Even knowing she wasn’t ready, even knowing what would meet her gaze, the sight still knocks the breath out of her. She wishes she dared grab something for support, it feels like her knees want to buckle, it feels like she’s going to hit the floor at that very moment. It feels like her entire world is crashing down, again. Again and again, it hits her. She was able to delude herself, she guesses, but the full scene before her is jarring and it sets her on edge. Maria Hill finds herself rooted to the spot, her feet stuck to the ground and the world rocking beneath her. But her attention is so zeroed in, her gaze can’t, it won’t, she can’t pull her eyes away from her fiance.
She doesn’t even try to count the number of tubes and wires, she’s already overwhelmed. Maria almost wonders if there are more tubes than her brief visit before. There are still things, tubes and wires, trailing from the side of Natasha’s skull, despite the thick bandages. The hair she knows isn’t under there. Maria tries to swallow her fear, tries to move, to do anything. But she’s still rooted, stuck there, staring at Natasha in horror. She really had hoped that this would be easier, but it isn’t. The cacophony of noises in the room, of machines and everything, it drowns out any thoughts she tries to force through the horror.
“Maria!” Her name being said forcefully draws her back to the moment, and her vision clears. She hadn’t notice it black out, but when she looks up, she sees Steve standing in front of her. His hand is on her shoulder, and she just now feels it. A deep breath to steady herself, and she blinks until she’s able to see Steve clearly. “I know it’s terrifying, but she needs us here. She needs you here.” Maria nods slowly, shifting from foot to foot. He nods at her, and she wonders just how bad she looked if Steve looks this concerned.
“I’m fine.” She lies, and the expression that flits over Steve’s face is of disbelief, before he masks it with a smile. She’s grateful he’s letting her have this lie. A deep breath through her nose before she leans to the side to see past Steve. Maria needs another look at Natasha, one with her mind clear. One where she can really asses the situation.
“Bruce said the swelling is starting to go down, he’s been in and out. He wanted to talk to you when you got here, so I’m going to go get him. You should sit down.” Steve’s voice is gentle, he’s always so kind. He doesn’t deserve the anger that boiled up within her, the pointless anger that serves no purpose. She buries it deep, this isn’t his fault. None of it is, he is just trying to help. She has already taken care of the man who did this. So her only response is a nod, before she shuffles over to the chair Steve has vacated.
With a clear head, she is better able to asses Natasha. Yes, there are still tubes and wires trailing from her skull, which, while were frightening, were definitely not the worst thing. The lack of hair is unsettling, only because it is most of Natasha’s head, and only the tiniest bit is left. And the thick bandages aren’t that terrifying. The ventilator tube is routine enough, it isn’t her first encounter with it, nor is it Natasha’s, but it still holds a modicum of terror to it. The rest of the wires and tubes are routine enough, IVs and monitoring equipment. Well, except for the thick wire trailing from Natasha’s collarbone. That is just unsettling, and Maria isn’t even sure what it is for. But her gaze keeps going back to Natasha’s head. There is a thick wire, and some tubing, and not all of it is located on the side of her head. Then the tube leading into Natasha’s nose, while something Maria is familiar with, didn’t make it any less harrowing. The whole scene is unsettling, and she has to lower herself down slowly. There isn’t much covering her fiance, and Maria has the urge to go collect blankets. She knows there is probably a good reason for it, but Natasha ran cold, and Maria’s first instinct is to warm her up. There is the normal, and thin, hospital gown. As well as a thin sheet covering her, and Maria knows none of it is enough to keep Natasha warm were she conscious, or even just normally unconscious. Without putting much thought into the gesture, she leans forward and picks up Natasha’s hand. She is mindful of the IV taped to the back of her hand, but that doesn’t stop her from bringing her fiance’s hand to her mouth, pressing a kiss to Natasha’s knuckles. An echo of when she was first let in to see her fiance. After the kiss, she settles Natasha’s hand in both of hers and attempts to rub warmth into it. The redhead’s hand is far too cool for Maria’s liking.
“Maria.” Her attention is directed away from her prone fiance, and towards Bruce Banner. He’s standing in the doorway, looking more than a bit afraid to step into the room. She sighs and shakes her head.
“I’m not going to blame you for this, Bruce. I took care of the person to blame.” She finds herself saying, her voice soft and still a good portion of her attention on Natasha. It’s like she expects her fiance to wake up and everything to go back to normal. Logically she knows that’s not the case. She sees him nod and enter the room proper.
