“At least not with my clothes on,” another joke, this one dropped into her glass as she tips it back, the words sharp-edged and dry like the last mouthful of alcohol she chases them with.
The silence that falls between them again feels like it echoes.
It’s a non-sequitur, really; something to fill the lull in conversation because Sharon feels like she has to, and she hates that feeling more than anything else, because she knows what that feeling is, what it means –
As if the anxiety that’s prickled the back of her neck like a stray pair of watchful eyes for weeks – since the Hulk’s last outing, if she’s honest – wasn’t warning enough. That Sharon suddenly can’t stand silence only means that too, too soon, there won’t be enough of it.
A flick of the wrist summons their bartender again and that silent shiver of vulnerability comes with him; Sharon pushes her empty glass toward him with a fingertip, shifting her weight to look at Maria but keeping her lips pressed into the thin line, aloofness evading her.
“It’s not really an if anymore, is it.”
The joke falls flat. Maybe on another day ( maybe if she was more drunk ), it would’ve elicited a smile or even a hint at one, but Maria’s too absorbed with the topic at hand to even consider anything else. A single finger pushes her own glass forward for a refill, syrupy residue coating the inside.
A clipped response, the barb not meant for Sharon. She doesn’t like being here- caught between needing ( wanting ) to keep her job if only for the sake of being kept in the loop, and wanting to throw a god damn fit about everything that’s wrong with this picture. Maria takes a breath, dampens it with her newly refilled glass, thinks about what Fury might do.
He’d play the long game. Obviously.
“We can’t afford to sit this out.” Sharon knows that, of course she does. Maria’s eyes are trained on the front windows, watching smudgy shapes drift by. The bartender’s moving around but not really doing anything. She watches him lean forward, talk to a regular, change the channel on the nearest TV. Eyes narrow, she takes another drink, her fingertips tap out a pattern on the side of the glass, meaningless patter. He put a basketball game on- jesus, they weren’t done with their season yet? Her exhale is sharp, bitter and she runs the side of her hand across her brow a few times, the gesture equally frustrated and borderline apathetic.
“I’ve gotta make nice. Stay where I am- can’t afford not to be.”
She’s not asking permission, or for encouragement. Or agreement. It’s an expression of her game plan- likely the only time she’ll say it. Maria finishes the rest of her glass and blinks away the blurriness from the edge of her vision.
“We can’t let him force our hand.”