Nightmares!!!! Mysterious de-aging!!! The ex-avengers??? T'Challa!!
“T’alla?” The whisper of his name, mangled though it is by a toddler’s tongue, draws T’Challa quickly from his light doze. He blinks in the bright beam of light piercing his dark bedroom; light, he realizes, that is escaping from the door, which is standing open.
“Anthony,” he murmurs, sleep rough, and sits up to regard the small figure outlined in the doorway. “Is something wrong?”
The toddler shuffles his feet but does not move further into the room. T’Challa wishes he could see his expression, but Anthony’s face is cast into shadow by the light of the hallway. “Where is Okoye,” he tries again. T’Challa hadn’t left the most important man in his life unguarded, but here Anthony is, wandering freely.
His half-formed fear and irritation is immediately assuaged by a soft, “Here, your majesty.” Okoye steps into view behind Anthony and bows shallowly. “He woke alarmed,” she continues in Wakandan. “A nightmare, I believe. He wanted to see you. I apologize for disturbing-”
T’Challa waves her apologies away and turns his attention towards her silent charge. “Come here, Anthony,” he says quietly, and the boy flings himself across the floor. It’s a marked change from when Anthony arrived a week and a half ago, shivering and flinching from every touch, no matter how gentle. T’Challa slips to his knees next to the bed just in time to catch him. Anthony is shaking, he realizes abruptly, shuddering with the force of the tears that soon soak the shoulder of T'Challa's shirt.
“I-I,” his voice shakes with sobs, “I had a ba-a-ad d-dream. C-can I sleep with you?”
T’Challa presses a kiss to the top of Anthony’s head and closes his eyes. At least Anthony trusts him with this, now. “Of course, mabhebeza.” Anthony is still shaking, so T’Challa pulls the boy closer and runs a hand down his back. He’s far too skilled at comforting Anthony through nightmares, although the ability to easily scoop the boy up and set him on the bed, as he does now, is new.
When T’Challa sits down on the bed next to Anthony, the boy scrambles up onto his lap and latches onto his shirt. Carefully, T’Challa maneuvers them both to lay propped on the pillows, Anthony on his chest. T’Challa can feel the boy’s breath shuddering, although the tears have stopped, and he strokes Anthony’s back and whispers comfort until he falls still.
The room falls into silence, Okoye having long since departed, broken only by the occasional hitch in Anthony’s breath. T’Challa cards his other hand through Anthony’s soft hair and asks, “can you tell me what you dreamt of?”
Anthony remains silent for a moment, but T’Challa is patient. “I was- I was stuck in metal, all of me, and I couldn’ move my hands or feet or anything and it was really cold.” T’Challa has a sinking feeling that he recognizes this particular nightmare - damn wormhole - but he’s surprised as Anthony turns his face into T’Challa’s shirt and continues, muffled, “and there was a man.” He stops, breath hitching, and T’Challa pulls him closer.
“A man?” he prompts, gently encouraging. Anthony nods against his chest.
“Y-yeah. He was big an’ strong an’ he-” Anthony’s voice drops to a whisper, “an’ he looked like Cap’n ‘Merica, but he couldn’ be, ‘cause he was hittin’ me, an’ I know Cap’n ‘Merica doesn’t hit little kids ‘cause he’s better than daddy, better than anyone. ”
“Oh, mabhebeza.” Emotion tightens T’Challa’s throat for a moment. In lieu of words, he pulls Anthony closer. “It was just a dream, Anthony.” A lie, and it hurts. “I won’t let anyone hurt you, ever. You are safe with me.” This is the unadulterated truth.
Anthony sighs and tucks his head into the crook of T’Challa’s neck. “He was so mad,” he mumbles, already half-asleep.
T’Challa nods, silent, and cards his fingers through Anthony’s hair until the boy’s eyes flutter shut and his breathing evens. T’Challa stares up at the ceiling and does not sleep.
They are eating breakfast three days later when one of the Dora Milaje steps up to their table. T’Challa encourages Anthony to finish his enthusiastic re-telling of yesterday’s foray into the jungle with Shuri before he turns to the woman. “ Yes, Khuthala?”
Khuthala bows shallowly before delivering her news. “Steve Rogers is here to see you, majesty.”
T’Challa tenses just as he feels Anthony’s excited fidgeting halt next to him. “Wha’d she say?” Anthony asks quietly, but the slight tremble in his voice reveals that he recognizes the name.
T’Challa curses internally and dismisses Khuthala externally before he turns towards Anthony. “An… acquaintance of mine is here to see me.”
“Steve Rogers?” Anthony is still so quiet, his gaze directed at the napkin he’s fiddling with. When T’Challa doesn't respond immediately, Anthony looks up, fear raging with excitement and confusion in his eyes. “Cap’n America?”
Slowly, T’Challa nods. “Yes. Captain America.”
“Oh.” Anthony looks down again. Then, “can I- can I meet him?”
When T’Challa hesitates, Anthony meets his gaze. Under those imploring amber eyes, T’Challa crumbles. “Of course, Anthony.”
Rogers is pacing back and forth in front of the bay windows when T’Challa steps into the antechamber where they are waiting. Sam Wilson is perched on one of the couches, a curled line of anxiety. The Widow, beside him, is sprawled on the couch in a move designed to appear relaxed, but T’Challa frowns to see the knife she cleans her nails with.
He goes to address them, but Rogers sees him first and starts towards him. “T’Challa, I’m sorry to bother you, but we need your help.”
T’Challa regards him, unimpressed. “Even after I hosted you for half a year and still guard Barnes from your government’s persistent and growing interest?” It is harsh, but T’Challa does not feel inclined to extend even more generosity to this man. Rogers looks sufficiently abashed, and T’Challa sighs. He might as well learn what drew these people to Wakanda once more. “What do you need?”
