Actions

Work Header

all we know (is touch and go)

Work Text:

It’s an old story, and maybe I should have known better. 

- Matt Fraction, from Hawkeye Annual #1

 

 



After everything - after Kingpin and the tracksuits and the Rockefeller tree, after Christmas with the Bartons, after her mom - Kate returns to the city.

The apartment, when she walks through the door, is the same as it ever was. It’s grown dusty in her absence, small clouds stirring up from the floor as she walks, and the window is still broken; Kate’s pretty sure she can see shards of glass lying around the scorched wood of the baseboard. It feels different, like it grew while she was gone. Like someone walked through each room and moved the furniture an inch to the left. Like it doesn’t know her anymore. 

She’s changed; maybe the apartment has, too. 

She heads over to the couch, sits down heavily. Now that she’s back, everything’s all too fresh in her mind: the fights, the chases, the clean break of her ribs as she flies through the front of a toy store. Clint, drawing his bow and cursing.

Yelena, smirking at her and running. 

Kate’s thoughts close in on Yelena and catch there, refusing to shift. She closes her eyes, letting the memory wash over her: one fork and an open window and a pot of mac and cheese that was waiting on the stove…

She should sell this apartment, probably. What the hell is the point in staying here? All it has are shattered windows and a bedroom too big for just one person, and the ghostly recollection of a Russian assassin spilling hot sauce on her favorite placemat. She could move somewhere else, somewhere cool. Somewhere like Brooklyn. She could be a hipster. She’s got the record player already; it may be sitting on the shelf gathering dust, but it’s still there. 

Pizza Dog, who’s still sitting in the doorway, lets out a loud whine - Kate recognizes it as his signature I’m hungry sound - and then pads over to the rug in front of the TV, where he circles around twice before flopping down like it’s the only place he belongs. As Kate looks at him there, his fur golden brown against the dusty green of the carpet, one ear flat against his head and the other cocked toward the door, she figures that it probably is.

This apartment is the place he chose, after all, and no other kitchen table in New York has the memory of Yelena sitting at it. Kate decidedly does not focus on that second part.

“Alright, boy, you win,” she says. “We’ll stay here. You’ll have to wait for dinner, though. The pizza in the fridge is moldy.” 

Pizza Dog sighs loudly and closes his eyes. Kate looks around the apartment - her apartment - and nods to herself. They’re staying. 

First order of business, then: fix the damn window. 

-- 

New York is a different place when you’re all alone: the pace is faster, the sidewalks bigger, the traffic faster. Every moment becomes a blur in its passing or stretches out until it contains years, no in between. It’s confusing and crowded and lonely all at the same time, and Kate, who’s always had her team and her mother and the Bishop townhouse to fall back on, doesn’t know if she’ll ever quite get used to it. 

At least she has the dog. 

“Thanks for being here,” she says to him one day as they’re sitting on the curb in front of the pizza place down the block from the apartment. “You probably don't know it, but you’re basically my best friend right now. Actually, you definitely are; Clint’s ignoring my texts again.” 

Pizza Dog wags his tail and takes a bite from the pepperoni slice in Kate’s hand. The mother passing them on the sidewalk pulls her children closer, giving Kate a skeptical look as she goes. 

“And now I’m talking to a dog like he’s a human being,” Kate sighs. “Great.” 

Pizza Dog looks directly into her eyes, brown meeting blue, and nods his head like he truly understands - and then grabs the rest of her pizza.

Kate sighs deeply. “Man,” she says, reaching for another slice. “I need to get a job.” 

--

She spends the next weekend casing every store in the near vicinity to see if they’re hiring and returns home with a stack of job applications, two cheesy Future Employee of the Month! stickers, and a cheap cardboard crown from Burger King. Halfway through filling out her fifth twenty-page manifesto for a crappy fast food chain, she’s just about hit her limit. 

“This is stupid,” she says to Pizza Dog. “I shouldn’t be flipping burgers to make a living - and I’m not just saying that because I used to be rich. I have actual talents. My partner is a freaking Avenger! I can do better than this.” 

Pizza Dog looks uninterested in her quarter-life crisis. Kate sighs to herself - she seems to be doing a lot of that, these days - and dials Clint’s number again. 

“Hello?” 

“Oh, hey,” Kate says, swiveling in her chair. The chair doesn’t swivel with her, because it’s a cheap, stationary piece of plastic shit. She really needs to invest in one of those rolling office numbers, the kind that white-collar businessmen on Wall Street have. “How’s it going?” 

“Great,” Clint answers. “Listen, is this urgent?” 

“No, no,” Kate says. “No, it’s not urgent. I just thought I’d check in, you know, since you haven’t been answering my calls lately.” 

“Oh, yeah. Sorry about that, but I’ve been pretty busy over the last couple weeks.” 

Kate perks up instantly. “Busy? Busy with what? Is there a case going on? Anything you need my help with?” 

Clint laughs. “Not quite. Nathaniel got a six-thousand piece Lego set for Christmas and I’ve been roped into helping him put it together, so I’m trying to get that done as soon as possible. You ever tried to cross a living room that’s covered in individual Lego bricks? Believe me, it’s no picnic.” 

“Right, right,” Kate says, her spirits sinking again. “Got it. Tell him I said hi, by the way.” 

“Of course.” There’s a pause, and then: “He says hi back.” 

Kate smiles slightly at that, then frowns again as she remembers why she called in the first place. “Hey, Clint…” 

“Yeah?” 

“I was just kind of, um…wondering what I should do now. You know, cause like, my life changed! I’m a Hawkeye now! There’s gotta be something cool I can do to help people or something.” 

Even a phone line and half a state away, she can tell that Clint is rolling his eyes. “Listen, Katie-Kate. You did well over Christmas, and you’re a hell of a partner, but you don’t need to be in go mode all the time. You’ve earned a break. You’re a kid! Just…go have fun. Learn some dance routines. Hit some clubs. Whatever it is that kids do these days.” 

“I’m not a kid,” Kate complains. “I’m twenty-two! I know you know that. I played the song for you, remember?” 

“All of Taylor Swift’s songs sound the same.” 

“Okay, well that’s definitely not true.” 

“Go have fun,” Clint repeats. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Lego pirate ship to build.” The call ends without another word, and Kate drops her phone onto her desk, annoyed. 

Whatever. She’s a grown adult, no matter what some middle-aged dad who’s not even as good a sharpshooter as her might think; she can figure out her own life. She can definitely figure out her own job. 

--

Except, as it turns out, she can’t. 

She spends the fleeting, liminal days between Christmas and New Year’s locked into an uneventful routine: she wakes up, eats breakfast, walks the dog, watches a terrible TV show while she tries and fails to think of a single job besides superheroing that she might actually enjoy doing - she’s on season three of America’s Next Top Model by now - walks the dog again, showers, and goes to bed. If she’s feeling extra productive, she’ll fit in a visit to the grocery store. She usually isn’t, though, which means takeout pizza again. New Year’s Eve comes and goes, and absolutely nothing changes. 

It just feels like a bit of a comedown, is all. Her life was irretrievably altered a month ago, for shit’s sake. For the first time ever, she was somebody; not Eleanor Bishop’s daughter, not Hawthorne Academy’s problem child, but a real person who was a real hero. She was practically an Avenger. She was Hawkeye. 

And she still is - she knows that - but it’s hard to feel like a superhero when her costume is gathering dust in the closet and the only thing she’s been shooting recently is the definitely un-landlord-approved archery target that she’s set up on the roof of the apartment complex.  

Kate knows, rationally, that she should give up on all of this. Everything changed once; it can change again. She should settle into a normal life, get a normal occupation, maybe try college again. Maybe she could even take over Bishop Security; it’s not like her mother’s in any place to run it. 

She also knows, irrationally, that there is no way on earth she’ll ever want to go back to anything resembling a normal life. She’s Kate Bishop, and she’s Hawkeye, and nobody is going to take that from her. Ever. She’s felt like a pawn in her own existence for too long; now that she’s finally untangled herself from the strings of her mother’s control and found her own place on the game board, she’s not giving that up for anything. 

She’s a goddamn superhero. If only she had the power to figure out what to do with the rest of her life. 

Nearly a week into her return to the city, wrapped in a blanket and deeply invested in a Nancy Drew marathon that’s running from midnight to five in the morning, Kate begins to seriously question her recent life decisions. She pointedly ignores this, though, because she’s in the middle of a really good episode. 

 

[Nancy Drew]: That old man’s hiding something. The stories don’t line up. There’s a mystery here, and I’m going to get to the bottom of it if it’s the last thing I do. 

[Sidekick Friend Who’s Been Eye-Fucking Her For The Last Five Episodes]: Of course you are. And hey, you can get me to bottom for you any time you want. 

[Nancy Drew]: What? 

[Sidekick Friend Who’s Been Eye-Fucking Her For The Last Five Episodes]: What? 

 

“Holy shit,” Kate says. “I could be a private detective.” 

Pizza Dog snorts loudly and goes back to sleep. Kate decides not to take this as a criticism of her idea. It’s a great one, and she’s going to prove it. 

On-screen, Nancy Drew and her sidekick are staring intensely into each other’s eyes. They’re leaning against a wall, Nancy Drew’s hand resting by the sidekick’s head. 

It doesn’t make Kate think of Yelena. Not at all. If she’s studying this particular scene a little closely, so what. She’s getting inspiration for her new job, that’s all. 

She falls asleep in the middle of the episode using Pizza Dog as a pillow, and her neck aches like hell the next morning, but she doesn’t care; for the first time since Christmas, she feels like she’s got a direction to follow again.

--

Kate heads to the library bright and early the next morning, sneaks Pizza Dog in the side door, and sits down at the first available computer she can find. Within an hour she’s designed a flyer for her new business, which she’s dubbed Hawkeye Investigations, because she’s subtle like that. The poster is bright purple with black lettering - Helvetica font, 16 point - and it’s got her hourly rate as well as her specialties. (Trick Archery. Discreet Inquiries. Finding Second-Hand Suits.) And, as an added bonus, it looks even better printed out than it does on the screen. 

“Man,” Kate says, grinning at the stack of flyers in her hands. “I haven’t even started working yet, and I’m already killing the game. Do you see this design? This could win awards.” 

“Excuse me,” says a voice behind her. Kate turns to see a skinny, nerdy-looking teenage boy with wire-rimmed glasses and a supercilious expression staring down at her. “If you’re done with the computer, could you hurry up and move along so others can use it? I have to submit my master’s thesis to Harvard today.” 

“Ohhkay,” Kate mumbles, sliding out of the chair. “I’m just gonna head over to the DVD section now.” 

“Oh my god,” Nerd Boy says, in a voice that’s at least fifty decibels above the accepted library level. “Is that a dog? In the library?” 

Pizza Dog growls, eyeing Nerd Boy like he’s already imagining how his leg would taste. Kate decides to cut her losses and beat a hasty retreat; after all, she’s already got her flyers. Besides, she’s really tired of getting kicked out of libraries. You try to steal music off the internet one time and get placed on some kind of no-fly list. 

“Come on, boy,” she says. “Pizza?” 

Pizza Dog’s ears perk up at this, and he trots toward the side door. Kate pauses in the doorway, digs in her pocket for a quarter, and flicks it towards the power button of Nerd Boy’s computer. The screen instantly goes black, and Kate smirks as Nerd Boy pounds frantically at the keyboard. 

“Another win for Hawkeye,” she mutters, slipping out the side door. It may have been unnecessarily petty, but, well. She can’t be a hero all the time.

She sticks a flyer on every telephone pole, mailbox, and billboard she can find within a ten block radius of her apartment, and then settles down to wait back at her apartment, her phone in one hand and her bow in the other. The calls, she figures, will come rolling in at any minute.

--

Here’s the thing TV doesn’t tell you about being a private eye: most of the time, it’s boring as hell. 

Kate was expecting interesting cases, like the ones Nancy Drew got: mysterious murders and cheating husbands and jaw-dropping exposeés. She wasn’t expecting twelve calls asking to find missing pets, or four calls asking to track down a magazine that got lost somewhere in the mail, or her neighbor from 27B to drop by and see if she had a recipe for cinnamon coffee cake. 

Still, she can’t be too picky. Beggars, choosers, all of that. 

So she takes every case that comes her way, no matter how stupid. She gets scratched by a lot of cats. She becomes really good at holding back a bunch of snarky, customer-losing comments like, You know there’s at least six pet-finding services in Manhattan alone, right? 

The jobs are all small-time, and they’re sometimes tedious and sometimes embarrassing, but they’re a way to pay the bills - and they’re not all bad. Kate starts to like heading out into the street with nothing but a few clues or a bag of cat treats, pulling on flimsy threads of evidence to unravel a conclusion. It’s tiring, yes, but it’s also rewarding. And by the end of the third job, she finally has enough money to get the window fixed, which is a huge bonus. She was getting sick of using ten blankets every time she sat in the living room. 

If she’s being honest with herself, there’s a reason that she’s keeping herself so busy; it’s somewhere just below the surface of her subconscious, tangled up in memories of flashing police lights and broken arrow shafts and the sharp, unyielding metal click of handcuffs around her mother’s wrists. Kate shoves all of that down, because she doesn’t need to process it. She doesn’t. Kate’s fine, and Eleanor Bishop is in jail where she belongs, and everything is fine. 

Someday, she knows, she’s going to have to start facing her problems instead of burying them under distractions. But today is not that day. 

There was someone who could have helped you face them, says a little voice in the back of her head. And you let her disappear without even sending a text. Hawkeye? More like chickenshit. 

The voice in the back of her head is an asshole. Kate ignores it. 

--

She’s heading home one day after solving the latest missing cat/cheating husband case, which left her arms covered in scratches but her pockets filled with five hundred dollars, when she realizes just how tired she is; her very bones are weary, her body aching all over. She thinks, not for the first time, that she might need to look into getting a chiropractor. 

She all but stumbles through the door of the lobby, ready to collapse against the wall of the elevator and power nap until she reaches her floor, when she notices the sign on the wall: ELEVATOR OUT OF ORDER. 

“Well,” Kate says, grimacing at the train wreck that her life has become, “futz this.” 

