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Praesis ut Prosis

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The thought first comes to him on the day of his coronation, several seconds after Lord M’Baku of the Jabari knocks him on his back.

He lays there, gasping in the water as the pain from the blow makes itself known to him. It would be so easy to yield to M’Baku, to give in. To feel the peace of defeat. He’s never felt it so strongly before, the urge to surrender.

But he is a prince of Wakanda, and his father’s son. He grits his teeth and gets back on his feet.

***

“I could use an army,” he tells M’Baku, and is not surpised when M’Baku erupts into laughter. They are not friends, to do each other favors.

So when M’Baku arrives on the battlefield with one hundred of his fiercest warriors, T’Challa knows with a curious lightness in his lungs that there will be a reckoning for this. The debt must be paid.

He knows this, and he knows M’Baku knows this. Their eyes meet across the battlefield, and T’Challa cannot help the shiver that runs down his spine.

***

N’Jadaka dies under a swift sunrise, and T’Challa carries the body back to Birnin Zana with an aching heart.

M’Baku comes to the funeral, of course, as is right and proper. For all that N’Jadaka was a killer and a usurper, he was still a king and a member of the royal family. Wakanda will mark his death with pomp and circumstance, and no small measure of relief.

The hypocrisy does not seem to elude M’Baku. He stands to the side of the bier in his best leathers, a small smile playing at the edges of his mouth despite the grimness of the occasion.

T’Challa keeps his eyes trained on N’Jadaka’s body: so peaceful in death, more than he ever had been in life. As the priests call out the lineage of the dead, T’Challa can feel M’Baku’s eyes burning holes in his back.

He should go to him. He should go and say all the things he wants to say.

He doesn’t.

He doesn’t look away from the body. As the ceremony ends and he files out of the hall with the other mourners, it occurs to him that there must be something wrong with him. After all, he just fought a man to death in the vibranium mines but now he is too afraid to meet M’Baku’s eyes.

***

T’Challa sleeps fitfully that night, and the night after. He dreams of his father under a violet sky, turning his back and walking into the dark. He dreams of Killmonger’s howl, of the feeling of falling between the pillars of vibranium, deep into the earth. He dreams of kneeling at M’Baku’s feet, heart beating like a drum.

The healers say that dreams are not unexpected in the wake of trauma. The dreams are simply products of the stress his body has been subjected to; they will pass as he heals. But T’Challa knows there is more to it than that. Killmonger cracked open his life like an earthquake splits the ground, and things best left buried have come to the surface.

When he wakes on the third day, skin painted with sweat and an ache in his chest, he knows what he must do.

He calls for his attendants and bids them bring him a robe of fine white linen. He pulls it on, careful not to jostle any of his injuries, but leaves his feet bare. He picks up the necklace of the black panther and hesitates, but after a long breath he places it back in its case and flips the clasp shut. He does not go forth as an avatar or a god or a king, but as a man, with all a man’s vulnerabilities. If M’Baku cuts him, he will bleed.

His attendants offer to have his flier prepared but he waves them away and sets out on his own.

The walk to the Jabari lands is long and cold. As the path steepens, his breath turns to fog before him. After a short time, his feet begin to ache, and as he approaches the Jabari border they begin to bleed beneath him, leaving dark footprints against the cold and rocky ground.

He feels the eyes of the Jabari on him long before he sees them. The rock cliffs on either side of the path are pitted with cracks and shallow caves: a million places to hide and watch for approaching intruders. The Panther in him senses the watchers in the rocks; even without claws he is a cat. He resists the urge to seek the Jabari out more actively; it would not be polite.

It is not until the cliffs fall away and the Jabari fortress is before him that he is approached. Two Jabari warriors melt out of the shadow of an outcropping to his left. They have spears outstretched in their hands and wear full armor, complete with masks that cover their features.

“I am King T’Challa of Wakanda,” he says.

The warriors are silent. They do not lower their spears.

T’Challa raises his empty hands in the universal gesture of peace. “I come to speak with Lord M’Baku of the Jabari,” he says. “Not as a king to a king, but as a man to a man.”

The two masks tilt towards each other in a glance; through the carvings T’Challa can just make out the gleam of eyes. Whatever is said is done so in silence. The left of the two looks back to him and nods, and then they’re turning down the path towards the fortress. He follows.

They lead him up the steps, under the massive wooden arch of the gates, and into the fortress.

