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there are tiny cracks of light underneath me

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For a moment, Kate was sure she was about to die a gruesome death by impact on concrete. She could just about hear Clint calling out for her as she was thrust over the side of the building, her arms and legs flailing as she failed to grab ahold of something.

Anything.

The wind was rushing in her ears and drowning out the sounds of the city.

Stupidly, her first thought was to the last time she’d been on a rollercoaster.

Her stomach had felt similarly removed from her body.

Her second thought was to her mom.

And then, before she could so much as blink, she stopped.

Jerked in the air.

“What—” she gasped, her eyes focusing on the wire that was miraculously attached to her belt. And if that wasn’t a testament to her goddamn archery gear and how well-fucking-made it really was—although how that damn hook had gotten attached to her, she wasn’t sure.

Above her, she saw Clint’s face appear, gaunt and glistening with sweat. There was something in his eyes that Kate couldn’t name. An emotion she’d seen only glimpses of here and there, whenever he thought about something from his past.

“Kate!” he yelled, and she swallowed thickly as she stared up at him.

“Pull me up!” she called back, chancing a glance below herself. She was still about a story off the ground. Below her, she could see strings of Christmas lights, dull and grey as everything else around her. “Come on, pull me up!”

He hesitated, and Kate wondered briefly if he was about to leave her suspended like this to keep her out of harm’s way. What happened next, though, made her even angrier. Out of an inside pocket, he pulled a knife, told her to go home, and cut the wire, letting her crash to the ground as he turned back to his fight with Maya and the masked woman with the glowing goggles.

As she crashed through the Christmas lights, she turned in mid-air, catching herself on her hands, knees, and elbows, barely managing to keep her chin from cracking against the thick concrete slabs of the sidewalk below her. She was already bleeding from several small cuts on her face. She didn’t need to bite her tongue off, too, thank you very much.

“Fuck you, Clint,” Kate muttered to herself, only half-meaning it as she pushed herself back to her feet and stomped over to the front door of the building she’d just been on top of. To her surprise and delight, it was unlocked. She considered waiting for the elevator, but when she saw that it was all the way up on the sixth floor, she decided against it.

She’d been skipping leg day recently – maybe this would do her some good.

 

##

 

By the time she finally made it back upstairs, Clint was being punched in the face by Maya while the other woman tried to kick out his knees. Still, despite this unfortunate set of events, the two clearly weren’t working together, as Maya proceeded to try to punch the other assailant just seconds later. Kate didn’t much care. They were both gunning for her partner, which made them a danger.

Pulling one of the trick arrows from her quiver, she shot it at the small concrete wall that separated one roof from the one next to it, the sonic blast from the impact knocking all three of the others to the ground. Kate was a little impressed with herself, even though what she’d really been hoping for had been some kind of explosion. After all, Maya couldn’t hear. A sonic blast didn’t do much against her.

More harried fighting ensued, until finally, Maya fled after taking an arrow to her shoulder, leaving only the masked woman, who continued to tussle with Clint.

Nocking an arrow, Kate waited for the perfect opening to shoot, only to watch Clint pull off the mask and goggles to reveal a face that Kate didn’t recognize. A sharp jawline was the first thing she noticed, before that same jawline distorted in a grimace as the woman shot something small and disk-like at Clint’s neck, knocking him down.

Swallowing thickly, Kate was about to take her shot, when the woman turned her face to look at her.

Their eyes locked—

Out of nowhere, Kate felt something warm and foreign race through her veins. Every bit of oxygen seemed to vanish from her lungs as though she’d been kicked in the chest, as the woman’s eyes sharply blinked into color.

Hazel, Kate’s brain squeaked without having to be prompted, and she gasped for breath as the color crawled across everything else, starting from the other woman’s eyes. Her lips were red, her hair was golden-yellow, and she looked just as stunned as Kate, who still had an arrow trained on her.

My fucking soulmate, Kate’s brain squeaked next, just as the woman shook her head.

Slowly lowering her bow and arrow, the woman took one last look at Clint, before snapping back her wrist and releasing a small grappling hook. Then, with a graceful and fearless leap, she was gone, and Kate found herself too stunned to run after her.

“Fuck,” she muttered to herself, as Clint finally pulled the small disk thing from his neck and stopped grunting in pain. Just as he righted himself, Kate kneeled down to pick up the mask and goggles their mysterious assailant had worn. She could see now that the goggles were glowing an eerie green color, and before she knew what she was doing, she’d brought the mask to her nose.

It smelled faintly sweet, like expensive perfume mixed with fresh sweat.

Getting back to her feet, she leaned overtop the edge of the building, left momentarily breathless by the shining Christmas lights.

So much color.

Blinking back tears of joy, she turned back to Clint, who was rubbing his neck and looking down at the small, circular piece of tech in his hand. He looked stricken, and Kate swallowed down her discovery. My soulmate wants to kill you; want to grab some shawarma downtown? What’s our next move? Date night for me and death night for you?

“Do you know who that was?” she asked instead, curling the hand that was still holding the black mask into a fist. There was red on Clint’s face, too. Red blood around his cuts. She wondered what she herself would look like the next time she looked into a mirror.

Somehow, the color made it worse.

Made it more real.

Dropping his hand from his throat, Clint looked at her.

“You don’t want to know,” he said gruffly, and for the first time, she realized his eyes were blue.

 

##

 

A black widow assassin.

The words kept floating around in her mind. With every step, his shaking voice kept repeating in her mind. Over and over and over again. Someone has hired a black widow assassin. This has gotten very real, very quickly.

He’d pretty much been stating the obvious, as far as Kate was concerned.

Maya was good, Kate had to give her that, but the rest of the tracksuit mafia was sort of a joke when it came to fighting. They relied mostly on guns and chains to compensate for their lack of training or finesse. In comparison, the other woman on the roof, the black widow assassin, had moved with a gracefulness that Kate could only compare to that of a ballet dancer.