Rogers rubs at the back of his neck. “We’re having a little difficulty getting into Latveria, and we were wondering if you might be able to pull a few strings to-” He stops abruptly, his hand dropping as he stares, wide-eyed, at the doorway. T’Challa glances back to see Anthony lurking there, one tiny hand clasped around the doorframe as he peers in.
“Who is that?” Rogers asks, but he’s gone pale; he already knows.
Ignoring him, T’Challa holds a hand out to Anthony. “Come in, Anthony,” he encourages gently, and someone sucks in a sharp breath of surprise behind him.
Slowly, Anthony edges into the room, his eyes fixed on Rogers, before he dashes the last few feet to T’Challa and grabs his hand. “Hello,” he says, quiet.
Rogers seems frozen into place, but Sam Wilson steps forward, an easy smile on his face. “Hey, Anthony. My name’s Sam. How are you doing?” The question seems innocent, but he flashes a glance at T’Challa, who glowers at the implication that he would ever even consider the idea of harming any child, let alone Anthony.
Anthony shuffles his feet as he peers up at Wilson, uncharacteristically shy. “Pretty good.”
Wilson grins, apparently genuine. “Good! I’m doing alright, but, wow, it’s hot here!”
“I’m used to it,” Anthony informs him, a little proudly. “Plus there’s a pool!” Wilson’s face lights up at that, and he enthuses about the pool - “two, ach’ally! Inside and outside!” - with Anthony as the boy slowly relaxes. T’Challa’s distracted from the conversation by a presence next to him, and he turns to see Romanoff regarding the interaction.
“How did this happen?” she asks, quiet.
T’Challa hesitates for just a moment before admitting, just as lowly, “we are not certain. He was called in to investigate rumors of AIM activity. It was intended to be simple reconnaissance of one of their supposed bases, but his suit went offline and we could no longer contact him. Two weeks later, your former director Fury showed up in Wakanda with Anthony in the condition he is in now.” They turn to look at the boy in unison and fall into silence as they watch him gesticulating to Wilson.
“Do you know how to fix it?”
“No.” T’Challa can’t resist the urge to rub at his temples. “My scientists have never seen anything like it before, and Dr. Strange says it is no magic that he is familiar with. We are working on finding a cure, of course, but in the meantime…”
“You’re taking care of him?” When T’Challa nods, Romanoff turns to look at him speculatively. “Why did Fury come to you first?”
Before T’Challa has the opportunity to come up with an answer, Rogers clears his throat. “Tony?” He steps towards Anthony, and T’Challa watches with narrowed eyes. “Do you know who I am?”
Anthony flicks his gaze at Rogers, drops it to the ground. “You’re Cap’n America,” he mumbles. T’Challa spies the way he twists his hands nervously in front of him and takes a few steps forward to stand behind the boy. Encouraged, perhaps, by T’Challa at his back, Anthony continues a little louder, “my daddy helped to make you big and strong. But then you got frozen, so I dunno if you’re ach’ally…” He trails off, looks back at T’Challa for support.
“I am Captain America,” Rogers assures before T’Challa can do more than open his mouth. “People found me and… unfroze me.”
Anthony frowns. “My daddy found you?”
“Uh, no.” Rogers looks almost helpless as he rubs at the back of his neck. “It was almost by accident, actually.”
“Oh.” Anthony looked back down at the floor and seemed to think about it for a moment before he brightened and turned towards T’Challa with a grin. “My daddy doesn’ have to go on ex’pidshions anymore! He can help me build stuff! Then he’ll be proud of me!”
Wilson inhales sharply, but T’Challa has eyes only for the exuberant boy before him as he swallows back a lump in his throat and smiles back. “Yes, Anthony. I’m sure he will be.”
When he looks up, Rogers is staring at them, pale and wide-eyed. T’Challa looks away.
Chapter 2: Interlude
Just a short drabble-thing that I didn't even intend to write but the support for this fic has been overwhelming so I figured you guys deserved some more. Angst. I gave you more angst. You're welcome.
The plot will continue in the next chapter! Hopefully! Like I said I'm not even 100% sure what I'm doing with this fic! Fun times!!
Tony’s talking to Rhodey, who is his best friend even though he’s an adult, which is kind of weird, but T’Challa’s his best friend too, and he’s an adult, and no one’s told Tony that he’s not allowed to be friends with adults so he guesses it’s okay. He can only talk to Rhodey on the tablet, a weird piece of glass and metal that T’Challa says can project images from everywhere in the world. Tony’s never seen anything like it, not even in his daddy’s workshop, but he loves using it to talk to Rhodey every day. Sometimes he wishes he could talk to Rhodey in person, but Rhodey says that he’s sorry but he can’t leave America, that he’s busy, and Tony knows that when people are busy you shouldn’t bother them. At least he still talks to Tony.
“Tones?” That’s Rhodey, drawing Tony’s attention from where he’s tracing his fingers over the smooth edge of the tablet. “T’Challa says that some people came to visit Wakanda.” He speaks kind of slowly, like Jarvis does when he’s asking Tony an important question. “What did you think of them?”
Tony shrugs. He accidentally smudged the glass of the tablet so he reaches out to wipe it away. “Sam’s nice. Funny.” His rubbing leaves streaks over the tablet and Tony frowns at it. He’s not supposed to make messes. “I dunno about Natas’a. She’s kind of scary.” He licks his thumb, rubs at the glass, and it only smears further.
“And,” Rhodey pauses, and Tony looks from the smudge to meet his eyes. “What about Captain America?”
Tony sits up straighter. “He’s aweso-” his tongue stops working, leaves him stuttering and looking away from Rhodey again. “He’s awesome,” Tony says again, but his heart is pounding hard in his chest, bum bum bum bum, and Tony puts his hand to his chest to tell it to calm down.
