When Shuri is born, T'Challa thinks his heart is going to fly out of his ears.
His little sister is so small and so fragile. He's nearly twenty but even looking at her makes him a little queasy. He's worried he'll drop her or he'll hold her too tightly, or that he'll cause her brain damage by not supporting her neck enough.
He knows Erik would tease him about it if he weren't too busy paranoid that a strong wind would knock over his mother. T'Challa has seen his mother fire an arrow into the right eye of a rampaging rhino while standing squarely in the rhino's path. Giving birth is probably the least dangerous thing Ramonda, Queen of Wakanda has ever done in her life.
T'Challa is content to let Erik worry over his mother; let him find out the hard way what happens when you try to baby the queen. T'Challa knows that his mother has doted on Erik since he came to live with them. As a child, he had been a little jealous at first. Especially considering how awful Erik was when he first came to Wakanda. T'Challa could not fathom why such a foul tempered, foul mouthed boy could have his mother's affection, regardless of their blood relation.
He adjusts his hold on his little sister and watches her open her tiny mouth in a yawn. She opens her squinting eyes and blinks at him once, then twice, then gives him a gummy smile. It makes T'Challa smile back, to wave his free fingers at her, to babble soft nonsense at her.
He's always had friends. W'Kabi and Nakia, and later Okoye. Erik was the latest addition. He's never had a brother, despite W'Kabi and Erik coming close to fill the position. But now, he has a sister. And she's so small, he's not sure how he's ever going to make sure she's safe and provided for. Protected in a way that does not chafe her, because Shuri will be a woman of Wakanda, and the women of Wakanda can take care of themselves.
But he wants to coddle her. To make the palace, to make the nation, and the whole world safe for her. Seeing Shuri give him a watery laugh, a high and airy sight as she grabs his finger, T'Challa wants nothing more than to wrap the planet in bubble wrap. To push for a worldwide eradication of electrical sockets, and to keep knives very, very far away from toasters.
She's the only little sister that he has, and he wants everything to be perfect.
It takes them longer than it should, to realize that Shuri is a terror.
It begins when she is only a handful of months old, and she begins gnawing at her kimoyo beads. It's not a threat to her life. Kimoyo beads are large in part, to prevent small children from choking on them. Shuri's is on a simple chain that hangs lightly around her neck, checking her vitals and alerting their parents when she is hungry, or tired, or in stress.
It damn near gives T'Challa a heart attack when she starts gumming at the bead, like she's trying to crack it open with her toothless mouth.
"T'Challa," his mother says, giving him a kind smile. "She is fine. She's just curious. Don't worry so much."
T'Challa knows that his mother is literally one of the last people on the planet who would ever let something bad happen to Shuri. Still, he cannot help the way his stomach drops when his months old sister shoves something that is not food into her mouth.
"It's how they learn, cuz," Erik says, bouncing Shuri on his hip. T'Challa is adamant that anyone who wants to bounce Shuri should need a license to do so, and also should probably be wearing a harness.
"Besides, babies will spit out anything that tastes bad," Erik continues. "It's a biological defense against poisoning."
T'Challa feels the blood drain out of his face.
"Who is poisoning children so much that they need a biological defense against it?"
"White folks, probably."
T'Challa runs his hands over his face and counts back from twenty. Shuri is happy in her big cousin's arms, reaching up and yanking at his dreadlocks. Erik grunts and carefully begins unfurling Shuri's death grip on his hair.
"You need to relax, T'Challa," Erik says. "You wanna walk around looking like unc? You want grey hairs when you're sixteen?"
T'Challa narrows his eyes at his cousin, and runs a cautionary hand over his hair. He's not going grey, but if anything would make him start sprouting pale hairs, it would probably be the insistent panic that arises when Shuri does anything even remotely worrisome.
"Babies are really sturdy," Erik says. "Watch this."
He reaches out to stop his cousin from whatever horror he's about to inflict on his younger sister -
Only to find that Erik has lifted Shuri's belly to his mouth so he can blow raspberries against it. T'Challa's shoulders slump in exhaustion.
Scratch that. If anything would make him start sprouting grey hairs, it's when Shuri and Erik do anything even remotely worrisome.
When she's three, she somehow manages to break a kimoyo bead.
