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Blinding Lights

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Kate shuts the trunk of her car as she balances a huge box of blankets in her other arm, propped against her hip. The late summer sun is hot against her skin as she starts walking, and she uses her free hand to pull down her shades to cover her eyes against the brightness.

It’s a nice Saturday morning, the city loud from traffic, and children running around, playing on the streets, even in the relatively shabby neighborhood she is in. She smiles at a few of them as they sprint past her.

She has missed this city, been gone for over a year and a half, and even though being back brings some mixed emotions, she feels like she is home, at last.

She liked California, and she did need to get away when she moved there, but this is where she grew up, and she thinks she is ready to face the demons she left behind here. She opens the door of the facility, pushing her way in.

The building is just as busy, as the street she just left behind, people chatting, sitting in the huge waiting area. She pushes the sunglasses up her face, and walks up to the reception, smiling at the kind-faced middle aged woman sitting there.

“Good morning darling, I’ll be with you in a moment” the woman says, her eyes crinkle as she smiles at the younger brunette. Kate nods with a smile of her own, and takes in the entrance hall, while the receptionist finishes what she is doing, typing away on her computer.

It’s a new building, it was still under construction when she left, and opened its doors while she was away. The walls are painted white, covered in posters of all kinds, offering all sorts of services for those in need, and signs orienting people to the kitchens, the dining hall, and various activity rooms. It looks pristine, but warm, the sunlight streaming through big windows on the upper floors, lighting up the hall.

“Welcome to the Hell’s Kitchen F.E.A.S.T Centre, darling. What can I help you with today?” the receptionist asks, turning to Kate when she is finished typing into her computer. She turns to the woman, reading her nameplate, ‘Susan’, and answers.

“Hi. I was hoping to volunteer today. Oh, and I also bought some blankets.” She answers, remembering  the box in her arms, raising it slightly, as to show them. The lady, Susan, nods with a smile, and turns back to her computer, pressing a few buttons.

“That’s wonderful. Have you volunteered with us before?” and raises her gaze back to Kate, who shakes her head in denial. “Alright, we will quickly fill in some details for the registration, and then I’ll call someone down to show you the ropes. What’s your name, darling?”

The brunette is not surprised by the process, but she plans to keep a low profile while she is in the city, both for safety reasons and her own sanity. So she lies.

“Kate, Kate Derekson, at your service”

Susan’s eyes are on her for a few more moments than necessary, and she can tell that she is being scanned by some type of bullshit-detector and keeps smiling at the woman, hoping it comes across as honest.  The older woman turns back to her computer after a few moments, and starts typing into it again. Kate lets out a breath.

 She gives her address (or an address at least) and provides one of her fake ID’s to make a photo copy of, and then she is finished. The lady uses the phone on desk to make a quick call, turning back to Kate when she hangs up.

“All done, darling! Peter will be here in a moment, and he will show you around. Thank you for volunteering, and welcome to the F.E.A.S.T. team!” she says, her voice warm throughout the entire conversation.

“Thank you! I will…wait here.” She answers a bit awkwardly, and stands to the side, her back to the wall next to the reception, but Susan is already chatting with someone else. She is only alone for a few moments, when a brown haired boy, a couple of years younger than her, walks up to her, and extends a hand.

“Hi, I am Peter. I’ll show you around.” She passes the box to her other arm and shakes the hand offered.

“Hi, I’m Kate…oh, thank you!” she adds, when Peter takes the box from her and starts walking down the far end of  hall.

“Oh, don’t mention it. So, to the left is the kitchen. We’ll come back here in a second, after we stash these blankets…Thank you for them by the way, it’s warm now, but in a few weeks, these will come very handy.”

Kate smiles at him, nodding along while she takes in everything around her. They pass a number of rooms, and she peers into the ones she can.

Some of them are obviously used for some group sessions, with chairs arranged in circles, while others are filled with toys and all kinds of items for kids. She reads the highlights on some of the posters as well, and she is amazed by the range of services here. There are group sessions for people coming back after the Blip, for people who lost others during the event, LGBT youth group, veteran’s meeting, and these are just the few she can read while walking beside Peter.

“This place is amazing…How long have you volunteered here?”

He smiles at her, stopping in front of a room, and using the card on his belt to open it.

“Ever since it opened 8 months ago” he answers as they enter the room, which is obviously some kind of storage space. He leads them down the line of shelves, depositing her box of blankets on one of them. “I needed some volunteering for college applications, but I ended up staying instead.”

“Oh, where do you go?” She can tell immediately she put her foot into her mouth without meaning to, as his face clouds over for a second, before an almost sad smile takes over his features.