“Tony?” Rhodey sounds worried, his voice tight and high like Jarvis sounds sometimes when daddy is drinking adult juice. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Tony says immediately, because of course he’s fine, he’s not scared of Captain America because Captain America is a hero, that’s what daddy says, Captain America is the bravest, smartest, strongest person ever and Tony loves him, because he knows Captain America would love him too, but now he’s met him in person, which is impossible, but he did, and Captain America just stared at him and didn’t say anything and Tony’s heart pounded then and it pounds now and he doesn’t know why but he knows he isn’t scared because that doesn’t make any sense.
He looks back at the tablet and it’s still smudged, even worse than before. That’s Tony’s fault. He made a mess, he made it dirty, and when he tried to fix it he only made it worse. He always makes it worse.
Tony’s eyes sting, and when he blinks the world goes blurry and there’s wetness on his cheek. Rhodey is saying his name again, louder, and oh no Tony is crying in front of him like a baby and now Rhodey will think he is a baby but he’s not, he’s a big boy and he isn’t supposed to cry, he doesn’t cry. “Bye Rhodey,” he says, fast and choked, and jabs his thumb at the red symbol that makes Rhodey go away. The move leaves another smear and Tony drops the tablet to the floor and steps away from it and then he turns around and it doesn’t make sense to run because Rhodey is already gone but he runs anyways.
In which T'Challa comforts Tony (again), Rhodey and T'Challa figure things out, and Steve has Good Intentions™
I got 110% on my essay so here's a chapter!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“No, absolutely not.” T’Challa’s voice is firm, resolute, but Rogers opens his mouth to protest again anyways. T’Challa slashes his hand through the air, cuts him off violently, “Barnes trusted me with this! I know you are his friend, but I cannot awaken him until we have a confirmed, permanent solution to erase his programming. I will not let you-” He’s interrupted by the ringing of his cell phone. T’Challa shoots Rogers a glare, letting him know that their conversation is far from over, but his private phone number is given to only a trusted few. If someone is calling him, it is important.
“Excuse me,” he says, ice cold. After a moment of hesitation, the still-silent Agent Romanoff steps into the hallway, Rogers reluctantly following. T’Challa snatches the phone from his pocket, answers without looking at the caller ID, and makes a vain attempt to keep the ire from his voice as he snaps, “Yes?”
“Look, sorry for bothering you, highness, but Tony had what looked a helluva lot like a panic attack while we were talking and I don't know what sparked it but I’m like ninety percent certain that he ran off after he hung up on me so if you could find him that'd be awesome.”
It takes a moment for T’Challa to place the voice - James Rhodes, Anthony's best friend, and a man that T’Challa gifted with his phone number after Anthony's de-aging. Then he registers what Rhodes said, and he grips the phone so hard his knuckles turn white. “Thank you for telling me,” he says, stiff to hide the panic he can hear reflected in Rhodes’s voice. “I'll call you back.”
He hangs up before Rhodes can respond. For a moment he's frozen, still clutching the phone in his aching hand. Then he drops it, lets it clatter onto his desk unheeded, and dashes to the door.
Rogers startles when T’Challa bursts out of the office, jerking away from the wall he’d been leaning against. “Your highness-”
“Not now,” T’Challa snaps through gritted teeth as he storms past. “We will discuss this later.”
“What’s going-” T’Challa turns the corner before Romanoff can finish her sentence. They do not follow.
Anthony’s quarters are only a few hallways away from T’Challa’s office, only a few hundred meters really, but T’Challa thinks, as he sprints down the marble halls, that a distance has never felt so great. Finally, he reaches Anthony’s door and only barely restrains himself from bursting in. If the boy’s already in distress, that certainly wouldn’t help.
Instead, he knocks. “Anthony?” he calls out, determinedly keeping the panic from his tone. “May I come in?”
There is no reply.
“Anthony,” he tries one more time, before carefully opening the door. At first glance, nothing seems to be amiss - the living room floor is still playing host to a Lego metropolis, and the walls sport dozens of crayon drawings. The TV is muted in the corner, “How It’s Made,” playing silently. Anthony is nowhere to be seen, but a tablet lies abandoned on the couch.
T’Challa walks through the room, careful to avoid stepping on Anthony’s painstakingly constructed skyscrapers as he approaches the bedroom door. Again, he knocks. “Anthony?”
Again, there’s no reply. T’Challa tries to open the door, but the handle twists in his hand ineffectively. Locked.
T’Challa hesitates for a moment, then calls out. “I’m going to come in, Anthony. Is that okay?” Silence, which he’s come to expect. Although he’s loathe to invade Anthony’s privacy, T’Challa’s concerned enough to reach for the key kept on the small ledge of the doorway, far out of Anthony’s reach.
He unlocks the door, steps inside.
The room’s dark, the only light filtering in through the cracks of partially-closed blinds. T’Challa steps in, picking his way over an abandoned tool-chest, around a mass of metal that looks something like a robotic dog, through stacks of crayon-scrawled blueprints. “Anthony,” he says, quiet. “Where are you, katana? I’m worried about you.”
Quiet. Then, the muffled sound of sniffling. T’Challa spins toward the bed just in time to see a small, slightly dusty figure crawl out from beneath. “T’alla?” The word is hesitant, thick with tears, and T’Challa’s heart breaks at the sound.
“Oh, sithandwa.” He races across the room, drops to his knees, and - thank Bast - Anthony doesn’t flinch, doesn’t shy away; he scrambles into T’Challa’s lap, clutches at his sweater with a death grip. T’Challa can feel him shaking, trembling lightly under the arms T’Challa instantly wraps around him.
This is becoming too familiar.
He sits with Anthony for a while, rocking him back and forth and murmuring assurances. Finally, the boy’s shaking eases, his sniffles fade. Then, and only then, does T’Challa dare to ask, “What happened, Anthony?”