My soulmate is an assassin.

My soulmate is a fucking assassin.

Shaking her head, Kate rubbed aggressively at her eyes, hoping it would stop her from crying. She’d been pretty harshly rebuked, and she didn’t know what else she could do but walk home. Her credit cards were still suspended, so she couldn’t even pay for a fucking cab, because Clint had taken Wendy’s duffle bag, the front pocket of which they’d stuffed their emergency cash in.

Well, it had been Grills’s cash, but the point still stood.

Not even the beautiful Christmas decorations in all different colors were enough to cheer her up. She could barely even make them out through the fresh tears that kept trickling down her cheeks. Swiping her arm across her eyes again, Kate stopped mid-step to stare at it.

Purple, she thought. Yeah. My favorite color’s purple.

She wasn’t sure why she felt so certain of that fact, but she knew it was true with all her heart. Just as she knew that the black widow assassin up on that roof was hers.

Hers to love.

Hers to care for.

Furrowing her brows, she slapped her own forehead a couple of times.

Of course, she’d end up with someone like that.

That was just her luck, wasn’t it?

Someone so—so—

 

##

 

Her childhood home was aglow with color.

A vase that Kate had once nearly destroyed as a child stood proudly in bright fuchsia, while the walls were a gentle cream color that Kate felt like curling up in. She’d never felt so comforted and yet so surprised upon entering her parents’ penthouse, and yet, her mom’s warm hands and kiss to the forehead were what finally made Kate fully break down.

Whether it was from the stress of the fight, the ache in her bones, the yearning in her heart, or the pain of being told by Clint that she really wasn’t his partner and never would be, she wasn’t sure. Maybe all of the above and more. But when her mom’s arms, safe and gentle, fully enveloped her, she finally felt like she didn’t need to pretend anymore.

Her mom didn’t even complain about the snot and smudged mascara ruining her expensive sweatshirt.

Hiccupping against her shoulder, Kate pressed her forehead into the warm brown fabric, biting back the comment about liking the color. She wasn’t ready to talk about that huge revelation, especially considering that her mom had no idea Kate and Clint had almost been assassinated not even thirty minutes ago.

Her mom worried about her enough as it was.

 

##

 

While her mom got the first aid kit, Kate perused the pictures on her shelf.

She’d realized earlier that her mom’s eyes were blue, too, just like Clint’s. They were a different shade, but Kate found that she liked both of them. In their differences, she found them ever more beautiful, but it made her curious about her father’s eye color, too. With trembling fingers, she picked up one of the frames and tilted it just right so that the light brought out his frozen features.

She caught her own reflection in the glass, and realized, belatedly, that this was the first time she’d ever truly seen herself. Her own blue eyes stared back at her, the same as her father’s. Fresh tears gathered, and Kate set down the frame before she could drop it.

Sinking to her knees in front of the shelf, she stared at her bare hands. At the blood under her fingernails. The purple fabric of her archery uniform standing out starkly against her pale skin. She would never be able to look at her father and see his face flushed red with happiness. She was twenty-two, but she suddenly felt years older. Felt the ache in her knees and elbows from the impact with the concrete sidewalk.

Maybe Clint was right after all.

This had gotten very real.

In her mind’s eye, she imagined hazel eyes.

Someone has hired a black widow assassin.

Kate longed to know the other woman’s name.

Longed to say it out loud.

To roll the syllables of her name around in her mouth.

Kate knew very little about black widows. She knew of the Black Widow, of course, but she’d always been much more obsessed with Hawkeye as a child. The other Avengers were cool and noble and interesting, but they’d been very far away, too. Hawkeye was attainable. He was like her. He was human.

Kate wasn’t sure whether or not black widows were human.

She’d heard rumors about super soldier serums.

Russian knock-offs of what had once made Captain America so special.

A tear dripped onto the back of her hand, mixed with some mostly-dried blood.

“Sweetheart,” her mother’s voice called out from behind her. “Sweetheart, what are you doing on the floor?” Kate heard the rustling of a first aid kit being placed on the bed, before strong hands gently curled around her bicep. “Come on, let’s get you out of that gear.”

Her mom guided her to her feet and slowly helped her undress. Her brows furrowed further and further the more bruises and scrapes she uncovered, and she softly shook her head as she made Kate sit down on her bed.

As her mom dabbed antiseptic cream onto her wounds, Kate let her gaze drag to her very first bow.

Parts of the string were pink, and Kate closed her eyes against the color.

Maybe her mom didn’t regret buying her that first bow, but… Kate wasn’t so sure about herself.

 

##

 

Kate let her mom pamper her for another hour or so, before deciding that it was high time she went back to her apartment and assess the damage. Now that Clint didn’t want to work with her anymore, there really was no reason to go back into hiding, was there? And besides, the tracksuit mafia probably didn’t expect her to be dumb enough to go back to where her name was prominently displayed on the doorbell.

She’d changed into a baggy, light grey sweater and a black pair of pants, paired with her favorite black, checkered coat. Looking into the closet at her mom’s place, Kate had quickly realized that most of her clothes were either white, gray, black, purple, or pairs of blue jeans. Somehow, she’d known even before opening it, but she was quickly growing used to these weird feelings. She knew it had something to do with the same chemicals in her brain that made her recognize her soulmate in the first place, but she hadn’t spent as much time paying attention in health class as she maybe should have.

As soon as she stepped inside her apartment, she felt despair gnaw at her stomach.

Half of her couch had burned down, two thirds of her windows were smashed, and the ground was charred with ashes that had mixed with the water from the sprinklers to create disgusting swirls of soot all over her once beautiful hexagonal tiling.

