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Breathe in the Summer Air (You are the Sand Between My Toes)

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The light’s visible around the edges of the door when she gets back after a hard day’s sleuthing. She’s 95% sure that she remembered to turn it off when she left — remembering to pay the electricity bill being more important these days — and her bow is in her hand, arrow nocked before she thinks about it, and it’s still kind of cool how she’s made that so instinctual.

She slides the door open as quietly as she can, ready to surprise whoever’s broken in, and an odour of something partly burned, partly unidentifiable greets her.

This is the kind of smell that’s going to linger. It’s going to cling to every scrap of fabric in the apartment. She just knows it.

A blonde head pops around the corner and she glares at it even as she relaxes, just a little.

“Hey, Kate Bishop,” Yelena says cheerily, as if she hasn’t just broken into Kate’s place again, and committed the culinary equivalent of homicide. “I’ve cooked dinner.”

“I can tell,” Kate says dryly, but — despite herself — she can’t help a smile springing to her lips as she lowers her bow and slides the arrow back into her quiver. “What is it?” she asks, out of morbid curiosity.

“Eh, a bit of this, a bit of that. Your cupboard and fridge are really disappointing, you know? At least I knew to lay in some more cutlery. You can keep it. My gift to you. I can’t believe you didn’t get some more, even after I pointed out your sad lack.” Yelena shakes her head sorrowfully, then beckons Kate. “Come here, taste what I’ve made.”

Despite her better judgment, Kate makes her way over, accepts a spoonful of something that mostly just tastes of enough hot sauce to make her eyes water. She manages a shaky thumbs up.

Yelena coos and pats her on the cheek. “So, takeout?”

“Takeout,” Kate agrees with some relief. She’s really not sure she could have managed more of that. She grabs some milk from the fridge — only a couple of days past the expiry date — to wash the taste out of her mouth. “Hey, want to make it a proper girls’ night in?”

The smile that lights up Yelena’s face is answer enough.

A couple of hours later, Kate is beginning to regret her life choices. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time, but now Yelena is curled up on the couch, head on her lap and Kate’s not sure what to do with herself or where to put her arms. 

For God’s sake, at one point she’d found herself idly stroking Yelena’s hair, which… So not cool. Even if Yelena wasn’t a Black Widow capable of snapping her in two, even if she hadn’t actually complained, they’re really not at that place yet. Whatever that place is. Even if she wants to be at that place, which she really hasn’t decided yet. Hasn’t even considered place-like things at all yet.

So here she is, a warm presence pressing her into the sofa in a way she really doesn’t want to think about, one arm hanging off the side, the other with fingers pressed into the back of the couch in a vague attempt to remind her to keep it there, because it’s really not a position that comes naturally to her, slowly losing her mind.

At least the rom-com she’d put on is ending finally, the lead couple ending up together despite all the hilarious misunderstandings.

“Mmmmm, this is comfy,” Yelena mumbles, not doing anything at all to dispel her catlike impression by kneading Kate’s leg with her strong fingers. “Mind if I stay the night? We can have a sleepover.”

“Sure!” Kate squeaks, taking the opportunity to slip out from under her. “I’ll just… get you a pillow. And some blankets!”

Yelena nods sleepily, grabbing one of the remaining pot-stickers to pop it into her mouth. “Sounds good,” she says around it.

She looks… Kate doesn’t know quite how to handle how she looks, as relaxed and vulnerable as Yelena probably ever gets. Around Kate, like she trusts her or something. It makes something twinge in Kate’s chest and she practically runs upstairs to avoid thinking about it.

Kate doesn’t do twinges. Granted, a few months ago she wouldn’t have thought that she did deadly assassins curled up in her apartment, or a whole lot of other things, but that somehow seems easier than… whatever the hell this is.

Yelena’s seemingly asleep when she comes back downstairs, her breathing rough, just on the edge of snoring. It’s… yeah. Kate creeps up to the couch, tucks the blanket in around her before lifting her head as gently as she can to slide the pillow in beneath it. Yelena mumbles and burrows her head into it.

