Relief floods through him, at once both calming and exhilarating; he’d made the right call, done the right thing, and the reward was in the palm of his hand, a treasure so seemingly inconsequential and yet so fundamentally significant. A keystone, connecting the pieces of it’s structure while blending in with the adjacent architecture. A reassurance that whatever this is, it is that, and that is this. A this where woven fingers extend beyond necessity, where familiarity transcends that unspoken personal bubble and manifests itself in a physicality that’s actually comfortable for once.
Except her hand is absolutely frigid, his own fingers curling protectively around as much of the exposed skin as he can cover. Pulls her arm slightly towards him in protest at her expression of doubt, the playful side of smug as he nods; yes indeed, and he’s going to stick by it.
It feels different, walking hand-in-hand with someone after such a long time, after resigning himself so totally to a life without; but his body instinctively adjusts to her gait, keeps an even distance to avoid unintentionally knocked shoulders. It’s been so long since he last did so with any intent outside of an emergency that he finds it… refreshing. Wanted.
Bruce frowns at the estimated waiting time ( the gestures understandable even before he spent months learning signs in space ). “We can go somewhere else?” he suggests – the puffs of visible air and the bite of the night had been irrelevant before, but Maria seems white in the pale light, and even though he knows it’s not from the cold ( yet ), he’s aware he won’t feel the chill the same way she will.
He turns to stand across from her, closer than he normally might, shoulder angled in to keep their arms lax ( to keep their hands connected ) and maintain some privacy despite their distance from the crowd.
“And what would it take to get the clearance for that information?” His gaze is much more intent than her teasing tone requires, and he squeezing her hand with a gentle pressure that builds until it’s steady, thumb shifting to hook more securely over the bridge of hers.
Bruce wants to do this thing right; and he wants to do it right by Maria.
A breath slips out in a stream of smoke, Maria shakes her head. “I don’t mind,” she says quietly. He’s close enough that they don’t need volume to effectively communicate, and it’s almost like they’re back in the tunnel again. It’s not really about the food at this point ( had it ever been? ), and she finds herself content to exist here in this sliver of quiet they’ve carved out for themselves amidst the Tokyo nightlife.
His question glances almost too close to home, too close to a wound not quite healed yet ( or still fresh enough to risk reopening ) and she dips her chin, lashes dusting the tops of her cheekbones. What would it take to get clearance? Maria knows he’s being playful and there’s an ache somewhere between her ribs that she’s even thinking of it like THAT. Another breath and it passes, she can match him with a semi-truthful response.
“A series of lie-detector tests, written exams, field tests, a glowing report from your senior officer.” She arcs a brow, offers a one-shouldered shrug. Casual, her words are rooted in truth, but gaining a clearance level is not simply a list of things you can check off. “Amongst other things.” The weight of his hand in hers becomes more apparent, the warmth of his palm radiating against her skin. She adds a bit of tension until the press of his forearm is along the open zipper of her jacket, her torso where the chill is snaking through loose-woven textile. He’s angled toward her, already standing close, so the motion itself doesn’t necessarily bring them any nearer than they already are.
Maria tips her head toward her shoulder, looks at him with her lips pursed and brimming with humor. “If you want to know something, you can just ask.” Official permission, off the record. Vague enough to be taken for face value if that’s not what he’s looking for, even though she’d just danced around his prior question like she was S.H.I.E.L.D.’s own primaballerina.
She curls her thumb until the side of it can brush the heel of his palm, tucked against the bunching fabric of her jacket. The repetitive motion is slight, steady; nearly negligible and she doesn’t draw attention to it by allowing her eyes to drop from his. “It’s only fair, I guess.”