Met him on a Thursday
Sunny afternoon, cumulus clouds, eighty-four degrees [...]
Said he wanted to talk about my mission
Listen to my past lives
Took me on long walks to places where butterflies rest easy
Talked about Moses and Mumia
Reparations, blue colors, memories of shell-top Adidas
He was fresh
Like summer peaches
Sweet on my mind like block parties and penny candy
Us was nice and warm
No jacket, no umbrella, just warm...
-"Love Rain" by Jill Scott
There were a lot of things Steve Rogers had to adjust to after T'Challa granted him and his team members sanctuary in Wakanda. He had to learn to let go of Bucky, until such a time came where they could find a cure for his brainwashing. He had to learn to let go of the pain in his heart from the fractured friendship he'd lost with Tony. He had to learn to just be another person in the crowd, though he of course always offered help to T'Challa and the people of Wakanda whenever they needed it. He was the kind of man who wanted to stay busy, so whether it was helping put out fires in the fields or volunteering to help with construction of smaller neighborhoods, Steve was able to keep himself occupied for the most part in the beautiful city of Wakanda.
As a thank you for his services, T'Challa set him up with a place to stay. Naturally, he'd offered the top of the line apartment on his estate, but Steve humbly said no and requested something the average Wakandan would live in. T'Challa had chuckled and granted him that too, taking him to a building not far from one of the elementary schools. It was all sandstone with large windows to let the sun do its thing, and he ended up falling in love with it pretty much on sight and moving in the next day. Sam had similar tastes and got himself an apartment a few floors away. Wanda and Vision chose to stay on T'Challa's estate, as they worried their peculiar presence might still startle the people of the city after the events of Ultron's birth and subsequent destruction.
Steve settled into his new life within a month or two, but the one thing he hadn't adjusted to yet was the all-new, unfamiliar cuisine. He'd tried African food before back in New York and loved it, but without access to the familiar brands and recipes, he had no idea what to do. Naturally, he coaxed some advice out of T'Challa, who again chuckled and pointed him in the direction of the marketplace in the main part of the city.
Like nearly everywhere in Wakanda, the marketplace was stunning. It spanned a whopping eight blocks at the center of the city. The shops were set up in a grid on cobblestone and it was only accessible on foot, so he'd had to park and walk his way in after grabbing a little map by the sidewalk. He got a large hand-woven basket and made his way through at a leisurely pace. There were hundreds of kinds of fruit, vegetables, meat, spices, beverages, and other things, but the first thing that grabbed attention was the scent of freshly baked bread. He wandered up to the storefront on his right after he caught a whiff of the mana from heaven, and he must have had an amusing look on his face because the girl rolling dough behind the counter giggled as she saw him.
She was tall, perhaps 5'8'' or so, and in her late twenties. Her hair was pulled up in an adorable puff held by a purple band. She had slightly broad shoulders and long limbs. An apron hid most of her curves, but he could tell she was strong, and it made sense as she was a breadmaker. Her eyes were a rich mahogany, only a shade or two lighter than her skin, and her smile was bright as she dusted off her fingers and walked over towards him.
"Not many men can resist fresh baked bread," she said, grinning. "Would you like a sample?"
"If it's not too much trouble," he said sheepishly.
She chuckled and sliced off a piece of pita bread for him. "Here, you must try this one."
He nodded his head in thanks and bit into it. "Wow."
"Fresh makes all the difference, doesn't it?"
"Definitely. I'll take a loaf, please."
She grabbed a fresh one from the rack and wrapped it in wax paper for him, peeking over the counter at his empty basket. He paid her and she tucked the money in the register, observing him for a moment. "Is this your first time in the market?"
Steve glanced down at himself. "Is it that obvious?"
"Just a bit, Captain."
He blinked at her in surprise. She smiled, shaking her head. "A man as famous as you is heard of even here in Wakanda. I might be able to offer some help. What do you like to cook?"
Steve scratched the back of his neck, blushing a bit. "Honestly, I've been eating out for a month. I'm not sure where to start."
"No trouble. Start simple. Try things until you find something you enjoy. Do you like stew?"
She gestured towards her right. "One street down to your left, there is a wonderful shop that makes lamb stew. They also sell a recipe book with most of their best soups. That should get you started. It goes great with the pita bread."
