Ashley was a…complicated mutant, but one who was eager to make life work.
At the age of 25, Ashley had already been through a lifetime of hell. You know the kind - your average awkward upbringing with a very protective father, being Professor Charles Xavier himself, and an incredibly dangerous mutation that allowed her to shoot the elements out of her fingertips. Charles tended to go by any means necessary to keep his daughter safe, always concerned that she'd end up accidentally causing mass destruction to innocent lives - as she had done once before. So naturally, Ashley grew up under his watchful eyes, and he wouldn't even let her join the X Men, despite them being nearer to her age than the school kids she was forced to sit with.
Ashley couldn't live like that.
However, after much back and forth between Professor X and his old friend Nick Fury, Ashley was swiftly accepted into S.H.I.E.L.D instead, the infamous secret organisation created to 'combat extraordinary and inexplicable threats'. And, after a few initial awkward bumps in the road, life with The Avengers eventually smoothed out for her. She had bonded well with the team, particularly with Tony Stark, Natasha Romanoff and of course, Steve Rogers.
Her beloved Steve Rogers.
She had managed to score the one guy that seemingly everyone else in the world wanted. It took quite some time, but Steve ended up falling for her. A miracle of sorts, really.
Steve and Ashley were doing really well together in their new relationship, despite their increasingly busy schedules. Everything was still quite fresh with them as it hadn't been long, especially as Steve was quietly reserved whilst Ashley was slightly fierier personality. She spent most of her time with him in his apartment, compared to when she first joined the Avengers and was living with Pepper and Tony on their floor. She still spent a lot of her time up there with them, though, especially as Stark loved to host his regular infamous 'Avengers Team Bonding Nights'.
And tonight was one of them.
"Nachos, cheese and homemade guac, coming right up!" Ashley announced brightly as she and Bruce waltzed across the living room floor to return the rest of the team, their fancy dip bowls cradled in their palms.
"Yesss!" Pepper grinned, grabbing a nacho from the large dish on the coffee table. "Guys, this looks amazing!" Pepper and Ashley were good friends, too. Pepper took to her pretty quickly after her arrival a few months ago, with her being a new female force added to the team who could take Tony's sarcastic wit.
"Banner, did you really have a hand in making this too?" Natasha smirked to her teammate in amusement.
"Yikes. Don't sound too shocked," Bruce frowned back at her. "I can be gentle as well, you know!"
"We don't doubt it, buddy!" Tony nodded firmly, before clapping him playfully on the shoulder. Ashley dusted her hands on her jeans before walking over to Steve who was seated on one of the swivel chairs, and carefully plopped herself on his lap. He almost immediately wrapped his arms around her waist without even looking up, and Pepper and Natasha couldn't help but exchange little smirks at each other. It was Natasha who had helped them get together in the first place, so seeing them like that definitely made her feel pretty smug.
"Hey lovebirds - when you finally have those weird little mutant-power-soldier babies, would you name the first one after me? The name 'Tony' is unisex, don't forget!" Tony quipped as he helped himself to a few nachos too. Steve rolled his eyes and said nothing, already used to the teasing, whilst Ashley squinted her eyes and cocked her head to the side thoughtfully.
"Why would we have to name our child 'Tony'? I mean no offence, Tone - but why you, out of everyone?" she couldn't help but giggle.
"Literally? I'm the one who helped them get together, idiots," Natasha murmured against the rim of her glass.
"Ya know, that is a great question," Clint chuckled back, lifting up his cold beer slightly. "It would honestly be me if anyone, right Ash?" This time Steve couldn't help but laugh out loud - this whole conversation was completely bizarre to him.
"Did ya hear that laugh from Rogers? That laugh screamed the words 'butt out birdbrain'. To answer your previous question, Red - ya might wanna name them in memory of me?" Tony frowned irritably over Clint's outburst. Steve slammed his hand over his face and shook his head, deciding to leave this one to Ashley instead.
"'In memory'? Tony, I don't know if you've noticed but…you're very much alive," she blinked, crinkling her lightly freckled nose.
"For now! Who knows where I'll be by the time you two actually get it cracking?" Tony grumbled cheekily, earning another sharp elbow in the ribs from his own girlfriend. "Ouch? Honey, it was an extremely fair point. She's too shy to ask him for it and he's so old fashioned that he's probably waiting for married! I don't even know if sex was invented back when he was living in realtime." But before Ashley or Pepper could respond, the elevator pinged - and in walked Christie, with none other than Thor behind her.
