He doesn't understand the language.
That is the main problem in this situation, because otherwise Steve would willingly play along, but the most that he can do as the children cluster around him, blinking up and speaking to him in words that he can't even hope to translate, is smile down and offer a little hand wave in greeting.
They have been eyeing him since he stepped outside to get some sun half an hour ago, a few of the braver ones risking positions of varying degrees closer to him, until they had apparently determined that he was not a threat. Now they surround him, murmuring to one another and talking at him in turn, all of their gazes focused upwards.
He is at a bit of a loss for what to do.
They are the children of the palace staff - T'Challa had informed them of this the other evening when Clint had asked, the man staring out the window and looking dreadfully homesick as he watched the little ones play in the lush green courtyard. They are watched over by a few caretakers as their parents work, and often play around the palace with their friends until it is time for their families to collect them for the evening meal.
Until today, Steve had only ever glimpsed them through the window, or heard their laughter echoing up to the balcony from far below.
This is the only time he has been close enough for them to see him as well.
Steve has not truly set foot outside of the palace since they all took shelter here. He's crossed the courtyard a few times, moving from his quarters to the medical wing to check on Bucky, but he hasn't really spent time outside until just this afternoon.
He had expected to be alone when he went to try and relax for a while in the beautiful gardens of the courtyard.
He hadn't expected an audience.
A little boy who can't be more than five gives a light tap to the back of his hand and asks him something that he can't understand. Steve can only offer an apologetic smile in reply.
He isn't entirely sure what they want him to do.
At least, not until a little girl with big, dark eyes tugs at his pant leg and lifts her arms to him when he glances down at her in question.
And despite the language barrier, even Steve can recognize the universal symbol for "up!"
He obliges, carefully lifting the child into his hold, and is surprised when he feels her tiny hands latch onto his hair.
The girl murmurs something in wonder, tilting her head a little as she stares at Steve's head like she's just been handed something magical, and Steve can't help the awkward little chuckle that bubbles in his throat as a second child raises his arms to be picked up as well.
Steve carefully shifts the girl over onto his hip, leaning to help the boy scramble up into his hold, and by the time he straightens up he has two sets of hands in his hair, gently petting and tugging and twirling strands of it around tiny fingers in wonder.
The third child to lift their arms, this time accompanied by a word in Wakandan that he assumes means "up," is a little too big for Steve to easily lift without displacing the two he already holds, so Steve simply lowers himself to sit cross-legged on the ground so they can all reach him.
They are on him the second his backside hits the grass.
Steve tries to sit still as he feels them lean on his arms, his back, his shoulders, trying to reach for his face and peering into his eyes and running little fingers over the skin on his arms. He can feel them poking in curiosity at the red tint of his sunburn, and making little smiley faces in it with their fingertips when they figure out that the burnt skin will go white if they press down for a second.
But mostly they want to touch his hair.
Steve can't help but laugh as a few of the more enthusiastic ones scamper right up his back, and one of the slightly older girls perches herself on his shoulders like he's giving her a piggyback ride and threads both hands into his hair, running her fingers through it over and over.
They talk to one another, their voices fast with excitement and awed with curiosity as they point at him and stare in turn, and Steve just returns every question-sounding jumble of foreign words directed at him with a little smile and a nod.
He has apparently done something right, because the children all seem thrilled to examine him up close and climb on him.
He looks up in surprise to find King T'Challa himself walking toward him, dressed in formal court attire and looking regal as ever despite the amused crinkle at the corners of his eyes.
"Your Majesty," he greets, bowing his head a little - enough to be respectful but not enough to overbalance the small child sitting at the back of his neck.
"I see that you've fallen prey to the little ones," the man observes with a smile.
"I feel a bit like a rabbit at a petting zoo," Steve admits to T'Challa as the warrior king strolls over, sweeping one of the children into his arms when the little boy runs over and raises his arms to be picked up. "They seem to like my hair."
"It is an unusual color," T'Challa shrugs, turning to give a little smile to the boy he holds. "They have not seen many outsiders. Certainly not many that would ever allow them to touch. It is nice that you humor them so."
Steve gives a little shrug, wincing a bit as one of the smaller girls tugs a tad too enthusiastically at the blond strands.
"Kids are curious, no matter what culture. No harm in humoring them."
T'Challa steps close, setting the little boy down before moving to offer his hand to whichever child is sitting on Steve's shoulders and reaching out for him. He plucks the little girl from Steve's back, and the soldier takes the opportunity to straighten up and stretch, sending a few of the children scampering away in a fit of giggles, like it is some game.
"I can't really understand anything they're saying," he admits, glancing after the laughing children.
"I suspect not. You have only been here a short while, after all."
Steve grunts out a chuckle as one of the little boys leaps up onto his back, grabbing for his shoulders before slipping back down to the grass.
"Would you like me to rescue you from them?" T'Challa asks, a grin tugging at the corner of his mouth as he watches one of the smaller boys trying fruitlessly to climb up Steve's arm until the super soldier scoops a hand under him and lifts him up.
Steve offers a little shrug in reply, shifting to better balance the children who are hanging from him.
"I'll be all right here for a bit. Thank you, though."
T'Challa lowers the girl back onto Steve's shoulders with a smile, keeping one hand on the small of her back until he is sure that she is balanced.
"If you get tired," he tells Steve softly, "tell them 'kufuneka ndihambe' and they will let you leave."
Steve nods his thanks, shooting the king a little smile as he repeats the words to himself.
"I fear I must go, as I am expected. It has been pleasant speaking with you, Captain," T'Challa says with a smile, turning to head for the palace. "I will leave you to your young fans."
And if the king decides to sneak a gentle little stroke over the silky blonde strands of his hair before he moves away, Steve doesn't bother to mention anything.
Author's Note: Inspired by a number of YouTube videos from tourists, cross posted from the kinkmeme.