The world is silent for only a second. Then everything roars back and Yelena stumbles away., a fake smile springing to her lips without conscious thought. She hopes it doesn’t look as much like a rictus as it feels. Her insides are chaos and she doesn’t even know what she’s feeling. She doesn’t know what to do, isn’t even sure if she can breathe.
Kate’s smile looks considerably more sincere as her eyes flutter open. “Wow,” she says. “Do you—?”
Yelena points in the vague direction of the washroom, makes an apologetic face and starts backing away.
She needs to get out of here. She needs to get out of here now.
Kate’s smile fades a little, but she shrugs, mouths something like, “I’ll wait for you here,” then goes back to dancing.
It’s the last Yelena sees of her as she pulls a fade through the crowd.
The cool air outside the club helps to calm… whatever’s going on inside her, at least a bit. She can breathe, at least a little, and… okay. This is something she can handle. This is something she can do.
And then what just happened hits her over all over again, and, no, she really can’t. She needs to talk to someone. She needs to talk to an adult, which rules out Alexei, who has a functional adult relationship, which rules out Melina. Not to mention the kind of advice Melina might give her. She shudders. Which leaves…
“This better be important,” Ana snaps as she picks up. She’s one of the few Widows Yelena knows who’s in a long-term relationship, certainly one successful enough to have a child.
“I kissed someone,” Yelena blurts out, then frantically looks around. Thankfully, no one in the alley she’s taken shelter in seems to be paying attention.
There’s a pause on the other end of the line and Yelena can feel herself flush. Then Ana sighs, loudly and heavily, letting Yelena know just how much of an imposition she’s being. “So, given you woke me up at this hour, I’m guessing it was someone you like or there’s a body. Or there’s a body of someone you like.”
Yelena blinks. But she can’t say she’s as surprised at that as she probably should be, given the training they’d all had. “Someone I like. No body.”
Another sigh. “I didn’t think I was going to be that lucky.”
“When has anything ever been easy?”
“So, you want my advice? Walk away. Never see them again. Have some one-night stands, do something casual before you even think about anything more.”
Ana’s words sit like a stone in Yelena’s stomach. “Is that what you did?”
“What I did isn’t relevant,” Ana says in a final tone that doesn’t invite further questions. “And as for my long-term relationship,” she adds in a softer voice. “Let’s just say it was a lot easier to find someone who’d overlook how messed up I am when the world in general was fucked.”
“Such a ball of sunshine,” Yelena says as lightly as she can.
“You asked my opinion. And given you phoned me just because you kissed them…”
“Fine,” Yelena says, rolling her eyes even though Ana can’t see her. “Thank you, oh wise and experienced one.”
“Good night,” Ana says and hangs up.
Yelena’s left staring at the phone. What Ana’s saying makes sense, but… Yelena doesn’t want to leave Kate, wants to see her again.
“Eh, what the hell,” she says to the empty air. “I’ll just tell her it was a mistake. Those happen all the time, right?”
But she can’t quite bring herself to go back into the club, instead heads back to Kate’s apartment. She even has a key now, which is just as well given she helped upgrade the security to make it a little less easy to compromise.
She wakens as Kate opens the door to the apartment as quietly as she can, doesn’t vary her breathing. Kate stops in front of the couch Yelena’s curled up on, and Yelena can feel her gaze. She wonders if Kate’s going to ‘wake’ her up, have it out now, and her stomach twists, her pulse hammering at the thought. Not that she has anything to fear, but…
It seems her body hasn’t got the memo.
Thankfully, Kate moves on after a few minutes, the stairs creaking under her somewhat less steady than usual step, and Yelena relaxes.
See, she tells her body. Nothing to worry about.
Sleep takes a while to come, regardless.
She’s instantly awake, like usual, when the floor above her creaks as Kate gets out of bed. She beats Kate to the shower and, as recompense, makes some coffee for when Kate emerges.
“So,” Kate says, still rubbing at her hair with a towel in one hand as she stares down into the cup. “What happened last night?”
Yelena panics. “I… uh, don’t remember much of what happened after we got to the club?” That’s a thing that happens, right?
Kate freezes, then looks up at her with concern. “You didn’t have that much to drink,” she says. “Do you think someone slipped something into your drink?”
Yelena laughs and lets out a long-drawn out, “Nooo,” because, really? Yelena should be a little insulted. But, “Maybe? Yes? I don’t know,” she finally settles on, because it’s as good as explanation as any.
Kate looks her up and down with evident concern. “Do you think…?”
