Tony prowled his territory cautiously. Recently there had been an influx of humans wandering the forest, searching, hunting, and he couldn’t risk getting caught off-guard. Not when many shifters had moved further south, away from the humans residing north.
They were being pushed back. There was no denying it now. Many shifters were losing their homes in a rapid rate and many were leaving even faster.
The safest for shifters were to pack up. A lone shifter was an easy target, but a group had a chance. Tony was not amongst the lucky ones to have a group watch his back, at least not outright. The shifters of the area were canine and many. They had little trouble sticking together. Forming packs and tight bonds that made it harder for humans to target. Their instinctual needs making it easy to fall into roles.
A pack of these canine shifters were kind enough to be acquainted with him. Some might even, dare he say it, call him a friend of the canines. Which was saying a lot, considering he was a white tiger and made canines wary in the best of times and posed a threat at the worst.
Not many would’ve taken a chance on him, but he was thankful the uncoordinated pup (though he claimed to have been a teenager) had stumbled upon him. Disoriented and lost, he had feared him at first, but the pup began talking his ear clean off and stuck close when Tony showed no signs of wanting to eat him. The only shifter in the area Tony offered safety that the pup needed and Tony understood wandering the forest alone as a cub. It brought forth terrors. Never knowing when something would strike or when a human would jump from the shadows.
Tony allowed him to stay, learning the pup’s name was Peter and coming to understand how he ended up lost, how they ended up getting attacked but he didn’t know by whom, not when his aunt and uncle screamed for him to run. He stayed with Tony for days and Tony ended up hunting for two. The most hunting he had ever done in his life.
Eventually the pup’s pack traced his scent and came back for him. Their hostility quickly dissolved shortly after they learned his role in protecting Peter until his family found him. Aunt May and Uncle Ben were grateful. Their leader offered his thanks and promised to spread word of him to other canines of the area. He was an ally and was to be treated like one.
There was no complaints from Tony, not when it resulted in many canines simply avoiding him instead of confronting him when their paths crossed. Tony hoped this thin line of friendship with the pup’s pack extended to helping, or at least keeping an eye out on him, should the humans walk into their territory. Naturally, that thin line extended both ways, so when he heard a howl with a very familiar tone to it Tony didn’t even hesitate or think about it twice. He ran to the howl, taking notice of the sounds of footsteps on dead grass the closer he got. He caught a glimpse of tall shadows standing upright through the trees. The shadows of danger. The shadows of death. Humans were here and Peter had been howling in fear near the area.
Heart beating heavy in his chest he rushed forth, crouching when the shapes of the humans became clear. There were five of them jogging through the trees and there, in the direction of their path, was Peter’s form, shivering with his tail curled around himself. He was trapped. Rocks and boulders blocking his path and far too small to jump over them.
The humans aimed their guns at him, ready to fire, and Tony moved with as much speed as he could. He roared, hearing it echo through the trees and watching as the humans turned to him in horror. He struck at those nearest to him, forcing the rest to back off with shouts and orders. He saw his opportunity and rushed to Peter, grabbed him by the scruff and jumped over the stones in hopes of it blocking the humans and climbed higher. He needed distance, he needed to hide, he needed to make sure Peter was as far away from the danger as possible, he needed to -
A sharp pain struck him on his thigh and gave him a flinch, but it didn’t bring forth a burning sensation of a serious wound so he ignored it and pushed forward with more force. He found as the seconds ticked by it became harder and harder to jump until eventually even moving his front legs seemed an impossibility.
The humans tranquilized him! Shit.
He draped himself over the last boulder he could climb and released Peter, nudging him to go with his snout. “Run, Peter.”
“No, no Mr Stark,” Peter’s tiny body shivered. “I can’t leave you here.”
Tony bared his teeth. “Go!” He managed to catch Peter run and hear the footsteps of the humans closer before he just couldn’t keep awake anymore. The very last thing he heard was Peter’s whine as something struck him.
He woke up disoriented with his head pounding and the ground shaking from underneath him. He was met with darkness and the foul smell of old fear and no forest. His only source of light were tiny holes allowing the sun to shine in and he cursed with a loud growl when he realized he was in a damn box . Moving also showed he was also chained down. A collar on his neck, shackles on his paws and a muzzle.
A soft whimper to his right made him stop from ramming against the walls in desperation. A tiny body was curled next to him and his heart stopped when he realized it was Peter. He didn't escape. He was captured as well. Tony couldn’t save him.
He curled himself protectively around the pup, promising to find a way for him to escape no matter what.
T’Challa held in a growl threatening to escape him. He had seen not one, but three - three - shifters chained up and displayed as if they were mere mindless animals meant to be exotic pets. To many in this event they were exactly that. Mindless animals praised as rarities by their sellers and paid little mind to them, never questioning how the black stallion standing tall showed intelligence in his eyes. But to those who knew exactly what this fabrication hid under it.
A black market running right under the nose of the clueless. A black market that specialized in the selling and enslaving of shifters for different purposes. For entertainment, for strength, for protection, for pleasure, and it sickened him.
He remained silent, however. It would do no good when visitors of the land caused a scene, not when relations were strained as it was. T’Challa promised he was going to personally see the end of such exchanges. To think they treated shifters as materials when they were just as human as any other.
The itch to take to his fur was strong but he needed the face of a simple man. It would do no good to cause panic and force the Dora Milaje to retaliate in defence, and so he continued his walk, followed by two fierce warriors. He carried his disgust on the inside while on the outside was the face of indifference. He hoped his eyes expressed his anger.
The more he walked the more he wished to leave the foul place. After watching the fourth clueless man stare at the stallion shifter and turn away without any recognition or care the decision to leave was easy to choose. This was when his little sister made an appearance and took that decision out of his hands. Her eyes so often bright in joy were forlorn, silent anger hidden under a layer of control. She wanted to lash out, just as he, but her reason unknown to him.
He didn’t have to ask her reason. She offered with a displeased head shake. “They are hosting an auction. Among their pieces is a shifter. Rare in color and mistreated. I fear if he is sold he will not see another day. Please, we must help.”
T’Challa frowned. Shuri was well aware of what hid amongst the illusions and also knew they couldn’t interfere, not yet, no matter how much they wish to aid. “You know we can not.”
“I have talked to him,” Shuri revealed. “He shows intelligence, more than most.” She looked down momentarily, showing a hesitation rarely ever seen by her. “He protects another. Younger. We must help.”
T’Challa didn’t understand, not at first, but if it had Shuri worried than it must have been serious. He nodded and followed after her, leading him close to the gathering crowd but remaining at the edge. There was a stage present where the auctioneer was to present the merchandize. Shuri led them around and through a black curtain behind it. The dark of the area prevented them from being spotted, but under a designated light source he saw multiple items waiting to be sold and among them a simple bar cage. Primitive and horrid, for inside was a beast. Chained to the ground with shackles on its legs, collar on its neck and a muzzle. The fur mangled, scars present in the patches it missed and dried blood decorating in-between the stripes.
A white tiger. Filthy, scarred, and afraid. It shaked in its hold, but through the trembling T’Challa could easily see the anger coursing through its body upon seeing them. The baring of its teeth accompanied with a soft hiss.
He was beautiful.
They got closer. The hiss grew with each step they took and the body curled into a ball as much as the chains allowed. When T’Challa and Shuri stood just outside the cage he knew why. There, curled up next to the belly of the tiger, was a pup, an adolescent wolf by the size, appearing to be around Shuri’s age. The youngster was untouched compared to the tiger. Better fed and fur relatively cleaner.
The tiger released a protective growl upon realizing he was studying the pup. T’Challa raised his hands, meaning no harm, but didn’t move. It was clear this shifter was mistreated. Not even the other shifters on display appeared to receive the same treatment. He couldn’t leave the creature alone like this.
“Be calm. We mean no harm.” The sharp eyes of the tiger pierced his being. He distrusted, as the nature of his environment. He would not believe a word T’Challa would say. Only actions will win the shifter’s trust. “We will help you out.”
The tiger huffed. His ears were pulled all the way back, flat on his head and tail flicking back and forth in agitation. He didn’t appear to wish to talk and T’Challa didn’t expect him to, but desperation was a strong motivation.
His shoulders sagged, head going down in defeat. “Save…. Peter… please. Get… him out.”
The pup whined and T’Challa knew he couldn’t leave either of them there. He turned to Shuri and they shared a nod of understanding.
Lots of protective Tony and adorably hopeful Peter here!
Taking the tiger and wolf pup out of their cages and away from the auction would be an easy task. What prevented them from simply doing so and setting them free was attempting to sneak the two caged shifters out of the gathering without being seen, let alone go without raising suspicion or inducing chaos. A white tiger and wolf pup seen together wasn’t exactly inconspicuous. It would raise too many red flags.
It pained T’Challa to admit it, but they had to play along with the rules of the event, and that meant bidding on the pair. The very thought left a horrid taste in his mouth.
He stood among the gathering crowd. Not to the front nor to the back. He stood just to the side with Shuri and four of the Dora Milaje, waiting in anticipation for the ones they seek. It was to be an hour before the shifters were presented and during that time T’Challa would glare at the auctioneer as they made a show of the items offered. A grand vase claimed to be centuries old. A table marked by the passing of time with the finest wood and touched by fame, and more.
When the items moved to include livestock T’Challa did release a growl, albeit a quiet one from deep in his chest. The two shifters were to be presented after livestock, as if they were every bit a mindless animal as the auctioneer defined the livestock to be. His claws were itching to come out.
As the hour came to a close, finally, the reason they remained among the loud crowd was brought forth. The bar cage was wheeled in and draped with a blanket in order to hide what was inside.
