The first time — the first time, okay, she’s grown up enough to admit it. The first time, America almost scares the shit out of her.
“Jesus,” Kate gasps, trying to remember how to breathe, while Lucky barks excitedly at her side, and America’s stepped back, a look of alarm on her (stupidly gorgeous) face, “what the hell, give a girl some warning, holy futz —”
“Sorry, princess,” America says, almost looking contrite but mostly amused. She kneels down, scratches Lucky in that special spot behind his ears that it took Kate two days to discover. Kate exhales, picks her sunglasses back up from the ground and snatches at the handles of her laundry bag.
“Let me,” America says, hands quick and sure, “since I scared you and all,” and, okay, fine. She’s not as grown-up as she’d like to think, which is the scariest thing, really.
“You didn’t scare me,” Kate says automatically, frowning until America laughs, loud and bright and, god, she’d missed that.
“’Course I didn’t,” America says, smiling broadly into the Los Angeles sun. “Looks like you’ve got your hands full with your boy there, anyways.”
“Fine,” Kate huffs, but she’s only pretending to be mad now, and they both know it, if America’s smirk is anything to go by. Lucky tugs at his leash, America shoulders the laundry bag, and they set off down the rest of the block to the cheapest laundromat Kate’s been able to find. Kate threads her arm through America’s and says, resolutely not thinking about New Year’s, “So how’s the rest of the multiverse?”
America laughs. “Have I got stories for you, chica.”
The thing is, Kate kind of expected it to be a one-time thing. Well. A once-in-a-while kind of thing, because America is lovely — scratch that, America is smoking hot and lovely withered up and died around the time she decided to design her wardrobe around the stars and stripes. But America is gorgeous and funny and sarcastic and known throughout the multiverse for taking shit from no one, and she definitely has better things to be doing than dropping by Kate’s shambles of a life regularly.
So, she carried the laundry bag, found an extra quarter for the machine; went out and produced coffee from somewhere that doesn’t take U.S. currency, “so your money’s no good to me anyways, stop trying to pay me back and let me tell you about this shit Loki’s gotten himself into.” So, Kate thought it was a catch-up, a check-in. A first, but a first of few, maybe a coffee every few months, which would be fine, shut up, she’s Kate Bishop and she doesn’t — never mind.
The point is, she didn’t really expect to see a fading blue glow from an alleyway two days later, didn’t really expect to hear the faint shattering sound of a hole being punched in the universe, but — whatever. So what if she smiles a little too wide? America’s a friend, the kind that only comes of eating breakfast in roadside diners at three in the morning after fighting a lot of violently inclined aliens together. Shut up.
Kate leans against the brick wall, waits for her to come out of the alley, scrolling through her phone all the while.
“Hey, Chavez,” she says, glancing up, “long time, no see.”
“Yeah, sure, play it cool,” America says, but she’s smirking. (It’s terrible.) “I know you missed me, Bishop.”
“Sure I did,” Kate scoffs, or wants to, but it’s a little too close to the truth, really, and. God. She’s not sure they’re there, yet, doesn’t want to complicate things that she’s probably making up anyway, and she’s learning the hard way not to take anything for granted. So she doesn’t scoff, and she doesn’t let the silence drag on.
“Unfortunately, your timing is terrible,” she says archly. “I’m working.”
“A case, involving two prize canaries, a possibly tattooed thief, and a missing button.”
America’s brows shoot up. “Possibly tattooed?”
Kate peers over the tops of her purple aviators. “That’s the part of that sentence — no, never mind, I take it back. Yes, possibly tattooed, the witnesses conflict on that, so y’know I thought we might be dealing with two thieves, maybe twins? Since we have only one set of footprints, but then I thought, well they sell those arm thingies to people who run marathons, right, and some of them have tattoo patterns, god knows why, so my money’s on those or something similar, at the moment. You in?”
“Sure,” America says, “sounds fun.”
It is fun, or it is at least until they get locked in a dumpster searching for evidence, but America punches their way out and Kate’s probably not as concerned for her safety as she should be and by three in the morning, the prize canaries are recovered and the button explained conveniently away, and Kate’s clutching the check so tightly in her hands that she thinks she might cut off circulation to her palms.