Christie was Ashley's younger sister, only by about two years. Whilst Ashley was sweet and gentle, Christie had always been icier, colder, harsher. Christie was the slender tall one, with the long, bone straight, moonlit-white hair and slightly scary grey eyes, whilst Ashley's hair was a powerful wavy deep red and her eyes were bottle green, supporting a curvier figure. They were sisters, but clearly polar opposites. One was a mutant who grew up with their father at the School Of The Gifted, and the other grew up as a 'regular' human with their mother, before running away and training become an assassin for S.H.I.E.L.D.
Yes. An assassin.
They lived completely different lives growing up, but had found themselves reconnecting after a few rough and somewhat life-threatening situations together. Their relationship started off a little rocky but…after you almost die a few times and your sister happens to save you, you learn to get over a few family grievances.
"Ahhh now the party's all here!" Clint cheered as both Christie and Thor approached the group who had smiles on their faces. Christie shot them a little smirk, before silently settling herself down on a beanbag as she usually did - but Thor wasn't smiling for once.
That was a change.
"Hey, big guy, you okay?" Bruce frowned up at the concerned looking demi-god.
Thor took a large breath in before answering, already looking a little regretful.
"Today, I was made aware of the remainings of HYDRA… there aren't many bases left, yet I know one of them holds something that I certainly need to recover before they can do any real damage with it," Thor explained to them all gravely. He seemed incredibly nervous, but nobody could put their finger on why. "It's…well, it's…I need Loki's sceptre." Christie's blood ran cold as she felt every single person in that room turn their head to look at her before they could stop themselves.
But she tried not to look at anyone, she was desperate not to in fact.
Christie had experienced a run in with Loki before. A few times, actually. After a couple of years of working for S.H.I.E.L.D., Fury and Coulson had shoved her on a huge undercover operation in Asgard, where she'd accidentally fallen in love with Loki Laufeyson - and witnessed him die…twice. It broke her, and she was never the same after that. She hardened her heart and swore never to love again.
Sounded dramatic - but hey.
"So HYDRA currently has Loki's sceptre? Do we know what they're planning on doing with it?" Steve clarified, sitting up a little straighter and resting his chin on Ashley's shoulder from behind.
"We do not, no. So I'd much appreciate it if, once we dismantle the…rest of the bases, we could, perhaps, uh, keep an eye out for it," Thor rounded up quickly before finally taking a seat as well. "Stark, I am well aware that you are now retired-"
"Are you kidding?" Tony scoffed with a daring look in his dark eyes. "I'd come straight outta retirement for this, it sounds like way too much fun! Also…what the hell would you guys do without me on the team, huh? Like, how would this team cease to function?" Christie chewed the inside of her cheek and focussed on her slim fingers that were twisting around nervously in her lap, internally praying that nobody bothered mentioning her.
But Thor just had to say something.
"And of course, Christie - I do not expect you to-"
"To what?" Christie laughed lightly, lifting her head again with a frown as everyone turned to her again. "Join in? Thor, you don't have to worry about me. If it's…h-his sceptre we need to get, then it's his sceptre we will get."
Thor gave her a solemn nod and said nothing more. He didn't want to push her - she didn't like when people pushed her.
"Bless," Tony hummed, leaning on his fist. "Hey, Whitey - if you ever have a kid, will you name them after me?" Ashley, Steve, Pepper, Bruce and Clint all rolled their eyes and let out simultaneous groans, whilst Christie couldn't help but smile at his request.
"Of course I will, Tone," she nodded at him across the room. "You might have to settle for a middle name, though - particularly if it's a girl."
"I don't blame you, it is a rather…hideous name," Thor hummed into his glass under his breath, making Steve and Clint stifle their laughter.
"Well. I mean a middle name would suffice," Tony nodded solemnly before shooting Ashley an irritated look. "Certainly better than SOME."
"She's only saying that because she doesn't even want kids, Tony. So it's actually quite an empty promise," Ashley told him with a risen eyebrow.
"Empty…and yet oh so full," Tony tutted back whilst leaning back in his chair.
