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All We Are and Will Ever Be

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"Love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free."

-Maya Angelou

 


  

M’Baku waved away another courier from the Golden City, not even letting this one as far as his throne room this time. The courier was forced to take the gifts with him back down the mountain.

The Jabari tribe did not need handouts from the Royal family. M’Baku knew what was in these shipments—weapons and tech, foods grown down in the warmer climes. They were all things that had been denied to the mountain tribe in their isolation. Now that their leader was on the King’s Council, however, an effort had been made to remember and include them. But the Jabari had survived this long without the rest of Wakanda, and M’Baku was determined that they would not lose their strength and independence now.

No one ever mentioned his refusal of goods when he ventured down into the Golden City for council meetings—he made sure to arrive right on time and leave promptly after so that he didn’t have to interact with them or their technological debauchery any more than absolutely necessary. T’Challa would sometimes purse his lips or furrow his brows at M’Baku, but that was caused more from their differences than hurt pride, he was sure. Whether he was annoyed that M’Baku refused his gifts—whether he sent them without fault out of a sense of duty or a desire to aid—he had yet to mention them to the other man, so the Jabari Chief had in turn remained quiet about them as well.

After so long being ignored, it felt weird not just for M’Baku, but for the rest of the Jabari people, to be remembered so frequently now, as if the Panther tribe wanted something from them. 

Did they?

 


 

Shuri watched as the courier returned the goods to the lab. The initial shock and anger that had arisen at the refusal of the earlier shipments had eventually waned to just frustration and determination over time. The more shipments that were denied, the more Shuri strove to do better, to create something that the Jabari would want.

“That was the last one,” came a voice from behind her.

With a shriek, Shuri turned around, hand over heart. “Brother! What have I told you about doing that?” He crept with the ease and silence of a cat.

T’Challa offered his sister a small smile in apology, before nodding his head to the latest shipment that sat in a far corner of the lab, as if contaminated. 

“No more shipments to the Jabari.”

Shuri’s eyebrows rose, her mouth dropping open. “No more… Brother, the Jabari are part of Wakanda, and now that they are part of your council and have agreed to rejoin the rest of us, they should be given the same shipments as the other tribes.”

“Have they accepted a single one?” T’Challa asked, and Shuri pressed her lips together. Her silence was answer enough. “They are an isolationist tribe. They have been self-sufficient for centuries. Their stubborn pride will not allow them to accept gifts from us.”

“But Brother—”

“You will use no more resources and no more Wakandans for this battle of wills.”

A noise of protest sounded low in Shuri’s throat. 

T’Challa rose an elegant eyebrow at her. “Do not think I don’t know what you are doing, Sister. This challenge between yourself and M’Baku—to see who will relent first—has gone on long enough.”

Shuri watched as her brother walked from the lab, the conversation over. The King’s Word was final.

It stoked the ember of her rebellious nature. 

Shuri would not be told what to do.

 


 

Night had already fallen, and M’Baku couldn’t help his curiosity. He told himself it wasn’t concern.

Every fortnight, like clockwork, a courier would arrive from the Golden City baring goods. He would always arrive by midday, and M’Baku was always informed before he was turned away. 

Nighttime, and no word had come of a courier. Perhaps they had finally stopped trying to force their ways onto the Jabari? Perhaps it was a new courier that had gotten lost. M’Baku looked out of his throne room. Wind whistled through the mountains, bringing heavy snowfall with it. It hadn’t been snowing earlier, but now there was a storm raging. 

Perhaps the courier had taken one look at the weather conditions and decided that he wasn’t up to it today. He would rather face the ire of the King than risk his life.

“My Lord!”

M’Baku looked up at the frantic voice of the man. His people were never this uncollected. 

It was K’Nobu who had barged in, wearing a panicked look on his face, his movements erratic. He turned behind him as another man entered the room, carrying a bundle of cloth. 

“What is that?” M’Baku asked. His eyes caught the sight of a small silver box held by K’Nobu. A shipment? M’Baku turned back to the bundle and stepped down off of his throne so that he could stride to his men. 

D’Vari held the bundle, his face expressionless, but his shoulders were tense. 

“We found her half-buried in snow. She’s alive, but unconscious. What shall we do with her?”

Her?

The couriers were always male. 

M’Baku grabbed a fold of the cloth and moved it away from her face. His hand recoiled when he saw the pale skin and blue-tinged lips. 

Shuri. 

“What is the Princess doing here?” M’Baku asked aloud. “Alone?” He looked up, and D’Vari nodded. 

M’Baku sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Take her to my chambers.”

K’Nobu’s faced shifted from concerned to scandalized. “My Lord…”

“Mine are the warmest in the Great Lodge. Would you rather her freeze to death in the infirmary and us face the wrath of the Black Panther and the rest of Wakanda? Bundle her in furs and set her in front of my fireplace,” M’Baku instructed D’Vari, who was cradling Shuri as if she were a child. She was practically the size of one, so small and thin. 

K’Nobu had four daughters of his own, and M’Baku could not hold the man’s suspicions of honor against him. “Go to the kitchens and get warm soup for the Princess,” M’Baku ordered. 

“Yes, My Lord,” K’Nobu said, bowing his head before offering the silver box to M’Baku, scrambling off to be of assistance to the young girl.

M’Baku sighed again, looking down at the box. 

They had finally gotten him to accept a shipment.

 


 

The fireplace was large enough to bathe M’Baku’s entire room in a warm glow. The man sought out his chambers soon after the girl had been taken out of the throne room. He’d carried the silver box with him, depositing it on the first surface he found within his room, leaving it unopened. He would deal with that later—it wasn’t important right now. 

M’Baku took off his shoes before stepping onto the large fur rug in front of the fireplace, and found a bundle of furs a safe distance from it. He knelt beside the pile and started peeling them back to find Shuri hidden underneath, no longer blue, but still pale. At least she was shivering now, instead of lying prone. That was a good sign. 

She needed her blood to be pumping through her limbs, though. M’Baku sat down on the rug and crossed his legs. He pulled a fur into his lap, and then gently picked up Shuri and placed her onto his lap as well, on top of the fur, sitting with her shoulder pressed into his chest, her legs hanging off his right thigh. He rubbed at her hands and arms with his palms, trying to reawaken her skin. 

The girl leant into him, as if to burrow herself into his chest, into his warmth. Something inside of M’Baku tightened. 

“M’Baku…” she said weakly, opening her eyes to look up into his. Hers were dazed and unfocused, large and vulnerable. She was completely at his mercy, but there was no fear or worry. At least she recognized him. 

“We must get you warm, Shuri,” M’Baku said gently. 

She tried to smile, but winced at the feeling of the skin pulling on her raw lips. “Your clothing hurts,” she remarked with a weak voice instead, leaning away from his chest and the rough material there. 

M’Baku pursed his lips, knowing that he would regret what he was about to do. But when a violent shiver wracked Shuri’s body, he knew that he would do it anyways. 

With Shuri leaning away from him in his lap, M’Baku unclasped the fur around his shoulders and laid it on the rug beside them. Next he started undoing his leather top, before setting that too beside them.

Shuri stared at M’Baku’s bare chest, and he thought he saw a spark return to her eyes, her mind trying to process what was happening. He was relieved. The girl may annoy him, but he did not wish her a fate of freezing to death in his mountains. 

Another shiver wracked her body, and Shuri moved in M’Baku’s lap so that she was facing him. She was hesitant at first, studying this new flesh bared to her. She had seen him in little clothing when he had challenged her brother, but it hadn’t exactly been her priority to observe his body. Now, so close, with only the large fireplace flicking light and shadows across his skin, Shuri catalogued him with her eyes. There was no shame or embarrassment on her face—her ill health made her too cloudy to bother with such feelings. 

“This is not the time to worry about decorum, Shuri. We can pretend it never happened later, but you are too cold right now.”

A small hand touched one of his pecs. It was impossibly warm beneath her, as if there was a fire burning within him. A second passed before suddenly legs wrapped around his waist, and arms around his neck. Shuri pulled herself to him, face nuzzled into the base of his throat, body pressed flush against his warm, bare skin. 

M’Baku tried to ignore the feeling as he grabbed the softest fur he could get his hands on and draped it around Shuri’s body. He held her to him, cocooning her in his warm. She was so small as she clung to him, stirring a protective feeling deep inside of M’Baku.

He tried to push the thought out of his mind that if T’Challa ever found out, there would be no mercy.

The arms around his neck tightened. 

 


 

There was a knock on the door. It was K’Nobu with the soup. Shuri had fallen asleep against M’Baku, her skin warmed back to human temperature. 

No one was allowed to enter M’Baku’s chambers without his verbal permission. K’Nobu would wait on the other side of the door. But Shuri did not deserve to have anyone else to see her in such a vulnerable state, nor in such an intimate position. 

M’Baku slid an arm underneath Shuri’s thighs and rose, his other arm around her back. He kept her to him as he walked to the large bed draped in furs, before nudging back the blankets as best he could with his hands full. He went to set her down, but her arms and legs tightened. 

“No.”

With a roll of his eyes, he was reminded of the girl’s youth and status. “Shuri.”

Shuri hid her face more within the base of M’Baku’s neck. “Your arms feel safe,” she admitted after a pause, her breath dancing across M’Baku’s skin. 

She was clearly still not of her right mind, he convinced himself. She was still weak and delusional from nearly dying. Both of them would forget this encounter had ever happened once she returned home. 

When he tried again, Shuri reluctantly let go, allowing M’Baku to drape blankets and furs over her, as she hid her face in the pillow. If M’Baku just as reluctantly stepped away from her, neither of them mentioned it. 

He moved to the door, before glancing over his shoulder. She had been hidden completely from view. She was being seen by his eyes only.

When did he start going so soft?

M’Baku opened the door to find K’Nobu waiting patiently on the other side, a tray in his hands holding a steaming bowl of thin soup and a large mug of water. 

