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Wet Sugar

Chapter Text

"Bad man, nuh talk, West London me walk
No bad vibes in mi yard, or yuh hear di ting back (boom)
Gyally dem ah call, see the money and the car
Celly ah ring off, rum-rum, haffi start, ya hear me?
Mi buss ah Champ' and then they watch we, ya hear me?
Mi have di liquor and di big tree, ya hear me?
No commotion in my circle
Potent herb and a sweet, sweet girl
Take you 'round the world
No-no-no bad vibes in my yard, hmm
Inna my yard, inna my yard, inna my yard…"

Goldlink – "Yard"

What's past is prologue….

Ulysses Klaue had heard rumors of a large hoard of ancient gold coins worth €4 million hidden inside Assyrian-era giant winged bulls. The entire cache of five-foot statues themselves could not be transported nor disguised because of their weight and size, but some of the heads were removed and sold on the black market. Dating back 3,000 years, they were a hot commodity after the destruction of the Mosul Museum in Iraq. Klaue knew this because he had buyers salivating for a chance to procure the heads. And some of those heads had coins hidden in them. It was why he found himself standing now in front of a tall young Black man, American, with gold slugs on his two bottom canines, and a mop of neatly braided locs.

Klaue stared at the intel he had on his field computer.

"You're saying the statues we're looking for are gone already?" Klaue asked.

"ISIL already transported all that shit."

Wide-legged stance, protective ballistic body armor draped over an impressive build, his hands holding an AR-15 pointed right at Klaue's head, this man was in control of the situation. He had five other men from his team standing behind him backing him up with their weapons drawn too. Serious beefy looking men who would shoot if their leader even blinked. The red dot on Klaue's chest was a polite way of letting him know there were snipers on his ass too.

"Stand down," Klaue ordered his men behind him. A rough motley crew of six international soldiers of fortune.

"Alhusul ealaa al'ashya' alkhasat bihim," the Black man said.

Men that Klaue and his team didn't even know were behind them materialized like ghosts, snatching up their weapons and frisking them for more.

"Is this necessary?" Klaue asked as a thick-set mercenary felt on his balls and behind his back squeezing his ass.

"Gotta be thorough in this bitch."

Klaue smirked.

"May I ask who I have the pleasure of getting my nuts tweaked by?" Klaue said.

The man rolled his tongue along his bottom teeth, the gold slugs shining in the sunset. He nodded his head to his team to round Klaue's men up. Once the men were secured and a non-threat, the man lowered his weapon. His dark brown eyes were razor sharp and they regarded Klaue with calculated verve.

"Killmonger."

###

The oldest profession in the world was prostitution.

The second…killers for hire.

Of course, there were kinder more veiled names for mercenaries nowadays:

Soldiers of Fortune.

Private Military Contractors.

Professional Hired Fighters.

Dogs of War.

But Erik "Killmonger" Stevens knew what it was. Murder Incorporated—monetized madness.

The business of war was to keep a perpetual cycle of conflict all over the world so fat cats could make their coins under the guise of professional conflict management. If his mother were still alive, she would say what she always said around her women friends and his very own father…men were trash.

And she was right.

Unfortunately, she gave birth to a son who had to maneuver among the garbage so that he could fulfill his destiny. A destiny of revenge. A making right of what had been wrong for so long.

On the days that he did have downtime and could sit and do nothing at all, Erik would catch a news report or some ticker tape lede on the bottom of C-SPAN, CNN, MSNBC, or the BBC—just about any global news outlet—and catch glimpses of his final endgame. T'Chaka Udaku.

A king.

An elder statesmen.

A blood relative.

A lifelong enemy.

Erik's body would coil tight and hot when he let his mind imagine the day he would be in the presence of his Uncle. He foresaw the moment he would pull back the thick flesh of his bottom lip, the glowing blue vibram tattoo his father gave him as a child embedded deep in the skin of his inner mouth.

He ached to show the ring his father had left for him dangling around his neck, ached to taste and feed on the moment he would reveal all to King T'Chaka, unveil his birthright, and then snap the old man's neck with his bare hands, appreciating the feel of vertebrae cracking and twisting beneath his powerful calloused fingers. Or maybe he would fashion panther claws for himself and rip the man's heart out through his chest. Erik relished the thought. He would bring down—no…eradicate—he would eradicate the old House of Udaku, destroy T'Chaka's bloodline branch and take the throne of Wakanda for himself. A new sun would set on the golden city of Birnin Zana, the place of his father's birth.

