It was beautiful, if he were being honest with himself. He didn't like to translate what he felt towards the man when those feelings bubbled up within him speaking a tongue he hadn't used in a very long time.
He was drawn, hot with what he told himself was not jealousy, to the strong, sinewy lines of his back where the powdery smooth skin seemed awake with arousal. This was not a body crafted for show or intimidation - it was a skilled, graceful and lethal weapon, honed to be efficient, to be used. Even in this way, T'Challa was a reminder of a life he never got to live, a privilege he was denied - he carried his power gently and without the brutish desperation borne of drawing life from death daily.
He couldn't look away even as his stomach burned with the fullness of all he didn't want to feel.
He followed the lover's hands - familiar and possessive - as they skimmed over the dark supple skin of his husband's back. He followed the current that flitted through his husband's body as it keened into the touch. These were things he didn't know about the man he married - the sweetness of his laughter, his smile as naked and as vulnerable as the hardness of his body. He never had the opportunity to have those breathy gasps graze his cheek - overwhelmed and seeking more still.
Erik was jealous.
He’d been watching T’Challa slip away once a week for the last three months; discreet as in all things he did. They’d been married almost a year earlier in a small, formal affair; no celebration to speak of, just the necessary civility that would keep Wakanda united in the path forward, outward and grant Erik his birthright alongside T’Challa. Since that day, T’Challa radiant in white, he in pale grey, bound together loosely at the wrist by braided silk in the colours of each tribe, they skirted around each other; careful.
Their daily routine was a subdued mime; they barely spoke to each other within the gilded cage of their apartment in the palace. They shared a bed that seemed miles wide. T’Challa mostly kept to his office in their down time, or read distractedly on the balcony, staring into the lush wetness of the jungle outside. When they crossed paths, accidentally, through some serendipitous alignment or out of necessity, the awkwardness would almost be comical if it were not for the fissure of distance and discomfort tainting it. In the same space, they were so much less than their graceful, precise selves; the berth they gave themselves and each other so wide it left them flailing and fumbling in the expanse. Outside, in public, they were civil; kind but reserved in their attentions to each other and under scrutiny, much of that could be regarded as T’Challa’s innate stoicism.
Erik first suspected that T’Challa warmed another’s bed one night after a particularly charged council meeting. They had returned to their rooms; T’Challa’s shoulders sagged almost imperceptibly the moment the Dora were dismissed and the doors slid shut. The weight of his mantle seemed too heavy this night, a bone-deep wariness softened his face into a mask of resignation; gone was of the bearing of the graceful king, this was just a man who carried an inheritance of betrayal on his back.
“What of W’Kabi?”, an elder asked.
Well over a year later and the council was still divided on whether W’Kabi deserved to be punished. As it was, he lived among them but stripped of the access he once had. His fate decided by the leadership of his tribe.
T’Challa looked as if he struggled to understand the language being spoken to him; his head tilted minutely, lips parted as he chose his words,
“W’Kabi has broken no law. He believed that I had failed as king and he was justified in supporting the winner of the challenge. I need not remind any of you that...betraying a...friend...is not a punishable offense nor is it a council matter.”
Erik could see that the words, the reminder, left a bitter taste in T’Challa’s mouth. He swallowed, eyes flickered in mourning over the loss of his oldest bond; the reaction so fleeting, Erik was sure the council missed it. The aching sympathy Erik felt towards his husband startled him. It stung to see him hurting; even when Erik was the axis on which all that T’Challa had lost balanced, the catalyst that sparked the devastation.
T’Challa did not hate him. He made that clear in one of their only intimate conversations, a month before they were married. T’Challa with a sincerity Erik wanted to despise, his eyes ever earnest, expressed a desire to have him see Wakanda as his home, to use his brilliance for the good of her people and guide them on how best to help, to liberate, the oppressed in the diaspora. T’Challa hoped they could be friends eventually. He asked for nothing more, though Erik now saw that he dared carry the hope for more locked tightly in is chest; silent as if the truth of that hope would be ripped from his throat if he spoke too much.
It was then that Erik first saw it; the loneliness, more than that, the aloneness.
