Wakanda had coffee shops.
It shouldn't surprise Steve - the developing African kingdom was set in a region highly conducive for growth of coffee plantations, and despite whatever picture Tony Stark painted of ‘third world countries’, they weren't living in the Stone Age.
He didn't know why he was surprised, but he was.
It didn't stop him from visiting the quaint little place nestled behind a crowded and loud marketplace where stalls littered both sides of the street and vendors hollered in their native tongue, advertising their product, in some misguided notion that the louder their shouts, the more customers they attract. He stood out among the crowd of beautifully colourful people - men with greying hair wearing light coloured garments that looked like Greek togas, or women with their heads covered in variegated bandanas, fanning at themselves with rolled up newspapers for some desperate release from the oppressive heat. Young girls with multicolored ribbons braided into their long hair and wrapped around their wrists gave him shy looks from under their lashes. The attention would have brought a smile to his lips, but even this colourful world, thriving with boisterous life, felt bleak to him.
When everyone else had openly and conspicuously stared at him, the old lady with the frizzy grey hair clinging to her temples and the crooked tobacco-stained teeth had given him a kind smile and sat him down on one of the chairs that did not sport a massive hole in the centre and attempted to take his coffee order in broken English. It was this aroma, the bitterly fresh scent of grounded coffee beans mixed with the heady aroma of freshly brewed coffee was what pulled him towards the thatched hay roof and the mud walls, away from the hustle and bustle of the bazaar .
The coffee was strong, and a little too watery, with barely any sugar, but he didn't mind - it reminded him of the home he had lost when he crashed the Valkyrie into the Atlantic, of his childhood when even clean drinking water was a novelty. He sipped it a little, and the scalding hot liquid only felt worse in the beating heat of the equatorial region, so he chose to simply sit there in his holey wicker chair. He'd borrowed a tiny charcoal pencil from the lady the first day, and sketched out some lines that only barely started to form a coherent picture of the Wakandan landscape with the towering black panther on a piece of tissue that had once been white but had turned a dirty yellow in the heat and humidity. When he came back the next day, the same table had an old chipped coffee mug holding more pencils, newer ones, and his drawing from the previous day still intact placed in front of his seat. He had shyly smiled at the lady and started spending more and more time in the place with every passing day.
The last few days had taken their toll on him. Sitting in a woven wicker chair under the slanting sun rays, he stared off blankly into the distance. Disjointed from reality, he felt frozen in time - and he had some experience in that department already. He barely looked up when the old lady running the shop replaced the still full and now cold cup of coffee in front of him. His drawing lay incomplete in front of him. He seemed to have lost his drive for art. Given the amount he'd lost in the last few days, it should've been a drop in the ocean, but it still stung badly.
Thinking about putting his best friend back under ice made his chest contract in pain and reminded him of those days before the serum when breathing was still painful. He'd just got his friend, his brother , back, only to lose him again. The Avengers no longer existed - his one home in this new era had been destroyed. Ripped apart from the inside, like a civil war. His friends - Sam, Clint, Wanda, even Scott Lang - were deemed criminals, and it was only King T’Challa’s graciousness that kept them safe in his kingdom. For now, at least.
And then there were those he had lost forever.
Tony, who would probably never forgive him for defending the man who killed his parents.
Pushing down the rising agony in his chest, he sighed, staring at the setting sun for a few more moments before he would have to go back to his residence in the royal palace. The glowing red orb hung low in the sky, slowly sinking to hide behind the high rising hills in the distance.
He caught movement to his side from the corner of his eyes - blonde hair, lithe figure, settling down on the chair next to him. He didn't have to look up to know who it was.
“You know, I'd thought I'd seen some pretty wild and unimaginable things, but Captain America organising a prison break and single handedly breaking out four people from the world's most secure holding facility takes the cake.” Her voice has her usual flirting undertone, but he can sense a hint of… nervousness? Fear?