“I…I ended up not going” he says, and she feels awkward, unsure how to continue the conversation, the two of them standing by the shelves still. She opens her mouth to apologize, but they are thankfully saved from an uncomfortable silence by someone else entering the room. Peter starts walking again, Kate falling into step beside him again.

He is thankfully all smiles again by the time they leave the room, the door clicking shut behind them, and leads her back down the corridor to the area they passed earlier, telling her about the soup kitchen that operates here.

“There are meals every morning and evening, for anyone who needs them. If you can cook, the kitchen crew will be happy to have you, but if not, you can help us pass out the food to those that come in.” he explains, and she is happy to be past the earlier awkwardness.

“Well, I’d probably not set anything on fire but I can’t guarantee it won’t end up as a food-poisoning situation” she answers, and is happy when the boy returns her grin.

“Oh yeah, same, don’t worry.”

He leads her to the dining area, where a couple of volunteers are already milling about. He greets all of them, and introduces Kate, who waves in what she hopes is a cool way.

“This is Kate everyone, she will be volunteering with us today. Kate, this is Amanda, Maria, Marcus, and Miles. The 6 of us will help with breakfast today.”

She smiles at each of them when they are introduced, and follows the group to a room where they deposit their bags and other personal items, then to behind the counter in the dining hall.

They have 15 minutes until breakfast is set to be served, and Amanda brings them all some aprons to put on, smiling at Kate as she passes her hers, and they stand around just chatting. The archer already likes these guys.

Maria and Marcus are a bit older, bouncing jokes back and forth, while Amanda hides behind her cup of coffee, and jumps in with a few, but all the more hilarious remarks. Peter is nice and decidedly dorky in an endearing way, and Miles, the youngest of the group, is mostly silent but laughs at the jokes and seemingly just enjoys being part of the group.

The breakfast finally starts, and Kate is swept up in the activity. She passes plate after plate to her right to Peter, smiling at every face that comes in front of her waiting in line, and she feels good in a way that she hasn’t in a long time. The company is nice, but so is helping out.

They work in friendly chatter for 45 minutes, when something strange happens.

Amanda comes in, carrying a tall stack of plates, and she is just about to pass Kate by, when she slips, her legs sliding from under her and the tower of dishes flying in the air. The archer’s reflexes kick in, and she catches Amanda around her waist before she can really fall, leaning over her. She expects the plates to come crashing down on her back, but they never come. She glances back, and sees Peter holding the stack, perfectly balanced on his arm above her back, staring right at her.

“Good reflexes, sous-chef” she says after a few heartbeats, and his face is blank for a short moment before he smiles again.

“Right back at you, Kate”

He holds her gaze for a moment longer, then puts the stack of plates on the counter, and turns back to serving food. Interesting.

She turns back to Amanda, who is blushing slightly and helps her regain her footing, the blonde girl’s eyes avoiding Kate’s before she looks right into the taller brunette’s eyes as she says “Thank you!”.

Kate winks at her, finding the pink flooding the other girl’s cheek pretty.

“Don’t mention it”.

The blonde girl seems to regains her composure quickly, her tone is playful when she says

“However will I repay you, my hero?!”

She purposefully bats her eyes at the brunette in an overdramatic fashion. Kate laughs at the antics, her answer only half serious., and she adds an overdramatic smolder to match the other girl’s playfulness.  

“You can buy me a drink, and we call it even”

“Okay, it’s a date”

Kate is surprised, her eyebrows lifting but she will not look the gift horse in the mouth. Amanda is funny in a deadpan way, pretty, around her age, and it had been weeks since she had any kind of excitement on that front.

“So it is”

The girl goes back to her place, with a playful look above her shoulder, and Kate turns back to her station to continue serving food. She glances to her right, and Peter is grinning at her, and she can’t help but grin back at him.

“Next time, remind me to save the girl instead of the plates”

She laughs at him, and gets a plate from the rescued stack, shoveling a big portion of scrambled eggs onto it before passing it to Peter, who is on bacon duty.

 

The rest of their shift passes uneventfully, and when they finish at 11 am, Kate thinks she is ready to become a regular here. The people are lovely, the atmosphere is happy, despite the hard circumstances of many of the people that come there, and she feels joy at finally using her time (and money) for something useful, and giving back a little. It feels nice to be amongst real people.

She hangs her apron back up, and exits with the others, filing back into the room that holds their belongings. The other say their goodbyes, Peter winking at her when he leaves, and soon it’s only Amanda and her alone.

