T’Challa is born into loss.
He is born screaming and bloody and he is held for a precious few minutes by a mother that he will never remember. He cries and cries when her arms go limp around him and he learns, in those few seconds between her death and when his father snatches him up from limbs still warm, what it means to lose those he loves.
When he is four, T’Chaka remarries. Ramonda is kind and her hands are gentle as she presses ice to the purpling bruise around his eye. “How did this happen?” she asks quietly.
T’Challa can’t meet her gaze. “One of the village boys. I don’t- I don’t think it was intentional. He pushed me, and-”
Ramonda’s hands still. “And?”
T’Challa has never learned dishonesty. “He was upset. He said that- that I am responsible for the queen’s death.” He swallows thickly, lifts his head. “He is right.”
“No.” Ramonda clasps T’Challa’s hands between hers, earnest. “T’Challa, baby, your mother’s death was not your fault. She was in Bast’s care.” Ramonda pulls T’Challa forward to sit on the bench next to her. “We may be royalty baby, but there are still many things that are beyond our control. We cannot make the crops grow or the sun shine. We cannot tame the jungle or the panthers of our home. These things are out of our control, and so is death.” T’Challa stares up at her, eyes wide and glistening. “Bast chooses who he will to return to his care, and all we can do is love all deeply and dearly as we can while they are still with us.” She smiles and strokes a hand over T’Challa’s head and T’Challa smiles back.
Four years after that, Ramonda disappears. His father goes hard and cold in a way that T’Challa has never seen before. “She left us,” he tells T’Challa shortly, and T’Challa swallows and squeezes the hand of the daughter that Ramonda left behind.
The kingdom locks down, and although T’Chaka learns to be soft again, their borders never re-open.
T’Challa is born into greatness.
He is raised as a prince of the people, with half a dozen tutors in the arts of literature and mathematics and statesmanship. He accompanies his father into the country each week, sees his future people and loves them even more than they adore him. He trains under the Dora Milaje, learns the true measure of strength and how to be respectful.
He grows up with an adoring population and a proud father and a idolizing sister. He is beautiful and intelligent strong. He will be a great leader of his people.
He is so lonely.
Wakanda watches as a man is lost in Afghanistan, is found again, is born anew. Wakanda watches as a man explodes into beast, as a legend emerges from the ocean, as a god descends from the heavens. Wakanda watches as the sky splits and their world is endangered. Wakanda watches as New York City is saved. Wakanda watches the rise and fall of heroes, of villains, of organizations big and small. Wakanda watches innocent people die, caught in the crossfire. “Enough,” says Wakanda.
T’Chaka spearheads the Accords, and T’Challa sees his father at his finest. He sees T’Chaka spend sleepless nights at his desk, sees him debate with heads of state and world leaders, sees him burn with the passion in his heart.
“We cannot stop all evil,” he tells T’Challa and Shuri over breakfast on the first day of the UN conference. “There will always be men in the world who seek to bring harm unto others. All that we can do is attempt to ensure that we can bring those people to justice without injuring the innocent.”
“Bureaucracy can be slow and inefficient, tata,” Shuri says, and T’Chaka inclines his head.
“The world needs rules to run efficiently, daughter, and these Accords will ensure that the most powerful among us will be held in check while still allowing them to save the world as they need to. It is not a perfect document, I know, but when the world is in danger, even the most stubborn of bureaucrats will do what they must to keep us all safe. In the meantime, people do not feel safe with super-powered beings operating unrestrained.”
“It’s a compromise,” Shuri says, understanding.
T’Challa grins at his sister. “Are you certain you aren’t just protesting on the behalf of a certain demigod, Shuri?”
She blushes, and T’Chaka laughs. “I do believe your crush is showing, daughter.”
Shuri shoves at T’Challa’s shoulder, since he’s closer, and he almost falls out of his chair. Now, he knows, their father is laughing at them both.
T’Challa loses his father. He does not cry, does not mourn, not yet, because death may be out of his hands, but his father’s murderer is not.
T’Challa walks into his office one evening, a month after it is all over, and finds Tony Stark slumped in his desk chair, asleep. He stares for a moment, shocked into frozen silence at this blatant irrespect. Stark snores softly, oblivious.