Erik was his father's son, but he was also his mother's child, and Califia Stevens didn't raise no simpering punk. He was taught to be a soldier the moment he fell out of his mother's womb. The war he was going to rage was groomed by all of the things that happened in his life and all the things he was learning while biding his time in the ranks of private armies. Sitting back in the cut, gathering new skills and Intel, moving closer to finding the man he needed to get him into Wakanda: Ulysses Klaue. A man who sat at the top of his kill list for right now.

Erik sat crossed-legged overlooking a sand berm keeping watch for a particular caravan of armored S.U.V.s to traverse their path. The sun was making its way to a sluggish sunset, and his military-issue sunglasses protected his tired eyes. He hadn't slept in forty-eight hours and the job he was meant to complete was only halfway finished.

Earlier in the day, his crack team of fifteen men pulled off a bold daytime robbery of highly-sought after Assyrian gold coins. Disguised as U.N. peace-keepers dedicated to preserving artifacts, Erik was the only American on the removal team. He was tasked with masquerading as an art historian since the Canadians with them couldn't sound like authentic Londoners. The non-prescription glasses he wore and the crisp British accent he perfected allowed him to dupe a few Iraqi guards, especially with his fluency with Arabic and his thoughtful acknowledgment of Jumu'ah, the Friday prayers.

While Erik pretended to sit aside respectfully on an offered prayer rug in the midst of an isolated bunker holding the goods they sought, his phony U.N. gear a bit too tight, the guards thanked him for respecting their time in contemplation of Allah. The beneficent. The merciful. Moments later they were tied up and blind-folded left shackled together in the interior of the ravaged bunker that hid the last of the priceless winged bull statues that were hidden for their protection. Erik did let them finish their prayers though.

Time wasn't wasted, what needed to be found was found and bagged up, the heavy weight of the gold bending the backs of five men carting it out onto phony U.N. Jeeps. On the wings of hummingbirds as his great-grandmother used to say when it came to speed and efficiency. An expert strategist and obsessive pre-planner, Erik facilitated the logistics and implementation of the entire operation. They had to be gone before dusk as the heavy hitters from various political factions began to roam. The dry heat was fucking exhausting, made breathing laborious, and the lack of sleep was messing with Erik's focus. His men were ready to dip, but he had to wait, had to take the chance that the man he was scouting for would show.

"Killmonger."

Tahir, the one man Erik considered as close of a so-called friend with the work that he did, stood next to him, his Ak-47 resting on his hip, his tan and black shemagh covering his neck and head. Erik glanced up, his own shemagh twisting around his neck tight. He loosened it.

"We should probably leave while it is still quiet."

"Nah. We got time." Gruff and brusque. That's how Erik kept it with the men.

Tahir placed his left hand on his hip and glanced behind him. He was always the one sent to question Erik. The rest were afraid of him, afraid of his quick temper. Afraid of the self-inflicted keloid scars that covered most of his upper body.

Erik looked past Tahir, could see the only other two Iraqis, Amit, and Wassef eyeing him from their sniper positions. He could feel the eyes of the others on him, the Greek, the Egyptian, the two Jordanians, the Russian and the three Canadians. The rest were hidden with their two Mi-17's a quarter of a mile away among the bullet-ridden wreckage of left behind helicopters from failed wars inflicted by the U.S. military.

"We have the gold. Let's go get paid and have some drinks. We can be in Lebanon in a few hours, I know some pretty girls, some nice clubs…"

"We'll wait. I need to see if this dude shows," Erik said, softening his tone with Tahir.

"You should eat something."

"Later," Erik whispered as he saw the approach of the caravan he was looking for.

###

A smart mercenary always checked out their target before any engagement. Someone on Klaue's team didn't do their homework and Erik had the man in his crosshairs. Klaue was shorter and ruddier than he thought the man would be. His reputation seemed larger than life, but the reality was a bit of a disappointment. Little dick energy all the way around. He was also slipping because Erik knew for a fact that some of his men tipped Erik's team off to the coins in the abandoned bunker. Getting past I.E.D's, insurgents, and American PMC checkpoints, Klaue's people looked pretty sorry in front of their main man being plucked by Erik.

"Listen, Killmonger. We'll just be on our way. No harm, no foul," Klaue said as he sat on the ground looking up at Erik.

No harm no foul. Yeah, right. Klaue would take any opening to put a bullet in Erik's head, and in the dome of whoever allowed this clusterfuck on his side.

"We just came for statues," Klaue said.

"With what? Three S.U.V.s? You can't even fit the head of one statue in those. Come again."

Klaue's eyes grew suspicious. Just as Erik expected.

"We have the coins," Erik said.

Klaue let his head drop down and he chuckled, his gold-rimmed teeth glinting. The snake had to come up with a plan fast.

The rat-a-tat-tat-tat sound of machine gun fire in the distance caught Erik's attention. Time was up. It was time to set the trap for this man. Erik knelt down.

