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The Way Forward

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Nakia came to the second meeting, at Erik’s request. Like the first one, it was held at his bedside, where he healed slowly, primatively—also at his request. “You want an American here,” he’d told T’Challa two weeks ago, “you get to see what it’s like to be an American. I don’t want any of your magic beans.” T’Challa’s protest that no beans were involved had apparently done little to dissuade him.

His skin had lost most of its unhealthy gray tint, and he sat up propped against pillows, though Nakia saw how carefully he moved, guarding against the pain of his wound. He grinned when he saw her: full of teeth, but perhaps not entirely without humor. “Didn’t think he’d have the balls to bring you,” he said. “He tell you about his batshit plan?”

Beside her, T’Challa stood very still. “He did,” Nakia said.

“And you’re just cool with that, your longtime boy toy dumping you to marry the guy that tried to kill him?”

Before they’d come, T’Challa had encouraged her to speak freely. He has been lied to enough, he’d said. So Nakia folded her hands in front of her and said, “Not particularly.”

Erik watched her cannily. “Because of the dumping, or because it’s me?”

“Both, but mostly because it’s you.”

“You ain’t into him?”

Nakia would bare her soul because T’Challa asked her to, but she would not like it. “I love him very much.” At her side, T’Challa’s stillness deepened. “But he wants me to be his queen, and there is other work I wish to do.”

“Out there,” Erik said. He’d lost his humor and his mockery; she had his full attention. “In the world.”

“Yes.”

Erik considered this for a few moments, his lips pressed thin in thought. Finally, abruptly, he looked to T’Challa. “I want her, too. No, don’t fucking look at me like that. You want me to say yes to this bizarro political marriage scheme of yours, you want to ‘redress my grievances,’ then she’s gotta be in on it.”

“Why?” T’Challa demanded. His voice was shaking with the effort of effort of controlling himself. He was furious on her behalf, on behalf of his unlikely plan, on behalf of his regard for his cousin, which Nakia knew was a wounded, painful thing.

“Because you’re all starry-eyed about this, but she knows what’s what. She’ll keep the bullshit down.”

She has a name,” Nakia said icily. “And she’ll marry no one by anyone’s choice but her own.”

Erik met her gaze again. Some of the previous humor had returned to her eyes. “Nakia,” he said, and she’d almost have preferred he hadn’t. Once again she saw him stroll into the throne room, not as if he’d earned it—though of course he had—but as if he deserved it. Perhaps the memory of it showed on her face, for he said, “Yeah, I know how you feel about me. But we coulda been friends, you know? Allies. We care about the same shit.”

“Not precisely the same.”

He bowed his head just slightly to acknowledge this. “All I’m saying is, you got sense. You’re not all pie in the sky, Wakanda Forever like this one.”

“You think I am not?” Nakia demanded.

“You know what the world’s like out there. You give a shit about what happens in it.” His eyes burned with uncomfortable intensity. “If I’m doing this, I want you in. So it’s on you. You think this is some good idea, then you say yes. Otherwise you just throw my ass in jail, and we quit all the pussy-footing and pretending like Wakanda isn’t just like everyone else.”

He’d been sitting upright by the power of his own fiery conviction, but now he settled back against the pillows, looking exhausted. Frail. He shut his eyes. Through evident pain, he said, “You can let me know.”

Nakia and T’Challa left silently. T’Challa nodded to the two Dora Milaje who stood guard. There was little danger of Erik walking out that door anytime soon, much less breaking out, but there would perhaps have been some danger of someone breaking in, were the guards not posted.

Without discussing it, Nakia and T’Challa ended up on one of the balconies overlooking the city. The morning sun warmed her face, and the scent of kosso blooms wafted up on the breeze. “Nakia,” T’Challa began.

“It is a batshit plan,” she said. “You think this formal sharing of power—of your life, of your self—will make him forgive you for what your father did?”

“I’m not looking for his forgiveness,” T’Challa said. “I want to do what is right. I want justice for him, as fully as I’m able to give it.”

“Justice goes both ways,” Nakia pointed out.

T’Challa inclined his head in agreement. “I think his perspective can help Wakanda. Parts of his perspective,” he amended, before she could respond to that.

“There are other ways to benefit from his viewpoint than marrying him.” It was nothing he hadn’t already heard. He was always adamant: this would be a formal alliance, a redressing of wrongs, a path of healing for the country after all the years it had been broken—far longer than any of their generation had known.

“I do not ask this of you.”

She covered his hand with hers. She looked out over spires of the city, glistening in the sun. It was the dearest sight of her heart, save perhaps that of T’Challa’s face, and yet she exchanged them both, over and over again, for uglier sights. Injury, illness, injustice, abuses of power. “But you think it is the best way forward.”

“Yes.”

“You’re the only one who does.” Even Erik saw the absurdity of it, and that said something important about him, she thought. Something in his favor.

“I am aware.” T’Challa smiled at her, quiet and sweet.

Nakia took in a sharp breath and squeezed T’Challa hand, across his knuckles. “I will remain a War Dog,” she said. “I will not always be able to be here. But you will have another partner to keep you occupied while I’m gone, isn’t that right?”

“Yes,” T’Challa breathed. His face was bright with hope.