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going up, going down, anything for the crown

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The media makes them out to be sworn enemies. The media always does, with things like this.

Girls fighting, tearing at each other's throats, bared teeth over lipstick drawn on like warpaint -- now that'll sell ya newspapers over sisterhood any day of the week.

It's not exactly the truth, but.

Well, it's not exactly a lie either.

---

Kate Bishop wins gold at seventeen, burning bright and shining, a vision in her trademark purple and she'd thought right then and there, with her coach and her best friends screaming themselves hoarse from the sidelines, that there'd never be anything better than this moment.

Her routine hadn't been without flaw but it was a near thing and brimming with personality, a beat all her own, and when asked later in the pressroom, her coach had said, grinning from ear to ear, that his Katie-Kate was everything better. That she was perfect.

And she was.

The problem with things like this is, you can only stay perfect for so long.

---

The clearest memory Kate has of her mother is this:

Wrapped up in soft, warm flannel and tucked in close to her mother's side, a cup of cocoa in her hand as they watched the Olympics. Her mother had always loved figure skating and even then, at five years old, Kate remembers looking up at her mother's face, watching a soft smile chase its way across her face and thinking that she wanted to make that happen.

She wanted to be like those girls on the screen, all glitter and grace and steel-hard determination.

She wanted to make her mother proud.

Another year gone and her mother passes but the thought sticks in her mind, like so many splinters in thin skin.

It's a foolish thing to do, her father thinks, but paying for lessons is easier than talking to his daughter, so pay for them he does, and Kate doesn't say a word, just grins and takes it and pushes forward.

Kate wakes up bright and early every morning, grim and determined and ready to take on the world.

The ghost of her mother's smile, the feeling of the warm cocoa beneath her small hands -- she never forgets that, not really.

Most days, it's the first thing she sees when she opens her eyes.

---

The trouble with winning gold is, there's no way up from there.

Kate Bishop is twenty-one years old and over the hill and the media won't let her forget it. There's a new kid on the block, a successor to her throne just waiting to tear her down and crown herself anew. And oh how they love America Chavez, how they love lining her up next to Kate Bishop and picking them both apart, figuring out where one of them falls behind and where one of them rises above.

It's not hard to see why it works -- they make natural foils. Kate Bishop, with her bright trademark purple and fun, intricate routines that are equal parts precision and showing off and America Chavez, who wears Team USA's colors without irony, all grit and will power and the sort of natural talent out on the ice that makes you wonder if the laws of physics just gave up on her a long time ago. Kate, with her easy-going Team USA darling of a coach, Clint Barton, who bumbles and charms and generally stands two steps behind, letting Kate do all the talking but always there to pipe in with a good joke when the moment is right. And then there's America, her own coach a retired American born figure skater who competed for Russia in the middle of the Cold War, a scandal that no one's really let go of just yet, not since he took home the gold over the American favorite and certainly not now but still, he says nothing. He just looms in the background while America, two years Kate's junior, steps up to the microphone like she's walking onto a battlefield and she likes it that way.

Where Kate is small and lithe and plays coy to the press, America is tall and fierce and stares down the cameras like she's got something to prove.

They ask her, once, if there are any cute boys hanging around to distract her from her practice. America snorts and tells them that they're barking up the wrong tree, thanks.

Kate remembers watching, fingernails digging into her palms, and thinking that she's never seen anything quite so brave.

---

She'll never forget the first time she ever really met America.

Kate is nineteen and America is seventeen and they are both of them bored out of their minds, sitting a few inches apart on a sinking couch while Clint and Barnes bicker over a video game, lobbing insults at each over cheap beer cans and there was a point to this, she knows, down time and cutting loose but all Kate can see is the quirk of America's eyebrow, the way her gaze drags over Kate and seems to find her wanting.

Kate fiddles with the tab on her own beer can, working it nervously back and forth until it snaps off and then she huffs, glaring down at it because now she's got to get up and throw it away and part of her wants that, wants to escape the tension that lies between these few inches separating her and this other girl but at the same time, it feels like retreat, like a failure.

"Something wrong, princess?"

A sideways slant, an amused smirk lingering somewhere around the edges of her lips.

Kate flushes and she finds herself wanting -- wanting something. Wanting to prove herself when she's got nothing left to prove, wanting to take this beautiful, infuriating girl down a peg and show her what Kate Bishop is made of because she damn well doesn't back down from a fight, never has, never will.

