressed her skin in gentle whispers. Further in the garden, the croaks of bullfrogs echoed into the still air.

Okoye sighed, and fought the urge to check the time on her kimoyo beads. She hadn’t been waiting in the gardens for more than fifteen minutes. She could be patient.

Anticipation coiled in her gut, leaving her uncharacteristically jittery. What if he doesn’t come?

Okoye sighed, and forced herself to close her eyes. Relax. Something will either happen, or it won’t. Try to meditate in the mean--

“I was worried you wouldn’t come.”

Okoye cracked one eye open to look at M’Baku. “Do you just wait until I close my eyes to approach me?”

“Maybe.” The teasing smile fell from his face, and the giant man moved to kneel in front of her.

Okoye’s eyes widened, and her heart leapt to her throat. What in Bast’s name? Is this-- is he--

“Okoye.”

The sound of her name --just her name, only her name, no honorifics or titles--on his lips made her lips quiver.

“I hope you would know that, if I was forced to find a wife, I would tell you directly, rather than leaving you to assume anything.”

A shiver ran down her spine as M’Baku brushed his lips against her knuckles. “And what if that does happen?”

The corner of M’Baku’s mouth lifted in a smile. “It can’t --not for two years, anyway.”

Okoye frowned. “I don’t follow your meaning.”

M’Baku let out a grunt as he sat next to her on the bench. “Dewani won’t turn eighteen until then. Technically, she won’t come of age until she turns twenty, but I can marry once she’s eighteen.”

“Does this even make sense, then?”

“Does what make sense?”

“This,” Okoye said, gesturing betwen M’Baku and herself with her hands. “Whatever... whatever we’re doing. Does it make sense to keep pushing if it’s just going to end in two years?”

M’Baku’s forehead creased as he frowned. “Who says it’s going to end in two years?”

“Won’t your council expect you to take a Jabari bride?”

M’Baku shrugged. “Eh, who can say. The Jabari elders are more open-minded than they used to be.” He regarded her with a careful look. “Unless... you are opposed to the idea of marriage?” When Okoye didn’t respond, he nudged her with his shoulder. “Perhaps a bridge we can cross at a later date, yes?”

“I just...” Okoye let out an exasperated sigh. “What, exactly, are we doing? I’m not... I’m not your lover, but we’re not just... friends.”

M’Baku put his arm around her shoulder, brushing his fingers delicately against her skin. “What would you like us to be?”

Okoye ducked her head in an attempt to hide from his gaze, exciting and penetrating at the same time. “When I saw you with Dewani... when I thought the two of you were...” She swallowed with considerable effort. “It broke my heart.”

M’Baku pulled her into his arms. “I’m sorry.”

Okoye nestled against his chest with ease, and hid a smile in his furs when he pressed his lips against her forehead. “There’s nothing to be sorry for.”

M’Baku was silent for a moment, then said, “There’s no one else.” When Okoye looked up at him, he added, “I don’t entertain multiple women at once. I promise.”

Okoye ran her fingers over the leather gauntlet on his thick forearm. “I didn’t think you were. You’re not that kind of man.”

“Then... why did you think Dewani and I...”

“Your visits are more staggered than the rest of the tribal leaders, and betrothal orders move fast. I’d know, I was surprised at how fast the council moved when they tried to push the Princess into finding someone.”

M’Baku let out a howl of laughter. “Hanuman above, I’m sure that crashed and burned before they even started.”

“No kidding. Not only did the Princess refuse, but the Queen Mother threatened to re-seat the council if they tried to make her under-age daughter find a spouse again.”

M’Baku let out a low whistle. “I’ll be sure to tell Dewani to be careful.”

Okoye rolled her eyes good-naturedly. “Don’t go about scaring her. The Queen Mother is a reasonable woman, and I’m fairly certain that Dewani has more sense than the tribal elders.”

M’Baku chuckled, an action that resonated more as a heavy rumble in his chest than an actual noise.

Okoye sat in content silence for a moment, simply happy to lean against M’Baku while the sounds of the night rang on. However, after a bit, she found she couldn’t ignore the concerned knot that seemed to be sitting squarely in her chest. “M’Baku?”

He let out a responding hum and rubbed his hand up and down her arm.

“What... are we?”

Normally, she would’ve expected any man to choke at the question, but M’Baku merely let out a contemplative sigh and leaned back against the tree, taking her with him.

“A good question. As you said, we are not lovers, but we are not ‘just friends,’ either. It seems to me that we ought to aim somewhere in between.” He looked down and smile softly at her. “What would you like us to be?”

“We could be...” Okoye frowned as she racked her brain. Come on, Shuri told you about this just yesterday. “We could be ‘seeing each other.’“

“What, in Hanuman’s name, does that mean?”

“The Princess described it as ‘when two people are interested in each other, but aren’t officially together.’“

M’Baku scrunched up his face. “Pah. Too complicated.”

“Aren’t we complicated?”

“Not to me.”

Okoye propped herself up on his chest so that she could look him in the eye. “How do you see us, then?”

“Easy. I like you, I want to spend my time with you, and I want to have something with you that I won’t have with anyone else.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “Can you honestly say you don’t want the same?”

“No,” Okoye admitted after a moment.

M’Baku smiled and rubbed his hand up and down her back. “Then we are a couple in my eyes.”

A couple.

The thought shouldn’t have made her squirm, but it did. Something about it didn’t fit, didn’t sit right in the depths of her heart.

Okoye found she couldn’t give voice to her thoughts. Fortunately, she didn’t have to.

M’Baku’s hand didn’t still, but it slowed as he studied her. “What is it?”

“I...” Okoye ducked her head once more, pressing her face against his chest. “It’s... too soon. After... after W’Kabi.”

It’s not that she still loved W’Kabi, not as she used to. He pretty well destroyed all chances of that when he sided with N’Jadaka.

But they had been together for almost four years. They’d talked about getting married.

The heart doesn’t forget overnight, Okoye thought with no small amount of frustration.

Here she had a seemingly perfect man. M’Baku had respected every boundary she’d set down, had let her lead the path their more physical affection took, hadn’t once protested when she drew their nights together to a close. He was patient, kind, unbelievably funny, and --if his sister was to be believed--head over heels for her.

And here she was, still stuck on a guy that hadn’t given her a second glance when he’d chosen to betray their King.

If she could’ve, Okoye would’ve glared at her heart. Make up your damn mind, you useless organ!

“Okay.”

Okoye looked back up at M’Baku.

He smiled down at her. “If that’s all, then we are ‘seeing each other.’”

“You’re okay with that?”

M’Baku shrugged. “I want to spend my time with you. If that’s what gives you comfort, if that’s what you need, then so be it. I still get what I want, and I want you to be comfortable in all this.” His smile faded into a frown. “Unless you’re thinking about going back to the traitor, or there’s someone else, because then I--”

“There isn’t anyone else,” Okoye said with gentle smile. “And I’m not going back to W’Kabi. I’m just...”

“Not completely human yet?”

Okoye laughed quietly. “Not quite, but I’m getting there.”

M’Baku rubbed his thumb against her shoulder. “As I’ve said on so many nights, I’m in no hurry.”

Okoye grinned broadly, and leaned back against his broad chest. “Thank you.”

M’Baku kissed her temple. “Hey, if not you, who else am I going to unleash my amazing pick-up lines on? Dewani stopped listening to me years ago.”

“Smart girl.” She cackled as M’Baku feigned indignation and started spouting of dramatics.

He stopped in his tracks at the sound of her laughter and beamed down at her. “There. I like it when you laugh.”

“It’s like a ‘chorus of birds singing the sun awake,’ I’ve been told,” Okoye teased.

M’Baku groaned, and rubbed his hand against his face. “Hanuman alive, why did she say that?”

“Was she exaggerating?” At M’Baku’s silence, Okoye started laughing again, this time due to astonishment. “Really? You think my laughter is ‘more enchanting than a chorus of birds singing the sun awake?’“

“I’m never going to live that down, am I?”

“I’m genuinely curious.” Okoye caught her breath as M’Baku gazed at her with a passion and intensity she’d never seen from the man before, let alone received. Bast above...

“You are a lovely woman, Okoye, through and through. I find no shame in admitting that.”

Part of Okoye wondered just what, exactly, she was getting herself into. The other part of her felt like she was being warmed from the inside out.

She reached for his hand and kissed his knuckles, the same way he had done for her earlier. “And you are a wonderful man, M’Baku.”

As overwhelming --thrilling--as his gaze was, Okoye found that she couldn’t tear herself away from it, either.

It felt like home.

Chapter Text

Love is not finite. It is not bound by our human preconceptions. When you think of love, you will start with one image in your mind, then another will appear, and another, until the examples you could offer are too broad to define. There is love among family, among friends, among spouses, among siblings, among all of us. It is better to experience love than to spend time defining it.

But, be careful, in your preconceptions, that you do not limit others by what you perceive.

Love is not bound by us. Rather, we are bound by love.


 

 

“…unfortunately, even with the pardon from the King, the Tribal leaders are calling for the removal of all Border tribe members on the security task force. Unless we want excessive tension and possible fallout at the Harvest Moon festival, we ought to consider meeting their demands.”

“And what would they have us do? We are Dora Milaje, not fucking magicians!”

“Besides, the King set the expectation that the Border tribe would be treated with fairness and equality by the rest of Wakanda when he issued that statement. If we start showing prejudices now, we could risk another civil war.”

“Let’s also keep in mind that the Border tribe is the only tribe that can supply enough warriors of adequate skill for securing festivals as large as this one, aside from the Jabari –which, as we all know, is not an open option at this point.”

Okoye steepled her fingers in front of her as she listened to her women argue back and forth. While she’d be the first to admit that the antics displayed by the Tribal council were ridiculous and time consuming, she also knew that a little bit of controlled chaos –emphasis on controlled–could yield a solution.

As she watched the best minds under her command snap and squabble, she realized that there might not be one this time around.

Okoye held up her hand, silencing the group. “I know that the council has set us with an impossible task–”

“That’s an understatement,” Aneka muttered.

“And I’m well aware of the risks on both sides,” Okoye added with a stern look at Aneka. “I didn’t call you all here to be reminded of them. I called you here to find solutions. Let’s keep our discourse limited to that, please. We can vent our frustrations when we don’t have a deadline looming over us.”

After a moment of frustrated silence, Ayo spoke up. “Djabi–” she nodded at a rather disgruntled looking member “–is right. We are not magicians. The council can’t expect us to jump through every hoop they lay out. The Border tribe will have to account for the majority of the security contingency, as per usual.”

Okoye nodded. “We’ll call that option one, but I doubt the King will push so hard against the council, especially after the threat of the usurper. Does anyone have any other ideas?”

“If… if the council is really expecting us to function without the Border tribe soldiers, then each tribe ought to provide an equal number of replacements,” Aneka offered with an irritated sigh. “However, each warrior has to match our standards, and they answer to us during the festival, same as the regular security contingency would.”

“Good. The council will be more likely to bite on that than the other option. I’ll try Ayo’s idea first, but if that fails, I’ll move to Aneka’s. Any other ideas?” When no one spoke up, she waved her hand. “Good. I need to speak to the King; I trust you all know what you ought to be doing.” As the other members of the Dora Milaje saluted and left, she tapped at the interface on her desk and quickly scanned the King’s schedule. Dammit. The next time I’ll be able to speak with him is during the council meeting. I’ll have to bring it up then. She glanced up, and realized Ayo was still lingering, waiting. “Yes, Ayo?”

“You could ask him.” When Okoye rolled her eyes, Ayo planted her hands on her General’s desk. “The Jabari have some of the best, most watchful warriors in the kingdom. If you were to ask the Chief–”

“If I were to ask the Chief what, precisely?”

Ayo leaned forward. “He favors you. He likes you.”

“So, I should just ask him to supply his warriors because it is convenient for me?”

“We both know the council will never permit the Border tribe to serve on the contingency. Not during this festival, and probably not during any of the following festivals for several years to come.”

Okoye sighed and sank back into her chair. “I know. Believe me, I know.” She rubbed her eyes, then her shoulders. “Fine. But only if he balks during the meeting.”

The corner of Ayo’s mouth turned up in the barest hint of a smile. “Good luck.”

“For the cause or for me?”

“Why not both?”

Okoye snorted, and shook her head. “Go on, before you get me into more trouble.” She smiled as Ayo left, then sighed tiredly as she looked at the glowing display of the schedule once more.

She’d have to leave now if she wanted to make the meeting on time.

Onward into the jaws of hell, Okoye thought as she stood and walked out of her office.


 

 

“–utterly inexcusable!”

Okoye fought the urge to roll her eyes for the fifth time in an hour.

She’d been able to bring up the issue of security during the Harvest Moon festival at the council meeting, but hadn’t expected to cause a verbal explosion.

“–will not trust ourselves to the hands of traitors–”

“–all due respect, your Majesty, but one pardon does not erase the distress caused and lives lost–”

“–if they can be persuaded by one dead body–”

Okoye glanced over at T’Challa, who was sitting with his head in his hands. She caught his eye and mouthed a quick ‘sorry.’

T’Challa flashed a resigned smile and shrugged at her, as if to say ‘it can’t be helped.’

She sighed quietly, and went back to watching the elders talk over each other.

After a moment, T’Challa stood. “I think I’ve heard enough of this. I understand that the wounds caused during the usurpation won’t heal overnight, but we need a practical solution for security during the Harvest Moon festival. General Okoye, I trust that, since you brought up the issue, you also have some ideas in mind?”

The tension in T’Challa’s voice –the unspoken ‘please don’t leave me hanging’–wasn’t lost on Okoye. She cleared her throat and sat up a little straighter. “I discussed the matter with my soldiers this morning. The consensus is that we would prefer to work with the Border tribe because of their elevated experience with security work. However,” she added before the council could start any dramatics again, “if each tribe were to offer an equal number of replacements, I believe we’d be able to make do for this festival. Each of the replacements would have to meet proper standards for the job, and they would answer to me and my soldiers during the festival, not the authorities of their tribe.”

“I think that is reasonable,” T’Challa said before any of the other leaders could respond. “So, unless someone has a better solution, we’ll go with that.” When none of the elders offered up anything, he nodded. “Then we’ll call this meeting adjourned.”


 

 

“You’re better with politics than you give yourself credit for.”

Okoye looked up from the window she’d been gazing out of, only to smile as M’Baku walked towards her. “Am I now?”

“I thought you handled the security issue well, for someone who’d rather use a spear.”

Okoye rolled her eyes as she looked back out the window, down at the royal city. “The spear would still be faster.”

“Oh, that was never in question.” M’Baku grazed his fingers along her arm. “How are you?”

“Good. Tired,” she admitted with a laugh. “Festivals and celebrations are always taxing. They require a lot of planning and footwork.” She pressed her fist against her mouth as she yawned, then stretched. “Fortunately, the King always gives a generous amount of time off after each major event.”

“So, in other words, it might be too much of ask if you’ll meet me in the gardens tonight?”

Okoye grinned coyly at the Jabari chief. “Perhaps not. I might be able to conjure up the energy.”

M’Baku grinned back at her. “So, about this time off you’ll be getting…”

Okoye raised an eyebrow when he didn’t finish his thought. “What about my time off?”

M’Baku fidgeted with the gauntlets he wore on his forearms for a moment before looking at her. “Would you consider visiting the Jabari lands? If you had time?”

Elation ran through Okoye, though she did her best to conceal it. “Well, that would depend.”

“On what?”

“On whether you’re asking me to visit the Jabari lands… or whether you’re asking me to visit you.”

M’Baku grinned broadly at her, eyes sparkling like the sun, and leaned towards her. “And if I was asking you to visit me?”

Okoye grinned back and angled herself towards him. “Well, then… how could I refuse?”

For a moment, she thought he might kiss her, but the echoing sound of footsteps in the hallway broke her out of the giddy haze that M’Baku never failed to put her in. She straightened and smoothed her expression out just as T’Challa, Nakia, the Queen Mother, and a handful of Dora Milaje rounded the corner.

Okoye bowed. “Your Majesty. Lady Nakia. Queen Mother.”

“Okoye.” Ramonda smiled warmly at her. “We were looking for the Princess –her kimoyo beads are off. Do you know where she might be?”

They’re not panicked, so it must not be a security issue, Okoye thought. She racked her brain for an answer. “I believe the Princess said something about working on some improvements to her lab. She’s probably there, and just turned off her beads so she wouldn’t be distracted.”

Nakia elbowed T’Challa in the side. “I told you she wouldn’t be in the gardens.”

“Hey, I haven’t been proven wrong just yet.”

“Only on a technicality.”

“Now that I think of it, it makes sense that Shuri would be in the lab,” Ramonda continued. “She said that she wanted to show some more of her inventions to Dewani. We’ll probably find both of them there.”

M’Baku stiffened abruptly. “Speaking of which, I should go find Dewani. It is time for her daily training.”

Okoye eyed him suspiciously. What in Bast’s name is up with him– She fought the urge to suck in a breath. He thinks Dewani might’ve tried something, and Dewani’s not out. She barely kept her eyes from widening as another thought occurred to her. Neither is Shuri, not technically.

“If you will excuse me, your Majesty–”

“Actually, M’Baku, there are some things I would like to discuss with you,” T’Challa said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think it can wait, and I don’t want to cut in on your sister’s training time.”

“I could retrieve the Princess and the Chief’s sister, Queen Mother,” Okoye offered as M’Baku’s jaw clenched, “and send them on their ways.”

“No, Okoye, I want to talk to you about some of the details about the upcoming celebration,” the Queen Mother said. “I’m concerned about some of the responses from the elders.”

“We could get Shuri and Dewani together,” Nakia suggested, “seeing as we’re all going to the same place.”

Okoye walked next to Ramonda, stomach tensing as she half paid attention to what the Queen Mother was saying, and half tried to figure out how to warn Shuri or Dewani that they were coming. Bast dammit, Shuri, why did you turn off your kimoyo beads?

She watched M’Baku out of the corner of her eye as he shot short, clipped responses to all of T’Challa’s questions. She could tell by the tension in his shoulders and the fists clenched at his sides that he was fighting the urge to just run ahead of the group.

“–I’m just not sure that the Mining and Merchant tribes understand how important the soldiers from the Border tribe are.”

Okoye hid a confused frown as she tuned back in to what the Queen Mother had been saying. “I’m not sure that I follow your meaning, your Highness.”

“Well, I only mean that they seem detached from how everything is structured. Each tribe plays its part, and if you take one out, everyone else has to stretch to cover the gap. I mean, it almost seems that they believe that forty Dora Milaje can cover an entire festival.”

Okoye bit back a smirk as she thought back to Djabi’s ‘magician’ comment. “That was the impression among my soldiers as well.”

“And this is the Harvest Moon Festival, too. One of the largest celebrations among Wakanda –and this year, we’ve got an extra tribe to factor in, since the Jabari are joining us.”

“I doubt we’ll see much trouble from the Jabari,” Okoye said carefully as they turned into the hallway to the lab. “It’s the Merchant tribe I’m worried about. They usually cause the most problems.”

“How is that?”

“Easy, your Highness. They have the most money to spend in combination with being unburdened from an officiating,” Okoye replied distractedly as she saw the doors to Shuri’s lab come into view. She clenched her teeth together when she didn’t seen any sign of either princess and started offering up a desperate prayer to Bast. Please, please, please let nothing indecent be going on. Please, please–

Through the glass walls, she could see Shuri and Dewani. Shuri was sitting in a chair, Dewani was standing between her knees, and–

Well, they were making out.

Okoye felt her heart sink as she watched the two teenagers. Bast, have mercy on the Princess. Let her family be understanding–

“Shuri…” Ramonda said in a careful, if surprised, tone. “What’s going on here?”

Shuri and Dewani both jumped, expressions shifting from elated to guilty, as though they’d been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

“Queen Mother,” Dewani said as she stepped away from Shuri, hands up by her shoulders as though she was surrendering. “This was my idea. Shu– the Princess didn’t have anything to do with it.”

Ramonda raised her eyebrows. “So, you forced yourself on my daughter?”

“No!” Shuri blurted. “No, she didn’t, I started it–”

“Shuri, it’s okay,” Dewani said, voice reassuring. “Let me take this–”

Ramonda held up her hand, silencing the two girls.

Okoye held still, gaze flicking between the Queen Mother and M’Baku, who had gone completely tense and looked like he was ready to strike, should the need arise. She moved so that she was standing in between Ramonda and M’Baku.

She had faith in the Queen Mother, but she wanted to be ready if things went south.

“Shuri,” Ramonda said at last. “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”

Shuri floundered, mouth opening and closing as she struggled for words. “I… I mean… this only started a couple weeks ago.”

“That’s not what I mean and you know it,” Ramonda said gently as she walked over to her daughter and cupped her cheeks with her hands. “Why didn’t you tell me about your feelings? About your orientation?”

Shuri’s lips trembled, and she ducked her head as big, fat tears began pooling in her eyes. “I knew it could never happen.”

“And why is that, darling?”Ramonda asked as she smoothed her hand over Shuri’s braids.

Shuri sniffed loudly. “Because I have to produce an heir. That’s the expectation for all members of the royal family, in case the King dies before he can produce a child of his own. I can’t– I can’t do that with–”

Ramonda swept tears away from Shuri’s cheeks. “Is that all, my dear? Is that all that held you back?” When Shuri nodded, Ramonda smiled lovingly and pressed a kiss against Shuri’s forehead. “Oh, my dear, there is more than one way to have a child, even without adopting.” She laughed gently. “I would’ve thought that you’d know that by now, given your passion for the sciences.”

“You asked me to stay away from that until I was older–”

“That I did, and you’ve done very well in respecting that. Though, I suppose that means I ought to fill in the gaps in your knowledge, given your age.”

Shuri cringed. “Mama! Really?”

“Oh, it won’t be that bad.” Ramonda pressed another kiss against Shuri’s forehead, then stepped back. “If it’s not too much of an imposition, Chief M’Baku, I would like to invite you and your sister to dinner with us tonight.” She smiled at Dewani. “I want to know the young lady my daughter has taken an interest in.”

Okoye watched as M’Baku let out a breath and relaxed for the first time since they’d stepped into the lab.

“We’d be honored, your Highness.”

Dewani managed a smile back at the Queen Mother, but still looked too pale and too shaken for it to seem completely natural.

Her coming out must’ve not gone as smoothly, Okoye thought as she watched the Jabari siblings share a relieved look. They must’ve been expecting a lot worse from–

“General Okoye, would you be willing to join us as well?”

Okoye blinked, startled, then nodded carefully. “If that is what you wish, Queen Mother.”

“Come on, Shuri. We have a great deal to talk about,” Ramonda said as she ushered her daughter out of the lab.

“Agh, Mama! Now? Really?”

Okoye smirked, mildly amused, as she watched the family and Nakia leave, followed by M’Baku and Dewani, until she and Ayo were the only ones left standing the lab. Okoye let out sigh and shot a slightly frazzled grin at Ayo. “Well. That went better than expected.”

Chapter Text

Strong as stone, that is how you must be. Unyielding, unbending, unbreaking. Let the river wash over you and smooth away your rough edges.

But be careful to not let the river carry you in its current. Gentle persuasion will polish even the most unassuming of gems, but heavy battering will cause even the strongest strain of vibranium to crack.

However, you should remember that a crack is not an end if you don’t let it become one. Each time you feel like you are going to break, look forward as though it is only a new beginning. Lean on your fellow women; one stone on its own may be strong, but many stones stacked together can redirect rivers.


 

 

“I have to say, Dewani, we were all surprised at your interest in vibranium based technology. Most of my sister’s efforts to equip the Jabari have been rejected,” T’Challa said, drawing her attention back to the present.

Dinner was dragging on, and Okoye was starting to lose patience.

Was it lovely that Dewani and the Udakus got on like they’d been lifetime friends? Yes.

Was it adorable to watch Dewani and Shuri trade infatuated smiles and adorkable compliments? Yes.

Did she also have a lot of work to do to prepare for the festival? Yes.

How can one meal last so long? Okoye wondered as she took another bite of her –vegetarian—dish. Maybe making a habit of working through my meals wasn’t the best idea…

“There’s a difference between having things sent to us without asking or observing our way of life first, and seeing the uses of vibranium of our own choosing,” Dewani said with the artless honesty possessed by most teenagers.

The corner of T’Challa’s mouth lifted in an amused smile. “And what do you think of vibranium, now that you’ve had a chance to see it in action?”

Dewani chewed thoughtfully, eyes lifting to the ceiling with thought, and swallowed before answering. “I think it’s a risk.”

“How so?” Nakia asked, leaning forward in her seat.

“Well, vibranium isn’t naturally occurring to our planet. Eventually, it’s going to run out. I don’t see the wisdom in making everything out of a material that you have a finite, non-renewable resource. What happens when you run out? Everything stops working.”

“Our technology doesn’t take that much vibranium,” Shuri retorted, coming to the defense of her creations as expected. “And once it’s made, it doesn’t need replacing.”

“As far as you can see. And, eventually, the source will run dry. What happens when Wakanda can’t make any new inventions, much less update the ones they have once they don’t fit the needs of the people using them?” Dewani asked.

“We’ve done our research,” Shuri shot back. “There’s enough vibranium to last over one hundred thousand generations of Wakandans. Besides, our latest studies suggest that the vibranium is morphing the other minerals into itself. The vibranium is here to stay.”

Dewani shrugged. “If you could find a way to grown and harvest it at a rate that meets the needs of the demand, you might have something. As it stands, it’s still a risk.”

“Yes, but some risks are worth taking. We can’t just stand still.”

“I agree, but there’s a difference between plotting the path before you run it and sprinting off a cliff.”

“Which is why we’re trying to find ways to make vibranium renewable,” T’Challa said before the two could start arguing. He smothered grin with a sip of wine, but the amused sparkle in his eyes was impossible to mistake. “I think you two are equally matched, to say the least.”

I could’ve told you that from the start, Okoye thought. Let’s see, if I hand off guard duty to the sentries tomorrow, Ayo and I can--

“General, you’ve been rather quiet tonight,” T’Challa said from his seat across from her. “Do you have any questions for Dewani?”

Okoye tamped down her annoyance before it could register on her face. “I’m not sure I could offer anything all that interesting, my King.”

“You’re practically family, Okoye,” Ramonda said warmly. “You have every right to ask your questions.”

Normally, she wasn’t in the position of asking questions. As the General of the Dora Milaje, she was granted special access to the council meetings and the lives of the royal family, but she wasn’t technically one of them. She wasn’t an equal; outside of matters of security, missions, warfare, and any matters specifically pertaining to the Dora Milaje, she didn’t have any specific right to challenge to family or their decisions.

Granted, the Udaku family had always given her a generous amount of free reign, space to speak her mind, but none of that changed the simple fact --her kind listened in the presence of the royal family. That wasn’t a gap that could vanish on the permission of the King.

No matter, Okoye told herself as she switched between ideas. We all have to step outside our comfort zones. She tapped her finger against her glass, then set it on the table. “Vibranium aside --from least egregious to most egregious--what are we doing wrong?”

Nakia let out an amused chuckle as Dewani tilted her head to the side, drifting into deep thought. “That’s quite a thinker.”

“I think that judging an entire society by their choices is predestined for failure,” Dewani said as she pushed at the last of her yams with her fork. “But, I guess if I had to pick one thing... I guess I don’t understand the War Dogs initiative. I don’t see the truth in it.”

“How so?” Nakia asked, leaning forward in her seat.

“Well, aside from retrieving stolen vibranium, what’s the point of it? To watch and see if the world is ready to know Wakanda --but we can never truly be a judge of whether the world is ready. By our standards, the outside world will never be ready. We’re limited by our own perceptions of culture and society,” Dewani said.

“The War Dogs were also created to see if the world had need of Wakanda, and if they could be trusted with our resources,” T’Challa rebutted.

“And what did they decide when our cousins in America were being brutalized for their skin color?”

Okoye could feel a chill run through the room at the undiluted truth. She certainly doesn’t pull her punches. “Not every organization can succeed one hundred percent of the time.”

“No, but some failures are less acceptable than others.”

Across the table, T’Challa sighed and set his fork down. “I won’t pretend that Wakanda did the right thing during the slavery and segregation eras. Instead of rising to the occasion, we took the actions of one group of people as an excuse to stay in hiding, and that was wrong. That’s why we’re reaching out now.” He paused to smile at Nakia. “To atone for the past and start ourselves on the right path.”

Dewani shot a glance at Shuri, and the two teenagers made subtle gagging motions at each other.

Okoye smirked as M’Baku cleared his throat in admonishment. “Well, I wasn’t quite expecting such a vast answer.”

“I was,” Ramonda said with a fond smile. “An innovator needs a quick, sharp mind, though I wasn’t expecting you to be an innovator of philosophy.”

Dewani shrugged and smiled sheepishly. “There’s more than one kind of innovation.”

“Indeed.” Ramonda patted her daughter’s arm. “Well, Shuri, I have to say I’m deeply impressed with your choice. I don’t think I could’ve handpicked someone better for you.”

M’Baku puffed up noticeably at that statement, clearly proud of his sister. “She has the best mind among all of Wakanda.”

T’Challa smiled amiably. “Well, out of brotherly duty, I’d have to disagree --but only just.”

Okoye allowed herself a small smile as dinner came to a close and the respective parties started dispersing together. Off to work. Before she slipped away, she watched as Dewani kissed the back of Shuri’s hand before saying goodnight. The Queen Mother was right, she thought with a grin as she retreated into one of the back hallways. The Princess made a good choice.


 

 

...Unfortunately, due to protests from tribe members, we won’t be able to supply the requested quota of replacement members for the security contingency. We hope, given the spiritual importance of the Harvest Moon festival, that this discrepancy will be understood...

Okoye let out a growl of frustration as she read through the official response from the River tribe to her request for help during the upcoming festival. Don’t they understand that, if they want to shove the Border Tribe out, they have to pick up the slack? How is that so hard to see?!

Yes, the Harvest Moon festival was spiritually important, she knew that. It was a time to thank the gods and goddesses for a year of provision, a time to acknowledge the wealth Wakanda had been blessed with via a five day long celebration.

The eldest spiritual leader from the River tribe would lead the opening ceremony on the first day, in which each household of Wakanda would offer sacrifices to the patron of their tribe and to Bast. The night would be devoted to prayer and ritual fasting, but the opening ceremony required a great deal of management to keep the crowd orderly.

The second and third days were devoted to seeking out the poor in Wakanda and making sure that they had what they needed to make it through the next year. It required a strong security force to make sure that envious hearts and greedy hands didn’t try to take what wasn’t theirs when the givers turned their backs.

The fourth day was dedicated to celebrating the farmers that put in the labor to make sure that Wakanda’s crop didn’t fail. The fourth day, arguably, was harder to secure than the fifth. There was a history of other farmers sabotaging others if they felt eclipsed by one another, and there was usually enough alcohol involved to make things dicey. A drunk, angry farmer with the technology to break stones in a field wasn’t an easy opponent to face down.

The fifth day was the day of all out celebration. On the fifth day, the nation came together to take joy in the provision granted by their gods and goddesses. Vendors cooked from dawn to dusk to dawn again, friendly combat challenges open to anyone took place in the main arena throughout the day, and alcohol flowed everywhere.

Alcohol. Lots of it. In every cup, bottle, glass, and bloodstream. Livers were on the line, as was the safety of the citizens. A strong, experienced security force was vital to making sure that the rowdy drinkers didn’t get out of hand, that the teenagers didn’t try to steal a few forbidden glasses, and that the odd predator didn’t succeed in whatever disgusting conquests they had planned.

Okoye resisted the urge to smack her head against the stone wall of the hallway, and settled for rubbing her temples instead. I should’ve stood my ground with the Council. I shouldn’t have capitulated. There’s no way we can do this without the Border tribe, especially since the other tribes won’t--

“Okoye?”

Okoye whirled, ready to shove her spear into-- Bast dammit, I’m going to kill him.

M’Baku took a step back, eyes widening. “Whoa. Are you alright?”

Okoye realized that she was seething, closed her eyes, deactivated her spear, and took a moment to compose herself. “I’m fine,” she said, opening her eyes once she felt like she wasn’t going to rip out the throat of the next person she saw. “Just... a little frustrated.”

“What’s wrong?”

Okoye let out a heavy breath. “You know, no one ever really asks me that.”

M’Baku gave her a sympathetic look, and held out his arms. “Come here.”

Okoye took a quick glance around to make sure they were alone, then let herself be hugged against his chest. She let out a sigh, and pressed her cheek against the leather tunic he wore.

“Now, what has the greatest General in all of Wakanda so worked up that she could kill an average man with just a look?”

Okoye laughed, despite herself and the situation. “Bast, am I really that bad?”

“No, but you laughed, which was the point. Now, my love, what has you so on edge?”

Okoye groaned. “Do you remember the Council’s promise to supply extra warriors to make up for the absence of the Border tribe during the Harvest Moon festival?”

“Yes...”

“Well, they aren’t. I just got an apology from the River tribe because, given the ‘spiritual significance of the festival,’ they ‘were dealt an unexpected amount of backlash from the tribe members, and they ‘hope I understand.’” Okoye found herself blinking back tears of frustration, and opted to nestle further into M’Baku’s chest. “So, between the River tribe and the Merchant tribe --who opted out because they have the most farmers, and don’t want to take away their people’s ability to celebrate their efforts on day four--I’m knee deep in rhino shit, and I’m barefoot to boot.”

“How many warriors are you short?”

“At least one hundred fifty.”

M’Baku made a noise of surprise. “That many? Why do you need that many? Is the rest of Wakanda filled with crazed radicalists?”

“Well, we work people in shifts. Some of the celebration and rituals go on through the night, so we can’t run the same people all day. Some members don’t have a household to offer for them during the first night, so they take that day off in trade for some of the others to have the last day off. Some participate in the giving on the third day and cover on the second, and vice versa. It’s a very delicate balancing act,” Okoye explained. “And, no, Wakanda is not full of ‘crazed radicalists.’ However, there’s still a lot of people to account for, and people are unpredictable.”

“Fair enough.” M’Baku wrapped his arms all the way around her, almost enveloping her. “Have you tried talking to the King?”

Okoye grimaced. “No...”

“I sense a ‘but’ coming on.”

“Royal strong-arming usually isn’t the best answer. It might get me the head count I need, but strong-arming usually results in some sour moods among the ranks, to say nothing of the Council,” Okoye said with a roll of her eyes.

M’Baku let out an unimpressed snort. “And here I thought the rest of Wakanda was banded together in the tightest of brotherhoods.”

“We’re all human down here. Humans are fallible. Besides, the only reason we’re running into this problem is because the other tribes aren’t used to fielding military and security needs. That has always fallen to the Border tribe and the Dora Milaje. I assure you, when everything’s running as it usually does, we’re quite the oiled machine.”

M’Baku laughed quietly. “You sound like Dewani. She’s always reminding me to consider the other side whenever I get too cynical. She likes to call me ‘The Great Curmudgeon.’”

“She’s a smart girl. You should listen to her.”

“I take it you approve of her.”

“I’m not sure why she would need my approval.”

“But you’re okay with her?”

Okoye studied M’Baku’s face as she tried to puzzle out what the man was getting at. “Are you worried that I won’t want to spend time with you if she’s in the picture?”

M’Baku’s cautious smile slipped into a veiled, bitter frown. “There have been... a few others who weren’t okay with Dewani. I’m her sole caretaker, and I intend to see that through until she comes of age. She and I are a package deal. I’m not going to shove her aside for anyone. Not ever. Especially since... ”

Okoye frowned. “Since what?”

M’Baku sighed. “Dewani is my half-sister, technically. Our father remarried her mother when my mother died to settle a territory dispute between the Jabari and the Mining tribe. My uncle took custody of her when our father died, but...”

“That didn’t go well, I take it,” Okoye said as she watched M’Baku’s expression darken.

“He abused her for several years. I managed to reclaim custody of her when I found out. Her experiences with him have left her scarred... I will never cast her aside, Okoye. She’s been through too much.”

Okoye smiled reassuringly at him, and reached up to stroke his cheek with her thumb. “I wouldn’t ask you to. I think she’s a remarkable young woman with an excellent sense of humor --just like you.”

M’Baku relaxed a bit and flashed her a cheeky grin. “Thank you. I like to think that I make quite the remarkable young woman as well.”

Okoye groaned as she realized her mistake. “No, that’s not what --you know that’s not what I meant!”

“I know, and thank you. It means a lot to hear you say that.”

Okoye glowered up at him. “You can be really annoying sometimes, you know that?”

“Just one of my many charms.”

“Yeah, keep telling yourself that.”

Something in M’Baku’s gaze shifted as he rubbed her cheek with the pad of his thumb. Intensity smoldered in his dark eyes, and he leaned forward to press his forehead against hers.

Okoye felt her heart stutter as his warm breath danced against her lips. She let her eyelids flutter shut as she felt his nose brush against hers.

Her communication bead started beeping.

Okoye scrunched up her face in a scowl and mentally swore death to whoever had just interrupted her. Okoye stepped back, took a moment to collect herself, and answered the call.

T’Challa’s face peered up at her. “General Okoye.”

Bast dammit. Regicide wasn’t an option she could afford. “My King. How can I help you?”

“I just saw the responses from the River and Merchant tribes. I wanted to discuss them with you. Could we meet in the main conference room?”

Okoye nodded. “Yes, my King. I’m about fifteen minutes out.”

“I’ll see you there.”

Okoye looked up at M’Baku as T’Challa closed the line. “I have to go.”

M’Baku smiled at her, and kissed her forehead one last time. “Go. Wakanda needs you.”

Yes, Wakanda needs me, Okoye thought as she took off at a brisk pace. And I need a vacation.


 

 

The sun had barely crested over the horizon, staining the sky with shades of yellow and coral. Birds were just starting their morning songs, and a light breeze cut through the still dawn air.

Okoye walked up the stairs that led to the landing platform outside the palace, trailed by Ayo and Aneka. T’Challa had woken her up early for ‘pleasant news, for a change,’ and Okoye had decided to bring the other two women along so that she could get a jump on the long list of preparations necessary to ensure that the Harvest Moon festival went off without a hitch. “Ayo, I’ll need you to oversee the morning training for the rest of the Dora Milaje so that I can get started on the walk through with Djabi and K’Wani.”

“Yes, General.”

“Aneka, I need you to start assessing the records of the volunteers we’ve been promised. Make sure that there isn’t any history of criminal activity on any of the volunteers. We can’t afford to have any weak points.”

“Yes, General, but shouldn’t the other tribes have already scanned for that?”

“We’re not dealing with the Border tribe this year,” Okoye said. “We have to take extra precautions.”

“Yes, General. What should I do if I find any warriors with unsatisfactory records?”

“Make a list and give it to me. I’ll handle it from there.”

“Yes, General. What do you think the pleasant news is?”

Okoye couldn’t help but smile slightly at Aneka’s curiosity. “If I knew, I would tell you. Oh, Ayo, I need you to run through the other possible candidates from the River and Merchant tribes. We’re still short one hundred fifty people, and having a list of names might help us back the tribal leaders into a corner.”

“Yes, General.”

Okoye cleared the last few steps to the landing pad and nearly froze in shock.

The landing pad was filled to the brim with dozens and dozens of Jabari warriors. At the front stood M’Baku, who was talking with the King.

What, in Bast’s name, is going on?

T’Challa looked over as she drew closer and grinned. “General Okoye.”

Okoye stopped and bowed. “My King.” She shot a wary glance at the Jabari. “What... what is all this?”

T’Challa shot a look at M’Baku that was equal parts amused and impressed. “I think I will let Chief M’Baku explain himself.”

At that, M’Baku grinned. “I believe you mentioned that you were short by one hundred fifty warriors?” He gestured back at the ranks of Jabari soldiers with a massive sweep of his arm. “May I present the best that the Jabari has to offer. One hundred fifty soldiers, to serve on the festival security contingency as needed.”

Okoye’s eyes widened, and she did a quick head count. There’s actually one hundred fifty of them. He actually pulled one hundred fifty of his soldiers to help me. She realized that T’Challa was watching her with unhidden amusement, and quickly rearranged her expression into something more professional. “Thank you, Chief M’Baku. The Dora Milaje and I are very grateful for the Jabari’s contribution. Aneka--” she turned to the younger soldier “--can you call up a Djabi and a few others to escort the Jabari warriors to the primary courtyard?”

“Yes, General.”

“Commander, can I trust you to review the soldiers and brief them on how we handle festival security?”

“Yes, General.”

Okoye faced T’Challa. “My King, if I could have a moment to speak with the Chief before I start the festival walk-through?”

T’Challa nodded after a moment, a knowing smile playing on his lips. He walked back to the palace, while Ayo and Aneka escorted the Jabari warriors off the landing pad.

Okoye waited until she was certain that she and M’Baku were alone, then leaped up and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Thank you.”

M’Baku laughed as he held her against his chest. “You’re welcome, my love. You know, you could’ve asked for my help yesterday. I would’ve said yes.”

“I didn’t want it to seem like the Jabari were only ‘fill ins’ to the rest of Wakanda,” Okoye admitted. “Besides, you had already filled your quota. I didn’t want to ask for so much more, especially since you were coming to observe for the first time.”

“There’s more than one way to observe, and observing from the stance of festival-goers and security personnel lets us gain a more rounded view of how things are handled down here.”

Okoye feigned suspicion as she looked up at M’Baku. “Dewani said that, didn’t she?”

M’Baku let out a hearty laugh. “Was it that obvious?”

“Just a little.”

M’Baku shrugged with an easy grin. “I told her I needed a good excuse to give to the King, and she came up with that.”

“What, helping me isn’t a good enough excuse?” Okoye teased.

“You seem to prefer not letting on that we’re ‘seeing each other.’ I want to respect that.”

Okoye sighed and smiled at him gently. “I would be fine with letting everyone know we’re seeing each other.”

“I sense a ‘but’ coming.”

Okoye traced her fingers over the seams that held his leather armor together. “My job doesn’t afford a lot of privacy. It’s nice to have something just for myself.”

M’Baku kissed the top of her head. “As long as that’s it.”

For a brief moment, Okoye thought about leaning up and kissing him properly. Unfortunately, before she could make up her mind, her kimoyo beads started beeping.

M’Baku smiled sadly. “Called away once more?”

“I have to do a walk through to assess the security points for the festival. Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize. Go do your job. Keep Wakanda in check.”

Okoye chuckled as she forced herself to let go of M’Baku. “Last time I checked, that was the King’s job.”

“There is the one who makes the law, and then there is the one who does the work and enforces it.”

Okoye let out a scandalized laugh and smacked his arm. “I’m going before you get me in trouble.”

M’Baku darted forward with a grace surprising for someone of his size and kissed her on the cheek. “In case I don’t see you tonight.”


 

 

Okoye forced herself to walk off the landing pad, but she carried a besotted smile with her the entire way to the plaza where the walk through started.

Okoye blinked as she watched two warriors, one from the Mining tribe and one from the River tribe, duke it out in the festival arena. Wow. It’s the fifth day already. How did that happen?

The Jabari had been a true gift from Bast. None of them had protested the temporary use of the kimoyo beads to communicate during the festival, which had almost left her with her jaw on the floor.

The first day had gone off without a hitch. There hadn’t been so much as an argument to diffuse.

The second and third days were a little trickier. Instead of managing one big crowd in one area, they had to manage multiple moving crowds across the whole of Wakanda. Okoye had to track down several of the River tribe volunteers during the course of both days, who had stepped off to give to the poor to ensure that they were ‘in proper spiritual accord with their gods.’

Okoye understood wanting to partake in the festival, and she wouldn’t decry their devotion to the gods, but they had one fucking job to do, dammit, and Bast help her--

Okoye forced herself to take a deep breath when she realized her grip on her spear had gone from ‘hold it upright’ to ‘white knuckles of death.’

She was standing in the arena box that the royal family and tribal leaders sat in while the combat challenges took place. She could see everything taking place on the arena floor, but was close enough to the door that if she got a call from one of the security volunteers, she could step out and handle things without disturbing the family and the elders.

She smiled politely as the Mining tribe warrior finally yielded to the River tribe warrior, then smiled genuinely as Nakia stood up and cheered for her fellow tribesman.

This. This is Wakanda, Okoye thought as she watched the crowd applaud and cheer.

All the tribes together --including several Jabari--celebrating the year and the prosperity that Bast had blessed them with, celebrating their hard work and culture.

This is what Wakanda is supposed to be.

She was glad M’Baku and the Jabari were here to see the Harvest Moon festival. Hopefully, when they went back to their mountains and solitude, they’d remember the rest of Wakanda like this, rather than think that those who lived in the valley were vibranium-crazed modernists who thought nothing of their heritage.

“I still don’t understand why I can’t sit with Dewani and the rest of the Jabari,” Shuri complained as she gazed at the section occupied by the rest of the Jabari warriors.

“It’s your duty, as the Princess, to attend the festival with your family,” Ramonda said. “Besides, you’ll see her later.”

“Well, why can’t she sit up here with us? M’Baku’s sitting up here, and she’s the sister of the Chief of the Jabari. She’s just as important!”

“Because you need to watch the festival, not watch Dewani the whole day,” T’Challa teased before ducking out of the way of Shuri’s swinging fists.

“Behave, both of you,” Ramonda admonished her children. “Dewani chose to sit with the other Jabari warriors of her own accord. You need to respect her decision, my child.”

Okoye smirked as Shuri slumped in her chair, dejected. Ah, young love. A moment’s separation is an eternity of torture.

“Are there any other challengers who think they can best the champions of Wakanda?” the announcer cried out over the loudspeaker system.

There was a shuffling among the crowd, and man dressed in the traditional greens of the River tribe stepped onto the arena floor. “I am M’Kobu, son of M’Kenda!”

Okoye stiffened as recognition shot through her. How, in Bast’s name, did he get in here?

M’Kobu, son M’Kenda, tribesman and warrior of the River tribe. He had been on of the candidates for the Princess’s hand before the Queen Mother had stepped in and called the venture off.

M’Kobu, unlike the rest of the candidates, hadn’t taken the news with grace. Okoye could still remember restraining the enraged man in the throne room before he could attack the Queen Mother. 

T’Chaka had decided, at the contrite begging of the River tribe elder, to merely ban M’Kobu from the palace and from direct participation in the festivals, rather than execute him.

Perhaps he thought the King wouldn’t remember his father’s edict, Okoye thought as she stepped out of the box to call Ayo. Unfortunately for him, I do.  “How the hell did he get in? I know he was on the ban list!”

“As far as we can tell, he got in through the section monitored by the River tribe volunteers.”

Okoye's vision went red. “I’m going to kill them all.”

“Save that for later. Get him out of the arena before someone responds to his challenge. Once the combat starts, we can’t boot him until he yields.”

Okoye ended the communication and hurried back into the box.

“M’Kobu, son of M’Kenda! What do you fight for today?”

M’Kobu pointed his vibranium club at the royal box. “A year ago, I was promised an opportunity for the Princess’s hand, only to have it ripped away without justification. Today, I’m back to claim what is rightfully mine.” He laughed. “I mean, someone has to bring the brat of Wakanda to heel.”

The announcer laughed uncomfortably. “Right. Okay. Is... is there anyone who would answer to M’Kobu’s challenge?”

Shuri clutched at T’Challa’s arm. “Brother! Stop him! Please!”

Okoye took the opportunity to step up behind T’Challa’s seat and speak quietly in his ear. “My King, your father banned M’Kobu from directly participating in all festivals when he tried to attack the Queen Mother. He should be thrown out for violating the orders of the former King, to say nothing for how he just defamed the Princess.”

Before T’Challa could react, a figure darted out of the stands and onto the arena floor.

M’Baku stiffened in his seat. “No, no...”

“You want a fight?”

Okoye watched, stunned into silence, as Dewani strode across the arena floor, staff in hand. Child, what are you doing?

“Listen to me, you sad sack of shit,” Dewani snapped when M’Kobu started laughing. “I don’t know what you smoked to make you think you’re even remotely worthy of the Princess. Frankly, the fact you’ve already been rejected should tell you everything you need to know, which only confirms that you’re an incomprehensibly stupid twat with cow shit for brains. However, if it’s a fight you want, I’m happy to give it to you --unless you’re worried about being beaten by a backwards, savage child.”

Okay, so she knows how to talk smack, but that won’t help her once the fight starts. Breaking from protocol, Okoye reached out and gripped T’Challa’s shoulder. “My King, she hasn’t formally accepted his challenge. You need to stop--”

“Are you... are you formally accepting M’Kobu’s challenge?” the announcer asked, disbelief evident in his voice.

“I am,” Dewani said.

Okoye grimaced. There’s no turning back now.

“I see... and your name?”

Dewani stood up straighter. “I am Dewani, sister of M’Baku, the Great Gorilla of the Jabari tribe. I accept M’Kobu’s, son of M’Kenda, challenge, and I am going to clean this arena floor with his pompous ass!”

In the stands, the Jabari spectators cheered and barked for their Princess.

“Is there anyway to stop this?” M’Baku asked, voice strained.

T’Challa’s expression was grave as he shook his head. “No. Not until one of them yields.”

“Alright. The match is between M’Kobu of the River tribe and Dewani of the Jabari tribe. This is a non-lethal fight, so it ends when one of you yields. Understood?” When both warriors nodded, the announcer raised his hand. “Then, let this match begin!”

Okoye couldn’t move from her spot, glued in place as she was by the spectacle.

Granted, Dewani was a decent opponent. She had a sharp, quick mind, and she was built broadly, with strong shoulders and thick legs. She was only a few inches shorter than T’Challa as well, which certainly helped her.

Unfortunately, it was even more obvious that she was still an amateur. Her footwork was unsteady, her stance too tense. Against a more experienced fighter like M’Kobu--

Okoye clenched her teeth as she watched M’Kobu land another blow to Dewani’s shoulder. Loosen up, Okoye thought, as though she could telepathically implant the suggestion in Dewani’s mind. Your shoulders are too tight; it’s throwing off your strikes.

Something wasn’t right with Dewani, either. Her jaw was visibly tight, and the look in her eyes almost seemed cagey.

Okoye frowned as details flickered through her mind. M’Baku said that their uncle abused her, that it left her with scars. Just how bad was her experience? Would it be enough to shut her down in a fight?

“T’Challa! Just stop this already! He shouldn’t even be here!”

Shuri’s frantic arguing pulled Okoye back to reality.

“Dewani answered his challenge! I can’t throw M’Kobu out until he yields!”

“You should’ve reacted faster!”

Okoye watched, horrified as M’Kobu clocked Dewani across the head with his club. “He’s fighting dirty!” She clapped a hand over her mouth as he brought his club down on Dewani’s left shoulder, causing Dewani to let out a shriek of pain and drop her staff. Her shoulder’s out. He dislocated her shoulder.

M’Baku gripped the armrests of his chair, anger burning in his dark eyes. “End this now, or I’ll go down there and throw him out myself!”

“You have no right to speak to speak to your King in such a manner!” the River tribe elder snapped.

Okoye gasped as M’Kobu grabbed Dewani by her collar, then let out a shaky sigh of relief when he recoiled after Dewani slammed her right fist into his face a couple times.

Shuri was screaming, completely panicked. “T’Challa! Just stop this already!”

“Get some of the Dora Milaje down there,” T’Challa ordered. “This has gone on long enough.”

“I’ve already called Ayo.” Okoye leaned forward as Dewani skittered backwards, clutching at her left arm. What is she doing? Her stomach lurched as she watched Dewani try to pop her shoulder back in. “No, no, no, no. Don’t try to relocate it. Just let us end the match,” she whispered, even though Dewani couldn’t hear her.

In the arena, Dewani let out a cry of pain, then managed to pop her shoulder back into its socket.

She’s done that before, Okoye thought to herself. She shouldn’t know how to do that.  Okoye’s blood ran cold as she caught sight of the look in Dewani’s eyes, turning what little relief she felt into dread. Oh fuck.

Later, she’d describe it to Ayo that it was if Dewani had left and was replaced by a malevolent demon. Sure, it was the same body and face, but the energy in her eyes, the energy pouring off of her, was like a cornered beast that was ready to snap.

She’d seen it before, too many times, in the War Dogs that came back after particularly heinous missions.

“T’Challa.” Okoye struggled to find her voice as she watched Dewani seeth through gritted teeth. “Call it off now. Call it off.”

Dewani lowered herself into a crouch, then launched herself across the arena.

Okoye found herself recoiling, despite her training. Shit, she’s fast.

Dewani was on M’Kobu in seconds and slammed into him with the force of a rhinoceros. She took him to the floor with a sickening thud, knocking his club clean out of his hands and sending it sailing.

The crowd cheered as Dewani straddled herself over M’Kobu, pinned his arms with her knees, and started punching him.

Shuri was sobbing angrily as she shook T’Challa by his shoulders. “Just stop this! She shouldn’t have to fight him! Just stop it already!”

“I agree with Shuri. This ends now,” Ramonda said. “Call off the fight, T’Challa!”

M’Baku was gripping the railing of the box, shouting down at his sister. “Dewani! Stop!”

Dewani stopped punching M’Kobu, only to start choking him out instead.

Okoye called Ayo. “Get the Milaje on the arena floor. She’s snapped. She can’t stop herself.”

M’Kobu squirmed underneath Dewani, before he finally smacked his hand against her leg in submission.

Dewani didn’t stop.

“Now! Do it now, Ayo!”

M’Baku leaned halfway over the railing. “Dewani! He yielded!”

Dewani flinched as she registered her brother’s voice, seemed to realize that M’Kobu was still smacking his hand against her leg, then scrambled off him so fast he might as well have been on fire. For a moment, she looked like she had no idea what to do. Then, she put on a fake air of bravado and cheered loudly, beating her chest in  victory. The Jabari in the stands responded in kind, until the rest of the spectators were swept up into the celebration along with them. Dewani shot one last, shaky grin at the crowd, then practically sprinted into one of the tunnels under the arena.

“She’s off him,” Okoye told Ayo. “Be ready to carry M’Kobu out of the arena.”

T’Challa let out a relieved sigh. “Shuri, I’m-- where she’d go?”

Okoye turned around just in time to see Shuri sprinting towards the stairs that led to the tunnels. “She’s going after Dewani!” Okoye ran after the Princess, taking the stairs two at a time as she tried to catch up to Shuri. “Princess Shuri! Wait!”

Shuri was standing a few feet away from Dewani, wringing her hands. “I found her like this! I don’t know what to do!”

Dewani was sitting on the floor, back against the tunnel wall. She was shaking like a leaf, and her breaths were shallow and irregular. Her eyes were wide and unfocused, and she almost seemed like a rag doll.

“What’s happening to her? Is she dying?”

“No,” Okoye said. “I don’t think so. Check her with your kimoyo beads to be sure.”

“I already did! They couldn’t find anything fatal!”

“Then she’s not dying. Try to calm down, please.”

Okoye had seen plenty of death before --it was the nature of her job. While she wasn’t a psychologist, what she was watching looked more like a severe panic attack than anything else.

Oh, child. Why did you push yourself so hard if this was going to be the outcome? We would’ve handled it. With a sigh, Okoye knelt in front of Dewani and took the girl’s hands in hers.

Dewani’s eyes snapped into focus, and she made a noise that was somewhere between a whimper and a snarl.

“Breathe,” Okoye said gently. “In through your nose, out through your mouth.”

Dewani tried to follow Okoye’s instructions, but only managed jerky, faltering half-breaths.

“Breathe with me.” She started doing warrior breaths, breathing in through her nose until her lungs were full, then exhaling through her mouth until they were empty.

Dewani’s fingers tightened around Okoye’s hands as she started mimicking the her.

“That’s it,” Okoye said softly. “You’re safe. Just breathe as best you can.”

Eventually, Dewani’s breathing evened out, and she seemed to be solidly back in the present world. Her eyes were tired, but she wasn’t staring through the wall anymore.

Okoye let out a quiet breath as she relaxed a little. She looked up for the first time in almost twenty minutes to assess where everyone was at.

T’Challa and Nakia were standing about six feet back, far away enough to give proper space, but close enough to keep an eye on things. They were holding hands, and the lovers had identical worried expressions on their faces.

Shuri and Ramonda were closer, only a few feet away. Ramonda was holding Shuri, who was crying quietly as she leaned against her mother’s chest.

M’Baku was standing the closest, expression grim. Wordlessly, he sat down next to his sister and put his hand on her good arm.

Dewani let out a shaky breath, looked up at the grim faces surrounding her, and said, “Why does everyone look like they’re attending a funeral?”

“I thought you were dying!” Shuri exclaimed as she darted over to Dewani’s side.

“Why would I be dying?”

“Well, I didn’t know if you’d sustained any internal injuries! I mean, he hit you on the head!”

“Oh, yeah. That did happen.” Dewani took her hands out Okoye’s and held onto M’Baku’s hand with one and Shuri’s with the other. She glanced between her brother and her girlfriend. “Well, don’t we make quite the trio.”

Shuri let out a high-pitched, nervous laugh as she leaned against Dewani, the recoiled hard when Dewani let out a hiss of pain. “I’m sorry! Are you okay?”

“Yeah, that’s just my bad shoulder.”

Shuri was on her feet in seconds. “Come on, I’ll take you to my lab. You’ll be healed up in no time.”

“The Jabari don’t use vibranium to heal themselves,” M’Baku muttered, but there wasn’t any real protest in his voice.

“I think Hanuman will forgive us if we indulge in advanced medicine this one time,” Dewani said as she let Shuri pull her to her feet with her good arm. “Besides, do you really think you’ll win an argument with her? In this state?”

Okoye chuckled, mostly because it was clear that was the reaction Dewani wanted, and held her hand out to M’Baku. “You know she’s right.”


 

 

From her post by the lab’s entrance, Okoye could see everything.

Shuri was flitting about nervously as she used her technology to check for internal injuries and heal a few cracked ribs that Dewani had suffered during her fight with M’Kobu. Her expression was pinched, only loosening for brief spurts as Dewani mouthed off and cracked jokes before her face would pucker with stress once more.

Dewani, to her credit, was doing remarkably well in spite of everything. Her eyes were tired, but she was still smiling and laughing as she tried to get Shuri to relax. Only when Shuri’s back was turned did the cheerful mask slip, and the weariness set back in.

T’Challa and M’Baku were watching their sisters near the entrance, careful to give Shuri enough room to work. T’Challa’s gaze followed Shuri as she moved about her lab, while M’Baku’s was set, never leaving his sister.

Nakia and Ramonda had left to deal with the council, who had called an emergency meeting once Dewani was patched up.

When Shuri walked over to fiddle with something on one of the tables, T’Challa reached out and brushed his fingers against her arm. “Is everything okay?”

“Joints dislocate easier when they’ve been dislocated multiple times,” Shuri mumbled before walking back to Dewani.

T’Challa frowned, and turned to Okoye. “Do you know what she means?”

“Dewani’s dislocated her left shoulder more than once,” Okoye said. “Or, more likely, someone’s dislocated it for her more than once.”

There was an uncomfortable pause, and they both looked up at M’Baku.

M’Baku’s eyes were glossy as he watched Dewani smile at Shuri. “My mother died when I was ten. My father remarried Dewani’s mother, a woman from the Mining tribe, to settle a border dispute. His brother was not a fan of the match, and when my father and Dewani’s mother died...” His voice trailed off, and he let out a shaky breath. “Our uncle is not a kind man, nor is he an open-minded one." 

Okoye looked down to hid her own tears. She’d heard the story before, but what she’d imagined paled in comparison to the results she’d witnessed today. What kind of bastard dislocates a child’s shoulder?

“I only got her back two years ago,” M’Baku said, voice wavering. “She wouldn’t even look at me during the first couple months. She didn’t smile for six more, not at all.”

T’Challa placed his hand on M’Baku’s shoulder. “You’ve done a wonderful job with her. She’s a lovely young woman. You should be proud of her.”

“I am,” M’Baku said as he wiped tears away from his eyes. “I really am. She’s come so far.”

“Hey, no! Don’t make him cry!” Dewani said from across the lab. “He blubbers like a baby when he gets started, and I’m the one who’ll have to clean him up!”

“I do not blubber like a baby,” M’Baku said indignantly, smiling nonetheless.

“Oh, please. Whales look at you and go ‘wow, he blubbers a lot.’”

“Ah, and is that your translation of things?”

“No, it’s a cat’s. I heard it through the grape vine.”

“Oh, so you take your advice from fruit and felines now.” M’Baku shot a teasing glance at T’Challa. “How... dubious.”

“Says the man who’s most striking resemblance to a gorilla is the way he snores!”

“Her ribs and shoulder are done healing,” Shuri said in a watery voice. “Fortunately, there weren’t any other internal injuries.”

Dewani spread her arms open with a faltering smile. “Good as new!”

T’Challa let out a heavy sigh, and placed his hand on Dewani’s good shoulder. “I owe you an apology, Dewani. I should’ve stopped M’Kobu before anyone could’ve answered his challenge, and I should’ve stopped him even though you responded. I’m sorry.”

Dewani shrugged, somewhat deflated. “It’s okay.” She jerked her head at M’Baku. “He’s always telling me that I let my temper run away with me too much, anyway.” Her voice cracked at the end, and she tilted her head back, blinking hard.

T’Challa patted Dewani’s shoulder, then nudged his sister. “Let’s give them a minute.” He looked at Okoye. “Will you escort the Chief to the throne room when she’s ready?”

Okoye nodded, and tried to make herself as unobtrusive as possible as T’Challa and Shuri left. She watched as M’Baku stepped in front of Dewani and pulled her into his arms, until all that was visible of the teenage girl were her arms, which were pressed against his back.

For a moment, everything was quiet. The lab was like a tomb.

Then, a tiny whimper escaped Dewani. The whimper became whine, the whine became a cry, and eventually she was sobbing, hoarse and broken. Her arms and hands went from resting against her brother’s back to clinging, desperately, as though if she loosened her grip he’d sail away from her.

Okoye felt her eyes sting as Dewani’s pained cries echoed off the lab walls. She did her best to blink back her tears and keep her face clean. You can have your sadness later. You still need to look presentable for the council meeting.

Yes, it was sweet that the two cared for each other so obviously, but Okoye couldn’t help but view the entire thing as a tragedy.

As far as she could understand, M’Baku had adopted Dewani because he had to, because he had to save her. There was no doubt that he found great joy in caring for his sister, but there was an undeniable element of necessity that painted a picture of an angry, broken family with a child caught in between them.

In some ways, it reminded her of the disaster of T’Chaka’s and N’Jobu’s falling out, the disaster that had created N’Jadaka’s campaign against his extended family.

Okoye allowed herself a small smile as M’Baku kissed the top of his sister’s head and wiped the tears off her cheeks. Fortunately, Dewani has something in her life that N’Jadaka likely never had --someone who cares about her deeply.

Dewani would be okay. Okoye was sure of that.


 

 

When she stepped into the throne room, despite her many years of navigating the palace, Okoye thought for a moment that she took a wrong turn. This isn’t a council meeting. This is pit of chaos.

Normally, the Tribal Elders could usually be counted on to maintain some level of decorum. Okoye had only ever seen two out and out fights --once when the UN started leaning on Wakanda to open its borders to an inspection team, and once when T’Challa was reseated as King; fingers were pointed in every direction, each leader trying to cover their own ass for having not challenged the outsider, until T’Challa managed to get a word in edgewise and assure the leaders that he held no grudges or ill feelings.

Today, the elders were all talking over each other, creating a din that echoed off the walls and high ceilings. It was almost impossible to pick out words or phrases, but years of practice helped Okoye put together that they were arguing about two things: how M’Kobu had gotten into the arena, and Dewani.

“That’s enough!”

Okoye’s head whipped up at the sound of T’Challa’s voice, clear and clearly annoyed. She carefully took her seat as she watched him struggle to compose himself.

“I appreciate your concern and enthusiasm over Chief M’Baku’s sister, but it stops there. The relationship between my sister and the Jabari princess is my family’s concern, Chief M’Baku’s concern, and no one else’s. Am I clear?” When the --slightly cowed--leaders murmured their agreement, T’Challa nodded. “Good. That leaves dealing with M’Kobu.”

“Well, there’s only one person in here that can explain that,” the River tribe elder said crisply. “General Okoye, would you like to explain the failings of your soldiers?”

Between the weeks of scrambling to prepare for the festival and the last two hours she’d just gone through, something snapped in Okoye. They refuse to let us use our regular security force, forcing us to train an entirely new team in less than adequate time, balk on providing the amount of support needed, their volunteers are the ones that ran off and let M’Kobu in, and they want to blame my women?  “My soldiers?” Okoye hissed as she tried to reel her temper in. “You want to blame my soldiers for what happened today?”

“They were in charge of the security force. This failure in on their heads.”

Okoye nearly ripped the armrests off her seat. “Do you really want to know what happened? Your volunteers decided to ignore the blacklist we gave them and let M’Kobu in!”

“Well, maybe they thought--”

“No!” Okoye snapped. “They didn’t think! Instead of listening to my women, they went and did their own damn thing!” She smacked her hands together. “This is why we need the Border tribe! This is why we needed our regular security contingency! They already knew about the blacklist from several years of working during festivals and celebrations, and they’re used to following orders!”

“Yes, but we couldn’t count on the Border tribe to be loyal after their betrayal.”

“Well, we can’t count on the other tribes either!” Okoye exclaimed, exasperated. “Both the Merchant and the River tribes balked on the numbers that they promised to supply. If it hadn’t been for the Jabari, we would’ve been short by over one hundred people! If you’re going to force us to go without one of the tribes, then the other tribes have to pick up the slack! There’s no other option!”

The River and Merchant tribe elders had the decency to look sheepish.

“General Okoye is right,” T’Challa said after a moment. “If anything, today proves how much Wakanda needs all her tribes. We cannot function if we are divided. The Border tribe needs to be welcomed back into the fold.” He stood. “If you’ll excuse me, my sister’s had a rough day and I need to attend to her. We can discuss reintegrating the Border tribe at a later date.”


 

 

Let’s see... make sure all my bills are up to date, make sure nothing’s growing in the fridge, pull my winter jacket out of storage...

Okoye smiled to herself as she walked down the inner hall that led to the landing platform. She was going to say a quick good-bye to M’Baku, then head to her apartment to pack, and then...

Then, in forty-eight short hours, she’d be up in the mountains with M’Baku.

For nearly two weeks.

She’d smacked Ayo in the shoulder last night when her second-in-command had not-so-innocently asked if her contraceptive shot was up to date.

“I almost didn’t recognize you without the armor on.”

Okoye looked down at her blue, yellow, and orange blouse and plain jeans that Shuri had given her last year. “I don’t wear the armor when I’m off duty.” She grinned up at M’Baku, but her grin faded when she took in his solemn expression. “Is everything okay?”

“How upset would you be if I asked you to postpone your visit to the Jabari lands?”

Okoye’s heart sank, but she did her best to keep her expression neutral. “What’s wrong?”

M’Baku let out a heavy sigh. “My grandmother’s health has taken a turn for the worse. Dewani is deeply attached to her, so I suspect most of time between reaching home and coming back for the next council meeting will be devoted to caring for them both.”

Ah. Nothing to raise a fuss over. He’s got his hands full. “It’s fine. Being the General of the Dora Milaje racks up a lot of overtime. I’ve got several months of vacation days stored up. We’ll simply plan for another time.”

The look of relief on M’Baku’s face was almost heartbreaking. “Thank you. I’m sorry for backing out on you.”

“It’s fine; you’re not backing out on me.” Okoye wrapped her arms around his waist in a reassuring hug. “Would it be offensive if I offered a prayer to Bast for your grandmother’s health?”

“No, as long as you don’t make any offerings or burn incense during the prayer, but...”

“...But?”

M’Baku’s eyes were glossy as he went on. “The healers think this might be the end. She has cancer, and they’re pretty sure it’s in its final stages.”

Okoye frowned sadly. “I’m so sorry, my love. You know, the Princess would happily examine her to see if she had something that would help.”

“I can’t do that.”

“I know the Jabari are wary of vibranium, but if you’re worried about adverse side effects--”

“I didn’t say ‘I won’t do that.’ I said I can’t.”

“I’m not following.”

M’Baku stepped out of her arms to stare out the one of the windows that dotted the hallway, jaw tense with anger. “I’m not the executor of my grandmother’s care and estate. That duty falls to my uncle, and he’ll never approve.”

“You’re the chief. Can’t you override him?”

“Could I? Yes. Unfortunately, the consequences of doing that aren’t exactly minor. He has a lot of friends among the Jabari, and I’m the youngest chief to be elected in our tribe’s history. I’ve already caught flack for rejoining the rest of Wakanda. I can’t afford any careless missteps, especially in an area where he holds so much authority in his own right. I only managed to get Dewani away from him because of my authority as chief of the tribe. If I lose that power...” M’Baku shuddered. “I can’t even think about it.”

Okoye rubbed her hand against his arm as she tried to comfort him. “Is he really that bad?”

M’Baku shot her a dark, angry look. “He beat my sister for being a half-Mining tribe lesbian. What do you think?” Before she could respond, M’Baku let out a groan and covered his eyes with his hand. “Sorry... sorry. I shouldn’t have directed my anger at you. He’s just--”

“A wasp in the garden of life?” Okoye offered.

“No shit. Angry, self-righteous, buzzy little bastard...”

“I happen to know some people who are pretty good with a fly swatter.”

M’Baku laughed. “Don’t tempt me. I get enough bad ideas all on my own.”

“I’m just saying. You know where to find me.”

M’Baku gave her an incredulous look. “You’d commit yourself to an inter-tribal hit?”

Okoye flashed him a devious grin. “I’d use my spear. Files would be redacted and witnesses would go missing. Simple.”

M’Baku let out a peal of shocked laughter, but it was cut off by an irritated shout.

“M’Baku!” Dewani’s voice echoed through the hall. “I swear to Hanuman, if you--”

“What did I say about swearing to Hanuman over inconsequential matters?”

“Something about blasphemy.” Dewani rounded the corner. “Oh. Hi, Okoye!” She waved, then pointed in the direction of the landing platform. “Our ship is waiting.”

“Thank you, Dewani--”

“It’s ready.”

“I gathered as much. I’ll be coming in just a minute.”

“You know that’s a pitfully short amount of time to last, right?”

Okoye snorted and clapped a hand over her mouth.

M’Baku, by comparison, was far less amused. “Go.”

“Sheesh, fine! Make one dick joke, and suddenly you’re a pariah!”

“Dewani!”

“I’m going!”

“Your sister is a gem,” Okoye said once Dewani rounded the corner and disappeared from view.

“Exactly! I’m a fucking delight!”

“Dewani!” M’Baku glared at the corner, then refocused on Okoye when it offered no further commentary. “Sorry. I’m still working on housebreaking her.”

Okoye shrugged. “Believe me, I’ve heard worse.”

M’Baku’s eyes went dark and intense as he gazed down at her. He rubbed the pad of his thumb over her cheek. “I’m going to miss you.”

“I’ll be here when you come back,” she promised. She felt her heart lurch in her chest as M’Baku leaned down towards her, and let her eyelids flutter shut.

It wasn’t forceful or brutish. Instead, M’Baku kissed her with a gentleness --with a tenderness--that completely belied his size and made her feel like she was floating.

“If you keep kissing me like that, I won’t be able to let go,” Okoye warned him when they parted.

“I’m not opposed to that.”

“I figured as much, but I won’t be practical for what you’re headed in to.”

“I adapt quickly.”

Okoye shook her head as she laughed. “You’re impossible.”

“It hasn’t put you off me yet.”

“You couldn’t put me off you if you tried.” Okoye kissed him once more, briefly, and patted his chest. “Go. Your ship is waiting.”

“Good-bye, Okoye.”

"Are you finally done sucking face with your girlfriend?”

“That’s enough, Dewani.”

“Sorry. Bye, Okoye!”

“Good-bye, Dewani.” She watched M’Baku’s back as he walked away from her, then smiled and made a gentle shooing motion with her hands when he paused at the corner to turn back and look at her.

M’Baku smiled softly at her, then stepped past the bend.

Okoye let out a sad sigh, and slumped against the wall. It’s okay. Life happens. There will be other times. She stood, and walked in the opposite direction of the landing platform.

Her apartment in Birnin Zana was waiting for her.

Chapter Text

Death is not an end. The Ancestral Plains become the new home for those who leave the mortal world and pass into the spiritual realm. Bast looks over those who serve her faithfully during their mortal lives. There is nothing to fear in death.

There is much to fear in hatred, however. Those who purposefully fill their hearts with hatred, who strive to live in conflict with others, cannot serve Bast faithfully.

Death may not be an end, but hatred is.


 

 

The call came in just before midday.

Okoye was lounging in her apartment in Birnin Zana, watching the latest of her favorite cartoons while eating some vendor she’d picked up earlier that day.

Okoye grinned as one of the characters bounced around the screen like a rubber ball. Me, my cartoons, and street vendor food. A perfect vacation, if there ever was one.

In her chest, her heart ached for M’Baku.

Okoye sighed, and turned up the volume on her cartoons. Life happens. There will be other times. Now, stop harping on it, she chided herself. You can function without him around. In fact, you can enjoy yourself without him around. You’ve done it before.

She glanced at the end table next to her couch when her kimoyo beads started chiming.

She knew that chime. It was a specific channel the Princess had designed for emergencies only.

She tried to brace herself for whatever might be coming, and answered the call. “Yes?”

T’Challa somber form stared up at her. “General Okoye, I am sorry to interrupt your vacation. How soon can you be at the palace?”

Okoye bit back a disappointed sigh. “Give me twenty minutes.”


 

 

She walked into the throne room with three minutes to spare. “My King. Princess.”

“Hyper punctual as ever!” Shuri laughed. “Are you ever going to be late?”

Okoye favored the Princess with a teasing smile. “I have to balance you out somehow.”

T’Challa managed a strained smile as Shuri cackled, then motioned for her to settle. “I’m afraid I have bad news. Chief M’Baku contacted me this morning. His grandmother’s organs have started shutting down, and bringing her here for healing isn’t an option. She’s dying.”

Okoye had already heard the news from M’Baku, but she couldn’t help the way her heart dropped. Bast, be with him.

“The Chief has requested that you be permitted to travel to the Jabari lands,” T’Challa said to Shuri. “He believes that your presence would help Dewani weather through this painful time, and I am inclined to agree with him.”

Shuri nodded. “I’ll go pack right now.” She ran out of the courtroom before T’Challa could get in another word.

He smiled fondly after his sister. “Well, I guess that settles whether we’re going or not.”

“Did you honestly think you’d be able to bring it up and talk her out of it?” Okoye asked.

“No.” T’Challa studied her for a moment before speaking. “The Chief offered to host Nakia and I as well, since Shuri’s going. He also requested that you come with, if you were willing.”

Okoye’s mind started racing a mile a minute. What should I tell him? I have no reason to hide the truth from him, but...

She just wanted some privacy, Bast dammit! Was that so much to ask for?

“General, I only ask out of curiosity, not condemnation-- what is the nature of your relationship with Chief M’Baku?”

Okoye tried to swallow the dryness in her mouth. “We are... ‘seeing each other,’ my King.”

T’Challa nodded and relaxed a little. “I thought as much... especially when he offered an extra one hundred fifty of his men for the security contingency without prompting.”

Okoye tried to fight the smile off her face. “Patriotic duty.”

“You’re bad at hiding smiles. Besides, we’re talking about the chief of the Jabari. They are patriotic to themselves and themselves alone!”

“Is there a point to this, my King?” Okoye asked as T’Challa laughed.

“I just want to know if he treats you well, that’s all.”

Okoye let out a sigh that was equal parts annoyed and endeared. “He treats me very well, my King. Though, I would like to point out, you are not my father.”

T’Challa shrugged. “We are friends, Okoye. I want my friends to be happy. Is that so wrong? I know this lands during your vacation, Okoye. You’ve earned every day of it. If you don’t wish to go--”

“I will go, my King, to support the Chief and his sister,” Okoye said. “I’ve got plenty of time off hoarded away. I’ll get my vacation eventually.”


 

 

Shuri had herself packed in record time. She’d paced outside of T’Challa’s room until he and Nakia were ready, then had sprinted all the way to the landing platform where their ship was waiting.

Not for the first time, Okoye had been grateful that she kept a go bag in her quarters at the palace. The last thing she wanted to do was end up in the Princess’s war path.

The flight to the Jabari lands had been painfully long. Shuri had paced the length of the ship, flopped in nearly every seat, and checked the trip progress meter nearly twenty times within the first thirty minutes. It wasn’t until Nakia had sat down with her and held her hand that the Princess had finally settled.

Eventually, the grassy plains and lush jungles of the lower lands had given way to the tall, stony mountains of the Mining tribe’s territory. Soon after, snow had started appearing on the jagged rock formations, marking the start of the Jabari lands.

Okoye breathed a sigh of relief when the main lodge came into view, braced on the arms of a sculpture of Hanuman.

M’Baku and his primes were already waiting in the courtyard as the ship landed, protected from the cold in thick furs and leathers.

Okoye gritted her teeth as she stepped into the frigid air. Her go bag hadn’t had a coat in it. Even though her armor covered almost her entire body, she still felt chilled beyond compare. I hope the lodge has central heating.

“My King.” M’Baku looked so grieved that Okoye almost didn’t recognize him. “Thank you for making the journey to the Jabari lan--”

The door to the lodge swung open, and Dewani sprinted towards them.

Shuri broke away from T’Challa and ran into Dewani’s arms.

Okoye felt her heart tear at the sight. Oh, child.

Dewani was clinging to Shuri as though she were afraid the Princess would evaporate if she let go. Even in the hazy evening light, her cheeks were visibly damp and chapped.

Shuri kissed Dewani’s cheek, then walked her girlfriend back towards the lodge.

T’Challa opened his mouth to call after his sister, but paused when M’Baku held up his hand.

“It’s fine.” He started walking back to the lodge. “That’s what I asked her to come for.”

Okoye followed, falling in just behind T’Challa out of habit. She jumped when she felt something hit her shoulders, and realized that M’Baku had fallen back to drape his furs over her. She tugged them tighter around her body, nestling in their warmth.

“I’m very grateful for your letting the Princess come. It’s the only...” He stopped in the foyer of the lodge, and Okoye realized that there were tears in his eyes. “It’s the only leverage I had to get her to eat today.”

T’Challa gave the Jabari chief a pained, sympathetic look. “I’m glad we can help. I’m so sorry, my friend.”

“Thank you,” M’Baku said tightly. “The servants will show you where you’ll be staying.”

T’Challa and Nakia left, followed by the other two Dora Milaje that had accompanied them.

The next thing Okoye knew, M’Baku was dismissing his primes, and then his arms were around her. She  let her head rest against his chest. “My love, I’m so sorry.”

M’Baku let out a shaky laugh. “This wasn’t what I had in mind when I asked you to come visit the Jabari lands.”

“Well, fighting off Killmonger wasn’t how I envisioned the reunification of the Jabari with the rest of Wakanda beginning, so I think we’re one for one.”

“You sound certain that it would’ve happened.”

“You’ve met the Udaku siblings. Their hearts are too big for their chests and they don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. You tell me.”

“Fair enough,” M’Baku said with a chuckle.

Okoye ran her hands over her face, trying to smooth out the creases in his forehead and the bags under his eyes. “How are you?”

M’Baku let out a weary sigh. “Better now that you’re here. Better now that Shuri’s here for Dewani.” He pursed his lips together and looked down at the floor. “When our grandmother... I don’t know if Dewani will make it, Okoye.  I don’t know if she’ll recover.”

“Of course she will, don’t talk like that,” Okoye said as wiped a few stray tears off M’Baku’s cheeks. “We’ll make sure of that.”

M’Baku raised an eyebrow at that. “We?”

“Your sister is important to you. That makes her important to me, too,” Okoye insisted. “Did you honestly think I’d let you do this alone?”

M’Baku smiled down at her, and pressed his lips against hers. “Come on,” he said when they parted. “There’s someone I want you to meet.”


 

 

The outer wall was made entirely of glass, providing a perfect view of the mountains and the bridges that stretched between them. Snow fluttered outside in big, puffy flakes.

On a low table by the window, an effigy of Hanuman sat with a bowl in his hand. Two sticks of incense burned in the bowl, perfuming the room with the traces of sweet smoke.

Wooden chairs padded with fur dotted the room. T’Challa and Nakia were seated in the two closest to the door. Shuri sat in one next to a hospital style bed, while Dewani sat on the edge of the bed.

The bed itself sat in the center of the room, bracketed by two wooden nightstands. Thick, knitted white blankets protected a thin, elderly Jabari women. Her hands were gnarled, her arms were thin, and her face was lined with wrinkles, but there was a spark in her eyes that belied her emaciated state.

“Okoye, this is my grandmother, Olufemi.”

Okoye smiled as the elderly woman peered up at her.

“My eyes aren’t that good anymore. Come closer, come closer so I can see you honey. Come on, sit down! I don’t bite!”

Okoye shot a quick glance at T’Challa to make sure everything was alright, then sat down in the chair opposite of Shuri.

Olufemi squinted as she studied her. “So... you’re the woman that stole my grandson’s heart.”

M’Baku coughed. “Grandmother, please--”

“You’re very plain in your emotions, M’Baku. I’m not saying anything that anyone in this room doesn’t already know.” Olufemi leaned towards Okoye --or, as much as she could. “I used to be a priestess in the temple of Hanuman. Do you mind?”

“Not at all.” Okoye scooted closer, then did her best to relax as Olufemi pressed her hand against her forehead, then her heart.

“Smart. Confident. Strong-willed, too.” She grinned conspiratorially at Okoye. “That’s good. You’ll need to be strong-willed to handle my grandson.”

Dewani let out a strained snort. “No kidding.”

“Bearing in mind that it runs in the family,” Olufemi teased her granddaughter. “I was just telling the Princess that I’ve never seen an intuitive energy as strong as hers. She’s almost as bright as the damn sun!” Olufemi smiled fondly at Dewani and Shuri, and placed one ancient, gnarled hand on one of each girl’s hands. “To say nothing of how well matched they are.”

M’Baku let out a cough as Dewani and Shuri smiled shyly at each other. “Grandmother. The royal family isn’t used to our ways.”

“I used to do this for a living, mind you,” Olufemi said.

“Of course,” T’Challa interjected. “An elder, such as yourself, is bound to have countless tales of wisdom from their experiences. I can’t imagine what it’s like to serve the avatars.”

“Imagine cleaning up a bunch of gorilla shit every day and throwing it into a fertilizer pile,” Olufemi said, eyes sparkling. “There you go.”

T’Challa raised an eyebrow as Shuri let out an inelegant snort. “I think I’m beginning to see where the family sense of humor comes from.”

“If you can’t joke at your own life, you don’t have a life worth living.”

T’Challa shrugged. “Fair enough. Shuri, why don’t you show Dewani’s grandmother what you brought for her?”

“I have a name, your Majesty, and I’d prefer you use it.”

T’Challa smiled, all perfect amiability and joviality. “Only if you use mine.”

“Fine, T’Challa.”

“Very well, Olufemi.”

“Here.” Shuri tapped a small vibranium box that sat in the palm of her hand. It unfurled into a small pot. An intricate sculpture of lilies grew out of the pot, glowing various shades of red and gold. “Dewani said they were your favorite.”

Olufemi  beamed as Shuri set the delicate sculpture into her weathered hands. “Thank you, Shuri. What a blessed gift.” She gazed down at the miniature lilies. “So, this is what pure vibranium is like in action. I thought it was blue.”

“It’s primary hue is in the blue spectrum, but we can manipulate the frequency to produce any range of colors,” Shuri explained. 

“Amazing.” Olufemi patted Dewani’s knee. “Baby, will you put this on my nightstand where I can see it?”

“What’s the meaning of this?”

M’Baku stiffened, and his gaze shot to the door. “How in hell did he--”

“Who authorized the visitation of vibranium mongers to my mother’s bedside?” A tall, sour looking Jabari man stepped into the room. He was dressed traditionally, and his short, dark hair was streaked with silver.

Okoye tensed in her seat at the anger in the man’s eyes when he caught sight of the vibranium lilies. This must be the uncle.

“You would dare poison my mother’s closing hours with the presence of this corrupting material?” Without warning, the man lunged for the other side of the bed.

“They were given to me as a gift, F’Tendi! Don’t you dare make me a traitor to my gratitude on my deathbed!” Olufemi snarled.

The man --F’Tendi--froze in his tracks. He stared his mother down, before turning his venomous gaze on M’Baku. “I don’t remember permitting visitors.”

“I asked for them to come!” Olufemi snapped.

“I should have been consulted,” F’Tendi said at M’Baku.

“I am perfectly capable of making my own decisions--” Olufemi was cut off with a burst of deep, painful sounding coughing. She pressed her fist against her mouth, and tried to brace herself on her pillows with her free hand.

Dewani reached for an inhaler that was sitting on the nightstand, but her hands were shaking so bad that she couldn’t get the cap off.

