Kate knew what was coming. It was pretty predictable, really.
Clint had, yet again, made a huge clusterfuck of his dating life. This was primarily because Clint didn't have the good sense to conduct his one night stands the way Kate did: while single and in space.
Mostly it was the "while single" part that was tripping him up.
Not that Kate was judging - much.
But the point was, both Cherry and Jessica Drew had dumped Clint's sorry ass at the exact same time that they'd figured out that the other existed.
That sucked for Clint, who hadn't stopped moping about it.
It also sucked for Kate, who had been stuck with the job of listening to Clint mope about it. It was part of the partner job description, she was pretty sure.
When the Black Widow started coming around - also acting mopey, though in a much more dignified and elegant kind of way than Barton could pull off - Kate was certain she saw where this was going.
She'd never been so glad to be wrong in her entire life.
Because she didn't actually see this coming.
In fairness, she couldn't have possibly have begun to imagine the way that Natasha would look, with her hair pulled back in a ponytail and head hovering just below Kate's belly button. She couldn't have begun to imagine how it would feel, to have Natasha's lips ghosting over skin that had no reason to be that sensitive.
Nor could she have imagined the desperate way she would tug on that ponytail while her body arched up at the mere promise of where those lips would head next.
"It's none of my business," Clint began, when he found out.
Because of course he found out.
They'd had to change his sheets, after all.
Kate could have told him that Lucky had done something to the sheets, and she thought about it. But lying to her partner was not the kind of person that Kate wanted to be.
"It's absolutely not any of your business," Kate agreed as she drew back her arrow. "Yet here you are, still talking about it."
"That's me, always jumping in where I should keep my mouth shut." Clint waited for her to ready another arrow before he continued. "Listen, Katie, you and Tasha are two of my favorite people and - "
"You're totally jealous that you're not the Hawkeye sleeping with her?"
"What? No. Okay, maybe a little bit."
"You are so predictable it hurts."
"But that's not what this is about. Not about me being a predictable jealous creep. I swear."
"Really? Because predictable jealous creep is absolutely where I was thinking you were headed."
Clint sighed then and Kate knew it was serious, because he wasn't sassing her back. He always sassed her back.
"Look, she's had some rough stuff happen lately. Some really shitty things. It's not my place to say more than that, but just ... be careful, the two of you, okay?"
"How many times do I have to tell you, Barton? I was born careful."
"Your blocking has improved significantly from last week," Natasha told her, and Kate wondered if that was Natasha being sarcastic or Natasha having a terrible sense of humor.
Because Kate was pretty sure that she had fallen onto her ass on the mat at least as many times as she had last week.
"If this is improving, we should probably just give up right now," Kate laughed as she stood back up. "It might actually be hopeless."
"You aren't enjoying our sparring sessions?"
"Of course I am." Kate straightened her pony tail and tried to duck the leg kick, which she was almost successful at. Ignoring the sharp twinge in her ribs, she was able to block the left hook. "But you know, I feel badly about you wasting your time here."
Natasha paused, and Kate thought it might be because she recognized the pain in Kate's ribs. "None of the activities I choose to engage in are a waste of my time, Kate. They are all precious to me, and I hope you always remember this, even if other partners I have chosen have had difficulty in that respect."
Natasha threw another kick then, and Kate wasn't able to dodge it, because she was sparring against the Black Widow.
"Ouch," Kate announced as she fell on her ass again.
"I'll never spare you when we spar," Natasha told her. "I expect the same courtesy from you in all aspects, Kate."
It wasn't all sparring and games with Hawkeye and Black Widow, though. Occasionally, Kate had to go to work, and sometimes, that involved her guys. Sometimes, that even involved guys that weren't strictly hers anymore, but had been, once.
Of course, after work, food was a necessary requirement, both for fuel and for catch-up.
"It's Barton, right?" Tommy asked out of the blue in a diner that had probably seen its better days.
Beside him, Eli groaned and looked like he might want to headdesk right into his pile of pancakes.
"Are you asking me Hawkeye's name or something?" Kate asked in confusion over her own French toast. "Because I thought that was public knowledge, with the whole, he's-terrible-at-keeping-a-secret-identity thing."
"No, I'm asking if he's the one leaving those hickies in places that your scarf would cover up if it would actually stay in place," Tommy clarified.
Beside him, Eli rolled his eyes.
Kate's hand self-consciously went to her neck. Funny, she'd never had the problem when a scarf had been part of her costume, but apparently it was a problem when she was trying to have casual time with her boys.
But being self-conscious about it was stupid.
"It's not Barton," she said firmly. "Not that it's any of your business." She gave Eli a significant look. "Not your business either."
"Hey, this conversation isn't even about me," Eli reminded her. "It's good that it's not Barton, though. That'd be a little too predictable."
"And gross," Tommy interjected. "You might as well have sex with Uncle Pete."
Kate wrinkled her nose. "Really, Tommy, there are much more attractive Avengers. Quit underestimating my aim."