“And now here we present to you a rarity! A jewel among the wilds -” T’Challa tuned the auctioneer out. He did not need to hear the rehearsed speech or the attempt to raise the worth of the offering. Once the drape was removed and everyone gazed at what was inside the price would diminish no doubt. The sight of damaged goods significantly cutting back the interest, but without a doubt there would be someone willing to pay anything, and T’Challa was going to be the one to win.
He clenched his fists when the drape was finally taken off, revealing the same sight he had seen earlier. The white tiger remained chained but standing. He lifted his head high the moment he came into view and glared at every spectator, at every soul who held the potential of being his new owner.
Many among the crowd gasped at the mere sight of the creature. Many for the blood and the scarring. Others for the rarity that was a white tiger. Those that hesitated looked away. Those who kept watching T’Challa knew would be the ones he had to outbid.
“But that’s not all! This beautiful creature does not come alone. Winning this ferocious beast will not only earn you status, it will also come with two for the price of one. A wolf! Young and eager. It will grow strong and devote its life to protecting its owner, bringing fear to the hearts of anyone who dares to harm you.”
No one was able to see the wolf spoken of, not when he remained curled and hid within the fur of the tiger and the tiger refused to budge. That didn’t stop the presenters. One of the two responsible for dragging the cage upstage walked to the side where the pup was hidden, grabbed a chain that T’Challa belatedly realized wasn’t attached to the tiger, and yanked . The pup was pulled into sight harshly by the neck and the whine of pain and fear he released was enough for T’Challa’s heart to break.
The tiger roared at the action and willed himself against the chains to reach the man responsible, baring his fangs menacingly. Those heartless in the crowd ‘aww’d’ at the show while those who refused to watch had walked away minutes ago.
The moment the man holding the chain let go the pup rushed back to hide again and the tiger attempted and failed to cover him. His eyes remained sharp on the man.
The auctioneer had the audacity to smile. “Now, who will start the bidding?”
T’Challa didn’t give any of the other patrons a chance. Rattling the highest number he could offer without revealing much. It was a number very few could reach and even less so with the crowd he was among.
The auctioneer was left stunned, but quickly recovered. His voice had a notable quake now, caught off guard, but he proceeded to strike the deal when no others offered a higher number. “Sold to number 39!”
T’Challa took great pleasure in making the man wince when they shook on the deal. He might have put more pressure than necessary, but what the man had been doing was unethical, and whether he knew or not of the true nature of the white tiger and wolf pup he still deserved to be reprimanded. No animal deserved such foul disrespect. Wild or livestock.
Because of the nature of the ‘product’ the two shifters were not surrendered until the exchange was finalized. It took too much time and T’Challa could only imagine what the tensed anticipation was doing to the two shifters. They remained within sight, but not within reach. Nothing covered the cage and so the two were free’d to be viewed as displays.
It unnerved T’Challa how humans could be so clueless and so cruel with shifters. No one deserved such treatment. Human or not.
T’Challa watched the two carefully. The white tiger remained vigilant, unmoved as spectators crept closer for a look and tried to tempt him to strike with their hands. The wolf had yet to uncurl and watched their taunters carefully.
T’Challa had never wanted to flip a vehicle so much in his life, but he could not leave until the agreement was confirmed. Thankfully, his sister held no qualms marching over and ordering the spectators away.
“Keep it moving. They are no longer on display and you would do well to keep back!” she glared at one particular teen who proved more adventurous than the rest and more of a nuisance to the shifters. “If you want to gawk at something gawk at this boy’s choice of footwear. I’ve seen better shoes worn by a boar than you.”
In retrospect, perhaps T’Challa should’ve held his sister back, but when it came to Shuri there was simply no stopping her. The boy she insulted turned a hilarious shade of red before fleeing. The rest had faces of disapproval but proved to be wise and walked away. A moment after Shuri looked at the two. She couldn’t speak, not unless she wished to give them away, but T’Challa could see she gave the slightest of nods. The white tiger didn’t respond as he stared at her with wariness, but the wolf pup looked on with what could’ve been awe.
Not soon enough the agreement was made and T’Challa became the owner of a white tiger and a wolf. The cage was to remain with him to hold the two for ‘their safety,’ as the offerer had stated, and while T’Challa would love nothing more than to run his claws and slice the bars he knew he couldn’t simply allow the tiger and wolf to walk freely. They hadn’t expected to buy shifters during their trip and so had nothing to transfer the tiger and wolf. The primitive cage would have to do.
It did nothing for his conscious. “I’m afraid you’ll have to remain as is until we leave this event.” The tiger’s eyes turned hard and his gaze pierced. No doubt this had only confirmed whatever suspicion he held. “You will be given your freedom, but it cannot be here. There will be consequences if they discover your nature. You know this.”
It was true. Shifters were few but not rare. They were considered sub-human, unnatural, and often were hunted or captured when found. Many were killed while others were displayed or kept as pets. This prevented shifters from living freely and could only have one of two lives. Either they lived free within dense forests or jungles or deserts, away from human civilization and building a small nation of their own, or they remained in their two-legged shaped and lived life hidden among the humans. Forever watching over their shoulder should anyone suspect them to be anything but.
Neither option was kind. They had to either live as one or the other. Never both. It was one of the reasons why he was thankful for Wakanda cutting all ties and preventing the outside world from interfering. No shifter or human was treated differently. Only their family ties caused reason to argue among themselves, but never would one capture and imprison another.
Sadly the outside world had not caught up with this view and many shifters continue to suffer for it, leaving no room for trust.
T’Challa sighed when the tiger’s distrust and anger remained. Now only his actions could change his views.
Tony willed for the man before him to combust into flames. If only his glare could make it possible.
It had taken them hours, hours , to be moved anywhere after the man bought them. Bought them like the damn mindless animals everyone in the auction thought them to be and Tony just wanted them all to burn so bad. But he couldn’t move and he held no rights under the chains they had him and he had Peter to keep safe. If that meant enduring the chains and muzzle and more beatings to give Peter a glimpse of freedom than so be it. He just wished the man didn’t act out his sympathy. He didn’t want it and he had no use for it, not unless it resulted in the pup’s release.
Which it didn’t , considering they were still tied up even after leaving the event. Ergo, he didn’t need no damn sympathy.
Tony shut his eyes as they drove them to their new destination. The rocking of the cage, thanks to the bumps on the road, a familiar sensation that had grown into a comfort after experiencing it countless times.
A new owner. A new cage. Another ride for hours with no food or water or sunlight. By his side, tucked against his flank, Peter shivered. He could hear the rumble in the pup’s stomach. It had been days since they ate a proper meal. Even longer for Tony as he offered his scraps for the pup. His hunger meant nothing to him, but it had grown into an annoyance bordering on desperation as the days went on. Sometimes on his lowest he was thankful for the muzzle on him. If his hunger were to turn him feral he didn’t want to imagine what it would result for Peter. Locked in a cage with a feral tiger. Tony would never forgive himself.
Now he could only hope their new owner at least had a heart to feed them something proper.
Tony didn’t bother turning his head. The collar and muzzle chained to the floor of the cage prevented it. “Yeah, kid?”
“Nothing. I just wanted to see if you were awake.”
He wrapped his tail around the shivering body, giving the little comfort he could. “Darkness getting to you?”
“No, I got used to the darkness. Not so bad once you close your eyes. Just wanted to know how you’re holding up. You - you got hurt pretty bad.”
“I’m fine, Peter.”
“I’m fine ,” Tony tried to turn, only succeeding in tilting his head enough to look at the paws of the pup. “They’re just scratches. Nothing too serious.”
He couldn’t see it but he was sure the pup had a face of defiance. “You promised you wouldn’t lie to me.” And he had, didn’t he?
“I promise, Peter, I’m fine. I’ve taken worse.” And it was true. He had taken worse. A mix of whippings, kicks and missing dinners. The most recent was nothing compared to all three together.
“Maybe they can have you looked at? To be sure? New owners, I mean.”
Tony had no energy to snort. “Doubt it. Every owner is the same.”
With his legs trembling Peter stood and slowly made his way over so he could stand face to face. The pup only had the collar to hold him, giving him more wiggling room than Tony. He was thankful their previous owners didn’t attempt to put muzzles on the youngster. The experience was something one could never live without emotional scars. “I don’t think they are.” His body shivered but his eyes were determined. “They’re shifters like us. They wouldn’t mistreat us. I’m sure of it!”
Tony blinked. They were shifters? In his haze to protect he never bothered to actually study the man and the young lady. It didn’t help his nose suffered bleeding from the recent beatings. The only thing he smelled was his own blood obscuring everything. From visual alone their new owners appeared every bit human as everyone else.
It changed nothing. If they lived among humans they were every bit a human. He could not allow any hope to blossom. “That doesn’t matter. Shifters or not they bought us and they still kept us locked up. They’re no better than the rest.”
“But she defended us! She brought someone to help like promised and defended us when they kept taunting us. He even said the reason they couldn’t release us yet was because of the humans.”
“Then what of now?” Tony didn’t mean to snap but damn it, hope only brought heartbreak. Tony had lived through it plenty of times and each experience never made it easier. It near shattered him each time. He couldn’t allow Peter to experience it as well, not after months of nothing changing. It would destroy him. “There are no humans around and we’re being transferred in the same cage as before. If they really wished to help they could’ve at least removed the chains.”
“But…” Peter lowered his gaze. He had no counterpoint to it. “But they’re shifters, too.”
“Even shifters can be cruel to each other,” something Tony could personally vouch for after coexisting amongst the canines back where he once called home. Everyone was capable of cruelty. “I don’t know what to think of them and I hope we don’t get to know their cruelty first hand, but we also can’t blindly trust either. Be careful, Peter. Trust only gives them chances to strike where it truly hurts.”