Anthony sniffles, and for a moment T’Challa thinks he isn’t going to reply. But, “I was talkin’ to Rhodey. An-An’ I made a mark on the tablet, an’ I tried to clean it off but it just made a bigger mess, no matter what I did, an’ I’m sorry!” Anthony pulls back to look up at T’Challa, his eyes red and his cheeks shiny with tears. “I didn’ mean to make a mess!”
For a moment, T’Challa is shocked into silence. Then he leans back, puts his hands on Anthony’s shoulders to make sure he has his attention. “Anthony,” he says, slowly and deliberately. “That’s okay. I know you didn’t mean to make a mess, and we can easily clean it up. It’s not your fault, and,” he hesitates for a beat, wondering if he’s being too presumptuous, before forging onwards, “you are not bad for accidentally dirtying the tablet.”
Anthony stares at him for a long moment before, to T’Challa’s horror, he bursts into tears once more. “Oh, no, mabhebeza, it’s okay, please don’t cry, everything’s okay.” He continues, desperately reassuring, until Anthony, exhausted from the panic attack and crying, falls asleep in his lap.
“I don’t understand,” T’Challa says, later. He paces back and forth in his office. James Rhodes watches him from the television with tired eyes. “He told me he was upset about smudging the glass of the tablet, but surely that’s not what caused him to suffer a panic attack.”
“With what I’ve heard about Howard Stark, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Tony really was that upset about making what he considered a mess,” Rhodes says darkly. T’Challa flexes his fingers and wishes he had his claws and Howard Stark in the room. Then Rhodes shakes his head. “But you’re right. I don’t think that’s what caused it. Or at least, it wasn’t the only thing.”
T’Challa turns a curious look at him, and Rhodes sighs. “He was fine for most of the conversation. Then I asked him what he thought about meeting Captain America, ‘cause I know Tones was a huge fan when he was a kid.” Rhodes expression darkens. “But he sure didn’t react like he was a fan. He reacted like he was scared.”
T’Challa looks down, considers the evidence. “He’s been having nightmares,” he says slowly, and Rhodes sighs again.
“Man, I would have hoped he’d be spared those as a kid, at least. He deserves a good night’s sleep, at least, not dreams about monsters under the bed.”
“No.” T’Challa meets Rhodey’s confused gaze. “They’re not the normal dreams of children. He has nightmares about Steve Rogers attacking him.”
Rhodes blanches. “Wait, he forgot everything else about his adult life but he remembers that?”
“Subconsciously, at least.” Suddenly exhausted, T’Challa slumps into his desk chair. “I don’t think he can access the memories, but some part of him remembers the pain and fear.”
Rhodes stares at him for a moment, and T’Challa can see his horror reflected in the man’s expression. “So he’s terrified of Steve and he doesn’t even know why.”
Slowly, T’Challa nods.
“Steve, I gotta be honest, I don’t think this is a good idea. King T’Challa’s already annoyed at us, do you really want to make it worse by sneaking around his castle?”
“I have to do this, Sam.” Steve turns to shoot his friend a determined look, and Sam resigns himself to the fact that he’s not going to be able to change the stubborn bastard’s mind. “Tony and I may not be able to get along as adults, but if he’s a kid then I can make amends.”
“Yeah, but-” Sam has to try, but Steve cuts him off.
“Besides, he admitted once that he loved Captain America when he was a kid.” Steve smiles at the memory, but it’s tinged with sorrow. “He’ll respect me, for once.”
Sam sends Steve an incredulous look. “Stark respected you, man! I think some of that hero-worship stuck around into adulthood. Anyone with eyes could tell that he was pretty desperate for your approval, as much as he hated to admit to even himself. Hell, I met him like, what, three times? I could tell!”
Steve’s stride stutters, and he turns shocked eyes on Sam. “Really?”
“Uh, yeah.” Sam sighs and reaches out to clasp Steve’s ridiculously muscled shoulder. “You know I’ve got your back, always. I’d die for you. But you realize that there was a time when Stark would have too, right? In a heartbeat.”
Steve stares at Sam, his expression so lost that Sam feels bad for him. He looks down at his feet and Sam drops his hand. Then Steve meets Sam’s gaze again, even more determined. “Come on. I think his room is down this hallway.”
Sam sighs and runs after his stubborn (idiotic) friend.
The amount of people subscribed to this is more than twice the size of my high school graduating class. So, thank you, and I'm sorry for my inconsistent updating lmao
In which there is a well-timed cookie run, T'Challa gets some news that he should probably be more happy about, and Tony actually makes it through an entire chapter happy.
I should be studying for midterms so of course y'all get this little chapter instead. Sorry for the wait!
Okoye is returning from the kitchen with a platter of cookies - she’s not above using sugar to cheer up her young charge, whom she has heard crying far too often in the past few days - when she spots them. Frowning, she changes her course to intercept them. “I do not believe you are permitted in this wing,” she calls out, distantly proud of how little her accent shines through.
The Captain visibly startles and turns to face her. “Oh! Um, hi.” He draws himself up, shares a glance with his bird companion, who wears a long-suffering expression. “I’m sorry, we’re a little lost. We were trying to find Tony’s room.”
Okoye’s frown deepens. Although she does not know the details, her king has shared enough for her to know that the Captain has been the source of Anthony’s distress. An abrupt, but not entirely unexpected, wave of fierce protectiveness washes through her. “I do not believe the inkosana wishes to see you,” she says, cold.
For a brief moment, the Captain looks shocked, even a little hurt. Then his expression smooths out, leaving steely eyes and a jutted chin in its place. “I’m going to apologize,” he says, decisive and stubborn. “I’m sure he’ll want to see me.”
It is a good thing that Okoye has experience with headstrong new recruits and her ornery cousins. “No.” The word is flat, indisputable. “I will not allow you to distress my charge again.” Despite the tray of cookies she still holds, Okoye is well aware of the effectiveness of the glare she turns on the Captain and his companion.
