There's something about her skin- something different from the other women he's touched. Not that he's touched a lot of women. There was really just Betty, and he tries not to think about her anymore, for obvious reasons. Letting go is an important part of meditation, or so all the books say, and he's getting better and better at it as time goes on. Not thinking about Betty. Not thinking about women.
But there's something about the skin of Natasha Romanov's back that throws his thoughts to a place that feels a thousand years away.
He slides the wet washcloth over a cut just under her left scapula and sees her shoulders tense, drawing up as she hunches over and releases a strained breath through her teeth. Her fingers tighten on the wet porcelain sides of the tub, slipping a little as her knuckles go white. He feels a twinge of sympathy. He never could stand seeing people in pain- he's sensitive like that, one of life's cruel little ironies- but there's a bit of grit stuck in the gash that looks like asphalt, and he's not going to let that fester inside her. So instead of pulling away, like a nicer person would, he mutters, "This isn't going to feel great," and presses so that his fingernail, covered by the washcloth, digs into her flesh. She lets out a little gasp, bitten back as soon as it escapes. He pries the stone from her, fresh blood leaking out and diffusing in the bath water, and carefully lays it on the floor at his bare feet.
"That's the worst of it," Natasha grits out, twisting to look at him over her shoulder. Her hair is darker wet, and sticks to her face in strands. There's a bruise starting to form on her cheek. "Just get the ones higher up. I can't reach them on my own."
"Okay." He rinses the cloth and draws it over her back. The cuts peppered between her shoulder blades and the ones at the base of her neck can be traced back directly to the tiny holes in her top, lying discarded on the floor. The explosion hadn't been huge, but she had been just close enough to take the brunt of it with her body. They're lucky it wasn't worse. As it is, the battle has sent nearly all the other inhabitants of their little tower to SHIELD's medbay. Nothing life-threatening, of course, or they'd be there at their teamates' bedsides. Instead the world's grumpiest superheroes are under observation by strict nurses or having their broken bones re-set. Natasha had managed to hide the worst of her injuries, and he'd only known something was wrong when she'd stripped off her uniform in the elevator and practically ordered him to clean her up. I could do it on my own, she assured him. But there are some spots I can't reach.
Okay, he had said. And not really much else.
Natasha wears her skin with the confidence of someone for whom nudity no longer holds any meaning. She isn't shy or demure; neither does she flaunt herself. Her body is a tool. Asking him to clean her gun would probably be a greater display of intimacy. And her skin is not like other women's. She is carefully groomed, carefully built- only the faintest of scars mark what he knows were deep wounds, and she is so smooth that it's almost a little unsettling. If it weren't for the steady, measured breaths she lets out as he cleans a painful cut she would risk falling into the uncanny valley. Her hands, which he's seen on guns and knives and scraped and damaged, which should by all rights be rough and hardened, are free from callouses and even hangnails. What happened to you, he wants to ask, but he wouldn't get an answer so he doesn't bother.
Instead his lips move without his consent, and he says, "Are you afraid of me?"
His hands still as she turns to look at him. The washcloth falls into the murky water with a splash, and he reaches out and pushes a sodden strand of hair behind her ear without thinking. She watches him appraisingly and he shifts his weight, crouched on the damp tile floor beside the bathtub, suddenly uncomfortable.
"Yes." She says. It's flat, and short, and utterly honest. He flinches. Natasha jerks her head to the side. "Move over, sit where I can see you without having to twist around."
He stands awkwardly, moves two steps to his left, and sits down again. Natasha looks at him, and it's not the same as the way she looks at The Other Guy. he remember enough, through the pain of transforming, to remember the way her face contorts, with her eyes wide, her brow furrowed, her mouth open just a bit. Fear is not a good look on Natasha Romanov. But here she levels her gaze at him and just watches. Her hair is plastered dark to her neck and the bruise on her face is turning slowly purple-and-black, creeping up around her eye. There's another cut on her collarbone, smaller than those on her back, and the water of the bath stirs around the swell of her pale breasts as she leans forward.
"I'm afraid of you, but I trust you." She lifts her hand, dripping, and absurdly he almosts expects to see it holding Excalibur. Instead, she curves it around the back of his neck and pulls him forward gently. Her lips brush against his and he parts them, letting her slip inside and exhale. She is soft, and sweet, and that is her greatest weapon and her greatest weakness.
His shirt is getting wet where their chests meet and she drags herself away, water-wrinkled fingers still tangled in the dark curls of his hair. "Is that going to be a problem?" She asks. He shakes his head. "Could you get me a towel?"
He stands and moves to the rack on the wall, pulling off a towel as he hears the water sloshing. When he looks back she's stepping out of the tub gingerly, goosbumps prickling in the cold air. She wraps the towel around her when he hands it over and limps out of the bathroom with him on her heels. The first aid kit is already lying on the bed and as he fishes in it for antiseptic ointment and Band-Aids she wraps an arm around him from behind and kisses the back of his neck.
He cleans her wounds and lets her pull him down. She lies next to him, nude, and pillows her head on his chest. She rises and falls with each breath he takes.
Natasha isn't anything like any woman Bruce has ever known. New York City murmurs around them as they fall asleep together.