If I could find a way to see this straight I'd run away,
To some fortune that I should have found by now.
And so I run to the things they said could restore me,
Restore life the way it should be.
It was the sound of shattering glass that awoke her.
Kate rolled around with a tired grunt. Her back ached from having been thrown against a wall by the Widow she and Yelena were trying to free from the mind control.
The world was blurry.
She was confused. (She was pretty sure she had hit her head a little too hard).
But then she heard a cry for help.
That was more than enough. She shot on her feet.
Everything was a mess. And confusing. And painful.
She was holding Yelena, cradling her in her own lap, brushing her hair away, whispering words of comfort.
“It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.”
“I can’t—I can’t see anything.”
“It’s okay, the ambulance is coming. It’s okay.”
Yelena passed out.
“Ah! Miss Bishop, I presume? I am Maria Hill. I deputize for Nick Fury. When you called the ambulance your phone immediately switched lines with ours, and we sent the ambulance. Clint Barton connected you with our services. It appears like you are the new recruit? Anyway, this is safer than an actual hospital. For her, I mean.”
“Wait, where are we?”
“In a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility, obviously. Hospital section. You probably want to get comfortable; the surgery will take longer than we thought.”
Hours. It has been hours.
Kate groaned and lulled her head back against the wall. She had been sitting on that armchair in the waiting room for too long. Her legs felt itchy. Trying to read the magazines piled on the table was no use. She was far too nervous for that.
While Yelena was inside there, in surgery.
It was almost March. After spending Christmas with Clint and his family, Kate had come back to her empty flat in New York. Which wasn’t empty. There was a Black Widow assassin waiting for her on the couch, with a work proposition. Yelena needed an ally to go on with her work with the Widows, and Kate happened to be the closest person she had. Kate had jumped into the new job willingly. Anything that could divert her attention from her new, solitary life was well-accepted.
She didn’t expect to develop such a close friendship with her partner, though.
“Miss Bishop, I presume? I’m doctor Davies. Miss Belova is fine for now. She had a couple of broken ribs and a sprained wrist, but she will be fine within a month. Now, concerning her eyes…we found pieces of shattered glass. So small that they were almost invisible. We were able to successfully remove them, but…I’m afraid Miss Belova’s sight has been damaged.”
“Damaged? Damaged how?”
“We believe she has lost approximately ninety percent of her sight. In both eyes.”
“Yes, here is some good news, Miss Bishop. We have this new, experimental treatment. It’s a machine that can rebuild the most delicate body tissues, produced by the Stark industries. So, the best technology in the world. We believe that it can recreate Miss Belova’s cornea, and with one more surgery we will be able to give her back her sight completely.”
“And how safe is this, this experimental treatment?”
“We have a margin of error of 15.6 percent.”
“Christ. When will you be able to do that?”
“That’s the thing, miss Bishop. For the procedure to work, we need Miss Belova’s eyes to be perfectly recovered. A year, maybe less.”
“So until then…”
“Until then Miss Belova won’t be able to see. I’m sorry.”
Kate was sitting in what she supposed was a hospital room. It didn’t look like one, but she thought that maybe that was what a hospital room was like in a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility. Gray walls and gray furniture. Even the blankets and pillows were gray. Yelena didn’t look too colorful either. She was still asleep, her skin paler than usual, wearing one of the hospital gowns. That was gray, too.
And there was a bandage around her eyes. White and clean – the surgeons had assured Kate that there wasn’t any blood loss, because the surgery had been mostly to remove the shattered glass and not actually change anything.
Kate had been sitting on that chair, with Yelena’s hand in her lap, waiting for the blonde to wake up, for two hours now. She had refused to let the other doctors check her. She had a couple of scratches on her face, some bruises on her stomach, and her head still pounded. Fighting with the Widows, trying to give them the cure, was never an easy job. But Kate didn’t want to leave Yelena’s side. She was still wearing her black and purple suit, her hair still tied loosely. Her bow and arrows were lined up against the wall.
Her fingers were tracing lazy patterns on Yelena’s hand.
She had been doing that for hours.
The ache building in her chest got worse and worse with every minute she spent looking at Yelena’s face. The fact that her eyes, her beautiful, smart, deep eyes were covered by that thin piece of gauze made Kate so sad. And also angry. She was angry at herself. The Widow they were trying to save had slammed her against the wall, and she passed out. And those few moments of unconsciousness had allowed the Widow to run away by shattering a window.
And now Yelena was blind.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, bringing Yelena’s hand to her lips and then dropping her forehead against it. “God, I’m so sorry.”
There was a whine.
Kate could recognize that humming sound anywhere. After sharing her apartment – and several hotels – with Yelena during the past months she had learnt that the blonde always woke up with that little whine. Kate thought it was adorable – in a friendly, completely non-romantic way, she tried to say to herself, failing miserably.
Yelena shifted on the bed. Some words in Russian left her lips. Kate knew that she was fully awake when the hand she was holding tensed and slipped away. Yelena shot up to a sitting position, both hands resting to the edge of her bandage.
“What is this?” her voice was rough from sleepiness, but Kate caught the glimpse of fear.
“Kate Bishop! What is happening? Where are we?”
Kate sighed, dropping her head in her arms and repressing the urge to cry. Or scream.
“Yelena, I…there’s been an accident.”
Kate didn’t know how much time she spent in that hospital room. She just knew that after the first outburst of rage – mostly ignited by pure fear – Yelena had backed to a scared cry, curled up on herself, with her head between her knees and her hands on her ears. She was slowly rocking back and forth, and muttering in Russian. Kate had climbed on the bed next to her, taking the blonde in her arms and holding tight. She didn’t know what else to do. So she held her. She let Yelena cry, ramble in Russian, rock back and forth. She waited. She whispered soothing words. She held her tighter. Until Yelena’s panic seemed to calm down, and that only happened when the Widow had cried herself to sleep. By the time she was asleep again, she had relaxed her muscles, wrapping her arms around Kate and hiding her head in Kate’s suit. Even when she fell asleep, Kate held her.
In the car, driving home, there was silence.
Apparently the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility was just a few miles from New York, and Maria Hill had insisted that some agent took them back with one of their cars. Yelena was too tired to argue, and Kate didn’t think she had the strength to drive. So they just climbed on the backseats of a huge, black car with dark windows and stayed there.
The doctors that took care of Yelena had given Kate instructions on how to help her on a daily basis until she got accustomed with her new, dark reality. As she was listening and scribbling notes, Kate couldn’t help but think that the doctors talked as if they had already given up on the thought of the surgery that could give Yelena her sight back. But she had insisted, and they even booked a date. One year and six days later they were to go back to the facility.
During the car ride, Yelena was quiet. The bandage was still on her eyes, because the doctors had said that the skin was still too delicate to be exposed. She had to keep the bandage for just a couple of weeks, but right now even a single afternoon sounded like forever.
Kate wanted so badly to move on the leather seats and wrap her arms around Yelena. She seemed so young now, wearing old clothes too big for her – a gift of the facility – her shoulders curved, her muscles clenched. She moved her head to every sudden noise. Kate was able to resist the urge to get closer for fifteen minutes. Then, when a particularly loud motorcycle drove right next to them, and the sudden noise seemed to startle Yelena, she shifted closer to her, wrapping both arms around her.
They had never been that close. They were friends, and they were partners in missions. But they didn’t hug. Yelena wasn’t the type of person who enjoys touching. But she let Kate’s arms surround her, she allowed the brunette to hold her, to keep her close. And it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t bad at all. It was peaceful.
Yelena allowed herself to lean against her.
Just a little.
The house never felt so quiet.
As soon as they stepped inside the flat, Lucky and Fanny ran to them, barking happily, sniffing them, gently biting their clothes. As gently as she could, Kate pushed them away. She knew that Yelena needed space to settle. She closed the door behind them and went to feed the dogs, so they wouldn’t be too touchy.
When she came back, Yelena was still standing by the door. Perfectly still, her chin up, her arms flat at her sides. Her head was turned to the left so slightly that it was almost imperceptible. Kate felt like there was someone squeezing her heart in a painful hold. She took the few steps that separated her from Yelena. The blonde must have heard her, because her head turned to Kate’s direction. Not quite. A little bit too to the left.
“Yelena,” Kate said, her voice soft, concerned.
“I just don’t know how.”