Sure enough, the Captain flinches under it. “But I-”
“Steve, let it go.” His companion puts a hand on the Captain’s arm, comforting yet restraining. “If Tony doesn’t want to see you-”
“But why, Sam?” The Captain turns to ‘Sam’ in distress, Okoye forgotten. “If he doesn’t remember anything, why wouldn’t he want to see me? I’m not gonna hurt him!”
“I know that,” Sam said, gently soothing. “But he’s a toddler, Steve. If being around you freaks him out, for whatever reason, then you shouldn’t be around him.”
The Captain looks absolutely crushed, and Okoye feels a small flicker of sympathy for him. “I just want to make things right again,” he mumbles, quietly enough that Okoye thinks she wasn’t meant to hear.
Sam slides his arm up to wrap it around the Captain’s shoulders. “We’ll figure it out, man. Just-just give him some time right now.”
The Captain drops his head in defeat. Okoye steps around them, confident that Anthony will be safe from the man, at least for the moment.
For now, she has cookies to deliver.
T’Challa strides down the hallway, a bounce in his stride. Finally, a piece of good news in the middle of this disaster. Anthony was still recovering from his traumatic experiences with Captain Rogers, though Okoye assured him that the Captain hadn’t made any attempts to contact the boy since his foiled visit almost a week ago. T’Challa had been infuriated at the news, and had made it known in no unclear terms that the Captain was to go nowhere near Anthony. Rogers had merely nodded, exhaustion in the slope of his shoulders and defeat in his eyes.
Sam Wilson, T’Challa had discovered, still makes the occasional visit to Anthony’s suite. T’Challa can’t bring himself to be overly upset, however, as Anthony was always left smiling and bubbling with excitement over the lego creations the man helped him build. T’Challa couldn’t resent anything that made Anthony happy.
Now, he knocks on the door to Anthony’s chambers. At Okoye’s “come in,” he steps inside. Okoye stands gracefully from where she had been kneeling next to Anthony’s coloring table. “My king,” she greets, bowing her head. It’s a marked difference to Anthony, who screams T’Challa’s name in delight and hurls himself across the room to wrap himself around T’Challa’s legs.
“I haven’ seen you in forefer, ” he declares, blinking up at T’Challa. In fact, T’Challa had joined Anthony for breakfast that morning before being called away to work, but he indulges the boy, scooping him up into his arms and propping him against a hip.
“I’m sorry, mabhebeza , ” he says, warm. “I promise I won’t work for so long again.” If things proceeded as he hoped, he shouldn’t have to. “Now, as an apology, why don’t we go see if Chef Bonani has some ice cream?”
Anthony nearly shrieks in excitement. “I wan’ chocolate,” he proclaims before wiggling out of T’Challa’s grasp to race to the door. It’s such a change in behavior from the trembling, sobbing boy who still wakes T’Challa with his night terrors and especially from the filthy, mute, horror-struck child that Nick Fury had showed up with that T’Challa cannot help but marvel at it.
Okoye seems to follow his train of thought as she watches Anthony carefully. “He is a changed boy, now.” She turns her astute gaze on T’Challa. “You make him happy.” A pause, then, “and I do not think the effect is one-sided.” When T’Challa doesn’t respond, a small smile crosses her face. “You deserve to be happy too, my king. Your joy has been in short supply, these last few months.”
It is presumptuous, far too bold for even a senior member of the Dora Milaje, but Okoye has been his most trusted warrior and one of his best friends since they were children. T’Challa’s lips quirk before he sobers again.
“Yes, well,” he pauses, awkward, before continuing. “He will not be a boy for much longer.. I can’t expect that things won’t change between us, after that.”
Okoye sends him a curious look, but T’Challa ignores it, instead striding forward to meet Anthony, who is waiting impatiently at the door. “Ice cream!”
T’Challa smiles back at the boy, and doesn’t think about what it will be like to lose this.
“Tony’s having night terrors.”
Steve turns his gaze away from the view of the palace’s impressive garden to stare at Sam. “What?”
The man is bent over on the couch, eyes trained on his clasped hands. “Night terrors. He didn’t tell me about them, really, I just figured it out, so I don’t know what they’re about, but…”
Steve swallows thickly. “You think they’re about me.”
Sam nods, mute. From another couch, Natasha watches with narrowed eyes.
“Oh.” Steve runs a hand over his face. “D’you- do you think he remembers Siberia?”
Sam nods again.
“Oh god.” Steve sinks down onto the couch, numb. “Oh god.”
Neither Sam nor Natasha have anything to say to that.
In which the author attempts to fix some plot holes and actually advance the plot
We're close to the end, folks! Thanks for sticking around through my hand-wavy plot and inconsistent updates, I love you all.
The inhabitants of the palace fall into an uneasy stalemate in the days it takes for Strange to prepare. The Captain makes no attempt to approach Anthony again, and T’Challa, only somewhat reluctantly, clears the way for their team to visit Latveria, where they apparently hope to find one of Victor von Doom’s creations to help Barnes. They linger, however, taking advantage of his hospitality as Rogers persists in his attempts to convince T’Challa to wake Barnes early and Sam Wilson visits Anthony and Romanoff trains with the Dora Milaje. It is, T’Challa has to admit, quite a sight.
He keeps Anthony as entertained and happy as he thinks is possible, with frequent video calls to his old friends and the latest innovative toys, with the occasional visit to the kingdom’s top laboratories and frequent ice cream treats. It’s hard, sometimes, for T’Challa to spend so much time with the boy when he knows their happiness cannot last, but whenever he tries to withdraw with excuses of meetings and kingly responsibilities, Anthony looks so devastated that T’Challa cannot bear it.
The boy has him wrapped him around his little finger, Okoye points out one time, but T’Challa knows she is just as bad.
Things do not change, for better or worse.