Ten flights of stairs later, she’s just about ready to lay down and die. She shoves her key in the lock, pushes open her door, lets it slam behind her, checks to see if Pizza Dog’s lying by the window where she left him - 

- and stops short, because there's an assassin on her couch. 

A blonde, Russian assassin, holding a bowl of ramen and looking even prettier than Kate remembers. 

“Hello, Kate Bishop,” Yelena says, smiling at her. Kate’s heart slows, catches its breath, then races. 

“You’ve got to stop breaking in like this,” Kate finally says, dropping her keys onto the table and yanking off her sneakers. If Yelena wants to kill her, she can do it in the blink of an eye; Kate figures she may as well get comfortable first. 

She tries not to think about the small, irrational part of her that wants to trust Yelena with her dying breath. The part that says, unfounded yet unwavering, that Yelena would never truly hurt her. 

Seriously, Kate’s met this girl like, three times - and two of those times involved a physical fight. She needs to pull herself together and stop being a stupid sucker for pretty girls. 

“Again with the untrue accusations,” Yelena says. “I have never had to break anything to get into this apartment. I just enter.” 

“Well, that makes me feel secure.” 

“Your defenses are quite weak,” Yelena muses. “Especially for the daughter of someone who ran a security company. You could have at least put up your own cameras by the door. Or a deadbolt. Come on, Kate. Where’s the challenge?” 

Kate takes a slice of cold pizza from the fridge and sinks down at the kitchen table, sighing in relief. Man, it feels good to sit down. Pizza Dog comes over to her, tail wagging hopefully, but Kate ignores him. She’s got a scratch the width of a pencil running down her forearm; she’s earned the right to eat her entire slice, the dog be damned. 

“So,” she says, once she’s halfway through the pizza, “are you here just to criticize me and steal my food, or what?” 

“Not quite,” Yelena says, smirking. She pulls something from her pocket, unfolds it to reveal Kate’s flyer. “I saw your advertisement. I thought I could contract your services.” 

Kate stares, dumbfounded. “You want to hire me?” 

Yelena nods. “I have another job coming up. I thought that maybe you would want to help.” 

“Yes,” Kate says immediately. If she’s thinking less about the job and more about the way that Yelena’s mouth curves when she smiles, that’s nobody’s business. “Totally. I would be totally down. To help you.” And then she remembers the whole assassin thing. “But I’m not killing anyone.” 

“Okay, fine,” Yelena says. “You help me find him, I’ll kill him.” 

It shouldn’t be attractive, the way that sentence rolls so casually off of Yelena’s lips, but it is, just a little bit. Kate bites down on her own lip, forcing herself to focus. “No. No killing at all.” 

Yelena locks eyes with her, narrows. Kate stares right back, defiant and intimidated and more than a little turned on. She hopes Yelena can’t tell how fast her heart is beating. 

“Fine,” Yelena huffs. “No killing. You are so boring.” 

Kate grins. “Look at that. We’re already making progress.” 

“Meet me at the park tomorrow morning,” Yelena says. “Nine am.” She rises from the couch and springs to the window in one fluid movement, then jumps onto the ledge. “Don’t be late, Kate Bishop.” She winks, and then throws herself backwards out the window. 

“And stop doing that, too!” Kate yells after her. “I’ve got a front door for a reason.”

There’s no answer. Yelena’s already gone. 

Kate puts down her half-eaten pizza, smiling helplessly to herself. Yelena wants her help. Yelena came back. 

“Life is looking up, boy,” she says to Pizza Dog, who’s sprawled at her feet and watching her with big, pleading brown eyes. “Alright, fine, you can have my crust.” 

--

Kate arrives at Central Park ten minutes past nine the next morning, bleary-eyed and barely awake enough to hold Pizza Dog’s leash. Fortunately, he can pretty much walk himself - and he’s learned his lesson about traffic the hard way, so Kate’s not too worried.

Yelena’s standing on the bridge, waiting for her. She looks immaculate as usual - hair braided perfectly, clothes pressed neatly, eyes clear and wide awake - and Kate tries very hard not to think about the fact that she forgot to brush her hair before she left the apartment. 

“You’re late,” Yelena says, but there’s a hint of amusement behind it. She holds out a cardboard cup. “Coffee?” 

“Please,” Kate says gratefully, taking it from her and downing half of it in a single swallow. She can tell from one taste that it’s made just the way she likes it: milk, two creams, three sugars. Yelena knows her coffee order. 

Kate should probably be worried about that. She should definitely not be touched by it. 

Pizza Dog lets out a loud bark and springs forward excitedly, his tail nothing but a blur as he weaves between Yelena’s legs. Kate cringes, hoping that his golden fur won’t show up too badly on Yelena’s black jeans. 

“This is Pizza Dog,” she says. “We rescued him from the street. He likes pizza, as the name suggests. Also, garbage.” As if to illustrate her point, Pizza Dog swallows a stray french fry lying by the trash can. 

Yelena arches an eyebrow. “Does he have a name?” 

“Uh,” Kate says, slightly ashamed. “No. We’ve just sort of been calling him Pizza Dog.” 

“No,” Yelena says firmly.. “That won’t do. Everything that matters should have a name.” She watches Pizza Dog sniff at a patch of grass, head tilted in consideration. “You rescued him.”  

“Yeah. There was this incident with a busy street and a bunch of cars…you know about that already.” 

“You saved him, yes” Yelena says. “He is very lucky.” 

Kate snaps her fingers. “Lucky.” 

“Would you not agree?” 

“No - I mean, yes, but - Lucky . That can be his name.”

 Lucky looks up at them and wags his tail, like he already loves his new name. Yelena smiles and pats his head in response, the touch far more gentle than Kate would have thought possible for an assassin. Something in Kate’s chest softens at the sight. 

“He’s a good dog,” Yelena says. “I had a dog once - Fanny. I adopted her in Ohio. I don’t have her anymore, though. I gave her to someone else who needed her more.” A shadow crosses her face, a storm cloud gathering, and then it’s gone just as soon. Kate’s half-convinced she imagined it; either way, she doesn’t pry.

“I like you a lot, Lucky,” Yelena adds, her expression clear again. “I think we will be fast friends.” 

There’s a note of affection in Yelena’s voice that pulls at something soft in Kate’s chest. Selfishly, she hopes that Yelena’s talking to both of them, not just the dog. 

“Yeah, me too,” she says, clearing her throat and yanking Lucky away from an empty container of Fireball. “So, what’s the mission today?” 

“There’s a man in the Flatiron District who’s been laundering money through an underground poker game,” Yelena says. “I’ve been hired to kill him.” 

Kate gives her a look. Yelena sighs, exasperated. “Well, it’s true! I was hired to take him out, not to merely apprehend him and turn him over to the incompetent swine who call themselves the police.” 

“Too bad,” Kate says, “cause that’s exactly what we’re gonna do. Murder might be your style, but it isn’t quite mine.” 

Yelena studies her carefully, hazel-brown eyes searching for something that Kate can’t name. She blushes under the attention, wrapping her fingers tighter in Lucky’s leash to avoid reaching for Yelena’s hand. 

“No, it’s not,” Yelena murmurs. “Fine. We won’t kill him.” She sighs again. “You’re lucky I like you, Kate Bishop. I wouldn’t cancel an assassination for just anyone.” 

Kate blushes again, no chance of stopping it. Yelena’s mouth quirks upward at the corner like she knows exactly what effect she’s having, but all she says is: “Come on, then. We may as well get started.” 

They fall into step as they leave the bridge, flanked by the two dogs. Yelena’s hand brushes Kate’s as they walk, skin pressed to bare skin for the quickest of heartbeats, and Kate’s heart almost gives out on her. 

Working with Yelena is a monumentally bad idea, probably. Kate, who’s always been good at ignoring signs, keeps walking. 

--

The guy they’re chasing - Marcellus Graniforth, which is somehow exactly the kind of ridiculous name that Kate would expect from a money laundering poker player - is either wise to the fact that someone’s onto him or just abnormally paranoid, because he’s not nearly as easy to find as Kate expected. 

That’s fine by her, though. She’s a private eye now; she knows exactly how this game works. She runs these streets, patient but deadly, and never gives up on her mark no matter how many obstacles stand in her way. 

“What do you mean, you can't give us his address?” she demands, pushing forward onto the counter. “Come on, dude. I slipped you a twenty. Is that not enough?” 

The dry cleaning clerk looks unmoved. “Lady, I already told you. Customer confidentiality.” 

“You - ” Kate sputters indignantly. “Fine, but at least give me my money back. I need that for groceries.”

Yelena, who’s been leaning against the wall to observe, arches an eyebrow at Kate in a way that she’ll probably be dreaming about for the next two weeks. “Are you done?” 

“No,” Kate says, sullen. “I’m almost there, this guy’s gonna crack any minute…” 

“Yeah, you’re done,” Yelena says, pushing off the wall and placing one hand on Kate’s waist to move her out of the way. Kate nearly swoons, but holds it in. Steady on, Bishop. 

Yelena steps up to the counter and places both hands flat on it, staring the clerk dead in the eye. As Kate watches, the color drains from his face. 

“Listen,” Yelena says, unblinking. “We can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way.” 

Her voice is low and dangerous, carrying an undertone of sirens: natural disasters, a four alarm fire. A chill runs through Kate’s body, followed by a frankly embarrassing rush of arousal. Yelena is literally threatening a man’s life right now; Kate should not be into it. 

The clerk stammers out something unintelligible and then frantically scribbles on a piece of paper, which he hands to Yelena. She scans it and nods. 

“Thank you,” she says, all the danger gone from her voice. “By the way, I think there is a fire starting in your back room. You shouldn’t leave the irons on for so long.” 

Kate inhales to find that Yelena’s right: there’s a definite smell of smoke coming from the back of the store. As the clerk gasps and rushes away from the counter, Yelena saunters toward the door, confident and unhurried. Kate follows, trying to imitate her stride. She’s pretty sure she just looks like she’s got a leg cramp, but whatever. She’s learning. 

--

Once they’ve got the address, it’s easy to find Marcellus. His apartment is part of a luxury high rise on the edge of the Flatiron District - it’s one of the ugliest buildings that Kate’s ever seen, and she says so. Yelena laughs at that, light and amused, and Kate can’t help but smile to herself. 

They slip in the front door and through the lobby with no problem whatsoever, Yelena because she’s a trained assassin who excels at flying under the radar until it’s too late and Kate because at the heart of it all, despite everything that’s happened, she is still her mother’s daughter - she knows all too well how to carry herself like someone who owns the key to every lock in the world. 

It’s not until they’re on the way up to the fourteenth floor that Kate realizes just how familiar this scene is: she and Yelena are standing side by side in the elevator, facing the doors, close but not touching. Kate looks over at Yelena, her gaze lingering on the beautiful lines of her side profile, and is reminded of another time in another elevator, a day that feels like it was three years rather than three weeks ago. 

Here in this elevator, the floor numbers flashing bright red and Yelena’s eyes gleaming golden brown in the light, Kate feels like they could do this a thousand times more and still come out swinging on the other side. Yelena turns towards her slightly, gives her the barest edge of a smile, and yeah. Kate could get used to this. 

The idea of this is a nice one, too good to be true. She pushes it down, cursing herself. They’re literally on their way to kidnap a man - this is no time to wax poetic about how she wishes Yelena would always be at her side. 

Besides, she reminds herself, this is a one-time thing. There’s no way Yelena will want her help again, not after witnessing Kate’s catastrophic attempt at an interrogation back at the dry cleaner’s. 

“Here we are,” Yelena says. The doors part with a pleasant chiming noise and the two of them step out, right foot forward. Apartment 4D is the first to the left; Kate pauses in front of it, looking to Yelena. 

“Do you want me to pick the lock?” Kate offers. “I’m pretty sure I can do it, I watched a bunch of YouTube videos once and I think I have a bobby pin somewhere…”

Yelena winks and then pivots lightning-fast, swings one leg up, and kicks the door down. It falls with a crash, wood splinters flying everywhere. A shout of surprise comes from somewhere in the apartment, and Yelena gives Kate a satisfied smile.  

“Alright, sure,” Kate says. “That works too.” 

“Subtlety is not my strong suit,” Yelena says, her voice dropping low again. “You would do well to remember that, Kate Bishop.” 

Yelena steps inside the doorway, and try as she might, Kate can’t stop herself from admiring the view as she follows. Subtlety definitely isn’t her strong suit either.  

--

They drop Marcellus the money launderer off at the nearest police station, sporting an impressively purple black eye (Yelena) and duct-taped from head to toe (Kate). The cops in the break room are staring - Kate sees more than one donut fall to the floor - but none of them have the guts to ask any questions, and neither Yelena nor Kate are about to start answering any. 

“There, that’s done,” Yelena says once they’re out of the station again. “I still think it would have been better to kill him, but okay. I’ll still get the money for neutralizing him.” 

Kate nods and casts a glance around for Lucky, who’d disappeared somewhere along the way. He’s nowhere in sight, but she doesn’t panic; he knows his way home. He’ll find his way back eventually. 

“So,” Kate says, shifting her weight awkwardly from leg to leg. “This was fun.” 

“It was,” Yelena says, her eyes gleaming. “You are not a bad partner, Kate Bishop. Not terrible, anyway.” 

 “Hey,” Kate frowns. “Rude.” 

Yelena smiles wryly. “Believe me, it is a compliment. Before you, I have only ever worked well with one other person in my life.” 

Kate raises her eyebrows, curious. “Yeah? Who?” 

The smile slides off Yelena’s face suddenly; she stares into the distance, eyes narrowed, the line of her jaw drawn tight. Kate remembers, belatedly, who Yelena truly is: the sister of Natasha Romanoff. She falls silent, not wanting to shatter the fragile peace between them; she can feel this moment tipping toward the edge, halfway to disaster. 

“Someone I used to know,” Yelena says at last, and there’s a finality to her tone that closes the door on any further questions. She raises a hand, gives Kate a mock-salute with her first two fingers. “Thank you, Kate Bishop. I’ll see you around.” 