Takka takka!

The gunfire was ticking closer.

"Just take the fucking coins and let us go."

An AR-15 near him and Klaue wasn't even flinching. The sweat on his forehead was just from the heat. Erik flipped his weapon behind him.

"I don't give a fuck about those coins. My boss does. But I'm here for something more valuable and it's not here." Erik kept his voice low enough so that only Klaue could hear him.

Klaue's eyes observed him with keen curiosity.

Erik dipped closer to Klaue's ear lobe, making his own men nervous. Erik's sour breath warmed Klaue's ear.

"I'm looking for vibranium," Erik said. He sat back on his haunches and tapped the man's prosthetic left arm that was bound tight. Erik wasn't taking any chances. He was well aware that the arm was a dangerous weapon. Klaue could easily wipe them out, but he was a pursuer of information, and more than illicit goods, useful intel was golden. This bitch was squirming on the hook. None of these motherfuckers around them knew what vibranium was.

"Who are you?" Klaue said, his voice sounding like it was in awe.

"The stash that was supposed to be here isn't. I don't know who got to it first, but it wasn't you or me—"

SSssss-BLAM!

The RPG came in fast and destroyed the first S.U.V. in Klaue's entourage.

Erik's men returned fire for cover as Tahir radioed for their choppers to extract them and the gold. Erik grabbed Klaue by his collar and hoisted him up to his feet. Tahir threw a yellow smoke grenade and stood in front of Erik and Klaue.

The hard whop-whop sounds of their Mi-17s surrounded them as Wassef and Amit slung their RPGs on their shoulders and returned rocket grenades to buy them time. The first chopper landed and their surly Canadian side gunner Wally G rolled the chopper door open and waved for them frantically.

"We got incoming from the north," Wally G yelled.

Erik's men quickly loaded their bounty of gold and split up to enter both choppers for the extraction.

"Move your asses!" Wally G screamed.

Erik yanked the handcuffed and rope bound Klaue and dragged him over to the first Mi-17 and threw him in.

"Let's go!" Erik yelled propping his AR-15 in position to help protect his side gunners on the chopper. His return fire bought Tahir more time to move.

Amit fired one last RPG to protect Klaue's men. Erik sent most over to the second chopper, and once Amit jumped aboard the first Mi-17, Erik waved his arm and their pilot Elias took off.

A sizeable enemy force swept into where they once stood. The chopper Erik was on was picking up fire from everywhere. Erik shot back from the open door and he could hear Elias bitching from the cockpit.

"Why the fuck did you have us wait?" Elias screeched.

"Just fly the fucking bird!" Erik shouted while still returning fire.

A stream of fuel ran down the inside of the chopper's windscreen.

"Fuck!" Elias yelled, "One of my feed tanks is out!"

"Jesus Christ!" a man screamed.

Erik looked back into the rear of the chopper, two of Klaue's men had been hit, the screams of the wounded mixing in with the rapid-fire babble of Erik's men trying to figure out their next move. They were outnumbered by the men on the ground and the number of vehicles chasing after the limping Mi-17.

They were spilling volumes of fuel.

"Stop fucking shooting!" Erik cried out. All he needed was for one of their bullets to ricochet and spark the fuel vapors filling up the chopper. They could explode in mid-air.

"I gotta put her down, Killmonger!"

Erik moved to the cockpit and grabbed the radio.

"Banks! Banks! We gotta find a clear LZ. We've been hit!"

"Dammit, Killmonger!" Banks fired back with crackled intensity through the radio speaker.

Erik and the others felt the sudden drop and swoop of the chopper as Elias did his best to make a soft landing.

Night had fallen and Erik's men disembarked with Klaue's men. Through it all, Klaue was cool as a cucumber, watching Erik's every move. Tahir, eased over to Erik, his eyes watching the horizon as vehicle lights traced them in the distance.

"Too many of us, we all won't fit," Tahir grumbled.

"I'll make it work," Erik hissed, his eyes thwarted by the flash and hiss of an enemy RPG.

"Incoming!" Tahir screamed, and the grenade blew up a mere two hundred feet from them tossing dark sand into the air.

The second chopper pilot, Banks, landed and they loaded up. They were more than the number of bodies allowed based on the flight manual. Erik pulled Klaue up by his arms.

"Crunching numbers time. Who do you fuck with and who did you dirty?" Erik asked.

"Killmonger!" Banks yelled.

The enemy was getting closer.

Klaue glared at his men, his eyes going to the three that Erik already knew played him. Erik gave a cruel sneer and cut Klaue loose from the rope that bound his arms.

"See ya!" Erik said giving Tahir a head nod. The men were pushed out of the chopper.

"Klaue!" one of them screamed.

"Let's go!" Erik shouted to Banks.