Peter nodded. Ears tucked back and shoulders slumped. Tony sighed at the image, feeling guilty for putting it there. “Keep your chin up. Maybe I could be wrong and you can tell me you told me so.”
“Come on then. A long ride is ahead of us, and who knows? Maybe their food is better than our last stop.”
The pup curled back by his side and Tony was left looking at nothing in the dark as the ride continued.
Caught up to Tumblr now!
Tony watched closely as his and Peter’s new owner argued with another man in a language he couldn’t understand. Older, wiser looking and who he presumed was their owner’s father. The young lady stood next to them and added to the argument when needed, her frown growing deeper with every second.
They have continued like this for a while now. The moment the doors opened and their cage was pulled out a dispute had escalated before Tony could so much as bare his teeth in warning. They were the reason for the disagreements going around. The father scolding their owner for his impulsive buy. Their owner justifying his decision with help from the young lady, who Tony presumed was another relative. A younger sister perhaps.
Neither side seemed ready to give in. All equal stubborn and hotheaded as the other, but it mattered not whether their owner or their owner’s father won. In the end he and Peter would either remain under their hand or be pawned off to the next willing participant wanting their high status and fame brought by owning ‘wild’ animals.
In the end they were still simple merchandise.
“Of all the impulsive -” Tony’s ears perked up. That he understood. One must be truly furious to switch from their mother language while in the middle of a shouting match.
“Baba, please! We could not leave them alone there to be sold as livestock.” Owner countered, still trying to defend his decision. How long have they been at it now? Close to half an hour no doubt. It was becoming repetitive.
Whatever their future was to be Tony wanted the two to come to an agreement yesterday. Anything was better than the tension building up and the anticlimactic ending it was to bring. Only two options were available for himself and Peter. One or the other. Wasn’t hard to choose if they would just stop for a second and decide.
Tony was quick to hush the pup, not wanting to remind the arguing pair they had an audience and bring the attention to the young shifter. “Keep your head down, Peter. Whatever happens stand behind me.”
The pup pressed himself closer to his flank but kept his head poking out to watch the scene. At least it was a distraction from their housing and chains and with sunlight on their furs. As opposed to the typical transfer where they exchanged darkness for another darkness with only a few minutes of light in-between. At this rate they might get some color in their fur again.
Eventually the continuous disagreement came to an end when the elder man shouted “Enough!” Dramatic for sure but it silenced everyone. As if the elder’s word was law. Should the man order their deaths Tony had a feeling no one would bat an eye as someone shot them point blank.
The thought had him shifting to block Peter from view. Whatever was to happen he didn’t want Peter subjected or take the blunt of the treatment.
The elder man turned his gaze to them. Tony tried his damndest to remain calm, but with every new owner and the same treatment over and over again it became excessively difficult to keep the act up and believe it. Weakened, injured and starving, every instinct in his body told him to submit, to avoid eye contact and keep his head down. He couldn’t fight. He had to run. ‘This man was the big cat,’ they screamed at him.
Tony lowered his head, as per his instincts, but he didn’t break eye contact. He couldn’t. He didn’t have just himself to worry about. He had Peter, and if the man wanted to attack he couldn’t allow the pup to be a target.
The man met his eye second per second. Eventually, seeming to understand Tony’s predicament, he broke away and it allowed Tony to breath. “You are old enough to make your own decisions. I do not agree but there is nothing for it now. They are your responsibility and yours alone, do you understand?”
“Yes, Baba,” Owner responded. As respectful as he appeared to have been taught to be. “I wish to aid in their recovery. With your permission, may I have them treated at home?”
“You would risk the safety of your home for the sake of your conscious?”
“No, I don’t risk the safety of our home or act upon my conscious. I don’t believe them bad people and no one deserves this treatment.”
Tony had to give it to their Owner. He was really acting out the part of caring for their well being perfectly.
The elder man mulled it over and for a moment Tony wondered if he was truly going to play along. Behaving in this manner must have been tiresome. Better their cruelty show instead. Much easier to accept.
“They are not to wander outside their designated floor. Do you understand? The sealed gardens are at their disposal, but nothing else.”
Owner’s shoulders relaxed. An invisible tension releasing their grip. “Thank you.”
“You know what will happen should they be found outside their perimeters, correct?” Elder man said in ominous warning.
“Good. We leave in an hour. Ready our…” Elder man narrowed his eyes at them, “...guests and be prepared to move.”
Just like that elder man left and was followed by a group of very dangerous ladies. Tony made a note to remain out of their line of site. Without them it was now Owner, his little sister, and the two warrior ladies who appeared to be keeping an eye on them and the two other warrior ladies keeping watch of Tony and Peter’s cage. A fun group this ought to be.
Owner moved closer to the cage. His eyes apologetic. “Forgive the treatment. Because of the circumstance in which you were brought and time against us we were unable to obtain proper accommodations for the trip. My father’s distrust in you also prevents us from simply releasing you of the cage. I’m afraid you’ll have to remain there for a while more. I promise you the moment we land you’ll be free of these bars.”
Tony would have snorted, if he didn’t know that kind of behavior would get him punished. Instead he remained silent and watched him, already knowing to take every word out of their Owner’s mouth with a grain of salt.
“I can release you of your chains to at least make the trip bearable. If you allow me.” Owner lifted one hand holding a set of keys to unlock the cage. At that Tony didn’t stay silent.
He hissed, bearing fangs and lowered his ears. This was when their Owner would beat them to learn discipline, to show who was in charge and to scare any thoughts of disobedience. Like hell he was going to allow Peter to suffer through it. He needed their Owner to focus on him and him alone and what better way than to threaten him.
Owner’s warrior ladies didn’t enjoy this response and aimed their deadly spears at him. Owner himself kept his hands up in peace, not meaning harm. Tony didn’t believe him.
“We mean no harm,” Owner’s little sister said, frowning and impatient. Peter shifted against his flank, wanting to stand, but Tony shoved his left front leg as much as he could to block him. Peter whined in response.
Owner and little sister exchanged looks. They were planning something and Tony didn’t enjoy plans against him.
“We can’t just leave them chained up, Brother.”
“I know, Shuri, but we can’t just force him either.”
“He is injured and weak. This is self-defence. He is hurting himself and his charge!”
Owner sighed, appearing to give up. Tony’s fur stood on end. He had a bad feeling about what that sigh meant. Then Owner nodded and before Tony could growl in warning something struck him from behind on his leg. A sharp pinch that had him roaring in anger and fear before he slumped on the floor. Darkness soon followed.
Guilt was not something T’Challa often felt, but in this case it was eating him alive.
He had promised to aid the two shifters and so far that aid consisted of keeping them chained and transporting them in the same cage they came in and tranquilizing the oldest for his own good. They haven’t been able to give them a proper supper either. If this was their aid it was no wonder the white tiger refused to cooperate and remained distrustful.
With a heavy heart he unlocked the cage. The white tiger was out like a light and would remain as such for an hour. The youngest, however, remained awake and curled himself in fear on the farthest corner of the cage.
“I will not hurt you. Tranquilizing your caregiver was not out of malicious intent. The journey home won’t be long but contained in this bar cage will already be bad enough without chains holding you down. I simply wish to make the trip easier on you. How long has he carried these chains?” T’Challa asked the youngster as he entered and hovered over the resting tiger.
Eyes far too wide to be healthy the pup continued staring at him. Body shivering uncontrollably. Eventually, when T’Challa didn’t show any movement to hurt the oldest the pup talked. “I - I don’t know. We l-lost count of time a while ago. He’s had them as far as I can remember.”
Anger boiled in him at the treatment. Without another word he got to work unlocking the shackles holding the beautiful beast. First came off the collar. Time wearing down the fur around his neck heavily. Patches of skin were exposed and showed red and swollen blotches. If this was his neck T’Challa didn’t want to start imagining his paws, which had more movement.
He heard Shuri hiss from his side. No doubt feeling the same pain from just looking at it. “A month's worth of rest and ointment will heal these wounds. The scarring will be another story entirely. He’ll have permanent marks by the end.”
“Marks he will never forget,” Shuri agreed.
T’Challa threw the collar as far away outside of the cage as he could. The dreadful thing had no place near the tiger. Oyoke offered her spear and when T’Challa nodded she slammed the sharp end against the chain connecting the collar to the cage, separating them in an instant.
After the collar came the shackles holding the tiger’s legs. Just as he predicted, they were red, swollen, lacked hair and had blood smears on both skin and shackles. On the shackle securing the tiger’s right leg T’Challa had to carefully pry the shackle loose. The damn thing was almost imbedded on the skin. The dry blood made it impossible to yank without causing damage.
How could someone have lived through that without screaming in anguish from the pain?
This man was perhaps the strongest T’Challa had ever seen. Surviving such treatment and still trying to fight against those he believed were his enemies. All while knowing he was causing pain to himself.
It was a slow and careful process removing those chains. Fresh blood spilled as he worked. It was inevitable after so long with the things. If this was all done on the tiger T’Challa was thankful the wolf pup didn’t experience the same treatment. The collar alone would leave scarring. If the pup had known the sensation of metal ripping on his skin T’Challa feared he would have been broken a long time ago.
The tiger finally free and the shackles and chains gone thanks to Oyoke now all that remained was the pup. Shuri was to handle that. She had gotten closer to the wolf pup with her hands up in peace, similar to T’Challa when he moved to open the cage.
“May I see to your collar? I only want to remove the dreadful thing.”
The wolf pup was hesitant, but not having experienced the same cruelty as the tiger he was far more trusting. One look at the freed tiger was enough for him to turn his head to the side and bare his neck slightly. Considering he was a canine that meant a lot. He still shivered when Shuri got to work unlocking the collar, but he showed no move to attack or run.
