M'Baku looked...awful. T'Challa's heart constricted as he stood in the doorway to their bedchamber, unable to force himself to venture further inside. His heartmate lay in their bed, considerably thinner than he'd been when he'd last seen him at the Battle of Wakanda--Dr. Steven Strange told him that that had been some five years ago, and while he'd laughed it off in the moment (after all, it couldn't be true...after how hard he'd fought to build a life, a family with M'Baku, he refused to accept that he could have lost so much time), looking at M'Baku now...He wasn't sure when the tears first started to fall, but he couldn't stop them. He didn't even try.
His mother had tried to warn him. In the recent months, the Queen Mother had rarely seen her son-in-law, save for the rare occasions she summoned him before her to see with her own eyes that the great Jabari lord was still breathing. At their last meeting, she had asked him why he continued to torture himself over a past that could not be rewritten--killing himself would not bring T'Challa back, after all, and Behati did not deserve to watch her father destroy himself over something that was outside of his control. M'Baku had smiled ruefully and told her that an 'honorable' alpha stands alongside their omega in life and in death. He would not fail her son a second time. Looking at M'Baku now, T'Challa saw just how utterly distraught he was over what had happened and wished that Thor had not robbed him of the privelege of chopping off the mad Titan's head.
And then...he saw something poking out from underneath M'Baku's arm. The blankets shifted, and M'Baku let out something between a whine and a moan as the figure twisted away from him, trying to wiggle out from his hold. Was that...It couldn't be...And then he caught sight of a Black Panther stuffie, clutched a hair too tight in one tiny hand, and his heart skipped a beat because his baby girl, who'd barely been twelve months old when the Avengers had first crash-landed in Wakanda, seeking aid in the removal of the Mind Stone, had gotten so big! He must've made a noise, because suddenly, his daughter's big brown eyes snapped open and she started crawling back toward M'Baku. She opened her mouth, likely about to alert her father to the stange noise she'd just heard, when her eyes fell upon T'Challa. The silence seemed to stretch on forever, until...
"Papa!" Behati launched herself out of the bed and raced over to T'Challa, knocking into him with such force she almost took him to the ground. "You...You came back!"
T'Challa held her as tight as he dared, burying his face in her mop of tight chocolate brown curls. "Of course I did, my darling girl. Nothing in the entire universe could keep me from you." She was smiling, all gums and brilliant white teeth, and she looked just like M'Baku when he told one of his particularly grizzly jokes. "I'm just sorry it took so long."
"That's okay. Gramma says that the best things in life come to those who wait." She said, before clapping her little hands together. "'Sides, Daddy and I wrote you letters every day! Well, mostly Daddy, 'cause I'm not so good at writing yet...but I drew you lots and lots of pretty pictures! Daddy says I must get all my artsy talent from you, 'cause -,"
"...Behati, who're you talking to?" M'Baku spoke around a yawn as he slowly sat up, rubbing at his still-closed eyes with the heel of his palm.
Behati tumbled out of T'Challa's arms and raced over to M'Baku's side, winding both of her little arms around M'Baku's bicep and tugging. "You gotta get up, Daddy."
M'Baku allowed her to tug on him, but didn't make any move to climb out of the bed. "Unless either of our lives are in immediate danger, doll, I'd much rather stay put, if you don't mind." Behati continued to blabber, insisting that there was something he absolutely must see. "Honey, I'm not in the mood. Whatever it is can wait until morning -,"
"It's alright, darling...let him sleep. He looks like he needs it." T'Challa said, stepping into the bedroom and settling himself at the foot of their bed.
M'Baku's eyes shot open, "T-T'Challa?"
His alpha reached one tentative hand toward him, the fingertips just about to brush against his bare skin when the hand was yanked back as if he'd touched something hot. "Yes, M'Baku. It's me. See...?" Slowly, he reached for the other's hand, bringing it up to the nape of his neck so that he could feel the raised skin of his mating scar.
