sometime around midnight | bruce + maria


           “You mean the designer concrete and the artistic choice of rubble decor? I don’t know, I think it makes for good feng shui.” Not that the headquarters is that badly off, but he’s willing to play this game with her, chit-chat to distract from the very real consequences of the mis-administered medicine. Soon the focus of the steps takes over his attention, and he slowly inches closer to her over the course of the first three so he can help her up the last five, holding her uninjured arm in front of him and occasionally angling his hip into hers to expedite the process. 

Thankfully the steps are long and flat, each one conquered with the grim, steady determination of a sloth on a mission. Bruce doesn’t keep count, but he’d be surprised if they made it up the stairs inside five minutes.  It feels like a small victory when they do, and he can only hope that her apartment is going to have an elevator. He can’t imagine actual flights of this. 

      He’s breathing a little harder too, the events of the night both physical and psychological quickly catching up with him. And not only him, judging by the way she’s drawing in breathes. They’re through the door and nearly at the car, but – 

              It genuinely takes him a moment to figure out what she’s talking about, the incident in question feeling like it happened ages ago, and the look of distress on her face not quite matching up with anything he remembers – with anything she’s done to him. Except maybe she’s talking about the exam room and his momentary, melodramatic fit? 

It’s his turn to try to keep from laughing at her, and he manages it well with a sweet smile, his entire face committing to the gesture. “Don’t worry about it,” he tells her, squeezing her hand; he wants to hold her, put a hand against her cheek and brush the worry away – but his hand only gets to her shoulder, and he rubs, looking to pass on some comfort. “And I want to. Com’on, you’re not gonna get rid of me that easily, xodó.” 

                       It slips out, a phrase harkening back to his time in Brazil; a term of affection and nothing more committed, friendly and fond ( or so he thinks ), but he still realizes that it means something, and tries to brush past the implications by gently directing her to the car. 

        “You remember where you live, right?” 

Were it any other day, any other time, she might’ve been quick to retort- something with a fine edge, just slick enough to cut if she wanted to, but more a teasing thwip than anything else. Her mind is sluggish, rolling along contentedly on the rise of the drugs administered, warmth radiating from the base of her skull and at her shoulder where his palm comes to rest. Reassuring, comforting. She doesn’t mind. If she’d been totally ‘with it’, she might’ve replied that she could TRY ( to get rid of him ) and see how he took it. His reactions  up until this point have been carefully measured and weighed. A tentative jibe here, another there, and they’ve taken them all in stride.

The unfamiliar word slips right by; she squints and it’s gone, the cold night air like a slap to her skin when they move through the doors creating an effective enough diversion. Maria’s expression bunches, not quite as severe as it should be ( softened by the chemicals in her bloodstream ), and she manages something of a scoff.

“Yes.” Spoken with the air of ‘OF COURSE’. Even if she couldn’t, it’s not like it wasn’t programmed into her— oh, her phone. Maria distractedly shifts her shoulders, judging the weight of her pockets. It was gone, this is unsurprising. But luckily, she knows where she’s going, and there’s ( likely ) a S.H.I.E.L.D agent in the driver’s seat who can request to access that information should she suddenly be finding herself in need of a reminder. “I do.”

Door open and waiting, the idling SUV is just one more step between her and collapsing on her sofa ( because the bedroom is too far away to even consider at this point ). Maria moves forward with renewed determination and is able to slide toward the middle of the bench seat without much aid after the agent retreated to the front seat, leaving Banner to close the door himself. Once seated, buckled, and secure, Maria dips forward, giving the agent the address to an apartment she’d taken for herself after her presence in the city became more and more necessary. A standard S.H.I.E.L.D. domicile, furnished and stocked by the agency. She rarely spent more than a week there over the course of a month, but seeing as it wasn’t being utilized anyway, it seemed obvious that she should take it over.

“I was giving you an OUT, Banner,” she says quietly ( jokingly ) when the vehicle shifts into gear and they pull out onto the drive, snaking their way toward the main thoroughfare.


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