The Mi-17 lifted up and Klaue's traitorous men flailed their arms begging to be taken.

Erik heard the sharp hiss and loud explosion of an RPG down below.

He already knew those men were in mere bloody pieces now. His eyes glanced over at Klaue who was stuffed between two of his henchmen. Erik's boys watched them like hawks, but Erik wasn't worried about them trying anything. Their lives had been saved. If Erik and his crew weren't there, they would've been killed by turncoats. Gold coins were probably the last things on their minds as the Mi-17 dipped and swooped amid rocket grenades.

The chopper headed toward a remote airstrip.

Erik stared at Tahir and grabbed at his stomach.

"Yo, I'm hungry as fuck."

###

The mid-morning American Airlines flight touched down at the Cyril E. King Airport with a soft bounce. Walking down the ramp and onto the tarmac, the wet heat engulfed Erik's face. He wore a light cream-collared linen long-sleeve shirt and loose jeans. He always kept his arms covered when he traveled, his keloid markings too much of a distraction in public. His two large bags were waiting for him at guest services. His flight from Miami had been delayed because of tropical storm weather, but for some strange reason, his luggage went out on an earlier flight.

He saw one of Klaue's men holding a handwritten sign with his name on it. Killmonger. Erik waved and carried his things to the tall Black man with the clean-shaven face and dark mocha skin.

"I'm Polk," the man said. Polk was dressed in comfortable basketball shorts, a plain white t-shirt and slip on sandals. Vacation gear.

They shared a handshake and Erik followed him out to a nice burgundy Mazda S.U.V. idling with another burly man in the driver's seat.

"That's Huntsman," Polk said helping Erik put his suitcases in the trunk.

Huntsman regarded Erik cooly, his pale white skin sunburned and overly pink in spots as Erik stepped into the back of the Mazda.

"Welcome to the team," Huntsman said and Erik picked up the Afrikaans accent in his voice.

"Thanks," Erik said.

"You hungry? We can grab something on the way to the house," Polk said as he stared back at Erik from the passenger seat.

"Nah, I'm good," Erik said.

Erik had to orient himself to the driving once he realized St. Thomas residents drove on the left side like the English.

"We have our own cook, so if you do get hungry later, she can whip something up for you," Polk said. Erik nodded, his eyes watching the crowd of cars jammed on the two-lane road leading away from the airport.

The scenery eventually swept past as they drove into Charlotte Amalie. Erik saw the port dock that housed the large cruise ships, floating cities on the way up into the hills.

"You ever been to the islands before?" Polk asked.

"Nah. Never found the time," Erik said still staring out of the window.

St. Thomas was not very big, only thirty-two square miles. In about twenty minutes the car was already crawling into an area of hills that elevated them. Erik noticed quite a few green and multi-colored iguanas lounging in the street and meandering on the sides of the road.

"Harmless," Polk said when he noticed Erik staring at them, "they are everywhere. Think of them as the squirrels of the island."

Erik nodded.

"We're here," Huntsman said.

The Mazda entered a guarded gate. Once it was opened and they drove through, Erik realized they were actually on a compound that had a grouping of houses. They parked in front of the main house. Polk helped Erik with his things.

"I'll walk him down to our area," Polk said.

Erik rolled his heaviest suitcase and trailed Polk as they made their way down a path blooming with colorful foliage and crawling with more iguanas. One large iguana blocked their path and Erik looked at the regal creature. It was blue and pink in the face with a mottled pink and brown body that had what looked like green plant-like growths on it. It hissed and Polk had them walk around it with a wide berth.

"Harmless, but a bit of an attitude sometimes," Polk said.

Erik chuckled and soon found himself entering a tastefully furnished house.

"You can have the room on the right. When we get full, we usually have to bunk with people, but this first week there are only eight of us here, so plenty of room and privacy.

Erik nodded.

"I'll let you get settled. Meet us at the front house around 1 p.m.? Klaue will want to see you for lunch."

Erik nodded and Polk left him alone.

The room assigned to Erik was nice and airy. He opened the window across from his bed to bring in the fresh island air. Unpacking slowly and methodically, he organized his space and was happy that he had his own bathroom.

He took a quick shower to wash away the flight and travel sweat from his body. He touched the two new keloid scars under the waterproof bandage that his cousin Marisol helped place on his lower back the month before. They were healing, slowly, the itch and scarring pain still present. Lately, he had been flying to Sao Paulo Brazil more often, and Marisol was not happy to perform the scarring ritual for him anymore, especially when his visits brought her pain because they were short-lived, often only for two or three days and then he was gone to the next assignment. She knew what the marks were for. She had one on her own side hip that he helped put there for her.

