She uses the time walking back to try and put her defenses back up, to try and get her walls back up. She needs to not fall apart in front of her boss and Natasha’s team. After a few minutes she has a shaky, semblance of her emotional defenses up. Enough that she can face the Avengers briefly. Though, when she reaches the room from before, she finds only Pepper and Steve there, the CEO engrossed in a tablet and the Captain staring intently at a folder in his hands. She stands aimlessly at the door for a few moments before Pepper looks up and offers her a hesitant smile.
“Everyone else went home, Bruce and Steve are going to stay here. We weren’t sure if you wanted to stay or go back to the Tower for a bit.” She says, standing. Maria hesitates at the door. She suddenly feels the grime from the mission, of crawling through vents and elevator shafts. And Natasha’s dried blood on her clothes and hands. Maria also knows she needs to eat and try and catch a few hours of sleep, but she doesn’t want to leave. She knows she’s only barely holding herself together, and she feels as if a strong wind could knock down all of her defenses.
“You’re going home, you’re going to eat, shower and sleep. Not necessarily in that order. You look like shit and she won’t be moved to a private room until morning, at the very earliest. You won’t do her or you any favors by exhausting yourself or ignoring basic necessities.” She almost jumps out of her skin as Bruce approaches from behind her. Jerking slightly and turning sharply to meet him, and he gives her a very pointed look that she can only interpret as her actions proving his point. She wonders exactly how she’ll be getting home, her car is still at HQ and Coulson seems to be long gone. Maria finds she’s agreeing with Bruce though, it’ll do her good to get cleaned up. Because she has little doubt she’ll be leaving the hospital for very long after they settle Natasha in. Still, part of her argues against it. Part of her wants to stay, wants to be right here if there’s any kind of news. Realistically she knows Bruce will call her first, but the part of her that wants, no, needs, to stay isn’t rational.
“I can take you home, Maria. I was just waiting to see if you wanted or needed a ride.” Pepper says, suddenly behind Maria. She flinches again, and really realizes how far off her game she really is. Slowly nodding, she heaves in a deep breath to try and center herself.
“Yeah, I’d appreciate that.” She says softly, unable to dredge up a smile for Pepper. She’s just too damn tired. The entire day, combined with how little sleep she actually had last night, is really getting to her. Pepper does smile at her though, and Maria finds herself nodding and then following her out of the room. She glances back to find Bruce walking over to Steve, and then turns to glance in the direction she went in to see Natasha. Like she could see her through all of the walls. Please, be strong. Please survive this. She thinks to herself, almost like a silent prayer. She knows she doesn’t deserve anything after the life she has led, but she hopes that whatever luck is left to her in the world goes towards her fiance.
Maria finally turns her attention to Pepper, she’s been noticing the looks Pepper has been sneaking. They’re not sympathetic or pitying looks, for which Maria is grateful. But it’s like Pepper just knows how brittle her emotional walls are. Like she’s just expecting Maria to break down. The brunette knows she won’t break down in public, but when she reaches her and Natasha’s apartment she won’t be able to hold it together. She’ll allow herself to break down. Pepper makes a motion to reach out to Maria, but the brunette backs away and evades it. She doesn’t want to be touched by anyone right now, anyone that’s not Natasha. The one person she needs right then is fighting for her life and Maria’s completely out of her element. She just focuses on following Pepper’s lead, the sooner she gets home, the sooner she can let the day fully hit her and let out the emotions she’s been bottling up. They reach Pepper’s car, and Maria’s more than a little surprised Pepper drove herself. But she supposes that there might not have been time. She can only imagine the mad rush everyone was in to get to the hospital. Pepper motions for her to get in and she follows that order, grateful for not having to drive. She’s not entirely sure she’d be able to drive home on her own.
The drive back to the tower is quiet, Pepper doesn’t offer comfort through encouraging words, and Maria finds herself grateful for Pepper yet again. When they arrive, Maria gets out of the car without prompting and starts heading directly for the elevator. She only barely notices Pepper following her. Maria needs to be in her own space, she needs to be in a place where she can break down. Because she’s not handling herself well anymore. The elevator ride is short, as if JARVIS can sense her need to be home, and Pepper rides with her.
“Maria, do you …” She trails off, stilling standing in the elevator. Maria infers the question and pauses. Does she want company? She trusts Pepper, and frankly, she doesn’t want to be alone. Turning, she slowly nods. Pepper steps out of the elevator into the apartment.
“I need a shower.” Maria says softly, motioning to the living room for Pepper. The brunette hastily exits the room and heads for their bedroom. Natasha’s clothes from last night are still discarded on the floor, while Maria’s are in a neat little pile off to the side. She can’t bring herself to pick them up. Stripping right there in the bedroom, she adds her uniform to the pile to get washed and quickly grabs comfortable clothes for the night. A quick glance to the bed makes Maria realize something. She’s not sure she’ll be able to sleep in their bed alone, not as things stand now. The couch and guest bedroom are always options, but she’ll approach that problem when the time comes.
I can do this. She tells herself as she heads into the bathroom. She deposits the clothes on the closed toilet seat and takes a deep breath. She’s grimy, she needs a shower. And she can cry in the shower, and no one will notice. She starts the water and climbs in, soaking her hair instantly. Maria plans for a quick shower, so she’s efficient and wastes no time. But at the end, she can’t bring herself to get out. She slides to the floor of the shower and wraps her arms around her knees and decides it’s as good a time as any to let go. She cries, silent heaving sobs the shake her body. The water is still on, and she lets it wash away the salty tears. Maria Hill does not cry, but she’s started and she can’t stop. She has so many reasons to keep crying, and not a single one to stop. She cries at the thought of losing Natasha, she cries over the fear that she’ll never get to marry the only person she’s loved as deeply as she could. She cries in anger at the man she executed, the man who in death still might rob her of the truly good thing in her life. Maria wants to strike out, hit something in anger. But she won’t let herself go that far, she won’t let herself get angry. There’s no one to get angry at, not anymore. So she just cries. She’s really not sure how long she’s been in the shower, but it is long enough for the water to run cold. Suddenly the water shuts off, and Maria snaps her head up to see Pepper crouching next to the shower. She hadn’t noticed the bathroom door open, or someone enter.
“Maria.” She swallows hard, and the tears refuse to stop. Pepper’s voice is gentle and she doesn’t know how to take that, so she turns her face away. A towel is draped over her shoulders, even as they shake with sobs. She’s undone at the seams and she can’t find her center, can’t figure out how to compose herself. The brunette soon finds herself in Pepper’s arms and the crying still won’t stop. She knows Pepper is trying to comfort her, but she doesn’t know how to take comfort from other people. Natasha is the exception, she always has been.