Steve Rogers learned to cut hair from his mother, as a child in the kitchen of their Brooklyn apartment, but he never learned to cut his own.
He went to barbershops occasionally, as a treat when his family could afford treats or more often in preparation for some particularly special event, but the vast majority of haircuts Steve received prior to joining the army were delivered in that same kitchen, first by his mother and later, as he grew up and her health declined until finally the TB claimed her, by his lifelong best friend, Bucky Barnes. Bucky learned the technique from Steve's mother too, right alongside him, and as boys they would practice on each other with Mrs. Rogers on hand to advise and to salvage their more egregious mistakes. When Steve and Bucky got older it became just another part of their routine: once or twice a month, usually on a Sunday afternoon, they'd take their turns, one man sitting quietly on a wooden chair in the middle of the kitchen with a hand towel around his neck while the other moved around him, snipping practiced and precise.
Then came the SSR, and army barbers, and then the USO, and more barbers who pampered Steve with hot towels and aftershave, oils and pomades, that made him long for nothing so much as a chair, a towel, and a rainy Sunday afternoon with Bucky. Next there was Krausberg, and the Howling Commandos, and a camp chair in a tent that was not the same as his mother's kitchen but was nearly as good because it was Bucky, again, with the scissors, or Bucky with the towel across his shoulders.
And then there was the train, and the ice, and the 21st century. SHIELD took care of him those first few weeks, gave him a shaving kit of the kind he was used to, which he understood was something of a novelty now, and sent along someone to cut his hair on one of the visits they paid him, agents in bland suits carrying bland manila folders full of words and pictures that swam before his eyes as he struggled to absorb them all, catching him up on seventy lost years of history. The house call felt, in that context, like a parody of intimacy, another scene in the play they'd started in that plywood recovery room, that Steve wasn't certain they had yet finished staging.
After that came the whirlwind of the Avengers, gods and monsters and an old ally's son, and Steve had more pressing things to worry about. Even once he was left to his own devices, grooming tasks beyond shaving, bathing, and dental hygiene fell pretty low on his list of priorities, until the day he felt something tickling the back of his neck and shivered as if brushed by the hand of a ghost before realizing that tickle was caused by his own overgrown hair. He weighed his options, thought about going to into one of the familiar-looking barbershops that still cropped up here and there, although they seemed largely to have been crowded out by brighter, brasher salons full of colorful plastic bottles and machines that looked like something out of Schmidt and Zola's laboratories, or asking someone at SHIELD to arrange another visit from the woman they'd sent before, maybe even asking whomever did it to set him up with a more current style, but somehow he just couldn't bring himself to actually go through with it.
In any case, Steve was already well aware of the unruly state of his hair on the day that he accepted Stark Jr.'s invitation to return to his tower as a—guest? Tenant? Housemate? Steve wasn't entirely sure he'd correctly deciphered Stark's proposed arrangement and even less sure how he felt about it, but where else was he supposed to go now that he'd accomplished what he set out to, making the apologies and farewells that he wasn't there to deliver in person, on time, as well as he was able? Every old haunt was exactly that, haunted by memories bad or too bittersweet to swallow dry, if it was even still there at all, and if he was going to go on defending this new world so uncannily familiar, he might as well do it with people he trusted at his side. Even if those trustworthy people were, as Steve had somehow nearly managed to forget, kind of obnoxious.
“Rogers, wow. Interesting look you've got going there. This means you're up to, what, 1962 in terms of catching up with the 20th century? Should I warn you about the Kennedy assassination, or would you rather that come as a surprise? Or is the Bieber-Beatle-bopper mop some sort of ploy to attract more fans from the teen girl demographic, because I really don't think you need any help on that score.”
“It's good to see you too, Tony,” Steve answered as he set down his suitcase in the lobby of the tower's residential section.
Stark did seem genuinely pleased to have Steve in his home, and not just for the chance to show it off, but he would not lay off ribbing him, however warmly, about his shaggy hair. Steve was sure that he could feel the eyes of the tower's other superheroic new residents on him as well, though neither Agent Barton nor Dr. Banner said anything to him about it. Nor did Agent Romanoff, exactly, but Steve did catch her frowning over the table at him when Tony joked at dinner that Steve was growing his hair out into a lustrous mane like Thor's, and that if Captain America did it they would all have to follow suit.
He did not expect her to appear at his door with scissors and a hand towel when he was preparing for bed.
“You can call me Natasha,” she said, then snipped demonstratively at the air. “May I?”
Deeply, if nonplussedly, grateful for the offer and at a loss for what else to do, Steve let her in and sat when she indicated in the wooden folding chair she'd brought in with her, right in the middle of his room. He sighed as she laid the towel around his neck and ran her fingers through his hair experimentally, and again when the clippings began to fall.
“Thank you,” he said when she was standing in front of him, straightening his part with a comb and tidying up his sideburns. His head felt lighter and cleaner than it had in months, and not just on the outside. “Where'd you ever learn to do this?”
Natasha smiled and brushed a few stray hairs from his forehead with her thumb. “I could tell you . . .”
“But then you'd have to kill me?” Steve grinned back, pleased with his steadily improving grasp of contemporary pop culture and idioms.
Her smile slipped a few degrees as she lifted the towel from Steve's shoulders, her face suddenly tinged with sadness. “Something like that.”
She folded the towel around the scissors and left without another word, leaving the chair where it was with Steve sitting in it, rubbing gently at the soft, short hairs tapering out at the nape of his neck, just right and just like he remembered, and reflecting that she hadn't once paused to ask for directions.