Yelena rolls her eyes. “Look, nothing like that happened. I’d know. For one thing, even drugged, I’d be disappointed in myself if there wasn’t a body. So, no body, nothing happened.” She holds her hands up to display her knuckles. “See, no bruising.”
Kate’s still got that look on her face that makes Yelena want to wriggle with discomfort. “Still, if you want to, you know, talk with someone, I know a friend of a friend who’s getting a relevant major at college and is apparently quite good at listening.”
Yelena laughs, long and loud. “Oh, wait, you weren’t joking? That’s even more hilarious. Trust me, nothing that could have happened last night could compare to what I’ve already been through. Cheer up, Kate Bishop.” She flicks Kate’s ear. “I’m fine. So what’s on the day’s schedule?”
Kate practically pouts as she rubs her ear, but she accepts the change of subject. “Well, I’m chasing around trying to find out who’s behind a spot of property fraud. Since you called that ‘boring busy work’, I don’t know what you’re doing all day.” She pauses, looks at Yelena with those wide eyes again. “Unless you’d like me to stay home…?”
Yelena snorts. “I’m fine!” But leaving Kate alone today doesn’t feel like the right move. “But I can tag along. After all, if I ever decide to give up being a contract assassin, I guess I better learn how to do boring busy work.” She lets out a sigh to let Kate know exactly how put upon she is.
“You’re really thinking of giving it up?” Kate asks quietly, tentatively.
The moment feels heavier than Yelena had intended. She isn’t… She knows Kate doesn’t approve of what she does, the family business, but they haven’t really touched on it, have both skirted around the subject whenever it’s come close to coming up.
But, honestly — which Yelena tries never to do — Yelena hasn’t really decided how she feels about carrying on. It had seemed the simple thing, the obvious thing to do, the thing that the rest of her family were doing to make ends meet, but now…
It doesn’t matter right now. It’s not like she can really get anything out with Kate looking at her with large, hopeful eyes.
Yelena shrugs with an ease she doesn’t feel. “It’s a thought. I’m thinking. Maybe it’s good to look at my options and stretch my legs a little while I do so.”
Kate doesn’t answer, looks away as she busies herself getting ready. That’s alright. Yelena can’t quite bring herself to look at Kate, either.
Following Kate around is just as boring as Yelena feared, going from place to place, talking to anodyne civilian after anodyne civilian. It’s not that Yelena doesn’t know how to do this — though she does learn a few tricks from watching Kate. It’s more that she’s become used to having enough funds or support to bypass the least interesting parts.
On the bright side, at least Kate does show a natural talent at this kind of thing for someone who hasn’t had formal training and it isn’t exactly a pain watching her work people.
And who knows? If she quits the family trade, maybe she’ll have to learn how to do things on the cheap, anyway.
Still, Yelena’s day definitely picks up when the back of her neck itches. Using windows to look around, she spots some hints of familiar looking movement. Have they got a shadow? How fun.
“Hey, Kate Bishop, you can hold the fort for the next leg, right? I’m going to grab something for lunch.”
“Ooh, can you pick something up for me? Where are you going?”
Yelena shrugs. “I’m just going to wander around, see what takes my fancy.”
“Okay, text me the deets when you decide and I’ll give you my order.”
“Sure thing.” She slaps Kate on the shoulder as she leaves. “Take care. Try not to have any accidents before I get back.”
Kate’s face drops in outrage. “That was one time! And I meant to do that! Kind of.”
“Sure thing,” Yelena smirks. It had been kind of impressive, honestly, but there’s no need to tell Kate that.
“Are you ever going to let me forget that?” Kate groans.
“Signs aren’t good,” Yelena says as she disappears down a side street.
It quickly becomes obvious that their tail is interested in Kate rather than her, which is a little insulting. But nothing Yelena can’t live with, unlike the tail, possibly.
The tail’s a woman, and she’s irritatingly good, unfortunately. Before Yelena can give the tail a little surprise, she becomes aware that she’s been spotted. And then it becomes a game of cat and mouse, who can trap or lose who. The saving grace is that Kate prefers to pound the pavement rather than use the subway, but still.
Honestly, it’s the most fun Yelena’s had a in while.
Finally, Yelena gets close enough to have a good look at the tail’s face, and… “Kira? Is that you?”
Kira smiles at her. “Yelena! I wondered if that mop of blonde hair was you. But I thought ‘No, it can’t be!’” She doesn’t stop pointing the concealed gun at Yelena from under her coat, but that’s alright. Yelena’s aim with her own concealed weapon hasn’t wavered either.