“Thank you, K’Nobu,” M’Baku said as he took the tray. K’Nobu, who had been trying to glance inside the chambers, bowed his head and left at the dismissal. 

Once the door was closed again, M’Baku walked toward the bed, setting the tray on the table beside it.

“Shuri, are you well enough to sit up and eat?”

“No,” he heard muffled under the blankets. 

“I’m not going to feed you, Shuri. Sit up.”

It took a moment, but she eventually dug her way out of the mountain of furs and blankets on her, looking up at M’Baku with half-lidded eyes. She was still tired, and reluctant to expose her skin to the crisp air. She hugged a fleece blanket to herself as her eyes wandered to the food.

“I don’t want food. I want sleep.”

“You need water and nutrients. You can sleep after.”

The two stared each other down for a minute before Shuri relented. The tray was placed on her lap, and she ate slowly. M’Baku left the room sometime after she had started, and returned just as she was finishing, slowly making his way to stand next to the side of the bed she was resting on.

“I sent a message to your brother. He knows of your location, but there is a heavy snowstorm and he will not be able to collect you for some time. I assured him that you were safe.”

Shuri nodded, moving the tray to the table beside the bed with shaky arms. M’Baku noticed how she was looking at everything except for him, hugging herself with her arms. Had her senses finally returned to her, enough for her to feel embarrassed or ashamed?

And then something struck M’Baku. “Did he know?”

Her eyes squeezed shut and she hung her head lower. “No.”

“Why didn’t you tell him you were coming here?”

“He wouldn’t have let me,” Shuri said, defiance underlying her tone. 

“You should listen to your King,” M’Baku said.

He soon found eyes glaring at him. “That’s right, to you I am just an insolent child, who ‘scoffs at tradition,’” she said, a hard edge to her voice. She hugged herself tighter. “Why did you even help me if you hate me so much?”

M’Baku furrowed his brows. “I don’t hate you.”

“You reject all of my shipments.”

Eyes widening, M’Baku looked at Shuri more closely. She had been the one sending them to him, not T’Challa. Did she know the implications in Jabari culture of men and women constantly offering gifts to the other? It was part of the courting ritual. Surely, she couldn’t know. But this last one she had delivered herself, alone. She had put herself in danger just to bring him a damn gift that he would have refused, like all the others. 

“And so you think I am rejecting you,” M’Baku said gently, and he felt the sudden gravity of it. What if she did know about the Jabari courting ritual…

“It isn’t about me,” Shuri stressed, casting her eyes away from the imposing figure M’Baku struck even when he wasn’t trying to. “I just want to help, to provide to you and your people the technology and progression that the other tribes have had for so long. You don’t have to struggle to survive up here in the cold mountains by yourself.”

M’Baku was going to speak, but he could see that she wasn’t finished. Conflict warred on her face. “And?” he prompted.

“And…” He could tell that it hurt her pride to continue, but she did, for whatever reason. “I guess it is a little about me, too. I’m not used to people not wanting my inventions and resources, to saying no to me when I offer them things. People don’t pay me much attention beyond what I create, what I can offer them. My inventions are all that I am. In rejecting them, you are saying that I am not good enough, and I don’t know how to be any better.”

This was a girl of privilege and status, one who had never been denied anything in her life. M’Baku couldn’t understand how she could feel so little about her own worth.

“Shuri, why does impressing me matter? Why do you care what anyone thinks of you?”

The girl tried to hide in the blankets and furs surrounding her. She didn’t answer him, and he knew that even if he pressed, she would shut herself off. This conversation was over. For now. 

“Get some rest. I will check on you later. If you need anything, I will station someone outside.” M’Baku grabbed his upper clothing and fur shawl that he had abandoned on the rug near the fireplace earlier, before heading to the door, the articles of clothing draped over one arm. Just as his hand grabbed the knob on the door, he felt two slender arms wrap around his waist from behind, a small body pressed against him. 

“Please don’t leave me alone,” he heard softly from behind him. 

M’Baku felt himself sighing. Again. This girl was exasperating, but he found it hard to say no to her. Hanuman help me.

“Okay.”

“Will you…lie with me?”

M’Baku froze, his heart thumping in his chest. 

Shuri could feel the sudden tension in his muscles, but she herself felt almost drugged with sleepiness. She was still so cold, and was unwilling to relinquish his warmth.

“Not like that, M’Baku,” Shuri slurred out, breath ghosting against his back. “You’re so warm and…safe. Please don’t go.”

M’Baku tentatively covered Shuri’s hands lightly with his own, where they rested atop his abdomen. There was that word again—safe.

“Shuri…is there something wrong in the Golden City?” Not that he would care. Not that he should care. But was there something there that made her feel unsafe?

A tightening of arms was his only answer. M’Baku gently pried her hands away from him so that he could turn around. As he looked down, Shuri looked back up at him, not hiding her glossy eyes or her hopeful face. 

M’Baku let out a deep breath through his nose before setting the forgotten clothing in his arm on top of the same table beside the door that held the silver box.  

In a graceful motion, M’Baku swept Shuri up into his arms, and she wrapped her own around his neck, hiding her face against his throat. She was so small and so light. By Jabari standards, she had been underfed, though he knew that in the Golden City, slimmer bodies were seen as more attractive. M’Baku did not understand it, and believed he never would. He supposed it was also that they didn't need the same bulk that the Jabari did to keep themselves warm, due to the difference in climates. 

When they reached the bed, M’Baku laid Shuri down under the blankets again. She did not resist this time, watching him with eyes that had drooped, half-lidded.

“Scoot over,” he said, nodding his head toward the center of the bed, trying to keep himself from thinking about those bedroom eyes in any context outside of this current one, where she was ill and cold and wanted nothing from him but simple comfort. 

Shuri’s eyes widened briefly, her lips parting in surprise, before hastily complying. She watched as M’Baku climbed into the bed beside her, pulling furs and blankets over them both.

“Did you want to stare at me, or did you want me to hold you?”

A light laugh tore out of Shuri’s mouth and her eyes teared up again as she fell into a weak laughing fit. She reached out for M’Baku with blurry vision and wrapped herself inside his large arms, a snug fit against his muscles. Her laugher had died down to giggles. 

“You’re delirious.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “What’s your excuse?”

M’Baku chuckled and rested his head atop of hers, one of his large hands placed on the small of her back. 

Shuri shuddered, and they both pretended that it was because of the cold as they drifted off to sleep together. 

 


 

She was so warm and comfortable that Shuri didn’t want to wake up. She snuggled deeper against the body thrumming with strength beneath her, and could feel the arms tighten around her in response. 

With a jolt, Shuri’s eyes flew open only to be met with the bare, very toned chest of M’Baku. She was lying on top of him—all 6’5” of him—his chest moving up and down in steady, even breaths. Very slowly, Shuri turned her gaze upward to see that his eyes were closed. She let herself relax, knowing he was still asleep. 

Just as slowly, she allowed her eyes to travel back down—past his face that she could admit was quite handsome, in a rugged way, down his thick neck and broad shoulders, to his large pecs. The rest of him was covered by her own body and the blankets. She felt the large arms keeping her atop his chest. Her breathing quickened.

She’d always found M’Baku handsome in a way that the men in the Golden City weren’t, but she’d never attributed much to him beyond that. She could admit that his displeasure and unimpressed attitude toward her inventions spurred her to prove him wrong, to impress him, but now she also couldn’t help but feel soft for him due to his aid to T’Challa against Killmonger, aid that had helped them win. 

He had a bigger heart than he liked to let on, which made him all the stronger in Shuri’s opinion, more so than just the pure physical strength she could currently feel against her own body. He had a strength of character and spirit and mind. He was a good leader for his people, even if he was stubborn.

But, she was stubborn too, she admitted. 

Why was he relenting to her whims, though? He could have left her to finish warming in front of the fire, or alone in his bed. He could have slipped away as soon as she’d fallen asleep. Yet here he still was, cuddled with her in bed—her face heated at the domesticity of such a thought—because she had wanted him to, had asked him to, and he hadn’t said no.

Perhaps he really didn’t hate her after all?

She knew he wouldn’t find her beautiful in the same manner that she found him handsome, but if he could at least come to see her worth in her intelligence, that would be enough. He thought she walked all over tradition, scoffed at it and spit on it, but really…just because something was tradition, it didn’t make it right. So what if she was young and naive of the world? Her inventions were good and useful. Moving toward modernity did not mean forgetting tradition or their culture. Sometimes to move forward, one could not be stuck always looking to the past. 

One day the past wouldn’t be enough.

“You are thinking too loudly,” came a rough drawl.

Shuri froze, breath stuck in her throat. She looked in front of her and saw that her fingers had been drawing patterns on the large pectoral next to her face. She stilled them, lying her hand flat against his muscle. His body of pure muscle. It flexed beneath her. 

She didn’t want to look up, couldn’t. She didn’t know what she would find in his face, in his eyes. She was scared of what she wouldn’t find there. 

“Did I wake you?” she asked, trying to keep her tone light, unbothered. She thought she heard it crack. “I should move…should get back home. They’ll be worried sick.” But she didn’t move. Shuri continued lying there, looking at her hand on M’Baku’s chest.

“What do you want?”

Shuri tensed briefly before letting out a soft laugh. “You know, no one ever asks me that. They just assume, or do what they think is best for me. They expect me to barge in, demands on my lips.”

There was a finger underneath her chin, and it gently nudged her head up, so that she was looking at M’Baku’s face, which was turned down so that they could meet each other’s eyes.

With her teeth engraving her bottom lip, Shuri studied M’Baku’s expressionless face, his kind but guarded eyes. He was still waiting for an answer.

“If…If it’s okay with you, I’d like to…could I stay? Just a little while longer?” She said uncertainly, sure that he was going to reject her, to finally put an end to her foolish, childish behavior.