When the collar was finally removed the pup bolted to the other side and went flat on his belly next to the tiger. The resting tiger offered no current protection but he was a comfort to the pup. He watched them intently, carefully, no doubt doing what the tiger ordered him to do.
T’Challa understood any trust they were going to earn today had reached its limit. For the wolf pup it was a start. For the tiger it was a first step to starting. At least he hoped. “We will bring something for you both eat before we take flight and a proper meal when we land. Will you be able to hold until then?”
The pup nodded. “Yes. C-could we get it now? Or at least Mr Stark? He hasn’t eaten anything in three days.” As if thinking better of it the pup took it all back, tail curling in fear. “I-I’m sorry. I d-didn’t mean to sound ungrateful or order something of you. Please forget I said anything.”
“Be at ease,” T’Challa told him. What had they gone through ? The poor youngster. “We will bring something for you now. He won’t wake until an hour. We will have something ready for him then.” He stood and made his way out the cage. “Try and rest while we do so.”
“Thank you,” the pup curled into a ball and rested his head on the tigers -Mr Stark’s - side, watching them go.
Shuri waved at him. “We’ll be back soon!”
T’Challa gave the white tiger one last look before he began his search for something proper to feed the two. The pup, while malnourished, was better off than Mr Stark. Mr Stark, however, was a close interpretation of skin and bones. Something hearty that would bring back the weight would have to do, but they had to be careful not to sicken Mr Stark with too much at once.
Such a beautiful creature shouldn’t have fallen so ill in the first place.
We're slowly getting somewhere!
Tony’s head was pounding when he regained consciousness. Considering the last time he experienced such a fierce headache that wasn’t a result of a beating he had woken up chained and already lined up to be sold along with Peter for the first time, he wasn’t exactly calm or happy.
Pushing through the pulsing and burning sensation behind his eyes he lifted his head. His eyes watered from just the thought of opening them to the intense light that shined in the area. He snapped them open seconds later when he felt the lack of metal scratching at his skin and pulling on his fur, disregarding his pain and blinking at the sight before him.
Right before him, on a silver plate made out of a metal he had never seen, two large bloody steaks rested innocently on it. Tony’s mouth was watering within seconds. Having lived on scraps for so long, the mere size of the two steaks seemed like a full course meal. A sad thought but after living through his predicament, anything larger than two strips was indulging himself.
The instinct to bite down and chew was a strong one, but he knew better. No owner had ever left such a delicacy without wanting compensation. For all he knew the damn things could be poisoned for the Owner’s own sick twist of entertainment. Watching a tiger like himself choke in his own breath. A mighty beast taken down so easily.
Tony didn’t touch it, choosing to focus on the more important things than his hunger, like his lack of shackles for example and the new pain pulsing on his legs. Experimentally moving his paws revealed nothing held them down, but it sure as hell made that pain burn even more. There was fresh blood circling around on the little fur present and he hissed at both the sight and the agony. The white of his fur hidden even further. Then he made the mistake of looking to his hind legs and found them blocked from view by Peter’s curled form next to his belly. Fast asleep the wolf pup didn’t notice nor stirred at his waking. Panic set in at the thought of the pup having been tranquilized as well.
“Peter!” Tony moved to shake the pup awake, fear clutching at his heart. Had they hurt him? Had they overdosed him? Was he to never wake? “Peter, wake up!”
Peter’s head shot up faster than Tony had ever seen someone’s do. Perhaps he should have thought to remain as calm as he could and avoid panicking the youngster as well. The pup pushed himself further into his belly, attempting to hide from an unseen danger. “ What? What, Mr Stark? Are they attacking? Are you hurt?” Frantic eyes searched the area.
“No, no, how are - are you okay? Did they dose you?”
Those eyes landed on him. No longer as frantic. “N-no, they didn’t struck me or hurt me. I’m fine. They got you in order to remove your chains. You’re free now, Mr Stark.” The youngster’s tail wagged ever so slightly. Happiness where he could find it.
Tony couldn’t help giving their cage a pointed look. “Some freedom.”
“Ah, about that. T’Challa said they couldn’t risk us running around when his dad doesn’t trust us yet. Something about putting the safety of others first. Sounds like a big deal here. They promised to get rid of the cage the moment we land!”
Had Tony been in his two-legged form he would’ve raised his eyebrow so high no one would see it hidden behind his hairline. “T’Challa?”
“Yeah, our new owner’s name! His sister’s is name Shuri. From what I’ve gotten so far they’re very important people.” The pup’s eyes sparkled in a way Tony hadn’t seen in what felt like a long time.
Tony didn’t want to be the one to diminish it, but he couldn’t allow Peter to freely trust either. “How do you know this, Peter?” The scolding tone in his voice almost came naturally at that point.
The pup’s ears twitched, wanting to flatten down. “They talked to me… when they brought us food. I- I’m being careful, Mr Stark, I swear!”
Tony wanted to believe him, but even the smallest amount of hope could cause life-long lasting damages. “I want you to do better, Peter. They’re not our friends and they’re not our heroes. They are our owners and we are their pets. Nothing more.”
Peter’s ears went down and Tony’s heart shattered a little bit more. He hated being the bad guy, but if it was required to protect Peter than so be it. He just hadn’t considered Peter being just as stubborn as himself. “I don’t - I think they’re different.” He had never seen such defiance in those young eyes. “I’m being careful. I’m not trusting blindly, but I’m also not blindly ignoring what they’re doing either! You were unconscious. You didn’t see the way they looked at you when your chains were removed. They’re already talking about ways to treat your wounds and help your fur grow back. None of our other owners even bothered!”
“Trying to make us presentable trophies.” He bit back.
“You can’t believe that.”
“I don’t know what to believe, Peter. I’m only trying to survive and keep you safe for as long as I can and if that means fighting our owner every step of the way -”
“But you don’t have to!” Peter nearly barked then took a step back, breathing deeply and trying to calm his nerves. “What if… what if we played along?”
“What?” Of all the harebrained ideas.
“Yeah, if they’re really just getting us ready to show off, why not play along? They look like they’re willing to give us what we need to heal. Don’t bite the hand for as long as it feeds us.” There was that hope again, along with the tip of his tail twitching. “After everything you’ve been through, Mr Stark, you especially need everything you can get.”
“Please? Give it a chance. If you’re right then we have nothing to lose accepting their help, but if I’m right -”
“You think it’s all going to be sunshine and rainbows, Kid?”
“I can hope, right?”
Tony sighed. “That’s the problem. Hope can crush you.”
“Then I’ll deal with it when the time comes.” The hotheaded determination the pup showed almost gave Tony hope himself, but he knew the real world. Knew it didn’t work like that.
“You shouldn’t have to.”
“I’m sixteen, Mr Stark. If not now, then eventually.”
“ Not when it comes to this.”
Peter leaned forward and tucked his snout against Tony’s neck, making Tony’s chin rest over his head. “Please, Mr Stark?”
Tony deflated within seconds, remembering he was dealing with a young canine. Pack dynamics made it so Tony held the final say. Should Tony tell him no that would be the end of it. Peter wouldn’t disobey, no matter how much he’d want to.
He gave in. “I’ve always wanted to know what getting pampered felt like.”
The pup’s tail wagged. “That’s the spirit.” Then his snout pointed to the two steaks. “You going to eat that?”
T’Challa had never wanted to bring out and run in his fur more than the moment they finally landed.
Home . They were finally home.
The familiarity was a sight for his sore eyes. His people a welcome comfort. Home was truly where his heart was.
But he had to fully enjoy it later. At that moment he had another priority. He had accommodations to set up, aid to acquire and a tiger to calm. Hopefully the tiger’s mood lifted with a full belly.
But before he could so much as think of a first step to earn the tiger’s trust Shuri flew right past him, rushing to the jet that held the two abused shifters.
“I’ll ready our guests. You start preparing the gardens for them!”
Leaving the boring part to him. As always.
With a fond headshake T’Challa made his way to the very same mentioned gardens. Large and spacious, many would easily mistake it for the very jungle located outside its walls, but this chunk was sealed off from all sides except the sky, was monitored, and had plants uncommon to them grown among their land. It was a room where T’Challa and Shuri had once run around when their shift first came in. They could jump and hide and play without the worry of the outside dangers. Where their mother and father could rest easy knowing they were to not be harmed.
And now it was to be temporarily shelter for the shifters as they healed. Being confined for so long could lead to harmful mental effects and they needed to reduce that stress as soon as possible. He had a feeling the two shifters might truly appreciate the space. Perhaps not openly express their gratitude, but just to see them run around in freedom was enough.
The sealed gardens had two entrances and exits. Simply shutting the doors with a biometric lock would prevent any escape attempts. Not that he believed the two would try, but desperation held a lot of motive. For the safety of the two shifters and T’Challa’s people this measure had to be taken.
The gardens were empty when he arrived and were easily readied for their guests. The guards knew to expect two strange shifters and prepare for new scents. For the salve to heal the tiger’s wounds T’Challa sent a message to have them brought in along with bandages.
Shortly after he sent the order Shuri walked through the doors along with four of their warriors and behind them the cage was dragged in. The tiger and wolf pup were huddled together. The tiger acting as an imposing figure by tucking the pup under him, hiding him from view. His sharp eyes scanned any and every single detail, not daring to sacrifice a second. The two were pressed against the back of the cage, wanting as much distance from Shuri and the Dora as possible.
They had their work cut out for them.
The doors behind them closed with a hiss and the tiger’s eyes locked onto his own. They were a golden brown, fierce, distrustful and strong. Breathtaking on a white tiger and yet so expressive as well. T’Challa had a second to admire their beauty before the important matter of why they were here was brought forth.
