“T’alla?” The whisper of his name, mangled though it is by a toddler’s tongue, draws T’Challa quickly from his light doze. He blinks in the bright beam of light piercing his dark bedroom; light, he realizes, that is escaping from the door, which is standing open.
“Anthony,” he murmurs, sleep rough, and sits up to regard the small figure outlined in the doorway. “Is something wrong?”
The toddler shuffles his feet but does not move further into the room. T’Challa wishes he could see his expression, but Anthony’s face is cast into shadow by the light of the hallway. “Where is Okoye,” he tries again. T’Challa hadn’t left the most important man in his life unguarded, but here Anthony is, wandering freely.
His half-formed fear and irritation is immediately assuaged by a soft, “Here, your majesty.” Okoye steps into view behind Anthony and bows shallowly. “He woke alarmed,” she continues in Wakandan. “A nightmare, I believe. He wanted to see you. I apologize for disturbing-”
T’Challa waves her apologies away and turns his attention towards her silent charge. “Come here, Anthony,” he says quietly, and the boy flings himself across the floor. It’s a marked change from when Anthony arrived a week and a half ago, shivering and flinching from every touch, no matter how gentle. T’Challa slips to his knees next to the bed just in time to catch him. Anthony is shaking, he realizes abruptly, shuddering with the force of the tears that soon soak the shoulder of T'Challa’s shirt.
“I-I,” his voice shakes with sobs, “I had a ba-a-ad d-dream. C-can I sleep with you?”
T’Challa presses a kiss to the top of Anthony’s head and closes his eyes. At least Anthony trusts him with this, now. “Of course, mabhebeza.” Anthony is still shaking, so T’Challa pulls the boy closer and runs a hand down his back. He’s far too skilled at comforting Anthony through nightmares, although the ability to easily scoop the boy up and set him on the bed, as he does now, is new.
When T’Challa sits down on the bed next to Anthony, the boy scrambles up onto his lap and latches onto his shirt. Carefully, T’Challa maneuvers them both to lay propped on the pillows with Anthony on his chest. T’Challa can feel the boy’s breath shuddering, although the tears have stopped, and he strokes Anthony’s back and whispers comfort until he falls still.
The room falls into silence, Okoye having long since departed, broken only by the occasional hitch in Anthony’s breath. T’Challa cards his other hand through Anthony’s soft hair and asks, “can you tell me what you dreamt of?”
Anthony remains silent for a moment, but T’Challa is patient. “I was- I was stuck in metal, all of me, and I couldn’ move my hands or feet or anything and it was really cold.” T’Challa has a sinking feeling that he recognizes this particular nightmare - damn wormhole - but he’s surprised as Anthony turns his face into T’Challa’s shirt and continues, muffled, “and there was a man.” He stops, breath hitching, and T’Challa pulls him closer.
“A man?” he prompts, gently encouraging. Anthony nods against his chest.
“Y-yeah. He was big an’ strong an’ he-” Anthony’s voice drops to a whisper, “an’ he looked like Cap’n ‘Merica, but he couldn’ be, ‘cause he was hittin’ me, an’ I know Cap’n ‘Merica doesn’t hit little kids ‘cause he’s better than daddy, better than anyone. ”
“Oh, mabhebeza.” Emotion tightens T’Challa’s throat for a moment, and in lieu of words, he pulls Anthony closer. “It was just a dream, Anthony.” A lie, and it hurts. “I won’t let anyone hurt you, ever. You are safe with me.” This is the unadulterated truth.
Anthony sighs and tucks his head into the crook of T’Challa’s neck. “He was so mad,” he mumbles, already half-asleep.
T’Challa nods, silent, and cards his fingers through Anthony’s hair until the boy’s eyes flutter shut and his breathing evens. T’Challa stares up at the ceiling and does not sleep.
Natasha Cornett stood out among the rest of the citizens of Betsy Lane, Kentucky. She embraced the “goth subculture” and when she got married at just 17-years-old, she wore a black dress and a dog collar. The marriage only lasted six months and Cornett was then ready for a change. She, along with five friends, made their way to New Orleans, and on 6 April, 1997, their lives changed more than anybody could have imagined. At a rest stop near Bailyton, Tennessee, Cornett and her friends came across a family of four Jehovah’s Witnesses that consisted of 34-year-old Vidar, his wife, 28-year-old Delfina, and their two children, 6-year-old Tabitha and 2-year-old Peter. The teenagers kidnapped the family and drove them out to a deserted road where they shot the entire family. The parents died on the scene, while Tabitha died the next day while in the hospital and Peter survived but was left blind in one eye with a spinal cord injury that left him permanently disabled. The teenagers then stole their van and tried to escape to Mexico where they were arrested. During her trial, Cornett claimed she was the “daughter of Satan” and that he would help her escape a harsh sentence. She was sorely disappointed when she received three life sentences, as did her accomplices.