“It’s okay. I’ll help you, if you let me. Can I?”
Yelena nodded. Kate was sure she saw a tear rolling down her cheek from under the bandage.
She stepped closer to Yelena, gently snaking an arm under hers. “What do you want to do?”
“Just sleep. Sleep as long as I can. Hoping to not wake—”
“Don’t you dare finish that,” Kate’s voice was low, but firm. She stepped in front of Yelena’ even though she couldn’t be seen. She cupped Yelena’s face with both hands, delicately turning her head so that they were face to face. “Don’t you dare finish that sentence, Yelena. This is not a permanent condition. Death, that would be permanent. And we can’t have that. I can’t have that. I wouldn’t be able to live with that.”
“Look at me, Kate Bishop!” Yelena’s voice was harsh, her accent thicker. She jerked away, stumbling against the door. “I’m useless now! My whole job is gone! What am I going to do now? The only thing I was good at was being an assassin. How can I be an assassin like this? This is a damage, and damages cannot be tolerated.”
That last sentence hit Kate in the gut. Because that wasn’t Yelena speaking. That tone, that harshness…that wasn’t Yelena. “Yelena, who told you that?”
“In the Red Room, if you were too hurt to heal in less than a month, you were useless to the cause. They killed you. They gave you thirty days. If you weren’t recovered enough to go back to work and training by then, they killed you. Because damage cannot be tolerated.”
“Well, guess what,” Kate stepped into her space again, her hands taking Yelena’s in a firm hold. “You are not in the Red Room anymore. You are not there. You are here, in a tiny flat in New York. My tiny flat. You are here, and you are safe. I am here. Lucky and Fanny are here. And this is a temporary situation. You heard the doctors, within a year you will have this new surgery with the Stark treatments, and you will have your sight back.”
“It’s not one hundred percent sure.”
“Nothing in life is one hundred percent sure. A meteorite could fall on Earth right now, and we’d all be dead in a millisecond. Who knows? Maybe we’ll wake up tomorrow and find out that the sky is green, and the grass is blue. But until then, we live the present. And the present is one hundred percent sure. Your present is here, with me. Please, don’t shut me out, Yelena. Not now.”
Yelena was quiet. She lowered her head. “I want to believe you so badly, Kate Bishop. But what if the procedure doesn’t work? What if I’ll be stuck like this forever? What am I going to do?”
“That,” Kate said, squeezing her hands a little tighter. “Doesn’t concern us right now. We will take things as they come.”
“My job is literally all my life, Kate Bishop. Without that I don’t know—I don’t know what I will do.”
“Hey, hey, there is no will. It’s just a year. Just a year, and you can take it as a…as a vacation,” Kate suddenly got an idea. “Yes, this year is your vacation. Then you’ll go back to work. The new Stark technology they keep developing is awesome, I’m sure you’ll have your sight back.”
It was the smallest movement, but Kate caught it. She smiled. “So, you’re still down for that nap? Because I don’t think I’ve slept for more than ten consecutive minutes in the past few days.”
The first week was slow. Yelena was scared of moving around, and Kate was doing her best. They mostly ate take-out, because when Kate mentioned going out for groceries Yelena panicked at the thought of going with her, but also at the thought of being alone. So basically they spent a week eating cold ramen.
The first thing Yelena wanted to do was have a shower. But even though she never admitted it out loud, she was scared of slipping on something she couldn’t see, and she ended up taking a bath. She stoically refused Kate’s help to get in and out of the tub, feeling her way around by touching every single surface available. But then, once she was dry and ready to go, she got stuck in her own t-shirt (refusing to call Kate, who ended up going into the bathroom worried to see what was taking Yelena so long, and then erupting in soft giggles for a good five minutes before actually helping her.)
That same day, they had to change Yelena’s bandages. At first the assassin had tried to say that she could do it herself, but Kate didn’t break. The doctor had been very clear on that: the bandages had to be perfect in order to protect Yelena’s skin and eyes, which were still delicate, and only a person who possessed the gift of sight could do it.
“I’ll be really careful, okay?”
Yelena was stiff, her muscles tensed. “What if, what if it is repulsing to see?”
“I doubt it very much,” Kate assured her, giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze. “Just tell me when you are ready.”
Yelena pursed her lips. Kate was no magician, and she couldn’t read minds, but she didn’t need to see Yelena’s thoughts to know why she looked so scared. “I promise I won’t leave.”
The blonde nodded. “Okay. Okay. Do it.”
Slowly, painfully so, Kate placed her hands behind Yelena’s head, fumbling with the gauze and the safety pins. That was harder than she had predicted, but eventually she managed to safely settle all the pins on the table, and carefully started to unwrap the gauze. It came off easily, and the white cotton slid off Yelena’s eyes smoothly. And there she was. Kate unconsciously smiled. Seeing Yelena like that again, without all that gauze around her head, was just so good. Her eyes were still closed shut. The skin around them was slightly reddened, and there were a few, small cuts that were already healing.
“There you go,” Kate whispered. “Pretty as ever.” She hesitated a second. “Can you—can you open them?”
Kate didn’t know what she expected. White orbs, non-existent pupils, maybe even a scar. She had seen too many pirate movies. Yelena’s eyes were the same as always. Big, and green, and beautiful. The only different things were the wide pupils and the unfocused stare. Yelena was right there, in front of her, and yet her eyes were glassy, unfocused. So far away.
The assassin snorted. “That bad, huh?”
Kate shook her head, snapped out of her head. “Wai—what? No, not bad at all! They are just like always, Yelena.”
“Please, don’t say that just to make me feel better.”
“But it’s true! Look, I’ll even take a picture and I’ll show it to you in one year. I promise that you don’t look any different. Just as stunning.” Instant regret. Her cheeks caught fire. Her heart started racing. Yelena didn’t seem to notice.
In fact, she didn’t seem to react at all. She looked so small, and vulnerable, and scared. “Are you sure?”
She nodded. Then she nodded again. Then she raised her head in the direction she supposed Kate was. “Thank you, Kate Bishop.”
Things were starting to look a little better. Ten days rolled around lazily, in a steady rhythm that never changed. They slept in the same bed, because Kate absolutely refused to let Yelena out of her sight for too long. Kate slept on the right side, facing the window (right on the edge of the bed, because she didn’t want to make the other woman uncomfortable. One day, she fell off and blamed it on a nightmare. She got a bump on her arm and hit her head again, but it made Yelena laugh, even if only for a minute).
Yelena had started to move around her house with more confidence. She had somehow mapped the flat with little steps and tentative touches. She had learnt how to feel her way around by keeping a hand on the wall, barely touching it, and walking with careful steps. Luckily, Kate’s flat didn’t have carpets, nor moquette, so there was nothing on the floor to stumble in. Except for the dogs.
The dogs had somehow sensed that something had changed. Kate claimed that they knew everything and that they were smarter than they gave them credit for. Yelena had smiled affectionately, but doubtfully. The only sure thing was that now, when Fanny or Lucky saw Yelena getting dangerously close to obstacles that she couldn’t see, they always nibbled her jeans and tried to drag her away. Kate found it so cute that she always gave them treats afterwards.
Also, Kate was now allowed to go to the grocery store. Yelena had gained enough confidence to spend some time alone in the flat, but she still didn’t want to get out.
Everything was fine.
Until the eleventh day, Kate came back to the apartment, after walking Lucky and Fanny, only to find Yelena sitting on the floor by their punching bag, in a similar position to the one she had in the hospital bed. With her head between her knees, her hands on her ears. Her shoulders shuddering.
It took Kate less then a second to shut the door, leave the dogs and fall on the floor in front of Yelena. “What happened?” she squealed. “Yelena? What happened?”
Nothing but a suffocated whimpering. Kate quickly scanned her body, searching for some injuries. The first thing she checked was the bandage over her eyes, looking for blood. But there wasn’t any. There was however red blood all over Yelena’s hands, on her knuckles. Kate looked briefly at the pouncing bag. The blood was there, too.
“Oh, Lena,” she whispered. “What have you done?”
“прости,” was the only thing that Yelena said.
“I don’t know what that means.”
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Kate sighed. She was about to touch Yelena’s shoulder, but she thought better of it. “Can I come closer?”