“I take it this wasn’t a case of good luck and you looking for a reunion.”
Kira makes a face. “Sadly, it’s work. If Kate Bishop is one of your targets as well, I’m happy to split credit, though.”
Kira talks about ending Kate’s life so easily. Theoretically, Yelena knows it is that easy. That it’s what they’ve been crafted to feel, but…
Maybe she really is getting soft by spending so much time around Kate. Or maybe it’s just because of who the target is.
“She’s an Avenger,” she tries. “Family.”
Kira tilts her hand from side to side. “Eh. Barely. Did she even know Barton before a few months ago? Did she even meet big sister?”
Yelena doesn’t want this, doesn’t want to be forced to choose between possibly killing family and letting Kira take a run at Kate, but feels the adrenaline start to kick in anyway, knows she’s already made the decision.
Kira must know it too, because she holds up a hand, palm towards Yelena. “Hey, I get it. She’s obviously important to you, and I respect that. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have taken the contract. But you know how it is. Because you’re family, because of what you’ve done, I can give you twenty-four hours.”
The catch being, of course, that if Yelena lets Kira out of her sight now, she might not be able to stop her after those twenty-four hours elapse, especially now that Kira knows she’s coming. But she doesn’t want to fight Kira, not seriously, certainly not seriously enough to be sure of stopping her. Not the way they used to fight in the Red Room when the trainers wanted blood. So she says, “Give me something. Who can I talk to about calling this off?”
“You think I’m giving up my employer? That would be terrible for business. Not something I can do, even for family.” She smirks. “It’s certainly not like I’m just going to give you my phone so you can go through it.” One hand pats her side, before returning to a ready position.
Okay, so it’s going to be like that then, a game after all. Yelena leaps towards her, knocks Kira’s gun away. Kira is, of course, waiting for this, and aims a snap kick at Yelena’s knee. Yelena dodges, at the cost of putting her off balance, which Kira takes advantage of by sinking her fist into Yelena’s stomach.
“Feeling off your game?” Kira asks merrily as she stamps down on Yelena’s instep.
“You wish,” Yelena says, taking the hit as she takes advantage of Kira’s momentum to grab Kira, pull her forwards and over, onto the ground. Her leg hurts like a bitch, but she’s on top. “Still feel like I’m slowing down?”
Kira pauses theatrically for a moment in a way that would have absolutely gotten her beaten back in the Red Room — and what is it with her family and posers? — before cheerfully replying, “Yup,” and head-butting Yelena hard enough that she sees stars, following up with a couple of sharp blows into her chest that sending Yelena reeling back.
But that’s alright, as Yelena waves Kira’s phone at her, standing when Kira’s still on the ground, retreating while the going is good.
As Yelena disappears off into the crowd, Kira gives her a delighted grin and a little wave.
Family. She might understand them better than anyone else she’s encountered, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still weird.
But, hey, at least she has something she can do about this now. That makes everything better.
She follows up by sending a selfie of her face with an exaggerated pout.
Her phone rings.
“Are you alright?” Kate asks and, wow, Yelena still can’t quite get over the fact that someone would ask her that. It’s totally weird, but that doesn’t stop a small warm feeling spreading throughout her chest.
“Yeah, sure, why?”
“The bruises on your face?”
Oh, yeah. That. “Bruise, singular. And like you’re one to talk, Kate Bishop. Do you want me to bother you about every scratch you get?” There’s a pause and Yelena smiles. Point to her. “Anyway, I’ve now got this really kick-ass phone I need a little help getting into.”
“I don’t want to know, do I?”
“Probably not. So?”
“Okay…” Kate blows out a breath. “How quickly do you need this done?”
“Eh, when you have a moment. But maybe as quickly as possible, and definitely by the end of today.”
“Thanks,” Kate says, voice heavy with sarcasm, before sending her a pin on the map.
“Just so you know,” Yelena says as she drops Kira’s phone in Kate’s hand a short while later. “Your friend shouldn’t look at what’s on this phone.”
Kate studies her. “Why?”
Yelena shrugs. “No reason. Just that there’s a good chance they’ll die if it gets out that they did.”
Kate glares at her. “Okay, whose phone is this? And how much danger are you in?”
“It’s family,” Yelena says. “So it’s alright if I have a look. She practically said as much. Buuuuuut anyone else? Let’s not risk that.”