“I’ll give you a cut, of course,” Kate says through her exhaustion as they meander back towards the trailer on the beach, where Lucky and the shower await. “You helped a lot, and —”
“Aw, no,” America says, “it’s fine. You can pay for coffee, next time, if you still want to prove that this Earth swill is any good.”
“Excuse you,” Kate begins, puffing up indignantly, prepared to defend the Bean with her dying breath, but she has to stop and yawn hugely, which rather ruins the whole effect.
“C’mon, princess,” America says, taking pity on her, “let’s go, into bed.”
“Please,” Kate says before she can stop herself, and freezes, and mutters, “oh god, shower, yes,” before it can get awkward, the keys fumbled in her hand and America’s arm slung warm on her shoulders, the buttons on her hip nudging into Kate’s.
The door finally creaks open, and Lucky bounds up to greet them, grinning and wagging his tail, and Kate’s halfway to his water bowl before she remembers her manners.
“D’you want to stay?” she asks, rubbing at her eyes. “I’ve got the couch, or, um.”
America shrugs, hooking her thumbs in her pockets. It’s dark, which is probably why Kate imagines something soft in her expression. “Nah, I should head back,” she says. “Let you get your beauty sleep.”
“Right,” Kate says, trying not to feel disappointed, because that would be silly, and she is many things but “silly” is not really one of them. “Okay. Safe travels, then, I guess.”
“See you soon, Kate,” America says, and shuts the door behind her. A moment later, there’s a pale blue glow through the window, the clatter hidden behind the dull roar of the surf, and Kate sighs. Lucky noses into her hand, whining plaintively.
“I know, boy,” she mutters, fishing out a cup of food from the bag and dumping it into his bowl. “I know.”
There’s someone sprawled on the sand in front of her door when she stumbles out in search of coffee. She’d forgotten to wedge a book over the edge of the curtains, and the sun shone bright through at six in the morning, and, yeah, she could’ve gone back to sleep but there’d been the someone, and.
Well. Who knows how long he’d been there?
Kate pushes the door open, hand raised against the offending glare of the sun. “Hey, Tommy,” she says creakily.
He picks himself up, dusting sand from his clothes, and flashes her that old grin, but it’s tight, and worn rough along the edges. “Bishop,” he says. “Didn’t think you’d be up for a while yet.”
She would explain about the curtain but she’s not sure her brain-mouth coordination is up to the challenge on three hours’ sleep, and Tommy — god, it’s been so long.
“C’mere, ya doof,” she says, and he steps into her arms so carefully, hesitantly, like he’s not sure he has the right after everything. She still doesn’t know what happened when he vanished after the dissolution of the group, though she’s gotten bits and pieces of the story from David, something about working at superspeed and vanishing, and a hesitant query — is waving his shirt around his head something that, um, —
Don’t worry about it too much, Kate had advised, working from the tried and true fake-it-’til-you-make-it method of Tommy-wrangling. Some things don’t have any other explanation except Tommy.
They stand like that for a few minutes, awkwardly tangled with Kate leaning over from the step and the sun shining bright on her face. She closes her eyes and tucks into the crook of his neck because — god it sounds stupid to say it, because there’s the team, vanished and spread out across the country or the multiverse, but Cassie’s gone and Eli left, and Billy and Teddy are so disgustingly in love that it’s hard to be around them, and at the end of it — at the end of it, Kate doesn’t really have a lot of friends, and she’s missed Tommy in the hurt, aching way of things falling apart without explanation.
“You asshole,” she mumbles, “I can’t believe you didn’t call.”
He laughs into her shoulder. “Miss me, Katie?”
She pulls away, ruffling his hair lightly. “’Course I did, you jerk,” she says, and he grins hugely.
“I brought breakfast,” he offers.
Kate eyes the empty beach behind him skeptically.
“Or, okay, I will have by the time you’ve got coffee ready,” he amends. “Back in a flash!”
“That’s not funny when the Flash says it either!” Kate shouts after him, but she’s laughing into the words and the wind, and maybe he didn’t hear.