M’Baku held her eyes for a painfully long moment, before turning his head to look out the window. “It's still dark outside. Do you wish to return to sleep?”

It wasn’t a ‘no,’ but it also wan’t necessarily a ‘yes’ either.

“It doesn’t matter, just so long as I’m still here.”

He turned his head back to look down at her. 

“Is my company required?”

Shuri flinched, but M’Baku wouldn’t let her look anywhere but at his face. Her eyes lowered to the scruff of his beard. 

“No,” she breathed out, closing her eyes. “No. I’m sorry to have kept you. You are the leader of a tribe and are very busy, and I’ve selfishly been hoarding you to myself.” His presence wasn’t required, but it was wanted. She wouldn’t tell him that, though. Who knew what he thought of her, who knew how much lower she had sunken in his esteem during this long encounter. She’d acted like a spoiled, childish brat. He’d been forced to humor her long enough. 

She pulled away from him, and he let her. Shuri’s face flushed in embarrassment at all of her actions, especially once she had started feeling better. She crawled on top of the bed and toward the other end, sliding off of it. 

“Where are you going?”

She found her shoes near the door and slipped them on, shaking her head. “I’ve imposed upon you long enough. I’m sure you’ve been desiring my absence for a while now. It was stupid of me to come here in the first place. You’ve made it clear you don’t want me-my shipments, and I’ll stop bothering you with them. If you desire anything, I’m sure T’Challa would be happy to listen to any requests when you come down for council meetings.” Shuri had spoken so quickly, her nerves and adrenaline growing inside of her, especially after her slip up. She’d never before felt stupid, but she did now. She was a naive and foolish child, and she needed to humble herself with that thought. 

The door had just opened when it was slammed shut. Shuri froze, facing the door. She could feel the heat radiating from the large body behind her, an arm close to the right side of her face, his hand keeping the door closed.

“Do you mean to leave in the middle of the storm, on foot, alone?”

Shuri shivered, and it was only partially caused by the lack of heat from the bed. 

“I can wait elsewhere for someone to fetch me. It was inappropriate and wrong of me to take advantage of you and your hospitality in this way,” she said quietly.

There was a sigh behind her. 

Once, she had been afraid of the large man behind her, of the mystery surrounding the Jabari people. Now, she was scared only of the feelings that were beginning to stir. She didn’t know what to do with them.

“Is it not I taking advantage of you?” came the rumbling voice behind her. 

Shuri snorted, and because she was apparently on a self-deprecating kick: “Please, why would you take advantage of someone you desire nothing of?”

There was silence for a minute, and neither of them moved. Shuri looked at the large hand still splayed against the door, connected to the thick arm, corded with muscle. He could take advantage of her with the strength he had—strength that could likely rival the Black Panther even with the Heart-Shaped Herb—but she knew he wouldn’t. He wasn’t that type of man. 

“You think yourself undesirable? I ask again: Why do you care what I think of you?”

She didn’t answer him.

“Shuri.” She could hear the impatience growing in his voice. This was a leader of a tribe, after all.

“Because,” she blurted out in frustration, “you make me feel…confused.”

The arm dropped down from the door, to rest back at M’Baku’s side, and Shuri tore the door open, slipping through the crack, and ran down the corridor. She didn’t know where she was going, and she didn’t care. Just somewhere that wasn’t in a room with M’Baku.

 


 

M’Baku stood there, staring at the open door like an idiot. In not so many words, Shuri—the Princess of Wakanda—had admitted that she felt something for him, and the Jabari Chief didn’t know how to react to that, what to think of it.

He imagined her running out into the snowstorm in her embarrassment, though, and ran after her. 

It was in the library that he found her. Of course, she was in a library. He crept in to see her curled up on a chair, staring into the fireplace, letting it warm her. M’Baku thought about convincing her back to his chamber, back to the bed where she could rest surrounded by blankets and furs and warmth. 

But he left her alone, instead. She could make her own decisions, and if she chose to stay in the library until someone came for her, then that was her choice. She was not a child, he knew. He had only called her that to get under her skin, but it looked like his previous jibes at her age had merely added salt to an existing wound. 

As M’Baku strode back to his chambers, he squashed his unease and anger at those who made her feel insecure and less than what she was. Who made her feel weak and unappealing. 

M’Baku found a passing servant on his way, and requested she take the softest, warmest fur she could find to the lonely Princess in the library.

By the time he got back to his chambers, his thoughts had not abated, and his vision was tinged in red.

Hanuman help me.

 


 

M’Baku was informed mid-morning, once the storm had cleared, that an aircraft had come to collect the Princess. He declined seeing her off, nor accepting the gratitude of whoever was coming for her. 

Instead, once they had gone, M’Baku turned toward the silver box that still stood on the table closest to the door in his chambers. He opened it, surprised to find its only contents being a Vibranium ring in the shape of Gorilla fangs. He didn’t know what it could do, but it was designed to adjust its size to any finger he chose to put it on. 

This was why she had brought it herself. It was not something that was identical to what was given in shipments to the other tribes—he doubted very much she specifically made things for each individual tribe leader. She had designed it solely for him—it was meant for no other. 

He had rejected her…

The shipments stopped coming after that. 

M’Baku didn’t see Shuri again for another two months, something in his chest tightening over that time. He didn’t take the ring off once.

 


 

The next time that M’Baku saw Shuri was the day of a council meeting. He had been zoning out in his seat, until her name had been mentioned by one of the elders in the council. 

“My King, how is the search going for a husband for the Princess Shuri?”

M’Baku tensed, his body going rigid as he turned to stare at T’Challa, who also looked taken by surprise.

“My sister has plenty of time to worry about marriage. She is only twenty.”

The grimace couldn’t help but morph M’Baku’s face. She was older than he thought, but still, so young…

“You are the only two blood-heirs to the throne, My King. With all due respect, it does not sit well with the council that neither of you are married nor have offspring yet. If anything were to happen to both of you, Bast forbid, it would be a chaotic battle for the throne.”

T’Challa sighed, and M’Baku couldn’t believe that it looked like he was actually considering marrying his sister off. “What did the council have in mind?” he asked, looking as much out of his element as he probably felt. There was a tight discomfort on his face, and M’Baku wanted to punch it off. His hands clenched into fists.

“We could present the best candidate from each tribe, to offer a fair selection,” the elder from the Merchant Tribe suggested. 

“We could have them fight in a ritual combat for her hand,” the elder from the Mining Tribe added.

M’Baku looked at T’Challa in time to see him wince. “Thank you, but my sister is very modern. I do not think she would be in favor of such a traditional method,” T’Challa said as diplomatically as he could.

“Can she not be allowed to choose for herself from anyone in Wakanda?” W’Kabi asked from his privileged position beside the throne. While he was not the Border Tribe’s leader or elder, he was allowed on the council due to his position as Chief of Security. There was a slight imbalance of power, as his uncle was an elder on the council, but it meant that the two voices counted only as one when it came time to a vote. It did not hurt W’Kabi that he had been best friends with the King since childhood. 

M’Baku was surprised they had made peace so well after the Killmonger incident. He pictured a lot of yelling and a lot of tears before they had made up. Perhaps even some broken bones and broken furniture.

“That would take far too long, and what if she chose someone who was not fit for the position?” said the elder from the River Tribe. “She could choose a simple man who had no ambition, no leadership, no warrior skills.”

Trying to imagine Shuri with a “simple man” almost made M’Baku laugh. She would drive him crazy, if she didn’t kill him first.

The elder from the River Tribe continued, “I second the idea of each of us bringing forth whom we find to be our best candidate within our own tribes.”

The elder from the Mining Tribe made an indignant noise in the back of her throat. “Says the man whose daughter is very likely to marry the King!” She turned to T’Challa and said quickly, “No offense, My King, but if this is the course of action taken, I suggest the River Tribe politely sit out. To have both royal marriages be from one single tribe would be unfair.”

T’Challa pursed his lips, before his eyes sought out M’Baku’s. “You have been silent, Chief M’Baku. What are your thoughts on the matter?”

The Jabari leader took a few seconds to compose himself. “I do not believe the Princess would choose a Jabari, so I have no thoughts to provide,” he said simply. 

T’Challa rose an eyebrow. “And why do you think an entire tribe exempt from my sister’s attention?”

“A Jabari man would have a very hard time fitting in as a Royal Consort in the Golden City. And it would be impossible to ask the Princess to move into the mountains,” M’Baku pointed out.

“I see your point,” T’Challa conceded, nodding, his eyes unseeing as his brain worked.

T’Challa took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders, raising his head. “Very well, each of you will provide a champion. Yes, including the River Tribe. There are no restrictions or requirements based upon their personality or interests, other than that if any of you put forth a champion whom I deem too violent or volatile, anyone who could potentially hurt my sister, they will be instantly withdrawn. Choose who you think would be the best fit. No older than thirty, no younger than nineteen. No one who already has children or betroths. Do not decide hastily—you will not be allowed to switch your champion, and if he is not chosen, you are not allowed to put forth another. Only the one. No matter who my sister chooses, you will all accept her decision gracefully and without question.”

After the matter of Shuri’s hand was solved, the council was adjourned. M’Baku watched as the elders filed out, noticing that W’Kabi was staying as well, hoping to get either a private audience with the King, or a friendly chat with T’Challa. 

M’Baku rose, approaching T’Challa, who stood quickly as well. He could spot the Dora Milaje General in his peripheral vision tense.

“Does your sister know anything of this?” M’Baku asked, his voice matching his serious expression. 

W’Kabi stood to the side, eying the Jabari leader curiously. T’Challa, too, took a curious attention to the taller man. 

“M’Baku, I did not realize that you cared much about my sister,” T’Challa said, brows furrowed.

“It is wrong to arrange a marriage for her like this,” M’Baku said instead.

