continued from x
[10:48:03] Incoming Call…
“Hmm, don’t tell me you’re only just waking up–”
continued from x
[10:48:03] Incoming Call…
“Hmm, don’t tell me you’re only just waking up–”
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.
“I meant to send you a text.”
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.
At least the ultrasound has ruled out the most dangerous of side effects – and he takes a broken rib off the table, confident that Maria would be able to tell the difference ( though if she’d tell him, might be something else entirely– but it’s a pointless path to go down and he busies himself instead, with setting the kettle on while she sits up, and then putting together a cold compress from the freezer )
“You should get an x-ray,” he tells her, a request layered in the concern – it could still be cracked. And then her voice, with the caught syllables, so soon after the reveal of the gunshot wound…
He doesn’t know if he wants to hear what she’s going to say ( he does ), but he doesn’t push for more information just yet, drawn to the intricacies of the bruise that have become apparent in the ample kitchen light. The pattern of bruising looks slightly odd, deviating from the expected norm in a way he can’t put his finger on – Bruce tilts his head to get a better look – “What kind of vest were you wearing?”
A closer examination is enough to make the cup of tea and salt-top crackers he had for dinner ( – breakfast, lunch? ) creep up his throat, and he dusts the outer edge of the coloured skin with his thumb before gently sliding the compress in place.
“Hold that, please?” he requests softly; there’s still some swelling, the wound occupying a puff of space that rises fractionally up from her torso – the topical cream he has stowed away in the bathroom works better on chilled flesh than it does on warm, too. Curiosity about her jilted sentence wins out at that point, his trip to the bathroom to retrieve the modified first aid kit that resides there, waylaid, –
“Prototype.” The response comes quickly, she’s grateful for having something to answer. “Courtesy Agent Simmons by way of Sharon.” Of course, Maria hadn’t intended to use it, or have it come in handy like it did, but that was the way things had shaken out. His request for an x-ray is heard and filed away at the back of her mind. She’s appreciative of the worry, but as it doesn’t seem to be a pressing need, she’ll get to it when she gets to it, and considering the past few days- that might not be for a little while at the very least.
The heel of her hand scuffs at his jaw before he turns away, edging just out of her reach to take up the cold compress before passing it to her. Maria complies with the request, dipping her chin slightly in an effort to catch his eye.
“Reason enough,” she says slowly, the pinch in her brow evidence of her hesitation to continue- information is classified, of course, but there’s also an urge to give him at least a facet of the truth. He deserves that from her. A slow exhale slips past her teeth, palm spreading over the pack while she holds it gently against the bruise. The WSC had acted unilaterally, without consulting her or Carter before sending a S.T.R.I.K.E. team to Rogers’s apartment. It was reason enough to want to stay out of sight for a few hours. Wrap their heads around what was happening and try to collect themselves before having to go up against Pierce.
Her free hand drifts out, catches his wrist and uses it to pull him back in, fingertips drifting up his arm until they come to rest at the nape of his neck, thumb moving gently over his pulse.
He hasn’t been saying much- sticking solely to the subject of her injury and Maria begins to feel like he might be purposefully avoiding bringing up the discussion they’d had on the morning of the crash.
It looks worse than it actually is because it looks terrible – the bruised flesh seems inelegantly mashed underneath her skin, with strokes of molting colour that gently center towards the point of impact: a vividly angry mark that remains stubbornly bloodshot.