He followed her gaze until he spotted it and nodded, smiling. "Thank you, miss...?"
She offered her hand. She had a strong grip, but her hand was still soft. "Nailah."
"Nailah," Steve echoed. "Nice to meet you."
"Same to you, Captain."
"Please," he said as he let go. "Call me Steve."
She nodded. "Steve. Stay cool out there. Tell me how the lamb turns out."
He chuckled. "You might not want to know."
She giggled. "Tell me anyway."
"Will do." He waved as he headed towards the shop she'd indicated.
The next week, he dropped by around the same time and she was right where he'd last seen her, working tirelessly on a mound of dough that was half his size. Nailah glanced up and once more he was treated to that supernova smile.
"Came back for more, have you? How was the lamb stew?"
"Delicious," he said, and then winced. "When I tried it at home? Disaster."
"Oh, you poor thing." She pulled a loaf onto the counter and sliced off a piece. "Here, maybe this will cheer you up."
He took a bite. "Mm, this is amazing."
"This is injera," Nailah said. "It's also a flatbread, but it's from Ethiopia. Very popular choice."
He gestured towards the rack. "Let's definitely give it a try."
She wrapped the loaf for him and he paid her. "So what went wrong with your lamb stew?"
"Cooked it too long. And the seasoning wasn't right."
"Your dishes--did you bring any from home or did you buy them here?"
Steve thought about it. "Some of mine are from what I was able to take with me."
Nailah nodded. "Try the housewares shop two blocks over to the left. Tell them you're trying to learn to cook soup and stew. They should be able to find you what you need for your next go-around."
Steve nodded. "Thanks. Wish me luck."
Nailah winked at him. "Good luck, Steve."
He waved and headed down the street.
Over the next couple of months, he found a rhythm and a routine to his life, and the marketplace quickly became a part of it. He struggled for another week after his second meeting with Nailah and finally had to invite Sam over to teach him a few things, as Sam was an excellent cook and had been helping him survive when he wasn't working nights. After a couple weeks, he managed to make soups and stews that were actually edible, and Sam even commented on how amazing the bread he'd been buying had been. The second he mentioned Nailah, Sam got That Look on his face that Steve absolutely hated.
"So," Sam said, attempting poorly to hid a smirk. "Nailah, huh."
Steve flicked an annoyed glance over the table at him. "Don't you start."
"Start what?" Sam said, feigning innocence. "I didn't start anything."
"You have The Look. Don't start."
Sam shrugged. "Hey, if you're seeing a Look, it's you, not me. I'm just saying I've been past her shop before and she looks like your type. Couldn't hurt to ask her out, man."
"Pretty girl like that's not going to be unattached," Steve said. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves."
"Dude," Sam said seriously. "You're a spy. And also a superhero. Do some recon. Get a feel for her. From what you've told me, sounds like she kinda likes you."
"She's just being friendly."
Sam raised his eyes to the ceiling. "Lord, why are you testing me? Why did you make this man so naive? Really, Lord? Really?"
Steve rolled his eyes. "Be more dramatic."
"I'm just sayin'," Sam said before slurping the rest of his soup and standing to take the bowl into the kitchen. "Maybe you should give it a try before she magically gets your number through mysterious circumstances."
Steve glared. "Sam, I swear--"
"Hey, I'm just tryin' to look out for a brotha." He rinsed off the bowl and spoon. "And besides, you did this to yourself. You smile every time you say her name. Don't blame it on me, Cap."
Steve grumbled mutinously under his breath and ate his soup.
"You're never late," Nailah grinned as Steve came loping up the counter on his usual morning. "I'm going to have to learn to be as punctual as you someday. What are we shopping for today?"
"Surprise me," he said, an easy smile on his lips.
"Ooh, we're feeling adventurous, are we? Great. I've been messing around with my chapati recipe and I need a guinea pig." She sliced off a piece and handed it to him. He tried it and shut his eyes for a second.
"I'm going to be three hundred pounds if I keep coming here," Steve said severely, pointing to his basket to indicate he wanted the whole loaf.
"Well, then it's a good thing you have that Super Soldier serum keeping you nice and svelte," she teased after wrapping the loaf and dropping it into his basket. He paid her, chuckling.
"Svelte. Haven't heard that one before."