Kate swallows, then flees back up to her bed.

Thankfully, Yelena is gone in the morning, having cleaned out the remnants of the takeout as well, and that’s fine. Kate’s fine, not disappointed at all. It’s just as well, really, because she’s got a job that needs attending to, and she certainly doesn’t need any distractions.

Of course, having fed Yelena once — twice if she counts the stolen mac and cheese — apparently means Yelena keeps on turning up sporadically, like a stray cat. It’s not that Kate minds, exactly, even if Yelena takes great delight in being mysterious when Kate asks her what she’s been doing. Yelena’s out of the assassination business these days — she thinks, she hopes, because it’s going to be really awkward if Kate ever has to investigate one of those cases — but she’s sure that there are a lot of other opportunities for someone with Yelena’s talents.

(She’s mentioned something about Stark, which is a good thing. She hopes.)

Yelena’s waiting outside her apartment when she comes home one day, curled up against her door. That’s got to be a good sign, right? Or a very, very bad one, but Kate chooses to focus on the positive. Maybe Yelena’s finally taken to heart Kate’s suggestions that they do things more like normal people.

A text would have been nice, but, hey. Baby steps.

“We’re going out tonight,” Yelena announces as she unfolds lithely upwards, waving a pair of tickets in Kate’s direction.

“Hey!” Kate protests. “How about asking me first? I could have plans.”

Yelena laughs. “Very funny, Kate. Plans, you.” She shakes her head. 

Kate stares at her in offended silence.

“Oh, wait. You were serious?” This time Yelena throws her head back in amusement, exposing her throat as she chortles uproariously, and it’s downright offensive the way the sound of it sends a pleasant shiver through Kate even though she’s the one being mocked. “That’s hilarious,” Yelena says with relish. “Anyway, come on. We’re not going to the theatre like that.” She gestures, encompassing Kate from head to toe.

“Okay, fair,” Kate admits. Her top has a few too many rips and stains — only some of them blood — to be really called anywhere near her best anymore. And, yeah, now that she’s looking, Yelena is definitely wearing a better class of clothing than normal. A dress for a start. Kate blames the way that Yelena was positioned when she first saw her for not noticing that sooner. It’s a good cut, too, flattering Yelena’s figure, drawing Kate’s eyes and drying her mouth in a way that she is absolutely not thinking about.

She wonders if Yelena had help picking this out, then stuffs that line of thought somewhere out of sight as well. It’s absolutely no business of hers who Yelena associates with — or doesn’t associate with.


She pushes past Yelena and into her apartment, heading upstairs to locate what remains of her decent wardrobe. It’s honestly kind of pitiful and a tragic reminder that she needs to do her laundry more often. But that’s a problem for future Kate. Present Kate is more worried about looking like a complete dork in front of Yelena.

Which is not helped one bit by Yelena sprawling on the bed, offering ‘helpful’ commentary on anything she considers for more than a second.

It doesn’t help. Not one bit.

“What are we going to see?” Kate asks, in an attempt to distract her.

Yelena looks at her tickets. Always an encouraging sign. “I Will Go On.”

It’s not something she’s gone to see, but the name strikes a chord. Granted, it’s a vague memory of her thinking she never wants to see it, but maybe she’s wrong. Maybe that was another production entirely.

She finally chooses what to wear — mourning the fact that she no longer has a matching suit, and has to make do with parts from several — and banishes Yelena downstairs so she can change. Yelena gives a loud groan of complaint — “You do realise I grew up in the Red Room, and they didn’t care enough to give us separate changing rooms” — but thankfully she slopes off without too much argument.

Kate takes the opportunity to google the show on her phone and stifles a groan of her own. Past her had been completely correct. This is one of those really depressing productions set up during the Blip, about people who’ve lost everyone and everything, and how they carry on, or don’t. Its home page is littered with warning labels such as ‘Heartwarming’ and ‘Touching’. It even won a Tony in 2021, which was definitely a warning sign during the Blip years.