Before Okoye could move to help her, M’Baku stepped past his uncle and took the inhaler from Dewani’s hand --conveniently placing himself between Dewani and F’Tendi.

Once Olufemi had her breath back, she glared up at her son. “I can make my own decisions without your insidious meddling. Besides, I wanted to meet my granddaughter’s girlfriend before I died. Is that so wrong?”

“Think about what you say next,” M’Baku warned. “I won’t hesitate to throw you out of this room.”

“I just don’t find it wise,” F’Tendi said at last, “to entertain such... uncouth visitors so close to your end. I doubt Hanuman would approve.”

“You know nothing of Hanuman,” Olufemi said. “If you did, you wouldn’t always look like you just sucked on a lemon.”

“Let me put it this way: I disapprove.”

“Let me put it this way. Fuck. Off.”

F’Tendi glared one last time at Dewani, then swept out of the room.

“You weren’t kidding,” Okoye muttered to M’Baku. “Buzzy little bastard, indeed.”

“What’s that, dear?”

“He’s a wasp in the garden of life,” Okoye said, repeating the analogy she’d used to help M’Baku work through his frustration not a week ago.

Olufemi let out a grunt of laugh. “No kidding. I don’t know what happened to him.”

“Maybe the humor gene skipped him,” Shuri suggested.

“He used to be so laid-back. He joked nonstop!” She stared sadly at the door her son had left through. “I don’t know what changed him, but any man who hates as much as he does is no son to me.”

“Easy,” Dewani muttered. “He stuck a rusty pole up his ass and called his kink a lifestyle.”

M’Baku pinched the bridge of his nose as Shuri clapped a hand over her mouth. “Dewani...”

“She might not be far off the mark.” Olufemi looked at Okoye. “Did I tell you what happened when my grand-baby came out?”

“I don’t think so.” This should be good.

“He--” she pointed in the direction F’Tendi had left--“was up a tree about the whole thing! Raving like a madman, about how my darling granddaughter was a disgrace to our family --like that could ever happen. Anyway, he went on and on and on--”

“For two hours,” Dewani interjected.

“No joke! You’d think he’d run out of air! Anyway, eventually my brilliant granddaughter had the sense to asking him the damning question.”

“I asked him if men were the only option.”

“And he said ‘Yes! They’re the only choice!’ So, I told him to let me know when he found his right man so that I could witness his transformation when he finally got that stick pulled out of his butt and relaxed a little.”

Dewani cackled. “He turned downright purple!”

Okoye grinned at the two women. M’Baku wasn’t kidding; the bond between them is stronger than vibranium. She looked up at M’Baku. “And here I thought you two would need someone to act as a fly swatter.”

Olufemi cackled. “I can manage verbally, but my arms aren’t strong enough for the physical swatting anymore. If they were, I’d have him over my knee in a heartbeat.”

A knock at the door silenced the conversation.

Three priestesses, dressed in light blue robes, stood at the threshold. “My Chief, we need to start the rituals.”

Dewani’s demeanor changed in an instant. Her lower lip started trembling, and she clung to her grandmother like life itself.

“Now, now.” Olufemi patted her granddaughter’s back. “I want you to go show your Princess the mountains and the gardens.”

Dewani let out a whimper.

“You’re not going to extend my life by staying here, and you can’t stop your life just because mine is ending.”

Okoye felt her throat constrict suddenly.

There’d been so much tragedy in Dewani’s life. Losing her parents, losing so many years to her uncle’s abuse, losing more time to purging the garbage she’d gained from that abuse, the episode in the arena with M’Kobu a few days ago, and now this?

Bast, please don’t take anymore from this girl, Okoye prayed. She doesn’t deserve to hurt like this.

“Go on,” Olufemi encouraged her granddaughter. “Go. Have fun with your girlfriend. I’ll need good stories to listen to in my last hours.”

Dewani scrubbed at her cheeks, then stood and held out her hand to Shuri. The two girls left the room, but Dewani’s soft sobs could still be heard in the hall.

At that, Nakia nodded at T’Challa. They left, leaving Okoye and M’Baku alone with Olufemi and the healers. 

Olufemi closed her eyes, a pained expression on her face. When she opened her eyes again, they were noticeably glossy. “You should go, too, M’Baku. I need to rest during this part.”

“Dewani will kill me if I--”

“Dewani will live if you take a little time for yourself,” Olufemi insisted. “Spend some time with your lady.”

“Grandma, I--”

“I’ve been performing these rituals since before you were born, young man. The family and other elders are not present for this part. Now, go, and leave me in peace.”

Okoye stood as M’Baku let out a pained sigh and placed her hand on his shoulder. “It’ll be okay. Come on.”

M’Baku glanced between his grandmother and her. Then, with a look of mournful resignation, he took her hand in his and walked out of the room.


 

 

The cloud cover of the snow storm broke long enough to show off the sunset. Golds, corals, and purples stained the sky, contrasting with the silhouetted mountains in a way that was breathtaking.

Okoye gazed out at the window at the dying light. “It’s beautiful here.”

“Someday, when you’re back here on happier terms, I’m going to show you the rest of the Jabari lands. There’s a large series of natural hot water springs that run through the mountains; it’s warm enough there that any plant can grow. We have some of the best gardens in all of Wakanda.”

“Just all of Wakanda? Not all of the world?”

“Well, I’ve never seen the gardens of the rest of the world, but I’m sure ours are better than theirs too.”

Okoye smiled and gazed up at M’Baku. “I’d love to see the gardens when I come back.” At that moment, she realized that M’Baku’s shoulders were still bare. “Oh. I should probably give these back,” she said as she started sliding the furs off her shoulders.

“Keep them. I have others, and you don’t have a coat.” He smiled. “They suit you.”

Okoye smiled, then coughed slightly. “Is there somewhere I could get a glass of water?”

A look of chagrin flashed over M’Baku’s face, and he quickly gave a few orders to a nearby servant in the Jabari dialect. “I’ve been a poor host. Do you need or want anything else? You’ll probably want to rest--”

“Hush, my love, I’m fine. My throat’s just a little dry from the change in altitude,” Okoye reassured him.

The servant came back with a pitcher of water and two glasses, set them on the table, bowed, and then disappeared into the background once more.

M’Baku sighed heavily as he poured water into the two glasses. “Still. I’ve been a bad host to you. I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize to me, M’Baku. I’m not here to be your guest. I’m here to support you through your grandmother’s death. You don’t have to play host for me.” She drank her glass of water, then set it down on the table with a smile. “See? I’m all better.”

M’Baku practically collapsed into a nearby chair. “I feel like I’m going to fall asleep standing up.”

Okoye knelt in front of him. “Perhaps, then, it’s you who should be resting.”

Before M’Baku could reply, one of his primes sprinted into the room. “My Chief, it’s your uncle. He’s cornered Dewani and the Princess in the courtyard.”

M’Baku was on his feet and out of the room in the blink of an eye, barking orders to his guards.

Okoye ran after him. She burst into the cold air, hot on M’Baku’s heels.

Dewani and Shuri were standing at the other end of the courtyard. Shuri had her hands wrapped around one of Dewani’s arms, while F’Tendi was gripping the other.

Okoye’s blood ran cold at the look on F’Tendi’s face. Bast above, what the hell is wrong with him?

F’Tendi was snarling down at Dewani, lecturing her through gritted teeth. He was only a few inches away from her, and he looked like he was about to rip her arm off.

“F’Tendi!” M’Baku shouted. “Get away from her!”

F’Tendi’s head snapped up. He let go of Dewani’s arm.

Shuri took the opportunity to usher Dewani away from F’Tendi.

“I thought I told you to leave my sister alone.”

Okoye skirted to the side so that she could see both M’Baku’s and F’Tendi’s faces.

“So, I’m no longer permitted to visit with my niece? The daughter of my brother?”

M’Baku set his jaw, straightened to his full height, and in a booming, angry voice said “No.”

Okoye tightened her grip on her spear as F’Tendi studied M’Baku with a calculative expression. Just leave already. Quit making this harder on your family.

“So, am I to abandon my mother on her deathbed? Am I to abandon the laws and traditions that have bound and guided our people for centuries?”

“She already told you to leave, and you haven’t been here for any of the other treatments and rituals,” M’Baku said. “Your presence is inconsequential. And, due to my powers as Chief and your treatment of my sister and grandmother, I am telling you that you will only attend the burial and the mourning meal. Otherwise, you will stay away. Am I clear?”

F’Tendi glared at M’Baku. Then, with a stiff bow, he conceded. “Of course, my Chief.”

At that, M’Baku wrapped his arm around Dewani’s shoulders and started walking her inside.

“You ought to consider having some children soon, my nephew! I doubt the rest of the tribe will consider a homosexual halfer a suitable replacement, in the event of your death.”

M’Baku clamped his hands around his sister’s shoulder before she could turn around and lunge at their uncle. “Just keep walking. He’s not worth it.”

Okoye shot a parting glare over her shoulder at F’Tendi. Careful how you speak, old man, she thought as she watched F’Tendi walk out of the courtyard. I won’t hesitate to use my spear on you.


 

 

The lodge was eerily still in the dead of night. Yes, the palace was equally as still but unlike Birnin Zana, there weren’t any distant noises of the jungle animals or city transportation. Up in the mountains, the only background noise was the wind and the occasional footsteps of the guards.

Okoye stood at one of the windows, staring out at the moonlight, snow-capped mountains.

Sleep wasn’t coming easy --or, as she was starting to suspect, at all. Normally, she could get herself to sleep through just about anything. She had to learn how to; an exhausted security captain was not an asset to the team on an international diplomacy trip.

However, none of her tricks were working tonight. Meditation, ear plugs, white noise, none if it. Eventually, Okoye had decided to get up, find a window with a good view, and stare out it while her brain worked out whatever was keeping her awake.

Maybe I’m supposed to be up for something, Okoye thought as she gazed down at the silver snow.

She wasn’t an insomniac. Training as a Dora Milaje had conditioned her to sleep whenever and wherever she needed to. Sleepless nights were odd for her. So, with that information in hand, she’d started running through the handful of night’s she’d lost sleep to something other than an emergency mission or spending the night with someone:

  1. The night before she was accepted into the Dora Milaje.

  2. The night after her first failed mission.

  3. The night before she was promoted to General.

  4. The night after T’Chaka died.

  5. The night after T’Challa was presumed dead.

  6. The night she’d met M’Baku in the gardens for the first time.

  7. The night after she’d discovered Dewani and thought her to be M’Baku’s bride.

Tonight, however, she wasn’t working through any grief, she wasn’t overly stressed, and she hadn’t hit any big milestones or disasters. That only left one thing.

If asked, Okoye would’ve admitted that she didn’t put much stock in fate. She had always believed that the gods wouldn’t do anything for the mortals that the mortals couldn’t do for themselves. With that belief firmly held in her heart, Okoye had set out and built her life for herself. She gave gratitude to the gods where it was called for, and focused on what she could do to set herself up for the success the rest of the time.

It was a good model. It worked.

However, she wasn’t above acknowledging that the gods did have a hand in the mortal realm. T’Challa’s surviving N’Jadaka’s attack and the fall over the river? An act of the gods. Dewani’s survival under her uncle’s cruel thumb? A blessing from the gods.

And, a couple weeks ago, Okoye had admitted to Ayo that she thought that her meeting M’Baku in the garden on that fateful night was an act of the gods as well.

Maybe there’s something I’m supposed to be up for tonight.

“You’re General Okoye, yes?”

Okoye turned to see one of the priestesses standing a few feet away, clasping her hands. “Yes.”

“Olufemi mentioned you during the rituals. She wanted to speak with you before the final stages.”

Well. There it is. “Then take me to her.” Okoye followed the priestess down the hall and to Olufemi’s bedroom.

The lights were dim, making the elderly woman look like little more than a shadow against her white blankets. Olufemi lifted her head weakly as Okoye sat down next to her. “Okoye?”

Okoye felt her heart lurch. M’Baku wasn’t kidding. She really is going.

The spark was gone from Olufemi’s eyes. Her voice was reedy and uncertain. Her movements were weak and sluggish.

She’s like Dewani, Okoye realized. She’ll play up the humor and antics to the last minute to help everyone else feel better. Okoye wrapped her hands around one of Olufemi’s hands. “I’m right here. What can I do for you?”

“I wanted to ask something of you.” She gestured weakly with her free hand. “Now, bear in mind, I’m not asking you to take care of my grandson. He can damn well do that himself, and I don’t want you to feel trapped with him via my request if you two grow out of each other.”

Okoye nodded solemnly. “I understand.”

Olufemi let out a string of raspy coughs before continuing. “I am asking that you’ll hold him to taking care of himself. He loves his sister with his whole heart, but M’Baku often forgets is that if he isn’t okay, Dewani won’t be either.”

Okoye squeezed the hand that she was holding. “I’ll make sure they’re okay.”

“Thank you.” Olufemi let her head rest back against the pillows. “It won’t be much longer now.”

Okoye frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Part of the death rituals here involve the final drink. When we’re past the abilities of the healers --and, in my case, even past the abilities of your technology--the priestesses of Hanuman make a drink of atropa belladonna and a few other things for the person to drink.”

Okoye’s eyes widened. “You drank nightshade?”

“And a few other things, to curtail the less than pleasant side effects.” Olufemi shook her head. “I might’ve had a week or two left on my own, but I’ve been losing my wits for quite a while now. I don’t want my family to remember me as a husk of a person whose mind died before they did. Besides, the cancer is extremely painful. I want to die peacefully, not sobbing in agony.”

Okoye did her best to reserve judgement. It’s her choice. Besides, the River tribe does use similar tactics for those on death’s door. “Does... does Dewani know?”

“She knows. I wouldn’t hide this from her.” Olufemi laughed weakly. “You know, this used to be my job. I took care of the avatars, but I also performed death rituals for the elders and leaders of our tribe. It’s how I met my husband, actually. I performed the death ritual for his grandfather.”

“Well, that’s quite the way to meet one’s spouse.”

“Oh, it makes for a great story at parties. He said that he fell for me because I was the only one who’d joke with his grandfather and tell stories during the rituals to ease his passing.”

Okoye smiled, then rubbed the back of Olufemi’s hand as the older woman succumbed to another coughing fit.

When Olufemi finally got her breath back she looked at Okoye, tears spilling from her eyes onto her cheeks. “Will you stay with me? Please? I... I don’t want to be alone.”

Okoye didn’t have to think twice about it. “Of course.”


 

 

Olufemi had been right. Within two hours, the priestesses had gone running for M’Baku.

Olufemi was in the final stages of death.

Dewani had her head pressed against Olufemi’s chest and was sobbing as the priestess performed the final death rites for their elder. Next to her, Shuri sat on the bed in silence as she held Dewani’s hand.

Nakia and T’Challa sat in two chairs next to the door, deliberately unobtrusive as the priestesses moved about the room.

M’Baku stood at the foot of Olufemi’s bed, face drawn and pained. Occasionally, he’d repeat the prayers that the priestesses said or nod permission for one of them to start the next stage of the rituals.

Okoye stood in a spot next to the door out of habit, simultaneously watching and doing her best to keep from crying.

Olufemi’s breaths were weak and spaced far apart from one another. Her eyes were closed, and she was perfectly still in her bed.

Okoye swallowed hard. She seemed so full of life... twelve hours ago? Has it really been such a short amount of time? How is that possible?

One of the priestesses lit a candle and placed it on the table next to Olufemi’s bed. “May this light guide you to Hanuman’s garden as you travel to the afterlife. Know that Hanuman receives all his children with open arms, and that you will be welcomed as an honored daughter.”

Dewani clung tighter to her grandmother and let out a high-pitched whimper.

Shuri rubbed her thumb against the back of Dewani’s hand, eyes glossy with unshed tears.

Okoye’s jaw tightened with grief. Bast, provide this girl with peace. Let her pass from this tragedy and into joy.

The priestesses stood around the bed, one on each side. “Hanuman, hear our prayers.”

M’Baku swallowed hard, and repeated the phrase. “Hanuman, hear our prayers.”

For a moment, nothing happened. The room was silent, save for Dewani’s anguished cries.

Then, Olufemi moved. She lifted a faltering, shaky hand to the back of her granddaughter’s head and held her against her chest.

Okoye bit down on the inside of her cheek as Dewani’s cries grew louder. This isn’t your time to cry. You can do that later.

Olufemi drew in a shallow, ragged breath, then let it out in a soft sigh. Her hand fell from the back of Dewani’s head, limp and lifeless.

On the table next to the bed, the candle snuffed itself out.

The head priestess bowed her head. “She has passed on to Hanuman’s garden.”

Dewani started shaking against her grandmother’s body. She started gasping hard, the way she had in the tunnels under the festival arena, until she was shrieking, tears streaming down her cheeks.

The priestess pursed her lips together. “My Chief,” she said in a broken voice. “Your sister ought to be removed from the room to prevent further trauma.”

“Of course,” M’Baku said as he wiped tears from his eyes. “Dewani--”

“I got her.” Shuri stood and --with the ease of a mother lifting an infant--scooped Dewani into her arms, bridal style. “What?” she said when the priestesses shot her surprised looks. She jerked her chin at T’Challa. “He’s not the only one who’s Panther-blessed.”

Nakia followed Shuri into the hall, wiping tears from her face.

T’Challa paused to place a hand on Okoye’s arm. “You can stay with him if you want to.” Then, he disappeared into the shadows of the hall.

Okoye took a moment to compose herself, then walked up to M’Baku. “Would you like me to stay with you?”

M’Baku almost seemed like he was in shock when he looked down at her, like he couldn’t process that everything was really happening. He swallowed hard, and nodded. “Please.”

Okoye smiled softly at him, kissed his shoulder, and interlocked her fingers with his.

The priestesses checked Olufemi’s pulse, lit some incense, and started the process of wrapping the body in light blue linens. They murmured various prayers and poems as they worked, keeping the room from seeming like a tomb.

After a while, Okoye felt M’Baku’s hand squeeze hers.

“Are you okay?”

Okoye let out a quiet huff. “I should be asking you that.”

“I’m not the one who was up with the deceased for two hours. One of the priestesses said you kept my grandmother company.”

“She didn’t want to be alone,” Okoye murmured.  “I couldn’t sleep. Besides, it was an easy choice. I wasn’t going to leave her, not when she asked me to stay.”

“You could’ve sent for me.”

“I’m not the one who looks like they’re about to fall asleep on their feet.” Okoye frowned up at M’Baku. “Have I caused a problem since I’m not family?”

M’Baku shook his head. “No...”

“You just didn’t want me to have to handle it?”

M’Baku grimaced. “It’s my job to provide for my family.”

“If we categorize comforting the dying as a job, we’ll lose all sense of societal morality.”

“Now who sounds like Dewani?”

“My Chief, we’ve finished wrapping the body.”

M’Baku blinked. “Uh...”

Olufemi’s body was carefully wrapped and covered in the blue linens. A pair of gorilla fangs sat on her chest.

Okoye squeezed M’Baku’s hand when he didn’t answer.

M’Baku smothered a yawn and ran a hand over his face. “You may take the body to the temple and start preparing her for the burial.”

The priestesses transferred the body onto a carrier and moved her out of the room.

“Is there anything else you have to do?”

M’Baku shook his head as he hid another yawn. “No.”

Okoye tugged on his arm. “Come on, then. You need to sleep.” One of her kimoyo beads started chirping, and she tapped it as she stepped into the hall. “Dewani’s in the library with Shuri.”

The library was only a few doors down, bathed in the warm glow of a fire that had been lit in the main fireplace.

Shuri was sitting on one of the couches, holding Dewani in her arms. T’Challa sat to her right, one hand holding his sister’s hand, the other holding one of Dewani’s. Nakia sat to Shuri’s right, rubbing her hand up and down Dewani’s back.

Dewani was asleep, breathing deep and even.

“She cried herself out,” Shuri said, voice raspy. Her cheeks glistened in the light of the fire, and her eyes were puffy.

A heart bigger than the sky, Okoye thought.

M’Baku let out a sad sigh. “I should to take her to bed.”

“It’s okay, I can--”

“I can handle her,” M’Baku said gently as he scooped Dewani from Shuri’s arms. He stood, and managed to smile at Shuri. “I may not be Panther-blessed, but I think I can carry my sister.”

T’Challa sighed as M’Baku carried Dewani out of the library. “You should go to bed too, Shuri.”

Shuri slumped against her brother’s shoulder. “Will you carry me?”

Okoye watched as T’Challa carried his sister out of the library, then looked down at Nakia. “Would you like me to carry you?”

Nakia let out a tired laugh. “Oh, goodness, no thank you. As funny as it would be to see the look on T’Challa’s face, I don’t think this is the right time for it.” She walked out of the library. “Goodnight, Okoye.”

Okoye stared at the empty library, then collapsed onto the couch. “Goodnight.”


 

 

The burial was done under the early morning sky, only a few hours after Olufemi had died. They had walked out to a forest nestled in one of the valleys. The Jabari warriors that escorted them had sang various songs and poems, while the family had walked at the front, just behind the casket.

Olufemi was buried under one of the trees in the forest, with the rest of her ancestors. 

Okoye sat in front of the fireplace of the library, warming her fingers. The ceremony had been deeply spiritual to watch, even poignant, but it had also been cold as hellNote to self, she thought as she rubbed her hands together, buy a pair of gloves before I come back here.

The sound of hurried footsteps caught her attention. Okoye looked up in time to see the passing figure of a tall, middle-aged man. She frowned. Was that... was that F’Tendi?  She crept over the door, just in time to see F’Tendi turn left at the end of the hall. That’s definitely him. What is he up to? She checked her belt to make sure her spear was still there, then jogged to the end of the hall and turned left.

There was no sign of F’Tendi.

Dammit. Where’d he go? Okoye crept down the hall, keeping her eyes and ears open for any clues.

“--you fucking disgrace!”

There he is. Okoye peered around the corner and into the lodge throne room.

F’Tendi had Dewani by the arm and was growling down at her.

M’Baku and his primes were nowhere to be seen.

This little snake... “Elder F’Tendi.” She walked into the throne room. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

F’Tendi turned around to see who it was, giving Dewani the chance to yank her arm away and skitter to the back of the throne room. “Who are you?”

“General Okoye of the Dora Milaje,” Okoye introduced herself as she stepped between F’Tendi and Dewani.

“Well, General Okoye, I’ll have to request you vacate the room,” F’Tendi said as he tried to step around her. “I’m in the middle of a private conversation with my niece.”

“Ah, yes,” Okoye said as she stepped with him, blocking his attempt. “You were in the middle of calling her a ‘fucking disgrace.’ Quite the conversation.”

“General Okoye, I think you misunderstand--”

“Yesterday, you called her a ‘homosexual halfer’ and insinuated that she wasn’t fit to lead the tribe. I’m not misunderstanding anything,” Okoye said as she blocked his next attempt to pass her.

“I’m afraid one passing comment in the midst of grief can be easily misconstrued--”

“Your nephew has some interesting stories about you,” Okoye said as she blocked his latest attempt to step past her. “I’m not misconstruing anything either.”

F’Tendi rolled his jaw and glared down at her. “Get out of my way.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

“And why is that?”

“Your history with your niece suggest you have poor control over your temper.”

F’Tendi leaned down until he was only inches away from her face. “Get out. Now.”

Okoye glared up at him. “Come any closer, and I’ll use my spear.”

F’Tendi sneered at her and tried to shove her out of the way.

Okoye dodged, kicked him back, and activated her spear. “Last warning. Leave Dewani alone.”

“You wouldn’t dare!”

Okoye dropped into her ready stance and angled her spear at him. “Try me.”

“F’Tendi!” M’Baku’s voice boomed from the hallway. “F’Tendi! I swear to Hanuman, if you lay one hand on my sister--” He burst into the throne, stopping abruptly when he saw Okoye holding his uncle at spear point.

Dewani picked that moment to sprint past her uncle and out of the throne room.

Okoye held her spear out to bar F’Tendi from following after her. “I think the Chief would like to speak with you before you leave.”

“Yes,” M’Baku said before F’Tendi could snap at her. “Specifically, what were you doing in here, alone, with my sister?”

“Nephew mine, if you don’t let go of this paranoia over your sister and myself--”

“When I walked in, he had her by the arm and was in the middle of calling her a ‘fucking disgrace,’” Okoye interjected.

M’Baku’s expression darkened. He pointed a finger at his uncle. “Is what the General says true?”

F’Tendi’s upper lip curled into a vicious sneer. “She’s an embarrassment to this tribe! She should’ve been shipped off to the Mining tribe years ago!”

M’Baku’s face contorted into an enraged snarl. “You will leave as soon as the mourning feast is over. Am I clear?”

F’Tendi gave M’Baku a shallow bow. “Of course, my Chief. Am I free to go?”

“Stay away from Dewani. Last warning.” M’Baku’s gaze trailed after his uncle as he exited the throne room, then snapped back to Okoye. “How did you know he was in here before I did?”

“I saw him pass by the library while I was trying to warm up. I figured he was up to no good, so I followed him.”

“And... your spear?”

Okoye glanced at her weapon, then shrugged as she retracted it and clipped it to her belt. “He tried to shove me out of the way. I gave him fair warning.”

He wrapped his arms around her. “Thank you.”

Okoye hugged him back. “Any time.”


 

 

It was true --serving as the General of the Dora Milaje came with unexpected perks.

As one of the King’s closest advisers and guards, she got to travel the world. Wherever the King went, she went. She’d been to the United States, every country in Europe and Africa, visited South Korea twice, and spent two weeks in Australia.

She also had first access to the best technology and medical services Wakanda had to offer, thanks to Shuri.

One of her favorite perks, though, were all the young girls that came to her and asked to take a picture with her. Even after serving with the Dora Milaje since her teenage years, she never got tired of that.

However, sitting above the King at a semi-official function?

Okoye glanced down at T’Challa, then back up at M’Baku. Unexpected, but I’m not complaining, although... “I’m not sure I fully understand this seating arrangement.”

F’Tendi sat on M’Baku’s other side, between the Chief and Dewani. He was currently talking at the girl, who looked like she wanted to crawl into a hole.

M’Baku sucked an angry breath through his teeth. “He had the seating arrangement done before I could look at it. I found out about it when he sat down.”

Okoye looked at M’Baku’s defeated expression, at the bags under his eyes, and put her hand on his. “It’s a packed room, and there’s only forty-five minutes left. He won’t be able to do anything.”

“I’m sure you’re aware of the Jabari suspicions towards the Golden City. To be honest, I’m not sure how well the rest of the tribe will take having their princess interlope with a vibranium monger.”

Okoye narrowed her eyes at F’Tendi. “Correction: He won’t be able to do anything physical.”

“I mean, your position was already dubious enough--”

“I’m going to kill him,” M’Baku growled under his breath.

“Not if I beat you to it,” Okoye muttered.

“--I wouldn’t be surprised if they rejected you outright, if you keep your thing with the Princess.”

Without warning, Shuri stood up. “That’s enough.” She stepped behind M’Baku and F’Tendi and tapped on Dewani’s shoulder. “We’re switching seats.”

“I beg your pardon?” F’Tendi growled, affronted.

“I said ‘we’re switching seats.’” Shuri helped Dewani out of her seat, then sat down next to F’Tendi. “If I’m going to date the sister of the Chief, I ought to get to know the family, don’t you think?”

Okoye looked up at M’Baku, only to find that he was barely suppressing a gleeful smile. “Careful. Someone might think you’re about to snap with rage.”

“I think I may have misjudged the Princess,” M’Baku said quietly.

“Here, Dewani,” Nakia slid into Shuri’s seat and patted the spot between her and T’Challa. “Sit here.”

“Have you heard about our latest breakthrough with vibranium-based medical technology, elder F’Tendi?” Shuri asked.

F’Tendi looked like he was about to crack, he was sitting so stiffly. “I haven’t, your Highness.”

“That’s a shame,” Shuri said, feigning disappointment. “It’s really fascinating. Don’t worry, I’ll fill you in.”

Okoye hid a smile behind her cup as Shuri dove into an extremely detailed, technical explanation of the science behind the breakthrough. “She’ll talk for the rest of the hour, if you let her.”

“Believe me,” M’Baku said with undisguised joy. “I’m not going to stop her.”


 

 

“Will you be going back with them?”

“Yes. My bag only has so many changes of clothes. I had to leave Birnin Zana in a hurry.”

“Was the King eager to get up here?”

“The Princess, actually. She paced outside of the King’s room until he was ready to leave, then sprinted to the landing platform.”

M’Baku laughed heartily. “Damn, I really underestimated her spirit. She’s quite a force to be reckoned with.”

Okoye smiled. “You haven’t seen the half of it yet.”

“I think I need to send her a thank-you note for holding my uncle’s attention through lunch. That was the best headache relief I’ve ever had.”

Okoye chuckled. “I’ll be sure to tell her that.”

They had settled in the library. M’Baku had collapsed onto the couch in front of the fireplace and unceremoniously pulled her down on top of him.

Okoye watched the flames dance from her perch against M’Baku’s broad chest. She traced her fingers over the patterns stitched onto his leather tunic, following the thread lazily as exhaustion set in.

The last twenty-four hours had been a blur. A stressful, sleepless blur.

“I need a nap,” she groaned.

M’Baku hummed in agreement. “Mind if I join you?”

She grinned tiredly up at him. “Your first attempt to get me into bed with you is after your grandmother’s funeral. Nice.”

M’Baku scrunched up his face at her as she laughed. “Shut up.”

“Hey, you handed that to me.”

“Fair enough.” His dark eyes seemed to stare into her as he ran his fingers along her jaw. “Do you have to go with them?”

“I think so,” Okoye admitted. “Even if I had more clothes, you and Dewani need time to grieve without a bunch of guests around.”

“You aren’t a guest--”

“I mean it, M’Baku,” she said, soft but firm. “Your sister needs time to be the center of your attention. It’s okay.”

“Are you sure?”

Okoye leaned forward and kissed him. “I’ll see you when you come back to Birnin Zana. Take care of your sister.”

“Okay.” M’Baku sighed, then nodded. “Okay.”

“Besides,” she added as she traced her finger up and down his neck. “If you really want to get into bed with me, my apartment’s only twenty minutes away from the palace. We can always go there for a night during one of your visits to the city.”

M’Baku grinned. “I like the sound of that. I still want you to come to the Jabari lands, though.”

"Tsk, did you not hear me a few days ago? I have plenty of time off stored away. We just have to find a time that works.”

“Promise?”

She kissed him again, longer this time. “I promise.”

M’Baku pulled her back down to him, one hand on the back of her neck and the other splayed out on her lower back.

Okoye’s chest was flush against his, and her hands were braced on his thick shoulders.

The kiss was slow and a little sloppy, but --for once--they had time. There weren’t any pressing orders, there weren’t any upcoming meetings, and she wasn’t leaving for another two hours.

They had time. Time enjoy themselves, time to enjoy each other.

“See what I mean? Completely oblivious.”

Okoye whipped her head up to see Dewani and Shuri watching them from the library entrance.

“Man, I thought only my brother and Nakia were that bad. I’ve walked in on them no less than five times!”

M’Baku tilted his head back and glared at the two girls. “Are you two done?”

“Could’ve asked the same of you,” Dewani said. “The King wants to talk to the two of you.”

Okoye raised an eyebrow. “About what?”

Shuri grimaced. “It’s... it’s probably better if T’Challa explains it.”


 

 

Okoye rubbed her temples. “Wait, let me make sure I understood that correctly. The UN has issued an official statement saying that Wakanda has fifteen days to prepare for a sanctioned inspection committee, or we’ll face tactical repercussions?”

They were in M’Baku’s throne room in varying states of irritation and dismay as they tried to process the news:

Wakanda was under temporary sanctions from the UN until the King permitted an inspection committee access to the country so they could verify the ‘good intentions’ of Wakanda’s weapons program. Failure to comply could result in military action from the security council.

M’Baku was sitting on his throne, pinching the bridge of his nose. “How are you liking your choice to join the world, your Majesty?”

“This wasn’t his fault,” Dewani said before anyone else could speak. “It’s those fucking colonizers --who, by the way, don’t have sovereignty here! How exactly do they think they can order us to open our borders?”

“Either way, they won’t find anything. All our weapons are either focused on personal use or defense,” Shuri said. “We don’t have stacks of missiles aimed at other countries.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Nakia shot back. “They’ll see the vibranium, they’ll see our technology’s advanced capabilities, and they’ll label us as a potential threat. Everything will fall apart.”

“We’re headed for a war either way,” Okoye agreed. “We should make sure that our radiation absorption barriers are functioning properly.”

“I agree, but I still need to call an emergency council meeting to deal with this,” T’Challa said. “And, for that, I need all of my council members present --especially for something like this.”

Okoye watched as M’Baku sighed and collapsed into his throne.

T’Challa grimaced. “My friend, I’m sorry--”

“It’s fine. Like Dewani said, it’s not your fault.” M’Baku looked at Dewani. “Can I twist your arm into spending more time with your girlfriend?”

Dewani smiled wryly. “You might be able to.”

M’Baku sighed. “We’ll need a couple hours to prepare.”

T’Challa nodded. “We’ll be ready.”


 

 

The flight back to the Jabari lands was tense. T’Challa, Nakia, and M’Baku were talking hushed voices about the UN debacle. Shuri and Dewani slept for most of the flight, leaning against each other, but even in sleep their faces were tense with worry.

Okoye was busy sending orders to Ayo and the rest of her women. They had fifteen days to prepare for a possible war. They needed to scramble.

She finally lifted her head when the ship landed in front of the palace.

“What are we looking at, Okoye?” T’Challa asked as they walked off the ship.

“We’re preparing for the worst case scenario, my King. The council meetings start tomorrow. I’ve ordered Aneka and Djabi to oversee the testings of the radiation absorption field with the Princess. Ayo and I will be handling response strategies with the interim security officer provided by the Border tribe. I have the rest of my women working shifts to check the major access points across Wakanda,” Okoye listed.

“I’ll need a cohesive plan for ground and air response in five days,” T’Challa said. “If we can’t figure out how to finesse the UN, we’ll need to be ready for anything.”

“Understood, my King.” Okoye took in a deep breath and let out in a frustrated sigh as she headed back to her quarters.

She needed a shower, and she needed to put on her armor.

Into the jaws of hell we go.

 

Chapter Text

There will be times, regardless of how hard you try, that the current of life will pick you up from the river bed and sweep you downstream.

When that happens, you must stay calm. Keep your eyes in front of you, open and watching for obstacles that the current may try to smash you against. Sidestep the obstacles that you can, and focus on moving forward.

Keep faith, even in the chaos. Eventually, the current will slow, and you will be deposited on the riverbed once more, stronger and wiser for it.

Be careful, though, to only let the river move you, not own you.

What the river takes, it never gives back.


 

 

T minus 13 days.

Outwardly, she was placid. Her expression was smooth and even. Her breathing was calm and measured. Her posture was immaculate and appropriate for the setting. Nothing betrayed what she felt on the inside.

Which, considering that she felt like screaming and sprinting through the palace halls to burn off her stress, was probably a good thing.

Okoye sat with a practiced casualness as the Council debated how to handle the edict from the United Nations.

The weight of the demand had wiped away an old tensions and rivalries. The leaders’ faces were puckered with stress, and they spoke with tense, carefully modulated voices, but no frustrations past that leaked through the careful seal of anxiety.

It was as though the situation had surpassed the normal arguing and screaming they fell into and had deposited them into a sort of calm panic.

Personally, Okoye would’ve taken the screaming any day of the week.

“I admit, my King, the thought of nuclear warfare is... unsettling,” the leader of the Mining tribe said. “Even though Wakanda would be able to survive, the stress of the event would not be beneficial for her people or the surrounding area. If it comes to such an end, we ought to find a way to disarm the warheads before they touchdown here.”

The River tribe leader nodded. “I agree. We certainly cannot allow a group of colonizing outsiders into Wakanda, and we cannot permit devastation on the world outside our borders because they seek to punish us for acting within our rights. We must be proactive.”

“My sister is working on a way to disarm the warheads before they reach us, but I can’t guarantee that she’ll have them ready in such a short amount of time,” T’Challa said. “If push comes to shove, we’ll have to cleanse the surrounding area with our radiation filters and replant whatever is lost.”

Okoye watched as quiet displeasure rippled through the Council, then cleared her throat. “My king, would it not be possible to head off the UN through diplomatic means?”

T’Challa raised an eyebrow. “I’m open to suggestions.”

“The United Nations has no legitimate grounds to enforce a search of our weapons, even with the actions of Killmonger,” Okoye explained. “It might be possible to make an appeal to them. Once confronted with their lack of forethought and grounds for action, the motion would likely crumble.”

T’Challa quirked his mouth to the side as he mulled the idea over. “We would have to move quickly. We only have thirteen days to make a move. We’d need enough time to get the emergency meeting in order, plus time to travel.”

“Call the meeting, then” Okoye suggested. “Get the ball moving. In the meantime, Wakanda will prepare for the worst possible outcome. If the appeal falls through or can’t be made, we will be ready for whatever the outside world throws at us.”

When T’Challa hesitated, Nakia placed her hand on his. “It’s worth a shot.”

T’Challa sighed heavily, and nodded. “I’ll contact the leaders of the Security Council.”


 

 

“I’m surprised. You actually advocated for a diplomatic solution.”

Okoye smiled as she walked next to M’Baku. “I like to lead a balanced life.”

She was headed to Shuri’s lab to assess how she needed to task her women and the other tribes for the impending nuclear threat. Okoye suspected that M’Baku had tagged along to spend time with her. Normally, the Jabari Chief avoided the Princess’s lab at all costs.

Well, she wasn’t complaining at the company.

“Fair enough, but I still expected you to advocate for your spear, seeing as we need a fast solution.”

“Let’s call that Plan C,” Okoye said as they descended into the laboratory.

Shuri’s lab was a maelstrom of energy. Scientists darted back and forth, running simulations and checking equations. A holographic display of Wakanda’s external shield system hovered in the center of the lab, along with several lines of data that showed reach, strength, and the efficacy of the radiation absorption layer. Shuri was standing in front of the display, making the images whirl and shift with her hands and barking out orders to her team.

Dewani stood next to her, a stark contrast in her traditional Jabari clothes, seemingly unfazed by the chaos and tension around her.

Okoye bowed slightly as she stopped a couple feet away from Shuri. “Princess. How’s everything looking?”

“Not good,” Shuri muttered as she plugged scenario after scenario into her computers. “We might have more work to do than is possible in just under two weeks.”

“Never say die,” Dewani said as she rubbed her hand up and down Shuri’s back. “We’ll make it work.”

“There’s never saying die, and then there’s statistical improbability.”

“What do we need to do?” Okoye asked before the girls could get off track.

“Well, we need to place a set of filters in the Southern and Northern areas where the river falls outside of Wakanda. I don’t want to risk radiation entering through the water.”

Okoye frowned. “Shouldn’t the absorption layer handle all of that?”

“I’m not taking any chances. The absorption layer should be able to handle whatever the outside world could throw at us, but we should prepare the fallout shelters, just in case. They haven’t been updated in a couple of decades, though.”

Okoye nodded. “There’s five fallout shelters in each tribal city. It shouldn’t take long to upgrade them.”

“We’re also calling our War Dogs home, just in case there’s any retribution outside of what’s directly aimed at Wakanda. Some of them can’t be extracted until after the response date, so we’ll need our filters ready to clean up the fallout radius so they don’t suffer any adverse effects before they get inside our borders.” Shuri’s mouth pulled into a deep grimace. “There’s also one last problem: the Jabari.”

M’Baku raised an eyebrow. “What about us?”

“You aren’t contained by our shield system, and you don’t have any generators in your territory. I know that you disagree with our technology--”

“I think, considering the dire circumstances, we can bend our rules to allow the installation of the necessary generators. Send your people up as soon as you can.”

Dewani let out a groan. “Really? You’re capitulating that easily?”

“This is an emergency, Dewani. Hanuman will understand.”

“I know, but I had this amazing speech planned to persuade you if you hesitated! I had a three point analogy about how our uncle and the staunchest vestiges of traditionalism could go fuck themselves on a radioactive dildo! It was very poignant!”

Shuri clapped a hand over her mouth and braced herself against a nearby counter, shoulders relaxing as she shook with barely stifled laughter.

M’Baku glanced at Shuri, then shot Dewani a mildly admonishing look. “You’ll have to save it for another date.”

Dewani rolled her eyes. “Yeah, because we’ll definitely be facing another potential apocalypse in the near future.”

“Don’t jinx us,” Okoye said with mock sternness. “The universe has a way of making things happen.” She bit back a sigh as she looked up at the display, and started running things through in her head.

Installing the filters will take twenty-four hours, max. Retrofitting the fallout shelters will take about six days. Installing the generators in the Jabari lands will take three days, if we work around the clock. Settling the War Dogs will take as long as we have, and getting the filters up and running will take five days. If we start everything at the same time...

Okoye grimaced.

Because it wasn’t just preparing for round after round of radiation.

It was also prepping her women and the Border tribe foot soldiers for the tactics commonly used by the outside world and UN Peacekeepers, should it turn to a ground based assault.

It was directing the regular resource of soldiers on how to maintain order during a nuclear attack.

It was making a set of good-byes, in case things really went pear-shaped.

And, if the King manages to arrange an emergency meeting with the Security Council officials, my time to get things running will be cut in half.

Okoye straightened her shoulders and bowed to the Princess before walking out of the lab.

Nothing would be accomplished by standing and worrying about what may or may not be.

Bast, be with us.


 

 

T Minus 10 Days

Cold wind nipped at her nose, and snow stuck in small, wispy flakes to the fake fur border around her hood.

Okoye had volunteered to accompany M’Baku back to the Jabari lands to oversee the installation of the three shield generators --and the accompanying radiation absorption modules.

Shuri had still been neck deep in overseeing upgrades and testings for the filtering bots, which meant that the Princess couldn’t oversee the installation herself. Likewise, her scientists were also scrambling to make sure everything was ready for the potential nuclear fallout.

T’Challa was also unreachable, wading through the political waters with Nakia and Ramonda in a desperate attempt to arrange a meeting with the United Nations to stave off the investigation.

Which meant that Okoye was next on the list.

She stifled a yawn with her gloved hand. At least I have a warm coat and gloves this time.

The final generator and module was almost done being installed, by Bast’s mercy. Within the hour, she would be on a ship headed back to the warmth of Birnin Zana.

M’Baku’s large hand came down on her shoulder, squeezing her through her thick coat. “How can you stand to wear one of these? You can hardly move.”

“It comes off easy if I need to fight,” Okoye said as she stifled another gaping yawn.

“Yes, and then you would freeze to death.”

Okoye rolled her eyes tiredly. “I would not freeze to death.”

M’Baku rolled the fake fur between his fingers, disdain evident on his face. “I’ll have some proper coverings made for you for your next visit up here.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“No, I don’t. I’m doing it because I want to.” M’Baku frowned down at her. “Are you alright?”

Okoye nodded as she hid another yawn behind her hand. “I’m fine.”

“You look like death warmed over.”

“How flattering.” Okoye yawned again. “I’m just tired.”

“General,” one of the workers called. “We’re done here. Everything’s integrated and ready to go.”

Okoye nodded. “Notify the Princess immediately so she can run her tests. I need to head back to the capital.”

M’Baku followed after her. “They won’t really launch their weapons at us, will they? I mean, surely, they must know that anything they could throw at us will be like a gnat swatting horse, right?”

Okoye unzipped her coat as she stepped onto the ship. “Colonizers are a fickle bunch. I wouldn’t put anything past them.” As the ship lifted off the ground, her kimoyo beads started beeping.

T’Challa’s tired face smiled up at her. “I managed to arrange a meeting between the Security Council and us. I’ll fill you in when you get back.”

“Excellent. The last generator and module are online in the Jabari lands. The whole of Wakanda is protected.”

“Good. I’ll see you in a couple hours.”

Okoye bowed. “My King.”

M’Baku nudged her towards a seat. “You should rest.”

“I can take care of myself, M’Baku.”

“I don’t doubt it, but that doesn’t change the fact that you need to rest. You look like you’re about to fall asleep standing up.”

Okoye barely kept herself upright as a wave of exhaustion crashed over her.

First the festival, then Olufemi’s death, and now this?

“Forget a nap,” Okoye muttered. “What I need is a vacation.”

M’Baku wrapped his arms around her and held her against his chest. “Rest for a bit, my love. I’ll wake you up if anything exciting happens.”

Okoye wanted to retort, but she was quickly swept away by a dizzy, swirling sensation as her eyelids fluttered shut.

The last thing she remembered was her coat falling off her shoulders.


 

 

“Okoye. Wake up.”

Okoye’s eyes snapped open.

She was pressed against M’Baku’s shoulder, half-sprawled across two seats. Her jacket was draped over her legs in a pseudo-blanket.

Okoye groaned, pushed herself into a sitting position, and stretched her neck. “Where are we? What time is it?”

“We’re back at the palace. It’s mid-evening.” M’Baku brushed his thumb against her cheek.

“We should go. The King is waiting for us.” She stood and tried to force the sleep out of her brain as she descended onto the landing platform.

“General.” One of the many palace assistants scurried towards her. “The King is waiting for you in the main conference room. Is there anything I can get for you?”

“Yes,” Okoye muttered as she tried to shake the fog that was coating her mind. “Coffee, black, two shots of espresso.”

And a week’s sleep, if you can spare it.


 

 

“I’m still not sure what the point of a meeting is if these colonizers won’t even listen to us!”

Okoye watched for her seat as Shuri paced around the room, making agitated gestures with her hands and arms. How can she still have so much energy?

“I’m afraid I have to agree with the Princess,” M’Baku said from his seat next to her. “Wouldn’t our time be better spent in preparing Wakanda for war? By your own admission, the outside world isn’t fond to listening to people like us.”

T’Challa shook his head from his position at the head of the table. “Perhaps, under normal circumstances, but I think we’ve happened upon a strategy that will guarantee our victory... which brings me to a request of you, Chief M’Baku...”

M’Baku raised an eyebrow. “Careful, my King, or you’ll end up owing me a lifetime of favors.”

“I think preventing the subjection of Wakanda into war with the outside world is sufficient enough compensation for whatever one of your favors might cost.”

M’Baku shrugged. “Fair enough. What is it this time?”

T’Challa smiled. “I need to borrow your sister.”

Okoye tensed as M’Baku’s mood went from amiable to stony within seconds. Please don’t start a fight, not now.

“You want to take my sister to the colonized world? When they have threatened to attack us?”

“T’Challa and I have come up with a really good strategy to handle the Security Council, but it takes both of us to execute it,” Dewani said. “I have to go!”

M’Baku shot his sister an unimpressed look. “You’re on a first-name basis with the King?”

Dewani shrugged. “Hey, he’s going to be my brother-in-law someday. Why over formalize things?”

Shuri let out a surprised laugh. “Brother-in-law? What, you’re planning on marrying me?”

“Hey, you’re nuts if you think I’m letting someone as amazing as you get away.”

Okoye watched M’Baku soften as the two girls traded gentle smiles.

He sighed deeply, then rubbed his temples. “Fine. But I have conditions.”

“Name them,” T’Challa said.

“One: you will have a full security team accompany you. Non-negotiable.”

T’Challa nodded. “General Okoye, along with several other members of the Dora Milaje, will be joining us.”

M’Baku relaxed slightly. “Two: I’m coming with to make sure my sister stays safe. That’s not optional, either.”

“Very well. We’ll make sure you have what you need before we leave.”

“Three.” M’Baku pointed at Dewani. “You will do exactly as General Okoye and the King tell you. No arguing, no exceptions. Am I clear?”

Dewani nodded. “Totally.”

“Four.” M’Baku pointed at T’Challa again. “If this goes well, no Council meetings for a few weeks. I’ve had enough of scrambling between my people and yours for a while.”

T’Challa sighed, then nodded reluctantly. “Provided that the world doesn’t fall apart again, I think that can be arranged.”

“The world can damn well wait. I’m tired of the heat down here.”

T’Challa expression briefly twisted into something akin to annoyance, but smoothed back out into a practiced calm. “Is there anything else?”

“No.” M’Baku stood. “And I’m going to bed. I’m exhausted.”

T’Challa opened his mouth to argue, but stopped when he caught sight of Shuri yawning. “We could all use some rest before our trip.”

Okoye watched as M’Baku left the conference room, trailed closely by Dewani and Shuri. “I’m surprised that he didn’t put up more of a fight.”

T’Challa sighed as he sank back in his chair. “I think Dewani had that marriage comment planned before she got in here.”

Okoye raised an eyebrow. “You think she didn’t mean it?”

“No, I know she meant it. I also know that she’s remarkably adept at getting her brother to act more agreeably.”

Okoye shrugged. “Given the circumstances, I’m not complaining.”

“Neither am I.” T’Challa rubbed his hands over his face. “One week. I’d just like one week without some sort of event to plan for or disaster to avoid. One week.”

You and me both, Okoye thought. Speaking of which... “My King, if I could make a request?”

T’Challa raised an eyebrow at her, then nodded.

“Once this is all sudden done, I’d like a vacation.”

T’Challa laughed tiredly. “I think we all want a vacation, Okoye. Rest assured, if we can defuse the situation, you’ll have your time off.”

Thank Bast. Okoye stood, bowed, and began the long walk back to her quarters. Once she was there, she fully intended on collapsing into her bed and sleeping until she absolutely had to be up.

She’d need all the sleep she could get. In three short days, she’d be flying to London.

Bast, help us to end all this.

 

Chapter Text

The river is a function of life for every creature in the world. It is a source of food, protection, water, power, transportation... everyone needs the river, despite its ruthlessness.

Be ready, my warriors. There are those who would try to hoard the river for themselves. When that happens, you must be ready to stand up to them.

If no one does, everyone loses.


 

 

T Minus 6 Days and Counting.

2 Days Until the Meeting.

“There isn’t a single spot of green in this city! I’ve been looking for twenty minutes, and I can’t find one!”

“Oh, come on. They’ve planted trees to decorate the sidewalks. Those are green!”

“Those don’t count! Look at them! They’re so skinny and pale! They’re sick!”

Okoye smiled tiredly as she watched Dewani and Shuri argue as they stared out the window of T’Challa and Nakia’s hotel suite.

They’d landed in London thirteen hours ago, and promptly filed into their respective rooms to pass out for a few hours.

“Seriously, do colonizers not know how to care for plants? I can’t think of a single reason those poor trees should be that small. Is it the air? That emission stuff you told me about?”

Shuri giggled. “No, silly. They’re bred that way. They’re meant to be small because they’re supposed to be decorative.”

Now, they’d gathered together in T’Challa and Nakia’s suite to get themselves together before the meeting two days from now. T’Challa, Dewani, and M’Baku would be going over the speeches and arguments that would be presented to the security council members, Nakia and Shuri would be tracking the War Dog evacuation progress, and Okoye and the other five Dora Milaje members would be going through the security protocols for the trip.

Okoye stifled a yawn, and took another sip from her Starbucks latte. She’d already laid out the security plans before they’d left Wakanda, but it paid to be thorough.

Colonizers were an unpredictable bunch.

“Decorative? They’re supposed to be decorative? Do they not know the purpose of trees?” Dewani yelled for her brother. “Come take a look at this! Their trees look like fucking pencils!”

“A little quieter, please,” M’Baku muttered as he walked over to the window. He glared down at the street. “Why are they encased in concrete? That’s going to seriously impede their root structure and growth.”

“Shuri says they’re bred to be small.”

“Do they not know the purpose of trees?”

“I warned you that the Western world would be very different,” T’Challa said with a chuckle. He set down a stack of papers on the coffee table. “Room service will be here in twenty minutes. I suggest we get started.”


 

 

Okoye rubbed her eyes, trying to get them to focus.

They’d worked through the day. Room service had been ordered, devoured, and ordered again. Coffee had been downed by everyone in mass quantities. Papers were flipped through until they all had paper cuts, plans were hashed rehashed until their voices were hoarse, and they’d sat until their backs had locked.

Okoye looked up when she heard a dull thud, and realized that Dewani had dropped her head to the table.

“Are you okay?” T’Challa asked when Dewani didn’t move for a couple minutes.

“I’m dead!” Dewani exclaimed.

Nakia took one look at Shuri --who looked like she was about to fall asleep standing up--and shut off the computer they’d been using to keep track of the War Dogs. “We need to get some rest. We’ve all been running ragged the past few weeks, and we can’t afford to be at any less than the peak of our game at the meeting.”

T’Challa nodded with a sigh, and stretched his neck. “Yes. Everyone can go to bed for the night. We’ll meet back in here at 9 for breakfast. I’ll keep working for a little bit--”

“No, you need to sleep,” Nakia insisted. Without waiting for another word out of T’Challa, she yanked him up by his arm and pushed him towards their bedroom. “Bed.”

T’Challa laughed tiredly. “Okay, okay. Shuri, go to bed.”

Shuri let out an unintelligible mumble and shuffled off to the other bedroom in T’Challa and Nakia’s suite. She opened the door and flopped down onto her bed.

Okoye nodded at her fellow soldiers. “Go to bed. Get some rest.” She smiled slightly as she watched Dewani drop down next to Shuri, and started tidying up the materials she’d been using to go over the security plans.

“Didn’t the King tell everyone to go to bed?” M’Baku asked as he rubbed his hands over his face.

“I’ll go to bed once everything’s tidied up. We’ll have an easier time starting in the morning if we don’t have to clean before working.”

M’Baku watched her for a minute, then started picking up the room service dishes. “Where are you staying for the night?”

“There’s another bed in Shuri’s room. I’ll sleep there.”

M’Baku waggled his eyebrows at her. “So, you wouldn’t consider coming back to my bed?”

Okoye gave him a half-amused, half-admonishing look. “I actually need to sleep tonight, M’Baku.”

“I would let you sleep!”

“Mhm.” She smiled at him, then shook her head. “I can’t. It’s my job to stay close to the family on missions, and I’d be more than a little... distracted if I went back to bed with you.”

“Or you might have the best sleep of your life.”

“M’Baku.”

“Okay.” He frowned slightly. “It’s just hard to sleep here, is all.”

“I know.” Okoye picked one of her kimoyo beads off her bracelet and handed it to him. “Use this. It’ll make some white noise that should help you sleep.”

M’Baku eyed the bead before reluctantly accepting. “Thank you.”

Okoye leaned against him, hooking her arms around his neck. “The King has promised me some time off once we get back to Wakanda.”

M’Baku let out frustrated ‘hmph’ as he held her against his chest. “Like any of us will have any time off if this meeting goes South.”

“Have faith,” Okoye said despite her own uncertainty. “The King is very experienced with dealing with the outside world, and your sister is one of the most persuasive speakers I’ve ever met. If they can’t do it, no one can.”

M’Baku grinned. “She’s pretty great, isn’t she?”

“Yes, yes she is. Back to the main point, I wanted to know whether you’d want me to visit or not.”

“Is that even in question?”

“Well, I wasn’t sure if you needed time to attend to your people, or whether you’d just want to sleep--”

“I’d love it if you’d come and visit,” M’Baku said as he kissed her temple. “We can be tired and incoherent together.”

“How romantic.” Okoye patted his shoulder. “You should go to bed.”

“I could say the same of you.”

“I can’t really go to bed until you collect your sister.”

M’Baku let out a tired sigh, kissed her forehead, and walked over to Shuri’s bedroom. “Dewani.”

A tired grunt was his only answer.

“You need to go to bed.”

“The fuck does it look like I’m doing?”

M’Baku crossed his arms over his chest. “In our room, please.”

Dewani padded out of Shuri’s room. “G’night, Okoye.”

“Goodnight.”

M’Baku walked over to her and kissed her briefly. “Goodnight, my love.”

“Goodnight.” Okoye waited until the door was shut, locked it, and slumped against the metal surface. When I get back to Wakanda, I’m going to sleep for a week.


 

 

T Minus Four Days.

Four Hours Until the Meeting.

“I can’t breathe!”

“You’re fine. Just try to relax.”

Okoye smirked as she listened to Dewani whine about the dress she had to wear.

Nakia had drawn the short straw, and been forced to take the task of helping Dewani get dressed in Western clothes.

“It’s squeezing my organs out of my skin!”

Shuri laughed as she walked into the living area of T’Challa and Nakia’s suite. “That’s impossible, silly. You’ll be fine!”

M’Baku walked in, looking stiff and uncomfortable in his suit and dress shoes. “I don’t understand why we have to dress like them.”

“Yeah! Explain that fucking detail! Why do we have to assimilate?”

“It’s... complicated,” Shuri said uneasily. “Colonizers tend to be more receptive to us when we dress like them.”

“Why? Why do we have to kowtow to them?”

“Because they need to feel like they’re on the top of the world,” Okoye muttered. She bit back a laugh as she watched M’Baku fumble with his tie, and walked over to help him. “You look nice, for what it’s worth.”

“This is stupid,” he grumbled.

Okoye smiled as she adjusted the copper colored tie. “It’s only for a few hours. Besides, you might consider keeping the suit.”

“Why, so I can puff up the egos of colonizers by dressing like them when the next international disaster has to be handled?”

“No.” Okoye tightened the tie until it sat properly around his neck. “I like the way you look in it.”

M’Baku grinned down at her. “Only if you keep this dress.”

“Deal.”

“We need to get going,” T’Challa said. “Traffic in London is always slow, and we need to get there early. We can’t afford to lose any face.”

“I’m ready, I’m ready!” Dewani hurried into the room. “Shuri, do you know where my flats went? You said you had them last.”

Shuri looked up at Dewani, and her face went promptly slack. “I... uh...”

Okoye pressed a fist against her mouth to hide her silent laughter.

Dewani was a beautiful young woman, to be sure. Tall, well-built, with big, brown eyes and full lips. Granted, she looked perfectly fine in her traditional Jabari clothes, but Okoye was certain that Shuri’s sudden silence had everything to do with the way the Western dress hugged Dewani’s hips and chest.

“Shuri! What did you do with my shoes?”

“...Hi...”

Okoye picked Dewani’s shoes up off a nearby stool and handed them to the Jabari princess. “Here you go.”

“Thank you.” Dewani sucked a breath through her teeth. “I left my papers in my room. I’ll be right back.”

T’Challa shot a shit-eating grin at Shuri as Dewani ran into the hall. “You froze.”

“Shut up!”


 

 

T Minus Twenty Minutes to the Meeting.

Okoye walked next to T’Challa as they strode across the main floor of the Wakandan embassy.

The drive to the embassy had taken frustratingly long, which wasn’t aided by T’Challa’s and Dewani’s non-stop last minute prep. The two hadn’t looked up until the driver had opened the door of the car to let them out. Even now, as they walked across the polished marble floor of the embassy, the two were still comparing notes.

“So, when I bring up the issues that their countries have had, I need to tie that into that their guilt warrants more examination than our skills?” Dewani asked.

“No, bring it back to that we have good reason to distrust them. They won’t be receptive if we’re too aggressive,” T’Challa explained. 

“Okay. How do you want me to set up your point about our track record of trustworthiness, then?”

“Point to the outreach centers, our history of diplomatic action over military action, and our long history of staying within our borders. We need to highlight our accomplishments.”

“Right. Are you going to hit our sovereign rights as an independent country?”

“Run me through your logic line again.”

Okoye pressed the elevator button for the fifth floor. Show time.


 

 

In the Meeting.

Introductions: Done.

Translators: Ready.

Water glasses: Full.

Meeting: Officially underway.

Okoye watched from her position behind T’Challa, ready to move at the first sign of distrustful behavior.

They meeting was with the representatives of the five permanent countries --the United States, the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation, China, and France. They were seated around a dark, polished conference table, wearing similar black suits and shoes.

“We’re glad to be meeting with you, your highness,” the American representative --a tall, pale man with short blonde hair--said with a prideful smirk. “Most countries aren’t so cooperative.”

Your Majesty, Okoye corrected internally.

“We want to be clear,” the French representative --a young woman with green eyes--interjected. “This is in no way a punishment or a targeted aggression towards Wakanda. This is a routine check that we do for all UN members.”

Bullshit.

“I think there’s been a misunderstanding,” T’Challa said before anyone else could speak. “We’re not here to accept the terms of the search.”

The Russian representative’s --a short man with dark brown hair--eyebrows went up. “You’re not?”

“No. We’re here to make an appeal. We want the search and threat of tactical repercussions rescinded.”

The American representative laughed. “You came here to talk to a wall, then.”

Okoye fought the urge to glare at the man. Idiot.

“It’s only that searches are typical practice to ensure cooperation and international security,” the UK representative --an older man with salt and pepper hair--added while shooting a glare at the American representative.

“Wakanda has already gone through the required security checks,” T’Challa said.

“It’s an issue of trust,” the French representative explained. “We just need to assure that things are as they ought to be.”

“Trust is a two-way street,” T’Challa said, “but I’ll let my friend and advisor Dewani, Princess of the Jabari tribe, expound upon that.”

Dewani straightened in her seat. “The reality is that Wakanda cannot trust to receive fair treatment from the security council.”

The Russian representative laughed nervously. “I think our track record speaks for itself.”

“Oh, believe me, it does.” Dewani spread her papers out carefully. “The reality is that each of the permanent member nations of the security council have a long list of human right’s violations. Wakanda is reluctant to accept any outside visitors on a normal basis, but this turbulent history has made her especially wary.”

The UK representative frowned. “What human right’s violations?”

Dewani shrugged casually. “Well, China has a long-standing gender-cide against female infants, not to mention the dictatorship status. Russia has been rounding up its gay citizens and murdering them. Both the United States and the United Kingdom have history with slavery and segregation towards those with African heritage, and the city of Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have water after four years.” She tapped her finger against the pages. “All of these are considered human rights violations, and each of your countries still have considerable nuclear stockpiles. Wakanda doesn’t have any nuclear weapons, has no history of human right’s violations, and is still under scrutiny.”

Okoye held back a smirk as the representatives shared uncomfortable glances.

“We’ve never tried to conquer any neighboring countries and territories, we’ve launched an international outreach campaign to help communities in need, and we’ve always opted for diplomatic solutions when we’ve had conflicts with other nations. The reality is that the attacks against Wakanda are baseless. We’ve done nothing to earn the distrust that’s been exhibited to us.”

T’Challa smiled slightly as the representatives shifted in their seats. “Thank you, Dewani.” He looked at each of the representatives calmly. “Wakanda isn’t a threat to the outside world. The reality is we’ve had this technology for decades, and we still haven’t chosen to use it against the outside world. As Princess Dewani said, we’ve always opted for diplomatic solutions, even in the face of the destruction done to Wakanda by the Avengers. We are not a violent nation.”

“And how can we trust that?” the Chinese representative asked.

“As I said, our history of peaceful action and diplomacy speaks for itself,” T’Challa said. “Just as the history of human right’s violations speaks for the rest of the world. If that’s not enough, then I would point out that forcing us to open our borders under the threat of nuclear warfare is a violation of Wakanda’s sovereignty. Forcing us to subject ourselves to a search at the threat of violence not only ethically wrong, but is borderline a declaration of war.” T’Challa clasped his hands in front of him. “War is the last thing that Wakanda wants, but we will do whatever is necessary to defend ourselves.”

“You’ve seen our technology,” Shuri interjected. “You know what we’re capable of.”

There was a long silence among the representatives, before the UK representative finally leaned forward. “Let’s see what we can work out.”


 

 

Birnin Zana, Wakanda.

Okoye sighed quietly as their ship touched down on the landing platform outside of the palace.

They’d done it. They’d gotten the Security Council to rescind both the search and the nuclear threat. Wakanda could stand down.

Now all Okoye wanted to do was go back to her apartment, take a hot shower, and--

“General.”

Bast dammit. Okoye turned around. “Yes, My King?”

T’Challa smiled tiredly at her. “Take two weeks off. That’s an order.”

Okoye grinned back at him and bowed. “As you insist, My King.”

M’Baku clasped her shoulder as everyone else walked into the palace. “Will I being seeing you during your time off?”

“I’m taking a few days to rest first, but yes, you will.”

M’Baku grinned and kissed her. “I’ll see you in a few days.”

“I’m looking forward to it.”

 

Chapter Text

The life of the Dora Milaje is not one of peace or leisure. There will be times when you’re pushed past your limit, when you’ll feel like you’re worn down to nothing, when you’ll feel like you’re about to break.

That is why, when you have time to rest, you must take it.

Never feel guilty for taking care of yourself. A Dora Milaje who doesn’t take care of herself is a danger to her sisters and those she’s sworn to protect.


 

 

Her boots thudded against the patchwork stone slabs that made up the courtyard outside the Great Lodge. The chilled wind nipped at her nose, and snow clung to the corners of the windswept space.

Okoye grinned as she slung her bag over her shoulder.

She’d taken a couple days to sleep and put her brain back together. Then, once she’d felt human again, she’d packed her things and taken her ship up to the Jabari lands.

She had eighteen days left in her vacation, and she intended on spending each and every one of them with M’Baku.

Her heart sped up when she saw the main door open, then went back down to normal speed when she realized it was just Dewani.

“Hi, Okoye!”

Okoye smiled and returned Dewani’s hug. “How are you?”

“Oh, I’m just fine.”

Okoye narrowed her eyes at Dewani’s cheeky smile. “What do you have planned?”

“Since when have I planned anything ever?”

Okoye crossed her arms over her chest. “I’ve spent over a decade in service to the royal family. In that time, I’ve watched Princess Shuri prank and best the King no less than two hundred fifty times. I know when someone’s planning something.”

Dewani grinned. “M’Baku might not know you’re here.”

Okoye’s eyes widened in alarm. “I thought I let him know I was coming.”

“Oh, he knows you’re coming. He just might think that you’re arriving about... oh... two hours from now?”

Okoye fought the urge to roll her eyes. “So, I have to wait for two hours?”

Dewani let out a cackle. “Hell no. He cleared his schedule for today when he realized you were coming so that he could be ‘ready in case you came early.’ He’s just working in his garden right now.”

Okoye raised an eyebrow. “He has a garden?”

“Well, yeah. It’s not all that uncommon among the Jabari. We are vegetarians, after all.”

Okoye shivered as another burst of cold wind swirled around her. “Can we go inside?”

“Oh, shit, yeah. Sorry.”

She followed Dewani into the main lodge and down a hall where the outside wall was made entirely of glass. “How did you like your first trip to the outside world?”

“Decidedly underwhelming. Are all Americans that obnoxious?”

“Unfortunately, most of them are.”

Dewani grimaced as she took a sharp right turn and started walking down a flight of stone stairs. “Great. Why did the King want to rejoin with the outside world again?”

“If we take every sign of struggle and every setback as a reason to reject the notion of unification, we’ll never make any forward progress in bettering the world.”

“Fair enough.” Dewani paused just outside a doorway, peered around the corner, then looked back at Okoye and held a finger to her lips. She mouthed the words ‘I’ll distract him first’ and disappeared around the corner.

Okoye crept up to the doorway and peered around the corner.

“Is she here yet?”

“Will you learn some damn patience? It’s only been fifteen minutes since I talked to you last. Relax!”

M’Baku’s shoulders slumped, and he went back to pulling weeds out of the rich, black earth. “So, what’s happened in the last fifteen minutes?”

“The apocalypse, apparently. Everything outside of the Jabari lands has been consumed in a bright, fire-y death.”

“Praise Hanuman for protecting us.”

“I kept telling the low-landers that vegetarianism would pay off, but do you think they listen to me?”

“You’re ahead of your time, Dewani. They were fools to not listen to you.”

“I know!”

Okoye had to place a hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter.

It was endearing to watch, really. It was clear by M’Baku’s casual, unruffled responses that he was used to Dewani making up nonsense and was more than content to play along with her.

It also reminded her of the stories Shuri had told about M’Baku threatening to feed Agent Ross to his children, only to reveal that the Jabari were vegetarians and start snickering.

And then there had been Olufemi’s comments about her service to the avatars...

The apple does not fall far from its tree, Okoye thought as she watched the Jabari siblings banter back and forth.

M’Baku turned away from Dewani to drop a couple handfuls of weeds into nearby basket, and the younger woman nodded at Okoye, signalling the General to start sneaking up behind the Jabari Chief.

Okoye slid out of her coat and set her bag off to the side, then started creeping up behind M’Baku.

“So, if you and Okoye can take vacations together, does that mean I can invite Shuri up at some point?” Dewani asked to keep her brother distracted.

“I think that would be reasonable. You’d just have to get the Queen Mother and the King to agree.”

Dewani hummed as she ran her fingers over the delicate leaves of a little sprout. “I want to show her the valley. I think she’d like it.”

M’Baku grunted. “She’d probably find ways to bring her technology into it.”

“Shuri isn’t all about technology,” Dewani insisted, leaping to her girlfriend’s defense. “Quit being so sour.”

“I’m sorry.”

“So,” Dewani went on as Okoye carefully edged around a row of knee-high plants. “Do you have anything planned for Okoye?”

“Dewani--”

“Not like that! I was just wondering if you were going to show any of the sights.”

Okoye took the opportunity to grab M’Baku by his shoulders and kiss his cheek. “Yes, I’d like to know as well--” She couldn’t even finish her sentence before she was swept off her feet and into a massive hug.

“I thought you wouldn’t be here for another two hours!”

“Uh, yeah.” Dewani grinned deviously. “I lied.” When M’Baku gave her an exasperated look, she shrugged. “I wanted to surprise you. Are you surprised?”

M’Baku pressed an enthusiastic kiss against Okoye’s cheek. “Very.”

“Then my work here is done. I’m leaving before you two get gross. See you later, Okoye!”

Okoye tried to open her mouth to reply, but was cut off by a passionate kiss from M’Baku.

“Why’d you go along with her?” M’Baku asked when he finally broke away.

“It seemed harmless enough.” Okoye stroked the side of his face. “It’s good to see you, my love.”

M’Baku beamed down at her. “You have no idea how happy I am to see you.”

She smirked up at him. “You could show me, if you wanted to run the risk of really grossing Dewani out.”

“Mmm, perhaps later. I have some things I’d like to show you first.”

She shivered slightly as M’Baku pressed his lips against her jaw. “By all means, then, show me.”


 

 

Okoye couldn’t help but smile. “It’s beautiful.”

They were standing on one of the many bridges that crisscrossed the Jabari lands. Below them churned the main river that ran from the ceremonial waterfalls, through the River tribe’s territory, and flowed out through the Jabari mountains. Before them, one could see down the entire length of the valley. The lowest parts of the mountains were dotted with lush vegetation, giving way to snow peaks as the eye moved up.

“I’ve been wanting to show this to you for several months now,” M’Baku said. “This is the spot that Dewani wanted to show to the Princess.”

“It’s breathtaking. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“You wouldn’t. The low lands have nothing like this. For thousands of years, this view has only been seen by Jabari eyes.”

“Until now.”

M’Baku grinned down at her. “Until now, yes.” He pressed a series of gentle, warm kisses against her cheek. “How long are you staying, again?”

Okoye smiled up at him. She’d already told him, but seeing the giddy look on his face was worth saying it over and over. “Eighteen days.”

“Eighteen days,” M’Baku murmured against her lips. “A lot can happen in eighteen days.”

Okoye opened her mouth to agree, but wound up clinging to M’Baku when a particularly strong gust of wind made the bridge shake. She glared up at him as he started chuckling and swatted at his chest.

“How about we go inside?” M’Baku offered, one arm around her and one hand on the railing, steadying them both.

“Yes.” She gritted her teeth as another gust of wind shook the bridge. “Now.”


 

 

Kiss. “You have no idea--” kiss “--how happy I am--” kiss “--that you’re here.”

“I think--” kiss “--I’m getting--” kiss “--an understanding.”

They were seated on a blanket in front of the fireplace in the library. A bottle of wine and two half-filled glass sat off to the side, next to a small plate of fresh fruit and cheese.

Okoye was half-straddling, half-laying against M’Baku, leaning against his solid chest as he pressed kiss after kiss against her lips.

This. This is what she’d been craving for the past month. Time to rest and relax. Time to detach from her job and just be herself.

Time to lazily make out with M’Baku in between intervals of drinking wine and talking.

If there ever was such a thing as paradise, this would be it. “So,” Okoye asked as she reached over and took another sip from her glass. “What all do you have planned for me over these next eighteen days?”

“Well, I didn’t want to pack too much in. I know it’s been a while since you’ve had a proper vacation.” M’Baku took a sip from his own glass, then leaned back against the couch. “I also have some meetings with my council over the next few weeks, but I figured I’d show you a few sights. Nothing too strenuous.”

“I like the sound of that. What would you show me?”

“Well, there are some gardens in the valley that are among the best in Wakanda, if not the world. There’s a spring celebration in the central village that I thought you’d like to see. There’s a series of hot spring pools that are connected to the lodge.”

“Mmm, I like the sound of the last one.”

M’Baku grinned. “I thought you might.”

Okoye smiled back and kissed his shoulder. “So, where am I staying while I’m here?”

“Well, I can have one of the servants make up a room for you, or you could stay with me.”

Okoye gazed into the fire as she mulled her options over.

The logical option was to ask for her own room. They were barely six months in to their relationship, and they’d never slept together before. Diving in to something like that, especially since they hadn’t talked about it much, would be irresponsible.

The option she wanted to go with, however...

“What would happen if I stayed with you?”

M’Baku shrugged, not bothering to hide his smile. “Whatever you want to happen.”

“If I just want to sleep?”

“Then we’ll sleep.”

She gazed up at him, excitement coursing through her. “And if I don’t want to sleep?”

“I can accommodate that as well.” M’Baku pulled her into his lap. “What would you like?”

“Well, I think we need to talk about this,” Okoye said as she slid her arms over his thick shoulders. “At least a little.”

“Okay. Do you want to have sex with me?”

Okoye giggled and pressed her face against his shoulder. “You are so ridiculous!”

“On the contrary, I like to think I’m highly efficient and straightforward.”

“I’m not opposed to having sex with you,” Okoye said once she had her laughter under control.

M’Baku grinned. “I’m not opposed to having sex with you either.” 

They both dissolved into a pile of giggles together.

M’Baku got his breath back before she did. “Are you on contraceptives?”

“All members of the Dora Milaje get a contraceptive shot every six months.”

“Are you sure it’s up to date?”

“I had it updated before the Harvest Moon festival.”

“Oh, I see,” M’Baku said, grinning widely. “You had plans, did you?”

“Plans, no. Ideas, maybe. Prepared foresight, yes.” Her smile slipped away, and she started tracing her finger over the designs on his tunic. “Do you think it’s too soon?”

“No.” He skimmed his fingertips over the edge of her jaw. “But you think otherwise.”

Okoye sighed.

It wasn’t that she thought otherwise, not entirely. She wanted to be with M’Baku, wanted to ‘have sex’ with him, as he had so bluntly put it.

Half a month ago, after the Harvest Moon festival, she’d been perfectly fine with the idea. She’d even put some of her tighter dresses and nicer underwear on her packing list, for Bast’s sake!

So, what had changed between now and then?

“I think I’m just tired and overthinking everything,” Okoye muttered as she laid her head against his shoulder. “I’d much prefer to go back to bed with you.”

M’Baku chuckled quietly and kissed her temple. “How about this: you come to bed with me. If something happens, it happens. If not, that’s okay too. And, by tomorrow, if you decide you want your own room, I’ll have one set up for you. Sound good?”

“Sounds good.”


 

 

His bedroom was unlike anything she’d ever seen, from the rooms in the palace, to the hotels she’d stayed in while travelling with T’Challa, to her own apartment in downtown Birnin Zana.

For one, it was markedly simple. Only the necessities were present: a bed, a desk and chair, a few dressers, and a nightstand.

Okoye couldn’t help but mentally compare it to Shuri’s bedroom, which had its own mini-lab in it.

M’Baku’s bedroom also seemed to follow the Jabari principle of letting the outside world in. The outer wall was made up entirely of glass, showcasing a fantastic view of the mountains. All the furniture was made out of wood, twisted and carved into elegant, smooth shapes. A massive fireplace lined with stones from the river sat opposite of the bed. The bed itself was as massive as M’Baku, and was draped over with wool blankets and thick furs.

“I like your way of decorating,” Okoye said as she ran her hand over one of the furs. “It’s simple in a good way.”

“We don’t see a point in complicating the purpose of a room,” M’Baku said. “Let the room be what it needs to be, big enough to house what it needs to house, and only have the rooms that you really need.”

Okoye smirked. “I need to show you an American website, then. It’s dedicated to mocking ridiculous houses with too much wasted space.” At M’Baku’s blank look, she went on. “Think seven bedrooms, six bathrooms, and three dining rooms. For a house, not a palace-style building.”

M’Baku rolled his eyes. “Colonizers.”

“Tell me about it. Is there a bathroom I can change in?”

M’Baku grinned at her salaciously. “You could just change right here. I wouldn’t mind.”

“I know you wouldn’t, but I’d like to take my makeup off.”

M’Baku pointed to a door at the far end of the room. “Through there.”

The bathroom was much like the bedroom --everything was made out of river stone, and only the necessary fixtures were there. A massive stone sink took up one side of the wall, with a toilet positioned next to it. At the far end of the room sat a massive stone tub that was big enough for M’Baku to rest in comfortably. The outer wall was a continuation of the glass from the bedroom.

Briefly, Okoye wondered if self-exposure was a regular part of Jabari life --and, if so, just what she was getting into with M’Baku--before she quickly changed into her night clothes and washed her face.

Back in the bedroom, M’Baku had already changed into a pair of simple linen pants. He was stretched out across the bed, and smiled as he watched Okoye walk towards him. “You look nice.”

She glanced down at her oversized purple shirt and sweatpants. “If you say so.” She laid down next to M’Baku and trailed her fingers over his bare chest.

M’Baku propped himself up on one arm and gazed down at her. “Eighteen days.”

Okoye smiled up at him. “Eighteen days.”

“What would the King do if I kept you here?”

“I think you should be less worried about the King and more worried about me.”

“You wouldn’t want to stay longer?”

“I only packed so many clothes!”

“I can have more made for you.”

Okoye laughed and rolled her eyes. “I like my job, M’Baku. I have purpose in it.”

M’Baku sighed dramatically. “Well, I suppose I can bear to part with you, if only for that.” He started trailing kisses down her neck. “But not forever.”

Okoye sighed happily and tilted her head back to give him better access. “That’s something we can agree on.”

M’Baku froze, then moved so that he could look her in the eye. “Promise?”

Warmth spread through her chest, and she smiled softly as she reached up to cup his cheek. “I promise.”

Chapter Text

Stones are unthinking, unfeeling, unbreaking. When you wear your armor, you are a stone. Your only priority is to protect the royal family. You will be vigilant for every threat.

You are a Dora Milaje when you are in that armor. You are the best of the best of the best. Do not forget it.

However, my daughters, you will not always be wearing the armor. There will be days when you will be away, left on your own, free to do as you choose.

Do not be a stone then. Be human. Think and feel as much as you want. Enjoy the vibrancy of life, my dears.


 

 

“I wish you could stay longer.”

“You version of ‘longer’ would have me staying forever.”

“Is that really so bad?”

“I’m not ready to retire yet.”

“And when you are?”

Okoye smiled up at M’Baku, giddy and thoroughly smitten. “I know where to find you.”

M’Baku smiled back, then sighed sadly. “I can’t believe eighteen days passed so quickly.”

“I know, my love. I can’t believe it either.”


 

 

Eighteen Days Earlier; First Official Day of Vacation.

She came out of sleep slowly, warm and deeply comfortable. Covered in thick blankets and furs, she was cocooned in warmth. Her mind came to clearer focus as the room grew lighter and lighter, and Okoye found herself staring at the face of the man she’d fallen asleep next to.

M’Baku’s eyes were closed, his breathing deep and easy.

Okoye shifted closer to his, studying his peaceful face.

Smooth, dark skin, full lips, chiseled cheekbones and jaw...

Bast help me, he’s so hot.

He’d swept her off her feet during that first fateful night in the palace gardens. Hell, he’d caught her eye when he’d lifted W’Kabi up by his scruff like a naughty kitten during the battle between the Dora Milaje and the Border tribe warriors.

She’d never seen anything like it, not even from T’Challa and his blessing from Bast.

Kind, generous, loving, intelligent, good-looking, funny...

And here I thought the perfect man didn’t exist--

“You’re thinking too loud.”

Okoye realized M’Baku was watching her back and smiled sheepishly. “Did I wake you up?”

“No. I was just teasing you.”

Okoye shivered as M’Baku’s fingertips ran up her bare side. “Do you have anything planned for today?”

“If you’d like, I can show you some of the gardens in the valleys.”

“I like the sound of that.”

“Then it’s settled. Although...” M’Baku flashed her a lust-charged grin as he positioned himself over her. “I’d like to spend a little more time in bed with you first.”

Okoye grinned up at him as she looped her arms around his shoulders. “I think I can agree to that.”


 

 

Okoye gaped, awestruck. “I have never seen anything like this.”

She was surrounded by massive, towering trees, thick stands of bushes and vines, and thousands upon thousands of brightly colored flowers.

She let out a small laugh. “It really is better than any other gardens I’ve ever seen. Even at the palace.”

M’Baku smiled proudly. “What did I tell you?”

She turned around slowly, drinking everything in. “Is this where you harvest the plants you make your medicines out of? I overheard Dewani and Shuri arguing about natural versus synthetic treatments, and your sister said you grew everything the people could need in the gardens.”

“No, no,” M’Baku said with a laugh. He clasped her shoulder and pointed up. “Monkey shit doesn’t make for a good additive.”

Okoye looked up, saw several furry faces staring down at her, and smiled bashfully. “I never said I was a botanist. Or a chemist.”

“We have gardens that we keep in more controlled conditions to grow our medicine from. This--” M’Baku swept his arm our grandly, gesturing at the unmarred lushness surrounding them “--is a blessing from Hanuman. A refuge against the cold and snow.”

“Such a beautiful blessing,” Okoye said.

“Yes.” M’Baku kissed her cheek. “Something the two of you have in common.”


 

 

Day Three of Vacation.

“Can I ask a question?”

“Sure.”

Okoye pointed at the wall length window in M’Baku’s bedroom with her spoon. “What’s with all the big windows? I asked Dewani, and she said it was a tribe-wide voyeurism kink.”

M’Baku ran his hand over his face. “I promise, I love my sister, but there are times where I think Hanuman just sent her to me to test my patience.”

Okoye suppressed a smile as she dug back in to her bowl of yogurt, granola, and fruit. “I’m sure the King thinks the same of the Princess at times. So, is it a voyeurism kink, or is there a more spiritual reason for it?”

M’Baku gave her a fake annoyed look as she started snickering. “It is not a voyeurism kink, thank you. We believe in being as in touch with the earth as we can be. If we surround ourselves with thick walls and curtains, we can’t see the earth. How can we be in touch with something we can’t see?”

“Okay, but don’t you ever worry about having your privacy violated?”

“You’ll noted that the window is located such that it isn’t in the line of sight of any other buildings or bridges.”

That would do it. Okoye ate another spoonful of yogurt. “So, what are we doing today?”

M’Baku grinned. “I’m so glad you asked.”


 

 

Okoye smiled as children darted past her, caught up in a game of tag. “I can see why you like it here.”

They were strolling through an open air market, between rows of stalls and vendor carts. Shoppers ambled back and forth, chatting and haggling over princes, while children scampered about freely. The smells of roasting potatoes, fresh fruits, and baking bread permeated the cool air.

“A Chief must be among his people,” M’Baku said, pride evident in his voice as he surveyed the crowd. “He must know them, know their struggles in order to serve them well. My father focused on taking his proper role in festivals and celebrations, but I prefer a more direct approach.” He stopped at a booth, handed a few coins to the vendor, and came back with two forks and two cups of potatoes, steaming vegetables, and cheese. “Try this. It’s a common side dish among the villages up here.”

Okoye stabbed some cheese, potatoes, and green onto her fork and fed it into her mouth. A swirl of flavors --dairy from the cheese and butter, bitter from the greens, salt from the potatoes, and hints of spice and garlic--exploded over her tongue. “I need to try making this for myself. What’s all in it?”

“Greens, potatoes, goat’s cheese, goat’s butter, salt, and spices to taste. It’s common for each household to have a slightly different recipe.”

“That’s cool. It’s like a fingerprint. You could know who made it by the taste.”

“Theoretically, yes.”

Okoye smiled as few children came up to M’Baku and talked to him. “You seem to know everyone here,” she said when the kids ran off.

“A Chief must know his people.”

Okoye was quiet for a moment, simply content to take in the sights and sounds of the market. She watched a group of girls chase each other, weaving through the crowds. I remember being that age. “Do you know what I love most about being a Dora Milaje warrior?”

“The spear?”

Okoye laughed. “No, but that is a plus. When I accompany the King into the city, I get stopped by a lot of little girls. They ask to take a picture with me, or for my autograph. They tell me they want to be just like me when they grow up.” She beamed at M’Baku. “That’s my favorite part.”

