Bruce’s head falls against hers, eyes closed and chest warm with Maria’s heat passing through the cotton tee. Cooler than he expects, but the space between them rapidly warms, a small, licking fire in the midst of a dark, chilly night. There’s demons all around, and the added level of protection is a welcome one, the feeling of solidarity filling a craving he’d managed to suppress.
Bruce stares at the opposite wall while he sinks into the embrace, revelling in the surprising familiarity of how she fits against him. His arms shift against the curves of her body, sliding into a tighter hold, trying to physically burrowing into the warmth of her assessment, soak-in the tentative optimism from someone he doubts practises this brand of hope on a daily basis in any practical way.
From the time of his youth countless well-intentioned ( and dubiously-intentioned ) figures had heaved their responsibility at the concept of talking to someone. Logically, the through-line of that strategy made sense, but he’d never considered beyond that. Get in, do your bit, keep your shields wrapped up tight and leave marginally worse for wear.
The soft reassurances he offers others using his own experiences typically only brushed the surface, Tony having received the bulk of any significant remarks, though even those paled in comparison to this current revelation.
( and here he is about to leave that behind; he wonders if this tale would feel any less heart wrenching, if it were penned by another )
"That’s one word for it,“ he offers in a mutter, the scepticism he usually approaches the subject with marginally dulled, in large part due to Maria.
Maybe there is something sweet about the Other Guy, about his unwelcome presence, physical and otherwise, in Bruce’s life. Other than Avenger-sanctioned smashing and the extraterrestrial prison break (two situations that would likely have been avoided, if the Other Guy hadn’t existed), he doesn’t seem to offer more than a twisted sense of security, promising protection in exchange for the safety and well-being of those around them. The fact that he might care about Bruce in any sentimental sense…
Bruce’s chest rises as he tries to soothe his thoughts with an inhale, expanding and plucking up the excess trim of helpless confusion and groping questions; expelling them with an exhale, or trying to, anyway – the only benefit he feels if from Maria’s comforting presence, and he pushes his nose into her hair as his fingers come up to tangle in the short strands along the nape, the faint scent of hairspray mixed in with perfume and an undertone he can’t place.
He doesn’t want to say it, he’s stalling, it’s all a stall; but there’s no way the fire won’t grow and burn them if he stays. The coals are banked, but they’ll seethe endlessly if he doesn’t take the time to douse them properly now.
He has to.
( he doesn’t want to )
“I have to leave.”
She counts the breaths against her cheek, relishes the feeling of finger tips carding through her hair. Warmth, the closeness of another human being. Comfort or the promise of it- of what they had, were working toward. He smells like her body wash; she gives a small huff amusement.
It’s something she knows is coming. The inevitable, it’s so in-character that she’d be surprised if he didn’t.
What had she expected? What had she honestly expected of anything? These thoughts freewheel now, flung forward from the dark recesses of her mind before they settle and the more rational part of her starts to take over. It’s fine. This is fine. He’ll be fine.
She doesn’t need anyone. Besides, how selfish would it be to think that he should stay? ( For the record, she doesn’t think so. ) It’s a little bittersweet, knowing this is coming, and the feeling tugs at the corners of her mouth. She pulls away, inches backward out of the embrace because it’s better this way ( for both of them ). Unwind, disengage. It will make it easier.
Her spine against the counter, she stops and leans against it. Asking where-to seems invasive, and she won’t ever pry like that. Where he goes is his own business, and as S.H.I.E.L.D. does not lay claim to the actions of the Hulk at the casino, it’s not her responsibility to follow up on him. They’ll keep their distance ( for now ). Unless he becomes a problem, they won’t ever have reason to intervene, and Maria doesn’t see it being as such.
And she is. She’s sorry for how everything played out, even if he did go charging into the fight with his teeth bared. For how this has to be. But it’ll be fine. They’ll be fine. Index finger nudges the lone box of fried rice toward him, a quirked brow communicating the question before she abandons the endeavor and folds her arms across her chest. “Anything you need before–?” Supplies, rations, clothing. It’s assumed at this point ( because of the night prior and his presence here ) that his current residence at the Manor is off limits. He’s got the supplies she brought up to get him started, but anything else to ease the transition- she has the resources at her disposal to help.
Maria lets out a breath, the curve of her mouth friendly but still a little sad, emotions closely guarded. One question, that’s all she’ll allow herself, and she hopes that he’ll know he doesn’t have to answer.