Ugh. She can’t believe that she’s considering actually going to see this. On the bright side, maybe Yelena will realise what a lemon this is partway through and they can sneak out, find something more fun. That at least doesn’t seem so hard. Drinking by herself in the apartment seems positively cheery compared to watching this.

She gets changed, does her best with her makeup — both to look presentable and to cover up her latest bruises — drags a brush through her hair and heads downstairs. Yelena’s eyes flick upwards from where she’s sprawled on the couch and… just keep looking.

It’s honestly pretty damn gratifying.

Kate finishes descending the last few stairs with maybe a little more sway in her hips than is truly necessary. “Like what you see?” she smirks.

“Eh,” Yelena says, tilting her hand from side to side. “Seen better.” She flips herself up fluidly from the couch, and it shouldn’t impress Kate, it really shouldn’t — she can do that, just as easily — but…

“Like what you see?” Yelena mocks, imitating her intonation, and Kate flips her off. (And if her response was delayed due to the magnetic power of Yelena’s athleticism, then Yelena thankfully doesn’t point it out.)

The musical is just as maudlin as Kate had feared, full of people looking sorrowfully off into the middle distance and singing sad songs in minor keys. And Kate remembers what it was like during the Blip, that no one had any idea that the disappeared even could return. But that doesn’t help the fact that she kind of wants to go up there and shake all the characters, tell them it’ll be fine in a few years, that they should just get on with life and get over it.

Yelena, on the other hand, spends most of the time sniffling when she doesn’t have tears coming down her face, murmuring things like, “She misses him so much.” It’s… Kate knows this should feel awkward, pretty much would around anyone else, but… Honestly, she just feels weirdly protective. As if Yelena even needs protecting. As if couldn’t take her apart as easily as breathing.

Kate cautiously starts sliding her arm around Yelena, ready to take it back at the slightest sign it’s not welcome, but Yelena buries her head in Kate’s side and it’s…

It shouldn’t be anything, it should just be Kate offering what comfort she can, like a good friend, or as good a friend as they’ve come to be, which… She thinks they are? It’s hard to tell. Yelena never seems to take anything seriously, apart from when she does, and Kate’s really not sure they’ve edged into that territory yet.

And, well, being here, hiding her like this, it feels a like a lot. Even if it probably shouldn’t.


She doesn’t need to be thinking about this, not right now, and so she does her best to bury herself back in the play — which has just started another depressing musical number — contenting herself with stroking Yelena’s side with one thumb.

She hopes that’s enough. And not too much.


Yelena’s quiet on the trip back to the apartment, and Kate doesn’t poke her, just lets her have this. She hopes this was what Yelena wanted, but… How would she even ask that?

“Do you want to stay the night?” she asks when the Uber arrives outside her place.

Yelena offers her a wan smile, which worries her more than it probably should. “If you don’t mind. It’s such an effort to break into somewhere nice at this time of night.”

Which is probably a joke. Probably.

“My couch is your couch.”

Kate’s drifting off to sleep when Yelena’s voice warbles up from the bottom floor, “You know when Sue was standing on the edge of the building? Do you think that’s how Natasha felt?”

Kate can’t help feel an echo of Yelena’s pain. “I don’t know. Maybe?”

Yelena sighs, blowing air loudly past her lips. “It’s stupid. I just can’t help thinking…” She swallows. “It’s just… Clint said she fought so hard so she could send him back to his family. Does that mean...” Her voice is thick, choked. “Weren’t we enough?”

Okay, Kate’s not doing this from up here. She gathers her remaining blankets and heads down to the couch, curling up on the ground next to it. In the night's dimness, she can only see the white of Yelena’s face, the grey of her hair, the dark pits of her eyes. She lays her hand palm up on the couch next to Yelena. “I think she must have wanted you back so much, she was willing to pay any price to get it.”

Yelena grips her hand hard. “Is it ridiculous that it’s easier to cry for the characters in that musical than it is for my own sister?”

“No,” Kate says around the lump in her throat. “It’s not ridiculous at all.”