A few days later, S.H.I.E.L.D. had picked up on new HYDRA base intel and was showing it to the team in the Avengers Tower's meeting room. Well, Maria Hill was - the rest were figuring out a strategy, particularly when it came to Bruce. "So am I meant to kinda just…wait? Like, hover around till you guys finally get home?" he was asking as he took regular sips of his morning cup of coffee.
"…no, you're gonna suit up with the rest of us?" Steve gave a light chuckle as if it were obvious.
"Yeah but when we're done, you guys get to come home in the jet and cool off and I…I won't even be able to fit in the jet. Unless, of course, you're all willing to twiddle your thumbs until I get over myself again," Bruce blinked as if it were obvious.
Everyone around the table immediately fell quiet, realising that he had a point.
"How do you usually snap yourself out of it?" Ashley asked him, leaning on the palm of her hand and absentmindedly stirring her hot chocolate with the other.
"It subsides on its own," Bruce mused. "He kinda just…goes."
"So how do we make it just…go…faster and on our time?" Clint blinked at the rest of the group.
"He needs a trigger word," Tony decided with an affirmative nod as he stood to his feet and began to pace, "something that we drill into your head now that, when the time comes, will wake you outta your…mood. Like…I dunno, 'pumpkins'."
"Pumpkins…?" Natasha raised an eyebrow.
"I'm sorry, does anyone else have any other smart ideas?" Tony scoffed, glancing around at the rest of them. There was a thick later of silence silence across the table as they all shrugged at each other. "Then 'pumpkins' it is!"
"PUMPKINS! PUMPKIIIINNNNNSSSS!" Tony yelled out as he soared beside Hulk, who was carelessly destroying and dismantling the HYDRA base piece by piece.
"Very smooth plan by the way, Stark!" Ashley rolled her eyes from where she was on the ground, spraying one of the backdoors with ice so that she could smash it open. She didn't want to burst all the doors through with fire, just in case there were delicate pieces of intel on the inside. The last thing she wanted to do was accidentally destroy them. As she blasted away Christie was covering for her, shooting any soldiers that attempted to run up on them.
"If the sceptre's actually in there, we're absolutely screwed by the way," Christie added in as she shot down another two agents. "Banner is really going to town today!"
"I mean technically…like, did Thor ever specify he needed the sceptre all in one piece?" Tony winced over the disruptive sound of Bruce's roars.
"'Tis much preferred, Stark!" Thor bellowed back as he crushed a few more of the HYDRA soldiers with his Mjonlir, working side by side with Steve a little further away from the compound.
"Let's face it, guys," Clint grunted, whilst aiming and shooting his arrows from where he was perched on the roof, "Banner really doesn't need to be at every mission."
"What? Spoilt sport! He's apart of the team too, isn't he? Why don't we leave you at home and see how you like it?" Tony pointed out with a pout whilst soaring around the destroyed half of the building.
"Yeah but there's a time and a place, Stark - and this was clearly neither. The compound is tiny and there's not even enough guards for him to be of any proper value," Steve pointed out as he used his shield as a frisbee to take out the remaining soldiers. "Well, the compound was tiny…"
Natasha hopped into the ruins of the base with her torch risen, searching amongst the rubble for any sign of what was left the sceptre. Hulk finally rested and stood still, seeing that there was nothing else to smash and no more 'immediate' threats. The shooting had stopped - they had taken all of them out. Stark landed next to him and swiftly took himself out of the suit, giving him the freedom to roam around as well.
"No sign of the sceptre down here. Another dead end," Natasha sighed, settling herself in front of one of the comms systems. "In fact, looks like this base didn't hold a lot at all. Some information that we're scanning in now but…nothing fun from the looks of it, I'm afraid."
"Yeah, unless it's under all this damn rubble," Clint scoffed back as he shoved his bow back in the holster. Thor flew over and landed right in front of them with a hefty grunt before looking around as well.
"No, it's not," he muttered. "It would've been easier to spot - much easier, at that. It's too powerful to be left sitting out."
Suddenly, the back door blew open, revealing a smiling Ashley with a bored looking Christie by her side.
"Oh," Ashley's smile faltered once she had seen that everything had already been completely trashed. "Well. Uh…I guess 'pumpkins' didn't make a difference, then?"
"What can we say? Stark's clever ideas strikes again," Christie whispered under her breath, as Tony rolled his eyes and flung his head back.