M’Baku beamed back. “Empowering a new generation. I can’t think of anything more fitting.” He slid his arm around her waist. “Sometime, I’ll have to take a vacation in Birnin Zana. You can show me all the sights down there.”

“I’d love to.” She smirked up at him. “Although, we’d have to be quieter in my apartment than we were last night. The walls are only so thick.”

“I’m sure I’ll manage to rise to the needs of the occasion.”


 

 

Day Five of Vacation.

Okoye sat in the library, casually reading through a murder mystery book. M’Baku was in a meeting with his council, and she’d set about on entertaining himself while she was busy. She ran the tips of her fingers over the smooth, white paper.

Physical books weren’t common in the rest of Wakanda. Sure, each tribe had their traditional texts, carefully stored away and preserved, and there were some that kept physical books for their own fun, but everything was largely run through the kimoyo beads and databases. It was more efficient that way, less wasteful.

The Jabari, as everyone knew, had shunned vibranium-based technology all those centuries ago, when the first King had brought the other tribes to peace. They’d retreated into the mountains, made a future for themselves without the aid of vibranium, and stayed clear of the other tribes in the lower lands.

Okoye looked out the window at one of the massive bridges that spanned the canyon running through the Jabari territory. It’s hard to believe that they managed to make those without vibranium. It would be impossible to span that canyon multiple times over, weave everything in place.

“Hi, Okoye.”

Okoye looked up and smiled as Dewani walked into the library. “Hi. How are you?”

“Good.” Dewani sat down next to her on the couch and rested her head on Okoye’s shoulder. “Can I ask you a question?”

Okoye set the book down on her lap. “Sure.”

“Shuri’s birthday is coming up soon...” Dewani’s voice trailed off. Her face creased into a frown. “What do you get for the girl who can make anything she could ever want?”

It was a good question. Okoye had watched T’Challa throw his hands into the air for several years when he had to grapple with finding a decent gift for his sister’s birthday.

Let’s see, the King normally gets her shoes, clothes, handbags, accessories... “She really likes fashion,” Okoye suggested. “I’m sure the King could help you pick out something. Or Lady Nakia.”

Dewani scrunched up her face. “Let’s keep that as our last option. I’d like it to be more personal than that.”

“You could bring her up here. I’m sure she’d love to spend time with you.”

“Eh, I’d need more time to plan that and persuade M’Baku. Plus, it’d probably be easier to sway T’Challa and the Queen Mother once Shuri and I are older, you know?”

Okoye nodded. “Wise thinking.” She tapped her fingers against the back cover of the book, mulling over various ideas. “You could make her something.”

“Really? You think she’d like that?”

Okoye smiled fondly at the younger woman. “I think that the Princess would love to have something you made for her.”

Dewani stared into the fireplace, thought evident in her expression. “I think I might have something I can put together for her. Does she like poetry?”

“I think she’d love it if you wrote it for her.” Okoye looked down at the book in her lap, smoothing her fingers over the hand-bound leather cover. For generations, the rest of Wakanda has thought of the Jabari as staunch isolationists, technology-fearing warriors, even the boogey-men under the bed. How wrong we were. Okoye frowned contemplatively as she looked down at the book, glanced out the window at the bridge, then looked at Dewani. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“What does technology look like to the Jabari? Clearly, you have something if you managed to make those bridges.”

Dewani grinned at her. “Come on. I’ll show you.”


 

 

The building Dewani had taken her to was set between two mountains, propped up on twisted steel beams that mimicked the designs on the bridges. It was styled similarly to the rest of the buildings she’d seen so far --oblong, layered in steps, with massive windows and skylights wherever possible.

Thick wool rugs dyed in shades of blue and green covered the floors, insulating their steps. Decorations made out of Jabari wood dotted the halls. There was at least one plant on each available surface.

“I can’t show you the actual labs off the cuff, but I can show you our head agricultural facility. This is where we review most of our research and perform minor studies. Major studies --modifying crops for higher yields or hardiness, developing responses to blights, studying the effects of different soil modifications--are conducted by the labs.”

They stopped at a balcony that overlooked the rest of the facility. Offices with glass walls and wooden doors lined the edges of the building. The center was a completely open hallway dotted with couches and tables, stopped at the end by am impressive two-story window. Jabari scientists --some dressed in traditional leathers and furs, others in regular clothes--mingled together in the center before breaking off into their respective work spaces.

“Why are some of them wearing leathers while some of them don’t?” Okoye asked.

“Preference. We do have a solid wool industry up here, and you’ll find that most people wear linen in the summer months. Leather has the advantage of being water proof-able, so most people layer linen and wool underneath. Trust me, if you’re caught in a freak snowstorm, you’ll want to wear leather to avoid getting soaked.”

“Wouldn’t that rot the leather?”

“Not if you dry it well enough.”

Okoye leaned against the railing as she watched a group of women walk together, dressed in vibrantly colored linen and wool dresses. “I’ve only ever seen the Jabari in leather and fur. I guess it never occurred to me that you’d have other clothing industries.”

Dewani shrugged. “I keep telling M’Baku that he’d be more comfortable in linens when we travel to the palace, but I think he likes the impression the leathers give.”

Okoye agreed internally. There are advantages to dressing the part. “How do you dye the clothes?”

“Traditional pieces are still dyed using flowers and minerals, but most of the dyes are synthetic.”

Okoye raised an eyebrow. “Synthetic? I thought that would be akin to blasphemy to the Jabari.”

“Well, we can either tear apart the valleys to produce enough dye, or we can make synthetic dyes and keep the blessings from Hanuman intact.”

“Okay, I should’ve seen that coming.”

Dewani looped her arms around one of Okoye’s and leaned her head against the older woman’s shoulder. “I’m glad you and my brother are seeing each other. He’s been happier since you came into his life.”

Okoye smiled. “I’ve been happier since he came into my life. He’s a remarkable man.”

“Yeah,” Dewani agreed quietly. “He kind of had to stop dating when he adopted me. I was in really rough shape back then, and most of the other women didn’t want to share so much time with a strange, nervous halfer.” She let out a laugh that sounded more like an annoyed huff. “Nothing kills the mood like your lover having to leave because his sister had another nightmare.”

Okoye slid her arm out of Dewani’s grasp so that she could wrap it around the girl’s shoulders. “Your brother loves you. There’s no shame in that.”

Dewani picked at the edge of her gauntlet. “He’s done a lot for me. Sacrificed a lot for me. I want him to be happy.” She peered up at Okoye. “He said you didn’t mind me being around.”

“Why would I?”

Dewani stared down at her hands, almost shrinking in on herself. “I’m just used to being a deal-breaker, is all.”

Okoye squeezed Dewani’s shoulders in a half hug. “You’re not a deal breaker. Not to me.”

“Thanks.” Dewani didn’t speak for a moment, then, in a voice so quiet Okoye almost missed it, said “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to live up to who he is.”

Okoye frowned. “What do you mean?”

“My brother is the greatest man there ever was. He’s been more than a father to me for the past two years. He’s a great Chief, a strong warrior, an adviser to the King... I don’t know how I can live up to all that.”

“I don’t think he expects you to live up to his legacy. He wants you to be yourself.”

“I know, but I just want him to be proud of me!”

“He already is.” Okoye rubbed her hand up and down Dewani’s back. “I’m going to tell you a secret, okay? Your brother and I talked during our second night in London. He was worried that everything would fall apart.”

Dewani frowned. “Really? He told me that everything was fine, and that you’d assassinate anyone who stood against us.”

Okoye snorted inelegantly. “The thought may have crossed my mind, but I think he said all that to reassure you. The point is, I told him that if you and the King couldn’t persuade the security council, then no one could. Do you know what he said?”

“He asked you if the back up plan was to have you and the other Milaje assassinate everyone?”

“He smiled and agreed that you were one of the most remarkable speakers in Wakanda and a remarkable young woman. He got teary-eyed when telling the King and I how much progress you’ve made in the past two years because he’s that proud of you.” Okoye tucked a few loose curls of hair behind Dewani’s ear. “Your brother is already so proud of you. I’d venture to say that he’d be heartbroken to hear how little you think of yourself.”

Dewani laughed. “He’s a big softie, isn’t he?”

Okoye nodded. “More than he admits.”

“There you two are.”

Okoye turned around and smiled as she saw M’Baku walking towards them, flanked by his Primes.

Dewani grinned, carefully hiding any traces of sadness, and ran towards her brother. “We were just talking about you.”

“Nothing devious, I hope.” M’Baku caught his sister in a hug and kissed the top of her head. “What have you been up to?”

“Okoye wanted to see what our version of technology was like. I figured I’d show her the agricultural facility.”

“I see. And what do you think of our technology, my love?”

“Remarkable,” Okoye said as M’Baku kissed her on the cheek. “I think Princess Shuri will definitely want to see this when she comes up here.”

“I figured as much.” M’Baku leaned down and kissed her gently. “I’m done for the day. How does returning to the main lodge sound?”

Okoye grinned as she looped her arms over his broad shoulders. “Enticing.”

Off to the side, Dewani started fake retching. “Oh, gross! Do you two have to do this while I’m standing next to you?”

M’Baku shot a devious look at his sister, then spun Okoye into an elaborate dip and kissed her passionately.

Dewani stormed off down the hall. “That’s it! I’m leaving! You two can walk back to the main lodge!”


 

 

Day Seven of Vacation.

She woke up to M’Baku trailing kisses up her spine. Okoye trembled as a shiver ran down the length of her spine, landing solidly in her core. “You’re up to no good, I can tell.”

“You just looked particularly beautiful this morning,” M’Baku murmured huskily.

“And here I thought I looked beautiful every morning.”

“You do, but you were overwhelmingly enticing this morning.”

Okoye let out a soft moan as he nipped at her shoulder. She rolled onto her back and pulled M’Baku down for a lust-charged kiss. “Do you have any plans for today?”

“Nothing official. Is there something you had a mind to?”

“Yes.” Okoye flipped M’Baku onto his back and straddled his hips. “I want to spend the entire day with you, in this bed.”

M’Baku grinned, eyes wide, as he ran his hands over her body. “Now, that’s an idea I can get behind.”


 

 

Day Ten of Vacation.

The thick, humid heat was such a sharp contrast to the crisp, cold of the mountains that it was almost overwhelming.

They were underground cavern system that was connected to the lodge. The walls were covered with vines that grew bio-luminescent flowers. A steaming pool of water sat in a naturally occurring alcove, off the main path. The walls of the pool were lined with the same minerals that made the flowers glow, causing the water to give off a soft blue light. Candles were tucked into the corners of the alcove, chasing away the remaining darkness and giving the space a soft, cozy feeling.

“What do you think?” M’Baku murmured, his lips brushing against her cheek.

“It’s beautiful. Warm. Very warm.” Okoye watched as M’Baku pulled a few towels and two robes out of a wooden chest. “My love?”

“Yes?”

“I didn’t bring a swim suit.”

M’Baku grinned at her as he started undoing his tunic. “Neither did I.”

Okoye rolled her eyes, amused in spite of herself. “So, that’s how this works?”

M’Baku shrugged as he set his tunic off to the side, clearly pleased with himself. “Why not?”

Okoye smiled softly, then turned around and started changing out of her blouse and pants. She heard tsplashing as M’Baku stepped into the pool. She carefully folded her clothes and set them on top of the chest.

“Are you folding your clothes?”

“So what if I am?” Okoye asked as she set her underwear next to her clothes. She turned around and saw that M’Baku was watching her. “Like what you see?”

“Always.” He held out a hand to her. “Come join me, my love.”

Okoye took his hand and slipped into the pool.

The water was warm and deeply soothing, chasing away the few lingering aches in her back and legs.

Okoye let out a contented hum as she nestled against M’Baku’s chest. “This would’ve been nice to have after the battle.”

M’Baku kissed the top of her head as he wrapped his arms around her. “Well, if I’d had half the sense to approach you sooner, maybe you would have.”

Okoye shook her head. “I was still dealing with W’Kabi’s betrayal.”

M’Baku let out a huff. “He was an idiot. Is an idiot.”

“He wanted justice for his parents’ deaths,” Okoye said quietly.

M’Baku was still for a moment. Then, he placed a small, gentle kiss against her head. “I want justice for my sister’s abuse,” he murmured. “You don’t see me waging a warpath against my uncle and his family for it.”

“I’m not saying he was right.”

“I know. I’m saying I understand his pain, but his pain doesn’t justify what he did. Especially to you.”

“You’re biased.”

“And very happy to be so.” M’Baku pressed his fingers under her chin, tilting her head up so he could see her face. “Enough talk about the traitor. He doesn’t deserve the time or breath.”

Okoye deliberately avoided his gaze. “We were together for four years. He was a good partner. I watched him deal with the void of his parents’ death every day.”

M’Baku rubbed his thumb over her cheek. “I know he made a mistake, my love. I understand why he made the mistake he did. But his loss, his pain, doesn’t justify the lives that were lost in the process. It doesn’t justify the way he hurt you.”

Okoye closed her eyes as she pressed his forehead against M’Baku firm chest. “I wish I didn’t understand it. I wish there wasn’t anything behind what he did that made his choice sympathy inducing. I wish it was just a selfish, spur of the moment decision.”

“Easier to process,” M’Baku murmured as he rubbed her back. “It’s understandable.”

“It’s wrong of me.”

“You’re human, not a god. Don’t hold yourself to a higher standard than you would hold him to.”

Okoye stared at the tattoos that curled around M’Baku’s bicep. “I could’ve killed N’Jadaka. Right then and there, at the falls. No one would’ve stopped me. No one.”

M’Baku let out a heavy sigh. “I could’ve adopted Dewani a year earlier.”

Okoye looked up at him, frowning. “I don’t follow your meaning.”

M’Baku leaned back against the wall of the pool, expression solemn. “I... suspected that my uncle’s treatment of Dewani wasn’t completely appropriate when I saw her at her thirteenth birthday. I was a new Chief, exhausted, and it was the first time I’d seen her in two years. I talked myself out of it. A year later, one of the neighbors of my uncle came to me with pictures of Dewani. She was bruised, bleeding, and miserable. They claimed that my uncle had been beating her.”

“What did your uncle say?”

“He confirmed it when he outed her in an argument. I took Dewani home with me that night.” He grimaced. “Sometimes, we don’t always follow our instincts. Sometimes, not following our instincts bites us in the ass. What’s most important is that we do the best we can and ask forgiveness where we need to.”

Okoye smiled gently at him. “I can see where Dewani gets her philosophic side from.”

M’Baku chuckled. “She’s better at it than I am. More patient.”

Okoye laid her head on his shoulder. He’s right, Okoye thought. W’Kabi made a mistake. He was grieving and angry, and he made a mistake. He doesn’t deserve any more of your brain power. Let it go, Okoye. She inhaled deeply, and let the thoughts about W’Kabi float from her mind. She lifted her hand and placed it against M’Baku’s chest. “I love you.”

M’Baku shifted back and grinned down at her. “Really?”

Okoye grinned back. “Of course. Why else would I call you ‘my love?’”

M’Baku leaned down and captured her lips with his. “I love you, too.”

Okoye looped her arms around his neck, pulling herself closer as their lips moved in tandem.


 

 

Day Thirteen of Vacation.

“Well, don’t you look comfortable.”

Okoye looked up from where she had settled on the couch in the library. She was seated in front of the fire place and had a thick fur laid over her lap. A cup of steaming tea sat on the table next to the couch, and a stack of books were set on the floor in front of her. “That’s the idea, isn’t it?”

M’Baku grinned down at her, a box in one hand. “I suppose.”

Okoye went back to her book, then looked up when she realized that M’Baku was watching her, unmoving. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes. I’m just taking it all in. Something about this...” He gestured at her and where she was sitting. “It just seems very right to me.”

Okoye chuckled and shifted her legs so that M’Baku could sit next to her. “Does it now?”

“Yes.” M’Baku kissed her cheek. “It does. Although, I’ll admit I didn’t take you for a reader.”

“I like reading. I just don’t get much time to do it.”

“I guess I saw you as the kind of person who would be out running, hiking, and the like,” M’Baku said as he sat down next to her. “Do you still want to go to the Spring Festival tonight?”

“Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”

M’Baku shrugged. “Just thought I’d check. Oh, that reminds me.” He handed her the box. “This is for you.”

Okoye feigned suspicion as she opened the box, the gasped when she caught sight of a beautiful hooded fur shawl. “M’Baku! It’s beautiful!”

M’Baku kissed her gently. “Beautiful clothes for a beautiful woman.”

Okoye slid the shawl on, reveling at how soft and warm the fur was. “Thank you. You didn’t have to.”

“Nonsense. It suits you.”

Okoye set the box aside and clambered into M’Baku’s lap. “Still, I’d like to repay your kindness.”

M’Baku grinned up at her, hands clasping her hips. “What do you have a mind to?”

“Well, we have a few hours before the festival starts, right?”

M’Baku kissed her jaw, picked her up, and started carrying her out of the library. “I like your way of thinking.”


 

The main square in the Jabari village was filled with people. Children made sculptures out of the snow and chased each other while the teenagers and adults danced and sang, heralding in the new Spring. Fireworks lit up the air with bursts of gold, blue, and green.

Okoye smiled as she watched Dewani dance with a group of girls. This is amazing. Like Wakanda during the Harvest Moon and Spring Rain festivals. She turned around when she felt something nudge her shoulder.

M’Baku handed her a bowl full of what looked like ice cream and a spoon. “Try this.”

Okoye took the bowl, loaded up her spoon, and stuck it in her mouth.

It was the creamiest, lightest ice cream she’d ever had. The taste of mango exploded over her tongue, beautifully sweet and just a touch tangy.

“This is incredible. I didn’t think you could grow mangoes this high up.”

“We grow them in the lowest parts of the valley and in the hot water spring caverns. We don’t get very many of them, so we save the harvest for our celebrations.”

Okoye scooped another spoonful into her mouth. “I didn’t think mangoes were indigenous to Wakanda.”

“They’re not. A few chiefs ago, the King of the time came to visit the Jabari to settle some border disputes between us and the miners. He brought some gifts as part of a peace offering, and some of them were mangoes that they’d found in East Africa. The Chief of the time liked them, to which the King laughed and said they were a fickle fruit, impossible to grow even with vibranium technology, and --well--that was a challenge the Chief couldn’t resist.”

Okoye lifted her bowl in a toast. “To the stubbornness of the Jabari, and to the best ice cream I’ve ever had.”

M’Baku touched his bowl to hers. “The best, eh?”

Okoye nodded and ate another spoonful. “I would’ve thought that if the Chief liked them so much he’d grow a whole forest of them.”

M’Baku shrugged. “They’re not very tolerant of the cold, mangoes. They do alright in the underground spots, but then we have the problem of space. Better to grow a few well than grow many poorly, especially since they’re not a necessity.”

“I’m sure it makes for special memories for the kids. I remember having chocolate during the festivals in Birnin Zana. The vendors handed the ‘ugly’ pieces to the kids for free.” She chuckled at the memories. “One night, I ate so much that I made myself sick.”

M’Baku chuckled with her. “Not a half bad way to get sick, though.”

“I disagree. Chocolate does not taste nearly as good the second time around.”

M’Baku winced as he laughed. “I’ll agree to that.”

Okoye walked with M’Baku through the square, extremely conscious of the looks they --she--was getting for the rest of the Jabari. “I can’t help but feel that I stick out here.”

M’Baku took her hand in his. “Any outsider would stick out up here.”

“Yes, but not any outsider would walk hand in hand with the Chief. And not any outsider would come to a festival.”

M’Baku kissed her temple. “You’re overthinking things.”

Okoye gave him a serious look. “And what happens when your uncle catches wind of my visits to the Jabari land?”

“Then he can go fuck himself.”

“My Chief!” A tall man with dreads, dressed in the usual leathers and furs, walked up to M’Baku, smiling broadly.

M’Baku grinned back and let go of Okoye’s hand long enough to pull the man into a hug. “My love, this is my friend O’Chenga. He’s the leader of the river villages in our territory. O’Chenga, this is--”

“General Okoye of the Dora Milaje, we know.” O’Chenga smiled at her. “Dewani’s been making introductions through the crowd. She said that you’re the best warrior in all of Wakanda and --to quote her-- ‘yes, I’m including my brother, don’t be stupid.’”

M’Baku rolled his eyes. “She lives to annoy me.”

“Relax, she only said that to me.”

“What else did she say?” Okoye asked.

O’Chenga’s mood turned more serious. “She said that you stopped F’Tendi dead in his tracks and leveled a spear at him. That you helped her through a panic attack during the Harvest Moon festival.”

“She’s a remarkable young woman. What she’s gone through at the hands of her uncle is tragic.”

“Yeah, she is.” O’Chenga grinned at Okoye. “So, what’s someone like you doing with a doofus like this?”

“Really? This? This is how you treat your Chief?”

“No, this is how I treat my best friend of twenty years.”

Okoye smirked at the two’s antics. “He makes me laugh.”

O’Chenga flashed a snarky grin at M’Baku. “Why is it every girl you’ve ever been with says that first?”

“Because I have a fantastic sense of humor and don’t go after shallow girls.”

“Brother, the only way you get girls is if you go after the deep ones. Don’t play with me.”

M’Baku swatted playfully at O’Chenga. “Enough of you, disrespecting me!”

Okoye shook her head, chuckling. “You two are ridiculous.”

“Don’t let this guy fool you,” O’Chenga said, pointing at M’Baku. “He plays tough, but he’s really just a big marshmallow.”

Okoye smiled softly up at M’Baku and took his hand hers. “That’s the impression I got.”

O’Chenga nodded, grinning. “Smart woman. You’ll need that with him. Nice meeting you.”

“And you.”

M’Baku kissed her cheek as O’Chenga strode away from them. “Ignore him. He’s full of shit.”

“Oh, so I’m not a smart woman?”

M’Baku rolled his eyes she laughed. “You’re as bad as he is.”

“Isn’t that why you like me?”

M’Baku smiled down at her softly. “Yeah.”

Okoye smiled back and let her eyelids flutter shut as M’Baku leaned down and kissed her.

He tasted like mangoes.


 

 

Day Fifteen of Vacation.

Okoye sucked in a breath as she felt M’Baku’s lips press against hers. “I’m starting to think you like waking me with kisses.”

“You’d be correct in that assumption.” M’Baku let out a contented hum and pulled her against his chest. “I have some meetings today, but I have something planned for tonight. Something special.”

“Mm, and what’s that?” Okoye asked as she pressed sleepy kisses against his skin.

“How’d you like to have dinner with me?”

“We’ve been having dinner together each night I’ve been here.”

“I meant something special. We’re almost at the end of your time here.”

“I’ve got a few more days left.”

“I know, but I already have plans for those days.”

“Anything good?”

“Most of them involve this room, especially this bed.”

“Sounds like fun.” Okoye tilted her head up so she could see his face. “If you want to dinner tonight, that’s fine. I’ll make sure I dress for the occasion.”


 

 

She took her time getting ready. She showered a couple hours before the dinner was set, tied a robe around her waist when she was done, and started the process of doing her make up.

Make up, for a long time, had been a deep source of comfort to her. She didn’t come from much, had spent a lot of time on the streets of Birnin Zana, a lot of time with nothing to her name. As a young recruit of the Dora Milaje, learning to apply and use make up had been a way to distance herself from her meager past. A way to make herself look glamorous and wealthy, even when she was hoarding paychecks so she could find her own place.

Okoye hummed some pop song Shuri was always playing in her lab as she started putting on her foundation, blending the edges seamlessly around her ears, neck, and scalp tattoos.

Her mind flashed back to the day of the explosion.

She was younger than W’Kabi by a bit, so she didn’t remember much more than a loud bang and a flash of fire. By the end of it, she’d lost her parents and everything they’d had. 

Unfortunately, unlike W’Kabi, she hadn’t had any extended family to take her in. While Wakanda’s child care system was good, it hadn’t been as strong back then. She’d slipped through the cracks and taken to the streets of Birnin Zana with a few other kids.

Okoye hummed along with the music on her kimoyo beads as she started working on her eyeshadow.

She’d been running the streets with her group when they’d spotted a wealthy couple walking through the market. She hadn’t seen the Dora Milaje guards and assumed it was an easy target.

Admittedly, she managed to lift King T’Chaka’s wallet before one of the guards had caught her, which was pretty impressive in and of itself.

Okoye braced herself against the sink and started working on her eyeliner with an expert hand.

Back then, she’d thanked Bast from tails to whiskers that the King had only smiled at her, complimented her on her skills, and suggested that they put her in the Dora Milaje program where her skills ‘would be in safer hands.’

She hadn’t thought anything of it since then, too grateful for the three free meals every day, consistent place to sleep and bathe, and place to sleep each night. To grateful for the job, the purpose in life, the benefits that came with being a Dora Milaje soldier.

No, she hadn’t thought anything of it since then, but now...

Okoye paused and checked to make sure the wings on her eyeliner were even. Satisfied with her work, she dug through her makeup bag for her contour and highlight pans.

Back then, she would’ve been about T’Challa’s age.

About N’Jadaka’s age.

It would’ve been past the day that T’Chaka had killed N’Jobu.

Perhaps the King had seen a child close to his son’s age, close to the age of the nephew he had abandoned, and tried to provide for her out of a sense of transferred guilt.

Perhaps he knew her from the files on the explosion caused by Klaue, knew that he hadn’t been able to recover all of the vibranium gathered up by N’Jobu, and blamed himself for what had happened to her.

Perhaps...

Perhaps a lot of things, Okoye thought as she carefully applied her favorite red lipstick. She rubbed her lips together to spread the product around, then popped them with a smack. Perhaps he took you under his wing to ease his conscience. Perhaps he did it because he was a generous, big-hearted man. You’ll never know for sure, so there’s no sense in thinking in circles about it. Satisfied with her make up, she walked out of the bathroom.

Her dress --the black one she wore when she was acting as security for trips outside of Wakanda--was laid out on M’Baku’s bed, along with her favorite pair of black pumps and the nicest set of lingerie she owned.

When she’d been packing her bags, she’d debated over bringing them at all. Now, with a surprise dinner on the books, she was glad she had.

She took her time getting dressed, relishing the fact that she was having what promised to be a very nice dinner with M’Baku and that he had no idea what she was about to spring on him.

She had just finished zipping up her dress when there was a knock on the door. “Come in.”

The door swung open and Dewani popped her head in. “Dang, you look nice.”

Okoye smiled at her as she put her shoes on. “Thanks. I take it dinner’s ready.”

“Yupp. M’Baku asked me to come get you. He might just faint when he sees you, though.”

“That’s the idea.” She followed Dewani down the hall and to the right. “He’s in the library?”

“He says you like this spot. He wanted to do things here.” Dewani stopped and motioned to the open door. “This is where I stop. Go have fun being gross with my brother.”

Okoye rolled her eyes good naturedly and hugged Dewani quickly. “It’s been good seeing you.”

Dewani wrapped her arms around her waist before she stepped back. “It’s been good seeing you too. I wish you could stay. M’Baku gets super mopey when you’re not around.”

Okoye chuckled. “It’ll only be for a few weeks, just until the next council meeting.”

“Yeah, but I’m the one that has to take care of his mopey ass until then.” Dewani started walking down the hall. “Goodnight, Okoye.”

“Goodnight.” Okoye took a minute to straighten her dress, then opened the door to the library.

M’Baku was standing at the window, watching the sun set. “I was beginning to think you weren’t going to come in.”

“I was just saying goodnight to your sister.”

M’Baku turned around, an easy smile on his face, but his expression snapped as soon as he saw her. “What are you wearing?”

Okoye smirked as she walked towards him slowly. “I thought you liked this dress.”

“I do,” M’Baku growled as he closed the distance between them in seconds. “I really do.”

Okoye sucked in a breath as M’Baku pulled her into his embrace and kissed her. Hard. She let him have his way for a few minutes before she broke away, pushing at his chest with her index finger. “I believe you promised me dinner first?”

“Temptress,” M’Baku hissed in her ear, hands tight on her waist.

Okoye rolled up on her toes, aided by her heels, and whispered, “You don’t know the half of it.”


 

 

Okoye sighed contentedly as she set down her bowl. “I’ll admit, vegetarian dishes are starting to grow on me.”

“That’s because we do it properly. I’ve seen what your place has to offer --soy this and tofu that. Nasty."

They were seated in front of the fireplace, on a soft linen blanket and thick cushions. M’Baku had served her dish after dish of Jabari staples, showing off the best food the tribe had to offer. Not one salad or cut of plain tofu in sight.

M’Baku leaned over and kissed her. “Let me get dessert.”

Okoye watched him, sipping at a glass of wine. “And here I thought you’d say that I was dessert.”

M’Baku shot her an impassioned look. “Would you like to be dessert?”

Okoye smirked back at him. “I’d like to have whatever you have in those bowls.”

M’Baku shook his head, laughing as he carried the bowls over and sat down next to her. “I should’ve known you’d be trouble.”

“Yes, you should have.” Okoye grinned when she saw the bowls were full of mango ice cream. “I thought you only had this during festivals.”

“There’s always a little left over.”

Okoye loaded up her spoon. “Lucky me.”

M’Baku smiled at her before he filled his own spoon. “I’m going to miss you.”

“I’m going to miss you, too.”

M’Baku nudged her shoulder. “So, when do I get to come and visit you?”

Okoye tapped her spoon against her bowl as she mulled the idea over. “Wakanda’s New Year will be coming in a month. The main workers get mandatory time off for that. How about then?”

“I’ll check my schedule. I’d need to find a place for Dewani to stay.”

“I’m sure you could twist the Princess’s arm into letting her stay at the palace.”

“I’m not worried about the Princess. I’m worried about the King and Queen Mother.”

“You’ve seen the Princess when she puts her mind to something. Do you think she’ll be stoppable once you put the idea in her head?”

M’Baku chuckled and pointed his spoon at her. “You’re devious.”

“You have to be to survive working on the Dora Milaje. Just a little.”

M’Baku shook his head and kissed her shoulder. “I love you so much.”

Okoye beamed at him. “I love you too.” She set her bowl on the blanket. “And, as it happens, I’m done with my dessert.”

M’Baku expression went from love struck to ravenous within a heartbeat. “Are you?”

“Yes... although, I’d like a different seat before we get started.”

M’Baku raised an eyebrow. “Where’d you like to sit?”

Okoye ran her thumb over his bottom lip. “Is this spot taken?”

M’Baku let out a growl and surged forward to capture her lips with his. “It’s always open for you.”

Okoye let out a breathy laugh as M’Baku nipped and licked his way down her neck, then gripped his shoulders as he stood, taking her into his arms. “Are we going somewhere?”

“As much as I want you right here, right now, Dewani would kill me if she found out I fucked you in here.”

Okoye smirked as M’Baku carried out of the library. “Well, can’t have that, can we?”


 

 

Present Time.

M’Baku pressed his forehead against hers. “Promise you’ll stay in touch?”

Okoye gave him a confused smile. “Why wouldn’t I be?” She let out a startled laugh when she realized he had tears in his eyes. “Your sister wasn’t kidding; you do get mopey --my love,” she placed her hands on his cheeks, “it won’t be forever. Here.” She pulled a kimoyo bead off her wrist and held it out to M’Baku. “We can talk through this. You’ll be able to see me, hear me--”

“But it won’t be you,” M’Baku said as he pocketed the bead. “Just an image.”

Okoye hugged him tightly. “And, when you come down for the preparations for the New Year, it won’t be an image. It’ll be me.”

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were itching to leave.”

“I would never be --M’Baku, what has you like this? Why are you so upset?”

M’Baku gazed down at her sadly. “I’ve had the privilege of waking up next to you for eighteen days... and I really want that I to be every day, from here on out.”

“Well, I can’t promise for ‘here.’ As for ‘on out,’ I do have to step down from the position of General eventually. The job’s highly physical; I’ll age out of it. Once that passes... I don’t see why you waking up next to me can’t be every day.”

M’Baku stared at her, awestruck. “Are... are you serious?”

Okoye smiled softly at him. “Obviously, we’ll have to revisit it then, make sure it’s still what we both want, but... yes. I’m serious.”

M’Baku drew in a shaky breath, then leaned down and kissed her passionately. “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

M’Baku sighed heavily, kissed her one last time, and stepped back, letting her go. “When will I hear from you next?”

“I’ll call you in two days. Dinner time.” She kissed him one last time, then --reluctantly--stepped onto her ship.

It was a couple hours back to Birnin Zana, and she wasn’t making things move faster by lingering here.


 

 

Ayo greeted her on the landing platform outside the palace, dressed in regular clothes. “General.”

Okoye nodded back. “Commander.”

Ayo smirked --as much as she smirked. “I’m surprised to see you can walk.”

Okoye narrowed her eyes at her friend. “Just what are you implying, Commander?”

“Nothing that didn’t happen, General.”

Okoye snorted and slung her arms over Ayo’s shoulders. “It was hard to leave,” she admitted.

Ayo was quiet for a moment, then slid her arm around Okoye’s waist. “That’s a good sign.”

Okoye sighed. “I know. Doesn’t make it any easier.”

“We missed you here.”

“I missed you all, too.” Okoye walked with Ayo into the palace, trying not to mourn.

It was time to become a stone again.

Chapter Text

The currents of the river will never be truly predictable, my dears. There will be parts that barely move, and you will feel as though the next bend is decades away. There will be parts that are so fast and rough that you will feel like you’re drowning.

 Bast provides for all those who serve her faithfully. She will ensure that a placid stretch follows a rough bend, and that a swift turn follows the spans of plodding water.

Just because Bast provides for those who serve her doesn’t mean that there won’t be periods of struggle, however. There will be times when the river will almost run dry, and there will be times when the waters are so rough that they risk washing everything away.

 When the latter happens, it is important to find something to anchor yourself to and hold fast. Remember, my dears, this stretch of the river  will not last forever.


 

Sun streamed the massive window in the throne room. The sky was a flawless shade of blue, without a single stray cloud in the sky. 

Okoye smiled internally. The day was going flawlessly. She’d trained with Ayo, run drills with the other Dora Milaje, and managed to get half her work done before the Council meeting. If everything ran smoothly, she could finish the rest of her work and get started on the preparations for the New Year celebration early.

She caught M’Baku’s eye across the room and smiled slightly. Not to mention freeing up my evening for… other things.

“I’m calling this meeting to order,” T’Challa said as he sat down on the throne, bringing the room to silence. “As you all well know, we’re here today to discuss the reintegration of the Border Tribe.”

The Merchant tribe leader let out hiss of discontent. “The people of the Border Tribe chose to serve a usurper even when they were aware of your survival. They have no business being reintegrated.”

“I understand that there’s some unease over the subject, but I hardly believe that an entire tribe deserves punishment via the actions of a few soldiers,” T’Challa said. “And, more to the point, we have the New Year celebrations coming up soon. After the disaster with M’Kobu during the Harvest Moon festival --and several other infractions that General Okoye informed me of--it’s more than clear that we need the Border tribe, if only to keep things stable from a security standpoint. A broken Wakanda is a vulnerable Wakanda. Now, with that said, reintegration does involve appointing a new Chief of Security. While we have several candidates to choose from, the Border tribe has sent a man that they believe will fill the role best.” He motioned for the doors to be opened.

Okoye turned her head and nearly fell out of her chair. No… it can’t be… the King would never!

M’Baku let out a disbelieving laugh. “You can’t be serious.”

W’Kabi walked up to the circle of chairs that surrounded the throne and bowed. “My King.”


 

Okoye sprinted through the halls of the palace, pushing herself as fast as she could. It can’t be. It can’t be. It can’t be. It can’t be! 

As soon as the meeting was over, she’d left the throne room with as much poise and control she could muster. Once she knew she wouldn’t be seen, she’d taken off.

She dodged an attendant and skidded to the side, clearing a descending flight of stairs with a single jump.

It can’t be. It can’t be. It can’t be!

Her boots pounded against the polished stone floor, echoing like gunshots.

It can’t be. It can’t be!

She rounded a corner hard, barely avoiding careening into a group of servants.

It can’t--

“Ayo!” Okoye shouted. She barrelled down the hall, target of her search now in her sight.

Ayo’s head whipped up, and she braced herself as her boss shot towards her. “What, in Bast’s name--”

Okoye slowed down as much as she could so she didn’t knock Ayo. “It’s W’Kabi! The Border tribe sent W’Kabi to fill the position of Security Chief!”

Ayo gripped Okoye by her arms. “Okay, breathe. Just because he’s back doesn’t mean he’s taking the spot. Highest level of experience gets picked first --you know that!”

“The King was listening to him, Ayo!” Okoye snapped. “I know what his face looks like when he’s actually considering something! He’s actually thinking about it!”

“Do you honestly think the King would appoint someone who almost inadvertently caused the death of his sister?”

“W’Kabi didn’t know N’Jadaka would do any of that! Besides, you know how forgiving the Udakus are! You tell me!”

It was the truth of the situation. The Udakus --T’Challa in particular--could find good in anyone. Sometimes, it came in handy --like dealing with orphans who tried to lift the King’s wallet. 

Other times… not as much.

“Nakia will knock sense into him,” Ayo said quietly. “She’ll have the King seeing sense. Besides, there are plenty of War Dog and former Dora Milaje candidates that could fill the position just fine. The King has a deep pool to pick from --he just needs to be reminded of that.”

“Okoye.”

Okoye turned around to see M’Baku jogging up to them. “What are you doing here?”

“You disappeared after the Council meeting. I figured you’d be upset, so I came to find you.” He ran his hand up and down Okoye’s back. “Are you okay?”

Okoye sighed deeply. “I’m fine. As fine as I can be. Just a little... shocked. I wasn’t expecting to see him.”

M’Baku frowned. “I doubt the King even knew who the Border tribe sent. I can’t imagine he’d let W’Kabi get within fifty feet of the palace, not after what happened.”

Okoye shook her head. “No, he definitely knew.”

“My love, you can’t be sure.”

“Yes, I can be sure, because I know the fucking protocol!” Okoye smacked her hands together. “The King always knows who’s coming into his throne room, along with the Honor guards. Always.”

Ayo nodded. “There’s no way he wouldn’t have known.”

M’Baku’s expression darkened. “Why wouldn’t he warn you?”

Okoye ran her hands over her face. “I don’t know. I’m not a mind reader.”

“No, but he should’ve--”

“I haven’t talked to him about W’Kabi, my love,” Okoye said, gently cutting M’Baku off before he could start ranting. “I doubt the King knows how I feel.”

“Well, he should’ve asked.”

“I don’t like to mix my work and personal lives.”

Ayo shrugged. “It’s not uncommon for things like this to go over the occasional head. Sometimes the person on top forgets that the people under them have personal lives that make for messy connections. Once Nakia gets a hold of the King, everything will be straightened out.”

“Maybe, but you have to tell the King. Your position deserves to be heard.”

Okoye shook her head. “I don’t want to make a fuss. W’Kabi was the King’s friend for fifteen years. I don’t grudge him for wanting to keep that friendship. Besides, I’ll have to work with people I don’t like or have had issues with; it’s inevitable.”

M’Baku crossed his arms over his chest, expression stormy. “This is wrong. You shouldn’t have to repress your feelings because the King won’t take notice of your needs.”

“This is life, my love,” Okoye said, gentle but firm. “We have to do things we don’t like on occasions. Besides, this isn’t the King not noticing my needs. It’s me keeping my work and personal lives separate.”

“It’s not like W’Kabi can’t do the job, either,” Ayo added. “He was the previous Chief of Security. It’ll be easier to work with someone who already knows the system than indoctrinate someone new.”

“Yes, and the last thing I need is to indoctrinate someone new before a major celebration. We all saw how well that went during the Harvest Moon festival.” Okoye patted M’Baku’s arm. “I have some work I need to do. I’ll see you tonight?”

M’Baku let out a disgruntled sigh, but kissed her on the cheek anyway. “Of course.”

Ayo narrowed her eyes at M’Baku as he walked away. “Do you think he’ll talk to the King about W’Kabi?”

Okoye shook her head. “No. He wouldn’t pull the rug out from under me like that.”


 

She was working in her office, knee deep in duty rosters and vacation scheduling for the New Year celebration when it happened. 

Okoye didn’t look up when someone knocked on the door. “Come in.”

There was the sound of the door opening and closing and footsteps against the carpeted floor. “General.”

Okoye looked up with a start and saw T’Challa standing in front of her, a small, amused smile on his face. “My King.” She stood and bowed. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

“Sorry, I should’ve called ahead,” he said as he sat in a seat opposite of hers. “Have a caught you at a bad time?”

“No.” Okoye eyed him warily as she sat down. “What can I do for you, my King?”

“It’s about W’Kabi. It’s come to my attention that you disapprove of his potential reinstatement as Chief of Security.”

Okoye felt her blood run cold. He didn’t. “And how did you hear about this, my King?” she asked, even though she already knew the answer.

“Chief M’Baku pulled me aside earlier. He was very adamant that you were upset over the situation, and that I was wronging you by not consulting you in the first place.”

Okoye clenched her teeth together. He did. He really fucking did. “I’m sorry to do this, My King, but there’s some urgent business that I need to handle. Immediately.”

T’Challa gave her an understanding smile and nodded. “Of course. But don’t think that this conversation is over, General. I do want to know your thoughts on the matter.”

“Yes, My King.” She bowed curtly and stormed out of her office. I’m going to kill him.


 

M’Baku was in the garden with Dewani when she found him. 

Dewani took one look at Okoye, let out a laugh, and started walking away. “She’s going to destroy your ass. Do whatever you have to do, Okoye!”

M’Baku frowned down at her, confusion evident in his face. “My love, what is it?”

Okoye crossed her arms over her chest, trying to reel in her temper. “Did you talk to the King about my frustrations with W’Kabi?”

“Yes. You were upset, and your position deserves consideration.”

Okoye narrowed her eyes at him. “Did I ask you to talk to the King?”

“Why would you not talk to the King? Why would you suffer silently?”

“It doesn’t matter why I would or wouldn’t do something, M’Baku! What matters is that it’s my choice to talk or not talk to the King! It’s my emotions! I don’t have to talk about them if I don’t want to!”

“Well, maybe I don’t feel comfortable with the concept of you working with your ex-lover.”

“Then talk to the King about your feelings!” Okoye snapped. “I’m an adult! I can handle my own problems!”

“Not talking about your problems isn’t handling them, Okoye!” M’Baku exclaimed. “Hiding your head in the sand isn’t a solution!”

“I’m not hiding my head in the sand!”

“Yes, you are! You wouldn’t talk to the King about the security issues during the Harvest Moon festival, and you won’t talk to him about this!”

Okoye glared up at him. “These are two completely different issues! And, for your information, I did talk to the King during the festival! Several times! We had to make the best of a bad situation!”

“Well, you shouldn’t keep quiet about things that bother you. It’s not healthy!”

“And you shouldn’t have gone behind my back! You didn’t ask me if I was okay with you talking to the King, and you didn’t even have the decency to tell me you told him! I found out from the King when he came to my office to talk to me about W’Kabi! Do you have any idea how nerve-racking that was? How humiliated I was?”

M’Baku rubbed his temples. “Okoye, I’m sorry. I thought I was helping.”

“No, M’Baku, you went off and took charge of things because you thought you knew best.” Before M’Baku could respond, she turned around and walked away. “I need to handle this mess you made.”

“Okoye--”

“Leave me alone, M’Baku. I want space right now.” She walked out of the garden, leaving M’Baku alone.


 

Okoye wiped tears off her cheeks as she walked through the back halls of the palace. I can’t believe he betrayed my trust like that. 

She’d been counting on having M’Baku’s warmth and love to lean on during the turmoil of appointing a new Security Chief, especially once she realized W’Kabi was back in the mix. She’d been counting on being able to go to him, being able to vent at him and lean on him throughout the ordeal.

He meant well, the reasonable voice in her head whispered. His execution was shit, but he meant well.

She needed to find T’Challa, clear everything up, and then she needed to find M’Baku and try to work things out.

I wish I hadn’t stormed off, Okoye thought as she tried to calm her breathing. I could really use M’Baku’s confidence right now.

“Okoye.”

Okoye turned around and let out a groan of exhaustion when she saw W’Kabi striding towards her. “What the hell do you want? And make it fast. I need to speak with the King.”

“What’s this I heard about you and Chief M’Baku? Are you seeing him?”

Okoye rolled her eyes. “I don’t remember needing your permission to have a love life, W’Kabi.”

“Well, the last I checked, we were together.”

You’ve got to be kidding me. “You betrayed the King. You betrayed me. Why would we still be together?”

“I did what was right for Wakanda!”

“No, you didn’t! Do you have any idea what Killmonger’s ideations have done for Wakanda’s reputation?”

W’Kabi sneered at her. “I backed a man that killed Klaue. He did what T’Challa couldn’t. He gave my parents the justice they deserved. Do you even care about that?”

Okoye set her shoulders. “That explosion took my parents from me, too. You had other family to care for you. I had nothing. Did you ever think about that?” At W’Kabi’s silence, she shook her head. “No, I know you didn’t think anything about that. You didn’t spare me a second glance when you shepherded that maniac into the throne room.”

“I did what I did for you! For us! For Wakanda!”

“How could you do something for me if you never asked me how I felt about it or what I wanted?” Okoye shouted.

“T’Challa failed you too, when he didn’t capture Klaue.”

Okoye let out a groan of frustration. “He had him.”

“And he lost-- 

“No, he had Klaue. Before we took him into custody. T’Challa was ready to kill him.”

“See! He couldn’t even follow through--”

stopped him.”

W’Kabi stared at her, mouth hanging open in shock. “You what? Why?”

“I stopped him because there was no less than twenty cameras on him. I stopped him because Wakanda didn’t need the reputation of murder on her head. I stopped him because it was the right thing to do.”

W’Kabi shook his head, contempt evident on his face. “You would prevent the man who killed our parents from being served justice.”

Okoye clenched her hands into fists to hide the fact that they were trembling. “That’s not fair and you know it.”

“On the contrary, it’s completely fair. You accuse me of not thinking of you when I backed N’Jadaka. Did you think of all those who suffered from Klaue’s actions when you saved him from a rightful death?”

“I didn’t save him!” Okoye snapped. “I prevented the King from making a horrible mistake in front of the watching world! I didn’t know what N’Jadaka had planned! I thought we’d be able to bring Klaue back, try him, and execute him! That would’ve been a rightful death!”

“Oh, so you can blame me for everything that happened--”

“That’s not what I’m doing!” Forget it, you’re arguing with a wall. Okoye waved her hand at him and turned away. “Why am I even wasting my time? I have work to do!”

“No!” W’Kabi lunged forward and grabbed her arm. “You still haven’t answered my question!”

Okoye tore her arm out of his grasp. “What question? What could you possibly need an answer to?”

The sound of footsteps echoed into the hallway before Ayo rounded the corner, followed closely by M’Baku. “Take two steps back from her, W’Kabi.”

W’Kabi sighed and stepped back twice. “What about us?”

He’s crazy. He’s actually crazy. “There is no us,” Okoye spat out. “You threw that away when you sided with the usurper.”

Ayo stepped between the two of them before W’Kabi could respond. “The King is waiting for you. He asked me to come find you.”

“Don’t worry. We’re done here,” Okoye said coldly.

Ayo put her arm around Okoye and shot one last glare at W’Kabi. “I’ll walk you there.”

Okoye stopped next to M’Baku and took his hand in hers. “Will I see you tonight? Under the tree?”

M’Baku squeezed her hand. “Of course.”


 

T’Challa was standing at the balcony that overlooked the garden, dressed down in a pair of black pants and a gold shirt with green, orange, and black patterns on it 

Okoye stared at her King’s back. As far as she could tell, he hadn’t noticed her yet. Technically, she could leave and pretend that all of this had never happened.

It was tempting.

Unbidden, M’Baku’s words about her hiding from the problem flashed into her mind. Don’t prove him right. Okoye steeled herself, walked up to T’Challa, and bowed. “My King.”

T’Challa smiled knowingly at her. “General.”

“My apologies for being late. I was…  unavoidably detained.”

“No apology necessary. Ayo already filled me in.” T’Challa grimaced as she joined him at the railing. “I’m sorry. I told W’Kabi to leave you alone.”

“And you thought that’d work?” Okoye stared down at the gardens. “I’m sorry M’Baku bothered you. I didn’t ask him to.”

“You don’t have to apologize for him. In fact, he’s already apologized for his ‘undue aggression.” T’Challa smirked. “He did say, however, that he stood by what he said.”

“Saw that coming.”

“This does seem to be a problem between us, though. You never hesitate to give your opinions over political or security matters, but when it comes to personal frustrations you’re markedly silent. Why is that?”

Here we go. “I prefer to keep my personal and work lives separate, my King. It’s a habit that’s served me well for many years, and I don’t intend on stopping it now.”

T’Challa frowned. “So, what do we do in moments like this?”

Okoye shrugged. “It would’ve helped to know W’Kabi was the candidate from the Border tribe. That probably would’ve let us side step all of this.”

T’Challa grimaced. “About that... Chief M’Baku made his displeasure over my choice extremely evident--”

Okoye rolled her eyes. “He’s housebroken, I promise.”

“And he was right. I dropped the ball, and I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine, my King. Water under the bridge.”

“Alright.” T’Challa studied her for a moment. “What about W’Kabi? What do you think of him as a candidate?”

“I don’t want him back,” Okoye said. “Personal reasons aside, I don’t think he’d be a good fit.”

“And why is that?”

“Well, I don’t think the Council would be too receptive to it. I doubt M’Baku would be receptive, either.”

“M’Baku isn’t receptive to most things,” T’Challa muttered.

“I also think the fact that he backed a man that almost killed you, killed one of my women, killed Zuri, and almost killed your sister is worth taking some pause, my King,” Okoye added. “I know he’s an old friend of yours, but he made a grievous mistake. He deserves to feel the consequences of that.”

T’Challa nodded. “I’m not saying this to be smart, but Nakia already covered everything you’ve said.”

Okoye smirked. “Ayo figured Nakia would handle things.”

T’Challa stared at her. “And what about your personal reasons?”

Okoye swallowed hard. “There’s nothing between us anymore, my King. W’Kabi threw that away when he backed N’Jadaka.” And betrayed me, forcing me to betray the people I care about most.

T’Challa nodded after a moment. “Okay. I’m sorry it had to happen that way.”

“Me too.”


 

Okoye stopped when she saw M’Baku sitting under the tree --the same tree they’d first met under--hunched over and staring at his hands 

In the dim lighting of the stars and the lamps that lit the garden at night, he looked less like a man and more like a collection of shadows.

Okoye stepped forward. “I think this is the first time you’ve beaten me here.”

“Never underestimate the prowess of the Jabari. M’Baku stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her. “Okoye, I’m so, so sorry.”

Okoye wrapped her arms around his neck. “My love, it’s okay, you meant well.”

“Yes, but you were right. I didn’t think about you, and I didn’t respect your privacy.”

Okoye pressed her lips against his temple. “You meant well. You were thinking of me, just misdirected.”

M’Baku squeezed her against his chest. “Still, I betrayed your trust. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay, I forgive you.”

M’Baku pressed his forehead against hers. “Are we okay?”

“Of course. And I’m sorry for storming off earlier. We should’ve worked things out right then and there.”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.” She leaned forward to kiss him, but was distracted by the sound of pounding footsteps against the stone paved walkway that lined the gardens. Okoye jerked her head up just in time to see a shadowy figure darting out of the garden and a flash of a blue basotho blanket.

“Who was that?” M’Baku asked, hands tense on her waist.

“No one important,” Okoye murmured. She turned her head back and kissed M’Baku.

“I want to make this up to you,” M’Baku breathed against her lips. “Let me take you back to bed tonight.”

“I have work tomorrow,” Okoye laughed. “And don’t say that you won’t keep me up too late. You know as well as I do that we rarely got to bed before two in the morning during my vacation.”

“Fine.” M’Baku kissed her shoulder. “I still want to make it up to you.”

“Have breakfast with me tomorrow. My office at nine.”

“If that’s what you want.” He kissed her again. “I love you so much.”

“I love you too.”


 

Okoye sighed as she walked towards the ship on the landing platform. “What does he want?”

Aneka looked back at W’Kabi, who was standing in front of the ship. “He said he wanted to ‘clear the air’ before he left. Make sure that the two of you were on the right terms.”

Okoye rolled her eyes. “For Bast’s sake-- fine. Stay here, just in case.” She stepped past Aneka. “Make this quick. I have an appointment this morning.”

W’Kabi sighed. “I fucked things, didn’t I?”

Okoye nodded. “Yes. You did.” She looked up at the sound of the palace doors sliding open and saw M’Baku striding towards them. She held up her hand, motioning for him to stop.

M’Baku stopped, but didn’t take his eyes off W’Kabi as he crossed his arms over his chest.

“You really love him, don’t you?”

Okoye turned around, keeping her face neutral. “Yes. I do.”

W’Kabi swallowed hard. “I loved you. More than anything.”

Okoye kept her face neutral. “Not enough. Not enough to ask me how I felt about N’Jadaka or your backing him.”

W’Kabi grimaced. “I made a mistake. I hope you can forgive me for it.”

Okoye stared at the man she had once loved, feeling colder than she had in a long time. “Goodbye, W’Kabi.” She nodded at Aneka. “Send him off.” Without one more glance at her ex-lover, she turned and walked away, towards M’Baku.

“What did he want?” M’Baku asked as the ship took off.

“To talk,” Okoye said as she kissed M’Baku’s cheek, warmth flooding back into her body.

“What did you say?”

“Goodbye.” She nudged his arm. “Come on, let’s get breakfast. I’m hungry.”

Chapter Text

Rebirth is an essential mindset of life. As time passes, the river changes. The same water never flows through more than once. Plants and fish die and are replaced by others. Sometimes, the river changes its banks, just because it wants to.

You won’t be a Dora Milaje forever. There will come a time when the women you lead will take your place, and you will step into a different role --one of a teacher, a mentor, and a guide.

Take time in your life to step back and look at everything. Be reborn into a newer, wiser, kinder version of yourself.


 

“I have a question.”

“What?”

Okoye smiled slightly as she watched Dewani and Shuri play a game on Shuri’s tablet. They were in the garden, settled by one of the many streams that crisscrossed the grounds.

“The Jabari just celebrated the arrival of Spring. Your Harvest Moon festival a little over a month ago. Now, you’re celebrating the New Year, which I’m told is synonymous with Spring for you. How, exactly, does your calendar work?”

Shuri laughed. “Well, we don’t celebrate the same holidays. For you, Spring is more about the beginning of the thaw, and you celebrate the Harvest when the growing season is over. For us, we celebrate the Harvest a month or so before the New Year, as a way of giving thanks for a good year. We follow up with the New Year festival as our Spring as a way of looking at rebirth and a new year to conquer, a time to regroup and be with family.”

“Harvest is Fall. Rebirth is Spring. There’s a Winter in between those two.”

“We don’t get snow down here. Besides, with the vibranium, we outgrew the traditional growing seasons. We keep the traditional Spring for our New Year date, but that’s about it.”

Dewani shook her head. “No, clearly, summer is the New Year.”

“How is summer the New Year?”

“Everything melts away. New growth. Duh.”

Okoye chuckled quietly, then bowed as T’Challa walked into the garden with Nakia and M’Baku. “My King.”

“General. What are you two up to?”

Dewani looked up from where she had sprawled on the grass. “Debating over when the New Year should fall in the calendar.”

T’Challa frowned. “When do the Jabari hold their New Year celebration?”

“Beginning of Summer,” M’Baku said. “Why?”

“I would’ve thought that the Spring would’ve made sense for rebirth.”

“‘Spring’ just means it’s technically warm enough to plant. The snow doesn’t really melt away until Summer. Everything changes, marking the beginning of a New Year,” M’Baku explained with a casual shrug, as if to say ‘duh.’

“So that’s why you were willing to come visit for our celebration,” T’Challa said with a mildly annoyed expression. “We weren’t stepping in on any of your holidays.”

“No, I came to see the General. Obviously.”

Nakia patted T’Challa’s arm as Shuri and Dewani cackled in unison. “Come on. We should go get ready.”


 

Okoye looked up as Aneka stuck her head into her office. “Chief M’Baku is here. He says he wants to talk to you.”

Okoye smiled. “Send him in.”

M’Baku had to duck under the door frame as he entered her office. “Why are all your doors so small here?”

“Because they’re built for normal sized people, not behemoths.”

M’Baku chuckled. “I thought everyone was getting ready for the celebration, and here you are, working.”

Okoye shrugged, grinning. “I’m on duty tonight. I’m already dressed for the occasion. Besides, why sit and be idle when I can be productive?”

“Will I disrupt your productivity too much if I give you a kiss?”

“You? Be disruptive?” Okoye asked, standing and pulling him down to her by his shoulders. “Probably.” She sighed happily as he pressed his lips against hers, hand coming up to rest at the nape of her neck. “What brings you over here?”

“I just wanted to figure out what our plans are. I’m still staying with you, right?”

Okoye nodded as she sat back down. “We’ll have about twelve days together.”

M’Baku frowned. “I thought you had two weeks off.”

“Well, I need time to get my apartment together and make sure there’s enough food for two people.”

“Or, you could just take me home tonight. Guess which one I’d prefer.”

“I know which one you’d prefer, but I’d like to have a couple days to get everything tidied and stocked up.”

M’Baku held up his hands with an acquiescing smile. “Okay, okay. So, what will tonight be like?”

“Considerably less stressful than the Harvest Moon festival. The New Year celebration is more laid back since it’s more focused on family.”

M’Baku nodded. “Okay. Will you be seeing your family when you get off work?”

Okoye’s eyes widened. I’ve never told him. “I don’t know how this hasn’t come up before.”

“What hasn’t come up before?”

Okoye let out a startled laugh. “M’Baku, I’m an orphan. I don’t have any family.”

M’Baku’s eyes widened and he collapsed into the seat opposite hers. “What?”

“I don’t know how this never came up before! I wasn’t trying to keep it from you!”

“No, no, I trust that.” M’Baku sat back in his seat, shock evident on his face. “How did they die, if you don’t mind my asking?”

Okoye grimaced. “In the same explosion that took W’Kabi’s parents.”

"...Shit.”

Okoye nodded. “Yeah.”

“And you don’t have any other family?”

“Not that I know of. I slipped through the cracks of the childcare system and took to the streets with some other kids.”

“So, when you talked about throwing up chocolate after a festival--”

Okoye chuckled. “That’s when I was on the street. I got too excited and ate too much.” She pursed her lips together as she eyed the time, then the list of tasks she had to finish before the night was over. “Look, I’m happy to explain everything about my past to you, but I need to finish a few things before I take off time, and this is a topic that isn’t going to be wrapped up quickly.”

“Right. Sorry.” M’Baku stood and kissed her cheek. “I’ll see you tonight?”

“For a bit. Then, in a couple days, you’ll have me to yourself.”

"That sounds like heaven on earth.”

Okoye smiled up at him. “I was thinking the exact same thing.”


 

The streets of Birnin Zana were filled with people. The sounds of music, laughter, and dancing filled the air. Families walked together, picking out special treats from vendor stalls to celebrate the holiday with. Fireworks burst into the air, lighting up the night sky with flashes of yellow, blue, purple, and green.

Okoye walked next to the royal family as they meandered through the market, accompanied by Ayo and Aneka. To her right, M’Baku and Dewani walked with M’Baku’s guards quietly observing the excitement around them.

Several people bowed as T’Challa passed, though the adults and teenagers were wise enough to not press too close. Some of the younger children had to be restrained, but their excitement was often met with gentle smiles from the King and his family.

“I don’t see the point of separating the King from his people,” M’Baku said, only loud enough for her to hear.

Okoye thought back to the time she’d spent in the Jabari lands, to how M’Baku walked freely among his people, and shrugged carefully. “Different places. Different traditions.”

Dewani elbowed M’Baku in the side. “Be nice. We’re here to observe, not to criticize.”

M’Baku favored his sister with a small smile. “Fair enough.”

A young girl who looked to be about six darted away from her parents, bee-lining for the royal family.

Okoye stepped between the girl and the royal family, partly to stop her from smacking into Nakia, partly to help her parents catch her.

The girl skittered to a stop in front of Okoye and wrapped her arms around her leg. “Can I take my picture with you?”

T’Challa laughed as Okoye looked over at him. “If you’re fine with it, I don’t see why not.”

Okoye nodded and knelt down next to the girl as her older brother took a picture of them.

“I’m going to be in the Dora Milaje someday!” the girl exclaimed once the picture was taken.

Okoye grinned. “Are you?”

“Yes. I’m going to be the best warrior in all of Wakanda when I grow up!”

“I’m sure you will be.” She patted the girl’s shoulder and stood as the mother approached, murmuring apologies to the King and quickly ushering her daughter back to the rest of her family.

“You’re good with children,” M’Baku said as they resumed their stroll through the central market.

“You sound surprised,” Okoye said, her gaze never leaving the crowd.

“Not at all. Just endeared.”

“Dewani!” Shuri darted past Okoye and M’Baku, grabbed Dewani by the wrist, and started dragging the Jabari girl away from the group. “That’s one of the photo booths I was telling you about! Come on!”

Aneka --having drawn the short straw for ‘Shuri duty’ earlier--let out a strangled curse and took off after the two girls.

Okoye allowed herself a mirthful smile as she watched Shuri and Dewani pose for the camera.

For a large portion of the year, she’d watched the Princess struggle with the death of her father. Then, only a couple months earlier, she’d watch Dewani grapple with the same struggle when Olufemi passed away.

Old pain is reborn into new joy, Okoye thought as she watched Shuri and Dewani laugh together. Praise Bast that it is so.


 

She was walking through the back halls of the palace --dressed down in street clothes and headed for her apartment--when the sound of boots pounding against the stone floor hit her ears.

“Okoye!”

Okoye turned around to see Dewani running towards her. “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, sorry, I just wanted to catch you before you left.” Dewani slowed to a stop, panting slightly. “I wanted to give you this.”

Okoye eyed the red velvet pouch Dewani was holding out to her and opened it carefully.

A little black stone statue of Bast with another, slightly smaller panther under her arm. A little yellow heart was inset in the middle.

Dewani shifted from foot to foot. “My brother mentioned --only to me--that you really don’t have any family, and Shuri said that yellow was for sisters, and...” She motioned at the statue. “I thought... well, you’re kind of like a cool older sister to me, so...”

Okoye blinked back tears as she smiled and wrapped her arms around Dewani. “Thank you, Dewani.”

Dewani let out a relieved laugh when they parted. “I’m glad you like it. I was worried it might be too awkward.”

Okoye shook her head. “It’s very sweet of you. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” She jerked her head in the direction that she had come from. “I should get back before M’Baku realizes I’m gone. I kind of snuck out while he was in the shower.”

Okoye grinned. “Go. Stay out of trouble.” She watched Dewani dart back down the hall, then looked down at the little figurine in her hand. Old pain and new joy, indeed.


 

Okoye moved quietly around her apartment as she got her place set up for the next two weeks.

The New Year was always an awkward time for her. Without any real family to celebrate --and since being a Dora Milaje was a strong detachment from any tribe, even with family in the picture--she often spent her time off by herself, counting down the days until she could go back to work.

She’d tried spending one of the New Year celebrations with W’Kabi and his family, back when they’d been together. It hadn’t gone well.

Okoye pursed her lips together as she put the last load of laundry in her washer. But, then again, dropping someone into a group of people they don’t know and forgetting about them until you go to bed for the night isn’t always the best method of introducing people to each other.

It was one of the --many--things that separated W’Kabi from M’Baku. M’Baku had been eager to introduce her to his culture and his people, but he’d done so in a way that wasn’t aggressive or intimidating. He’d stayed with her during each of their outings, introduced her to his friends, and explained the different aspects of Jabari culture and heritage with patience and ease.

It had been a relief to be on the receiving end of, but it also put her in a bit of an awkward position.

She’d always been a bit disconnected from the culture of the Border tribe. Yes, she was Wakandan, and she’d always be deeply proud of that, but losing her parents and growing up in the Dora Milaje program hadn’t done much to connect her to her native tribe.

She wouldn’t be able to give M’Baku the experience he’d given her. It bothered her.

Relax, Okoye, she told herself. You overthinking things. She lifted her head up at a knock at the door and walked over to open it.

Ayo smirked at her, standing in front of Djabi and Aneka, and lifted a six pack of beer. “Still have time for old traditions?”

“Or is your man already here?” Aneka added, grinning.

Okoye rolled her eyes and stepped back so her friends could enter her apartment. “He won’t be here for another two days.”

“And then he’ll be here for a whole ten days,” Ayo added. “Your back will be non-functional.”

Okoye rolled her eyes as her friends snickered. “I am perfectly capable of managing him, thank you very much.” She grinned as the other three women cackled. “And we’re not talking about my sex life.”

“Why not?” Djabi asked. “You still haven’t told us about those eighteen days in the Jabari lands.”

Aneka smacked Djabi’s shoulder. “Just because you haven’t gotten laid in two years doesn’t mean the rest of us want to be scarred for life.”

Okoye shook her head, grinning as the two women smacked at each other. “Well, fortunately, there’s plenty to talk about aside from the sex.”


 

Okoye rubbed her hands over her face as Ayo cleared away the empty bottles. “I can do that.”

Ayo shook her head. “Host doesn’t clean up after. You know that.”

Okoye sighed. “Do you know what Aneka and Djabi were planning on doing after hanging out here?”

“Drinking and partying, most likely.”

Okoye shook her head. “Don’t you wish you were that young again?”

“No. I hated partying. You always made me go.”

“It was good for you. You’d have never left the training compound otherwise.”

“Yes, and I would’ve been plenty happy for it.”

Okoye chuckled and picked up the figurine Dewani had given her earlier. “I told M’Baku about my parents.”

Ayo stopped and looked at her, expression guarded. “How’d that go?”

“Well enough. He was shocked, but understanding.”

Ayo nodded at her hands. “What’s that?”

Okoye held out the statue to Ayo. “Dewani gave it to me before I left the palace.”

Ayo examined the statue. “Yellow. For sisters.”

“Yeah. She said she views me as an older sister.”

The corner of Ayo’s mouth lifted in a smile. “She’s a sweet girl. Have you gotten to watch her with Shuri?”

“A little. They’re cute together.”

“Ridiculously so. So, aside from wrecking your back, what’re you planning on doing with M’Baku while he’s here?”

Okoye rolled her eyes as Ayo snickered. “Why does everyone keep harping about that?”

“Because we’ve seen him, and we know what men his size are capable of.” Ayo studied her carefully. “You don’t have anything planned.”

Okoye slumped back against the couch and sighed. “I don’t. When I was up there, he introduced me to so much culture and so many people... I mean, you know how disconnected I am from the Border tribe culture, even with dating W’Kabi. The hell am I supposed to do?”

Ayo shrugged. “M’Baku is a man who loves knowledge and nature. We have libraries, museums, and nature reserves. Show him any of those and I’d bet he’d be happy.”

“That’s not a bad idea.” Okoye sipped at the last of her beer. “He has a habit of walking through the main square in the Jabari lands so he can know his people better, see them. I thought he’d like the market.”

“Sounds good.” Ayo smiled slightly. “He’s coming to visit you. Don’t forget that.”

Okoye nodded, walked Ayo to the door, and hugged her friend before she left. She closed the door, locked it, and sighed.

New Years had always been awkward for her. A reminder of the family she hadn’t grown up with.

Okoye looked at the bottle of beer from the case Ayo had brought, thought about the time she’d be spending with M’Baku, and squeezed the statue Dewani had given her in her hand. Maybe, this year, it’ll be less lonely.

Chapter Text

The life of a Dora Milaje is not an easy one, my loves. Even though you will be surrounded by your sisters in arms, you may often find yourselves lonely.

The unfortunate reality is that there are not many who can keep up with the constant shift from stone to human and back. You may even find that it wears on your families at times --common, but unfortunate.

While patience on your part will be necessary, keep a sharp eye for those who can take your different forms in stride. If you find them, do not let go of them if you don’t have to.

You will never truly know how rare they are.


 

It was a morning off like any other.

Sugary, (relatively) unhealthy breakfast food? Check.

Usual set of cartoons? Check.

Comfortable clothes? Check.

However, most mornings off didn’t leave her with a tight, tingling sense of anticipation in her stomach. Most mornings off didn’t have her at the edge of her seat, ears straining to pick up any sound in the hallway.

Most mornings didn’t contain two messages from Ayo, one with a reference to a good chiropractor and one recommending a good brand of lube.

Okoye had sent back a picture message of her flipping her best friend off.

She sighed, forced herself to relax onto her couch, and took another bite out of her breakfast pastry. Waiting at the edge of your seat won’t get him here any faster--

A knock sounded at the door, and Okoye shot out of her seat, stopped, and forced herself to walk to the door and open it at a calm, normal pace.

M’Baku grinned down at her, leaning against the door frame. “Does a certain General Okoye live here?”

Okoye grinned back. “No, but you can come in anyway.”

M’Baku laughed and leaned down to kiss her. “It’s good to see you my love. The last two days were agony without your company.”

Okoye ushered him into her apartment and closed the door. “My experience was the same. I’m so glad you’re here.”

“To think, we could’ve avoided all that agony if you’d just brought me back with you on the first night.”

Okoye rolled her eyes as she laughed. “I know you would’ve preferred that option, but I needed time to get my apartment into order. Try as I might, there is always something growing in my fridge every time I come back.”

M’Baku chuckled. “Nice.” He set down his bag and took a moment to survey her living space. “This is very different from how we style things in the Jabari lands.”

Okoye shrugged as she looked around her living room. “I don’t know if you could call this styled...”

The only matching set of furniture she had was her couch and the three chairs that came with them --which she had chosen solely for their comfort. Three mismatched bar stools sat at the kitchen counter. The cubbies under the stand her TV sat on were filled with different souvenirs from her travels outside of Wakanda. The two end tables that bracketed her couch were different shapes and colors --a choice she’d made to annoy Ayo, and a choice she hadn’t regretted as of yet. Different pieces of art that she’d found in different thrift markets hung on the walls.

“No, it is,” M’Baku insisted. “It’s eclectic; it has rhythm.” He nodded at the end tables. “Did those... come like that?”

Okoye shook her head. “I mismatched them to annoy Ayo.”

M’Baku chuckled. “I’ve done stuff like that to irritate Dewani. Am I sleeping on the couch?”

“Only if you piss me off.” Okoye opened the door to her bedroom. “If not, I’d hope you’d stay in here, with me.”

“Well, I don’t plan on pissing you off.” M’Baku set his bag in her bedroom, then nodded at her TV. “What are those?”

“Cartoons. I like watching them during my time off.”

M’Baku grinned. “Really? You like watching cartoons?”

“They’re funny and cute! Besides, an adviser over the Dora Milaje program would tell you that having something completely separate from your life as a soldier is both natural and recommended.”

“It’s fine; I’m not here to judge.”

Okoye raised an eyebrow. “Then why are you still grinning like that?”

“Because every time I turn around, I’m learning something new about you that I didn’t expect. I like it. It’s exciting.” He kissed her forehead gently. “So, what’s our first order of business?”

“Actually, I thought we’d hit the market first.”

“Wasn’t one of the reasons you gave me for delaying my arrival for you to stock up on groceries?”

Okoye smacked his chest with her hand. “I did! I just wasn’t sure about some of the specifics of the vegetarian diet! I wanted your input!”

M’Baku snorted. “It’s not a religious thing. There’s just no space for raising cattle in the mountains. It would be impractical to eat meat.”

Okoye put her hands on her hips. “Have you ever eaten meat in your life?”

“No.”

“Exactly. Introducing it to your system now --especially as a core part of dishes for over a week--would leave you in a world of pain. Trust me. Besides, I thought you’d like the market.”

M’Baku grinned and kissed her cheek. “Lead the way.”


 

Her instincts, as it turned out, were completely right.

M’Baku loved the market. The natural thrum of energy and din of voices seemed to help him settle right in to the new environment. Dressed in linen clothes, dyed with vibrant colors, he blended in perfectly as well --save for his sheer size.

Okoye smiled as she watched him examine baskets of produce with the intensity of a scholar studying a book. “I see you took your sister’s advice about the clothes.”

M’Baku shrugged as he studied a basket of cowpeas. “You dress down when you’re with me. I dress down when I’m with you. It seemed fair.” He tugged at the collar of his shirt, fanning it against his chest. “Besides, it’s fucking hot down here.”

Okoye patted his shoulder sympathetically. “We can wrap things up here and head back in before the hottest part of the day hits.”

M’Baku gave her a pained look. “It gets hotter?”

Okoye laughed as they started walking again. “So, what do you think of our market?”

“Not all that different from the ones in the Jabari lands, save for the meat. You seem to have a very wide array of produce. There’s a great deal of options that I don’t recognize.”

“Well, I’d imagine a warmer growing climate would have something to do with that.”

M’Baku nodded. “Yes. Do the farmers use vibranium to help grow the plants?”

Okoye shrugged. “I wouldn’t really know. I’d imagine that there’s some element of vibranium use to help non-indigenous crops fair better, but I couldn’t say for sure.”

“I forget. Not everyone is a farmer down here.”

“I know who would know. I could set up a meeting if you’d like.”

M’Baku gave her an incredulous look. “Really? You could do that?”

Okoye adjusted her sunglasses so she could peek over the top of them and gave M’Baku the most glamorous look she could must. “I am General Okoye of the Dora Milaje. I have many contacts across Wakanda.”

M’Baku laughed and put his hand on her waist, drawing her closer in. “Come on. I think the heat’s getting to you faster than it’s getting to me.”


 

As soon as they got back to her apartment, M’Baku took off his shirt and flopped onto the hardwood floor of her living room.

Okoye laughed as she turned the ceiling fan on to its highest setting, taking pity on him. “How are you feeling?”

“Broiled alive.” He groaned as he flipped onto his stomach, letting the fan cool his back. “How do you survive down here? It’s hotter than hell!”

“Acclimation,” Okoye said. “When you’re used to the heat, it’s not as bad.” She handed him a bottle of water. “Staying hydrated helps, too.”

M’Baku downed half the bottle in a few swigs. “I don’t say this to be insulting, but I much prefer the cold.”

Okoye smiled as she sat down on the sofa. “I understand. I prefer the heat of the low lands, but it’s easier to warm up from being cold than to cool off from being hot.”

“See? The Jabari are superior in more than one way.”

Okoye rolled her eyes, amused, as he flipped onto his back again. “Whatever you say, darling.”


 

A gentle rainstorm swept through the valley during the late evening, cooling the air down as night set in. Crickets chirped and bullfrogs croaked, taking over the sounds of the city as her citizens bedded down for the night.

Okoye had opened her bedroom window to let the damp, cool breeze float through the room. The ceiling fan was on, keeping the room comfortable.

M’Baku was bent over, peering out the window as he leaned against the frame. “Everything’s really different at night. It’s almost like camping in the valleys. You wouldn’t be able to tell from the palace.”

Okoye smiled as she watched him. “It took me some adjusting the first few times I stayed here. It was bizarre to be so alone, to not have to be in contact with people if I didn’t want to be.”

“I can imagine.” M’Baku stood and stretched. “It feels like a Jabari summer.”

“I take it you’re comfortable, then.”

“More so than I was earlier.” He laid down on the bed next to where she sat. “So, do you have any plans for me this week?”

Okoye shrugged. “I had a few idea. It mostly depends on what you’re game for. We have some museums and libraries I thought you’d like. There are some nature preserves as well, but I’m not sure they’d be the best fit, considering how well you fared today.”

M’Baku shrugged. “We’ll have to play it by ear, but I like the sound of all those options.” He tugged her down to his chest with a playful smile. “Though, I would hope that you accounted for some... quality time as well?”

Okoye grinned back. “Well, that depends on what you mean by ‘quality time.’”

M’Baku started kissing her neck. “Should I show you what I mean?”

“You know what? I think you should.”


 

She woke up to the sensation of the end of her bed sinking under a heavy weight. Okoye rolled onto her back and squinted at the end of the bed.

M’Baku smiled and held out a steaming mug of coffee to her. “Good morning.”

She had to clear her throat twice before she found her voice. “You figured out the coffee machine.”

He snorted. “Just because I am a Jabari doesn’t mean I can’t use trial and error.” He sipped at his own mug. “So, I was thinking about the ideas you threw around yesterday, for how we could spend our time while I’m here?”

Okoye propped herself up against her pillows. “Yeah?”

“I mean, I like the sound of all of them, but I came here to be with you. I don’t want to spend our time together running this, that, and the other way. I want to do what you do during your time off.”

Okoye shrugged. “Unfortunately, I’m not that interesting when I have time off. I mostly watch cartoons and keep to myself. I figured, since you spend a lot of time doing things and being outside, that you’d want to see and do different things.”

M’Baku sat back, expression contemplative. “Ah. Well, you’re not wrong...”

Okoye tapped her fingernails against the side of her mug. “How about... I think you’ll like the central library the best, and there’s an animal observation center that is air conditioned. We could go to those place to get out of the apartment during the day without forcing you to endure heatstroke. Then, during the mornings and evenings, we can visit some of my favorite places throughout Birnin Zana while it’s cooler out. How does that sound?”

“It sounds good.” He grinned, then set his cup on the nightstand before crawling up the bed towards her. “But, admittedly, I’m not in any hurry to start all that.”

Okoye laughed and quickly set her coffee mug next to his before he could pull her to him. “Oh, really?”

“Well, I mean you’re wearing my shirt. How am I supposed to resist you?”

She managed to get out a short laugh before he covered her lips with a kiss. She wound her arms around his neck and let out a happy sigh.

Chapter Text

Community is a core aspect of being a Dora Milaje. You live together, train together, and fight together. You are a band of sisters, regardless of your blood.

Community is more than just fighting, however. The life of a Dora Milaje is a hard one. Make no mistake, you will see people die, by your own hand and by the hands of others.

Witnessing death changes a person. It leaves you hollowed out, makes it easier for the river to hurl you around, to crush you in its currents.

If you ever find one of your sisters in those moments, surround them. Protect them from the current until they find their strength again.

If you ever find yourself in the same position, don’t hesitate to reach out to your sisters.

Isolation is your greatest enemy.

 


 

 

Even in the golden glow of mid-morning, the main marketplace was bustling with activity. Shoppers mingled from stand to stand, gathering groceries and supplies. The smell of food wafted from every corner as food stands and cafes were flooded with the morning rush of customers. Birds sang overhead, and goats bleated as a farmer lead them to a nearby stall.

Okoye watched the chaos as she sat at one of her favorite outdoor cafes. It was one W’Kabi had introduced to her at the beginning of their relationship. It had the best coffee in Birnin Zana and one of the best breakfast menus.

Granted, it was a little bittersweet being here without W’Kabi --especially in light of his betrayal--but...

I can’t hold his actions against this place, Okoye thought as she sipped at her coffee. Especially not when their coffee’s this good. She smiled as she watched M’Baku watch the crowd from the seat across hers. Besides, you can make new memories.

M’Baku fanned the collar of his shirt against his chest. “It’s already unbelievably hot. How do you live in this heat?”

“It’s only seventy degrees,” Okoye said, laughing slightly.

“Seventy degrees in the Jabari lands is grounds for an apocalypse.”

Okoye shook her head, chuckling. “We’ll still be inside before the worst of the heat hits. Try not to focus on it. It’ll make it worse.”

M’Baku sat back in his chair and looked up at the sign on the front of the building. “The Blue Ostrich? What’s with the name?”

Okoye looked up at the sign as well, which hosted blocky gold letters in the Wakandan script and a bright blue ostrich with a spatula in its beak. “As I recall, it’s an inside joke between the owners. I think one was trying to impress the other at a party, so they made up the name of a drink to cover that they didn’t know how to mix alcohol.”

M’Baku gave her a skeptical look. “And it worked?”

Okoye shrugged. “According to the story on the backs of the menus, they got married two years later.”

“Hm. Maybe I should’ve tried that on you.”

“What, are you not satisfied with the results of your method as is?”

“Well, making up a drink name is a funnier story than ‘I found her crying under a tree about her ex-lover.’”

“Not everything has to be funny. Besides, there’s a certain irony to our start.”

M’Baku shook his head. “I’ve never had the palette for grim humor.”

Okoye watched M’Baku as she sipped at her coffee. “Would you rather we had come together in a different way?”

“I would have preferred that we didn’t get together over your pain from losing W’Kabi.”

Okoye rolled her eyes. “I didn’t choose you to fill the void that W’Kabi left.”

“No, that’s not what I meant. Let me try again.” M’Baku stared at his glass of water, expression intense and solemn. “I would rather we had gotten together without never knowing the pain W’Kabi caused you. I wish you didn’t have to deal with it or suffer from it.”

Okoye smiled softly at him. “Sometimes, great beauty is borne out of great pain.” When M’Baku grimaced, she smirked. “I mean, my training can cause a great deal of pain, and you tell me that I’m the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.”

A smile broke across M’Baku’s face as he laughed, chasing away all traces of gloom. “Fair enough.”

 


 

 

The first couple days saw the start of a heat wave that kept them confined to the apartment, even in the mornings and evenings. Okoye did her best to keep things from getting stale --introducing M’Baku to some of her favorite games, shows, and books--but there was only so much that would occupy the attention of the Jabari Chief, who was used to having the entire span of the Jabari lands at his disposal and multiple responsibilities to attend to.

By the third day, the heat wave hadn’t lifted and M’Baku was going crazy.

“How do you sit in this apartment by yourself for days on end? This is torture!”

“I don’t ‘sit around’ by myself. I go out for walks, meet up with friends. But, if you can imagine, after several months of protocol and titles and keeping up standards, sometimes it’s nice to have some time to be myself and not have to talk to anyone.”

“I get that perfectly fine, but I don’t understand how you can confine yourself to such a small space.”

Okoye sighed. “I had nothing as a child. My first real space was my bed when I entered the Dora Milaje program.” She spread her hands to gesture at the space. “This is a lot to me.”

M’Baku was silent for a moment. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you.”

“You didn’t insult me.” Okoye tugged at his shoulders until her bent down and kissed her. “We just view things differently, is all. Besides, I have a trip planned for us this afternoon that will shake things up.”

M’Baku grinned and put his hands on her waist. “You have my attention and my curiosity.”

Okoye grinned back up at him. “The Central Library is the largest library in Wakanda, and has the largest inter-tribe collection of publications and sacred texts. How would you like to see it?”

“How soon can we go?”

 


 

 

The Central Library of Wakanda was a massive, four story building in the modern center of Birnin Zana. From the outside, it appeared that the building was split into four parts, with the smallest section sitting at the front of the facade, two sections standing behind it, and the tallest section standing flush behind the two mid-sized sections. The roof line of the tallest section curved and poured down onto the two mid-sized sections in front of it, the roof lines of the two mid-sized sections poured onto the smallest front section, and the roof line of the smallest section curved to touch the ground, parting only to show where the entrance was. Covered in glass and gracefully sculpted vibranium beams gave the building and almost fluid, water-like appearance.

M’Baku gave the building an appraising look, clearly impressed. “It almost looks like waves in a river.”

“The Princess helped design the structure of the library,” Okoye said. “She said that the water-like appearance was supposed to be symbolic of the fluid transfer of knowledge within Wakanda.”

M’Baku let out a low whistle. “I underestimated her.”

Most people do. Okoye nudged M’Baku’s side with her elbow. “Are you ready to head in?”

“Is it air-conditioned in there?”

“...Yes.”

M’Baku took her hand in his and began walking towards the library with long strides. “Then what are we waiting for?”

 


 

 

The inside of the library was mostly polished wood and brightly colored patterned carpets. The ceilings soared high above, decorated by intricate wooden inlays and carvings. Large windows let the early afternoon light pour into the vast space, keeping the library feeling open and comfortable despite the towering rows of shelves.

“Is there anything you’re particularly interested in?” Okoye asked as she scanned the rows of bookshelves.

“Yes. The air conditioning in here is wonderful.”

Okoye swatted at his shoulder as M’Baku snickered. “Quit horsing around!”

“I am not a horse. I am a Jabari.” M’Baku kissed her forehead when she gave him an exasperated look. “I’ll admit, I’m a little overwhelmed. I didn’t think your kind would dedicate this much space to physical books.”

Okoye raised an eyebrow. “My kind?”

“Well, down here everything is run on vibranium. I would’ve thought you’d keep everything stored that way.”

“Well, barring the sacred texts, everything in here is on Wakanda’s national data exchange system. It ensures that everyone has equal access to our resources, regardless of where they live or what they do.”

“A sentiment I can understand,” M’Baku said as they walked between the shelves. “Perhaps... perhaps my tribe would benefit from such an exchange.”

Okoye caught the hesitation in his voice, and mimed locking her lips shut with a key. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell the Princess.”

“But you still have a physical version of the system. Wouldn’t the electronic system make it redundant, useless?”