“It is tradition. You are a fan of tradition,” T’Challa argued. True, it was indeed tradition to arrange political marriages for royals. Usually it was only the King or Queen who was allowed to choose their own spouse more freely.

“Your sister will be furious,” M’Baku warned. Yes, he and his people were “fans of tradition.” But not like this, not when it was Shuri’s fate on the line, when she was so modern…

“You do not know my sister,” T’Challa said, though he didn’t disagree. 

“So she will not be deeply hurt by this competition for her hand?” M’Baku challenged.

T’Challa’s brows rose, his eyes lightening as an epiphany overcame him. “This is why you refused to include the Jabari, isn’t it? You don’t agree, and thus wish to take no part in it.”

“I am surprised you let them cow you into selling off your own sister,” M’Baku hissed. A movement of red off to the side.

W’Kabi stepped in. “Let us not turn this into a brawl, hm?” he said as civilly as he could. “It would solve nothing.” He cast a furtive glance to Okoye, communicating that he could handle this. She gave him an unamused look in response.

“Shuri wouldn’t have to choose a ‘champion,’” M’Baku sneered, “if you would simply marry and produce an heir. So instead you let your younger sister face the consequences of your freedom.”

Okoye took a step forward, brandishing her spear.

T’Challa’s lips parted, eyes searching. “You are on a first-name basis with her, are you?” he asked, surprised.

M’Baku seemed to remember himself and drew back before he could say something that would come across as treason, his face returning to its usual impassive, guarded expression. 

He did not bow his head, but he did offer a sarcastic, “My King,” before leaving.

W’Kabi watched him go with a raised brow and slightly amused expression, while T’Challa’s brows were furrowed and his eyes narrowed.

“There is something strange happening here, my friend,” T’Challa said.

 


 

M’Baku meant to leave as quickly as he could—just as any other time he visited the Golden City—except on this day, he ran into Shuri. Literally.

Hands darted out to steady the girl before she fell.

“M’Baku!” she said in surprise, eyes wide. His hands remained encasing her upper arms gently, holding her close to him. He hadn’t seen her in months—not long at all, really—and it stirred something in him, a turmoil. 

The man’s first thought was that he wanted to tell her about her impending doom, but he also knew that it wasn’t his place. They had barely spoken to each other in their lives outside of that one night two months ago, and he had no right. It was her brother’s duty, and also her brother who would be the one to face her wrath.

Especially when she was offering M’Baku a sweet, shy smile. 

M’Baku let go of her and took a step back, aware that they were very much in public. “And where were you running off to?” he asked, trying for a light tone. 

“I was—” she cut herself off when she had looked down and noticed something. Before M’Baku knew it, the girl was reaching for his hand and drawing it up. Her face held a kind of wonder that he had never seen before there. “You’re wearing the ring!” Her voice was high in astonishment, before she granted a brilliant smile to him. 

“Yes, although I am still unsure of its purpose,” M’Baku admitted, softening under her smile and bright eyes.

An exuberance filled Shuri and she practically brimmed with excitement and energy. “Let me show you! Here, make a fist with your hand,” she said, although it was difficult as she was still holding it. She seemed to notice the same thing, and let go of it with a sheepish smile. 

M’Baku did as she instructed.

Shuri bumped fists with him, making sure her flesh collided against the ring.

Several blinks later, and he noticed that his hand was tingling.

“The ring, once activated with such a tap, will encase your hand in micro-fibers of Vibranium. It will be near-invisible to the naked eye, but they will allow your hand to touch anything without consequence. You’ll feel the sensations of touching something—feel a weight in your hand as you hold a burning coal, feel the flowing movement of a stream of water around you, but you won’t feel the temperature. Won’t feel the heat or the cold. It is also impenetrable. The only thing that can break through it is a Vibranium weapon, and only one used with extreme force. You could shoot a regular bullet at it or stab it with a regular knife or sword, and there would be no consequence! The other weapons would break upon contact with the Vibranium glove.” M’Baku had been torn between staring at his hand in curiosity and watching Shuri with a fondness that had no place in his heart for her. He had never seen her more happy or animated. “I know that it is nothing like full-body armor, like the Panther suits…”

“Thank you, Shuri,” M’Baku said, before she could downplay her gift. 

“You like it, then?” Shuri asked, and M’Baku was reminded of their conversations two months ago, of when he had learned how much she sought the approval of others. Especially his own approval, for some reason.

“Very much so,” he told her, allowing softness to take over his features, quirking up his lips on the sides.

“I could make you another, if you would like, for your other hand,” Shuri said.

“Please, do not trouble yourself. One is enough. I must not become too reliant on technology, now must I?” M’Baku teased, widening Shuri’s smile. 

Shuri looked down. “Oh, here, let me show you how to turn it off.” Her small, delicate hands rose once more to his large one. While one held the underside of his wrist, the other turned the ring upside down, so that the gorilla teeth of ring were facing M’Baku’s palm. He noticed how slender and dexterous her fingers were. 

“There. That disengages the glove.” She turned the ring back so that they could see the teeth once more.

“Shuri,” an incoming voice called.

The girl jumped, letting go of M’Baku’s hand and taking several steps back to put distance between the two of them.

M’Baku let his hand fall to his side as he turned to see T’Challa approaching. A concerned look dawned upon the king as he noticed who his sister was with. Concerned that the mountain man would reveal the content of the council’s meeting.

But no, M’Baku would not do the King’s dirty work for him. 

The Jabari Chief nodded to T’Challa. “My King,” he greeted, in the same sarcastic tone he always used for the title. He turned back to Shuri and nodded at her, less jerkily than he had her brother. “My Princess,” he said in a gentler tone. 

Shuri watched as M’Baku strode away without another word or glance, and she struggled to even and slow her breathing when her brother reached her.

“What were you two discussing?” T’Challa asked.

“What? I am not allowed to have friends?” Shuri joked.

T’Challa regarded her suspiciously. She hadn’t started yelling at him yet, so he assumed she did not know. 

“Shuri, there is something I must speak to you of. Come, let us go somewhere more private.”

 


 

T’Challa had expected her to throw things, to yell at him, to flat-out refuse. He had also expected tears, but while he had been prepared for the others, he hadn’t been prepared for this. 

She had sunken to the edge of her bed, sobbing into her hands. 

When he moved to place a hand of her shoulder, she jerked away. He tried to hug her, but finally she looked at him with her red eyes and wet cheeks and screamed, “Don’t touch me!”

“I am so sorry, Sister…”

“You don’t get to be sorry! You are the one doing this to me. No one is holding a spear to your throat. How could you?” Shuri cried, her voice low. “Does Mother know?”

T’Challa nodded. “Mother knows.”

“And she’s…okay with this? You’re okay with this? My brother is supposed to be the one fighting suitors off, not forcing me toward them.”

“I am not okay with this, but the council has made a decision, and they do have a point. This is a burden we bare as the Royal Family. We have a duty to keep our line going, an obligation to our people.”

“Why are they not making you get married? You’re engaged to Nakia, aren’t you?”

“The council thinks—”

“I don’t care about the council!” Here Shuri’s voice finally rose to a yell. “They clearly don’t care about me!”

“Shuri…”

“Just go. Go!

T’Challa reluctantly left his sister crying on her bed, unknowing of how to comfort her.

 


 

Shuri heard the door crack open, but she did not care to look to see who it was. 

“Darling?”

Mother.

Despite her anger at her family, Shuri turned to look at her mother.

When Ramonda came closer, she saw the moonlight glinting off the wet cheeks, saw the swollen red eyes. 

“Oh, my darling.”

Shuri found herself in her mother’s arms, but no more tears came. She was all out.

“Can’t you stop this? Isn’t there any way I can refuse the council’s decision over my life?”

Ramonda rocked her daughter, stroking her hair. “I was in your position, once,” she admitted instead. “Your father was the Crown Prince, and I was but a girl from the Merchant Tribe. There was a large festival, not unlike the story of the Western Cinderella. He was to mingle with every eligible young woman. He was exhausted by the time he met me,” Ramonda laughed, her voice tinged by unshed tears. “He said I was the first one to make him laugh. I don’t remember now what I had said, but after that night, he had remembered me. I was never a warrior, but he said that there was a silent strength under my skin, a fierce liveliness behind my eyes. He fell in love with me before I him. I did not want to be Queen, you see. I had never imagined such a life for myself, and it scared me. But my love for him soon outweighed the fear I felt.”

They were silent as they rocked together, Ramonda rubbing circles on her daughter’s back, holding her.

“T’Challa said that each tribe would choose a man they thought was worthy of the position. I will have but four men to choose from, and they will all be after status and power. There will be no love, no real choice. So young, and my life is over.”

Ramonda shushed her daughter gently, closing her own eyes so that no tears would escape. She had always hoped her daughter would meet someone and fall in love naturally. That they would all have more time. 

“What if I don’t even like any of them? What if they are all cruel and horrible and boring? What if they just want to saddle me with children, and discourage me from my inventions, and never inspire anything in me other than resigned resentment?”

Shuri was growing hysterical, but Ramonda refused to cry. She would be strong for her daughter. “If they are all unacceptable, we will find another way to appease the council. A way for you to meet more men, for you to choose one yourself.”

“The Border Tribe will choose a military man, the Merchant Tribe an economic man, the Mining Tribe a physical man, the River Tribe a spiritual man. Who will provide me with a kind, caring, open-minded, nurturing, passionate, intelligent man? Who will provide me with someone who cares more about me than about the throne and continuing his lineage? Who will understand that I am too young and unready for children? That my inventions and my lab and adventure are what bring me joy?” A dry sob ripped through Shuri, and she shook. “Will any of them respect me and see me as an equal?”

Ramonda hugged Shuri fully to her, trying to shush her, stroking her back, eyes clenched tightly. Shuri held onto her mother as if her life depended on it.

