Dr. Banner isn’t quite staring as the shuttle soars across the ocean towards New York City, but he’s giving her short, almost furtive glances every few minutes as though he expects her to snap at him, or pull her weapon, or possibly turn into something...else.
Maria ignores it at first, concentrating on her paperwork. It’s not required that agents make conversation with fellow passengers in the shuttle, although most would, depending on the agent and the passengers.
Needless to say, Maria is not ‘most’ SHIELD agents.
Still, the glances are growing annoying, and when she looks up as the pilots report a spot of turbulence off the New Jersey coast, she catches his eyes flicking away and decides she’s had enough.
“Is my nose on crooked, Dr. Banner?”
He seems taken aback by the confrontation. “I’d have to take measurements to be sure,” he says after a moment. “Although it looks straight enough. But really, I was wondering if you knew of any good Indian tea houses in New York.”
It’s Maria’s turn to be taken aback. Between the joke and the question it takes her a second to find her voice, let alone think. “Good Indian tea houses?”
“In New York.”
He says it almost defiantly, as though he expects her to object. His defensiveness falls somewhere between amusing and annoying to Maria. She’s sitting in a small, enclosed, flying box with him, isn’t she?
“There’s the Pakistan Tea House over in Tribeca,” she says after a moment’s thought. “Hole in the wall but the food is good. My friend swears by it, although the service varies.”
“I don’t need perfect service.” Banner smiles, perhaps a little wryly. “Actually, I find being waited on hand and foot to be...a little creepy.”
Which begs the question of why Dr. Banner is still staying with Tony Stark, the kind of man for whom the terms ‘sybarite’ and ‘hedonist’ were invented.
“Well, as an alternative, the Tamarind Tribeca is good. They’ve got a decent tea selection, although it might not be what you’re used to.”
The smile quirks again. “Lieutenant, I’ve become used to much less.”
It seems an odd expression on such a solidly build man, even if he does hunch slightly over, as though trying to make himself smaller than he is. Not that Maria can blame him; his ‘passenger’ is not exactly harmless.
She waits for a moment to see if he has any more questions, then begins to turn her attention back to her papers.
“You seem quite knowledgeable about tea houses in New York.”
“I run a directory service for stray superheroes,” she deadpans without looking up.
“Is that why you’ve been assigned to babysit the Avengers?”
And that’s more direct than she would have expected from Banner. She wouldn’t have called it babysitting... Although, maybe when applied to Stark... “Perhaps Fury thought I needed to learn people-skills.”
Banner gives a choked laugh. “Now that’s terrifying!” Then, hastily, he adds, “Sorry, the idea that anyone would learn people-skills dealing with us is just...”
“Absurd? Preposterous? Machiavellian?”
“The last does seem to fit Fury rather well.”
Maria doesn’t say anything to that. It would be unwise to publically criticise her commander, although she silently agrees with Dr. Banner. She’s under no illusions as to the reasons she’s been assigned this role, and she’s already laid out her concerns on this matter before Fury; he dismissed them. She’s liaison for the Avengers until such a time as she resigns from SHIELD or the Avengers refuse to work with her.
“If you have further inquiries about food and drink and entertainment in the area, I’m sure I can ask for recommendations from other SHIELD personnel.”
“Or I could ask Jervis.”
He tilts his head. “You’re wondering why I asked you in the first place?”
“I figured there were some things you probably didn’t want Stark to know.”
“A good reason.”
In the cockpit, one of the pilots turns in his seat. “We’re coming into Manhattan, Lieutenant. We’ve been given clearance for Avengers’ Tower. ETA ten minutes.”
“Avengers’ Tower?” Banner asks, surprised.
“A warm light for all mankind to share,” Maria replies and watches his mouth twist at the reflection of Loki’s words. “Strap in, Doctor. We’ll have you back in your lab in the next fifteen minutes.”
“It’s not--” He shakes his head. “Never mind. Thank you for the tea house recommendations. I appreciate it.”
Maria almost smiles at the politeness. But then, she supposes Banner hasn’t had all that much politeness in his career since his accident. “You’re welcome.”
The rest of the flight is conducted in silence.
Maria notes Dr. Banner doesn’t say why he asked her for restaurant recommendations any more than she tells him that dealing with the Avengers is rather more kin to herding cats than babysitting.
There are some things it’s probably better to leave unsaid.