Her hands were bandaged. The burns weren't too bad, but they needed to stay covered and dry for a few days.
Which meant Natasha couldn't wash her hair.
Normally she would have just caught a cab to a little salon a few blocks over, but S.H.I.E.L.D. was on lockdown, and it's not like Fury keeps a stylist on staff. So between her sore, bandaged hands and her dirty hair and her general feeling of dissatisfaction with being stuck in HQ and a million other things, Natasha was pretty much a mess.
Unfortunately, Clint happened to barge into her quarters right when she was sitting in the middle of her living room, crying.
He froze with his hand on the doorknob, and Natasha desperately tried to wipe away her tears with her forearms, which probably just served to make her look even more ridiculous.
She never, ever cried in front of other people. Hell, she rarely cried when she was totally alone. And she really, really didn't want to cry in front of her partner. Tears meant weakness, and she was not weak.
Instead of turning around and leaving, like an intelligent man should have done, Clint closed the door behind himself, dropping his spare key on the table. And then he knelt in front of her on the rug and pulled her into his arms.
She wanted to resist, really. She wanted to pull away and tell him to get out so she could pull her shit together alone and in peace. But he wrapped his arms around her, and she pressed her face against his t-shirt and cried.
Clint stroked her hair and rubbed her back and whispered soothing nonsense until she caught her breath and looked up at him. "You okay, Nat?" he asked softly. "Bad day?"
It was a relief, she was surprised to find, to break down in front of him. There was nothing but compassion and affection in his eyes, no reproach or disappointment at seeing her crying on the floor like a child.
"Yeah," she replied, sniffling. "It's... stupid. I can't wash my hair and... well, that was the tipping point, I guess."
She expected him to laugh, but he just stroked her hair. "Want me to wash it for you?" he said.
Her eyebrow came up pretty much involuntarily. "You want to wash my hair?"
He grinned. "Jeez, Natasha, you make it sound like I'm a serial killer," he said. "I swear, I'm not being creepy."
"Why do you want to wash my hair, then?"
"You're unhappy, and your hair is dirty," he replied. "I would rather have you happy with clean hair. Come on."
She let him help her to her feet, following him into the bathroom with more than a little bit of trepidation. He opened the shower curtain and gave the tub a calculating look. "Maybe if you sit here, you could lean back over the tub," he said. "Then I can rinse your hair without getting the rest of you wet."
Crossing her arms over her chest, Natasha leaned against the sink, still trying to wrap her brain around the fact that S.H.I.E.L.D.'s master sniper was warming up the water in her shower and sniffing her shampoo. "Are you really going to wash my hair?" she asked.
Clint gave her a look that was equal parts teasing and exasperated. "Yes," he said, drawing out the word. "The water's ready. Come on."
Natasha didn't want her shirt to get wet, but she also wasn't wearing a bra underneath it. And really, she wasn't sure if she could handle crying in front of Clint, having him wash her hair, and being topless in front of him all in one day. It just felt like too much. Turning her back to him, she gingerly tugged the t-shirt off and held it against her breasts, then cautiously approached him.
"Tasha," he said patiently. "I'm not going to bite. C'mere."
He patted the tile beside where he was kneeling, an enticing grin on his face, and that broke the tension that was holding Natasha back. "Oh, fine," she said, dropping to sit cross-legged beside him, keeping her shirt tight against her chest.
He'd moved the shower head down into the tub when he turned the water on, and when she had tipped her head back, he carefully tugged a few locks of hair free that were caught between her back and the bathtub. The water was perfectly warm, and she closed her eyes as it soaked her hair.
His hands were gentle as he lathered shampoo into her hair. She had seen him kill with those hands; she knew how strong his hands were, and it made her heart beat a little faster to feel how delicately he touched her. "Sit up a little?" he said.
She did, and his fingers massaged her scalp, starting at the nape of her neck and slowly working up to the crown of her head, and it felt so good that she let out a little moan before she could stop herself.
Her eyes popped open to find him giving her a tiny smile. "Okay, lean back again," was all he said.
He rinsed the suds away and then worked conditioner into her hair, running his fingers through and carefully detangling a few knots. Natasha felt like she was going boneless under his hands; tension she didn't even know she had been carrying melted out of her shoulders and back, and she sagged against the edge of the tub, her eyes slipping shut again on a long sigh.
His fingers glided through her hair as he rinsed it again, and she hardly noticed when he turned the water off. "Tash?" he said.
She looked up at him, and he was looking at her with an expression that was almost foreign to her. It was... affectionate. Fond. He looked at her like he liked her, like he valued her as more than just a partner, and that look sent an unfamiliar surge of warmth through her, settling as a blush in her cheeks.
"Which towel do you use for your hair?" he asked, that little smile playing at his lips again.
"The blue one," she replied, clutching her shirt to her breasts again and wishing she could hide her blush.
He squeezed the water from her hair and wrapped it up in the towel, then put a warm, damp hand on her back and helped her sit up. She didn't need the help, really, but it felt kind of good to let him do it.
She also let him comb her hair out and braid it, though she did tease him for knowing how to braid hair. "It just seems like an odd skill for a master assassin to have," she said, watching him in the mirror.
"I grew up in foster homes," he said, concentrating on her hair. "There was a girl that was a few years younger than me in one. She had really long hair, and our foster mother was... well, not a very good foster mother, so I helped her braid her hair so it wouldn't tangle."
Natasha's breath caught in her throat; it was the first time Clint had ever spoken of his past. She had stolen bits and pieces from just being around him--he was rather acrobatic, he had a brother that he never talked about, he was orphaned at an early age--but he had never opened up to her before. She felt honored by those words and that he would trust her with such delicate knowledge.
Reaching for an elastic on the counter, he finished off the braid and gave her a grin in the mirror. "Better?" he asked.
She turned around to face him, standing perilously close in the small bathroom. "Thank you," she said softly, lifting herself up on her toes to kiss his cheek.
There was a perfect look of surprise on his face, and Natasha fought the urge to smile. "Any time," he replied, leaning down and pressing a kiss to her lips.
Her breath caught again, and she very nearly dropped her shirt in shock. But he pulled away before she could really react to the kiss, a little smirk at the corner of his mouth. "Need help with anything else?" he said.
She bit her lip.