 


 

Shuri’s predictions had been accurate.

The Border Tribe’s candidate was Z’Danna, a warrior with a strong tactical mind. He was intelligent, but calculating, and Shuri had yet to see him smile. He showed the most interest in her technology, but it was mostly on how to weaponize it.

The Merchant Tribe provided A’Poli, the oldest one, at thirty years old. He was, for lack of a better word, an utter bore. Shuri found herself nearly falling asleep during one of their chaperoned meetings. He, too, never smiled, and felt more like a grandfather than a man only ten years her senior.

The Mining Tribe brought forth Ha’Nu, the youngest at twenty-two. His physicality was the most impressive, standing at 6’3”. He wanted to be there as much as Shuri did. Once, when they were walking and their chaperone was a good several feet behind them, Ha’Nu confided in Shuri that he had a sweetheart back home, named Eno. He all but begged Shuri not to choose him. She promised she wouldn’t, and wished him the best of luck with his love. He had the kindest smile.

The River Tribe offered D’Ju. He told Shuri that he admired the priests, and wanted to become one. His passion for Wakandan culture and history spoke to Shuri, but in the end, he was far too traditionalist, and disapproved of Shuri spending all of her time in a lab, inventing things.

They all had two things in common: they were all built strongly, as if she was acquiring not just a husband, but a bodyguard as well. Or a subduer. The second was that Shuri cared for none of them. 

“Have you given them a chance?” Ramonda asked not unkindly, after her daughter ranted to her about her limited options.

“Yes! And I feel nothing but dread for each of them.”

“You don’t like a single one?” Ramonda tried.

Shuri laughed humorlessly. “If you’re asking me to tell you which one is the lesser evil, I can’t even do that. They’re all handsome, sure, but I’m not even attracted to any of them. Their personalities all turn me off.”

Ramonda hummed in thought. 

“I can’t help but wonder who the fifth ‘champion’ would have been, if the Jabari had elected to join in the primitive competition. I’m surprised there wasn’t an all-out fight to the death, although I think T’Challa mentioned that the idea had been brought up.”

“Do you think you would have liked a Jabari candidate?” Ramonda asked.

“To be honest, he’d probably go the same route as the other four. That’s what happens when tribal elders choose. I don’t know enough about the Jabari to even guess what he would be like, as I could with the others,” Shuri supplied.

They were silent for a few minutes as they sat in Shuri’s chambers, Ramonda doing her daughter’s braids. They had servants for such things, but there was something so intimate and personal about it, that Shuri always preferred her mother. 

“Tell me, Darling, is there anyone you can think of who has ever made you feel anything? If you are going to turn down all of the council’s candidates, it would be good for you to be able to offer an alternative,” Ramonda advised. “Any free Wakandan men who ever brought you laughter or healthy competition, ever made your heart beat faster or stutter? Any that you found yourself looking forward to seeing? Any that stirred your desire?”

Shuri flinched. “Mother!” she whined in embarrassment. 

Ramonda laughed good-naturedly behind her daughter. When her daughter returned to silence, however, Ramonda prodded. “Shuri, is there?” No answer. Her hands paused, and she turned her daughter toward her.

The girl wouldn’t meet her eyes, staring at the floor instead.

“Who is he?”

Shuri closed her eyes, shame overtaking her face. Ramonda wondered if he was married. 

“It would never work, so it’s not even worth mentioning. Besides, he would never want me. We would probably fight all of the time, too. We don’t see eye-to-eye on anything,” Shuri admitted.

A glint entered Ramonda’s eyes, and she tried not to smile as she faced her daughter forward again and returned to her hair. “Oh?” she asked, feigning a disinterested tone. “You’re right. Doesn’t sound like a good match.”

Shuri started fidgeting. “But he’s kind when he wants to be, underneath his imposing exterior. I think he’s just posturing, really, but he has to, because he’s fought and struggled for everything he has. He’s wise, but so stubborn. Honestly, he has a will of steel. It’s like trying to move a mountain,” Shuri said with a chuckle. “He’s surprisingly funny—he has his own brand of dry, dark humor, which catches you off guard at first. I think he listens to me…actually notices me. He’s brave, and I like to think that he’s loyal, too. I know that there’s wit and a cleverness in there, somewhere, underneath the great warrior. He wouldn’t have a library that size otherwise. And he’s curious, even if he tries to hide it. He’s not overly fond of how modern I am, or how keen on technology and improvements I am either, but…I think he might be willing to come around, you know?”

“Good grief, my child. You seem to know this mystery man very well, indeed.”

Shuri laughed. “Hardly. I don’t know him at all.”

“Ah, yes, which is why you’ve just been able to list a multitude of his attributes and seeming virtues. Do you feel for him?”

A fidget. “He is handsome,” she admits.

“That’s not what I asked, Shuri.”

“I don’t want to be explicit, Mother! It will scar us both!”

Ramonda laughed, and Shuri soon joined her. “Would it scar us both if I asked you if you’d like to kiss him?”

More silence, more fidgeting. Ramonda let Shuri take her time.

“As I said, he would never want me. I am drawn to him, and he is handsome, but I do not think that I am what he would want in a partner.”

“Have you asked him?”

Bast no!

“How do you know, then? What he would want?” Silence. “You know, we shouldn’t always assume, when it comes to other people.”

Shuri sighed. “I know, Mother. Even if he did feel something for me, though, it still would never work.”

“Will you tell me why, Shuri?”

“I don’t want to make it real by speaking it aloud. I’ve already said enough.”

Ramonda had finished with Shuri’s hair by this time. She turned her daughter to face her, and saw tears brimming in the corner’s of Shuri’s eyes. Ramonda swiped at them gently. 

“You would not approve,” Shuri whispered. “And I couldn’t bare that. You and T’Challa are all that I have, and neither of you would approve.”

“He’s not an American, is he?” Ramonda deadpanned, and Shuri laughed, tears spilling.

“No, Mother. He is Wakandan,” she said with a grin. 

“I’m sure the King could always…persuade…this man to think better of turning you down, should you choose him.”

Shuri laughed as she tried to imagine the encounter, which would be painfully uncomfortable on both sides. Her poor brother trying to intimidate the man into marrying her. “Mother, I think he would be very much unimpressed by the Black Panther trying to force him to marry me. He does not do anything he doesn’t want to do.”

“Sounds like a formidable man, my daughter.”

“Formidable, yes. But he does not scare me.”

Ramonda smiled gently at her daughter. “As it should be. No one should ever be afraid of their partner.”

Shuri hugged her mother, yawning into her shoulder.

“It is late, and you are tired, my child. Get some rest. In the morning, perhaps reconsider this mystery man. Even if you do not choose him, even if you end up marrying someone else, one day, I would like to learn his name—the name of the man who has captured the attention of my most beloved daughter.”

With an embarrassed giggle, Shuri bid her mother goodnight. 

Alone and bathed in moonlight, Shuri smiled as she clutched her blanket around her, pretending that it was made of the softest fur as she drifted to sleep.

 


 

It had been a month since the fateful council meeting when Shuri’s hand had been brought into question, and as M’Baku returned to the Panther Palace, he couldn’t help but hope that he ran into her again. He was curious how the husband-hunt was going, if she had found happiness with any of the men. 

And there she was, as if Hanuman or Bast or whoever was listening had heard him. Shuri was in a courtyard in the center of the palace, sitting on a bench under a tree, but she was not alone. A man sat beside her, conversing with her. Neither were smiling. On a bench not far away sat a chaperone.

M’Baku shouldn’t interrupt her while she was with a man who was courting her, but before he could continue walking unnoticed, he caught her eye. He couldn’t miss the way her expression brightened, a smile easily making its way onto her lips. She said something to her companion, before she bounced up and strolled to M’Baku. Over her shoulder, the man looked stunned, before following her. 

“M’Baku, I was hoping to see you again! I have something to show you.”

He rose an eyebrow at her words, at the joy thrumming within them. His eyes glanced at the man that came to stand beside her, who was watching him distrustfully. Her companion was tall, but not taller than M’Baku. Muscular, but he was moreso. M’Baku could crush this man like a twig, if need be. 

“Sorry, introductions. Allow me to introduce to you the Great Gorilla M’Baku of the Jabari,” Shuri said, and M’Baku couldn’t help but raise an amused eyebrow at her dramatics. “Chief M’Baku, may I present to you Warrior Z’Danna, son of Z’Daka, of the Border Tribe.”

The men nodded to each other politely. Z’Danna continued to gaze at M’Baku with distrust, but that didn’t bother the Jabari leader. 

“My Princess, I trust that you and your family are in good health?” M’Baku asked, playing the part of a polite tribal chief, since they had an audience. He warmed at the sight of amusement dancing across Shuri’s face, as she tried to contain her laughter. 

“Yes, Chief M’Baku. Thank you. Let me escort you to the council meeting.” Shuri turned to her companion. “Z’Danna, forgive me for my hasty departure, but there are things I must discuss in private with Chief M’Baku.”

Z’Danna looked hesitant to leave her alone with the Jabari, but he could not say so while trying to gain her favor. So instead, he nodded. “Of course, My Princess.” He grabbed her hand and kissed the top of it lightly, out of respect. With a nod to both of them, he departed.

Shuri and M’Baku started walking, and once they were sure no one was around, Shuri broke out in laughter so strong that she had to hold her stomach. M’Baku chuckled beside her. 

“I’ve never heard you speak so formally, not even when you and your family were begging me for my help against Killmonger.”

“He’s not even the most boring one! You should hear my conversations with A’Poli!” Shuri laughed quietly. 

“But the real question is,” M’Baku said gravely, gaining Shuri’s attention instantly, “how could you have left out the name of my own father? You have done a great disservice to me, My Princess.”

This sent Shuri into another fit of laughter. She tried to smother them with the hand not still holding her stomach. “When you mentioned the health of my family…” Shuri giggled. “I thought for sure I would lose it then!”