“Excuse me,” he says, loud but firmly polite. Stark jerks upright, blinking in confusion as T’Challa regards him with a raised eyebrow.
Stark scrubs a hand over his face, runs it through his hair. “Sorry, sorry, your, uh, your highness. I guess I’m not getting enough sleep.” He chuckles, self-deprecating, and T’Challa frowns at him.
“Can I help you?”
Stark sighs and rubs at his temples. “Yeah. Yeah, I hope you can.”
They work together for months, fighting off Ross and searching for loopholes in American law and trying desperately to maintain peace and keep everyone safe. There’s a close call, when Tony’s branded as a traitor and spends a week in a maximum-security prison before T’Challa can find him. Tony smiles at him, exhausted and bruised, when T’Challa stops before his cell. “I knew you’d find me,” he says, and something changes between them after that.
T’Challa finds happiness in a kiss, a cautious, quick thing in a conference room, bent over dozens of documents and thick tomes. He pulls back slowly and finds Tony beaming at him. Things settle, Ross finally indicted and the Avengers mending into something whole again. They’re changed, with new members and new scars, but they work well together and they save the world over and over again. T’Challa kisses Tony more, hundreds of times, sryupy kisses over breakfast and quick pecks before meetings and slow, passionate things in a bed that’s become theirs. T’Challa commissions a ring.
T’Challa’s life ends with a curse. It ends with a muttered, “aw, fuck,” a whisper over the comm unit in his ear. It ends with a word tinged with pain and with the way his head snaps around to watch the Iron Man armor fall from the sky. It ends with an “aw, fuck,” and the sound that concrete makes when a body hits it from six hundred feet up.
The events after that are a blur in his memory, but he remembers the strain in his muscles, in his lungs, as he sprints the hundreds of meters that separate him and his beloved. He remembers Natasha’s brutality as she captures the man, just a boy really, too smart and disillusioned with the world and armed with an over-powered gun and the ability to tear T’Challa’s world to shreds. He remembers that Rhodey reaches Tony first, the mechanics of the armor cum prosthesis whirring as he collapses to his knees next to twisted red and gold, a horrible parody of two years before.
Time comes rushing back to T’Challa as he skids to a halt next to the crater Tony’s laying in. He trips over the buckled concrete, his grace abandoning him, and collapses to his hands and knees mere feet away from the Iron Man armor. He stays down, crawls over as Rhodey pulls off the faceplate and T’Challa’s breath catches in his throat.
Tony’s eyes are closed, blood streams down his face from a gash above his right eyebrow, and his forehead is caved in, T’Challa sees the white hint of bone, and T’Challa looks down, sees the way that the armor has broken, has twisted and buckled and stabbed deep into Tony’s abdomen. “No,” he gasps.
Rhodey’s already crying, tears streaming down his face as he rips off his gauntlet and reaches for a pulse. He searches, carefully pulls off the Iron Man helmet entirely, throwing it to the side as he reaches again and again, can’t find anything, holds his palm over Tony’s mouth and feels no breath.
T’Challa is frozen, crouched half over Tony, his hands pressed against the armor as if he could stop the horrible flood of blood that’s gushing from his stomach, as if he could heal it with sheer willpower, as if he could make it alright again.
Rhodey hangs his head, shaking with sobs. “No,” T’Challa says again. He pulls off a glove, reaches for Tony’s face, brushes feather-light fingers over that horrible wound, but head wounds always bleed more, and Tony’s bone-headed, he knows that, Tony’s so so stubborn, too stubborn to die like this, and T’Challa reaches for a pulse, presses shaking, blood-stained fingers to Tony’s neck, finds the vein, waits for that light press of pumping blood against his fingers.
“He’s gone,” Rhodey says, his voice hoarse and broken, and T’Challa shakes his head.
“No. No, sithandwa, darling, please, please wake up, please.” T’Challa curls around Tony, presses his forehead against the dim arc reactor. “Mabhebeza, please.” Tony doesn’t move, doesn’t crack his eyes open with a yawn, blink sleepily at T’Challa and make a crack about mother hen-ing. He doesn’t move.
“He’s gone,” Rhodey says again, and T’Challa growls, rough and inhuman.
Tony can’t be gone. He can’t be.
T’Challa has a ring.