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Hot Cheetos

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The coppery glass catches the petroleum-driven flames above the pit. Kate watches their dance as she laughs at some fantastical story Grills is telling, throws a quick glance toward the man to show she's paying attention. She isn't, not as well as she should be, but he doesn't have to know that. Clint is rolling her eyes, but Kate can see the amusement there. He’s always trying to be so tough. She’s trying her level best to stay invested, but her eyes…they can’t stay away from the girl sitting on the wall a few hundred yards away. Yelena is behind those flames that keep stealing her eyes, talking to a group of people she only vaguely recognizes as some of those Larpers.

And Yelena is driving her crazy. Mostly because she can't stop thinking about the other girl. And every time she tries, the firelight draws her back, reflecting off Yelena's eyes, lips, hair...or jacket zipper. It's definitely the firelight making things weird. 

And maybe that they have a weird history. Some would say she should've hated Yelena or at least strongly disliked her, but she didn’t...doesn't. Yelena is annoyingly and undeniably cool. The type of cool Kate always imagined she’d grow into but hasn’t yet. She’s cool in her own way, she defends herself silently and to no one. She doesn't need a super mysterious air of indifference mixed with the perfect amount of sarcastic wit to make her cool. She's an archer. She has a purple suit. She’s brave and principled. Kate sighs, lips puckered and quirked, as she eyes the other girl stealthily, slinking into her seat. 

They kept talking after everything, though she didn't have the slightest clue where the other girl disappeared to for weeks on end. Yelena's not much for announcing herself or her intentions. She’s more the appear in your apartment while trying to murder your friend and eating up your already dwindling food stores type. Speaking of which, Kate should buy some more hot Cheetos if Yelena’s around. They both like those. 

And return that nice green jacket Kate went back to the elevator to get after the Christmas debacle.

Noooo, no. Stupid thoughts. Yelena can buy her own hot Cheetos. Yelena can buy her own damn white cheddar bunnies too. And Kate kinda likes the jacket. She wears it sometimes even though green isn’t really her favorite color. It’s a good length and it smells nice. She even brought it with her here. Kate sighs again, perhaps melodramatically as she slumps further into the chair and stares at the flames again. When she glances up, Clint is staring at her with his concerned-dad face.

He doesn't comment on her expression, but he does open another beer. “I’m gonna grill.”

“I can grill!” She protests, wondering if he has any incendiary trick arrows. They could light the grill from a distance and make a contest out of it. On second thought, that might not be a good idea, but the point is he’s not here to work. He’s a guest. 

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you should go talk to some people your own at age. Since this is your party and all.” He counters and tips his beer at her, wandering off toward the selection of meats he brought.

She watches as he departs, Grills in tow. Kate has every intention of going to mingle after, but everyone is already in groups, already engaged in conversation. She’s in a bizarre mood tonight anyway. This Yelena thing…that she can’t seem to stop watching a woman who she didn’t even think would show up is grating on her. Kate wanders inside her parents’ summer home, flopping on the corner cushion of the couch. She tips her head back, and closes her eyes, exhaling the tension.  

“You have weird friends, Kate Bishop,” Yelena comments while manifesting out of seemingly nowhere. Yelena's good at that. She shuts the sliding door and brushes Kate’s elbow unconcernedly off the armrest. The couch shifts a little when Yelena sits on it.

“No, I don’t.” She argues with a frown and lets her eyes open, taking in the beams on the ceiling.

Why does she feel a twinge of self-consciousness now? Why does she care if Yelena likes her friends? It’s of no consequence. And it’s not exactly like Yelena said she didn’t like them. She just said they were weird. Which they are. Which Kate is. She lifts her head to find Yelena staring down at her. Those eyes which are an aggravatingly hard to determine color fix steadily on hers.

Then the girl breaks into a cute half-smile. “Relax. It was not a criticism.”

There are a million rebuttals flying around in her head, but they all collect unspoken on the tip of her tongue. She thought it was the firelight, but it’s any light. The way it plays across Yelena’s darkly glossed lips. It makes it hard to quip, makes it hard to think about anything but the shadows and highlights there. Yelena has a pretty mouth, nice shaped lips. The kind that looks good with color on them. Kate's never liked color on her own.

“Interesting.” There’s a little surprise and a bit of amusement in Yelena’s voice; the tip of a bottle pointed her way. “You were thinking about kissing me just now,"

Kate scrambles to sit up from her slouching position, agape and nearly choking on her words. “...what are you talking about?!"

With an unconcerned shrug, Yelena examines her skeptically. “This is what it means when you stare at someone's mouth like that.”

“Not sure why you'd think I was thinking about... that.” She scoffs exaggeratedly, profoundly uncomfortable. It sounds like a cartoon character, the very pinnacle of over-protestation. Still, her mind keeps shoving ahead awkwardly. “Little vain over there.” She says with a very forced-sounding laugh as the idea of a kiss stabs her directly in the brain.

A kiss with Yelena…so ridiculous. I mean, it’s not exactly like she’d shove the other woman off her were a kissing-type scenario to arise. Yelena would probably be great at it too. God, does she wanna kiss Yelena?!