Looking around as she stopped next to her dining room table, she noted that her punching bag and archery target were still intact. Surrounded by the carnage, the target seemed almost too cheerful. Bright red and orange.

At least it was a different shade of red than the cuts on her face.

Letting out a slow breath, she thought back to the red lips of her black widow assassin.

She’d carried that black mask and the green goggles all the way back to her mom’s place.

Now, they were both tucked neatly into the inside pocket of Kate’s coat. The traces of sweet perfume still lingered, and Kate hoped her soulmate wouldn’t consider it creepy of her that she’d kept those two little mementos on her. They were the only thing Kate had of her, after all. Maybe all she’d ever have, if—

“Kate Bishop,” a voice said from behind Kate, making her flinch with surprise and grab the nearest object off the dining room table. It was a half-empty bottle of hot sauce, and Kate flung it with the precision she was known for, turning around as she did and watching as the bottle soared directly towards the person she’d just been thinking about.

The black widow’s hand moved faster than seemed possible, catching the bottle before it could make contact with her adorable button nose.

Breathing heavy, Kate stared at the bright red color of the hot sauce that obscured her soulmate’s face for all of two seconds, before the other woman moved her hand down to reveal those piercing hazel eyes again. They moved across Kate’s face and body, as though drinking her in for as long as she could get away with, and Kate could relate to the feeling all too well.

She herself couldn’t stop staring.

“You—” Kate started, her heart beating erratically.

“I made macaroni, if you want some,” the other woman said, cutting Kate off mid-sentence and drawing Kate’s attention to the pot she was holding in her left hand. Kate recognized it immediately as one of her own – though not one she’d used in quite some time. Which meant that the other woman had clearly been snooping around in her stuff. Trying to find out more things about Kate, perhaps? “It’s really tasty. You should try some.”

Shaking her head, Kate tried to ignore the way the other woman’s accent was curling around her ears, drawing her in further. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from those blonde curls, no longer restrained at the back of the other woman’s head but flowing freely about her face. She was so beautiful, so vibrant, more colorful than even the archery target in the corner. Shimmering. Like all the color in the world was drawn to her and nothing else.

“How—Wh—What?” Kate stuttered, keeping her feet rooted to the floor lest she walk over, take the other woman’s face in both hands and kiss her. She felt crazy just thinking it. Her soulmate was an assassin. There was no telling what she’d do in return.

“Well, Kate Bishop, I was waiting for you, and you took forever to come here, so I got hungry and decided to make food,” the other woman explained, moving to the dining table, and setting down the full pot of macaroni and cheese. Now that the food was closer, the smell of the noodles wafted over to Kate, alongside that sweet perfume she’d only caught traces of before.

“Wh—How do you know my name?” Kate asked, reaching for the back of one of her plastic chairs to ground herself. The other woman gave her a look that spoke volumes, and Kate nodded to herself. “Right, right. Name on the doorbell. Hunted by the tracksuit mafia. Got it.” She licked her lips, trying to quell her nerves. “So, um, you—me—”

“You really should eat something,” the other woman insisted, returning from Kate’s kitchenette with Kate’s single metal fork and a wrapped plastic one. “That was such a long fight. I’m starving.” She set the fork on the other side of the table, before sitting down and unwrapping the plastic one for herself. “Come on, relax. Relax.”

Slowly, almost robotically, Kate slunk down into the seat opposite the other woman, picking up her fork. Still, she didn’t start eating, not even when her companion stuck in hers and took the first bite, making a satisfied little noise in the back of her throat that turned Kate’s throat bone dry.

“I’m sorry, I—Is it just me?” Kate asked, squeezing her fork and glad for once that she didn’t have any superpowers. Her eyes traced the other woman’s face. The delicate curve of her eyebrows; the dark purple lipstick that matched so beautifully with Kate’s favorite sweatshirt; the way her nose crinkled when she smirked. “I mean, you, you—you’re like—fuck, you’re glowing.”

Her soulmate’s fork didn’t falter, not exactly. For all intents and purposes, it looked like she was perfectly composed as she chewed and swallowed, her sharp jawline moving with such precision Kate thought she might be imagining her altogether. No single being on their planet could have been this perfect – all the romance novels and movies she’d seen over the years had to have been telling lies.

“Are you really not hungry?” the other woman asked, pushing the macaroni a little closer to Kate, whose mouth opened and closed at this blatant lack of regard for her previous question. Maybe she really was the only one who felt it. Granted, cases of one-sided soulmate-ship were a thing, but they were so rare some people thought they were myths, despite the scientific evidence for them. Maybe there was something wrong with her; maybe she was so utterly screwed up, no one would ever— “You know, it’s kind of rude of you to ignore the fact that I cooked.” She cocked her head to the side, her hazel eyes squinting a little in the cutest expression Kate had ever seen on another person. In color or not.

“Kind of rude of you to ignore the fact that we’re soulmates, but okay,” Kate mumbled to herself, dropping her eyes to the boxed mac and cheese. It did smell really good, and Kate hadn’t had anything solid to eat since that pizza she’d chowed down on before they’d set up shop at Maya’s apartment. Swallowing her own anxiety, she stuck out her fork and scooped up a bit of the gooey cheese and noodle combo. It was bright yellow, but no way near as pretty as the person opposite her. “What do you want?”

Stuffing another forkful of food into her mouth, the other woman leaned back in her seat and breathed heavily through her nose as she nodded to herself. With every passing second, Kate felt less and less certain that she wasn’t going completely apeshit. She was sure she’d been seeing black and white only a couple of hours ago, but her soulmate steadfastly ignoring what was happening between them was… frustrating, to say the least.

