Four times T’challa watched someone sleep and one time that the tables are turned.
Absolutely un-beta’d. Spoilers for Black Panther abound. The last two snippets are set between the end of the final fight scene and the last scene in California. They also diverge from the end of the film.
Content warnings for character death, trauma from character death, and implied violence.
The first time that T’challa holds his newborn sister Shuri in his arms, he worries for a moment that he’ll drop her. Then she nuzzles close in her sleep, tiny lips parting with a smacking yawn, and he knows that he’d never hurt her. Not even on accident.
She’s hours old and so very small, warm and soft in the cradle of his elbow, her dark little face tucked up against his chest. She barely has any hair atop her head aside from a faint whisper of black hair that is pitch black and feather light against the dark brown of her skin.
So new and so small.
Already, T’challa loves her more than he thinks he’ll ever love anyone else in Wakanda.
“Baba,” T’challa says, unable to pull his gaze away from Shuri’s sweet face, “I can hardly believe that I was ever this small.” He dares to brush his thumb against the curve of his little sister’s plump cheek, stroking the soft skin as light as he can lest he wake her.
All Shuri does is snuffle a little, nose and mouth wrinkling as she turns away from that touch.
The sound of his father’s low laughter makes T’challa laugh in turn, as does his next words.
“I felt the same way about you the first time I held you,” T’chaka says, his deep voice warm with a rich amusement. “Five minutes later, you spit up all over my clothes.”
T’challa feels a grin tug at the corners of his mouth, “And what did you think of me after that?”
“You were still perfect,” T’chaka says. “Just like Shuri is.”
The night before his father is supposed to speak in favor of the Sokovia Accords, T’challa finds himself unable to sleep.
He plans to wander through their hotel suite like a silent shadow, trying not to wake Ayo and the other sleeping Dora Milaje who were relieved of their duty mere hours before. Okoye, his dearest friend and closest confidant, greets him with a nod when he steps into the hallway that connects his room with the rest of the suite.
“Your father fell asleep in front of the television,” Okoye says, gesturing at the half-closed door behind her. If T’challa focuses, he can hear the faint sounds of his father’s snoring against the conversation coming from the television. The news, he thinks to himself. It’s enough to put anyone to sleep.
“I think I will go sit with him,” he says, his own voice low. “I can keep watch so that you may sleep.”
The sharp, almost scolding look Okoye gives T’challa makes him grin.
“Don’t wake him,” Okoye warns, “You know how he gets when someone wakes him up in the middle of the night.”
T’challa inclines his head to show that he understands. “I’ll be as quiet as a mouse, I promise.”
Dressed in lounging clothes and half-covered with a blanket from W’kabi’s aunt in the border tribe, T’chaka sleeps half slumped with his head resting on one arm of the couch. His snoring sounds so much louder to T’challa than it had only moments before, and T’challa smiles at the reminder that his father is only human.
Not just a king.
In sleep, T’chaka looks… his age.
He looks like T’challa’s father.
He looks like the man that would read stories about Wakanda’s past first to him and then to Shuri when they were small. His vulnerable posture reminds T’challa of how he’d creep into his parents’ rooms as a child, hoping to catch his father in the middle of a rare nap.
T’challa takes a chair off to the side of the big couch, one within arms’ reach of the remote.
Perhaps, like it did in his childhood, maybe the sound of his father’s heavy breathing will lull him to sleep.
Nakia has had the same nightmare once a night for the past three nights – ever since she returned from an assignment in Cairo that she largely refuses to talk about with T’challa.
Tonight, is the fourth time.
The first night, when Nakia had begun to struggle in her sleep against the blankets, T’challa had touched her shoulder to wake her the same way he’d done many a time before. Instead of drowsily coming to full wakefulness and bestowing upon him a lovely, if dazed smile, Nakia had bolted up with a shriek loud enough to make the hairs on the back of his neck rise and the guards at his door burst in.
It’d taken a few moments to clear things up and send the guards away, but in the moments afterwards, Nakia had shivered against the warmth of his embrace and haltingly told him of the thing that haunted her dreams. The loss that still weighs down her heart.
The child she couldn’t save.
When the soft sounds that herald the start of her nightmare begin again, T’challa’s fingers clench into a fist in order to stop himself from touching the curve of one bare brown shoulder. All he wants to do is wake her, comfort her. Love her.
But he knows better than to shake her awake.
Instead, T’challa decides to talk to his sleeping love, to tell her a story from their childhood the way he’s done for several nights of her fitful sleep.
“When the Earth was new and Bast was yet a cub…”
Erik will hate him when he wakes up, T’challa tells himself as he watches the other man’s body – corpse-still aside from the faint rise and fall of his chest – rest in one of the gurneys in Shuri’s lab. He’ll hate that T’challa gave him a second chance that he didn’t even ask for and perhaps they’ll never be friends.
But they’re family.
And T’challa refuses to lose any more of his family.
“Let him sleep.”
At the sound of their mother Ramonda’s voice, Shuri pauses with one hand hovering mere inches away from the top of her brother’s head. She’d just been planning to nudge him a little, to wake him so that he could sleep somewhere comfortable rather than at the desk in his office.
Their mother shakes her head. “T’challa needs his rest,” Ramonda says, giving her sleeping son a close look over that is tinged with a soft sadness. “Look at my poor son, so tired that he hasn’t even woken up despite our presence.”
“The Heart-Shaped Herb healed all of his wounds from the battle, but the only cure for exhaustion is rest,” Ramonda whispers. “Come, I’ll send Nakia in to wake him in a while.”
Shuri hesitates, still so close to waking her brother just because she can. Part of her needs see her brother open his eyes even if it’s just to glare at her. The past few days have been… trying for them all and Shuri still finds herself jolting to a stop in the remains of her lab as thoughts of death – hers, his, Baba’s – flash in her mind.
She knows that T’challa is only sleeping, that he’ll wake up at any moment and playfully scold her for wearing her lab coat into his office but –
When T’challa and the others had brought his body back to Wakanda, Baba had looked as if he were only sleeping too.