Everything that Natasha did was graceful - there were rumors that she'd been a ballerina once, and Kate found those rumors incredibly easy to believe.
So, really, Kate would like to watch Natasha relax into Kate's pillows with the kind of ease that was both expected and completely out of place for one of the deadliest Avengers there was.
(Kate remembered a time that would have disturbed her. It felt like longer ago than it had been.)
But sitting back and relaxing when something was on her mind had never been Kate's style, so rather than bask in pleasant post-orgasm numbness, her fingers traced the marks that were rapidly developing on her neck.
"You leave them on purpose," Kate accused. "You're a spy - probably the best in the world and there's no way that anything you do would be accidental."
"Both Nick Furys would be scandalized. As would Agents Carter and Drew."
"Better than James Bond, then."
"Oh, I certainly hope so. If you implied that I was lesser than that wretched cliche of masculinity, I would excuse myself from your apartment immediately." Natasha sat up on her elbow, and Kate wondered when exactly she had developed such a hopeless kink for that red hair and the way it moved across naked skin.
But it wasn't as though anyone could blame her, was it?
"Note to self: James Bond marathons are out as long as I'm with a real spy," Kate said.
"I don't know about that. Carol and I used to have James Bond marathons during her more militantly feminist days. She would tear apart the portrayal of women and I would mercilessly mock that man's attempts at espionage," Natasha mused. "Would you be up for the same?"
"Anything's better than Dog Cops."
Natasha's laugh began in her eyes and ended up in a pile of warmth in Kate's stomach that she couldn't quite give a name to.
"But we're getting away from your question, little one," Natasha said lowly as she dipped her head down to kiss a freshly made mark on Kate's neck. "And yes, as I have told you before, all of my actions are deliberate. All of the ones I have chosen."
Natasha moved again, and Kate remembered her earlier thought. "Were you really a ballerina once?"
Natasha stilled only slightly before she answered Kate. "No. But I thought I was, once."
Kate wanted to ask more, but Natasha's mouth was on hers, and Kate allowed herself to become easily distracted.
Clint loved James Bond.
"I could do that," he said confidently as they were watching From Russia with Love .
"I could do it better," Kate responded absently as she ran her fingers through Lucky's hair.
"On a scale of one to 'Merry Christmas, Jerk,' that is only two on the Kate Bishop sass scale," Clint said with disappointment heavy in his voice. "This tells me your heart is really not into the backtalk and that's just sad, Katie."
"You could only do it if I was there to save your ass?" Kate offered, half-heartedly.
"Better. That might be a five." Clint glanced over at her. "So I suck at being a life coach, but I can roleplay as Captain America if you need me to."
"Wow, that is a fucking disturbing image, thank you."
"Ew. Christ, what are you doing with Nat if that's the mental images you're coming up with?"
"You'll never know," Kate retorted, and after a beat she shrugged her shoulders. "And I'm not sure I do, either."
Clint leaned over to ruffle Lucky's fur. "Uh oh. Is this the 'I'm not sure if we're exclusive' or not talk, because ... " Clint's hand hesitated for a moment before deciding that running through his own hair was a good choice. "Because I'm really shit at this conversation."
"There's a shock."
"And we're back down to a two on the sass scale," Clint said solemnly. "Look, for what's it worth. Even with the way that Tasha and I started, I trust her implicitly. You can trust her. Trust isn't something you have to worry about with her. Spy and all."
"It's not her I'm worried about."
Clint looked confused for a minute. "Pretty damn sure she can trust you too, Hawkeye."
"It's not me I'm worried about either." Kate shrugged and curled her knees up to her chest.
"I mentioned I"m shit at this, right? So you got to fill in the blanks for me, girly girl, because unless you've started picking up threesomes - totally not jealous that I"m not on that list by the way - then I am out of people to guess."
"Not a person so much as a thing." Kate leaned forward on her knees and wished Cassie was here to have this conversation with, because neither America nor her guys were up for it. She could try with Billy and Teddy, but all she would get was more ridiculous bullshit about intimacy issues and ugh, nobody wanted that. "That thing you mentioned that Natasha went through. It feels like we are having a threesome with it, and really, I think I need to know its name before I decide that's something I want."
It was the closest Kate had ever seen Clint come to pity and oh, god, she missed Cassie so much, because Cassie would have known better.
"I wish I could tell you, girly girl, but - "
"But you can't, because that would be a betrayal of her confidence."
"Yeah, and she's had enough betrayal in her life lately." At Kate's eyebrow raise, Clint hastily added, "Not from you, Katie-Kate."
"I figured that much." Kate rolled her eyes. "Shut up and watch your terrible movie, Hawkeye."
"Hey, I was trying to be the good guy here!" Clint protested. "And you aren't allowed to mock this movie. This movie features a Romanova and was therefore a primary feature in my life when I was a poor, impressionable, broken-hearted chump she left by the side of the road after she no longer had use for me."
"You were a grown ass man fully able to consent and tell me that nobody falls for that pity party line, because it will make me lose all faith in humanity."