“So, about that drink?” she starts and the blonde smiles at her, a little bit shy, and not really meeting her eyes

“Yeah…um…Sorry if that was too forward of me. No pressure, or anything…”

“No, I would love to.” she cuts in, a bit too eager, but managing to keep it cool enough...she hopes. They both laugh, and the blonde fishes her phone out of her bag, and hands it to Kate.

“In that case, can I get your number?”  

“Sure can”

She types it in, and saves herself as “My hero, Kate”, and Amanda laughs when she gets it back and looks at it. She rings her so the brunette has her number too and they walk out together, Kate pausing to drop an envelope with a few hundred-dollar bills in it, into the donation box upfront when the other girl is not looking. Once outside, they stop in front of the entrance.

“Which way are you going? Subway?” (Kate almost forgets her car at the blonde’s smile.)

“Actually, I drove here…Can I give you a lift?”

She thinks she should probably be worried for the other girl, seeing how fast she agrees.

They walk towards her car, and Amanda is seemingly surprised when she leads her to her shiny, brand new Range Rover and tosses her bag inside. She opens the passenger door for the girl before she walks around to her own side.

“So, where to?” Amanda gives her an address somewhere in Soho and they pull out into traffic, which unsurprisingly, is quite busy. She can see the blonde stealing glances at her, but she is quiet for a while before she asks “So Kate, what do you do for a living?”

And her lips quirk up, having expected the question, or some version of it, meaning “how are you rich?” so she answers honestly, or as honestly as she can.

“I am an independent security contractor…but if you mean how I can afford this car…inheritance.”

She glances at Amanda from the corner of her eyes, to try and gauge her reaction. The other girl smiles a bit sheepishly at her own transparent question and Kate is worried for a second that she will keep questioning her about parents, or her job, or…well, anything really in her life, but thankfully Amanda doesn’t push.

“I guess that explains the muscles” she says instead, and grins at Kate pointedly glancing down at her arms before meeting her eyes again and she cannot not grin back. The light changes to green in front of them, and she turns back to the road.

“What about you?”

“I work in marketing research. Are you from around here?”

Kate considers lying, but she doesn’t want to spend their time together keeping more secrets than she really has to.

“Yep. I grew up in New York, but I lived in California for the last year or so.” She pauses, then adds “I only moved back a few days ago, actually.”

“Ahh, that explains the driving…What brought you back to the city?”

Kate would love to tell her the real reason and say ‘My mother’s trial is coming up, and I have to testify against her’ but that is not something she thinks is appropriate to share with a girl she just met and will hopefully take out for a date soon.

“Work, mostly. And some unfinished family business.” she says instead, which is as close to the truth as she can get.

“Oooh, sounds cryptic” the other woman chirps.

The brunette waggles her eyebrows jokingly, not elaborating, but the other woman seems to get the hint that this is not something to be pushed either and starts asking about hobbies instead. Kate is thankful, and she is kind of surprised to notice how at ease she feels right now.

She feels like a normal 24 year old, chatting to a pretty girl, and they spend the rest of the way getting to know each other. Amanda is easy to be around, quick to laugh but also quick to flirt, sometimes jokingly, sometimes not, and the brunette feels herself unwind even more in her presence.   

When they arrive to the blonde’s address, she parks the car and is almost sad their time is up, so at the risk of seeming overeager, she asks her “Do you want to have dinner tonight?”

Thankfully Amanda doesn’t seem like the kind of person who is interested in playing mind-games, and quickly answers her with a smile

“I distinctly remember you saving me from an embarrassing fall earlier, so only if it’s my treat.”

“Well, we can argue about that over dinner. So…I’ll pick you up at, let’s say, seven?”

The blonde shakes her head, chuckling a little before agreeing.

“Seven is perfect”

They are silent for a few moments, just looking at each other, then Amanda starts gathering her things.

“Alright, I have to go. I have a date to get ready for. Byeee”

She exits the car, and Kate is still grinning at her, when she turns to look back over her shoulder, before waving and entering her apartment building.

The brunette is still smiling when she pulls out of the parking lot, and puts on some music for the drive home, singing along joyfully. She brainstorms restaurants on the way and ends up making a reservation to a little a Mexican place that she knows is nice enough to impress but not too fancy that they will feel uncomfortable.

She is home in about 30 minutes, and her good mood infects Lucky, who runs around the apartment excited. She takes him for a walk in Central Park, which is very conveniently close to her new place, then goes grocery shopping, and calls Clint to tell his voicemail about the great day she is having.

Soon, the clock on her phone tells her it’s 5:30, so she showers and starts getting ready for the date. She spends fifteen minutes standing in front of her closet, trying to choose an outfit, and asking Pizza Dog for advice, who seems less than interested in whether black jeans and a t-shirt is a better choice than faded jeans and a different t-shirt.