“Well, it’s my first time in New York,” the woman said, nodding again. She smiled, and she seemed so genuinely excited that Kate briefly entertained the idea that maybe this whole someone hired a black widow assassin thing might be a big misunderstanding. “It’s a business trip, but I do want to see some of the things New York has to offer.” Her eyes dropped from Kate’s eyes to her lips, her smile morphing into a fresh smirk that left Kate newly breathless. “Kate Bishop, you grew up in New York, right? Surely, you must have some recommendations for me.”

Fork trembling, Kate tried to breathe in less of that alluring perfume with little to no success.

“Do you keep saying my full name just to point out that you know it?” she retorted instead of saying something stupid like my bedroom is right up there. It’s the only tourist trap you really need to see. Who knows, I might even make you see color, if you don’t already.

Opposite her, the other woman’s smirk turned into a fresh smile.

“Yes,” she said, dropping her plastic fork into the macaroni and sitting up a little straighter. Her posture wasn’t threatening in the slightest, and yet Kate felt like she’d never been in more danger. “I know a lot about you, Kate Bishop.” The way her mouth and tongue wrapped around Kate’s name should have been considered illegal, as far as Kate was concerned. “I know your mother, Eleanor. Lives on Park and 41st. Father, Derek, deceased. Very sad.” Hearing her soulmate talk about her dead father with such detachment was equally jarring. Somehow, Kate had always imagined herself with a woman who would slowly find out all the little things about Kate that made her who she was. She hadn’t imagined an assassin digging into her past. “I know your university GPA is 3.8, senior, double major, your favorite color’s purple—”

“A-ha!” Kate called, startling herself more than the deadly assassin in front of her. Clearly, or else she would probably be dead already. “I didn’t even know my favorite color was purple until, like, two hours ago! How would you know about that unless you were my soulmate!”

The other woman cocked her head again in that all-too adorable way.

“I went through your closet, Kate Bishop. It was hard to miss the clear preference,” she stated with a raised pair of eyebrows, and Kate felt her chest deflate as quickly as she’d puffed it up.

“Oh,” she said, slumping back in her seat, “yeah. Yeah, I guess there’s that.”

With a chuckle, the woman scooped up another forkful of mac and cheese.

“You’re very cute, you know. Very funny,” she stated plainly, causing Kate’s cheeks to flush with embarrassment. “But I must ask you.” She chewed and swallowed, eyes moving to the hot sauce. “Why are you so eager? I mean yes, I am pretty cool. I am very talented, also.” She picked up the bottle and showed it to Kate. “Are you finished, by the way?” With a nod from Kate, she started squirting in copious amounts of hot sauce. “I’m very curious, Kate Bishop.”

Putting her hands in her lap, Kate finally tore away her gaze.

“I don’t know,” Kate replied cautiously, looking at her fingers, watching them fidget. “Isn’t it normal to be curious about the person that makes you see color?” Her jaw moving forward, she felt her mouth form into that signature pout of hers her mother always teased her for. She’d dubbed it Kate’s Big Sulk Moment. “Besides, just because you’re a blood-thirsty vigilante type—”

At her words, the other woman let out a big chuckle, big enough to have Kate look back up, dazzled all over again by the woman’s beauty and glow. There was no doubt in her mind that this was who she was supposed to be with, even if she remained as big of an enigma as she’d first seemed up on that rooftop.

“Blood-thirsty vigilante,” the woman repeated with a fresh crinkle of her nose. “That—Kate Bishop, you’re so funny.”

“Well, I assume you’re here to talk to Clint, so,” Kate retorted, her pout becoming more pronounced the longer her soulmate saw it fit to laugh at her.

At her words, the other woman suddenly sobered up, shaking her head, the crinkles along her nose disappearing as she ate one last forkful of mac and cheese with way too much hot sauce.

“No, no,” she said, swallowing her mouthful. “I’m not here to talk to him. I’m here to kill him.”

And Kate knew, without the shadow of a doubt, that the universe was back to fucking with her.

 

##

 

So, what.

So, what if her soulmate didn’t want to admit that they were soulmates?

So, what if she had a plan to kill Kate’s new best friend slash partner?

So, what if she didn’t even know her name because she’d been too shocked to remember to ask?

Lying on her childhood bed, staring at the ceiling, she thought not for the first time about hanging up her bow once and for all. All it had brought her recently was pain and trouble. First the bell tower, then the tracksuit mafia, and now her hostile soulmate.

Although, if Kate was being fair, the other woman had actually sounded pretty concerned for her well-being as she’d told her not to get in her way again. And she’d promised not to hurt Kate, either, which had to be some sort of sign, right? Hired black widow assassins didn’t seem the type to leave evidence or witnesses just wandering around. Yet Kate was, at this very moment, holding the black face mask and green goggles, while herself still being living, breathing proof that maybe her assassin wasn’t the worst person in the world.

So, maybe Kate couldn’t give up her bow just yet.

With a sigh and a groan, she pushed herself into a sitting position and scooted over to the edge of her bed. Her eyes fell back to her dad’s picture. His blue eyes that so resembled her own. Or maybe hers resembled his.

And then there was Clint, out there somewhere. No idea that the assassin who was after him was the sister of his late and great best friend Natasha Roman—with a start, Kate slapped her hand against her forehead, regretting it almost instantly as her hand hit one of the dressed cuts.

“Ow,” she mumbled as she pulled her smartphone from her pocket and started googling.

 

##

 

Yelena.

Her soulmate’s name was Yelena.

Years ago, the Black Widow had released all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s files for the world to see, alongside some pretty personal ones about herself, and, like an idiot, Kate had completely forgotten about them when she needed them most.

Maybe she deserved the fresh pain from her reopened cut.

“Yelena,” Kate muttered to herself as she followed Clint’s phone on her tracker app. He hadn’t answered any of her forty-five voicemails, so she had to take more drastic steps. She’d read up on some of Yelena and Natasha’s exploits online, which had given her a much more vivid understanding of what her deadly, deadly soulmate could do.