T’Challa finds Romanoff in the main hallway one day, staring out the bank of windows to the castle’s (admittedly impressive) garden. He steps up next to her. For a moment, they both regard the scene in silence. Then, “why are you working with Rogers? Did you not fight against him?”
Romanoff shrugs and doesn’t look away from the window. “Things changed after Tony disappeared. You know, of course, that he was working on the Accords, smoothing feathers in the United Nations and assuring that Clint and Scott could get back to their families and Wanda wouldn’t be seen as a weapon. Ross began taking liberties without Tony to keep him in check. He gained even more sway in American politics, started having more of an influence as the Accords were edited, worked even more fiercely for restrictions against enhanced people and fiercer punishments against breaking those regulations, the exact things that Tony was fighting against. After they thought Barnes attacked the United Nations conference, despite proof to the contrary, most nations were willing to go along with it.” Romanoff looks back, meets T’Challa’s gaze. “I spent most of my early career hiding in the shadows, working against various governments and corrupt officials. Guess I thought it was time to return to my roots.”
Her gaze is piercing, and T’Challa nods, silent.
T’Challa frowns. “Me?”
“Why did Fury bring Tony to you? Why not Rhodes or Pepper?” Her eyes narrow. “What does he know that I don't?”
For several long minutes, T’Challa doesn't reply. Romanoff doesn't leave though, clearly too stubborn to abandon the line of questioning. She just stares at him, relentless, until T’Challa gives in.
“We became… acquainted, a few weeks after Rogers and the rest left.” He knows he sounds stiff, formal, has to look back at the garden and away from Romanoff’s clever gaze.
“Ah.” She says, understanding. “I missed that.” A smile shapes her next words, a minute later. “I bet you two were good together, before… this.” She waves a hand, encapsulating their situation.
T’Challa can feel heat rising in his cheeks and keeps his gaze firmly trained on a hummingbird flitting through the garden. “We were not- there was nothing stated, yet. Nothing concrete.”
“Ah,” Romanoff says again, quieter. Another stretching moment of silence, then, “this... thing… between you will still be there, when he changes back. Who knows, he might be charmed by how well you took care of him.”
Tension locks T’Challa’s spine, the same rigidity that forces him to put an end to the conversation whenever Okoye tries to speak on the subject. “Or he may very well be humiliated, ashamed that I saw him at his most vulnerable and furious that I let what appears to be his greatest enemies so close to him.” He flashes a look at Romanoff, colder than perhaps she truly deserves, but the emotion roiling beneath his steel-tight expression needs an outlet. He turns, abruptly, away from the brilliant garden and the conversation. “Good day, Miss Romanoff,” stiff once more, as impersonal as his footsteps on the marble floor.
She doesn’t move as he walks away, his steps calm and unhurried, but somehow it still feels like running away.
Then the day arrives. Doctor Strange appears, quite literally, on his doorstep with a smile and a strange alien device stolen back from AIM. “This will actually be quite simple,” he assures T’Challa as they navigate the palace towards Anthony’s chambers. “AIM has always been rather indelicate when working with foreign magic. I have no such problem; the transformation should be quick and entirely painless.”
“Transformation?” T’Challa turns sharply to spot Rogers hovering in a doorway. Recognition lights up Rogers’ eyes as he spots Strange. “Are you turning Tony back into an adult?”
T’Challa hesitates, but Strange does not. “Yes,” he says brightly, obviously pleased with himself. “Would you like to watch?”
“No,” T’Challa says sharply just as Rogers replies with an exuberant, “sure!” The doctor looks at him, confused, and T’Challa glares for a long moment before relenting. “You may watch as long as he cannot see you.” The confusion on Strange’s face grows, but Rogers nods solemnly.
“Um, okay then.” Strange looks between the two of them, but when no explanation is forthcoming, he shrugs it off. “Where is Mr. Stark?”
After another tense moment, T’Challa gestures down the hallway. “Follow me.”
Soon enough, T’Challa is rapping, quick and precise, on Anthony’s door. Surprisingly enough, it is Anthony that throws the door open a moment later, rather than Okoye. “T’alla!” He cries out in delight and throws himself forward to embrace T’Challa’s legs. Out of the corner of his eye T’Challa notices Rogers quickly stepping around a turn in the hallway, hiding himself from Anthony’s view. He’s distantly grateful for it as he reaches down to embrace Anthony in turn.
“Hello, Anthony,” he says, unable and unwilling to repress a smile. “What have you been up to?”
“Rover’s almost done! Okoye is helping me.” He’s bubbling with joy, with the enthusiasm of youth, and it is so close to him as an adult, after three days in the lab and finally a breakthrough, of creating wonders of physics and light with his bare hands, and T’Challa loves him so much it hurts.
He blinks it back, smiles at Anthony and allows himself to be dragged into the room by one oil-stained hand. Okoye is kneeling by the skeletal structure of a medium sized dog, shining steel and bristling with wires. She smiles and nods at T’Challa and T’Challa refrains from pointing out the streak of oil he spots on her cheek. “He truly is brilliant,” Okoye says, and T’Challa grins down at Anthony.
“This is incredible, Anthony!”
The boy blushes and looks down at his feet but he doesn’t deny the praise like he would have only a few short weeks ago, like his adult self still does. “T’anks.”
Strange clears his throat and T’Challa reminds himself that they came here with a purpose. Anthony regards the doctor curiously. “Who’s that?”
T’Challa crouches to meet Anthony’s gaze. “This is a friend of mine. He’d like to talk to you for a little while, if that's alright with you.” Though he hated having to lie to the boy, T’Challa had decided along with Rhodey and Fury some time ago that since Anthony was missing his memories, they needn’t complicate things by trying to explain that he had been de-aged.