“Is that how all of your dealings have gone with the four men, then? You looked so stern and serious as you sat with him, I hardly recognized you.”

Shuri grinned. “Why, because I was not toying with tech in my hands, or running my mouth a mile a minute?”

“You seem to be taking it rather well, though.”

Her eyes appraised the look on M’Baku’s face. He was trying to remain guarded, but she could see the concern underneath, concern for her. It was why she answered truthfully.

“It took me some time to come to terms with it. I definitely almost slapped one of them just the other day. I haven’t quite decided to accept my fate, but I will not give the tribes the satisfaction of seeing me behave like a brat, either. I suppose I am trying to bide my time until a better solution can be found, a more agreeable alternative,” Shuri admitted. She continued on hastily, “However, such things are far too dreary to speak of. When the council meeting is over, meet me outside the throne room. There was something I wanted to show you, after all.”

They stopped just outside the throne room, the last ones to arrive. 

“Do you wish that you could join the council meetings?” M’Baku asked. Surely she had gained the right by now. 

“Nah, they’d kick me out in a matter of days, I’m sure. I wouldn’t be able to keep any of my opinions to myself, and I’d be picking arguments with all of them. Especially since most of them are older than my mother. This is one thing I’m glad to be left out of. Let me brother take care of the boring and squabbling elders. I’d prefer my lab to diplomatic meetings any day,” Shuri said with an easy smile. 

“Let us hope you never become Queen then, or else Wakanda would fall to shambles,” M’Baku said with a teasing smile. “Or worse—join the modern world once and for all.”

“And then where would the Jabari hide?” Shuri laughed, before waving him in, and M’Baku wished he could skip the meeting. It was too late, though—he had been spotted.

 


 

The meeting passed by too slowly, and none of it concerned the Jabari or M’Baku. Finally, finally, it was over, and M’Baku was one of the first to rise. He nodded to T’Challa out of social constructs, before exiting the throne room in a hurry. 

When he got outside, Shuri was already there, bouncing on the balls of her feet, working on a digital pad in her hands. 

He cleared his throat, but she was too lost in her own world that she didn’t notice. 

“Princess Shuri, Daughter of Queen Ramonda, Great Surpasser of the Western Colonizing World’s Technology,” he announced.

Shuri nearly dropped her pad, before clutching it to her chest. Her wide eyes and wide smile made the meeting worth it. “Ah, you finally acknowledge my technological prowess.”

M’Baku rolled his eyes. “Don’t get a big head.”

“Come, follow me,” Shuri said, and M’Baku thought he almost saw her go to reach for his hand before thinking better of it. Instead she clutched the pad to her chest with both arms and led the way, unconnected physically to the man who matched pace beside her. 

“And where are you taking me?”

“Don’t worry, it’s not my lab,” Shuri said with a smile. “I’m not sure your heart could take the shock.”

They reached one of the royal gardens. Shuri led him deep into it, until they came upon a fountain. 

She spun around in front of it, and he stopped.

“We should be undisturbed here for a few minutes. Close your eyes,” she requested. M’Baku lifted an eyebrow, not trusting the mischievous glint in her eyes. She sighed. “Fine. You’re no fun.” She held out her hand, her fist closed around something, her other hand holding the pad at her side. He watched as her delicate fingers unfurled to show a ring sitting on her palm. It was identical to the one sitting on his left middle finger. “For your other hand.”

M’Baku’s stomach clenched. Shuri was offering gifts to him while four other men were attempting to court her. It was wrong.

“I cannot accept.”

“Of course you can. Take it.”

“Shuri,” M’Baku said, his voice serious. He watched as her face fell slowly.

“What? I don’t understand…”

“In Jabari culture, we do not accept gifts freely.”

He watched as her brows pulled together and she licked her lips. “Take it as a trade. For helping my brother against Killmonger.”

“He offered me a seat on the council, offered the Jabari a voice in Wakanda, in exchange of my army’s helping him.”

“Then…as a trade for saving my life, those months ago.”

“The first ring was reward enough for that.”

“I…” Shuri struggled to think of another situation that would make him feel obligated to take the second ring. “M’Baku, just take the damn ring. Please.”

“I cannot accept the gift of a woman already being courted by four men.”

He watched her eyes grow glossy. “Well maybe if you hadn’t opted the Jabari out, you could have been the fifth.”

They both registered her words at the same time. He kept his face impassive, but she had no control over her own horrified expression. She stepped back, away from him, her hand clutching over the ring. “I’m sorry,” she apologized, but he didn’t know why.

“You have nothing to apologize for, Shuri,” M’Baku told her.

“My…attentions have been unwanted. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable, M’Baku,” Shuri said, looking down. He missed the easy smile from earlier, the excitement, the joy. He had ruined it, ruined the kindness she was trying to show him. 

M’Baku opened his mouth, to offer a sort of apology of his own, but he was cut off.

“Shuri!”

They both froze at the sound of T’Challa’s approaching voice. Shuri turned to see that their mother was with him, and the way that the Queen Mother was looking between Shuri and M’Baku, the way her eyes widened… Ramonda knew, Shuri was sure of it. Her mother was a clever, observant woman. She knew, and Shuri couldn’t bare to hear of her disapproval. 

Shuri blinked back her tears and licked her lips before the pair reached them. 

“Is everything alright here?” T’Challa asked, looking between M’Baku and Shuri.

“Of course, Brother,” Shuri said, her voice light and teasing. “What happened in your meeting to make you so uptight?”

“Shuri,” Ramonda admonished gently. Her daughter should not be teasing the King in front of a tribal chief, especially the leader of the Jabari. 

“What?” Shuri shrugged in defense, as her hands were full, one holing the pad at her side and the other closed in a fist around the ring. “If you don’t want me to embarrass you, you shouldn’t let me out of my lab.”

“Shouldn’t you have a chaperone?” Ramonda asked, eyes studying M’Baku closely. To his credit, the man didn’t so much as twitch.

“I only need a chaperone with suitors. M’Baku is just passing by. I was bugging him, anyways, so I’m sure you two are a sight for sore eyes.” Her tone came out bitter even to her own ears, but Shuri didn't care. At the moment, she just wanted to return to the sanctuary of her lab. 

“Come, Shuri, we must prepare you for your meeting with A’Poli,” Ramonda said. “We will leave Our King and Chief M’Baku to discuss private matters.”

M’Baku watched as all of the spirit drained out of Shuri. She clutched the fist containing the rejected ring to her chest, before following her mother obediently, head bowed.

The Jabari leader knew that T’Challa’s eyes were on him, but he did not look away from the retreating form of Shuri. He couldn’t help but think that she looked like she was going off to her death. 

His left hand clenched into a fist, the gorilla-teeth ring shining brightly in the mid-day sun.

 


 

The next time Shuri was in the presence of M’Baku, it was during a council meeting, standing beside her chosen candidate. 

Her eyes were too glossy, her smile too wide, her stance too stiff. 

“My sister has made her decision, based on the suitors provided to her by the council,” T’Challa announced, voice nearly as stiff as his sister’s body. “May I present the Princess’s Betrothed, Z’Danna of the Border Tribe.”

Everyone’s full attention was on the betrothed couple.

“The announcement will be made to the public next Monday, and the wedding ceremony will begin planning thereafter. I trust that you will all accept my sister’s decision and provide the respect to Z’Danna that his position deserves,” T’Challa said. 

M’Baku noticed how those glossy eyes wouldn’t look at him—wouldn’t look anywhere in his direction. He wondered if they might spill over if they did. 

Each tribal representative stood and moved to the betrothed couple, to offer acknowledgement and congratulations. The pair greeted each elder graciously.

“W’Kabi,” Shuri greeted warmly—he had always been her brother’s best friend through childhood, and she was glad to see him. For weeks after Killmonger, she’d hated the sight of the man, but time had let her realize that his betrayal had been borne from a pain that had deep roots in his soul, growing larger and burrowing deeper all his life. If T’Challa could forgive W’Kabi, then so could Shuri.

“My Princess, Z’Danna,” W’Kabi greeted. “Congratulations on your betrothal. I must say, on behalf of the Border Tribe, we never had a doubt about the superiority of our brother.”

Shuri resisted rolling her eyes, instead opting for a teasing smile. “Will you throw him a grand bachelor party, then? Get the whole village drunk?”

W’Kabi never failed to participate in her conspiratorial games. “And deliver the groom to the wedding ceremony still half-intoxicated? The elders would kill me where I stood.”

“Ah, then the council representation would be fair,” Shuri teased.

W’Kabi placed a hand over his heart and tsk’ed, before remembering that there were still a couple people in line after him to wish the couple blessing. He nodded to them with a smile before parting.

The last in the line was a reluctant M’Baku, standing a good head taller than Shuri. In fact, she couldn’t remember him ever standing so tall before, looming over them. Her eyes fell down to his left hand, where her ring still sat on his middle finger. The matching sibling sat hidden in her room, inside a handkerchief in a drawer. She couldn’t bring herself to take it back to the lab. 

“My congratulations to you both,” M’Baku said, his voice detached and emotionless. 

Z’Danna nodded briskly. Shuri was ashamed that she couldn’t meet the Jabari’s eyes. 

Soon the show was over, and there was just the King, the Queen Mother, the Princess, and her betrothed left in the throne room. 

Okoye lingered by the door, standing guard. Later, she would ask her lover W’Kabi what kind of man Z’Danna was, if Shuri could find happiness with him, find love. Her heart would shrink a little when his response was uncertain silence.

Later, when they were more alone, Z’Danna would tell Shuri that as his bride, he was uncomfortable with her familiarity with other men. She would remind him that neither of them were marrying for love. He would pause, and then leave her to her tears.