Taking a sip of her beer, the woman holds up a single finger. A gesture to wait, which turns into a finger wag. “I don’t think you wanted to kiss me. I know you wanted to kiss me. You were not being very subtle.” Yelena calmly explains, expression neutral now...neutral trending toward goading. “You should really work on hiding your emotions if you're not going to wear a mask with your silly purple suit. It makes me concerned for you. It won't work to your advantage in most situations.”

Crossing her arms, Kate glares, any thoughts of kissing Yelena evaporating in a puff of petulant smoke. “Maybe I was just checking you for Cheeto mouth?”

Yelena perks up considerably. Leaning far enough over so that she can scan the yard, she gazes through the sliding door. “I didn't see any Cheetos!! Were there the spicy Cheetos?”

Immediately, Kate’s swamped by a need to explain the lack of favored snack. It overrides her annoyance in an instant. “I was gonna grab some, but then I stayed in the shower too long because I decided to wash my hair and then I had to dry it.” Annnd she needs to shut up. “I ran out of time!”

Yelena pats her arm congenially. “That’s so sweet of you to think of me. Really.”

“They were for me. They're always for me. You eat them anyway." A total lie.

With a snorting chuckle, Yelena again studies her, entertained and curious. “You’re being strangely defensive tonight.”

Another puffing scoff that doesn’t sounds any more legitimate than the previous one. “I'm not being defensive.”

“Mm, mm!” Something exciting apparently occurs to Yelena, her normally serious face gaining animation. “Speaking of you're wanting to kiss people. Back at you’re apartment...did anything ever happen with that girl at the convenience store the last time? I remember you checked her out when you were buying your disgusting gummy bears that are too chewy.”

Insanity. Too chewy?! Gummy bears are meant to be chewy. Who likes the soft kind? “First off, the soft ones are gross. A gummy bear should be chewy. I think you need to re-evaluate.”

Rolling her eyes, Yelena's stare again acquires that unsettling intensity. “Do you want me to eat your snacks or not?” Turning away, the girl takes another quick sip before chastising her further. “You’re a confusing girl Kate Bishop." Yelena taunts her lightly. "And was there a second point?”

She bolts upward gripping the cushion, delayed offense pouring out in an accusatory whisper as another unchallenged insinuation returns to her. And it’s really annoying she totally knows which employee Yelena’s talking about. It’s not her fault though. She just goes there a lot. It’s a convenience store. It’s conveniently on her way home. And convenience store girl is pretty…like really pretty. How is she not supposed to not notice? Or make conversation?

“Yeah, there was! I wasn’t checking that girl out!"

Yelena blinks at her, unperturbed and arching a brow. “What is this? Why are we whispering all of the sudden? Are you embarrassed that you were flirting with the convenience store girl? You shouldn--”

“I’m not embarrassed!” She interrupts anxiously. “We just,” Kate shoots her fingers back and forth between them. “Don't talk about girls, okay?”

As it leaves her mouth, she can’t explain exactly why she’s saying what she is. It doesn't make sense, has no foundation. But just the idea of talking about dating with Yelena has made her uncomfortable, nervous. And why is Yelena completely comfortable talking about her and another girl anyway?! Why doesn't any of this turn Yelena into a ball of nerves? Why is this woman so damn unflappable?

…most of the time. She knows about Yelena's sister, knows about grief too. Not the time to think about that...not right now.

With a suitably unimpressed glance, the woman shakes her head. “This is like the fight club now? This is the first rule?”

Her mind blanks at the unexpected response. “…what?”

“First rule of Fight Club, we don’t talk about...” How are they talking about that movie right now? This conversation is making Kate’s head spin, but Yelena seems to be interpreting her silence as incomprehension. “Fight Club!! Brad Pitt. You don't know the Fight Club?" Frustrated, the girl again shifts to peek out of the sliding door. “Where is Barton? Where did he go? He'll know.”

Ridiculous. “I know Fight club!!” Kate corrects sassily. “God, everybody knows Fight club. It’s an American classic!!"

Nodding slowly, Yelena absorbs her outburst in silence. The progression of tiny expressions: lip protruding and straightening, eyebrows scrunching and relaxing…it brings Kate’s unhelpful mind back to a place it shouldn't be. She returns to the nexus of this bizarre back and forth their locked in; Yelena’s claim that she wants to kiss her. It's a claim Kate internally acknowledged was both irritating and probably true.

And now she's picturing it. Dammit.

“Maybe I teased you too much.” Yelena blessedly intervenes, but then proceeds down a completely counterproductive avenue. “It's just that you made a very cute face at her. You did that smile you think is charming, you know? And it is," The pause comes with another one of those finger wags and a chin tilt too. "But not for the reason you think. Because you're silly.” It’s so full of amusement and so…ouch.

A little bit of a kick in the teeth when she’s trying hard to see herself as a full-fledged woman. “Great.”