“Well, if we lose the electronic system, we have a back up copy to rebuild it from. Besides, it’s more than practicality. The library runs multiple children’s programs, helps with the education system.” Okoye ran her hand over one of the smooth wooden shelves. “I spent a lot of time here, as a child. As a public space, I could get in without a parent. It was one of the tricks the older street kids taught me --find the public spaces, and use them on days the weather was bad to stay cool or dry.” She went quiet, caught up in old memories of sitting, surrounded by piles of books as rain pelted against the windows. If I had known then what and where I’d be now...

M’Baku gently kissed the back of her hand. “You know this place well. Maybe even better than the people who work here.”

Okoye laughed, broken out of her reverie. “Well, I wouldn’t go that far.” She gestured around the open span of the building and the balconies of the floors above them. “Where would you like to start?”

M’Baku shrugged. “How about you show me what you usually read, and we’ll go from there.”

“Sounds good.” She took M’Baku’s hand and lead him towards a row of shelves a few feet away from him. “I usually go for mysteries.”

 


 

 

They were in the library for several hours. M’Baku listened patiently as Okoye outlined a few different popular mysteries for him. After selecting a few books to try during the rest of his stay in Birnin Zana, he followed her around the rest of library.

He spent a solid two hours in the historical section, reading about Wakanda’s history and traditions. “There’s almost nothing about the Jabari in your records.”

Okoye looked up from reading one of the mystery books M’Baku had selected, smiling slightly. “Well, you are a new addition. I’m sure if you offered to add some of the Jabari records to the collection, the King would oversee the integration process personally.”

“Why is he always so eager to include us? We’ve been separated for generations. He doesn’t have a personal stake in it.”

“Yes, he does. His sister is dating your sister.”

M’Baku shook his head. “I’ve dealt with too many politicians and leaders, Okoye. I know when things don’t add up, and I can tell when they don’t have a personal stake in things.”

Okoye tapped her fingers against the covers of the book. “I can understand where you’d be... wary of the King and his efforts towards reintegration. I promise, M’Baku, he’s not trying to bait you into anything. He just cares that much.”

After a moment of contemplation, M’Baku shrugged. “I suppose he has to keep up with Nakia somehow.”

By the time they left, it was mid-evening. The air was hot and thick as they stepped outside.

Okoye gave M’Baku a half-amused, half-admonishing look as he started coughing. “It’s not that bad.”

“The air is choking me. The air. Is. Choking me. How do you survive down here?”

“How do you avoid freezing your toes off in your mountain fortress of solitude?” She stared up at the sky and the large purple clouds on the horizon. “I think we’re going to have a storm. It would explain the sudden spike in humidity.” When M’Baku opened his mouth to complain more, a teasing glint in his eyes, she poked him inside. “Careful. You don’t want to ruin my mood.”

“Or what?”

Okoye looked him square in the eye, unafraid to stand to the challenge he was clearly trying to start. “Or we’ll just have to eat dinner right away, instead of delaying it for a couple hours like I had planned on.”

M’Baku’s eyes lit up once he caught her meaning and he started running towards the transport they’d taken earlier. “Why are we standing here, then? Come on!”

Okoye laughed and started running after him.

 


 

 

As she had predicted, the storm broke that night. Lightning rocketed across the sky and thunder shook the windows in their frames. Rain pelted against the ground, bringing the city of Birnin Zana to a near standstill.

Unfortunately, the deluge didn’t let up enough to warrant going outside for nearly two days. Fortunately, M’Baku seemed more at peace with the rain than the heat. He sat, either watching the rain or reading with the sound of the raindrops on the roof as quiet background filler.

On the second day, Okoye found him sitting on the floor in front of the apartment’s sliding door, staring out at the street as the rain pelted the pavement. “Entertained?”

“We don’t get much rain in the mountains. Everything moves down, into the valley.”

Okoye sat down next to him. “Do you want a pillow to sit on?”

M’Baku shook his head, expression serious and contemplative. “Okoye... what happened to your parents? What happened to you?”

Okoye sighed and laid her head on his shoulder. She’d known that this was coming --that M’Baku would eventually want the whole story--but that didn’t make being put on the spot any easier. Relax. It’s him. You’re safe with him. “I don’t remember much of it. I was young --five, six at the most.”

M’Baku put his arm around her shoulders and kissed the top of her head. “What do you remember?”

Okoye nestled against his side, trying to brace herself against him as flashes of memories flooded her mind. “I remember the explosion. I remember my ears hurting afterwards.”

Hurting and ringing. The air, filled to the brim with dust and smoke, burned her lungs and throat. She tried --and failed--three times to get to her feet.

Okoye pressed herself against M’Baku harder as her throat tightened. “I had been playing while my parents worked with a new herd of rhinos, so I was further away from the blast.”

She screamed until her throat gave out, scampering through the clouds of dust and smoke until she found them --almost tripped over them.

Her fingers clenched around the material of M’Baku’s shirt. “They looked like they were sleeping. I wasn’t able to put it together at first --in hindsight, it was better for it to happen that way, rather than seeing them... rather than seeing them in pieces.”

M’Baku pressed his lips against her forehead as he smoothed his hand up and down her back. “How did you end up on the streets?”

Once it dawned on her --once she realized they weren’t breathing--she cried. Screamed. Raged.

And then, in the wake of destruction and bodies, she ran.

“I ran away. I don’t know why I did, I just did.” She blinked back hot tears. “After a couple days, one of the leaders of a band of street kids found me. They took me in, helped me learn how to pickpocket unsuspecting shoppers, where to get food from, where the safe places were to sleep.”

“How did you end up in the Dora Milaje, then? I thought you had to have a family member put you in.”

A wavering smile crossed her face, even in the midst of her sadness. “I tried to lift the King’s wallet.”

M’Baku let out a shocked laugh. “What?”

She’d seen the luxurious clothes, the gold jewelry, and the elegant shoes and thought ‘jackpot.’

She’d just gotten the wallet out of the jacket pocket and started slipping away when a hand had clamped on her shoulder, locking her in place.

“I mistook him for a wealthy merchant. I didn’t even see the Dora Milaje until they had me by the arm.” She smiled as M’Baku laughed. “I mean, in my defense, I managed to get the wallet out of his pocket before they noticed me.”

She’d frozen when the King had turned, incapable of even bowing or speaking. She’d start praying fervently to Bast, that the goddess would make her death as quick and painless as possible.

The King --T’Chaka--had knelt before her, smiled, and complimented her on her stealth and silence.

“He asked me where my parents were.”

“They died in the explosion.”

The King’s expression had gone from one of paternal affection to mournful melancholy.

“He asked me if I had any family at all.”

“No.”

The King looked almost haunted for a moment, before smiling and saying that they ought to consider putting her into the Dora Milaje program. “With skills as honed as yours, we need you on our side.”

She’d almost fainted right there, so relieved to not be in any trouble.

“And that was it?”

Okoye nodded. “That was it. The King personally recommended me for the program.” Not for the first time since the N’Jadaka’s attempted usurpation, she was struck by a heavy sense of contemplation. “I never thought anything of it back then, but... the explosion resulted from N’Jobu’s dealings with Klaue.”

M’Baku frowned as he watched the rain trickle down the window panes. “I’m not as familiar with that name. I thought N’Jobu was T’Challa’s uncle.”

“He was.” Okoye filled him in on N’Jobu’s betrayal, death, and how all of that tied back to N’Jadaka’s challenge and the civil unrest.

M’Baku sucked in a breath through his teeth. “Out of all the ways to handle that...”

“What if it had been Dewani?” Okoye asked when M’Baku paused. “What would you have done?”

“I wouldn’t have killed her and left her child behind to be raised by Hanuman knows who, that’s for sure.”

Okoye quirked her mouth to the side. “Fair enough.” She shifted to lean more against M’Baku, then let out an indignant noise when he picked her up and set her in his lap.

M’Baku started laughing when he caught sight of her expression. “I’m sorry, I know this is serious, but the look on your face!”

“I’m not accustomed to being picked up,” Okoye muttered as she settled into his lap.

M’Baku kissed the top of her head. “How are you not lonely all the time?”

“I’m not as isolated as you think I am. I grew up with most of the women I work with. We’re like sisters --I spend a lot of time with Ayo, Aneka, and Djabi during our time off. It’s only around New Year’s where things get... awkward.”

“How so?”

Okoye traced her fingers over the tattoos that decorated his forearm. “New Year’s is a family oriented celebration. I have a standing meet-up with Ayo, Aneka, and Djabi once we’re all off for the night, but then... well, everyone goes off to meet with their families, and I just... hang out here.”

M’Baku’s arms tightened around her. “Have you ever tried to find your parents’ family?”

“I’ve never needed to. My family has always been in the Dora Milaje.”

M’Baku was quiet for a moment, tension evident in his shoulders. “Maybe... when future New Years roll around... you could stay with Dewani and I.”

Okoye smiled up at him. “I like the sound of that.”

 


 

 

The rain broke on the fifth night, leaving the city of Birnin Zana in a --relatively--cool, sunny lull the next day. Upon seeing the sun once they woke up --much closer to noon than Okoye would’ve liked to admit to--M’Baku’s inconsolable cabin fever set back in with a vengeance.

As far as Okoye was concerned, it was a perfect excuse to see the nature conservation center.

 


 

 

M’Baku peered down from the glass encased walkway, down at a pair of tigers that were play-fighting together. “Are these native to Wakanda? I’ve never seen anything like them before.”

“Not specifically,” Okoye said. “Tigers tend to settle in more tropical climates, in jungles. Unfortunately, they’re an endangered species.”

“Because of habitat encroachment.” M’Baku scowled. “Does the outside world understand nothing of caring for the environment that wasn’t its to begin with?”

“Rarely is it that simple --though you might have something on America. Fortunately, Wakanda can easily mimic the tiger’s natural habitat. Once the King revealed us to the new world, Wakanda became a part of a an international conservation program.”

“Okay, that I could actually get behind.”

“Behind enough to volunteer space in the Jabari lands?”

M’Baku splayed his fingers and shook his hand back and forth to indicate his hesitation. “Our territory doesn’t suit installations like this, space wise.” He grinned as one of the tigers pounced on the back of the other. “They just like to have a good time, don’t they?”

Okoye shot the massive cats a dubious look. “Sure, but I wouldn’t want to climb into the exhibit with them.”

“Oh, come on, where’s your sense of adventure?”

Okoye took his hand as she started walking towards the next exhibit. “I must’ve left it behind when I put my sanity on this morning.”

 


 

 

“What does Wakanda do for Pride?”

Okoye looked up from the chicken she was cooking --they’d found out, within twenty-four hours of M’Baku arriving at her apartment, that he really didn’t know how to cook or handle meat--to stare at M’Baku. “I’m... not following.”

“It was something I saw on the news while we were in London. A celebration for queer people.”

“Oh. Well, we don’t have a specific day or month for queer representation, per say. We don’t have the history of persecution that the Western world does. The festival of Loves is coming up in about a month, just before the Princess’s birthday. It celebrates love of all kinds, and is largely used as an opportunity for both sex and queer-based education,” Okoye explained. “I guess we’ve never necessitated a month to recognize queer history or love. Queer citizens, non-gender conforming citizens, they’ve always been equal to straight and cis-gender citizens.”

“It’s much the same in Jabari lands... or, it would be.”

Okoye shot M’Baku a sympathetic look. “I take it your uncle has enough support to make things difficult?”

“Unfortunately. What do you think of the concept of Pride?”

“It’s not the worst thing the Western world has come up with. Considering that they deal with more persecution and isolation, having a massive celebration to put the spotlight on them and to unite them is part of what they need.”

“Do you think the King will institute a ‘Pride month’ for Wakanda?”

“I don’t know. If the people wanted it, he would. If not...” She shrugged. “They’re still a minority. I could see how having a celebration that specifically celebrated them would be good.”

M’Baku leaned against the counter, sipping at a bottle of beer. “I would institute one, if only to spite my uncle.”

Okoye shook her head as she set her chicken on a plate. “I’m not sure that’s the proper spirit of Pride.”

“Spiting a straight man who thinks he has the right to torment others because they don’t follow his view for the world? I can’t think of a better spirit for Pride.”

 


 

 

“How old were you when you were put into the Dora Milaje program?”

They were sitting on her couch, snuggled up next to each other, bathed in the faint glow of dusk as they listened to the sounds of the night.

“It was two weeks away from my eighth birthday. I’m one of the youngest girls to ever be admitted to the program.”

M’Baku nodded silently as his fingers traced small designs over her shoulder. He stared out the sliding glass doors, at the waning sky. “You’re not that much younger than the King, right?”

Okoye studied M’Baku for a moment before responding, unsure of what he was getting at. “Not by much. He’s a year older than me.”

M’Baku nodded, brow furrowing in contemplation. “How old was N’Jadaka?”

Okoye let out a breath. “I don’t know. There wasn’t much of a gap between him and the King.”

The fingers on his other hand --the one that wasn’t resting on her shoulder--drummed against the arm of the couch. “Do you think that the King showed you favor because you reminded him of the nephew he abandoned?”

Okoye leaned back against the couch as she mulled the question over.

It wasn’t a new curiosity. Ever since she’d learned the details about N’Jadaka’s parentage and N’Jobu’s death, she’d wondered if the King had seen her, heard how her parents died, and seen her as the nephew he’d failed to save, the brother he’d chosen to kill, or the subjects he’d lost due to his brother losing his way.

In the end, though, she couldn’t know for sure.

“I don’t know if King T’Chaka even knew about N’Jadaka’s existence,” Okoye answered truthfully. “I don’t doubt anymore that the connection between the cause of my parents’ death and N’Jobu’s betrayal had an effect on his decision, but I don’t know beyond that.” She stretched and let her head rest on M’Baku’s shoulder. “And, in the long run, I’m not sure it matters. Becoming a member of the Dora Milaje --being the General of the Dora Milaje--is one of the best things to ever happen to me, and it isn’t dependent, as far as I’m concerned, on the former King’s motivations.”

“I don’t mean to sound rude, but you don’t think he showed you favor along the way?”

Okoye chuckled and shook her head. “The program is independent of political manipulations. We get a lot of recruits from a lot of families of various wealth, power, and influence. All testing and scoring is done privately to ensure unbiased results.”

M’Baku kissed the top of her head. “So you were truly, incontestably, the best of your group?”

“Did you ever really doubt it?”

M’Baku laughed. “No. Never.”

 


 

 

She woke up on the last day of her vacation with an unfamiliar sense of melancholy.

Normally, especially right after New Year’s, vacations were uncomfortable to her. Yes, she enjoyed the chance to rest and do what she wanted, but after a few days a sense of restlessness set in as she counted down to when she could go back to work and start being productive again.

This time, and the last time she had been to the Jabari lands, she hadn’t felt any sense of restlessness. Instead, she’d felt remarkably relaxed and happy, spending time with M’Baku.

She sat up as M’Baku walked into the room and gratefully accepted the mug of coffee he held out to her. “What time is it?”

“Not yet ten.” He sat down next to her on the bed. “How are you?”

“A little sad,” Okoye admitted. “I’ve been enjoying our time together. I really don’t want it to end.”

“Now you know how I feel every time I’m with you.” M’Baku grinned, and set his coffee cup on the nightstand next to her bed. “I suppose, then, we shouldn’t waste any time.”

Okoye laughed as he started kissing her, working his way down her jaw and neck. “What, I can’t even finish my coffee?”

“I thought time was of the essence.”

She giggled, set her cup on the nightstand next to M’Baku’s, and wrapped her arms around his neck.

 


 

 

Her boots clacked against the stone flooring of the palace hallways as she walked hand in hand with M’Baku.

Her time off had come to a close. She had to return to work, and M’Baku had to pick up Dewani and return to the Jabari lands.

All things come full circle.

“When do you take time off again?”

Okoye sighed. “It’ll be a while. There are some international trips I’ll have to make with the King, and the festival of Loves comes right after.”

M’Baku sighed. “Okay. Some time after all that, maybe?”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Okoye promised.

“You know, this city isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”

Okoye smiled. “High commendation indeed, coming from you.”

“I like the conservation program. I’ll have to talk to my council about it.”

Okoye stopped and sighed. “What is it?”

“What is what?”

“You won’t even look at me, and your entire mood took a dive when I told you I wouldn’t be able to take time off for a while. What is it?”

M’Baku stared down at her. “You seem to spend so much time with so many people, and yet you’re disconnected from nearly all of them. It worries me.”

“M’Baku--”

“It’s possible to be isolated within a sea of people, Okoye.” He swallowed hard. “I would know. After my father’s death... I retreated inside myself for a long time. I... I lost myself for a while. I don’t want that to happen to you.”

Okoye smiled reassuringly at him. “I have a family in my women, and in you and Dewani. I’m not as alone as I look, I promise.”

“Okoye--”

“Dealing with depression, anxiety, the issues of the mind... it’s all things that we, as Dora Milaje, are taught how to deal with before we ever make it to active duty. We’re taught how to recognize the signs in other, in ourselves, and have an expansive mental health service system at our disposal.” She kissed the back of his hand. “We’re taught to reach out, and we’re taught that there’s no shame in needing help.”

“Yes, but you’re more... anti-social than the others.”

“Then you haven’t seen Ayo in action. My love, believe me when I say that if I ever found myself struggling with my own mind, I’d reach out to those around me --especially you.”

M’Baku sighed, and relaxed a little. “I believe you.” He pulled her into his arms. “I miss you every time we have to part. So badly.”

Okoye wrapped her arms around him --or, as much as she could. “I miss you, too.”

“Things would be much simpler if you just lived in the Jabari lands with me.”

“Conversely, things would be much simpler if you just lived in Birnin Zana with me.”

“Pah. Too hot.”

“And the Jabari lands are too cold.” Okoye smiled up at her lover. “So, what are we to do then?”

M’Baku smiled back. “I imagine we’ll figure out something eventually, but right now all I want to do is kiss you.”

Okoye rolled up onto the balls of her feet, trying to get as close to him as possible. “You must have read my mind.”

“What can I say? I’m a man of many gifts.”

“Just kiss me already, M’Baku.”

 


 

 

Okoye sighed as she walked into her quarters at the palace. She set her go bag down --freshly restocked--then walked to the edge of her bed and collapsed on it, back first.

She inhaled, then exhaled.

Once.

Twice.

And she was good. A stone once more.

She’d already started mentally running through her schedule for the next couple days when there was a knock on the door. “Come in.”

Ayo walked in, a smirk set on her face.

Or, a shadow of a smirk, to be accurate.

Okoye sighed as she looked up at her second-in-command. “Please tell me there’s not some crisis I must immediately tend to.”

“All is well. I just came to say hi.” Ayo sat down on the chair by her desk. “You were walking earlier.”

“Yes, I was.”

“Normally.”

Okoye propped herself up on her elbows and narrowed her eyes at her best friend. “Why do you keep going back to this?”

“It’s one of my explicit duties as your second-in-command to keep you from getting a big head.”

“And you choose to do that via quipping about my sex life?”

“Naturally.”

Okoye flopped back down onto her bed and rolled her eyes at the ceiling. “Just wait until you find another partner. I’m going to put you through hell.”

“I’m sure. Actually, I came to check on you. I know New Year’s isn’t the easiest time for you.”

“It was better this year. M’Baku kept me pretty well distracted.”

“I’m sure.” Ayo chuckled when Okoye shot her an annoyed look. “Oh, come on, you handed that one to me.”

“Whatever.”

“How are the two of you?”

Okoye frowned. “We’re fine. Why?”

“He looks like a kicked puppy every time he has to leave you!”

“He does not!”

“Yes, Okoye, he does. The man is completely head over heels for you. I don’t think there’s anything he wouldn’t do for you, barring abandoning his sister, if you asked.”

“Is there a point to all this?”

Ayo leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees. “I know you love your work. Everyone who knows you knows you love your work.”

“Yes, and?”

Ayo watched her for a moment, then stood. “Don’t forget that there’s nothing wrong with having more than one love. It’s human.” She exited the room as quietly as she had entered. “Goodnight, Okoye.”

Okoye listened to the sound of Ayo’s footsteps retreating and the door closing as she stared at the ceiling. And so, everything comes full circle...

Where does the stone stop and the human begin?

Chapter Text

The role of a Dora Milaje is one of constant testing, my loves. You will not be confined to Wakanda for the whole of your lives. It is your duty to accompany and guard the King and his family wherever they may go --and that means outside of Wakanda as well.

 

The outside world is not solely a place of nightmares. There are many places outside of Wakanda that are beautiful, and there’s no shame in finding them beautiful.

 

Unfortunately, the people of the world will not always be beautiful. They have their own problems, carry their own hurts, and are blinded by prejudices you may not understand. You will be insulted, mistreated, and hurt by the world, as will the King you’ve sworn to protect.

 

In those moments, you will undoubtedly be torn between the desire to protect your reputation, the King’s reputation, and Wakanda’s reputation. In those moments, remember that diplomacy is not a battlefield.

You will be better served by being silent in the moment and letting the King and diplomats of Wakanda work things out than by unleashing your spear on anyone and everyone who crosses you.

 

To the rest of the world, we’re underdogs. As such, we must be five steps above them. Never forget that.


 

 

Washington D.C., 7 PM, EST.

Okoye collapsed onto her bed.

She’d traveled to countless other countries in countless other time zones, but the jump from Africa to the United States never failed to turn her internal clock completely on its ear.

It was supposed to be midnight in Wakanda, but she had to wait at least another three hours before she could go to bed.

Hopefully there’ll be something entertaining on TV that I can use to pass the time. She smiled tiredly as her kimoyo beads started beeping, and tapped on the communication bead.

A holographic form of M’Baku stared up at her, relief evident in his features. “You’re alive.”

Okoye let out a tired laugh. “Crossing an ocean does not automatically result in death.”

“I wasn’t worried about the ocean. I’m worried about the United States bit. How do the trees look over there?”

“Largely decorative.”

M’Baku sniffed, displeased and unimpressed all at once. “Idiots. Where are you staying?”

“The Rosewood hotel in Washington. To fancy for its own good, but they have 24 hour room service, so I’m not complaining.” She rolled onto her stomach. “How are things in the mountains?”

“Good. We’ve been developing some new strains of various grains that can act as wheat alternatives for those with gluten allergies. I officiated a marriage for two of my friends yesterday.”

“Sounds like fun.”

“Jabari weddings involve a lot of food, drink, and dancing. A good time all the way around.” His face slipped into a frown as the conversation faded. “How long will you be gone?”

Okoye smiled with a sigh. She’d told M’Baku the details of her trips at least ten times already, but she didn’t mind reassuring him again. “I’m here for four days.”

“And what are you doing?”

“We’re meeting with the President and various government officials to talk about the outreach program between Wakanda and the United States.”

M’Baku grimaced. “Please tell me the King’s not thinking about exporting vibranium to those maniacs.”

“He’s not. He’s well aware that vibranium itself needs to be protected.”

“Good.” He stared at her sadly. “I miss you.”

“Four days here, and then ten days before the festival of Loves. I’ll see you then, and the Princess’s birthday is right after that--”

“And then I’m back off to my people, and you’re still in the valley. Okoye, it’s been almost two months.”

“We’ll work something out.” She grinned teasingly. “You could just accept the Princess’s author to put the Jabari lands on the standard transit circuit. I could be up there in thirty minutes if you did that.”

M’Baku glowered at her. “This is blackmail.”

“Ah, but it’s loving blackmail.” She looked up as the sound of rushing water stopped. “Ayo’s out of the shower. I should go.”

“If I hear any sickly pet names, I start retching!” Ayo shouted from the bathroom.

“Okay, okay.” M’Baku smiled at her. “I love you. I’ll see you in two weeks.”

“Two weeks,” Okoye echoed. “I love you too.” She shut off her communication bead just as Ayo walked out of the bathroom, cloaked in a luxurious white robe and a cloud of steam. “We’re done. No retching from you.”

Ayo sat down on the end of the bed next to Okoye’s. “How is he?”

“Says he misses me. Worried about us being here.” She shrugged. “The same way he’s been for the past two months, the same way he’s been since I told him about the trip.”

“He’s worried? I’m worried,” Ayo muttered as she laid back. “Trump’s a real ass, we’re not on our turf, and we don’t have panther suits if things go South.”

“And we’ll handle it,” Okoye said, her ingrained instincts as a General to be confident and authoritative kicking it. “The same way we always have.”

Ayo shot her a look. “I know you’ve been watching the news. America’s on the verge of an implosion, and Bast knows who they’re taking with them.”

Okoye picked up her night clothes and headed to the bathroom. “Well, they’re not taking us.”


 

 

Day One: 10:30 AM, United States Wakandan Embassy.

T’Challa’s fingers drummed against the table. “They’re half an hour late.”

Nakia rubbed her hand against the back of his. “I know.”

“We have other appointments today. Did they just... assume they were the only ones?”

“Traffic could’ve been bad.”

T’Challa gave his lover a disbelieving look. “Traffic. That’s what you’re going with?”

Nakia looked down at the table. “You can’t lose heart now. Not when we’ve barely started.”

T’Challa sighed. “I’m not losing heart. I am, however, frustrated.”

“I say, if they’re not here by the time we’re supposed to leave, we leave anyway,” Ayo said, arms crossed over her chest. “We can’t throw off our entire day for them.”

“We need this meeting,” Nakia said. “These three representatives have shown the most support for the Wakandan outreach program. In light of the President’s terrorism accusations, we need all the support we can get.”

Ayo raised an eyebrow. “Should we really be sending our people to a country that accuses of terrorism?”

“Let’s try to make things better before deciding that they’re worse,” T’Challa said, raising a calming hand. “Pulling our program out of the United States is a bridge we will cross if and when we reach it.”

Okoye was ready to throw in her two cents when the door to the board room opened and the representatives walked in. She rearranged her expression into a neutral, unreadable one she had practiced for several years and stood.

“Your Majesty,” one of the representatives --an aged African American woman-- said, tone contrite. “We’re so sorry for our delayed arrival. Traffic was complete hell.”

T’Challa smiled, perfect amicability. “It’s fine. Shall we begin?”


 

 

Two hours later.

“Well, that inspired a lot of hope,” Okoye muttered as the car doors closed.

T’Challa groaned and rubbed his hands up and down his face. “What is with Americans? Why do we keep having so many problems with them?”

The meeting, in short, had been completely deflating. According to the representatives they’d spoken with, the general consensus among the levels of government fell into two categories: A.) Wakanda’s outreach program and refusal to share vibranium were indicators of dangerous intentions, and B.) Wakanda’s outreach program needed to include an exclusive vibranium trade with the United States.

“I can tell you why,” Okoye grumbled. “The government is run by a bunch of white, middle-aged men whose political ideology is cousin to the Ku Klux Klan.”

“We can’t give up now,” Nakia insisted. “There are people here that need our help, that could benefit from what we have to offer!”

Okoye bit back a grimace as she watched T’Challa start reassuring his lover.

She was all for providing aid to countries that needed it; Wakanda was rich with resources and knowledge, and they had the potential and ability to do a great deal of good for the girl.

She wasn’t even opposed to aiding the United States. There were countless groups of minorities that the government seemed hellbent on pushing down. With the right resources --Wakandan resources--they could pull themselves out of their pit, protect themselves.

However, with a government so hellbent on labeling Wakanda as terrorists or milking them for all they were worth...

I’m all for idealism and helping others, Okoye thought as she watched the King and Nakia trade smiles and conversation. But if we have to make a bed with racists and abusers to do so, it becomes time to replace idealism with realism.


 

 

Day Two: Hart Senate Office Building, 3rd Floor, 1:00 PM.

“Who are we meeting again?” Ayo murmured in Wakandan as their group was escorted to an office.

“A Senator of some sort,” Okoye whispered back. “One of the ‘devil’s advocates’ on the Conservative side. Jones? Smith?”

“Also, why is everything here so overtly expensive? Not even the palace looks like this.”

Okoye was about to fire back with Shuri’s theory about overcompensation when they were ushered into a massive office with massive windows, soaring ceilings, and furniture that she knew was made to look expensive --mostly because it was. Definitely overcompensation.

“King T’Challa. Lady Nakia. Thank you for agreeing to meet with me.” The senator’s gaze shifted from T’Challa, to Nakia, and stopped at Okoye and Ayo.

Okoye fought the urge to bristle as she watched the look in the Senator’s eye shift from impassive to something she’d been on the receiving end of countless times during her trips to America:

Physical appraisal.

“And, ah, who are these two lovely figures in the black dresses?” the Senator asked with a half smile.

T’Challa frowned slightly as he glanced between the Senator, Okoye, and Ayo. “This General Okoye and Commander Ayo. They are members of the Dora Milaje, guards of the royal family.”

“Ah. ‘Guards.’ I understand.” The Senator sat down with a “friendly” laugh that made Okoye’s skin crawl. “Well, I must admit, your Majesty, you’re a braver man than I am.”

T’Challa shot the Senator a half-suspicious, half-irritated look. “I’m not sure I follow.”

The Senator laughed again and shot a conspiratorial smile at T’Challa, as though they were old friends sharing an inside joke. “If I paraded around my ‘guards’ in front of my wife like that, she’d have my head.” He laughed again. “You’ve got your woman well-trained.”

Ayo narrowed her eyes at the Senator, then looked at Okoye. “If he doesn’t stop insinuating that we’re consorts to the King,” she said in Wakandan, “I’m going to run my spear through his chest and into the couch he’s sitting on.”

The Senator lifted a hand. “Honey, please, we speak English here.”

“You won’t be calling me ‘honey’ when I rip your tongue from your mouth for your disrespect,” Ayo said, still speaking in Wakandan.

“I’ll thank you for refraining from making inappropriate comments to my staff and from calling them pet names, Senator,” T’Challa said before anyone else could speak.

The Senator’s chummy smile tightened. “Ah, but no real harm was done, was it?”

“That’s not for you to decide,” T’Challa said. “And we’re off topic from what we came to discuss. You had some questions about the outreach program?”


 

 

The Rosewood Hotel in Washington D.C., 6 PM EST.

“Honestly, it was a nightmare.”

“It sounds like it,” Dewani said from where she was leaning over her brother’s shoulder. “Did he really call Ayo ‘honey?’”

“Don’t worry. I threatened to rip out his tongue,” Ayo called from the other side of the room.

M’Baku expression was heavy as he started up at Okoye. “I don’t like this, Okoye. People who act with that kind of disrespect are more dangerous than they let on.”

“I know, my love,” Okoye said, ignoring the fake retching noises that both Ayo and Dewani made. “But bear in mind that this has been my job for several years; I know how to handle things and protect myself. Besides, the King stopped things before they went too far.”

“Insinuating that you’re in bed with the King is too far. Way too far.”

“How’d Nakia react to all of it?” Dewani asked.

“She was upset, understandably. Fortunately, the rest of our time here mostly involves meeting with educational partners and contacts for the outreach program. Actually, we’re meeting with the director of the African Art Museum on the Smithsonian mall.”

“But you still have the dinner with the President,” M’Baku pointed out bluntly.

Ayo shuddered. “Don’t remind me.”

Dewani sucked air through her teeth. “Boy, I do not envy you one bit. Hey, do you think you could find a way to prove that his hair’s just glued on? Shuri and I have a bet--”

M’Baku glared lovingly at his sister as Ayo snorted. “Don’t you have somewhere to be? A girlfriend to talk to, perhaps?”

Dewani stuck her tongue out at her brother. “You’re lucky I’m so easily distracted.” She kissed her brother on the temple and stepped out of view. “Good night, Okoye!”

“Rest well.” Okoye sighed as she smiled down at M’Baku. “I should go. We’re meeting to eat dinner with the King and Nakia so we can discuss the set up for the next two days.”

M’Baku sighed. “Okay. I should probably get ready for bed anyway.” He gave Okoye a serious look. “Be careful. Please.”

“I will. Don’t worry.” She smiled at him. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”


 

 

Day Three: African Art Museum, Smithsonian Mall, 6 PM.

“Thank you again for keeping the museum open for us, Director Hayford,” T’Challa said as they walked through hall lined with African art.

“It’s an honor, your Majesty,” the director, a dark-skinned British man, replied with a gracious smile. “We were delighted to hear that you wanted to see our exhibitions.” He gestured to a grouped display of scupltures and a painting. “This is our ‘Currents: Water in African Art’ exhibit. Most of our pieces come from Nigeria, and almost everything is dated to some time in the 20th century.”

Nakia smiled as she studied fish-shaped weight made out of metal. “And everything in here is meant to represent water?”

“Yes. Water is a fundamental aspect of life to any culture, but the pieces in here are meant to represent the various meanings of water to different African cultures. For example, this mask--” He gestured to a mask of a woman holding a snake sitting on top of a face shaped mask-- “is said to represent Mami Wata, a powerful water spirit recognized by several peoples in Africa.”

“Fascinating. I’m from the River tribe in Wakanda. To us, Mami Wata is a dual-natured god. She is the giver of wisdom and guidance for my tribe, but is also a powerful and deadly force that is not to be trifled with.”

The director nodded. “Much in the way that water is a sustain-er of life, but also a taker of it.”

“This is a beautiful exhibit,” T’Challa said. “Extremely diverse as well.”

“Thank you. You mentioned the possibility of adding a Wakandan exhibition to our collection?”

T’Challa nodded. “We’d like for part of our outreach program to include contributing to art programs and museums. Wakanda has more to offer than technology, after all.”

“Naturally. Well, if you’d like to discuss what would be included in such an exhibit, we ought to move to my office so that we can look at future plans, possibly make a tentative timeline.”

“Of course.”

Okoye glanced at various exhibits as she followed the King and the director to another part of the building.

Surrounded by such a wealth of art and history, it was easy to simplify establishing the outreach program to something as trivial as ‘tentative timelines.’

However, in light of the overwhelming suspicion and greed from the government, and in light of the Senator’s disparaging remarks the day before...

Bast, help us, Okoye thought as she followed her King up a flight of stairs. The path before us is not as straight or as easy as it appears.


 

 

The Rosewood Hotel in Washington D.C., 2 AM EST.

“It’s a gorgeous exhibit,” Okoye said as she set her heels next to her bed. “And the director seemed confident that Wakanda could have a unique exhibition in the next couple years.”

“I looked up this Smithsonian museum you mentioned.”

Okoye grinned as she took off her earrings. “And?”

“You didn’t mention that it was a fortress.”

She laughed as she put her jewelry away. “Well, it is a bit of an international melting pot.”

“I want to see the flight exhibition, provided that the government doesn’t ban us from entry because the King won’t share his vibranium.” M’Baku’s forehead creased. “He’s not thinking about adding vibranium sculptures to the exhibit, is he? I mean, if N’Jadaka’s plan proves anything, it’s that if people are desparate and crazy enough they’ll take whatever they can get and do whatever they want with it.”

“No, I heard the King and Nakia talking on the way back. They specifically decided on non-vibranium pieces, just to be safe.” She flopped back on her bed. “How are you?”

“Fine. Missing you.”

“You say that every time we talk.”

“Because every time we talk and I am not right next to you, it’s true.” M’Baku leaned back in the chair he was sitting in. “I want to see you more regularly. I don’t want to be relegated to a few days every few months.”

“Well, some of that’s going to be hard because of my job,” Okoye said. “Let’s try to work something out when you’re in Birnin Zana next. I’m too fried to think about anything right now.”

“Okay,” M’Baku agreed after a quiet moment. “I should probably let you rest for now.”

“It’s about...” Okoye frowned as she glared at the clock. “Two? We got in late. Dinner took forever because the King met with some sort of Senator.” She stared blearily at her lover. “Did I wake you up? It’s barely seven over there.”

M’Baku shook his head. “I was already awake.”

Okoye suppressed a yawn as her exhaustion caught up with her. “I should make sure Ayo didn’t fall asleep in the shower.”

M’Baku smiled at that. “Go. Take care of your friend. I’ll see you when you get back.”

Okoye smiled at the holographic projection of M’Baku. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”


 

 

Day Four: The White House State Dining Room, 8:00 PM.

Everything had started about as well as Okoye had expected.

Which wasn’t well at all.

First, the guards that had scanned them before entering the White House hadn’t been convinced that they weren’t “carrying anything.”

Which, technically, wasn’t wrong. T’Challa’s Panther suit necklace, hers and Ayo’s spears, and the Wakandan technology Shuri had equipped them with before leaving wouldn’t cause the alarm to go off, given that they were made out of vibranium.

It did, however, result in all four of them being patted down. Okoye fairly sure that the guard that had done Ayo had used the opportunity to cop a feel.

Strike One: She’d managed to tell T’Challa as they were escorted into the White House, and he’d grimaced and assured her that it would be dealt with.

Then, President Trump and his wife, Melania, were late.

They’d arrived at 6:00 PM to make their 6:30 dinner appointment, as per the recommendation of Trump’s secretary.

The President had --finally--shown up at quarter of eight.

Strike Two: Not that the President would know, but appointments were important in Wakanda. Not keeping to one --without an appropriate excuse--wasn’t just rude, but was a serious grievance to business or personal relationships. It wasn’t just a sign of disrespect, but also a sign that the offender didn’t care enough about the offended to not make the appointment on time in the first place.

They’d excused the Representatives on the first day, due to their contrition and excuse, but the President didn’t even acknowledge the time when he walked into the room. Okoye was certain that the President didn’t have a good excuse for his tardiness, either. 

She’d also had the displeasure of standing within five feet of him --he reeked so badly of cologne and fake tan spray that she’d barely suppressed a gag.

Then, to her mortification, the President started talking about her and Ayo’s “position,” as per the information he’d gathered from the Senator they’d met with two days earlier while they walked to the State Dining Room.

T’Challa hadn’t even pretended to be diplomatic. In a shocked tone that matched his expression, he said, “The General and Commander are my friends, but that is the extent of our relationship.”

The President waved his hand dismissively. “My friend was quite sure about the nature of things. We American men have an eye for sorting these things out.” He puffed out his chest. “You don’t get to be President without a mind as sharp as mine.”

“All due respect, but your friend was strictly misinformed. There is no relationship between my guards and myself that goes past the bounds of professionalism and platonic friendship.”

At that, Trump shrugged. “Well, at least they’re fair game, then.” And, before T’Challa had a chance to respond, the orange man circled around him and stepped into the dining room--

But not before smacking his hand right across Okoye’s ass.

Okoye stopped in her tracks, trying to reel in both her expression and temper. Don’t slit his throat. This is the least tactically advantageous situation to do that in.

Fortunately, T’Challa was two steps ahead of her. He stepped between her --as well as Nakia and Ayo--and the President. “That was completely unacceptable. Apologize to General Okoye, sir.”

Trump shrugged. “It’s a man thing. You understand. You see a piece of ass like that, and you can’t help yourself.”

T’Challa squared his shoulders and glared at the man. “It’s not a man thing. It’s a fool’s thing. And I wasn’t asking you to apologize.”

Trump waved his hands in front of him. “She shouldn’t have worn a dress like that. A red-blooded, Alpha man like myself can’t be expected to not act on signals when they’re so clearly given.”

“Apologize. To. My. Friend... sir.”

At that, the President narrowed his eyes. “No one tells me what to do!”

“No, I imagine they don’t,” T’Challa said. “If they did, you might have some semblance of self-control.” He took Nakia’s hand in his. “I’ve seen enough for tonight. Thank you for your invitation to dinner, Mr. President, but I’ve already had my fill of your behavior.” At that, he turned and started walking away.

Okoye followed him quickly as Trump shouted insults and abuses after them. “I’ll contact the driver, let him know to be ready for us.”

They didn’t stop walking until they were out of the White House and were safely in the car. Once they were, T’Challa reached out and put his hand on Okoye’s shoulder. “Okoye, I’m so sorry. Are you alright?”

“As fine as I can be,” Okoye said. “I doubt he left a mark on me.”

“I was this close to leaving several on him,” Ayo growled under her breath.

T’Challa sighed. “Nakia, contact Shuri. We need to get on top of this story before Trump does. She’ll know who to contact. Ayo, contact my legal representative in Wakanda. See what our options are for a sexual harassment suit.” He looked at Okoye. “I can tell M’Baku, if you want.”

Okoye shook her head. “He’ll be calmer for me. I don’t mind.” She sat back in her seat. “What now, my King?”

“In the present moment? We leave for Wakanda. Trump was our last appointment, and I’d like to get out of here before they have the mind to stop us.”

Nakia rubbed her temples. “These past few days just seem like one failure after another.”

Okoye grimaced. “You’re still set on helping these people? After what just happened?”

Nakia sighed heavily. “The oppressed are not responsible for the behavior of the government. They shouldn’t suffer because their President knows no self-control.”

T’Challa rubbed his thumb against the back of Nakia’s hand. “While I agree that the oppressed groups here need our help... we cannot sacrifice our integrity to do so. Okoye’s right. These past few days have proved that the American government is not one that compromises easily --if ever. If we’re going to protect Wakanda, we have to do this on our terms.”

“And what does that mean?” Nakia asked.

“For now? I don’t know. Our present focus needs to be on getting our perspective on what happened out first, and then it needs to be on seeing what our legal options are. That’s only fair to Okoye.”

No, fair would’ve been using Trump’s head as a spear target, Okoye thought as she watched the city flash by.

So, it was back to the hotel, pack, then to the airport, then fly back to Wakanda.

And, once she knew she wouldn’t be waking M’Baku up, contacting her lover to tell him that she’d been smacked in the ass by the President.

Okoye smirked. He’s going to be pissed.


 

 

On the flight back to Wakanda; current time in Wakanda: 10 AM.

M’Baku, as Okoye had predicted, was furious.

His expression had gone from happy to see her, to confused when he realized she was on the plane when it was barely morning on the East coast of the United States, to wary when she said she had bad news, to downright stony when she’d told him about Trump’s comments and the ‘minor physical altercation.’ He’d asked, in a tight voice, to speak with the King.

Admittedly, he was more controlled than she’d expected.

“How, exactly, do you let something like this happen?” M’Baku asked, seething.

T’Challa pinched the bridge of his nose. “It’s not like it was my idea, M’Baku.”

“Yes, but the General is under your care and command on these trips.”

“We falsely expected that Trump would behave on human terms,” Okoye spoke up. “It wasn’t the King’s fault.”

M’Baku cocked his head to the side. “And you still want to help these savages, my King?”

“Believe me, Chief M’Baku, we’re taking this into consideration. President Trump isn’t going to walk away without egg on his face. We were fortunate enough to get the story out before the White House did. Every major publication on each continent is running our version of the story.”

M’Baku sighed. “Stories aren’t enough.”

“We’re also looking at hitting President Trump with a sexual harassment suit.”

“Isn’t this the man that has already dodged dozens on those?”

“Let me talk to him.” Okoye took her bead back from T’Challa and walked away from the group. “Being difficult isn’t helping.”

“I will be as difficult as I please. A man hit you, treated you in a sexual manner without your consent. Retribution must be given.”

“And it will be. We aren’t dealing with a Wakandan. We have to take a few extra steps.”

M’Baku crossed his arms over his chest. “Extra steps, extra steps! That’s all our experience with the outside world has been!”

“Can you please be patient?” Okoye shot back. “This isn’t the first time we’ve had to deal with issues like this. Trump will get his comeuppance, trust me.”

M’Baku’s shoulders relaxed, just barely. “How are you?”

“I’m fine. This isn’t the first time I’ve been hit in the ass before.”

“Okoye--”

“M’Baku, my love, I’m okay. Really. Believe me, I would tell you if I wasn’t.”

“You don’t feel... violated?”

Okoye let out a huff. “I do. And I feel angry. But I’ve learned how to deal with those emotions. Protocol dictates that I’m to speak with a counselor when I get back, which I plan on doing. I’ve got my bases covered.”

M’Baku nodded. “Okay. I’d still rather see that idiot face you in ritual combat for your honor. I want to watch you wipe the floor with his fucking face.”

“Believe me, I’d like that too. Unfortunately, that’s not an option.”

“Well, it ought to be.”

“You’re welcome to make your case to the United Nations.”

M’Baku grimaced. “I’d rather not deal with them.”

“You and me both.” Okoye looked at the time, then grimaced. “I need to go. It’s my turn to fly so Ayo can rest.”

“Alright. Call me when you can.”

“I will.” She smiled at him. “I love you.”

M’Baku smiled back. “I love you, too.”

Okoye turned off her communication bead, took a moment to take a couple deep breaths, then walked up to the pilot’s seat to relieve Ayo.

It was hard to not be frustrated. Aside from their trip to the Smithsonian, the trip felt largely wasted. They’d been pushed around, talked down to, and spent a lot of time going in circles. If they couldn’t get the Americans to see sense, a large portion of the outreach program would fall apart.

Bast, don’t let it come to that, Okoye prayed as she guided the ship towards home.

Chapter Text

Everyone has their own perspective on what makes the best source of power. Some will say wealth. Some will say strength. Some will say cunning.

All of those are fine and good, but know that love is the strongest power there is, my dears.

Love of self can lead one man to hoard away unimaginable wealth from the needy. Love of things can lead many to fill their lives with material objects --and a great deal of debt.

Love can also lead to beautiful art, powerful movements, inspired leadership, and healthy, tender individuals. This is why we celebrate love. It is a gift from Bast, as much as the heart-shaped herb.

It may seem contradictory, but keep love in your lives, my dears. A Dora who knows no love is no Dora at all.

 


 

 

Okoye had to force herself to keep from sprinting as she navigated the back halls of the palace. Try to stay composed. You wouldn’t want to actually run into someone.

Five minutes ago, Ayo had poked her head in her office to deliver the news she’d been waiting five days to hear.

M’Baku’s ship had landed.

Okoye allowed herself to up her pace to a brisk walk as she caught sight of M’Baku on the landing pad, walking towards the main palace entrance. But it’s not like I need to take the scenic route, either.

Two months. Two long, lonely months of separation. Two months of being relegated to video calls and passionate letters –M’Baku, as she had discovered, was something of a closet romantic. Two months of not being able to touch her lover, of not being able to feel his strong arms wrap around her, of not being able to hear his warm, deep laughter right in her ears.

Okoye jogged around a corner, then broke into a run as she saw M’Baku step into the hall, grinning widely.

M’Baku ran towards her, just as eager, and caught her in his arms. He swept her off her feet and spun her in a circle, kissing her passionately as he murmured praises to her and Hanuman. “I’m so happy to see you.”

Okoye wrapped her arms around his neck, sighing happily. “I missed you.”

A growl slipped past M’Baku’s lips as his arms tightened around her. “And I you.” He stepped forward, still holding her in his arms, until they were up against the wall.

Okoye inhaled sharply as M’Baku started kissing and sucking his way down her neck, his hips rocking against hers. “M’Baku, this is not the time or the place!”

“On the contrary. We’ve missed each other for several weeks. What could be a better time than now?”

“M’Baku. Please.”

M’Baku let out a disgruntled sigh and stepped back, carefully setting her on the floor. “I’ve missed you, Okoye. I don’t feel any particular shame in that.”

“Neither do I, but there’s something to be said for professionalism,” Okoye said as she straightened her armor. When M’Baku’s frustrated expression didn’t lift, she smoothed her hands over his chest in a soothing fashion. “Besides, I’m taking the second day of the festival off so we can celebrate together.”

M’Baku raised an eyebrow. “And the significance thereof?”

“The second day focuses on love between partners, both romantic and platonic. I thought it was fitting.” She grinned up at him. “It also means that I get the night and next morning off. I don’t suppose you can think of something I could do with all that free time.”

M’Baku grinned down at her. “You could do me.”

Okoye chuckled as she leaned up on her toes to kiss him. “I like the sound of that.”

M’Baku sighed as they broke the kiss a few moments later. “How have you been, Okoye?” His expression darkened slightly. “How are you fairing from your run in with the American idiot?”

Okoye grimaced slightly as they started walking down the hall in the direction M’Baku had come from. “I’m alright. I’ve been meeting with my assigned counselor. The White House hasn’t issued an apology yet, but the King’s legal aide is confident we have enough to launch a lawsuit at the President for sexual assault and emotional damages.”

M’Baku let out an annoyed huff. “He deserves worse. I’d love to see you kick his ass in ritual combat.”

“So would I, but I doubt they’ll spring for that.”

M’Baku ‘hmph-ed’ and took her hand in his. “Well, I’m glad you’re alright. And I’m glad that we’ll get some time together during this… celebration. What will be going on, exactly?”

“Well, the festival of Loves officially lasts for three days, though the entire month is dedicated to expressing love in all forms. The first day focuses on love among family, the second on love between platonic and romantic relationships, and the third is about queer identities and attractions.”

M’Baku nodded. “And what is the third day like?”

“Well, lectures about queer identity, expression, and history are held at the central library during the morning. During the hottest part of the day, the main news network runs a broadcast recognizing contributions to the arts, sciences, and humanities by queer individuals, and during the evening a parade takes place in the streets. Official functions break off after the sun finishes setting, but a lot of people will stay out and have fun.”

“And have there ever been… incidents on the third day?”

It was Okoye’s turn to raise an eyebrow as she looked up at M’Baku. “Do you mean incidents like your uncle?”

“Yes.”

Okoye shook her head. “Not really. Everyone uses different paints on their faces to indicate how they identify. Those looking for an ‘encounter’ wear a bracelet on their left hand. Those who aren’t wear one on their right. Everything’s pretty easy to understand, so miscommunications are rare. And, for the odd bigot or two that would be daring enough to show their face, we have a security team that is trained to escort them out or detain them, depending on what the situation calls for.”

M’Baku nodded, seemingly impressed. “I wasn’t expecting that level of thoroughness. Shuri already told me about the idea behind the third day. I thought it would be good for Dewani to be surrounded by that kind of support and positivity, but she was a little…”

“Nervous?”

“To put it mildly.”

Okoye squeezed his hand. “Well, don’t force her to go if she doesn’t want to, but definitely let her know that she’ll be perfectly safe while she’s there.”

“I will. Will I be able to see you tonight?”

“Actually, you will. The Queen Mother invited me to dinner with you, Dewani, and the family. But as for now, I have a meeting with Ayo to schedule the duty rosters for the festival.”

The corner of M’Baku’s mouth lifted in a smile. “Then I’ll see you later, my love.” He kissed her cheek, and let go of her hand with a squeeze.

Okoye smiled back and started walking in the direction of her office.

 


 

 

“…and that pretty much settles the security team rosters. We did manage to settle the two boyfriends that wanted to celebrate the third day together.”

Okoye frowned as she studied the list. “Are they working separate shifts or together?”

“Together. I was able to find enough singles who were willing to switch for one reason or another.”

Okoye nodded, then grinned. “Very nice, Ayo. You’ve done very well in arranging everything. How are the Dora looking?”

“Djabi and Aneka wanted to switch days. Aneka wanted the third day off to participate the parades, and Djabi wanted the first day to see her grandmother. I need your approval for that.”

Okoye nodded. “You have it.” She sat back in her seat. “This is the first festival that you’ve organized the entire duty roster for by yourself. How do you feel?”

“Satisfied.”

Okoye snorted as Ayo smirked. “A woman of few words. I’m taking the second day off, so I’ll cover for you on the third day, if you like.”

Ayo nodded. “I’d appreciate it. What’s the King’s schedule look like?”

“He’s making an appearance with the Princess, the Queen Mother, and Lady Nakia tomorrow at the main festival site in each tribe’s territory –save the Jabari. That’ll run from the morning to before noon, take a break for the heat of the day, then finish before dinner. From what I’ve heard, Chief M’Baku and Dewani will be accompanying them.”

Ayo peered at the holographic display of the schedule. “Will the Chief’s primes be accompanying him?”

“Yes. On the second day, the King and Lady Nakia will be walking through the main plaza in Birnin Zana before a celebration at the palace with the tribal leaders and their partners.”

Ayo grimaced slightly. “Great. A building full of leaders with different opinions and no problem with expressing them.”

“It’s only for a couple hours. After that, the King and Lady Nakia will be enjoying a private celebration of their own, no guards required.”

“No guards will want to be present for that bit, trust me.”

Okoye smirked. “I’ll be off on the second day. Can you handle running everything for that long?”

Ayo nodded, the picture of stoic confidence. “Of course.”

“Alright. Since the Princess is out –and, given Nakia’s orientation—the family will be participating more directly in the parades on the third day. You’ll be off then, so there’s nothing there for you to worry about.” She groaned as her kimoyo beads started chirping, reminding her of an appointment. “I have to go. The Queen Mother invited me to dinner with the family, M’Baku, and Dewani tonight.”

A ghost of a smile flickered across Ayo’s face as Okoye stood a straightened her armor. “Sounds like fun.”

Okoye grimaced. “It’s always so awkward.”

“Well, you ought to get used to it. I imagine you’ll be dealing with it more, since you’re involved with the Chief.”

Okoye sighed. “I know. It’s just… weird.”

 


 

 

Dinner was pleasant enough. Everyone was familiar enough with each other that the conversation flowed easily, letting Okoye sit back and watch as they moved from course to course 

Dewani, however, was uncharacteristically quiet as she poked at her main course with her fork.

Shuri, amidst her excited chatter about the latest development in satellite technology, seemed to notice that her usually brash girlfriend wasn’t contributing to the controlled chaos and nudged her in the side with her elbow. “Hey. Why so glum?”

“What? I’m not glum.”

“Oh, come on! You’ve barely said a word!”

Dewani shrugged, eyes not leaving her plate. “Just tired. That’s all.”

Shuri pursed her lips, and she looked like she was itching to argue, but she settled at a warning look from her mother. “Well, I can’t wait for you to see the queer solidarity parades on the third day. There’s always fireworks, and a lot of dancing!” She grinned excitedly. “I actually get to participate this year! I don’t have to watch from the sides anymore!”

Nakia grinned back. “It’s a lot of fun. I remember my first parade. I was eleven, and my father carried me on his shoulders so I wouldn’t get trampled by the other, larger adults there.”

“Sounds like it’s quite the event,” Dewani said quietly.

“It’s awesome!” Shuri beamed at her girlfriend. “Did you ever get to do anything like that in the Jabari lands?”

Dewani’s mouth twitched into a frown. “Uh… no. I couldn’t really do that… with my uncle and everything.”

The table went dead silent at the reminder of F’Tendi and the abuse Dewani had suffered.

Shuri paled, bit the inside of her cheek, and dropped her head into her hands. “For Bast’s sake, how can I be a super genius and shove my foot in my mouth that badly?”

At that, Dewani laughed. “It’s fine. I’m glad you’re excited. I just… don’t have the same confidence in my orientation, I guess.”

“No one says you have to be out at the festival,” Okoye interjected. “Plenty of people go without identifying because they aren’t sure how they want to identify or just don’t want to. You’re not obligated.”

“Yeah, but I know I’m a lesbian.”

“Yes, you are, but you can come out on your own time,” Nakia said gently. “Just because you know who you’re attracted to doesn’t mean you have to share it right then and there.”

Dewani pushed a few pieces of potato around on her plate before looking up at Okoye, an anxious glint in her eyes. “You’ve worked the festival before, right?”

Okoye nodded. “I have.”

“Do things… do people ever show up and try to… hurt anyone?”

Okoye sat back in her seat, running through her mental catalogue of all the times she’d served and attended the love parades. “I can only remember one time. There was an ex-boyfriend whose girlfriend had broken up with him for multiple reasons. He’d stalked her for a couple months, and tried to jump her at the parade.”

Dewani grimaced. “What happened?”

“Three other guys and the girl’s new girlfriend beat the shit out of him. He was arrested afterwards for stalking and harassment,” Okoye said with a shrug.

“The parade is extremely safe,” Nakia added with a reassuring smile. “We all look out for each other.”

Okoye watched carefully as Dewani smiled back with a dim, nervous smile. Something else is going on.

Or maybe not. The girl had been abused most of her life by a homophobic, bigoted uncle. It could be past abuse and fear surfacing.

Well, it’ll become clear in due time, Okoye thought as she sipped at her wine.

 


 

 

Okoye rolled her neck and shoulders as the ship landed on a private dock in the Mining tribe territory. Last one. Last one, and then we’re home. 

The first day was always the longest. As the ruler of Wakanda, T’Challa had to attend the official family-honoring ceremony for each tribe. Each tribe had a different time reserved, based on their respective traditions and values that surrounded the concept of family. However, without fail, three things happened during each visit:

First, the King would be greeted by the entire tribe in the spiritual and ceremonial center of the territory.

Second, the King would give a speech –tailored to the unique values and beliefs of the tribe—about the importance of love amongst family, how Wakanda was a family as a nation, and how loving and supporting each other as Wakandans was important and in the spirit of the festival.

Third, the belief specific function –for the Mining tribe, it meant that the King would meet any new infants that had been borne before the festival.

She inhaled deeply as she escorted the King, his family, M’Baku, Dewani, and the Jabari primes to the center of the Mining tribe territory with the Dora Milaje on the roster for the day. Almost done.

The greeting and speech went well. Okoye watched carefully while two off the more recent recruits –to make up for the women she’d lost fighting Killmonger and the Border tribe—stand by the King and his family as parents of new babies brought their children up for the King to see. So far, everything was going well.

Dewani sidled up next to her, having opted to hang back instead of stand with Shuri. “Can I ask you a question, or do I need to wait until we’re on the ship?”

“Ask away,” Okoye said, careful to keep an eye on the crowd and the King.

“How safe are the parades?”

Okoye frowned. “How do you mean?”

Dewani looked down at her feet, rubbing her hand up and down her arm. “You mentioned the stalker guy…”

Okoye smiled slightly, trying to be reassuring while trying to appear professional and somewhat menacing at the same time. “That was a one-off, Dewani. And, like I said, everyone jumped him before he could do anything.”

Dewani didn’t seem too reassured. She quirked her mouth from side to side as she shifted back and forth before murmuring through gritted teeth “We have celebrations like these in the Jabari lands, too. My uncle always told me that if I ever went to them, he’d find out and remind me of my place in the world.”

Okoye kept her face neutral as she processed the new information. “And you’re worried about him finding you?”

“Or one of his supporters.”

Okoye mulled the idea over. “Well, any Jabari are going to stand out amongst the crowd. Are any others coming?”

“Just a few of my brother’s friends who were curious about the festival.”

“Then I’ll make sure they and the Primes are put in our system. Anyone who doesn’t match them will be watched. Is that good?”

Dewani swallowed hard. “I guess.”

Okoye bit back a frown as Dewani walked away. Feasibly, there wasn’t too much else she could do. She had no way of knowing who was a supporter of F’Tendi and who wasn’t. However, it stood to reason that he and any others who shared his views would pose a threat to the festival-goers, meaning it warranted some sort of plan. As Okoye watched Dewani lean against her brother out of the corner of her eye, she settled on a couple ideas.

First, she needed to talk to Ayo before she clocked out for the day.

Second, she needed to talk to M’Baku and see if he knew the identities of his uncle’s supporters.

Oh no, F’Tendi, Okoye thought as the King finished seeing the last of the new children. You won’t be interfering this time. Not on my watch.

 


 

 

Ayo was waiting for her in her office when she got back. “Nice shirt.” 

Okoye looked down at the low cut tank top she’d put on after showering. “Is it too much?”

“Depends. Are you seeing M’Baku tonight?”

“…Yes.”

“Are you looking to get plowed?”

Okoye stuck her tongue at her best friend. “As a matter of fact, I am.”

“Then it’s perfect. Your message said you wanted to talk to me?”

“Yes.” Okoye filled Ayo in on what Dewani had told her. “I’ll try to get any identities of F’Tendi’s supporters from M’Baku, and we can list the Jabari that are members of M’Baku’s and Dewani’s party, but there’s no real way of knowing who’ll be a supporter and who won’t.”

A shadow of frown flickered across Ayo’s face. “That is a problem. Do we need to put more Dora into rotation for the third day?”

Okoye mulled the idea over for a moment before ultimately shaking her head. “I don’t think so. The Jabari are going to stand out in the crowd regardless, and bigots are going to stand out even more. They don’t have any weapons outside of the ones they craft out of their sacred wood, and those can only do so much damage at a time. Besides, as ignorant and hateful as F’Tendi might be, I don’t think he’d risk causing an inter-tribe incident.”

Ayo nodded. “Alright. Anything else?”

“Actually, there was one other thing I wanted to talk to you about…”

 


 

 

Okoye knocked on the door to M’Baku’s room. 

It opened a few seconds after, revealing M’Baku’s massive frame. He smiled when he realized that she was the one who had knocked. “Well, hello.”

Okoye grinned up at him and leaned against the door frame. “I’m off for the night. I don’t suppose you’d know a good place for me to stay?”

M’Baku grinned back. “You could stay with me. Actually, the Queen Mother offered to watch Dewani for the night so she and Shuri could hang out. I’ve got the suite to myself.”

“Goodness. I guess all that’s left is for you to invite me in.”

M’Baku scooped her into his arms, kissing her passionately as he carried her inside and closed the door behind him. “You’re always welcome to stay with me.”

 


 

 

“I need to talk to you about something.” 

“Well, then I guess it’s good that we’re standing right next to each other and have several hours of uninterrupted time.”

Okoye smacked M’Baku on the arm as he laughed, delighted with himself.

They were in one of the public parks on the outskirts of Birnin Zana. There were a few people walking here and there, but the lush, green expanse of grass and trees was largely empty. Between the shade of the tree they’d settled under and the steady, cool breeze, it was a pleasant morning –even by M’Baku’s standards.

“It’s about Dewani,” Okoye said once M’Baku had settled down.

“Go on,” M’Baku said, voice carefully neutral. He’d stopped looking at her, deliberately focusing on the park in front of them, and his shoulders had gone stiff.

“Relax,” Okoye said as she nudged him with her own shoulder. “We’re fine. I’m just worried about her, is all.”

That got M’Baku’s attention. He frowned down at her. “How so?”

Okoye told him about what she and Dewani had talked about the day prior. “I don’t know any of your uncle’s connections, and they could be a real threat to the regular festival goers if they show up. If you could provide me with any names and IDs, I’d appreciate it.”

“I can do that, but a Jabari is going to stand out among all you low-landers.”

“Yes, but I don’t know if any of your people are going to come down of their own volition. I don’t want them to be unfairly profiled because of what they wear or how they act, only to leave the festival with the belief that we don’t trust your tribe.”

M’Baku smiled and kissed the top of her head. “You’re wonderful, ‘koye. I’ll make sure I have a list for you by the end of the day.”

“Thank you.”

M’Baku resumed his scan of the park, far more relaxed than he had been at the start of the conversation. He jerked his chin at a stand of trees at the edge of the park. “You said there was a river over there.”

Okoye nodded. “It runs through the whole of Wakanda. It’s the same river that you found the King in.”

M’Baku stood. “Do you mind if we check it out? I’ve always wondered what it looked like at the other end.”

Okoye smiled, and took his hand as she stood. “Not at all.”

 


 

 

M’Baku stared at the page of colored patterns that had been set on the table in front of them. “What is all of this?” 

They had gathered in the formal dining room so that everyone could do up their festival paint for the evening. Nakia –already wearing the paint that marked her as pansexual—was laughing as she did up T’Challa’s ally paint. Shuri was beaming excitedly as Ramonda did up her paint for the lesbian pattern; Ramonda, for her part, looked like she was holding back tears of pride with considerable success.

“These are the orientation and gender identity marks that everyone will be wearing today,” Okoye explained, her face already painted. “Some people don’t use it because they don’t want to, but those who do use the patterns and colors that correlate to whichever identity suits them best.”

“Right. So, you’re this one—” he tapped at the woman’s pattern for straight ally “—and I’m this one?” He tapped at the man’s pattern for straight ally.

“Yes, but you have the wrong bowl. Here, let me help you.” As she started painting the right stripes on M’Baku’s cheeks, she looked over at two of his Primes, who were smiling and talking in the Jabari dialect as they painted the symbols for homosexuality on each other. “They look they’re having fun.”

“Yeah. They’re the couple I married while you were gone.”

“Oh! Cool.” She looked up as a servant announced that O’Chenga, advisor to Chief M’Baku, had arrived. “What’s he doing here?”

“I asked him to come,” M’Baku said. “To help keep an eye on things.”

As M’Baku introduced O’Chenga to the royal family, Okoye glanced over at Dewani.

The girl had sequestered herself off in a dark corner of the room. She was sitting so that she was almost crunched in on herself, a bowl of paint and the card with the designs in her lap and a mirror in her hand. Her hands were shaking, smearing the designs into indiscernible blobs all over her face.

Okoye was about to walk over and help her when the doors opened again. 

All of the Dora Milaje walked in, lead by Ayo. Her cheeks were done up with the bisexual symbols, and she was wearing a shirt that had a poem about queer identity and pride screened onto the front of it. Behind her, Aneka was done up with the asexual paint and a shirt with the pattern of the asexual flag.

All of the Dora, in fact, had come ready for the parades --face pant, parade appropriate clothing and jewelry, the bracelets, everything. Lesbian, pansexual, genderqueer, omnisexual, gender fluid, skoliosexual, transgender, demi-romantic, demi-sexual, non-binary, agender, bigender, questioning, polyamorous, queer, asexual, aromantic, bisexual, and allies… a united group of beautiful differences.

Okoye smiled, heart swelling with pride for the women she was honored to serve with and call friends.

“Commander,” T’Challa said, both caught off guard and impressed by the appearance. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

“I had some business to finish before I headed out to the festival.”

Dewani was staring at the rest of the Dora Milaje, mouth hanging open slightly.

Ayo noticed Dewani sitting in the corner and walked over to her. She knelt in front of the teenager and started talking to her, smiling gently and gesturing to the card.

After a moment, Dewani nodded and moved to a chair by the table.

“Aneka, can you get me a make-up wipe?” Ayo wiped off the smudged, bleary paint and started redrawing the symbols with the finesse of an expert. “I like your dress.”

“Thanks.” Dewani smoothed her hands over the skirt of her blue and green dress. “When… when did you realize you were bi?”

“When I was sixteen,” Ayo said. “I met a girl at the parades and realized she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. And then I met a guy later that night who was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.”

Aneka chuckled. “Bisexual and weak.”

“Basically.”

Dewani chewed on her lower lip. “What are the parades like?”

“Honestly, I think you’ll like them,” Ayo said. “There’s a lot of music and dancing. And blacklights. The paint glows under them.”

“It’s basically a giant, city-wide street party, but a thousand times gayer,” Aneka chimed in.

Ayo nodded as she stepped back and handed Dewani a mirror. “You’re done. What do you think?”

Dewani let a tentative smile tug at her lips as she stared at her reflection. “I like it. It looks really good. Thank you.”

M’Baku grinned down at his sister and squeezed her shoulder with his hand. “You look good. Thank you, Commander.”

“Will you be at the parade?” Dewani asked as she stood and tucked herself under her brother’s arm.

“Of course.”

“And… you’re not worried?”

Ayo pulled a vibranium knife out of her pocket and flipped it open to reveal a glinting, six-inch vibranium blade. “Not really.” She winked as she flipped the knife shut and pocketed the weapon. “It’s a safe event. And, since you’re going with the Princess, you’ll be guarded by the Dora.”

Shuri sidled up to Dewani, resplendent in the same face paint and a shirt that read “Gay and Proud.” “See, there are benefits to going out with me.”

Dewani grinned and slung her arm around Shuri’s shoulder. “Oh, trust me, I already knew that.”

Okoye smiled as she watched Dewani and Shuri walked out of the dining room, surrounded by the Dora Milaje. She nudged Ayo’s arm with her elbow. “Thanks.”

“No problem. We have to look out for each other.”

O’Chenga stared after her as Ayo walked out of the dining room, mouth hanging open and an awestruck expression on his face. “Is she single?”

 


 

 

Music blared through speakers that hovered over the crowd. Fireworks burst into the air, in the colors of the Pride flags and the patterns that were painted on thousands upon thousands of faces. People danced together, face paint and smiles glowing under black lights that hovered next to the speakers. 

An undeniable energy of excitement and joy hung in the air, filtering through everything and everyone until every last person was swept up in the celebration.

Okoye smiled as she watched Dewani and Shuri dance together, laughing breathlessly as they moved and bounced to the beat of the music.

Off to the side, the two husbands that served on M’Baku’s team of Primes exchanged soft, gentle smiles as they swayed to the music.

In the background, she could see Ayo and O’Chenga talking while sitting at a bar. Okoye smiled when she caught Ayo’s eye, and waved subtly as Ayo lifted her glass.

M’Baku put his hand on her shoulder, jolting her out of her reverie. He smiled as he watched his sister, then nodded as he took in the excited, happy crowd. “I’ll admit it. This is amazing.”

Okoye beamed with pride as she looked out over the throng of people. “This is Wakanda.”

Chapter Text

Life is a struggle. The river, though it provides for us, also poses a constant threat to our lives. It is full of predators, hidden currents, and sharp stones that could end us all in an instant.

As soldiers of the Dora Milaje, death likely be a constant in your lives. To be a Dora Milaje, you have to be intimately familiar with it –how to inflict it, how to ensure it, and how to save your sisters from it.

However, despite the challenges and presence of death it brings, life is also a gift. It is the flowers growing on the side of the road, the cry of a newly born baby, the spark of a new friendship.

Celebrate life wherever you go, my loves. It is the only true way to keep death at bay.


 

Okoye allowed herself a small smile as she watched M’Baku’s ship land on the main platform outside the palace.

Normally, she could expect the Jabari chief to fly in for the scheduled council meetings, but those trips always promised varying levels of political jockeying and drudgery. A good amount of time spent on the ass, with too few practical outcomes pay off to justify all the sitting, in her opinion.

This trip, however, was special. Princess Shuri’s birthday was in three days, and Dewani and M’Baku had flown in special to celebrate with the royal family.

No council meetings, unless it was an emergency.

No new missions to be drafted and assigned until the birthday had passed.

No nationwide celebrations, ceremonies, or parades that needed to be monitored.

All that had to be done was cycling the guard rotations –which she’d already worked out.

It was like a little mini-vacation, one that she had been craving lately.

She kept herself carefully composed as M’Baku and Dewani disembarked, went through the formalities of greeting the King and the royal family, and engaged in the usual social niceties of greetings and conversation. Then, Shuri took Dewani by the hand and the two girls darted into the palace, giggling and talking.

T’Challa smiled as he watched his sister and her girlfriend, then nodded at Okoye and Chief M’Baku. “I’ll see the two of you after you’ve had time to catch up.”


 

Okoye sighed happily as she leaned against M’Baku’s shoulder. “I’m glad to see you.”

“And I you.”

She let her eyes close as he pressed his lips against the top of her head.

They were strolling through the garden in lieu of sitting, ambling along to give them plenty of time to talk and to let M’Baku stop as he pleased to study and admire the various flowers growing alongside the paths.

“It’s been too long since we’ve been able to spend more than a day together,” M’Baku said as he rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand. “I don’t like seeing you in only bits and pieces.”

“Well, it’d be easier to see each other if you let the transportation system link up with the Jabari lands,” Okoye said with a teasing smile.

M’Baku seemed nowhere near as amused as she did. “Or you could take a vacation every once in a while.”

Okoye sighed and stopped, tugging on M’Baku’s hand until he turned to face her. “It’s more complicated than that.”

“And it’s more complicated than ‘stubborn Jabari Chief shuns all technology,’” M’Baku shot back. “‘Koye, I love you, but why can’t you give up a little time to see me more often?”

“Because my job is more complicated than that. I don’t just guard the King and sit in on Council meetings. I’m also the woman in charge for all missions involving the King or the Dora Milaje, and I’m one of five people in charge of the War Dogs program. I can’t just… pick up and go whenever I want, especially since the commute to the Jabari lands is so long.”

“…So you weren’t just talking about the commuting system to egg me on.”

“No, I wasn’t.”

M’Baku let out a heavy sigh and pressed his lips against her forehead. “Under any other circumstances, I’d do it, but with my uncle in the picture…”

Okoye kissed his cheek before smiling up at him. “We’ll figure it out. We always do.” She leaned against him as they resumed their leisurely stroll through the garden. “I do have some mandatory time off in a little over a month. If it works for you, I’ll make sure I come see you then.”

“Like I could ever turn you away.”

Okoye smiled, squeezing M’Baku’s hand before letting go as they approached the royal family and Dewani.

T’Challa, Nakia, and Ramonda sat off to the side while Shuri and Dewani stood on top of a sparring mat, each wearing light protective gear.

M’Baku raised an eyebrow as he took the sight in. “What’s going on here?”

“We’re seeing who’s the better fighter,” Shuri said. “Or, we’re trying to, but someone is a little too worried that I’ll shatter like glass.”

“I am not worried that you’ll break apart,” Dewani shot back. “I’m worried that we’ll get into it and that you’ll start complaining that I fight too hard.”

Shuri gave her girlfriend a matter of fact look. “I am a descendant of the first Black Panther. The blessing of Bast runs through my veins. I think you should be more worried about my being too hard on you.”

Dewani, who didn’t look convinced in the slightest, wrapped her hand around one of Shuri’s upper arms, showing how easily she could bring her index finger and thumb together. “Right.”

“Strength isn’t all in how big the muscles are!”

“No, but more mass does allow for better ability to take a fucking hit!”

Shuri rolled her eyes, then pointed to her chest. “Come on, just hit me. As hard as you like, I promise I won’t complain.”

Dewani narrowed her eyes in suspicion, before shrugging and smacking her girlfriend in the chest with her fist.

Shuri bent over, clutching at her chest as the resounding thud of Dewani’s strike echoed off the glass walls of the palace. “Ow! You didn’t have to hit me that hard!”

Dewani threw her hands up in the air, exasperation evident on her face. “What did I say? What did I fucking say about—”

“You hit me on the fucking tit, idiot! Bast, that hurts!”

“Shuri,” Ramonda said in an admonishing tone. “Watch your language, please.”

“Look, say everything you like about your heart-shaped herb. It still doesn’t replace the practical experience of fighting, of building muscle and pain tolerance,” Dewani said. “I didn’t even hit you at my full strength, and you can hardly take it.”

Shuri narrowed her eyes, her face contorting into a defiant expression that Okoye had seen many times before –usually when someone told Shuri she couldn’t do something. “Okay, now you’re just bragging.”

“I’m not bragging. I’m being realistic.”

“Fine.” Shuri held her fists up. “Three rounds. Do your worst.”


 

“Your sister’s faster than I gave her credit for,” T’Challa said, eyes flicking back and forth.

The three matches had all ended the same way –with Dewani pinning Shuri in some fashion, and with Shuri complaining loudly about whatever excuses she could come up with. After the third match, Shuri had stood with a huff of frustration and challenged Dewani to a game of tag, with the gardens as the fair grounds.

Currently, Dewani was having no problems staying several feet ahead of Shuri, laughing as she ran through the garden with long, powerful strides.

“We lead very physical lives, as Jabari,” M’Baku said. “Anything we can do for ourselves, we do. You’ll never see a machine do something for us that we can’t do for ourselves.”

Okoye bit back an amused grin as she watched T’Challa roll his eyes. She knew that M’Baku was exaggerating the sentiment to get at T’Challa, but that didn’t make the antagonism between the two any less entertaining.

On the path below them, Shuri let out a shout of triumph as she chased Dewani onto a dead end path, blocked on the end by a massive tree.

Okoye watched, equal parts impressed and amused, as Dewani ran up the trunk of the tree and flipped over Shuri, quickly darting back down the path, onto a bridge, and hopping off the side into a stream below.

T’Challa let out a low whistle as Shuri let out a stream of breathless curses. “She’s got some skill.”

When M’Baku didn’t reply with some line about the superiority of the Jabari way of life, the gears in Okoye’s brain started turning. It’s not something he’s automatically bragging about… Dewani’s physicality is something he views as a natural extension of the Jabari lifestyle, but not her parkour and free running abilities…

Silently, she wondered if Dewani had developed her evasion skills during her time with F’Tendi. Logically, it made sense. The abuse she suffered at the hands of her uncle would’ve necessitated evasion skills like parkour, and M’Baku’s silence made it clear that her abilities hadn’t come from any sort of healthy motivation –if they had, he would’ve said so.

Okoye glanced over at T’Challa, and knew by the contemplative expression on her King’s face that he was undoubtedly thinking the same thing.

“I can’t see them over the hedges,” Ramonda murmured as she craned her neck, trying to catch sight of her daughter.

“I doubt they’ll do anything inappropriate,” T’Challa said in fond exasperation.

“No, but they’re booking it down there. I’d hate for one them to get hurt and us not be within easy reach. Besides, it’s almost time for dinner.”

“I’ll go find them, Queen Mother,” Okoye said with a quick bow. She looked up as M’Baku followed her down the steps that led to the lower levels of the gardens. “You’re coming too?”

“Dewani’s my sister. She’s my responsibility.”

“Ah. And here I thought you wanted to spend more time with me.”

“Well, that was the other factor…”


 

It didn’t take long to find the two girls. As it turned out, they had stopped shortly after they’d fallen out of sight of everyone else. All Okoye had to do was track Shuri’s kimoyo beads.

She rounded the last corner that lay between her and the girls, but ducked back behind the hedge when she caught sight of the two teenagers.

Shuri had tears streaming down her face, and was slumped against Dewani –who, for her part, was doing a good job of keeping her girlfriend upright.

Okoye held up a hand, motioning for M’Baku to stop. She peered around the corner again.

“—overthinking this.”

Shuri’s shoulders heaved up and down as she leaned against Dewani. “I’m not!”

“You don’t have to be the fastest, or the strongest—”

“And what happens when T’Challa steps down from the mantle of the Black Panther? You’re right; I can’t just rely on the heart-shaped herb to fill in the gaps.”

“Shuri.” Dewani gripped her girlfriend by the shoulders. “You’re only sixteen. I’m only sixteen. We are two sixteen-year olds.”

That made Shuri giggle, at least. “I know how old I am, doofus.”

“Good. I was worried that you’d forgotten for a moment, because I can’t fathom a single reason why you’d be worried about taking up the Black Panther mantle.”

Shuri twisted her hands as she stared at her feet. “T’Challa wasn’t expecting to become King so quickly… but Baba died all the same.”

Okoye’s heart sank as she watched Shuri hunch in on herself. She glanced at her kimoyo beads, grimaced when she realized that she had been watching the girls talk for five minutes, and cleared her throat before she fully rounded the corner.

Shuri stiffened as though she had been hit with a tazer, but Dewani was more than ready to react –or, given that it was Dewani, mouth off.

“Don’t mind us. We were just making out.” She gave her girlfriend a ‘what was that for?’ look when Shuri punched her in the arm.

Okoye bit back a laugh as M’Baku gave his sister the stink eye. “The Queen Mother sent us to find you,” he said. “It’s time to wash up for dinner.”

“Here.” Dewani knelt in front of Shuri. “I’ll carry you back.”

Okoye nudged M’Baku in the side as Dewani began carrying Shuri back to the palace, piggy-back style. “Are you going to carry me?”

He shrugged with an easy grin. “If you want me to.”


 

Dinner had gone smoothly enough –and quickly enough, since Shuri claimed she ‘wasn’t feeling well’ before the third course was even served, retreating to her room shortly thereafter.

Okoye knew that she had to be upset over celebrating her birthday without her father for the first time. The loss of T’Chaka had been shocking for everyone, had even taken her out at the knees when she’d seen the news report.

Still, the specific pain that Shuri was experiencing was distant, even intangible to her. Yes, she’d lost her own father, but she’d lost him so young that she couldn’t even remember his face, much less his name or his manner. There were times –sometimes her birthday, sometimes the New Year—where it would occur to her that she ought to be celebrating with her family –or have family, period—but even those epiphanies did little to crack open the well-papered over pain that she could barely remember. She could see the absence in her life –see the family shaped hole that had been gouged out by Klaue’s actions—but she couldn’t quite connect to it.

Okoye paused from her slow sifting through mission reports to stop and reflect on the loss, to try and connect to it –and, by proxy, what Shuri was going through—better. She dug as deeply as she could, trying to piece together fragments on hazy memories seen through far younger eyes.

All she found was the memory of finding their bodies and howling in anguish.

That, in and of itself, was painful. The only thing she had left of her parents was their death.

A sharp knock on her office door broke her out of her reverie. Okoye quickly wiped tears off her face and cleared her throat before welcoming the knocker in.

Ayo walked in, dirt and soot smudged across her face and expression weary. “Please tell me you still keep a bottle of whiskey in your desk drawer.”

Okoye’s eyes widened as she pulled out a glass bottle and cup. “Should you even be here right now?”

“I’ve already been cleared by two medics. I just want something to drink.”

“I take it the mission didn’t go as planned, then?”

Ayo hissed through gritted teeth before downing half the glass. “Fuck no. Klaue’s associate knew we were coming. Had the entire place booby-trapped with explosives and heat-seeking machine gun turrets.” She went silent for a moment before adding, “I lost two of my people.”

Okoye moved out from behind her desk to clasp Ayo’s shoulder sympathetically. “I’m sorry, but I won’t pretend that it’ll never happen again.”

“I know. I know.”

“It would seem, however, that Klaue’s faceless associate is going to be more of a problem than we had anticipated,” Okoye murmured as she flicked the missions catalogue onto the main display. “What, this is the third mission they’ve evaded us on?”

“Fourth, if you count the dead end in Morocco,” Ayo added before letting out a disgruntled sigh. “Don’t tell me that you’re going to spend the night here, chasing patterns that don’t exist, instead of seeing M’Baku.”

“What makes you think that I’m seeing M’Baku?” Okoye pursed her lips as Ayo raised an eyebrow at her, then gestured to the tight black tank top and even tighter blue and green skirt she was wearing. “Okay, fair enough, and no. I won’t be staying here all night. M’Baku was already expecting me. I just wanted to make sure you got in alright.”

A ghost of affection flashed across Ayo’s face before being replaced with the same heavy bitterness she had come in with. “I’m fine. Go spend time with your man.”

Okoye held Ayo by her shoulders. “If you need me—”

“I am a grown-ass woman—”

“First failed missions are hard. I would know. If you need me, call me. M’Baku will understand.”

A flicker of a smile played at Ayo’s lips –and stayed this time. “You’re a good friend, Okoye. Now, go get laid.”

Okoye snorted and patted Ayo on the shoulder before leaving. “Believe me, I plan on it.”


 

If there was one thing Okoye had to list as an all time favorite fixture in the palace, it wasn’t the training room –even though it had the best equipment and shock absorbing training mats the world could offer, courtesy of Shuri.

Nor was it the private break room for the Dora Milaje, which had its own privately-stocked coffee bar –although that particular spot ranked high on the list. She was serious about her coffee.

Not even the luscious, immaculately kept gardens could come in at the top of her list –though, she was developing a new appreciation for them, thanks to her time spent with M’Baku.

No, if Okoye had to pick one thing about the palace that she would never, ever change, it would be the beds. They were the perfect balance between soft and firm, layered with gorgeously soft sheets and blankets, and had the best pillows propped up at the headboard –neither too firm or too soft, and always cool to the touch.

Ideal for sleeping --and other things.

Currently, she was sprawled on her stomach across the bed in M’Baku’s guest suite, watching her lover rummage around the room.

A sight to behold on its own, certainly, but made even better by his nude state.

“‘Koye.” M’Baku grinned as the drawl of his nickname for her finally caught her attention. “I asked what you were thinking.”

“Nothing. I’m staring at your ass.”

M’Baku chuckled as he strode back to the bed, rolling her on her back as he kissed her passionately. “And what do your eyes tell you?”

“They tell me that feeling is better than seeing,” she shot back as she groped at his rear. “Roll on your back. I want to be on top this time.” As he shifted to acquiesce to her, Ayo’s face flashed through her mind, unbidden. Okoye frowned slightly as she stilled, preoccupied with worry for her best friend.

“Uh-oh. I know that look.”

“What look?”

“Your mind is being consumed with something, and it won’t stop until you follow the thought all the way through.” M’Baku sighed, but smiled fondly nonetheless as he rubbed his hand up and down her side. “What is it?”

“It’s nothing. I was just thinking about Ayo.”

“Oh, so we’re trying to have sex, and you’re thinking about your best friend. Great.”

“Not like that!” Okoye smacked her hands against his formidable chest as he cackled. “She had her first failed mission tonight, lost two people. I’m just worried about her, is all.”

M’Baku sucked a breath through his teeth. “That’s hard. Do you want to call her?”

“I would, but she’d probably yell at me about hovering.”

“Then you should probably leave it be. Unless you think she’s in danger from herself.”

Okoye shook her head. “No, nothing like that. It’s just that this mission has being an on-going process of frustration and figurative hair-tearing.”

M’Baku propped himself up on one elbow. “How so?”

“Well, Klaue had an unnamed associate that hid some of the vibranium he stole. We’ve tried to track the mystery person down more than once, but they always seem to know that we’re coming. They even had a trap laid down for Ayo’s team tonight. That’s how she lost two people.”

M’Baku’s brows furrowed. “Wait, there’s still more vibranium outside of the country? Klaue had associates?”

Okoye’s eyes widened as she realized the mess she had just stepped in. The King… didn’t tell him… about the missing vibranium.

Granted, it wasn’t exactly common knowledge, but all of the council members knew about the missing vibranium cache that linked back to an unidentified associate of Klaue’s. She had assumed…

Assume makes an ass of you and me.

