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An April Girl

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If this scene were in a movie, the music would be something all John Williams - kicky and zippy. No, scratch that. Probably something out of a Quentin Tarantino movie, with a bit of seventies funk- on every 4/4 polyrhythm. With the 16ths an accent on the first two partials on every beat. A funky way of telling you that these guys-

Yeah - them, with guns at the ready, as they stormed out of Mikimoto on Fifth Avenue, their feet hitting the ground, eyes mean, mugs ugly- and ready to mess you up. They surged forward, shoving and pushing people out of their way, the air ripe with screams, flailing of limbs, eyes round with terror, screams of fright and outrage over the bone rattling sound of the burglar alarm.

These guys were a mess of trouble.

You know what? Probably no theme music at this point. The director might probably go for slo mo. Note the late summer blue of the sky, the lengthening shadows on the road, even at this time of year. The tidy rows of upscale shops on either side of the road, their pricey offerings presented like avante garde art in their boutique windows. Kate scrambled on to the top of a parked car, seeking a better vantage point, putting all thoughts of nonsense from her mind.

“Ooh, a Jag. I hope this guy has insurance,” she quipped,dropping into her stance, adjusting her centre of gravity; her eyes sweeping the situation. Bow up, arrow notched, ready to fly.

Wait, ixnay the slow mo, and quiet. This situation called for something jumpy, sweeping angles focusing on their weapons, with appropriate lyrics for this scene, to keep the audience bopping along, like those dumb Die Hard movies her father loved. Hot time/summer in the city-

“Hey Duchess, let ‘em have it,” the voice crackled over the speaker in her ear. “What are you waiting for, an engraved invitation?”

“No,” Kate muttered through her teeth, quickly calculating the sit rep - wind speed, trajectory. Wire tensed, her breathing slowed, and time took on the weight and thickness of honey. Back muscles tightened, locked. The principles of AP Physics and Math never mattered so much in her life as they did now. Mentally, she flipped through the choices presented. Made a decision. “I’m choosing the soundtrack to my life.”

At that she let the arrow go. Angled it so that it originally seemed to go up, and off its mark, only to angle, and let loose a silver netting that fell on three of the perps. On touching their bodies, the men fell to their knees, sudden and heavy, enough volts coursing through them to stun a horse.

“Hey!” This, a snarl from some charming fellow sans nose and jaw as he lifted his hand and swung his gun towards her. “Eat lead, you b-!”

“Ah ah-” a voice said in her ear as an arrow whizzed out of from seemingly nowhere, flying past her shoulder, barely missing Kate’s hair, knocking the gun out of the burglar's hand. “If anyone’s going to call her a gendered slur-”

“It won’t be you.” Kate quipped, notching another arrow and let go in the direction of another robber trying to scramble left on the corner of Fifth and 139th. He got a bolo around his ankles for his trouble, as he tripped and fell over, jaw smashing against the side-walk, bags of jewellery releasing from limp fingers.

***

“Good shooting there, Tex.”

Clint positioned himself before a hotdog cart, a few streets away from Fifth Avenue, quiver slung across his shoulder, hand on hip, pointing at the toppings he wanted on his hotdog. The stand owner good naturedly took Clint’s ribbing. And of course, being Clint, he already got the man’s name, and in the space of two minutes, the men speaking in the shorthand of people who’d been buddies for a long time.

“Does the pretty lady want a hot one?”

Kate held up her hand, palm out at shoulder height, shook her head and gave a cool, polite smile. “Not today - Gus, is it?”

“You’re not watching your figure, are you?” Clint asked before taking a mouthful of hot dog. “Or, you’re not... “ he gulped, a horrified look flitting across his features. “A vegetarian? How did I not know this?”

“Hah,” Kate waved the comment away, as if it were too strong a smell. “I’m not scarfing down mystery meat encased in animal intestines, so don’t judge. Anyway, boss, I’m taking the next twenty four hours off. I'm marking it now.”

“I’m the boss now?” Clint raised an eyebrow and shot her a grin. “That’s new.”

Kate rolled her eyes. From her quiver, took out a bundle of cash, and slid a folded twenty over to Gus. “See how far that takes him,” she directed, ignoring the doff of Gus’s hat, turning to face Clint. Boldly, she took in his features, making note of his pupils, his speech. No lumps or bumps that she could see. Just Clint, now sporting a shorter do than he used to. The cut on his left eyebrow from their last adventure now healed into a nice straight line.