“And here are the gardens. You’ll be treated and recover here under the care of the best,” Shuri placed a hand over her chest to signify who she meant by ‘the best,’ “You’ll find the place has plenty of space. You get a beautiful view of the sky. Rent isn’t due until the first day of the month. First one’s free. You’re off the hook for now.”
The tiger didn’t seem to find the joy in the humor, but the pup’s lips seemed to curl upward and show the canine equivalent of a smile. It still did enough as the tiger’s tension slowly melted from his body, allowing for the pup to poke his head out and move closer to the front of the cage.
And so Shuri’s charm had won another yet again.
“And now, for my dear old brother. Not so fairest of them all, T’Challa.” Shuri held her arms out towards him in presentation.
“Thank you, Shuri, for that marvelous introduction.”
“That’s what I’m here for. We’ve got to keep your ego in check.” She leaned towards the cage. “It tends to grow out of control if you leave him alone for a day.”
Now for sure the pup was smiling. His mouth had parted and he showed off canines with his ears perked up in interests. He was opening up easily to her, hardly any hesitation. He crawled closer and for a moment T’Challa thought the tiger was going to stop him, but besides gently placing a giant paw on the wolf’s back as reassurance he allowed the pup what he willed. The tiger, he noticed, remained in place. Barely moved an inch from his spot.
The attention went back to him when he walked closer to the shifters. The pup easily retracted back and the tiger allowed him to curl up under him. Was he that intimidating? T’Challa didn't think himself as that dangerous looking, and Shuri made absolutely sure to remind him of it. They must have suffered a lot in order to believe the worst of him without even seeing it.
T’Challa saw a lot of Shuri tormenting him for the sake of easing their fear in the foreseeable future.
With only bars to separate them T'Challa spoke. “Here we are. I am a man of my word. You will be released from this cage and this garden shall be your sanctuary until you heal and regain your strength. We have ointments that can help with the scarring you have received and return you the fur you've lost from the chains, should you allow us.”
The tiger gave a slow blink. The wolf pup tilted his head sideways.
Seeing no resistance he continued. “The garden is at your will, but it is the extent of your stay. For the safety of yourselves and my people you are to remain here only. Should you try to leave you will be met with force that will bring harm to you, so I ask for you to be respectful and remain put.”
The tiger flicked his tail in agitation before finally speaking. “That's the nicest way anyone has ever said ‘you're not going anywhere so don't even try or else’ I've ever heard.”
Had T’Challa not been taught to he would have openly gaped at the tiger’s statement. As luck would have it he learned long ago to keep poise and show indifference.
His sister did not care for it. She laughed and ‘oooh’d’ at him. “That was a bore and very unnecessary, brother. You deserved that. I've already informed them of the requirements for their stay. They have no reason not to follow and are eager to be freed. You keep their freedom at bay.”
T’Challa sighed. Of course she had. “And you failed to say anything because?”
“How else are you to feel important?”
The tiger snorted. An odd sound coming from such a large beast. “I like her.”
“Surely, I am honored,” she deadpanned.
It only causes the tiger to outright laugh. “I really like her.”
“I count this as a win. Fine work, brother.”
T’Challa looked up to the sky, asking Bast for help with them all. It looked to be an exciting turnaround. He wasn't ready for it.
T’Challa found a problem.
While it had been a good idea to offer the sealed gardens as sanctuary for the tiger and wolf pup to heal and stretch their legs, there was a downfall to it. The moment he and Shuri left in order to give their guests the confidence to leave their opened cage the tiger and wolf disappeared amongst the trees and would not come out when others were present. None of the healers have been able to treat the tiger’s wounds and no matter how much they tempt the pair with food or made promises the two refused to make an appearance.
They did not go hungry. This much he knew. The empty plates were enough to let him know of that fact. The two would come out from hiding and snatch the food up when they knew only the guards keeping watch of them were in the area. Should T’Challa, Shuri or their healers attempt to join the room they would rush back to the trees.
For their safety they could not just walk the area in search, should the tiger actually pose a threat to them, but the wounds were a serious matter and T’Challa considered risking his own safety if it meant treating the tiger. He absolutely forbid Shuri from trying. His father would not hesitate to order their deaths should Shuri come hurt from this decision.
The day they had arrived had long passed and now a second day was among them. Two days where the tiger still refused treatment or contact and T’Challa could only wonder what kind of physical and mental effects the tiger was giving himself. Not to mention the canine who needed the feel of a pack. To be surrounded and within contact of more than a solitary tiger.
The possibility of infection was worrisome. In the tiger’s weakened state the wounds could pose a greater threat on his life if left untreated. But the aid would not be willing on the tiger’s part. T’Challa was not going to allow the tiger’s stubbornness be his downfall.
A quick trip to the medical bay to grab a pack of salve, bandages and a blanket he made his way to the sealed gardens and informed his guards of his plans upon arriving. Should they hear even the smallest sound of a fight they were to interfere. Not attack, but pin down the tiger should he show hostility. They were to remain in place by the garden’s exit otherwise.
T’Challa eyes the trees where both wolf and tiger were hiding among. Maybe, by meeting them on equal grounds, they would be more receptive of his presence and aid. Only one way to discover the answer.
He allowed nature to overcome him and his senses to take over. His skin prickled and stretched and out came his fur. As dark as night and shining as bright as the moon on a black sky. He lost his height but in return he gained strength and speed and sharper eyesight. He heard the leaves rustling from movement not caused by wind and the sounds of paws stepping on grass. They were close.
The feeling of letting loose was riveting and the urge to run a strong one, but he had a task at hand and already he felt wary eyes watching him. He grabbed the blanket first and threw it over his back, adjusting it as best he can and nodding when it didn't look to fall on one side easily. The pack he grabbed with his mouth by the handle and once everything was secure he made his way to the trees and bushes carefully.
A slow trut among the greens and browns he searched. Sniffing the air for clues for the often used spots and trails took him further in and spinning in circles until eventually he found a dip in the ground. The grass flattened by excessive weight and constant use. A nest, a bed, a den, same meaning, different sounds.
This was where one or both of the pair slept. Meaning they were close. Not wanting to intrude he trotted away but kept the spot within sight. He had to show he meant no harm but he couldn't let an opportunity slip by.
Finding space between bushes he hid. No doubt he had been spotted, but obscuring himself would make it difficult for the tiger to hit vital points. There he remained. Vigilant of his surroundings and watchful for any signs of the two shifters.
Minutes passed in silence created by the stillness of the garden. T’Challa saw and heard nothing amiss within that time and found himself surprised when the scratching of bark echoed far too close to his right. He refused to show it and kept himself as still as he could, even as his heart skipped a beat.
“Some would say walking head first into a tiger's boundaries meant wanting a death wish.”
The voice was deep, accented to his ears, and yet soothing. T’Challa refused to look at the tiger just yet. He had to show he wasn’t afraid and the tiger had nothing to fear in return. He kept calm. “Others would say it takes courage to do so.”
“Courage? Or ignorance? I’d never call another cat stupid, but you’ve got to admit you’re showing a lot of faith in a complete stranger. What if I had been feral?”
He risked a glance, turning his head slightly to have him within sight at the corner of his eye. “Are you?”
“Lucky for you I haven’t gotten that far yet.”
Finally he turned to get a good look at the tiger and found him perched high on a branch easily accessible from the ground. He was lounging. His tail flicked back and forth as he faced forward, not even bothering to glance at T’Challa. His fur was still coated with smudges of red and it didn’t look any better, but from the way some of the red disappeared on certain spots it was evident the tiger attempted to clean it on his own.
The height really emphasized the tiger’s proportions. While T’Challa himself could admit he was far larger than the common black panther or even black panther shifters, his size almost meant nothing when compared to this white tiger. A wild tiger on his own was one of the largest wild cats around. Mix in a shifter? It was no surprise many sought to buy this beautiful creature for not only his rarity but also his sheer bigger than life image.
T’Challa was in awe.
The tiger’s ear flickered. “To what do I owe the pleasure of the visit?”
“You’ve avoided medical.”
“Ah, that,” the large feline looked down to his paws, eyeing the fresh injuries caused by having his shackles removed. “You can’t fault me for hiding in a corner and licking my wounds.”
“Then you admit you’ve been hiding?”
Those golden eyes met his own. “I may be proud, but even I know when situations demand I put that away. Considering my circumstances I can’t be sure if your medical will actually tend to my wounds or make them worse.”
“Even after everything we have done to show you otherwise?”
“Several times bitten. Multiple times shy.”
And that had said so much. The same harsh treatment over and over again. No doubt the promise of aid being said in order to coax the pair to cooperate. The tiger didn’t trust just because of the mistreatment. They had done this to the pair before. Have been lied to. For how long?
“If it were just I that tended to you?” Perhaps if it were T’Challa himself to see to their wounds.
“I have more faith in a cat than a human, but even that is pushing it. Of course I have no say, since you’re my owner.”
He hated that term. “Then I will not. Until you give me your confidence I will not lay a paw on you.”
The tiger eyed him, judging and studying. He clearly didn’t know what to make of the situation but T’Challa was not going to push. Not when it could result in more harm than good. Instead he got comfortable. “Do you mind company?”
He half expected the tiger to state he had no say in the matter, considering the gardens belonged to T’Challa’s family, but instead the tiger sighed and rumbled a “suit yourself.” As if T’Challa was going to regret resting within his vicinity.
Only one manner to find out.
Every couple of minutes Tony’s gaze went back to the black panther resting on the ground right below him. In all honesty he had been surprised when the other feline remained unawares of his presence until a movement of his front legs pulled at his wounds and instinctively made his claws come out and scratched over the bark.