“Oh,” Kate says, fumbling around for words to keep Yelena here a minute longer and coming up empty handed. “Yeah. See you. I mean, you could…uh…” 

Get some food with me. Come back to my apartment. See the inside of my bedroom. 

Yelena waits expectantly, the tip of her tongue idly sliding across her bottom lip. Kate’s brain freezes at the sight, settles down and digs its own grave. 

“Never mind,” she chokes out. “Ignore me. I mean, don’t ignore me, just ignore whatever I’m saying right now. I’ll see you later! It’s cool. We’re cool.” 

Yelena smiles once more, that crooked little smirk that makes Kate want to burst into flames, and then walks away, disappearing into the crowd with a practiced ease. Kate lingers in place for a moment, waiting to see if she’ll look back. 

Just before Yelena rounds the corner, she glances over her shoulder. It’s a dart-quick movement, missable in the blink of an eye - but Kate, who can track the flight of an arrow half a skyline away, catches it with ease. 

She turns away, smiling like an idiot, and starts toward her apartment. 

--

The next few days pass uneventfully in a blur of takeout and TV and one lost sausage dog that’s eventually found hiding beneath a fruit stand on West 56th. Kate spends her free time sitting idle on the sofa, petting Lucky and trying not to wonder where Yelena went or what she’s doing. 

She walks Lucky and solves cases and even does the load of laundry that’s been sitting in her hamper for the last two weeks, but that’s not all; underneath the everyday motions that she’s going through, she’s a human hourglass waiting for Yelena’s return. 

Five days pass without a visit, and Kate figures that’s the end; it’s over and done with, a one-time thing like she’d assumed before. She schools herself against disappointment. She lived without Yelena before - she can do it again. 

“I don’t need her,” Kate says to Lucky, tossing him a pizza crust. “I have a dog, and a job, and a flyer that could win graphic design awards. And I already have a partner, even if he’s refusing to answer my texts right now. What’s Yelena compared to all of that?”

Everything, her brain supplies helpfully. Kate wonders, theoretically, how much a lobotomy would hurt.

She can’t ignore the facts, though: it’s been five days without Yelena, complete radio silence, not even a text. There’s only one plausible explanation; Yelena’s done with her. Yelena’s a trained professional, after all; there’s no real reason that a Black Widow assassin would need the help of an awkward twenty-two year old with an overly purple wardrobe and a little bit of talent with a bow and arrow, not when she probably knows at least ten ways to kill a man with her index finger. 

Kate’s cool with it, though. She’s got Lucky, and she’s got the apartment - and she’s got Clint’s voicemail message, which has answered her last ten calls. Five days of loneliness are nothing compared to what she has.

Yelena won’t be back. Kate’s fine with that. It’s just five days. She’ll give herself one more day to sulk, and then she’ll get over it and move the hell on with her life. 

(She ignores the tiny part of her that says she’s got no shot in hell of ever forgetting someone like Yelena. She’s a sharpshooter, for Christ’s sake; for her, there’s no such thing as no shot.)

--

On the evening of the sixth day A.Y. (After Yelena), Kate returns to her apartment with an armful of groceries. She opens the door with one hand, pulls open the fridge, and is preparing to start putting things away when a voice from behind her says, “Hi.”

Kate whirls around. A carton of eggs goes crashing to the floor. 

Yelena is sitting in the kitchen, leaning back carelessly in her chair, one elbow resting against the table like she owns the place. 

“Shit,” Kate mumbles, running a hand through her hair and staring down at the smashed remains of what had once been a dozen perfectly good eggs. “Fuck.” 

Lucky wanders over and starts licking at the floor. Kate can’t imagine that raw eggs are very good for him, but she’s seen him eat much worse - read: Taco Bell leftovers - so she lets him handle cleanup. She’s got more important things to focus on anyway, like the assassin sitting at her kitchen table. 

“Dude,” Kate says, caught somewhere between exasperation at being invaded once again and relief that Yelena came back after all. “I told you, you’ve got to stop doing this.”

 “Oh, but I’m so good at it,” Yelena says, smug. “You should really invest in better security. There are all kinds of dangerous people running around this city.” 

“Can’t imagine what that’s like,” Kate mutters. “Anyways, why are you here? I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have company besides Lucky. I just wasn’t sure you’d stick around in New York now that - you know.” 

“Now that I’m not trying to kill Barton anymore?” 

“Well, yeah.” 

Yelena lifts one shoulder, lets it drop. Her face is a closed book to Kate, unreadable and unknowable; Kate tries not to let that bother her. 

“I might be here for a little while longer,” Yelena says. “There’s good enough work. Lots of jobs here. Besides” - her eyes catch on Kate’s now, amusement sparkling against the hazel - “I haven’t even seen the High Line yet.” 

“Yeah,” Kate says, her spirits lifting, hope gathering soft and warm beneath her ribs. “I mean, you gotta wait around for that, right? Gotta get the full New York experience. It’s the greatest city in the world, you know.”

“I do,” Yelena says, deadpan. “I’ve seen the T-shirts.” 

Kate laughs. Yelena looks pleased with herself, for some reason. 

“Anyways,” Yelena says, reaching for the bag that’s been sitting by her chair and placing it on the table, “I dropped by because I remembered that you still owe me a drink.”

“Oh,” Kate says dumbly, heat blooming across the tops of her cheekbones, every part of her desperately hoping that this is something more than it seems - and then, as Yelena pulls out a handle of vodka, “Oh no.” 

Yelena flashes her a wicked smile, all teeth. Kate fires up a prayer to the universe and starts rummaging around in her cupboard for shot glasses. 

--

An hour later, the bottle is two-thirds empty and Kate is definitely, certifiably drunk. The room is tilting slightly, everything blushing rose-pink at the edges. It’s nice. 

Yelena’s had almost twice as much as Kate but she doesn’t seem nearly as affected, probably because she grew up on liquor instead of milk. She’s tipsy to Kate’s wasted, smiling more than Kate’s ever seen her do before. 

They’ve moved to the couch somehow, leaning back on the faded cushions, Lucky lying across their feet. Yelena’s shoulder brushes against hers, and Kate’s drunk enough to lean fully into the contact instead of maintaining a careful distance. 

Yelena is solid and warm against her, strong muscles shifting beneath the smooth canvas of her skin. Kate is decidedly not distracted by it. 

She spins the vodka bottle around idly, just for something to do with her hands. There’s something written on the label in bright red characters - Kate can’t read it, but she assumes it’s Russian for something like Drink Of Death That Was Brewed By Wolves And Contains The Blood Of Innocents.

She says as much, and Yelena laughs. 

“It says Brewery of Siberia,” she answers, “but close enough.”

“Whatever,” Kate says, tipping her head back. Everything feels loose around her, unmoored. “I like my translation better.”

“Yeah,” Yelena says. “I do too.”

Kate blames the alcohol for her next question, which tumbles out of her mouth before she can stop it: “Do you regret being an assassin? Like, do you wish you’d ended up with a different career path?” 

Yelena’s mouth becomes a flat line, her eyes darkening from gold to brown. She takes another drink before answering, swallowing the liquor slowly; Kate tries not to be hypnotized by the movement of her throat, the graceful curve of her neck. 

“Yes and no,” Yelena says finally. “No, I wouldn’t trade my life for another one if it meant losing the family that I ended up with. But yes, I wish I’d grown up in a normal house with a normal neighborhood. Yes, I wish I’d had a normal childhood.” 

She’s looking away now, eyes unfocused. Kate stays quiet. 

“I used to dream about it,” Yelena says softly. “After Ohio. I used to pretend that everything was temporary, that my mother would come back for me any day now. I would imagine a new house somewhere in America - California, maybe. Somewhere with palm trees and smooth roads and endless sunlight. I’d be there, and Natasha would too, and we’d just live.”

She takes another sip of her drink. “And then I grew up and realized that this was the only life I was going to get. The only one that either of us ever got.” 

The air between them is thick, heavy with emotion. Kate still doesn’t quite know the shape of Yelena’s grief, but she wants to help carry it anyway. 

“Well,” she says carefully, “you’re here now,” and is rewarded by a faint corner of Yelena’s smile. 

“You’re right,” Yelena says. “I’m here now.” 

She passes the bottle back to Kate. “Enough about me. Tell me something about yourself. Tell me about your archery.” She smirks; it’s weaker than usual, but it’s still there. “I heard something about a church tower.” 

“Oh, boy,” Kate says, her face hot with embarrassment. “You just had to go there, didn’t you.”

“I did,” Yelena says, nodding mock-seriously. Kate smiles helplessly at the look on her face, and oh, she’s fucked - Yelena might not be trying to kill her anymore, but she’s still going to be the death of Kate. 

Kate turns towards her until they’re face to face, barely six inches apart. Yelena’s beautiful here: eyes warmly brown, cheeks dusted with the faintest tint of pink from the vodka. There’s a stray strand of gold escaping from her left braid; Kate’s fingers itch to smooth it back. 

“I should get going,” Yelena says, her voice uncharacteristically hushed. 

Kate thinks: Stay. 

She says: “Yeah, probably.” 

Yelena leaves through the window as usual, the alcohol doing nothing to mask the easy, fluid grace of her movements. Kate stands and watches, one hand pressing the mouth of the mostly-empty bottle to her lips. 

--

The thing is, Kate doesn’t really expect to see Yelena again. Sure, they shared a pot of mac and cheese and solved one case together, but that’s hardly a binding contract. There’s nothing solid tying the two of them together, even if Kate wishes there were.

And yet, despite this, Yelena keeps coming back. Kate’s still not quite sure why.

She doesn’t worry about it, though. Life is short, the world is wide, and she’s never been one to shoot a gift horse in the mouth, or whatever the saying is. As long as Yelena keeps walking through that door, Kate will leave it open for her. 

There’s a reason for this, probably. Kate, being a mature adult, feeling every one of her twenty-two years, decides not to think about it. 

--

Yelena’s sitting on her couch two days later when Kate and Lucky return from the park. By now, Kate’s getting used to it; she barely jumps at all, just unlaces her shoes and pads over to sit next to her. 

“I can’t figure out how to work your television,” Yelena says, holding out the remote in frustration. 

Kate snickers. Yelena glares at her. “What?” 

“Nothing, nothing. Just…” Kate holds back a laugh. “It’s funny to see one of the world’s deadliest assassins struggle to turn on a TV.”

“Ha, ha,” Yelena grumbles, straight-faced. “Just hilarious. You should be a comedian, Kate Bishop.”

Kate clicks the TV on and starts scrolling through the channels. “Yeah, I’ve been meaning to ask. You know you don’t have to always call me by my entire name, right?” 

“Of course I do.” The corner of Yelena’s mouth creases in amusement. “Kate Bishop.” 

“Like, you’re aware that you could just call me Kate.” 

Yelena scoffs. “Yes.”

“Are you ever going to?”

“Probably not. What fun would that be?”

Kate decides to give up on this, at least for now; she’s never been good at picking her battles, but she senses that this is one she isn’t going to win. She reaches across the couch and pokes Yelena with the end of the remote. “What do you want to watch?”

Yelena hums thoughtfully. “Can we watch the movie where the rat moves to Paris and learns how to cook in a restaurant? I love that movie.” 

For the second time in as many minutes, Kate has to stifle a laugh. “You want to watch Ratatouille?” 

“Yes,” Yelena says, indignant. “It is an inspiring story about a rat who overcomes his humble beginnings to become something great. Also, he is very cute. How could you not love it?” 

“Okay, yeah,” Kate admits. “It is a great movie. Let me check - I think I’ve got it recorded.” 

“See,” Yelena says. “Everyone loves Ratatouille.” 

Kate rolls her eyes fondly, then hits the lights and presses the play button. As the opening scene begins, Lucky jumps up onto the sofa and wedges his way between them. 

“Lucky, no,” Kate says, pushing at him. “Down. Off.” 

Lucky doesn’t listen to her; he stretches out even further, resting his back half on Kate’s legs and his head in Yelena’s lap. Kate gives him a dirty look, which he roundly ignores. Yelena, however, looks delighted.

“Such a good boy,” she says, rubbing Lucky’s ears. “I adore him.” 

“Yeah, he’s alright,” Kate says grudgingly, resigning herself to the fact that Lucky’s currently getting more action from Yelena than she is. “For a pizza dog.” 

“Don’t get jealous, now,” Yelena says, patting Kate on the leg. “You’re a human. You can’t possibly match up to a dog.” 

And Kate wants to fight her on that, but she really can’t; Yelena’s got a point. 

She’s about to argue anyway, just on principle, when Yelena leans over and rests her head on Kate’s shoulder, easy as breathing, like they’ve been doing this all along. 

Kate promptly shuts up. She might also stop inhaling. She’s not quite sure.  

“See,” Yelena says, shifting until she can look up at Kate for a second. “It’s a great movie.” 

“It is,” Kate agrees, keeping her eyes fixed on Yelena instead of the TV screen.

--

Ratatouille cements it: Yelena becomes a semi-permanent fixture in the apartment, to the point that Kate is surprised whenever she comes home to an empty living room. Yelena starts bringing things every time she visits - bottles of vodka and boxes of mac and cheese and treats for Lucky - and it’s pretty much the sweetest thing Kate’s ever seen. 

They fall into a routine of watching TV at night and burning toaster waffles in the morning, and Kate gets used to having company when she walks Lucky. There’s still only one fork in the utensil drawer, which Yelena constantly teases her for, but Kate doesn’t think it’s as lonely when it’s shared between two people. 

Yelena starts helping Kate with her private eye jobs, and doesn’t even complain when one particularly high-strung cat claws her arm from elbow to wrist. She does swear loudly, though, when Kate wrestles her into a chair long enough to wash the wound out with hydrogen peroxide and wrap a bandage around it. 

“Suka, that stings.” 

“Stop complaining,” Kate says sternly, taping the end of the bandage down. “I don’t want this to get infected. Shouldn’t a professional assassin be able to handle a little scratch?” 

“Little, my ass,” Yelena protests. “That monster mauled me. This is why I hate cats.”

Kate glances over at Mrs Crestfield’s award-winning Siamese, which glares back at her with unnervingly blue eyes, and has to agree - the cat has absolutely sinister energy. 

