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Aftermath

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He calls Sam’s mother and hates himself for feeling relieved when nobody picks up.

He hates himself even more for thinking that Sam was one of the lucky ones.

Shuri, sixteen with the world on her shoulders, greets him with a somewhat vacant stare. He says her name and she comes back down to Earth. They need to perform another ceremony, choose a new ruler, the nation needs a leader they can trust, and there must be something she can make to turn the tide of war, something she didn’t think of before, a piece of programming or armor or a new weapon-

Mourning is even worse the second time around, he says, and she looks for a split second to the table still overflowing with plans for improved prosthetics. Her eyes are a bit softer, trusting, filling with tears as she nods furiously in an attempt to will them away. We don’t have time for tears, she says wetly, and yet still they come he replies.

He stretches one arm out and has a chestful of sobbing child and it’s a terrible burden and a heartening comfort in one. It’s a unique kind of misery they share, and as he wraps his arms around her he wonders if this was how Bucky felt when he was small. He feels like the world is a land of shadows and malice and all the good left in it resides in his arms, a bright light radiating out to beat back the demons on the periphery. He thinks he truly understands now why Bucky was so upset to hear about the grenade, the serum, the unsanctioned rescue mission. She smells like a fruity fragrance of some kind. It’s not a perfume typical of a woman, but of a young girl playing at adulthood. She shouldn’t have to design armor and treat battlefield wounds. He remembers hearing that she likes finding ways to integrate technology with clothing, and he mourns her innocence along with those lost.

He wonders how many children have died today. He wonders how many babies have been left to cry as piles of ashes lie beside cribs. Shuri has a mother still breathing, or at least she did this morning, and he can’t dream of asking. The world was still breathing.

You might not like it, but you’re going to make it through this, he says, and something like a laugh bubbles out of her throat, choked by tears and breathlessness. You’re old, she says, but not old enough to give up just yet. He opens his mouth and can’t respond, voice dying and leaving nothing but dust in its wake. He can’t remember the last time he cried, he thinks, tears beginning to cascade down his cheeks.

I want to, he says. For the first time, I want to.

Not the first, she says, but last time you gave up you defied logic and lived to see the future. Maybe we’ll get another miracle this time, she says, and he can’t help smiling despite the pain because she’s stronger than any super musclebound hero he’s ever known. He doesn’t say that the only miracle was living to see Bucky again. He doesn’t say that this feels like the death of miracles.

He does say that he’s getting tired.

Shuri pulls back, face shining with tears, and looks him in the eye. Tired, yes, she concedes, but not dead yet. Not dead yet, she repeats fiercely.

Not dead yet. Shuri is right (of course she is). He’s lived to see a flesh and blood miracle live and die and live again. Bucky was nothing if not a stubborn bastard- why else would he and Steve have stuck by each other for so long? If he and T’Challa could claw their way back to the land of the living before, who’s to say that they couldn’t defy death just one more time? Sam was a certified badass, with a spirit stronger than any man’s fists. If he and death are in a knock-down drag-out, Steve won’t bet against his friend.

Perhaps not the healthiest coping mechanism, but that doesn’t matter. Reality doesn’t matter. What does matter is that they keep going, keep fighting, and do whatever they have to do to give the universe its future back.

The world is not dead yet, and so the fight goes on.