She goes to sleep there, on the floor, curled up next to the couch, hand still tightly held in Yelena’s grasp. It’s…

Well, she hopes it helps Yelena.

In the morning she wakes up to Yelena thrusting some scrambled eggs in her direction before dumping her usual improbable amount of hot sauce on what’s left.

“Good, yes?” she says as she shovels food into her mouth.

It’s actually not half bad, light and fluffy with a delicate undertone that Yelena’s presumably completely missing, so Kate smiles and nods.

After breakfast, Yelena presses a kiss to Kate’s cheek and disappears out of the door, leaving Kate staring after her. 

Is that a thing they’re doing now? Did Yelena mean anything by it? Or was that just something she’d decided to try out?

It’s probably a check in the friend column, at least. Unless it’s not.

Kate… Kate doesn’t need to think about this right this minute. She actually has to earn money now, and staring at the door, pressing one hand to her cheek like a dork isn’t helping that one bit.

She does her best to put the incident out of her mind.

The attempt is mostly unsuccessful.

Nothing else changes, which is probably a good thing. Well, apart from the cheek kisses continuing, which is starting to slowly send Kate out of her mind. She knows this is a thing some people do — she has friends who do this — but Yelena is giving her nothing to get a read on this situation, and Kate just can’t bring herself to ask.

After all, if she does, then Yelena might stop.

It probably is a check in the friend column at least, because Yelena wouldn’t do this, wouldn’t keep turning up, if she didn’t like her.

She thinks.

Still, she certainly doesn’t expect the sound of a man’s loud raucous laughter coming from her apartment as she gets home late one day, bruised and aching and just looking forward to collapsing in bed.

Ugh. Ugh. Why can’t she just leave all her cases at the front door of her apartment?

She heads back downstairs then makes her way up the outside of the building, her muscles protesting all the way. She’s definitely going to add a few bruises to whoever is making her do this if it comes to a fight.

She peeks into a window to check out the situation and freezes. There are three people in her apartment — a large, balding man sprawled on the couch, laughing yet again. A slender, self-contained middle aged woman, back to the wall, in a position where she can see all approaches. And Yelena, who’s waving up at her.

“Hey, Kate Bishop,” she drawls. “Sorry to drop in like this, but my parents insisted.” She rolls her eyes as if to complain about the utter unreasonableness of parental units.

(Which is still a subject Kate isn’t touching, even these months later.)

Ugh. Kate drops in through the window and to the floor, hideously aware of every imperfection in her form. It’s easier than making her way down the building again and climbing the stairs, and that honestly counts for more right now.

“Alexei,” the man says as he comes over, hand extended. She takes it and is effortlessly dragged into a tight hug. It’s… That much bodily contact is something of a shock at this point, but it’s not bad, not exactly. It’s just a lot. “You must be the Kate Yelena tells us so much about.”

Kate sends Yelena a quizzical look over Alexei’s shoulder. Yelena makes a face and shakes her head.

“Melina,” the woman says after Alexei releases her. Kate feels pinioned by her quiet gaze, assessed in an unspoken examination Kate isn’t sure she passes.

“Now that we’ve been all been introduced, let’s go get something to eat. We’d picked out a restaurant, but it’ll probably be closed by the time we get there. Do you have any ideas?”

“There’s… an all night grill not far from here?” Kate offers.

“Excellent!” Alexei booms. “Let’s get to know each other over meat.”

Alexei fills most of the conversation by himself, telling story after improbable story about his fight against capitalism and the West. “Not that I have a problem with America these days,” he adds. “That’s all over now. Still, those were the glory days!”

Kate nibbles from her plate, mostly watching Yelena’s face as she listens to the one man Alexei show. Yelena makes a big show of hiding her face in embarrassment at his bombast, but it’s not hard to see the affection shining through.

It’s… That’s good. Kate’s glad Yelena still has this, and desperately tries not to overthink why Yelena’s parents want to meet her. They probably want to make sure that she’s not a bad influence, which… Well, it’s not as though Kate hasn’t been a beneficiary of the capitalist system, even if her current situation is a little more complicated.

