Missing people takes a certain kind of shape. It's never how it is in all of the books -- this giant, all consuming void that's always on your mind.
Missing people is in the little things. The woman in line in front of her at the coffee shop wearing a dress that's just that right shade of purple that her mother always loved. A girl turns a corner and the whip of her blonde hair is all Cassie. A boy on the subway is nose-deep in a slim Chomsky paperback and Kate has to catch her breath, dig out her phone and send Eli a text demanding a Skype Date because it's the next best thing to actually seeing him.
The thing is, she never misses America. Not really. It doesn't make sense, a puzzle piece that she works over in her mind until Kate turns the corner to Clint's apartment one day and there she is, tall and star-spangled and beautiful, arms crossed over her chest, and suddenly Kate knows why.
She trusts that America is going to come back.
The last time she saw America, it went a little like this:
A rainy day, a couple of rogue HYDRA agents and a fight that flowed as easy as breathing, the two of them, back to back, like they've been doing this for years.
Kate, with mud tracked all down one side of her purple uniform and America, shaking leaves and dirt out of her messy, curly hair.
They'd run all the way to Kate's family's penthouse, wide and open and empty, laughing all the way. Kate had pushed America in the direction of the guest bathroom, towel in one hand and bow in the other.
America, sitting at the kitchen table, bright and flushed and comically too big for the borrowed pajamas that Kate threw at her and Kate, stepping into the v of America's legs, wet hair sticking to the back of her neck, dampening her t-shirt but not even taking a second to care. America's hands flying up to steady her, warm and sure, calloused fingers edging beneath her thin t-shirt. America, eyes fluttering shut and a slow smile stealing across her face. "Didn't take you for a tease, princess," and Kate had laughed before letting herself fall all the way, settling into America's lap and kissing her, finally. Light, barely there kisses that turned purposeful, Kate's fingers digging into America's still-wet hair and she was pulling on it before she could even register what she was doing, almost pulled away to apologize but instead America groaned and pulled her even closer and there probably wasn't an inch of skin where they weren't touching and all Kate could think was how could she get America to make that sound, again and again and again.
"Heard a rumor that you have a dog, princess," America says, pushing off from the brick wall.
"Not my dog," Kate says and she's pretty sure she's smiling so wide her face could split wide open and maybe she should be embarrassed about that, but it's hard to care much at all when America's following her into Clint's apartment, letting herself get bowled over by Lucky's enthusiasm, falling to the floor with seventy pounds of excitable dog on top of her.
"Hey, hey, buddy, nice to meet you," America murmurs, reaching up to scratch Lucky behind his ears. "I know, I know, I'm kind of a big deal."
Kate snorts. "You wish, princess." But there's no rancor in her voice and when America meets her gaze over Lucky's head, there's a promise in her eyes that warms Kate all over.
Kate swallows hard, reins it in because she's about this close to spitting out something sappy and ridiculous and she's pretty sure neither of them would survive the experience. Instead, she holds up a leash with one hand. "Want to go for a walk?"
"I don't know, big guy, you want to go for a walk?" America says, holding Lucky's head in both hands and addressing him straight on and Kate is charmed all over again.
"I think your girlfriend is trying to steal my dog."
"She's not my girlfriend."
"So, she's your……friend-girl?"
"Yeah, that's still not a thing, Clint."
"Captain America is actually pretty all right."
Kate cranes her neck to stare down at America in disbelief. They're huddled in a pile of blankets on the roof of Clint's apartment building, the night sky stretching high and limitless above them. She wonders at how she can lie here, overwhelmed, when she has seen and done the things she has, limitless universes and more life out there than she can possibly begin to imagine.
"Pretty all right? That's like saying yeah, you know what, I guess I don't mind chocolate ice cream."
America reaches out and pokes Kate in the stomach. "You know what I mean, princess. Captain America is a good guy, that's a given. Captain America is actually someone I enjoy spending time with? Bit of a surprise."
Kate hums. "Yeah. Eli says they have monthly Skype Dates which…c'mon, is that not the weirdest mental image in the world? Every time I try to picture it, I can only ever imagine him doing it in costume. Helmet with wings and weird, nonsensical scaly armor and all, sitting down to a MacBook or something. Trying to type with those big protective gloves on."
"He wears normal clothes, you do know that right?"
"I do! I've seen him in normal clothes! It's just -- I don't know, Skype, Captain America, my ex-boyfriend studying to be a librarian in Arizona. Surreal mental image. Can't get around it. Hey, do you think Captain America ever just falls asleep in costume? Like -- defeat monster, save the day, fuck getting undressed, that sort of thing?"