There are many men and women scattered throughout the halls, talking in voices too low to make out. He sees women with their weaving, children playing with carved wooden toys, warriors polishing the hafts of their weapons and playing at dice. All in all, it looks more like a market than a palace, but he has heard it said that the Jabari hold their king in less awe than do their lowland cousins, or at least with more familiarity.

The warriors lead him to the back of the fortress and pause at an open door. They gesture silently with the hafts of their spears.

Nodding his thanks, T’Challa steps inside and glances around.

It is a smaller room than he would have expected. The wood of the floors and walls gleams bright in the sunlight. Overhead, logs carved from the wood the Jabari hold sacred sway gently, sending shadows rippling over the floor.

In the center of the hall sits M’Baku.

He sprawls on his throne, legs spread wide in a way that does strange things to T’Challa’s stomach. He is deep in conversation with a knot of advisors; none of them look up when T’Challa enters.

He stands there a second, heart in his throat. It would be so easy to turn back now, before M’Baku notices him. T’Challa could hurry back down the mountain without suffering to speak all the uncomfortable truths jangling around in his head.

It would be easy, but it would not be right. He coughs into the muffled quiet of the men’s conversations. And then M’Baku glances up, and his eyes widen, and the room falls away around them.

T’Challa takes a single step forward. The floor is smooth against his swollen feet. “I am T’Challa, son of T’Chaka.”

He takes another step. “You have saved my country, my people, my throne.”

He steps closer still, close enough that M’Baku is within reach, so close that he can see the sudden flare of M’Baku’s nose and the way his eyes narrow as he notices T’Challa’s missing necklace and bare feet.

T’Challa swallows. “I am in your debt.” And with that he sinks into a low obeisance at the foot of the throne, head bowed against the floor.

The room is very quiet. T’Challa lets out a shaky breath. His heart is pounding in his ears, loud enough that everyone in the palace must hear it, if not everyone in Wakanda.

Above him, an indrawn breath and the sound of M’Baku shifting in his seat. “Leave us,” he rumbles.

T’Challa hears the shuffle of feet as the advisors and the guards file out of the room but does not lift his head from the floor.

All is silence. The back of his neck prickles. A hand ghosts over the nape of his neck. And it feels like every bit of peace he’s yearned for since Killmonger attacked him. He lets out a shaky gasp.

M’Baku withdraws his hand with a jerk. “Stand up,” M’Baku says roughly.

His eyes fly open, he jerks his head up. “I-“

“Stand up,” he snarls, with such vehemence that T’Challa can’t argue with him.

Blinking, he stumbles to his feet. “But-“

M’Baku cuts him off with a slash of his hand. “By the gods, do you think I- I didn’t do it for-“ He throws his head back and rakes his fingers through his hair. “No.”

T’Challa mouth seems to produce the words of its own accord. “I have seen the way you look at me.”

M’Baku starts, and then leans back against the throne avoiding T’Challa’s eyes. “Be that as it may,” he says at last, “It is a bitter thing, to hear you see me as the sort of man that would force you.”

The truth he has been carrying in his heart these long weeks falls from his lips like spilling water. “You would not be forcing me.”

It takes M’Baku a moment to catch his meaning. T’Challa can see the moment it sinks in: M’Baku blinks, opens his mouth, and closes it again. He sits up. “Oh.” His eyes are very wide.

“Indeed,” T’Challa murmurs.

“Very well then,” M’Baku says to himself. And then he looks down to T’Challa with a sudden resolve that sets a burning in his stomach. “Come here.”

He moves forward until he’s kneeling upright in the space between M’Baku’s legs. He lets his gaze drop to the join of M’Baku’s thighs for just a second; he can’t help it. He licks his lips.

When he looks up, M’Baku is watching him intently. His eyes suddenly seem very dark.

M’Baku raises a hand and brings it towards his face.

He flinches, expecting a slap. But M’Baku only smooths the tips of his fingers over T’Challa’s right cheekbone with a kind of reverence before moving to cradle the curve of his jaw. M’Baku rests his other hand at the base of his skull. And then he’s leaning forward and pressing their lips together in a gentle, chaste kiss.

It’s heartbreaking in its sweetness. M’Baku draws away almost immediately and presses a second closemouthed kiss to the corner of T’Challa’s lips. T’Challa’s mouth falls open with a quiet gasp.

“Shh, shh,” M’Baku murmurs, meaningless sounds like T’Challa is a frightened animal in need of reassurance. He kisses him again on the mouth, this time with parted lips.

T’Challa opens his mouth in response and deepens the kiss, bringing his hands up to rest on M’Baku’s shoulders.