She ends up choosing black jeans with a sleeveless black shirt, which shows off her arms because if Amanda noticed, she might as well flaunt it, and applies some makeup, leaving her hair down. She puts her sunglasses on her head, before saying goodbye to Pizza Dog, telling him not to wait up jokingly, before locking her door.

She pockets the keys, checks she has her phone and practically swaggers to the elevator.

Hailing a cab is thankfully easy enough in her neighborhood, electing to not take her car if they are going to drink, and she is in front of Amanda's building by seven, texting her she is there to pick her up, leaning against a streetlight as she waits.

When she arrives a couple of minutes later, Kate can’t help herself from checking her out, her gaze mapping the other woman’s shape from top to bottom. She is wearing a nice, flowery dress, with some sandals. Her blonde hair is down from the ponytail it was in earlier, framing her face and glistening beautifully in the late afternoon sun. Her makeup is light, complimenting her warm, amber eyes, and high cheekbones.

“You look…wow”

Amanda reaches her, and she does a cute little twirl that has Kate grinning from ear to ear. Then the blonde stops to check her out as well, her eyes coy as she meets the brunette’s gaze.

“Wow yourself, Kate. You clean up well” She offers a cheeky grin, before continuing “so where are we going?”

“You will see.”

Kate realizes that sounds vaguely threatening, so she quickly adds with a horrified expression “I mean, it’s a surprise”

Amanda laughs at her terror, before looping her arm through the brunette’s and walking to the side of the road and signaling for a cab.

“With the secrecy about the job, now this. Are you an axe murderer Kate…?”

The brunette laughs back at her, while she considers her options. She doesn’t want to lie, but she also doesn’t want to spend their date discussing her mother’s apparent criminal empire or anything related to it. She is having a nice time, and a good day, and maybe it’s wrong, but she doesn’t want the shadows of her family looming over it. She lies again.

“Derekson…And no, I am not an axe murderer, I promise.”

She ignores the way it feels a little wrong. The other girl thankfully fires back immediately, her face jokingly serious.  

“Isn’t that what an axe murderer would say? Suspicious!

The conversation is halted as a cab pulls up in front of them. Kate opens the door for her again then gets in next to her. They are silent for most of the way, just stealing glances at each other and smiling when their eyes meet, but before long, they arrive to the restaurant in the East Village. The brunette pays for the cab before the other woman can, and the blonde rolls her eyes with a smile.

They exit the car, and Amanda takes in the place where they arrived to. La Palapa is a relatively small place, nothing too fancy, but Kate lives for their fajitas, and their frozen margaritas are life changing. She looks at the blonde, hoping that she chose well and is elated when she smiles brightly and exclaims “Mexican? I love Mexican!”

The archer leads them to the door, and once inside, tells the hostess her name (the fake one, at least). They are led to their table and they sit down in the corner, with Kate pulling the chair out for Amanda, then taking a seat with her back to the wall in the booth. The blonde is looking around the restaurant, taking in the ambient lighting, the tables full of people, as soft but upbeat Mexican music plays from hidden speakers overhead.

“I really like this place. Have you been here before?” she asks, turning back to the brunette across from her. Kate smiles, and nods.

“Yes, a few times actually. My dad used to love this place.”

If Amanda picks up on the lingering sadness, she doesn’t mention it.

“So what’s good then?”

And with that, they are chattering away, the sun slowly setting around them.

Kate tells her of Lucky, and how she always wanted a dog but could not get one until she was grown up. She says he’s a rescue, but obviously does not mention the circumstances of their first meeting. The blonde tells her of her two cats, Maize and Peanut, and they talk about Amanda's work, and their college experiences.

Their evening is filled with laughter, and the archers is again amazed by how at ease she feels. They split a chocolate cake for desert, drink some shots of tequila and when it comes to paying, Amanda snatches up the check and Kate lets her, because it gives her an excuse to say she will do it next time.

The blonde’s eyes sparkle when she hears it, and Kate knows she said the right thing when Amanda reaches across the table and strokes her hand, the corners of her pink lips twitching up to a small smile. They exit the restaurant, together and the blonde grabs her hand and looks up to Kate as she asks, “Walk me home?”

And Kate does. They walk hand in hand, the conversation flowing until it dies down to a comfortable silence by the time they arrive back to Amanda building.

“So here we are.” The blonde says, grinning at the brunette, coming to a stop in front of her gate.

“Here we are” Kate echoes, and smiles back.

She hoped to get laid when she asked Amanda out earlier, but honestly, she had such a good time, she is perfectly fine even if the night ends here.