“Still,” she says. “A job’s a job. The customer is always right, you know.”

Yelena shrugs insouciantly. “Not always,” she says, matter of fact. “Sometimes they’re wrong. I’ve killed at least five of my former employers before.”

Kate stiffens at that, her fingers going slack around the roll of bandages. With all the new images that she now has of Yelena - her legs propped up on the coffee table, her head against Kate’s shoulder, her hands twined in Lucky’s fur - it’s startlingly easy to forget that Yelena’s past is soaked in blood. For all Kate knows, her present is as well; Yelena never sleeps over, and Kate has no idea where she goes at the end of the night. 

There’s no getting around it: Yelena simply isn’t a danger in Kate’s mind anymore, hasn’t been for a long time. Kate doesn’t really want to think about what that means. 

She needs a second opinion, she decides. She needs her partner. Her real partner. 

--

“Move back. No, keep going. You’re still not in the frame.” 

Clint slowly comes into focus on Kate’s screen, his face becoming visible as he moves away from the camera. Kate shakes her head at him. He may be a hero and an Avenger and the best sharpshooter that the world has ever seen, but the guy is clueless when it comes to any technology that doesn’t involve trick arrows. 

“Ah, there we go,” Clint says. “Hi there, Katie-Kate. Been a minute.” 

“Not because of me,” Kate says. She frowns. “When did you start calling me that, anyway?” 

“I don’t know, sometime during Christmas. Do you want me to stop?” 

“No, it’s nice. Kind of annoying, but nice.” Kate adjusts her laptop and sits back in her chair, mentally preparing herself. “Okay, I need your opinion on something.” 

“Sure,” Clint says. “Everyone’s out of the house except for Nathaniel, and it’s nap o’clock for him. I got time. Shoot.” 

Kate taps her fingers against the table, restless. “Okay. Um…I might be working with Yelena now.” 

Clint’s eyebrows rise dangerously high. “You’re working with the girl who tried to kill me?” 

“I know, I know, it’s not - ” 

“She’s not replacing me as your partner, is she?” 

“No, of course not,” Kate says. “Although if she was, it would be your fault. You’re the one who put yourself out to pasture on a farm instead of staying in the city to work with me.” 

“Hey, now. You loved the farm when you were here.” 

“I did,” Kate admits. “Okay, back to the point. Unlike you, Yelena’s still here in the city - and I’ve been seeing her a lot. Like, she’s helped me with a few cases, and we have regular movie nights. I think…well, not to sound crazy, but I think we’re actually kind of friends now.” 

Clint’s eyebrows aren’t getting any lower. “Cases?” 

“Oh yeah, I’m a private eye now. It’s a whole thing.” 

“Private eye? What, you think you’re Nancy Drew now?” Clint rubs a hand against his chin pensively. “Don’t take on anything too dangerous without me. And don’t get killed. Not to be a sap, but I guess I’d miss you a little if you died.” 

Kate smiles, knowing what Clint’s really saying: there’d be a hole torn in his world if she ever died, just the same as there would be for her if the roles were reversed. 

“As for Yelena,” Clint continues, “that’s not something to worry about. I’m glad you’re working with her. Glad she’s still around.” Sorrow flashes in his eyes for a moment, and something more - guilt. “Keep an eye on her, will you, Kate? I want to make sure she’s okay. I’d do it myself, but - well, I’m here and she’s there and I’m pretty sure she never wants to see me again anyways.”

Kate nods. “She reminds you of Natasha, doesn't she.” 

“Yes she does,” Clint says, strained. “So damn much. Looking at her is like looking at Nat…what’s that saying, through a glass darkly?” He swipes at his eyes roughly. “Anyways. If she’s gonna be in New York still, make sure you’ve got tabs on her.” 

“Got it,” Kate says. “Anything else?” 

Clint pauses for a second. “Kate,” he says. “On the rooftop, that shot you didn’t take…” 

“Yeah?”

“I’ve been there before,” he says, and Kate remembers - a day that now seems long ago, an innocent question and a loaded answer. “Just…make sure you make it count. Sometimes I worry that I didn’t.”

“Okay,” Kate says, quiet, and she’s not quite sure what he’s talking about but she thinks it might have something to do with the spider-shaped pendant he wears and the paralyzing grief in his eyes every time he talks about Natasha Romanoff. She thinks, suddenly and inexplicably, of the curve of Yelena’s smile. 

Clint clears his throat loudly. “Anyway. Better get back to, you know. Farm stuff.” He gives her a little wave. “Good talk, Hawkeye.”

“Catch you later, Hawkeye,” Kate says, feeling that little spark of pride that always catches in her chest at being addressed as Hawkeye, and ends the call. 

She props one leg up on the chair next to her, thinking. So Clint wants her to keep an eye on Yelena - fine. Kate’s good with that. If she’s being honest with herself, she would’ve done it even if he hadn’t asked. 

If she’s being honest with herself, she would keep an eye on Yelena for the rest of both their lives if it meant Yelena wasn’t going to ever leave. 

Honesty is overrated, Kate quickly decides. She stands and whistles, shaking off the conversation with Clint like it’s just another thing that can’t hold her down; Lucky jumps off the sofa at the whistle, eyes bright and tail wagging. 

“Hey boy,” Kate says. “Let’s go for a walk, huh? Not past the donut shop, though. I’ve learned my lesson.” 

Lucky just looks up at her, tongue hanging out of his mouth in his trademark dog smile, and Kate reluctantly admits to herself that she’s definitely going to be buying him a Boston Kreme by the end of this walk. 

--

“I’m back,” Kate calls out the next night as she shuts the apartment door behind her, “and I’ve got Chinese food,” and then she stops dead in her tracks, because something is definitely wrong. 

Yelena’s sitting on the couch as usual, but she’s not her usual self; she’s cold-eyed and stone-faced, her body one long line of tension. Her hands are clenched into fists, and even from where she’s standing by the door, Kate can see that they’re covered in blood. 

“Shit,” Kate says, tossing the takeout boxes onto the kitchen counter and walking slowly over to the couch. Lucky follows at her heels, for once not rushing to greet Yelena like he usually does. “Yelena. What happened?”

“Don’t worry,” Yelena says, listless. “I didn’t hurt anyone.” 

Kate quirks an eyebrow towards Yelena’s hands. Yelena sighs loudly. “I didn’t hurt anyone besides myself.”

“Okay,” Kate says. “Um…alright. Can I…can I help you with that? I mean, the whole bloody hands look is great and all, but I’d rather you not be bleeding out on my couch.”

Yelena’s jaw clenches tighter, but she gives a tiny nod of her head. Kate grabs the first aid kit from the shelf below the TV and kneels on the floor in front of Yelena, careful to leave space between them. 

Yelena places her hands in Kate’s lap, avoiding her gaze, and Kate examines them carefully. The skin is red and torn, with purple bruises blooming along the ridges of the knuckles on Yelena’s left hand. Kate takes out an antiseptic wipe and starts gently dabbing at the wounds; Yelena flinches, but doesn’t make a sound, and that somehow makes it worse. 

“Yelena,” Kate says softly, fingers tracing over the backs of Yelena’s hands. It’s the first time she’s seen them this closely - they’re strong and capable, fingers long and slender, nails perfectly shaped. Even covered in blood, they’re beautiful. Kate can imagine them wrapped around the handle of a gun, cupped to hold water, washed clean in golden sunlight. “You don’t have to tell me what happened, but I just want to know - are you okay?”

“There is nothing to tell, Kate Bishop,” Yelena says, her voice dull. “I fought a brick wall, the wall won. End of story.”

“A wall,” Kate says, keeping her voice calm as she pulls out some salve and bandages. “Okay. Why?”

Silence. The only sound in the apartment is the rhythm of their breaths: Kate inhaling, Yelena exhaling. Lucky remains curled up in the corner like he’s afraid to approach them right now; Kate can’t blame him. 

She keeps working, careful but steady. She spreads salve across Yelena’s cuts, starts unraveling bandages from the roll. She stays poised and patient, like she’s sighting down the shaft of an arrow, waiting for the perfect shot. 

She’s wrapping a bandage around the back of Yelena’s right hand when Yelena finally speaks. 

“I miss my sister,” Yelena says, her voice raw and ragged. “Sometimes I miss her so much I can’t bear it.” 

Kate looks up, and something shatters in her chest at the sight of Yelena. Gone is the composed woman who could unravel her with one sentence; gone is the ruthless assassin who could kill her with one blow. This is a side of Yelena that Kate has never seen before: agonized and vulnerable, almost childlike in the simple devastation of her pain. Kate bites down on her lip hard, willing herself not to cry.  

“She sacrificed herself,” Yelena says. “I know that now. She saved the world. She gave herself up for them. And I want to say that I understand it, but I don’t.” 

Right hand: finished. Kate moves to the left. 

“The world did not deserve her,” Yelena says, low and clear. “She should have stayed. For me. For Barton. For herself.”

“I’m sorry,” Kate murmurs. Left hand: finished. She sits back. Yelena meets her eyes for the first time since she walked in, and the sorrow in her gaze reminds her all too much of Clint. 

“We didn’t have enough time,” Yelena says, and then she breaks; her voice cracks on the last word, a single tear pooling in the corner of her eye. Kate wants to look away, wants to give her peace, wants to hold her until the world caves in around them. 

Kate reaches forward slowly and wraps her arms around Yelena, giving her every opportunity to pull away. Yelena doesn't, though. She leans forward and rests her face against the top of Kate’s head, allowing the embrace to continue. 

They stay there for a long time. If Kate tastes salt at the corner of her mouth, she doesn’t say anything. She just holds Yelena, and Yelena holds her back like Kate’s her only port in the storm. 

“Stay here tonight, okay?” Kate whispers. “You can have my bed. I just - I just don’t want you to be alone right now.” 

Yelena doesn’t say anything, just holds on tighter. It’s an answer in itself. 

Kate gently pulls Yelena to her feet and leads her up the loft stairs to the bedroom, where she lies down without resistance. Kate pulls the covers up over her and turns to leave, but Yelena catches her hand. 

“Stay?” Yelena asks, her voice softer than Kate’s ever heard it, and Kate knows, right then, that she’ll never be able to say no to this woman. 

She lies down next to Yelena, her mind racing in circles. Right before she slips into sleep, she feels the fleeting press of Yelena’s face against her collarbone. 

--

When Kate wakes up she’s alone in bed, the sheets perfectly smooth on the other half of the bed. Sunlight pours through the window, landing squarely in her eyes; she squints against it, irritated, and then she remembers.

Last night: the blood, the bandages, Yelena’s hands, and Yelena - 

Yelena is gone. 

Kate drags herself out of bed, her heart sinking. She should have known that Yelena wouldn’t stay, not after exposing so much of herself, but the loss still stings in a way that it probably shouldn’t. 

“Lucky,” Kate half-yells, throwing open the bedroom door a little harder than she meant to, “you better be ready to move today, because we’re going on a run. A hard run.” 

“Well, someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” 

Kate blinks, rubs the sleep from her eyes, blinks again - and then just stares. 

Yelena’s standing at the stove holding a spatula, a stack of buttered toast piled high on a plate next to her. There’s another empty plate beside that one - clearly for Kate, which does something weird to her heart - and there’s two cups of coffee sitting on the table. 

“What,” Kate says, and then, stupidly: “You’re cooking.” You’re still here. “You can cook.” You stayed. 

“Of course I can cook,” Yelena says, looking offended. “I cooked mac and cheese for us just the other day, remember?”

“Boxed mac and cheese doesn’t really count. All you have to do is dump it in boiling water.” 

“Well, I think it counts,” Yelena says. She takes the pan off the stove, tilts it towards Kate - fried eggs - and then gestures to the table. “Like Remy the rat says in the movie. Anyone can cook.” 

She’s quoting from Ratatouille. It’s way too endearing. Kate takes a bite of toast to cover up her stupid smile. 

“About last night,” Yelena says, fiddling with the spoon that she’s using to eat her eggs; she gave Kate the fork. “I’m sorry.” 

Kate sets down her toast. “Don’t be sorry. Seriously, don’t be sorry at all. It’s fine.” 

“I didn’t mean to dump all of that on you,” Yelena says, her voice laced with guilt. 

Kate sneaks a glance at Yelena’s hands. They’re bandaged still, the cotton clean and white against her skin. Here in the light of the morning, they look almost delicate. “It’s okay. I know you’re dealing with a lot right now.” 

“It won’t happen again,” Yelena promises. “It’s just….there are good days and bad days, and yesterday was one of the bad ones.”

Kate nods in understanding. She’s had her fair share of those too - days when she remembers her father disappearing beneath a wall of rubble, days when she remembers the look on her mother’s face as the police led her away. 

Yelena shakes her head quickly, like she’s throwing off the shroud of last night. “Anyway. Thank you for letting me stay here.” 

“Of course,” Kate says - of course, any time, my door is open to you, always you. “Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask. Where are you staying in New York?” 

“A penthouse apartment right by Central Park,” Yelena says, offhand. “It has a nice view.” 

Kate may have grown up in a townhouse on the Upper East Side, but even she’s impressed by a penthouse overlooking the park. “You have a penthouse?” 

“I don’t,” Yelena says. “It belongs to a man who has a great deal of money - something in the oil business, I think. I may have convinced him to leave town for a little while.” 

“What.” 

“It’s not a big deal. He has many other apartments.” 

“Yelena,” Kate says, “you’re squatting.” 

Yelena looks down at herself, as if to check. “No, I am pretty sure that I’m sitting.” 

“No, I mean - you’re squatting. You can’t just stay in someone else’s house.” 

Yelena lifts a shoulder in that annoyingly attractive half-shrug. “I see no problem. It is a very nice apartment.”

“I - yeah, I’m sure it is, but that’s not the point. You can’t just move into a random guy’s penthouse.” 

“Well,” Yelena says, “where else am I supposed to go?” 

And maybe it’s the tiredness still clouding her head, or the breakfast for two that’s spread across the table, or the way that Yelena’s hair turns to pure gold in the morning light, but Kate doesn’t hesitate for even a moment: she looks at Yelena, her entire heart caught in her mouth, and says: “Stay here. With me.”