Yelena nodded, and Kate immediately shifted closer. Their shoulders bumped together, even if Yelena was still curled on herself. Kate leaned her head back against the punching bag. She didn’t say anything else. She just waited. And waited. And waited some more.
Eventually, Yelena raised her head. Her lips were pursed together tightly, the corners looking down. “You know what I can’t stand?”
“It doesn’t even fucking hurt,” Yelena’s voice was sharp, angry. The kind of anger that permeated her voice when she was out there hunting Clint. Just rough emotion. “Of all the injuries I’ve had in my life, this is the one that has affected me the most. It literally stopped my life. I can’t take a few steps without stumbling, I can’t do anything. I’m useless like this. And it doesn’t even fucking hurt!”
“When you get stabbed, you bleed. When you get shot, you bleed. When you break your bones, you ache so bad that you want to die. Even breaking a damn nail hurts. It’s refreshing. You made a mistake, you got hurt. And the pain is your punishment. It’s how it works. Pain is good. And this doesn’t hurt! It’s like a cruel joke.”
“Did Dreykov tell you that?”
Yelena shook her head. She pushed herself to a standing position, gripping the closest wall for stability, and took a few steps. Her hands were shaking. “You know, when I was in the Red Room and I got hurt, pain was always my closest friend. I grew up in pain. I ached when I fought the other girls. I ached when they punished me. I ached when he used his fucking belt on my back. Hell, I ached when they took advantage of my body. When the hysterectomy procedure was over, they cut the painkillers.”
Kate brought a hand to her mouth. “That’s…”
“That’s how it works. I grew up in pain, Kate Bishop. Pain is my friend. I feel relieved. And it doesn’t hurt! The only injury that fucking ruined my life, and it doesn’t hurt! Why? I want it to hurt! I want the pain!” she stopped her furious walking, bringing her hands to the bandage and fumbling with it angrily. “And I can’t stand this fucking gauze anymore!”
Yelena fell apart.
But Kate was there to catch her.
Yelena collapsed in her arms, crying, sobbing, screaming her pain. And Kate held her. She didn’t know who dragged who down, she just knew that they were on the floor. And Yelena was crying. She was trying to curl on herself, and she ended up curling around Kate instead. Kate let her. She let her wrap her arms around her, bury her face in her shirt, soak it with tears. She rubbed Yelena’s back as it was wrecked by sobs. She let her scream. A few tears fell from her own eyes, but she didn’t break. She sat on the floor, holding Yelena, trying to keep her pieces together.
When Yelena screamed, Kate’s heart ached. It was rough. Hurt. Sad.
The bandage had fallen from Yelena’s eyes from how hard she was pulling at it, and Kate didn’t press to put it back on. The two prescribed weeks were almost done anyways.
“You know,” her voice sounded distant to her own ears. “I will never allow you to hurt yourself, Yelena. Never. But when I was little, I had severe performance anxiety. My mom tried to calm me down with words so many times, and it never worked. But then my dad would—he would hug me so tight. Squeeze me until I can't breathe. And I would hug him back, with all my strength. The pressure, the feeling of being loved, and held that tight was such a relief that I instantly calmed down. Would you…would you like to try that?”
For a second, there was no answer. But then Kate felt a nod against her chest.
“Please,” Yelena’s voice was cracking, hoarse and broken.
And Kate held her. She hugged her so tightly, with all the force she had. She made sure she wasn’t hurting her, and then she hugged her tighter. And Yelena hugged her back. With all her strength – which was quite impressive for such a short person – clinging into Kate’s shoulder like an anchor. Fingers grasping clothes, frantically searching for stability. And that was what Kate gave her. Stability. Security. A safe place.
And slowly, so slowly, Yelena’s sobs quietened. Her breathing from erratic and unsteady went calm and regular. Kate rubbed her back soothingly, following the rhythm of her breaths. The tears were stopping, the shaking was steading.
“I got you,” Kate whispered. “I got you. I got you.”
“Thank you. Thank you. This—this actually helped so much.”
Kate didn’t pull away until Yelena did. The blonde sniffled, and Kate quietly led her to the kitchen counter. Wordlessly, without asking Yelena to explain anything, she found some disinfectant and some more gauze. She cleaned the wounds on Yelena’s knuckles, and bandaged them delicately. “There you go,” she said, admiring her work. She was getting pretty good at it. Dangerously so. She looked at Yelena’s eyes. Her pupils were still dilated, as if they were searching for the light they couldn’t see. “I don’t think the bandaging on your eyes is necessary anymore. It’s been two weeks.”
Yelena turned her head to Kate’s direction and a grateful expression softened her features. “It was really uncomfortable. And itchy. I just wanted to rip it off.”
Kate nodded. “Yelena,” she said, her voice serious. “Whenever you feel like—like you were feeling earlier. Like you need pain to feel better or anything like that, I want you to come to me. Come find me, and hug me tight. Just like we did now. As tight as you can, until it goes away. Or hug a pillow if I’m not around. I promise to be around as frequently as possible. Just don’t…don’t use the punching bag. Not if your aim is to hurt. Can you do that?”
Green eyes were now facing the floor. The blonde had lowered her head, shame burning on her cheeks. “I’m sorry. You didn’t sign up for this.”
Kate tucked a strand of blond hair behind her ear. “Don’t be sorry. It’s not your fault. You were raised believing that pain was the right thing to feel.”
“You shouldn’t have to deal with me.”
“No way, you’re stuck with me now,” Kate smiled. “Bet you will be sick of me by the end of this year.”
“Kate Bishop, that is not possible.”
Kate smiled. “Soft.”
“I like your therapy-hug thing. I haven’t been hugged in years, I almost didn’t remember what it felt like.”
That was all the cue Kate needed to take the few steps between them and hug her again.
Yelena was still bashful and quiet about what she needed, and Kate was still apprehensive and worried. But she was patient. Because Yelena needed it, and she deserved it. When she realized that Yelena was feeling particularly bad or worthless, she wordlessly got closer and hugged her tight. And when Yelena hugged back, with all the force she had, Kate knew that she was doing a good job.
A few days melted into a few weeks, which led to a few months. Kate didn’t know when or how, she just knew that at some point she had started falling. Falling deeper and deeper, and she didn’t know how it was possible.
It was the little things, really.
It was the way Yelena pouted, the corners of her mouth looking down, just like a cartoon.
It was the way Yelena loved books. When she found a book that felt good in her hands, she gave it to Kate, with a silent request. Then, Kate would take the book, snuggle on the couch and read out loud. After a while, Yelena would stop commenting on the chapters and tell her that she had a pretty voice instead.
It was the way Yelena insisted on cooking her mac’n’cheese with hot sauce, missing the pan most of the time and ending up making an enormous mess.
It was the way Yelena stumbled in the corners, immediately getting help by Fanny or Lucky, and then falling in her waiting arms.
And the list could go on, and on. Kate was pretty sure that if she ever decided to write them down, she would use a whole notebook. Yelena liked music. She always wore earrings. She was always so considerate and loving with Fanny and Lucky. She always said please and thank you. She made sure that Kate was comfortable. She made an effort to listen to the movies Kate watched in the evening, even if it made her sad to only hear the voices without seeing the actual movie.
She knew she was fucked when she found herself blushing when they were close, and yet craving for her touch. She knew she was completely wasted when she found herself agreeing on everything Yelena said. When she realized that, without Yelena, her days looked all the same.
Kate didn’t know how, but she was in love.
(Even though it wasn’t really hard to figure out, because every time she closed her eyes and emptied her mind, the only thing that occupied her thoughts was Yelena, Yelena, Yelena).
Yelena was sitting on the couch, perfectly still, with Kate’s radio in her lap. She spent a lot of time listening to music now. Since she couldn’t read, and listening to movies made her incredibly sad, she refuged in music. When she found out that Kate owned a whole bookcase full of CDs she smiled a smile that lit up her whole face.
So she spent a lot of time listening to music, to every CD that Kate owned.
Kate secretly loved the relationship Yelena had with music. Even if she looked still and unbothered, Kate had caught her a few times moving her head along with the rhythm. The movement was so small and almost invisible, but Kate had grown very fond of watching Yelena. The blonde kept her eyes closed most of the time, a focused expression on her face, as if she was trying to recognize every note coming from every instrument.
