She watches the numbers on her phone face tick over to eight o’clock as she slips the device into her pocket at the top of the stairs and exchanges it for keys, letting herself into the apartment without ceremony. The paperwork had come through that morning but, inevitably, there’d been a rush of meetings and ensuing emails that needed to drafted, leaving her unable to send him any sort of message regarding the update. Instead, Maria attempted to get out of the office at a reasonable hour, and when she steps into the flat she’s met with a well-lit living area ( as opposed to the cool navy hues of an apartment in stasis, normally well after midnight ).
Maria feels as though she might have surprised him, chin tilted sideways and offering the barest remnant of a smile while she stands at the table jutting out from the entryway, disengaging her concealed sidearm from her ribs, keys clattering to the tabletop.
Bruce’s lips press together momentarily as he thinks of Maria being given an uncertified ‘tester’ and the potential dangers of that – but clearly the piece worked well. Not well enough, for his liking, but now’s not the time to chase curiosity, nor wondering about specifications and potential modifications to prevent this from happening again.
With the worry of future complications sated for the time being, the source of the injury takes up responsibility for the consternation that lingers on his face. Who shot her is information he’s not sure would be beneficial to him right now. The ambiguous and yet decisive answer at what caused her prolonged absence sends a cold stab of unease through him.
“So you were worried about… -”
It’s as much of a question as it is a leading conclusion, as he steps into her legs with the pull of her touch; his hands curl around her knees and slide up her legs with the self-comforting pressure he can’t put on her torso – whatever had happened, was enough that her absence was justified and necessary. The thought of Maria in a position that makes her question her personal safety fires up his seldom-felt indignation, and he rests a hand on top of her hip, curling around it protectively.
His thumb brushes over the defined curve of her cheekbone, tender where his palm is possessive – her fingers find rest in his hair, and he meets her eyes, the touch reassuring; and yet he’s still unable to ease the pinched down-turn of his mouth, as he leans forward to kiss her gently, as his hand slips off her hip and slides across her back, as his body angles carefully to avoid any unintended discomfort.
“I have some cream for that,” he tells her when he pulls away; he’s reluctant to disengage so he doesn’t, leaning his head against hers and slumping into as close a hug as he can.
It’s a question she’s not sure she wants to think about- she’s spent so much time entertaining the thought already that it’s gone stale in her mind. Acrid at the back of her throat and it washes away when he steps in close ( shelved; shoved to the back of her mind to be reviewed later), an exhale and her hand at the base of his skull gives her leverage to lean into the kiss. Already she’s feeling leagues better, turning into the embrace as he retracts, unable to let his proximity fully fade.
“I’m okay,” she breathes, as if he needs another affirmation- as if she thinks Bruce will actually accept it. A nudge forward on the countertop has her sliding back to the floor, free hand coming to rest somewhere around the small of his back. “I’m just tired.”
Despite being off-duty for the past however many hours, Maria hasn’t really had a chance to actually rest and it’s as if her body has sensed that she’s home ( safe ). It’s starting to tighten up, the soreness settling at the junctions of muscles and ligaments, an all over ache that she’s almost thankful for ( with each thud she’s reminded that she’s here- she’s alive– ). The television continues to flicker, it hasn’t escaped her that it’s on and that he was camped in front of it when she arrived. He’s tired, she’s seen it in the lines of his expression, seeping into the mask he’d been trying to keep up since she arrived, since he’d discovered the injury.
The gentle shift doesn’t hurt- or rather, it doesn’t hurt more– and she’s pressed into his side, arm snaking around his back. “Come to bed with me,” she murmurs, nose dusting the curve of his jaw, moving slowly in the direction of the living area, heading toward the bedroom that they’ve been sharing for the past few months (dare she call it ‘theirs’ and run the risk of shattering the illusion-– ).
She can deal with the fallout of all of this tomorrow- it’ll all still be here, a full email inbox, voicemails piling up. The stress of the immediate weighing on her shoulders like a second skin she’d rather shed, if just for a few hours.
[the fact that he’d been patched through still surprises him, the reaction heightened moreso as there’s the familiar utterance of steely syllables. The kind that are able to goad the hairs upon his neck to prickle, the vaguest of smirks ghosting over his lips – Hill’s words are met with a grateful albeit heated huff, eyes rolling upwards as a overly falsified bravado instinctively takes over. One which is implicit in the little game in which the two of them often shared]
Please. Knew it was too good to be true. Wouldn’t put it past you to take the opportunity of a tragedy for a bit of R&R.
[She pushes the heel of her hand against the scrawl of her brow, holding the phone away from her mouth when she exhales. Leave it to Stark to start tugging at her nerves with the first few syllables. Still– there’s a twitch at the corner of her mouth, vaguely pleased that there’s a person out there that refuses to treat her as though she’s something fragile. Fingertips run along the lines of her frown, meeting in the center of her eyebrows, head still ducked over the desk’s surface. ]
Too good to be true? Sorry to burst your bubble. And before you get all high and mighty, let me assure you there was no ‘R&R’ involved.
Busy for you is downright panic-inducing for just about anyone else. [she turns to face the doorway, lingering in front of Maria’s desk] So I understand. And – tea? If you don’t mind.
