the night descending ; bruce + maria


“That’s a shame – though I think I’d have enjoyed myself with Fitz and Simmons much more than you did.”  And Maria would’ve probably welcomed the quiet of his flight, whereas he’d spent the entire time attempting to drown in music, trying not to imagine all the different scenarios that would cause a dramatic shift in trajectory, either towards Earth or away from it.  “I’ll have to go with you next time and be the buffer.”  And so that he could have someone in the plane with him that he trusted, who’s token reassurances might actually be reassuring (even if they weren’t verbal). That and he’d actually be interested to hear what the duo was working on – he was vaguely familiar with their work, but he’d yet to have a serious conversation with either one. 

        Bruce turns with her, the fleeting pressure welcome. Hours of walking have slowed his pace some, but the promise of food puts a little energy into his step. Following is easy, and he appreciates Maria opting for the stairwell, returning her smile for one of his own, despite the way his thighs will ache on each step, despite the mixed pile of memories from the last time in close quarters.

He takes a few moments; breathing softly through his nose until they reach the first landing. ‘Is he okay?’    – this, this is okay. Trading smiles like they’re not precious artifacts to be harboured, the ease of being able to just ride Maria’s wake, the familiarity and the shared experiences that comfort his worries in a way crisp hotel sheets never will…

            “Getting better, now,” he settles on evenly – both honest, and true. 

   “Are you?” 

He earns a laugh, or a breath meant to be one, and she tips a bemused smile over her shoulder, coming to the landing and turning the corner. Having Bruce as a buffer would’ve kept things from veering toward TERRIBLE– it’s doubtful Fitz would’ve kicked up as much of a fuss if the esteemed Dr. Banner were on board ( she would have thought HER presence alone would’ve dissuaded that, but alas ). “I wouldn’t mind that,” comes her admittance, borderline playful but serious at the same time. “Except I’ve made the executive decision to fly without them on the return trip. I think it’s for the best.” A knowing look, one that conveys there’s more to that story if he wishes to tug at the end of the thread. An almost about-face, he’s got the inside lane and her fingertips find his elbow to steady her progress down the first tread after the landing. Not entirely necessary, but not exactly UN, either. An excuse? Maybe.

           “Better is good.” A gentle squeeze punctuates the sentence; encouragement, and maybe a certain affinity as well. Several stair treads of silence, her hand drops and dips into her pocket, picking lightly at the key card with her fingernail, tracing the edge with the side of her thumb. “I’m fine.” As always. It comes out unbidden, the automatic response to any query after her health ( mental or physical ), a habit borne of survival instincts ( weakness is not something she can afford to show ). The uptick of her mouth is akin to a wince, and they reach the bottom of the stairwell, her gaze dragging over toward him. Her hand rests heavy on the door handle, waiting a beat. Honesty is something she feels she owes him, at least on this subject. “I’m getting better, too. SLOWLY–” A nod toward her arm, tucked along her ribcage beneath the jacket.

She opens the door and slips through it, glad that they’ve come out near the entrance and they don’t have to traverse the entirety of the lobby. “There’s a taxi stand if you’d rather–?” Maria plucks a brochure from a stand BRIMMING with them as they pass, spins so that she can open the door by way of the press of her back, skimming through the glossy pages for something that might look like a late-night sushi joint. “Unless you know a place?”


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