Which literally, should not even be possible. The bead, cracked in half, is immediately taken from her so that she does not stick it in her mouth and perhaps get sick from it. Shuri looks incredibly upset that a toy has been taken from her. It is a look she wears whenever something potentially dangerous is taken away from her.
Only the other day she had managed to yank off one of their father's black beaded necklaces right off his throat. A day before that, she had tried to yank the priestess beads from their mother's hair. She had a delightful preoccupation with actually ripping Erik's locks from his skull, much to everyone's delight but his own.
But cracking open a kimoyo bead is much different that tugging at necklaces or hair.
"Baby strength, man," Erik explains with a shrug of his shoulders. "Grasp reflex, y'know?"
T'Challa nods along, but not all that sure himself.
It gets worse, because of course it does.
Shuri is four, and she's playing with their father. T'Chaka is not a silly man, but using the panther suit's cloaking applications to play with his daughter is a proud tradition. T'Challa can remember playing hide and seek with his invisible father. He knows now that his father let him find him most of the time; loud footfalls and stifled laughter were dead giveaways now that he can look back on it.
When T'Chaka disappears in front of Shuri's eyes, she squeals in delight. She claps her hands in excitement and says, "Baba! Where did you go?"
T'Chaka is sure to make noise as he walks; his loud footfalls tell Shuri to turn around and she does, spinning in a wide arc with laughter still bubbling out of her.
"Oh no, Shuri, where is baba?" their father's voice calls.
The sound of his footsteps goes away into silence. Shuri puffs out her cheeks and squints. T'Challa has had more practice smoking out his father during hide and seek, so he goes over to his sister and crouches beside her.
"Do you want my help?" he asks. "I know a really quick way to find baba."
Shuri looks up at him with her big brown eyes. She gives him a look that would be appraising if she wasn't four before she shakes her head.
"No, Challa, I can find him!"
T'Challa puts up his hands in defeat. Shuri is only four, but he knows better than to argue with her when she sets her mind to do something. Shuri looks out at the nursery with squinted eyes. She takes a couple of steps away from her brother, then turns in a slow full circle around the room. Their father's footsteps have been quiet for some time, and T'Challa knows it'll only be maybe a minute or two before T'Chaka swoops Shuri up into his arms, and she'll shriek out a laugh and baba will laugh, too and -
Shuri practically flies across the room towards her toy chest, not stopping as she runs full tilt. T'Challa stands abruptly, tries to cross the room in time to stop her, but an invisible arm scoops her up around her middle and tosses her into the air before catching her expertly.
"I found you, baba!"
The King of Wakanda becomes visible slowly, holding his daughter with one arm as he removes his helmet with the other. He looks as bewildered as T'Challa feels.
"How did you find me, Shuri?" he asks.
Shuri shrugs, wrapping her arms around her father's neck.
"I could see you, baba! Your shadow!" she says. "You weren't very good at hiding."
The panther habit wasn't supposed to cast a shadow. And on the off chance that it did, the naked eye wasn't supposed to be able to track it. T'Chaka looks over Shuri's head at his firstborn. Then he casts a considering glance down at his only daughter.
"No, I wasn't, Shuri," he says. "No, I wasn't."
Erik doesn't believe him.
"She's four, T'Challa," he says. "She can't see through the habit. Nobody can. It was a lucky guess."
"Erik," T'Challa begins. "She ran. She ran into him like she knew he was there! Because she knew he was there!"
Erik looks at him for a long moment. Then he presses the back of his hand to T'Challa's forehead. T'Challa rolls his eyes so hard they might fall into the back of his head.
"What are you doing?"
"Be quiet, I'm a doctor."
"You are a warrior priest of Sekhmet's order."
"Meaning I'm a doctor."
"I'm not sick."
"You're right," Erik says, taking his palm off T'Challa's forehead. He uses the same hand to pat his shoulder encouragingly, as if he's a child. "But you are trippin."
"Erik, my little sister could see through the panther habit's invisibility," he presses. "Foreign governments with billions of dollars invested in technology have cameras and goggles that can't even do that!"
Erik narrows his eyes at him.
"Okay, maybe you're not trippin," he reasons.
T'cholla's shoulders drop in relief, glad to finally be listened to. His mother hadn't seemed very concerned with Shuri cracking open a kimoyo bead, but his father had been very curious about her seeing through the panther cowl. He was probably going to go get it's cloaking technology checked on; if a four year old could see through it, so could anyone with half a mind to.
