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My Mirror Speaks

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The ride to SHIELD seems longer than usual, but it’s probably because Maria’s dreading dealing with people. She uses the ride in to force herself into some sort of composure. If she can bring up and keep the Hard-ass Hill persona, maybe she can make it through this. It’s a simple in and out, she can do that much. Halfway there she realizes she hadn’t told anyone in the Tower where she was going. Oh well, they’ll figure it out. Besides, she’s a grown woman. She fears that if she spends too long at the Tower, the team will try and care for her. Which is the opposite of what she needs at the moment.

She parks next to her car, eying it. She’s not sure if she’ll take hers or Natasha’s to the hospital. She decides she’ll think about that after she’s gotten her things. She’s going to have to file for official leave, not that it will be leave. Coulson needs her, needs her help to run everything smoothly. But she’s in a high enough position that she can pull herself from field duty, she needs to be with Natasha. Another few moments to gather herself before she steps out of the car, keys shoved in her pocket. She’s not wearing her uniform, just jeans and a shirt. She thinks that maybe she’s prepared herself for the sympathy and pitying looks, but she realizes she was wrong.

“You can let them see that you’re human, ‘Ria.” Natasha’s goading her, carefully pressing two fingers against Maria’s side in an attempt to get her to concede. “This isn’t Fury’s SHIELD, it’s Coulson’s. It’s a lot different, you don’t have to be an emotionless robot here.” She bristles at being called a robot.

The memory stops Maria in her tracks, just inside the door. She swears she can feel Natasha’s fingers against her side, and she steps to the side and closes her eyes. She’s not mourning, she needs to keep telling herself that. Natasha is strong and stubborn, she’ll come out on the other side. Maria just has to believe in her fiance. She pulls herself together again, something she feels like she’ll have to do fairly frequently. Plastering on a stern expression, she steps out of the shadows and starts for her office. The pitying, almost sympathetic expressions that greet her in the hallways are hard to deal with, and she’s doing the exact opposite of what Natasha would want her to, but this is how she’ll get through it. This is how she’ll get by. She ignores the whispers and glares down anyone about to make a comment.

Finally, she reaches her office and closes the door behind her. Maria leans against the door and hangs her head, this is harder than she expected. She’ll file the paperwork she needs to over the computer, or ask someone else to do it. As fast as she can, she packs up her laptop and what she’ll need. The break room still holds her leftovers, but she decides not to worry about those. Right now, her next move is to go see her fiance. She steels herself to open the door to her office and face her workplace once more, shouldering her bag more securely. And then she opens the door, relieved that the hallway is clear. She can almost see a clear shot out to the next hallway. Maria almost wishes she was desperate enough to run, to bolt to the door. A deep breath before she steps out into the hallway and closes the door behind her. She’ll have to pass the break room and the locker room on her way out, but she can only hope people leave her alone.

She walks quickly, avoiding looking into rooms. The need to see her fiance is growing overwhelming, with no word from Bruce or anyone, she’s concerned. More frightened, really. Hell, the need to hold Natasha to herself, to touch and feel and know her fiance is alive. She needs that more than air, she thinks.

“I told you that bitch had it coming. I told you, that dyke was gonna learn her lesson. I hope that faggot Barton is next.” The words drifting into the hallway from the locker room cause her to pause just outside.

“O’Riley, shut your mouth. She’s one of us, and she didn’t deserve that. And you need to stop being such a homophobic jack-ass, seriously. That’s going to get you canned. You do realize that both the people who fucking run SHIELD are gay, right? One day, your comments are going to bite you in the ass. I hope I’m there to see it.” Maria recognizes the second voice as Agent Jameson. His comments make her smile, he’s a good agent with a good head on his shoulders. But she can’t ignore O’Riley’s comments. Laying her bag against the wall as quietly as possible, she goes to stand in the doorway.

“You know, Jameson has a point. You’d think between Romanoff and Barton harassing you, you’d have learned your lesson. Well, unfortunately for you, I’m not in the mood to be forgiving. Or kind. Normally, well, we’d just fire you and send you on your way. But I’ve got a lot of pent up rage and anger, and you’ve started something you can’t hope to finish.” Jameson looks like he’s about to shit a brick, Maria thinks. And O’Riley, the infinite dumb-ass, looks at her defiantly.

“Bitch, what are you going to do? I’m sick of sucking up to your dyke ass. Yeah, Romanoff got what was coming to her. And you’ll get your own soon enough. Go ahead, fire me. It’s not gonna bring Romanoff back.” His sneer makes Maria want to wipe it off of his face, forcefully. And that’s exactly what she’s going to do. She smirks at him and cracks her knuckles. He might outweigh her, but Maria’s a scrapper.

“Dude, shut the fuck up. She was a SEAL, you moron.” Jamson’s hiss at O’Riley brings a wider smirk to her face.

“Jameson, while I appreciate your help, I believe it’s time to take out the trash.” She doesn’t even care what Coulson will think of this. Maybe this will help her calm down.

“Bring it on, bitch.” O’Riley’s smirk and lunge at her seal the deal. She’s going to kick his ass. Side-stepping his lunge, she spins, slamming a boot tip into his shin and causing him to stumble into the wall. The resulting snarl is cathartic. He turns, he’s SHIELD, so he can fight. But not on her level. And definitely not on Natasha’s level. This time he’s careful, swinging in close in an attempt to connect with her head. But she’s faster, she’ll always be faster, and slides out of the way, delivering one hell of a punch to his gut. It causes him to stagger back, giving her enough time to slam her palm into his face. The crunch of cartilage beneath her hand is rewarding. As is the spurt of blood, and she takes a step back, surveying the damage.

