Safe and Sound.

Disclaimer: The characters used in this fiction are the property of Marvel LLC, and are being used without their consent. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made off of this story.

A/N: Proofread but not beta read.

Maybe I'll do a sequel, maybe I won't. Until then this is a one-shot.

I have no explanation for this fic, but at least it's short.

Summary: A smile, the touch of lips, of fingers, sometimes speak louder than words spoken. A mission goes sideways, leaving Steve in doubt and Natasha doing her best to make him understand what he means to her.

Is there any way of measuring love?
Yes but not till long afterward
when the beat of your heart has gone
many miles, far into the big numbers. – Carl Sandburg: Honey and Salt.

Natasha turns the knobs of the tub, puts her hand under the flowing water and waits for it to reach the optimal temperature: hot but not scolding. She then adjusts the lever so that it goes from bath to shower.

She returns to her bedroom, and coaxes Steve out of his uniform. Layers of thick, padded, clothing fall to the the carpeted floor with muted thumps.

He says nothing; she says nothing.

Soon he is as naked as she, and Natasha is leading into the bathroom. She places a polished wooden stool into the tub, and directs him to sit on it.

He is pliant, and dazed, and does as he's told.

The blond man has not looked Natasha in the eyes once, refuses to acknowledge the split lip, the broken nose, the gash that may or may not scar. His shoulders curl into his chest, and for the first time ever he regrets having this strong body.

The redhead takes a loofah and squirts unscented body wash into it. She rubs along his back, his shoulders, his chest, his legs. The water turns colors: reddish-brown for blood, black for dirt and grime, green for some alien goop.

Steve's eyes are closed, but he knows she's in front of him. He can feel strong, gentle hands lather shampoo into his hair, massaging his scalp. He can't feel the patter of water against his skin, but he can hear it against her's.

I will shield you, she says without saying a single word. Let me shield you.

He leans against her bare stomach, and feels the corded muscles under his cheek.

Minutes, hours, days pass, he didn't know, he didn't care: time has no meaning.

She pushes his head back.

Look at me.

He keeps his eyes shut tight.

I can't. You are too precious to me. I hurt you.

She kisses his forehead

I know it's not your fault.

She kisses his closed eyes: left then right.

Look at me.

She kisses his cheeks, repeats the same pattern, first left then right.

I still trust you; I will always trust you.

She kisses his lips, closed mouth, a chaste passion.

I love you.

She kisses his lips again, and again, and again.

I love you. I love you. I love you.

He opens his eyes, looks up, past the valley of her breast, and into her eyes. Her damaged face is soft, and bright like the sun on a spring morning. Her eyes are glowing, and he can read the truth in them. All the words she's never spoken, out of fear of rejection, or shame of seeming weak, but kept locked in her heart are now poring out like water from a spigot.

I will never leave you.

My heart belongs to you.

You are not alone anymore; you will never be alone again.

I love you with all my damaged heart, and twisted soul.

Later when they are dry and sated, he will rest his head on her chest, and listen to the steady thump of her heartbeat.