Clint laughed and stretched lazily. "Not only do people fall for it, it's gotten me laid at least three times."
"Some people do have to go to extreme lengths in order to get laid. Or so I've heard."
"At least a seven?"
"At least an eight, Hawkeye."
Triggers were terrible and stupid things, and rarely made any sense. Kate already knew this, of course, because she had experienced them in places that made absolutely no sense.
Natasha had been there for one such occasion, when the wrong smell in a restaurant had Kate making a beeline for the bathroom and shaking for ten minutes in a stall.
That being the case, Kate figured she'd have issues with incorporating knives into sexual play. Maybe she would, if the knife had been used on her, but that wasn't what Natasha requested when she pressed the knife into Kate's hand.
The flimsy blue gown Natasha wore seemed designed especially to give when Kate slid the knife under and up, and Kate had no painful thoughts as she watched Natasha shudder when the dull side of the knife slid across her skin. Although Natasha's breaths remained steady and even as the shredded pieces of fabric fell to the side, Kate's breath did quicken, but it was out of want, not fear.
"Again," Natasha instructed. "This time with the bra."
Later, when neither of them had on a solitary piece of clothing, and neither of them felt like moving to change that arrangement, Natasha curled on her side to face Kate and told her about James Barnes and a betrayal that made Kate sick to her stomach.
Sometimes, Kate needed downtime that didn't involve fabulous superhero spies, her team, or Clint. When the three month anniversary of her relationship with Natasha rolled around, Kate needed such a person.
That person ended up being her sister, of course.
"An anniversary present?" Susan looked delighted at the very idea, probably because she was planning outrageous weddings and other such unlikely to ever happen events. "This is the 'dashing redhead' that Reggie has mentioned spending a lot of time in your apartment, isn't it?"
"Wow, the doorman really needs to spill less."
"Reggie is a dear and thinks your redheaded 'lady friend' is adorable and much more suitable than your little blond friend," Susan revealed as they browsed a little boutique that Kate hadn't even known existed. "He also tells me that the little blond friend is probably a professor, while the redhead is probably a classmate. What classes do you have them for?"
Kate wanted to tell her that there was no way in hell that Clint could ever be a professor of anything and that even if he was, Natasha was several decades older than Clint so all of the judging Reggie was doing could really go fuck itself.
Instead, she said, "... Theater."
Well, they both had fancy costumes, at any rate.
"Considering that I spent my entire freshman year lusting after my history professor, I can't really judge, but I hope you'll be smart about it, Kate."
"It's for the redhead! Not the blond!"
Susan gave a nod of approval, and Kate went back to her browsing.
It was two stores and five blocks later before Kate finally found what she was looking for.
Natasha turned the jewelry box over in her hands, and for a moment, Kate wondered if she had made the wrong choice.
"I know you said that you had never been a ballerina," Kate began.
Natasha quirked an eyebrow at her as she raised the jewelry box's lid and the song began to play while the tiny ballerina spun around.
"Cassie's mom always wanted her to be a ballerina. So on the day after Cassie became a registered hero, Cassie and I went to see the New York City Ballet," Kate revealed. "We sat and we watched, and then on the way home, we talked about her terrible mother and the parents that we missed. We talked about how both of our fathers would have liked it if we had been proper young ladies instead, and wondered if my mother and her father would have been more proud if that's the path we had chosen."
It had been easier to talk about those things than to express the fear that their friendship would be ripped apart, just the way the Avengers' friendships had been at the time.
"I know Scott Lang well enough to know that isn't true, and I know Eleanor Bishop's daughter well enough to suspect it isn't true in her case either," Natasha answered.
And the mention of Cassie's dad and her mother was almost enough that Kate didn't want to continue, because either were enough to make her tear up separately and together it was almost guaranteed.
But she continued, anyway. "But the point is, I have dozens of tiny, stupid memories of Cassie like that. When she ... when she died, those were the kind of memories that hurt the most. But even still, if someone had come along and given me the choice, I would never have chosen to erase her memory entirely. No matter how painful her memory was, I still would have kept it."
"Then this box is not just a gift, but a promise?" Natasha asked.
Kate nodded slowly. "I'm still not entirely sure where this is going. Because it's still early, your ex-boyfriend is an ass, and there might be some merit to Teddy's belief that I have emotional intimacy issues," Kate continued. She was rambling, she was pretty sure. "But I know where it will never go."
Kate wanted to lean over and shut the box and stop the music that wasn't nearly as enchanting outside of the boutique, especially as the silence lapsed between them. But she waited, and eventually Natasha shut it herself.
"I didn't need this gift to know that, but it is lovely and appreciated," Natasha answered. "Though I have no gift for you, I do have some idea about how we can continue our celebration of our anniversary."
Three months was perfectly long enough to understand that kind of invitation, and Kate followed Natasha to Natasha's bedroom. Kate smiled when Natasha paused to place the jewelry box on the dresser, and her smile only grew wider as their clothes made their way to the floor.