Reading some of those reports shouldn’t have turned her on, but Kate was a simple woman.

Then again, she supposed she was smarter than Clint, who had gone straight back to the tracksuit mafia without any goddamn back-up. After all of this was done, he had better appreciate the lengths that Kate was willing to go to help his old-man-self out.

 

##

 

The air inside the Uber Kate had called as their exit strategy was thick with tension, and Kate didn’t feel like adding to it. She knew it was necessary, but she braced herself for the oncoming disappointment she was no doubt about to face.

“Um, we have one more thing to worry about,” she muttered to Clint, who looked away from the window and in her general direction without really looking at her. Perhaps he was embarrassed about getting stabbed with his own sword. When he grunted at her to continue, she licked her bottom lip and thumbed at her bow. “You remember that woman on the roof?” At his nod, she closed her eyes. “I talked to her. She, uhm, she says she’s Natasha’s sister.”

Opening her eyes to gauge his reaction, Kate watched as Clint’s whole body froze mid-exhale.

“Yelena?” he whispered, and she grimaced and nodded, watching as more emotions flit across his face than she knew how to read. Grief was one of them, maybe. Distress, definitely. And then that twitch down of the corners of his mouth he always displayed when they talked about his best friend.

Taking another breath, Kate gripped her bow.

“One—one more,” she admitted, and this time he finally looked at her. His eyes were full something, some more unnamed emotion that Kate was too tired to parse. “She’s—” She took another breath and looked at him with an apologetic little glance. “She’s my soulmate.”

He blinked, his mouth opened.

No sound came out.

She nodded.

“Yeah.” She nodded again and tapped her fingers on her weapon. “Yeah, my thoughts exactly.”

 

##

 

Grills had a nice place.

His couch wasn’t exactly a pull-out, but it was enough for Kate to curl up on with Pizza Dog while Clint snored on an air mattress a couple of feet away from her. Earlier, Kate had tried to make him take the couch instead, insisting that the air mattress could be worse for his old man back, but he’d refused, just as Kate had refused taking Grills’s bed instead of the couch.

They were all a bunch of stubborn asses, Kate supposed.

Lazily stroking Pizza Dog’s head, she was glad at least their dog was smart.

Despite her aching limbs and the excitement of the day, Kate couldn’t sleep. She was staring at the window, watching the dancing lights of the twenty-four-hour convenience store opposite Grills’s apartment instead. There was green and blue and yellow and then green again, and Kate wondered if Grills could see the colors. He lived alone, but Kate hadn’t thought to ask him whether that was by choice or by circumstance.

Yelena’s shirt had been blue, too. In places, at least. Steel blue and bronze; a perfect compliment to her skin and hair. Hours later, Kate was once more unsure she hadn’t imagined that glow to Yelena’s hair and body.

The blinding beauty of her hazel eyes.

“I’m so fucked,” Kate whispered to herself, trailing her fingers down the back of Pizza Dog’s head and circling them around his ears. He let out a huff, as though he was in perfect agreement with her statement, which didn’t make her feel much better. “Thanks.”

With a fresh pout, she picked up her phone and pulled up more of Natasha’s files. They were all perfectly archived, and Kate found herself quite unable to put them down. They were more interesting than anything else Kate had ever read, let alone done.

She’d already gone through all the bits that involved Yelena, so now Kate was simply reading about her soulmate’s sister in the hopes of understanding her better. There had been something so utterly heartbreaking about the way Yelena had spoken of her. About Clint being the reason that she was gone.

Is she collateral damage?

Twisting her mouth, Kate turned her face towards Clint’s snoring frame in the dark. The green, blue, yellow, green light of the store alternately illuminated his sleeping face. Kate knew there was something deeply wrong with Yelena’s view of Clint, but Kate didn’t feel like she had earned the right to ask what had happened. Just because Natasha’s sister was her soulmate, that didn’t make it right for Kate to pry.

Although, in a way, maybe reading these files was a form of prying, too.

She was on the verge of turning off her phone in a desperate bid to try for sleep again when her phone vibrated with a new message. Turning her face back to the screen, she furrowed her brows when Unknown Number was the first thing she noticed.

Turning over onto her side, she clicked on the message.

Who the hell was texting her at one twenty-two in the morning?

 

 

Unknown Number: Kate Bishop, thank you for the girl’s night

Unknown Number: Truly

 

Sitting up, Kate nearly startled Pizza Dog enough to make him fall off the couch in his haste to get to his feet. Apologizing quietly, she watched the three little dots on her screen dance up and down and up and down.

Yelena was texting her.

Yelena someone has hired a black widow assassin Belova was texting her, Kate Bishop.

She’s your soulmate, dumbass. Why shouldn’t she be texting you?

The judgy voice in her head sort of sounded like a mix between her mother and Clint, and Kate wasn’t sure whether she liked this new development or not. Thankfully, before she could dwell on it, a new text message popped up that nearly made her jump-scare Pizza Dog all over again.

 

 

Unknown Number: I saw a sad puppy outside and it made me think of you

 

Kate didn’t even care how Yelena had gotten hold of her number. No doubt, she’d hacked one of her friends’ phones. Or maybe she’d just found the receipt of Kate’s phone plan when she’d rifled through her things.

Regardless, what mattered was that she was texting her.

Just because.

 

 

Kate Bishop: I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad association

Kate Bishop: Why are you looking at dogs at 1am?