Kate’s excused herself to the washroom when Melina catches up with her. She emerges from the cubicle, toilet flushing behind her, to find Melina propped up against the counter waiting for her patiently, dark eyes still coolly assessing.

“If you hurt Yelena, I’ll make sure you can’t do it again,” she states flatly.

Kate blinks. “Is this a shovel talk? Yelena and I, we’re not like that.”

Melina looks slightly confused, then her expression clears. “No, I’m not threatening to kill you. How would that help things? No, no, I’ll just make sure you can’t do it again.” Her message apparently delivered, she turns on her heel and exits the washroom, leaving Kate behind to stare blankly at space she’d just occupied.

Well, that wasn’t ominous at all.

Still, by the time she gets back to the table, her chest is all twisted up inside. Melina gave her a shovel talk. A weird shovel talk, but still. That implies… That implies they think that something more than just friendship is going on between Yelena and her. Does Yelena think that? Have they been in some kind of relationship that Kate doesn’t know about?

(She thinks her heart leaps in her chest, but maybe that’s just the adrenaline comedown.)

Why doesn’t she know about it?

“Ah, you’re back!” Alexei says as she joins them. “We’ve gotten to the part of the evening you’ve been waiting for.” He drums his fingers on the table. “Pictures of Yelena as a kid!”

Yelena goes wide eyed with panic, practically diving across the table as he reaches inside his pocket. “No no no no. We don’t need to see those.”

“Nonsense,” Alexei says, holding them out of her reach. “Is important ritual.”

Yelena leans back in her seat when she can’t reach them. “It’s not as though there’s that many, anyway.”

This is getting a little crazy, even for Kate. There’s definitely a part of her that wants to embarrass Yelena by cooing over doubtless cute pictures, but it’s also fairly clear that her parents have got completely the wrong idea about them. That they… It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t want to make Yelena uncomfortable, certainly doesn’t want to spoil their friendship. “That’s alright. I don’t want to see them if Yelena doesn’t want me to.”

“You sure?” Alexei says enticingly, waving them around. “There are some pretty juicy ones in here.”

Kate shakes her head. “I’m good.”

Alexei and Melina look at each other, then Alexei shrugs, shoves them back in his pocket. “Well, whatever you say.”

It’s a weird note on a night already overloaded with weirdness, and Kate isn’t sorry at all when it ends shortly afterwards. Alexei and Melina escort Kate and Yelena back to Kate’s apartment, then leave.

“So,” Kate says, forcing a laugh. “Your parents seem to have some fairly out there ideas about us.”

She turns around just in time to see Yelena pitch herself out of the window.

Sagging against the wall, she let out a long, heartfelt sigh.

Well, that went well.

Somewhat to her surprise, Yelena does turn up the next day, but vigorously changes the subject whenever her parents — or what the hell that visit was about — comes up. Which is fine. Completely fine. Kate totally isn’t distracted trying to figure any of that out, and is totally good with what they’ve got now.

It’s fine. Good, even.

Until one evening when Yelena’s spent the last hour curled into her side, and Kate just feels so warm from the contact that she… she just can’t anymore. But she can’t just blurt her feelings out.

This requires a plan.

She waits until Yelena is making her way across the tarmac after having emerged from the plane, then releases the arrow in a high arc. Yelena rolls to the side as the arrow hits the ground next to her practically vertically, then pops out a roll of paper. Yelena’s eyes meet hers and Kate gives her a salute, then executes a strategic withdrawal.

Waiting in Central Park — once she gets there — is the hardest part. It’s a nice day for the time of year, enough that there are other people out there, but the place isn’t crowded. She starts off by curling up on the ground next to the hamper, cool as you please, like she hasn’t got a care in the world. But she only manages to maintain that for a few minutes, before the urge to keep on looking around becomes unbearable, and she just knows once she gives into that urge, she’s going to look completely needy.

So she springs to her feet, starts pacing around, just to burn off some energy. And if that means that she can monitor the park, looking for familiar blonde hair… Well, that’s just an added bonus.