He allowed the water to run over his locs and then tilted his head back, letting the cool liquid drench his beard. He was tired and antsy at the same time. He had to be very careful in the lion's den.

"What are you doing down here?"

The melodious voice startled him, it was so close to the small frosted window he cracked open in the bathroom, and he turned to try and see who was speaking.

Erik was about to answer, but then he realized the person wasn't talking to him at all but to someone else outside.

"What I tell you 'bout coming down here? Don't look at me like that. You stay up above. Hear me now?"

The woman's island voice was sweet, lyrical almost, and had the fussy quality that reminded him of his great-grandmother when she was fussing with his mother. Whoever she was addressing didn't answer.

"Jerome! You hear me. Get yourself back up top. Now!"

Erik heard the stomping of feet.

"What are you doin' making all this noise?"

Another woman's voice joined the first.

"Jerome. His wife and alla his pickney up at the front house waiting on him. And he's down here being nosey. Get!"

"Gyal! Leave that thing alone. Him no listen to all that shrillness comin' from your mouth. Like he'll understand you—"

"They understand me. When I told him to move his ass from the driveway before that devil man ran him over, you seen how fast he move. Him know what I say. Right, Jerome?"

Erik dried off and tried to get dressed in fresh clothes fast when he heard a knock on the front door.

"Inside," the voice of the second woman greeted him kindly.

Erik pulled on a pair of black sweats and opened the front door.

An older woman with graying neat plaits stared at his chest. The scars startled her.

"Sorry," she said averting her eyes. Her hands carried clean beach towels and sunblock.

"It's cool," Erik said. His eyes swept past her looking for the person he heard moments before.

"I'm Miss Leona. I do the cooking and help take care of the property. I came down to ask if you had any food allergies."

"No, I can eat anything."

"Good," she said, her eyes focusing on his face. The graying hair didn't seem to match her youthful face and big bright white teeth.

"Just so you know, bathroom etiquette is simple. If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down. Use the bottled water for drinking, and all laundry can be done at the front house in the laundry room down below. There's a little apartment down there. Just drop the things you need to be cleaned in the laundry bag—"

"I can do my own laundry," Erik said.

Leona nodded and handed him the towels and sunblock.

"We have a pool at the middle house, and if you prefer sea water, there's a path by the pool that leads down to the private beach area. The water is very warm this season, and stays warm into the night."

Leona allowed her eyes to flit across his chest as she regarded his scars again.

"Is that…is that a condition? Do you need any creams or ointments? I can bring some—"

"I'm good. Thank you for asking."

"I don't mean to stare Mr. Killmonger. I have a nephew that has some tissue damage on his back, and it looks like that."

"No worries."

"I will leave you be then—"

"Who was the person you were talking to a minute ago? I heard someone else and she was talking to someone…Jerome?"

Leona laughed and pointed behind her.

"That was just Yani, my niece. She helps me out around here. She was just chatting with him."

Leona pointed and Erik saw the rainbow-colored iguana perched on a small tree in front of the house.

Erik smiled.

"I thought she was really talking to someone."

"Oh, she was. She and Jerome have a history together. She's known him since he was a baby. He doesn't listen to anyone but her."

"He's a big dude."

"Yes. But he won't bother you if you don't bother him. Get Yani if he does give you trouble."

"Will do. Thanks. How many houses are on the property?"

"Three. Mr. Klaue stays in the house down below. The two other houses are for his…men."

"Okay. Thanks Miss Leona."

"You're welcome. I will see you at lunch then? Mr. Klaue likes a late lunch, so I usually have things prepared by 1:30. Today will be a light sesame salad with salmon."

"Any local fish?"

"Sometimes. Mr. Klaue has me ship in things when he wants them. See you at lunch!"

Leona left him, and he was left standing in front of Jerome who watched him with wary eyes from his place in the tree.

"Don't make me call Yani on your ass," he said glaring at the iguana.

Erik finished dressing in a short-sleeved soccer shirt. He laced up a pair of New Balance sneakers and took a walk around the property.

He walked around the small pool that was only six feet deep and found the trail that led down to the beach. If Leona hadn't told him there was a path near the pool, he would never have found it. As it was, he felt secretive slipping down the hill and working his way to the sounds of open water.

"Whoa," he sighed when he finally found the entrance to a breathtaking sight. Clear water with soft sugary white sand and a beautiful view of an isolated smaller island further out in the sea. The sun beat down on him and he looked around to see if there was anyone else around. No one. It was quiet and hidden by part of a cove that had rock structures that curved away from where Erik stood. There were no other footprints or signs of any other human presence.

The water called to him.

Erik looked around again, then slipped off his shoes, pants, underwear and shirt. What a way to start his first day in paradise. He splashed into the water and it felt like he was crawling into the womb of life, the warmth cradling his tired limbs.