T’Challa’s whole life had been about duty, governed by the mores of royalty, sheltered to the point of ignorance; nothing he wanted was priority. He learned a painful lesson that even his friendships were political. It was why, T’Challa admitted that night, he was so indulgent with his little sister. He wanted her to live a life free of those complications for as long as he could protect her from them. She was free, as free as a princess could be, and he would do what he could to continue to allow her that. He had none of those buffers; he was born into the limitations of heir apparent, with the weight of a crown on his head. Even now, married to a man, a stranger, who once sought to destroy him; everything for duty. He would give up his life, not just in facing death but in sacrificing his own agency for this place, these people and they would expect it, nothing less.
Yet, there was still a softness about T’Challa, a sweetness that oozed thickly under the reticence. It was healing, like warm honey; viscous, translucent but never cloying, over the sting of what ailed him. In the dim light of their bedroom just before dawn, one hand a warm, reassuring pressure on his shoulder, the other cupped gently against his cheek, the honey pouring from those eyes drew him out of his nightmare,
“Erik. Erik...you’re safe.”
He was pulled from his memory by the voice of the River Tribe elder,
“He turned on you for not executing a war criminal on a city street, in a foreign country, while its people watched and filmed. Did he expect you to be a reckless and foolish king?”, his expressive form was angled away from Erik, but his intention was clear.
M’Baku spoke up then, his voice laced with more than his usual ambivalence, eyes on T’Challa, keen and contemplative;
“Jabari wisdom tells us that one such as W’Kabi cannot be trusted. His loyalty is fickle. In his anger, he is foolish - was it not the war dog prince who gave Klaue the means to find the border tribe and cause the deaths of his parents? Yet he sided with the son of that man. A man who came here determined to punish you for your father’s sins. What of his father’s sins? He did not just betray a friend, he sided with an outsider determined to expose Wakanda and bring war to our borders. The Jabari would not have shown him mercy.”
A bitter, metallic hum reverberated through the bodies the room. Okoye stiffened at T’Challa’s side. This was often M’Baku’s effect; he threaded water on the very threshold of disrespect with his candor, especially where Erik was concerned. Several pairs of eyes, unsure and wary, regarded both he and T’Challa; an assessment of offense. They were not offended though; Erik was used to the judgement, the mistrust and T’Challa held a genuine affection for the Jabari lord, believing him to be a deeply honorable man. As it was, Erik saw M’Baku’s jabs for what they were; tests of his worthiness. Exercises to challenge his growth, his equilibrium, whether he was fit to rule alongside a king who had proven himself through blood, tears and humility. He found it amusing, to be honest, endearing almost; they had something in common in their grudging protectiveness of T’Challa.
It was later that night, after all matters were discussed, disagreed on, rehashed and debated anew, that he watched T’Challa’s wariness ensnare him when they entered their rooms. Erik wanted to reach out to him, even if only with a half hearted dig at the council to provoke one of his tired, lopsided smiles. But he said nothing, even after T’Challa turned to face him and thanked him for his patience, for not being baited into arguments by the more outspoken council members, he just laughed softly;
“I’m gettin’ the hang of it...”
That did earn him one of those crooked smiles as they stood five feet apart, awkward and unable see each other across the chasm between them.
T’Challa inhaled quickly and straightened, his hands clasped behind his back; a gesture Erik now recognized as one of T’Challa’s anxious tics. His face still soft, his eyes left Erik’s and he seemed to parse his next words with some discomfort;
“I have something to see to tonight, I will be back a bit later. Will you be needing anything before I leave?”
It should have occurred to Erik then how utterly telling the odd exchange was; they barely spoke to each other outside of matters of governance, determined to give each other as much space as possible while still living together. Outside of the handful of times T’Challa’s firm warmth grounded him when he felt himself falling through the layers of a nightmare, they never touched. There was very little Erik could need of T’Challa. What was he really asking?
Now, as he lay awake in their bed, his stomach roiling with the sour kick of jealousy, Erik thinks he missed his chance to change what they were that night. He sees now that perhaps T’Challa, wrestling with the guilt of what he was going to do, created an opportunity that would yet again, deny him the comfort he sought for the sake of duty. Had Erik requested his assistance or presence for the most banal of reasons, T’Challa would have no doubt acquiesced in the way expected of a husband and a king.