Her partner was patched up, and scarfing down greasy hot dogs. Great, she could leave him alone for a while.

“I have something to do between today and tomorrow evening,” Kate made her voice careful and lacking inflection, as she tried not to shade the moment with her mood. “I’m going to be off the radar, so you can’t get into trouble when I’m gone.”

“Okay.”

“I mean it,” Kate took a step forward, jabbing her finger in the direction of his chest. “For one day, it’s fistbump, Wonder Twins: deactivate.”

Something in her face must have alerted Clint to her disposition, as he grabbed at her wrist with his free hand, stopping her motion in mid jab. "Katie, what's wrong? Can I help?”

“Just keep out of trouble, for one day. That’s all.”

“Oh, izzat all?” Clint let her hand go, and continued snacking on his hotdog.

"Yeah," Kate rolled her shoulders, and adjusted the strap of her quiver. "That's all."

“I'll turn off the comm link and-”

“Don’t you dare. Keep the lines of communication open. Because if you get into trouble, and I hear about it after the fact, I will join forces with the bad guy du jour and tag team in kicking your ass.”

Clint raised his hands, in mock surrender, not too high though- his half eaten hot dog in grease paper and napkins in his other hand, fragrant steam rising from the food and dissipating in the air.

Clint.” Kate’s tone was a warning.

“All right, all right, all right. Whatever you say, work wife.”

Only Clint could make her want to roll her eyes, sock him a good one, and snort with laughter at the same time. Satisfied, Kate adjusted her quiver and bow, and made tracks to the nearest subway, not before hearing Clint go, “Hey, Kate left enough to cover one more hotdog? Oh yeah? Lay it on me.”

oOo

Kate normally woke up before the rest of the Bishop household did, save the wait staff.

Today, like any other, she went through her paces. Slipped her feet in sneakers, shimmied into her running attire before she tripped down to the basement where she did her gym work. It wasn’t enough to just stand and shoot arrows; her body had to be the perfect machine. Strong, flexible, and close to flawless as it could get.

Elliptical, five miles, at a five percent incline for warm up. Weights for arms, burpees- and crap, those never got any easier- push ups. Chin ups for fifteen, skipping for twenty, cool down another fifteen. Normally, she’d enjoy this time of day, with the restrained notes of Elgar in her ears, unobtrusive enough to cut out the dead noise, but not to jar her practice, as she went into downward facing dog, palms flat against the carpet, focusing on her breathing, unable to do any more.

Because of today.

Kate brushed her teeth and simultaneously wiped the heavy steam from the bathroom mirror, saw how pale she looked, her eyes large and bright.

Today was different.

Today was an anniversary.

***

“Kates.”

“Suze,” Kate greeted her sister as they sat down at the small breakfast table, neither of them noticing the lush views of Central Park and beyond the window of their condo. The floor to ceiling window brought the light of the late summer’s morning in, but none of the noise and bustle that was New York city. “What brings you to this neck of the woods?”

“Nate had to come to New York for business,” Susan explained, eyes and smile soft, her voice low, still thick with sleep. She was still in her pyjamas, a pale orange silk with small navy seahorse print, whereas Kate was already dressed to leave the condo; clad in a black motorcycle styled jacket, white T, denims and boots.

“I decided to drop in for a few days. Daddy insisted I stay here instead of a hotel, and besides-” the smile got even brighter. “I wanted to spend some time with you before we pack up and go to Hong Kong. I thought tonight would be nice. We could go to that restaurant in Tribeca- rumour has it Tony Stark bought a stake in it, and if Tony Stark says it’s the place to be-”

The rest of Susan’s words drowned in the white noise as Kate closed her eyes for a moment, and took a breath.

Although Kate loved her sister in spite of their vast differences; she wished their personalities were as similar as their features. According to the scribes at Vanity Fair, both possessed the beauty of their late mother, with just the right attributes of their father to give their features character. The inky black hair and skin breathed with a touch of gold, were his. Their eyes blue - Kate’s more electric to Susan’s midnight, their faces the same shape, down to their jawline, with Kate’s being seemingly a shade stronger, gift from their mother.

