As it turns out, Bucky is much more sensible than the rest of her ridiculous friends, but wise counsel turns out not to be the best development for the survival of her plan to rush back to the palace and slaughter N’Jadaka where he stands, cackling triumphantly as she bathes in rivers of his blood before finally allowing herself to fall to her knees and sob her heart out as everyone but her mother politely pretends they cannot see her.
She had thought it a solid enough battle plan for her first, but, “Wait,” Bucky says. “Far be it from me to suggest that trauma caused by the death of a loved one is at all incapacitating to reason and sense, but wasn’t it just last week that your brother was prowling around clawing his way through half of Europe and threatening to tear the rest apart too because of his grief over your father’s death?”
“No,” Shuri says, not at all sulkily. “That was like two months ago, keep up.”
“Ah,” Bucky says, and hums thoughtfully. “So things have quietened down, maybe gotten a little boring, and in your grief you’ve decided that causing maximum chaos might offer a little distraction. I mean, I get that, but surely there’s a way to do it without destabilising an entire nation and risking upsetting your poor mother again.”
“Well,” Ramonda inserts judiciously, “I would only be upset if she died. If she beat N’Jadaka, retook Wakanda, and squashed that dung beetle under her heel as she avenged her brother’s death, I would be very pleased and proud.”
Bucky flinches at the word avenged, but Shuri doesn’t have time to deal with his issues right now.
“It isn’t me that’s causing all the chaos,” she objects. “N’Jadaka’s doing that. I’m just going to put a stop to it.”
“Sorry, but I never actually got an answer on who N’Jadaka actually—“ Ross butts in, before Bucky asks, “N’Jadaka?”
“Yes,” Shuri tells him. “N’Jadaka. The outsider who killed my brother and took the throne. It is his by right now, but only until I kill him in ritual combat and take it back.”
“Oh,” Ross says, and muses, “That explains so—little.”
“I see,” Bucky says. “And who is N’Jadaka?”
“She just told us,” Ross says crossly, and Shuri nods primly in agreement. “I’ve been trying to get that answer for ages.”
“Who is this outsider that has been allowed to breach Wakanda’s borders, kill her king, and claim her throne?” Bucky asks, quiet but insistent. “Who is N’Jadaka?”
The other members of the Golden Tribe shift in discomfort behind her, but Shuri refuses to drop Bucky’s gaze as she swallows, offers, “N’Jadaka. Son of N’Jobu.”
“And who,” Bucky sighs, “is N’Jobu?”
“N’Jobu was my uncle,” she states firmly, and moves onto the relevant information, explaining, “which made N’Jadaka’s challenge for the mantle of the Black Panther and the throne of Wakanda valid. And as T’Chaka was my father, N’Jadaka will likewise be forced to accept my challenge.”
“Ah,” Bucky begins thoughtfully, “I see,” and then explodes, “Oh, come on, lady! You can’t seriously expect everyone to just ignore the fact that you’re playing out your family drama on a kingdom-ruining scale here.”
Father, her mind offers, with a flash of rubble and drifting grey dust settling in spilled blood. Avenge.
“I don’t want to—“ she starts, but she doesn’t want to use that word and make this nice boy flinch again.
“World-ending,” Nakia corrects. “N’Jadaka plans to use Wakanda’s stores of vibranium to free the African diaspora from its systemic disadvantages and bring the racial oppressors to their end.”
“Oh, God no,” Ross says.
“Okay, cool,” Bucky says. “What’s the problem, exactly?”
“I don’t want to punish N’Jadaka for killing my brother,” Shuri decides. Lie, her brain informs her, as if she doesn’t know, and flashes up T’Challa, rising, stretching to his full height from his crouch over their father’s body— “I just want to stop his plans for—“ Avenge. “—punishment.”
“Not racial oppression,” Nakia clarifies. “Racial oppressors.”
“Stop counting your black friends in your head, Agent,” M’Baku rumbles at Shuri’s side, far too amused for this situation.
“I’m not!” Ross squeaks. “I couldn’t! I have—too many to count!”
“So?” Bucky asks, “What’s the difference?”
“Well, all white people benefit from systemic oppression,” Nakia explains, “so he’s pretty much just planning on killing all white people. And as Wakanda has kept its riches, its power, its scientific brilliance and its enormous stores of the strongest and most technologically advanced metal completely hidden—”
“Right, got it,” Bucky says, and turns back to Shuri— “Why does your uncle’s son feel that he needs vengeance?”
—who feels like she might be losing control of this conversation.
“Wait, how can a metal be technologically advanced?” Ross asks.
“—they won’t even see it coming,” Nakia continues, “and since Wakanda’s people remain so thoroughly isolated—“
Shuri turns away from Barnes as her mind insists she see T’Challa, standing over their father’s body, hands red with his blood—
(Avenge.) “English doesn’t have words for it,” she tells Ross crossly. —and N’Jadaka, a child whose face she has never seen, sitting at the side of her uncle’s body, not understanding why. And she’s so angry— “And even if it did you wouldn’t understand.”