One thousand emotions seemed to flicker across his heartmate's face, before finally, M'Baku grabbed his forearm and dragged him onto the bed until he was settled between the Jabari lord's massive thighs. Even with all of the weight and muscle mass that he'd lost, M'Baku was still a force of nature capable of making any omega swoon. Wrapping his arms around T'Challa's svelte waist, he buried his nose in the crook of the king's neck and inhaled deeply. Though he hadn't quite been able to wash the stink of the battlefield off of him, he smelled of clean sweat and earth and metal and home. M'Baku breathed in shakily, inhaling so deep that his lungs burned and his vision swam, little black dots creeping in on the corners of his field of vision. He couldn't recall how many times he'd dreamed of this moment, of T'Challa returning to his arms, safe and sane and whole.
"Please..." he swallowed hard, his words muffled by T'Challa's skin. "Please tell me that this isn't just another dream. That you're...That you're really here, with me. With us." He sniffled, and T'Challa could smell the saltiness of fresh tears. He imagined M'Baku's face looked about as bad as his own. "Because I don't think I could survive losing you again."
”I’m here. And I will never leave you again, not if I can help it.” T’Challa reassured, “I can’t believe it’s been five years. When we...when we finally had Behati, I’d thought...I’d honestly thought the worst of it was behind us. But I’ve lost five years with her, with you.”
M’Baku was silent for a long moment, before whispering, “They said you’d never be coming back. That you and everyone else that vanished...it was best if those that were left behind just moved on.” A shiver chased down his spine, “But I couldn’t do it.”
”Daddy has been really sad. He cries lots. I don’t like it when Daddy cries.” She said. M’Baku sniffled, drawing back and wiping at his eyes before reaching out and scooping their little one into his arms, squeezing tight. “Can Papa make Daddy smile again?”
T’Challa nodded, wiping at his red-rimmed eyes with the heel of his palm. “I can certainly try, baby girl.”
”You always make me smile, little king.” M’Baku gave him a shaky, watery smile, as if to prove his point.
“I must admit, I’m not particularly fond of your tears either.” T’Challa said, leaning forward and brushing his lips over his heartmate’s tear stained cheeks. “I’ve only ever seen you cry twice, and both times have, unfortunately, been because of me. I’m hoping not to cause a third.”
M’Baku stuck his tongue out at him, “You make me soft, kitten.”
”Is that really such a terrible thing?” T’Challa countered cheekily.
Behati yawned, reaching out and taking hold of the front of T'Challa's shirt and dragging him down toward the bed. "'m sleepy, Papa. No more talking--we cuddle now." As if to cement her point, she dragged T'Challa's arm over her tiny body and burrowing deep into his chest.
T'Challa laughed, allowing himself to be manhandled into position by his six-year-old daughter. M'Baku hunkered down behind her, pressing a kiss to the crown of her head before leaning over her to press a kiss to T'Challa's slightly chapped lips. His lips glided slowly, sensually over his omega's, his teeth scraping along the smaller man's bottom lip before drawing back. T'Challa gave him a small, reassuring smile, before reaching down and twining their fingers together, a silent reminder that he was there, that he wasn't just going to disappear if M'Baku gave into temptation and allowed himself to get some much needed rest. Gently, he brought M'Baku's knuckles up to his lips, kissing them softly. M'Baku's smile grew a bit wider and he bitched about T'Challa being a 'sap', only to roll his eyes when Behati grumbled about them making too much noise while she was trying to sleep.
"Love you Daddy. Love you Papa." Behati slurred, before letting out a particularly loud snore.
T'Challa kissed her temple. "We love you too, darling." And then, to his heartmate, "I love you, M'Baku. There's no place I'd rather be than right here at your side, holding both of you in my arms. I'll never forgive Thanos for almost taking this from me."
"You're home now. That's what matters." M'Baku said, "And we have the rest of eternity to make up for lost time."