[The choreography involved in dealing with Maria is rather comforting in its familiarity; there are questions to be asked, pleasantries to be exchanged before anything to substance should be introduced, and so Alice takes the opportunity to simply watch the other woman move around her office for a moment. Maria’s physicality has always been a rather useful indicator of her mental state – a common occurrence amongst patients with her type of background.]
Of course. [ If she’s vague it’s unclear if she’s being purposeful about it. ]
I should know that by now.
[ The machinery that occupies the bar cart in her office is capable of producing hot water on command and when she readies a cup, the deliberate selection of tea variety suggests that her prior comment may not have been entirely forthcoming. Espresso for herself, of course, and when she makes her way back to the desk her shoulders are hovering somewhere around her ears. ]
And anyone else’s busy is just boring to me. Have a seat, Alice, please.
She turns the corner and inhales sharply, walking straight into a headwind that slips past the loosely-tied scarf at her neck, darting down her collar and inciting a new spray of goosebumps across her forearms. The phone had come with his personal device preprogrammed (thoughtful), and Maria’s already got the line humming in her ear. The purpose of the call is twofold, and as she passes a window display of twinkling lights and tinsel ( already? ), she can’t help but think that the conversation is seasonally appropriate.
“Looks like you updated the model, Osborn- this thing is sleek.” A clipped pause, she turns her head away from the wind. “And timely. I never got a chance to properly thank you.”
Sharon offers Maria the chipped edge of a smile, tight but there – the least she could do. She contemplates the remaining tablets in her palm, considering just a dry swallow, but —
“Go for it,” Sharon draws the attention of both dogs as she continues her journey toward the minibar – the distance seems to yawn, expanding the further she moves – free palm clapped against her thigh to bring them both to heel, unsurprised when Bryan catches up immediately but Bandit doesn’t.
It’s offered as some kind of continuation of her thought, small and surface, a concerted effort not to trend toward the actual consideration – the realization that she only knows that because she’d spent the better part of the last hour with her cheek against the cool porcelain tiles, eyes shut tight against the spinning brilliance of the room’s gold fixtures as the whole room pitched and rolled.
Tablets get left on the marble countertop so Sharon can drop to her haunches before the silver handle of the small refrigerator, too-fast and sending her pulse thudding again, head swimming for a long moment, choppy enough that she’s got to squeeze her eyes closed against it, too wary to shake her head again. There’s a careless shrug that finally accompanies her reach inside, coming back with two bottles of water – pristine, each in their white-linen-paper jackets, bearing another gilded logo and startlingly out of place in the bruised, scraped hand that’s clutching them – along with the first of what’ll most likely be many of the airline bottles of liquor tucked into the fridge’s door.
Bandit hovers curiously as Sharon heaves herself back up, dancing in place with a nervous wag of his tail, and Bryan nudges her thigh with his head, solid, reassuring only because she knows the movement, know he’s looking to hold her up.
“Cheers,” Sharon offers Maria one of the bottles of water, first, abandoning the small bottle of tequila beside herself on the plush bedspread when she finally comes to a stop, uncapping the bottle of gin in her hand to chase the chalk-sweet taste of the painkillers down her throat.
“— I brought you some fresh clothes, by the way.”
A hum accompanies Sharon’s words, meant in place of a reply, an acknowledgement barely mustered. Not that it matters- they’re both here, existing in this same outcome together. Their plight is shared, the aftermath shaken out along the lines of their shoulders like ash. Lingering- Maria sees it in the subtle nuances in Sharon’s posture, the small heave that brings her back up and out of the mini-fridge’s open door. She notes the pressure in her fingertips, reads into the stiff hold of her jaw.
“Thanks,” as fingers close around the bottle, and hiding the wrinkle in her nose at the almost too-sweet taste of it against the bitter that’s been haunting the back of her throat. Her gratitude is two-fold ( ten, twenty-fold if we’re still counting the immediacy of the Helicarrier incident- ) and she drains half the bottle, the corner of her mouth tightening at the familiar bottle set aside for herself. Maria gives the dogs a long look before swiveling back toward the bathroom, worry carved into the lines of her expression. They’re okay. Collectively, they’re all okay. And: this could have been worse. “I won’t be long.”
Not that it matters. She takes the water bottle with her, draining the other half before the shower warms up, sending curls of steam cascading toward the ceiling while she white-knuckles the sink and makes eye contact with herself in the mirror. The scalding water feels less cleansing than she’d hoped- a cold shower might’ve been the better option ( might have felt better on her ribs, too ). There’s white noise coming from the main room when she slides out of the tub, shrugging into one of the provided white robes. By the clip of the voice she can tell it’s a newscast ( of course it is ) and Maria glides toward the doorway still wringing her hair with a towel.
Eyes fixed on the screen, she takes the bed that’s yet unclaimed, sinking onto the mattress next to the spare set of clothes. A hand reaches out and picks up the phone, automatically dialing in to her voicemail. There are several from Pierce, and his voice becomes a dull buzz against her ear while she gazes at the television screen, partially watching when the coverage switches over.
The ticker at the bottom of the screen reads: BREAKING–
A fingertip comes down hard on the hook switch, still holding the handset up against her ear.