They had forgotten, however, just how intelligent Anthony was, even as a toddler. His gaze turned sharp as he watched Strange before he turned back to T’Challa. “Is he gonna try an' make me a grown-up again?”
For a moment T’Challa is struck mute in surprise, but Strange steps forward. “Yes.” His expression is as serious as his tone. “Are you okay with that?”
Anthony looks down as he thinks about it. Silence stretches for a long moment and only many years of etiquette training prevents T’Challa from fidgeting. He’s not even certain what he wants Anthony to say. Finally, the boy looks up again, something determined sparking in his eyes. “I dunno what it’s like to be a grown-up, but I think sometimes T’alla misses me bein’ a grown-up 'cause I can’t do grown-up stuff like kiss him.”
“What,” T’Challa says blankly.
Anthony ignores him as he turns wide brown eyes on Strange. “So make me a grown-up again, p’ease. I wanna be a hero again, too!” T’Challa has no idea where Anthony learned about Iron Man (though he suspects the fault lies with a certain falcon-themed hero), but he can find no words to protest as Strange nods.
“Can you come sit on the couch then, Tony?” Slowly, T’Challa stands as Anthony follows the instructions. Okoye comes to stand next to him, close enough to comfort.
“Is this,” for the first time Anthony looks nervous, “is this gonna hurt?”
“No,” Strange assures immediately. “It may feel a bit strange to get your old body and memories back, however, so it’s best to be already sitting.”
Anthony nods and sticks his jaw out stubbornly. “Go ahead, then.”
T’Challa notices Rogers in the doorway, dutifully out of Anthony’s sight, watching closely as Strange kneels in front of Anthony and pulls out the softly glowing gem that started the entire mess. “You may wish to close your eyes,” he instructs the room. “This will be bright.”
T’Challa drinks in the sight of Anthony’s young face, bright and hopeful, unbroken and unafraid the way he never is as an adult, before he closes his eyes. Okoye slips her hand into his, and he squeezes it, drawing comfort from his oldest and closest friend as brilliant white light flares through the room.
I'm sorry you all had to wait 20 days for what is basically just a monument to Tony being Bad at Feelings and Okoye being a Good Bro
un-betaed, like always
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Tony Stark, unfortunately, is very well acquainted with waking to a pounding headache and no knowledge of where he is. Spring Break of ‘87 springs to mind, or it would if his impressive brain power wasn’t occupied with curling into a fetal position and trying not to throw up. Tony groans, muffled, into the carpet, and he’s distantly grateful for something soft and clean to press his aching head into, but come on, he thought he’d left hangovers like this behind with the palladium poisoning.
“Stark?” A voice, vaguely familiar. Slowly, cautiously, Tony blinks his eyes open and peers up at a suspiciously familiar Van Dyke.
“I thought you said it wouldn’t hurt,” he mumbles, glaring balefully.
Strange laughs, sounding suspiciously relieved. “Well, the transformation didn’t hurt! I didn’t promise anything about the after-effects.”
Tony rolls his eyes ( ow ) and slowly pushes himself upright ( ow. ) “Fuck you, Strange.” Not his best come-back, but his everything hurts and it’s hard to think.
Strange laughs again, but Tony is frozen, now, because there’s T’Challa, near the couch and watching him carefully, and the events of the past month or so are rushing back and oh fuck.
“Welcome back, Anthony,” T’Challa says, and his smile is as stiff and weirdly formal as his words.
Okoye, next to him, rolls her eyes. “As adorable as you were, it is good to know we won’t have to bribe you with ice cream to get you to take a bath, now,” she says, a laugh in her voice.
Tony understands Wakandan again, of course, and he laughs, more surprised than anything else. “Are you sure about that? I remember some pretty delicious triple chocolate mint and I’m not above acting like a child to get some more.”
“So,” T’Challa shifts, strangely hesitant, “you remember everything?”
Tony’s silent for a moment, watching him. “Yeah. I remember everything.”
“Tony.” A voice, familiar, loved and hated in equal turns, and Tony’s neck hurts with how fast he whips his head toward the doorway. There’s Steve Rogers, Captain America, hovering awkwardly and smiling cautiously, something pained and hopeful in his eyes, and Tony, really, really can’t handle this right now.
“Rogers,” he says, cold, and Rogers’ smile falters. Tony pushes himself to his feet, ignoring Strange’s outstretched hand and the way he stumbles and the way his head pounds with a magical hangover. He looks around at them, at Steve’s pained hope and Strange’s confusion and T’Challa’s blank expression and the half-assembled mechanical dog on the carpet and he’s trapped, suddenly, he has to get out of here because this is too much.
“I- I-” His tongue feels thick and heavy in his mouth, and then he’s striding across the room ( not running ) and Steve steps out of his way, a blessing, and he’s free.
Tony finds himself in one of the gardens, some time later, hunched over on one of the benches and breathing, slow and deep and pained. Bruce taught him that, before he left ( before he abandoned Tony, like they all do, and it’s hurtpainangerbetrayal because he was a friend, a real one, and those are so rare, at least for Tony) and it’s working, he can hear bird calls over the pounding of his heart and the sweet scent of jungle flowers in full bloom almost suppresses the panic flooding his veins. He breaths out, a gust of air and pain, tries to unlock the tension stringing his body tight, and sits up again. And startles, because there’s Okoye, right there, lounging on a bench across from him and reading a book.
Tony stares at her, and she looks up. “Oh, good, you’re back with us.” Her smile is small, but genuine.
“What are you doing here?” His voice is hoarse, like he’d been screaming, or crying, but he doesn’t think he did either, this time.
“My king asked me to watch over you,” she responds calmly, easily making the transition into english, and Tony looks away. Of course. “And,” she continues, “I care about you and I wanted to make sure you were okay.”
Tony laughs at that, tired and a little bit broken, because he’s not sure he’s ever been truly okay. She nods, as if reading his thoughts, and sets her book aside.