 

Kate was doing her very best not to triple or quadruple-text. She was notorious for doing both and more when she liked someone. Clint was in the unfortunate position of being able to attest to this. Well, or he would have been, if he hadn’t been sleeping. Looking back over to him, she started to feel a little guilty. Yelena had been hired to kill him, and here Kate was, fantasizing about moving from texts to calls to holding hands to—

 

 

Unknown Number: Reconnaissance is so important

Unknown Number: Some of these new people on the scene like to forget

 

Hugging Pizza Dog to her chest for a couple more seconds, Kate squeezed her eyes shut and contemplated her next move. In the end, it wasn’t much of a decision at all. Throwing off her blanket, she tip-toed to the window that led out onto the fire escape, and quietly slipped through. She pulled it closed, though not without first making sure she’d be able to get back inside.

Then, she dialed.

“Kate Bishop,” Yelena drawled when she picked up on the second ring. “Reconnaissance is best done in silence.”

Letting out a nervous breath, Kate slid down to sit cross-legged on the fire escape, her eyes taking in the flashing green, blue, yellow, green light of the convenience store as she imagined Yelena’s purple lipstick and blonde hair.

“What are you scoping out?” Kate asked, lifting her hand to scratch at one of the cuts on her chin.

“Not what, Kate Bishop. Who.” Yelena scolded her, prompting Kate to drop her hand and smile like a stupid idiot. She maybe should have put on socks and a coat, but for now, the thing that was keeping her warm was her affection.

“Okay,” Kate confirmed, closing her eyes. “Who are you scoping out?”

“I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” Yelena shot back, making Kate laugh far too loudly for a quiet December night. Stretching out her legs, she tapped her toes against the railing of the fire escape, flinching at the cold with every touch. At her laugh, Yelena let out an approving little hum. “You are a bad superhero, you know? Talking with the enemy? After you already had dinner with her?”

Feeling the stress of the day slowly off her shoulders, Kate let out another chuckle.

 

##

 

The next morning, when Kate received a text from Yelena about her mother and what she’d been getting up to behind Kate’s back, the whole reconnaissance thing was a lot less funny.

 

##

 

Even among the many different shades of colors present at the Bishop Christmas party, Kate would have noticed Yelena in a heartbeat. In her forest green coat and with her hair tied up in intricate blonde braids, she radiated beauty and strength, and Kate barely managed to tear her eyes away and follow her mother instead.

Her mother, who had lied to her for her entire life.

About their lives, their wealth, about Kate’s dad.

He owed that monster money.

If Kate hadn’t already been considering therapy, she definitely would have now.

But, frankly, that was a train of thought for another day.

With all hell breaking loose in the main room and with her mom and Jack safely sequestered away in the kitchen, Kate hurried after that green coat like her life depended on it. Or, rather, like Clint’s life depended on it.

“I know you’re chummy with my mom, but I didn’t think you’d rank high enough to be invited to the annual Christmas party,” Kate rushed out as she reached Yelena, who was standing in front of the elevator that Kate knew Clint had just entered.

“Kate Bishop,” Yelena drawled, sending shivers down Kate’s back. She hoped she’d get used to hearing her full name from Yelena sometime soon, because it was starting to become really embarrassing how easily the other woman affected her. While Yelena seemed, as always, cool and collected and like this whole soulmate thing didn’t faze her in the slightest. “Don’t worry, I’m not here to ruin anything. I’m just here to kill Barton, have some appetizers, and then I’ll be on my way.” Her eyes dropped from Kate’s face. “Nice dress, by the way. Very sparkly.”

“Thanks,” Kate muttered, feeling a flush creep into her cheeks. “But I hope you enjoyed the bruschetta, cause it seems like you already lost him.” She tried to ignore the way Yelena’s eyes lingered on her – she was supposed to be doing the distracting, damn it. Not the other way around.

“He’s in the elevator,” Yelena retorted, face half-amused and half-condescending. She gestured to the display to the right that dinged and displayed the number. “And now he’s on the 12th floor.” Yelena righted her coat, while Kate bit back a curse about modern technology ruining everything. When their elevator finally dinged and opened, Yelena winked at her. “Enjoy the party.”

It was strangely adorable how well Yelena didn’t know her, if she thought Kate would give up that easily.

 

##

 

As the elevator descended from the 26th floor, Kate glanced at a quietly annoyed Yelena out of the corner of her eyes. Standing right next to her, Kate could smell that sweet perfume again, much more strongly than she did even at her own apartment. She imagined it settling in her lungs and mouth. Becoming a part of her.

“It’s stupid to try and stop me,” Yelena said, right as she slapped down Kate’s first attempt to hit one of the other floors to slow them down. While Kate shook out her wrist, she pouted at Yelena, who kept her face perfectly forwards. “I’m highly trained. How long have you been doing this hero thingy?”

Trying to reach past Yelena once more, Kate hissed at being slapped a second time.

“Bout a week,” she muttered, rubbing her wrist.

Feeling frustration creep into her chest, Kate turned towards Yelena and did something very foolish.

She took a step closer.

“What are you doing?” Yelena asked, keeping her hands folded in front of her body and her face turned away. Despite her quick movements earlier, her hair was perfectly coiffed, and Kate briefly considered asking her about her hair routine as a means to distract her from Clint. But when she took another step, she saw it. Yelena’s breath. Hitching. “If I were you, Kate Bishop, I would be very, very careful.”

Scraping together whatever gutsiness she had left after the week she’d had, Kate leaned her face closer so that her mouth was right by Yelena’s left ear.

“See, you say that, but… we both know you’re bluffing.”

 Almost imperceptibly, Yelena lifted her nose.

“Oh, really?” she asked, while Kate did her best to calm her racing heart.

To her left, she saw the 20th floor move past them.

“Yeah.”

Sweat trickling down Kate’s temple, she reached out and gently cradled the side of Yelena’s neck with her left hand. Yelena’s skin was warm and surprisingly soft for how Kate had imagined an assassin to feel.

The pads of Kate’s fingers probably felt a million times rougher to Yelena, who–

Didn’t move.