"He's probably fucked in that costume, I can tell you that," America says and Kate squawks, rolling over and burying her head in America's shoulder, her whole body shaking with laughter.
"You're terrible. I did not need that mental image."
America settles a hand on Kate's head, fingers carding through her hair and Kate feigns a shiver, presses closer in.
"He told me that I have a place here, if I want it. Fight with our team, fight with his team, whatever," America says, and there's something slow and measured to her voice that makes the skin on the back of Kate's neck prickle.
"You gonna take him up on it?" Kate says, maybe a little too fast and the look on America's face, the twist of her lips, tells her maybe she's misstepped here but it's too late to take it back, too late to reach out into the scant space between then and pluck the words from the air, to shove them back inside of herself where they belong.
"Kate…." America starts and then stops, letting out a low, gusty sigh. "I've been running for more than half my life, Kate." She doesn't say, I don't know if I can stop, but Kate hears it anyways and she can already feel her head shaking and she doesn't -- she doesn't want to say another word, doesn't want to say the wrong word, so instead she leans in, in, in, and it's a messy kiss, more an excuse to get closer than anything else, to press unsaid words into skin and hope the meaning gets across somehow, anyways.
They don't talk anymore, that night.
Kate never misses America when she's gone but when they're together -- when they're together, Kate would give anything to make it last forever.
Kate wakes up, blinking away bleary eyes. She's got a pounding headache and a mouthful of cotton and when she lifts up the sheet, she sees she's still wearing last night's party dress, the thin, cloying fabric tangled up between her legs. Clubbing with the boys, right. Her memory blanks out about the point when Billy started talking to a streetlamp and fades back in again at the point when she was stumbling into her apartment, throwing her heels across the room and accidentally knocking over her father's favorite vase.
"Futz," Kate says.
She heaves herself out of bed and pads quietly towards the kitchen. David and Tommy are passed out on the couch, David on the bottom and Tommy sprawled across his chest, David's glasses askew and Kate has a flash of memory, Tommy sticking his tongue down David's throat at regular intervals, and she doesn't even try to hide the smirk that's crossing her face as she holds up her phone to snap a photo.
But there's a sputtering sound coming from the kitchen and the smell of coffee drifting in, so Kate presses on, pushing open the swinging door to the kitchen to find America standing there, spatula in one hand, making breakfast.
"I don't remember you being at the club last night. Were you at the club last night?"
America shakes her head. "I was not at the club last night. I came by to see you, saw those two idiots passed out on the couch and put two and two together. Bacon?"
"God yes. Bacon and as much coffee as you can give me," Kate says, accepting the mug of coffee that America passes her with a grateful moan.
Kate takes small sips, not bothering to hide how her gaze falls on America's every move. America cooks with the ease of someone who's spent a long time fending for herself. Kate can read the balance between necessity and practicality in each steady motion, from the cracking of the eggs to the flipping of the bacon.
"Didn't anyone teach you it's rude to stare, princess," America says, without turning around.
Kate shrugs even though America can't see it. "What can I say, the view doesn't suck."
America snorts but doesn't reply.
They eat in silence, Kate shoving the food into her mouth as quickly as possible, hoping it'll do something to ease the queasiness in her gut that's equal parts hangover and America Chavez.
"Been a while since I've seen you," Kate says at last, like ripping off a band-aid.
"Kate…" America says, leaning back in her chair. She runs a hand through her curly hair, a nervous tell that Kate's pretty sure America doesn't even know she has. "I'll always come back. You know that, right?"
"Don't be -- America, c'mon. Of course I know that. You think we'd still be doing this if I didn't know that? I think you get me a little better than that."
America huffs and Kate would almost mistake it for annoyance but she sees the tension drain in America's shoulders, sees how clearly she's visibly relieved. "Yeah, I guess I do."
"It's just that…" Kate starts. She twirls the coffee mug around idly, watching the coffee swirl around the ceramic bottom. "You don't always look happy when you go. I'm not expecting -- whatever, you know. 24/7, shared apartment and a dog, the whole white picket shebang. I don't want that and I couldn't ask that of you even if I did. But if you don't want to go, don't go."
"Old habits are hard to break," America says and Kate wonders what it must have cost her, to finally admit that. "But I can try."
Kate reaches a hand across the table, clasps her fingers loosely with America's. "That's all I ask. I mean, that's not all I ask, more coffee would be nice and I definitely wouldn't say no to sex once my head stops doing the Macarena, but…"
"Geez, princess, ramble more why don't you," America says and Kate makes an offended face but it's half-hearted at best and anyways, she's got a lapful of America Chavez, she's got better things to do.
"Hey, Chavez, want to be my friend-girl?"
"Bishop, you've got to get better friends."