M’Baku breathed in and out, once, twice, before shaking his head. “No matter. The Jabari do not concern themselves with vibranium. It can be the King’s headache.”

Okoye shot M’Baku a disbelieving look. “You’re dropping it? That easily?”

“Yes,” M’Baku said as he sat up and wrapped his arms around her, holding her flush against his chest. “Because, right now, I have the most gorgeous woman in my bed. The last thing I want to think about is the King and his vibranium headache.”

Okoye chuckled and tilted her head back as M’Baku pressed a trail of kisses down her neck. “Okay, okay. Point taken.”

“I’m so glad you see it my way. So, are you still hellbent on being on top for this round?”

“Yes.” Okoye shoved at his chest, pushing him back onto the bed. “You got to be in charge for the last two rounds. It’s my turn.”

M’Baku laughed. “In charge? Which one of us is a Chief?”

“And which one of us is the indomitable General of the Dora Milaje?”

“Ah, how could I forget? Forgive me, my love.”

Okoye grinned and leaned down to kiss him.


 

“That went on twice as long as it had to.”

“Did it? Or are you just being grumpy?”

“I’m never grumpy.”

Okoye laughed quietly as she walked through the garden with M’Baku.

The palace had hosted a formal dinner thrown by the Wakandan Society of Scientific Research and Development in Shuri’s honor –a celebration for her birthday. While “formal” by technical definition, it had been a far sight more enjoyable than nearly all of the formal functions she’d attended while travelling with the King.

“Was it really so horrible?”

“Oh, I suppose not. It was kind of them to give her recognition for all her efforts in advancing technology and to celebrate her birthday –especially with this being her first birthday since T’Chaka’s death.”

Okoye hummed in response as they strolled under the cover of the night sky. “So, what has you so grumpy?”

“It was just so… confined. Everyone at separate tables, no one mingling or talking outside of the people they were sat with.” M’Baku looked down at her with a worried expression. “Is that how you celebrate birthdays down here?”

“No. Tonight was just a formal event. Granted, each tribe has their own traditions pertaining to birthdays, but there’s generally a celebration with the immediate family on the day of, then a celebration with the extended family and close friends the next day, and a celebration with the village at the end of the week.”

M’Baku raised his eyebrows in surprise. “That sounds very similar to how we do things in the Jabari lands.”

Okoye grinned and elbowed him in the side. “See? We’re not so different after all.” They rounded the corner that led to the palace, and Okoye stopped so quickly that M’Baku almost tripped over her. She quickly nudged him back around the corner, stepping out of sight before they were seen.

Shuri and Dewani were sitting on the steps that led to the palace. Shuri was sitting in the circle of Dewani’s arms, sobbing loudly.

“I think you’re still overthinking all of this—”

“I’m not!”

Okoye retreated further, ducking behind a tall hedge as Shuri tore herself away from Dewani to stagger down a couple steps.

“Shuri, perfection isn’t possible. It’s just… it’s just not.”

“Science hasn’t proven that it isn’t!”

“Okay, but you always say that anything can be improved upon—”

“And, someday, I’ll hit the point where it can’t be! And then things will be perfect!”

Okoye grimaced as she listened to Shuri’s hoarse, hysterical screaming. She glanced back at M’Baku, only to find that he was wearing a similarly somber expression.

“Shuri, I don’t doubt your genius or abilities, but that’s a heavy burden to put on yourself –it’s not one you deserve.”

“Do you think I have a choice?” Shuri shouted, anger and pain making her voice crack. “Look at what happened to my father! If I had designed the necklaces sooner, then he would’ve lived.”

Okoye frowned as pang of sympathetic pain shot through her chest.

M’Baku let out a quiet hiss. “I had no idea she blamed herself so heavily for her father’s death.”

“Neither did I.”

“Shuri.” Dewani’s voice sounded from around the corner, soft and sad. “It’s not your fault.”

Shuri was silent for a moment. Then, in a quiet, broken whisper, she said “I have to be the best, Dewani. I’ve learned that the hard way.”

Okoye was between deciding whether to take one of the other paths out of the garden or two step up and comfort the Princess when M’Baku stepped past her without warning.

“Trying to be the best is a path that only leads to nervous break downs,” M’Baku said as he settled himself onto a step next to Dewani. “I would know.”

Shuri stiffened and puffed herself up to her full height, clearly caught off guard and uncomfortable with M’Baku seeing her in such a broken down state. “Would you, now?”

“Absolutely. When my father died, I felt the burden of his death so keenly that I threw myself into the idea of being a perfect Chief. It sucked so much out of me that I didn’t notice my uncle’s atrocities until it was literally pointed out to me.” M’Baku sighed heavily as he shared a bitter grimace with Dewani before refocusing on Shuri. “Perfection, being the best… they aren’t worth the toll it takes on you and the people around you.”

Okoye let out a deep breath and stepped out from behind the hedge. “He’s right.” When Shuri turned to face her, Okoye did her best to keep from snapping into her on-duty posture. “There are always going to be wrinkles in any plan, things that happen that you couldn’t have seen coming. You learn from them as best you can, but nothing can ever be one hundred percent perfect.”

Shuri shook her head, her braids whipping back and forth. “No! No, there’s a difference! There’s a difference between failing a mission and losing your father!”

“Yes,” Okoye agreed gently, “there is. But that doesn’t make it your fault.” She gently, almost gingerly, placed her hands on Shuri’s shoulders. “Your father’s death was the fault of the man who set the bomb. None of the responsibility falls to you.”

Shuri stared up at her, eyes blazing with barely held in pain and glistening with unshed tears. Then, her lower lip started trembling, and she crumpled against Okoye as she started crying anew.

Okoye caught Shuri in her arms and patted her back. “Come on, Princess. Let’s go find your mother.”


 

Okoye smiled serenely as she watched Shuri banter back and forth with Dewani. And so, a new day brings new joy.

The royal family, M’Baku, and Dewani were seated around a wooden table in the center of the garden, enjoying a quiet lunch to celebrate Shuri’s seventeenth birthday.

Ramonda clasped her daughter’s hand as the servants cleared away the last of the dishes. “Well, my dear, I think it’s time to give you your gifts.” She picked up a smooth black box tied with a gold ribbon from the seat next to her. “Your father and I picked this out for you shortly after your sixteenth birthday. I know he’d be so proud of the woman you’re becoming.”

Okoye didn’t miss the way Shuri’s smile faltered or the way her hands shook as she undid the ribbon and opened the box.

Shuri gasped softly a lifted a gorgeous black and gold beaded necklace out of the box. “It’s beautiful.” She managed a smile for her mother, but her eyes glistened with barely contained tears. “Thank you.”

Ramonda smiled back, eyes equally as wet, and kissed her daughter on the cheek.

T’Challa gave his sister a cropped black leather jacket that Shuri looked over appreciatively before sliding it on.

Nakia gave her a pair of bright purple wedges that the Princess squealed over before putting them on in place of the shoes she was already wearing.

The King groaned as Shuri modeled her new shoes for Dewani. “How do you always end up picking the better gift?”

“There are some things you just have to be a woman to know,” Nakia said with a smile.

M’Baku gave her copies of agricultural studies and genetic modification conducted by Jabari scientists.

“It’s a wonderful gift,” Shuri said. “Thank you, Chief M’Baku.”

Dewani handed Shuri a gift that had been carefully wrapped in light purple paper with a shy smile. “Here. I made it myself.”

Shuri’s happy smile shifted to one of mild confusion as she opened the box, forehead creasing as she ran her fingers over the intricate leather cover of a massive book. “You made this?”

“Well, I didn’t do the binding, but everything inside –yeah. I made it.”

Okoye craned her neck to see the pages as Shuri casually flipped through the book.

There were illustrations, sketches, poems, pages of ramblings, thoughts on Jabari life, and what looked like intermittent diary entries.

Okoye allowed herself a small smile. Well done, Dewani. You’ve given her an amazing gift.

“I love it!” Shuri squealed, eyes wide with amazement as she brushed her fingers over the pages with the reverence of a scholar.

“Really?” Dewani asked, slightly shocked.

“Yes, really!” Shuri pressed her lips against her girlfriend’s cheek in an enthusiastic kiss. “It’s like you’ve given me a look inside of your brain! I love it so much! Thank you!”

Dewani looked up at Okoye as Shuri pulled her into a hug and mouthed a quick “thank you” in her direction.

Okoye shot her a wink back, along with a grin.


 

Okoye glared sharply at Ayo’s mission report, scanning it line by line.

--we approached the suspected warehouse once the sun fully set. Scans indicated there were sixteen life forms inside, but upon entry the warehouse was barren.

Okoye frowned. So, they can fool our scanners. Klaue’s associate is definitely testing the limits of what vibranium can do. She pulled up her notes on the other missions they’d run to try and recover the last of Klaue’s stolen vibranium.

There were consistencies among all of the three missions. Each time, the location they’d discovered had been empty when they’d found it. Each time –when they’d had more than enough evidence to prove that Klaue’s associate would be there—everyone they’d surveilled at the location was gone, with no signs of anyone having been there at all. Each time, the vibranium was gone as well.

We know it’s not the men Klaue had working with him during Ultron’s uprising, Okoye thought as she sat back in her chair. Nor is it anyone we had on record working with Klaue –or N’Jadaka, for that matter.

Who could it be, then? Who had they missed? Was there a mole in their operations? A Wakandan that had sided with Klaue and was feeding their mission information to the unnamed associate?

Or an American, Okoye thought with a sinking stomach. Agent Ross knew about Klaue’s access to vibranium.

Perhaps it would be worth contacting the agent again, seeing if she could get information about Klaue out of him.

Okoye flinched at a sudden, harsh wrap on her office door. “Come in,” she said, quickly dismissing the displays of the mission logs and her notes.

The opened a crack, and Shuri peeked in, a shy expression on her face. “Am I interrupting anything?”

“Princess.” Okoye stood quickly and bowed, doing her best to conceal her surprise. “Is there something I can help you with?”

“Call me Shuri, please,” she said, stepping over the threshold of Okoye’s office. “I’ve been ‘Princess-ed’ more than enough for one day.” She gestured to the chair that sat in front of Okoye’s desk. “May I sit?”

“Of course.” As they sat down, Okoye grinned when she realized that Shuri had Dewani’s book tucked under her arm. “I see you have the book.”

“I’m not even halfway through it yet. She put so much in here. Dewani said…” Shuri hefted the book. “She said this was your idea?”

“I suggested she make something for you. The book was all her idea.”

“Well, thanks for inspiring her. Having something like this…” Shuri’s voice trailed off and her eyes started glistening. “It’s made today easier.” She cleared her throat. “There was something Chief M’Baku said I should talk to you about.”

Okoye raised an eyebrow. “Oh? What was that?”

“He said that you would understand what I’ve been through—”

Okoye’s heart dropped. He didn’t.

“—because you’ve lost your friends on missions before.”

Okoye did her best to conceal the depths of her relief from Shuri. He didn’t. He left it as your choice. He didn’t tell her. “I have…” She hesitated, then pressed on. “But I suspect the Chief was thinking of something else.”

Shuri frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I lost my parents in the explosion set off by Klaue,” Okoye said quietly.

“I… I had no idea.”

Okoye waved her had dismissively. “There was no reason for you to. It’s not common knowledge.”

“So… you do understand.”

“To an extent, yes. I was six when I lost my parents, so I don’t remember them as well as you remember your father.”

Shuri let out a weak laugh. “It’s strange, isn’t it? No matter how similar the loss is, there’s always something to make it different from all the other losses around it.”

“The river of life flows differently for all of us.”

Shuri ducked her head as she held onto Dewani’s book like it was the only thing keeping her afloat in the wake of her grief. “Does it… does it ever get better?”

Okoye studied the Princess –her shaking shoulders, bowed head, and white knuckle grip on the book—before answering. “Yes.”

Shuri’s head popped up, eyes wide and tears trickling down her cheeks. “Really?”

Okoye nodded. “But it takes time.”

“That’s what everyone says.”

“I know. Unfortunately, it’s true.”

Shuri sniffed loudly and swiped at her nose with the back of her hand. “Do you still miss them?”

“Sometimes. Mostly around my birthday and the New Year.”

“Well, at least you have the rest of your family.”

Okoye grimaced, then shook her head. “No, I don’t.”

Shuri frowned. “Were they killed in the explosion as well?”

“I don’t know. I ran away after my parents died and went into the Dora Milaje program when I was eight. I’ve never heard from the rest of my family.”

“Then… where do you go during New Year’s?”

“I have an apartment in Birnin Zana.”

“Don’t you ever get lonely?”

Okoye shook her head. “Not often. My friends in the Dora Milaje keep me company –and M’Baku keeps me company when they can’t.”

“I feel sorry for you,” Shuri said after a moment. “I don’t think I would’ve made it through this without my mom and brother.”

“Just because I am an orphan doesn’t mean I don’t have a family,” Okoye said. “Mine just doesn’t share any genetics with me.”

“Well, I’m glad you have people to care about you.” Shuri smiled, wiped the remaining tears from her cheeks, and stood. “I think I’ve taken up enough of your time. Thank you, Okoye.”

“Any time… Shuri.”

Shuri nodded, started towards the door, then stopped. “If—” she turned to face her once more “—you ever want help finding the rest of your family, let me know.”

Okoye smiled, and nodded. “You’ll be the first person I talk to.” She sat back in her chair and let out a sigh as Shuri closed the door behind her. But first, I have to figure out how Klaue’s associate keeps staying a step ahead of us.

Chapter Text

You cannot win every fight you enter.

You will lose matches. You will fail missions. You will be frustrated, and you will loathe the bitter taste of defeat.

Do not loathe yourselves, my dears. You are human. You are not required to be perfect.

It does not matter if you fall down, only if you get back up.


 

The Gibson Desert, Australia; 3 AM Western Australia Time

Okoye paused to wipe beads of sweat away from her brow as she crept towards a seemingly abandoned warehouse in the middle of the Gibson Desert. And M’Baku thinks Birnin Zana is unbearably hot.

Their latest lead on Klaue’s associate had lead them here --an old hideout of Klaue’s in the middle of fuck nowhere that, according to their intel, he retreated to when the CIA, FBI, Interpol, or other intelligence agencies came too close to capturing him. If they were lucky, Klaue’s associate --and the vibranium cache--would be there.

She signaled to the other Dora Milaje that had accompanied her, and they moved in together.

Okoye stopped outside the back door. She waited until her women were in position, then nodded to Djabi.

Djabi kicked the door in.

Okoye sprinted into the warehouse, bracing herself for an onslaught of resistance.

The air was stiflingly hot and still inside. The space inside was completely dark and smelled like dust.

Okoye scowled and activated the flashlight function on her kimoyo beads. Don’t tell me...

The warehouse was utterly empty, save for a decrepit looking mattress stained with Bast knows what and an unnatural abundance of cobwebs.

Okoye smacked the end of her spear against the concrete floor. “Bast dammit!”


 

Birnin Zana, Wakanda; 10 AM.

Okoye glared at the report of her mission to Wakanda.

Again, all of the leads and intelligence they’d collected confirmed --not indicated, confirmed--that Klaue’s associate was in the safe house in Australia. Plane tickets, emails, texts, phone calls, satellite tracking of the vibranium that had been stolen --an entire fucking paper trail!

Again, all of their satellite scans --on the best satellite Shuri could build--had indicated that at least sixteen people had been in that warehouse. Vitals, heat signatures, motion sensors, everything!

Again, there hadn’t been so much as a suggestion that the “alleged” occupants were wise to their arrival or had decided to pack up and ship out.

And, again, they’d arrived on the scene to find an abandoned location.

At least it wasn’t booby-trapped this time, Okoye thought, deeply pissed off.

It wasn’t about failing the mission...

It was a little about failing the mission.

But, more importantly, vibranium was deeply dangerous in the wrong hands.

We know Klaue was more than capable of building weapons. Okoye’s stomach lurched. His associate could sell them off to the highest builder.

Or, worse, sell it to an American intelligence agency.

The end of the fucking world as we know it.

The was a knock at the door, and it swung open before she could answer. “I was sent here with a mission.”

Okoye smiled, surprised to see M’Baku standing in the doorway. “What are you doing here?”

“The King said it was an emergency. I imagine that is mostly about the difficulties in locating the vibranium stolen by Klaue, but I suspect he wants me to calm you down as well.” He lifted two cups. “Hence, I brought bribes.”

Okoye closed the display of the mission report. “I accept your bribe. Sit.”

M’Baku handed her one of the cups and sat with a chuckle. “I take it the mission didn’t go well.”

“No. We were duped again.”

M’Baku kissed his teeth. “I’m sorry, my love. I know it’s frustrating for you.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” Okoye muttered darkly as she sipped at her coffee.

“The King called an emergency council meeting for today. Apparently, the tribal leaders are a little upset over the lack of progress.”

“Well, they’re not the only ones.”

M’Baku was silent for a moment, then reached across the desk and took her hand in his. “You look tired, my love.”

“Oh, because that’s what every woman is just dying to hear.”

“I only mean that you look like you could use a vacation.”

Okoye slumped back in her chair. “For once, I’m with you. I’m exhausted.”

“In that case... may I recommend a trip to the Jabari lands? The cold is quite refreshing.”

Okoye smirked at him. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were trying to get me to come see you.”

“That’s exactly what I’m trying to do.”

“Well, you’re in luck. I have mandatory time off in two weeks.”

“Why the delay?”

“We’re going back to the United States. President Trump is supposed to be issuing a formal apology to me at the American/Wakandan Unity Press Conference event.”

A dark smile twisted M’Baku’s lips. “Honestly? I want to see that.”

“Ask the King. I sure won’t mind having you there.”

“I will. Believe me, I will.”


 

The atmosphere of the throne room was tense. Everyone’s face was equally puckered with the burdensome knowledge they all bore together:

Klaue’s associate kept evading them. As far as they knew, the associate had enough vibranium at their fingertips to annihilate half of China.

Okoye had just finished briefing the council on the latest failed mission.

The disappointed and judgmental expressions that the elders wore stung. Deeply.

T’Challa steepled his fingers together and let out a heavy sigh. “At this point, I am less and less convinced that Klaue’s associate could’ve pulled all of this off without inside help.”

Nakia frowned and placed a hand on T’Challa’s arm. “You think we have a mole among our ranks?”

“What other explanation is there? There’s no logical explanation as to how they keep evading us.”

“Well,” the Mining tribe leader said with a displeased look at the Border tribe leader. “I think we all know where to start looking.”

“How dare you insult the Border tribe! We have proved our loyalty--”

“By betraying the King even after it was evident that the challenge had not been completed--”

“Enough,” T’Challa barked. “This meeting was not arranged for the purpose of accusing the Border tribe. Anyone could have leaked our information to Klaue’s associate.”

“My King, the Border tribe ought to be suspect because of their willingness to back Killmonger --a willingness that no other tribe demonstrated,” the River tribe leader said.

T’Challa drummed his fingers against the arm of his throne. “My uncle, Prince N’Jobu, betrayed my father because he believed that the world needed vibranium. This isn’t about what wars have been fought; it’s about who believes that selling out to Klaue’s associate is worthwhile. And that belief is something that can be possessed by any person, regardless of the tribe they hail from.”

“Perhaps the process of finding the traitor should be handled by a neutral party,” M’Baku recommended.

“That... is probably our best option,” T’Challa agreed. “General Okoye, do you believe the Dora Milaje are up to the task?”

Okoye nodded. “We’ll partner with our internal intelligence team in the War Dogs program once they’re done with their own internal analysis.”

“How do we know the mole isn’t in the ranks of the Dora Milaje?” the Mining tribe leader asked.

“The longer we sit around, worrying over where the mole will be, the more opportunities the associate has to sell off the last of Klaue’s vibranium to the highest bidder,” Okoye said. “We need to start looking. Bottom line. Once we do, any mole that might be in Wakanda will run out of places to hide.” She swallowed hard as the tribal leaders started discussing the best methods for finding the mole, what timeline was most appropriate for the situation, and what punishment was suitable for betraying Wakanda.

After five failed missions, her confidence in finding the infiltrator --to say nothing of the missing vibranium--was at an all time low.

Bast, please don’t let me be wrong.


 

“This is nothing but discrimination!”

Okoye fought the urge to pinch the bridge of her nose.

Long story short: M’Baku had taken issue with the idea of interrogating the citizens of the Jabari lands. A very, very large issue.

T’Challa, on the other hand, had no issues with pinching the bridge of his nose. He groaned. “M’Baku, it’s just a formality--”

“Your entire political system seems to be one of formalities. Why interrogate the Jabari when we have no interest in vibranium, no access to it, and no contact with the outside world?”

“If we hadn’t included the Jabari tribe in the planning, the council leaders--”

“The council leaders can shove their formalities up their pompous--”

“Whoa!” Dewani skipped up to her brother. “Save the swearing for me.”

M’Baku frowned down at his younger sister. “What are you doing here?”

“I was summoned. I was told you were throwing a temper tantrum.”

M’Baku stared down at Dewani, then narrowed his eyes at T’Challa. “My sister is not your convenient ticket to getting me to cooperate.”

“I asked her to come, M’Baku,” Okoye said, allowing some her exasperation to leak through. “I figured having her opinion on the situation was valuable --and that you might listen to her.”

M’Baku opened his mouth, closed it, crossed his arms over his chest, and opened his mouth again. “You think I’m being unreasonable.”

“Well, you are,” Dewani said. “These are special circumstances, obviously.”

“There is not a single Jabari that would deign to lower themselves by having anything to do with vibranium. Not. One.”

Okoye shot a glance at Dewani, then steeled herself for the low blow she was about to make. “M’Baku. What are your people’s laws on homosexuality?”

M’Baku frowned. “What?”

“Your people’s laws on homosexuality. Is there any formal ban on it?”

M’Baku’s jaw tensed as he put together where she was going. “No. The laws of Hanuman do not forbid homosexuality.”

“Then... how did your uncle come to the position he’s so adamant on keeping?” Okoye pressed her lips into a thin line as M’Baku looked away from her. “If your uncle can promote hatred and abuse when the law does not support him, then it’s at least possible that someone might have sold us out, even though the Jabari condemn the use of vibranium.”

M’Baku rolled his jaw, and stared pointedly at the wall behind her. “Your logic is impressive, General.”

Okoye pushed down the sting of his cold tone and held up her hands in an appeasing gesture. “will hand pick the women who will conduct the interrogations. Your people and their property will be treated with the utmost of respect. You have my word.”

M’Baku looked at her, finally. His eyes were dark and hard. “That, I can agree to.” He shot an annoyed glance at T’Challa. “Anything else, my King?”

T’Challa shot M’Baku an equally annoyed glance back. “No, Chief M’Baku.”

“Good.” With that, he spun on his heel and strode out of the throne room.

Okoye grimaced. “That went poorly.”

“Don’t mind him,” Dewani said. “He’s being a brat.”

“Dewani!”

“You are!”

Okoye watched as Dewani chased after her brother, jabbering at him about “not being so much of a fucking asshole.” Well. This day has officially gone from bad to worse.


 

The door to M’Baku’s suite swung open, revealing a pajama-clad Dewani. “Hi, Okoye!” She nodded in the direction of the private patio. “He’s pouting outside.”

“I do not pout!” M’Baku shouted from where he was seated on the patio.

“Yes, you do!” Dewani leaned towards Okoye and whispered conspiratorially. “I’ve been working on him for you. I think I’ve managed to help him un-wedge his head from his ass.”

Okoye winked at Dewani. “You have my thanks, recruit.”

Dewani saluted, then turned and yelled at M’Baku. “I’m going to go see Shuri. I love you.”

“I love you, too. Behave for the Queen Mother.”

“I will!”

Okoye swallowed hard as the door closed behind Dewani and forced herself to take a deep breath. Relax. He’s not going to scream at you. She walked over to where M’Baku was sitting and smiled down at him. “Am I welcome, or do you hate me now?”

M’Baku smiled tiredly up at her. “Like I could ever hate you.”

Okoye allowed herself to be pulled down into his lap and laid her head on his shoulder. “I’m sorry about the homosexuality bit earlier. I should’ve done that in private.”

“You’re fine,” M’Baku murmured as he pressed his lips against her temple. “I was being... unreasonably difficult. Besides, T’Challa probably would’ve brought it up. And if he didn’t, Dewani definitely would have.”

“Maybe so, but it’s different with me. I’m your partner; it’s not fair for me to take that kind of shot in front of everyone else.”

“Debatable. Honestly, I was more annoyed about being wrong than your pointing out my logical fallacy.”

Okoye rolled her eyes, but smiled nonetheless. “Of course.”

“The Jabari are nothing if not proud of themselves. And don’t think I didn’t notice you use the term ‘partner.’” He grinned down at her. “Are we ‘official’ now?”

“I don’t see why not. We’ve been together for a while now.”

M’Baku nodded. “A whole year just two months after Dewani’s birthday.” He pressed his lips against her forehead. “I talked to the King about coming with you to America. He said he was fine with it.”

“I’m going to say this right now --you cannot punch Trump. No matter how much you may want to.”

“‘Koye--”

“I’m not kidding, M’Baku. He will test your self-control that hard.”

M’Baku put his hand over his heart. “I will not start an international incident. I promise.”

“Thank you.” She kissed him gently, then moved to straddle her lap as an unexpected burst of arousal started coiling inside her.

She was on such a sensitive trigger for M’Baku in a way that she had never been for W’Kabi.

It was wonderful.

“Do you have any plans for tonight?” she murmured against his lips.

“As convenience would have, Dewani is spending the night with the Princess.”

“Do you mind if I stay with you?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

Okoye laughed as M’Baku picked her up --hands planted firmly on her ass--and carried her to his bed. Bast, I love this man.

Chapter Text

If you wrong your sister, repay triple what you owe; apologize to them, invite them into your home for a meal, and offer a small gift to show your remorse.

The apology is your taking account of your actions and acknowledging what has happened. Do not forget it. Without it, you cannot declare the matter settled.

The meal is the rebuilding of the relationship. If you do not offer your hospitality, you are stating your intent to abandon the relationship.

The gift is an indicator of how much you value your relationship with your sister. It need not be expensive or grandiose, but it should be an expression of the heart of your relationship. To refuse to give is to claim the relationship is valueless.

Cast out those who refuse to apologize on illegitimate grounds. They cannot be trusted to better society.


 

“Remind me, again, why we have to dress like the colonizers.”

They were in the --lengthy, tedious--process of packing for their trip to the United States. Even though the trip was being kept as short as possible, they still had a total of three special events to attend: (1) the American/Wakandan Unity Press Conference, (2) a formal banquet with several major figures in American and international politics, and (3) the opening ceremony for the Washington D.C. Wakandan Outreach Center.

Any time off would be spent in the hotel, naturally. However, the special events and the crowds that would come with them could only mean one thing --formal attire.

And, as was the case when dealing with the colonizing world, wearing traditional clothes wasn’t the... smart option.

T’Challa groaned and dropped his head into his hands. “You’re being difficult on purpose.”

“I am not. I simply don’t see why I have to dress like a colonizer.”

Cue the current stalemate that M’Baku and T’Challa were locked in. The King was attempting to convince the Chief --without much success--that dressing in a suit, fitted shirt, dress shoes, and kente scarf was necessary on their trip to the United States. M’Baku, understandably, wasn’t having it.

“What is wrong with the way I dress?” M’Baku asked as he gestured at his leather and fur get up. “This is my culture. This is my heritage. Why do I have to abandon it whenever we step foot outside of Wakanda?”

“You wore the suit when we met with the Security Council representatives--”

“That was an emergency. This is not.”

T’Challa pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed deeply. “Diplomacy is a... careful art. Part of that art is playing to their idea of who we are on occasion.”

M’Baku let out an annoyed laugh. “So, wait. Hang on. We’re going to receive an apology from their troglodyte of a leader, and we’re supposed to appease them?”

“It’s not that simple,” Okoye said, finally stepping into the ring. “The Americans take a highly narrow view on the use of leather and fur.”

“I don’t care what they think of my clothes. I’m not wearing that death trap again.”

“It’s not just about appearances,” Okoye insisted. “There are groups of activists in America that are highly militant about the well-being of animals. It’s a safety issue.”

M’Baku rolled his eyes. “Let me get this straight. We’re going to a nation where they kidnapped people they deemed lesser and forced them into slavery, stole land from the native inhabitants by way of murdering them, segregated communities based on skin color for decades, still have issues with treatment of minorities, and their leader sexually assaulted you, and can’t wear fur because some ‘activist’ might jump me.”

“No one said it wasn’t obnoxious.” Okoye ran her hand up and down his arm. “It’s only for three separate events. We’ll be in the hotel otherwise --you can wear what you want there.”

M’Baku sighed. “Fine. I need to go find Dewani and help her pack.” He strode out of the throne room without another word.

T’Challa sighed and collapsed onto his throne. “I swear, he lives just to piss me off.”

“He’s right,” Okoye said quietly.

“I know. Believe me, I know.”


 

Not for the first time, Okoye was deeply grateful for the high-powered, Wakadan version of WiFi that was packed away in all of their technology. If I had to spend this flight staring out the window, I might scream.

The Internal Intelligence Agency in the War Dogs project had finally gotten their report back to her. The Dora Milaje, the Honor Guard, and the War Dogs had cleared the screening for the mole.

She hadn’t doubted the loyalty of the women she worked with, but it was a relief nonetheless.

First, it meant that the mole wasn’t one of the War Dogs. That made for a lighter workload; they could focus internally, rather than having to track down a highly trained operative on foreign soil.

Second, it meant that she could use both the Dora Milaje and the Honor Guard to conduct interrogations and searches. Time was of the essence, and many hands made for light work.

Third, it meant they could start searching for Klaue’s associate in earnest.

The knowledge of the missing vibranium cache was a constant weight in Okoye’s mind. She was confident that once they found the mole, they’d find the associate. It was only a matter of time. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of time to begin with. She jumped when M’Baku sat down next to her and ran his thumb across her forehead, smoothing her furrowed brow.

“You look like you’re trying to bore holes through your tablet with your eyes.”

Okoye sighed and put her tablet back in her bag. “Sorry. I just got the report from the intelligence unit in the War Dog program.”

“Survey says?”

“The Dora, the Honor Guard, and the War Dogs all cleared.”

M’Baku nodded. “Well, at least you can start scanning the tribes now.” He squeezed her hand with his when she didn’t reply. “You don’t look as enthralled as I thought you would.”

Okoye sighed. “It’s just a lot to deal with at once. And it means a lot of work in a short amount of time.” She slumped against his shoulder. “I just can’t figure out who would want to betray Wakanda.”

“All it takes is one person,” M’Baku murmured as he pressed his lips against her forehead. “Perhaps, for the time being, you should try to rest. The last thing you need is to burn yourself out.”

“Fair enough.” Okoye settled herself against M’Baku’s large, warm frame, and let her gaze wander around the cabin of the ship as she relaxed.

Towards the front, T’Challa and Nakia sat next to each other. T’Challa was wearing a sleep mask and looked dead to the world. Nakia was tucked under his arm, reading a book.

Off to the side, Shuri and Dewani were curled up next to each other, watching some sort of movie.

In the back, the other Dora Milaje soldiers accompanying were stretched out across the seats, catching sleep while they could.

A little rest won’t kill you. Okoye forced herself to close her eyes and let herself be lulled into sleep by the sound of M’Baku’s steady, even breathing.


 

The shouts of reporters.

The pressing heat of hundreds of bodies.

The flash of thousands of cameras.

The undeniable tension in the air.

It was the event of the century. The “indomitable,” “affable,” and arrogant-as-fuck Donald Trump was actually apologizing for his actions.

Ninety percent of the news sources were united in their opinion --the President had been strong-armed by his government to avoid pissing off one of the most powerful nations in the world. The other ten percent --largely dominated by Fox News and other highly conservative news outlets--said it was a display of burgeoning maturity.

Okoye had been in her job long enough to know which it really was.

They were seated the left of platform where the President would be making his apology speech. Okoye was positioned in between T’Challa and M’Baku, sitting stiffly as she waited for the annoying orange to make his appearance.

Nakia was sitting next to T’Challa, murmuring to him in hushed tones as the crowd behind them thrummed with excitement.

Wisely enough, T’Challa and M’Baku had elected that it was best for their sisters to stay at the hotel for this bit.

Okoye inhaled sharply as she watched Trump walk onto the stage and tightened her grip on M’Baku’s hand.

The crowd exploded. Angry screams from the protesters that had shown up, shouted questions from journalists, and a lot of boo-ing from everyone else.

The President grinned and waved.

Okoye clenched her teeth. Asshole. He’s acting like he’s receiving an award.

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” M’Baku murmured in her ear, “but there’s supposed to be an attitude of contrition at events like these, right?”

Okoye glared up at the farce of a leader. “He’ll never feel contrite. He’s an emperor in his own mind.”

An attendant, dressed smartly in a black suit, walked up to Trump with a set of note cards in hand.

Trump shook his head and stepped up to the microphone.

“Bast help us,” Nakia muttered. “He’s going off script.”

“I want to thank everyone for showing up tonight,” Trump said, gesturing with his hands like a drunken idiot. “To see a turnout like this is just tremendous.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Nakia hissed. “What is he doing?”

“What he does best,” Okoye murmured back. “Making an ass of himself.”

“There’s been a lot of excitement over the ‘alleged incident’ between myself and the Wakandan General,” Trump continued. “The negative news presence has been almost unbearable, but I have survived.”

Right, Okoye thought, infuriated. Because it’s such a hardship for you to suffer consequences for your own actions.

“I have been advised by my government to issue an apology tonight, and I intend to do so now. From the bottom of my heart, I am sorry that we live in a world where men are no longer allowed to express their desire for the women around them.”

“This is a nightmare,” M’Baku said, utterly shocked.

“I am sorry that we live in a time where exchanging friendly touches between sexes is grounds for an assault from the rest of the world.”

“There’s nothing friendly about hitting me, asshole,” Okoye growled under her breath.

“Let me be clear: as long as I am President, I will work towards dismantling this abhorrent misandry that has been allowed to pollute our great nation for far too long.”

“We need to go,” Nakia said, squeezing T’Challa’s hand.

“I already called the car around.”

“I promised to make America great again, and I believe we won’t be great until we stop agonizing over every little exchange between each other.”

They didn’t wait for him to finish. They were out of their seats, walking away from the platform and the nightmare of a speech.

Okoye followed T’Challa into the car and stared blankly out the window at the sea of reports as M’Baku squeezed in after her and closed the door behind him. “Now what?”

“Now,” T’Challa said from his seat across from her, “we launch a suit for damages.”

Okoye interlocked her fingers with M’Baku’s and clenched her jaw to keep from seething. It won’t be enough.


 

“Well, that was a fucking disaster.”

Those had been the first set of words out of Dewani’s mouth, uttered before they could fully cross the threshold into the hotel room.

Trump’s speech had been televised across the world. It was the highest trending across nearly all social media.

#FuckTrump.

#MisogynistMonster.

#AssassinateTheAsshole.

Okoye, by way of coping, had dove into her work. She had pulled up file after file, crunched numbers again and again, and read stacks of mission reports until she couldn’t feel anything but numbness.

Part of it was humiliating. She’d been promised an apology by Trump’s aide, only to be smacked in the face by an over-inflated flesh ball with a dead, bleached rat for hair --just because he thought he was justified in smacking her across the ass.

The rest of it was terrifying. If this was Trump’s main response to being called out for a simple sexual assault, what happened to the women who worked with him day in and day out? What happened to the women who had claimed the President had raped them?

The implications made her want to fly back to Wakanda and barricade herself in her apartment.

Okoye forced herself to focus on the latest lead on Klaue’s associate --an email sent from a server address in Norway. Klaue’s friend must have some extremely deep pockets to keep jumping around the world like this.

Could they have already sold the vibranium?

Before Okoye could even ponder the question, she was distracted by M’Baku sitting down next to her.

“Do you ever stop working?”

“It feels good to be busy right now,” Okoye mumbled, too worn out to banter with him.

M’Baku frowned at her, then shifted to the end of the couch and held out his arms to her. “Come here.” He positioned her so she was leaning against him, with her back to his chest.

Okoye let out a soft breath and closed her eyes as M’Baku started rubbing his thumbs against her neck and shoulders. “That feels good.”

M’Baku pressed his lips against the top of her head. “How are you feeling?”

“Pissed off. Tired. Embarrassed.”

“I still say ritual combat is the answer.”

That finagled a smile out of her. “Don’t tempt me. I was this close to driving my spear through his head.”

“Honestly? I would’ve paid money to see that.”

“You and me both.” She sighed and nestled herself against M’Baku as he wrapped his strong arms around her. “I’m so glad I’m taking a vacation once we get back to Wakanda. After all this, I’m going to need it.” She craned her head back so she could see M’Baku’s face. “Could I just head straight to the Jabari lands with you? I’m sure if I asked Ayo to pack me a bag, she would.”

M’Baku pressed his lips against hers. “Of course.”

Okoye sighed and pressed her cheek against his chest. “I just want this trip to be over.”

“I know, my love. I know.”


 

The setting: The City Tavern Club in Washington D.C.

The occasion: A celebration in support of the good relations between Wakanda and the United States --that the President hadn’t shown up for yet.

The style: Too formal for its own good.

“I know I should be trying to enjoy this --or at least take in some culture and perspective--but I’m really just counting down to when we can go back to the hotel and I can change into sweats,” Dewani said.

Okoye smirked. “You and me both.”

The Grand Hall of the club was packed with various officials, dressed in suits and formal dresses. Waiters dressed in white suit jackets served champagne in tall crystal glasses and hors d'oeuvres that had been arranged into stylish, neat bites.

It was overwhelming. Stifling.

Okoye canted forward as someone bumped into her back and quickly moved her glass away from her to avoid spilling champagne on her dress.

“Oh, god, I’m so sorry!” An Indian woman with a thick, posh British accent darted in front of her, expression aghast. “I wasn’t even looking where I was going! I hope you didn’t get anything on your dress!”

“No, I’m fine,” Okoye said with a polite smile.

The woman’s lips --painted with a dark purple lipstick--stretched into a smile of her own. She held out her hand. “Lakshmi Patel. Lead reporter in the international division with the BBC.”

Okoye shook her hand. “General Okoye of the Dora Milaje.”

“Yeah. I’ve seen some of the clips from South Korea. That spear of yours...” Lakshmi dug her teeth into her lower lip and chuckled. “It’s really something.”

“Thank you.”

“I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions, actually? It should only take a couple of minutes --most of our articles are going to focus on Trump’s shit show of a speech, but we’d appreciate having your take on things.”

“Ask away --though, I’m not sure how much I can really contribute.”

“Thank you.” Lakshmi pulled a notepad and pen out of her purse and started making notes. “How does the President’s treatment of his behavior towards you and the expectations of his government make you feel?”

“Extremely concerned for the women working with him.”

“You and me both. What are Wakanda’s plans for dealing with the President’s latest actions?”

“I’m not at liberty to say.”

“Understandable. Finally, how are issues with misogyny and sexual misconduct handled in Wakanda?”

Okoye shrugged. “We don’t tolerate the mindset to begin with. If it does happen, retribution takes place.”

“I heard something about ‘ritual combat?’”

At that, Okoye smirked. “If only.”

Lakshmi laughed as she stowed her notepad and pen away once more. “Well, thank you for bearing with me. I’ll leave you in peace.”

Okoye watched as she retreated into the crowd, quickly disappearing from view.

M’Baku sidled up next to her. “What was that about?”

“Reporter. Wanted to ask questions.”

M’Baku opened his mouth to speak, then stiffened. “What the fuck?”

Okoye followed his gaze across the room.

A white woman had Shuri practically pinned against a table and seemed to be lecturing the Princess through gritted teeth.

Shuri, for her part, simply looked confused.

“Shit.” Okoye took off across the room, M’Baku hot on her heels.

“Paganism will be the death of the physical world!” the woman snapped. “In the end, the Lord will judge us all, and those who worship false gods will be condemned to an eternity in hell! However, if you acknowledge Christ as your savior, he will cleanse you of your iniquity and--”

“Oh, hello!” Dewani chirped, popping up before Okoye could reach the two girls. “I see you’ve met my amazing, wonderful, mind-shattering-ly intelligent girlfriend --who is absolutely better than you, by the way.”

That was the wrong thing to say (relative to the audience).

The woman’s face contorted in rage and went blood red. “You abominations, scourges of the earth! You will be damned to hell--”

Dewani flinched back hard enough to shake the table, eyes widening in fear.

Okoye gritted her teeth as she tried push past a group of men that seemed hellbent on standing directly in her way. “Excuse me--”

Fortunately, Shuri’s unabashed willingness to argue with anyone and everyone bought her a couple minutes. The Princess stepped in between Dewani and the woman --face utterly calm--and said, “You might want to stop. Unnecessary bigotry causes premature aging.”

“I--”

“I find it so hard to believe that a nation that touts itself for freedom is so founded in hating, confining, and condemning those that differ from a socially agreed upon standard. I mean, in our nation, you’d be cast out of your tribe for the nasty things you just said. Here, hatred almost seems second-only to breathing.”

“You--”

“I mean, this is supposed to be a banquet that celebrates unity between Wakanda and the United States, yes? How can you claim to foster unity when your first instinct is to tear us down for our beliefs?”

When the men blocking their way didn’t move, M’Baku grabbed the one standing closest to them, picked him up, and set him aside. “Move.” He shoved past the rest of them in two massive strides and stepped between the woman and the girls.

Okoye came up behind Dewani --who had tears in her eyes-- and Shuri. “Let’s go,” she said, ushering them back to their table.

“What happened?” Nakia asked once they were in earshot.

“Bigots,” M’Baku hissed as he sat down. “This country is full of nothing but bigots.”

Once brought up to speed on what had happened, Nakia clasped Dewani’s hand. “Are you alright?”

Dewani didn’t answer. She was shaking like a leaf, and her face had taken an ashy cast. An errant tear trailed down her cheek, and her breaths came in short, jerky bursts.

M’Baku slung his arm around his sister’s shoulders. “Hey. Talk to me.”

Dewani’s lower lip trembled. “I want to go back to the hotel.”

“I can take her,” Okoye offered.

“I’m coming with,” M’Baku insisted.

T’Challa nodded. “We’ll meet you back there once the dinner’s done.”

Okoye gave a few quick orders to the other Dora Milaje, the escorted M’Baku and Dewani out of the packed room.

The hallway was a sharp, quiet contrast to the stuffed banquet room --a much needed relief to the pressing noise and stifled air.

Okoye tapped at her kimoyo beads as Dewani slumped against the wall. “I’m calling the car now. We can leave in five minutes.”

M’Baku positioned himself next to his sister and wrapped his arms around her, holding her against him protectively --and his face lit up with recognition. “I know you!”

Okoye glanced over her shoulder. “Agent Ross. I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

The short, blond man shrugged, as if to say ‘neither was I, but here we are.’ “Duty called.” He frowned, and pointed at Dewani. “That’s... not Princess Shuri.”

“My sister, Dewani.”

“I know who you are,” Dewani mumbled. “My brother threatened to feed you to his children.”

Agent Ross grimaced while M’Baku chortled. “That he did.” He stepped closer to Okoye. “General Okoye, on behalf of just about everyone in America, I’d like to apologize for our President’s latest round of insanity.”

Okoye smiled politely. “It’s not yours to apologize for, but I appreciate the gesture.”

“I’m not one to advocate for overthrowing governments, but if you were to drive your spear through his chest, I know at least two dozen intelligence operatives who’d be willing to remove all traces of your involvement.”

“Don’t tempt me.”

Agent Ross jerked his head at Dewani. “Is she alright?”

“Cornered by one of your evangelists,” Okoye explained.

“Fuck, I’m sorry. Events like these seem to bring them out of the wood work.” He hesitated, then pointed at the door at the far end of the hall. “Take that exit. It’ll help you side-step the worst of the reporters.”

Okoye nodded, and adjusted the coordinates for the car. “Thank you.”

Agent Ross nodded, then started walking back to the main banquet room. “Well, if you’ll excuse me, I have to dive back into the shark tank.”

“He seems nice enough,” Dewani murmured.

“Not too bad,” M’Baku agreed.

Okoye’s kimoyo beads chirped. “Our car is ready.” She patted Dewani’s shoulder. “Let’s go.”


 

“Where’s M’Baku?”

“In the shower.”

Dewani --who had padded into the living area of the suite she was sharing with her brother--sat down next to Okoye on the couch and tucked herself under the older woman’s arm. “When are we going back to Wakanda?”

“We’re leaving tomorrow, right after the opening ceremony for the outreach center. Dewani, I’m so sorry you had to go through that.”

Dewani shrugged. “It’s alright. Nothing you could’ve done about it.”

“The point of the Dora Milaje presence--”

“It was a room of over five hundred people, Okoye. Let’s at least be realistic about what four women can do, barring gluing me to my seat.”

“Careful. I might just do that next time,” Okoye said with a teasing grin. “Still, I’m sorry you had to deal with that woman.”

“It’s alright. I’m used to it.”

“Well, you shouldn’t have to be.”

The door to the suite flew open, and Shuri darted in. “Hey! Are you okay?”

Dewani stood and pulled her girlfriend into a tight hug. “I am now that you’re here.” In less than two minutes, the two disappeared from the room, closing the door behind them.

M’Baku stepped into the living area just as the door closed, clad in pajama pants and a cloud of steam. “I thought I heard Dewani’s voice.”

“You did. Shuri came back and whisked her away.”

“Eh, some time together will be good for her.” He sat down next to Okoye with a grunt and put his arm around her shoulders. “I can’t wait to get out of this country.”

Typically, when M’Baku started letting his cynicism towards the outside world surface, she tried to encourage him to see the better side of things.

To think of those with good hearts, who wanted to make a positive difference in their nation. The Wakandan outreach program could help them accomplish that.

To think of the millions of kids who would benefit from the tutoring and resources offered by the program. Millions of young minds --most of them belonging to impoverished minority communities--that could shape the world for the better if they were just given a chance.

To think of the lives they could save by way of sharing their medical knowledge.

But, tonight, she didn’t want to be the ‘devil’s advocate.’

Okoye was exhausted. Exhausted by having to conform to the Western image, exhausted by having to walk on eggshells around the colonizers, and exhausted from having to deal with the unmitigated, unrepentant misogyny that consumed the colonized world like a voracious wolf.

Instead, she shifted so that she was leaning against M’Baku and let her head drop to his shoulder. “Me too.”


 

Unlike the banquet that had been hosted to celebrate unity between nations, the President actually bothered to show up for the opening ceremony.

“Of course he’s here. It’s a better photo op,” Aneka had growled under her breath as the flabby, fake tan stained slug hefted his way up the stairs.

A small part of Okoye was disappointed. She’d hoped that the President wouldn’t show, just so that she didn’t have to listen to his whinging.

A larger part of her was consumed with a barely constrained desire to smack him over the head as he bragged on and on about all that America “had done” to make the outreach center possible.

“They didn’t even put any money in!” Shuri hissed angrily. “Donated the site, my ass --we bought it from them!”

Nakia cut the ribbon once Trump was finally --finally--done, and the crowd cheered.

The President turned and held his hand out to T’Challa, clearly expecting a friendly exchange.

The King simply looked at Trump’s hand, then put his arm around Nakia and walked away.

Okoye followed after the King, careful to keep Shuri from doubling back and giving the President a piece of her mind.

They’d made it about halfway to the cars when she heard a voice calling her name.

“General Okoye.”

Okoye turned around and realized --with no small amount of horror--that the President was following her.

M’Baku stepped between her and the fetid excuse of a man, not bothering to mask his rage. “I think we’ve had enough of you for one day.”

Trump peered up at him, eyes beady and glittering with a relish for confrontation. “And you are?”

“Chief M’Baku of the Jabari tribe.”

Trump lifted his hand and said, “How,” before side-stepping the Chief.

Holy shit, Okoye thought, eyes widening. He did not just--

“General,” Trump said with an air of fake camaraderie. “I hope you don’t run into too many struggles after these past few days.”

Okoye narrowed her eyes and put an arm out to hold M’Baku back. “I don’t follow.”

“Well, it’s just that women who cross me usually don’t lead... easy lives. They find themselves in a lot of trouble afterwards.”

Okoye stared the President dead in the eye as the reality of his threat sank in. “You are so desperate for attention that it’s not even funny.”

Trump swallowed nervously, then cast his attention to Shuri and Dewani.

Alarm bells started blaring in Okoye’s head at the hungry glint that entered Trump’s eyes as his gaze raked up and down the teenagers’ bodies.

“Well. Who do we have here?”

Before he could take another step, Okoye activated her spear and used it to separate the President and the two girls. “No. Absolutely not.”

Within seconds, Trump’s secret service had their guns drawn and trained on her.

The other Dora Milaje responded immediately, activating their own spears and angling them at the suit-clad men.

“General, I’m going to ask you to lay down your... spear,” one of the men said.

T’Challa stepped forward, glaring at the President and the service men in turn. “She will not.”

“Sir--”

“How many women have accused your President of assaulting or raping them?”

The service men hesitated, shooting quick glances at each other.

“Everyone, in the cars,” Okoye said in Wakandan. She stared down the service men, unmoving while the King, Nakia, Shuri, Dewani, and M’Baku retreated to the safety of the vibranium cars. She waited until her women were out of harm’s way, then walked backwards to the car she was riding in, not daring to even glance away from the gun wielding men. She stepped into the car, retracted her spear, and quickly closed the door behind her.

T’Challa tapped on the glass partition. “Out of here, now. We need to get to the ships as fast as possible.”

Okoye collapsed back against the seat. Good fucking riddance.


 

They were back in Wakanda. Back in the safe, loving embrace of her borders. Back where Okoye wouldn’t have to grit her teeth at misogynistic behavior or worry if racists were waiting to jump her.

Okoye inhaled deeply as she disembarked from the long range transport. Even the air smelled better, sweeter.

Ayo was waiting for her on the platform, bag in hand. “General. You’re trending on Twitter. Many Americans have proclaimed you as ‘their Queen.’”

“I’m content with being General,” Okoye said as she took her bag from Ayo. “Thank you.”

Ayo nodded, then walked back to the palace.

M’Baku put his arm around her shoulder. “Are you ready?”

Okoye grinned up at him. “You have no idea.”

They walked, hand in hand, to M’Baku’s ship.

Chapter Text

You are members of the Dora Milaje. You are the best warriors among all of Wakanda. You have been trained to do incredible things, and you are capable of doing them.

As Dora Milaje, you will face down countless enemies --some of them yours, some of them the King’s.

Be aware, my dears. The acts and minds of mortal men will not be the only enemies you face.


 

The mountains stood as an impressive relief against the stark blue sky. Massive and resolute, capped with snow, it was impossible to not feel sealed away from the world.

Right now, Okoye welcomed the sensation.

She had pulled one of the thick, fur-lined armchairs in the library over to the floor to ceiling windows so that she could study the view unencumbered. After trying to read and meditate to pass the time until M’Baku finished a meeting with his advisers had failed to quiet her mind, she’d decided to sit and let her mind wander instead.

She was exhausted. Physically, yes, because jet lag was one hell of a cranky bitch, but emotionally as well. Her last trip to America had taken a lot out of her.

She didn’t believe that she had deserved what Trump had done to her --not for a second. She knew well enough that he was an ass and that he was just capitalizing on hatred to get his way.

She also knew that she didn’t need to take anything that he had said in his shitty speech to heart. His idiocy only reflected on his incompetency as a leader and his inhumanity as a person. She walked away scot-free in all of this.

Except...

It was exhausting. The constant press of harassment and poor treatment that seemed to smother them whenever they set foot outside of Wakanda kept draining her. Normally, she was able to bounce back after a couple nights of rest and some cleansing sparring, but today... well, it just wasn’t happening. She was too drained to bounce back like she normally did.

She looked up as M’Baku’s giant hand clasped her shoulder. “Hi.”

He frowned down at her. “Are you feeling well?”

“I’m just a little tired.”

“I can tell. Is something wrong?”

She sighed. “I’m just... fed up with the Americans. And the Europeans. And everyone outside of Africa, really.”

M’Baku smiled sympathetically. “How about you get up so I can hold you and you can tell me all about it.”

M’Baku, as she had quickly discovered, had a thing for holding her. When she’d asked him about, a couple months into ‘seeing each other,’ he’d simply said that he liked the feeling of her in his arms.

Well, she wasn’t about to turn down the extra heat. Okoye stood, let M’Baku take the seat she’d been sitting in, and sat back down in his lap

M’Baku wrapped his arms around her and kissed her forehead. “What’s bothering you, my love?”

“I just... it’s exhausting. Being a woman --an African woman--and dealing with the Western politicians. I’m tired of being treated like I’m exotic. I’m tired of everyone assuming that I’m in bed with the King. I’m tired of never getting an apology when someone makes an inappropriate comment or touches me or... everything. I’m tired of everything.”

“Well, I guess it’s good that you’re here and not in America.”

Okoye smiled and let herself relax against M’Baku. She took deep, slow breaths and focused on the feeling off his arms around her and the sound of his heart beating.

It worked. Astonishingly well. The tension left her body in waves. She nestled against M’Baku and let out a soft sigh. “I’ve been missing this.”

“As have I. We don’t get enough time together.”

Okoye scrunched up her face at the strains of an all too familiar argument. “No, not now. Please. I just want to relax. We can talk about that later.”

M’Baku chuckled and pressed a kiss against her temple. “That’s fine. Enjoy relaxing for now, my love.” He was quiet for a moment, then tapped her shoulder. “Do you want to see something cool later?”

Okoye tilted her head back so she could see his face. “Like what?”’


 

Okoye shivered slightly as she stared across one the deep crevasses that divided the mountain range. “Remind me why we’re voluntarily freezing ourselves out here?”

M’Baku grinned down at her. “This is spring! This is balmy!”

Okoye narrowed her eyes at her lover as he laughed. “You and I have two different definitions of ‘balmy.’ So, what are we doing?”

“We are going to watch one of the bridges being built.”

Okoye frowned. “I don’t think my coat’s warm enough to let me stand out here for a few hours.”

“Oh, it won’t take that long. Everything should be done in about five minutes. Ten at the most.”

Okoye stared up at M’Baku like he’d grown a second head. “Five to ten minutes?”

He nodded, looking incredibly smug. “Yes. I’ve seen it done several times. It’s a very quick process.”

“That’s is impossible. Not even the Princess’s technology works that fast.”

“Then I guess the Jabari have surpassed the vibranium users in this area.”

Okoye smirked and patted M’Baku’s arm. “Careful. If your head expands any further, you might start floating away.”

He laughed, tipping his head back and releasing the joyous sound up to the sky. “No, but I wasn’t kidding about the time.”

“How is that possible?”

“Watch and see.”

She peered around M’Baku as two of the holy women walked up to the edge of the crevasse, escorted by six Jabari guards. Each of the women carried an intricately decorated cloth ball in their hands.

M’Baku smacked his staff against the ground. “Glory to Hanuman!”

“Glory to Hanuman!” the holy women, guards, and other Jabari bystanders shouted back.

The holy women stopped just before the edge. They lifted the balls to the sky, chanting a prayer in the Jabari dialect, before setting them on the ground and backing away.

For a moment, nothing happened.

Then, thick, wiggling roots shot out of the fabric, shooting into the hard, snow covered ground.

Okoye gasped and leaned forward to watch as the roots shot across the crevasse, weaving themselves together into the shape of a bridge. “That’s incredible! What are those?”

M’Baku’s hands shot out and grabbed onto her waist. “Careful!”

“Oh! Right!” She let out a quick laugh and took a step back from the edge. “Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was standing.”

M’Baku’s arms wrapped around her waist, holding her to his chest. “Those,” he murmured in her ear, “are from Hanuman’s tree. It was given to the Jabari as a blessing, to help them survive in the mountains. The holy women and priestesses tend to his tree and garden; we use cuttings from the roots to build our bridges so we don’t have to risk our men and women to build the bridges.”

“I can see why.” Okoye watched, completely stunned, as the roots finally reached the other side, anchoring themselves in the wall of the mountain. “That’s incredible. I’m sure Princess Shuri would love to see that.”

“Dewani’s already planned to show her.”

“Wait. I thought your bridges were made out of steel.”

M’Baku pressed a kiss against her cheek. “Keep watching.”

Two of the guards stepped up to the newly formed bridge and set two small, golf ball sized metal balls at the base of the railings.

Okoye’s mouth fell open as steel filaments shot out of the ball, racing up and over the roots to coat them in a layer of metal. “That’s amazing.”

“Worth braving the cold?”

“Absolutely.”

When the filaments finished covering the roots, M’Baku let go of her and smacked his staff against the ground three times. “Praise be to Hanuman!”

“Praise be to Hanuman!” the crowd echoed.

“That was amazing,” Okoye said as a group of children darted onto the bridge. “Thank you for showing me that.”

“I’m glad you liked it. One of my favorite things to do as a child was to watch all the bridge buildings with my father.”

“I can see why.”

M’Baku opened his mouth to say something else, then tensed and glared at something over her shoulder. “For fuck’s sake.”

Okoye turned around and had to restrain herself from rolling her eyes.

F’Tendi was striding towards them, looking as smug as ever. “Nephew.”

“Uncle. What are you doing here?”

“Watching the bridge building.” F’Tendi stared at her, eyes cold and unyielding. “General Okoye.”

She stared back at him, not flinching. “Elder F’Tendi.”

His gaze snapped back to M’Baku. “Hardly appropriate wife material for the Jabari Chief, don’t you think?”

“I don’t remember that being your choice,” M’Baku growled.

“Not my choice, my nephew. The choice of your people.”

“Excuse me.”

Okoye looked down in time with F’Tendi and M’Baku to see a young girl --no older than six--staring up at them.

“What can I do for you, young one?” M’Baku asked, voice booming.

The girl smiled shyly at Okoye and held out a small bouquet of yellow ixia to her. “These are for you.”

Okoye knelt and accepted the flowers with a smile. “Thank you! They’re wonderful!”

As the girl darted away, M’Baku shot a triumphant look at his uncle. “I think that settles the opinion of the people.”


 

“You’re brooding.”

“I am a Jabari. We do not brood.”

“Right. Which is why you’re hunched over in your chair and glowering at the fire like it kicked your dog.” Okoye sat down next to M’Baku and leaned against him. “What’s wrong, my love?”

M’Baku swallowed hard, the muscles in his neck tensing and relaxing with the movement. “I worry about my uncle sometimes. I worry about what would happen if I lost my position as Chief.”

Okoye interlocked her fingers with his and kissed his shoulder. “Is this about today?”

“Yes and no. There’s more behind the worry than what happened today; the confrontation at the bridge building just... exacerbated everything.”

Okoye rubbed her thumb against the back of his hand. “You are a great leader --a good leader. Your people love you. I doubt your uncle could unseat you without their support.”

“He wouldn’t be able to, but I worry all the same. If I were to lose my position, he’d take Dewani from me. I can’t let that happen.”

Okoye frowned as she mulled over F’Tendi’s latest attack on his nephew --her and their relationship. Is he planning on using my being non-Jabari to turn the people against his nephew? “Do you think we should scale back our relationship in public? It might give your uncle less to use.”

M’Baku shook his head vehemently. “Absolutely not. I refuse to give up one of my greatest joys just for the sake of controlling my uncle.”

Despite the circumstances, a rush of warmth and joy filled Okoye’s chest at being called one of M’Baku’s ‘greatest joys.’ She craned her head up and kissed his cheek. “We’ll figure this out. We always do.”


 

The rest of their vacation together went smoothly. They rested, talked, and --on more than one occasion--fucked their way through the two weeks that Okoye had off. By the end up it, Okoye was feeling completely repaired from the ordeal of dealing with Trump and Klaue’s associate, and M’Baku seemed much happier having spent time together.

Yes, everything went smoothly --right until the last day.

As it turned out, F’Tendi wasn’t quite done with her yet.

Okoye discovered this detail when Dewani burst into the library at a dead sprint, eyes wide with panic. “Whoa, slow down. What is it?”

“You need to come to the throne room. Now. It’s an emergency.”

“What’s going on?” Okoye asked as she set down her book.

“F’Tendi’s called an emergency council meeting to contest the unsuitability of yours and M’Baku’s relationship. The elders want you to stand before them to face interrogation.”

Okoye stopped dead in her tracks. She inhaled deeply and forced herself to stay calm. “Can I barter for five extra minutes?”

Dewani hesitated. “What do you need?”

“I want to put on my armor.”


 

The elders stood on the outer sides of the throne room, dressed in dark leathers and heavy furs. F’Tendi stood in between the rows of elders, a few feet away from M’Baku.

M’Baku, for his part, looked like he wanted to tear his uncle in half. He was seated in his throne, arms crossed over his chest.

Dewani escorted Okoye into the room, motioning for her to stop at the center of the room. She continued on, giving F’Tendi a wide berth as she stepped up to stand just behind her brother’s throne.

Okoye eyed the elders for a moment before favoring M’Baku with a submissive nod. “Chief M’Baku.”

“My love.” M’Baku smiled briefly, but it faded quickly as he glared at his uncle once more. “My dear uncle has arranged a contest of our relationship. The elders want to question you to see if you are a suitable match for the Chief of the tribe.”

Okoye nodded. “I understand.”

“We appreciate your cooperation, General Okoye,” F’Tendi said in an insincere tone. “I hope you can understand our natural suspicion of a known vibranium user.”

“What are your questions?” Okoye asked, unwilling to play his game.

“We want to know your history and your views on the Jabari,” one of the elders --a priestess dressed in blue robes--explained.

“We’re sure that your parents would not approve of a relationship with a Jabari man,” F’Tendi interjected with a smug smile.

Okoye couldn’t help but flash one of her own back. “My parents died when I was a child; I have no other family. My only representative other than myself is King T’Challa --and he has already given me his explicit support for my relationship with Chief M’Baku.”

“I told you so,” M’Baku muttered, loud enough for everyone to hear.

“How can a person without family understand the importance of community?” another elder --an ancient man with snow white hair and craggy skin--asked. “The Jabari are a unified tribe. We are all one family together.”

“Just because my parents are gone does not mean I don’t have family. I consider those who serve with me in the Dora Milaje to be my sisters and the men on the Honor Guard my brothers. We all share deep bonds from several years of friendship and service together. I also consider Chief M’Baku and his sister to be like family to me --albeit with some different connotations.”

The man nodded, seemingly satisfied with her answer.

One by one, Okoye answered the elders questions in turn, using the same calm, professional voice.

“Why do you use vibranium?”

“Why do the Jabari use sacred wood?” she’d answered. “Simple. We believe each is a gift provided or revealed to us by our gods. We believe that each has the power to change and better society.”

“What do you dislike about the Jabari way of life?”

“Nothing,” she’d said, perfectly honest. “It’s just as valid as any other walk of life --and, to be honest, there are some aspects I like better. I don’t think there’s one right way to live a life.”

“What drew you to our Chief in the first place?”

At that, she had smiled softly at M’Baku. “His kindness. His generosity to his people. The strength of his character.”

One by one, she had answered every question the elders could throw at her successfully.

By the end of the meeting, F’Tendi was fuming. He glared at her, arms crossed over his chest.

“As far as we can tell, this woman is a suitable match for the Chief,” the priestess said. “There’s no reason to bar their relationship, Elder F’Tendi.”

“Save for the fact that she threatened me after my mother’s funeral,” F’Tendi said in an accusatory tone. “I hope you can remember to the incident I am referring to, General.”

Okoye barely held back a massive eye roll as shocked murmurs rippled through the elders. “I do, and because I remember the incident you’re mentioning, I know that you representation of it is grossly inaccurate.”

“Oh? You pointed a spear at my throat, did you not?”

“I did. You’re also omitting the context for why I made the choices I did.”

“Why did you feel the need to threaten him?” the priestess asked with a look that suggested she knew about F’Tendi’s track record.

Okoye looked to M’Baku for guidance. She wanted to defend herself --and out F’Tendi--but she didn’t want to reveal too much.

M’Baku looked up at Dewani, waited until she nodded, then nodded at Okoye.

“He had Dewani by her arm and was shaking her around while calling her a ‘fucking disgrace.’ I stepped between them and used my spear to discourage Elder F’Tendi from approaching Dewani until Chief M’Baku arrived.”

“And why would he do that?” the priestess asked.

Dewani swallowed hard, then stood up straight. “Because I’m a lesbian. He disapproves of my orientation.”

The priestess rolled her eyes. “I thought as much.”

F’Tendi was indignant. “This woman--” he pointed at Okoye “--knows nothing of our way of life!”

“Yes, and your entire contest should be thrown out on the grounds of purposefully misrepresenting the General in an attempt to sway us against her,” the priestess shot back. “To say nothing of the treatment towards your own niece.”

“I’ve had enough of this,” another elder grumbled. “It’s clear there’s nothing tangible against the General. Let’s vote now and finish this.”

It ended with sixteen votes in favor of letting M’Baku and Okoye continue with their relationship and two against --one of which belonged to F’Tendi.

Okoye couldn’t help but smirk as F’Tendi stormed out of M’Baku’s throne room. You lose, asshole.


 

“I’m sorry you had to go through that,” M’Baku growled as he escorted her to her ship. “I still can’t believe he did that.”

“He was smart to schedule it for my last day here,” Okoye commented, far less ruffled than her counterpart. “We weren’t in a position to turn him down.”

“It was fun to see him get his ass handed to him,” Dewani cackled as she walked next to M’Baku. “I wish Shuri had been there to see it.”

That reminds me. Okoye stopped and looked at Dewani. “I thought you weren’t out up here.”

Dewani shrugged. “I am now. What, did you think that I was going to let him tank your relationship over my secret? I think the fuck not.”

“That was brave of you, Dewani. You didn’t have to do it.”

“And endure his moping?” Dewani jerked her head at her indignant brother. “I think not.”

“I do not mope.”

“Yes, you do,” Dewani and Okoye said in unison.

M’Baku rolled his eyes. “I’m going to go check the ship while the two of you work this out of your system.”

“I would’ve missed you,” Dewani blurted once her brother was out of earshot. “You’re like the cool older sister I never got to have.”

“I would’ve missed you, too,” Okoye said as she hugged the girl.

“Plus, you make my brother happy,” Dewani said after they parted. “I couldn’t take that away from him.”

“You wouldn’t have taken that away from him. This was your uncle’s doing, not yours.”

Dewani stared off into the distance as she mulled the concept over. “Fair enough.” She grinned at Okoye. “But I’ll do whatever I can to safeguard his happiness. If that means coming out...” She shrugged. “It went better than I expected. And now, maybe his hands won’t be so tied because of it.”

“I’m serious, Dewani,” Okoye said as she clasped her shoulder. “Thank you. I know that feeling safe about your orientation is important to you.”

“I wouldn’t have said anything if I wasn’t already willing to do it, Okoye.” Dewani smiled, then jerked her head at the main lodge. “I’m going to head back in. Say hi to Ayo for me.”

“I will.” She watched to make sure Dewani was on her way well enough, then turned to join M’Baku next to the ship.

“How is she?” he asked.

“Good.” She leaned up on her toes and kissed him. “Make sure you tell her she was brave for coming out like that.”

“I already did.”

“Well, keep telling her. She deserved a better occasion for it than her uncle’s meddling.”

M’Baku smiled. “I will.” He kissed her again. “Will you be able to come up for her birthday next month?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” They kissed one last time, then Okoye boarded her ship.

It was time to rejoin the world.

Chapter Text

Defeat is always an option.

No, my dears, you did not mishear me. You are training to become the best warriors in all of Wakanda, but you are not robots. You will make mistakes, and you will lose battles. Your skills will help you avoid doing either, but you will never be perfect. Do not force it upon yourselves by refusing to acknowledge that there will be times where you will be defeated.

Defeat is an option. Despair isn’t. When you fail, pick yourselves up and try again.

It is the only way you will ever move forward.


 

“We’ve been tracking the paper trail left by Klaue’s associate. So far, there’s nothing the leads back to Wakanda or any of the outreach facilities.”

“Well, that makes sense,” Okoye said as she studied the interactive map Ayo had made that outlined the movements of Klaue’s associate. “It’d be suicide to give away their ‘in’ to our operations.”

They were standing in the palace’s ‘War Room,’ taking full advantage of the massive, multi-tasking computer interface --built by Shuri, naturally--to watch the map and track the latest progress in searching Wakanda for the mole.

“So far, the River tribe has come back clear, as has the Golden tribe,” Ayo continued. “The Border tribe is almost done, and it looks like they’ll be cleared as well.”

Okoye planted her hands against the table, leaning in to study the map. “I would wager that we’ll find the mole in the Merchant tribe or the Mining tribe.”

“How do you figure?”

“Well, the Mining tribe is responsible for mining and distributing vibranium throughout the whole of Wakanda. They have the easiest access to it, meaning they could keep supplying Klaue’s associate. The Merchant tribe, conversely, is responsible for overseeing all imports and exports for Wakanda. They have the easiest access to the outside world. Did we find anything on Klaue’s former team?”

“They’re all incarcerated, and there are no indications that they’ve had any contact with anyone outside of Wakanda --or anyone in our intelligence ranks, for that matter.”

Okoye crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, I suppose that’s a good thing, in the long run. Are we on track to meet the original timeline?”

Ayo nodded. “Yes. Your team is on point to head up to the Jabari lands to investigate at the end of the week. My team is ready to comb through the Mining tribe, and Aneka and her team are on point to handle the Merchant tribe.”

“Good.” Okoye drummed her fingers against the table, then shot a fierce grin at her friend. “Let’s catch ourselves a thief.”


 

At first, when the results for the Dora Milaje, War Dogs, and Honor Guard had come back negative, Okoye had been relieved. She knew several people in each organization; to find out that the mole had been among those ranks would’ve felt like the most gutting betrayal conceivable.

When the scans of the River and Golden tribes didn’t yield anything, she had been calm, but not quite relieved. No, she didn’t want there to be a traitor in Wakanda, but all the lack of results meant to her at that point was that the mole had to be in one of the other tribes.

Then, the Border tribe had come away clean. Good, fine, Wakanda probably would’ve erupted with chaos if the mole had been seated in the Border tribe.

Then, searching the Mining tribe yielded nothing.

Then, the same happened with the Merchant tribe.

“Do you honestly think we’ll find anything in the Jabari lands?” Djabi asked.

Okoye stared down at the courtyard outside the Great Lodge as the transport slowly came in for a landing. “Only time and effort will tell.”

They both knew the real answer, though. The traitor wouldn’t be among the Jabari. The investigation would only confirm that, and then they’d be back at square one.

M’Baku was waiting for them with his Primes as they disembarked. “General Okoye.”

“Chief M’Baku.” She nodded curtly. “Thank you for accommodating our investigation team.”

“Oh, for Bast’s sake, everyone knows you two are hot for each other,” Djabi muttered. “Ditch the formalities and let’s get on with it.”

The corner of M’Baku’s eyes crinkled as his mouth curved up in an amused smile. “She has a point, my love.”

“Be that as it may,” Okoye said, pausing to shoot a stern look at Djabi. “This isn’t a recreational trip.”

“Of course not.” He motioned for them to enter the lodge. “We’ve set up some interfaces in the library so you can examine our communications system.”

“Thank you,” Okoye sighed as she followed him through the lodge halls. “So far, you’re twice as the cooperative as the Mining and Merchant tribes.”

Not that anyone had really dug in their heels too fiercely, but several officials in the leadership levels of each tribe had taken offense at being considered suspects for treason.

She understood their frustration, but it only made her job harder in the long run.

M’Baku grinned at her. “Well, obviously. I have incentive to be.”

Okoye smirked back at him. “I’d certainly hope so.”


 

Names. Thousands of them. Days, weeks, months, years of communication records.

Granted, Shuri had developed an algorithm to help them sift through the ocean’s worth of information, but it was still slow going. Experience had taught Okoye that, in some areas, there was no substitute for a hands on approach. Annoying as it was, this was one of those areas.

With a barely stifled groan, Okoye sat back and rubbed at her eyes. She’d been sorting through the Jabari communication records for three hours.

She’d found nothing. Of course.

“How are you doing?” M’Baku murmured as his thumbs gently rubbed her tired neck and shoulders.

“I can’t find anything,” Okoye admitted, dejected. She flashed a bitter smile at her lover. “Go on. Gloat all you want. The formality was just that. Once again, the Jabari prevail over the rest of Wakanda.”

M’Baku didn’t gloat. Instead, he sat on the edge of the table and took her hands in his, a concerned frown creasing his face. “How can I gloat when you look so distraught?”

“What, no victory speech about the Jabari way of life?”

“I’ll save that for T’Challa. My priority right now is making sure you’re okay.”

The gesture was sweet, and buoyed her --just a little--in the storm of despair she was currently stranded in. “We haven’t found the mole.”

“You will. It’s just a matter of time.”

“Yes, but time is not a luxury we have. I’ve seen what happens when vibranium falls into the wrong hands. My life is a direct consequence of greed for it. If we can’t find Klaue’s associate --if they sell it off to the wrong person...”

M’Baku squeezed her hands. “Have faith, ‘koye. They’ll make a mistake. You’ll find them.”

“You didn’t tell me Okoye was here!” Dewani bounded into the library with all the energy of an enthusiastic litter of puppies and wrapped her arms around Okoye’s shoulders in a warm, happy hug. “Hi, Okoye!”

Okoye couldn’t help but smile as she patted Dewani’s arms. “Hello, Dewani. How are you?”

“I’m doing pretty good.”

“This isn’t a social visit,” M’Baku said as he crossed his arms over his chest. “The General and the Dora Milaje have work to do.”

“Yes, I’m well aware. Shuri wanted me to call her when Okoye got here so she could consult with the General.” Before waiting for a response, Dewani pulled a communications disk --commonly used by the Jabari in place of the kimoyo beads favored by the rest of Wakanda--and tapped a button on the side.

“She’s finally there?” A holographic image of Shuri floated above the disk. “That took longer than usual.”

“Oh, I suspect that Okoye’s been here for a couple hours. My brother didn’t tell me.”

“Princess Shuri.” Okoye bowed slightly. “What did you want to consult me on?”

“I’ve been reviewing the mass communication records for Wakanda in my lab. I know that your teams already checked everything --and I don’t doubt their abilities--but I thought it would be helpful if I ran everything through my systems.”

“At this point, we can’t afford to not be thorough,” Okoye agreed. “What have you found?”

“Nothing. I’ve run all the records through ten different filters and fifteen different search algorithms. There’s no evidence to suggest that anyone in Wakanda has had any communication with Klaue’s associate --or with anyone outside of Wakanda, for that matter. I’m double-checking the Jabari communications now --though I doubt I’ll find anything there, all things considered.”

“Well, thank you for your efforts, Princess.” At least the council can’t accuse me of not being thorough during the next meeting, Okoye thought dejectedly as she continued sifting through the Jabari communication logs.

“Idea: what if there isn’t a mole?” Dewani suggested as she sat down on the table Okoye was working at.

“That would be impossible,” Shuri answered automatically.

“Okay, I’ll grant it’s a little nuts, but hear me out. What if they hacked into your computer systems? Everything’s linked up one way or another; theoretically, they could get to the mission briefings and council reports with enough effort.”

“Again, impossible. First, my firewall system is impenetrable. Second, if someone did manage to hack into our information system, I’d know. I’ve already run three separate scans, and I didn’t find anything.”

“Okay, so what would it take for them to slide under your radar?”

“Are you suggesting my efforts were sub-par?”

“Of course not, my lovely genius and future wife,” Dewani said with a grin. “I’m just hypothesizing.”

Shuri preened a little at her girlfriend’s flattery. “Well... I’m not sure, actually. I’ve never dealt with anything like this before.”

“Ooh, a new challenge,” Dewani said, grin widening. “I know you can’t resist that.”

Okoye smirked as Shuri started tapping away on one of her computers. “If we’re hypothesizing, perhaps the associate didn’t gain access to our system through conventional means.”

“That’s what I was thinking. It’s far-fetched, but --hypothetically--if someone had the ability to control and manipulate technology with... I don’t know, their mind or something, they’d be able to access our system. We’d have virtually no defense against it.”

“And we know Klaue spent time in Wakanda,” Okoye added. “If he brought them in at some point, it could be enough exposure to our technology.”

M’Baku didn’t look convinced. “And who would have such an ability?”

“Hey, I said this was far-fetched,” Shuri grumbled. “But we’re running out of options and we need results.”

“We need results,” M’Baku agreed, “but looking for things that don’t exist is a waste of ti--”

“I found something.”

M’Baku blinked, then rolled his eyes. “Okay, now you’re just making things up to mess with me.”

“No, I actually found something. It’s a barely noticeable tap on our system --less of a registered footprint than a cellphone or a kimoyo bead would have.”

Okoye frowned. “How did we miss that in our initial scans?”

“Because it’s not communicating with any devices in Wakanda. It’s a watcher --a silent program that’s running a filter through all of our data.” Shuri hissed through her teeth, and the tapping sounds grew more urgent. “Bast dammit, it’s practically in our whole system. How did I not notice this earlier?”

“A quiet takeover,” Okoye replied as she pulled up their latest information on the associate’s whereabouts. “If they managed to make it congruent enough to the original system, it wouldn’t have stood out.”

“That, or they managed to manipulate the scans without my noticing.”

Okoye narrowed her eyes as her kimoyo beads gave her the latest readout on Klaue’s associate. “Shuri, can you cycle the system? Get them out for a bit?”

“What do you think I’m trying to do?”

“Can you drop it in the next two minutes?”

Shuri stretched her fingers and grinned. “Give me two minutes and I’ll tell you.”

“What are you planning?” Djabi asked from her seat at the table next to hers.

“Klaue’s associate is in rural Montana right now. If we can shove them out quickly, I can put in a rush command to go apprehend them. They’ll have no idea we’re coming.”

Shuri let out a loud cheer. “Guess who just established a new personal record for completing a security clean out!”

Dewani grinned and waggled her eyebrows at the holographic display of her girlfriend. “I knew there was a reason I loved you.”

“You mean, aside from my stunning good looks?”

“Well, duh.”

Okoye stood quickly, shoving her chair back several feet. “I’ve put in the mission order. We need to go before Klaue’s associate catches wind of what we’ve done.”

M’Baku pressed a quick kiss against her lips. “Go kick their ass, my love.”

Okoye shot him a fierce grin and ran out of the library with her fellow soldiers.


 

“Can you go any faster?”

“I’m maxing the car out as is. This is the best we’ve got.”

She and Ayo were booking it across Montana as fast as one of Shuri’s vibranium cars would let them, followed closely by three other cars. Now that they’d revealed Wakanda’s true nature to the outside, they couldn’t get away with using their usual air transports for covert missions, especially in light of Trump’s terrorism accusations.

Okoye gritted her teeth and did her best to not stare at the clock. “We’re twenty miles out. Don’t let off until you absolutely have to.”

“Wasn’t planning on it.”

“We’ve got movement in the target location,” Aneka said over the synced communications system built into each car. “I think we’ve been spotted.”

Dammit. “We’re two minutes out. There’s no way they’ll be gone that fast.” She could see the shadowy outline of the warehouse against the dark, nighttime scenery of Montana, accented by the the still glowing windows. Okoye grinned. “We’re going to make it!”

A helicopter lifted off from behind the warehouse, soaring away and disappearing into the night sky as they parked just in front of the warehouse. 

Okoye smacked her hand against the dashboard of the car. “Shit! They got away!”

“Should we go after them?” Aneka asked.

“No,” Okoye said as she slumped back against her seat. “A car won’t be much of a match for a helicopter.”

“Come on.” Ayo unbuckled her seat belt and climbed out of the car. “I think we just barely missed them. They might’ve left something behind.”

Okoye sighed, let herself stew in being pissed off for a moment, then pushed it all aside and followed after her friend. The dry dirt and gravel crunched under her boots as she strode towards the main door. I swear to Bast, if this is just another empty warehouse, I’m going to scream.

Ayo grinned at her and nodded at the inside of the warehouse. “Check it out.”

Stacks of boxes lined the perimeter, labelled in various languages. Lab equipment was set up on a massive table, hosting various half-completed pieces of computer pieces and other unrecognizable devices.

And, the piece de resistance, three unopened, untouched tubes of vibranium.

“We must have literally come in almost on top of them,” Ayo said. “I doubt they even knew we were coming until the last few miles, given how much has been left.”

Okoye couldn’t help but smile, even in light of missing Klaue’s associate by mere seconds.

It was a victory in its own right.

“Bring our ship in so we can take all of this back to Wakanda,” she ordered.


 

Shuri flitted back and forth, examining all of the captured equipment with equal care and intensity. “This is bizarre. Some of this equipment is highly sophisticated --but some of these pieces look like they were salvaged from the nineties.”

“What do you think it means?” T’Challa asked as he watched his sister work.

“I don’t know. I’d say it was intentional, based on all the components I’m seeing here, but I can’t imagine working with some of this junk without going mad.”

T’Challa smiled slightly. “Well, not all of us are connoisseurs of technology to the degree that you are.”

“Obviously.” Shuri waved her hand distractedly. “I know you have a date with your fiancee tonight, genius. Get out of here. Tell Nakia I say hi.”

Okoye watched as the King left Shuri’s lab with a fond --if somewhat exasperated--sigh and stepped towards the table Shuri was bent over. “Can you tell what they were trying to make?”

“It doesn’t look like weaponry. It almost looks like...” Shuri’s voice trailed off mid-sentence, and she shook her head. “I don’t know. I need to do more research before issuing a conclusion.”

“Do you know how they managed to get into so many facets of our system?”

“I have no idea. It’s beyond anything I’ve ever designed. You know, if they weren’t currently in the first slot of our ‘to find’ list, I’d love to sit down with this person and figure out how they’ve accomplished so much.”

Well, you would be the only one. Okoye watched Shuri in silence for a moment, mesmerized by the way the teenager’s hands worked with such precision and grace. “Do you think they’ll be able to tap back into our system?”

“I doubt it. Now that we know what we’re looking for, it’ll be harder for them to sneak past us. I already upgraded all of the security clearances.” Shuri stopped abruptly and looked up at her. “Do you think we’ll catch them? I mean, they managed to escape even when they didn’t know we were coming.”

Okoye pursed her lips. She’d been wondering the same thing. “Only time will tell, but I’m confident in the abilities of my women and myself.”

Shuri smiled and nodded. “I suppose that’s all we can be, in the end. You can go if you need to, Okoye. I know you have work to do, and I think the security systems of my lab are protection enough for the time being.”

Okoye favored Shuri with a brief smile and bowed. “Princess.” As she strode out of the lab, her thoughts were preoccupied with thoughts about their evasive criminal.

If Klaue’s associate wasn’t building weaponry, what were they doing with the vibranium? Were they taking individual orders? Were the supplies they’d captured only related to one, non-weapons related request?

Okoye set her shoulders and drew on her reserves of determination.

They’d almost caught the associate. They were closing in.

Sleep with one eye open, thief, Okoye thought. You can’t outrun us forever.

Chapter Text

Challenges are the most natural part of life, even more so than times of ease and peace. Life itself is the greatest challenge of all: the struggle against death.

Being a Dora Milaje is a constant state of challenge. You have to learn to overcome, how to work with tremendous odds stacked against you. You have to learn how to produce results again and again and again and again.

There are times where you will face challenges that will continually best you, no matter how well you plan or how fast you act. When that happens, step away. Refresh your mind. Come back renewed and ready to try again.

When you do, you’ll often find that the solution was right in front of you all along.


 

“Shuri, you said this was an emergency.”

“It is!”

Okoye smirked as T’Challa sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.

The teenage princess was standing amidst a sea of clothes, frowning as she held up article after article of clothing, only to toss each one aside in turn. “I can’t decide which dress I should wear to Dewani’s birthday celebration.”

“Shuri--”

“Brother, listen to me. This is vitally important. I’m going to be meeting Dewani’s friends from the Jabari lands while we’re up there for her birthday. I need to make a good impression, and that includes not looking like a complete and total idiot at the main celebration.” She held up two dresses, both long sleeve; one was red with gold and black patterning, while the other was blue with silver and green diamonds. “I think I’ve narrowed it down to these two. Which one looks better for a birthday party?”

“You think?” T’Challa echoed, exhausted and incredulous.

Okoye simply smiled. “You could always ask Dewani for which dress would be most appropriate.”

“And take the easy way out?”

“Yes,” T’Challa muttered under his breath. “Please. Take the easy way out.”

Dewani poked her head into Shuri’s room. “What’s the easy way out?”

Shuri let out a delighted squeal and ran over to her girlfriend. “You’re here! I thought you wouldn’t arrive until dinner!”

Dewani laughed and spun Shuri in an enthusiastic hug. “I convinced M’Baku to let us leave earlier.”

“More like annoyed me until I relented,” M’Baku said as he followed Dewani into Shuri’s room. He kissed Okoye on the temple before eyeing the clothing carnage. “Tell me, are tornadoes naturally occurring catastrophes down here?”