The archer sat next to her on the couch. Yelena felt the couch shift and had already heard Kate stepping closer, so she didn’t flinch. On the contrary, she shifted closer to Kate, feeling the soft surface of the couch, looking for her hand. Kate gently helped her, sliding her hand over Yelena’s and she was surprised when the woman squeezed it hard. Over the past two months Yelena had kind of settled into the hold me until I can’t breathe instead of longing for pain thing, and Kate could always recognize one of those episodes.
But this felt different.
Yelena didn’t look scared, just…anxious.
“Lena? Is everything okay?”
“Fine,” she replied, swallowing hard and nodding to herself. “Fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Can I ask you something, Kate Bishop?”
Not really what she expected. “Sure, yeah.”
“I’ve been listening to your CDs. You have a lot of breakup songs. Also, lots of Taylor Swift. Have you ever had your heart broken?”
“Many times, in many different ways,” Kate said. She chose honesty. She wanted Yelena to trust her with her life, and she wanted to do things right. She thought that Yelena deserved it. “I was heartbroken when my dad died. I was heartbroken when Tommy Davies called me a weirdo in third grade. I was heartbroken when my mom turned out to be a criminal.”
Yelena flinched. “Partially my fault.”
“Hell, I was even heartbroken when Annie Whisker put me at the bottom of the ranking the girls in class based on their looks list in middle school.”
Yelena gasped hard, shocked and offended. “What? Who is this bitch?”
Kate laughed. “Just a middle schooler that thought she was cooler than all of us.”
“сука. Well, now you are basically an Avenger, and she is a what?”
“I have no idea.”
“Even better! That bitch. She must have been blind to put you at the bottom of the list.”
They both ignored the fact that Yelena was also currently blind. Kate laughed again, unconsciously squeezing Yelena’s hand tighter.
“You deserve the top of the list, Kate Bishop,” Yelena said seriously. She felt her way up Kate’s arm, tracing her biceps, her shoulder, her neck, the side of her face. “You are beautiful. I only got to see you for a few months, but I know that. You are beautiful.”
Kate couldn’t speak. She just smiled, and she hoped that Yelena could feel it.
“However, that wasn’t what I meant. Have you ever had your heart broken like those songs say? In love?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a relationship serious enough to be heartbroken. Just quick stories that ended up because we were bored of each other. Sometimes they didn’t even last a week.”
Yelena nodded thoughtfully. “I’ve never been in a relationship. I’ve never even been kissed.” She didn’t say that with any shame – not that there was anything to be ashamed of – and with any emotion whatsoever. It was just a plain fact, a statement of the obvious. The same tone she used to speak of the weather.
And Kate just had to speak before her brain had the chance to think. “What? But you are so pretty?”
“Yeah. I meant, I’ve never had a consensual kiss. One that I wanted.” She was – again – speaking with that atone voice, her blind eyes gazing at a ceiling she couldn’t see. But Kate could hear a hint of sadness in her voice, coaxed and hidden.
“Now, however,” Yelena didn’t allow Kate to pity her. She cut her off, turning her head to where she supposed Kate was sitting. She ended up with her head tilted slightly too to the right. They were suddenly close. Much closer than Kate remembered them ever being. Their fingers were still tangled together. “Now I really feel like—like if you kissed me, I would really like it.”
Kate thought she had misheard her. She babbled a few incoherent monosyllables before settling on, “What?”
“I’m saying that if you were to kiss me right now, I would be happy about it.” Yelena explained, matter-of-factly. “Because this time, I have full control of my body. Well, except for my eyes. And plus, I really like you, Kate Bishop.”
“I…really like you, too.”
Kate didn’t know how that happened. How they got that close. The only thing she knew was that now her nose was just inches from Yelena’s. She lost herself while staring at those green eyes, unfocused and looking in the wrong directions. But still beautiful. Kate moved carefully. She gave her time to move away. Yelena could have jerked away. But she didn’t. Instead, she waited. Patiently so.
Until Kate finally moved an inch forward, and their lips touched. Yelena gasped slightly when Kate kissed her, but she didn’t pull away. It was the softest touch, almost invisible. But Kate could feel it. Yelena’s lips were warm, and soft and the woman was there, and steady, and real. Kate pushed on her lips a little harder, giving her a real kiss. Then she pulled back, resting their forehead together.
“Now you’ve had your first kiss.”
Yelena smiled, bumping her nose. “Thank you, Kate Bishop.”
Before Kate could say anything to make a fool of herself, such as “you’re welcome,” or “that’s alright,” or even “no probs,” Yelena was kissing her again. And this time, with purpose. Even if she couldn’t see, they were so close that she had no problem finding Kate's cheeks and cupping them with shaky hands, bringing them impossibly closer.
Her hands went grasping Kate’s shirt, and the archer responded by wrapping her arms around Yelena’s waist. Then she pulled away again, much to Yelena’s disappointment. Kate kissed her forehead. “That was possibly the best kiss I’ve ever had.”
Yelena giggled. “Me too. Not that I have much experience.”
“Yelena, I’m so sorry you had to go through that.”
“No. I don’t want to talk about that.”
“Oh. What do you want to ta—”
“I don’t want to talk at all.”
And then Yelena was kissing her again.
It was the first time Kate convinced Yelena to leave the house.
The brave, ruthless, fearless assassin had been terrified of her new blindness. She was self-conscious of her newfound inability to see, and it terrified her. Kate had noticed many times, when Yelena could still see, that even when they were just walking the dogs, Yelena was constantly glancing at her sides, checking if the area was free, if it was safe. She thought it was kind of sweet, since Yelena was doing it to protect her.
But when they stepped outside, with Yelena clinging onto her arm as an anchor, Kate’s heart clenched. So she held her back. She wrapped her fingers around her arm, for a better hold, and never let her go. With her free hand, she held Lucky and Fanny’s leashes.
Every noise seemed to startle Yelena. Her muscles were clenched, ready to jump. Every step she took was perfectly calculated and careful. When a leaf fell on her shoulder, she almost freaked out. The kids playing around them in the park made so much noise. She grumbled about them distracting her from the potential dangers.
And that was when Kate leaned down to press a soft kiss to her lips.
That helped calm her nerves.
“They are just kids, Lena. This is a park for kids. There is no danger here.”
“So you say.”
“The most dangerous thing that could happen here is getting hit by one of their frisbees.”
“If one of their frisbees hits you, I will tell Fanny to bite their faces off.”
Kate laughed. “It’s a sweet thought, but I think that will get us in jail. Well, it will get you in jail.”
“Eh, not the first time.” Yelena shrugged.
“What? You’ve been in prison? No way,” Kate widened her eyes.
“Not an actual prison. But I’ve been kidnapped and held captive multiple times. I’ll tell you, it’s no fun.”
“Didn’t think it was.”
“But if they hit you, I will get mad.” Yelena warned, moving her head to her left, trying to localize the kids. “And if Fanny bites them, that’s not on me. She is fond of you.”
Kate smiled. “I appreciate the sentiment. Not so sure about the methods.”
“You are too soft, Kate Bishop. It’s not good.”
Kate ignored her.
“Do you want to have sushi for lunch?”
Yelena shrugged. “Cool. I have never tried it.”
“What?” Kate exclaimed. “Like, never?”
“I’ve never been on a mission in Japan.”
“I don’t eat for fun, Kate Bishop, I eat because it keeps me alive, and a machine doesn’t work without carburant.”
Kate frowned. “You aren’t a machine.”
“Hmm. Not according to the Red Room.”
Yelena didn’t give her time to start a pity party. “Sushi is it, then! Come on, Kate Bishop, lead me to the wonderful sushi thing, and let’s see what the fuss is all about.”
“Kate Bishop, I get that you are out of forks, but taking me to a fancy restaurant is not really how you face the problem.”
“I didn’t take you out because I have no forks!” Kate was highly offended. “Plus, how do you even know it’s a fancy place without even seeing it?”
It was, in fact, a fancy place. The walls around them were shining, the chandeliers were made of crystal, the tables of dark hardwood inlaid with gold, and Kate was pretty sure that the cutlery were pure silver. Not to mention the porcelain plates and crystal glasses.
Yelena scoffed. “Please, I’m a super skilled spy. I can recognize the smell of a place for rich people. That’s usually where I find my targets. Do you smell this? This, out of the smell of expensive food, is the smell of money.”
Kate watched her amusedly.