Paradise.

The place where he would plot against Klaue. Right in his own home.

###

Yani Galiber was always fussing with Jerome.

Ever since she rescued him from his first car accident as a baby when one of Klaue's drivers ran over his tail seven years previous. She had been fourteen and devastated, thinking her little friend would die. But then his tail grew back and she had been fussing with him ever since.

She was sent by her Aunt Leona to check the water cistern on Klaue's main house where he stayed. Sometimes an iguana would fall in and clog the waterway, and the man had been asking about water pressure. She made a point to check the roof gutters that helped collect water in case there was plant refuse or some other detritus stuck up there. When she ran into Jerome on the way back up, she noticed cuts on his skin. He must've been fighting the other male iguana that had moved into his territory. Unlike most of the iguanas around the property, Jerome was a drama queen and started trouble with other iguanas that weren't his children or mates, and sometimes he went after humans he didn't like.

After leaving her Aunt with Jerome, she headed back to the front house to grab a soda before her Aunt had her helping with lunch. She thought she may have time use her breast pump in private to fix her baby daughter Sydette's bottles for the evening when she had to go to work at her night job as a hostess at Havana Blue, a beach-front restaurant in the main part of Charlotte Amalie. Her cousin Monice would pick her up by 2:30 and drop her off at her Aunt Leona's apartment where she would spend time with Sydette before handing her over to her other cousin Twyla who would watch Sydette until Yani made it home to sleep. And depending on how busy Klaue kept her Aunt, Yani would travel back and forth to help work at the compound.

Yani cobbled together a life and set her sights on saving enough money to attend nursing school since her university plans of becoming a doctor had been derailed with the birth of her daughter. It was still a touchy subject with her parents who had allowed her to take a year off after she graduated high school to follow the crazy dream she had with her then-boyfriend Chez who was going to be the biggest rapper from St. Thomas after he was signed to a small record company in Miami.

Yani had sung background vocals for him around island clubs there and when they island hopped to Puerto Rico or Jamaica and as far as Trinidad. Chez was supposed to make it big and pay for Yani's education, but a year after graduating, Yani fell pregnant, she broke up with Chez, he lost the record contract due to a failed single not charting anywhere, and she was stuck living with her cousin and Aunt because she couldn't afford anywhere on her own and her parents didn't want the stigma in their home among her younger sisters. She was the tainted oldest child who had thrown her life away by having a baby with a SoundCloud level struggle rapper. For shame.

Her baby girl Sydette was a joy, but Yani found it difficult to nurse a baby and still try and nurse a medical career of some kind. A nurse was about as high as she could go now, and she set her sights on getting into the nursing college of her choice the following year. She just needed to get her money right to help take care of Sydette and tuition.

Klaue's compound was a way to make good money, especially when he had a lot of people there. Her Aunt Leona always made sure to pull her in to work for the under the table cash. Klaue paid well. The more men there, the more they made.

Yani and her Aunt were fully aware that Klaue was into some nefarious dealings. Even though he owned two jewelry stores, one in Charlotte Amalie, and one on St. John island, they were just legal fronts for some bad guy stuff. Leona didn't think they were drug dealers, but they did sell something illegal. Did something that required a private compound and sometimes armed guards when Klaue was gone. But as long as the money was good and they stayed out of the way when not needed, Yani had no problem working there. Her Aunt had been doing it for twelve years.

Yani took some time to slip into a bedroom in the front house with her breast pump. She filled three bottles and put them in a plastic bag inside the kitchen freezer to take home later for Sydette. Bottles made, she helped prepare lunch with her Aunt. All the houses were clean and prepped for Klaue's people, so Yani enjoyed the respite.

"What time are they eating, Auntie?"

"Mr. Klaue said around 1:30."

Yani washed her hands in the kitchen sink. She sneaked a nectarine from a bowl on the dining table.

"That's for the guests."

"They won't miss one piece of fruit."

"Where you goin'?"

"The beach—"

"Don't stay down there all day, Yani—"

"Just a quick dip. I promise."

"I'll need your help putting things out—"

"I'll be back. Quick, quick…" she said flouncing out of sight.

###

The path was a tiny sanctuary.

It felt like she was traveling into a secret garden.

Even though she grew up around water all her life, was nicknamed The Mermaid because of her love for it and knew practically every bay and cove on the island, there was something special about this small patch of land that led to this particular little private beach. Private only because the topography made it difficult for small boats to get to and tourists to walk without having to climb some terrain.

Klaue wasn't a swimmer, not all that much anyway, and his men never came down this way, so it was hers. Yaniland.

She ate the nectarine and began pulling her top off when she halted, fruit dangling between her teeth.