Their dispositions were totally different. Suze, her skin and manner soft and glowing as Degas’ pastels, as she won hearts, and dazzled everyone, with a studied sweetness and light. Kate’s features were sharper than her sister’s, as if drawn with ink and mechanical pen to her sister’s soft pastels, her manner just as straightforward.

“Sorry, Suze, not today.” Kate said, before she broke off to murmur thanks as the wait staff- now called into action with the sisters seated together at the table- started to bring out the fixings for breakfast. An omelette for Susan, with a side of some strange bread and porridge for Kate.

“Porridge?” Susan tittered, and one would have thought she was commiserating over the tragedy of Pompeii instead of sighing over Kate’s choice of breakfast. “Oh, Kate.”

“It’s everything a growing girl needs,” Kate spooned up her porridge, unrepentant. “I’ve errands to do today-”

“And you start the day eating like a peasant.”

“Not everyone’s up for doing the Dukan.” Kate spooned the last of her porridge, gulped and patted at her lips with the corner of her napkin.

“You make me work so hard,” Susan speared at a portion of the omelette with her fork, the heavy pink diamond on the fourth finger of her left hand catching and refracting the light to full effect. “Can’t you get someone to do the errands for you so we can have a day together? We do have people for that, I trust?”

“It’s something I have to do by myself, Suze,” Kate began, steeling herself for an argument.

“Oh, say no more,” Susan dismissed Kate’s explanation with an airy wave. Kate didn't take offence, because that was just Suze. She placed her hands on the table, and made to push away, only pausing when Susan placed her hand over Kate’s, her fingers long and cool against the knuckles of Kate's curled fingers. “I know you’re always dashing off to wherever,” she began, lifting her gaze to Kate’s. “I understand. I’ll be here when you get back. We have the entire weekend, you know?”

Kate exhaled a breath, rolled her eyes, and got over herself. Susan was Susan, and had tried hard to reach out, especially after their mother died. She could at least meet her halfway, right? “I’ll get back as soon as I’m done. Promise.”

oOo

“The Young Avengers? Who the blue blazes are the Young Avengers?” The nurse at the receptionist station gasped as the images of the Young Avengers crashing through the Rose Window of St Patrick’s played across the screen.

“My family and I have been waiting for over an hour-” and that was Derek Bishop, with enough energy from his bluster and indignation to power the city’s grid for a year. Kate, made her excuses, slipped out of the hospital, and sat on the steps, blanket draped across her shoulders, and the cool, hard surface under her seat. The bridesmaid’s gown probably snagging and pulling on the bits of gravel and dirt that littered the steps, but Kate didn't care. She sat there, gingerly holding the throwing star with her fingers, feeling the stirrings of-

“Aha,” Kate said to herself, at this time, she yanked the kitchen drawer open, seeing the throwing star there, beside the rolling pin. The others always thought she kept the throwing star because of Eli . Kate never disabused them of the notion. She learned enough from her father about the art of never explaining or complaining when it came to people. Sometimes, silence and no denials were the best weapons of all, since there was nothing to react to or rail against. Eventually, everyone dropped the significance of Kate’s keeping the star. She raised her eyes, not surprised to feel the beginning of tears there, and knuckled them away, only to see the table before her, and remember.

 

Happy Birthday to you.... happy birthday to you The Young Avengers sang lustily -if not in tune- all of them seated around the table in the kitchen of their lair. Cassie scrambled at her blindfold, their guest of honour, only for her eyes to pop at the cake Kate had catered.

“Omigo-” Cassie started, hands covering her mouth, her cheeks flushing a brilliant red from the pleasure of it all.

The cake, done in a fondant of the Avengers’ mansion, with her dad, Scott Lang as Antman in the top right hand corner.

Billy did some magic that made everything sparkle; the tablecloth an absolute white with the dazzle of a snowbank in the sun, the candles fizzing like fireworks at their wicks, and the entire room lit up with the same motifs as if it were the Fourth of July. But none dazzled like Cassie, still in her costume, because they just came off from a mission of WTF (Thank you, Tommy for your contribution for the case file).

“Happy birthday!” Eli lead the charge, the moment dissolved into clapping and laughter, and throughout it all, the entire evening, Cassie’s eyes never left hers, and Kate couldn't stop staring back.