Hissing at himself, he grapples with the fact that he even wants more than this annoying, sterile civility with T’Challa, that he wishes it were his arms T’Challa sought, his face T’Challa peppered with kisses as he rocked against him.
He followed him tonight out of curiousity. Trailing far and long behind him; relying on his senses to hone in on the warmth he knew intimately.
He had decided to pay attention to the way T’Challa returned to their apartment freshly showered following each of his disappearances, the way he still showered again when he got in, the way he’d sit on the balcony in the dark until long after Erik fell asleep. He wondered. There was never a specific day or time; the absences never coincided with council meetings or any particular event.
When Erik first became convinced that T’Challa had a lover, he’d decided that it could have simply been Nakia. The most logical choice and truthfully he couldn’t say he didn’t understand; they were exes, T’Challa hoping she’d have been his queen one day until he found himself married to a man he didn’t know and didn’t love. She was a sacrifice he’d made; any possible future for them would never be.
He’d decided to ignore the impulse to sniff out more, T’Challa deserved a little comfort and his privacy. That was until a war dog meeting where Nakia called in to debrief remotely from an outreach center in Oakland, he watched them interact, watched T’Challa’s face for any indication that they were lovers; their rapport was easy and friendly. Nothing more. His husband still disappeared that night.
He walked quickly back to their rooms after watching his husband’s lover masterfully take him apart for far longer than was healthy. A part of him is sure T’Challa felt someone watching even in the throes of foreplay; he knew Erik’s smell well enough to have felt him close.
They’d been meeting in an alcove, near the catacombs and temple, on a lower arcade that was essentially uninhabited. It was, Erik discovered, possible to get to it without being seen, through passages T’Challa had played in as a child. It was a good place to be alone; perhaps the only place a discreet, careful king could go for privacy. He wondered if Okoye and Ayo knew of this lover, perhaps they suspected; they accompanied T’Challa everywhere, but on any given night, once a week, he would dismiss them and go walking alone.
Erik felt brittle as he accessed the file on his husband’s lover in the war dog database; his hands shook as the man’s face materialized, eyes seemed to peer into Erik’s own, unflinching.
His suspicions were confirmed tonight; having caught the briefest of interactions between T’Challa and Lethabo, a war dog stationed in Europe, at the start of a meeting weeks ago. It was nothing to speak of on the surface, but Erik couldn’t miss the way both their heartbeats sped up when they greeted each other. The sudden tingle in his skin as if his heightened senses were screaming at him to pay attention; when he did, the chemistry between the two was undeniable. This was who T’Challa spent a few hours with every week; a tall, heavy set war-dog with skin like deep, dark polished wood and kind, bright eyes, the type that seemed to be laughing at a perpetual joke. He was T’Challa’s age. Married, according to his file, to a fellow war dog also stationed in Europe.
He’d worked himself into an even stormier mood by the time T’Challa returned to their rooms earlier than usual.
On impulse, something he was currently annoyed with himself for following, he’d sent a message to Lethabo’s kimoyo beads, like the jealous husband he was. It read, with no pretense or posturing:
“|Go home to your husband tonight, or I come see you in the morning.”
He was tempted to add, “you don’t want these problems.”, but he practiced some of that restraint he’d been nurturing and decided to let his reputation speak for him. There was no response.
If he had only suspected that T’Challa might have felt his presence tonight, he was certain of that reality when his husband walked through the doors of their bedroom. His own restlessness, the gnawing in his belly, the heat he could feel in his face, the way he didn’t trust his voice to not break into apart into hurt sounds if he dared to speak, was only matched by T’Challa’s haunted distress; so palpable that Erik could feel it riding the air like static before T’Challa even entered the room.
Erik looked up from where he was sitting at the foot of their bed. T’Challa stilled, face turned away from him, eyes closed briefly as he inhaled; Erik knew he was confirming for them both that he was the one who saw him with his lover. If he were surprised to find Erik waiting for him instead of being asleep or entertaining himself watching strange avant-garde films in another room, he tried not to let that show. Instead, T’Challa nodded stiffly and made his way to the en suite as was his norm on nights like these. Erik watched him walk away, the electricity of his distress crackled and leapt along every surface in the room; Erik wanted to eat every spark.