“Jameson, take O’Riley to medical. And then help him clean out his locker.” Coulson’s voice rings through the room, and Agent Jameson wastes no time in ushering O’Riley out the door. Maria turns to Coulson, her face defiant.

“Do you feel better now?” He asks her, and it wasn’t the words she was expecting. A slow nod, she does feel slightly better. “Good. He was due to be fired, anyway. But, after those comments, I think we’ll make doubly sure he won’t be hired to any respectable organization.” Maria snorts at that, realizing Coulson had to have been in earshot of the entire exchange.

“I am guessing this is pretty obvious, but I just want to formally point out I’m pulling myself from field duty and going on partial leave. You’ll know where to find me and how to contact me, but Natasha needs to be my priority now, not SHIELD.” At least she can tell that to Coulson’s face now, instead of sending him an email. She watches him nod and a wave of relief passes through her, she was hoping Coulson would understand, but she wasn’t sure. A nod at her boss, and friend, before she heads back out of the room.

“Maria.” He rarely uses her first name, as she rarely uses his. So this instance causes her to pause and turn to him. “I don’t want to even see you logged in to your account until we know more, until things have settled.” He’s giving her an out, and a reason to reroute her priorities. She nods at him again, grateful for what it is. Though, she’s concerned about what she’ll do with her time. She doesn’t know how much she’ll have, but SHIELD’s her life. A hesitant smile crosses her face and she rounds the corner where her bag sits. She’s honestly not sure what to expect in the coming days. How much of it will be managing and working with doctors, though, she knows Bruce will handle the majority of that. Still, she also knows that it’s her part as Natasha’s significant other to be there and do what she can. More than her part, it’s something she has to do. Because she can’t see herself doing anything less. Not when the woman she loves more than life itself needs her. Her eyes close for just a moment while she steels herself to leave the building. Bag shouldered, she heads out to her car. She has her car keys now, but she suddenly doesn’t want to drive her car. She took Natasha’s to SHIELD, she decides she’ll leave with Nat’s car. Maria can always come back for her car.

It’s with that mindset that she heads out into the parking lot, ignoring the looks and glances. She wasn’t in the fight with O’Riley long enough to end up with any bruises herself, but she feels worn and tired from it all. Without much care she tosses her bag into the passenger seat of the car and slides in. Maria lets her body go on auto-pilot for the drive. She knows the way to the hospital pretty damn well, and her mind is already shutting down.

Before she knows it, she’s pulling into the hospital parking deck. It seems her brain had shut down for the entire drive, which normally would cause her to worry. But at the moment, she’s just glad for the mental break. Because now she’s back to worry and fear, her stomach lodged in her throat. It’s about noon, and she’s suddenly really worried that Bruce hasn’t updated her. Pulling her phone out of her pocket, she grimaces. The damn thing is dead, it’s no wonder. She flips open the middle console of Natasha’s car and digs around for a moment. Past the gun and ammo and various paraphernalia she finally finds what she’s looking for. Her fiance has a weird habit of hoarding portable USB batteries, Maria’s found them in the oddest places. And they’re always weird shapes, this one seems to be in the shape of an ice cream cone. She rolls her eyes, it’s so typically Natasha, and grabs the cord to go with it. Neon pink, to match the ugly shade of ice cream. This time, Maria actually snorts. The battery should still have enough juice to charge her phone. So she plugs both of them in, shoves the electronics in her pocket, and exits the car. If there are updates on her phone, she’ll see them soon enough. In the meantime, she’s actually at the hospital, so she can find out the state of things in person.

So she strolls into the hospital and towards where Natasha had been last night. She hopes her fiance was moved to a room, but she’ll check where everything was happening last night. About halfway through reception her phone finally decides to buzz to life. She pauses long enough to pull her phone out of her pocket, leaving the ridiculous charger in her pocket. There are several texts waiting for her, among a slew of other things. A few voicemails, but she checks the texts first. One from Pepper, but she ignores that one for now. There are several from Bruce, so she opens the first one. Just a general update, telling her not much has changed. The text is from early that morning. That relieves Maria. The second one is the text she really wanted, it gives her Natasha’s new room number, and an addition of Bruce letting her know that she’s cleared to see Natasha anytime she wants. Perks of being officially together, she guesses. The third is another update, he tells her that the swelling has finally started to go down. He adds that it’s a positive sign, but Maria can read into what he’s not telling her. That they’re not out of the woods yet. But she now has a room number, so she heads in that direction. Seeing Natasha will go a long way into calming her down.

Natasha’s room is an area of the hospital Maria’s not used to frequenting, she’s not even sure what wing it’s in. She just knows Natasha is there, and that’s what matters. Though, Maria can probably guess what wing it is, she really doesn’t want to think about the implications of it. So she just heads for the room in question, ignoring the looks of anyone she passes. Natasha is high profile enough that she knows the area is probably highly secured, and she doesn’t doubt that Stark would have had a hand in ensuring the security is top notch. But obviously these people have been briefed on who Maria is, because she walks into the room with no problem. Still, she’s looking at her feet, at the floor, anywhere but in front of her, because she knows she’ll never be ready to see what she knows is in front of her.

“Hey, Maria.” She snaps her head up at that, not expecting Steve to be in the room. Hell, she wasn’t expecting anyone. But the blond is just smiling at her, except it’s not his usual smile. Not the apple pie smile, as Tasha frequently calls it. Maria heaves in a breath and nods, returning with a hesitant smile. Now that her gaze is up, she looks past Steve, to the bed where Natasha is laying.