Yelena stares. “Here?”

“Yeah. Here. Just until, you know, you find your own place or - ” She cuts herself off before she can say or you decide to leave, because she doesn’t want to put that idea into Yelena’s head. 

Yelena looks at her like she hardly dares to believe that she’s hearing correctly. Kate wants to kiss her so badly it’s kind of embarrassing. 

“Alright, Kate Bishop,” Yelena says. “I’ll stay.” Then, softer: “Thank you.” 

Kate smiles at her, feels herself settle a little more solidly into place. Yelena’s safe at her kitchen table, and she’s not going anywhere for a few days at least - and to Kate, it feels something like pulling her back from the edge of a precipice. 

(Kate’s so busy pulling Yelena back that she doesn’t notice how close she’s getting herself. She will, though.) 

--

Yelena’s presence in the apartment becomes permanent, fixed: her boots have a place beside Kate’s battered purple Converse, her green jacket hangs next to Kate’s black one. Kate starts buying jumbo bottles of hot sauce and extra boxes of mac and cheese, and she gets used to finding Yelena throughout the apartment: stretched out on the sofa, curled up in the armchair by the window, lying on the floor with Lucky on the battered air mattress that Kate managed to find for her in the laundry room. 

It’s new and different, but it’s good. For the first time since returning to the city, Kate feels grounded. 

They both begin to form routines and develop habits, carving out spaces for themselves in this city, this life. Kate practices archery on the rooftop every day and makes a collection of purple items that she finds abandoned on the street; Yelena starts going to Central Park to play chess with a group of old men and one younger, handsome guy that Kate’s pretty sure used to be the Winter Soldier. 

(Kate goes with her to chess sometimes, and the way that Yelena stares fiercely over the board while calculating her next move…well, it’s distracting to say the least. Lucky gets away from her long enough to eat three pieces of trash and terrorize a small child before Kate even realizes that he’s gone.)

Her private eye business starts to flourish, too - or at least, it picks up a little bit. She even gets a couple jobs that don’t involve missing pets or unfaithful husbands, which at this point is nothing short of a miracle. There might be an incident with a couple thugs from a local gang, but they’re not wearing tracksuits, so Kate doesn’t sweat it. 

Yelena disappears occasionally - sometimes for an hour, sometimes for a day. Kate worries a little, but she doesn’t question it. She knows enough to give Yelena that space; and, too, she knows that no matter how long Yelena’s gone for, she’ll come back eventually. 

It’s good. It’s really, really good. Kate looks around at her life - the messy, unexpected beauty of it all, Lucky sprawled out on the couch and Yelena tipped back in her favorite chair - and feels completely, totally at peace. 

Later, she figures she should’ve known that it was too good to last. 

--

It happens like this: 

Kate and Yelena are walking through the park, laughing about something stupid and inconsequential. Lucky is trotting at their heels, searching for stray trash. It’s a grey day in mid-January, and the weather is absolutely freezing, but just walking next to Yelena is enough to make Kate’s chest feel warm. 

They pass under one of the covered bridges that are scattered throughout the park. There’s a guy sitting on the ground with a guitar, singing in another language - Spanish, or maybe French. Yelena stops to listen, her face bright with excitement, and as Kate watches, her heart does a stupid little skipping thing. 

She knows what she’s feeling. She’s known it for a while now, just hasn't wanted to admit it.. But here and now, watching Yelena smile over some cheesy love ballad that neither of them understand, Kate thinks: Maybe I should tell her. 

She takes a deep breath, and then another. And then another, because she’s thorough like that. She’s not stalling for time. Not at all. 

Lucky licks her left sneaker like he knows she needs the confidence boost. It doesn’t really help, but Kate appreciates it anyway. 

“Yelena,” she says.

Yelena turns to her. “Yes?”

And of course that’s when the biker gang attacks.  

Four motorcycles come tearing through the tunnel, their engines drowning out the music. Guitar Guy, showing common sense, makes a run for it. Kate hopes his guitar survives the experience - it’s a mid-2000s Fender acoustic, perfectly varnished. Absolutely lovely. 

And then she stops worrying about the guitar, because the motorcycles are surrounding them. There’s two guys on each, eight in total, and they’re carrying chains. 

“Oh, come on,” Kate says. “Chains? Really? Could you be any more stereotypical?” 

“Think you’re funny, huh,” one of the bikers growls in a heavy accent. “You’re going down, bitch.”

Kate frowns, confused. “Dude, I don’t even know you. How can you have a problem with me?” 

“I know you,” the biker says with a glare. He’s got some kind of accent - not a tracksuit bro accent, but something similar. “You steal valuable cat from biker gang boss. Right out of biker gang headquarters.” 

“Are you talking about Mr Winkles? Persian shorthair, right? Cause I didn't steal him, I just rescued him. Your boss stole him from a rich lady on Madison and Third.”

“Yeah, whatever,” the biker says. “You die now.” He jumps off his bike and the other bikers follow suit, pacing in a circle around them. 

Kate glances at Yelena, whose hands are already clenched into fists. “Alright, this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for today.” 

“Son of a bitch,” Yelena curses. “This is why you should give up on the cat cases.” 

And then the thugs close in, and they’re fighting. 

Kate nocks an arrow - she’s got her bow, of course she’s got her bow - and sinks the shaft into Biker 1’s shoulder before catching Biker 2’s chain with the curve of the bow and yanking him off his feet. He stumbles and goes down with a curse. Next to her, Yelena is handling Bikers 3, 4, and 5 simultaneously, and Kate can’t help but think, for just a second: Shit, that’s hot. 

Biker 6 goes flying onto the path that leads away from the bridge. Biker 7’s neck snaps under Yelena’s boots. Kate’s feeling pretty good about this fight, all things considered, when Biker 8 grabs her and slams her into the side of the tunnel. 

Kate gasps for breath, the pain lancing through her ribcage like wildfire. Suddenly it’s Christmas Eve and she’s breaking under Kingpin’s hands again, arrows shattered like glass around her. 

“Kate! Are you okay?” 

It’s Yelena’s voice, but it sounds like it’s coming from a million miles away. Kate moves her mouth, tries to say something. She’s aware, vaguely, that her legs are moving. 

The panic rushes over her in waves, surrounding her. 

--

Kingpin. Tracksuits. Rockefeller. The Christmas tree, a broken Svarovski star - we’re not the only solar system, not even the only galaxy

“Kate?” 

The battle of New York, it’s the greatest city on earth and now the wall’s caving in and the sky is filled with fire

“Kate?” 

Bow, in her hands; arrow, nocked, knock knock jokes with her father, her father dead - her mother in prison, how could you do this Kate? How could you how could you how could you how could I, how could I do that to her, what have I done? 

“Kate.” 

Kate comes back to herself in degrees, slowly becoming aware again. Her bow is next to her; that’s the first thing she notices. 

She feels something on her back: Yelena’s hand, fingers spread flat. 

“You’re okay,” Yelena says, quiet. “I’m here. Just breathe.”

Kate breathes. Despite the cold, despite her coat, Yelena’s hand is warm against her back. They’re sitting on one of the park benches, and Yelena’s hand is on her back, and Kate is alive. 

Also, her ribs hurt like an absolute bitch. 

Lucky sniffs at her hands, whining in concern. His nose is wet, and Kate swats him away gently. “It’s okay, boy. I’m fine.”

“You’re alright,” Yelena says, almost more of a statement than a question. 

“I think so, yeah,” Kate answers, her breath shaky. “That was - Jesus Christ. Nothing like that’s ever happened to me before.”

“A girl in the Red Room had a panic attack once,” Yelena says. “Number 17. Irina. She slept in the cot next to me.” 

Kate shivers. It’s cold enough that she can see her breath becoming mist, evaporating silver against the air. “What happened to her?”  

“They shot her.” 

“Thanks,” Kate says with a grimace. “Really cheers me up to hear that.” 

“No, what I’m saying is…you’re not dead. It could be worse.” 

“Right.” 

Yelena blows out a breath. “Sorry. I’m not very good at this comforting thing. That was not a skill I was taught in the Red Room.” 

“No, it’s fine. I - ” Kate stops, stares down at her hands. “I put my own mother in prison. What the hell did I do?” 

“What you had to,” Yelena answers, not a trace of doubt in her voice. “She framed Jack. She hired me to kill Barton. She is just as much a criminal as Kingpin.” 

“I know,” Kate says, low. “I know, it’s just - it still feels wrong. She’s my mom.” 

“Family isn’t everything,” Yelena says. “Blood means nothing. You owe her nothing.” 

Kate blinks against the sudden sting of salt in her eyes. “How can you be so sure?” 

“Natasha and I did not share blood,” Yelena answers. “But she was my sister. She was the closest thing to my heart.” She leans closer to Kate, their shoulders brushing. “You are not to blame for your mother’s mistakes, Kate Bishop. We can inherit the sins of our parents, but we cannot be made to atone for them.” 

“Yeah,” Kate says, “okay.” And then: “Thank you. For being here.” 

“I’ll always be here,” Yelena says, and Kate doesn’t know whether it’s the truth or not, but she’s not brave enough to ask; there’s too much water beneath that question, miles of unknown depths, and the bottom of the ocean is no place for a bird of prey. She doesn’t push Yelena for an answer. Instead, she presses a hand to her aching ribs and chooses, for now, to simply believe her. 

Deep down, Kate knew that this was coming. In all honesty - and man, honesty sucks sometimes - she’s lucky it didn’t happen sooner. All of these memories and responsibilities weigh on her like a millstone around her neck, a burden she doesn’t want to have to bear - but, as Lucky licks at her hand and Yelena leans further into her side, Kate reflects that maybe she doesn’t have to carry it alone. 

(It’s a mortifying thought. She’s Kate Bishop; she doesn’t need anyone else, she doesn’t, but that’s a problem to think about later.) 

Kate breathes in, breathes out. Yelena’s hand is still pressed to her back, anchoring her to this place in the world - and there’s more to deal with, there always is, but for now, this is enough. 

--

The embarrassment doesn't hit until the next day. 

The apartment feels too small after everything that happened at the park, so Kate does what she does best: she pulls away from everything, takes her bow up to the roof. She doesn’t tell Yelena where she’s going, doesn’t even bring Lucky up with her; the place she’s at right now is somewhere she doesn’t want anyone else getting messed up. 

She doesn’t want to think about the biker gang or the panic attack or her mother. She especially doesn’t want to think about what she almost confessed to Yelena - that’s something she can never say aloud, not anymore. It would just futz everything up, the way Kate futzes everything up - and anyways, it’s only a stupid crush. She can get over it. She has to get over it. She doesn’t want to ruin things with Yelena, doesn't want to lose anyone else in her life. She just wants things to be easy. 

Here on the roof, everything is easy in her hands: nock, draw, fire, repeat. Bowstring tense in her hands, one eye closed against the cross in the center. It’s just her and the target, arrow after arrow tearing through the purple styrofoam, and Kate shoots through it all until her fingers are stiff and freezing but her mind feels a little more clear. 

There’s a whistle from behind her. “Good stuff, Hawkeye.” 

Kate nocks and turns in one quick movement, arrow drawn and ready to fire before she realizes who it is. 

Clint is standing on the rooftop, his coat creased and his bow slung over his back. He’s wearing a black hat with a purple H embroidered on it, and Kate instantly covets it. She’s Hawkeye too, damn it; she should get some of the swag. 

“Clint,” Kate says. “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, you know,” Clint says. “I got a full quiver and a craving for leftover pizza, and I figured this was the best place to be.” 

Kate’s stomach twists. “Did Yelena tell you about yesterday?” 

“Yelena? She hates me. Why would she - ” 

Kate narrows her eyes. Clint heaves a sigh. “Yeah, okay. She told me. Don’t blame her, blame me. Seriously though, kid. Are you okay? Do you wanna talk about it?” 

“Yes,” Kate says, “and no. No chance. I just want to shoot things until I forget about it.” 

“That I can do,” Clint says, unslinging his bow from his shoulders. “Shootout?” 

Kate gives him a long look, then nods. “Seven arrows per round, best of three. Ten circle or nothing. If I win, we don’t talk about it. If I lose, we also don’t talk about it. Either way, you buy me breakfast.” 

“You drive a hard bargain, Katie-Kate,” Clint says. “How about this. We shoot. I’ll buy pizza afterwards. If I win, then we talk.”  

“Fine,” Kate says. “But you won’t win.” 

“Oh, I see how it is,” Clint huffs. “Girl takes my bow and my name and suddenly thinks she can outshoot me.” 

Kate rolls her eyes and punches him in the shoulder, feeling better than she has in nearly thirty hours. Clint is solid and unchanging, three-day scruff and coffee stains and all, and Kate wouldn’t trade him for the world. 

She can’t ever tell him that in as many words, though, so she just shifts into her archery stance, knowing without even looking that he’s doing the exact same. “Ready to get your butt kicked, Hawkeye?” 

Clint grins. “Always, Hawkeye.” 

Their first two arrows fly at the exact same time, speeding towards the center of the target. Even before they land, Kate knows they’re both bullseyes. 

--

“Okay,” Clint says an hour later, pointing his pepperoni slice at her like a knife. They’re sitting in the closest pizza joint, three slices on each of their plates and another four boxed up to take home to Lucky. “We’re gonna talk now.” 

Kate scowls at him. “I said I don’t want to.” 

“Tough shit, Katie-Kate. We’re partners, remember? Your mess is my mess.” 

“Yeah, but maybe I don’t want to share this time.” Kate looks down at the tabletop, determined not to make eye contact with Clint.  “Tell you what - here’s the CliffsNotes version. Biker gang attacked, we totally wasted them, I got my ribs beat in, I fully realized that I put my own mother in prison, I had a panic attack, Yelena talked me down from it and now I don’t know if I can ever look her in the eye again. Nobody lived happily ever after. The end.” 

“Okay, so you panicked and Yelena helped. That’s fine. It’s okay to ask for help sometimes.” 

“Well, I don’t want to,” Kate mumbles. “I hate asking for help. Futzing hate it.”  