Then again Tony had been in the same spot long before the black panther started searching the forest for him. He figured the feline had sniffed him out and got comfortable nearby, waiting for the opportunity that he never took up. The black feline just waited there and didn’t bother to look up or acknowledge his presence, not until his claw made a noise.
A mistake like that could’ve cost him his life with anyone else. Tony gained nothing from attacking. Nothing but pain or even death and Peter to remain alone in this strange land. So he remained put, even after the black panther offered to keep him company.
Either he really wanted to tend to Tony’s wounds out of the goodness of his heart ( right ), or he wanted to prove something. How far was he willing to go to do so?
Tony mentally scoffed. He had promised Peter he’d try and accept what their owner offered willingly, but going through with it proved… harder than he thought. He just… couldn’t . Not with a smile and his arms wide opened. The possibility of their owner striking when he least expected it was too much of a risk in his mind. It would be so easy. The promise to help, tend to the pain and set him loose, only for those words to be false and his hope crushed. Far more common than others gave them credit for. He could vouch for it.
So he remained quiet. Offering nothing and accepting nothing. He waited for the inevitable treatment and hoped it would come sooner rather than later, but that was a cruelty on its own.
Instead of a silent treatment he had expected with his owner’s presence, he was serenaded with stories about his youth and it decorated the sounds around him. The accented tone of his owner filled with a richness he couldn’t explain. “I remember, back when I had first taken into my shift, coordinating four legs proved almost impossible and I found myself friends with the ground more than the wind. On that particular spot over by the clearing there I had the unfortunate luck of falling over a spot of mud. My fur had been a mess and the mud had dried long before I was ordered to bathe. You can well imagine the difficulty in removing dried blocks of soil from your fur.”
Tony knew, but he refused to comment on it. Instead, he listened and imagined every scenario his owner mentioned. Not like he could do much else. He couldn’t leave without risking insulting his owner and he couldn’t risk moving his owner’s attention from himself to Peter.
“I recalled the first time I attempted to pounce. One of my biggest blunders to date. I misjudged the speed and height required and instead of catching the small dove within my paws I had knocked against the stone head first. Unfortunately it was caught on footage and Shuri has never let me live it down.”
There were worse things he had gone through. Listening wasn’t so bad.
T’Challa talked well into the day. His hope of letting the tiger learn of himself in order to lessen his hostility proved to result in progress. The tiger no longer kept as close of an eye on him and instead shifter on the branch in order to have his back face him, making himself vulnerable and showing he didn’t see T’Challa as a threat any longer.
Whether he had done so unconsciously or on purpose remained to be seen, but in the end it mattered not. The tiger was comfortable enough to display this.
He stopped with his current tale in order to listen in. Had the larger feline fallen asleep? Or was he simply resting? T’Challa contemplated jumping up into the branches. He didn’t want to push but he also didn’t want to leave without at least checking the full extent of the wounds.
No, he had to give the tiger a leverage. If that meant allowing him the height than so be it. He had to somehow convince the tiger to come down instead. Allow him to choose equal footing.
“Have I bored you with my tales of youth?”
He heard a soft rumble from up above. “Not at all. I’m still listening. Go ahead and finish.”
Still awake then. “I would enjoy nothing more, but the sun is setting in and I’ll be needed elsewhere soon.”
“Right. Important man from what I’ve heard. Can’t have your time taken up completely from the likes of me.” T’Challa chose to ignore that statement. It was a dismissal to be sure. The tiger’s way of coping while defensive. Had T’Challa been anyone else that behavior would receive harsh discipline, and the larger feline knew it. “Forget I said that. Forget I said anything. Just ignore it all. I didn’t mean to -”
The tiger continued to stumble upon his attempt at an apology. T’Challa didn’t expect one, not from such a proud creature, but a long time of mistreatment changed a person, and the instinct to protect overpowered any pride. A look towards the bushes obscuring a small figure proved the apology was meant for more than just the tiger. The young wolf crouched down under the leaves of the bush, hoping the shadows would keep him hidden, but it did nothing to hide the snout sticking out. The pup needed more practice.
“May I ask,” T’Challa interrupted before the tiger began to panic. “If you will not allow me to tend to your wounds, will you permit me to examine them?”
He could see the large form tremble. From fear or the beginnings of a panic he did not know. “Do I have a choice?”
“That is why I ask, yes. I will not force you, as I stated, but your wounds are cause for worry. I am also responsible for the new set you received when I removed the chains from you.”
The white tiger fell into a still silence. For a moment T’Challa believed that to be the end with the large feline continuously refusing to accept aid, but he remained put. He didn’t receive a proper response, and until he was told to leave he would not move.
He heard a rumbling sigh from above and had a split second to admire the graceful leap down, skin and fur rippling from the movement, before the tiger landed on the ground with a heavy ‘thump’ and gust of wind. Now on equal footing T’Challa found the white feline to be far larger than he first estimated. He had to crane his neck up just to see those golden eyes.
The rumble in his voice echoed in T’Challa’s chest. “You have my word.” To emphasize he pushed the pack he had brought away with his hind leg. Out of his reach. The larger cat eyed it and him before finally looking away, head and neck turning in silent permission. He remained standing.
T’Challa made quick work checking every spot covered in both old and recently new blood. The areas with fur missing allowed him to view the damage properly. The areas with fur still present but the markings of red covering the white he noted down as potential locations for small wounds.
The entirety of the tiger required him to walk around in a circle. Far more wounds than what T’Challa had first estimated became known. Having been obscured by the fur. On one particular spot, on the heavy muscle of his hind leg, there was a knot of dried blood and dirt that T’Challa had difficulty distinguishing between an actual injury or simply matted fur in need of a wash. Without much thought he lifted a paw to try and untangle the mass. It resulted in T’Challa placing the entirety of his paw high on the tiger’s thigh.
He stilled when he realized what he had done. Should the tiger strike out of fear he only had seconds to retreat a safe distance away. Precious seconds that made the difference.
The weight shifted and under his paw T’Challa felt hard muscles clench from the movement. “My, so forward of you. I didn’t peg you as that kind.”
T’Challa pulled his paw away as if burnt. His ears went low in shock. It hadn’t even occurred to him what it might have seemed like, touching without permission and somewhere so informal had they been shifted. And now that his mind was focused on it he couldn’t stop himself from noting how well defined and shapely those hind legs of his were.
If it hadn’t been for his fur the whole world would’ve seen the flush of his cheeks.
“Forgive me. I didn't mean to disrespect in such a manner. Know that was not my intent.”
The tiger faced forward but his golden brown eyes stared at him for a moment before closing them shut. “Don’t worry about it. You wouldn’t be the first one to touch me without permission. At least you were gentle about it.”
The reveal was heartbreaking. “Surely they hadn’t -”
“Not in the way you’re thinking. I’ve been beaten, chained, wrangled down, handled in any way to keep me in check. All of them left bruises for days. Not many trust a loose tiger.”
“But you are no simple tiger,” T’Challa walked over to stand side by side, “and what they did -”
“I know,” he cut him off. “Trust me, I know. Not the greatest circumstances I’ve ever been in. Not that I’ve been through worse. By far this takes the cake, but who knows, maybe our luck has changed.”
“It has. If you ever come to believe me, know we only wish to help.”
Those brown eyes opened and cut through him. “You understand why it’s not that easy.”
“Of course, and I will not push.”
“That’s very considerate. Almost too good to be true. I’ve probably gone mad and this is some fevered dream. At least it’s an attractive cat tending to me.” As if thinking better of it the tiger retreated. “Forget I said that. I didn’t mean - are we done?”
Having pity T’Challa nodded, though he was oddly flattered. “You sustained more injuries than I had originally thought. I require at most three vials of salve to treat you. Will you allow me to tend to them tomorrow?”
A flicker of his white ear. “Maybe.”
The large feline padded backwards, refusing to give T’Challa his exposed back. It was expected for a proud animal.
“Is there a name I can call you by?” T’Challa eventually asked once the tiger looked seconds away from jumping on his previous branch and ending their conversation. He couldn’t continue calling him by white tiger and Mr Stark seemed disrespectful, considering he hadn’t introduced himself with even that name.
A short pause. “Tony. The name’s Tony.”
Tony. He can work with that. “I shall see you soon.”
T’Challa returned the next day like promised.
Tony didn’t know what to make of him. So far he had been nothing but respectful and kind. Actions that could easily blind from the truth. Tony had been burned before. He knew not to make it easy, but the panther made it difficult to keep his shields up.
The tales of his childhood made him feel so approachable, and he knew that was the panther’s plan. He was trying to lower his guard, and it was working . It didn’t help matters when the panther touched near his hips, a gentle touch that had T’Challa rearing back when he realized what he had done. He had stumbled ungracefully and the sight was… well, unflattering to say the least, and oddly adorable on the panther.
Now the panther was back and with an even larger pack in his mouth and the same blanket as before. He appeared determined, but kept a respectable distance. He had caught Tony while Tony was still on the ground, not giving him the advantage of height like before.
Not wanting to push the panther’s limit, Tony remained put on the ground. Lying down besides a good set of bushes to obscure his back. Lessening the chances of an attack. Peter was off hiding among the greens like before. Nearby, if the sounds of leaves breaking within hearing distance had anything to say. The pup really needed to practice on his stealth.
Tony eyed the panther warily as he got comfortable and curled up near him. When he made no move to speak first T’Challa seemed to happily take charge.
“My sister wishes to know if you permit her a visit with the young Peter.”
“Permit?” Odd, why would she need his permission? Were they not their owners?
