She’s right – if it wasn’t him, it would’ve been someone else. Of course she was a target, of course Tony and Pepper were targets. They’re important people, targets with or without his involvement. Bruce knows she’s right about that the same way her hand in his feels right; they both sit naturally and logically, easy – but there’s an tinge of uncertainty, a cloud of doubt. An undertone of ‘too good to be true’ with ‘I don’t deserve this’ on top.
Several others being taken would have increased the likelihood of someone finding out, would have aroused more suspicion and raised more flags, but he isn’t going to argue it, mostly because Maria sounds so damn convinced and he selfishly wants a share of that. And if his involvement spared any number of people from suffering the same fate he had, he could find some measure of comfort in that too.
“I’m the one who decided to experiment on myself,” he reminds her gently, less of an argument and more of a closing statement, “I did that, Maria. And I’ll never be able to get away from that. But I should be managing it better.”
Not to mention he’s been claiming guilt and responsibility for existing long before that; now it simply has a face and a name, a manifestation of his anger and the darkness he harbours that’s at once saviour and downfall.
But he can do good too, act the catalyst and push some positive back into the world to balance out the negative his mere existence brings. He’s a monster but a complex one, a curse– but perhaps not the worst kind. He’d helped, on the Skrull ship – Hulk had; he’d kept Sheila safe and knocked some Skrull heads around while he was at it.
And somehow he’s also managed to get someone like Maria in his corner; she’s fighting to convince him now, to absolve him of his guilt, claiming the sins he carries perceived and false; as much as he resists it, he appreciates it. The reminder that there’s at least one person who doesn’t flinch away from his presence in panic or fear is welcome right now. Maria’s proof that there’s someone out there who can talk him down from the ledge, someone whose touch he wants reciprocate- whose touch he can reciprocate.
His hand closes against her hip, snug, a halfhearted smile at her words and the declaration they carry. “Okay,” he says, giving in, for the time being. It’s not the last of it, not by a long shot, but right now he can accept what she’s saying, trade the slick coat of guilt for the comfort of her hand. It leaves room for observation and questions, and after squeezing her fingertips in thanks he asks the question that’s been lingering in the back of his mind, the thing no one will answer for him, the thing he doesn’t really want to ask:
“… what happened to your arm?”
She’s dimly aware that this isn’t over. That the current skirmish is being labeled a draw, and as competitive as she is, Maria will take a draw over a flat out LOSS any day of the week. Eager not to draw out the conversation, to take the result as it’s been offered, she expresses only a slight huff at his words, the subtlest shake of her head. A disagreement without being outright, and thus accepts the DRAW.
He’s welcome to claim guilt all he wants, but it’s not something she means to make EASY for him. In her world there’s a certain degree of fault you can take ownership of, any more than your allotment and it just gets tedious ( not that she’d have any frame of reference– always taking the fall for things gone wrong ). It’s not fair for people like him to focus so fully on the mistakes so beyond the scope of their control and forget to think about contributions made to the world, and everyone knows Bruce Banner has enough of both.
Maria knows about the escape from the Skrull ship by way of eyewitness testimonies. She also knows about Banner’s tendency to sell himself short.
And she knows that’s sealed it. Their non-agreement agreement. The ceasefire, for the time being, where they can exist in this space and be neither right NOR wrong, his hand warm at the skin on her hipbone- another unacknowledged step in their… whatever this was. His comment draws her attention back to her arm, resting solidly against his chest. It’s at a strange angle, the way she’s been jammed into the debris makes it impossible with the cast to rest in comfortably in any other position. To move it up or down would require a lot of shifting by both parties and Maria isn’t quite sure she trusts the stability of the wreckage to attempt something like that just yet. Blood continues to pool in her elbow, leaving the fingers hooked into his pocket tingly, but she pushes that from the forefront of her mind.
“Hand to hand combat. A close encounter with one of them. Not–” A pause. She’s not sure how to classify it, but there’s a definite WANT for Bruce to know that it wasn’t.. him. Not him, but the one that had impersonated him. Fingertips curl a bit more tightly toward his, knuckles brushing his palm. Tongue darts out to wet her bottom lip ( nervous habit, normally suppressed- ), and she moves on. He doesn’t need to know the details, but she finds herself talking anyway.
“It was a police officer. It’d slipped in the front door of my building, using the excuse that it was checking on a disturbance.”
She’d been outmatched in both weight and anger ( close, though ), but the fight itself hadn’t been as awful as it could have been. She was ALIVE, and that counted for something, right? Aside from being left with something that just continued to PISS her off, it easily wasn’t the worst outcome.
“It’s just a break.” Just a break, she breathes, like it’s not a fracture of her skeletal makeup. Like it’s not something that could alter the strength of that arm, or affect her in some shape or form for the rest of her existence. “Medical says I’ll be clear to start PT in about six more weeks.”