“You and me both, kid,” Clint sighs. “It took me almost thirty years to realize that sometimes, no matter how humiliating it might feel, you just gotta do it anyway.” 

Kate clenches her jaw. “It sucks.” 

“Katie…” Under the lights, Clint’s eyes are a softer blue than usual. “Work with me here? Just a little?” He looks tired and sad, worried - worried about her. 

Kate takes a deep breath, then nods. 

“You know how many times in my life I panicked or lost it or just plain fucked up?” Clint asks. “So many. And every time - ” He stops, swallows hard. “Every time, Nat pulled me back from the edge. 

He’s fading out of the present now, losing himself in memories. Kate just listens; she doesn’t know what else to do. 

“The first time,” Clint says, “when she had to talk me down…I didn’t talk to her for a week afterwards. I was young and stupid and so, so afraid of letting anyone help me.” 

“Yeah,” Kate says, dry. “I’m on close terms with that mindset right now.” 

“Don’t be,” Clint replies. “Don’t make my mistakes. Please, Kate.” 

He’s got the pain of several lifetimes etched into his face, mouth drawn tight with the memories. Kate looks at him and thinks, clearly: I don’t want to end up that way. 

“Okay,” she says. “Okay. I won’t.” 

Clint reaches over to rest his hand on top of hers. Kate sort of swats at him, but doesn’t pull away fully. 

“Why’d Yelena call you, anyway?” she asks. “I was kind of under the impression that she still hates your guts.” 

“She does,” Clint answers. “And she called anyway. Should give you some idea of how she feels about you, shouldn’t it?” He winks at her, and Kate - 

Kate has no idea what to do with that. None at all. She wants to ask, wants it so badly that the words are already caught halfway up her throat. 

“When are you going back to the farm?” she asks instead. Repression, thy name is Bishop. 

Clint shrugs one shoulder. “Tonight, probably. Next train out is in a couple hours.”

Kate blinks at him, trying to fix an image of him in her mind. He’s got tomato sauce dripping down his wrist and his hat is slightly crooked on his head, and he still looks like he’s been through the wringer even though it’s been almost a month since the whole Christmas debacle, but that’s not all. Kate looks deeper, past the mess and the imperfections, and sees one of the best friends she’ll ever have in this life. If it really is okay to ask for help, he’ll always be on her speed dial. 

“Wanna stay a little longer?” she asks. “We can watch a movie. Yelena’s been pushing for Zootopia, and I think tonight’s the night I might let her win.” 

Clint knits his eyebrows. “You want me to come watch a movie about cartoon animal cops with the woman who tried to kill me three weeks ago?” 

“Well when you say it like that, it sounds stupid.” 

 Clint takes another bite of pizza, chews for a minute. “What the hell,” he says. “Sure. I’ll come over. You better have popcorn, though. I’m not sitting through two hours of animated Jason Bateman without an assist from Orville Redenbacher.” 

--

That’s how Kate ends up in her living room with Yelena Belova and Clint Barton, preparing to watch Zootopia on a random Tuesday night in January. 

Man, her life is weird. 

The room is tense. Despite their mutual understanding, Kate can tell that Yelena and Clint are still treading on dangerous ground with each other - it’s too new, too delicate, too much water under a broken bridge. 

 Clint’s sitting in a purple beanbag chair that he pulled from the closet; Yelena’s curled tightly into the armchair by the window, and the distance between them is as far as the living room allows. Kate, sitting on the couch, serves as the linchpin for the dysfunctional triangle that’s somehow become her people.

Lucky, because he has common sense, is hiding in the corner of the room away from the line of fire, sprawled out on Yelena’s air mattress. Kate’s kind of jealous of him. 

“So,” she says, her voice a little too loud against the awkward silence, “how was everyone’s day?” 

“Good,” Yelena mutters, “until he showed up.” 

Clint grunts. “Could say the same for you.” 

“Well,” Yelena says, “I live here. Can you say the same?” There’s a flash of defiance in her eyes, a steady challenge, and it’s unfortunately very attractive. Kate does her best not to look. 

Clint’s head whips toward Kate so fast that she winces in sympathy for his spine. “She lives here now?” 

“Uh,” Kate says. “Um….sort of, yeah.”

“See,” Yelena says, smug. “Of the two of us, I think that you are the outsider here. Isn’t that right, Lucky?” 

Lucky lets a short bark of agreement. Clint just shakes his head. “Wait, Lucky? You let her name the dog too?”

Kate blushes. “It’s not - it just - ” 

“Jesus,” Clint mumbles. “I’m getting too old for this.” 

Yelena stares at him, eyes narrowed. Clint glares back. 

“Hey,” Kate says, her eyes flicking from Yelena to Clint. “Hey. I thought you guys were good now.”

“I understand him,” Yelena huffs, “and he understands me, at least as much as his tiny little brain can understand anything. That doesn’t mean I like him.” 

Clint crosses his arms. “Ditto.” 

Kate looks between them again, at their mirrored grief buried by stubborn pride, and feels an exasperated rush of affection welling up in her, followed by a familiar flame of determination that hasn’t seen the light of day in a while. Yelena and Clint may not want each other, but Kate needs both of them; and if this is her life now, it’s going to be on her terms. 

“So here’s the deal,” she says, catching first Yelena’s eye, then Clint’s. “You are the two most important people in the world to me, and I don’t care if you don’t get along - I need you both here. Yelena, Clint is my partner and nothing’s going to change that. Clint, Yelena is  - ” And then she stops short, because the word mine is terrifyingly, perilously balanced on the tip of her tongue. 

Yelena meets Kate’s gaze again, waiting on the end of her sentence. In the dim light of the TV screen, her eyes are almost pure green. Kate almost stops breathing.  

“Yelena’s here,” she finishes lamely. “And deep down, I think you two need each other more than you want to admit. You both know why.” Kate taps the remote against her hand now, punctuating her speech. “Even if that’s not the case, I need both of you, so you two are going to sit down and watch Zootopia and figure it out.” 

“But - ” Yelena and Clint start at the time, and then break off, glaring at each other. 

“No buts,” Kate says, lacing her voice with what she hopes is steel. It’s probably more like aluminum foil, but - well, she’s trying. “Case closed. Hawkeye out.” 

Clint grimaces. Yelena scowls. Kate gives them both a capital-L look, the kind that’s sent many a humbled sports bro running for cover after challenging her archery talents and subsequently getting outshot like he’s a deer during open season. “Are we clear?”

“Yes,” Clint grumbles. 

“Yes,” Yelena huffs. 

Kate grins to herself. Good work, Bishop. Solid A-plus in Getting Your Dysfunctional Found Family To Tolerate Each Other 101. If only that had been one of her college courses. “Good. Now that that’s settled, can we please just watch the movie?” 

Two nods in response. Kate presses the play button and relaxes against the couch, feeling more solid than she has in weeks. Yelena and Clint are both here, and Lucky too, and so what if they’re a bit of a tangled mess. She’s dealt with worse. They’re all here, and they’re all alive - that’s what matters. Everything else can follow after. 

“Hey,” Yelena says after a minute, leaning over and speaking quietly enough that only Kate can hear. “Is there any popcorn?”

Yelena’s hair is brushing against Kate’s collarbone, and the smell of her perfume is enough to make Kate fold in seconds. She can’t show it, though, so she covers it with a smirk. “You know, Clint asked the same thing earlier today. You guys really are more similar than you think.”

“You watch it, Kate Bishop,” Yelena warns. “I will walk right out of this apartment.” 

It’s an empty threat, and Kate knows it; she just smiles, leaning her head against Yelena’s shoulder for a brief second. “No you won’t.”

Yelena’s voice softens. “No,” she agrees. “I won’t.”

--

After the movie, Kate sits on the loft stairs and watches as Clint gets ready to leave. She’s said her goodbyes already. 

Clint shrugs into his coat and slings his bow over his shoulders - and then he lingers by the door a moment longer, waiting on some unseen signal. Yelena approaches him, the lines of her body tense but not prepared to fight; they exchange a few quiet words, and then, right in front of Kate’s eyes, a miracle occurs. 

Yelena reaches out and hugs Clint. And Clint hugs back. 

It only lasts for half a second, and it’s possibly the most reluctant hug that Kate’s ever witnessed, but it’s a hug nonetheless. 

Clint pulls away and looks past Yelena to wave to Kate, and then he’s out the door and gone. Kate gets off the stairs and walks slowly over to Yelena, smiling widely. 

“Oh no you don’t,” Yelena cautions, holding up a finger. “Not a word, Kate Bishop. I don’t want to hear it. Seriously.” 

“Admit it,” Kate says. “Being around him wasn’t as bad as you thought it would be.” 

“One more word and I’m going to put you in a headlock.” 

“I’m just saying, I was right - ” 

Yelena covers the ground between them in a blur of movement, wrapping her arms around Kate and wrestling her to the ground. Kate fights back automatically, thrashing from side to side as Yelena tries to get an arm around her neck. She knows the true extent of Yelena’s strength, knows that Yelena could break her like a twig at any moment if she really wanted, and maybe she should be scared, but all she can think is: God, that’s attractive. 

There’s something wrong with her, maybe. Kate doesn’t want to talk about it. 

She can’t see too well through the flurry of movement, but she can tell that Yelena is grinning. “Do you yield, Kate Bishop?” 

“No.” 

“Are you sure?” 

They’re still rolling across the floor, locked up in a tangle of limbs. Kate shoves at Yelena’s arm, and it’s maddeningly ineffective. “Yes, I’m sure.” 

“How about now?” Yelena asks. Her voice is low and sultry, subtly teasing, and Kate’s so hypnotized by it that she doesn’t figure out what’s happening until it’s too late. Yelena’s fingers trail down her side, poking mercilessly at her ribs, and Kate can’t help it; her entire body seizes. “Hey! No tickling! That’s a violation.” 

“Yield, then.” 

“Fine! Fine, I yield.” 

Yelena stops moving, and Kate does too, and it’s only then that she realizes the position they’re in: she’s pinned to the floor, Yelena on top of her, their faces mere inches apart. Yelena’s breaths are coming quickly, and her eyes are dark. 

Kate can’t help it; her eyes drop to Yelena’s lips and catch there, her pulse racing in her ears. She’s never been this turned on in her life, she’s sure of it. She thinks, unbidden of the words she held back in Central Park. 

Yelena’s impossibly here, impossibly close. It would take so little to close the distance. 

Lucky barks in the background, and the moment breaks. Yelena blinks, her eyes shifting from brown to green, and slowly lifts herself off Kate’s body. Kate tries, futilely, to banish any thoughts about how close Yelena is to straddling her hips. 

“I,” she says, grabbing for any words within her reach that aren’t please come to bed with me. “I should get some sleep.” 

“Oh,” Yelena says. Kate’s just delusional enough to imagine that there might be a hint of disappointment in her tone. “Yeah. Me too.”

Kate all but runs to the stairs to the loft, her face hot and her heart still racing like a thoroughbred on the last lap of the Kentucky Derby. She collapses on the edge of her bed, breathing hard. From where she’s sitting she can see Yelena settling onto the air mattress, and Kate is suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to take her to bed, take her apart, fall asleep in her arms, and repeat for the rest of her life. The very thought makes her weak. 

Alright. Okay. She might have slightly misjudged the depth of her feelings for Yelena. 

This, Kate thinks miserably to herself, is going to make life complicated. 

--

Kate wakes up early the next morning, so early that the sky is still dark. There’s a strange energy gathering inside of her, a restless kind of adrenaline that rushes through her veins. She feels the inexplicable urge to do something more. To be something more. 

She gets out of bed and sneaks down the stairs, stepping quietly enough that she won’t wake Yelena. Kate learned early on that Yelena sleeps lightly - she once woke up from a nap when Lucky sneezed from inhaling too much pepper - but over the last couple of weeks she’s begun to sleep more deeply, almost as if she feels safe here. Kate tries not to think too much about what that might mean. 

She sits on the floor by the window, staring out at the world. New York stares back, rolling out in a tidy maze before her.

There’s so much to this city, so many streets and buildings and people, so many hopes and wishes and dreams. Kate is almost twenty-three years old, and a superhero, and the best damn sharpshooter this town has ever seen. Clint Barton believes in her, and this city is waiting for her like a giant unsolved puzzle, and what the hell is she doing, wasting her talent on finding stray cats? 

A map of the city hangs on the kitchen wall, pristine and decorative. Kate crosses the floor to examine it, pulls a black marker and a handful of purple pins from the junk drawer. She stands motionless for a minute, just thinking, and then she begins. 

The first pin marks the motorcycle shop on the Lower West Side, the site of the biker gang’s headquarters. The second marks the shady repair shop south of Central Park that’s got an ex-con managing the books. The third, fourth, and fifth mark three buildings whose names Kate remembers cropping up in rumors - something about tax fraud. The sixth marks a restaurant that Kate’s pretty sure once gave her food poisoning on purpose. 

Kate digs deeper in her memory for more dirt, and when that runs dry, she pulls up files from Bishop Security - the business may have been shut down, but the database remains accessible to her. She keeps going, purple pins spreading out all across the city, until she’s got at least ten in each borough, and then she uses the marker to start connecting some of them with thick black lines. 

Afterwards, she stands back and admires her handiwork. The whole of New York is in front of her, mapped out and known and ready to be conquered - and it’ll be a lot of work, but Kate’s not afraid of that anymore. It’s the start of a new age: bigger, braver, brighter. 

“What are you doing?” Yelena asks from behind her. Kate doesn’t even blink. 

“Making my to-do list,” she answers, turning. By now the sun is up; it’s coming through the window, casting the room in a golden glow. Yelena’s face is sleep-soft, creased from being pressed against the sheets, and Kate’s heart skips several beats at the sight. 

“Well, that’s very organized of you,” Yelena says, “but it’s far too early to be awake. I’m going back to bed.” And with that, she rolls over and buries her face in her pillow. 

Kate looks at her completed map and then back at Yelena, allowing herself a smile. She’s taking this city back by storm, and Yelena’s presence is a fixed point in her apartment, and the future looks so, so bright. 