“There wasn’t a lot of time to really give you proper information, before. Now there is, and I’m afraid you’re going to like what I say a lot less than you did before.” He still sounds apprehensive, and she doesn’t exactly know how to put him at ease. She sighs again, placing Natasha’s hand back on the bed and shifting her entire body to face Bruce. “Really, the only good news I have for you is that there is improvement, however minor it is. She’s still very much in critical condition, and nowhere near in the clear. But the swelling has gone down, if only slightly.” He’s wringing his hands, a nervous habit she remembers Natasha pointing out at one point. Maria nods, slowly. “We’re watching and monitoring at this point. There really hasn’t been any indication of her healing picking things up, and we don’t have any history for an injury this bad. Not in her records, not in Steve’s, and Bucky’s records are spotty, at best. And each of the Serums are different, so we wouldn’t even have reliable data.” She nods again, it’s nothing she wants to hear, but everything she needs to know.
“It really boils down to waiting, and doing whatever we can to minimize the damage. There are a few things we’re watching, but where it stands right now … I’ll be honest, if her healing doesn’t start to kick in, or something changes drastically, things already look pretty grim. If the Serum doesn’t do something, we’re not going to have anything to recover. We’re not even sure the Serum will do anything. This could be too much for it.” He’s still wringing his hands, and frankly it’s starting to annoy Maria.
“Spare me the medical bullshit and speculation, Bruce. What are we looking at?” She finally says, getting sick of him skirting around the topic. Maria needs the information, not Bruce Banner fearfully babbling at her until he either hulks out or passes out.
“I—uh. Brain damage. Significant. If the Serum does any healing, and if it doesn’t—if the Serum is overwhelmed, or doesn’t do anything—if she stays as she is right now, there’s … nothing. There’s too much damage right now, and not a lot of activity. We’re waiting, hoping. Doing what we can to try and give the Serum a push, to try and minimize damage and give her more of a chance. If the Serum doesn’t kick in, she won’t survive.” Maria swallows, these are words she definitely doesn’t want to hear.
“So what you’re telling me is that you’re relying on a eighty-year old genetic experiment. You’re relying on something both you and I know is faulty, on a Serum that is no where near the level of Steve’s. You’re basically saying she doesn’t have a chance, because that goddamn Serum is more of a fucking curse than a blessing, and we both know that. We all know that. You’re sentencing her to god knows what by relying on it.” She’s angry, and she feels justified in it. The Serum that Natasha has, the Soviet attempt at what made Captain America, it’s never been something they could rely on. Natasha hated it more than she was thankful for it, and she’d be downright pissed that this is what it was boiling down to. Maria doesn’t even care that Bruce recoils at her words. She’s speaking the truth.
“Maria, the Serum is her only chance. We have no other choice but to rely on it. There’s too much damage, her brain is too damaged. Without the Serum, she’s dead. She’s already close enough. The Serum doesn’t work and she’s gone, we’re hoping on her very last chance. People don’t survive this kind of injury, not how the bullet entered. We do what we can, repair what we’re able, and we hope. That’s all there is to it.” He’s backing up towards the door, and she can’t bring herself to care. She’s angry, angry at Bruce, at the man who shot Natasha, at the world. She’s not ready, will never be ready, to lose Natasha.
“Fine.” She finds herself grudgingly agreeing, because if that’s it, if that’s what she’s facing. What Natasha is facing, well, she needs to accept it. She tries not to entertain the idea of Natasha not pulling through, though she knows relying on the Soviet Serum is a faulty plan, at best. It’s now a matter of it if the Serum decides to work. Watching Bruce edging out of the room causes her to clench her jaw in anger. He seems to be hovering between staying and fleeing. “What else?” She asked before he has a chance to make that decision.
“There are things we’re monitoring, potential problems. There’s still the risk we—they might have to operate again. But—” He trails off as she narrows her eyes at him. “Until then, we can give you mostly unrestricted visiting time. Except during testing, but I’m sure you understand that. I’ll keep you updated.” She nods, and turns back towards Natasha. Maria is holding back her anger, pushing it down, shoving it away. She’ll let it out when she’s alone, but for the moment, her concern and love for Natasha washes that emotion away. Processing can happen later.