Yelena watches her face with both interest and concern. “Okay.” The girl says making a time-out gesture as if stopping some imaginary sports game. “What is going on with you? Do you need me to say something nice? I could tell you you’re a beautiful girl if this helps. Or that you are funny? I think you are." There is a pause after the statement that provokes a frown. "Sometimes."

“I…um…” Straightening up in her seat, Kate fidgets self-consciously. Yelena could tell her that she’s beautiful. Are her cheeks warming? Oh, they definitely are. “No?” She all but squeaks. "No, I'm good."

With a very ‘suit yourself’ shrug, Yelena crosses her legs. Then the girl heaves a great sigh. “I really wish you had gotten the hot Cheetos. Those are my favorite.”

“Yeah, I’m aware.” She pokes back, enjoying the chance as she tries to force down her burning blush. 

Yelena smiles at her. Even though it's closed-lipped, it extends into her usually stoic eyes. The urge to slap herself jumps right up because Kate's gaze yet again fixes on that mouth. All the talk of kisses, it’s infected her head. With another loud sigh, Yelena heaves herself up and flops down beside her.

“You are hopeless," The admonishment is almost affectionate, which is strange. Yelena turns toward her and shocks Kate to dumbness by placing a warm hand on her knee.  

“Uh…” The sound catches in her throat, rumbly and confused. She doesn’t pull away though. In fact, she’s already reciprocally turned into it. “Hi?”

“Close your eyes.” It’s an order that shocks her over again. What in the world is going on?

“No!” Kate refuses instinctively, and then she hunches, eying the other girl suspiciously. “...wait, why?”

“Because I’m going to kiss you so you can stop staring at my lips, then we will go back outside to your party, and tomorrow you're going buy me the spicy Cheetos.”

This absolutely bananas plan is relayed like a to-do list. And in the declaration’s wake, Kate is flabbergasted. Beyond flabbergasted. Malfunctioning.

“…I’m sorry?! You’re gonna kiss me?!” Again, she drops her voice to a hissing whisper, eying the sliding door distrustfully. “Like on the mouth?!”

Yelena presses two fingers to her own lips, expression deadpan. “Wow, Kate Bishop. Just wow.”  

“Well, I’m not just gonna assu—” Those fingers are suddenly on her lips, hushing her.

That steady gaze and cautioning eyebrow, they wrangle her into submission, though Yelena still narrates. “I think maybe it's time for you to stop talking.”

She opens her mouth to disagree on instinct, but Yelena’s intensifying warning stare and cocked head stop her. For about a second. “Yeah, yeah…ok. You’re right.”

Untrusting, Yelena keeps their eyes locked while she lowers her hand. “Oka—”

“Wait,” Kate pipes up again and is met with a look of tired exasperation. Thankfully there's a smidgeon of entertainment there too.  “Can I…um…kiss you back or whatever?”

Yelena doesn’t answer with words, only stares in a way that tells her she should already know the answer. That maybe even threatens a hint of violence. The woman leans forward, and Kate watches her approach until she goes cross-eyed. It’s a split second before impact. Those lips are soft and firm as they drag over hers once. Twice. Kate’s pretty sure she forgets to breathe. 

And just as soon as it started it ends. Yelena pulls back with a smirk to say...“There. We-nmm!" Kate doesn’t care what.

She’s scrambled forward just enough to reinitiate, to kiss Yelena back belatedly, cupping her angular jaw. The light-headedness comes on immediately, her ears get all warm, her eyes fall closed, her heart starts beating double time against her ribcage. And when Kate pulls away, she laughs because she doesn't know what else to do; a quiet little hiccup. It comes for no reason she can understand. They’re still hovering a foot or so away from each other. Her hand is still resting on Yelena’s face who she apparently managed to surprise; surprise pleasantly if that bigger smirk is any indication.

“I dunno why you thought this would make me stop looking at your lips,” Kate confesses with sarcastic accusation, feeling a little more herself. A hint of self-possession returns as she stares at Yelena’s lips. Lips that she just kissed. Lips that she very much wants to kiss again. “Dumb plan.”

“Completely idiotic. Definitely didn't get you to finally--” And just as the intrigue hits, Yelena is peering behind her. She whips her head over her shoulder, afraid they were caught only to find a single article of clothing draped over the other arm of the couch. “Is that my jacket?”

She draws back, straightening up in an attempt to look half as unapologetic as Yelena always seems to be. “Maybe.”

The other woman eyes her, charmed and playful, and every bit the girl she couldn’t help but like even when they were supposed to be enemies. “Have you been wearing my jacket, Kate Bishop?”

“You left it in the elevator!!” She challenges sheepishly, watching the other girl stand up.

With a soft laugh, Yelena extends her hand, hauling her off the couch. Kate's tentativeness is clearly unshared because Yelena confidently draws a thumb across her cheek. “Come. Let's go back to your party.”

She follows the other girl, replaying the kiss through the haze in her brain. There's a smile on her face that isn't going away, probably the silly one Yelena was talking about before, but Kate doesn't really mind. Her mood feels ten pounds lighter. Whatever happens next, at the very least, she has a better handle on why Yelena's driving her crazy. At the very most, she has hope that she might just be driving Yelena crazy in the exact same way.