She’s not sure how long she keeps that up for. It feels like forever, but it can’t be more than half an hour. Twenty minutes, maybe. 

She hopes it’s not less than ten minutes.

She obviously needs something else to distract herself with, and practicing has always been good for that as far as she’s concerned. She’s lost hours practising archery, martial arts, gymnastics, and there are definitely tricks with the coin flick she’s yet to master. Luckily, there’s a nearby tree, so she starts trying to bounce coins off that in such a way that they come back at her. Bonus points if she can catch them on the return.

Boomerang coins.

“Take that, Clint,” she mutters as she catches the coin for the fifth time in a row.

“Nice,” Yelena says from behind her. “Situational awareness could still use a little work, though.”

Kate spins around and glares at her. “Did anyone ever tell you it’s rude to sneak up on someone?”

Yelena’s already opened the hamper, is chewing on a drumstick. “Yeah,” she says, smiling to reveal half chewed chicken. “Boring people. Are you boring, Kate?”

It’s.. it’s… She needs to get this ball rolling now, before she chickens out again. “I don’t know. I’m not sure I’m the type to fling myself out of a window to avoid a conversation about why my parents wanted to meet someone.”

Yelena pauses, cracking the bone and noisily sucks the marrow out of it. “I don’t know. That does sound pretty boring,” she finally says, but she’s not looking at Kate when she does.

“Your mother gave me a shovel speech. Or something I’m fairly sure was a shovel speech. ‘If you hurt my daughter, I’ll make sure that you can’t do it again,’” she says in her best imitation of Melina.

Yelena blinks. “She said that?” She gives an unconvincing laugh. “That’s so… strange and obviously a joke and certainly not something that I’m going to yell at her about the next time I see her.”

Kate is beginning to suspect that she seriously does not want to know what that is all about. “I don’t really care about that. I do… People don’t do that because they just think their daughter has a new friend.”

Yelena leaps to her feet. “It’s weird, I know. I’m weird and no one sane would want to deal with my family on top of that. I get the message. I’ll go. I won’t bother you again.”

Kate’s quick enough to reach her before she gets more than a few steps. Only a gentle touch of her hand to Yelena’s shoulder, but Yelena freezes as though Kate had pinioned her. “Do you honestly think I’d have invited you out to Central Park, with a picnic and everything, if I just wanted you to go?”

She can feel how tense Yelena is beneath her fingertips, wants nothing more than to reach a bit further forward, maybe stroke that cheek. But… probably best not. Just in case that Black Widow training kicks in.

“I figure you were just letting me down easily,” Yelena says, voice tight. “Don’t want to set off the crazy assassin.”

“You’re definitely not the only person here who’s been called crazy,” Kate says, heart beating so fast in her chest it feels like it almost explodes. This has so many ways it can go wrong. “And… I think your bluntness is one of the things I like about you. As well as how good you are at kicking ass.”

Yelena turns around and her eyes are burning. “Don’t play with me, Kate Bishop.”

Kate swallows. “I’m not. I swear I’m more than happy if you want to remain just friends. But… well, I also wouldn’t mind if I became the kind of person your parents would give a shovel talk to. If you wanted that too.”

Yelena pauses for a long moment — long enough for the tension in Kate’s chest to ratchet tighter and tighter and tighter; long enough that she could just about scream — but then a slow smile creeps across her face. “Well, hang on a moment, Little Miss Capitalist. Let’s just take this one step at a time.” Her eyes flick deliberately to Kate’s lips, then back up again. “Before either of us commit to anything…” Again, there’s a pause, but this time only for a beat. “Want to take a test drive?”

“Yes!” Kate squeaks out, her voice embarrassingly high.

“I should warn you,” Yelena says as she closes the remaining distance. “I have been trained to kiss. And I scored very high marks in my class.”

Which is a whole load of yikes Kate is going to have to interrogate at some point. 


Some point later.

Because as Yelena’s lips make contact with hers and their bodies press together, Kate can well believe the boast.