“I can tell that the tablecloth is pure silk only by touching it,” she added, playing with the fabric between her fingers. “And this chair I’m sitting on? I bet the pillows are stuffed with real feathers. Not the crappy plastic shit they sell you in normal places.”
Yelena moved her head around, listening intently. “Plus, I hear an orchestra.”
“It’s actually a string quartet,” Kate muttered, incredibly amused.
“How do you even afford this?”
“That’s on my mom. Now that I have access to basically everything she had, I can do whatever the hell I want.”
“Then why do you still live in that flat?”
Kate flushed. She couldn’t tell Yelena that she kept it mostly because in the first months of their friendship she liked seeing the Russian break in through her window. Just like she couldn’t tell her that said window was always intentionally open, so that said Russian didn’t have to smash the glass herself. (On second thought, Kate came to the conclusion that a super skilled spy-slash-assassin probably knew a thousand different ways to open a window without smashing it).
“I like it.”
Kate ignored her. Yelena looked stunning. She was wearing a beautiful satin dress, the same green as her eyes. Her hair was down, falling in soft waves on her back, pinned back by a green pin. She looked so stunning that Kate hadn’t been able to take her eyes off her for the whole night.
Since dogs weren’t allowed in a place like that, Kate had turned herself into Yelena’s personal cane (which was probably less effective than a real cane, but Yelena still refused to get one). Kate did a wonderful job, though. She took Yelena’s arm in hers and led her down the stairs and helped her get into the cab. Then from the cab to the restaurant. When the staff offered to take their coats, Yelena murmured something about suing them for robbery, until Kate talked her out of it. The waiter offered his arm to Yelena, who instinctively pressed herself by Kate’s side and didn’t allow anyone but her to lead her.
(She was still highly self-aware of the fact that she needed someone to lead her in a place she didn’t know, and she hated to ask for help so much that the thought of letting a stranger lead her was utterly unbearable.)
When they left, Yelena was so anxious to see if they had stolen their coats or they were actually going to return them that Kate exploded in laughter. Probably not the most appropriate thing to do in a fancy restaurant. Everybody turned to look at her. But seeing the happiness on Yelena’s face was worth the public humiliation.
(Plus, she was never going to see those people again, so, really, why bother?)
It was almost midnight, but they were both still awake. Kate was staring at the ceiling, wondering if she had ever met the same pigeon more than once. Her mind was often full of those thoughts that didn’t make sense. Now that she was thinking about it, that was probably the reason why her teachers were never particularly fond of her; even though she had amazing grades, she was always kind of…absent in class. Speaking off, maybe she should go see Miss. Jenkins from high school, she promised to go back and say hi a long time ago. God, those awful years…
“Are you awake, Kate Bishop?”
“Huh?” Kate tilted her head to one side, looking at Yelena. She thought that the blonde had fallen asleep and rolled away because of a dream.
“Of course,” Kate said, very confused. She turned around fully, and she found herself facing Yelena. In the dark, her green, unfocused eyes looked bigger than ever. “Should I be worried?”
“I don’t know. I just—never told this to anyone.”
“The Red Room. I want to tell you about the Red Room.”
That was not what she was expecting.
She didn’t know what she was expecting. “Okay,” she whispered. “If you are ready to open up about that, then okay. We can talk.”
Yelena inhaled deeply and released the air with a heavy sigh. “I don’t think I will ever be ready for that talk. But I want to do this. And I trust you.”
Kate leaned closer, brushing her nose against Yelena’s. “Okay then.”
And so, Yelena talked. She talked and talked until her throat ached and her eyes were drowning in tears. She talked until the pillow was soaked with tears. She talked, and – even though neither of them was sure of how it happened – she ended up snuggling into Kate’s soft embrace. And Kate learned so much. Her body physically hurt hearing what Yelena had been through.
Yelena talked about the first six years of her life. She said that she had been lucky, in a way. Most girls didn’t get to experience what she had: a loving family, with real parents and a sister, because the Red Room took them when they were infants. But the fake, beautiful life she lived, also contributed a heavier trauma. The other girls didn’t know what they were missing, they didn’t know what a hug felt like, they didn’t know what being loved was. to them, the Red Room was the only real thing. But Yelena knew. She knew what it was like to be hugged, fed properly, loved. And it made it so hard to settle. She spent whole nights crying on her pillow.
But she was only six. And terrified. She broke in less than two months, fully compelled by the Red Room. By the time she was seven, she was the deadliest child assassin the world had ever seen. No one had ever matched her efficiency, her ruthlessness. But those memories of her life in Ohio still haunted her. They made her weak. That was why she was selected for the chemical subjugation program.
Yelena talked about the involuntary hysterectomy. She talked about the excruciating pain she felt when they cut off her painkillers only two hours after the procedure. She talked about their punishments. She talked about the hours she spent, wearing only summer clothes, standing in the snow. She talked about everything, and when she broke down, Kate was there to catch her.
She talked about how she learned to manage pain. When she did something wrong, she felt bad. But then the pain of the punishment immediately made her feel better. Like she got what she deserved. That was what they conditioned her to think in the Red Room. That was why she hit the punching bag until she bled.
“Yelena I had…I had no idea. I can’t even imagine what it is like to put a gun in the hands of a child. To make them kill. I just—I wish they were dead.”
Kate had never wished for somebody’s death. Even when she was fighting with Clint, death was never what she wanted to cause. But hearing Yelena’s story, hearing what they put her through…a flaming rage just burned in her chest.
“They are dead,” Yelena reassured her. “Well, most of them. Dreykov is dead, so the whole Red Room is gone. They won’t hurt anyone else.”
“They hurt you.”
“They did. But it’s over now. I am so far away from them, and they can’t control me anymore.”
Kate held her closer, as if she feared that somebody could take her away. She wiped Yelena’s tears gently. “You are exhausted,” she whispered, kissing her forehead. “I am so proud of you for telling me this.”
Yelena tilted her head, blindly reaching for Kate’s lips and kissing her. “Can you sing?” the quiet question was a surprise to Kate.
“I know you can sing; I hear you all the time.” Yelena smiled, burying her head further into Kate’s neck. “Could you sing?”
Kate had already the no, absolutely no, I could never on her lips, but when she felt Yelena settling more comfortably, closing her fists on the fabric of Kate’s shirt, and new, silent tears rolling down her cheeks, she just knew that she wasn’t able to tell her no. “I can sing,” she murmured.
“No, Lena. Thank you.”
Kate spent a few moments lost in her head, thinking about a proper song.
“Well you do enough talk, my little hawk, why do you cry?” she hummed, lazily dragging her fingertips on Yelena’s neck. Her voice sounded throaty and weak in the perfect silence of the room, and somehow, still good. “Tell me what did you learn from the Tillamook burn? Or the Fourth of July? We’re all gonna die.”
Kate’s fingertips were now barely brushing behind Yelena’s ear, caressing so lightly that it almost didn’t feel real. “Sitting at the bed, with the halo at your head, was it all a disguise, like Junior High, where everything was fiction, future and prediction,” her fingers curled in blond strands of hair, just to come back to her neck. “Now, where am I? My fading supply.”
Yelena hummed softly, and Kate ached with affection, her fingertips caressing tenderly the soft skin behind Yelena’s ear again. “Did you get enough love, my little dove? Why do you cry?” But Yelena had stopped crying. Soothed by Kate’s soft voice. “And I’m sorry I left, but it was for the best, though it never felt right. My little Versailles.”
Kate stopped singing when Yelena pressed their lips together in a soft, lingering kiss. Kate slid her hands in Yelena’s golden hair, caressing her scalp softly. “Are you okay?”
“Kate Bishop, I think I’m feeling better than I did in many years,” Yelena whispered, tracing the side of the archer’s face, her neck, her collarbone. “Where have you been my whole life?”
(Once again, Kate didn’t know if she was having a stroke or just falling deeper in love. But her dwelling ended soon, because her brain shut down and left the place to her heart when Yelena kissed her again.)
“I hate to break this to you, Kate Bishop, but you can’t stuff any more Christmas decorations in this house, or it will explode.”
That was one of the worst news Kate had ever heard in her whole life.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that there is not a single surface left for your lights.”
“But—but I still have these lights, and more garlands.”
Yelena shrugged. “Replace Lucky’s collar with a garland and wrap the lights around the staircase outside. We have no more space here.”