He sat with his head in his hands, contemplating his next move. He could hear T’Challa turn the shower on, but he could tell he wasn’t in it. His knee bounced restlessly, mind attempting to make order of the maelstrom of all he felt. He didn’t feel betrayed by or even angry with T’Challa; they didn’t marry for love, they were barely friends, not because they disliked each other but because they could not, feared to, breach the boundaries they set up around each other. T’Challa had also been incredibly discreet, even with his amplified senses, it’d taken him over a month to notice anything was amiss and then weeks more to figure out who it was. No, he wasn’t angry. He huffed, trying to shake the visual of T’Challa in ecstasy to the back of his mind. They needed to talk, evidently. T’Challa still wasn’t in the shower, the water echoed, hollow, against the floor.
Erik sighed and stood, dragging a shaky hand through his locs, he started towards the bathroom. He stopped at the door, he considered knocking; to give them both yet another chance to withdraw, yet another opportunity to deny themselves. He decided against it. Exhaling a shallow breath, he pushed the door open; his chest fluttering at the sight of T’Challa, bare chested and glassy eyed as he turned to face him.
T’Challa lowered his gaze, fingers tapping absently on the marble countertop at his side. He turned his head to look at himself in the wide mirror; Erik watched a wave of sadness wash over T’Challa’s face, his brow furrowed deeply as he looked away.
He holds Erik’s gaze for mere seconds before he looks down at his restless hand;
“...we didn’t. It didn’t happen tonight. I have no excuses, Erik. Nothing can justify what I have done.”
He paused, took a breath before continuing,
“We met many years ago, when we were young, we trained together at times. It was never...this thing it became.” His hand closed into a fist, stilling his fidgeting; a reticent man drawing himself closed.
“He would be away for months, sometimes years at a time. He began coming back here more often than before recently; we met to catch up one day and...”, he sighed,
“I am sorry, Erik.”
He met his eyes then, ever earnest.
Erik couldn’t define what he wanted in that moment but he knew it wasn’t an apologetic T’Challa; he didn’t want a man afraid that his desire for comfort had endangered the stability of his country or a king worried that his kingdom would plunge into chaos. He didn’t want T’Challa to worry that Erik would use this to upset the gentle equilibrium they had nurtured.
“I should have discussed it with you, this... thing we agreed to needs openness to remain strong.”
As Erik stepped towards him, he noted, crestfallen, that T’Challa stiffened, almost flinched; this was the last thing he wanted.
“I’m not upset, man. I mean, I’m defo not gonna be smilin’ at whatever-the-fuck his name is, cuz fuck him...got me like Shirley callin’ Barbara triflin’ ass just now - never in my life did I think I’d be tellin’ anybody to ease up off my man.” He paused, “But I ain’t mad at you, T.”
He watched T’Challa’s mouth quirk slightly, body relaxing significantly as he huffed out a breath. Erik’s own smile faltered as he said,
“I checked out the brothels a few times...”
“I know.” T’Challa said low in his throat, eyes dark.
Erik felt the want awaken in his gut at the sharp heat of T’Challa’s own jealousy, he licked his lips and continued,
“But it wasn’t what I was lookin’ for, you know? Couldn’t trust there wasn’t gonna be some tabloid scandal type shit for you to wake up an’ hear about...people out there sayin’ yo husband a whole ass hoe...”
T’Challa snorted at that, his eyes sparkled again and Erik felt at ease; the static and discomfort of the night dissipated in the presence of T’Challa’s smile. As if suddenly self-conscious and needing to continue to punish himself, T’Challa’s smile waned and he looked away from Erik before turning to face the mirror.
Erik came to stand behind him, eyes skimming the breath of T’Challa’s shoulders, the long powerful lines of his back before locking eyes with his in the mirror.
“Listen, T. We in this shit together. I don’t hate you, you don’t hate me. I kinda like you, I think you might kinda like me. I don’t know about you but I’m tired of feeling like I’m in a whole universe away from you when we sleepin’ in the same bed every night. Got me feelin’ like I gotta fake a bad dream to get you close to me.”
He raised a playful eyebrow when T’Challa’s eyes narrowed at him.
“Just sayin’, I realized tonight it ain’t really beneath me to do.” He grinned shamelessly.