True to his word, Tommy skids to a stop outside the trailer just as the coffee maker beeps its readiness. Kate pours them each a cup as the sand settles again, smiling as Lucky barks excitedly and Tommy bursts in with a wide grin and a paper bag that smells like —
“Oh my god,” Kate says. “Did you get chocolate chip pancakes?”
“Duh,” Tommy says, grinning even wider, dropping the syrup-flecked bag triumphantly on her counter. He whizzes around the tiny kitchen, and Kate eases into a chair, trying to steady the coffee mugs as he drops plates and flatware next to them, drags orange juice and, when she frowns at him, glasses from the cupboard next to the fridge. She pulls styrofoam take-out boxes from the bag, deposits one each on the plates, and gives herself a minute to just smell the sticky-sweetness of syrup and the velvety rich melt of chocolate in the air before digging in. Across the table, Tommy laughs at her.
“Shut up,” she says without any heat, and swallows around pancake before she corrects herself. “Actually, please, don’t. Tell me about the life of Tommy.”
He cants his head to the side, chews, swallows, downs half a glass of orange juice before pausing, hands curled around the coffee she’d poured.
“You know me,” he says at last, “nothin’ but trouble.”
“Let’s do some crime,” she echoes back to him drily. His mouth twitches into a faint smile.
“Seriously, though,” Tommy says, poking at his pancakes. “I — I think I might be doing okay, for once.”
He glances up at her so quickly she might miss it, on three hours’ sleep and a barely-caffeinated wakefulness, but superhero-ing around gets to you; even among friends, it’s hard to shut off the habits that track tells and gestures, always waiting for a weapon to be drawn.
The point is — Kate sees the uncertainty, the fear that maybe that was the wrong thing to say, that in saying it he’s jinxed himself or anything else — she sees it, she gets it, and he let her, not moving as quickly as he might’ve.
So she sips at her coffee, says, “Yeah?” gently as she knows how, lets the smile spread across his face as he tells her about moving in with David and trying to figure out what happened with the Patri-not and if his gaze slides away at that last part she’s inclined to let him have that.
They move out to the beach after a while, Lucky racing into the waves, to watch the sun finish rising. Tommy says abruptly, “What do you get a guy for, like — okay, are three-month anniversaries even a thing? Like, does anyone celebrate them? What’s a not-creepy approach?”
Kate twists around to peer at him over the tops of her purple aviators. “You mean David?”
He flushes crimson.
“That obvious, huh,” he mutters, and Kate smiles goofily into the sky.
“You should ask David what he wants to do,” she says, because she’s practical first, or at least she manages to be some of the time. “David’s a pretty straightforward guy. He’s not gonna be all oblique on you.”
Tommy flicks at her bangs. “Oblique. Do people actually talk like that? I’m pretty sure you’re the only one who talks like that, Bishop.”
“Me and the S.A.T.,” Kate sighs, and flops dramatically back into the still-cold sands.
Tommy flops down next to her, drizzling a small handful of sand over his sweatshirt. “You think he’d just say?”
“Probably. You think he wouldn’t?”
“It’s not that,” he says. “It’s just — isn’t this, this romance stuff supposed to be complicated and dramatic? And David’s just — he’s not, at all.” He drops more sand onto his stomach. “It’s so easy it scares me, sometimes.”
“Yeah,” Kate says softly, “I — well. If it makes you feel any better, I’m pretty sure I’ve got complicated down pat.”
“What? Nah, you and me were easy,” Tommy says dismissively.
“No, I mean — new complicated.” She twists a strand of hair around her fingers, not looking at him.
“New complicated? Who complicated?”
The air puffs out of her plaintively. “America ‘You’re Not That Straight’ Chavez-complicated.”
“No way,” Tommy says, leaning up on one elbow, sand spilling back onto the beach. “Did she — she said that to you?”
“En route to the after party,” Kate confirms.
“Huh,” Tommy says, and she can’t quite not think about this anymore —
“What if she’s right,” she says, voice small and almost inaudible over the surf.
Tommy squints down at her, then out at the waves.
“What if she is?” he asks, and tactfully doesn’t look to see her rub her eyes.
This is what happened at the after party:
America, smirking, i’ve seen the way you look at me, eyes careful on Kate’s bare shoulders throughout the evening.