“You are his guardian, are you not? After having viciously protected him I would imagine you to be wary of anyone coming near him. Shuri is interested in getting to know Peter, but I will not risk her safety, even if to aide him.”
“Do you think I’m capable of hurting children?” That stung. In the deepest part of him.
“No,” T’Challa said with no visible doubt, “but instincts will make anyone capable of anything. I do not want any of us to have regrets.”
“Fair enough. You don’t need my permission. If Peter wants to see her she’s more than welcome to visit him.”
“And what of you?”
“What of me?”
“Am I allowed to visit you?”
Tony blinked, caught by surprised. “To heal my wounds? Aren’t you already doing that?”
“No, once your wounds have healed. Do the visitations extend to myself?”
Had Tony been a canine he would’ve been tongue tied. Being a feline he was no better. “You - you want to - why? I’m sure you have other important things to do. Your guards are already watching me. I promise I won’t cause trouble.”
The panther didn’t bother to respond, choosing to just stare at him and waiting for his answer. It only agitated Tony all the more. “Why do you even need my permission. These are your gardens. You decide when to come and go, not me.”
“Believe it or not, I do respect someone’s comfort and boundaries. Tending to your wounds is a different matter than visiting out of want, and I believe you could use the company.”
“Aren’t you noble,” Tony muttered, stunned when not only T’Challa heard it, but also chuckled at it.
“I like to believe my family is, but we do have the occasional stragglers. My sister, for example.”
“I heard that, brother,” out of nowhere, from the bushes, a smaller sized panther pounced on the larger, making herself comfortable on his back. “So what did he say?”
“You have permission, so long as Peter wishes for your company. I imagine after spending one hour with you he’d run for the river in order to escape.”
“You are a natural comedian, T’Challa. If royalty doesn’t work for you I imagine stand up comedy would be an excellent career.”
“Off,” T’Challa shook his fur in order to unbalance her.
She leaped to her feet gracefully. “If you have need of me I’ll be hunting down a loose canine,” and just like that she was gone. Only the sounds of a whine signalled her successfully finding Peter.
After a moment Tony blurted the only thing that seemed important at the time. “ Royalty ?” Because what the fuck, they were royals of sorts? Was T’Challa a lord or something?
“Ah, my father is king. Shuri and I his children,” if possible the panther looked sheepish admitting this.
A prince?! Why would a prince put so much effort on two shifter slaves?
“You did not know.” An observation.
“Of course not. I just thought you were super rich or something. Not a prince . Why would you even bother tending to me? You have others to do that instead.”
“Would you willingly get tended by them?”
He had a point there and Tony grimaced at the admission. He wouldn’t feel comfortable getting tended by strangers. At least with T’Challa he had a name along with the face and a bit of knowledge on his person and past. But a damn prince? Way out of his league as anything.
“Will you allow me now?”
No , Tony wanted to say, but his wounds were starting to get on the irritatingly painful side and they burned . He couldn’t even say yes. His tongue heavy in his mouth. To ask for help just wasn’t in his nature, but this was a prince. He couldn’t disrespect.
A bitter taste was in his mouth. “If it is not too much trouble.”
“Not at all.” T’Challa scooted closer with the pack of salves. “I will be quick.”
“As long as your gentle.”
One thing Tony hadn’t considered when he accepted the help of the prince was the method in which the prince was going to lather him with the disenfectives. Paws weren’t exactly ideal, not when claws could accidentally cause more damage or the salve wouldn’t be placed properly.
As a panther it would’ve been difficult for T’Challa to work on four legs. Opposable thumbs was a luxury and proved to be a necessity on more than one occasion and now suddenly the blanket T’Challa brought with him made more sense.
Tony tried his hardest not to allow his eyes to glance over to the form of the prince kneeling next to him with only a blanket to cover his nakedness to the world. Instead he focused on the feeling of fingers trailing through his fur and caressing his skin. The medicine soothing the burn of his fresh wounds and the soft fingers relaxing his muscles.
The sensation had him nearly falling asleep and his weakness to touch had him going soft and pliant. If he had the capability he was sure he’d be purring right then. As it happened, he might or might not have been slowly melting under the prince’s hands.
He had a weakness. Living as a solitary tiger had its pros, less worry, no responsibilities to others, no other mouths to feed, but above all else solitary had its cons. No physical contact. No affection. No grooming. No gentle touches. No bonds. No pride strength. He was alone and the feeling of loneliness in moments of weakness hurt more than any wound he could ever receive.
He didn’t believe himself as someone to easily grow affection for another simply because he ran fingers through his fur, but as T’Challa gently lathered around his wrists with a care of easily breakable glass Tony could feel the affection bloom in his chest. It said something for a tiger to allow the fragile treatment, but Tony had been so starved of anything related to gentle treatment after being captured he couldn’t be faulted.
He wondered if T’Challa understood or even noted the importance of it.
The more the panther tended to his wounds the more Tony inched closer to falling asleep. Then T’Challa moved his hands to his flank and back and Tony was in pure bliss.
“You sustained more injuries than I have salve to use.”
Tony twitched his ear at the sudden sound disrupting his elation. He made the mistake of looking to T’Challa and got a trail of skin visible between the the blanket wrapped around his shoulders and a well-toned chest for his troubles. Mouth suddenly dried he put a lot more effort than necessary to move his gaze to T’Challa’s face.
“As long as the big ones are taken care of. Don’t go using all your stock on me.”
T’Challa’s hand suddenly moved to lather on his neck. Tony prevented himself from flinching but gave himself away when his ears went flat down. He moved his head according to T’Challa’s movements to accommodate. At one point T’Challa had to use both hands to adjust and held his chin as he put pressure in order to pass through the fur. Tony stared at his face as he did so. The tongue sticking out slightly as he focused. The thought of grooming strong on his mind after seeing that.
The panther’s fingers ran over the fur of his cheeks and as if belatedly realizing what he’d been doing T’Challa finally met his eyes. For a brief moment time stopped and Tony wondered what the prince’s next move would have been had the sound of twigs snapping didn’t make them nearly jump apart. T’Challa retracted his hand and both of them faced the panther cub and wolf pup trying and failing to hide under bushes. The youngsters looking far too interested at what they were doing.
T’Challa wrapped the blanket tighter against himself and Tony did the sensible thing and stood to move his body in front of the panther, blocking the view. He gave the young pair an unimpressed look.
“How long have you both been hiding there?”
The panther princess peeked her head through the green and piped up. “Long enough.” The feline grin she had didn’t leave room not to worry.
Peter followed her and stuck his nose up, tongue hanging lazily out of his mouth. “We didn’t want to disturb you, Mr Stark. Looked like you were having a moment.”
If looks could scare.
“Mind coming out from there?”
“Since you asked so nicely,” Shuri slithered out and stood tall. Her fur shining under the light of the sun. Peter didn’t slither but he gave a good attempt at it. His fur wasn’t as shiny but considering what they had gone through months prior it was practically sparkling compared to his fur’s previous state. He looked healthy and energetic and Tony sighed fondly at him. Carefree for the first time in so long. He couldn’t take that away from him.
“Did you both need something?” There had to be a reason why the two sought them out.
“No, we wanted to check you both weren’t dead. You were awfully silent.”
“What, were you expecting us to fight? Pretty sure your guards would be against me hurting a prince.”
“No, but plenty of other reasons to be quiet.”
T’Challa, now in his panther form, walked around Tony. “Such as?”
“I can’t possibly say.” Shuri made a show of looking around paranoid. “Far too many ears around us.”
T’Challa shook his head, ready to respond, but it seemed Shuri was not going to stick around for it. She jumped on her four legs and to Peter she said, “Race you to the top of the hill.”
Peter crouched down before taking off. “You’re on!”
And just like that they were both gone, leaving tiger and panther alone to wonder what all that was about.
“The energy of youth,” T’Challa said with fondness.
Tony raised an eyebrow at him. “Are you calling me old?” Which, rude.
“N-no! Of course not. I hadn’t meant to offend by it.”
The wide eyes and the taken back stance made Tony internally chuckle. A prince that stuttered. He never thought he’d ever see it in his life. Then, as if stuttering wasn’t enough, the prince actually froze and blinked at him. As if his mind was attempting to reboot.
Tony grinned. “No offence taken. I wouldn’t even know what to do with all that energy. I’m old and grumpy.”
The panther seemed to snap out of whatever notion he got himself in. “There is plenty to do with that much energy. You just need creativity.”
Now it was Tony’s turn to blink. If he didn’t know any better he’d assume the prince was flirting with him, and his eyes seemed to be half lidded.
It was a good thing he knew better. The prince was his owner and most likely didn’t have time to flirt with his property. Even if he did nothing would come out of it. Not unless the prince wanted a warm body for the night and Tony had no choice but to say yes.
Tony hummed and refused to respond. If he didn’t acknowledge it perhaps the prince would drop it. Instead he turned and got comfortable back on the ground.
Shuri ended up winning the race up the hill by using the branches and jumping to her advantage while Peter was stuck running on the ground. While he may have lost he hadn’t been upset by it. Not when he could finally run after being locked up for so long. To feel his legs burning from exertion and breathing heavily.
He flopped down on the ground when he finally reached her perched on the hill. “Next win is going to be mine.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it.” She wasn’t winded and she didn’t look even close to as tired as he was.
“I’ll give you ten.”
“Thanks.” Peter breathed deeply during the time, trying to calm his heart, all the while Shuri sat upright for a moment before pacing in a circle around him.
“So,” she started casually, “my brother and Mr Stark.”
Peter grinned. “Do you think they know?”
“If they don’t they’re about to. The way they were gazing at each other. It reminded me of that lion film and the love song it played. They’re practically begging for it to be their song.”