He turned to face her, and was slightly blown away by how beautifully the blonde curls framed her face, making her features seem deceivingly delicate and her green eyes shine. “What are you doing here?” He found himself saying, a little sharply and curtly, and immediately felt guilty. “I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that-”
“Steve,” she softly cut him off. “I know what you mean. Apparently, His Highness’ generosity knows no bounds. I had to get Laura and the kids across safely, and King T’Challa offered me refuge too.” A small smirk tugged at her lips. “Even though I betrayed him and tased him with the Widow’s bite.”
He smiled at that. Steve had met many great people in his lifetime, and T’Challa was truly one of the greatest. He looked away from her, down at his abandoned artwork, suddenly feeling shy - which was ridiculous, because this was Natasha .
“How are you holding up?” He asked.
She quirked an eyebrow and shrugged casually. “You know me. Nothing gets through my thick skin.”
“Had to go blonde. The red attracts too much attention and I'm so over the dark shades.”
“I noticed that,” he said, leaning back slightly in order to look at her better. There was something worrying her, he could see that. “You know I can see through you. How are you really doing, Nat?”
Her face fell, the smile and the humour giving way to seriousness. “I should be asking you that. They told me about Barnes -”
“I’m fine,” he cut her off, turning away from her. She studied his face, the sharp angle of his cheekbone, the line of his nose, the orange highlights in his hair from the sun rays as he obstinately stared off into the horizon. His eyes were hard, his jaw clenched.
She started to reach for him, the desperate urge to hold him and comfort him and protect him from the evils of the world almost unbearable. But she restrained herself. A lot had changed in the last few days since she had last held him in an effort to alleviate the pain of the loss of a loved one. So she pulled her hand back and clutched the edge of the table with it, looking down at the criss-cross pattern of the wood and the faded round stain marks from the innumerable cups of hot beverage.
Swallowing down the sudden knot in her throat, she whispered, “I’m sorry.”
He didn’t look at her, but his jaw tightened. “Bucky made his choice-”
“No, I mean I'm sorry for everything.”
He looked at her in surprise. “Nat, what are you-”
“The Accords, the fight, your arrest - I'm sorry for everything.”
“It's not your fault.”
“I hurt you, Steve!” When she finally looked at him again, her eyes reflected all her repressed guilt and shame that he could hear in her voice. “When I sided with Stark, I saw your face. I hurt you. I should've been by your side, I should've trusted your judgement -”
“I'll get it if you hate me, if you want nothing to do with me. I deserve that and-”
“Natasha!” He cut her off, leaning forward and covering her clenched fist with his own large palm. She stopped and stared at his slightly tanned fingers on top of her pale ones. “You did what you thought was best, and I will never begrudge you that.”
With his other hand on her chin, he delicately tipped her head up to get her to look at him. “I know you see yourself as this monster - someone who doesn't deserve friendship or love, but you're not. You're Natasha. My Natasha. You deserve all the good things. And I could never, ever hate you. Do you understand?”
She nodded, eyes glazed. He let go of her and leaned back, and the spell between them broke. She took a sharp breath to get hold of her emotions, and just like that, she was normal again.
“I did save your ass in the end,” she said teasingly, smiling at him, and he was glad to see his Natasha back.
“You did,” he agreed, nodding, a grin of his own on his face. “I should be the one apologising for that.”
She crinkled her eyebrows and tilted her head in confusion.
“You're a fugitive because of me. Again.”
“If I'm not allowed to blame myself, then you're not allowed to either,” she said as she rested her elbows on the table top, the rough surface scraping her a little, and interlinked her fingers underneath her chin. “And you did say I did what I thought was best.”
He opened his mouth to say something, but she beat him to it. “Besides, it's nothing we haven't done before. We've been fugitives together before, we can do it again. Together .”
He looked like he wanted to argue, but he didn't. “Fugitives together?”
When she reached across the table and gripped his hand and squeezed it in reassurance, he turned his palm up and twined their fingers together, squeezing them back. He smiled at her - for the first time in days, he really, truly smiled , and her eyes softened and she smiled back at him.
The old lady interrupted them then to take Natasha's order, and they pulled away from each other. While Natasha explained her order in the lady’s own tongue, he turned back to the landscape, to the glowing ball of red as it sank down behind the scenic hills.
The sunset looked a little less bleak to him now.