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Hair Apparent

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They found Bucky on a Thursday, and due to the somewhat explosive nature of their efforts to retrieve him, combined with the destruction of a Hydra arm in a Roxxon Energy facility, Natasha heard about it by Thursday night. She didn't arrive at the new place Sam and Steve were sharing in Stark Tower until Saturday, but to be fair to her, it takes some time to get from Johannesburg to New York, no matter how you travel.

Sam and Steve were at a dining table in the kitchen, looking bruised and exhausted. James Barnes sat between them, looking like both of them put together, staring into the middle distance while they tried coaxing him to eat. When she walked in, however, his eyes immediately focused on her movement, and when they found her face, he scrambled up out of his chair and backwards.

She held up her hands, fingers spread. "Easy. Not here to kill anyone."

"Jesus, Natasha, you can't text first?" Steve asked wearily. He got up and went to Barnes, taking his hand when Barnes fumbled for it. Natasha watched, holding very still, as Steve spoke low and coaxing until the wild roll of fear and leashed-up violence left Barnes' eyes.

He looked terrible -- days' worth of stubble, dark rings of exhaustion around his eyes and purple-green bruises on his neck and jaw, hair that had clearly been tugged back into a stringy ponytail while it was still wet. It was the hair that really got to her.
She put her hands on her hips and spoke in Russian. "Leave these two. Come with me."

"Why?" he asked suspiciously.

Her hand crept down over the spot where the bullet scar rested under her clothes. "Because you owe me."

"Natasha," Steve said warningly.

"It's all right, Steve, I know what I'm doing," she said, tilting her head at Barnes. He nodded slowly, resignation in his eyes, and she turned to lead him out of the room.

"What're we supposed to do?" Steve called after her.

"Resolve your lingering sexual tension," she called back, and heard Sam choke with laughter.

Barnes followed obediently, guilt clear in his face, fading to resignation as she led him into the bathroom. He climbed into the bathtub and knelt, head bowed, waiting for execution.

"What turned you into such a lamb so suddenly?" she asked.

"Fella has to pay his debts," he replied.

"Not like this. Besides, Steve would be annoyed," she replied, and turned on the tap. "Duck under. Were you forbidden to use a comb?"

He looked blankly at her.

"Your hair is a horror. Do terrorists consider split ends manly?" she asked, tugging the elastic out of his ponytail. He shook his head, still obviously baffled. She sat on the lip of the tub. "Duck under. You need a wash and a deep condition. You'd think Hydra, of anyone, would know about hot oil treatments."

He blinked at her, and despite the broken look in his eyes and the guilt and pain in his face, he let out a hoarse bark of laughter.

"You let me think you were gonna shoot me, drag me in here to wash my hair?" he asked.

"Well, Steve has a strange attachment to you," she said, forcing him under the running water. He sputtered, but as soon as her hand gripped his scalp, he went lax. "That's better. Honestly. That limp little ponytail wouldn't hide a pocket knife. By the time I'm done, you'll have enough body to hide a grenade in there."

"You're crazy," he said.

She smiled. "You'll find in our line of work, a little crazy goes a long way," she said, and dumped half a bottle of conditioner into his hair.