the night descending ; bruce + maria


“All sorts of things – I’m flexible. And an excellent conversationalist.” Sometimes. “ – depending on the company. It can be your pick; agriculture, economics, philosophy… the structural integrity of the hotel.” A little black humour, of course. 

“I wouldn’t go so far as to call it casing,” – and there was her hand again, brushing past his elbow and lodging itself firmly in his mind. “More recreational speculation. Fact gathering.   It might have been the location of a mind experiment.” As he talks he wonders if he might take her hand, but the moment passes too quickly, and they’re at the car.   “Or maybe two.” 

               Bruce shrugs, though there’s a grin lurking just behind it. He slips into the cab willingly, stopping when he’s barely past the divide in the seats, more in the middle seat than not. Muscles and joints sag in relief of finding a reprieve, sinking into the worn cushioning. 

         It feels like his whole body’s withered away, but he doesn’t need it like she needs hers, doesn’t use it like a weapon and a livelihood in quite the same way – it’s exhausting, sure, but ultimately the threads of nonsense that chase him in his dreams are more concerning than his physical deficiencies. Still, he understands. “Might be temporary, but you still have to deal with it now,” he commiserates, putting his head back against the rest and pressing his shoulder against hers, the coolness of her jacket warming slowly in the heat of the car and himself. “Who knows – regenerative technology might be the next thing coming down the pipeline.” Mend the bone right away, deal with a few days of pain from the inflammation and bruising, and viola. No collateral muscle degeneration. 

            “Right.” He picks his head back up and straightens, a hand pressing lightly on her knee to help bring him closer to the driver as he shifts forward in his seat.  Bruce stutters his way through the directions in half-passable Japanese, numbers and directions fine but everything else nothing short of a mess. “2 blocks down, then 2 blocks left, yes,” is the response from the cab driver, and Bruce realized his mistake before the first syllable has finished. Feeling awkwardly conspicuous, he sighs, settling back against the seat. “Okay,” he acknowledges sheepishly, “I deserved that.” 

Of course this particular cabdriver can speak taxi-English (or English, that’s not a fair thing to assume), and he looks at Maria for sympathy at his misstep, face falling into a forlorn, self-depreciating line. 

        His rapid-fire palaver is amusing, a little different than their normal exchange ( slow and slyly constructed sentences with a heaping helping of dry humor ) and it tips the smile on her face from something lingering around lukewarm to something she has to work a bit harder to conceal. A barking laugh, it’s there and then it’s gone, jolts across the space between his words. It’s clear that that particular jab of dark humor had entertained her more than she’d been prepared for- the laugh had slipped the armor she usually wore ( not necessarily needed in this case, but in place all the same ) and made for an uncharacteristic show of geniality.

        Inside the cab, snapped snugly together despite the expanse of the bench seat, she can feel the weight of his hand atop her knee as he leans in, churns through a few lines of Japanese ( that, honestly, don’t sound all THAT bad ). And to be fair, he IS trying. The cabbie doesn’t have to be mean. Maria turns her head, chin gently clipping his shoulder and she keeps it there for a lingering several seconds.

                    “If it makes a difference, your Japanese is ten times better than mine.” As the cab pulls away from the curb, the look slides from him, focused on the street in front of them and the unimaginable amount of traffic still crammed onto the pavement. Flashes of red and interspersed neon signs flit across her profile, her free hand drifts across her lap, hooking a finger into the cuff of his sleeve, the cold press of it warmed by the back of his wrist. The back of her head hits the headrest, rotates toward him. A scoff, her brows pinch at the center of her forehead. “Oh my god, you’re pouting.” It doesn’t help that it’s actually…. adorable. Lips part, she tips her head back a centimeter more, eyelids hooded. “Pouting.” It’s half-whispered in faux-disbelief, a ribbing nudge of her shoulder against his. 

        Two blocks down, two blocks left doesn’t take very long in taxi time, and as far as Maria can tell the driver actually took the correct route and not the “short cut” because the fare seems somewhat reasonable. Before he can protest, she’s slipped the black Amex from her wallet and swiped it in the car reader. A swift nod and a soft ‘arigato( solidarity, in part, for Bruce, and maybe a little bit of a jab at the cabbie’s attitude ).

          Back in the cool night air, she waits until he joins her on the sidewalk, aligning herself on his left maybe a step or two too close. The place in question is hard to miss, a small two-windowed parlor with a neon sushi roll hanging in the door. “Good find, Banner. You’d make a half-decent agent, you know.”


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