“Lion film?” Peter perked up.
“Have you not watched it?” the panther tilted her head.
“I live with my pack hidden in the forest away from humans. I’ve seen a few films from what we manage to get, but they’re usually not priority. My uncle tells me to focus on staying hidden.”
“I see. Sounds sad.”
Peter shrugged. “Plenty to do with the pack every day. Not that it’s always fun, but we survive.”
Shuri circled one more time before curling up next to him. “Is that how all shifters live where you are from?”
“Not all. Only those who live as their animal form. It’s easier to live hidden like that and have humans keep walking. There’s some who try to live as both and even manage to make small villages deep within forests. They have electricity and technology and everything.”
“Do you live as your animal only?”
“Yeah. Electricity makes it easier for humans to track us so we try to avoid that.”
“Is that why you don’t shift even now? You and Mr Stark?” It was a sad thought, and made sense now that Shuri thought about it.
Peter nodded. “We live in a forest. Mr Stark on his own but he’s a friend of my pack. He helped me when I got seperated from my aunt and uncle one day, and tried to stop the poachers from taking me. They got us both instead.”
“How long ago was this?” How long were you captured.
“What day is it?”
“Seventeen of September.”
Visible sorrow appeared in Peter’s eyes. “More than half a year ago. Aunt May and Uncle Ben must be worried sick.”
“You’ll return to them,” Shuri said with utmost certainty. “I meant what I said. We wish to help and that means returning you to your home. Wherever that is.”
Shuri made a quick move to bump her head against Peter’s in affection before pulling away and standing again. “Now. I can’t believe you haven’t watched that lion film. Tomorrow I’m bringing a whole set up and we’re going to sit and watch it and when that scene comes out you’re going to help me play it out for my brother and Mr Stark.”
Peter hopped to his feet as well. “I can’t wait.”
A year later, but what can you do?
Shuri and Peter were crouched under a bush and watched intently as T’Challa and Mr Stark quietly talked to each other. Both felines lied on their stomachs with their paws crossed in front of them. T’Challa, Shuri noticed, was constantly flicking his tail upwards in interest. A tell she knew meant her brother appeared invested in the relationship that was building between himself and the white tiger in the span of a month. It mattered not what that relationship ended as. Her brother already showed he considered his tie with the tiger important.
As for Mr Stark. There were no visible tells that showed he returned the sentiment or the interest. No flick of his tail, no paw shuffling, no ear twitch, no casually leaning closer, not even a subtle sniff. Mr Stark was as still as a stump. He was guarded, cautious, even more so than her own brother, who had gone through lessons after lessons in order to hide any body language that would show weakness to their enemies.
Mr Stark appeared careful, even amongst allies only wishing to help. Even as her brother showed obvious signs and clear intentions. The courage to open up was nonexistent in his form. Signs of embedded wounds buried deep within his being. Perhaps a case of too often bitten, permanently shy?
Days had gone by and the injuries Mr Stark had sustained had healed over. The white of his fur finally clear and the worry of infection long gone. Now, only the emotional scarring remained. Scarring he wished to keep hidden. Through what little they could see during moments he let himself go Shuri had come to find the man was stubborn and brash and perfect for her brother, who was equally hot-headed and knew no better. But how to let him see?
They needed a hand. A little push together.
“We need ideas. I feel the song will not be enough for them. The two are too stubborn,” she said to the wolf. “They need all the help we can offer.”
Peter sniffed, “You think a song about love is not enough? I thought it’s pretty straight forward.”
“They are too proud. Neither will take the leap. We need to give them a push.”
“Right. How about… falling leaves while the song plays?”
Shuri tilted her head. “Falling leaves? For an aesthetic touch to it? Yes, that’ll work. View each other under a different light. How about the scene of the water… does Mr Stark swim?”
“I don’t know. I never actually saw him swim, but he’s a tiger, I’m sure he knows how.”
“Let’s hope so. If not, my brother can rescue him. That will surely earn him points.”
“What do you have in mind for the water part?”
“Knock them in. A swim is perfect. We’ll have to time it.”
“Oh, they’re not going to like that.”
“It’s their own fault for needing the help.”
Shuri grinned when she heard Peter snort. They would require to plan ahead if they wished to make their list come true. To time everything as perfectly as they could. To let the two adults know whatever they feel, no matter how small, is mutual.
Maybe they’ll find something more together.
“I hope none of them freeze,” Shuri had little in that regard, “we need to go and prepare. If I know my brother he will continue to visit each day. If not to chat Mr Stark up, than to check both his and your progress.”
As if by reflex at the mention of their past treatment, Peter shook his head to ruffle the fur around his neck. Perhaps to remind himself of the freedom he now possessed without the collar? She felt a pang in her chest at the thought.
What they must have gone through…
At least now they are safe and free to roam, instead of being locked in a cage as if they were mere animals. The very idea, the audacity, it sent a shiver of disgust through her.
“We can plan these events to fit his visits, but we need more suggestions. They will need the courage to admit anything and that will not occur from one.”
Peter’s tail visibly wagged. “Let’s get to planning then. I’ve got plenty of ideas. Not all of them sane, but I’m sure they’ll be fine. Mr Stark is quick on his feet.”
“So is my brother. Perhaps we can use that.”
“Brainstorm,” Shuri agreed before they ran off to plan every detail they could.
Over to where both tiger and panther rested Tony’s entire body shivered. His hairs all rose as if danger was in his near future. The sense so strong he visibly shuddered and T’Challa noticed.
“Did you sense that, too?” The prince inquired, letting him know he experienced the same thing.
“Something is going to happen. We’re not going to like it.”
“I fear we’ll have no choice in the matter. We will not be able to avoid whatever we will meet in our future.”
Tony huffed. “That doesn’t sound ominous at all. Thanks.”
T’Challa gave him a toothy smile. “Would you rather I lie?”
“I’d rather steer clear of it in general. Can you make that possible?”
“I can make a lot of things, but even I cannot predict future occurrences.”
“Guess we’ll just face our fates then. Can’t be that bad, right?”
Tony would have assumed he had jinxed himself by speaking too soon, but he honestly had not expected or had been prepared for this.
Two days since the foreboding and he had braced himself for the worst. His mind had run with dozens of possibilities of what their future held. From the metaphorical rug soon being yanked from under his and Peter’s paws with the true colors of the prince being revealed, to something simple as one of them having the unfortunate luck of catching a cold.
Of all those possibilities it never occurred to him that Shuri and Peter were the ones to be responsible for the whole debacle and what, exactly, the duo had planned to do.
Boy, it had never crossed his mind this was what they had planned for both him and T'Challa.
He had been lying peacefully on the ground. His fur shining better than ever under the sun. The patches where his fur had once been missing were now covered and healthy. The white of his fur glowing, showing his progress in health. While some scars would forever remain, he counted his blessings for now. T’Challa had truly kept his word and aided them, but Tony still planned to keep his guard up.
He’d been burned plenty of times.
The prince himself was lying next to him. Moderate space between them to not intrude in their personal bubbles.
They weren’t chatting, surprisingly comfortable with just each other’s company. Tony was enjoying the sun’s rays as he continued to heal and T’Challa was enjoying a small break from his princely duties.
The orange petal falling from the sky was first seen by Tony. The white tiger had been basking under the rays with his head up and eyes closed when something flicked his nose. His eyes open to the sight of a beautiful long petal balancing perfectly on the tip of his nose. Confused, he lowered his snout to allow the petal to continue its path down.
Odd. Tony didn’t even know their cage had orange flowers. He eyed it confusingly.
Then another petal floated down. Then another and another. All of them trickling down and landing all around them.
T’Challa was just as confused as him, if his twitching ears had anything to say of it.
“Is this normal?” He asked the prince. It appeared only their spot was being rained on by orange petals and nowhere else.
“It is not,” T’Challa stared at the petals as if their very presence was a threat. “These are not from the flowers of the palace, and we do not partake in showering in them in this manner.”
Well, even if they didn’t make it a habit to shower in flowers, Tony had to admit the contrast between the orange of the petals and the black of T’Challa’s coat was very beautiful. Almost worthy of a portrait to be displayed for those who appreciated the arts.
Not that Tony would ever say it. The prince didn’t need his compliments nor would the prince want them from someone like Tony.
They both nearly jumped out of their fur when a voice echoed all around them.
“Can you feel the love tonight?…”
Up on their paws they stood to search for the source of the noise. When it was evident the noise was, in fact, a song and they listened closely to the words they were left staring at each other awkwardly.
Unable to hold the prince’s gaze, Tony turned away, grateful his fur hid the otherwise very obvious flush on his face. Needing a distraction, he searched for the source of the petals and the song combination and found them on top of a hill that overlooked their spot.
The grinning face of the princess stared down at him. Next to her, the orange petals were thrown over the edge and soon enough Peter’s own wolfish grin joined hers. They appeared very proud of themselves and were obviously the culprits.
“Really, Peter?” Tony said just as T’Challa gave a very defeated sigh and a “Shuri.”
“Hi, Mr Stark,” Peter’s tongue lolled out with his grin.
“Don’t mind us. Do continue your time together. We’re just setting the mood,” Shuri said, just as the song echoed “The world for once, in perfect harmony.”
Tony really did not like what that implied. “Thanks, but that’s really unnecessary.”
“You are welcome,” they said simultaneously before disappearing. The song did not stop.
T’Challa shuffled in place, anxious about their situation. “I apologize for her.”
“Yeah, sorry about my kid, too.”
A bouquet of flowers of different varieties and colors came crashing down before them.
“Brother, give him these!”
T’Challa groaned and lowered himself to the ground, covering his face with his paws.“Shuri.”
Tony couldn’t help the laugh that escaped him.