Chapter Two

“Thank you, Mr Jarvis,” Kate said politely, perched at the edge of the chair, as he handed her over a cigar box of Cassie's goods.

“No thanks required, I’m only too happy to give it to you,” Jarvis said with a nod, as he placed his hands on his knees, his mouth curved into a moue of sadness. “I remember the first time Miss Lang came to the mansion - about so high,” Jarvis stuck his hand, palm out, at the level of his knee. “A little, lively thing with ginger hair.”

Kate remembered when they were asked to the mansion. An invite, on heavy parchment paper, with the flowing silver cursive. The paper with its richness, and thickness made it feel like less of an option, and more of a summoning.

“Oh!” Cassie half squealed, rubbing her nose, as she grabbed for the invitation again.

“Are we going to go?” This was Billy, voice tight with excitement and a bit of worry. Teddy tilted his head in Kate's direction. “What do you say, Kate? Should we go?”

“It might be a trap.”

“Eli,” and that was Tommy, sounding strangely indulgent. “Could you be any more paranoid?”

“They did it to us, once.”

“Back when they didn’t know who we were, or where our loyalties lay, and um- Kang, remember?” Cassie said, trembling with barely suppressed excitement. Kate could feel the tremors because they were squashed together, all six of the humans squashed on the YA sofa in front of the TV- because the mail came when everyone was in the midst of playing Pac Man- and none then wanted to move. With the exception of Vision standing off to the side.

“Let’s put it to a vote,” Kate’s hand shot up, her eyes on Cassie’s face, ready to use her leadership to throw the vote to yes if team opinion went the other day. “All for going to the Avengers mansion-”

“Aye!” Yelled a chorus of voices.

“All opposed?”

Eli, being the hipster of the group- because going to the Avengers’ Mansion was too mainstream for him, obviously- gave the lone “Nay.”

They went, with Cassie’s hand in hers, and Cassie’s excitement for being back in the mansion, they didn’t miss Eli much that day. Where Kate saw the Queen Anne tables and the Aubusson rugs (Suze had been going through an interesting interior decorating phase back then. Victoriana, mixed with Americana and a dollop of Steampunk) Cassie saw home.

“My dad used to like this room-” Cassie said, leading Kate towards the study. Kate took in the handsome room, walls done in puce, floor to ceiling bookshelves. Various pictures in frames of various sizes on one wall, set just so. There were globes, Kate noted with interest, each one a different snapshot of the geopolitics of the world at that particular time. “Wow, on this globe it still says Persia. Wild.”

The musical instrument in the corner tugged at her eye, and drew her attention. “Oh, that’s a piano,” Cassie said, eyes fixed on the shelves as if she were looking for something.

“No,” Kate corrected gently, as she sat down on the low stool in front of the keyboard. “It’s a Harpsichord. Handel and Byrd did various compositions for it.”

“Oh,” Cassie’s voice came to her ears from the far side of the room. “Can you play?”

“I’m not great,” Kate admitted, as she pushed the cover away, and pressed her fingers against the keys, the sound a watery tinkle to her ears. “Cello, remember? Suze- my sister- she loved it, although violin was her primary. Thought it tied into the whole Steampunk aesthetic.”

“Steampunk?”

“Yeah, think of Wild West but all the ti- what’s this?”

Selected Poems by Ogden Nash,” Cassie placed the book in Kate’s hands, the covers and pages almost falling apart. "My dad used to read 'em to me all the time.”

With a happy sigh, Cassie plopped on the space of the low wooden seat beside Kate, and unselfconsciously, she threw an arm around Kate’s shoulders, and in that moment, Cassie was everything.

“I’m glad you’re here, Kate.”

Kate couldn’t resist smiling back. “So am I.”

***

“She’d get everyone to read it to her,” Mr Jarvis said, as Kate gently lifted out the book from its cradle of tissue paper. “Even me.”

A beat of silence, and Kate tucked the book away.

“Mr Stark has given orders that the garden mustn't be disturbed per your request.” Jarvis began. “I hope everything is to your liking.”

Kate nodded, absently tucking a stray shock of hair behind her ear. “I’m sure it will be.”

Chapter Three

Kate had done death before.

Knew the score - yet showed it the middle finger anyway.