"Finally, you are listening to me -,"
"You're just crazy."
At five, Shuri somehow manages to get away from her Dora rotation (a feat neither T'Challa, Erik, or their fathers before them have managed) to sneak into the vibranium mines. She is found by Celiwe, a member of the Wakandan Design Group, who uses Shuri's kimoyo beads to alert the petrified royal family of where their princess had escaped to.
T'Challa had been breaths away from commandeering a dragon flyer to search for her from the air himself. When he gets the message that Shuri is safe but was also found running around the vibranium mine, his heart isn't sure of whether or not it should stomp thumping from the old fear or beat doubletime for the new danger.
Erik and T'Challa are sent to recover Shuri, who is being happily bounced on Celiwe's knee as she explains to the crown princess the story of how vibranium came to Wakanda. It's Shuri's favorite story, and it's doubtless one that she's heard countless times. She demands everyone tell it to her at least once. No one was spared from her tiny wrath.
"She's more than welcome to come to the lab," Celiwe says, merrily dropping Shuri into Erik's waiting arms. T'Challa is grateful. He'd probably drop his little sister if he held her right now.
He knows that no one would ever kidnap the crown princess. Not in Wakanda. They have no enemies to speak of; they have been a nation folded in on itself for as long as they have had vibranium. Yes, relations with the Jabari were often times tenuous, but they were civil. They would not risk outright war by snatching the princess.
Still, T'Challa had not been able to keep himself from cycling through every worst case scenario. He's grateful for how steady Erik is, how calm he is even as Shuri yanks on his locks the way she has since she was a baby.
"You can't go running off like that," Erik says softly to her once they leave the labs.
Shuri pouts in that sweet way she does. She's a fantastic manipulator. Erik has no doubt she'd make a fantastic War Dog if she ever wanted to be one.
"But I just wanted to see -,"
"You scared us, cuz," Erik says, interrupting her. "We didn't know where you were, or how you got there. What if someone had run off with you? What if you fell down in the mines and hurt yourself, and no one was around to help you up?"
Shuri wiggles angrily, and Erik sets her down. She stands up, squaring her little shoulders as if she's ready to do battle. It's unbearably cute.
"I have my kimoyo beads!" she says, jutting out her wrist for Erik to inspect.
"And if you lost them?"
That stumps her.
"Exactly," Erik says. "And we didn't know what happened to you. And not knowing is scary, isn't it?"
Erik shrugs his locks over his shoulder and Shuri inches closer towards T'Challa. He reaches down for his little sister's hand and she takes it immediately, shuffling closer into his side.
"The next time you wanna go somewhere, you tell somebody so someone can come with you, okay?" Erik says.
Shuri looks down at her sandaled feet and the cool white floor beneath them.
As they walk back to the Golden City, Shuri squeezes T'Challa's fingers a couple of times. Without a word, he easily sweeps his little sister up into his arms and sits her squarely on her hip. She lays her head on his shoulder, arms wrapped around his neck.
The days are getting cooler, but the summer heat is baked into the earth. It's not too dark yet, but T'Challa knows that it won't be long before shopkeepers begin shutting up their wares and closing their stands.
"Are you mad at me, too, Challa?"
He cuts his eyes down at his sister, who is stalwartly looking away from him.
"No, Shuri," he says. "I'm not mad."
"Erik sounds like mama when he's mad," Shuri mumbles. "But when you get mad, you don't say anything. You get quiet. Erik was mad at me and I didn't want you to be mad at me, too."
He gives his little sister a light squeeze as they walk. Erik is a couple of paces ahead of them, and speeds up just a little bit to give them some privacy.
"We aren't mad, Shuri, we were just scared," he replies. "Sometimes, when you wake up from a bad dream and you don't know where mama or baba are, you get scared don't you?"
Shuri nods against his neck.
"It's like that," T'Challa continues. "We didn't know where you were so we were worried. And we're happy now that we found you, but you can't just wander off like that anymore, understand?"
She nods again and huddles closer to him.
When they get back to the palace, Ramonda and T'Chaka sweep Shuri out of T'Challa's arms to dress her down privately. Erik elbows him in his side.
"She's gonna give you a run for your money when you try to take the throne," he says.