"Not a thing, princess," Kate quips back and America laughs, loud and sharp and amused, head falling back against the lumpy flannel couch and Kate's gaze traces the long line of the other girl's throat and she swallows hard, takes this moment and files it away.

Just another thing to push her forward.

---

They spend a lot of time together after that.

They train at the same rink and America always arrives first, half asleep, curly hair falling down around her shoulders in a tangled halo and she would stand there, one boot kicked up against the outside of the building as she pulled up her hair up into a messy bun, cheeks flushed in the early morning cold. Kate's gaze would fall to her wrist, that stark star tattoo clear as day and every day, Kate makes up her mind to ask about it but never does.

"Princess, what I wouldn't give for an espresso IV drip right now," America calls out and Kate flushes, thinks of the espresso machine lying at home so many miles away that her father had bought himself for a sixtieth birthday present. It lies mostly unused, she's sure. Her father's always doing that.

Buying things and then discarding them. There's an itch deep beneath her veins, always has been, a fear crawling its way out of her throat -- she hopes to God she's never like him a day in her life.

Kate starts bringing them coffee, after that. It becomes a ritual.

They stand there in the blush of early morning light, sipping their lattes and waiting for their coaches to arrive and most days, they don't say anything at all but it's something -- something like an understanding, almost like a friendship.

After a while, Kate has to admit to herself -- it's her favorite part of waking up.

Knowing that she's going to see America soon.

---

"I'm going to win this, you know," America says, lacing up her skates, a determined set to her face that Kate could recognize from a mile away at this point.

Kate raises an eyebrow, nudging America in the side. "We'll see, princess."

---

"You could be a little less obvious about it, you know."

Kate's gaze is firmly fixed on America, who's just finishing up her short program. She's a wonder in red, white and blue, all tightly controlled discipline and a sort of ruthless joy that's infectious and the crowd is eating it up. The judges better eat it up too, Kate thinks, even though she shouldn't, even though at the end of the day, America's the competition and she came here to win, over the hill or not.

"Obvious about what?" Kate says absently.

Clint snorts. "How badly you want to fuck her."

Kate chokes on thin air. "Excuse me."

Clint laughs, slinging an arm across Kate's shoulders. "Oh Katie. You're adorable. You know we all know, right? That little friend of yours, Billy? He's got a pool going."

"I'm gonna kill him," Kate grumbles.

Clint laughs, low and soft and her whole body rumbles with it, tucked as she is close to his chest and her thoughts wander, briefly, to hot cocoa and flannel pajamas.

The thing about Clint is, he's a shitshow but my god, she wouldn't trade him for the world. He's the best kind of family she never thought to ask for.

"Yeah, well, do me a favor and don't go for it until after the Olympics are done and dusted, I could really use the money to repair my car."

Kate elbows him neatly in the gut.

"Jackass," she says, but it is mostly fond.

---

"Hey, princess?"

"Yeah?"

"Good luck."

---

Kate's free skate was good -- it was great, even, and given the way the competition stacked up, she might've even thought she was going for her improbable second gold there.

But today, America was better.

Watching her, Kate knows this and she's catches herself thinking that maybe she's not quite as letdown as she thought she would be. She's won gold and now, at twenty-one, she's gonna win silver and there's a thrill to this, yeah, a shiver running up her spine that lets her know that this is it, this is the sort of moment that people tear themselves apart for.

She's about done with waiting.

---

They're in a locked closet the first chance they get and Kate pushes America up against the door and kisses her and kisses her, comes away breathing hard, tasting lipstick and sweat and this is a high, winning is a high and fucking a winner in a stupid tiny closet while they try to push their ridiculous, suddenly too tight, clinging costumes out of the way, that's a whole different kind of high that Kate didn't see coming.

But then America's thigh is wedged between hers and shifts up and Kate is groaning into America's mouth, the pressure too much not enough and then America's fingers push away thin fabric, finding slick folds and Kate's brain short-circuits, and all can she think is, yeah -- she wouldn't have had this end any other way.

---

Later:

The bright lights of the arena are shining down, washing everything out and making the bright colors of their costumes, their flags, stand out all the more. All eyes on them as they step up to the podium alongside Canada's Cassie Lang and Kate is mostly put together again, every strand of hair in place but there is a bruise just beneath the neckline of her track jacket and Clint has a knowing look on his face that she kind of wants to punch him for but then America shoots her a look, a grin curling around the edges of her mouth that is equal parts fond and challenging and Kate leans up, nudging America with her hip.

"Congratulations, Princess."