Mentally, she adds one more thing to her to-do list. It’s not in writing, nothing so tangible; it looks more like a sketch. The shape of a woman asleep in a loft bed, two pillows resting by the headboard. A two-person life fit into a one-person apartment. 

Kate shoves that to the very bottom of the list, then steps into the kitchen and starts up the coffee pot. Yelena’s share goes into a yellow mug, black with one sugar just the way she likes it - Kate knows that about her the same way she knows Yelena’s favorite movie and her most-worn shirts and the curve of her smile, and she shouldn’t know any of that. She shouldn’t want to. 

It’s fine. Everything’s fine. She can fight this, or maybe just bury it. Yelena lives in every corner of this apartment now, her presence just as much a part of it as the walls and furniture, and Kate wants it to stay that way. She’s destroyed enough things in the last month, including a perfectly good eighty-foot Christmas tree - she’s not about to destroy this too. No sense in ruining a good thing. 

This is enough for her, is the point. Yelena’s here, and Kate has her in almost all the ways that matter; that’s what counts, not daydreams of a life she can never have. It’s enough. It’s good. 

And Kate, who has never settled for anything in her life, looks at Yelena’s sleeping form and lets herself accept this. 

--

January 18th dawns clear and cold, the sun brighter in the sky than it has been in days. Kate’s all too aware of this, because she’s woken up far too early - early enough that the traffic outside is still a low murmur, not the chaotic clamor of mid-morning rush hour. 

“Mmf,” Kate mumbles, rolling over in bed. Something’s poking her right between two of her ribs, and it’s not going away no matter how hard she tries to ignore it. “Wha timesit?” 

The poking continues. Determined to hang on to the last remnants of sleep, Kate throws a punch in the direction of the poking. 

“Ouch!”

Kate’s eyes fly open to find Yelena standing over her bed, rubbing her arm. Yelena frowns at her. “Rude. That was uncalled for.” 

Kate yawns widely. “Why are you waking me up at this ungodly hour?” 

“You did it to me yesterday,” Yelena reminds her. “I am just returning the favor. Besides, I have a very important message for you.” 

There’s a special smile hovering at the edges of Yelena’s mouth, one that Kate’s grown used to seeing whenever Yelena brings back pastries from Kate’s favorite bakery or plays the classical radio station during breakfast because she knows that Kate likes to hear a little cello music before the day begins. Right now, seeing that smile, Kate gives up on sleep for the rest of the morning.

She’s not whipped or anything. She’s just being kind. Considerate. A good friend. 

“Fine,” she says with another yawn, reluctantly sliding out from under the bedclothes. “What is it?” 

Yelena’s eyes sparkle. “You’ll have to come downstairs and see.”

Kate follows her down the stairs, rubbing the sleep from her eyes - and then she reaches the ground floor and suddenly snaps wide awake, because the apartment - 

The apartment is wreathed in purple garlands, lavender confetti covering the floor. Lucky barks from his seat on the couch, and Kate notices that he’s wearing a purple party hat. There’s a balloon tied to the back of her usual chair at the kitchen table, and Kate doesn’t even have to look to know that it’s shaped like a bow and arrow - Cupid’s bow and arrow, which is pretty sickening as far as irony goes.

Yelena hugs her from behind, arms wrapped gently around Kate’s waist, and Kate sinks into the touch so fast that it would be embarrassing if she wasn’t still half-stupid from lack of sleep. 

“Happy birthday, Kate Bishop,” Yelena says, resting her head on Kate’s shoulder. “You are officially old now.” 

Kate twists around until she catches a glimpse of Yelena’s expression; it’s smug, yes, but also soft. It makes something soften in Kate, in the same place as always: in her chest, right behind her ribs, where she’s beginning to think that there might be a little space carved out in Yelena’s shape. “What the - ” 

“It’s true, you’re getting old. Soon you will have to find a retirement home.” 

“No, I mean how - ” 

“How will you get around? Don’t worry, I’ll find you a cane. There are actually some that are really cool, they have a sword that comes out of the handle - ” 

Yelena,” Kate says fondly. “How did you know it was my birthday?” 

“I’ve told you before, Kate Bishop,” Yelena says. “I know a lot about you. And you know my birthday, don’t you?” 

“I - yeah, I do. August 22nd.”

Yelena grins. “There you are, then.” 

Kate inhales, exhales. She’s twenty-three years old, and her apartment is filled with purple confetti, and Yelena’s arms are still wrapped around her, eyes bright with excitement - and just like that, it hits her. She’s in love with Yelena. 

Shit. 

“I know a lot about you,” Yelena repeats, and all Kate can think is: Not everything. “Now, come sit down. I made cupcakes. Also, there are presents.” 

They settle onto the couch, Yelena holding a stack of immaculately wrapped packages and Kate holding a giant chocolate cupcake slathered liberally with purple frosting. It kind of looks like a purple brick, but she’s not about to tell Yelena that. 

Lucky sniffs at her plate like he doesn’t mind eating bricks. Kate’s feeling generous - it’s her birthday, after all - so she breaks off a piece of cupcake and tosses it to him. 

“Here,” Yelena says, handing her the first present. It’s square and flat, and normally Kate would be shaking it six ways from Sunday to try and guess what it is without opening it, but she’s too distracted by the not-so-stunning revelation that she’s had. 

She’s in love. With Yelena. 

Yelena, who likes her coffee black with one sugar. Yelena, who loves dogs so much that she sometimes stops on the sidewalk to greet them. Yelena, who’s moved into Kate’s apartment and her heart as well: permanent lease, no rent necessary. 

Yelena, who’s completely unaware of the complete chaos that’s happening in Kate’s brain right now and therefore probably wondering why she’s just sitting motionless with the present unopened in her hands. 

“Oh, right,” Kate says. “Presents. Unwrapping. I love - unwrapping presents. That’s it. Definitely wasn’t gonna say anything else. I’m gonna open this now.” 

The wrapping paper is purple too, because of course it is. Kate tears it off to find a stack of vinyl records: Yo-Yo Ma’s The New York Album, Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, and Taylor Swift’s reputation. 

“I know that you don’t really use the record player,” Yelena says, bashful, “but I also know these are your favorite albums, and I still don’t really understand the point of making playlists on your phone - ” 

“Yelena, it’s perfect,” Kate interrupts, clutching the records to her chest. “Thank you. I love it. You - you’re - ” Everything. “You’re the best.” 

Yelena scoffs, a soft pink blush rising in her cheeks. “Pfft. You’re not so bad yourself.” She dips a finger in the cupcake icing, and Kate tries hard not to stare at the way she licks it off. “Okay, there’s one more gift. Here.” 

Kate takes the small box from Yelena, unwrapping it to find a smaller box. And then an even smaller box. “This is such a waste of boxes.” 

Yelena waves a hand dismissively. “Oh, don’t be such a - what do you call it, a buzzkill? Have you ever seen a matryoshka doll? Those have at least seven layers each. This is child’s play in comparison.” 

Kate impatiently rips the lid off the top of the third box and there it is, lying on top of a purple rectangle of cloth: a single fork made of what looks to be pure silver. 

“For the kitchen,” Yelena says. “Now we can finally stop eating macaroni with a spoon, and thank god for that. It’s just wrong.” 

“Oh,” Kate murmurs, strangely breathless. They’ve got two forks now. Two forks, and two people, and maybe Yelena really is here to stay after all. “Thank you.” 

Yelena grins, nudging her shoulder against Kate’s. “Okay, so you opened your presents. What do you want to do with the rest of your birthday? And don’t say - ” 

“ - archery on the rooftop? Too bad. You already knew it was coming.” 

“Ugh. I hate doing archery with you.” 

Kate laughs. “What, because it’s the one thing I can do better than you?” 

“No! Yes. Maybe. Shut up.” Yelena frowns, brushing a strand of hair away from her face crossly. “You’re lucky it’s your birthday.” 

 “Yeah,” Kate says softly, taking in this moment. It’s her twenty-third birthday, and the apartment is drenched in purple, and Lucky’s chewing his party hat to pieces in the corner. Everything is as it should be. Yelena’s shoulder is still touching hers. “Yeah, I am.” 

--

They spend the next few hours up on the rooftop, starting off with archery - Kate wins nine out of ten rounds, and Yelena rolls her eyes until Kate’s worried she might sprain them. Gradually, though, they start doing less and less until they’re just lying on their backs, staring up at the clear blue January sky and talking about anything that comes to mind. It’s still cold out, but it’s fairly mild for January - “global warming,” Yelena says ruefully, “it’ll get you every time” - and really, Kate wouldn’t mind getting hypothermia if it means that she gets to have these moments with Yelena.   

It’s a stupid thought, but then again, most of her thoughts are when it comes to Yelena. 

“Your archery is very good,” Yelena says, snapping Kate out of a half-formed daydream where Yelena beats her ass in hand to hand combat without breaking a sweat and then sweeps her off her feet, “but you should branch out a little, just in case. I could teach you other weapons, if you wanted.”

Kate grimaces. “Like what, guns? I hate guns.” 

“Not necessarily. Knives, garrotes, clubs…anything can be a weapon. I once killed a man with a potato peeler.” Yelena says this last part with unpracticed nonchalance, and Kate marvels at how she doesn’t even bat an eye when she hears things like this anymore. “Knives are probably best, though. They are very easy, and you can have them on you at almost any time.”

Kate lifts herself up on one elbow, scanning Yelena’s body - to check for weapons, obviously, nothing else. All she sees is the perfect smoothness of Yelena’s coat. “I don’t see any on you now.” 

Yelena slips a hand beneath her coat and suddenly there’s a six-inch blade in her hand, dancing between her fingers. She twirls it in a complicated way that makes Kate’s mouth dry, and then it’s gone again. “That’s the point.” 

“What,” Kate says, gasping a little. “Where did that come from?” 

“Pockets,” Yelena answers smugly. “This coat has so many pockets.” 

“I know,” Kate says, teasing, “every item of clothing you own needs to have pockets.” 

Yelena swats her shoulder. “You make fun of me now, but it’s true. Where else would you put everything?” 

“I don’t know,” Kate admits, and then, remembering all the times she’s worked some kind of balancing act between her phone and her bow and her coffee: “My hands.” 

Yelena sits up, holds out her hand wordlessly. Kate places her own on top, fingers curled against Yelena’s palm. 

“You have good hands,” Yelena says, looking up at Kate from beneath the dark curl of her eyelashes. Kate shivers, and blames it on the cold. 

The moment stretches on without breaking. Kate’s hand is still in Yelena’s, and she swears there’s something here, she swears

Yelena’s phone rings from somewhere in her coat, and she unearths it from one of her many pockets to flash the screen at Kate. “Come on, we have to go. We’re going to be late.” 

“Late for what?” Kate asks, letting Yelena pull her to her feet. “A client meeting?”

“Even better,” Yelena says, brushing a speck of rooftop dust from the shoulder of Kate’s jacket. “Our dinner reservation.” 

Our, Kate thinks as she follows Yelena to the elevator. First person plural, possessive. She’s never been great at grammar, but this - well, this is something else. 

Yelena smiles at her in the orange light of the elevator, numbers flashing downwards in the panel above their heads, and it’s a side of her that Kate never thought she’d see: steady, affectionate, gentle. All of it, all of her, aimed at Kate. 

Yeah. This is something else, all right. 

--

The restaurant is nice - it’s a fairly classy establishment on the Upper East Side, subtly tasteful without being overly pretentious. It strikes a good balance between Kate’s old life and her new one, and as she slides into a seat at the corner table, she can’t help thinking that it’s kind of perfect. 

Then again, that might have something to do with the woman sitting across from her. 

The waiter sets down menus and glasses of water, then leaves the two of them alone. Kate opens the menu, but doesn’t start reading it - she’s too busy watching Yelena. 

Yelena unfolds her linen napkin, creases it down the middle, and refolds it; in a matter of seconds, it’s shaped like some kind of bird. She pushes it across the table to Kate. “Here,” she says casually, like she didn’t just whip out some kind of cloth napkin origami magic. “For you. It’s a hawk.” 

“Sweet,” Kate says, setting it by her plate. “I didn’t know you could fold napkins like that. What other talents have you been hiding from me?”

Yelena hums in thought. “Speaking twenty-five different languages, identifying vodka brands by taste, and…limbo walking.” 

“Limbo walking? Seriously?” 

“Oh, I never joke about limbo walking,” Yelena says. “I’m very flexible, Kate Bishop. In many ways.” She winks, and Kate’s entire brain goes blank for a minute. 

“Anyways,” Yelena continues, opening her menu now like she didn’t just cause Kate to short-circuit in the middle of a crowded restaurant, “what are you thinking for dinner? The macaroni looks really good.” 

Kate scans the menu until she finds it: four-cheese baked mac, bacon bits, breadcrumb finish. It does look really good, but still - it’s mac and cheese. “Yelena, you eat mac and cheese about four times a week.” 

“That’s boxed,” Yelena counters. “This is so different. It’s got bacon.”

“You know we have bacon at home, right?” 

Yelena shrugs. “I’m not saying you have to eat it. Order whatever you want, it’s your birthday. But I’m getting the mac and cheese.”

The waiter stops by their table, pen poised and ready. “Are you folks ready to order?” 

“I’ll have the mac and cheese, please,” Yelena says, raising an eyebrow at Kate. “With extra hot sauce on the side.” 

The waiter flinches at that last part, but writes it down and turns toward Kate expectantly. 

Kate sighs, resigned. “I’ll have the same, please. Eighty-six the hot sauce.” 

“Coming right up,” the waiter says, and then he’s gone again. 

Yelena smirks: a small, private thing, but even with her head turned, Kate catches it. 

“Listen, I didn’t get it for you,” she says. “I just…realized how good it looked, that’s all.”

Yelena just laughs. “Keep telling yourself that, Kate Bishop,” she says. “Someday I’ll get you to admit it. You do everything for me.” 

I do, Kate thinks, watching the hazel gleam of Yelena’s eyes in the golden light of the candle that’s placed in the center of the table, and that’s the problem; you’re joking but I’m not, and someday, someday soon, that’s going to completely screw me over. 