Didn’t stop her.

Didn’t pull away.

Interesting.

“Yeah,” Kate said again, her confidence rising. She slid her thumb along that sharp jawline she’d admired so many times in the last forty-eight hours. “You act like this—” Kate applied the tiniest bit of pressure, and Yelena allowed her face to move. Just slightly. “Like this doesn’t matter to you.”

For a brief moment, Yelena’s hazel eyes shifted from the elevator doors to Kate’s face.

“Have you learned nothing from your apartment burning down about playing with fire, Kate Bishop?” she asked, her breath warm and steady on Kate’s face. It smelled vaguely sweet, like Yelena had indulged in candy before all this.

Kate wanted to taste her purple lipstick.

“I saw the way you looked at me on the roof,” Kate continued, leaning further in and finally bringing their foreheads together. She felt it all the way down to her toes. Yes, her body seemed to say. Yes, that one. “I know you felt it, too, Yelena. I know you feel this.”

Heartbeat thrumming in her ears, Kate nudged her nose against Yelena’s.

“Americans,” Yelena replied, her tone far too breathy for Kate to buy her disgust. “Always think you know everything.”

Partly amused but mostly turned on and terrified, Kate cupped Yelena’s cheek.

Their lips brushed, and Kate nearly stopped breathing.

Yelena’s eyelids drooped.

Her chin inched upwards.

And Kate…

Slunk past her.

“No,” Yelena groaned when Kate hit every button on the panel just as they passed the 18th floor. “Come on, that it so annoying!” Yelena’s cheeks were charmingly flushed, though whether it was from frustration at Kate’s antics or from the way they’d been on the verge of kissing was anybody’s guess.

Her frown was adorable.

As was the way her mouth formed a couple of Russian words that probably made up a whole lot of sentences that weren’t flattering, although Kate couldn’t be sure. Soulmate bonds could only do so much, after all.

“Сука,” she finished with, tugging open the buttons on her forest green coat and shrugging it off, revealing her tactical suit underneath. It was form-hugging, of course, and Kate spent a couple of precious seconds staring at her, even going so far as to accept the coat from Yelena, who gave her another withering glare, before running from the elevator.

Blinking stupidly, Kate glanced down at the coat, then at the corridor.

“Shit,” she muttered, tossing the piece of clothing aside and taking off after Yelena.

 

##

 

Is this what heroes do? Kate’s mind helpfully repeated. Arrest their mothers on Christmas?

Blowing out a long breath, Kate rested her shoulders against the concrete behind her, tilting back her head and closing her eyes. She ached all over. Muscles and bones she’d never given a single thought to were making themselves uncomfortably known.

But most of all, her heart would not settle down.

Her ears continued to ring from the explosion that had knocked the Kingpin off his feet, and she was starting to appreciate Clint’s need to wear a hearing aid in his one sort-of okay ear. In fact, as soon as things settled down, Kate was going to invest in a really good pair of earplugs.

The police had left with her mom some time ago, but Kate wasn’t ready to join Clint and the others around the corner. She could see the flashing lights of the ambulances, and she knew she needed medical attention, but her mother’s expression wouldn’t let her go.

Is this what heroes do?

Trembling all over, she slowly slid along the wall behind her until she was crouching down, her elbows on her knees and her face in her hands. Tears clouded her vision, so she squeezed them shut and tried to block out everything going on around her.

A sob ripped free of her throat.

Now that her mother was going to jail, she really didn’t have anyone left.

Her dad was dead, Clint would go back to his family, and her soulmate was a black widow assassin who seemed more than willing to ignore her.

If she hadn’t killed Clint by this point.

Kate was afraid to check.

Her comms had suffered a total burnout in the explosion.

“Huh,” a voice said close to Kate’s ear. “Do you need a hug, Kate Bishop?”

Wiping her arm across her eyes and irritating the cut across her nose in the process, Kate looked up, her tired eyes catching sight of a bent over Yelena. Somehow, she’d regained her forest green coat, although some strands of her blonde hair had worked themselves loose from her intricate braids.

“What?” Kate sniffled, wiping again at her eyes, wondering if she was hallucinating.

Obviously taking pity on her, Yelena sat down next to Kate’s hunched over form, her eyes turning towards the sky. Somehow, despite everything, she looked perfect. Even though her eyes and nose were red, like she’d been crying just as much as Kate, her perfect lipstick seemed to tie it all together regardless. Like her crying fit had been part of her aesthetic all along.

“Tough day?” Yelena asked, and Kate heard herself laugh deliriously.

“Yeah,” she agreed, before fresh tears sprung to her eyes. “Yeah.” She nodded jerkily, and Yelena hummed and nodded, before patting the ground. Unable to put up a fight, Kate let herself fall back on her ass, her feet stretching out in front of her.

“I saw the cops take away your mother,” Yelena said matter-of-factly, her head lolling to the side, her expression almost lazy. “Sucks, huh?”

“Big time,” Kate agreed through sobs, feeling about as unattractive as a screaming toddler.

With another hum, Yelena put her hand on Kate’s shoulder, and before Kate could stop herself, she’d turned all the way into her soulmate. Her entire body shook as she cried into Yelena’s neck, her nails digging into Yelena’s coat as Yelena cupped the back of her neck with her right hand while her left stroked back and forth along Kate’s back.

“There, there,” Yelena murmured, making no move to disentangle them.

 

##

 

Somehow, Yelena had tissues on her.

They didn’t seem like standard assassin gear, but Kate didn’t comment on how odd it was. She was simply glad to be able to get rid of the snot and blood that had built up in her nose. Yelena’s tactical suit, it turned out, had a ridiculous number of pockets, one of which contained a small flask.

Kate nearly emptied it with her first swallow.