M’Baku’s hands tighten on him, and he suddenly pulls away with a huff of laughter. “Get up here.”

And before T’Challa’s kiss-addled brain can figure what he means, M’Baku is lifting him up as easily as if he weighed nothing at all and settling him in M’Baku’s lap on the throne.

“Do you not have beds in your lands?” he asks breathlessly.

“No,” M’Baku replies, deadpan. “We are very poor. I apologize, for not debauching you in the luxury to which you are accustomed.”

T’Challa opens his mouth to say something, but the words turn into a moan when M’Baku rips his robe open and rakes his teeth over his nipple. His cock twitches beneath his robe and his fingers dig into M’Baku’s arms hard enough to bruise.

M’Baku takes it all in with a low chuckle as he suckles and bites T’Challa’s nipples until they're sensitive and aching, until T’Challa’s hips are twitching up with every touch.

“Please,” he gasps, when he feels he can’t take it anymore.

M’Baku pulls away with a put-upon sigh. “So demanding.” But even as he says it he’s smiling a devious smile and snaking his hand down to unbutton T’Challa’s robe.

T’Challa’s cock springs out, hard and needy. M’Baku takes him in hand and gives him a single stroke from base to tip. He has a firm hand, and even the single touch is enough to make T’Challa hiss through his teeth, needing more. He wants to see M’Baku as well, to touch him and make him fall apart on his own throne.

M’Baku notes the direction of his thoughts and pushes his own kilt out of the way with a muffled curse. He’s wearing nothing underneath, and his cock, thick and heavy, springs up against his stomach.

T’Challa leans forward with want, and the motion brings their cocks together, and they both gasp.

Then M’Baku is taking both of them in hand- oh, but he has such wonderful, gigantic hands- and then he’s giving them both quick, sure strokes. T’Challa thrusts into the motion, reveling in the roughness of M’Baku’s callouses and M’Baku’s quiet gasps.

M’Baku leans in to chase a trickle of sweat down T’Challa’s chest with his tongue; T’Challa rakes his fingers over M’Baku’s scalp and plants open mouthed kisses to the line of his jaw.

Both are leaking now, and the wetness lets them slide against each other with every snap of T’Challa’s hips.

It all comes to a tipping point very, very quickly. Their thrusts grow faster, erratic, and then T’Challa is losing his rhythms as his body jerks and falls apart with a hoarse cry. He’s engulfed in the feeling of the pleasure washing over him, but he can just feel the moment M’Baku tenses beneath him, and then they are both of them together slipping over the edge.

***

Afterwards they sit together on the throne, T’Challa cradled in M’Baku’s lap as they watch the sun go down over the mountains.

Finally, M’Baku speaks. “This is a momentous occasion, you know.”

T’Challa raises his eyebrows. “And why is that?”

M’Baku leans in to lick a drop of seed from T’Challa’s chest. “It has been a very long time since a Wakandan king has come here.”

T’Challa can’t help it; he bursts into laughter. He feels a lightness in him he hasn’t felt in weeks, maybe in months. “Ah,” he says as his laughter abates, “you would have made a wonderful king.”

M’Baku nods once, as if it were obvious. “But watching you squirm is more fun. That is why I let you win, when we fought.”

T’Challa smiles and leans his head back against M’Baku’s chest so that he can feel the steady rhythm of M’Baku’s heartbeat echo in his lungs. “You did not let me win.”

“Of course I did,” M’Baku says, waving a hand at the come drying on T’Challa’s stomach. “You are weak! You could not last against me in love, how could you have bested me in war?”

T’Challa considers telling him that his pride is unwarranted, considering he came two seconds after T’Challa at best. But he’s more interested in something else M’Baku had said. “Love, M’Baku?”

“Ah well,” M’Baku says with expansive shrug, as if to admit he’s been caught. He looks away, but T’Challa can see a hint of a smile on his lips. “You will make a good king too, I suppose. Not as good as me, of course,” he adds hastily. “But good enough.”

“Thank you, M’Baku,” he says. He hopes M’Baku will understand he isn’t speaking of the compliment, but of everything else: his loyalty, his bravery, the return of T’Challa’s throne and the protection of his people. And dearer still, this new thing between them, too raw to put to proper words.

The sudden softness in M’Baku’s eyes says he knows what T’Challa means, every bit of it. “You are welcome,” he replies. “And if you ever find that once again your crown grows heavy…”

Something light flutters in T’Challa’s chest. It feels like peace. “I know where to find you.”