--

They fall into a lull while they wait for their food, content to sit and mostly listen while conversations rise and fall all around them. Kate starts a game where she has to pick which of the other diners would be most likely to hire her to find their missing cat; Yelena adds her own twist by pointing out the richest men in the room and bets on which of them she’d have to kill for tax evasion. Maybe not the typical birthday dinner conversation, but it works for Kate. 

“Can I ask you something?” Yelena asks in the quiet space that lands just after one of her jokes. 

Kate nods, expecting another comment on the ridiculous finery of Table Five’s tuxedos. She’s already got a funny answer building in her mind - something about penguins, or the movie Happy Feet. (The first one only; the sequel is dead to her.)

Yelena sits up straight, perfectly still, a marble carving of a person. “Why didn’t you shoot me on that rooftop?” 

Kate opens her mouth, closes it again. “I don’t - ”

“I’m just asking,” Yelena says, leaning forward over the table now. “You could have easily loosed the arrow, but instead you lowered your bow. I want to know why.” 

Kate looks to her left. The little kid at the table next to theirs is building a house out of sugar packets, a shaky construction that could fall apart at any second. Kate kind of knows how that feels. 

“Clint told me a story once,” she says finally. “About a shot he didn’t take. About a time that he met somebody. He told me that he saw something in her, something that wanted out. And when it came down to it, he just couldn’t let that arrow loose.” 

Recognition sparks in Yelena’s eyes, sliding into sorrow. She stays silent. 

“It wasn’t like that with you,” Kate continues, soft. “Not quite. It’s like - like I saw your face and part of me recognized you. Like it was a completely unconscious decision. I was ready to fire, and then you were there, and suddenly I couldn’t shoot.” 

Yelena’s gaze meets hers squarely, hazel against blue. Kate feels, suddenly and uncomfortably , like a nerve stripped bare. This is too much like a confession, too much of herself pouring into a simple set of words whose significance is anything but. 

There’s something in the air, something delicate thread lingering between them. Cast in candlelight and bathed in truth, Kate allows herself, for just one heartbeat, to believe in whatever kind of magic is connecting her to Yelena. 

“I could have easily caught it,” Yelena says, and just like that, the spell is broken. “Or dodged it. You couldn’t have killed me.” She smiles, a subtle curl at the edge of her mouth. “But still. I wanted to know.” 

Kate may be an atheist, but she sends a quick and fervent thank-you to heaven for granting her an out. “Oh, I totally could have.” 

“Could not.” 

“Could too.” 

Yelena heaves a sigh. “Why do I get the feeling that we’re going to be arguing about this for the rest of our lives?”

“Because we definitely will be,” Kate says, and doesn’t speak the underlying words: Because we’ll be together for the rest of our lives, if you want that. Please want that. 

--

They leave the restaurant an hour later, the bill paid by Yelena’s card and the leftovers boxed up for Lucky. Darkness has long since fallen, and the streetlights glow a faded orange against the slate black of the winter sky. 

“Thanks for buying dinner,” Kate says once they’re on the sidewalk. “You didn’t have to.” 

Yelena scoffs. “Please. It’s your birthday. Plus, you’re pretty much broke.” 

“Hey,” Kate protests. “Let’s not use the b-word.” She’s not broke anyway, not really. She’s got a very respectable two hundred dollars and forty-nine cents in the bank right now, thank you very much. 

Yelena rolls her eyes, but the gesture is affectionate. “Ready to go home?” 

Here under the streetlight, her hair looks like forged gold. They may be going to the same place, but Kate still isn’t ready to say goodnight: to the evening, to the city, to this version of Yelena, gold-lit and radiant. 

“Not yet,” she says, turning towards the end of the street. “There’s one more stop I want to make.” 

--

The High Line is closed by now, but neither Kate nor Yelena have ever cared much for rules; they easily jump the gate and take the staircase up anyway. The path is mostly dark, no lamps leading their way, but the light of the city casts them in a soft neon glow that’s enough to see by. 

Yelena’s head swivels back and forth as they walk, taking in everything. “Oh, wow,” she says as they pass a sculpture that’s bent into some kind of painted bench. “You weren’t kidding. The High Line is good.” 

“It’s better in the daytime,” Kate says, “but I figured we may as well come here anyway. I know it was on your list.” 

They walk for a few minutes, Yelena pointing out something new every few feet - “Look, native grasses. Look, a creepy abandoned apartment complex. Look, a pretty mural” - until they reach a small observation bridge that overlooks a wide, open street. Yelena leans against the railing, and Kate leans next to her, and together they watch the cars below them rush back and forth in an endless river of red and yellow lights. 

“I think this is the best birthday I’ve ever had,” Kate says. 

“Really?” 

“Really. Not to sound like a stereotypical rich kid, but birthday parties aren’t much fun when all the people present have parents with seven-figure bank accounts. That was a long twenty-two years of playing Who’s Got More Daddy’s Money? over designer cake.” 

Yelena laughs, light and loose. “You’re right. You do sound like a stereotypical rich kid.” 

“Ugh, don’t remind me.” 

“It’s okay,” Yelena says, leaning into her. “I like you anyway.” She catches Kate’s eye, unblinking, and Kate’s heart is just about ready to quit on her. She can’t keep eye contact, not without bleeding the truth from every part of her: I love you I love you I love you. 

She looks away, the movement clear and obvious, and Yelena lets out a tiny sigh. Kate has no idea what that’s about. 

“I have something to tell you,” Yelena says suddenly. 

Heart, meet throat - Kate’s caught on the verge of explosion, a firecracker waiting for a spark. Is this it, is this she’s been waiting for - is it possible that maybe, just maybe, this thing with Yelena isn’t a two way street after all -

“I’m leaving New York.”

Okay. This looks bad. 

Kate reels. It feels like she’s been punched in the face, a sensation that’s become all too familiar to her during the last two months. “What?”

“I’m leaving,” Yelena repeats. “I have other places I should be. Other jobs to do. New York is great, and the Statue of Liberty was amazing, yes, but I - I just can’t stay here anymore.” 

“What,” Kate says again. Her thoughts are coming fast and furious, tripping over themselves in their hurry to come up with an argument. “What, no, you can’t leave. Not now.” Not ever. Please, not ever.  

Yelena shrugs, offhand. “That is just the way of life, Kate Bishop. Nothing lasts forever. Besides, it’s not like - ” She stops, shakes her head. “No. Nothing lasts forever.” 

“Yelena,” Kate says. Her throat aches - maybe from emotion, maybe from the cold, maybe from the effort of holding back words unspoken. “Please. Don’t leave.” 

“Why?” Yelena asks. 

“Because - I would miss you, and Lucky would miss you, and we share the apartment now, and I don’t know what I’d even do with the six bottles of hot sauce that are in the pantry if you’re not around to eat it - ” 

“No,” Yelena says, and there’s a familiar challenge in her eyes. “Why?” 

Alright, Bishop. It’s now or never. Time to cowboy up or get the hell out of town. 

Kate straightens her shoulders, takes a deep breath, prepares to do the stupidest thing she’s ever done in her life, and finally, finally lets herself be honest.  

“Here’s the thing,” she says. “I didn’t shoot you when I could have, and I let you move into my apartment even though you’re a literal honest to god professional assassin that I’d met like, twice in my entire life at that point in time, and now I’m asking you to stay, and it’s all for the same reason. Basically, I like you so much that it’s embarrassing - and yeah, I mean it that way. I like you, and I like you, and telling you this is probably the worst moment of my life, but there it is. So…yeah.” 

Yelena lowers her head, hiding her expression, and Kate’s stomach drops. 

“Look,” she adds hastily, “it doesn’t have to be weird between us now. Seriously. I’m actually kind of an expert at pretending that feelings never happened between me and members of my team, so…” 

“Kate Bishop,” Yelena says, looking up at her again, “you are the stupidest person I’ve ever met.” 

Kate blinks. “Oh. That’s - okay.” 

“I’ve been trying to tell you that I like you,” Yelena says, “for weeks now.” 

Kate stares, her heart lodged somewhere in the vicinity of her throat. “You what?” 

“I was starting to think you’d never get the message. I mean, I shared a fork with you, I moved in with you, I took you on a date - ” 

“A date? You didn’t take me on a date.” 

Yelena looks confused. “I took you out to dinner tonight. Isn’t that a date? All the American rom-com movies seem to think it is.” 

“That wasn’t a date.” 

“I paid!” 

“Yelena,” Kate says, a helpless laugh welling up in her throat, “it’s not a date unless both people involved know that it’s a date.” 

“Oh.” Yelena frowns. “Okay, but still. I gave you so many clues, and you ignored them all. For such a good hero, you are a lousy private eye.” 

“I’m not - ” And then Kate stops short, because it’s happening. Slowly, miraculously, the truth of this moment is dawning on me. “Wait. You like me? Like, you really like me?” 

“Yes, Kate,” Yelena says, her voice colored equally with exasperation and affection. “I really do.” 

“Alright,” Kate says, her heartbeat an entire riot in her chest, “but, you know, I’d be a pretty bad private eye if I just believed that claim without any evidence.” 

“Evidence, huh,” Yelena says. “Okay. I can do that.” She leans in, places one hand on the back of Kate’s neck, and kisses her.

And oh, it’s better than Kate ever imagined: she loses herself to the heat of Yelena’s mouth, the scrape of Yelena’s teeth against her bottom lip, the curl of Yelena’s fingers in her hair. She closes her eyes and kisses back, licking into Yelena’s mouth like she’s dreamed of doing for the last seven weeks, and it’s like the end and the beginning of her world all at once. 

Yelena rests her forehead against Kate’s when they break apart, smiling up at her. “Finally.” 

Kate grins so widely that her lip almost splits - it never healed quite right after Christmas. “Does this mean you’re staying?” 

“Yes, Kate Bishop,” Yelena says. ‘It does.” 

“You called me Kate earlier.” 

Yelena rolls her eyes. “No I didn’t.” 

“Yes you did.” Kate brushes a strand of Yelena’s hair away from her face, tucking it carefully behind her ear. “Say it again? Please?” 

Yelena sighs, content. “Kate. You’re an idiot.” 

“Yeah,” Kate says, “I know,” and kisses her again. This time the kiss is longer, deeper; Kate finally pulls away, gasping for breath, her heart racing at the wicked gleam in Yelena’s eyes. She looks like a red light, like a caution sign. Like every devil in every fairytale. 

She looks like pure sin, and Kate wants nothing more than to repent. 

“Take me home,” Yelena murmurs against the curve of Kate’s ear, her voice low and wrecked and absolutely filthy, and Kate almost comes on the spot. 

--

They find their way home somehow, and the next thing Kate knows is the flat spread of the mattress against her back as Yelena presses her into it. The room is dim, backlit in haloes of red and yellow from the city lights; here, Yelena is barely more than a collection of curves and teeth. It’s all skin, all hunger, bodies pressed together like hands in prayer. 

Yelena goes down on her first, slow and unrelenting until Kate’s begging for more. She buries one hand in Yelena’s hair, pulls; Yelena raises her mouth from Kate for long enough to flash her a devilish smile, and then gives Kate exactly what she wants. 

Kate’s not sure when she passes out, but it’s somewhere around the fifth time. Her last conscious thought, sliding in between the waves of pleasure, is of Yelena. 

--

When Kate wakes the next morning, all she sees is gold. 

Yelena’s lying halfway on top of her, her head tucked into Kate’s shoulder, one arm slung across Kate’s stomach. They’re so closely entangled that Kate can’t even think about moving, not that she wants to. 

Yelena stirs slightly, mumbles something against Kate’s collarbone. Kate smiles and lets herself relax into sleep again. 

--

By the time Kate wakes up for good, it’s late morning and the other side of the bed is empty. Despite everything, her first instinct is still panic. 

She throws on a shirt and rushes downstairs, half certain that she’ll find the apartment deserted, but of course she doesn’t; Yelena’s there, just like she always is. Kate pauses at the bottom of the stairs for a moment, just taking in the scene. Yelena’s wearing boxers and one of Kate’s purple sweatshirts, starting up the coffee machine with one hand while she feeds Lucky a slice of pizza with the other, and yeah - she’s pretty much perfect. 

“Good morning,” Yelena says without turning around. 

Kate steps off the staircase, crossing the room to join her. “That whole thing where you sense my presence before I even say anything will never not be scary.” 

“Scarily impressive, I think you mean,” Yelena says. “Come here. I want to show you something.” 

Kate follows Yelena’s gaze to the wall, where her map of the city is still on full display, and then she sees it: something’s changed. There’s a new color on the map, yellow pins spreading out among the purple. 

“I added to the list,” Yelena explains. “There’s things in this city that I need to fix, too. I’ve heard rumors of a Widow in Hell’s Kitchen. And there are a lot of bad men that need to be put down.” 

Kate feels a grin spreading across her face, probably too widely considering that Yelena just proposed a mass murder of New York’s male population. “Sounds good to me.” 

“Listen,” Yelena says slowly, like she’s searching for the right words. “It won’t always be easy. My past is not a history that anyone would wish to tell. I’ve done many things wrong. I’ve done many people wrong.” 

“I know,” Kate says, “and I don’t care. I promise. Your past is your business, Yelena. If you ever want to talk about it, I’ll be here. If you never want to, I’ll still be here. That’s how it works now, okay?” 

“Okay,” Yelena murmurs. “Maybe one day. Thank you.” 

Lucky finishes his pizza and lies down on Kate’s feet, thumping his tail against the floor. Yelena leans against the kitchen counter, a subtle smile creasing the corner of her mouth, and Kate’s heart swells until she can feel it against her ribs: all the love in the world, gathered here in this room like the rays of the sun.

“But,” Kate repeats, because she’s hopeful and hesitant and hardly able to believe that her luck could be this good. “You’re staying, right? For real?” 

“Oh yes, I am,” Yelena says, her expression a mirror of Kate’s own happiness. “You’ll have to try a lot harder than that to get rid of me, Kate.” 

“Don’t worry,” Kate says, stepping closer to her. “I’m not trying.” 

She kisses Yelena, soft and sweet, and here in this kitchen, with the city laid out on the wall and the coffee just beginning to brew and Lucky stretched across the sun-dappled floor, they’ve finally made it.