Before T’Challa could think himself into another guilt trip, Erik moved closer, breath hitching at the fierceness of the pull to press into his warmth. It was as if, with the physical distance between them closed to this degree, their bodies exerted an undeniable magnetic pull on each other. Erik knew, and based on T’Challa’s shallow breathing and the way Erik could count each raised hair on the back of his neck, so did T’Challa, that once this threshold had been crossed, there would be no reprieve from the surge of what would follow. This could overwhelm them. To pull away at this point felt inorganic; wrong and wasteful. Erik never liked wastefulness.
He nosed gently into the warm, velvety skin of T’Challa’s nape.
They both gasped. Erik’s eyes fluttered shut, lips parting;
The stimulus was almost too much; it was sparks of light behind his eyelids, it felt like drowning, it felt like falling, it felt like flying all with T’Challa’s essence jumping from synapse to synapse, sense to sense. He was overwhelmed. But not nearly enough to pull away.
He forced his eyes open, inhaling raggedly through his open mouth, trying to taste more of T’Challa, and looked at their reflections. T’Challa was upright, hands palm down on the countertop, eyes closed, lips gently parted, and were it not for the way the taut muscles in his abdomen quivered, Erik would have thought he was alone in the whirlwind.
He suddenly wanted to feel them jump beneath his fingers, he wanted to feel what this was doing to T’Challa, what he was doing to T’Challa.
He wrapped his arms around T’Challa’s torso, fitting them together from hip to shoulder, chest to back. T’Challa sighed, relaxing in Erik’s embrace. He ran his hands over Erik’s forearms, feeling his scars through the thin fabric of his pullover. He pushed the sleeves up, wanting to feel Erik’s skin, his scars, his legacy brand his hands. Erik watched T’Challa’s attentions, chin on his shoulder, lips a hair’s breadth from the sensitive skin of his neck. T’Challa’s hands moved to cover his where they lay over his stomach. Erik was pleased to see that he looked as dazed as Erik felt. He could feel T’Challa vibrating in his arms, all of this too far gone for either of them to stop. Erik nuzzled into his neck, inhaling the clean, healing scent of him. He feels unbidden satisfaction swell and rise through him;
“Mm. You never came home smellin’ like him. You never brought him in our bed.”
He kisses up to T’Challa’s ear; an experimental flick of tongue and he relishes the way T’Challa’s heartbeat stutters in response. His teeth are tender and firm on his neck, soft licks soothe the mild sting. T’Challa drops his hands and turns to face him; abrupt and unreadable. Erik wonders for a moment if he pushed too far, but T’Challa’s hoarse, “Off.” while tugging at the hem of his pullover quickly dispels that concern. He smiles wryly and swiftly pulls it over his head.
T’Challa’s gaze trails down his chest, eyes flitting like moths, as if he were mapping each scar like coordinates. Erik settles his hands on T’Challa’s hips, proprietory, as T’Challa explores.
Those hands drag up his bare chest and Erik feels his pulse quicken watching them, broad and long fingered, skim over his chest as if reading his life story in Braille. T’Challa cups his face; thumbing the corner of his mouth, over his lips and Erik is lost. He can’t pick a single focus; T’Challa’s generous mouth beckons him, the way his eyelashes cast shadows on his cheekbones seems to dare him to kiss them as gently, the glory that is the mahogany column of his neck has saliva pooling under his tongue.
T’Challa’s kiss takes him by surprise; a blessed, prayed for surprise. He lets his mouth be taken, tasted, groaning low in his throat when their tongues meet. Even here all he can taste is T’Challa.
There is a tangle of swollen, sensitized flesh, the scrape of teeth and roaming hands before they break apart, panting and light headed from sucking in each other’s air.
Erik swallows; T’Challa licks at the fingers pressed against his lips.
“...I watched him tonight, lovin’ on you like that... I live with you an’ ain’t never seen you like that. I wanted you... like that. I want to be the only one who got you feelin’ like that.”
T’Challa lowers his face to lick at the deep hollow between Erik’s collarbones; sucks the skin between his lips, smiling at Erik’s words. He moves; a sharp, sucking bite makes Erik gasp as he watches their reflections as T’Challa claims him.
“Fuck...you mine, T?”
T’Challa draws back up to face him, eyes heated and pulling Erik into the wilderness, lips slick and swollen;