Someone was in her private paradise.

A man was swimming in her water.

She felt vexed until she walked closer.

He was floating naked on his back oblivious to her gawking at him full of irritation. He was spoiling her space. She pulled the fruit from her mouth.

"Hey! You out there! What are you doin' here?"

The man dunked under the crystal waters and when he came back up, he shook loose locs around the crown of his head.

Yani shielded her eyes.

"You talking to me?" he asked.

"You see anyone else here?"

"Why you so salty? You don't even know me, Ma!"

"Ma? You call me your mother? Do I look like your mother to you?"

"Relax Steve Irwin—"

"What you call me?"

"You the one talking to the iguana?"

"What iguana?"

"Earlier, up at the middle house…Jerome."

Yani scrunched up her face.

"How you know I talked to Jerome?"

"I was in the house. I'm the new guy."

"Killmonger?"

"Yeah."

"Who told you to come down here?"

"Your Aunt."

Yani sucked her teeth. It was loud enough for him to hear and he laughed at her.

"Is this your private beach?"

"No," she said folding her arms across her chest.

"Then I can swim here."

He moved in closer until the water was at his waist.

There were bumps all over his chest and waist, but none below…

Lookie.

His privates were distorted a bit from the sun's angle hitting the water, but she could see it closer. She felt her eyes fuse in her skull. She was staring at a naked man she didn't know.

"Were you planning on getting in? I can leave if you want some privacy."

"I was, but you can stay in…"

He looked down at himself then back at her.

"I'll leave—"

"Wait!"

Yani stepped back and her nectarine fell out of her hand.

"I don't want to make this weird for you. I'll leave first so you can swim or put your clothes on."

"Close your eyes. You walked all the way down here to enjoy yourself. I'll put on my stuff and let you have at it."

Yani closed her eyes and she heard the splash of water as the man left the sea.

"All good now," he said.

When she opened her eyes, he had his sweatpants on and held his shirt and shoes in his hands.

"Yani?" he asked.

"Yeah…"

She felt her voice die in her throat when she saw his bottom canines between his lips. She wasn't shy about staring at his scars. He was much taller than her.

Killmonger.

This was the man Klaue was bragging on the last two days. The man that Polk and Huntsman grumbled about at the dinner the previous night. It seemed Killmonger had favor with Klaue and those two brutes didn't like it so much. Yani had heard Huntsman call the man an ursurper. She expected to see some piggish white man with swine-like features and dragon fire spewing from his mouth. The only unsettling thing about him was the keloid scars. And only because they didn't look random at all nor accidental.

"You not hot wearing that on your head?" he asked.

Yani touched the top of her head. She still had her beanie on from earlier in the day. It had been cold that morning when she arrived. She wore a dark Naruto t-shirt and baggy orange sweats and just because he mentioned her head cover, she suddenly felt overheated wearing so much clothing on the beach. The heat was beating her down. She needed to be in the water. But she needed him to leave because she too liked to swim nude. But now that he knew about this place, she would probably have to change the times she came down. And she most definitely couldn't swim naked again while he was here. He was ruining everything.

She pulled her beanie off. Her scalp was grateful, her short buzz cut allowing the heat to toast the dyed blonde hair on her head.

"I'll go check on Jerome," he said.

Up close his voice had a playful raspy quality to it. His gold slugs peeked at her again when he smiled. He had dimples like her Sydette.

"Oh!" she said.

She wanted to grab her breasts when she felt her nipples leaking suddenly.

"What?" he asked, his face looking curious.

"I forgot something!"

She took off running back up to the front house clutching at her chest.

Leona was clearing space on the dining table for the lunch meal when Yani ran in.

"What's going on?"

"My titties are leaking."

"You're not wearing that special padded bra I bought for you? I got you four of those to help with that.

"I forgot," Yani called from the bathroom. She wiped down her nipples and stuffed tissue inside her bra to soak up anything else that decided to express itself from her tits. She couldn't wait for Sydette to be done with breastfeeding so her titty milk could dry up.

She walked out of the bathroom to find her Aunt talking to Killmonger and she felt her nipples acting up again. The tissue would have to work miracles.

Watching Killmonger converse she noticed how giddy her Aunt was acting with him. He was sweet with her, asking questions about the island, about her, what she did when she didn't work at the house. Before she knew it, lunch was ready and Killmonger was helping Leona bring the food to the table. Now he was taking over her job.

The other men arrived and Yani joined her Aunt in the kitchen to stay out of their way. Klaue sat at the head of the table with Killmonger by his side, and when she heard the new man speak again, she realized that her tits were reacting to his voice, her milk was leaking again. Only her baby could do that to her sometimes when she cried or needed something.

What the hell was this man doing to her?