Tommy, back from who knows where, whooping in her ear, dipping her as the ball drops in Times Square a universe away.
Noh-Varr, patient, distant, regretful; trying to make the perfect moment in apology.
Kate, ducking out to clear her lungs and her ears, gasping with laughter that echoes emptily in the alleyway, fading out as she recognizes dark curls, a familiar slouch at the end; Kate, saying something inane and breathless and feeling those words, you’re not that straight, crackling under her skin like electricity; Kate, stilling and quieting as America frowns at her, says can i —, quietly; Kate unwittingly saying sure, what, and holding perfectly, fluidly still, joints settling into place as if she’s about to raise her bow and fire —
America, carefully, deftly tucking a dance-loosed lock of hair behind Kate’s ear, letting her hand curl to the nape of her neck.
America, leaning in close and steady, pressing her lips to Kate’s chastely, waiting a beat ’til Kate relaxes into it, licking into her mouth with a half-smile that’s sweeter than Kate’s used to seeing, eyes calm on Kate’s.
Kate, kissing back.
It’s not like that. Whatever people mean by ‘that.’ This isn’t it.
It’s — okay, so, yes, maybe she’s having a little bit of a sexual identity crisis, but it’s not — she’s never thought about it that way before, never peered critically at her love for Cassie and wondered what if, never paused to consider the way her breath hitched in her chest as Whitney Frost stood before her, still wet from the pool, as anything other than Hawkeye-senses kicking in ineffectually, danger will robinson, and maybe, maybe she’s feeling brave tonight in this alley where no one can see them, maybe she’s giddy and punch-drunk from dancing and Tommy and breaking things off with Noh-Varr like an adult, and maybe she wants this, and maybe it’s okay to let herself have something selfish like this for once.
Maybe it’s okay that she knows exactly what America means when she says the way you look at me, and maybe America knows all of this or enough of it and maybe — maybe this can work out.
Fireworks burst overhead like gunshots, and they break apart, Kate wide-eyed and trying not to be, pressing a hand to her lips in a feeble effort to hide the way she feels tingly and lit-up inside, like someone replaced her veins with fairy lights; America, looking somewhat less steady than she usually does, but that sweet half-smile still in place.
“How’s that for nice,” America says, and Kate laughs, a little too wild, a little too bright; knows exactly what disapproving words her father would find for the occasion and hates that that’s what she thinks of so immediately.
“Good,” she says, “that was a good nice,” and regrets the sentence instantly — she’s Kate Bishop, unflappable, always ready with the mot juste and cutting quip and — god, does that even qualify as a sentence —
But America’s grinning at her, easy and amused and maybe a little fond, if Kate’s looking for it, and maybe it doesn’t matter so much, or at least not in the ways that can hurt, and Kate opens her mouth and says what is, retrospectively, one of the most thoughtless things she’s ever said:
“Guess you really don’t need that practice, then,” she says, meaning to tease, but everything still feels skewed, somehow, like she’s been standing on an incline her whole life and only noticed when it began to shift towards even; and her voice is a little tighter than it should be.
America’s expression freezes in place, then smooths out subtly: still smiling, but cooler. She shifts her weight onto her back foot, away from Kate. “Guess not,” she says, like it’s easy, and Kate, feeling instinctively that she’s futzed up but not understanding how, drops her eyes.
“I should get going,” America says, scuffing her shoe on the pavement. “The multiverse awaits, and all that. Can you find your way home?”
Kate draws herself up straight. “Yes, of course,” she says, voice steady even if nothing else is, and America studies her a moment longer, until the door to the alley opens and music floods out with Tommy shouting her name.
“See you around, princess,” America says, smiling slightly, and Kate opens her mouth to say something clichéd and unhelpful, don’t be a stranger on the tip of her tongue and wrong, however much she means it.
But America smiles, a little sad, like she knows what Kate means to say, and ducks out of the alley and into the night and Kate — Kate doesn’t watch her go, because she can be grown up about this and she has no right to expect anything from America. So she squares her shoulders and picks her way back to the doorway and dances with the boys until her feet want to fall off, missing Cassie and America all the while.