“—they won’t expect the nuclear warheads coming back our way,” Nakia finishes.
Ramona haltingly begins explaining N’Jadaka’s grudge against their family, and Shuri lets her try, because she can’t. She doesn’t understand any of it, even though N’Jadaka seems to have decided that he does now, or maybe just doesn’t care.
She doesn’t pay attention until her mother finishes, until Bucky asks, “So this really is a family thing? I mean, this selfish quest for vengeance gig. First T’Challa—“
—so angry with her brother for letting her father die, for not thinking of anything or anyone but himself afterwards, for making everything so much worse. It had been five days until he’d brought her father back to her, too late for her to be allowed see his body, though that hadn’t made a difference. She had known what decomposition looked like, and her mind hadn’t let her forget.
Her mother and Nakia break into vociferous protest, and Ross just looks stupefied, but M’Baku is silent, his eyes on her face understanding, though she doesn’t know what she’s giving away. She barely knows what it is she’s feeling.
“The point is,” Shuri says, furiously enough that even her mother falls silent. “That none of this matters. N’Jadaka has to be stopped. If he isn’t, he will bring Wakanda to ruin, and I won’t let that happen. I won’t let him hurt any more of our people, or anyone else either. Why doesn’t matter, not when what is so harmful. And we’re running out of time. So are you idiots going to help me or what?”
There’s some awkward shuffling, but she gets three mumbled assents, and a nod from Barnes, and she turns on him with a sudden rage that baffles even her.
“You don’t have to come because you think you owe it to my selfish brother,” she snarls, and oh, poor Bucky, getting just a lick of the flames she’d never let herself unleash on T’Challa, grieving as he was too. “You don’t owe him a thing. He didn’t owe you a thing, either. He was a fool to think so.”
“Yeah,” Bucky says, the side of his lip curling, twisting as it tries to decide whether to smile or frown. “I expect he was. People we love usually are.”
She gives him a minute, but he doesn’t finish his thought. “So?” she prompts impatiently. “Are you coming or not?”
“Oh!” he says. “Yeah, of course. I don’t want the world to end, I live in it too. Kind of. Maybe. I’d like to.”
“We can discuss it,” Shuri decides crisply. “Once I’m Queen.”
His smile is slow, but there’s nothing uncertain about it this time, and when she turns to M’Baku he’s smiling at her too.
“Well?” she asks.
“I can’t right now,” he replies, though his smile doesn’t fade. “I have to go to my people.”
She nods, accepting the necessity though she doesn’t want to, and is turning to Nakia to begin preparations when M’Baka’s hand on her shoulder draws her back.
“Shuri,” he says, quiet and serious. “N’Jadaka is strong. Stronger than me, than T’Challa. Stronger than you.” His fingers rise to touch the side of her head, thumb on her cheekbone. “Clever, too, when it comes to battle, though nobody’s cleverer than you. But that isn’t what matters. The why is what matters. You might not want it to matter to you, but it’s what matters most to him. Think about that. Please.”
He moves closer as his thumb draws over the soft hollow of her cheek, pressing into flesh as he nears her mouth, already drifting open in anticipation.
“Shuri!” her mother snaps.
“What!” Shuri says, springing halfway across the hut away from M’Baku for no reason at all. Her mother just startled her, that’s all.
“Just because he’s not a white boy!”
“No, what, nothing!” Shuri objects.
“He’s still the leader of an enemy tribe!”
“Not your enemy, Ramonda,” M’Baku says, bizarrely jovial.
“Hmph!” Ramonda responds, eyes narrowed and arms crossed. “We’ll see about that.”
“Okay,” Shuri huffs, and turns to get things moving. Her eyes widen in horror. “Stop looking at me!” she says, and everyone else turns to make a break for freedom at once, eventually vanishing through the door with much bumping and muttering and whispered complaining that Shuri still does not have time for.
“Bast,” she says, dropping her head to the ground, though whether in appeal or reproval only Bast herself knows.
“I know,” her mother agrees. “She has sent me such a trial with you!”
“Okay, let’s go,” Shuri says, grabbing Ramonda’s arm and towing her towards the door.
And it isn’t as if Shuri needs to be reminded to think about unpleasant things, those pink tigers her mind always eventually forces her to confront and process purely because she doesn’t want to deal with them. But M’Baku is a skilled warrior, that was a strategic tip, and she hates N’Jadaka too much to consider his motivations without a hard push, even if the importance of knowing your enemy had been drilled into both of T’Chaka’s children since they were old enough to hold a dagger.
Plus, she thinks M’Baku might be worried about her, though she isn’t sure whether to be flattered or insulted by that.
Hesitating on the threshold, Shuri glances back over her shoulder. “I’ll think about it,” she says, and watches M’Baku’s smile blaze back to life as she hurries onwards.