“I had a really good time tonight. Thank you.”

Amanda is looking up at the brunette from under her lashes, and Kate knows perfectly well that the blonde is waiting for her to make a move.

“So did I” she says as she steps closer and then leans down to capture her lips.

It’s not the kind of kiss that sets her on fire, but Kate’s heart races as their lips move against each other, the tequila making her fingers tingle as she pulls the other woman closer by her waist. They trade kisses for a few minutes, before Amanda eventually pulls back, pressing a last, lingering kiss on the corner of her mouth.

“Goodnight, Kate”

Amanda is walking backwards as the brunette stares after her, lips stretched into a smile, still tasting like the blonde’s cherry flavored lip-gloss. The blonde pauses for one more moment, as she reaches the gate, to look back on her and gives her a little dorky wave that pulls the brunette’s smile even wider, then disappears into the building.

Kate feels young, alive, and happy so despite the late hour, she decides to walk home. It’s not a short walk, but she wants to stay in this feeling for as long as she can, somehow thinking that she prolongs the date by not getting home right away.

The city is alive around her, buzzing despite the late hour, and she keeps looking around at the buildings, like it’s the first time she sees them. She is happy to be back here, truly. She is home and she thinks, maybe, coming back was the best idea she had in a long time.

She thinks about her date, the ease she felt and the sense of normalcy. When her phone buzzes with a message, she is giddy to find a “Goodnight :*” text from Amanda. She texts her own ‘Goodnight’ back, and strolls home with a small smile on her face.

It takes her over an hour to get home, and the night air feels nice and cool on her skin. It’s almost 1 am by the time she arrives to her building, greeting the doorman with a wide smile. She almost texts Amanda again in the elevator, asking her for coffee the next day, but decides against it. She will do it tomorrow, she thinks as she exits, and walks down the corridor, pulling out her keys and pushing it into her door. As she turns the key, she halts suddenly.

The door is unlocked.

The door is unlocked.

The warm feelings that filled up her chest moments ago evaporate in a second, and she reaches into her back pocket, pulling out the retractable sword that Clint gifted her for Christmas last year. She pushes the button that releases the blade, noting  the quiet click as it locks into place, and she slowly opens the door, raising the blade in front of her.

The light beam from the corridor illuminates part of her living room, as she steps inside. Nothing seems out of place, she notes, but Lucky is nowhere to be seen. She takes a few steps inside quietly, and checks her surroundings, the way Clint taught her. The windows are closed and her things are exactly where she left them. Then she hears it. A small movement from behind her back.

She spins around, ready to defend herself, pointing the tip of her blade at the intruders neck.

Then her eyes widen.

Blonde hair.

Green Eyes.

“Yelena?!”

She doesn’t lower her sword just yet. The blonde is unmoving, and only stares at her unaffected, before she grins widely at her.

“Kate Bishop!”

Her accent is as thick as Kate remembers. She quickly lowers the blade, smiling back at the Russian uncertainly, the shorter woman’s features partially masked from her by the darkness of the room.

“Yelena, hi! Oh my god! Are you okay, I could have killed you!!”

She knows what the Widow is going to say, before she even opens her mouth. She is right. Yelena laughs at her.

“Still as hilarious as I remember”

Kate finally turns away to flip on the light switch, and closes the front door. She clicks the button on the sword again, retracting its blade and depositing it on the counter by the door along with her keys.

She is stalling.

Whatever Yelena is here for, will undoubtedly end the peaceful night she was having. She turns around slowly, taking the other woman in. She stands by the front door still, only a couple of steps from herself. She is wearing jeans, that perfectly compliment her figure and a white t-shirt, that sits snugly around her curves. Her golden blonde hair is down, softening her features, glistening softly in the artificial light.

Kate is pretty sure that she is not here to hurt her. They stare at each other for a few moments, and Yelena looks amused, her eyes taking in Kate as well, but she seems to be waiting for something. The brunette takes a deep breath.

“Not that I am not happy to see you, even though you broke into my house, again…”

The blonde just rolls her eyes good naturedly like they do this all the time, and didn’t only meet like three times, one and a half years ago.

“And I have to say, again! I did not break anything! Although I have to admit, getting in here was much harder than the last time” she says with mock outrage and a smile, and Kate chuckles, despite herself.

“Alright, fine. You did not. So, why are you here?”

The amusement drops from Yelena’s face so fast, that the brunette almost gets a whiplash. The blonde is serious, her features hard like marble, and Kate has to stop herself from taking a step back as Yelena advances towards her.  

“I was hired to kill you.”

Kate honestly cannot think of anything else to answer, other than…

“Well, shit.”