Kate looked around. The house looked like a Christmas village. Every wall was covered in lights, and decorations of any sorts. The tree was bigger than she and Yelena put together, mistletoe was hanging from every door, the advent calendar was well-placed on the table in the living room, and even their bedroom, the kitchen and the bathroom were filled with decorations.
But. But Yelena didn’t know, right? She couldn’t see, after all. So maybe, she could still fit a teeny tiny garland over that door—
“I know that you are thinking you can put on much more things and that I won’t notice,” Yelena warned her. “But you should know that I move around touching the walls, and I know exactly what you put on, Kate Bishop. Don’t you even think about it.”
Kate sighed. “Okay, okay,” she put down the garland and the lights. “But I will buy more presents, then.”
Yelena rolled her eyes, but Kate knew she was only pretending.
The Russian tried to walk away, but Kate’s scream stopped her.
“HA! Mistletoe! You are under the mistletoe! Now you have to kiss me!”
Yelena frowned. “What?” she raised her hands, effectively feeling the mistletoe under her fingers. “But you are not here, Kate Bishop, are you?” she asked, feeling her way around with her arms wide open. “I thought that the mistletoe thing only worked if two people were under it. Did I mishear you? Your American traditions are so weird…”
As she rambled, Kate made her way to Yelena, wrapping her arms around her waist. “Now I’m here.”
Yelena tilted her chin up teasingly, as she put her hands around Kate’s shoulders. “Then kiss me.”
Kate couldn’t do anything but oblige. She leaned in and kissed Yelena deeply, allowing their lips to melt together. They were both wearing warm, ugly, fuzzy Christmas sweaters, and twisting their fingers in it as they pulled each other close. Kate pulled away, resting her forehead against Yelena.
She opened her eyes. Her gray ones found Yelena’s dark green. Still unfocused, still looking in the wrong direction, the pupil was still weirdly wide. Still beautiful. Kate moved her hand from Yelena’s cheek to behind her ear, caressing tenderly the delicate skin she found there.
“I love you.” It slipped out of her mouth easily, she almost didn’t realize it. The words felt so normal, so true, that for a moment she didn’t even notice. Then she did, and her eyes went wide. Yelena tilted her head up, her lips parting in surprise.
Kate didn’t know what to do.
But then Yelena tightened her grip around her shoulders. “I love you, too.” And she had never looked so sincere, so vulnerable.
Kate grinned and she couldn’t help but kiss Yelena again, knowing that the blonde could feel the smile on her lips.
“You know what?” she eventually said. “We should totally get you a Santa Claus hat. You’d look so cute wearing it.”
“Don’t you even think about it, Kate Bishop.”
“Come on, Lena, it will be fun,” Kate whined, dropping her head on Yelena’s shoulder heavily. “Hey! I’ll get matching ones! One for you, one for me, and then two for Lucky and Fanny. And then we’ll wear them all the time when we go out, and everyone will know that we are, like, a real family. Oh, that will be so cool—”
Yelena rolled her eyes.
(But she was smiling).
Kate was, as usual, awake.
She really needed to have healthier sleep schedules if she wanted to get something done in the morning. But she just couldn’t help it. Yelena had been tossing and turning for an hour now. She was still sleeping, but obviously unwell. Kate woke up when Yelena slammed a hand on her stomach while shifting under the blankets. She jolted awake, air escaping her lungs, just to see Yelena still mumbling and moving beside her. The assassin had her eyes shut close, her fists clenching and unclenching, a pained expression on her face.
She was mumbling and muttering under her breath in Russian. Kate had tried, she had really tried to learn the basics of that language, and she had mastered a few simple sentences that would allow her to survive if she ever went on a trip in Russia, but right now Yelena was muttering, and whispering, and her accent was so thick and fast that even if she tried hard, Kate couldn’t understand a single thing.
“Yelena,” she whispered, trying to wake her up. But nothing happened. She tried again, her voice louder. Still nothing. Yelena wasn’t muttering anymore, her voice was loud and clear, and terrified. The Russian was now mixing up with some sporadic English, and Kate got only the words ‘please,’ and ‘sorry,’ and ‘no’.
There were tears rolling down her cheeks now, and the blankets were long gone, ripped off her body and piled in the middle of the bed. Kate called her again, scooted closer and placed a hand on Yelena’s shoulder, scrolling it. Hard.
That was not a good idea.
Green, blind eyes flashed open, and a tight grip caught Kate’s hand. Before she knew it, Kate had been grabbed and slammed on her back, with Yelena hovering on top of her, one arm folded to hold her down, the other raised, fist clenched. The look on her face wasn’t the one Kate knew. Her cheeks were soaked with tears, her jaw tight, lips quivering.
“Yelena!” she screamed. “It’s me, it’s Kate! It’s just me! You’re okay, you are safe.”
Yelena blinked a couple of times. She squinted, forgetting for a minute that no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t see. And then realization hit her. Her eyes widened, her jaw dropped. “Oh, God.” Within a second she had let go of Kate and stumbled back, jolting herself on the other end of the bed, grabbing her legs with her hands.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Kate sat up as soon as she was free again, trying to move next to Yelena. but the blonde jerked back, almost falling off the bed.
“Don’t come closer,” she warned, feeling her way out of the bed and getting up.
“Yelena’ it’s okay, I promise.”
Yelena shook her head, stumbling into the wall. She held onto it with both hands, to steady herself. “I could have hurt you, Kate Bishop. I could have killed you.”
“No, you wouldn’t have,” Kate whispered, even though now the adrenaline was still flowing through her veins, and her heart was still beating loudly. She was startled, sure. But not hurt. “Yelena, it was a nightmare. It was just a nightmare.”
“A nightmare I have no control over.”
“Of course you don’t, it’s a nightmare! It’s not real.”
“My nightmares aren’t your nightmares, Kate Bishop. My nightmares are memories. And that is—that is what memories do to me. They take control, they are more powerful than me. I endangered you. It won’t happen again—”
“Of course it won’t…”
“—Because I’m going to go.”
Yelena shook her head. Her accent was heavier now, her words slurred together and confused. She had tears falling from her eyes. Catching her clothes from the closet, she stumbled to the bathroom. “I’m sorry,” she said, sniffling and wiping her tears with the back of her hand. “God, I’m so sorry. I thought I could control it. I thought I could—I thought I was getting better. I said to myself, I said that I could allow myself to be with you only if I managed to get full control over my mind. And obviously, I don’t. I can’t let you risk that.”
“Yelena, you are not making any sense,” Kate stepped closer, but not too close, respecting her boundaries. “Please, sit down for a minute, let’s talk.”
“There’s nothing to talk about, Kate!” she yelled. Kate froze. She had never heard Yelena yell like that. When she was mad, her voice got low and calm. She could feel the anger through her placid appearance. Now she wasn’t angry. She was in pain. “My mind doesn’t belong to me, it never has.”
“Yelena, you were brainwashed as a kid, it’s normal to have…nightmares, and flashbacks, and—”
“You don’t understand! I was not brainwashed, Kate Bishop. That’s what they did to my sister. They made her watch movies, and listen to speeches, and write the same sentence thousands of times, and then they brainwashed her. My mind was chemically altered by serums that drugged me. They had full control. It’s not a—it’s not just conditioning. There is no way you can let that go, no matter how strong you are.”
“But you had the antidote! Yelena, you are not making any sense,” Kate sounded like she was begging to her own ears.
“I can’t put your life in danger like that. I just can’t. I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry.”
Then she was gone, headed to the bathroom. Kate, out of instinct, stepped forward, her hand closing around Yelena’s wrist. “Wait—” but she couldn’t finish, because Yelena freed herself with a swift move, pinning Kate’s hand to her side.
“Don’t.” Her movements were so quick that Kate almost missed the moment when she disappeared into the bathroom and closed the door behind her. She heard the door lock, and just like that she had been shut out and defeated by a blind woman. If Kate hadn’t been too busy worrying for Yelena, she would have asked herself how come she still wasn’t good enough.
“Yelena!” she called, her voice panicked and scared. “Please, you are overreacting. It was just an accident, and I didn’t even get hurt! You didn’t hurt me, and you didn’t do anything bad, it was just a nightmare. Just a bad memory. I know what you think about yourself, and I don’t want you to feel like those things are true, because they aren’t. All the things you did, all the things that they forced you to do…that doesn’t define you as a person, and it doesn’t make you a threat to me.”