Death could piss off. It had no consideration for who was the best and brightest. Her mom- here one day, and gone the next. Herself - a moment this person, not thinking outside of soup kitchens, and lacrosse with a side of Cello. A year later, on the night of her sister's crashed wedding, battling the stirrings of something tugging at her. Something - now seated at the steps of the hospital- with a throwing star in her hand, tips marking the cardinal points of a compass.

“I’m Cassie Lang,” an introduction, and in that moment, a direction.

“Hey, wait, are you a Young Avenger, too?”

“Nope,” Cassie said, but the hard flash in her eyes betrayed her intention. “But I’m gonna be.”

Cassie whirled to go, her ponytail flying in the wind. Kate threw off the coarse hospital blanket from her shoulders, her father’s bluster and the way of life as she knew it, gone. “Hey Cassie-” she scrambled to her feet, glad for the flats Susan graciously allowed her to wear with the bridesmaid dress. “Wait up!”

The statue hadn’t changed. Cassie captured in marble, in mid crouch, caught between either growing or shrinking.

Sure you can, Cass. Just take a deep breath- and think small.

Kate walked past the trio of statues, turned right into the garden, where the rest of the Avengers’ graves were, and right there, in place of Scott Lang’s gravestone, was Cassie’s instead. Kate insisted that Cassie got a gravestone with the other fallen Avengers with such vehemence that Tony Stark eventually demurred to her request.

As she directed, a wheelbarrow of flowers, gloves, a trowel and a watering can. Eyes dry, Kate yanked on the heavy, canvas gardening gloves, fell to her knees. She ignored the sun on her back and shoulders, not caring if the moist earth dampened and stained the knees of her jeans.

“Does she know?”

Kate raised her head and stared at Eli, pausing in mid task. It was two am, and Cassie, all filled with cake and merriment and Tommy being weak to Cassie’s pleas for a taste of beer, promptly fell asleep on the sofa in their living room, her body sprawled across the sofa like a dying starfish. Everyone else had gone to bed, save Kate, with hefty bag throwing all the paper plates and forks and napkins in there. And now, well... Eli.

“Know what?” Kate dragged the drawstring of the bag, and hauled it into the kitchen, Eli hot on her heels.

Eli flicked on the kitchen light, closed the door behind them, so that the light wouldn’t shine on Cassie’s face in the other room.

“You know.”

“No,” Kate threw the bag in the far corner near to the door, as she moved towards the table, clearing up the good china - because good birthday cake shouldn’t be eaten on plastic plates- Kate had always thought. Pizza and every other party food however, was fair game. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“When it comes to Cassie, you wear your feelings on your face.” Kate said nothing. If you didn’t deny, say anything at all, people wouldn’t push, because they had nothing to push against. She placed her hands against the table, waiting for her heart to slow its rapid beat at the truth she couldn’t refute.

“I know-” at this, Eli did a noisy exhale of breath. “I know I made it uncomfortable for you for a while, and I’m sorry.”

“You’ve always been an asshole from the jump, Eli,” Kate half laughed as she gathered the silverware together with minimum clinking. “Going forward, I don’t think you’re gonna change on that front. I’ll just have to learn to - get around you.”

“Hah, if that’s you, then what am I? Wait, no, that sounded better in my head.” Eli pushed himself from the wall, and started to help gather the dishes from the surface of the table. At Kate’s raised eyebrow, he shrugged. “Listen, it’s Friday, even though it’s two am and -” he pointed at the rota stuck to the fridge with a Captain America magnet. “It’s my turn to wash up.”

Kate let it go, left the silverware in heap on the table. She understood that it was his way of an apology. “Warm soapy water and a soft cloth. If you scratch anything-”

“I know, I know, you’ll end me.” Eli waved her off as he started to gather the dishes together.

“Kate?” His voice stopped her as she made to turn the doorknob and let herself out.

“Yeah?”

“I hope you have a better time with Cass than, you know. Us. Sorta kinda us I mean. I'm shutting up now.”

“Asshole,” Kate rolled her eyes, and smiled. They were okay again. Eli’s laughter following her out of the room.