“Practically,” Kate echoes. “So, since we’re friends, since we’re partners in this, why do ‘we’ want to know what’s on this phone?”
Yelena shrugs. “She’s got business in town. I thought I’d surprise her.”
“Family. Business,” Kate repeats flatly. “Who’s she here to kill?”
Yelena flicks her on the nose. “Good news, though. I managed to get you twenty-four hours?”
Kate’s eyes go wide, then narrow. “Someone wants me dead?”
“Congratulations, I guess. You’re officially a big enough pain that someone’s willing to pay the big bucks to make sure you disappear. Any idea who?”
Kate ignores her. “Oh. Wow. I can honestly say I wasn’t expecting that today. Detective work with a side order of assassination.”
Yelena gives her a wide grin. “I know. Doesn’t it just make you feel at home?”
Kate looks at her flatly. “No,” she says. “It doesn’t.”
Ah well. Different strokes for different folks. “Don’t worry. It’s handled.”
Well, practically. As good as.
Kate doesn’t look reassured, which doesn’t help the part of Yelena that’s still worried as well.
Yelena pouts and ignores the both of them.
The good news is Kate’s friend manages to unlock the phone and Yelena’s able to skim through the contents, looking for clues as to who put the contract out on Kate.
Kate fidgets as she does so, pacing around the room, before twisting back to look at Yelena. “Do you think…” she starts, then swallows. “Do you think it could be my mother?”
Yelena stops, looks at her. It’s a legitimate question. After all, it wouldn’t even be the first Black Widow Eleanor Bishop has hired. And Kate did put her away. “If it is, do you want to know?”
Kate looks away. “I… No. I don’t. Maybe. I don’t know. Just… don’t hurt her? Please?”
It isn’t that easy, and Kate has to know that. There’s no way that Yelena’s going to let anyone hurt Kate, and if it comes down to being between Eleanor and Kate, or Eleanor and Kira for that matter… But Yelena salutes her, anyway. “Sure thing, boss.”
“Thanks,” Kate says, and doesn’t let up on the restless prowl.
“Oh, hey, more good news,” Yelena chirps, brandishing the phone as if it was a sword — and she cannot believe that Kate has involved her with those ridiculous LARPs of hers — “Looks like it’s someone else completely. Does a Jack Hawthorne ring any bells?”
Kate bolts over to Yelena, hands grasping the phone. “My fraud guy?”
“Apparently you’ve really worried him. So, go home. I’ll make sure this is all sorted out.”
Kate raises a sceptical eyebrow. “If you think I’m going to just sit this one out, do you even know me?”
And, yeah, maybe Yelena had been a little too hopeful there.
“Look, I’m going to need to threaten this guy to call off the hit. And, no offence, but you’re too cute to be intimidating.” She flicks the end of Kate’s nose again.
Kate scrunches up her face in a completely satisfactory manner. “I can be plenty intimidating,” she objects.
“Sure you can.”
Kate’s eyes narrow and for a moment Yelena thinks about indulging her, maybe aggravating things up to a fight just because, but no. Absolutely no. There’s a job, and no time for distractions. She sighs, loudly. “Okay, what about this? I go in, confront him nice and personally, while you stand back, monitor the situation and be ready to back me up with a bow and arrow if need be?”
“Sure,” Kate says in a voice that Yelena has already learned not to trust. “Let’s do that.”
Yelena can’t honestly say that she’s surprised when Kate keeps on marching straight towards the target apartment building rather than taking up a surveillance position. Kate makes a very satisfactory face when Yelena grabs her bow and throws it into the park opposite before she can cross the street, though.
“See you in a few minutes!” Yelena calls as she rabbits across the road.
“I am not finding you very likeable at the moment,” Kate says over the comms.
Yelena turns around just before she enters the building and makes a mock crying face.
Totally worth it.
It’s really not that difficult to get access to the penthouse. Yelena would think that if you had enough money to hire a Black Widow, you’d have enough money to make one coming after you at least a little challenging. But no. Apparently dipping your toes in the murky world of contract killing doesn’t give you any common sense. Hawthorne isn’t even doing anything interesting when she enters the apartment, half watching something loud and raucous on tv as he messes around on his laptop. Something to do with ugly pictures of apes.
She points her pistol at his head. Clears her throat. Smiles with her teeth showing as he looks up and goes pale.
She waggles her fingers in a little wave, just to drive the point home.
“Don’t kill me,” he begs. “I’ll… I’ll give you double what you’re being paid.”