"It fits," Nailah said, gesturing towards his chest. "You are aware that your chest-to-waist ratio is insane, right? There are men out there who would kill for that kind of definition."
Steve laughed, surprised. "No, I hadn't thought about it that way. Maybe I should make some fitness videos or something."
"You'd make a killing, honestly. To say nothing of the scores and scores of women who would also kill for a copy, albeit for less than honorable reasons."
Steve blushed a bit. "Oh, I've gotten offers before."
Nailah winked at him. "I bet you have. Anything else?"
Steve cleared his throat as Sam's annoying voice echoed in his ears. Sounds like she kinda likes you. "Actually, yes. Tell me something you enjoy cooking at home. I want to try something new."
She blinked at him in surprise. "Oh. Um, certainly. I happen to like swordfish. It's a little more unique than your average fish, and it's delicious grilled. Might be something you'd enjoy too."
"Swordfish," Steve said, nodding. "I'll add it to the cooking list. Thanks, Nailah."
"Bye, Steve. See you next week." She smiled, waved, and headed back towards her prep table. Steve watched her go this time, sure that for just a second, she'd seemed as if she were blushing.
"Did you see a ring?"
"Sam, I swear to God."
"Because I didn't see a ring."
"Which means if you don't ask her out next week, I'm going to start calling you Captain Chicken in front of everyone we know and I won't stop until you ask her out."
"Why do I even hang out with you?"
"Good question, Captain Chicken. I wish I knew."
"Welcome back," Nailah said, those dark eyes sparkling in the warm sunlight as he walked over. "What are we shopping for this week?"
"Something to go with swordfish," Steve said, smiling and praying his face didn't convey how nervous he actually felt. He shouldn't have been, not by now, since he'd seen her every week for nearly three months.
"Excellent. I've got two recommendations. The first is something to go with the meal, whether you make it a sandwich or eat it with a side," Nailah said brightly, grabbing a bread that was crisp and similar to a baguette. "It's a little tart and has some rich herb flavors that go well with swordfish."
She let him try that one first and then unwrapped the second one, which had a heavenly glaze to it.
"The other one I've got is a honeymilk bread that could be the dessert. It's kind of messy, though, here."
She sliced a square and held it out to him. Steve flipped a coin mentally and decided no guts, no glory.
He ate the sweetbread straight from her fingers.
The look on her face was worth the risk.
Her mahogany eyes widened as she felt the soft brush of his lips over her fingertips, the slightest touch, nothing skeezy or overt, and he heard her breath catch for a second. He kept a cool expression, but didn't stray from eye contact, and it got the message across without a single word. She leaned back from the counter slightly, and there was a lazy grace to the movement as she seemed to understand what had just transpired. The sunny smile he'd gotten used to melted down into something a little more coy and subtle as she watched him from beneath her thick eyelashes.
"I'll take both," Steve said calmly once he'd finished chewing.
Nailah nodded slowly, and then still staring at him, licked the glaze left over from her fingertips before she moved to wrap the loaves for him. She finished and he paid her. She settled her arms on the counter, crossing them, her posture remarkably similar to a content, well-fed cat.
"So," she said softly. "How many times are you going to come here before you ask me out?"
"Funny you should mention that," Steve said, leaning an elbow against the counter so they were level and only a few inches apart. "Had planned on asking you out today, as a matter of fact. What are you doing later?"
She pretended to think about it. "Oh, I don't know, Steve. It's so sudden."
He chuckled. "Sorry. Maybe I should go slower."
She shook her head. "What did you have in mind?"
"We could grab something to eat and go for a walk near the river."
The smile she gave him warmed him through and through. "That sounds lovely. Let's say seven o'clock?"
Steve nodded. "On the dot."
"It's a date." She glanced down at his mouth. "Oh, you've still got a little glaze there."
Steve started to reach up towards his face, but then she gave him a sly smile that made his heart race. "Don't worry, I'll get it."
She tilted her face and kissed him. He nearly melted on the spot. It was soft and sweet and slow, and even though he could hear customers coming up behind him grousing impatiently and teenage boys making cat-calls from the booth across from them, he didn't care.
Nailah drew back first, her dark eyes glittering playfully. "There. You're good."
Steve grinned. "See you at seven."
She winked at him. "Don't be late."