When the dusting of snow covering T’Challa’s face shivers with his last long exhalation of breath, Shuri stares at the white expanse and waits, traces the cracks in the hastily assembled shroud covering her brother as she waits, desperately, until her eyes blur, her vision dulls, and her heart empties.
Her mother wails beside her, she thinks, but she cannot be sure, is not sure of anything until Nakia’s shaking hands carefully clear the cold powder from his face, until her mother leans forwards and lifts him into her arms, struggling with the limp heaviness of her son’s body.
Body, her numb mind prompts, unnecessarily. T’Challa’s not there anymore. That’s just his body.
The truth she lives now is the same as the one she had lived hours ago, as the one she had lived in and with five minutes ago, but it feels crueller.
Heavy, she thinks, as her big strong brother falls from her mother’s grief-weakened arms, as her mother collapses onto his body.
Corpse, her mind corrects, clear and accurate as always, and then showing its usual good judgement, it slows until it stops, refuses to process any more of the world-ending catastrophe unfolding in front of her.
But the world doesn’t end just because it should, and behind her M’Baku says, “At least now we know.”
“What?” she asks.
They’ll have to bury him, now. It has been fifty-six days since they buried her father, not that she’s been counting.
“That he was not Wakanda’s rightful ruler,” M’Baku says.
“What!” Shuri demands, springing to her feet, Nakia solid and warm at her back.
Cold, her mind suggests.
M’Baku doesn’t back down in the face of her anger, though Ross stumbles trying to avoid it. She had forgotten he was there.
Her mother’s quieting sobs underscore M’Baku’s words as he says, “Bast refused him deliverance from Anubis.” To, she thinks. Bast delivered him to Anubis. “She has made her decision.”
“No.” She isn’t usually this fierce, she doesn’t think, but the rage inside her chest is clawing to get out.
“She rejected his challenge,” he points out, as her mother’s voice rises to direct, “We have to bury him, we have to prepare—“
“Not now,” Shuri snaps. She isn’t usually this rude, either. She can’t deny either of their claims, though, much as she wants to.
“Sorry, what does that—“ Ross starts, before M’Baku’s elbow winds him back to silence.
“She has chosen her champion.”
“No!” Shuri shouts, because that she can deny, that she will always deny. “She has rejected T’Challa, yes, but I refuse to believe she means to choose our—“ She chokes on the words, on the very thought. “—that man to lead Wakanda.”
“What ma—“ Ross begins, and the meeting of his stomach and M’Baku’s elbow is not as gentle this time.
M’Baku’s voice is, almost, when he says, “He beat your brother in fair combat. The mantle is his.”
“It cannot be,” Nakia protests, though this was what she had wanted, wasn’t it? A pioneer. A ruler who would challenge their kingdom’s comfortable inertia. That was something her brother had never been, really, a challenger. Challenged, too much, unfairly so, but—
“M’Baku,” her mother appeals, “you can—“
She knows his answer before he shakes his head. He had fallen to T’Challa, and had accepted the honourable defeat for the sake of his people; it would be foolish for him to challenge the man to whom T’Challa fell, and M’Baku is no fool.
“I refuse to accept this,” Shuri says. “I refuse.”
M’Baku’s eyes leave her mother and return to hers as he asks, mildly, “Then what are you going to do about it?”
He refuses to relinquish her gaze as she thinks, as she calculates, as her mind whispers cold as her feet scuff the snow that surrounds them. She isn’t: the fury that burns inside her could keep her warm until Necropolis itself was nothing but ashes.
“First,” she decides, “I’m going to get you to take us to Winter.”
“Sorry, to where?” Ross inquires politely, and M’Baku lets him, probably because he wants to know too. “Isn’t all this snow already your nation’s version of—“
“Not where,” Shuri says, rolling her eyes. “Who.”
And she leads them outside, away from the cold, away from her brother and all the rest of the parts of herself she had never imagined she would have to leave behind.