“Only the in the form of the Princess,” Okoye replied quietly as Shuri showed off her two top dress picks.

“The red one looks nice,” Dewani said as she sat on the edge of Shuri’s bed.

“Ah,” Shuri said in a pleased tone that wasn’t the least bit subtle. “So, you like the red one better than the blue one.”

Dewani smirked. “The blue one looks pretty, too. I’m sure whichever one you pick will look great on you.” She chuckled when Shuri deflated and pointed at the red dress. “Blue is one of our holy colors, reserved for servants and students of Hanuman; you’re better off going with red.”

“A simple solution,” T’Challa said, relief evident in his voice. “Dewani, you have my thanks.”

“Hang on. I still haven’t decided one which shoes I’m wearing, to say nothing of accessories.”

“T’Challa, the leader of the River tribe would like to speak with you,” Ramonda said as she paused by Shuri’s bedroom door. “He’s waiting right now.”

“Alas, I have been summoned. I’m sure you’ll manage without me, Shuri.”

“He doesn’t look too upset,” M’Baku mumbled as T’Challa beat a hasty retreat from his sister’s room.

“This isn’t the first time Shuri’s pulled him in for a fashion consultation,” Okoye whispered. “She had him in here for three hours at one point.”

M’Baku winced and shot her a conspiratorial look. “Do you think she’s distracted enough that we could leave without them noticing?”

Okoye mulled it over.

On one hand, Shuri definitely didn’t need a babysitter. Okoye knew from personal experience that Shuri kept her room stocked with enough hidden weaponry --in case of emergencies--to equip several armies. Furthermore, Okoye wasn’t a babysitter; she still had work to do in light of her upcoming trip to celebrate Dewani’s birthday. Besides, Shuri was seventeen and Dewani a week away from being seventeen as well. The girls were almost adults --they could handle being mature and responsible.

On the other hand, it definitely wouldn’t be appropriate to leave two teenagers alone, in a bedroom, without any real supervision.

Before Okoye could decide one way or the other, Ramonda walked back into Shuri’s room. “I can keep an eye on the girls for now. I know you have more duties to attend to, General Okoye; Chief M’Baku, you’re free to use the palace amenities as you like.”

M’Baku grinned at Okoye as they walked out of the Princess’s room together. “Well, that was easier than expected.”


 

M’Baku followed her to her office, citing ‘wanting to speak with her in private’ as his reason. However, as soon as the door closed, he picked her up and pinned her against it, mouth zeroing in on her neck.

Okoye let out a gasp and wrapped her arms around his neck. “I thought you wanted to talk to me.”

“I do. Specifically between your legs.”

Okoye rolled her hips against his as his hands squeezed her ass. “M’Baku, I have work to do.”

“Is this you asking me to stop?”

Okoye thought it over for a moment, then pulled his head up by his short locks and pulled him in for a bruising kiss. “No.”

M’Baku chuckled and started undoing the clasps on her belt.


 

“So, how do the Jabari celebrate their birthdays?”

“It’s not too different from how Shuri celebrated hers. There’s a main celebration with the village or tribe members, and then a private celebration for family and friends.”

Okoye sat back in her seat, content to listen --as usual--as Ramonda and Dewani talked. She’d been invited to dinner with the family --a regular occurrence whenever M’Baku and Dewani were staying at the palace.

She’d adjusted to the idea of eating a meal with the people she worked for over the past year. It still didn’t feel as natural as eating with M’Baku during their vacations together or sharing a meal with her friends, though she doubted it ever would.

Her entire life had been shaped into serving the Udakus --not a complaint, just a fact. She wasn’t going to overcome the formalities and training that she’d breathed in during her youth in a little under a year.

“Are you looking forward to your birthday?” Ramonda asked with a warm smile.

Dewani shrugged. “Yes and no. I mean, it’s going to be all about me, which will be great--”

Okoye hid her smirk behind her wine glass when she saw T’Challa roll his eyes; the expression on his face translated roughly to ‘she’s just like M’Baku.’

“--but my uncle has to attend the family celebration, which sucks.”

Shuri frowned. “Why does he keep showing up everywhere? Can’t you issue a restraining order against him?”

“Dewani will be allowed to contest his abuse towards her once she’s eighteen,” M’Baku said, expression solemn. “Until then, he’s allowed free movement through the territory.”

“But he keeps terrorizing her. Can’t you, like, ban him from seeing her?”

“I could. Unfortunately, I’ve made some unpopular decisions with the more traditional elders --elders that my uncle has a great deal of sway over. If he can turn the tribe against me, I’ll lose my position as Chief and custody of my sister. I’m sure you can understand why I don’t want that to happen.”

Shuri scrunched up her face. “Unpopular decisions? What unpopular decisions?”

M’Baku raised an eyebrow at her. “Rejoining the rest of Wakanda, mostly.”

“A decision that allowed me to meet my soulmate, thank you very much,” Dewani interjected as she elbowed her brother in the side. “The elders can go suck--”

“Dewani.”

“--on a lemon, which will still be sweeter than they are.”

“Nice save,” Okoye murmured. She shared a grin with Dewani. “Are you going to show her a bridge building?”

Dewani’s eyes lit up and she turned to Shuri. “Yeah! There’s one scheduled for the third day of your visit.”

“I’ll admit, I’m really looking forward to seeing how you handle infrastructure challenges up there.” Shuri looked at Okoye. “Have you seen one yet?”

Okoye nodded. “Chief M’Baku took me to one the last time I was in the Jabari lands.”

“What’s it like?”

Okoye shared a smile with M’Baku before responding. “It’s not like anything you’ve ever seen --or will ever see.”


 

“I’m not sure this was a good idea.”

“You say that every time we reveal another side of Wakanda to the outside world.”

“That’s because it’s relevant every time we do.”

Okoye smiled slightly as a group of scientists from around the world walked towards Shuri’s lab. “It’s just for today, and then they’re gone.”

M’Baku let out a huff. “Good.”

“And then,” Okoye added, “we’ll be back in the Jabari lands to celebrate your sister’s birthday.”

That finagled a ghost of a smile out of him. “Believe me, I’m looking forward to it.”


 

Okoye liked to think of herself as smart --and, as far as she was concerned, she was. Her job was multi-faceted --from running missions to arranging work schedules to coordinating multi-team events--and she handled it all with ease and what effort she needed.

However, in the face of Shuri’s rapid-fire, detailed explanation about Wakanda’s latest development in cancer treatments, she found it difficult to keep her eyes from glazing over.

Oh well. You never could be good at everything.

Most of the scientists were polite enough and intensely focused on Shuri’s lecture, but Okoye couldn’t help but notice that there were a few gazes among the group --most of them white, no surprise there--that kept slipping back to M’Baku and Dewani. Her grip on her spear tightened when she caught one scientist look the Jabari siblings up and down with a sneer of disdain. We invite you in to our country, share our knowledge with you, and your first instinct is to judge members of our nation for how they dress?

She forced herself to take a deep breath and recenter herself. It’ll be over soon.

“Does anyone have any questions for myself or my co-presenters?” Shuri asked as she turned off her lecture display.

“Yes,” one of the scientists replied, turning to face M’Baku. “Do the Jabari use the vibranium technology as well? I noticed there weren’t any contributions from your tribe.”

“We do not.”

“So, what do you use?”

“Our technology.”

Okoye had to smother a laugh as the scientist floundered to respond to M’Baku’s short, vague answer. It was an asshole move, yes, but there was something deeply satisfying in seeing the Westerner get run around.

“And... what is that technology based on?”

“Our traditions.”

“The Jabari tribe follow different philosophies to those of the rest of Wakanda,” T’Challa interjected diplomatically. “That includes not using vibranium in their technological developments. I appreciate your curiosity over those differences, but we have assured them that their privacy will be respected as we connect Wakanda to the rest of the world. Thank you for understanding.”

There were a few other questions, and then the lecture closed and the scientists started filing out of the room.

“You can be such an asshole sometimes,” Okoye murmured to M’Baku, an amused smile playing at her lips.

He smirked down at her. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you liked it.”

She opened her mouth to respond, then stumbled into M’Baku when someone bumped into her.

“Sorry! So sorry!” An Indian scientist winced as she adjusted the thick framed glasses that were perched on her nose. “Are you alright? I am so sorry, I wasn’t watching.”

“It’s fine--” Okoye paused, then peered at the scientist. “Do I know you? Have we met somewhere?”

She hesitated, then shook her head. “I... I do not believe so.” She extended her hand. “Dr. Chetna Khatri.”

“General Okoye.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” Dr. Khatri replied in her thick accent. “Again, I am so sorry for knocking into you.” She let out a soft laugh. “I need to watch where I am going better.”

Okoye smiled politely. “It’s fine. I’ve dealt with worse.” She watched the woman walk off, eyes narrowing.

Something about the doctor seemed eerily familiar, but she couldn’t place it. I know I’ve seen that face before. I just can’t remember... where...

M’Baku clasped her shoulder. “Come on, love. We need to head back to palace.”

Okoye studied Dr. Khatri for a moment longer, then sighed and let the thought go as she followed M’Baku out of the room.


 

“I’m really looking forward to seeing what the Jabari lands are like.”

“You’ve been up there before.”

“Only for about forty-eight hours --and I spent most of that time inside.”

Dewani’s sunny countenance fell slightly at the mention of her grandmother’s death, but she perked back up in a few seconds. “Well, I can’t wait to see your reaction to the bridge building. I think your eyes are going to pop out of your head.”

“You know that’s scientifically and anatomically impossible, right?”

“Duh, but it’s such a poignant descriptor, no?”

Okoye smiled slightly as she trailed after Dewani and Shuri.

The sun was setting as they ambled through the palace. The scientists had long been sent on their way, and all that was left was to finish packing for their imminent trip to the Jabari lands.

Okoye reached out and nudged M’Baku’s arms. “There. Was that so bad?”

“Yes,” M’Baku said with a cheeky smile. “Absolutely horrendous. I don’t know how I’ll ever recover.” He interlocked his fingers with hers. “You’re coming with us, right?”

“Of course. And, I’m taking vacation days so that I don’t have to act as a guard while I’m staying with you.”

M’Baku beamed. “Wonderful.”

“Shuri,” Ramonda called out as she walked towards her daughter, accompanied by T’Challa and Nakia. “Are you ready for our departure?”

“Yes, mother.” Shuri looked down as her kimoyo beads pinged.

“And have you tidied your room for your packing efforts?”

Shuri frowned as she studied a read out projected by her kimoyo beads. “Uh... yeah...”

Ramonda put her hands on her hips. “Shuri, can I have your undivided attention, please?”

“...Yeah...”

“Shuri. Now, please.”

Shuri peered at the display, did a double-take, then uttered a loud and distressed, “What the fuck?!”

Ramonda inhaled sharply as T’Challa snorted. “Shuri!”

“They’re back in the system! Klaue’s associate!” Shuri scowled as she tried to manipulate the display. “How did they do that? I completely redid our security measures!”

Okoye called Ayo. “Commander, what are the latest whereabouts on Klaue’s associate?”

“We just got a location lock on one of the stolen vibranium tubes. I’m sending you the coordinates now.”

“With me, General,” T’Challa said as he ran towards the flight hangar. “This ends tonight.”

Yes, Okoye thought as she sprinted after T’Challa, spear in hand. It does.


 

Patagonian Desert, Argentina; 3 AM GMT.

“We’re approximately five miles out from the coordinates Ayo sent me,” Okoye said as she piloted the stealth craft through Argentinian airspace.

“There,” T’Challa said, pointing at a dark building on the horizon. “That’s it.”

Okoye sped the craft forward and landed it about thirty feet away from the building. She darted after T’Challa, spear in hand.

“I’m picking up three distinct life signs,” T’Challa whispered as he crept towards the warehouse. “But there’s something... off about them.”

“How so?” Okoye asked as she scanned the desert for enemies before approaching the door.

“I don’t know.”

“Well,” Okoye grunted as she used her spear to break the lock on the door. “We’ll figure it out once we’re inside.” She kicked the door in and peered in the warehouse.

A metal object that vaguely resembled a computer tower sat on the center of the warehouse floor. It made a screeching noise as she stepped over the threshold, then started vibrating. A panel on the front turned on, revealing a quickly counting down timer.

Okoye’s eyes widened. “Bomb! It’s a bomb!”

She and T’Challa booked it away from the warehouse, trying to gain as much distance between them and the explosive. They made it about thirty feet, and then T’Challa pulled her down, shielding her from the shockwave and shrapnel with his panther suit-clad body.

Okoye winced and stood once the worst of the explosion had finished. Her ears were ringing slightly, and her lungs were burning from the noxious plume of smoke and dust that was wafting off the ruins of the warehouse. She watched, equal parts horrified and pissed off, as a helicopter emerged from behind the smoke cloud, flying away and disappearing into the night sky.

“I think those were the life signs I picked up on,” T’Challa panted as he watched the helicopter. “Why couldn’t I tell that they were behind the building?”

“Because we’ve got a serious bug in our system.” Okoye let out a growl and smacked the end of her spear against the parched desert floor. “Bast dammit! How do we keep losing them?”

“I’m starting to think that Shuri and Dewani’s theory about Klaue’s associate having the ability to manipulate technology --or at least some seriously good hacking skills--is right. There’s no other reasonable explanation for why we can’t track them down ---or how they keep breaking into our system.”

Okoye scowled at the burning wreckage. “This has to end. We can’t afford to keep such a dangerous loose end untied.”

“I agree, General, but for now there’s nothing for it. All we can do is head back to Wakanda and track the associate to their next location.”

Okoye shot one last irritated glare at the smoldering warehouse, then followed T’Challa back to the stealth craft.


 

“You’re going to burn a hole through the floor if you keep glaring at it like that.”

“Very funny.”

“I’m serious, ‘koye. What did that floor even do to warrant your ire?”

“Ha ha.”

M’Baku frowned, then sat down and wrapped his hand around hers. “What is it, Okoye? You’ve been stormy since you came back to Wakanda --and don’t just brush it off as lack of sleep. I know you better than that.”

Okoye sighed. “We missed Klaue’s associate again. They had a trap waiting for us.”

“I know, but I don’t think that’s what’s got you so worked up right now. You’ve had difficult missions before.”

Okoye fought the urge to grind her teeth together. “I don’t like having loose ends. They make far more mess than they’re worth. And this is a loose end we can’t afford; vibranium in the wrong hands could spell the end of the world.”

“I understand your trepidation, but I don’t think the associate’s going to sell the vibranium.”

Okoye frowned up at him. “How can you be sure?”

“It’s been what, several months since we learned of the existence of the associate, right? If they were going to sell the vibranium, they would’ve done it by now.”

Okoye blinked as the revelation sank in. “You’re right... but I still wouldn’t rule out sale as an option.”

“Right. Don’t remove it from the table, but I don’t think it’s their primary motivation.”

“Then... what would they be trying to do with the stolen vibranium?”

M’Baku shrugged. “Only Hanuman knows.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and smiled. “But enough about work. You’re technically off the clock.”

She smirked up at him. “Yes, technically I am.”

“So, that means it’s time to rest. No more work talk.”

Okoye chuckled, and settled against M’Baku as she tried to relax.

It wasn’t easy. She was still deeply enraged over letting Klaue’s associate slip through her fingers, and even more worried by the prospect that they didn’t seem to have any way of keeping the associate out of their computer system.

No leads, no witnesses, just the trail that kept being left for them --a trail that Klaue’s associate was in control of. Okoye was certain that they were being lead around on purpose, that every new hint was purposeful and placed to keep them right where Klaue’s associated wanted them.

Breathe, Okoye told herself as she closed her eyes to meditate. You need some time away from this. Rest, and come back with a fresh mind.

She exhaled slowly and let all thoughts about Klaue’s associate and failed missions go.

Chapter Text

There are going to be people in your life that refuse to celebrate you. They’ll claim that you need to meet some unspoken standard to be worthy of recognition.

Kick those people to the curb, my loves. They’ll only bring you down. You are, and always will be, worthy of celebrating, just the way you are.

Don’t be that person, either. You’ll find yourself isolated and lonely for it.


 

 

She woke up slowly.

It started with the noises --birds chirping, wind blowing, the sound of muffled footsteps in the hall, that sort of thing. At first they were muddy, indiscernible from each other, and slowly grew crisper as she rose further and further into consciousness.

The light followed the noises, staining the insides of her eyelids. It started with a dull gray color, then transformed to a soft periwinkle, and finally blossomed into beautiful golds and reds as night fully shifted to day.

He brought her the rest of the way out of sleep, though. The weight of his arm around her, the warmth of his chest against her back, the soft puffs of his breath on the nape of her neck, and the light touches of his fingers against her side and arm all grounded her, bringing her fully into wakefulness.

Okoye sighed, stretched, and opened her eyes. She blinked slowly she took stock of her surroundings.

She was in M’Baku’s bedroom, snuggled in his bed and lovingly tucked under thick layers of blankets --something that the Jabari Chief had done himself when she’d fallen asleep beside him last night, no doubt.

M’Baku’s lips pressed against her temple. “Good morning, my love.”

Okoye rolled over so she was facing him and placed a half-awake kiss on his lips. “Good morning.”

“How’d you sleep?”

“Well. Better than I have in a while.” She stretched again, then cleared her throat. “What time is it?”

“About nine. I think Dewani and Shuri are already up; I heard them laughing in the hall earlier.” He smoothed his hand down her bare side. “Do you want breakfast?”

“Not yet.” She nestled closer to him. “I want to enjoy this for a little longer.”

M’Baku let out a contented hum as she tucked her head under his chin. “It’s been too long since we’ve been able to do this.”

“I know.”

“I want to do this more.”

“Me too.”

M’Baku sighed. “Is this ever going to be easy?”

“Relative to simple travel and scheduling? Probably not.” Okoye smoothed her hand over his chest, relishing in the mixed textures of smooth skin and puckered scars. “We live at opposite ends of Wakanda and lead busy lives.”

“I know, I know...”

“I sense a ‘but’ coming.”

M’Baku propped himself up on one arm and stared down at her. “I want us to spend more time together, ‘koye.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “Are you asking me to take more vacations?”

“Yes and no. Yes, because you almost never take them unless you have to, and it’s annoying that you won’t take off work now and then. No, because I know your work is important to you and Wakanda, and I wouldn’t ask you to shoulder the burden of making this work on your own anyway.”

“You’re sweet.” She pressed a kiss against his shoulder. “But it’d have to be mutual because our schedules conflict so much. How often do you want to see each other?”

“At least once a month, for a couple days.”

Okoye did the math and nodded. “I think I could manage that. We could alternate months for where we stay.”

M’Baku grinned. “That sounds amazing.”

“I mean, obviously if an emergency happens we might have to reschedule--”

“Yes, yes, obviously. Very good and all that.” M’Baku kissed her passionately. “You’re thinking too much, ‘koye.”

“Well, maybe you should stop me.” Before she could pull him back in, her stomach groaned loudly.

M’Baku laughed and ran his hand over her abdomen. “Perhaps I should order breakfast now.”

Okoye grinned up at him. “Kiss me again first, then breakfast.”


 

 

“Relax.”

“I am relaxed.”

“No, you’re finessing. You only finesse when you’re nervous.” When Shuri didn’t stop fidgeting with the hem of the dress she was wearing, Dewani grabbed her hands. “Stop.”

“I can’t help it, okay? I’m meeting your friends! I want to make a good impression!”

“They’re going to love you. Who wouldn’t?”

Shuri gave Dewani an unconvinced, mildly annoyed look. “Oh, I don’t know. Why would members of a traditionalist tribe that shuns the use of vibranium dislike the head of the scientific development program for the rest of Wakanda?”

Dewani sighed. “It’s going to be fine.”

“Doubtful.”

“Relax,” Okoye said, inserting herself into the conversation before the two girls could start arguing with each other. “The Jabari are more open-minded and outgoing than you believe them to be. Provided you don’t try to force conversations about vibranium, you’ll be fine.”

Shuri nodded, then let go of the hem of her dress.

“I didn’t take her as this nervous when I confronted the King at the falls,” M’Baku murmured as the group resumed their progress towards the library.

“We all have our soft spots,” Okoye replied, equally as quiet as Dewani opened the doors to the library.

Three teenage girls were resting by the massive library windows. The one closest to the doors had a book in her hands and thick rimmed, round glasses perched on her nose. The one furthest from them was leaning against a bookcase and wore leather armor not unlike the pieces worn by the Jabari warriors. In between them sat a smaller girl dressed in blue robes similar to the flowing garments worn by the priestesses.

“Shuri, this is Fukayna--” Dewnai pointed to the girl with the glasses “--Abayomi--” She pointed to the girl wearing the priestess robes “--and Izegbe.” She pointed to the girl wearing the armor. “Guys, this is my girlfriend, Princess Shuri.”

Abayomi stood and favored Shuri with a sunny smile as she nodded her head respectfully. “It’s wonderful to finally meet you, Princess. Dewani’s told us a great deal about you.”

“Just Shuri, please. And it’s lovely to meet all of you; Dewani’s told me a bit about all of you, so let me see if I can get it right...” She pointed at Abayomi. “You’re studying to become a priestess?”

Abayomi nodded. “Yes. I’m in my fourth year of studying under the holy women.”

“And how are your studies going?” M’Baku asked.

“Very well, Chief M’Baku.”

Shuri pointed to Fukayna next. “And you’re... a scholar of history, I believe.”

The bespectacled teenager nodded curtly. “Yes. The preservation of our traditions demand that we know the lives that came before ours.”

She’s going to be a tough nut to crack, Okoye thought as she watched the girls interact.

“And you’re...” Shuri pointed at Izegbe. “Dewani’s sparring partner.”

Izegbe raised an eyebrow and smirked. “And?”

“Training to be the first female Prime.”

She laughed and clapped her hands. “Very good. I see Dewani wasn’t overselling your mind when she was gushing to us about your wit and genius.”

“Hey!” Dewani frowned. “I do not gush.”

“You spent four hours rambling about the intricacies of her mind and her application of her intelligence,” Fukayna said dryly. “‘Gush’ is an appropriate descriptor.”

“It was sweet,” Abayomi added with a comforting pat to Dewani’s forearm. She peered past Dewani and Shuri and grinned at Okoye. “And you! We’ve heard about you!”

Izegbe’s eyes lit up. “Yeah! You’re General Okoye of the Dora Milaje!”

“I see my reputation proceeds me,” Okoye said with a smile.

“Well, yeah. The Chief is very smitten with you, and Dewani loves reporting back to us on the two of you,” Abayomi explained.

M’Baku narrowed his eyes at his sister. “Have you been spying on me?”

“You can’t call it spying when you’re blatantly obvious about everything.”

“Besides,” Fukayna added. “The well being of the Chief is a cause of concern for all members of the tribe, including in areas of love and coupling.”

Izegbe grimaced. “Oh, blessed garden, do not ever call it ‘coupling’ again.”

M’Baku smirked and shook his head. “Well, I think Okoye and I will leave you five to get better acquainted.” He held out a hand to her. “My love?”

“Yeah,” Dewani muttered. “Leave us so they can resume their ‘coupling.’”

“Enough, Dewani,” M’Baku said as Izegbe and Abayomi groaned.

“Sorry.”

“Try to keep the room in one piece,” M’Baku replied to his sister as he escorted Okoye out of the library.

“They’re quite the trio.”

“You should seem them once they get going. I can’t catch a break.”

“I’ve heard humility is a very attractive quality in leaders.”

M’Baku rolled his eyes, but it was good natured. “I have humility coming out of my ears whenever I’m around those girls. But enough about them. We have a considerable chunk of time to ourselves; what would you like to do with it, my love?”

Okoye smiled coyly at him and pressed her hands against his chest. “Oh, I thought we could engage in some more... ‘coupling,’ if you’re not opposed.”

M’Baku chuckled and swept her off her feet, carrying her to his room bridal style. “I like the way you think, ‘koye.”


 

 

“They hate me.”

They were standing next to a massive gorge, the cool breeze cut by the warm summer sun. It was the day after Shuri’s introduction to Dewani’s friends; by all indicators, it hadn’t gone well.

Okoye stealthily glanced to the side, where Shuri and Dewani were standing.

Shuri was tucked under Dewani’s arm and looked downright crestfallen. “They can’t stand me! I can tell!”

“They don’t hate you,” Dewani murmured as she pressed a reassuring kiss against her girlfriend’s temple.

“Fukayna glared at me!”

“Okay, she does that with everyone. I’m convinced she doesn’t actually like people. She just needs some time to warm up to you, is all.”

“Right, because a scholar of Jabari traditions and history is absolutely going to warm up to the head of Wakanda’s scientific development program.”

M’Baku frowned slightly as he watched his sister and her girlfriend. “It doesn’t seem that the first impressions went that well.”

“Give it time,” Okoye said quietly.

“I don’t know. Even the elders like you.”

“The elders are not teenage girls. Take it from someone who was one, the art of social integration is extraordinarily complex at that age.”

“I hope you’re right.”

Okoye raised her eyebrows as she looked up at M’Baku. “I’m surprised you’re so concerned.”

“As much as I give her a hard time, I like Shuri just fine; I wouldn’t let her pursue a relationship with my sister if I didn’t,” M’Baku said pointedly. “And, as much as I disapprove of using vibranium, I don’t want her shunned by Dewani’s friends just because our traditions and values are different.”

Okoye smiled softly and patted his shoulder. “Give it time. It’s a big adjustment for all of them.”

“Look, if she ends up being a bitch about it, I’ll tell her to knock it off, okay?”

“Dewani--”

“Shuri, please. Just relax a little. It’s going to be alright.”

Okoye caught sight of the holy women walking towards the gorge. She reached out and gently tapped the Princess on the shoulder. “You’re going to want to pay attention for this part.”

Shuri’s brow creased as she watched the priestesses perform the ritual. “How is this supposed to work? Are they blessing the site?”

“Watch,” Dewani whispered, grinning excitedly.

Okoye couldn’t help but smile as Shuri gasped when the roots embedded themselves into the ground and started stretching towards the opposite end of the gorge.

“What in Bast’s name?” Shuri surged forward to get a better look.

Dewani latched onto her arm with a panicked gasp. “We’re right next to a thousand foot drop! Shuri!”

“Cats are curious.”

“Yes, and you don’t have nine lives!”

M’Baku shook his head as he slung his arm over Okoye’s shoulders. “Well, that went basically how I expected it to.”

Okoye chuckled as Dewani physically carried Shuri back from the edge. “Pretty much.”


 

 

Dewani leaned back in her seat, stretched her arms, and let out a satisfied sigh. “Alright. Time for the best part. Everyone, show me how much I mean to you by way of expensive gifts.”

The private celebration for Dewani’s birthday was coming to a close. It had been kept small --T’Challa, Nakia, and Ramonda had flown up to celebrate, which left Okoye, M’Baku, Shuri, Abayomi, Fukayna, and Izegbe as the other guests.

M’Baku narrowed his eyes at his sister, feigning contempt. “Is this what I have raised? Where did I go wrong?”

“Hey, I just modeled myself after you and turned out this way. You have no one but yourself to blame.”

“Humility is a virtue,” Okoye murmured in his ear as he picked up his gift for Dewani.

“So I keep telling myself.” M’Baku handed Dewani a large gift half the length of the table, wrapped in an elegant gold colored paper. “You probably already know what’s in here.”

“Well, yeah. You’re nothing if not predictable.” Dewani tore open the packaging and lifted out an expertly carved staff, crafted out of Jabari wood.

“You’re starting the transformation from child to adult. You’ve overcome many challenges and are building a reputation for yourself that you should be proud of. I am. I’m so proud of you and the woman you’re becoming, Dewani.”

Dewani smiled as she regarded the staff with respect and reverence, then hugged her brother after carefully handing it off to one of the servants. “Thank you, M’Baku.”

“Happy Birthday, usisi omncinci.”

Ramonda went next, as the eldest non-family member present. “These are styled after jewelry worn by nearly all the tribes,” she explained as Dewani opened a small box to reveal a pair of intricate gold earrings. “I remembered you saying that you wanted some more ‘valley-styled’ pieces to wear when you visited Shuri, and I thought these would suit you.”

Dewani smiled and nodded her head in thanks. “Thank you, Queen Mother.”

T’Challa and Nakia were next, with a mutual gift of a collection of Wakandan myths and history.

Dewani appraised the book --a physical copy, instead of a transcription stored on a kimoyo bead--with an appreciative gaze. “This’ll be interesting to look through. I’ve been looking for a way to learn more about the other tribes, but I couldn’t figure out where was a good place to start. Thank you.”

“There’s a tradition among the valley tribes regarding sisters,” Okoye explained when Dewani opened her gift --a nice camera and some decent lens attachments. “Older sisters are expected to act as guides to their younger counterparts. When the younger sister is at an age to fend for herself, the older sister gives them a way to document their life and the world around them --hence the camera.”

Dewani beamed and leaned over to hug Okoye. “Thank you.”

Fukayna went next, presenting her friend with a book of Jabari history and traditions. 

Izegbe followed --her gift was a set of three wickedly sharp daggers.

“You can go ahead of me,” Shuri said to Abayomi. “I’d like to go last, if that’s alright.”

“That’s fine,” Dewani said as she held her hands out for her youngest friend’s gift. “Ah. A book of prayers and meditations. Thank you... Why did you mark all the ones for patience?”

“Oh, no reason.”

Shuri giggled and shifted her chair so she was sitting right next to her girlfriend. “Alright. If you wouldn’t mind humoring me, I want to see if you can guess what I got for you.”

Dewani picked up the box --wrapped in smooth, dark purple paper--and lifted it up and down, testing its weight. “Hmm. It’s got some heft to it... Is it a book?”

“Nope.”

“Okay... I don’t think it’d be clothes or shoes...”

“Not either of those.”

“Is it a painting?”

“No.”

Dewani smiled softly as Shuri laughed. “Well, consider me stumped. May I open it now?” When Shuri nodded, she ripped the paper off and lifted the lid of the box.

A gleaming, sleek tablet sat inside the box, carefully buffered by layers of padding.

“A piece of your... technology,” Fukayna muttered, disdain evident in her voice.

“She doesn’t have to tailor her gifts for me to meet your standards,” Dewani said in a low voice, a clear warning to her friend to stand down.

Fukayna raised an eyebrow, but relented with a nod. “I didn’t mean to cause offense.”

“You turn it on here,” Shuri said as she pressed a button on the side of the tablet. “And you navigate by swiping or tapping.”

“I know. I’ve seen you use these before.” Dewani smiled curiously as she examined the tablet. “What are... vlogs? Why are there videos on here?”

“I guess you’ll have to check them out and see.”

Dewani tapped at the screen, and a video began playing, projected above the tablet so everyone at the table could see.

It was one of T’Challa --specifically, him being launched through the air by the kinetic energy blast from Shuri’s latest suit after he’d tried to kick it. Shuri’s laughter was audible in the background as her brother rolled across the floor.

“I thought I told you to delete that footage!” T’Challa groaned as everyone else laughed.

“When you gave me your book for my birthday, I knew I wanted to make something like that for you. Well, obviously, not an exact translation, but--”

“No, no, it’s perfect,” Dewani said with an exhilarated smile. “So, what all am I going to find on here?”

“Different kinds of videos, mostly --rants, vlogs, prank videos, those sorts of things.”

“I love it.” Dewani grinned at the tablet, then at her girlfriend. “It’s like a version of your brain --appearance and all.”

“I’m nothing if not modern.”

“You’re wonderful, too.” Dewani leaned forward and gave Shuri a brief, sweet kiss. “Thank you.”

Okoye smiled as Dewani’s friends made various cooing noises --or, in Izegbe’s case, loud retching noises--then crowded around Dewani’s chair so they could start taking pictures with the camera.

After watching the girl struggle, time and time again, it was nice to see her revel in pure joy for a change.


 

 

“Today was good. I’ve been needing a day like today for a while.”

“Yeah? Even with Shuri’s gift?”

“I got a better look at it while Dewani was playing with her camera. It’s shockingly low-tech --does only what she needs it to do, which is store and display files and videos. She clearly thought of Dewani and her heritage as a Jabari when she made it.”

Okoye smiled as she and M’Baku ambled through the halls of the lodge, made shadowy by the ever-darkening dusk. “You seem like you’ve really warmed up to her.”

“I said it earlier, and I’ll say it again. I don’t mind Shuri, nor do I dislike her. I think she’s young, and I think she has more to learn about life than she realizes, but she’s rightfully earned her confidence. Plus, she’s good to my sister and considerate to her views on life. Why wouldn’t I like that?” M’Baku paused, both in what he was saying and his stride, and frowned. “Do you hear that?”

Okoye frowned and closed her eyes so she could focus.

A series of soft, strained sobs pieced the air.

“That’s Dewani,” M’Baku said, alarm creasing his face. He surged forward, head swiveling back and forth as he scanned the rooms adjoining the hall for his sister. “Where is she?”

Okoye darted after him, nearly smacking into his back when he lurched to stop and peered into a small alcove that connected to the porch that wrapped around the lodge.

Dewani was tucked inside, slumped against the wall, hands pressed against her face. Her shoulders heaved as she tried to keep her anguish quiet. “I miss her so much.”

Shuri was standing in front of her, smoothing her girlfriend’s hair away from her face and wiping tears off her damp cheeks. “I know. You loved her, and she loved you.”

“I think they’re talking about Olufemi,” Okoye whispered.

M’Baku’s face was heavy with grief. “I know they are.”

Okoye latched onto his bicep when he tried to step in. “Wait. Give the Princess a chance to calm her.” When M’Baku gave her a look that managed to convey worry and brotherly indignation at the same time, she added, “You have to let her lean on other people. You won’t be there all the time to swoop in and save her.”

M’Baku swallowed thickly, and --with great reluctance--stepped away from the entrance to the alcove.

Dewani let out a wet, ugly sounding sniff. “Hanuman help me, what am I doing? I’m sobbing like a child over the loss of an elder who lived a full life, and you’ve lost your father before his time. I’m so selfish.”

“No, you’re not.” Shuri’s voice was loving, but firm. “Loss is loss. Your grandmother was dear to you the same way that my father was dear to me. My pain doesn’t make yours childish, and it definitely doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t let yourself it experience it.”

Okoye smoothed her hand against M’Baku’s arm, up and down, as Shuri soothed Dewani. “See? She’s going to be okay.”

M’Baku frowned, but said nothing.

Okoye’s hand stilled when she realized that Shuri and Dewani had stopped talking. She motioned for M’Baku to stay where he was, then leaned to the side to see what the two girls were doing.

Shuri and Dewani were locked in a passionate embrace, lips pressed together and arms encircling each other.

Okoye fought the urge to cough and leaned away, tugging at M’Baku’s arm. “Come on. I think the Princess has this well in hand.”

“What’s going on?”

“They’re two teenagers in love. What do you think?”

M’Baku’s eyes widened, and he blinked hard as he shook his head. “Not a mental image I needed.”

“Come on. I think we can let them have this moment.” She took his hand walked down the hall in the direction they had come from.


 

 

The next night saw the larger, public celebration of Dewani’s birthday. Music and laughter filled the air, a glorious cacophony of celebration and glee. Countless members of the Jabari tribe --most of whom were extended family and friends Okoye had never met before--filled the Great Hall of the lodge.

Okoye couldn’t help but smile as she watched Dewani, her friends, and Shuri dance with other cousins and companions in the center of the room.

“So, what do you think of a traditional Jabari celebration?” M’Baku asked jovially as he clasped her shoulders.

“Chaotic.”

M’Baku threw his head back and laughed. “Life is chaos! The garden is chaos! Too many people focus on trying to control it, to force it into order. Sometimes, it’s better just to flow with it.”

Okoye nodded as she returned her focus to the bouncing group in front of her. “I couldn’t agree more.”


 

 

“My feet hurt. Do all Jabari celebrations involve this much pain?”

M’Baku chuckled as he rubbed his hands up and down her legs, smoothing away the soreness. “Usually. We don’t do anything by halves.”

She was stretched out on the couch in front of the library fireplace, legs propped up in her lover’s lap. Okoye groaned as M’Baku hit a particularly tender spot and covered her eyes with her arm. “I’m supposed to go back to work two days from now.”

“Well, I guess I’ll have to make sure you’re feeling your best before you leave.”

Okoye smirked. “And what, exactly, might that entail?”

Before M’Baku could answer, however, the library doors opened with a smack. Izegbe stumbled in, expression panicked. “F’Tendi’s here! He’s trying to corner Dewani! I saw him by the Great Hall!”

M’Baku was off the couch and out of the library in the blink of an eye.

Okoye lurched into a sitting position. She winced as she yanked on her shoes, then took off after M’Baku, pain largely forgotten in favor of stopping F’Tendi in his tracks. As she closed in on the Great Hall, Abayomi burst into the hall, tailed by T’Challa and Shuri.

The doors to Great Hall were still open, revealing that F’Tendi and Dewani were locked in a heated argument. Fukayna was there as well, attempting to moderate as best she could.

Izegbe slipped past Okoye and M’Baku and sprinted into the hall. She shoved F’Tendi to the side with a vicious snarl. “The fuck is your problem!”

“You dare treat an elder with such disrespect?”

Okoye stepped between F’Tendi and Izegbe, forcing the girl to step back as she activated her spear. She knew F’Tendi well enough by now to know that peaceful de-escalation was seldom --if ever--on the table.

M’Baku stepped between Okoye and his uncle, seething with barely controlled rage. “How many times do I have to tell you to leave Dewani alone before you’re going to heed me? How many times?”

“My darling nephew, I simply don’t understand why you feel the need to limit my interaction--”

“Oh, will you step off it already?!” Shuri exclaimed. “You’ve been nothing but an unbearable, unrepentant pain in the ass to Dewani since the day I met you --which happened to be the day her grandmother was dying, by the way. You don’t have a single leg to stand on, so how about you drop the ‘polite and charming’ bullshit and admit that you hold no respect for your nephew or your niece!”

F’Tendi turned and scowled at the Princess. “I’ll tell you this once, Princess Shuri. Stay out of my family’s affairs.”

“And all tell you this once, Elder F’Tendi,” Shuri said as she stepped up to face the man down. “If you don’t stop harassing Dewani and Chief M’Baku, you’re going to see what the wrath of the panther really looks like.”

F’Tendi looked at Shuri, then glanced to the other Dora Milaje guards --who had their spears out and were poised to take him down if he so much as flinched wrong--and at T’Challa --who was shooting him a look that clearly conveyed that if he hurt his sister, F’Tendi was going to be a direct recipient of the Black Panther’s claws. He rolled his jaw and glared at Shuri. “I don’t believe in empty threats made by little girls.”

Shuri flicked her wrist, and a vibranium gauntlet encased her arm and hand. A repulsor-style blaster opened at the end, humming softly with blue energy. Shuri lifted her hand, aiming her weapon squarely at F’Tendi’s chest. “I don’t call shots that I can’t make.”

When F’Tendi looked to M’Baku, as if to question whether his nephew was really going to permit this, the Chief shrugged. “Honestly, I’m inclined to let her blast you through a wall or two. It might shake your remaining brain cells loose and prompt you to listen to me, for a change.”

F’Tendi stared at his nephew for a moment, then silently walked out of the Great Hall, leaving everyone else behind.

Ramonda, who had stepped in just in time to see her daughter holding a deadly weapon to a tribal elder, tsked once F’Tendi was out of earshot. “That was dangerous, Shuri.”

Izegbe let out a short laugh and shook her head. “Okay. Okay. I’ll admit, I didn’t think much of you when I first met you, but you’ve got some serious bite to back up your bark, Princess.”

Fukayna nodded, looking pleased for the first time since Okoye had seen her. “We were worried that you wouldn’t be willing to stand up for Dewani.”

“Seriously?” Dewani groaned. “You’re going to run her off!”

Shuri smiled and looped her arms around her girlfriend. “I couldn’t ever be put off you.”

“Are you alright?” Okoye asked M’Baku as Dewani’s friends gathered around her and Shuri.

M’Baku let out a heavy sigh and nodded. “I’m okay. Everything ended alright, all things considered.”

Okoye squeezed his hand. “It can’t last forever. He’ll hit the end of his rope eventually, and he’ll hang himself when he does.”

“No, but I fear it’s going to get worse before it gets better. I just hope he doesn’t take Dewani down with him in the process.”

Okoye studied Dewani for a moment --she looked cheerful, especially in light of being hounded by her uncle--and shook her head. “I don’t think he will. She’s getting better.”

“Better, yes, but being around him is like putting salt in an open wound for her. If he gets worse before the official hearing, gets more aggressive--”

“She’s going to be okay,” Okoye said reassuringly. “Look at her. She has friends who love and believe her. She’s connected to a larger queer community. She has Shuri, has love and support from the Princess’s family and Nakia. She has you.” She smiled up at him. “She has me.”

M’Baku smiled slightly and squeezed her hand appreciatively.

“She’ll be okay,” Okoye repeated. “Take it from someone who’s come up the hard way in life: Dewani’s going to make it.”

M’Baku still didn’t say anything, but the tension in his face lifted, just a little.

Chapter Text

The path to becoming a Dora Milaje is acutely unique. There are none among Wakanda who will understand what you’ve gone through to become what you are, save for your sisters in arms.

You are the strongest stones in the river. You are also human. You will often find that these sides of yourself will war with each other. Stones don’t feel, seldom change, and humans are beings of constant change and emotion.

By way of necessity, you will be a stone around many. It will be your duty.

But, my dears, be human whenever you can. And let others see you as human as often as you can bear it. Your lives will be so much better, so much more colorful for it.


 

 

Okoye smiled and hummed to herself as she moved around her apartment. Her travel bags --the nice ones, not the beat up duffel she used for missions--sat on her bed, open and already half-filled.

She was coming up on her one year anniversary of being with M’Baku; to surprise her partner, she was travelling up to the Jabari lands two days before the date --and staying for a full two weeks after that.

It wasn’t a solution to their struggles with getting together, to being able to spend time with each other, but she hoped it would act an olive branch. A gesture that proved she was committed to meeting him halfway.

Her kimoyo beads chirped --the special chime that she had set for M’Baku’s calls--and Okoye grinned. She quickly stowed her bags and unpacked clothes out of sight, then answered his call. “Hi.”

M’Baku grinned at her. “It’s good to see you, ‘koye. It’d be better if it was in person.”

She laughed. “Two more days, and then I’ll be up to see you.” A lie, because she was leaving in mere hours, but he didn’t need to know that until she was there.

“About that. I hope you don’t mind me making some plans for us.”

“Of course not. I trust you.”

“Excellent. There’s a Jabari tradition that celebrates new couples; when a set of partners reaches their first year together, they have a party with their friends to commemorate the occasion. I took the liberty of inviting some of your friends from the Dora Milaje --and Dewani wanted Shuri to come, which meant inviting T’Challa--”

Okoye froze. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t think.

It wasn’t that their relationship was a secret. Between the --appropriate--hand holding and cheek kisses they did in public and the time Ayo walked in on them in her office, everyone knew that she was in a relationship with M’Baku.

But there were lines. Okoye liked keeping her professional and personal lives separate. Only a select few --M’Baku, Dewani, Ayo, Aneka, Djabi--got to regularly see both sides of her.

She definitely didn’t make an effort to invite in the royal siblings. Especially to an event like an anniversary.

To say nothing of the fact that she should’ve had a say in who was invited.

“‘Koye? Can you hear me? Okoye?”

M’Baku’s voice brought her back to the surface. She blinked once, twice, then let out an inelegant “What the fuck?”

M’Baku frowned. “Okoye, I--”

“Why would you do something like that!”

“The tradition--”

“You should’ve asked me!”

M’Baku frown deepened. Anger flashed in his eyes. “I figured you would refuse. You’re extremely hesitant to let on that we’re partners more than is absolutely necessary.”

“I should’ve had the option to refuse in the first place!”

“So you would have.”

“Yes. No. Maybe. I don’t know! Point stands, I should’ve had the option! You can’t just make decisions like this for me!”

M’Baku crossed his arms over his chest and scowled. “What happened to all that trust you had in me?”

“M’Baku, I do trust you--”

“But not enough to invite your friends over for a celebration. For us. Because there’s two of us in this relationship, Okoye, and we both deserve to have it recognized in ways that are meaningful to both of us.”

Okoye glared at him. “That’s not the point--”

“Or perhaps your tight control over our relationship is your way of saying that you’re embarrassed by me. The Jabari savage.”

Okoye rolled her eyes. “Okay, now you’re just being ridiculous.”

“I don’t know. Of the two of us, you’re the one whose actions don’t match their words.” He shook his head, upset, and reached for his wrist. “See you in two days.”

The holographic projection of him vanished.

Okoye sighed, plopped down on her bed, and dropped her face in her hands. Fuck.


 

 

“You’re supposed to be in the Jabari lands.”

“I had a couple things to finish here first.”

Ayo put crossed her arms and unleashed the full force of her stoic gaze on her friend and superior officer. “What happened?”

Okoye sighed, then relented. “M’Baku and I had a fight.”

“So, you’re hiding.”

“I’m not hiding. I do have work to finish. I’m just--”

“Hiding until you decide whether you’re still going early or not.”

Okoye glared half-heartedly at her best friend. “Why are you always so right?”

“Because you trained me.”

Okoye sat back in her chair with a sigh and dismissed the case files she had been reviewing. “Smart answer.”

“Hey, did you find --General. You’re still... here.” Aneka frowned, clearly confused. “Is everything alright? I thought you’d be in the Jabari lands by now.”

“So did I.” Okoye motioned for her friends to step into her office and close the door. “The Chief and I had a fight this afternoon.”

Aneka grimaced. “Ah. Is this a... ‘grab the wine and ice cream’ sort of fight, or a ‘hunt him down and rip his balls off’ kind of fight?”

Okoye snorted. “Neither, I think. It’s just frustrating. I found out that he planned a party for our anniversary and invited a bunch of people without telling me.”

Ayo nodded. “I know. Aneka and I were both invited. The Chief actually contacted me so I could check the guest list. He figured that, as your best friend, I’d have a good idea for which people he should invite, how many, that sort of thing.”

Okoye’s stomach sank. He did consider my needs. And I’ve walked all over his. “Well, I should’ve known. This is my anniversary, too.”

Ayo shrugged. “Couples do things to surprise each other. It’s considered romantic.”

“There’s a difference.”

Ayo raised an eyebrow at her. “Maybe for those who aren’t anal about keeping the facets of their lives perfectly separated.”

Aneka nudged the Commander’s side before Okoye could respond. “Be nice. Not everyone likes having a surprise party dropped on them. Besides, it’s different for a Dora. You wouldn’t know because you’ve never dated outside of the Milaje or other military groups.”

Ayo shrugged. “I have a type.”

Okoye smirked, shook her head, then sighed as she slumped in her seat. “How do I make this right?”

“Well, that depends,” Aneka said. “Did he break up with you, or was he just upset?”

“He said he’d see me when I came up. I know it’s not that dire of a situation, but I’m well out of my element right now.”

“Talk to him and work things out.”

“Screw his brains out.”

The first piece of advice came from Ayo. The second piece came from Aneka.

The younger soldier shrugged when her two superior officers gave her mixed looks of shock and amusement. “What?”

Ayo’s lips twisted in the hint of a smirk. “The ace giving sex advice. Brilliant.”

“Hey, it works just fine on you when you’re upset.”

Okoye snorted as Ayo shoved Aneka’s shoulder. “I’m all for having sex with M’Baku, but I don’t think this can be fixed with sex. M’Baku’s not the type to just fuck out his problems.”

“Which is why you’re going to talk it out. You know he still wants you to come up, which means he’s not going to break up with you. All due respect, but you need to get up off your ass and go handle this like the strong, confident woman you are,” Ayo insisted firmly.

“I know. I’ll go after I finish reviewing these mission reports.”

“No, now. No hiding behind work.”

Okoye rolled her eyes, but got up anyway. “Fine. If you insist.

Aneka smiled as she hugged her friend. “It’ll be fine. You’ve got this.”

“Thank you, Aneka.” She clasped Ayo’s shoulder, and her friend returned the favor. “Thanks for kicking my ass.”

“Anytime.”

Okoye picked up her bags and walked towards the landing bay. Relax. This’ll either work out, or it won’t. That’s life. Her heart clenched in her chest and she bit back a frown. Please, Bast, let everything work out.


 

 

The flight to the Jabari lands was too long and too short all at once. Too long because she had too much time to ruminate over her fight with M’Baku. Too short because she didn’t have enough time to figure out how best to formulate an apology and explain her feelings to her lover.

Dewani was waiting for her on the land platform, as planned. Her stance was relaxed, but her expression had a tentative edge to it. “Hi, Okoye. Was your flight good?”

“It went well enough.” Okoye shared a brief hug with the girl, then started walking towards the lodge. “How’s your brother?”

“Still in the dark, but oddly sulky. Did the two of you have a fight?”

She knows him well. “We did. Over the celebration he planned.”

Dewani nodded, as though she’d been expecting this. “I thought so. For what it’s worth, I told him he should’ve had you in on the idea from the beginning.” Dewani led her towards M’Baku’s chambers. “He’s in a meeting right now, but he should be done soon. I’ll make sure I bring him here so he doesn’t get waylaid by an adviser.”

Okoye smiled her thanks at Dewani, then let out a heavy sigh when the door to M’Baku’s bedroom swung closed.

She’d made it. She was here.

Now, all she had to do was smooth things over with M’Baku.

Easier said than done.

She unpacked to keep herself busy. She already had space in his closet and a drawer in the built in dresser for when she came up. He’d yet to stake a similar such claim in her apartment, but she figured it was only a matter of time, given how serious he was about their relationship.

As she hung up a couple of dresses --including the black one M’Baku loved so much--an epiphany struck Okoye.

She’d been with M’Baku for a whole year --well, it’d be a whole year in two days, but the point stood. She’d managed a whole year, despite their different beliefs, demanding work schedules, and responsibilities outside of work.

The honeymoon phase was officially over --not that she felt any overwhelming desire to hold onto it, given that trying to stop things from changing on their own was pointless--which meant that some serious questions would be coming into play soon.

Questions like “Where do we want this relationship to go?”

“How long term do we want this to be?”

“Do we want to get married?”

“Do we want to think about having kids?”

She’d gone through all these questions before with W’Kabi, but things were different with M’Baku. He was the leader of a tribe, which meant that certain choices weren’t choices anymore.

Namely, that he’d have to get married and bear an heir at some point.

Which left her with two big questions to ask herself: first, did she want to marry M’Baku, and second, did she want to have children, both with him and at all?

Before Okoye could consider either of those questions, she was pulled back to reality by the sound of M’Baku’s voice, muffled by the walls and door. She quickly tucked her bags away, then sat on the edge of his bed.

“Okay, okay --Dewani, I said ‘enough...’ Yes, yes, thank you--” The door swung open, and whatever admonishment M’Baku was going to let fly at his sister died when he realized just what Dewani had dragged him back to his room for.

Okoye managed a half smile, despite the fact that her heart was in her throat. “Surprise.”

“See?” Dewani sounded triumphant, as usual. “I told you it was impor--”

“Yes, thank you, Dewani.” M’Baku closed the door in his sister’s face and crossed the distance between the entrance and his bed in three powerful strides.

Okoye barely had time to stand and brace herself before M’Baku swept her into his arms --and a passionate kiss. She wrapped her arms around his neck as he pressed her back against the bed and let out a soft, relieved sigh when his hands slid under his shirt. I think things are alright.


 

 

She was propped up against his chest, head pillowed on his muscular shoulder. The blankets were entangled around her lower half, keeping her reasonably warm despite the fact that she was completely nude.

M’Baku hands smoothed up and down her back and side, chasing away the goose flesh that popped up wherever his hands weren’t. “You always get so cold up here, my love. Even during summer.”

“We have two very different definitions of summer.” She tilted her head up so she could kiss him, relishing in the familiar pressure of his lips and the comfort of his embrace. “I’m sorry for freaking out on you earlier.”

“It’s alright. I’m sorry for not filling you in sooner. I wanted it to be surprise, but Dewani’s pretty well chaptered and versed me on why some people don’t like surprise parties.” He craned his head back so he could see her face better. “Why does celebrating our relationship with our friends bother you so much?”

“It’s not that, not exactly.” Okoye sighed and sat up so she could look him in the eyes properly. “There’s two distinct sides to me --work personal. Stone and human.”

“I take it the two don’t mix very well.”

“They don’t. And they’re not used to sharing space with each other. I’m not used to making them share the same space with each other.”

“But Ayo, Aneka, and Djabi are your friends. Why does it bother you if they celebrate with us?”

Okoye pursed her lips as she tried to put what she was feeling into words. “You see a part of me that no one else sees. I’m most like myself when I’m with you. Even when I’m with my friends, there’s still bits of me I hold back.”

“You keep things to yourself.”

“I’m a very private person,” she admitted.

M’Baku’s fingers skimmed over her neck and shoulder. “Are you okay with following the tradition? With celebrating with everyone?”

“It’s not the most comfortable idea. But,” she added quickly, “it’s worth the effort if it makes you happy.” She smirked playfully, then added, “And if I get to be on top for the first two rounds once everything wraps up.”

M’Baku smirked back, eyes sparkling as he brushed his fingers against her clavicle and chest. “I think I can work with those terms.” He drew her back in to his arms. “I’m glad you came up early. Even if it’s just for two extra days.”

“Well, then I’m about to make you really happy.”

“Oh?”

Okoye smiled as she straddled his lap. “I’m not just here for two extra days. I took two weeks off so we could spend some time together after our anniversary.”

M’Baku beamed. “Wait. Let me make sure I’m understanding this. You came up two days early.”

“Yes.”

“And --once our anniversary passes--you’ll be here for two more weeks.”

“Yes.”

M’Baku pulled her in for a passionate kiss. “I love you.”

Okoye laughed breathlessly as he started kissing down the length of her neck. “I love you, too.”


 

 

The party was a shockingly small affair, given the Jabari proclivity for doing everything to the max. Only a few of M’Baku’s friends --including O’Chenga--a few of her friends --Ayo, Aneka, and Djabi--and T’Challa, Nakia, and Shuri had been invited --and a few of Dewani’s friend so that she and Shuri would have more people to interact with than just the grown ups.

He does know me, Okoye thought as she watched the group interact and mingle. She’d stepped out onto the nearby balcony to get some fresh air, enjoying how the sky turned into a hazy blend of colors as the sun went down. I should’ve trusted him.

“It’s warmer inside, you know.” M’Baku favored her with a smile that was equal parts teasing and loving. “I’m surprised you haven’t frozen to death already.”

“I get colder faster when I’m naked,” she murmured, happy to banter with him but none to eager to be overheard by the crowd inside.

“I guess you’re lucky I’m there to warm you up when that happens.”

“Something like that.” She took her hand in his, levity wiped away by the heavy guilt in her chest. “I thought this was going to be much bigger, that there were going to be more people. I should’ve trusted you better. I’m sorry.”

M’Baku kissed the back of her hand. “There can’t be trust without communication. You were right; for something like this, I should’ve let you have input. I’m sorry I kept you out of it.”

“It’s alright. I’m just glad we worked things out. Besides, you can organize a pretty good party.”

He grinned. “Perhaps I’ll have a career as an entertainment planner when I step down from being Chief.”

“I’m sure you’ll be a great success.”

His grin softened, and he pressed his fingers under her chin to tilt her head up for a gentle kiss.

A loud chorus of cheers and wolf whistles erupted from inside.

“Save it for later, you two,” O’Chenga said with a grin. “It’s time for the speeches.”

“I take it all back,” Okoye murmured in a playful tone as she and M’Baku walked back into the lodge. “I’m never going to forgive you for this.”

M’Baku chuckled and tugged on her hand until she sat down next to him.

“So, for those who don’t know, there’s a tradition among the Jabari that when a couple reaches their first anniversary together, the best friend of each partner gives a speech to commemorate the occasion,” O’Chenga explained as everyone took their seats. “The idea is to congratulate the couple on reaching such an important milestone, and to challenge them to continue overcoming obstacles as they progress down the path of partnership. Now, Chief M’Baku asked me to avoid any topics that would, to quote him, ‘send the General packing.’” He paused to grin. “However, he didn’t say anything about heckling him.”

M’Baku groaned as everyone else laughed. “I should’ve asked someone else.”

“Oh, hush, you love me.”


 

 

O’Chenga’s speech was equal parts humorous and touching. He did indeed heckle the shit out of M’Baku --“I hope you’re aware that she’s the settler and you’re the reacher in this relationship.”--but he also took time to talk about how Okoye seemed to soften some of M’Baku’s brasher edges and the “endless love and respect” that they shared for each other.

Okoye found herself misty eyed by the end of it --a rarity in and of itself.

Ayo’s speech, on the other hand...

She had lifted her glass. Nodded at each of them in turn. “Congratulations.”

Laughter had swept the room when Ayo had sat back down, task performed to her satisfaction.

Eventually, the party drew to a close, Dewani padded off to her room, and Okoye and M’Baku were left alone together.

They were cuddled up on the couch in the library together, enjoying the slowly dying fire. It was quiet, save for the occasional animal calls outside or short bursts of conversation between them.

As M’Baku’s hands slowly rubbed up and down her back, Okoye was struck by how perfect it all was. The space, the evening, the way she felt when she was nestled against him...

And, as much as she didn’t know how it would work, she knew she wanted this to be her future. She wanted M’Baku to be in her future, to be an integral part of it.

Her heart squeezed in her chest as the revelation swept through her. Bast, I want to marry this man.

 

Chapter Text

As Dora Milaje, you must live in the moment. Yes, there will be planning and schedules and future assignments, but you must stay grounded in the moment. Your duty is to serve the King, and you can’t serve your King if your head is five years into the future.

But don’t hesitate to dream, my loves. Your lives will not always revolve around the service to the King, and it’s only right for you to have an existence outside of your role as a Dora.

Have dreams, my dears. And, when they manifest in the real world, hold onto them.


 

The morning sun washed over her, warming her despite the coolness of the mountain air. She moved through her stretches and warm ups with the fluid ease of a master, enjoying the meditative calm that came with practicing her craft.

She’d found a decent sized courtyard tucked on one of the sides of the lodge. It didn’t see much use, which meant she could practice with her spear without drawing too many looks from the guards and servants that worked in the lodge.

It wasn’t that they were judgmental or discriminatory. She’d met nearly all of the staff at the lodge and knew M’Baku’s guards by name. They accepted her, accepted her relationship with their Chief, and treated her with respect and courtesy --regardless of whether M’Baku was present or not.

Still, it was nice to practice without garnering the occasional shocked side-eye from one of the attendants --to say nothing of it being safer to practice somewhere out of the way. The Jabari wood spears and staffs could go toe to toe with vibranium weapons, but Okoye seriously doubted that the leather armor favored by the Jabari would fare the same.

She finished a set of particularly difficult aerial kicks --and whirled around when she heard someone clapping.

M’Baku was leaning against one of the walls, watching her with borderline hungry look in his eyes. “Very impressive, my love.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “Did you expect anything less?”

“Never.”

She smiled. “Did you have a purpose for coming out here, or are you just here to watch me?”

He shrugged. “I thought you might want a sparring partner.”

She’d thought about it before, but never went through with the idea simply because M’Baku was usually busy with his own training while she did hers. It just hadn’t worked before, logistically.

But now he was here. And specifically asking for it.

She couldn’t resist goading him, just a little. She smirked, looked him up and down, then shrugged. “I suppose I can come down to your level for today.”

Stubbornness --and no small amount of arousal--flashed in his eyes. “Oh, really? That’s how it is?”

“That’s how it is.”

He lurched to his feet and strode towards her. “Do you worst, ‘koye.”


 

“Ow.”

“I warned you.”

“I thought you were being facetious.”

“You told me to do my worst!”

M’Baku chuckled as he tipped his head back to rest against her stomach. He was sprawled out on his bed, resting against her as she massaged aches out of his neck and shoulders. “Remind me to never underestimate you again. Ever. You kicked my ass.”

She couldn’t help her satisfied smile. “I’m the General of the Dora Milaje for a reason. And you weren’t complaining earlier.”

“I was distracted.”

She snorted. “So I noticed. Do you like having your ass kicked?”

“Only by you. Though I probably won’t spar with you for the entire time you’re up here. I won’t be able to walk by the time you leave.”

Ayo’s going to love hearing about this, Okoye thought as she worked her thumbs into the muscles of his shoulders. “So. What other plans do you have for us while I’m up here?”

“Not too much. I wanted to just... enjoy the time together casually. Without worrying about a list of things to do. Plus, Shuri’s coming back up in a week to visit Dewani, and I kind of need to be here to supervise them. But Dewani’s taking Shuri to one of the farming installations, and I thought you’d like to see it.”

“That sounds nicel. Anything else?”

“I do have something planned for your last night here --and it’s not another party, so don’t freak out--but I’d like to keep it a secret past that. I want to surprise you.”

“I think I can live with that,” Okoye said.

“Good.” He tilted his head back so he could see her face and smiled. “I’m glad you’re here, ‘koye. I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you, too,” she whispered before leaning down to kiss him.


 

She was sitting in the library, reading one of the books from a mystery series she’d discovered on her second real trip to the Jabari lands, when Dewani plopped down next to her.

The broadly built --and surprisingly tall, Dewani had grown again in the past couple weeks--teen dropped down next to her on the couch in front of the fireplace and flashed a friendly grin at her. “Hey.”

“Hey yourself. How are you?”

“Doing good.” Dewani waggled her eyebrows. “My calendar tells me you have a birthday coming up soon.”

“Your calendar would be correct.”

Dewani grinned. “How am I doing with being subtle?”

Okoye grinned back. “You’re the epitome of stealth. I couldn’t even tell what you were asking about.”

“Excellent. My plan is a success. So... what should I get you?”

Okoye shrugged and tapped her fingers on the covers of the book she was reading. “I like this series, but we don’t have it in the valley yet.”

“Good to know. By the way, if you end getting the set from me, it’s definitely not because I asked you about it.”

Okoye chuckled and winked at her. “I understand.”

Dewani tipped her head to lay it on Okoye’s shoulder. “So. You and my brother have been together for a year. How do you feel about that?”

“It’s nice. I’m happy with him.”

“I don’t mean to sound rude, but I’m kind of surprised. No one else he tried to date lasted this long... They usually got tired of me being around after a couple months.”

Okoye slung her arm around Dewani’s shoulders --which wasn’t as easy as it used to be; the girl was probably going to be M’Baku’s size by the time she stopped growing. “You two are a package deal. Not everyone can handle that.”

“But you can?”

She smiled. “You’re not a burden, Dewani. Besides, I understand having responsibilities that have to come before a romantic partner.” For Bast’s sake, she understood that all too well; she’d held the man she thought she’d marry one day at spear point a little over a year ago and told him she’d kill him for Wakanda’s sake. “It doesn’t mean you love the person you’re with any less. It just means that, for the time being, you have to prioritize things differently.”

“And you don’t mind me? As a person?”

“Not at all. I think you’re cool.”

Dewani beamed. “Thanks. I think you’re cool, too.” She was quiet for a moment, kicking her legs back and forth, then asked, “Are you going to marry my brother?”

I’d like to. Someday. “I dont know. That’s something he and I have to talk about. I know he can’t marry until you’re eighteen, so if we do, it won’t be any time soon.”

“Okay. Just so you know --if you want to marry my brother--I’m cool with it. Not that you have to, but... I just... I approve. Of you. And him. Together.”

Okoye smiled and hugged the teen. “Thank you, Dewani. That means a great deal to me.”


 

“What do you think of Dewani and Shuri as a couple?”

Okoye stopped watching Dewani pace back and forth while she waited for Shuri to look up at M’Baku. They were out of earshot, and she was sure that was the only reason he’d asked the question while Dewani was around. “They’re cute together. They make each other happy. Why?”

M’Baku’s brow furrowed as he watched his sister. “Dewani wants to marry her. I know my sister. I know she’s serious. Do you think the Princess would accept?”

Okoye blinked. “I can’t see the future. But I don’t doubt the Princess’s love for your sister.”

“It wouldn’t be an easy match, the sister of the Jabari Chief and the Wakandan Princess --who also happens to be the head of the Wakandan Society of Scientific Research and Development.”

“They have time to figure things out. A lot can happen in a few years. Besides, why are you so worried about this? The Princess isn’t the kind to just skip out on her partner; you know that.”

“I know, I know.” M’Baku crossed his arms over his chest and ducked his head. “I just don’t want Dewani to get hurt.”

Okoye smiled softly and rubbed her hand up and down his back. “Sometimes that’s life. Hurt can be an important teacher.”

“Yes, but she’s been hurt enough. I don’t want to see her hurt more.”

“You can’t protect her from everything.”

He sighed. “I know. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to, though.”

Their conversation was abruptly cut off when Dewani let out an excited shriek. The seventeen-year-old burst out the main doors of the lodge and into the courtyard at a dead sprint, straight to her girlfriend.

Okoye smiled and nudged M’Baku’s side as Dewani and Shuri caught each other in enormous hugs, laughing and beaming. “I think your sister’s going to be okay. They’re both going to be okay.”

M’Baku grinned and hugged Okoye against his side. “You might be on to something.”


 

“It really wouldn’t be that difficult to install a discreet transport system up here. There’s more than enough space.”

“Ah, but then your legs would miss the exercise of walking. Your lungs would miss the fresh air.”

“I get plenty of fresh air, thank you.”

Okoye smirked as she watched Shuri and Dewani banter back and forth as they walked in front of her and M’Baku. 

The Princess had arrived for all of five minutes before she’d started bombarding her girlfriend with questions about the farming installations in the mountains; after realizing that Shuri was too excited to come up for air, M’Baku had suggested they go check out one of the installations before the sun got any lower in the sky. It wasn’t time for harvest yet, so there wouldn’t be any ceremonies to witness, but she’d be able to get a good look at the infrastructure they used.

Shuri had practically sprinted out of the lodge, dragging Dewani with her.

They were walking on one of the winding paths through the mountains. It was tolerably warm, thanks to the sun beating down on them, and the lush green valleys and clear blue skies were an excellent contrast to the dark grays and browns of the stony mountain faces.

“It’s beautiful up here,” Okoye said as she gripped onto M’Baku’s hand. She still wasn’t used to walking this high up, and even though it was pleasant, the strong breeze buffeting them was a little disconcerting. “Nothing like Birnin Zana.”

“Different kinds of beauty.” When she feigned shock, he chuckled. “I can acknowledge that your city has its own beauty. It’s just not the beauty I prefer.”

“How do you navigate your settlements without a more robust transport system?” Shuri asked, twisting back slightly so she could see M’Baku. “Isn’t getting around during the winter impossible?”

“Most of settlements and villages are further down the mountains or in the cavern systems. Anything this high up is usually reserved for agriculture or other seasonal purposes. We use the river in the winter to avoid trudging through the snow. Other than that, we walk.”

“Yes, but what about the elderly? Or the disabled? It can’t be easy for them to move around with your current system.”

“The Jabari are strong,” M’Baku said. “Both in physicality and community. Each village rallies around those who need help; no one’s needs go unmet up here. The priestesses and holy women care for those whose needs surpass what the village can handle.”

“What about emergencies?” Shuri asked.

“You can reach almost anywhere in the Jabari lands through the tunnel systems. They’re out of the worst of the weather, and connect to nearly all of the villages. We use our surroundings to our advantage, find ways to make what Hanuman has given us work to our benefit without spoiling his creation.”

“You really do manage up here.”

M’Baku raised an eyebrow at Shuri. “Did you think we wouldn’t?”

“So little of the world does. I’ve been to dozens of nations that would claim to be more advanced than the Jabari, and they can barely provide for a majority of their people.”

M’Baku shrugged. “Most of the world is led by idiots.”

“True. Also,” Dewani added with a grin. “We’re here.”

Shuri turned around, gasped, and darted forward.

A large metal platform that was easily the same footprint as the royal palace sat between the two mountains, supported by several metal beams and some of the root-steel cable hybrids. The platform was covered in rich, black dirt and billions of thin green stalks. Further down the range were more platforms, covered in more swaths of green and black.

Okoye stopped in her tracks and let out a low whistle. “Wow.” 

“We have our mass growing pods all over the barren parts of the range, since there’s no risk of disturbing any natural flora,” M’Baku said. “These are our wheat pods.”

“Pods?” Shuri eyed him sharply. “Did you say pods?”

Dewani nodded. “When the weather’s bad --or during the planting season, when temperatures run lower--protective metal domes are released from the base and cover the platforms. The interior of the protective shells produce artificial sunlight and diurnal-nocturnal cycles to promote growth.”

“Really?” Shuri crouched on her knees to try and see the underside of the platform. “That’s incredible! How do you handle irrigation? Do you let the elements do it, or do you have an artificial system?”

“We usually let the elements handle things, some of the supports also function as water pipes,” M’Baku said. “They connect to natural springs inside the mountain. What isn’t absorbed drains into the river below.”

“Amazing.” Shuri smiled, awestruck. “This is incredible. Almost everything comes out of and goes back into the environment.”

“Isn’t it the same in the rest of Wakanda?” Dewani asked.

“Well, yes, but I’ve never seen it done to this scale before, done this well.” She stood, brushing dirt off the knees of her jeans. “Would it be possible for me to take some blueprint copies back home with me? I’d like to see if we could upgrade Wakanda’s system a little.”

Okoye could practically see the pride radiating off M’Baku at having a Jabari-made design referred to as an upgrade. She watched him with a small smile as he agreed and squeezed his hand as they started back towards the Great Lodge. “You seem pleased.”

M’Baku smiled, smugger than the cat that got the canary. “After years of being referred to as savages, it’s... satisfying to witness our creations be referred to as improvements on a modern design.”

Okoye raised an eyebrow. “The pods aren’t modern?”

“Well, we’ve upgraded them over the years to yield more crops and fair better against the weather, but no. These are the same designs that our ancestors used to grow en mass.”

“I’m impressed. I would’ve thought that design was rolled out only a few years ago.”

M’Baku shook his head. “We don’t fix what isn’t broken.”

Okoye smirked. “Do you have to fix your bed quite regularly, then?”

Dewani shot Okoye a scandalized look as M’Baku laughed. “Gross! He’s my brother! I don’t want to know anything about that!”

Okoye simply chuckled and tipped her head against M’Baku’s shoulder as they hiked back to the lodge.


 

The last week of her stay passed all too fast for Okoye’s liking. Even though the days were slow, soothed into a lull as she and M’Baku simply enjoyed their time together, her precious few hours with her partner kept slipping through her fingers like grains of sand.

She felt a sense of melancholy wash over her as she got ready for her surprise date with M’Baku --Dewani had tipped her off that she’d be walking, so she opted for a nice, light pink blouse and jeans paired with flat shoes instead of heels. She enjoyed spending time with him, and --while she was less vocal about it--she didn’t like that most of their time together was relegated to an evening or two here and there, whenever their paths happened to cross.

Unfortunately, as she’d told both M’Baku and herself countless times before, there wasn’t an easy solution. They’d talked about spending a weekend or two together regularly, but even that was difficult given the unpredictability of her job and the sheer distance between Birnin Zana and the Jabari lands. She’d joked about how it’d be easier to see each other if the Jabari territory joined the national transport circuit, but it was becoming less of a joke and more of reality; without fast, straightforward transport, there wasn’t an easy way to reach him. The mountains created harsh currents of wind that made flying risky, even with Shuri’s advanced technology helping guide and operate each craft.

Maybe that would change, though. If she and M’Baku got more serious --if they decided they wanted to get married at some point--she’d have to spend more time with him to learn about Jabari culture and traditions.

Sometimes, necessity lends you a hand when you least expect it, Okoye thought as she finished applying a deep purple lipstick to her full lips. She checked to make sure the application was even, then capped the cosmetic tube and placed it back in her makeup bag.

Logistics could wait for another day. Right now, she was going to enjoy her surprise date with M’Baku.

She dropped her makeup bag back into her travel bags --she was already packed so that she could spend every last minute with M’Baku tomorrow--just as M’Baku opened the door to his bedroom.

He grinned softly as he took in the sight of her. “You look wonderful, ‘koye.”

“Thank you. I take it you’re not going to tell me where we’re going yet?”

“No. I want it to be surprise.”

“Well, then--” She rolled onto the balls of her feet so she could kiss him softly “--lead the way, my love.”


 

It was a shorter walk than she had expected. M’Baku had led her into one of the tunnel passages --which were astonishingly well lit and nowhere as gloomy as she’d imagined--and from there it had only been a couple turns and short straight stretch and--

Okoye gasped. “M’Baku...”

They were standing on a medium-sized stretch of flat mountainside, surrounded by thick growths of flowers. A small stream trickled along side one of the walls of flowers before cascading down the face of the mountain. A thick blanket was spread across the ground, and dozens of little lights had been strung up in the bushes and vines yielding the flowers.

“...it’s beautiful,” she finished at last in a soft whisper. “This is so amazing.”

“I thought you might like it.” He stroked her cheek with his thumb, then frowned when he realized there were tears in her eyes. “Are you alright? Why are you crying?”

“I’m fine. I’m just really happy --and touched.” She beamed up at him before looping her arms around his neck and pulling herself up so she could kiss him. “I love you so much.”

M’Baku smiled into the kiss as he held her against his chest. “I love you, too. With all my heart.” He set her down carefully, then stepped to the side and picked up a basket. “I thought we’d have dinner out here.”

A picnic. He planned a romantic picnic for our anniversary. She nearly swooned as she sat down next to him. “This is so sweet of you.”

M’Baku leaned towards her and kissed her cheek. “It’s what you deserve, my love.”


 

The picnic dinner was perfect. They sat together and talked about anything and everything. The little mountainside oasis also provide a perfect view of the sunset, which they watched while they ate.

It was unbelievably romantic. Okoye couldn’t remember the last time she had felt so much like... well... a princess.

M’Baku managed to make her feel that way, though.

They were just sitting together now as they watched the sunset, dinner long since consumed. The sky was slowly fading into a midnight blue, and stars were starting twinkle above them.

Perfection. Undoubtedly.

“Did you enjoy tonight?” M’Baku murmured, lips brushing against her temple.

“Yes.” She angled her head up so she could kiss him. “This is amazing. Thank you.”

“Good. Because it’s not done yet.” He reached into the basket and withdrew a sleek black box. “Happy Anniversary, my love.”

Okoye let out a soft gasp when she pulled leather bound book with beautiful embroidery on the front out of the book. “This is beautiful.”

“It’s a collection of short stories and myths from Jabari culture and history. I thought you’d like it.”

“I love it.” She kissed his cheek. “Thank you. I got you something as well.”

M’Baku opened the palm-sized box she gave him with a soft smile, then arched a curious eyebrow at her when he lifted out an intricately braided leather bracelet with vibranium beads attached to the straps.

“It’s customary to exchange bracelets like these after the first year of dating or courting in the Border tribe,” Okoye explained.

His expression softened, and the corners of his eyes crinkled as his smile broadened. “I love it. Which wrist does it go on?”

“Here.” She tied it around his right wrist, then clambered into his lap and kissed him. “I love you.”

“And I, you.” M’Baku splayed his hands against her back, gently holding her in place. “Are you happy? With me?”

“Unbelievably so.” She traced her finger up and down the length of his shoulder. “Are you happy with me?”

“Beyond what words can describe. Where do you want ‘us’ to go, ‘koye?”

“I’ve been thinking about that, actually. How... how do you feel about marriage?”

M’Baku’s eyebrows shot up. He grinned. “Really?”

“I mean, I’d like to retire first; I feel like the location demands of my job aren’t exactly compatible with being the Chief’s wife, but... yes. Really.”

He kissed her, excited and passionate. “I hope you know that I consider myself the luckiest man on Earth.”

“I consider you the luckiest man on Earth, too.”

M’Baku tipped his head back and laughed joyously. “So, ‘koye. Marriage. You’re serious?”

She nodded, smiling softly. “Yes. I am.”

“You have no idea how happy I am to hear that.”

“And you’re okay with... me wanting to wait until I step down from being General?”

“Of course. Just say when.”

Okoye grinned, heart pounding, and leaned in to kiss him again.

Chapter Text

See everything you can through to the end. You won’t be able to see everything through --and there will be things that you shouldn’t see through--but what you can, do.

Try to keep your heads out of the clouds though, my dears. We have the tendency to get caught up in our ideas, our fantasies, of how things ought to conclude. We often craft out the perfect ending, or anticipate things down to the most minute detail.

Stay away from it, if you can help it. The results will often disappoint your preconceptions.


 

It’s been a lot of effort. A lot of patience. A lot of consecutive missions that required rotating the Dora Milaje and War Dogs to keep everyone from growing over tired. A lot of Shuri going in tearing out the associate’s invisible hand in their system.

Which kept growing back. Every two to three days it would register on the security scans, almost full size and intact despite Shuri continually increasing the protective measures in every way she could conceive of.

Okoye had decided, after the third time that Shuri had to tear our the associate’s tap strand by strand of code, that Klaue’s associate was a great deal smarter than he had been.

But, in the end, it paid off. Keeping the associate moving on a near constant basis meant that Okoye’s teams kept recovering more and more materials from the safe houses --and that Shuri had time to track the associate back to the main base of operations.

A two bedroom apartment Central London. Shuri had traced the root of all the associate’s coding back to there.

When Okoye had heard the news, she’d let out a victory cry of relief.

She’d spent idle moments over the past few months imagining it, imagining what it would feel like when it came, and it was finally here.

They’d found the associate and were ready to capture them.


 

The first thing she did, candidly, was call M’Baku.

He answered on the third ring. “‘Koye? Is everything alright?”

“We found Klaue’s associate! They’re in London. We’re moving in tonight to capture them!”

M’Baku grinned. “Well done, my love. Go kick their ass.”

Okoye smiled and blew him a kiss before she ended the call. She took a deep breath, then pumped her fist as satisfaction flowed through her. It’s all coming to an end.


 

“We need to assume that Klaue’s associate will be armed and heavily dangerous,” Okoye said as she manipulated a three dimensional holographic display of the apartment building they were heading to. “We’re going in fast. Take out the associate and whatever technology they’re using to hold us back as quickly as possible. We want to minimize the damage caused and our mission time. I don’t think I need to explain why a serious mess would not be in our best interests.”

They were flying over the Atlantic ocean, headed straight for the United Kingdom. T’Challa was already wearing his Black Panther suit --sans mask--and Nakia stood at his side in her usual War Dog gear. Four other Dora Milaje stood at the other side of the table, dressed in their armor. At the end opposite where Okoye stood, Shuri watched the display spin and shift.

The King, albeit reluctantly, had deemed it necessary that his sister accompany them on their mission. As Wakanda’s foremost mind and innovator with all things vibranium, they needed Shuri present to make sure that they collected and dismantled all the weapons properly.

Admittedly, he’d demanded that Shuri make herself a suit of vibranium armor as well, which was a choice Okoye wasn’t complaining about. Shuri was smart, yes, but she was incredibly new to the outside world --to say nothing of missions like these.

“All due respect, General Okoye,” Shuri said with a nervous, pinched expression, “but I doubt we’ll encounter that much resistance. If Klaue’s associate was making weapons, wouldn’t we have seen them hit the market by now --or seen a greater demonstration of their capabilities than the detonators they’ve used at various warehouses?”

“You could be right,” Okoye said, using the same calm, non-condescending voice she used with new trainees and recruits. “But it’s wiser to prepare for the worse.”

“We’ve talked about this before, Shuri,” T’Challa said in slightly exasperated tone. “This is not a social call. Klaue’s associate is a danger to Wakanda and the rest of the world; they need to be taken down before they amass too many weapons.”

“Yes, except they aren’t because they haven’t been making weapons,” Shuri retorted. “None of what we recovered matches any weaponry designs I’ve ever seen.”

“You can’t know for certain, Shuri.”

“Actually, yes, I can!”

“We have to assume Klaue’s associate is dangerous for our own safety and the safety of any innocent bystanders,” Nakia interjected before the two siblings could start arguing. “He only worked with certain kinds of people --thugs, ex-convicts, the morally gray or black. We have good reason to assume that the associate is dangerous because all of Klaue’s other friends and associates have been.”

Shuri let out a huff, looked away, and crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, I still think you’re wrong.”


 

Night had fallen over the city of London by the time they’d found a good place to hover over the roof of the associate’s apartment building. 

Once everyone was off, Shuri cued the ship to cloak itself. “What now?”

“We could kick down the door,” Djabi said with a smirk.

“Or just pick the lock,” Nakia fired back as she knelt in front of the door to do just that.

Okoye took the lead as she treaded down the flights of concrete stairs towards the twelfth floor.

“Are you ready, Okoye?” T’Challa asked, right on her heels, in a teasing tone that belied the seriousness of the situation.

“You have no idea, my King.” She checked to make sure the hall just off the stairs was clear, then stepped out of the stairwell.

The hall was lined with doors stained to a dark walnut color. It was eerily silent; not even a shred of noise emanated from behind the closed doors. No footsteps, no music, no conversation, nothing.

Okoye narrowed her eyes as the others stepped into the hall behind her. “I seriously doubt, even though it’s late, that absolutely everyone is already asleep for the night.” She lived in apartment complex, for Bast’s sake; she knew from experience that some people kept odd hours. Having everything be one hundred percent quiet meant something was wrong. Seriously wrong.

“You’re right,” Nakia agreed as she took stock of her surroundings. “It’s not even midnight. People should be returning from evening shifts, getting ready for night shifts, going out to clubs, or just be staying up late. Something’s wrong.”

“Maybe they’re not sleeping,” Djabi suggested with a dark grimace. “Maybe they’re dead.”

T’Challa shook his masked head. “Killing an entire floor of people would be a severe departure from what we’ve seen out of the associate thus far.”

“Or maybe they’ve finally completed whatever they were trying to build,” Aneka offered. “Maybe they’re trying to show us just how powerful they are.”

“I don’t think it’s that,” Shuri interjected, “but I am only picking up one life sign other than ours.”

Shit. “Spears out. Be at the ready for anything.” Okoye walked up the door with the correct number plaque and glanced at T’Challa. “Do we knock or kick it in?”

Before he could answer, the electronic lock on the door made the ‘key accepted’ chirp. There was the snapping sound of the bolt sliding back, then the door swung open to reveal an empty, dimly lit room.

“Well, that’s auspicious,” Djabi said dryly.

“They know we’re here,” Nakia whispered. “They’ve probably been watching us the whole time.”

“We can’t abort the mission now,” T’Challa said as he crept towards the door. “We need to retrieve the stolen vibranium.”

Okoye managed to edge past him, spear in hand, and peered around the edge of the door.

The space was one large room that ran the entire length of the hall. Various desks and tables dotted the room; the desks and tables themselves were littered with machine parts, computer pieces, and a variety of desktop screens, computers, and laptops. A giant display screen interface --like the largest iPad Okoye had ever seen--ran along one wall, showing various calculations, research read outs, and files in almost every language conceivable.

And, in the center of the screen, was a video feed of them crouching by the door.

“We’re on camera,” Okoye muttered as she swept her gaze around the room in search of the recording device. “And I know why there aren’t any other life signs. This is just one giant room. The other doors in the hall are fakes.”

“Any sign of the associate?” Nakia asked.

“Not yet. It looks empty, almost abandoned.”

They all filed in one by one, on full alert and ready to strike whatever flew at them.

Well, except for Shuri, who immediately pulled on a pair of sterile gloves and started rifling through the technology on the tables. “It’s exactly what I suspected...”

“What are we looking at?” T’Challa asked as he surveyed the space.

“Junk. Stripped and harvested for whatever was needed.”

“If it’s junk, then why keep it?” Aneka asked.

“My best guess is that it’d look suspicious to have so much electronic trash coming out of the one building all the time. They probably have a special disposal service remove everything for them to keep a low profile.”

From across the room, in the darkest of the shadows, someone started clapping their hands.

Okoye whirled towards the noise, ready to face down whoever was waiting for them.

The lights flicked on, one by one, until they could see who had been clapping.

Okoye gasped. “You!”

An Indian woman with long, wavy black hair smirked back at her. “Me.”

“You know this woman, General?” T’Challa asked.

“She interviewed me at the dinner after President Trump’s non-apology speech,” Okoye spat out. “And she posed as a scientist during Shuri’s lecture on Wakandan science and technology.”

“That’s right!” Shuri exclaimed. “Dr. Khatri!”

“Not your real name, I take it,” T’Challa added.

She shrugged, expression impeccably unruffled. “It can be, if you want it to.”

“I’m not referring to you by a fake alias.”

“All my aliases are fake. But, if you’d like something for this conversation, you can call me Jhanvi Singh. That’s the name I’ve been using most recently.”

“I assume you know why we’re here, Ms. Singh.”

“What, you mean this isn’t a house warming party?”

“Your little game is done,” T’Challa said flatly. “Surrender yourself and whatever weapons you’ve created.”

Jhanvi chuckled as she turned away from them, walking towards an empty desk at the back of the room. “Mm, I think not.”

“That wasn’t a request.”