T'Challa purses his lips.
"Somehow," he says, "I doubt the throne is what she'll want when she's older."
At six, one of her Dora guard let her practice with her spear. Shuri promptly steals the thing and tries to run to the labs with it. Her Dora guard keeps up, and reports Princess Shuri's proposed developments of making the spears 'go whoosh' with kinetic energy absorbed from combat back to King T'Chaka.
At seven, Shuri manages to steal a handful of soil and a sterile heart shaped herb from Baast's Cove. She cuts the herb into fine pieces that she puts under her microscope and tries to grow other plants and flowers with the stolen soil. She manages to grow an entire strawberry bush on her first try. T'Challa does not ask how because he would rather avoid the headache.
At eight, Shuri starts using her Legos to build terribly intricate looking air ships. She explains that she's modifying the dragon flyers at a smaller scale because they're currently too top heavy. She can also make them fly. Because someone gave her access (and permission) to motorize her Legos.
Erik shrugs it all off.
"Kids are weird," he says. "She's just curious," he says. "That's probably normal development for her age," is his favorite excuse.
T'Challa can't tell if Erik isn't listening to him to tease him, or if he genuinely does not see that Shuri is way too intellectually advanced for a child of her age. Even in Wakanda. He thinks Erik's just being biased because he's a part time genius himself.
"I am a genius," Erik says to that. "And you're overreacting."
T'Challa doesn't think so.
His cousin changes his tune when Shuri is ten and asks if she can show him a trick.
"But I need your kimoyo beads," she says.
Erik obligingly takes the bracelet off of his right wrist and hands it to his little cousin. Shuri pulls out a kimoyo card from her pocket. With one hand on the PDA and the other on the beads, she types something frantically. Then, she crouches onto the floor and scatters Erik's beads on the floor.
"Was that the trick?" Erik asks, raising a brow.
Shuri looks up at him with a facial expression that belongs more on Ramonda than it does on her. T'Challa tries to hide a laugh in a cough, but Shuri stares him down, too.
"No, genius," she says. "Be patient. You're a priest, you should be good at that much."
Erik lets out a low whistle.
"Your attitude's getting about as big as ya forehead."
Shuri sticks her tongue out at him and focuses back on her PDA. T'Challa will probably never understand how easy Shuri finds it to ignore Erik's insults; when he and T'Challa were younger, T'Challa always felt terrible when Erik was mean to him.
With a broad swipe of her finger, Shuri looks away from her kimoyo card back at the beads that are on the floor. Slowly, and then all at once, they roll together and stack on top of themselves, until there is a standing stick-man made of kimoyo beads, with the prime bead glowing blue at the head.
"Kimoyo man," Shuri says, a wide grin on her little face. "Who do you belong to?"
The little man turns around in a circle until it's staring up at Shuri.
"Erik Stevens," it replies. "N'Jadaka son of N'Jobu, son of Azzuri."
Kimoyo beads do not talk.
"Kimoyo man, what is his blood type?"
T'Challa looks at Erik, who is staring down at the standing beads which blithely rattle off his medical history with Shuri's prompting. Which is something that kimoyo beads aren't really supposed to do.
In the hands of a physician, kimoyo beads could provide ready information about one's medical history. Generally speaking, people who were not doctors or physicians did not look into one's prime bead. Parents did for their children when they were still young; T'Challa knows that his mother regularly checks his beads (and Erik's, and Shuri's, and his father's) herself between actual check ups with the family doctor.
But the beads aren't supposed to readily give out information to people who weren't authorized to view it. Which meant that Shuri somehow - hacked the bracelet. And made it talk. Somehow.
"Kimoyo man, when was the last time Erik brushed his teeth?"
"Last night," the Kimoyo man replies.
With that, Shuri swipes her PDA again and the beads tumble down into a bracelet again. She scoops it up in her hand and promptly gives it back to her cousin.
"Next time you want to talk about my forehead, make sure you brush your teeth first, yuck mouth!"
She sticks her tongue out at him, then skips down the hall as if she hasn't just done what should be impossible.
T'Challa folds his arms across his chest as Erik looks from his bracelet to the shrinking form of Shuri down the hall and around a corner. He sucks his teeth when he looks back at T'Challa, then rolls his eyes.
"Don't say it -,"
"I told you so!"