The hole now deep and wide enough for what she wanted. Kate got up, gently scooped up black eyed Susans, and transplanted them in front of the grave stone. Hardy perennials, which would bloom throughout most of the year. Blue for Cassie’s eyes, yellow blooms for her hair, and red flowers with black spots. Kate focused on the task like she did everything else with a single minded purpose that blocked out everything. The lingering humidity, the burn of sun on the nape of her neck and her forearms. All that mattered now was the time she carved out from everything in order to plant flowers in the memory of her best friend.

Chapter Four

Kate slipped inside, closing the door behind her, moving from the passage into the living room, not surprised to see Susan up, her form swathed in the muted colours and flowing lines of a kimono as imagined by one of her sister’s favoured designers. At her feet, various shopping bags littered in stages of unpacking.

“Kates,” Susan smiled in greeting, moving from a lying to a seated position on the couch, feet tucked beneath her body. From the noise blaring from the TV, Kate assumed that Susan had just finished watching a movie.

“Suze,” Kate said, dropping into the space on the overstuffed sofa beside Susan. “What are you watching?”

Lost. I thought I’d catch up since I’m here. How’s your day?”

“Fine,” Kate turned her head towards her sister, resting her cheek against the leather of the sofa. “Obviously not as outwardly productive as yours.” Kate flicked at the bag from Barney's with the toe of her boot.

“Don’t judge me,” Susan said defensively, with the battle weary nature of someone who knew what the next point of argument would be.

“Do you know how much villages in Africa an entire day’s shopping could -”

“Obviously you haven’t been to Luanda. When we were out there-”

“Oh, Suze.” Kate laughed, and it wasn’t strained, and she didn’t go all weird. She’d be all right, Kate realised with a start. She could remember Cassie, and not have her heart crack at the thought of it. After her mom, she thought she had practice, but she was finding out, you could never have too much. “Never change.”

“Oh, Kate,” Susan mocked her sister’s tones. Her manner a bit easier now, her lips curved into a faint smile. “You should. Are you going out tonight?”

“I just need to do one more thing,” Kate confirmed, as she moved towards her room to change. “And I’ll be back. If it's too late tonight, we’ll try and do something tomorrow.”

“Shopping!” Susan shouted with the glee of an excited child.

“Gag.”

“You make it too easy," Susan laughed, as Kate turned around. "Let’s stay in tomorrow, get out our instruments, and just - practice like we used to, when we were younger.”

Kate stopped, thought about the offer. Smiled. Suze was right, they hadn't played together in a while. “I’d like that.”

“I know,” Suze’s tones were long suffering. “I know.”

***

“Okay, so it’s not the Avengers’ mansion,” Kate began, as she keyed in the code, and pushed the heavy door open, the rooms cool, and dark. “It used to be Bishop Publishing back then-” she broke off as Cassie coughed beside her, and gently Kate rubbed at her back. “But we can make it something.”

“Like liveable, you mean?” Cassie whipped out her mobile phone, and turned on its flashlight. Its small beam valiantly trying to cut through the dark.

“Hardee har har,” Kate said, as she found her way to the stairs. It was in a part of the city undergoing gentrification, but progress hadn’t touched this building yet.

“I’m surprised the windows are still intact.”

“My dad does the basic upkeep, through some charitable tax write off thingy,” Kate explained, as she took the stairs, Cassie keeping up behind her, still shining her phone light before them.

“But think about it, Cass. The Avengers might have their mansion, but we have something better.”

“This?” Cassie coughed, whipping her illuminated mobile phone back and forth as they stepped into a large room. Kate went to the wall and flicked the switch on, throwing the large room into light and focus, and Cassie raised her hands, shielding her eyes from the sudden glare of light. The walls were bare, devoid of all decoration save plug sockets. The room a huge and empty thing, the windows and the skylight boarded up.

“Yeah, this.” Kate turned to face her friend- and yeah, her and Cassie had been fast friends from the start. “I can’t do this without you, Cass, and I don’t want to. If we’re going to help people, we’re gonna do this together.”

Cassie's smile was slow and sly, a gleam sharpening her gaze “Like you would ever do this without me.”

“Like I could ever do this without you.”

“We’re the Young Avengers,” Cassie breathed, the words powerful and new, as if spoken into being for the first time.

“Yeah,” Kate nodded slowly, because it was so. “We are.”

“What would be the soundtrack to this?”

“What?”