“What are you thinking, right now?”
Tony stares at her for a moment, unsure and exhausted and sad and angry, and maybe that conflict shows on his face, because Okoye just waits. Tony’s not good at talking to people, he knows that, bad at people in general, at least when it counts. But Okoye’s not a shrink, not a teammate who might think he’s too broken to fight, not someone who can abandon him because she’s been ordered to stay nearby. The thought’s not entirely comforting, but it’s enough to make his tongue work.
“I’m tired. I’m pissed at AIM, at Howard, at Rogers, at everyone. I’m…” He swallows thickly. “I’m scared.” He runs a shaking hand through his hair. “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to react to- to Rogers, to being four years old for a couple of weeks, to being back and having to deal with all this shit. To T’Challa.” His voice cracks on the name.
“I kind of just want to run away, escape this fucking mess for once.” It’s a shameful secret, and he whispers it. “But I know I can’t do that. I just…” He runs out of words, in Wakandan, in any language, and sighs heavily. “Mainly, I’m fucking exhausted.”
Okoye nods, slowly, her expression indecipherable even if Tony was functioning at full capacity, which he definitely is not. Then she stands, and Tony looks up at her, so tired, too tired to feel more than a distant pang that she’s leaving. He thinks he might be used to it, at this point.
Then she steps forward, holds a hand out towards him. Tony stares at it for a moment, before slowly accepting. She pulls him up from the bench and - oh - into a hug. He’s stiff, for a moment, then breathes out, shaky, and returns the embrace. Okoye is taller than him, by a bit, and he presses his face into her strong shoulder and the scent of fresh mint and moist earth.
“It will be alright,” she whispers, and for a brief, agonizing moment Tony is reminded of T’Challa, of strong arms around him, of a low, steady voice, of safety. “I have an extra bed in my chambers. You may sleep there for a time, if you wish.”
Tony nods against her shoulder. “Yeah,” he says, only a little choked up. “That sounds great.”
Okoye waits until she can hear Anthony’s breathing slow through the cracked door before she leaves. There’s a chance, an unfortunately likely one, that he will have nightmares, but she must discuss matters with T’Challa. She knows he will be just as tormented as Anthony is.
Sure enough, she finds him pacing in his office, pain engraved into his every restless movement. He snaps around toward her when she clothes the door with a soft click. For a long moment, T’Challa searches her face. Okoye’s not sure what he finds there, but he collapses into the chair behind his desk. “How is he?”
“Tired, hurt. In pain. Angry.” Okoye says quietly, and pretends not to notice her king’s flinch. “He’s sleeping now.”
“Good. That’s-” T’Challa heaves a loud sigh. “That’s good.” For a moment, he looks tired and old and pained and it’s like it was months ago, after T’Chaka died and before Anthony came into their lives.
Okoye hesitates, for just a moment, but T’Challa is her friend just as much as he’s her king, and he’s never resented the liberties she takes. So she crosses the room to him and takes him into her arms. T’Challa is larger than Anthony, of course, sturdy in her arms and tall enough to hook his chin over her shoulder, but he shudders the same way, breathes out quick and pained, and her heart aches for them both.
“I don’t know what to do,” he says, so quietly, and suddenly they are children again, and T’Challa is broken and aching and angry and Okoye comforts him and tells him over and over again that it’s not his fault that the queen left.
She squeezes him tighter, as if she could suck all the pain out, and says, “there is hope, my king. T’Challa. He does not hate you. He is conflicted and struggling and hurt, but he does not hate you.”
T’Challa does not respond, but his fingers curl into the back of her shirt and she does not let go.
“So he remembers everything?” Sam asks again.
“Yes,” Steve snaps from where he’s pacing across the common room floor in an unwitting echo of T’Challa, several halls away. “We’ve been over this.”
Natasha raises an eyebrow at him and Steve sighs heavily. He collapses onto a couch, pushed down by the weight of the world on his shoulders, and buries his head in his hands. “I’m sorry,” he says, muffled. “I’m just…” He trails off, lost for words and lost. “I miss Bucky,” he says, quiet, but Natasha shifts to sit closer to him and he knows she heard.
“You know that’s not possible,” she says, and it’s gentle but it still hurts. “Maybe if we can get into Latveria, see if any of Doom’s stuff could help, but for now.” Steve feels her shrug. “Barnes doesn’t want to be woken up until we can find a way to make him feel safe. T’Challa won’t let us, anyways.”
“He couldn’t stop us if we really tried,” Steve argues, but it’s tired, half-hearted. Natasha doesn’t deign to reply. “So we should leave, then, head to Latveria.” It’s a question more than a command, and from the corner of his eye he sees Natasha and Sam exchange glances.
“Steve,” Sam says, and Steve kind of hates his ‘I’m a trained counselor and I’m just trying to help’ voice. “We want to help you and Bucky, you know that, but you can’t run away from this.”
This. T’Challa, Siberia, nightmares. Tony. Pain and hope and crushing guilt. Panic attacks, T’Challa had said, cold. A four year old.
“I know,” Steve says. Sometimes, in the quiet of his own head, he hates that he’s a hero, that he’s strong and loyal. Because loyal men protect their best friends at the cost of a family. Because strong men do what they must. Because heroes don’t run away from the consequences.
Again, heavy. “I know.”
Stephen Strange walks almost a kilometer into the forest to teleport home. He’s been informed, in the past, that it’s rather disconcerting to any ignorant bystanders. When he turns back, though, he can still see the golden spires of the palace. And if he focuses, he can feel it: pain, suffusing the grounds like smog.
“Good luck,” he whispers, a silent prayer to no one, and vanishes.
"But wait!" I can hear you cry. "Where's the resolution? You promised us resolution, not more angst!"
Fret not, dear readers, for resolution is coming. Stay tuned for the last chapter (really) coming at you whenever I find the time (sorry)