She pressed her fingers against her nipples to push the tissue paper closer to her tips.

Who was he?

###

Smooth sun-kissed brown skin. Lips plump. Eyes big and bright. Eyebrows dark and thick.

Yani favored her Aunt and Erik found himself staring at her while he ate lunch with the men and Klaue.

One minute she was making him feel like he didn't belong in her space and the next he was watching her run away from him, her thick ass cheeks bouncing and making him think thoughts he had put aside. He hadn't been with a woman for about three months and quite frankly, hadn't missed the company because of all the work he had been doing. Once he hooked Klaue into his orbit, all Erik could think about was Wakanda and waiting for the perfect time to move on the East African nation.

She was young. This girl, Yani. Probably in her twenties. Mouthy. He liked that. Saw him naked and didn't give a fuck. Until he came closer to her. Then she became modest, probably for his sake and hers. A young woman like her around some treacherous men, she had to be careful.

He wasn't the only one peeping her in the kitchen at lunch. Huntsman was clocking her also. This bothered Erik. So openly wanton.

She was covered up looking like some skater punk he could see on any street corner back home, but she had some curves that strained against the sweatpants. Waist tight probably from swimming a lot. Full breasts. It was the blonde hair that made her dark eyebrows pop. Right now, those eyebrows were furrowed and she was looking right at him. Like she was still mad he had trespassed on her world. The girl who spoke affectionately to iguanas like they were human and yelled at him like he was a big lizard. Erik gave her a grin and she cut her eyes to look at her Aunt who was washing dishes.

By the time lunch was over, Yani was reaching into a refrigerator and grabbing a plastic bag and leaving the house for the day.

The rest of the day was a period of rest and acclimation.

Klaue didn't want to talk shop until the next day, and Erik was happy he could just wander the secure compound. He spotted security cameras everywhere. He learned that each house could be locked down from the inside and secured easily. Klaue called the estate "Our Lady's Manor", naming it after Leona who Klaue affectionately referred to as "My Lady" every chance he got. Leona didn't seem to mind, and she got on well with Klaue in that practiced way that Black people had when in the employ of white people. Klaue may have thought they were close, like family even by the way he fawned over her, but Leona was about her job and getting her work done as expeditiously as possible without getting in anyone's way. Friendly but distant. Smart woman. Klaue was not to be trusted. The presence of guns and ammo didn't faze her or Yani. Money was money.

Erik looked for Yani at dinner and she wasn't around for it. Gone for the rest of the night he assumed. He didn't want to ask Leona about her, afraid of making the older woman suspicious of him for asking about her young niece. He just wanted to let her know that he would be going to the beach early in the morning so that she could have her own personal beach time.

Erik slept well in his new room after smoking some decent herb that Polk gave him to tune out. When his alarm went off at five in the morning, he slipped into some light blue swim trunks and walked barefoot at dawn to the beach.

Body rested, mind clear and sharp, he felt like the wind had been punched out of him when he saw Yani in the water already.

Naked.

Water pearled down her cinnamon brown skin as if she wore diamonds in the early morning waves. Her hips flared out showcasing the beauty of her round posterior that flexed as she poured water over her head.

Once, when he was a child, Erik's mother had taken him to carnival in Sao Paulo and while standing next to his play cousin Marisol and holding his father's hand, Erik saw Yemanjá dancing on a float, the drums of Candomblé pounding in his ears, his little hips moving in time to the rhythm. He thought the woman on the float dressed in gauzy blue scarves was a real Goddess and his mother gently corrected him and explained that she was a representation. That first sensation, the tangible feeling of his heart bursting wide open to make room for the orixá of the sea had stayed with him for a long time. That woman long ago may have been a false divinity, and he could be forgiven for making the mistake with the eyes of a child. But he was a man now, and the being before him splashing in the warm sea was real and divine. Black deities were real. She was in front of him. Yemanjá. He had to be near her.

He shucked his trunks and took his time approaching her.

She dived under the water and he felt that his heart would break if she didn't come back up, wouldn't be surprised at all if she didn't return to the surface, but he needed to see her eyes, needed to make sure she was real.

He stopped short when a small wave crashed into his chest and he allowed himself to be swept with it.

Yani popped back to the surface wiping her hand over her face. She didn't jump or cry out when she saw him wading in the water, didn't try to shield her breasts or the neatly clipped bikini area of her sex, her vulva pouty and rounded, the split between her legs making his dick jump. She was a true ethereal vision and the reverence in his eyes must've stalled any thoughts she may have had of him being a weirdo coming for her.

"Killmonger," she said with no trepidation in her voice, "I see this is going to be a problem, no?"

"Erik," he whispered, trying to find his own voice, "my name is Erik."