The door slammed open again, and Yelena stepped out, fully dressed, shoes and everything. “Yes, it does. And you are too good for this, Kate. You shouldn’t have to deal with me. Especially now that it has been confirmed that I’m dangerous.”
“Yelena…” Kate spoke softly, not daring to take a step towards her. “You are not dangerous. Not to me.”
Yelena chuckled a humorless laugh. “Now you sound like a cheap romantic movie. When I was in the Red Room, I slept with restraining handcuffs that kept me chained to the bed. When I finally got out of their spell, I still did it for a few months until Natasha found out and begged me to stop. How is that not dangerous?”
“But that was time ago, now…”
“Now I almost strangled you in your sleep.” Yelena patted her thigh, and Fanny came closer, wagging her tail. Yelena felt around to clasp her leash, and then made her way to the door. “I’m sorry, Kate. I really am.”
Now, Kate was a really peaceful person. Sure, she had black belts in more fighting sports that she could recall, she could fence, she was the best archer in the world – according to herself – and she had fought side by side with an Avenger. But other than that, she was peaceful. Not calm, she was never calm. She was more like an excited toddler, to be honest. But peaceful. So when she snapped, she surprised not only Yelena, but also herself.
“What about me? You can’t just take your stuff and go after a year! I love you, Yelena! I’ve loved you since you first kissed me, I love you like I’ve never loved anyone. I didn’t even know it was possible to care so much for someone! And yet I do! This past year, I’ve built my life around this relationship, around you! You can’t—you can’t just leave like that. It’s not fair. It’s not fair to me.”
“You don’t understand now,” Yelena said. She looked calm, but her voice was trembling. “But you will. You are aching now, but one day you will be grateful for this. You’ll realize that I was just a bother.”
“Please, don’t do this,” Kate whispered. “Don’t treat me like I’m an idiot. What you are feeling right now, it’s just an overreaction to your nightmare. It’s just the moment, it will—it will fade away. Right now, you know what it feels like? It feels like you don’t trust me. It feels like, after a year spent knowing each other, helping each other, I’m not good enough.”
Yelena shook her head, placing a hand on the door. “Kate Bishop, you are one of the few people in this world that I trust with my life. And now that my sister is dead, you are the only one. That’s why I can’t put you in danger.”
“You are not a danger!”
“I could have killed you in a dozen different ways before. Without any weapon, blind, and in my pajamas.”
“But you didn’t.”
“That’s not the point. I could have.”
“But you didn’t!”
“You sound like a petulant child.”
Kate felt tears burning behind her eyes. “Well, then you are a coward. For running away from the one true thing that you’ve ever felt.”
Yelena nodded. “Goodbye, Kate Bishop.”
The door closed behind her, and just like that, she was gone.
Thirty-three minutes, one crying session, and one break-down later, Kate followed her. She was wearing the first clothes she found, and when she looked in the mirror she didn’t even recognize herself. There were deep bags under her eyes, and said eyes were puffy and red from crying. She looked pale. But Kate didn’t care. She had found one of Yelena’s unwashed t-shirts and gave it to Lucky.
“Please, find her,” she whispered. They had been training him. Fanny and him both, since they were pretty big dogs, they could always be useful. Lucky was absolutely inadequate to any form of physical exercise that required fighting skills, but he had shown the signs of a good tracker. So Kate let him smell the t-shirt and patted him on the head. “Can you find her, buddy?”
Lucky sniffled the shirt some more, then he buried his nose into Kate’s neck. Right in the place where Yelena tucked her head when they were sleeping. Kate felt a lump growing in her throat as she leaned against her dog. “She’s not here anymore.” Her voice cracked. “Please, find her. Find Yelena.”
And before she knew it, she was being dragged down the stairs, out in the streets, right into the desolated New York. It was late night, nobody was around. Kate didn’t even worry about potential dangers, she just wanted to find Yelena. She let Lucky drag her on the streets, running after him. The dog seemed to have an awful amount of energy, but Kate was grateful for that. It meant that he had found something.
In fact, only ten minutes later, he stopped right in front of a park, barking loudly. Kate squeezed her eyes and scanned the park. It was luminous enough to see, thanks to the cars and the streetlights. And on a bench, sitting stiffly, with a dog by her side, wearing a very recognizable green coat, there was Yelena.
Kate felt like a weight had been lifted from her chest. She feared that Yelena had gone far away, maybe even out of town. Instead, there she was. Ten minutes away from home. Sitting on a bench. In the middle of the night. In February. Kate shuddered.
She patted Lucky on the head. “Good boy,” she murmured, hoping not to be too loud.
Of course, Yelena heard her. Yelena heard everything she did. She was trained to have more developed senses than the others, and now that she was deprived of her sight, hearing had became a great friend of hers. So she turned her head to Kate’s direction, missing the right spot only by inches.
Kate swallowed. Still, she made her way through the park, to Yelena’s bench. Without a word, she sat on it next to the blonde. She dared glancing at her, even though she couldn’t be seen. Yelena didn’t look much better than she did. Her cheeks and nose were red (it was a freezing night), and her cheeks were stained with tears. Lots of tears. Her lower lip was still quivering.
Kate rested her back against the bench and lulled her head against it. “Did you know,” she said, her voice calm and steady. “That there are many explanations about why Orpheus turned around just when he was about to save Eurydice?”
Yelena turned her head. “What?”
“You know, the myth. Orpheus and Eurydice.”
“I know the myth.”
“Good. Usually they tell you that Orpheus turned around because he was curious. He wanted to know why he couldn’t turn around. Others say that it’s because he was so overjoyed to be close to the end that he forgot the rules. But those are only simplistic opinions.”
She glanced at Yelena. The blonde was listening. Intently so. One of her hands was scratching Fanny behind her ears, and the other was twisting the fabric of her coat.
“One of the complex ones is that it was an egoistical thing. The only reason why Orpheus went to the underworld was to see if he could manage to convince Hades to give him Eurydice back. And when he found out that he could get anything he wanted with his beautiful music, he realized that was all he needed. Eurydice wasn’t his main interest anymore.”
“That’s just sad.”
“I agree. I personally don’t like this interpretation either. The one I like more is that as they go, Orpheus realizes that Eurydice is dead now. She may come back, but it wouldn’t be the same. Her place is with Hades and Persephone now. So he turns around. He lets her go. He knows that she would never be happy with him, so he lets her go.”
There were a few moments of silence.
“Why are you telling me this, Kate Bishop?”
Kate scrolled her head, looking down. “It was my favorite story when I was little. The deep love they shared, so strong that Orpheus went to the underworld trying to get her back. That he let her go when he knew that there was nothing left.”
Yelena had tears in her eyes, her voice broken as she spoke. “Then why can’t you let me go? There is nothing left here, either. Just a stupid assassin haunted by her past.”
Kate – not knowing where she found the courage – took Yelena’s hand and squeezed it tight. “Because I know that our story isn’t over yet. There is so much more in you than that, Yelena, I know that there is. The Red Room doesn’t define you. Your past doesn’t make you a bad person.”
“Would you say that if you didn’t love me?” Yelena asked quietly. “If we never started this relationship in the first place, if we never kissed, if we never lived together, if you still knew me only as the one who threw you off a building, would you say that? Would you still be so sure?”
Chewing her lip, Kate moved closer. She brushed a few strands of blond hair away from Yelena’s face. “Yes. Yes, I would. And you know why? Because you secured me with a rope around my waist. You didn’t want to kill me.”
“You weren’t my target.”
“So? I was in the way. Plenty of others would have killed me without hesitation.”
Yelena ducked her head, breathing in deeply. “I wasn’t fair to you. Leaving like that, it wasn’t fair. You gave so much to me this past year. I was horrible to you.”
“Were you, were you actually going to leave for good?”
“I regretted it as soon as the door closed. As you can see, I’m not too far from home.”
“Yeah. Lucky tracked you down easily.”
The ghost of a smile hovered on Yelena’s lips. Kate raised one hand, carefully touching Yelena’s face. She gently lifted it, turning it so that they were facing each other. Kate smiled sadly, her thumb stroking affectionately cold skin. “I shouldn’t have called you a coward.”
“Yes, you should have.”
“I am the one who should be sorry.”