The words of her text message flash in his mind as a pained inhale forces his heart to drop down to somewhere around his feet – war wounds he’s seen before, treated gnarled and ghastly and lost causes drawn out to provide a few more hours of struggled life –
( but this is more akin blunt force cruelty, the patchwork of struggling cells marring the skin on yet another person he holds near and dear; and the downplaying, the minimizing, the attempted concealment – )
“God,” he breathes, and he’s crouching down to get a better look at it, slipping into an analytical triage that does little to mask the concern and pain on his face, but at least cushions him from chasing down any distressing threads. ( she said she was okay ) The area’s still slightly swollen, and Bruce trails his thumb along the nearest edge of it, feeling the furious heat it’s radiating. ( she said that she was good )
There’s no doubt that it must have hurt; knocked the air out of her, likely, and he’s concerned there might be a dislodged or cracked rib underneath the bruising ( he’d pulled her into him, he’d hurt her ) –
“Did you get an x-ray?” The constant flicker of the television doesn’t make the lighting for this ideal, and he needs a better look. ( this isn’t in the least fine ) “Come sit in the kitchen.” ( ‘why didn’t she tell him’ wars with ‘of course she wouldn’t tell him’ – )
but he doesn’t move yet, the palm of his hand resting along her jawline, and he wants to ask ‘why’ but it turns into a selfish, affirming kiss instead, and when he pulls away he can’t help the look of confusion and hurt that flashes before he shifts back into a worrying assessment, taking her hand and moving them into the kitchen.
An exhale that catches when he drops to his knees, fingers carding gently through his hair while he offers a careful inspection of the bruise. It’s bad, but not as bad considering the alternative, she’ll maintain that forever if she has to. Still, it doesn’t help to see the concern twisted so plainly in his expression, writ in the scrawl of his brow- it’s still there when he straightens, a question in his eyes when he moves in to kiss her. Fingers are hooked into the fabric of his shirt, another breath before Bruce is leading her into the kitchen.
“No,” Maria replies, utilizing the handle of the fridge to help herself onto the countertop- a chair seemed too low and she doesn’t want him nursing sore joints tomorrow if she can help it. “–I haven’t been by HQ yet.” There’s an implication in those words, one she knows he’s intelligent enough to get and she dips her chin a little while working her left arm out of the t-shirt’s sleeve, eyes on his face.
Beneath the light over the stove the injury is illuminated, revealing spots that may have gone unnoticed out in the fringes of the living room, lit by the flicker of the television. Her hands come to rest in her lap, legs crossed lightly at the ankles with her toes pointed toward the linoleum.
“It doesn’t feel like a broken rib.” It’s sore, her body’s been through a trauma and needs to heal, that’s all. Her next words are a stutter step, a false start that threatens to die on her tongue. “Bruce–”
There’s a heaviness to the quiet that settles in between them, almost physical in the way it occupies the space.
“There was a reason we took a step back.” Went off the grid is probably the better term, but Maria doesn’t want to lend a sense of drama to her paranoia ( that was always Fury’s MO, anyway ). A reason, because she wants him to know that he’s important enough to her to deserve some sort of explanation for what happened. Her tongue darts out to wet her bottom lip, internally warring with the reasoning for her abrupt disappearance- it’s like teasing out a knot that’s waiting to unravel, but for now she’s unsure just how much she can afford to let slip, and so she settles with a shoulder against the refrigerator, exhaustion rolling off of her in waves.
The shift of her hands prevents his from pushing up the bottom of her shirt, and he pauses momentarily as his gaze rises back upward to meet her eyes, still narrowed slightly with a question. That wasn’t a nothing, and it wasn’t necessarily a fine either ( though a part of him is starting to suspect a breakdown in terminology… )
He’s getting qualifiers, words of reassurance, but not a specific reassurance that nothing happened –
It’s foolish to think she might have escaped without a touch, and the continued deflections are only solidifying his suspicions. “Maria…”
As desperate as he is to touch her and rectify the unpleasant note they’d left their last encounter, he needs to know what’s causing the skirting around; there’s part of him that’s inclined to believe her while the other half fears of what the outcome might be, given their particular brand of luck.
Soft stubbornness is prevalent in the challenge he issues next – either way, he needs to know:
“Let me see then, if it’s fine.”
It’s a call on what he hopes isn’t a bluff, the regained freedom of his hands sending them pushing her shirt up again, tilting his head to the side and landing a kiss on her chin, dipping down to continue a gentle trail downwards, lips soft against her neck until he has enough of the fabric bunched up he can start tugging it upwards and off.