On the beach, Tommy hums, face pinched up and wrinkly in consternation. “So we’re bisexual,” he says after a minute, “and David’s bi, and I’m pretty sure Eli is, too —”
“What?” Kate says, bemused.
“What I’m saying,” Tommy continues, “is that we need a team name.”
“And here I thought the point of being bi was not having a team,” Kate mutters, and Tommy cackles.
“Think about it, Bishop,” he says. “The League of Bisexual Crime-Fighters. The Bisexual Brigade. Think of the uniforms we could have with that color scheme.”
“You would look good in pink,” she says, to tease, and laughs at his expression.
“Something to think about, anyways,” he says after a few minutes. She rolls to her side to look at him.
“Yeah,” she says softly, “it is. When I get back to the city, maybe.”
He smiles at her softly.
“Speaking of which,” he says quietly, “I promised David I’d meet him for lunch.”
“Alright.” Kate sits up, whistles to Lucky, and brushes sand from her sweatshirt before taking Tommy’s offered hand.
“I’m glad you came out,” she says abruptly, pausing on the trailer step. “Come say hi again sometime.”
“Sure.” Tommy grins. “Maybe I’ll bring David, next time. First ever meeting of the Bisexual Superheroes for Justice League.”
“That’s a terrible name,” Kate tells him, even as she pulls him down for a hug. “A really, really terrible name.”
“I like it.”
“I’ll veto it,” she says, “just see if I won’t.”
“We’ll have a vote at the meeting, Madame President.” He pulls away, smiling like he means it and it’s obvious to him that she’d lead and it floors her, sometimes but especially now, how much he trusts her, has always trusted her.
“Sure we will,” Kate says, voice thankfully steady and warm. “Tell David I say hi.”
Tommy steps back, salutes her sloppily with a grin. She blinks, and he’s gone.
Kate crawls back into bed once Tommy’s gone, and only wakes up when Lucky noses at her hand, whining hungrily in the afternoon. She finds food for him, scavenges her fridge for something easy to make — she’s got to go grocery shopping tomorrow, there’s almost nothing there — and makes more coffee while Lucky flops happily onto the floor, stomach full and tail wagging.
Eventually, she pulls herself up the ladder on the trailer’s side, blanket stuffed in her backpack, and curls up on top to watch the waves and the sun and the faint winking stars shining valiantly through Los Angeles’ smog.
It’s nice, to just sit for a while, to not think about things. She skipped yoga this morning, obviously, and she doesn’t really feel like moving now, but it’s the quiet that’s important, that feeling of stillness and taking aim and making a choice.
She’s not entirely surprised when light shatters in the distance behind her, and America Chavez strolls around the back of the trailer, looking up at her with that half-smile that makes Kate’s stomach try for a somersault.
“Mind if I join you?” America calls. Kate nods, stays still with her knees hugged to her chest, and waits for her to settle next to her. America sits with her legs criss-crossed, easy, relaxed, and it’s so tempting to lean her head on America’s shoulder, but also — also, Kate’s tired of waiting, tired of not saying this, and, tell no one, she’s tired of being alone.
“Hey, so,” Kate says quietly, nudging America gently with her elbow. “There’s something I want to say to you.”
“Shoot,” America says, turning in towards her.
“I’m sorry about New Years’,” Kate says, “but not because I — well, you, really, you kissed me. I really liked kissing you. I’m sorry that my mouth ran ahead of my brain and kind of implied that I didn’t want to kiss you anymore, because that wasn’t true; and I’m sorry that I didn’t realize that was what I did, and that I didn’t go after you. And, um, I thought you should know.”
America’s quiet, brow creased slightly in thought, and Kate says, “And, look, I understand if you want to be friends. I love being your friend. But, if you want —”
America leans in and kisses her, and maybe there’s a little too much teeth but Kate’s laughing, breathless, and America huffs against her mouth and kisses her more determinedly, thumbing along Kate’s cheekbone, the corner of her lips, and this — this is wonderful, and it feels — easy, effortless, how she can thread her fingers through America’s hair, how America skims her knuckles along the bare sliver of skin at Kate’s hip and smiles as Kate’s breath hitches at the contact.
It’s easy, and it’s good, and maybe that’s what they need right now.