“Okay, rude,” Yelena replied, snatching it from Kate’s hand and tipping it back herself. “This is the last time I share my personal stash with you.”

The expensive vodka burned down Kate’s throat and finally made her feel something other than fucking shit. Kate had no idea how long she and Yelena had been sitting together after everything had blown up in Kate’s face.

Literally.

“Thanks,” she said, chancing a careful glance at Yelena, who had returned the flask to some unseen place and was once again looking up at the stars. In the distance, Kate could hear someone shouting directions.

The ringing had finally subsided.

“You’re welcome, Kate Bishop,” Yelena offered, slapping her open palms on her own thighs, before pushing herself up and off the ground. “I know I hate the taste of old blood in my mouth.” Stretching her back, she let out a slow breath and squinted down at Kate. “This was fun, yeah? More girls night.”

With a grunt, Kate lifted up her hand and waited for Yelena to grab it.

Back on shaky feet, Kate rubbed at her aching ribs.

“I don’t know,” she replied, squeezing Yelena’s fingers. They were warm. “Could have done without the kick to the ribs.” Her breathing wasn’t back to normal after her crying fit, but the hiccups had subsided to every other inhale.

“You’ll get used to it,” Yelena said, disentangling their fingers and taking a step backwards.

When she took another, Kate panicked just a little.

“Wait,” she said, setting an unsteady foot forward. “Am I—Where—Will I see you again?”

Now, her heart was beating overtime for a different reason.

She had Yelena’s number, but who was to say the assassin wouldn’t simply change it? She had no way of finding her if that happened. No way of staying in touch. At the idea, she could feel dread crashing like dark waves over her head, effortlessly dragging her under.

Is this what heroes do?

Throat growing tight, Kate took another unsteady step.

“Please don’t go,” she whispered, fingers trembling. “Please, Yelena. Please don’t—”

In a flash, Yelena was in front of her, two hands cupping Kate’s face.

“Americans,” Yelena said again, eyes rolling in her sockets. “You have such a flair for the dramatic, I swear.”

She was close enough for Kate to count the flecks of gold in her irises.

And then she wasn’t, because Kate’s eyes had a bad habit of closing whenever someone was kissing her.

Because Yelena was kissing her.

Eyebrows furrowing, Kate let out a desperate whimper and lifted her hands to the back of Yelena’s head, carding her fingers through that perfect, glowing, golden hair. Every nerve ending in her body was screaming, starting from her lips. Yelena’s mouth was warmer than her hands. She tasted like vodka and candy, and Kate hoped she herself didn’t taste like blood.

Even still, she didn’t think Yelena would have been deterred.

Yelena’s thumbs stroked Kate’s cheeks, her lips slanting lazily back and forth, applying just the right amount of pressure to make Kate’s knees feel even weaker than they already did. It also took Kate considerably longer than necessary to realize that Yelena must have been standing on her tip-toes.

“Kate Bishop,” Yelena said as she pulled away. Her breath drifted across Kate’s face, and Kate couldn’t stop herself from surging forwards and kissing her again. Whatever else Yelena wanted to tell her, it could wait. Especially when Yelena let out an exasperated little sigh but didn’t sever their connection. One of her hands slid from Kate’s cheek to her neck, stroking her rapidly thrumming pulse point. “Always so eager, Kate Bishop.”

It didn’t even feel like the insult it was probably designed to be.

Yelena just sounded fond of her.

Lips tingling, Kate dropped her hands to Yelena’s waist.

“You didn’t kill Clint, did you?” she asked, secretly pleased that Yelena’s lipstick had smudged in several places. There was probably purple all over Kate’s mouth, but she didn’t mind that so much. She would wear it as a badge of honor

Rolling her eyes, Yelena patted Kate’s chest.

“I’m sorry. I broke my promise.” Yelena’s finger drew along the black leather sling across Kate’s chest that kept her quiver attached to her uniform. There wasn’t any blood under her fingernails – that seemed like a good sign.

“Oh?” Kate asked, feeling goosebumps raise on her arms.

“Yes,” Yelena confirmed, lifting her eyes and cocking her head to the side. “I didn’t kill Barton and I didn’t have any appetizers.”

Anxiety deflating, Kate let out a shaky little laugh of relief.

“Fuck,” she said, closing her eyes and nudging Yelena’s forehead with her own. “You really had me going there for a second.”

Nose crinkling in approval, Yelena played with the zipper of Kate’s uniform. She didn’t pull hard enough to actually open it up, but just with just enough pressure to have Kate even more distracted than she already was. Her poor brain was overloaded enough without adding mental images of being naked with Yelena.

“I’m very good,” Yelena agreed, patting Kate’s sternum some more.

 

##

 

The ground was littered with knocked out tracksuits, and Kate wasn’t sure if she wanted to consider the fact that some of them were probably dead. As soon as she signed up for therapy, accidentally killing bad guys who probably had a life and a family was so going on the list of shit she needed to work through.

Maybe there were therapists for superheroes.

Clint would probably know.

Speaking of—

“Hey,” Kate said as she spotted Clint sitting behind an ambulance, cuts littering his face. He was wearing his new uniform, and Kate smiled when she saw it. She still thought the purple should have been more vibrant, but Kate respected his lack of fashion sense.

It took Clint a couple of seconds to look up, but when he did, his expression shifted.

“Hey, kid,” he said, his eyes trailing from Kate’s face to her hand, to the hand she was holding, to— “Yelena.”

“Barton,” Yelena greeted, lifting her free hand and flashing him a peace sign.

Heart giddy with excitement at the prospect of being around her idol and her soulmate at the same time without either one trying to kill the other, Kate sat down next to Clint on the back of the ambulance, while Yelena didn’t hesitate to follow after her.

It hurt – a lot, fuck – when Yelena plonked herself down on Kate’s lap.

But it was worth it.