“No, I’m not saying I won’t.” She spun and hopped up onto the edge of the desk, sitting there. “I’m saying I can’t.”

“You’ve already sold the weapons,” Nakia concluded. “We’re going to need the list of your buyers.”

“I don’t have one,” Jhanvi said as she tapped at her phone.

“Enough of this,” Okoye growled. “She has no weapons with her. There are eight of us versus her.”

“Oh, I didn’t say I didn’t have any.” Jhanvi looked up, hazel eyes glowing a faint shade of copper.

Two panels in the ceiling opened, allowing two massive artillery style guns to drop down and take aim.

Okoye gritted her teeth as the guns deployed --then gasped when her spear retracted into its storage capsule, seemingly of its own volition.

Next to her, T’Challa’s suit shut off, retracting into the necklace Shuri designed and revealing the shirt and slacks he was wearing underneath. He stared levelly at Jhanvi. “That’s why you were so unconcerned over our presence.”

Jhanvi smirked triumphantly. “Well, would you look at that. The deck was stacked in my favor after all.”

“You have mental control over the technology in the room, right?” Shuri asked. “How do you manipulate everything? Is it an implant?”

Jhanvi shook her head. “I’ve always been like this. No one knows why, but you have to make the most of what you have.”

“And you can mentally control any technology?”

“As long as I’ve had enough time to interface with it or the mother technology it stems from.” She paused, blinked, then raised her eyebrows. “Except your shielded jacket. Holy shit, you actually made something I can’t break into! That’s amazing!”

Shuri grinned. “I’ve had several weeks to get familiar with your capabilities. You’re extremely adept at evading my firewalls.”

“Don’t take it too hard. Security measures are the easiest to get past; you just have to figure out how to climb the wall --by the way, the Pentagon ought to contact you for an upgrade. Their defense measures are feeble compared to your most basic stuff.”

“I’m guessing that when you infiltrated the conference, you had enough time to get into enough of our systems so that you could always regrow whatever I tore out? It’s the only explanation I can think of.”

“Basically. Your coding is gorgeous, by the way. I practically wept every time I crawled through it.”

“Can we save the love fest for a later date?” T’Challa asked with an annoyed expression at his sister. “If you don’t have the weapons, and you don’t have a list, what can you give us to help us track down your buyers?”

“Nothing, I’m afraid. And there won’t be a ‘later date,’ either.”

T’Challa frowned. “I’m not following.”

“She has a brain tumor,” Shuri said softly. “Don’t you? I picked up on some irregularities in your coding, but I wasn’t sure...”

Jhanvi’s smirk turned into a sad smile and she tapped the spot just above her left eyebrow. “Cancerous. Inoperable because of excessive entanglement in the blood vessels. Based on the prognosis I was given, I’ve got... three hours left. At the most.”

Okoye felt disturbed as she processed Jhanvi’s statement. This isn’t a round up. It’s a last good-bye. “If you’re dying, why let us find you?”

Jhanvi shrugged. “Like the King said. The game’s up. I’d like to be recognized for my efforts in evading you, instead of only existing as a faceless figment of your imaginations. I mean, how many of you thought I was a woman?”

Okoye shared a silent glance with Nakia. Even though they’d never assigned a gender to the associate during their efforts to track them down, she’d assumed --they all had assumed--it was a man. It just made sense, given Klaue’s background.

“Exactly. I’d like to be remembered accurately, even in the official ‘pain in the ass’ records of Wakanda’s justice system.”

“Miss Singh, I’m incredibly sorry that you’re in your current predicament, but we need anything you can give us about the weapons you designed,” T’Challa said urgently. “Vibranium weaponry could devastate the world --and undo all our efforts to integrate ourselves with the rest of the world. We’d lose our abilities to help those that need us most.”

“Very compelling --but no.”

“Why not?”

“Because she hasn’t made any weapons,” Shuri said.

Jhanvi grinned and made a clicking noise with her mouth as she pointed double finger guns at Shuri. “Boom. There it is.”

T’Challa let out an annoyed sigh. “If you haven’t made any weaponry, then what have you been doing with the vibranium?”

“She’s been making medical technology.” Shuri fiddled with her kimoyo beads and images of some of their salvages from the safe house and warehouse sites flashed on the screen embedded in the wall. “Prosthetic arms and legs. Implants to reverse Alzheimers and memory loss. Nano technology blood clotting injections to help hemophiliacs. You’ve been using the last of Klaue’s vibranium to help people. Your random jumping around was you going where you were needed.”

“Having a tumor in your head gives you perspective. Trying to spend your life coloring inside the lines only limits how much you can help people.”

“So you teamed up with Klaue to get access to the materials that would let you help people quickly,” Nakia surmised.

“He needed someone to help him fly under the radar after you branded him,” she said. “I needed vibranium so I wouldn’t have to wait for the outside world to catch up with you.”

“You helped a man that killed our people,” Okoye hissed, disgusted. “Men, women, children!”

“You aren’t any better!” Jhanvi snapped. “You’re sitting on a mountain of technology and research that could do so much good for the world, but you refuse to release any means to make your results tangible for everyone else because of your paranoia! Do you have any idea how many people would benefit from having access to medical centers with vibranium technology? Cancer patients. Auto-immune disorder victims. People with cystic fibrosis. Prematurely born babies. Your death count is higher than Klaue’s could ever be!”

“We haven’t always made the right choices,” T’Challa admitted. “But we’re working on fixing that.”

“Yeah, you released your research, but ninety percent of it is fucking useless without vibranium! You gave the world a cart without a horse!”

“Wait.” Nakia held up her hand. “I agree we can do more, but I don’t understand something. Why let us think you were building weapons when you weren’t? We could’ve helped you.”

“Right. Because you’d absolutely let someone have a vibranium powered prosthetic. Sure. Besides, I’m dying in three hours. I’d like to have a little fun before I go.”

“You don’t have to.” Shuri stepped forward. “We have the ability to operate on tumors like yours. We can take you back to Wakanda and perform brain surgery on you.”

Jhanvi smirked bitterly. “Right. Because you’d absolutely perform surgery for a thief and known associate of criminals.”

“I would,” Shuri said. “You could be a major asset to us.”

“Asset!” Jhanvi let out a harsh laugh. “All my life I’ve been asset! Everyone wants to use my abilities! I can disable enemy satellites, guide unmanned crafts to carry out airstrikes, take down an entire country’s communication system! Everyone wants a piece of me without ever considering if I’m okay with what they’re using the pieces for! No, Princess, I would rather die than let you use my abilities for your own ends!”

“Your ability to control technology is not your greatest asset!” Shuri exclaimed. “And it’s not what Wakanda needs most right now.”

“Isn’t it?”

“No. Your humanity is. Your perspective. We’re trying to help the world become a better place, and we don’t even have the awareness to realize that most our medical procedures are unattainable without vibranium technology; it’s such a commonplace thing for us that we forget that we’re the only ones that have it. We need someone like you to help us focus our efforts in the right areas. Otherwise, all our work will be in vain because we’ll never reach the people that need us most.”

Jhanvi hesitated, glancing between Shuri and T’Challa warily. “You’re not the King. You can’t make that kind of decision.”

Okoye watched as T’Challa mulled the idea over. It wasn’t, technically, the safest option, but...

There were a lot of technicalities in Jhanvi’s favor. She hadn’t stolen the vibranium --Klaue had, and she’d actually kept his cache from falling into the wrong hands by using it to make medical technology.

She also hadn’t directly killed anyone. An extremely fine line --not one the council was likely to walk--but a line nonetheless.

Okoye watched as T’Challa looked to Nakia --who nodded--then took a moment to regard Jhanvi when he looked over to her. She hasn’t built any weaponry. She just wants help people.

She pursed her lips together as another thought occurred to her. She’ll die in three hours if we don’t help.

Ayo wasn’t going to like this. At all.

Ayo is an adult. The risks are minimal --at the very least, we can save her from the tumor, then incarcerate her. She looked back at T’Challa and nodded.

“I think we can come to an arrangement,” T’Challa said.

Jhanvi was quiet for a moment --then nodded. “You’ve got a deal.”


 

Okoye yawned and tried to rub the exhaustion out of her stinging eyes as she wrapped up the mission report. Almost done. Then you can sleep.

Shuri had used a neural stabilizing helmet to medically induce a coma and ‘freeze’ the cancer once they were back on the ship. As soon as they landed in Wakanda she whisked Jhanvi off the ship on a stretcher; three doctors were already waiting on the platform, and Shuri disappeared in the palace with them in seconds.

Ayo had been waiting for them, too. She glared at Jhanvi’s stretcher, her expression a rare picture of unmitigated fury.

Fortunately, Aneka had been able to coax her partner back inside the palace. Okoye trusted that the youngest soldier would be able to talk Ayo down --eventually.

She looked up when the door to her office opened and gasped softly when M’Baku stepped in. “What are you doing here?”

“Emergency council meeting. To talk about the fate of Klaue’s associate.”

“Right.” Okoye yawned again. “I forgot. I should get some sleep before that happens.”

“It’s in the evening. Don’t worry.” M’Baku kissed her forehead. “Dewani said Shuri was performing surgery on the associate?”

“Removing a malignant tumor. It’s a long story.”

“I gathered.” He rubbed his hand up and down the back of her neck. “Are you almost done?”

“Basically.” Okoye filled out the last few requirements, then submitted her mission report. She sighed tiredly and let her head drop to her desk. “I hate night missions. They always take the longest. Always.”

M’Baku chuckled and gently tugged her out of her chair. “Come on, Okoye. Let’s get you back to your quarters.”

“I’d rather sleep in your quarters.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

She nodded sleepily. “Yes. Sleeping with you sounds like heaven right now.”

He carried her to his room --at her request; the palace was basically dead right now anyway, and walking felt downright impossible--and gently set her on his bed. “I’ll find something for you to change into,” he murmured as he pressed his lips against her brow.

“One of your sleep shirts, please,” Okoye mumbled as he rifled through the dresser. Once she had a shirt, she pushed herself off the bed and shuffled to the bathroom. “I’m changing and washing my face, and then I’m passing out.”

Even having the water one at the coldest temperature the sink cold go did nothing to kick-start her system. I’m getting too old for this.

And, admittedly, that was a reality of her job. Being the General was a highly physical task. Most women retired between the ages of thirty-five and forty to start working as trainers for the Dora program or advisers to the Council, tribes, or War Dogs program.

Right now, all it meant was that she’d start shifting more of the night missions to Ayo, who was set to become General when Okoye stepped down.

Candidly, it wasn’t a choice that Okoye felt any particular grief over. Night duties of any kind had never been her favorite.

She dropped on the bed next to M’Baku and nestled against him as he pulled the blankets up over her. “Good night.”

“Technically, it’s morning.”

“Shut up and let me sleep.”


 

“Miss Singh.”

“Not anymore. But you can still call me that, if you like.”

Okoye narrowed her eyes at Jhanvi and crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m pleased to see your surgery went well.”

“So am I. Still have the magic touch, which is nice.” She flicked at glance at Ayo, who was glaring stonily at her. “I don’t think she likes me much.”

“You killed two of my friends with your ‘harmless detonators,’” Ayo spat out.

“And your country could’ve prevented the deaths of millions with your technology.”

Ayo clenched her teeth together. “You should be rotting in a prison cell.”

Jhanvi smiled, expression indicating that she was fully aware how badly she was pissing off Ayo. “And yet, here I stand. Free as a bird and an unofficial consultant for the Wakandan outreach program.”

Aneka latched on to Ayo’s wrist. “Come on, babe. Leave her alone. She’s only having fun pissing you off.”

Jhanvi watched the two women leave, edgy smile unfaltering. “Shame. Anger looks good on her.”

“You’d do well to leave the Commander well alone, should your paths ever cross again,” Okoye lectured in a stern, threatening tone.

“Or?”

Okoye took a step towards Jhanvi and leveled her fiercest, most intimidating glare at the woman. “I don’t need technology to kill you. Remember that.”

The edgy smile didn’t even wobble. “Duly noted.”

Okoye watched as two of the Honor guard members escorted Jhanvi to the landing platform. I’ll be watching you, associate. One misstep on your part, and I won’t hesitate to take you out.

Chapter Text

Birthdays are cause for celebration. Despite what the passionate pessimists may tell you, moving forward in life --in years--is a struggle that is worth rewarding yourself for. Life is the greatest challenge any of us will ever face, and too often we forget to acknowledge and praise our own efforts in navigating and surviving it.

Celebrate your birthdays my dears, and all the changes that come with it. Do not cling to the past, but look forward to the future.

You can’t reach back to what’s already happened, but what’s yet to come is always just within your grasp.


 

“General!”

Okoye stopped, mid stride, and turned to see Shuri jogging towards her. She bowed her head respectfully. “Princess. What can I do for you?”

“I wanted to give you this. An early birthday gift. I checked with Aneka, and she said you would like it.”

“Thank you.” Okoye untied the ribbon holding the box shut, lifted the lid, and gasped softly when she lifted a gorgeous purple, knee length dress patterned with gold and white flowers out of the box.

It wasn’t really a surprise, though. Shuri had exquisite taste in all things fashion.

“This is wonderful, Princess. Thank you.”

“You’re quite welcome,” Shuri said with a bright grin. She glanced around quickly, ascertaining whether or not they were alone, then stepped closer to Okoye. “I don’t mean to intrude on your personal life, but I did want to ask one question before the end of the week, when things are bound to be more... chaotic.”

Okoye raised an eyebrow, equal parts curious and amused. She knew what the teen meant by ‘chaos,’ but she wasn’t sure what Shuri wanted to ask or how it related to her personal life. “You have me intrigued. What do you want to know?”

“Well, people usually choose large milestone moments to connect with family --birthdays, promotions, anniversaries, you know what I mean. I just wanted to check if you were contemplating tracking down your relatives in the Border tribe before I got swept up in the oncoming celebration. It’s going to be busy for the next couple months, and I didn’t want to leave you in a lurch.”

Okoye smiled. “That’s very sweet of you, Princess. But, no, I’m not interested in finding my biological family. Not yet, anyway.”

“Alright. Well, I just wanted to check. I’ll let you get on your way now. And Happy Birthday!”

Okoye thanked her, bowed her head as the high-spirited Princess skipped away, and tucked the box under her arm as she resumed walking down the hall.

She knew Shuri was just being considerate in checking --because it was genuinely considerate and kind--but a part of her was still annoyed by the suggestion that she’d use her birthday as an excuse to find her parent’s relatives.

I have all the family I need, she thought as she ducked into her quarters at the palace long enough to lay the dress out on her bed. Besides, they never bothered to try and find me. Why should I bother finding them?


 

Admittedly, she should’ve known who was in her apartment the second she saw the flowers on the counter.

The massive, gorgeous, impeccably arranged bouquet sat on her counter in an equally beautiful glass vase. Bursts of yellow, blue, pink, and white were set in stark contrast to the dark, leafy greenery.

Okoye picked up the little card in front of the card, touched at the sight of the flowers but wary as to just how they’d gotten into her apartment without her knowing. There were only a select handful of people who had a key, and as far as she knew they were still finishing their duties at the palace.

Happy Birthday.

She flipped the card over, but there wasn’t any name --or delivery logo.

So, the mystery giver had brought them by hand. That still didn’t answer just how, in Bast’s name, they’d gotten into her apartment.

She barely registered the soft footsteps before she felt the strong hands closing on her shoulders. Instinct kicked in, and she elbowed the intruder in the gut before flipping them over her shoulder and onto the ground.

M’Baku let out an undignified yelp that turned into a full bodied laugh as he tumbled to the floor. “Okay, I should’ve known better than to startle you.”

Bast dammit, M’Baku!” Okoye clutched at her chest as her heart rate fell back to healthy levels. “You nearly gave me a heart attack! Why the fuck did you think that was a good idea?”

“I didn’t think,” he admitted with a chortle as he rubbed the spot on his chest where she’d struck him. “That was quite impressive, my love.”

“I’m going to murder you,” she growled as she straddled his waist and pressed a deep, passionate kiss against his lips.

M’Baku ran his hands up and down her sides, humming appreciatively as he returned the kiss with equal fervor. “Do you like the flowers?” he asked once they parted, panting slightly.

“Yes. I would’ve liked them even more if I had known they were from you in the first place.”

“Did you not read the card?”

“You didn’t sign it, darling.”

M’Baku laughed again. “Okay, not my most thought-through surprise, but was it a good one anyway?”

“Oh, any surprise that has me slamming you to the floor is a good one.” Okoye grinned as he laughed again and leaned into kiss him once more. “I’m glad that you’re here.”

“As am I. Happy Birthday, ‘koye.”

“It is now that you’re here.”


 

The sounds of laughter bounced off the walls of her apartment, effectively filling the space with its joyous echo. Plates filled with easy to eat finger foods sat on the coffee table. Bottles of beer and half filled glasses of wine sat among the plates, slowly sipped away at as good friends enjoyed each other’s company.

It was the perfect birthday celebration, as far as Okoye was concerned.

Djabi was perched on one of the mismatched stools, arguing with Aneka over who had the longest record of sparring match wins between the two of them.

Across from her, Aneka sat on the couch, tucked between Ayo and O’Chenga.

Okoye hid her smirk by sipping at her bottle of beer as she watched both Aneka’s and O’Chenga’s eyes linger on Ayo’s long legs as the Commander walked to the kitchen to retrieve a bottle opener.

“Okay, you two can stop eye fucking her now,” Djabi teased when O’Chenga and Aneka shared an approving nod.

“I don’t mind,” Ayo said calmly as she twirled the bottle opener around her fingers.

“I do. The last thing I need is to have my sensible, innocent mind scarred by your three’s implied shenanigans.”

“I’ve seen your search history,” Ayo said before she drained a third of her bottle of beer. “‘Sensible’ and ‘innocent’ are the last two words I’d use to describe your mind.”

“Okay,” Aneka interjected as Djabi opened her mouth to protest. “How about we let Okoye open her presents now? Yes? Yes, let’s do that. Please.”

“I agree,” M’Baku said quickly. “Let’s do that.” He pushed two boxes towards her, one considerably larger than the other, and tapped at the bigger of the two. “Dewani asked me to give this to you for her, since she’s staying with Shuri tonight.”

Okoye hefted the box --which was wrapped in a fantastic gold wrapping paper--into her lap with a grunt. “I think I know what this is. The last time I was in the Jabari lands, she asked me what I wanted...” She let her voice trail off as she opened the box, then smiled when she confirmed the suspicions. “The mystery series I’ve been reading when I’m up there. Wonderful. Tell her I say thank you if I don’t see her before your trip is over.”

Aneka handed over her gift next. “I remembered you talking about collecting these during your early missions.”

Okoye gasped in delight when she tore the wrapping paper away to reveal a book about political comics from around the world. “Oh, goodness. This brings back memories! I used to collect political comics from newspapers when I took international missions as a young soldier.”

“Why did you stop?” O’Chenga asked.

“It was depressing,” Okoye admitted. “They’re a fascinating bit of commentary on each country’s culture, but there’s always so much hatred and mockery in each piece. I think I still have them, though, in a box under my bed. Thank you, Aneka.”

She laughed --and Ayo groaned--when Djabi handed her a wooden sculpture she’d picked up on her most recent mission to Japan. “Wonderful!” Okoye ran her fingers over the smooth surface of the wood, admiring expertly crafted figurine, before setting it with her collection of international souvenirs on her TV stand.

“Why?” Ayo glared at Djabi. “You’re just enabling her crazy sense of style!”

“Eclectic is a style,” Okoye defended herself. “Besides, you have no room to talk. I’ve seen your apartment.”

“It’s minimalist!”

“No, it’s lazy,” Aneka mumbled with a roll of her eyes. “Your only real piece of furniture is your bed.”

“Which is going to change soon,” O’Chenga added under his breath.

Ayo went next, smirking as she handed over a small, well wrapped package to Okoye. “You might consider wearing these on your next diplomatic mission.”

Okoye outright cackled when she saw what was in the box. “Oh, Bast, you didn’t!”

M’Baku frowned as he peered over her shoulder. “They look like earrings.”

“They are, technically,” Okoye explained through bursts of laughter. “We found these online a few months ago --I didn’t think you’d actually get them!”

“A good soldier knows how to hide weapons on their person,” Ayo retorted, smirking. “Far be it from me to leave you unequipped.”

The earrings were shaped like gold pendants and ridiculously massive; they’d dangle to her shoulders if she actually wore them.

“They’re designed to look like statement earrings,” Okoye explained as her fingers searched around the base of one of the earrings. Sure enough, her fingers found a catch, and she pressed on it.

The decorative pendant piece slid away from the base, revealing a blade that ran the length of the gold pendant.

M’Baku sighed deeply before laughing quietly. “Earrings that double as daggers. Hanuman help me.”

“Versatility is man’s greatest weapon,” O’Chenga offered hesitantly before casting a hopeful glance at Ayo. “Did you order yourself a pair?”

“Naturally.”

Okoye bit back a snort at the awestruck, mildly aroused expression on the man’s face and carefully reattached the pendant sheath to the base before returning the earrings to their box. “Thank you, Ayo. I’ll think of you if I ever have to use them.”

From O’Chenga, she got a box full of various Jabari sweets. She popped one into her mouth --the Jabari, aside from being guardians of tradition, were excellent cooks--then frowned when M’Baku started hissing with laughter. “What?”

O’Chenga smiled sheepishly. “My gift... is a traditional choice among the Jabari when you don’t know someone but want to give them something anyway. I think M’Baku finds it funny that I defaulted to that.”

She elbowed M’Baku in the side as she nodded to O’Chenga in thanks. “My love handles and I thank you.”

All that was left was M’Baku’s gift to her. It was housed in an intricately carved wooden box that was decorated with Jabari designs.

Okoye slid the lid off the box. Her breath caught as she stared down at M’Baku’s gift to her. “Wow.”

It was a gorgeous necklace, made with braided pieces of high quality leather and decorated with wooden and glass beads. The necklace itself sat on top of a creamy white envelope.

I’ll read whatever’s in there later. She leaned over and kissed M’Baku’s cheek. “Thank you. It’s beautiful.”

“Not as beautiful as you, ‘koye.”


 

She read the letter while M’Baku was in the shower. Everyone had left for the night, giving her ample privacy to process whatever he had wanted to say to her.

It was heartfelt. Exquisitely emotional. Tender.

Okoye found herself crying as M’Baku described the various ways she brightened his life and helped him be the best version of himself. She was so overwhelmed by the depths of love that he’d managed to capture on page.

Bast, how did I get so lucky?

“Are you alright, my love?” Before she could respond, M’Baku was kneeling in front of her. “Why are you crying?”

“Because I’m touched.” She looped her arms around his neck and kissed him. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” He swept her into his arms and carried her towards her bedroom. “But don’t just take my words alone. Let me show you how much you mean to me.”

Okoye grinned, feelings of being overwhelmed suddenly swept away by excitement. “Please do.”


 

People swirled around her, dressed in extravagant gowns, expensive suits, and elegant traditional clothes. Everyone who was anyone was present, there to celebrate the event of the year.

It was official. T’Challa and Nakia were engaged to be married.

Okoye couldn’t help but smile as she watched person after person greet the soon to be royal couple and wish them well on their upcoming matrimony. She’d known T’Challa and Nakia for years, watched them struggle to maintain a healthy distance when they’d broken up. It was obvious that they loved each other, and she was happy that they’d found a way to share that love and meet each other’s ideological needs.

That was something she’d celebrate any day of the week.

“No armor?” M’Baku pressed a kiss to her bare shoulder. “Not that I’m complaining, but I certainly wasn’t expecting this.”

She was wearing the dress Shuri had gifted her, along with the necklace M’Baku had given her. “Not required. I’m not on duty.”

“Purple suits you,” he murmured as he rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand in slow circles. “You’re wearing the necklace, too.”

“Of course. You gave it to me.”

He grinned. “Not Ayo’s earrings?”

“They didn’t go with the necklace.”

He scanned the room for a moment, relaxing when he latched eyes on his sister, who was sitting across the room with Shuri. “And what do you think? Of all this?”

“About damn time,” she said as she watched T’Challa and Nakia smile lovingly at each other. “About damn time.”


 

“General!”

Okoye couldn’t help her sense of deja vu as she stopped in her tracks to let Nakia catch up to her. “Lady Nakia.”

“Oh please, no, I’ve been ‘my lady’ed all night. ‘Nakia’ works just fine.” She’d dragged T’Challa with her, who looked amused by his fiancee’s enthusiasm.

Okoye bowed her head to her King. “My King. What can I do for the two of you?”

“Unfortunately, given the hectic nature of the week, there wasn’t a good time before now.” T’Challa held out a package wrapped in dark blue paper. “From my mother, Nakia, and myself. Happy Birthday, Okoye.”

Okoye accepted the package with murmured thanks and tore away the paper to see what was inside. She laughed when she pulled out a bag of --expensive, rare, imported--coffee beans. “You know me well, my King.”

“I still remember our first mission together,” T’Challa said with a teasing gleam in his eye. “You complained for days that the coffee provided by the War Dogs committee was ‘colored water at best.’”

“Well, it was.” Okoye tucked the bag back in with the others. “I’ll have to hide these. Ayo will never stay out of them otherwise.”

T’Challa chuckled, then clasped her on the shoulder. “Happy Birthday, my friend. I hope it’s treating you well.”

“Thank you, my King. So far, it is. And congratulations on not freezing this time.”

“Oh, he did,” Nakia interjected as T’Challa rolled his eyes.

“Between the two of you and Shuri I never catch a break.”

“It keeps you humble.” Nakia nodded to Okoye. “We’ll let you get back to your night. Tell the Chief we say hello.”

Okoye bowed, then resumed her pace down the hall.

It had been an... eventful year. To say the least. Her relationship with M’Baku, diplomatic tensions with the UN and the USA, officially breaking things off with W’Kabi, tracking down and catching Klaue’s associate...

If she tried to process it all at once, she found her brain started screaming for relief, so she didn’t. Instead, she opted to let the past be the past and focus on what the future could hold.

She paused at one of the palace entrances to the gardens, momentarily distracted by the sight of Dewani and Shuri sitting together in one of the nooks. She smiled fondly at how in love the two teens looked and moved on, careful to leave them in their privacy

Granted, she could never be sure just what the future would hold. But in light of Nakia and T’Challa’s engagement, Ayo, Aneka, and O’Chenga’s burgeoning relationship, Dewani and Shuri’s maturing affections, and the growing commitment between M’Baku and herself, she couldn’t help but feel that a lot of good was coming.

She smiled when she locked eyes with M’Baku, waiting at the exit that led to transport bay as they’d agreed on. She sprinted towards him, smiling giddily as he swept her into his arms. Yes, she thought as he kissed her passionately, this year has treated me well --and I believe that the coming year holds more of the same.

Chapter Text

In time, my dears, you will see bits and pieces of the outside world. It will be your duty to protect and serve the King, and part of that duty will entail accompanying him on his trips around the world.

Remember that you represent Wakanda. You must be professional in your conduct and appearance. Much of the outside world already looks down on Africa, tainted as we are by being cousins to the victims of colonization. The outside world will call us inferior for their cruelty.

Do what you can to keep their hate away from you. Their opinions don’t define you, what you do, or Wakanda. Keep Wakanda separate from them in your mind. Let it be your home, your refuge.

You need it to be separate, my dears. If you don’t --if it isn’t separate--you’ll be consumed by what lies beyond our borders because you’ll always carry it with you.


 

The view, she figured, was supposed to be spectacular.

And, in it’s own way, it was. She could see the Golden Gate bridge and the Bay Bridge, along with the beautiful blue waters of the bay itself.

But nothing ever really compared to Wakanda. From the gorgeous architecture in Birnin Zana to the lush jungles of River tribe to the vast mountain ranges that comprised the Jabari lands, Wakanda always had and will always have the most breathtaking views, in her opinion. Everything else just paled in comparison.

And, of course, part of the experience is soured by the fact that she’s back in the United States. Without M’Baku.

Okoye sighed as she adjusted the collar of her nightshirt. Another day, another headache.

They were back in America to visit the N’Jobu Memorial Center --and to clean up yet another mess, courtesy of American politicians.

First, the government was ‘requesting’ --demanding was a more accurate term, they only claimed it was a request--vibranium. Again. Despite repeated statements that the vibranium was not for sale or trade.

Some things never changed, it seemed.

Second, the Department of Education was trying to make the Wakandan Outreach Program conform to standardized testing policies by using test scores as their leading metric for accepting program applicants.

Years and years of research prove that those tests do nothing good for the students or the system, and yet the politicians are determined to beat a dead horse.

How the government hadn’t been dismantled and rebuilt by the citizens with blood and fire by this point was beyond her. If the Wakandan leadership ever tried to enforce such a ridiculous, harmful rule, the tribes would revolt.

All in all, it promised to be a short trip. Get in, do what needed to be done, get out.

The shorter the better, Okoye thought as she watched the sun slowly set over the bay. I just want to get out of this country.


 

The first morning of their trip didn’t start auspiciously.

Okoye walked into T’Challa and Nakia’s suite, already wearing her usual black dress and heels combination that she donned whenever she was acting as security outside of Wakanda, ready to review their itinerary for the day and get things moving.

T’Challa and Nakia sat at the table, half way through breakfast and eyes glued to the screen of their TV. Their faces were tired and sullen, and T’Challa looked like he was on the verge of a migraine.

Instead of asking what was wrong now --because that would only open the floodgates of everything that was working against them, they all knew it--she simply moved to stand behind the dining room table and watch the news report.

“--all efforts, Wakanda still refuses to share their store of vibranium with the rest of the world,” a white woman with light blonde hair said as she stared into the camera. “For all their talk about wanting to help the world and communities in need, you’d think they’d make more of an effort to share the one thing that’s prevented them from needing aide, even while operating under the guise of being a third world nation. Now, with the fifth offer from the US and the European Union having been turned down by King T’Challa, officials are starting to wonder if their talk of improving the world is just that, or if there are more sinister motivations at play.”

“I couldn’t agree more, Leighton,” a man with overly white teeth and a fake tan that was only marginally better than President Trump’s said. “When one nation hoards a resource as valuable as vibranium, the rest of the world suffers. Frankly, King T’Challa’s refusal to engage in trade is just another example of the selfish, narcissistic--”

Okoye made an executive decision and turned off the TV. “That’s enough of that.”

T’Challa sighed heavily and rubbed his temples. “Nothing we do satisfies these people. Every time we turn around, it’s ‘vibranium, vibranium, give us the vibranium, we’ll pay any price!’”

Nakia gently clasped her fiance’s hand. “We have to keep our eyes on the goal. They’re just trying to wear us out so that the outreach program doesn’t take off.”

“I know, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m exhausted of it.”

“Lady Nakia is right,” Okoye said as she folded her arms across her chest. “I find it just as annoying as you do, my King, but worrying about the news circuits of all things isn’t going to help. There’s nothing that we could say that would make them understand our choices, and there’s no point in arguing with a group of idiots who are convinced they’re right.”

T’Challa smirked weakly. “I know.” His face fell again. “I’m just worried that their nonstop talk about vibranium and their smears against Wakanda over it are going to hurt our efforts in the long run. Contrary to the popular saying, history doesn’t always vindicate the right side --especially when so much of history is controlled by how a nation’s government wants them to perceive it.”

“We still have to try,” Nakia insisted. “We can’t bow out yet.”

No, we can’t, Okoye agreed mentally. But how much more can we realistically take before we have to?


 

“We’re on track to have almost everything started in the next couple months.”

“As pleased as I am to hear that --and as much as I know that nothing happens overnight--... ‘almost?’”

“Well, we’re still facing resistance from the Department of Education over using standardized testing as the metric for accepting applicants, and we’re still facing some difficulties with the universities over scholarship applications and figuring out what qualifies as credit worthy,” the on site manager at the N’Jobu Memorial Outreach Center explained.

T’Challa nodded, exuding calm and understanding. “With any luck, Nakia should have the board members of the Department of Education seeing things our way before we leave. As for the universities, I’ve left that task in the capable hands of the Wakandan International Communication team. As for everything else, you’ve done excellent work, Ms. Ramirez. Thank you.”

The young woman smiled. “I won’t lie and say that it was easy, but I’m pleased with the results that my team and I have been able to produce.”

“Nothing in this life is ever easy. I’m afraid that I have to leave earlier than expected, though --we have a meeting with a handful of government representatives, and then Nakia is going to wrestle with the Department of Education and try to get everything straightened out.”

“Good luck, your Highness.”

Okoye glanced over at T’Challa as he sighed heavily. “Are you alright?”

“We’re so close, and so far away. And this last obstacle seems rather... impossible,” he murmured as they walked towards where Ayo and Nakia were standing. “I don’t want to sound defeatist, but I’m not sure we can make the outreach program a success, Okoye. I just don’t see how we can let it flourish if we’re always wrestling with other governments over what parts of us they think they have the rights to.”

“As much as agree with you, my King, we’ve come too far to quit now.”

“I agree --and I’m not suggesting we quit! I’m just... worried that if it does fail it will break Nakia’s heart. She’s put in a lot of effort into crafting the Outreach Program, and I’m worried she would be devastated if it fell apart.”

Okoye eyed Nakia for a moment before speaking. “I think your fiancee is stronger than she appears, my King. She’s worked in the War Dogs for years. She’s wise to the world, and wise to the ways that it can interfere with anything it sees fit. She would be upset, yes, but I think she’d find a way to move on and make it better if the first attempt didn’t work.”

T’Challa smiled softly as he gazed at Nakia. “You’re right, Okoye. As always.”

“About time that you recognized it.”

T’Challa smirked and rolled his eyes. “What do you think about our odds, Okoye?”

She hesitated, making sure to choose her words carefully. “I think the Outreach Program is something that the world needs, and it’s something Wakanda needs to do. However, if we don’t find a way to protect our resources --and protect our people from exhaustion with all the demands and careless rudeness of the outside world--we’re liable to burn ourselves out.”

T’Challa was quiet for a minute as he mulled her words over. “That’s... very true. Especially the part about burn out. Would you be willing to discuss that more with me at a later date?”

“Of course, my King.”

“What are you two talking about?” Nakia asked with a breezy laugh. “You look so serious!”

“Just talking about how to make sure the Outreach Program succeeds,” T’Challa said as he pressed a gentle kiss to his fiancee’s temple.

“It will succeed, T’Challa. Have faith.”

“I do. I also have faith that if we don’t leave right now, we’re going to be late for our next meeting.”

“You were the one that was taking so much time!”

“Perhaps, but you are the one with the most distracting eyes.”

“Perhaps, instead of flirting, we should keep walking towards the door?” Okoye laughed with the group as they resumed their progress across the lobby of the memorial center, but she felt as though a heavy weight was resting on her shoulders.

She hadn’t fully realized it before, but the burn out she’d mentioned to T’Challa was a huge risk --especially in America. If they couldn’t figure out a way to protect themselves against it...

She didn’t want to conclude the thought. It alright felt like they were tipping on the precipice of it anyway. Bast, help us to succeed, she prayed as they walked towards the car.


 

Okoye inhaled deeply through her nose and exhaled quietly through her mouth. Breathe. Focus on how the breath feels. Let everything else go.

Easier said than done.

Their second meeting of the day --if she counted talking to Ms. Ramirez at the outreach center as the first--had been nothing short of disastrous.

At the very last minute --the very last minute, in a very literal sense, they’d literally been walking to the craft they used for international diplomatic trips--in their prep for their trip to America, they’d gotten notice that several representatives from the United States government had gotten wind that they were coming --to work on the outreach program, mind them, and nothing more--and demanded to sit down and draft a trade deal between Wakanda and the US.

For vibranium.

Even though T’Challa had already told them no.

More than once.

Just breathe, Okoye told herself as she washed her hands. She’d stepped into the nearest women’s restroom after the meeting let out to take a minute to reign in her temper.

Yes, they were working on making their science and medical technology more accessible to the world --Jhanvi’s speech had really opened their eyes, even if Jhanvi herself was more than a little infuriating--but the consensus among everyone on the council, in the War Dogs program, and on Shuri’s team of scientists was that opening up vibranium for trade would be nothing short of disastrous. Handling a material as powerful as vibranium --with as many potentials as vibranium--required a sense of ethics and altruism that nearly every nation outside of Wakanda lacked.

Besides, vibranium was a part of their cultural heritage. It was how they’d come to have the heart shaped herb that made the Black Panther possible in the first place. Selling off parts of their culture to greedy politicians and armies who cared nothing of Wakanda’s past or their beliefs surrounding vibranium was unfathomable.

Okoye gripped the edges of the sink as she let out a quiet snarl and forced herself to close her eyes and focus. Breathe. T’Challa isn’t letting them take any vibranium. Just let it go. These fuckwads aren’t worth wasting any time over. Once she was calm enough, she turned and walked out the door--

And ran smack into a reporter.

The younger woman smiled up at her. “General Okoye, correct? Hi, I’m Cassidy Rasputin, and I represent--”

Okoye rolled her eyes internally and pushed forward. Everywhere she went it was the same thing. Everyone wanted to know her thoughts about Trump and how she felt about the sexual assault and his non-apology.

Aside from the fact that the attorney she was working with had advised her to not comment on any questions, she didn’t want to talk about it. She didn’t want to be at the epicenter of another international drama. She didn’t want to deal with the back and forth between the White House and her.

Besides, there was more to her than this one incident, Bast dammit! She was a General, a warrior, and a woman in her own right! She wasn’t just the guard in a dress that Trump had assaulted.

Her sexual assault was all that the Western media seemed to recognize her for, and it was infuriating. Insulting. Degrading.

Unfortunately, the reporter seemed to have a lot of experience in dealing with stubborn targets. She managed to stay ahead of Okoye, mouth running while she walked backwards with uncanny confidence. “--your take on the incident as an empowered woman of color--”

“I already said I have no comments to make,” Okoye said with professional calmness. “I would appreciate if you respected that and left me alone.” She could see Ayo, Nakia, and T’Challa at the end of the hall now; she stopped so that she didn’t end up pushing the reporter right to the King.

“--do you think Trump is a fit leader in an increasingly modern, socially conscious world?”

Fuck no. “No comment.”

“What about--”

Fortunately, Ayo noticed her predicament and quickly stalked up behind the persistent reporter. She pressed her forearm against the woman’s shoulders and pushed her aside, gently pinning her against the nearest wall. “She said she had no comments. Leave her alone. Now.”

The reporter went wide eyed and nodded mutely.

“Thank you,” Okoye whispered as she Ayo walked back to where T’Challa and Nakia were waiting for them.

“Always,” Ayo whispered back.


 

“Honestly, it was just a train wreck. It took so long that we had to reschedule Nakia’s meeting with the Department of Education members.”

M’Baku frowned. “Wait, wasn’t that what you were originally going there for? Wasn’t that the actual work you were supposed to be doing, instead of headbutting colonizers?”

“Pretty much.” Okoye rubbed the back of her neck and winced. “I got cornered by a reporter afterwards. I think they literally hovered outside the bathroom door until I came out.”

“That’s creepy.”

“No kidding.” She groaned as she sat back on the bed and smiled wearily at her partner. “I can’t wait to see you again. It’s only been forty-eight hours and this trip is already hell.”

“Hang in there, ‘koye. It’ll be over soon. Besides, the King’s called an emergency council meeting for the day after you get back. I’ll already be there, so we’ll being seeing each other sooner than expected.”

She smiled softly. “Really? That sounds wonderful.”

“My thoughts exactly. You can vent all your frustrations. I’m a great listener.”

“You are, but I was hoping you’d fuck my frustrations out of me instead.”

M’Baku chuckled and shrugged. “Whatever you’d like, my love. Though I’m more than happy to do that for you.”

“I figured.” She started to say more about how obnoxious the senators were about vibranium, but stopped when M’Baku looked over the view of the camera and frowned. “What is it?”

Dewani’s voice said something unintelligible in the background, and M’Baku’s frown deepened. “Apparently, the reporter you ran into decided to run their story anyway. It’s not sounding good.”

Okoye grimaced, then looked at her phone. “Must be, because the King just asked me to come see him.” She walked over to the King’s suite, keeping the call between her and M’Baku active, and used her key card to access the room. “What is it?”

“Nothing good,” Ayo grumbled. “The reporter decided to take your lack of comment as free reign to assume that Wakanda doesn’t care about your plight and is silencing you.”

“What? That’s insane! There’s no way they’d run a story like that!”

Ayo merely pointed at the TV in response.

A professional looking male news anchor with elegantly coiffed hair stared into the camera as he spoke. “General Okoye ultimately declined to comment, which does leave one to wonder just what Wakanda’s stance on President Trump’s behavior is. The small African nation was initially vocal after the sexual assault against the General, but since the President’s attempt at mending the bridge between the United States and them, Wakanda has been unusually silent.”

Okoye pinched the bridge of her nose and gritted her teeth. For fuck’s sake, it’s not that complicated. Bast, how did this get blown into such a nightmare?

On one hand, she was grateful that the assault was getting talked about. She knew far too well that the world outside Wakanda struggled with talking about sexual assault, so it was nice to see they had noticed it at all.

But... she didn’t want them to notice like this. They were focusing all their attention on what Wakanda hadn’t done or said --what she hadn’t done or said--instead of on what the President had done and what an appropriate recourse to that kind of behavior would look like.

Nakia had her laptop up, revealing the solemn faces of Shuri, Dewani, and Ramonda as they watched the same news report in the Jabari lands. M’Baku was visible in the background of the screen view --along with the glowing holographic projection of her--as well.

T’Challa rubbed his temples as the reporter talked about how little the world knew about Wakanda, including their views on sexual harassment and assault. “This is a nightmare. And not just for the PR team.” He looked up --eyes bloodshot with fatigue--at Okoye. “How do you want to handle this?”

“Is impaling the President still an option?”

“Don’t tempt me.”

“I think it might be time for a more direct approach,” M’Baku said, voice thick with barely contained anger. “The soft methods that you favor clearly aren’t working. We need to go on the offensive.”

“This isn’t a war, M’Baku,” T’Challa said wearily.

“No,” Dewani agreed. “But Trump’s going to turn this into a wicked smear campaign if you don’t get on top of this.”

“I agree,” Ramonda said. “You need to get the PR teams in Wakanda on this immediately, and then you need to figure out a more direct way of handling this issue. All due respect to your preferences, General, but we can’t let the outside world take full control of this story. If they do, we’ll never be able to clean up the damage it creates.”

“My preferences are stabbing Trump with a spear, but I would settle for a hefty, well publicized lawsuit,” Okoye said with a smirk.

“Spears,” Ayo muttered. “I vote for spears.”

“I’ve already contacted the PR team and news stations,” Shuri said as she leaned against Dewani’s shoulder. “I’ve covered the basics --our history of respecting women’s rights, our displeasure with Trump’s actions, and that we will be responding to his assault and non-apology. Should I include anything else?”

“I don’t think so,” T’Challa said when Okoye shook her head. “I’ll let you know if I think of something.”

“Okoye,” M’Baku said quietly. “Can I talk to you for a minute? Alone?”

Okoye walked back to the room she and Ayo were sharing and sat on the edge of the bed. “Are you alright?”

“I was going to ask you that.” He sighed and ran his hand over his face as he walked through the halls of the lodge. “I’m... frustrated. These colonizers seem to purposefully chase drama, and I don’t like that they’re targeting you for it.”

Okoye shrugged. “It’s annoying, but I don’t really care about them. They can’t follow me to Wakanda. That’s what I care about.”

“Sorry, I don’t mean to be... upset--”

“Be upset.” She smiled. “It’s upsetting. I’ve just adapted more to the outside world than you have.”

M’Baku huffed. “I still say you should face Trump down in ritual combat.”

“Believe me, I’m not opposed to the idea. If it happens, I’ll save you a front row spot.”

“And I love watching every moment of it.” He smiled softly at her. “I’ll let you rest now. I love you, Okoye.”

“I love you too, ‘Baku. See you soon.” She blew him a kiss as he hung up, then flopped back onto her bed with a disgruntled sigh. Fucking colonizers.


 

When it rained, it poured.

But sometimes, one managed to hit the eye of the storm and the sun shone, just for a moment.

Case in point: Nakia’s victorious smile as she recounted the meeting with the Department of Education board members.

“They agreed to all our terms and are completely dropping the standardized testing requirements. All of them. I almost can’t believe it.”

Okoye smiled. “Congratulations, my lady. The King will be glad to hear it.”

“Well, something had to go right this week after everything we’ve been through.” Nakia looked up at her, expression serene but eyes calculating, as they walked towards the elevator. “I was wondering if I could ask you something, General.”

“Of course.”

“Do you think that the efforts to build and expand the outreach program are pointless?”

“No,” Okoye said as she pressed the button for the lobby. “I believe Wakanda can do a great deal of good for the outside world, and I believe that good should be done.”

“But?”

“I’m wary of burning our workers out. You’ve seen what the King is like after dealing with the Senators and the latest news debacle. And he only has to deal with this nonsense in small, infrequent doses. I can’t imagine how the regular workers who have to deal with it in larger, extended doses with fare.”

Nakia nodded. “You’re not wrong. I’m just not sure there’s anything we can do to circumvent that; no amount of training can truly insulate someone from having their culture and identity picked apart by a flock of ravenous vultures who are only after what they deem the best bits.” She looked back up at Okoye. “Do you think the sheer effort of keeping the program staffed and going will be worth it if there’s nothing we can do? If nothing changes?”

Okoye sighed heavily as the weight of the questions landed hard on her shoulders. “I can’t say. But, I will say that fear and suspicion of the outside world has held our country back for too long. We can’t run now just because we’ve hit a few snags.”

“Yes, but how many snags can we reasonably hit before we ought to bow out?”

Okoye pursed her lips and stared at the light indicating what floor they were passing. “I don’t know.”


 

Unfortunately, the eye passed and the storm slammed in once again.

Case in point, they received a call from Jhanvi on their flight back to Wakanda.

Ayo tensed and walked out of view as soon as Jhanvi’s face popped into view.

“Hey, no, I can see you walking away! What, you aren’t happy to see me?”

Okoye stepped between the recorder and Ayo, completely blocking her friend from view. “What do you want, Ms. Singh?”

“Oh, formal last name basis. Someone’s not happy with me --but you will be in a minute. Or probably not. Actually, definitely the latter. This isn’t good news.”

“Get to the point, please, Ms. Singh,” T’Challa said. “We’re on our way back from a diplomatic trip and don’t have the energy for unnecessary games.”

“I know, I saw the news shit storm. I’ll get to that in a minute, though. I followed up on that other vibranium cache you asked me about --the one Klaue must’ve dumped before he met up with me. Good news, I found it.”

“Bad news?” Okoye asked despite herself.

“I’m pretty sure the CIA has it. Either that or the FBI. Pick your poison.”

T’Challa groaned and braced himself against the back of a seat. “For Bast’s sake, how did it get into their hands? Why would Klaue deal with the government?”

“Take it from someone who knows, it’s always good to have various government agents in your pocket,” Jhanvi said with a smug smirk.

Just like how we’re in hers, Okoye thought bitterly. “Can you figure out with agency it is?”

“Working on it, but I’m being extra careful. Figured we don’t want them knowing we’re sniffing through their system.”

“Correct. Anything else?” T’Challa asked.

“Just the news thing.”

Okoye rolled her eyes, preparing for another round of belligerence from their latest recruit. “What about it?”

Jhanvi grimaced. “You don’t know, do you? No, of course you wouldn’t, you’re on a fucking plane. Hang on.” She tapped at a few keys on her laptop, and then a video feed popped up in place of her face.

It was a live interview of Donald Trump. The banner at the bottom screen read ‘What the President Thinks of the Wakanda Drama.’

Bast help us, Okoye thought as she watched the orange idiot talk.

“And what do you think about the General’s lack of response to your apology or questions over the incident?”

“It’s a well known fact that all women want me,” Trump said, gesturing idiotically with his hands. “I’ve dealt with it many times in my life. It’s clear to me that the General is undersexed, and is embarrassed by her overwhelming desire towards me.”

“You’re sure?”

“It’s the only reason she’d stay so quiet. She feels confused and wrongfully ashamed, even though it’s the most logical, natural response.”

“I can guarantee you that’s literally the exact opposite of my problem,” Okoye muttered, smirking when Ayo snorted behind her.

Jhanvi dismissed the video feed and shot a borderline apologetic look at Okoye. “Sorry for dropping that on you, but I figured you’d want to know.”

“Thank you for the heads up,” T’Challa muttered as he rubbed his temples.

“I can disable his Twitter account for a couple hours. If you want me to.”

“Can you make it a couple days?” Okoye asked, more serious than she wanted to admit.

“Yeah, it’ll just take longer so they don’t trace it back to us.”

“Do it,” T’Challa said. When Okoye and Nakia shot him shocked looks, he shrugged. “We need him quiet for a couple days so we can get on top of this. Short of an assassination, I don’t see any other way to make him shut up.”

“Wait, are you serious? Because I’ll do it.”

“Yes, Ms. Singh, I’m serious. Only disable the account; no using it for your own purposes.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.” Jhanvi grinned as she cracked her knuckles. “Oh, this is going to be so much fun. If you don’t need anything else from me, I’m gonna go.”

T’Challa let her hang up, then dropped into his seat with a heavy sigh. “That might’ve been a mistake.”

Nakia shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. What about Jhanvi’s lead on the vibranium?”

“It’s worth following up on.”

“Are you serious, my King?” Ayo asked through clenched teeth. “That menace has killed our people and led us on a wild goose chase for her own amusement. How can we possibly trust her word?”

“At this point, we can’t afford to let it slide. Vibranium in the hands of the American intelligence community would be a disaster --as you well know, Commander.”

Okoye ushered Ayo towards the back of the craft. “I know you don’t like this--”

“That’s a severe understatement.”

“But we have to give Jhanvi rope to see if she’ll hang herself.”

“And what happens when she does?” Ayo asked, face tense with fury.

“Then I’ll drive my spear through her chest,” Okoye promised. “She’s not getting another chance from me, Ayo. I haven’t forgotten what she did.”

Ayo nodded and exhaled, tension ebbing from her shoulders. She clasped Okoye’s arms. “I’ll decapitate Trump if he doesn’t stop spouting utter garbage about you.”

Okoye chuckled. “Really?”

“A promise for the promise. That’s what sisters in arms do.”

Okoye slung her arm around Ayo’s shoulder as they walked back towards the front of the ship. “It’s what we do.”


 

Eventually, though, the storm passed.

Okoye nuzzled against M’Baku’s chest, sighing and stretching as he rubbed his hands up and down her bare back. “I’m glad you came down early.”

“So am I.” He kissed the top of her head. “I’m also glad that you aren’t completely overwhelmed by your desire for the United States Pres--”

Okoye smacked his chest with her fist before he could finish the sentence and mock glared at him when he laughed. “Do. Not. Go. There. Absolutely not. I will make you sleep on the couch.”

“This is my room!”

“The couch, M’Baku. I’m dead serious.”

“I’m sorry.” His body still shook with silent laughter as he kissed her forehead, but it faded quickly after that. “Honestly, it was fucking disgusting to watch. How does that narcissistic idiot manage to think and breathe at the same time?”

“Bold of you to assume that he thinks at all.”

“Fair enough.” M’Baku hugged her against his chest. “Are you alright?”

“Now, that I’m with you, yes.” She sighed, contented, and let the past few days simply roll off her as M’Baku traced patterns across her back with his fingers.

It seemed that whenever she went to the Western world, it always found a new way to put her through hell. Something always went disastrously wrong each time she ventured over, or the mission itself just... generally fell apart.

None of that mattered now, though. She was back in Wakanda, safe and loved in M’Baku’s arms.

She was home. That’s all that mattered.

Chapter Text

The river flows around us all. It reforms our world with every churn of the waters, whether we want it to or not. No matter how we try to maintain stability and control over our lives, the river will change everything it touches. Learn to accept the inevitability of change and to look forward to the come differences.

But do not feel that you have to throw yourself into the current, my dears. Some changes are predictable, and while it’s prudent to prepare for the future, there’s nothing wrong with simply sitting where you are and letting the change come in its own time.

Enjoy and appreciate the moment, my dears. You’ll never have another one exactly like it.


 

Ayo plopped down in the chair opposite her, dressed in her loose workout clothes and still covered in a faint sheen of sweat from her usual morning run with Aneka. “I just saw the events roster for the next few months. Please tell me you have coffee.”

Okoye handed her a fresh cup. “I know. I’m going to be taking some choice time off once we’re through it all.”

Ayo raised an eyebrow at her as she gulped down half the mug. “You? Taking time off? Without complaining?”

“I do not complain--”

“Panicking, fine.”

Okoye narrowed her eyes and mock glared at Ayo as her second in command smirked. “It’s gotten... easier to detach myself from work. Is that so wrong?”

“No, it’s good. I just never thought I’d hear you admit it.”

“Oh, shut up. You don’t know how to furnish your own apartment.”

“I do. It’s called ‘spartanism.’”

“It’s called not being able to buy a damn couch.”

“And I save a lot of money, don’t I?”

Okoye snorted and shook her head. “I hope O’Chenga and Aneka whoop your ass with interior decorating. I’m glad you’re here, though. I wanted to review the next couple months with you before I started arranging tentative duty rosters. Given how much will be going on, we’ll need all the head starts we can get.”

Ayo finished her cup of coffee and set the mug on Okoye’s desk. “Lay it on me.”

“So, in the next couple months we have the Harvest Moon Festival and New Year’s to prepare for and staff. Fortunately, since we’re allowed to use the usual Border tribe security contingency, we shouldn’t run into the same problems as last year.”

“Thank Bast,” Ayo muttered. “I’m glad the Council pulled their heads out of their asses.”

“You and me both. New Year’s is going to quickly follow after that, but we need to start running missions to follow Jhanvi’s leads in the meantime.”

Ayo grimaced. “I still don’t trust her.”

“Neither do I,” Okoye agreed. “But we can’t afford to not check up on her information. Vibranium in the hands of the American intelligence agencies is a recipe for disaster.”

“I know, I know. Are we tossing it over to the War Dogs to start, or are going to distribute it to the Dora?”

“I was thinking I’d put it in the War Dogs’ roster. They’re more acclimated to the Western world; they’ll stand out less.”

“Good thinking. After that, we should have a bit of a break until the Festival of Loves, right?”

“Yes... but the King and Lady Nakia are having their wedding right after the celebrations conclude.”

Ayo groaned and slumped back in her seat. “Seriously? I’m going to have to stay sober on the last night of the festival?”

Okoye shrugged sympathetically. “That’s the way things are shaping up.”

“What a load of ass.”

“It’s a royal wedding, Ayo. It’s important.”

“Still a load of ass.”

Okoye chuckled as she scanned the calendar display hovering above her desk. “I know we’ve had a few changes among the ranks of the Dora. Would you mind compiling a list of our recruits and cross checking it with their tribes? I’ll need to work out tentative shifts from the Harvest Moon Festival so everyone can participate, but I’d rather not have our newest sisters in arms cutting their teeth on such a big celebration.”

Ayo nodded. “Sure.”

“Thank you. Is there anything you can think of that I’ve missed?”

“Not at the moment.”

“Alright. Well, provided everything stays relatively sane, we should make it through the next few months in one piece.”

Ayo snorted and rolled her eyes. “Since when have things here been sane?”


 

Her kimoyo beads started chirping on her wrist as she strode towards one of the main meeting rooms. Okoye paused, stepping to the side of the hallway, and tapped the bead to respond to the call.

Dewani’s face grinned up at her. “Hey!”

“Hey yourself. What’s up?”

“I just wanted to check and see if you’re still planning on flying up early for my brother’s birthday. I’m trying to get his schedule set so he won’t see you coming in until you’re literally standing right in front of him.”

Okoye grinned. “Yes, I’m planning on leaving with Ayo and Aneka once I’m done meeting with my attorney. I should be arriving in... roughly four hours. I’ll send you the specifics once I have them.”

“Cool. What’re you meeting with an attorney for? Did you stab someone and not tell me about it?”

“Nothing that exciting, unfortunately. We’re discussing our next steps in launching a lawsuit at the United States President.”

Dewani’s eyebrows rose as she took the information in. “Nice! Do you mind if I tell my brother about that? I know he’ll be happy to hear that something’s finally being done.”

“Sure. Just don’t tell him I’m coming up today.”

“Duh. I’ll let you go so you can get to your meeting. See you in a few hours.”

“See you then.” She ended the call, then exhaled.

The prospect of suing the President was... troubling. Not in the sense that she felt he didn’t deserve it; no, that orange asshole deserved to be sued for everything he had and considerably more.

No, what bothered Okoye wasn’t the idea of suing Trump. It was the fact that the American government would likely sweep everything under the rug, leaving them back at square zero again.

What was even more disheartening was that the responses he’d given so far were towards a high ranking member of a foreign nation that his country desperately needed as an ally. She was a General, had the King of her country backing her, and had overwhelmingly positive press attention on her side. By all means afforded to her, she should’ve earned a sincere apology from Trump by now --if not of his own volition, at least from some strong arming from his government.

But he hadn’t. And he wasn’t showing any signs of changing his stance. Instead of showing regret for his actions, he’d denounced women everywhere, stating that the problem was that they were getting upset, not that men were mistreating them.

And if this was all that she could get --a General, with the backing of a literal King, with relations with a fabulously wealthy country on the line--what were his victims without any sort of clout getting?

Did anyone even remember that they existed?

Okoye set her shoulders as she resumed her progress down the hall. Hopefully, by the end of this, people will remember that they do --and give them the support they deserve.


 

Okoye blinked as she tried to process the number on the page in front of her.

Twenty. Million. Dollars.

Even though the Wakandan economy was stronger than the United States’s, the currency conversion still translated into a small fortune, even after removing attorney fees.

If the suit went through, she could literally retire as soon as she received her settlement and live the rest of her life in extreme comfort, even luxury.

“Bear in mind, this is for the assault itself and the disparaging comments in his apology and the follow news statements. Along with the financial compensation, we’re also demanding a formal apology to be drafted by our legal team and read by the President during an internationally televised news conference,” her attorney explained.

“And this should be the end of it, correct?” T’Challa asked from his seat next to Okoye.

“Under reasonable terms, yes, my King --though it’s worth saying that the United States President isn’t a reasonable man.”

“What could he possibly do?” T’Challa asked, incredulous. “This is a lawsuit. Unless he wants it to go to trial, he has to pay the settlement.”

“What happens if we go to trial?” Okoye asked.

“Well, that would be a very lengthy process since American and Wakandan courts function completely different from each other, and would take a great deal of effort from both countries and the United Nations; I doubt the President would take such an option. However, if he did, we have video evidence of the assault itself, thanks to the recording functions on the kimoyo beads, as well as video evidence of the disparaging remarks. It would be an open and shut case,” the attorney said. “And I believe the President’s legal representatives know that.”

That was... mostly reassuring. Reassuring to know that the facts were on her side, and that a settlement was more likely than a trial. Given all the international politics that would be involved, the guaranteed invasive media coverage, and the sheer amount of time it would take up, a trial was honestly the last thing she wanted.

However, even though everything was stacked against the man, Okoye doubted Trump would actually take the suit seriously. He’d waved everything off with his usual noxious arrogance thus far; with no one keeping him accountable --not even his own government--she doubted he’d heed their suit until someone literally forced him to.

And that was if someone could actually force the idiot’s hand. For all his meager intelligence, he had the will of a mule and a face to match. Unfortunately.

“How soon can we put the suit in motion?”

The attorney shrugged. “There are some hoops we need to jump through, but we could launch things in... maybe a week or two if everything goes well.”

Stubbornness and stupidity be damned. This megalomaniac needed to be taught a lesson, and Okoye wasn’t going to sit idly by when she had the opportunity to put men like him in their place. 

“Good. Let’s do it.”


 

Okoye grinned as she approached Ayo and Aneka. “You two look ready for quite the trip.”

She was flying up to the Jabari lands for M’Baku’s birthday with her two friends, who were going to see O’Chenga --and celebrate M’Baku’s birthday.

But mostly to see O’Chenga.

It was a blur of her professional and personal lives that she hadn’t expected. Okoye had been friends with Ayo since she had entered the Dora Milaje program --and had added Aneka in when she’d started mentoring the younger soldier--but she hadn’t expected them to form a polyamorous relationship with her partner’s best friend.

It was... an adjustment. Initially, she’d been a little uncomfortable with letting more people into the deeply private sphere of her life that only M’Baku saw; it was hard enough to occasionally show glimpses of that around the King or the Princess, or even Dewani, and she didn’t want to let any more people than strictly necessary see the totally vulnerable, romantic side that M’Baku had free access too. It was too personal. Too sensitive.

She should’ve known, though, that Ayo and Aneka would be a natural fit as witnesses to that side of her. The two women were already her friends and had served under her command for years. They’d sparred together, comforted each other through break ups, patched each other’s wounds, and occasionally cleaned vomit off one another when their shared nights off got too rowdy. There wasn’t much of her they hadn’t seen already, realistically speaking.

Ayo, unsurprisingly, was silent about most that she saw. As she’d put it to Okoye when they’d started travelling to the Jabari lands together to keep travelling efficient, her purpose was to see her other partner and spend time with her boyfriend and her girlfriend. Anything she saw between Okoye and M’Baku wasn’t hers to talk or obsess over.

Aneka, in contrast, was undeniably sweet about the whole process. She carefully tested the waters, subtly figuring out Okoye’s comfort levels and privacy needs, then adapted herself accordingly.

Okoye supposed, though, that their natures were why Ayo and Aneka were drawn to each other. Ayo had always been aloof, stoic, and blunt in who she was and what she stood for. Aneka’s ability to mold herself to her partner’s edges without losing the essence of herself was undoubtedly why the two had successfully dated for so long.

And O’Chenga... was bright. Colorful. Jovial. An artist by passion and part time trade. He’d clicked with them so naturally, a burst of energy to balance the two more reserved women.

It didn’t take any effort for Okoye to admit that the three of them fit together well, and she was glad for it, genuinely.

“Well, we have to be,” Ayo said, a ghost of a smirk playing at her lips. “Since you won’t be able to walk by the end of it, we’ll have to carry you.”

Okoye rolled her eyes. “You keep saying that, and I keep proving you wrong.”

“One day, though, it’ll be true. Mark my words.”

“You’re one to talk,” Aneka teased. “You can barely move by the time O’Chenga’s done with you. By that metric, I’m the only one who’s guaranteed to have functioning legs.”

Okoye laughed as Ayo glared at her girlfriend. “She has a point!”

“Just for that,” Ayo grumbled as she wrapped her arm around Aneka’s waist, “I’m dragging you into everything this weekend. Let’s see how well you walk --how well you talk smack--after the two of us are done with you.”

“Enough, children.” Okoye chuckled as she ushered her friends onto their ship. “Let’s go before the sun sets.”


 

Dewani was waiting for them in the courtyard, along with O’Chenga. “Great!” the teenager cheered as they walked towards her. “You’re here.” She nudged O’Chenga with her elbow. “I’m gonna help Okoye surprise my brother. I’m guessing you can take care of your two?”

“Definitely.” O’Chenga held up a few interior design booklets. “We have some talking to do, anyway.”

Ayo’s eyes widened, and she turned and started marching back towards the ship. “Nope. Absolutely not.”

Aneka giggled as she caught her girlfriend by the waist and started pushing her towards O’Chenga. “You can’t avoid this forever.”

Ayo shot Okoye a wide eyed look. “Save me.”

Okoye laughed, shook her head, and waved over her shoulder as she followed Dewani into the Great Lodge. “Have fun!”

“Traitor!”

“He’s in his throne room,” Dewani said between cackles as she lead Okoye further into the Lodge. “He has no idea you’re here.”

“Perfect.” Okoye watched as Dewani darted ahead towards the closed throne room door, stopping further away when Dewani motioned for her to.

“I’m going to tell him someone’s here, and then I’ll motion for you to come in --step to the other side of the hall. There’s a blind spot right there from where the throne’s positioned.”

Okoye did as Dewani said, and watched as the seventeen-year old pushed the doors open and stepped into the throne room without any warning.

“Did I never teach you to knock?”

“Afraid not.”

M’Baku’s rich, throaty --mildly exasperated--chuckle floated into the hall. “What can I help you with, sister mine?”

“Someone’s here to see you. I thought you’d want to know.”

“And it can’t wait because...”

“Hey, you’re the one that always complains about all the hoops and formalities we have to jump through in the lower lands. I thought you’d want me to just be straightforward, keep things efficient!”

M’Baku laughed again --significantly less annoyed this time. “Bring them in.”

Dewani leaned back so she could make eye contact with Okoye and nodded.

Okoye walked into the throne room with a wide grin on her face. She stopped just past the threshold of the room and winked at her lover. “Happy Birthday.”

M’Baku’s eyes widened, and then he dropped his head onto his hand and laughed. “I probably should’ve seen that coming.” Then, he rose out his seat and crossed the room in three powerful strides.

Okoye closed her eyes and let out a happy sigh as M’Baku swept her into his arms and held her against his chest. “Surprised?”

“Very.”

Dewani made an overwrought gagging noise when they kissed. “Alright. That’s my cue to leave.” She jogged out of the court room. “Have fun you two! Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”

M’Baku shook his head as he stared after his sister. “I’d complain, but she got it all from me.”

“At least you recognize that.”

He kissed her again, stroking her cheeks with his thumbs. “How long are staying?”

“Just for the weekend, unfortunately. We’re coming up on the festival heavy part of the year. My schedule is going to be very tied up for the next few months.”

“I understand.” He kissed her forehead. “I’m just happy you’re here.”

“As am I.”


 

The big celebration --the one that filled the entire center square of the territory--kicked off right as the sun started to set. Music and laughter filled the air. Dancers flocked to the center most part of the square, as graceful as swans as they twirled and swayed in time to the beat of the drums. Food flowed from countless tables, seemingly endless even after being dipped into time and time again.

Okoye stayed by M’Baku’s side for the majority of the event. The sheer force of Jabari celebrations still overwhelmed her, but it was beyond easy to weather it in the safety and comfort of M’Baku’s presence.

Despite the fact that it was his birthday, M’Baku handed out countless gifts to the children there, lavishing equal amounts of attention on each of them as they asked him breathless questions about being Chief or about Jabari customs and fairy tales.

She smiled softly as she watched him get down on one knee so he could address a particularly small boy on his level. Bast, I love this man.

Suddenly, she was hit by a surge of... desire. It wasn’t an... unusual, per se --she experienced it often when she was around M’Baku--but it had a new undertone to it --not anything unwelcome, but definitely unexpected.

I’d like to have a few kids with him.

And, Bast, he’d be so good with them. Here he was, patiently answering questions --even repeat ones--and handing out gifts on his own birthday, taking time to make sure that each kid was thoroughly and respectfully addressed.

And he’d already gone through handling teenagers, thanks to raising Dewani --though her situation was a bit of a unique case, candidly.

And she knew he wanted to have kids some day. He’d mentioned it a few months ago, after watching her stop for a picture with a group of girls in Birnin Zana.

Not any time soon, Okoye told herself as she adjusted to the new want surging through her. Definitely not before Dewani turns eighteen. But... someday. Definitely.

“Excuse me.”

Okoye looked down, startled out of her deep reverie by the sensation of a small hand tugging on her coat. She smiled down at a young Jabari girl, no older than seven. “Hello.”

“You’re the General of the Dora Milaje, right?”

“She is,” M’Baku answered for her. “The fiercest warrior in all of Wakanda.”

The young girl peered up at Okoye curiously. “My baba says that the Dora Milaje is only for girls. Is that right?”

Okoye nodded. “He’s right. Only women serve among our ranks.”

“Do you think that some Jabari women could join the Dora Milaje?”

Okoye smiled surreptitiously at M’Baku. “Well, that’s something that the Chief would have to work out with the program heads, but I think it’s a great idea.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

M’Baku chuckled as the girl darted away, disappearing into the crowd. “Something tells me that I’ll have a new motion to decide on in a few months.”

“Is that really such a bad thing?”

“Eh. Probably not.”

Okoye smiled and looped her arms around M’Baku’s thick neck as he bent down to kiss her. “Happy Birthday, my love.”

“Only because you’re here, ‘koye.”


 

“I know you’re thinking it.”

“I am thinking no such thing.”

“Say it.”

“No.”

“Say it!”

“There’s nothing to say.”

“You know I’m right.”

M’Baku rolled his eyes and sighed in defeat. “Alright. It’s... warm...”

“I told you!”

“...er than I expected.”

Okoye snorted and slapped M’Baku on the shoulder. “Imp.”

They were laying in his bed, covered by the basotho blanket she’d commissioned for his birthday. The blue and gold patterns of the blanket made for an elegant contrast to the natural earth tones and woods decorating the room. The golden threads woven into the blanket fabric glimmered in the light of the fire gently flickering the hearth across from the foot of the bed.

“I do like it, though,” M’Baku said as he trailed lazy kisses across her temple. “I’m glad I have a piece of your tribe up here. Thank you.”

“I thought you would,” Okoye murmured as she nestled against his bare chest, relishing the way his skin felt against hers. “I have some good news, too.”

“Oh?”

“If all goes well, we should be launching the suit in a couple weeks.”

“Good. What’s your settlement?”

“Twenty million dollars.”

M’Baku’s eyes widened. “That’s a lot. Even with the currency exchange.”

Okoye nodded. “I know. I almost can’t process just how much money it is.”

“What are you going to do with it?”

She shrugged as she traced her fingers over the tattoos on his biceps. “I don’t know. Probably put it away for the future.”

“What future could possibly exist that you would need that much money?”

“I don’t know. The universe is a strange, unpredictable place. If I don’t use it all I can always leave it to charities. Besides, having children makes having a reserve fund wise. It’s prudent.”

M’Baku’s breath caught and his eyes widened. “‘Having children?’ Wait--”

“I’m not pregnant,” she said quickly. “But... I wouldn’t mind being pregnant. Someday.”

“Okay.” He grinned. “So... kids? Someday?”

“...Yeah. I want to. I mean, not now, obviously. But when things are more... settled. Maybe... we could start trying after Dewani turns eighteen?”

M’Baku raised his eyebrows. “That’s sooner than I was expecting.”

“Well, you’ll need an heir, won’t you? A more directly biological one.”

“It would be preferable, yes.”

“And you said that you could marry once Dewani turned eighteen, right?”

“Marriage?” M’Baku’s eyes widened. “Are you wanting to get married in a year, too? I’m not opposed, but we’d need to announce our engagement within the next few weeks if that’s the case.”

“I’m just trying to think practically!” she exclaimed, somewhat embarrassed. “I know that, in positions of tribal leadership, there are certain expectations--”

M’Baku chuckled. “‘Koye, my love, pause for a minute.” He rubbed slow, lazy circles on her shoulder with his thumb. “I appreciate you being considerate to my needs as Chief on this, but we don’t have to do anything until you want to.”

Okoye frowned. “I... don’t understand.”

“Marrying me will be a bigger change to your life than it will be for mine. As the wife of the Jabari Chief, you’ll be expected to live in the Jabari lands. That would put a lot of strain on your job as General --in terms of realistic logistics, I’m not sure you could do both.”

“I’d have to retire.”

“Essentially. I know you’ll have to someday --you’ve said as much as yourself--but I’m not going to make you step down before you’re ready. It’s your career, Okoye. Only you can decide when you’re ready to step away from it --and, as much as I know you love me, I don’t think you’re quite ready for that.”

Okoye shook her head. “Not really. I like my job.”

“And I’m glad for it. As for kids...” His voice trailed off, face softening as he ran his hand over her abdomen. “It’s your body. Only you can decide when you’re ready for that kind of change. You’re in the driver seat for all of this, ‘koye. I’m just here for the ride.”

She smiled, thoroughly lovestruck and endeared, and nestled against him again. “Thank you.”

He kissed the top of your head. “I want to marry you, Okoye. I want to have kids with you. But I don’t want those changes to happen until you’re ready for your life to change that way.”

“What about your advisers?”

“You let me worry about that. You just focus on kicking ass.”

Okoye laughed as she let her head rest against his shoulder. “Sometimes, I think you get more excited about my job than I do.”

“I may find your caliber as a warrior... arousing.”

“Really?” She propped herself up on her forearms, bracing herself against his brawny chest. “Arousing?”

M’Baku smirked as he ran his hands down her back, settling just above her ass. “You have no idea.”

She grinned and straddled his lap, molding herself against him. “So, when I’m training and practicing?”

“Undeniably hot,” M’Baku murmured as he started kissing her jaw.

“What about when I’m in my armor?”

“Extremely sexy. And one of your best looks in general.”

“And when I’m wielding my spear?”

M’Baku let out a low growl as his hands slid down to the swell of her ass and squeezed. “Believe me when I say I can barely control myself.”

Okoye gasped softly, eyes fluttering shut as he pressed his hot, wet kisses against her neck. “And if you didn’t?”

“Mm, how about I show you what it would look like?”

Please.” She moaned softly as he pressed her back against his bed, willingly abandoning rational thought as he kissed her with passion and fervor.

Changes would come in their own time. For now, she was just going to enjoy what was right in front of her.

Chapter Text

There will be slow seasons in life, times where each day is barely discernible from the other in their dull monotony. Treasure these times, use them to do all the things you can’t do when your life is busy.

There will be busy seasons in life, times where you lose track of the days altogether as you move from thing to thing, event to event, crisis to crisis. Weather these times as best as you can, and remember them during the slow seasons to help you be grateful for the down time.

And then, there will be seasons of utter chaos. Everything will fall apart around from you, and you’ll never stop running to put out the fires and rebuild the destruction.

First, remember that these seasons never last forever. Do your best and don’t forget to breathe.

Second, take solace in whatever quiet moments you can find. You can’t run forever.


 

The latte cup was warm and solid in her hands. Little wafts of steam rose off the surface of the drink, batting her face with their warmth and inviting her in with the rich scent they carried.

The plush, overstuffed seat she sits in was soft and safe, like a gentle hug enveloping her away from the rest of the world.

The gentle jazz music piped through the cafe’s speakers acted as a soft, lulling hum, filling the spaces between conversations and the noises of the baristas working. It seeped into every open space, almost flavoring the air with it’s soft, indistinct singing and flowing bass line.

“Every time we come here, it almost seems like a purposefully constructed fantasy,” Okoye murmured over the rim of her coffee cup as she stared out the window onto one of the many Washington D.C. streets. She grimaced as she watched yet another fabulously dressed, elegantly coiffed business person briskly walk past a homeless beggar and their sign pleading for money, food, anything. “And every time the facade is ripped away and all the ugliness seeps through.”

In the seat across from her, Ayo regarded the passersby ignoring the shabbily dressed beggar with a disdainful sneer. “Make America great again, and for what? So the wealthy can ignore the poor? I can show you fifty other countries that do that already. This isn’t anything special.”

The two women were in Washington D.C., just after the Harvest Moon Festival, to follow up with Agent Ross on Jhanvi’s leads. The War Dogs they’d initially assigned to follow up on the information had been able to confirm that all signs pointed towards the CIA having the vibranium.

Which, actually, made sense. When they’d been attempting to capture Klaue in South Korea, he’d been trying to exchange vibranium for a cache of diamonds with Agent Ross. It stood to reason that even if that particular deal had gone through, they’d have found another source to supply their needs.

Unlikely, considering that Klaue’s stash was supposed to be the last up of it and had been --aside from the little bits used in her medical equipment, which the Council had decided posed no harm to leave in the hands of those who needed it--completely returned by Jhanvi.

Not impossible, though.

“Do you think Agent Ross can actually help us?” Ayo murmured. “I know he’ll do his best, but do you think there’s anything he can actually do to help us retrieve the vibranium?”

Okoye’s gaze snapped across the cafe at the sound of the bell ringing and a flash of gray-blonde hair. He’s here. She smiled politely as the American agent made eye contact with her and nodded. “Well, we’re about to find out.”

He ordered his coffee and a muffin, and then walked over to their table with his pastry in hand. “General. Commander. Do you mind if I sit?”

“It’ll be less conspicuous if you do,” Ayo muttered in Wakandan.

He pursed his lips and sat down in the chair next to Okoye. He set his muffin on a napkin, hesitated once --twice--then looked at Okoye. “You threatened to impale me to a desk.”

“Your Wakandan has improved immensely if you figured that out,” Okoye replied easily while Ayo snorted.

“You threatened. To impale me. To a desk.”

“You touched my King without his permission.”

Everett pressed his lips into a thin line and thanked the server as they set his coffee down next to his muffin. “Anyway, I’m grateful that the two of you were willing to meet me here. I know this location is a bit more conspicuous, but we won’t chance running into my brother here.”

“Good,” Ayo muttered. “The less we have to deal with him, the better.”

Okoye raised an eyebrow. She hadn’t met Thaddeus Ross personally, but the reports she’d gotten back from T’Challa and Ayo after the United Nations bombing incident that had taken T’Chaka’s life were... less than stellar. “Do you think he would impede our investigation?”

“Worse than that,” Everett said with a grimace. “I think he might have ordered the capture of the vibranium.”

“That would be worse,” Okoye said dryly. “Why do you think it was him?”

Everett slid a thumb drive over to her. “Yes, I know, it’s infantile compared to your technology, but it’s what I have. There are transcripts of conversations between him and other intelligence agents about the vibranium.”

“That’s damning,” Ayo said.

“And you didn’t know anything about this?” Okoye asked crisply.

Everett shook his head. “No. Worse is that apparently there was a underground mission to retrieve any ‘mislocated’ vibranium and return it to Wakanda.”

“We haven’t seen any returns,” Okoye said.

“I know. I didn’t even know the mission existed.”

Ayo frowned. “Suspicious, considering you’re the official liaison between the CIA and Wakanda.”

“I thought so, too. And, sure enough, when I dug into it my brother’s name started popping up.” He sighed and downed some of his coffee. “I’ll do as much digging as I can, but I’m going to need your help if I don’t to get caught by Thad --which, obviously, I don’t.”

“How can we help?” Okoye asked.

“Keeping this all under my brother’s radar is going to take time that I don’t have right now. But, if you were to take something off my plate for me, I’d be able to manage.” He put another thumb drive on the table. “We haven’t been able to track down two rouge War Dogs after Killmonger’s attempt to unleash Wakanda on the world. If you could round them up and take them back to Wakanda, I’d appreciate it.”

Okoye nodded. “That should be doable.”

Thank you.” He sighed, finished his coffee, then stood and picked up his untouched muffin. “I hate to duck out like this, but I really need to go before a reporter sees you and gets a picture of us together. There won’t be any explaining that away.”

Okoye smirked ruefully. “The price of suing the President of the United States, I suppose. International media attention.”

“I don’t envy you. Is there any chance you can challenge him to ritual combat?”

Okoye chuckled. “We’re working on it.”

“Great. Let me know if that pans out.”

“I’ll save you a front row seat to the fight.”

Everett grinned and nodded respectfully to both of them. “Thank you,” he said in Wakandan. “I hope your mission goes well.”

“And yours,” Okoye replied in Wakandan.

Ayo watched him as he left the cafe, crossed the street, and gave his uneaten muffin to the homeless beggar. She took another sip of her coffee. “His enunciation’s gotten better.”

Okoye nodded. “It really has.”


 

T’Challa let out a weary sigh as he scrubbed his face with his hand. “This is... less than ideal. If General Ross does have the vibranium, there’s no way we’re getting it back without a fight --and that’s the last thing we need.”

Okoye nodded as she tapped away on her laptop. “My thoughts exactly. Unfortunately, Agent Ross’s transcripts are up to board; I had both Miss Singh and the Princess look at them.”

Another sigh. “Great. Wonderful. What now?”

“Agent Ross agreed to do most of the leg work for us. In return, Ayo and I are collecting the two wayward War Dogs we received notice of a few weeks ago. They’ve dodged the retrieval committee so far, but I think Ayo and I can bring them down.”

“Good. Find them, and then bring them back to Wakanda straight away. News of your lawsuit has hit the United States media; I’d rather you not get waylaid by some drama hungry reporters --or by Trump’s supporters.”

“You and I both,” Okoye muttered. Louder, she said “I’ll contact you when we’ve apprehended the rogue War Dogs, my King.”

“Best of luck, General.”


 

Okoye tapped her hands on the steering wheel of the car as she drove along a dusty, abandoned back road. A soft pop song about regret and heartbreak played on the radio, and she nodded her head along to the beat.

They were in rural Virginia, a few hours away from the nation’s capital. All of Agent Ross’s pointed towards a well concealed cabin in the middle of no where with nearly nonexistent backgrounds connecting the place to countless major highways.

Hard to find, easy to escape.

“I would’ve thought they’d choose to hide in plain sight,” Ayo said as she stared out the window. “There are plenty of black communities in a seven hour radius. Easy to blend in, throw us off that way. It’d throw off the American intelligence agencies better than holing up in the middle of nowhere.”

“I think they have enough weaponry to hold off whatever the CIA or the FBI throw at them,” Okoye said. “If anything, they’re conscientious enough to not put any innocent neighborhoods at risk. Given America’s history with racism and police brutality, it’s the best option at their disposal.”

Ayo shrugged in agreement. “Fair enough. What’s our plan for going in?”

“With any luck, they won’t know we’re coming until we’re right on top of them. If that happens, we take them by surprise, knock them out, pack up whatever vibranium based weapons they have, and get back to Wakanda.”

“And if we’re not that lucky?”

“I packed some sonic charge grenades. Those should cover everything.”

Ayo chuckled quietly and stretched her hands. “You know it’s a good day when you get to bust out the grenades.”

Okoye grinned as the radio switched to a song with a hard bass line about winning a fight and turned it up. “Absolutely.”


 

They made it halfway up the bumpy, largely grown over drive to the cabin when the War Dog agents started opening fire on the car. Fortunately, they were using standard ‘analog’ guns; it seemed that, if they had vibranium weaponry, they’d worn the pieces out a while ago.

Okoye smirked as she whipped the wheel around so the car skidded to a stop with the passenger side facing the cabin. “Guns. So primitive.”

“You faced me towards the gunfire,” Ayo said, deadpan. “Thanks.”

“You could just crawl out on my side.”

“That’s literally impossible, and you should be ashamed to have even suggested it.”

Okoye opened her door and dropped out onto the ground, letting the car shield her from the bullets whizzing at her. She opened the rear driver’s side door and pulled out a case of sonic charge grenades.

Ayo tumbled out behind her. “There are two windows, one on each side of the door. The door is parallel with the center of the car.”

Okoye pulled open the case. “Two grenades ought to do it, you think?”

“Should be enough.”

Okoye pulled out one grenade for herself and one for Ayo. She waited for a moment, then nodded, pressed the starter button, and stood up just long enough to chuck the grenade through one of the windows.

Ayo did the same, then ducked down next to her behind the car, pressing her hands over her ears.

The explosion ripped through the air with a devastating, reverberating CRACK! Shards of glass and splinters of wood flew everywhere, showering the ground like hail.

Okoye waited until she was sure the gunfire had stopped, then activated her spear and sprinted towards the cabin. She and Ayo made quick work of the door, then barreled inside, ready to face down whatever awaited them.

The inside of the cabin was utter chaos. Pieces of glass, wall, and ceiling littered the floor. Carry out boxes and disposable dishware covered the counter, along with a few cases of water.

On the floor, on either side of the entrance, were the two War Dogs, stunned and groaning.

Okoye lifted one to their feet and pointed the tip of her spear at their throat while Ayo stepped on the other’s chest to pin them in place. She tapped at the earpiece she’d put in earlier with her free hand. “My King? We found them.”

“Excellent.” T’Challa’s voice crackled in her ear. “Bring them back to Wakanda at once.”

“Shit,” the War Dog Ayo had pinned groaned. “We’re in deep shit if they sent the Dora after us.”

“You’re damn right,” Ayo growled as she pulled her captive to their feet, ignoring their protests of pain. “Let’s go.”


 

“You’re making a mistake.”

Okoye glanced over her shoulder at and the still-conscious War Dog operative seated and restrained behind her. “By returning two fugitives to their rightful justice? I think not.”

The operative laughed darkly. “You think this is about us? General, you’re so fucked and you don’t even realize it.”

“Quiet,” Ayo snarled. “Save your breath. You’ll need it during your trial for treason.”

“King N’Jadaka had the right idea of things. The world needs Wakanda! Now more than ever!”

“The world may need Wakanda, but they don’t need us to take over by force,” Okoye said calmly. “I suggest you take the Commander’s advice now. I only have so much patience for futile arguments, and you’re on the last shred of it as we speak.”

The operative chuckled darkly again and shook their head. “You’re wrong. You have no idea what’s lying in the shadows. It’ll destroy us all. Do you know who has the vibranium you’re looking for? Do you really know?”

“Unless you have pertinent information to the investigation, I’m going to have the Commander gag you,” Okoye said in a low voice.

“HYDRA.”

A cold chill ran down the back of Okoye’s spine. She knew what HYDRA was, what it was capable of, and if what the operative was saying was true... “And what makes you think that?”