 


 

M’Baku couldn’t get out of there fast enough. He was practically sprinting back to the aircraft that would return him to his mountains, where he could forget the look on Shuri’s face as she stood beside a man who she cared not for, and who cared not for her in return. 

He had wanted nothing more than to rip the Border Tribe man away from her, to put distance between the two, and whisk Shuri back to his mountain, back to the Great Lodge, where he could bundle her up in front of the fire and hold her. There, they would be safe from everything in the world. 

“M’Baku.”

He did not want to stop, but T’Challa gave him no choice. He gracefully caught up to M’Baku’s long strides and even managed get in front of him with feline ease.

My King,” M’Baku said, his voice edged, his hands clenched into fists. He knew a brawl with the King in public—unprovoked—would be disastrous, but as of this moment, he could think of nothing better.

“I wish to speak to you in private regarding a serious matter,” T’Challa announced.

“Is this not private enough?” M’Baku asked, gesturing around them. Indeed, they were alone for the most part. No one would be close enough to eavesdrop.

T’Challa pursed his lips before taking a step closer. His voice lowered as he spoke. “Do you care for my sister?”

M’Baku, much to his credit, did not flinch. His face did take on a sour expression, though. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I am not blind, nor am I dumb, M’Baku.”

The Jabari opened his mouth to counter both statements, but T’Challa held up a silencing hand.

“I do not need an answer. But know this: ritual combats are not held just for the throne. On betrothal announcement days, anyone may engage the suitor in ritual combat for the hand of one of the betrothed. I do not wish to see my sister unhappy, and I think neither do you. If you believe that you could provide her happiness, then be there on Monday. It is the only chance you will have.”

And as quickly as he had imposed himself, T’Challa was gone again, leaving M’Baku alone and uncharacteristically unsure. He strode onto his aircraft, refusing the itch to touch his ring.

 


 

On Monday morning, Shuri took to strolling through one of the royal gardens. Her betrothal announcement would be in a few hours, and she wanted the time alone. Her last few hours of freedom. She should have been in her lab, but instead, she found herself in front of a fountain. 

She let her fingers dip down to dance across the top of the water, causing ripples.

“Shouldn’t you be getting ready?” came a deep, teasing voice from behind her.

Shuri shrieked and jumped, spinning around to find M’Baku with a light smile adorning his lips. “You have the same skill as my brother of scaring a year off of my life,” Shuri admitted, hand over her racing heart. She watched warily as M’Baku approached her. 

“That’s not what you’re wearing, is it?” he teased. 

“Bast no,” Shuri said with a roll of her eyes. “Could you imagine if I showed up in my modern clothes? Without a corset?” She snickered, looking down at her bright shirt and trousers. She glanced at his own outfit, seeing the tight leather tunic woven with Vibranium threads stretching over the muscles of his chest. The necklace he wore that was all spikes and sharp edges. He was not wearing the fur cuffs that he wore in the mountains, but he was wearing a fur shawl, clasped to his tunic. 

Shuri shivered.

“Are you cold?” M’Baku asked.

She nodded, even though her shiver had nothing to do with feeling cold. Shuri watched as M’Baku slowly unclasped his fur shawl. He stepped forward and she held her breath as he draped it over her shoulders, clasping it together in front of her. It was far too large for her, covering practically the top half of her torso, but it was soft and warm and smelled like M’Baku and wood-fire, and she wanted to bury into it. 

He was so close, but before he could move away, Shuri boldly caught one of his retreating hands. 

M’Baku rose an eyebrow.

Shuri rose her chin. “Thank you, M’Baku. I must repay your kindness,” she said, although her words were all for show and they both knew it. Her free hand dipped into the pocket of her trousers, and when she opened her hand, she revealed the matching gorilla ring. “A trade,” she stressed.

M’Baku watched as she slipped it onto the middle finger of his right hand. The act was far too intimate and familiar, and if they were discovered, they would both be in trouble. 

“Have you been carrying it around all this time?” M’Baku asked.

Shuri shook her head, looking down at the hand in her grasp. “No,” she admitted, daringly stroking a thumb over the warm flesh on the back of his hand. “But today is my betrothal, and I had hoped to see you. After today, I’m not sure how much freedom I’ll have.”

“He is the consort, not you,” M’Baku reminded her.

She gave him an indignant smile, before returning her attention to his hand. He let her turn it over, one small hand holding it up, while the other explored the lines and calluses with her fingertips.  

“I will never be able to touch another man again. Indulge me my last opportunity, M’Baku.”

Shuri didn’t realize that she was crying, until M’Baku’s other hand rose. His finger gently wiped a tear from her cheek. Shuri looked up to find M’Baku’s expression soft. 

“I tried to get out of it,” she admitted. “Tried to find another way. Short of running away, there was nothing I could do. You and your people cling to tradition, but this…this is exactly why I distance myself from it. Just because it's tradition, it does not mean that it is right. Still, though, I cannot escape it, it seems.”

M’Baku looked around, and upon finding no prying eyes, he pulled the young woman to him, wrapping her into his arms. 

Slender arms wound their way around his torso, fingertips barely touching in the middle, as Shuri clung to him. Her shoulders shook, and she buried her face in his chest. 

They held each other for a long time, long after the tears had subsided.

 


 

Ramonda walked with Okoye along the corridor, discussing security, and what would come after the betrothal ceremony.

“Walk with me through the garden, Okoye. I wish to pick some flowers to weave into Shuri’s hair,” Ramonda said, as the corridor opened up at its mouth to one of the royal gardens.

“Yes, Queen Mother,” Okoye replied.

They were silent for a moment as they walked.

“You wish to say something, Okoye,” Ramonda observed. “You always have that pinched look upon your face when you are holding yourself back.”

“It is not my place, Queen Mother,” Okoye said.

“Nonsense. You have been with my family for many years, first as a Dora Milaje, and now as their leader and our General. You must know that you are free to speak your mind around us.”

Okoye was silent only a few seconds. “Queen Mother, I must admit I feel uneasy about the union.”

“What are your concerns?” Ramonda asked, as she plucked a purple flower.

“I view Shuri as a little sister, and I would gladly give my life for her,” Okoye admitted. “I know there is nothing I can do to intervene, but I want you to know that if her betrothed ever lays a hand on her, I will not hesitate to kill him most slowly. He is from my home tribe, but Shuri means more to me now than they do.”

Ramonda paused and gave a gentle smile to the General. “I am pleased to have you on our side Okoye. You would make a terrifying foe. And thank you, for your sentiment. I like to think that I, too, would remember the use of a spear if such an occasion arose.”

Okoye stilled and placed a hand on Ramonda’s shoulder, stopping her movement as well. She held a lip to her fingers to indicate that Ramonda stay silent. Slowly, she led the Queen Mother behind a tall bush, and they peaked around it.

There stood Shuri and M’Baku. Both women watched with wide eyes, Okoye’s hand on her spear, ready to interrupt the scene at a second’s notice. 

A Jabari fur rested on Shuri’s shoulders, engulfing her, as if it was a claim to all who laid eyes on her. Shuri held M’Baku’s hand in both of her own, studying it with a small smile. They stood close to each other, and Okoye struggled to hear any of their conversation, but they were too far away.

And then M’Baku was pulling Shuri into his arms and both women froze, watching as the two embraced. Shuri’s small hands clutched at M’Baku’s back, as if she would have to be pried from the man. 

Ramonda saw the way her daughter shook, the way M’Baku gently rubbed her back, his face softer than she had ever seen it. She didn’t realize a Jabari, much less their leader, could ever look so soft. 

Okoye made to interrupt them, but Ramonda placed a heavy hand on her shoulder, and the General looked to her with wide eyes.

Ramonda shook her head before leading the General away.

Once they were outside the gardens, Ramonda held up her hand to stop whatever Okoye was going to protest with.

“Let my daughter have this last moment with her mystery man,” Ramonda said, her eyes stinging. 

Okoye gave Ramonda a questioning look, but did not argue. “I did not know they were close, Queen Mother.”

“I had an idea, some time ago.”

“Why did he not put himself forth as a suitor, then? He was well within his right.”

Ramonda gave Okoye a rueful smile. “Because she would choose him. We cannot send Shuri to live in Jabariland, and we cannot expect for the Jabari leader to step down from his position of power, or relocate his people closer to the heart of Wakanda. I wish there was something we could do, but some loves aren’t meant to be.”

“You don’t believe that,” Okoye declared.

There was nothing else said as they walked away from the gardens.

 


 

Shuri looked at herself in the mirror. Purple and white flowers were weaved into her braids. A soft lavender dress with white geometric patterns hugged her torso, over her corset, her arms bare. There was a single slit up the side of the skirt, allowing the otherwise straight design to be breathable. She chose simple white sandals, her hands and arms adorned with Vibranium jewelry. White ceremonial dots had been painted onto her face. 

M’Baku’s fur shawl sat hidden away in one of her drawers. She couldn’t help but feel that it would improve the outfit.

“You look beautiful, my darling,” Ramonda said, her hands placed on Shuri’s shoulders, as she stood next to her daughter. 

And she did. Shuri could admit that she did look beautiful.

“My mystery man will be there,” she said instead. “He’s obligated to be.” She waited for her mother’s disapproving words, because surely she had been able to guess who it was. 

“Ah,” Ramonda said, remembering the image in the garden. “And are you still convinced that he wouldn’t want you?”

“It doesn’t matter now, does it?” Shuri asked, blinking her eyes. Her makeup had taken forever.

“And yet you mention him anyways,” Ramonda observed. She kissed her daughter on the top of her shoulder. “I will step outside to let you have a minute to yourself.” 

Ramonda paused at the door, looking back to see Shuri still stood in front of the mirror, admiring herself. Her hands were covering her shoulders. 

“It is a shame, my child, that the weather is not cold enough for fur,” she allowed, before slipping out of the room.