She considers it. More money certainly couldn’t hurt. But Kate’s listening in. “That’s not why I’m here, Jack Hawthorne. I’ve heard you put a contract out on a Kate Bishop. I’ll need you to pull it. Or I can kill you and cancel it myself.”
His fingers are trembling as he does something with his laptop, signs into a VPN, types some more. “Done,” he says, displaying the laptop screen. “See! No more contract. You don’t need to shoot me. I’ve learned my lesson. I’m a reformed citizen now.”
Yelena considers just shooting him here and now. Kate might be angry, but it’s the sensible thing to do. Sure, he’s intimidated now, but he could always change his mind later, dwell on how his pride has been hurt. Decide to set up two contracts, maybe.
If she ends it here, there’s no mess, no follow up mess. It’s what her training has taught her to do.
Kate wouldn’t like it, and somehow that’s become more important than the right thing to do.
“I don’t believe you,” she tells him. “I need a little more convincing that you’re not going to be a threat anymore.”
His face is grey now, and she thinks he might have loosed his bowels. “What?” he whispers. “How can I convince you?”
“You’ve got secrets, things that can send you to jail.” It’s not a guess. Even if Kate hadn’t been investigating him, no one would send an assassin if they were squeaky clean. “I need to really make sure that you’re not going to do anything stupid.”
“So if anything happens to you or Bishop, I’ll go to jail?”
“Sure.” She smiles, catlike.
He frantically starts typing on his laptop again.
Kira is waiting outside the apartment building when Yelena exits, looking extremely cozy in a fur jacket.
“I hear you’ve cost me some work,” she says, grabbing her phone out of the air as Yelena tosses it at her.
“Sorry,” Yelena says, not very repentantly as she turns off the comms.
“Ah well, these things happen,” Kira says philosophically. “So,” she says, falling in with Yelena as she walks off. “I could do with a partner in this wide, dangerous world. We could make a name for ourselves, get more money. What do you say?”
It’s… tempting. There’d been a part of Yelena that had always thought that after all the Black Widows had been freed, she could work with her sister. And spending time with Kate has made her acutely aware that she craves contact. Friends. Family.
“Come on,” Kira says, nudging her with an elbow as though sensing her weakness. “Kate’s cute enough, but she’s never going to understand you, not really. Do you really want to remain nailed in place with a civilian? Is she ever really going to accept you?”
Accept Yelena as a killer, Kira means.
And the answer’s no, Yelena’s fairly sure. Kate’s never really going to be comfortable with the Black Widow Yelena, the assassin Yelena, the killer Yelena.
But maybe she doesn’t want to be that anymore. She’s not sure. But maybe.
“Eh,” Yelena says, flinching at the thought of even trying to describe that to Kira, allowing her to see that much vulnerability. It’s not something she’d understand. Could understand, maybe. “I’m not sure I’m ready to settle down just yet. With you or Kate. But look me up the next time you’re in New York?”
If Kira’s disappointed, she doesn’t show it, just gives her another razor sharp smile. “You’ll never see me coming.” She gives Yelena a wave goodbye.
“Hah,” Yelena says after her. “Hah. You wish that was true.”
“So,” Kate says when Yelena turns the comms back on. “I’m guessing that was my assassin.”
“She’s very friendly. I’m sure you’d like her. Maybe not as much as me, though.”
“No,” Kate says, a little too sincerely. “Not as much as you.”
The moment is suddenly thick again, and Yelena swallows, trying to get past it. She can’t help remembering that she could have lost Kate today if she hadn’t tagged along. Maybe not — Kate is sometimes irritatingly good at surviving, but…
“Last night,” she begins, hating the way her voice wavers tellingly. The way she’d never even thought of letting it waver around anyone except Alexei, Melina, and Natasha. The way it makes her feel so, so exposed in an awful but necessary way.
“I thought you didn’t remember last night.” Her voice puffs a little, doubtless, as she makes her way down from her vantage point.
“I… I’ve only had one kiss. One kiss that counts. One kiss that I’ve chosen.” Her vision blurs at little at the edges and she can’t believe that she’s being so, so unbelievably weak. “Would you mind if we shared another?”
She can’t believe that she’s leaving herself open like this. It’s the scariest thing she can remember. She feels completely out of control.
Something about Kate makes her feel like it’s worth it, regardless.
Kate appears out of the darkness, her mouth open in an ‘oh’. She smiles tremulously. “If you’re sure, I’d really like that.”
Yelena swallows. Makes a decision. Kira might call her a fool. Ana might call her a fool.