“Well, are you?”
“God, I’m so incredibly sorry, Kate. I should have never, ever left that way. I made a mistake, I know that. And I know that—that my mind is not over Dreykov’s control anymore. It’s just that sometimes it feels like I’m bad. So, so evil. And I just want to keep you safe.”
“You already do. Do you remember last week? When I sliced my hand while trying to cook? You patched up really well, considering that you can’t see.”
Yelena smiled shyly. “That’s not—”
“In three weeks you will have your surgery. You will have your sight back. And everything will go back to normal.” Kate moved her hand, her fingers brushing behind Yelena’s ear.
“I can’t wait to see your beautiful face again.”
Kate’s heart skipped a beat. “God, I love you.”
Neither knew who moved first. At some point, Kate dragged Yelena close, and the blonde wrapped her arms around Kate's waist, and they were kissing. It wasn’t like their other kisses, sweet, slow, romantic. It was a frantic kiss, fingers grasping, mouths panting, cheeks tightening. Kate tangled her hands in golden hair, and Yelena pressed herself so close that there wasn’t space even for air between them. Lips parted and tongues wandered, and everything was perfect. Kate felt Yelena sigh contently when she nibbled her lip.
Nobody had ever kissed Kate like Yelena did. Her past hookups and affairs were just out of boredom. Yelena kissed her like she was special. And Kate felt special. When Yelena was kissing her like that, she felt special, and beautiful, and needed.
“I love you,” she mumbled hoarsely, when they pulled apart so slightly that their noses were still bumping together, their lips brushing. “God, I love you so much.”
Yelena’s mouth was on hers again. Her lips were freezing cold, but also the warmest Kate had ever felt. They were so close that Yelena was basically climbing in Kate’s lap. “I love you,” she breathed against Kate’s lips. “So much.”
“Promise to never leave like that again. Please. You scared me so much.”
“I promise. I promise. Your arms are the only place I will ever want to be.”
Kate giggled on her lips. “That was, like, so sappy. Did you read it somewhere? Because it was so cheesy romance movie-like. I can’t even—”
Yelena crashed their lips together. Hard. “Take me home.”
Kate smiled like an idiot.
They were going home.
Yelena could see when it was dark. And she could see when it was light. Those were the things she could recognize. Dark and light, that was it. Nothing else, not even shadows. And now she was sitting on the hospital bed of the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility, with Kate by her side, and she could see the light in the room. White and strong. But nothing else. She couldn’t see Kate’s face.
“What if it doesn’t work?” Her voice sounded trembling.
“It will work,” Kate reassured her, bringing Yelena’s hand to her mouth and kissing its knuckles softly. “I have faith in the Stark technology.”
Then the doctor entered the room.
“Miss Bishop, Miss Belova, it’s time. I have to induce the anesthesia now.”
Kate felt Yelena’s grip tighten around her hand. She understood. “May I stay until she falls asleep?”
“Yes, Miss Bishop. You may. But as soon as the anesthesia effect kicks in, you will have to go.”
They waited, while the doctor did what he had to do. Kate squeezed both of Yelena’s hands, pressing light kisses to her forehead, her nose, her cheeks. She could feel the blonde trembling under her touch. “It’s going to be okay. It will work, Lena. I promise. Hey, hey, deep breaths, okay? Deep breaths.”
But Yelena couldn’t take deep breaths, she was starting to panic.
“Do you need a tight hug?” Kate asked, and Yelena nodded frantically. She threw her arms around the brunette, enveloping her in a bone-crushing hug. Kate held back just as tight. “It’s going to be okay. I’m here. Don’t matter what, I will be by your side. We’re in this together, okay?”
Kate hugged her until she felt Yelena’s body go limp, her muscles relaxing, her hold around her shoulders fading away. The doctor offered to help, but Kate refused categorically. She knew that Yelena wouldn’t like that. So she held her, carefully settling her back on the pillows, making sure that she was in a comfortable position. Yelena was soft and warm in her arms, for a moment she didn’t want to let go. It was irrational, because it was a procedure that affected only her eyes, but she didn’t want to lose Yelena. She took a few seconds just to look at that beautiful face, then she left a kiss on her forehead. “See you soon, love.”
When she was about to leave the room, the doctor’s voice called her back.
“Do you know that there is a margin of error of fifteen percent, right?”
Kate glared at him. “Do your goddamn job and don’t talk about margin of error, she is not a damn machine, nor your little chemistry set experiment.”
And with that, she left the room.
Kate was pretty sure that Maria Hill sat in front of her and said something, but she didn’t register it. She was too busy worrying for Yelena. She sat on the armchair properly for a while, then she sat backwards, then she sat upside-down, then she sat with her legs crossed, then she crossed her legs while sitting upside down. None of it helped. She was too nervous. She shot to her feat and started marching up and down the waiting room. She tried to read the magazines. She tried to sleep. She counted the ships. She called Clint to see if he was taking good care of Fanny and Lucky. She waited, she hoped, she waited again.
“Okay, Miss Belova, moment of truth. You can take off your bandage.”
Yelena was sitting on the bed, a thick bandage of white gauze around her head, covering her eyes. She was hesitant. Kate, standing next to the bed, could sense her fear.
“Kate, could you—could you come closer?”
She did. Without a glimpse of hesitation, she sat on the edge of the bed, squeezing Yelena’s knee from over the blankets. “You can do this, Lena,” she whispered, pretending to be calm and cool. All lies. She was about to have a stroke. But she could pretend. For Yelena.
Slowly, so slowly, Yelena reached behind her head and started undoing the gauze, letting the safety pins fall on the pillows. When those were gone, she started unwrapping the bandage. And God, she did it so slowly that Kate almost died on the spot. Her heart was about to race out of her chest. Christ.
Then the bandage fell in her lap.
And Yelena squinted.
She squinted at the bright lights.
And Kate knew.
She knew the moment she squinted.
Then Yelena moved her head. She turned to the wall. Then to the door. Then to the doctor. And eventually, her eyes stopped, dark green drowning in gray. Her pupils were small, for the sudden light. And then big, black when she found Kate.
And Kate knew.
Because her pupils weren’t just weirdly wide. They were normal, and in love. And now Kate was crying, but she was also laughing. And Yelena was crying too, and she was also laughing. And then there were hugs, and kisses, and more hugs, and incredulous laughter as Yelena pulled back, cupped Kate’s face in both of her hands, face red from happiness, hair loose and wild, and pressed their lips together, and then she pulled back. “You are beautiful,” she said, her voice cracking. “Kate Bishop, you are so beautiful.”
“Please. I’m the best archer in the world.”
“Good Lord, accept our souls, for we are going to join you soon.”
“Pretty sure that’s not how you say a prayer.”
“Pretty sure we’ll miss our target if you keep up with the chit-chat thing, Kate Bishop.”
“You started it!”
“I did not, I’m far too professional for that.”
Kate laughed. They were standing on top of a roof, fully dressed in their fighting suit. Kate in black and purple, Yelena in her new black and dark green suit. She was holding a tracker on her head, looking down the building, her free hand already grabbing the rope for when they had to climb down. Kate had her arch around her shoulders, both hands gripping the rope for dear life.
“Target coming in fifty seconds,” Yelena warned.
“Do you remember the plan?”
“Down the rope, on the target, keep her busy until you give her the antidote.”
“That was much more poetic when I said that,” Yelena commented. “You don’t feel the plans in your soul, Kate Bishop. So sad.”
Kate shook her head. “Come here,” she muttered, grabbing the front of Yelena’s suit and bringing her close, kissing her deeply. When she pulled away, there was a smudge grin on the other’s face. “You look very beautiful today.”
“You look decent today.”
“Oh, come on!”
Yelena smiled. “Kidding. You look very beautiful as well. And you know, I have perfectly functional eyes that just got cured, so, I have like, a superhero vision.”
Yelena’s tracking device beeped. “Alright, seven seconds, Kate Bishop.”
“Hey, want to grab a beer later?”
“Sure thing. Now, go!”
Yelena jumped off the roof and slid down the rope easily. Kate followed, much more clumsily. As she slammed her back against the wall in a pathetic attempt at a dramatic entrance, she thought that there was no other place she would rather be.
Did you get enough love, my little dove
Why do you cry?
And I'm sorry I left, but it was for the best
Though it never felt right
My little Versailles