“Thaddeus Ross is one of their most important agents. Do you think that Baron Zemo just happened upon the information about Agent Barnes’s whereabouts? That he just stumbled across the schematics to the UN building by pure chance?”

Ayo sucked in a breath. “What you’re suggesting is highly dangerous. It would amount to an act of war against Wakanda.”

“You think they’re worried about that? HYDRA grows in chaos. Thrives in it. Killmonger was right. We need to weaponize, to go after the world and bring it into order. It’s only way to make sure that HYRDA goes down. Permanently.”

Okoye adjusted the ships controls to fly faster and contacted T’Challa. “My King. I think you may need to call an emergency council session.”


 

“You can’t be serious.”

“The operative who suggested it was.”

The faces of the tribal elders were all equally dismayed and solemn at the prospect of HYRDA getting their hands on vibranium and the idea that the facist organization could’ve orchestrated the death of the former King.

“Is this even possible?” the Mining tribe leader asked, tone aghast. “And, if it is, can we still trust Agent Ross to help us retrieve the vibranium?”

“We’re having Miss Singh do another, deeper background check on Agent Ross,” Okoye said. “If she can’t find anything, I think it’s safe to say that Agent Ross is in the clear. As for the possibility...” She grimaced as her voice trailed off. “I wish it wasn’t, but the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. only proved just how pervasive HYDRA is, to say nothing of the other soldiers they’d prepared. Given that there have to be other museum pieces made out of vibranium in the world, I think it’s more than possible. Maybe even likely.”

“Then... what can we do to stop HYDRA?” the River tribe elder asked. “We are the only nation equipped to handle weapons of such a caliber, and we can’t let a Nazi organization run around unchecked with our vibranium. The responsibility falls to us.”

“If Miss Singh clears Agent Ross, I think it would be best to inform him of his brother’s potential alliances,” T’Challa said. “We need all the help we can get right now, and a couple of Wakandan War Dogs aren’t going to get anywhere if we really are facing HYDRA. From there, we need to find the vibranium as quickly as possible and destroy whatever HYRDA’s scientists could’ve made with it. General Okoye--” He nodded at her “--I’m trusting you to oversee the mission rosters. I want to be notified of any major developments as soon as they come in.”

Okoye bowed her head. “Yes, my King.”


 

Okoye leaned back against the trunk of the tree --the one she and M’Baku had first spoken under, over a year ago now--and closed her eyes. She inhaled deeply, then tried to let go of all her stress and let the night’s wind carry it away.

HYDRA’s involvement with... everything explained so much. The operative was right --there were too many impossible details for everything to have happened by chance.

A Nazi organization with a history of human experimentation in possession of vibranium. A recipe for total disaster.

The operative was right. They were fucked.

“Relax, ‘koye.”

Okoye opened her eyes and smiled as M’Baku walked towards her. “Hey.”

“Hey.” He stooped down to give her a sweet kiss, then sat down next to her. “Why so tense?”

“You were in the council meeting. Who wouldn’t be, after all of that?”

“Fair enough, but that doesn’t mean you should break yourself over it.”

Okoye leaned against him as he put his arm around her shoulders, leaning into his strength and warmth. “What do you think of all this?”

“I think it’s another example of the folly of using vibranium.” He giggled when Okoye elbowed him in the side. “No, philosophies aside, this has the makings of a disaster. I can’t even imagine what they’ll do with the vibranium, especially after everything they did to Agent Barnes. Especially after the horrors of the Holocaust.”

Okoye looked up at him. “I take it you found our library’s section on World War Two.”

M’Baku looked nauseated. “It took me three weeks to make it through one book. How people can even imagine to commit such atrocities, I can’t fathom.” He looked down at her, expression worried. “Will we even be able to stop them, Okoye? If HYDRA has agents in such powerful positions, we might not be able to take them out without starting a war.”

“We’ll do our best. And, technically, they started the war when they orchestrated the death of King T’Chaka.”

“We should be looking for excuses to avoid a war, Okoye, not dive into one.”

“I know, my love. And, believe me, we’ll do what we can.” She eyed the worried ridges in his forehead and the tension in his jaw, then stood and kissed his forehead. “It’s late. I think you should take me to bed.”

M’Baku chuckled and wrapped his arms around her waist. “Would you like me to carry you?”

“I thought that was a given.” She laughed softly as M’Baku swept her off her feet and into a bridal-style hold, then smiled gently as he kissed her. “Take me to bed, my love.”

“With pleasure, my darling.”

Okoye sighed happily as she laid her head against his shoulder.

Yes, they’d just fallen up to their ears in shit. Yes, if HYDRA had the vibranium it’d be borderline impossible to get it back without starting a war.

But none of that mattered right now. She was with M’Baku, and that’s all she was going to focus on for the rest of the night.

Bast knows he’ll make it impossible to think about anything else.

Chapter Text

As constant as your struggles may seem, make sure you take time to support your friends and hear their frustrations as well.

Many of us often travel the same current in the river and share many of the same struggles. We ought to take care to not forget it.


 

 

“This has been a long time overdue.”

“Agreed.” Okoye smiled as she flipped over a few steaks on a large skillet. “I can’t wait to hear everything we’ve missed with the festival work and the missions.”

O’Chenga and M’Baku exchanged a long, exasperated look before M’Baku went back to dicing up several large potatoes and O’Chenga went back to prepping legumes, vegetables, and greens for the main vegetarian dish. “I wish there was something light hearted to report,” O’Chenga started as he chopped up a large eggplant. “Unfortunately...”


 

 

<<< 

“Nephew. I would speak with you.”

O’Chenga grimaced as he watched Elder F’Tendi sweep into the throne room of the Great Lodge as though he was the Chief and his nephew, M’Baku, were his subordinate. Hanuman, what fuels this man? It can’t be common sense, since he clearly forwent that long ago. “I would advise you to address your Chief with due courtesy, Elder F’Tendi. This is not your throne room you step foot in.”

F’Tendi stopped to eye him coldly, then bowed slowly, mockingly. “My Chief. May I council with you?”

“And what if I say no?” M’Baku asked, cocking his head to the side.

“It would be in your interests to not. I am here to speak with you about Dewani.”

“Escort him out,” M’Baku said without hesitation.

O’Chenga smirked as he watched the guards move in to usher F’Tendi away from his friend. Serves you right.

“I hope you know what kind of company she keeps. There are rumors that she’s been caught associating with the Wild Ones.”

M’Baku lurched forward, snarling through tightly clenched teeth. “I will hear no more of your baseless accusations!”

O’Chenga leaped forward, catching his friend’s shoulder with one hand and motioning to the guards with the other. “Escort him out. Now!”


 

 

>>> 

Okoye frowned. “Wait. Wild Ones? I don’t think I’ve heard of them before.”

“They are a... dark cult in the Jabari tribe. They worship the demon Ravana, one of Hanuman’s enemies,” M’Baku said with a scowl.

And F’Tendi is trying accuse Dewani of associating them to discredit her before the trial for his abuse starts, Okoye surmised. Wonderful. “Well, at least there can’t be any validity to the claim. Honestly, why would he even try to swing that far?” She froze when M’Baku didn’t immediately affirm her assertions. Bast, no. “Is there validity to his claims?”

M’Baku sucked a breath through his teeth. “It’s... complicated.”


 

 

<<< 

M’Baku pinched the bridge of his nose. Hanuman, give me patience. “Dewani, you realize how this looks, right?”

His baby sister rolled her eyes. “Yes, I’m not an idiot, M’Baku! I know this looks bad.”

As soon as his uncle had left the lodge, he’d immediately taken O’Chenga and tracked down his sister. There might not be laws against homosexuality, but there were laws against associating with the cult of Ravana. M’Baku’s uncle had incredible sway with the traditionalists of the tribe, who were already wary of Dewani because of her liberal views and relationship with Princess Shuri. The last thing his sister needed was a legitimate chink in her armor.

But this? This was arguably worse.

“So, you admit to having ventured into the cult’s territory, and you refuse to tell us why?” O’Chenga repeated, confusion evident in his tone and expression.

“I was visiting a friend,” Dewani said, waving her hand dismissively.

M’Baku groaned and rubbed his temples. Hanuman, give me the strength to not whack my sister upside the back of her thick head. “Dewani, I need you to take this seriously. F’Tendi could legitimately have you banished from the tribe on these grounds alone, and there would be nothing I could do to stop him!”

“Trust me, I am taking this seriously!”

“No, you’re not!”

“Yes, I am!”

M’Baku forced himself to take a deep breath. When you agreed to raise her, that meant raising her through everything, including moments like this. Be patient. Seek to understand, not to be understood. “Okay, then I’m not seeing it. Help me understand how you’re taking this seriously.”

Dewani shrugged as she flounced away, evidently done with the conversation. “When the time comes, you’ll see it.”

M’Baku gave into petty temptation and smacked the palm of his hand against his forehead. Hanuman dammit.


 

 

>>> 

Okoye grimaced as she put the steaks on a plate to rest and covered them with foil to keep them warm. That’s about as disastrous as it gets. “She wouldn’t even give you an answer?”

“No! She refused to reveal anything.”

“Which is highly unlike Dewani,” O’Chenga added as he stirred a mixture of eggplant, legumes, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, and goat’s cheese in a skillet.

Okoye nodded, well aware of the teenager’s reputation for boldness and zeal. “No kidding. Were you able to get any hint as to what she was doing in the cult territory?”

“No.” M’Baku’s mouth twisted into a troubled frown. “I can’t fathom that she was actually worshiping demons; Dewani is a devoted follower of Hanuman, and I think she’d sooner die than tarnish Olufemi’s legacy as a priestess. Unfortunately, I doubt it will matter in the eyes of the traditionalists.”

“She’ll be guilty by association,” Okoye concluded. She sucked a breath through her teeth and placed a comforting kiss on her lover’s shoulder. “Do you want me to try and talk to her?”

“You’re welcome to try, but I doubt you’ll get anything out of her.”

O’Chenga shook his head as he added some minced garlic and sea salt to the vegetable mixture. “You definitely won’t.” He grinned jovially after a moment and nodded his head in M’Baku’s direction. “She’s his sister, after all. Their skulls are the same thickness.”

M’Baku shook his head as everyone else laughed. “My friend, the comedian.”

O’Chenga bowed halfway as he transferred the vegetable mixture into a bowl. “I’m here all night. How’s the lawsuit going?”

Okoye rolled her eyes as Ayo and Aneka groaned. “Well, I wasn’t in the United States when this happened, but I think the incident speaks for the situation quite nicely.”


 

 

<<< 

“Ayo! Ayo! Get your ass out here!”

Ayo smirked as her girlfriend called for her from the bedroom. She’s so cute when she’s impatient. “Calm your tits.”

“I will not! It’s the President! He’s commenting on Okoye’s lawsuit!”

Ayo practically sprinted out of the bathroom, still wrapped in the towel she’d used to dry off after her shower. “Wait, what?”

Aneka was sitting on the edge of the bed, remote in hand and dressed in her pajamas and a scowl. She was glaring at the image of the man in charge of running the United States on their flat screen TV. “They gave a preview before the commercial break. You’re not going to believe this.”

“Frankly, I think it’s unfathomably unjust of the Wakandans to promote this kind of hatred towards the leader of another country,” Trump said in a recording from a press conference. “I fail to understand how they could’ve blown such a minor misunderstanding so far out of proportion.”

Ayo’s jaw dropped. Minor misunderstanding? I was there! He hit my best friend on the ass! What’s there to misunderstand?

“This kind of behavior is going to be the end of the world. Before you know it, we won’t be able to brush shoulders with women without them crying ‘rape!’ The Wakandans are complicit in the disenfranchisement of men everywhere, and I won’t stand for it!”

“Is this scripted?” Aneka asked, brow furrowing. “He’s using multi-syllabic words, and I can’t fathom that he actually knows any on his own.”

It doesn’t matter, Ayo thought as she watched the pitiful excuse for a man gesture stupidly with his hands. This is a nightmare.

“This lawsuit is nothing but a scam being pushed by a government held down by women, and I’m not going to let them take America down with them!”

Ayo sank down onto the mattress next to her girlfriend. This can’t be real. Someone’s going to stop him.

“I won’t be paying any ‘damages!’ America won’t be paying any damages!”

Aneka gripped onto Ayo’s hand.

Ayo clenched her girlfriend’s hand back just as tightly.

“Instead, Wakanda is going to be paying damages to us! The damages for with-holding vibranium, and the damages for trying to start an anti-male campaign to further their own agendas against the free world! You have my word as the President, I’m not going to let anyone fuck with America!”

Ayo realized Aneka was shaking and put her arm around her girlfriend’s shoulders. “It’s okay.”

“We’re a great country--”

“He’s an idiot; don’t let him get to you.”

--and we’ll always be a great country!”

Ayo grimaced at the sight of a single tear tracing it’s way down Aneka’s cheek. She brushed it away with a kiss, then took the remote out of Aneka’s limp hands and turned the TV off. “That’s enough of that.”


 

 

>>> 

Okoye grimaced as she took in M’Baku’s and O’Chenga’s shocked expressions. “Before you ask, yes, he really said all of that. I had a meeting with my attorney the very next day to discuss what we’d be doing next.”

“What can you do next, in the face of that?” O’Chenga said in a shell-shocked voice.

“Not much,” Okoye muttered. “You just sort of have to wait for the idiot to hang himself.”

M’Baku’s hand found hers under the table and gave it a comforting squeeze. “Is there anything good that’s come out of the past few weeks?”

“Well--” Aneka paused as she took a sip of water “--there is, actually. It’s kind of a roundabout story, though.”


 

 

<<< 

“Why do Americans make their coffee so sweet?”

“Well, actually, it’s likely due to the processing most of their foods go through and the melting pot effect of so many merged cultures. Each immigration group had their own way of preparing food and drinks, and when you stack that all together you’re bound to end up with some bastardized versions of bastardized versions of recipes. Plus, sugar and fatty foods were less expensive in America, so most immigrant families would try to replicate the way the wealthy ate back home.” Aneka felt a rush of warmth run from the top of her head to the tips of her toes at the soft smile Ayo favored her with. “What? It’s true.”

Ayo simply shook her head and continued sipping at her coffee. “You’re cute when you’re nerdy.”

Aneka opened her mouth to reply, but was distracted by a flash of gray-blond hair outside the window. “He’s here.” She watched as Agent Ross walked into the shop and up to the counter, then frowned when he kept ordering for nearly a solid minute. “What all is he getting? This is supposed to be a quick meet up.”

Ayo shushed her gently. “You’ll see.”

Agent Ross walked up to their table and sat down with a grimace. “You’ll have to forgive me for being hasty about this, but my brother’s expecting me to meet him in less than twenty minutes.” He set another thumb drive on the table. “I followed up on the leads that Jhanvi sent me. I was able to find the shipment of vibranium you’ve been looking for. Some HYDRA agents captured it after S.H.I.E.L.D. fell.”

“Good,” Aneka said. “Where is it?”

“That’s the sticky part. The shipment’s in my brother’s name. I can’t touch it without him finding out.”

Oh. Not good. Aneka picked up the thumb drive. “So, this is...”

Everett smiled grimly. “I was able to stick a tracking device on the container. Tell Princess Shuri it contains the link up to the device. She’ll know what to do with it.”

“Thank you, Agent Ross,” Ayo said. “We’ll be sure to follow up on the shipment, keep you clear of this.”

“I appreciate it.” He glanced at his watch, then stood with an apologetic wince. “I’m sorry for rushing out, but I really need to go.”

Aneka watched as he walked out, picking up a heavy paper bag of food as he went. “Was he getting food for him and his brother?”

“Doubtful.”

“It’s the only explanation that makes sense.”

The corner of Ayo’s mouth turned up and she nodded out the window. “Watch.”

Aneka watched as Agent Ross crossed the street, then stopped to hand off the bag to a homeless mother and her children. She smiled.

The news about the shipment was less than ideal. It’d be near impossible to slip the vibranium out of General Ross’s hands without him realizing that it was them.

But, with allies as kind and aware of the world around them as Agent Ross, she felt like they had a good shot.

Ayo tapped on the table with her now empty cup. “Come on. We need to get the drive to the Princess.”


 

 

>>> 

“He sounds like an honorable man,” O’Chenga said as he sat back in his seat.

Okoye nodded in agreement. “He is. He fought the Border tribe with us, helped take down the ships trying to carry weapons out of the country.”

Ayo drained half her beer. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I need a vacation. All the missions and bad news has seriously worn me out.”

“I think we’ll get a break soon,” Aneka said brightly. “I can feel something coming. Something good.”

“Well, if you’re trying to give me ideas for tonight--”

Okoye chuckled as she watched Aneka swat at Ayo, but she couldn’t help but feel her best friend’s weariness in equal measure.

The past year had been exhausting. It seemed like they kept moving from one disaster to another without a good break from it all.

Okoye let her head rest on M’Baku’s shoulders as she listened to her friends argue back and forth. Bast, please let an end to all the drama come soon. 

Chapter Text

Loss of perspective is deadly. Perhaps not in the sense of literal death, but in the sense that you will lose yourself.

Don’t lose sight of the true purpose in what you do. Don’t confuse the challenges you face with the reason you started the journey in the first place.

Keep your eyes set on the right goals, my dears. It may end up saving you in the end.


 

“Sorry I’m late!” Nakia dashed into the dining room with a shocked, if pleased, expression on her face. “You’re not going to believe what I just found out about.”

Okoye raised an eyebrow. “I can only imagine.”

“The apocalypse happened and it was way more anti-climatic than any of us were expecting?” Dewani suggested as she tried --and failed--to sneak food off Shuri’s plate.

“It’s entirely possible.” Nakia held up a tablet which had an article from the Associated Press on the screen. “Trump’s been impeached.”

“About damn time,” M’Baku muttered as he took a long sip of wine.

“What happened?” Ramonda asked.

“According to an official report from Congress, his increasingly inflammatory behavior over the sexual assault lawsuit from Wakandan official, General Okoye, prompted an emergency session in the governing bodies of the nation, who voted that the President’s misconduct was sufficient grounds for impeachment. An overwhelming majority of the senators voted to convict, and the President was removed from office the following morning. Vice President Mike Pence stands to be inaugurated into the office of President, as follows the regular traditions and practices,” Nakia read off her tablet. She stopped and looked up, eyes wide. “It’s real. He was escorted from the White House this afternoon.”

Okoye realized that everyone was looking at her, and suddenly felt like she was a slide under a microscope. She picked up her glass of wine and stared down at the dark red liquid. Thank Bast, it’s done. Now, if everyone would just stop staring at me...

Honestly, what were they expecting? Tears? A victory dance? A rant?

Candidly, all of those would probably happen later, but in private, with only M’Baku or Ayo and Aneka to bear witness. It definitely, however, was not going to happen in front of the King, the Princess, and the Queen Mother.

I’d rather shove a fork in my eye.

“Anyway,” Dewani chirped as she quickly snatched a piece of mango off Shuri’s plate and tucked it in her cheek. “Glad that’s over. What’s next?”

Okoye a discreet ‘thank you’ at her, to which Dewani winked in return.

“Well--” Shuri eyed Dewani with mock annoyance “--I’m going on my United States college tour to give demonstrations of Wakandan scientific development.” She frowned when both T’Challa and Okoye grimaced. “What? Why do you two look like you just sucked on a lemon?”

“It’s just been... exhausting to deal with the American policy makers. I guess you could say we’re feeling a little...”

“Burnt out?” Okoye suggested grimly, quietly, when T’Challa trailed off.

“Well, no wonder. You’ve been focusing on the wrong things.”

The corner of T’Challa’s mouth lifted as he raised an eyebrow at his sister. “Have we?”

“Obviously. You’ve lost sight of why we’re doing the outreach program. It’s not for the policy makers. It’s for the communities we’re reaching out to. Duh.”

“Shuri,” Ramonda said as she expertly smothered a smile. “Be nice.”

“Sorry. Anyway, you ought to come with me! It’ll be good for you to connect to the communities a little. Give you an image of what you’re working for when you have to deal with the policy makers.”

“Actually, that’s not a bad idea,” Nakia said. “It’d be good for all of us to see some positivity out of all of this so we don’t become too jaded.”

“Nakia--”

“Oh, come on. It’ll be fun!”

M’Baku shrugs. “I was already going for part of the time to keep an eye on Dewani.”

“It’s like you don’t trust me,” Dewani fake complained as she slipped a bite of fried eggplant off M’Baku’s plate. “I honestly don’t get it.”

“Just my older brother instincts. Eat off your own plate please.”

Admittedly, Okoye didn’t seem too much appeal in going back to America. She’d had enough of the environment and the chaos for the time being. All she really wanted to do was hole up in her apartment for a few days and keep to her own schedule as she damn well pleased.

But Nakia was right. Finding positivity in a difficult situation was important. And if was possible --more than likely, even--that her and T’Challa’s burn out was coming from misplaced focus; if that was the case, then resetting that focus as soon as possible would be crucial to keep the burn out from setting in too deeply.

Plus, it would mean that she’d get to spend time with M’Baku...

Okoye shrugged. What the hell. “I’m in.”


 

“Okay, I’m fine with the dress, but why do I have to wear these?” Dewani held up a pair of pump heels like they were an about-to-explode bomb.

They were back in Washington D.C., starting Shuri’s college tour with her at Howard University.

“It’s a historically black college,” Shuri had explained on their flight to the United States. “It was established in 1867 to serve African American communities during apartheid and the segregation era. They’re ranked eighty-ninth in national universities, thirty-fourth in best undergraduate teaching, seventy-third in best value schools, have a sixty percent graduation rate, and it’s well known for its excellent science programs.”

“Well, that explains why you’re going,” T’Challa had said with a smile.

“Appearance and presentation is important at Howard University,” Shuri explained as she took the shoes out of Dewani’s hands. “We’re dressing with the crowd. But I think you’ll be happier with these.” She handed her girlfriend a pair of low heeled --but still stylish--ankle boots. “They’ll be more comfortable.”

“I knew there was a reason I loved you.”

Okoye smiled slightly as Dewani and Shuri chattered together --then smiled broader as M’Baku’s arms settled around her shoulders and leaned back against his solid chest. “Good morning.”

“Good morning.” His lips pressed against her temple in a way that was chaste and sensual all at once. “You look a picture, ‘koye.”

“Thank you.” She turned, eyed the suit he wore and the elegant kente scarf draped across his chest, and eyed him a way that she knew hid absolutely none of the sudden hunger she feels for him --which, of course, was exactly what she was going for. “You look good, too.”

M’Baku raised an eyebrow and smirked down at her. “Do I now?”

“Of course.”

There was a knock at the door, and then it swung open to reveal a rather exasperated looking T’Challa. “Shuri. We need to leave now or we’re going to be late.”

“Yes, yes, hold on to your shorts! I’m just finishing up!”

“Shuri, I said leaving, not--”

Shuri tsked as she put on her plum colored overcoat and extended the handle on her rolling lab bag. “Relax, brother. Are you always so nervous?”

Okoye hid an amused smile into the back of her hand as T’Challa rolled his eyes while Shuri breezed past him with Dewani.

M’Baku nudged her shoulder, then held out his arm to her when she looked up. “Are you ready, my lady?”

Okoye grinned and looped her arm through his. “That I am.”


 

Okoye watched from the background as Shuri went through the paces of demonstrating the various capabilities of Wakandan technology. She didn’t pretend to understand all of it --she wasn’t incompetent, by any means, but she wasn’t on Shuri’s level either--but she could tell that the Princess was having quite the effect on the crowd.

The students were all in various states of awe, eyes wide and more mouths hanging open than not. Some were hastily taking notes while Shuri talked, while others were just sitting back and taking everything in.

Even though she’d grown up sheltered from the outside world, she still knew that things were undeniably stacked against the African diaspora. Slavery. Segregation. Apartheid. The Jim Crow era. Everything N’Jadaka had cited in his reasons for waging war on the outside world and more.

She was lucky, she realized. She’d grown up with countless role models and inspirations that looked like her, in a society where people like her were celebrated.

Tragic as it was, that wasn’t even close to a universally common experience.

But, as Okoye watched countless students of color watch Shuri with stars in their eyes, she realized it could be. That the outreach program could help make growing up admiring and aspiring to be like role models that looked like you a more common facet of life.

She smiled as she felt the burned out feeling that made her limbs weary fade, replaced by new energy and determination. This. This is what we’re here for.


 

They stayed for a while after the demonstration ended so that Shuri could meet and talk to the students. They clamored around her like excited children, asking her questions about Wakanda and her life there and different advancements in technology.

“Wakanda is amazing --though being the sister of a king isn’t as exciting as you might think,” she said with a cheeky wink in T’Challa’s direction.

“Very funny,” T’Challa replied, good natured, when everyone laughed.

“Is it true that the Wakandan Outreach Program is going to offer scholarship opportunities and financial aid for students?” another student asked.

“That is one of our goals, but coordinating with different colleges and universities is making things a little difficult,” Shuri said with a nod. “We are confident, though, that we’ll be able to start offering different options to members of the program by the end of next year.”

A rush of murmurs went through the students, various grumblings about loans and vows to get connected with the outreach program as soon as they could.

Okoye narrowed her eyes and leaned towards T’Challa. “How does Howard University rank as far as financial aid options and tuition costs?”

“Not bad, but the United States isn’t exactly known for its inexpensive education.”

Well, that was no small secret. Between the regular reports that Wakanda got on other nations’ financial status and Shuri’s seemingly omniscient connection to social media, Okoye knew all too well that too many students were shot in the foot with debt before they even graduated.

“I wish there was something we could do about that,” Nakia murmured as she watched Shuri and Dewani field questions from the students and take selfies with them.

Okoye didn’t miss the contemplative gleam in T’Challa’s eyes, and she carefully suppressed a smile. Bast, I know he’s planning something, and I know it’s going to be good.


 

“Okay, I’m back from the university. There’s no one to see any texts or overhear any phone calls. Now, will you please tell me why you made an impromptu trip to the university President’s office without telling me?”

Okoye smirked. Barely two seconds in the door and she’s already asking questions.

Some things about Shuri never changed, no matter how old she got or how much of the world she’d seen.

“If you really must know,” T’Challa said with an amused smile. “We were just settling the issue of who would be the commencement speaker for the upcoming Spring graduation.”

Shuri blinked, then grinned, wide and bright. “Really? You’re going to be the commencement speaker?”

“I think I know how to give a speech, Shuri.”

“Debatable.” She surged forward and wrapped her arms around her brother’s shoulders. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

Shuri shrugged, still smiling as she stepped back. “For not giving up.”

T’Challa smiled back. “So, I know we can’t accompany you to the lab observations for safety reasons. Do you have any recommendations for what we do while you’re busy?”

“Funny you should ask... I might’ve taken the liberty of booking a couple things for you.”

The corner of Okoye’s mouth turned up in a smile as T’Challa rolled his eyes. This ought to be good.


 

It was good. It was really good.

Shuri had arranged a series of ‘meet and greets’ at some local elementary, middle, and high schools for them over the next couple of days. Each time they walked into a gym or a crowded auditorium, they were greeted with excited chatter and cheers.

Today was no exception. They were surrounded by a group of excited kindergartners, answering questions about life in Wakanda and learning more about life in the United States. They were shocked to find out that Wakanda didn’t have things like Poptarts, Oreos, and other Western staples --and even more thrilled to learn about the Dora Milaje.

Everywhere she went, no matter what their background, young girls loved finding out that there was an entire group of soldiers comprised only of women. No matter how many successful missions she cleared or how many places she traveled to, seeing the look of excitement on young girls’ faces when they saw other women being powerful in their own right was always --would always be--Okoye’s favorite part of her job.

She --carefully--showed her spear to the class, explaining how it worked and --very carefully--demonstrated how she twirled it.

Perhaps the funniest moment of the day, though, was how well the students took to M’Baku. They bobbed around him, ridiculously tiny compared to his sheer size, asking him questions about the Jabari lands and the differences between the Jabari and the rest of Wakanda.

Then, one student tried to climb him like they would a tree, and it was all over from there.

M’Baku, to his credit, took everything in his usual relaxed stride. He patiently answered each question in turn and happily let the students clamber all over him until the teacher told them to settle back down.

Okoye couldn’t help but grin as he lifted two students, one gripping to each hand, as he would a pair of weights. She chuckled when he jibed at T’Challa about the might of the Jabari, but she was all too aware of the warmth settling in her lower abdomen. He looks good when he works with kids.

Not for the first time, she was grateful she had her own hotel room for this trip. It would make dealing with these... feelings much, much easier.


 

“Would you want to have a boy first, or a girl?”

They were back at the hotel, lying in the center of Okoye’s bed, propped up on pillows as they cuddled together and enjoyed some time alone together.

“I mean, obviously them being healthy and happy is the biggest priority, and I suppose the gender doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things,” Okoye said. “But I am genuinely curious.”

“I get what you’re saying,” M’Baku said as he rubbed his hand up and down her back. He kissed the top of her head. “It’s one of those things people ask. I wouldn’t be upset with either a son or a daughter, but... I kind of want a boy first.” He grinned. “I’ve already raised a girl, technically. I want to try my hand with a boy.”

“Makes sense. Would Dewani be their older sister, or their aunt?”

“Aunt. She and I already talked about it; that’s what she wants.”

Okoye raised an eyebrow at him. “The two of you have talked about us wanting kids?”

“Well, yes, but that’s not what I’m referring to. She’s always known that I’ll need to have biological children of my own some day. I check in with her about once a year or so, to see if her opinion’s changed, but she’s always wanted to be an aunt. For as much as I’ve done my best to raise her well, we’ve never quite fit into a ‘father-daughter’ dynamic.”

“You two do your own thing,” Okoye agreed.

M’Baku chuckled and pulled her in closer. “That we do.”


 

“Is it wrong if I say I’d rather be with the students than here?”

Okoye closed her hand over M’Baku’s and squeezed it reassuringly. “No. But this time will be better.”

They were sitting in front of the White House again. Her attorney had contacted her a few days ago, informing her that she could expect the settlement payment in approximately five days and that the newly minted President Pence would be holding a press conference to offer an official apology to her and anyone else harmed by the former President’s behavior.

If she was being honest, Okoye was just glad it was all over with.

She watched as President Pence walked up to a podium, expression stoic. She kept her expression neutral as his calm gaze flicked over to her and M’Baku, then to T’Challa and Nakia. Bast, can we please just get on with this?

Fortunately, it seemed that the Panther goddess was smiling down on her after all; at that moment, the new President cleared his throat and began his apology speech.

Okoye sat back and partially listened as he apologized to her, specifically, and to any other women that had been harmed by Trump’s behaviors and encouragement. Mostly, though, his words just seemed wash over her, flowing past her and dissipating somewhere behind her.

She appreciated the apology, really, but it was also really obvious that it was a politically correct formality. Here they were, in front of a group of reporters, hearing a televised speech that wasn’t even fully addressed to her and the frustration she’d had to endure for the past couple months.

Politically, she understood why they were doing things the way they were, but she wasn’t a political entity. She was a person. And, sometimes, she wanted to just be treated like a person, dammit.

Screw them, Okoye decided. She focused her thoughts on the high school students that had come dressed in Dora Milaje costumes, on the kindergartners that had gasped when she’d showed them the workings of her spear, and the college students that had been sitting in near dumbstruck awe as they watched Shuri demonstrate the capabilities of Wakandan technology. We’re not here for the politics, and we’re not here for the politicians; we’re here for the people.

That was the truth of it. The Outreach program had never been for politics, never been for looking good. It had been for people. For trying to rectify the damage they’d done in sitting in the shadows and doing nothing.

She let go of the nuances of what she found wrong with the apology and found peace in sitting back and focusing on the past few days. It’s an end to the madness, she told herself about the apology. Let it stay that way. They don’t deserve any more of your energy.

Breathe in, breathe out. Be like the stones in the river.

She breathed in.

She breathed out.

She was at peace.

Chapter Text

Don’t go into every match expecting a win. There’s no fault in being confident in your abilities, but arrogance is the greatest downfall any person will ever encounter. There will be times when your opponent will outsmart you, outfight you, or simply be a step ahead of you.

There’s nothing wrong with it happening. It’s life. It’s the way of the river. So, instead of beating yourself down when you lose, breathe deeply and focus on how to do better next time. Do what you can to put things to your advantage in the next match.

It’s a matter of whether you want to move forward or whether you want to stay where you are. In all things, my dears, I urge you to move forward.


 

“Do you know what you’re looking for?”

Okoye shook her head. “Not specifically, no. Shuri and Jhanvi tracked the cases into Northern Canada. We weren’t able to get a specific location, though. Agent Ross’s tracking device stopped transmitting during what we think was the last leg of the journey.” She folded another sweater and packed into her duffel. “We’ve got the possible location parsed out to about fifty square miles out in the forest. We’ll be searching around there for anything suspicious.”

M’Baku snorted. “So, you’ll be tramping around in the cold. In the forest.”

“Yes, my love. The irony of the situation isn’t lost on me either. Fortunately, I’m taking this.” She held up the hooded fur cloak M’Baku had given her, taking a moment to enjoy her partner’s smile before tucking into her bag as well.

“What happens if you don’t find anything?”

“Well, it’ll be a wasted few days and I’ll come home with complaints and tired feet.”

M’Baku chuckled. “Well, fortunately, New Year’s will happen right after you get back. You’ll get a good vacation after that --and I’m told I’m a good listener.”

“Hm. How are your foot rubs?”

“Utterly phenomenal.”

“Well, then it sounds like my bases are covered for either outcome.” She zipped up her bag. “I need to go. Everyone else will be ready soon.”

“Alright. Be safe, my love. I’ll see you when you get back.”

“I will.” She blew him a kiss, then hung up the call, slung the strap of her duffel bag over her shoulder, and walked out of her quarters at the palace.

She had a flight to catch.


 

“How, exactly, did I pull shit detail and wind up in Canada on a mission to hike around in the woods while winter is still going?”

Okoye smirked at Ayo. “Because you’re the next in line to be General, and it’s important that you possess a well-rounded array of experiences before I step down so that you can handle anything that comes your way. I’m just taking my mentor-ly responsibilities seriously, dear friend of mine.”

Ayo glared murderously at her while Aneka laughed. “Next time we spar, I’m going to aim a few ‘well-rounded’ blows at your head.” Okoye grinned --then went straight faced as the other member of the mission team boarded the ship.

Steve Rogers, alias Captain America.

She didn’t miss the tension in shoulders or the darkness swimming behind his eyes. He looks like he’s spent six weeks in a war zone. She supposed, though, that it would come with the territory. 

They were tracking HYRDA, after all; the same organization that had tried to kill Mr. Rogers and tortured his best friend for decades. 

It was natural that he’d be on edge. “Sorry for being late,” Steve said quietly as he stowed his bag in one of the wall panels.

“You’re fine,” Okoye said as she hit the control to close the bay door and start the launch sequence. “We’re still on schedule.”

He nodded by way of greeting to Ayo and Aneka, then asked “What’s the plan?”

“We’re searching the last known location Agent Ross’s tracking device,” Okoye said as she steered the craft towards the outer border of Wakanda. She hit the cloaking device as they passed through the holographic shield that surrounded the inner part of the nation and steered the ship up to higher altitudes. “With any luck, we’ll find the vibranium and whatever else HYDRA has there.”

“And if we don’t?”

She could hear the anxiety in his voice, just barely constrained as it thrummed under the surface. I hope that isn’t going to be a problem. She knew enough about Captain Rogers to know that he was a capable fighter and a good leader or team member --and that, when wound up, he could be a bit of a loose cannon. If he costs us this mission, or causes one of my friends to get hurt... Okoye pursed her lips and put the thought firmly out of her head. 

Going down that path wouldn’t yield anything productive. 

“Then we go back to Wakanda and draw up another plan.”

“And if that doesn’t work?”

Okoye looked up and met the man’s tense gaze. “We’ll find them, and we’ll take them out. Bottom line, we won’t let them get anywhere near Sargent Barnes. I promise.”

He relaxed a little at that, nodding and retreating back into the cabin of the ship.

Ayo walked up next to her, watching Captain Rogers while she did. “Is he going to be a problem?” she whispered in Wakandan.

Okoye sighed as quietly as she could. “Hopefully not.”


 

Cold. Bitter cold. Agonizing, bitter cold.

She’d acclimated better to the cold over the past year, thanks to her frequent trips to the Jabari lands.

But the Jabari lands had crackling fires. Steaming hot springs. Thick furs. And M’Baku.

Canada didn’t have any of those things.

Aneka’s teeth chattered as she peered out of the frost decorated window of the safe house they were staying in while they were on their mission. “People live out here? How is that even possible?”

“They go ice fishing, too,” Steve said as he brought in a stack of chopped wood from outside.

“Ice what?”

“They sit on frozen rivers, drill holes in the ice, and fish.”

Aneka’s eyes widened and she mouthed the word ‘insane’ before looking back outside.

Ayo walked up to her girlfriend and wrapped her arms around Aneka’s shoulders before glancing over to Okoye. “The sooner we’re out of this frozen hellscape, the better. What’s the plan?”

“We’ll spend the next few days searching the woods to the North of us. Most of it is accessible by car, but we’ll have to hike through some of it,” Okoye said as she set up a portable mini-heater on the dusty kitchen counter. “We --Captain Rogers... what are you doing?”

“Building a fire.”

Okoye exchanged a slow blink with Ayo and Aneka, then looked back at the Captain. “We... we have a heater. We don’t need a fire.”

“This cabin is drafty. We’re going to need all the help we can get.”

Okoye shrugged when Ayo gave her a shocked look and mouthed the words ‘just let him do it’ to her second in command. “Okay. Well, we know the last place the tracker transmitted a location was in this area, and there aren’t any airports or any other places where they could easily leave the area.”

“Did it just run out of batteries?” Steve asked as he lit the kindling with a match.

“We thought about that, but when we tried to scan the area we weren’t able to. This area is protected by a dampening field of some sort.”

Steve grimaced. “Well, that’s suspicious.”

“No kidding. If we’re going to find any hints of where they are or where they’ve gone, it’ll be here.”


 

Two days of nothing.

Well, if you counted all the snow they’d trudged through, it technically wasn’t nothing.

But, if you were looking for positive results, it was an assload of nothing.

The roads hadn’t yielded anything telling, so they’d had to start hiking through the dense forests for any signs of anything suspicious. So far, there weren’t any bunkers, boot marks, or any signs of life in the dense woods.

“Maybe the just drove through here while the batteries gave out,” Aneka had panted at one point, breath clouding in the cold air.

“Maybe,” Okoye had agreed as she’d adjusted the hood over her fur cloak. “But that doesn’t explain the dampening field.”

They were back out in the thick of it again, tramping into the last quadrant they needed to search.

Okoye looked over at Captain Rogers as he hiked next to her. “Are you holding up alright?”

He nodded and gave her a mildly confused look. “You know I’m a super soldier, right? I was created to handle conditions like this.”

“Where I come from, it’s considered rude not to ask.”

He let out a small huff that might’ve been a laugh. “Yeah, I’m alright. You holding up okay?”

“Well enough. I’ll be glad when I’m out of here and back in Wakanda.”

“So will I. I didn’t think fur was a standard material in Wakanda.”

Okoye lifted her gloved hand to her cloak and smiled slightly. “It isn’t, except for the Mining and Jabari tribes. This was a gift.”

“From the Jabari Chief.”

Okoye shot him a mildly startled look. “And you know that how, precisely?”

“Princess Shuri brought his sister to one of Bucky’s sessions. They mentioned your relationship then.”

Well, that makes sense.

And, if she was being honest, she didn’t mind her relationship being public knowledge as much as she used to. She’d adjusted to the idea over the past year, and trusted that M’Baku would protect the more sensitive human side of her consistently.

That, and having two teenage girls be privy to most of the details makes total privacy borderline impossible. Immersion therapy.

“What the hell?”

The Captain’s startled tone broke her out of her reverie --and she stared, shocked. “How...”

Directly in front of them was a ten foot by ten foot patch of forest that was completely taken over by dense, dark green vegetation that stood nearly as tall as Okoye. The plants and weeds seemed completely unaffected by the harsh winter weather, and not one stray shard of frost clung to the leaves or stalks of the flora.

On a hunch, Okoye took off one of her gloves and stuck her bare hand into the vegetation. “It’s warmer here. That explains why there isn’t any snow or frost.”

“Yes,” Aneka agreed as she paced around the perimeter of the spot. “But that doesn’t explain there are plants growing everywhere.”

Ayo pushed back some of the vegetation and revealed a vent in the ground that was spewing hot steam. “Something tells me that shouldn’t be here.”

“Agreed. I think we may have found our base,” Okoye agreed.

“Awesome,” Aneka said. “Now how do we get in?”

“Over here.”

They followed Captain Rogers over to a mound of snow that, when they got closer to it, was definitely too large to be a drift.

He brushed off a side and quickly found a metal door and a keypad. “I think we’ve found our base.”

“I think we have,” Okoye echoed. “We need to update the King and gather up some supplies. We’ll come back tonight.”


 

“It was just... out in the middle of the woods?” Shuri snorted incredulously. “That’s not a very convenient location.”

“It’s not meant to be,” Okoye said. “It’s meant to be impossible to locate without coordinates. If it hadn’t been for the vent and the vegetation, I doubt we would’ve found it.”

“About that,” Shuri said, her projection wavering as she moved around her lab. “There’s something that’s bugging me. Why were plants growing? I mean, I would’ve bought a patch where snow or ice wouldn’t form, but plants?”

“They looked really healthy, too.” Dewani squished into frame with Shuri, looping an arm around her girlfriend’s shoulders. “Which doesn’t make sense given the conditions.”

“I fail to see how it matters,” Ayo said in a polite voice. “We’ve found the base and we know how to get in. What do plants have to do with anything?”

Dewani and Shuri exchanged a long, uneasy glance.

“Well, large amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium can help plants to grow larger,” Dewani said tentatively, “but it would take a large amount of genetic modification to get them to grow out of season, added nutrients or not.”

Okoye stopped and raised an eyebrow as she eyed the two girls. “What is it?”

“Well,” Shuri said, “Phosphorus can be used to calcify organs. Potassium can be used to treat high blood pressure. Nitrous oxide is laughing gas…”

“You think they’re torturing and experimenting on people in there and that whatever they’re using leeched into the soil,” Steve surmised grimly.

“It’s one of the very few logical explanations,” Shuri said. “I doubt the HYDRA agents are hobbyist gardeners.”

Okoye grimaced. “So, we might be dealing with a group of genetically modified individuals with who knows what abilities in an underground bunker where they might also have access to vibranium and-or vibranium based weapons.” She drummed her fingers against the table as Ayo swore behind her. This just went unbelievably sideways.

They couldn’t afford to not head in. They needed to track down the missing vibranium and get it out of HYDRA’s hands.

But going on with the team they had now? 

Suicide, plain and simple.

“We’re going to need back up,” Okoye said. “Probably as much of it as we can get.”

“I can send out one of our stealth ships; I’ve been modifying the engines to work more efficiently so that it can fly at faster speeds. I could have a team to you in… six hours,” Shuri said.

“Good. I’m sending you a list of names and supplies we’ll need. This is a rush order; make sure everyone’s ready to go as quickly as possible.”

Shuri nodded. “I’m on it.”

Okoye sighed as the call ended and rubbed the back of her neck. “What is it about anything going wrong? Stanley’s law?”

“Murphy’s law,” Steve supplied helpfully.

“Right. Well, remind me to find Murphy and punch him once this all over.”


 

The cold was suffocating in the dark. Without the sun to warm the woods, the temperature had dropped nearly thirty degrees.

I should’ve brought M’Baku, Okoye thought as she crept through the darkened woods. He’d be right at home in all of this.

As soon as Shuri’s ship had arrived with the rest of the team --Djabi, two more Dora Milaje members, and the rest of Steve’s team save for Bucky and Scott Lang--they’d finished equipping everyone and departed for the entrance location. They closed in on the door quickly, walking as quietly as they could as the snow crunched under their boots.

Okoye nodded to Wanda and activated her spear as the Sokovian opened the door with her powers. 

When nothing leaped out of them, they filed down the stairs and into the bunker.

Here we go, Okoye thought as she turned on her night vision glasses. Bring it on.


 

Empty.

The damn thing was empty.

They’d searched the entire bunker --and it was smaller than expected, there was no way they missed something--to find nothing.

No vibranium.

No people.

No computers.

“They knew we were coming,” Clint Barton, alias Hawkeye, said quietly, eyes scanning the space like something was about to manifest from the walls --which, given their track record for weird happenings, wasn’t entirely impossible. “This happened recently. The dust still hasn’t settled.”

“What do you think they were doing down here?” Sam Wilson, alias Falcon, asked as he walked from empty computer bay to empty computer bay.

“If I know HYDRA,” Wanda said, accent thickening as she eyed the cells and stasis tubes, “they were experimenting on people. Again.”

Ayo turned her head to look at Okoye. “What do we do now?”

Okoye pursed her lips and sighed. “Take pictures of everything. When that’s done, we’re heading back to Wakanda.”


 

Halfway through the flight Aneka made the discovery.

“Agent Ross’s tracking device is transmitting again!”

They all rushed to gather around Aneka, staring down at the display projected by the younger soldier’s kimoyo beads.

“Why are they in the middle of an ocean?” Djabi asked. “Are they on a ship?”

Steve swallowed hard. “No. They’re at the Raft. They moved whatever they had in that bunker to a prison controlled by General Ross.”

Shit. Okoye hissed through her teeth. “There’s no way we’re getting that vibranium back without tipping off General Ross that we’re on to him.”

“No --especially since the only ones who know about the Raft are him, the crew that runs it, and us,” Steve agreed.

Okoye tapped at her kimoyo beads. “I’m contacting Jhanvi. I’m sure she’d like the challenge of hacking into an underwater base. We’ll have her watch and see just what they’re doing before we try and break in.”

“Why not head out now?” Aneka asked.

“Because I’d rather know if they’re making superhumans again before I send my people in there,” Okoye explained as she typed out a quick message to Jhanvi. Once she was sure the message had sent, she set her mouth in a firm line and went back to examining the pictures they’d taken of the bunker.

They’d catch General Ross and retrieve the vibranium. She was certain of it.

But will we catch him before he launches whatever he has planned?

Chapter Text

There is no ‘magic cure-all’ in relationships. There is no magic substance or magic word that will make everything work. Relationships --romantic or platonic--take work. Communication. Compromise.

But do try to find people you can click with, my dears. There’s no wisdom in trying to force something with someone you can’t stand.


 

 

The lodge was mostly dark as she steered her ship towards the main courtyard. Soft, amber colored light barely seeped past the window panes, bathing the lodge in a dull orange light that made the building stand in stark contrast with the deep blues of the night sky.

Then, the main entrance to the lodge glowed bright gold, and the main door swung open, causing a swath of bright light to cut a path across the courtyard to where she was landing her ship.

Okoye giggled, excited, as she watched M’Baku’s tall, dark silhouette sprint towards her ship. She cut the engines as soon as she was able, grabbed her bag, and booked it out of the ship. She’d barely stepped off the ramp before she was swept off her feet and into a passionate kiss.

“It’s good to see you, my love,” M’Baku murmured as he moved from her lips to her cheeks, her nose, her forehead, her jaw.

Okoye closed her eyes and smiled as she took in his outpouring of love and affection. “It’s good to be home.”

He paused, and when she opened her eyes he gave her a tentative, almost hopeful look. “You view this as home?”

She slid her arms over his shoulders and kissed his cheek gently. “Home for me is wherever you are, my love.”

M’Baku smiled, kissed her cheek gently, and scooped her into his arms. “And so it is for me. Wherever you are, I am home.”

Okoye laughed, tired and delighted all at once, and let her head rest against his shoulder. “Sounds perfect.”


 

 

“Okoye.”

“What?”

“It’s morning, my love.”

“Not yet, it isn’t.” She huffed as M’Baku nuzzled the back of her neck and swatted aimlessly at him. “Don’t I deserve to sleep?”

“Yes, but I have a surprise planned for this morning.”

“And you scheduled it for my first day back because...”

“It’s when I could make it work!”

She sighed, then rolled onto her back and cracked one eye open at him. “Make me coffee and I’ll count myself persuaded.”


 

 

The main temple of Hanuman was an elegantly carved building that had been built directly into the face of a mountain. The entrance was surrounded by statues of gorillas and Hanuman and lined with different flowers and trees.

And snow. An overwhelming amount of it.

Okoye shivered under her fur cloak. “How can you manage being out in this weather with almost nothing on? It’s freezing out!”

M’Baku chuckled and started walking backwards, spreading his arms out wide. “What? Are you kidding? This is excellent weather!” He laughed when she glared at him, turned around, and fell back into step with her as he slung his arm around her shoulder. “We can take a trip to the hot springs later, if you want.”

“I do want. I want it right now actually.” She stopped a few steps short of the stairs that led into the temple, suddenly wary. “Wait. Am I allowed to go in? I’m not-- I’m a follower of Bast--”

“We permit any respectful visitors, regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs.”

“Okay.” She nodded. “Okay. Are there any rules I should know?”

M’Baku shrugged. “Don’t touch anything left on the altars. Some of the priestesses wear masks because they’re under a vow of silence at the present. You can still talk to them, just don’t expect them to respond verbally. Oh, and try to be as quiet as possible in the rooms of resonance --but that’s more for your own good than anything else.”

Okoye frowned. “What do you mean by that?”

M’Baku grinned and ushered her up the steps. “You’ll see.”


 

 

She wouldn’t have thought it possible, but the inside of the temple was more beautiful than the outside.

Despite the fact that the temple was housed inside a mountain, light seemed to emanate from everywhere. Plants covered the walls and spilled out of planters and patches of dirt that lined every walkway. The sounds of birds chirping echoed off the stone walls, and the odd butterfly or two floated around clusters of flowers.

And, at the center of the entry was a massive tree, surrounded by a bubbling creek, that stretched up and out of a hole in the ceiling.

Okoye gaped slightly as took a moment to take it all in. “Wow. This is... incredible.”

M’Baku smiled proudly. “This is the main temple of Hanuman. Each village has their own temples or places of worship, but this is where all the annual rituals and the training of the priestesses happens.”

“Where do the priestesses live once they’re done training?”

“Where they please. There’s space for them to stay at the temple, but some choose to serve in their home villages or the villages of their partners, should they take one.”

She smiled. “Sounds like the Dora.”

“They have their similarities.” He held out his hand to her. “Come. There’s something I want to show you.”

She grinned as she took his hand. “Lead the way.”


 

 

He took her to a massive garden that seemed to grow every native plant conceivable. “This is where my father would take me whenever I was upset as a little child.”

Okoye raised an eyebrow, unconvinced. “To a garden.”

“Yes, to a garden. He’d walk me through the rows of plants, tell me about the purpose of each one and which family they came from. Once I’d calmed down, we’d weed the garden together and talk about what had upset me in the first place.”

She smiled at that and squeezed M’Baku’s hand. “He sounds like a good man.”

“He was. I hope I can be half as good as he was.”

“I think you already are.” She smiled softly as M’Baku kissed her cheek. “It does bring up a good question, though. We don’t follow the same gods. Which ones are we going to teach our children to follow? Especially since one of our children will have to be the next chief...”

M’Baku shrugged. “Any future chief will be trained about the tenants of Hanuman by the priestesses, so I don’t think we have to worry too much about that. At any rate, I don’t see why they can’t know both and decide their beliefs for themselves when they’re old enough.”

“You don’t mind the idea of your children learning the teachings of Bast?”

“You’ll be their mother. Your beliefs should taught just as much as mine.”

She closed her eyes as he kissed her temple and leaned against him as they continued ambling on the paths that crisscrossed the garden. Bast, I love this man.


 

 

“This is the hall of the dead.”

Okoye peered down a long hall lit by thousands of candles. “I was expecting more skeletons.”

M’Baku chuckled. “It’s a place of prayer for those who have lost someone. Most pray for comfort, but some receive visions from those who have passed on.”

“So it’s like the rituals to become the Black Panther.”

“No. The visions don’t show the ancestral plains. It’s usually a place where you spent a lot of time with the person or in the hall itself, and you only see one person --usually the person you’re praying for.”

“Really?”

M’Baku shrugged. “I’ve never experienced it myself, but Dewani says she’s had visions of Olufemi. More than once.”

Okoye noted the tension in his shoulders and squeezed his hand in what she hoped came across as reassuring. “Are Chiefs required to experience visions?”

“No. It’s more... she’s talked about having repeated visions of our grandmother, and now she’s venturing out to the cult territories on a regular basis, and I just...” He scrubbed at his face with his hand and sighed heavily. “I wish I knew what she was up to. Or where I went wrong.”

Okoye quirked her mouth to the side. “I can try to talk to her, if you want.”

“I won’t stop you, but she’s hellbent on being all enigmatic about... whatever she’s doing.”

Okoye frowned slightly as she took in M’Baku’s clenched fists and puckered brow, then stepped in front of him and cupped his face in her hands. “Have faith in your sister. I seriously doubt she’s dabbling in the occult all of a sudden. If she’s being quiet about it, she must have a good reason.”

“How many seventeen year olds do you know who have good reasons for keeping secrets?”

“Several. I’m not saying she’s being the smartest she could be about this --but I am saying that your sister has a good heart, and that it’s because of you she has that heart. If she’s up to something, it’s because she genuinely believes she’s doing the right thing, not because she’s going off the rails on some bender.”

“And how can you be sure of that?” M’Baku asked wearily.

“Because I was once a seventeen year old who kept secrets, and because I know how much Dewani loves you and looks up to you. It’s going to be okay. Trust me.”

He hung his head, sighed heavily, and pulled her against his chest. “I don’t know where I’d be without you, Okoye.”

“Venting to O’Chenga, most likely.”

He chuckled at that. “Most likely.” He tipped her head up with his fingers and kissed her gently. “I love you, ‘koye. You’re my anchor in the storms of life.”

“And you’re mine.” She sighed happily into the kiss, then gave him an impish grin when it ended. “You mentioned something about rooms of resonance?”

M’Baku nodded his head to the right. “Follow me.”


 

 

Once in the space, Okoye could see why M’Baku had warned her about staying quiet.

The ceilings absolutely soared above the circular stone chamber, up to a point where it wasn’t really clear where they ended. Each noise was magnified a thousand times over; even the slightest whisper sounded like a shout.

“This is amazing,” she whispered, flinching when her own voice echoed back at her, impossibly loud. “What are these rooms for?”

“Rituals, mostly. Certain chants are performed here for spiritual cleansing purposes.”

“And everyone leaves with their hearing intact how?”

“Ear plugs.”

Okoye placed her hand over her mouth to stifle a snort while M’Baku flashed her a bright, self-satisfied, impish grin. “Dork.”


 

 

“You should’ve told me!”

“I thought I’d be fine!” Okoye winced as she propped herself up into a sitting position and massage one of her aching calves.

The walk through the temple had proved itself wonderful and entertaining, but the morning after indicated only a day of pain ahead.

M’Baku tsked and rifled through one of his dresser drawers. “And what part of ‘fine’ includes not being able to walk?”

“I was walking just fine last night! Only my feet were a little sore! This must’ve set in while I was sleeping.”

“So you say.”

“Do not be an asshole about this, M’Baku. I don’t have the patience for it.”

He laughed as he sat down by her feet, a jar of something in hand. “Only for you, ‘koye. Can you manage rolling up your pant legs?” He nudged her back against the pillows when she winced as she tried to move forward and started rolling the fabric up towards her knees for her. “No, don’t force yourself. Well, I guess this answers whether or not I’m taking you to the hot springs today.”

Okoye groaned at the mere thought of soaking in the hot pools of water. “That sounds like heaven.”

“Well, you have to be able to walk there first.” M’Baku unscrewed the lid on the container he’d taken out of the dresser drawer and scooped what looked like a thick salve onto his fingertips. “This is a healing balm. It should help the muscles relax and ease some of your pain.”

Okoye moaned softly as he started massaging her legs and let herself relax against the pillows. “Well, you said you’d be willing to rub my feet and legs when I came back.”

"That I did, that I did. Speaking of which, how did your mission go?”

“Well, they were gone before we could break in to the bunker, but we figured out where they took the vibranium.”

“Where?”

“A fortress called ‘The Raft.’ It’s run by General Ross, floats out in the middle of the ocean, and is completely submerged when pre-confirmed flight isn’t coming in.”

M’Baku froze, eyes wide. “You’re kidding me.”

“No, I’m not, and don’t stop!”

The corner of his mouth lifted as he resumed massaging her leg. “Sorry. What do you do now?”

“For now? Nothing,” Okoye huffed. “We --a little to the left, please--can’t break in without Ross knowing it’s us.”

“And what’s the problem with that? As long as you get the vibranium back, it shouldn’t be an issue.”

“He was able to pressure half of the Avengers into signing the Accords and manipulate the UN into passing the legislation early. I’d rather not see what he’d do to Wakanda if he felt threatened by us.”

M’Baku nodded as he switched to her other leg. “So, how do you deal with this?”

“Jhanvi’s going to watch the place for a couple weeks, see if she can find any weak points. Once we’ve got enough intel, we’ll try to make a plan to break in and recapture the vibranium.”

“Intel is good, but won’t Ross still know it’s us because... well... it’d be obvious?”

Okoye sighed. “I know, but I’d rather him suspect we recaptured the vibranium than let HYDRA use it at their will.”

“Fair enough.” M’Baku let his hands come to a rest on her shins and kissed her knees. “How do your legs feel now?”

“Better... but you could keep going...”

M’Baku chuckled and started massaging her calves again. “For you, my love, I’ll go all day.”

Okoye laughed. “Careful. I’ll hold you to that.”


 

 

Okoye groaned as she sank down into the hot, steaming water. “Yes. This is exactly what Bast ordered.”

“Odd, considering we’re in Hanuman’s territory.”

Okoye smacked M’Baku’s shoulder as he snickered. “Hush, you. I’m relaxing.”

M’Baku shifted so he was sitting behind her and kissed the back of her neck. “Let me assist you with that, my love.”

Okoye smirked as she settled back against him --then let out a soft groan when he started massaging her neck and shoulders. “Oh, M’Baku, that feels so good.”

He hummed as he started working a stiff knot out of her right shoulder. “Good. That’s the point.”

She sighed and let herself relax further, soothed by the hot water around her and her lover’s hands working the tension out of her body.

The more time she spent in the Jabari lands, the more she loved being there. Granted, the temperatures could use some adjusting, but it was so peaceful. The Great Lodge. The lush forests in the valleys. The bridges and the agriculture pods that crisscrossed the countless chasms. The temple and its stately beauty.

But she loved Birnin Zana, too. The library. The market. The parks that melded seamlessly with the elegant glass buildings. The way the other tribes merged together in an amazing blend of unique cultures and heritages.

Okoye hummed as she nestled her against M’Baku’s chest. “M’Baku?” When he hummed to indicate he’d heard her, she continued. “Where are we going to raise our children?”

“Here I am, trying to relax  you, and you start asking huge implicative questions--”

“It’s something we need to consider eventually.” She turned so she could see him and looped her arms around his neck. “My job requires me to be in Birnin Zana, and your position as Chief requires you to be here --but I don’t like the idea of our children only seeing one of us a handful of days here and there. It doesn’t seem right. Especially if we’re going to raise them to know both of our beliefs.”

M’Baku’s fingers traced gentle circles against the small of her back as he mulled it over. “How much time would it take for someone to commute from here to Birnin Zana if we were connected to the transportation system?”

“About twenty minutes.”

“What? That’s not possible.”

“The transportation system runs underground. No weather, air patterns, or mountains to account for.”

M’Baku blinked slowly. “It runs underground.”

“Yes.”

“So it wouldn’t necessarily be visible all the time.”

“No... I do believe that’s what the term ‘underground’ means.” Okoye peered at him. “Why? What are you getting at?”

M’Baku drummed his fingers against her thigh as he stared off at nothing. “How long would it take to install the system?”

“...If everything goes right, about two months. Are you going to tell me what you’re getting at, or am I going to have to start guessing?”

Instead of answering, M’Baku leaned in and kissed her.

“Well, that was very nice,” Okoye said when he broke the kiss, “but that still doesn’t--”

“Once we’re ready to start trying for kids, I’ll ask Shuri to connect the Jabari lands to the transport system.”

Okoye blinked. “Wait, what?”

“My position as Chief means that I’ll need to be here more often than not. If... if we had the transportation system, we could live here most of the time, but you could still work and we could into Birnin Zana if we wanted to show our children something...”

Honestly, it made the most sense to her. As much as she liked living in Birnin Zana --and detested the cold--it made sense to let the Jabari lands act as a consistent, stable home for their children.

Besides, M’Baku’s position as Chief basically mandated that he be in the Jabari lands at all times, whereas her role as General held no such expectation for her. Living in Birnin Zana permanently and expecting M’Baku to commute was illogical.

M’Baku frowned at her, eyes dark with worry. “‘Koye... if you don’t like it, we--”

She leaned in and kissed him, mirroring how he had cut her off earlier. “I like it. I think it’s the best option we have, at any rate.”

“Really?”

“Yes, ‘really.’ As long as I don’t have a two hour commute and we don’t have to requisition a ship every time we want to show our kids something outside of the Jabari lands, I’m happy.”

M’Baku grinned and started pressing firm kisses against her jaw. “Have I ever mentioned how intelligent you are?”

“When I’m agreeing with you, or when I’m disagreeing with you?”

He snorted and wrapped one of his arms around her waist. “Come here.”

Okoye grinned and let him draw her in closer. “Before you get both of us hopefully distracted, I do have one last question.”

“Well, Hanuman forbid I prevent you from asking it. Do tell, do tell.”

“When do you want to start trying?”

M’Baku let out a heavy breath. “Well, it’s not my body in question, but I don’t want to start until Dewani’s past her trial. I want to make sure I can devote my full attention to her.”

Okoye nodded. “That seems fair --and even though it’s my body, you have a say in when we start raising a child together, too.”

“I know. I just gave it.”

“Okay. So... after Dewani’s trial? We start trying?”

M’Baku grinned slowly. “I mean, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the end of my uncle’s reign of terror.”

Okoye grinned back and leaned in to kiss him. “Neither can I.”


 

 

“Hi, Okoye.”

Okoye smiled as Dewani walked into the library. “Hi. I feel like I’ve barely seen you since I got here.”

Dewani yawned and stretched. “Sorry. I’ve been studying for my tests on the tenants of Hanuman. I’ll have to take it after my eighteenth birthday so that I can act as Chief in the event that he--” she pointed at M’Baku “--eats too many bowls of cheesy potatoes and croaks.”

M’Baku stuck his tongue out at his younger sister. “Very funny. How’s Shuri?”

“Good. Has a lot of complaints about Nakia and T’Challa. Apparently, they’re both putting off wedding planning in favor of working on the Outreach Program.”

Okoye rolled her eyes. “That sounds like them.”

Dewani yawned again and rubbed at her eyes. “I’m gonna head to bed before I fall asleep on my feet.”

“Probably a good idea,” M’Baku agreed. “If you need me and I’m not here, I’ll probably be in my room.”

“Yeah, having sex with your girlfriend. I’ll figure it out on my own.”

“Dewani.”

“Am I wrong?” She giggled tiredly. “Sorry. Good night, M’Baku. Good night, Okoye.”

“Good night, Dewani.” She waited until the library door had closed behind the teenager, then shot a dry look at M’Baku. “We are not leaving all the planning to the last minute when we get married.”

“Oh, fuck no. Hanuman help him, what is T’Challa thinking?”

“Take it from someone who knows him --he isn’t.”

M’Baku snorted. “Fair enough. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen him walk into something because he saw Nakia and got distracted.” He shot Okoye a contemplative look. “What do you want our wedding to look like?

“I only have two demands: flowers everywhere, and I get to wear my armor.”

M’Baku tipped his head back and laughed heartily. “I can live with that. Anything else?”

Okoye shrugged. “I don’t know. Are there any rituals the Jabari follow?”

“It depends on the family, but the most common one is that each partner must face any other suitors or challengers in ritual combat shortly after the engagement is announced.”

“Easy enough,” Okoye said with a smirk.

“I thought you’d think as much. What about the Border tribe?”

She grimaced. “Each person has to make their future spouse a Basotho blanket to symbolize their willingness to provide for and take care of each other.”

M’Baku’s eyes widened. “I can’t make a Basotho blanket.”

“Well, neither can I. I never learned.”

“Great. We’ll both handle the combat just fine, but neither of us are going to be able to make a damn blanket.”

“Maybe we could make one together, as a testament to our ability to work together and overcome hurdles.”

M’Baku grinned softly. “I like that. It’ll come out hideous, but I like it.”

“I’m happy to make a hideous blanket with you. Just so you know, Ayo will want to be my maid of honor.” She laughed when M’Baku’s eyes widened. “Relax, it won’t be that bad.”

“No, but I was going to have O’Chenga be my best man.”

“Okay...”

“So what about Aneka?”

Shit. Okoye shrugged. “It’s not like we’re getting married in the next three months. We have time to figure out something for Aneka.”

“Just as long as we include her. I don’t want to leave her out.”

“Of course.” Okoye patted his arm reassuringly. “We’ll include her. We’ll find something.”

“Good.” He kissed her forehead. “Where do you want to hold it?”

“Honestly? I was thinking of holding it in the Jabari lands.”

“Really?” M’Baku gave her a surprised look. “You want to have it up here?”

“Did you have somewhere else in mind?”

He shrugged. “I thought the library in Birnin Zana would make for a good venue.”

“We don’t have to pick right now,” Okoye said with a soft smile. Her smile hardened into a smirk, and she straddled M’Baku’s lap. “But I have some definite opinions about honeymoon.”

“Oh?”

Okoye leaned in and nipped at his earlobe. “Mandatory minimal clothing.”

M’Baku shuddered and groped at her thighs and ass. “We’re of the same mind, my love.”

Okoye chuckled and wrapped her legs around M’Baku’s waist as he stood and carried her out of the library.


 

 

She woke up to the sound of footsteps in the hall.

She was awake and alert in an instant, straining her senses for any sign of danger or emergency. Her eyes narrowed as she watched a slow shadow pass over the crack between the floor and M’Baku’s door. I wonder...

Okoye crept out of bed, careful not to disturb M’Baku. She walked with practiced silence towards the door and opened it silently.

Dewani was in the hall, creeping towards her own chambers.

“Dewani!” Okoye hissed.

The younger woman turned around with an eerie calmness. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you up.”

Okoye stepped into the hall and pulled the door mostly shut. “Where have you been?”

“Just getting some air--”

“I’m not an idiot. Why did you go to the cult territory?”

Dewani’s face was impassive as she stared at Okoye. “I know I’m doing the right thing.”

“I know that you think you are, and I don’t doubt that you likely are, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t in over your head.”

Dewani’s calm countenance rippled slightly at that. Her jaw tensed, and her eyes betrayed panic. “Okoye... if I ever... if I ever needed help, would you help me?”

Bast, forgive me for whatever I’m about to get myself into. “You know I would. However I could.”

Dewani nodded, jaw relaxing slightly. “Okay. I might... I might need your help soon.”

“I could help you now, if you’d tell me what you’ve been doing.”

“I can’t. Someone else is counting on me saying nothing.”

“Dewani--” Okoye pursed her lips together as the teen turned away and walked into her room. Bast, watch over her. Keep her safe. With nothing else to do, she returned to M’Baku’s chambers.

M’Baku was already awake, halfway sitting up and rubbing at his face. “What’s wrong? Was it Dewani?”

She didn’t see any sense in lying to him. “I caught her coming back from the cult territory.”

M’Baku groaned and flopped back against the bed. “Hanuman dammit, what is she thinking?”

“If it’s any consolation, she’s only stay quiet to keep someone else safe.”

“And that’s supposed to make me feel better how?”

“Because she’s trying to do the right thing.”

M’Baku sighed and gently tugged her down next to him. “I hope you’re right, ‘koye.”

She grimaced as she let her head rest on his chest. So do I.

Chapter Text

You’re going to be faced with many choices in life, my loves. You’ll feel certain about some, and completely at sea about others. Both experiences are natural; try not to fret too much about how you do or don’t feel, and instead keep focused on keeping to the right path.

Whatever you do, make sure it’s something you would be willing to defend if confronted. You won’t always be right, but your conscience will rest much easier for it.


 

“You’re certain.”

“There’s really no mistaking human experimentation, General.”

Okoye braced herself against her desk and grimaced. “Bast dammit. And here I was hoping General Ross wouldn’t sink that low.”

Jhanvi’s projection mirrored her grimace. “I mean, it gets worse. I’ve been watching all the video feeds on the Raft for three weeks now. I only gave you the basic rundown.”

“Put the details into a report and send it in. Right now, we need to focus on just what we’re going to do next,” Okoye said.

Across the desk --and out of Jhanvi’s field of vision with the projector--Ayo crossed her arms over her chest. “How far into the system are you?”

“I’m basically settled in the whole thing. Their security measures and firewall systems are nothing compared to Shuri’s. It’d be pretty easy for me to open the place up if you wanted to break in.”

“That may be our only option at this point,” Djabi said with a concerned look at Okoye. “If they’re using the vibranium for human experimentation, we can’t afford to sit back and wait for a more diplomatic way of cornering General Ross.”

Okoye drummed her fingers against the surface of her desk. “I don’t disagree, but I’d rather not put HYDRA’s focus on Wakanda if it can be helped.”

“Well, no one knows that HYDRA’s in possession of the vibranium other than them, Agent Ross, and us,” Aneka pointed out. “It’s not like they can start a war with us over it. They’d have to disclose their theft of the vibranium to do that.”

Okoye shook her head. “There are other ways to start wars. Smear campaigns. False journalism. Espionage.”

“This is human experimentation,” Ayo said. “We don’t have a choice.”

She’s right. Bast dammit, how did this get so messy? “Jhanvi, how long would it take for you to have full control over their system?”

“A couple days, give or take.”

“Do it. Aneka, contact Agent Ross once we have Jhanvi’s report. Let him know what’s going on and that we’re making plans to break in. We might need him to keep an eye on his brother. Ayo, Djabi, I’ll need you two to help me run simulations so we can figure out the best way to handle this. I’ll bring the King up to speed.” Once she’d received nods that confirmed everyone understood their duties, she ended the call with Jhanvi and stretched her back. Before she even had time to think about where T’Challa might be at this hour, her kimoyo beads started chirping.

Dewani’s worried face stared up at her when she answered. “I need your help.”

May Bast and M’Baku forgive me for stepping into whatever shitstorm’s been brewing for the past couple months. “I’m on my way.”


 

Dewani had filled her in while she’d grabbed her go bag.

“Look, this is going to sound crazy, but I’ve been trying to help rescue someone from the cult territory. Problem is... they got caught. I think they’re dying.”

“I’m not a doctor, Dewani.”

“Yeah, but you have a ship and stabilizing equipment that they give out to all the soldiers. I just need help getting them out of the cult territory and to Shuri.”

“Does Shuri know what you’ve been up to?”

“...No.”

She’d sighed, rolled her eyes, and packed the extra medical equipment in her bag before slinging it over her shoulder and jogging towards the main hangar. “You know, we might’ve been able to prevent this if you had told someone what you were doing in the first place.”

“I couldn’t! It’s --it’s complicated, I know--”

Complicated didn’t begin to describe the mess she’d landed in. The cult territory was in the remotest part of the Jabari lands. There wasn’t any place for Okoye to land her ship nearby without drawing certain attention.

There wasn’t really any place for Okoye to land other than the courtyard of the Great Lodge.

Fuck it, she decided as she steered the ship around an outcropping of rock. Dewani chose to keep secrets, she can learn that doing that can bite you in the ass from time to time.

M’Baku was already at the main door by the time she’d landed, confusion evident on his face. “Okoye? What are you doing here? Not that I’m not happy to see you--”

“Dewani’s in trouble,” Okoye cut him off. “She’s in the cult territory, trying to rescue someone --and she’s pretty sure they’re dying.”

M’Baku froze, closed his eyes, and inhaled slowly. “What?”

“She didn’t explain any more than that. You know everything I do.”

Hanuman. Dammit.”

“She’s trying to help someone,” Okoye repeated, softer this time. “She’s trying to do the right thing.”

“Yes, in the absolute wrong way.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I keep telling her not to be so impulsive --wait, why are you here? How do you even know all this?”

“I told Dewani that I’d help if her she needed it. She called me, so here I am.”

That brought a slight smile to M’Baku’s face, though it did little to temper the stress that made his brow furrow and his jaw clench. He kissed the top of her head gently. “Thank you.”

“Of course. Now, how do I get out to the cult territory.”

“Easy. I’m walking you there.”

Okoye frowned. And he thinks Dewani’s impulsive. “Are you sure that’s a good idea? You’re the Chief--”

“I’m not going to let you go off to dangerous territory by yourself, let alone to search for my sister.” He strode back towards the Lodge, barking orders at his guards. “We’ll help her together.”


 

The hike to the cult territory was almost like something out of a horror movie.

Granted, most of the trek just showed off more of the stunning Jabari scenery. They rode most of the way on Jabari land craft, until they reached a cave opening on the side of a mountain at the end of a lone path. Black, withered roots reached out of the cave mouth, clinging to the face of the mountain.

Okoye grimaced as she eyed the roots and the impenetrable darkness inside the cave. “Well. That’s auspicious.”

M’Baku inhaled deeply and clenched his jaw, visibly steeling himself for what he was about to do. “If the coordinates Dewani gave you are accurate, we shouldn’t be too far away once we reach the other end of the tunnel.”

Okoye activated her spear and started walking towards the entrance. “Let’s get this done, then.”


 

The territory occupied by Ravana’s followers was an utter hellscape. All the plants were black and gnarled, and the sky was deep, blood red color.

Okoye stared up at the scarlet sky, eyes wide and mouth agape. “How... how is this even possible?”

M’Baku shifted his weight from foot to foot. “We need to be as fast as possible. This way.”

She followed him into a dense forest of dead, blackened trees, trying to keep to the narrow, barely visible trail as best as she could.

She wasn’t sure the forest wouldn’t swallow her whole if she deviated from it.


 

They heard the sounds of arguing before they saw the girls.

“If we had just taken the path--”

“The path that goes right through the center of the main village!”

“Better than being lost in the middle of nowhere!”

“Right, because being held hostage by a bunch of demon-worshipping cultists is so much better than being lost. Good thinking, Izgebe.”

“Will you two be quiet? I’m trying to remember the prayer for pain relief!”

Okoye threaded the gap between two trees and almost ran smack into Dewani, Fukyana, Abayomi, and Izgebe. “There had better be a good explanation for all of this.”

The four girls jumped --and again when M’Bak and his men joined her--but before they had time to start spinning excuses, Abayomi grabbed Okoye’s arm and yanked her down to the ground.

“She’s dying. She needs help.”

Okoye recoiled as she latched eyes on the cause of Dewani’s recent secrecy.

A young woman lay crumpled on the ground, visibly crippled and deformed even in her current state. Her breathing was shallow and thready, and one of her eyes was completely scarred over. Blood was crusted around her swollen, crooked nose, and a faint sheen of sweat covered her whole body.

“What on Bast’s green earth--”

“She wants to be a follower of Hanuman,” Dewani explained quickly. “We tried to help her escape, but we got lost. Do you have anything that could stabilize her?”

“If I do, it won’t help long term,” Okoye said as she started digging through her bag. “We need to get her to the Princess. Quickly.”


 

Shuri and Jhanvi were waiting for them at the lab when they arrived.

“Do you know what caused her injuries?” Shuri asked as she hooked the young woman up to a better life support system and began scanning the readings for signs of where to start treating the wounded individual.

“It’s been an... ongoing process,” Abayomi said weakly.

Jhanvi peered at the screen displaying the young woman’s vital signs. “Are you seeing this? It’s almost like...”

“Yeah,” Shuri mumbled. “Almost like... there’s an energy field around her.”

Dewani cleared her throat and rubbed the back of her neck. “She, uh, might be a conduit for... Ravana.”

M’Baku fixed his sister with an exasperated glare. “So, she’s possessed.”

“No, she’s a conduit,” Abayomi pushed back. “There is a difference.”

“Possessed, conduit, whatever,” Jhanvi interjected. “Point stands, she needs surgery and she needs it now.” She let out a ragged sigh. “Shit, her eye’s almost completely gone. Have you ever built a optical nerve from scratch before?" 

Shuri grimaced. “No.” 

“Me either. Let's get to work.”


 

“How in hell did she manage to get herself mixed up in this?”

Okoye watched as M’Baku paced back and forth in his suite at the palace. “As far as I can tell, she found someone that needed help and did her best to help them.”

“A women possessed--”

“Conduit.”

“Whatever!” M’Baku closed his eyes and took a deep breath, nostrils flaring as he tried to reel in his anger. “Normally, I’d applaud Dewani’s instincts to help those in need, but this is a step too far! Several steps too far!”

“For helping someone who looks like they were nearly beaten to death.”

“Ravana is a demon king,” M’Baku said tersely. “This woman --whoever she is--could pose a serious threat to all of us if she truly is a ‘conduit’ of his powers.”

“She was almost dead when we found her,” Okoye said in a low, even voice. “I doubt she could be a threat to anyone, even if she wanted to.”

“Okoye, I appreciate your trying to get me to take a balanced view of the situation, but you don’t know the Jabari beliefs as well as I do. If she’s really a conduit, we are all in danger.”

Before she could respond, her kimoyo beads started beeping.

“The first round of surgeries are done,” Shuri said once she answered. “The... patient is awake. She wants to speak with Chief M’Baku.”

Okoye raised her eyebrows at her partner. “Your presence is requested in the lab.”

M’Baku growled under his breath and took her hand in his as he stalked out of his suite. “I’m going to regret this.”


 

The young woman was barely awake when they walked over to her. Her nose was reset and some of the swelling was gone, but now that they were in the bright lighting of the lab it was all too easy to see just how much damage had been done to her body.

She lay at a horrifically crooked angle; the visual display of her spine showed several breaks and fractures that had healed and broken again that made the bone set improperly. One of her legs couldn’t straighten out all the way, and the other one was covered in jagged scars. Her left eye was still covered with scar tissue, and one of her hands was missing three fingers.

Okoye grimaced and looked away to keep from ogling her. She’s been through hell in back.

“Don’t try to sit up!” Shuri exclaimed when the young woman saw M’Baku and T’Challa approach her bedside. “Your ribs are still newly healed!”

“Please,” T’Challa insisted, holding up a calming hand. “You need to rest.”

M’Baku crossed his arms over his chest and kept more distance from the bed than the others. “You wanted to speak to me. Now’s your chance.”

She drew in a raspy breath. “Chief M’Baku. I must beg your forgiveness. I did not mean to draw your sister into matters of the darkness.”

“You needed help!” Dewani started.

“And you should’ve thought of your trial,” the young woman retorted, cutting Dewani off. “I would’ve managed.”

“You nearly died!”

“Then it would have been my time.”

M’Baku held up a hand, silencing the two. “What’s happened has happened. None of us can reverse it. I appreciate your apology...”

“Adesina.”

“Adesina. Why did you need my sister’s help in the first place?”

Adesina grimaced as she drew in a sharp breath, scarred leg twitching against the bed. “The priestesses of Ravana foretold my birth --that I would be a perfect vessel for his powers, and that through me he would bring for the age of the Eternal Night. When I was born, I was offered up to the demon king to see if the prophecies were true. He looked upon me with favor and granted me access to his powers and the powers of Simhika.”

M’Baku’s eyes narrowed. “So, you are a host for them.”

“I am a conduit --and none of this was my choice. I was an infant. I had no say in what I became,” Adesina spat out through gritted teeth.

“How did you get hurt so badly?” Shuri asked gently. “There’s evidence of years of abuse here.”

“I grew up in the temple of Ravana, away from my parents. Even though the priestesses kept an eye on me, it was easy enough to escape to explore the forests. When I was seven, I found the tunnel that led to the rest of the Jabari lands --and met a priestess of Hanuman named Olufemi.”

Okoye watched M’Baku’s eyes widen in recognition. Perhaps Dewani did have visions of her grandmother in the hall of the dead, and Olufemi helped Dewani find Adesina.

“She taught me the tenants of Hanuman and how to combat the evils that had been instilled in me. Eventually, the priestesses of Ravana found out and began beating me for my defiance. I tried to escape to the rest of the Jabari lands but was chased away each time by villagers who knew what I was --and each time I returned to a beating worse than the one I had received before.”

“And you came to know my sister how?”

“Abayomi began visiting me after Olufemi’s death, to continue teaching me the path of Hanuman. When she realized my condition was deteriorating, she asked Dewani to help me escape from my captivity.”

“So that’s what you’ve been doing these last few weeks,” M’Baku said as he looked over to his sister.

“Presumably,” Adesina confirmed.

“We need to start the next round of surgeries,” Shuri said as she started gathering equipment. “I need everyone who isn’t working with me to clear the lab.”

“That’s fine,” M’Baku said as he continued to stare down his sister. “We’ve got a lot of talking to do, anyway.”


 

Once everyone had given M’Baku, Okoye, and Dewani some space to talk things out, M’Baku leveled a stern look at his sibling. “What you did was incredibly dangerous, borderline foolish. The cult territories are strictly forbidden to the followers of Hanuman! You knew better!”

Dewani, for her part, didn’t cower or look frightened. Instead, she stood up to her full height, set her shoulders, and looked M’Baku straight in the eye. “Yes. I did. And, if I was in the same situation at a different time, I’d do it again. I’m not going to let someone die just because the rules say I should.”

M’Baku sighed heavily, looking to the ceiling, then to the floor. Then, he met his sister’s steady gaze and held out his arms to her. “I’m proud of you,” he murmured when she accepted his hug. “You nearly gave me a damn heart attack, but I’m proud of you for doing the right thing.”

Dewani squeezed her brother tighter. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you, I just--”

“You were in over your head?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I don’t think I could’ve prepared you for something like this, but if you... if  you ever find yourself in a similar situation down the road --and hopefully you won’t--just tell me what’s going on, okay?”

“I didn’t want to risk anything getting back to the priestesses of Ravana,” Dewani explained. “Adesina had it bad enough already.”

“Well, even in your attempts at secrecy, our uncle still managed to find out --which will definitely make for a nice mess at your trial.”

“But I saved someone’s life. I brought them out of the cult territory so they could follow the teachings of Hanuman freely. How could that possibly be a bad thing?”

“F’Tendi is a man of prejudice,” M’Baku said resignedly. “And people of prejudice seldom have problems spinning even the most noble of acts into sinister tales. On a different note--” he pointed to Okoye “--you owe her a massive thank you. She shouldn’t have been roped into all of this.”

“Excuse me? The last I checked, I’m your partner. Since when does that mean I wouldn’t help your sister if she asked me?”

“Even for deadly ventures into lands run by cultist to rescue the ‘conduit’ of a literal demon?”

Okoye shrugged. “I don’t see why not.”

“Still,” Dewani said as she stepped forward and hugged her. “Thank you. I don’t know what we would’ve done if you had said no.”

“I wouldn’t have said ‘no.’ And I’m glad you’re alright.” She pulled away from the hug and clasped the teen’s broad shoulders fondly. “Now, I think you need some rest. M’Baku and T’Challa still need to figure out what will happen to Adesina when her surgeries are completed.”


 

T’Challa drummed his fingers against the desk in his office. “This is a... precarious situation we’ve found ourselves in. I feel a great deal of sympathy for Adesina, but I don’t know if keeping her here is the wisest choice, all things considered.”

“I can’t take her back to the Jabari lands,” M’Baku insisted. “Even if she is a student of Hanuman, there’s no way the other Jabari would accept her, given her connection to Ravana. She wouldn’t be safe.”

“Well, we can’t just send her back to the cult territory,” Nakia said, placing her hands on her hips. “We all saw what they did to her. They’ll kill her if we send her back.”

“Perhaps we could hold her in one of the prisons,” Okoye suggested. “Not as an actual inmate, of course, but so that we can keep a better eye on her.”

T’Challa shook his head. “She doesn’t deserve to be locked away. She hasn’t done anything wrong.”

“How many people know that she’s here --that she even exists?” Nakia asked. “Some of the Jabari, the cultists, a few of the Dora, Jhanvi, Shuri, Dewani and her friends, and us. I mean... if she’s here, there’s not much the cultists can do to get her back, right?”

M’Baku nodded. “They’d be killed on sight if they stepped over the threshold between their territory and the rest of the Jabari lands.”

“And it’s not like the Jabari would listen to them if they mentioned Adesina being missing, provided that you could assure your people that they weren’t in any danger.”

“...I suppose not.”

“What if... what if we kept her here? At the palace? We’ve got more than enough space to keep her from running into anyone we don’t want her to. She’d be close to Shuri’s lab so that she could keep up with her treatments.”

T’Challa grimaced. “And what if she proves dangerous?”

“I doubt she will --but, if she does, Ms. Maximoff and the rest of the ren