Steve didn't really get what slow dancing had become. Way back after they first became the Avengers, at one of Tony’s parties, Natasha had wondered aloud why he wasn't dancing with anyone during the down-tempo songs that Pepper liked, and when he'd tried to step into it - frowning, a little uncertain of whether he wanted to - she followed up his formal stance but saw him noticing what everyone else was doing.
Thor had the hang of it with Jane, and was rocking her in a gradual revolution with a satisfied smile set upon her hair.
“Do you have to...turn while you…?” Steve muttered.
“You don't have to anything.”
Steve took in a reluctant sigh next to her ear, probably not wanting to fall into being the subject of the usual light mockery of his outside perspective, but she hoped he'd know this didn't seem like a moment when it was fair to make fun of him. “It just looks...very…”
“We can keep dancing like this,” she said, then sardonically offered, “I can cha cha and rumba too.”
“...Were you raised on a lot of lessons?”
It raked at her expectations. She forgot sometimes that not everyone knew the whole picture. It was only later that she'd realize he might have known what he was asking, that he'd framed it that way along the same lines as her dismissing the joke she could have made. “Lots of lessons, lots of tests,” she said, with a touch of twisting honesty she thought he didn't miss.
Natasha neglected to shut the bedroom door all the way back at the new facility. She didn't usually trudge over to the room in her mission outfit, but it had been unwisely judged as a smooth plainclothes operation and now she was up here with the dirt smudges and bruises and rips left over from a fight, feeling it was strange to drag all of it into her quarters somehow, even though it used to be like this all the time.
She'd been up for way too many hours even aside from the exhaustion of the battle and wondered just how lousy she would feel to wake up in melted make-up and this snug dress, before deciding she really needed a shower. Just as she was about to reach back for her zipper, Steve knocked on the door and was peeking in to say goodnight, or something else, and she gave a motion for him to come in.
He closed the door behind him, saying, “You still haven't washed up.” It was a touch of concern; he knew she was tight on routines.
“Hey,” she asked, “did you take a shower?”
“I just toweled down.” He looked a little roughed up too.
“Take one with me?” she urged, finally unsnagging the zipper just as he'd started moving to help her with it.
His mouth moved in only fractional puzzlement. “Okay.”
Her eyelids were tugging. She needed to find a joke before she said something a little too tired. “Hey, Rogers,” she said when she'd started pulling the dress down, “just for you,” and indicated her new emerald satin bra with her thumbs going under the straps, biting her lip in a short-lived grin.
The other day he'd lingered over how the color looked against the tones of her and then, making her smile with the conversational aside, marveled, “They don't really make enough of these in green, do they,” to which she’d said, “I know, right?” just as he was starting to initiate something against the wall of the locked laundry room and running his own hand carefully under the green.
He scoffed and blushed, but it wasn't so much the innocent embarrassment as the blush of being presented with a lavish gift, even when he knew she was joking. Though even if it was a joke...she had also liked the black. It was nice to have a pal who helped you narrow these things down. In more of a laughing mood the thought would have made her stifle a snigger, but right now it made her consider him bringing over her bathrobe, like a date holding out her coat, with only a tiny thrill of feeling almost uncomfortably lucky.
She could feel him wanting to check the hallway as she tied into the robe, and he finally did when she nudged at him with her foot.
They were easily in agreement that they should keep it to themselves that they were sleeping together (sometimes) and she could picture Clint rolling his eyes if it weren't so atypical for her, but really, it wasn't some coy crap about not wanting to be open with others so they didn't have to be sincere with each other. Steve was honest as a blue sky, and his willingness to do this made very little sense to her, but she knew he wouldn't treat the inevitable grey areas beyond casual as a baffling side effect, or clamp down on some definition that was more about what they weren't to each other, or blame her for not getting to either place first. He'd gone from learning from her to appreciating her, constantly rewarding the simple chance to touch her with an amount of giving she felt mentally unseated by, because it was no seduction or instruction on her end. She was learning from him too, but she didn't think she was as good at saying thanks.
It was only the little things she could do. Letting him into her spaces, when she would usually be content in her private unwound reality.
The shower was one of those big clear cubes where the water rained down widely, with a dark bronze glow about it that evoked the aftershave advertisement constantly replaying in some part of Tony Stark’s brain; others seemed to like it, but the wide space of it made her feel watched. Steve got in after her after she'd run a rinsing brush of water over her head, and finally quietly asked, “Was that kid okay?”
She took a moment, mucking her make-up to make sure it came off in the rinse. He stood behind her, non-sensual, companionable, turning the second spigot on. She said, “He was really shaken up. But he'll be fine.”
What he heard was, He'll be fine, but he was really shaken up. “It's good that you waited for the ambulance with him.”
“I'm not great with kids,” she said.
“What? You make them laugh.” He took the shampoo bottle she'd picked up and let a good amount into his palm and started lathering her hair. With a half-smile she turned all the way to face him, then around again so he could scrub everywhere. He was so gentle it was like she had no tangles.
“That's what I'll tell Clint if I tell him about us and he asks…” She could sense him already chuckling uncertainly, and she turned and started to return the favor by squirting some shampoo directly onto his head, then lathered it up with a rushed petting and clawing. “He's a good man to have in a shower...My personal dress unzipper. My favorite bed warmer.”
“Favorite, huh?” he seemed to say before he could stop himself. She pecked him on the mouth and directed him under the water flow, and immediately felt colder.
The exhaustion hit her again slowly, and in a moment she was floating on her feet in the wet mist until his arms came around her shoulders and gave her head a place to land.
“Did I come in here to make sure you don't drown?” he asked.
She didn't answer. She was enjoying the way her mouth split the stream of water that was glazing down his collarbone. After a moment his hand came up under her hair to massage at the back of her neck, slow absent touches.
It had started with a lesson, of all things. Steve had a date one time - she can't remember if he ever told her how it went - and through his suppressed but obvious nervousness they'd arrived back at the kiss somehow. “I wasn't really that bad, was I?”
“Oh, for God’s sake, I barely remember.” She watched him adjusting his tie in the mirror, finally shutting and setting down the hefty photography book he'd had on the chest he used as a table. “...Do you want some pointers?”
He blushed hot, knowing what she meant, and shook his head. But then later, in just the right matter-of-fact connection that they took to when they were alone at two in the morning and she'd been leisurely watching him draw something over the conversation with a drink dangling from one hand, he took her up on it.
They did it standing in front of the striped streetlight glow of the blinds over the long office window. She wasn't sure who, if anyone, even used the office, but it seemed as good a place as any for some potentially misconstrued tuitoring.
And no, he wasn't bad, but he didn't seem able to find the right space between controlling the technique and losing himself to it. Not that she was the best teacher for the latter option, but she gave him the feedback he wouldn't get anywhere else, pausing after the second or third time: “That was nicer, okay, but maybe the tongue was a little forced?”
They broke the sober character it required and laughed a couple times, her squeezing his arm - “Okay, focus, Rogers” - but then finally with his arms coming in around her waist and the pace of it bringing in something unexpected, there had been a click. Something loose, effortless. And she'd stopped and looked up just for the satisfaction of his breathless look, and then laughed again, asking, “Anything else?”
Now in the shower, in his arms, she sleepily realized he'd started swaying them back and forth. She smiled into his chest.
“Is it like this?” he muttered after a moment, as if in this lethargic sharing of calm heat he could sense her thoughts; he knew she'd remember.
I don't know, she thought. Is it?
“Sure,” she said. “Just like this.”