It would never be cold enough in the heart of Wakanda, in the Golden City, for fur. But that was not something any of them needed to be reminded of.

Shuri already knew.

 


 

A betrothal ceremony was not the same grand celebration as a wedding or coronation. Due to Shuri’s status, however, it was grand enough.

It was held in the palace plaza, and it was filled to the brim with Wakandans. 

She zoned out on most of what was said by her brother. Z’Danna stood beside her, and he looked handsome in ceremonial garb. He did not have the Border Tribe blanket around him, and she realized that the transition from his home would be difficult for him. He was now associated with the royal family, and would no longer be permitted to wear the blanket except if he was called to arms in a state of emergency.

Half of his identity had been stripped away. Shuri couldn’t imagine how vulnerable he must feel.

Shuri grabbed the hand closest to her, as a means to comfort and ground them both. But he disengaged only a second later, not looking at her. She kept her hands together for the rest of the spectacle.

“And now,” T’Challa said, nearing the end, “I offer a chance of ritual combat, open to any who would wish to challenge the betrothal. It is open to any suitor who would wish to wed either the Princess Shuri, or Z’Danna of the Border Tribe.”

There was silence, everyone looking around to see if any would dare challenge the royal betrothal. 

Out of the corner of her eye, Shuri saw movement. She soon found the cause, her eyes widening and lips parting. 

“I, M’Baku, Chief of the Jabari Tribe, wish to challenge Z’Danna of the Border Tribe, for the hand of Our Princess.”

Shuri’s heart thrummed loudly in her ears, her mouth and throat too dry to swallow. Surely this was a dream? 

Z’Danna tensed beside her, before stepping forward. “I, Z’Danna, son of Z’Daka, of the Border Tribe, accept your challenge.”

M’Baku’s eyes met hers and Shuri swore her heart stopped beating. Was he really going to fight for her hand?

If he won…

Shuri looked to T’Challa, who looked visibly calm. Did he know of this? Why would he be so calm at the prospect of the Jabari leader possibly marrying his sister?

Unlike a ritual combat for the throne, which takes place in water, ritual combats for hands in marriage took place on land. In this case, a nearby grass field just outside of the city. Not everyone that had been in the plaza was in attendance in the field—only certain delegates from each tribe. They all kept to themselves, not interspersed as they had been in the plaza. In times of ritual combat, the front of a strong tribal unity was necessary.

Several Jabari stood behind M’Baku—not in the white clay warrior paint that they had worn when M’Baku had challenged T’Challa—but dressed in regular clothes. They still held spears in their hands, though. 

A large circle formed around the challengers. The Dora Milaje stood in front of Shuri and Ramonda as a precaution, but Shuri could still see beyond them. 

T’Challa stood in between M’Baku and Z’Danna, looking to each of the competitors, who were now dressed in armor. 

“This battle will only be over if one of you yields, or if one of you dies. None may interfere while the challenge continues,” T’Challa said loudly for everyone. Then, for only the ears of the challengers, he lowered his voice. “Whatever you do here today, either of you—remember that the winner will be betrothed to my sister. She is not fond of death, and I am not fond of dirty fighting.”

The King took a step back. “Are both competitors ready?”

“Ready,” Z’Danna said without hesitation, battle sickle in hand. 

“Ready,” M’Baku said in a loud, booming voice, facing his opponent down with his spear.

Shuri could hardly watch as the two men battled, yet she couldn’t bring herself to look away either. Her stomach felt sick, as if she would throw up. A light touch on her hand tore Shuri’s eyes away to see her mother watching her with understanding, with reassurance. Shuri squeezed her mother’s hand in comfort, turning back to the dual. 

Eventually, M’Baku got Z’Danna on his back. Both were panting and sweaty under the hot African sun. The spear tip was pressed against Z’Danna’s neck. 

“Yield,” M’Baku said, surprising Shuri. 

Z’Danna was silent. 

The spear prodded his neck deeper. “Yield,” M’Baku repeated.

Face pained, Z’Danna opened his mouth. “I yield.”

M’Baku removed his spear and held out his hand, helping Z’Danna stand. 

A rush of warmth pooled in Shuri’s gut, her heartbeat threatening to explode from her chest, breaths coming light and quick. She watched as if through someone else’s eyes, as Z’Danna bowed from the waist to the royal family, who stood behind the Dora Milaje. Z’Danna then walked toward his tribe, who graciously welcomed him back with open arms. A blue blanket was draped over Z’Danna’s shoulders, and she thought she saw him relax for the first time since she’d met him. 

Her eyes flew from the Border Tribe to the winner who stood several feet in front of her. He was staring intently at her, and Shuri thought she would hyperventilate. 

The Dora Milaje parted, so that Shuri might pass. She entered the circle, standing in wait before him. 

M’Baku walked steadily to Shuri. He stopped in front of her, before digging his spearhead into the ground. And before she knew it, M’Baku—the Great Gorilla, Chief of the fearsome, isolated mountain Jabari Tribe—was kneeling before her. 

Shuri’s breath caught in her throat as he looked up at her, offering himself. 

Without hesitation, Shuri held both hands in front of her, palms up, accepting him. M’Baku’s face lifted into a smile, his eyes crinkling, and Shuri grinned at him, her cheeks aching from the effort.

His large hands engulfed Shuri’s, before he used his legs to stand back up. They turned to face T’Challa and Ramonda, side-by-side, one set of hands still holding. 

Tears prickled the Queen Mother’s eyes as she looked at the genuine smile on her daughter’s face. 

T’Challa stepped forward. “Are there any here who would like to challenge Chief M’Baku?”

There was silence.

“Then may I present to you, Princess Shuri and her betrothed, Chief M’Baku of the Jabari.”

 


 

“Okoye, may we have a few minutes alone?” Shuri asked the General. 

Okoye rose an eyebrow at Shuri. “I have been instructed not to leave your side by Our King.”

Shuri bit her lip. “Okay, could you just…stand a few feet away then? Turn your back? Only for a few minutes.”

Okoye tsk’ed. “Children, give them an inch, and they take a mile,” she said with fondness. When she turned to M’Baku, her expression turned ridged. “My back may be turned, but I will still be able to see you,” she warned, before walking away from them. 

With a laugh, Shuri grabbed M’Baku’s hand and took him closer to the edge of the river. She sat on a rock, and he followed suite, near her but not touching. She didn’t let go of his hand. 

Shuri looked down at the water, chewing on her lower lip, uncertain of what to say. 

“So quiet. I would almost think you were not happy I won.”

Startled, Shuri turned her whole body toward M’Baku. “I just…is this what you want? Truly? I don't want to force you to marry me if you don’t want me.”

M’Baku gazed into her eyes in a scrutinizing manner. “Ever since that night in my…since your time at the Great Lodge, you have been assuming that I do not want you. Have you ever heard me say so, though?”

“Well…not in so many words…but I feel that you are always pushing me away, rejecting me. Not to mention your position with the Jabari. I don’t know how this is going to work… I don’t know why you challenged Z’Danna,” Shuri admitted.

Shuri watched as M’Baku raised his free hand, angling his body toward her. He set it gently on the side of Shuri’s face, thumb stroking her cheek, smearing the decorative white dots. Shuri leaned into his touch. The thumb ventured down, until he was gently stroking Shuri’s lips. 

Her eyes widened, and they darted between M’Baku’s eyes and his own lips. 

“We will find a way to make this work; I promise. I challenged Z’Danna because you were miserable, and you deserve to be happy, Shuri,” M’Baku said, leaning forward. Their foreheads rested against each other. “And when I thought about him touching you, kissing you, bedding you, I saw red.”

Shuri sucked in a sharp breath at his admission, eyes going wide. Her heartbeat stammered before picking up tempo. 

“I’ve wanted you since the first time I saw you, when I saw the fire in your eyes after calling you a child at your brother’s first competition day. When you were loyal and honorable in my throne room, the Heart-Shaped Herb in your company, asking me to take on the mantle of King. You were loyal not to a throne, but to the good of Wakanda. Your smile when T’Challa awoke—I wanted that smile to be for me. I want to be able to fall asleep holding you and wake up holding you, as I did during the storm those months ago. You are brilliant and kind, clever and funny, playful and serious, adventurous and bold, generous and achingly beautiful. I want anything that you are willing to allow me, My Princess, and in return, I offer you everything that I am.”

Time stopped and Shuri’s heart stopped along with it, but her body was still perfectly capable of movement. It surged forward, until her lips were slotted against M’Baku’s warm, soft ones. 

Their lips moved together in sync, the kiss slow and sweet and tender and everything that Shuri wanted, but it wasn’t enough. She was left with an empty need. 

One hand still holding his, Shuri’s other hand went to the back of M’Baku’s neck and she pulled herself closer. It wasn’t close enough. Her body was awakened by his touch and she needed more from him, needed his fire and his ice. All the months of longing, of being just out of reach—they were all crashing down on her now.

She realized when she felt hands on her hips that she was straddling M’Baku’s thick thighs. The kiss had turned desperate and hungry and dirty. Shuri moaned when M’Baku’s tongue curled around her own, as he plundered her mouth and claimed her, branded her. Her arms were wrapped around his neck now, pulling herself closer and closer, though there was no space left between them. 

Her hips rocked against his and M’Baku groaned, his grip on her hips tightening. 

“Ack! Save it for your wedding night! I am blind! I leave you alone for one minute and you are all over each other like rabbits!” Okoye’s voice shouted in offense. “I will never get this image out of my head. Ten feet between the two of you, or I use my spear.”

Shuri pulled her face away from M’Baku’s, a grin splitting her lips. Her arms slowly withdrew from around his neck, where they had found purchase in his short hair. Her palms cupped his jaw on either side as she studied the man in front of her. 

“When is the wedding night?” M’Baku asked lightly. 

A giggle escaped before being silenced by warm lips.

“What did I say about ten feet?”