She knows it’s bad, and that’s why she’d initially planned on keeping it from him. It was a bruise, nothing serious. Her own little sliver of pain, perhaps, stashed away for her own personal reckoning- a reminder of their collective failure ( tinged with the sour taste of betrayal ). But it’s also not as bad as it looks, and that’s saying something. Maria wishes that she didn’t feel like she was treading on eggshells ( even now, after all seems to be well ) and that she could spare him the frustration because she knows that she could have told him outright, she should have- and she doesn’t really have an excuse for why she didn’t ( anger, maybe, with a dash of pettiness or maybe the belief that– ).
The dredges of tension lingering from their discussion a day and a half prior is still wound tight between her shoulder blades, in her throat, in the coil of her abdomen. But Maria can feel it start to slide away beneath the warmth of his mouth and she allows herself to drift, briefly, until the starkness of the cool air meets her skin when he’s hitched the fabric up far enough.
“It looks worse than it is,” Maria explains immediately, watching only his expression because she knows what the site of impact looks like. The nebular swath of purple bruising has darkened since the initial incident, she knows because she’d looked that morning. It runs the gamut of violet to indigo while pooling black in a few spaces. Swirling seemingly like a storm around the obvious eye- a stark dot of red surrounded by yellow where the slug had hit. Not a hematoma- that had been the initial concern. It looks awful, but to Maria it looks a hell of a lot better than being dead, so she’ll happily take the W.
She catches the hem of the shirt ( an orphan of Sharon’s that she’d claimed in the chaos after the carrier went down ), keeping it from going up and over her head because the motion is painful and constricted by stiffness in her left side, but holds it so that he can continue looking if he wants.
“Agent Simmons did an ultrasound around the site to confirm that there’s not an internal bleed,” as if this will somehow be helpful, placating news.
A soft moan escapes him, light and indulgent, longing after the absence of this; but there’s something wrong. Bruce can hear it in the way her breath changes, well-versed, by now, with the typical series of responses to this thread of action – she’s distancing herself too; subtly but pointedly, and he ignores the gentle tug to turn and takes a step back instead, hands sliding down to sit on her hips and keep her from stepping away,
“What?” he asks in a whisper, searching her face for any indication of the source of the hitch – his eyes narrow as he thinks back to the sequence of events leading up to it.
Nothing had risen a flag until his arm –
“What happened,” he asks again, an edge of serious concern and determination to his voice as paranoia expounds the beginnings of suspicion. And he has a good sense of what it might be, thumbs already pushing under the edge of her shirt.
Maria’s measured answers don’t give any illusions that the moment might’ve just been the outcome of an awkward pull or odd twinge, and the unknown mingles with rolling unease.
The ebb and flow of their movements, first toward and now away, come to a distinct pause when she reaches the extent of his arm’s reach. Had he not been so sincere Maria might be offended by the effort to contain her, but she knows better. Her hands drift down his arms, resting at his wrists with her fingers splayed across his knuckles. He’s scanning her face and she watches his irises shift from eye to eye and then over cheekbones, jaw, clavicle. Worried, of course he is, but hadn’t she already implied that she was okay?
“I’m fine.” Mostly. She’d told him she was good, not fine, but that’d been before.
Her voice is lower when she steps back into him, angling her hips in an effort to hopefully provide distraction from the task he currently has in mind, hands sliding back up to his elbows. “I”m okay, Bruce,” she reassures. Or she will be. Dr. Simmons had proved that ( well, had ensured her that she was as good as a person could be for taking a bullet to the vest ). However, there’s clearly a part of her that wants to spare him the worry, despite him already being quite embroiled in it, and so she deflects the question with her assurances.
The wound is healing and it’s warm, radiating heat from the epicenter much like Bruce does on any normal day. Cells are swarming to the site of the injury, coagulating and generating new versions of themselves in order to make her healthy again. It’s the contrast of warmth and the odd coolness of his fingers in juxtaposition that shocks her, causes her to stiffen beneath the sweep of his hand.