“Hello?” Cassie laughed. “Every epic moment needs a soundtrack. Music is your thing, remember?”

Kate thought for a while. “Anything by Howard Shore.”

Everything else, Kate remembered, had been a formality. Later, Tommy came on board, slotting into the team, bringing sharp tongued humour and mischief and fun. Eli left, and came back. Through it all, she had Cassie. But Kate didn’t take a step, not do anything because - the feeling of self doubt clashing with so right caught her on the back step. It was enough, she told herself, to have a best friend.

Only for Cassie to change things, just by existing, the night before that day, in Wundagore, aiding Magneto and the Scarlet Witch.

They shared a bed, because it was too cold not to. Even with pyjamas and thick socks on, and the window shutters closed against the sky. Cassie fell asleep, head tucked under Kate’s chin, the silk of her hair against skin, their fingers linked under the coverlet. Even then, before the big battles, Kate could never sleep.

“Sleep.” Cassie murmured.

“Can’t.”

Cassie shifted and kissed Kate’s cheek, her breath a warm zephyr on her face. An innocent smack of a noise that made Kate's heart thump against her ribs, with a flutter of excitement and love. “Now you can.”

***

Kate went through the YA lair one last time, knowing that she wouldn’t be coming back - not for a good while. Here was the study where Cass shrank to nothingness, and she had to get a microscope to find her. The room with the skylight that was Cassie’s, even though Billy and Teddy lusted after it. All their protestations came to naught, when Cassie walked under and stood, staring at the night sky, charting the adventures they’d go to in space. The sink where Cassie and Kate washed up, cracking each other up with their fingers under the sudsy water.

When Kate passed the kitchen, that’s when it hit her, the fact that it had been a year to the day since - everything, and Cassie wasn’t coming back. Her knees giving out, Kate sat heavily on the back of the sofa, trying to blink back at the prickle of tears, rubbed at her nose to stop the burn.

“Ah, Cass,” she knuckled a tear away. “I wish you were here. Even if it’s just to hear me bitch about Hawkeye. You know what he called me today?” Kate asked, just because. “His work wife. Ugh,” she laughed, half angry at herself for being so shaky and weak, but already feeling better, stronger at just talking.

“I miss you, Cassie,” and there, the words were out, loud in twilight stillness. The thread of sadness running through them almost tipped Kate over to bawling, but she pressed the backs of her fingers to her lips. Cleared her throat, and tried again. “I miss you so much.”

No answer, not that Kate expected one, and her phone buzzed in the pocket of her jacket.

Kate immediately brought it to her ear. It would be her sister, calling to check up on her. “Hey Suze-”

“Suze?” An all too familiar voice queried. “Hey, that’s your sister right? You promised me an intro-”

“She’s married. What have you gotten yourself into now, Clint?”

“Ugh, the woman knows me too well.” The statement was punctuated by a shatter of heavy glass and a muffled curse. Kate switched into gear, her mind focused on Clint’s voice. Noted strain just underneath the broad humour. “Hey, wife.”

“Stop heckling me, Clint.”

"I say one thing about your purple nail polish. William Tell-"

"Clint."

“Yes, Kate?”

“Just...” Kate dragged her hand through her hair, glad for the interruption, but unable to say so. "My nail polish is off limits, okay?"

“Roger that. Hey, work wife, is it too early to go, fist bump, Wonder Twins powers: activate?”

“By an hour,” Kate glimpsed at the time on her phone, and placed it against her ear again. “Why?”

“KILL HIM and bring him to ME! ” The notes so strident and deafening, Kate held the phone away from her ear.

“Because of that.” Clint chimed in.

“An old boyfriend?”

“Hey, are you gonna save my ass, or chap my ass, Kate? When it comes to asses, I’d like you to know? I can chap my own.”

“I can do both, Barton. I’m on my way.” Kate disconnected the phone, and stopped for a moment. Looked around the room, saw nothing. Kate touched her fingers to her lips and blew a kiss into the universe, hoping - just hoping. With a start, she remembered, slid the tattered thin volume of poems from her jacket and placed it on the nearby table.

Cass, if you can come back, Kate sent the thought out there. Come back. I want you here, with me.

A final look around the room, and Kate peered at the time, tucked the phone into her pocket.

She ran out the door, swinging it shut.

Fin