Druitt taunted Magnus about Ashley's 'killer instinct', he
could not have known how right he was. When Ashley was six, Helen
started to realize that she was not like other girls.
Nothing is mine
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Ashley sat on a chair in the shooting range, her plump little legs swinging in midair as she watched her mother and Henry.
"You're still drifting to the left," Magnus told Henry, pointing at the cluster of bullet holes on the target. "However, your distribution is getting tighter, so well done on that." She stepped behind him and moved his arms into a more suitable position. "Try closing the other eye next time, see if that makes a difference."
The teenage werewolf nodded and loaded a fresh clip in the gun.
"Can I try?"
Magnus turned around, frowning. "Ashley, don't be ridiculous. You're six years old."
"I could do it," the girl pronounced.
"When you're older."
"No fair!" she whined.
"It's okay, Ash," Henry said, giving her a look that clearly spoke to how unreasonable adults could be, even ones as cool as 'Doc Magnus'.
"I'm sorry, Ashley, but I think you're just too small to handle a gun safely."
"She may be small, Doc, but she's strong," Henry pointed out reasonably.
"Pretty please!" Ashley added, batting her eye-lashes. Where on earth had she learned to do that?
"Come on, Doc, let her give it a shot!" Henry urged. "She's a big girl."
"Not on the inside."
"Oh, very well," she sighed. It was very much against her better judgment, but she suspected that Ashley would be so shocked by the power of the weapon that she would refuse to touch one again until she was twenty.
Ashley jumped down from the chair, hopping eagerly up and down while Magnus loaded another gun.
"You never do this without Henry or I in the room. Do you understand that, young lady?"
"'Course I do, Mom. Guns are dangerous. I'm not stupid."
For a six year old, Ashley could behave remarkably like a sarcastic teen when the mood took her. But Magnus trusted that she knew enough not to do anything stupid in the future. She had already seen enough to understand the consequences of even the most seemingly innocuous actions. And, with weapons frequently needed in her line of work, Magnus had been drilling gun-safety into Ashley since the cradle.
"Okay, come over here," she directed.
Ashley walked over and took the gun from her mother, her expression appropriately serious. It was no act; Ashley understood the gravity of this. Magnus was mildly reassured. But Ashley would still bear careful watching after this. Enjoying Tae Kwon Do at the dojang was one thing. That was fun. But Ashley displaying an interest in the use of a lethal weapon was just plain distressing.
Magnus knelt behind her daughter, wrapping her arms around her and helping her position the gun properly.
"This hand aims and this one supports," she told her. "Very good," she said when Ashley had complied. The girl had watched her and Henry enough to know the proper handling. "Now, close one eye."
"Your left eye has better vision. Keep that one open."
"Now, you know how to breathe?"
"Like you showed Henry."
"Right. Raise the gun to eye-level. Very good. Look down the barrel of the gun, use it to line up your shot. Where you're looking is where the bullet should hit. Now, on one, okay?"
"Squeeze, don't jerk. Keep your hands steady. Stay calm, and breathe. Don't blink…"
"I won't," she promised.
"Three. Two. And one."
Ashley squeezed off the shot and Magnus did not even need to hold her little hands steady. The bullet tore into the target right over the heart. Magnus stared down at the girl with wide eyes, staggered. Beginner's luck, it had to be…
Henry let out a happy whoop. "Yes! Go, Ashley! Girl, you are a killer!"
Ashley fired again, before Magnus could react, emptying the entire clip into the target, creating a tight little cluster of bullet-holes around the first one. Magnus felt ill.
"That's quite enough, Ashley." She took the gun before unwrapping her arms from around the girl. "Don't you have some homework to finish?"
Ashley shook her head, turning around and regarding her mother with a puzzled look. "I finished it this afternoon. Didn't I do good, Mom?"
"Oh, sweetheart, you were amazing! Much as you always are." She forced herself to smile. "But it's getting late. Say goodnight to Henry, then go get ready for bed. I'll be up shortly."
"'Kay, Mom," she answered, still looked confused. "Night, Henry."
"Night, Killer." Henry winked at her, then reached out with both hands and mussed her hair.
It was a mistake. Ashley had made it quite clear, many times in the past, that she did not enjoy having her hair ruffled like that. Normally, she just squealed a protest and tried to duck away. Tonight, she went on the offensive.
She moved so quickly that Magnus was not even entirely sure what moves the girl used. But Henry landed on his back with Ashley on top of him, looking furious, her fist raised to strike him in the face.
"I've told you not to do that!" she yelled.
"Ashley Victoria Magnus!" Magnus bellowed, hurrying over and yanking her daughter roughly off the stunned-looking teenager. "What on earth?"
Ashley stared up at her with wide eyes, suddenly just a little girl afraid of getting in trouble. She looked troubled as well, and Magnus could guess what. The outburst had been completely uncharacteristic.
"What were you thinking?" she demanded, sick to her stomach.
"I… don't know," Ashley whispered, tears forming in her eyes.
"Go get ready for bed. I'll be up shortly."
Ashley nodded, shame obvious in her expression.
"Go," Magnus ordered, waiting until the girl was gone before helping Henry to his feet. "Are you hurt, dear?"
He shook his head slowly, looking stunned. "I, uh…"
"I'll speak to her. It won't happen again," she promised grimly, wondering how to make good on that promise.
He nodded, eyes wide. "Don't be too hard on her, Doc. I know she didn't mean anything by it."
"She must learn self-control," she answered. "Twenty more minutes down here, Henry, then you need to come upstairs and finish your homework."
"Yes, ma'am. Hey, once I'm done, can I play on the computer for awhile?"
She flipped through his used targets before answering. "I'd say you've earned an hour or two. Just… don't hack into the Department of Defense again."
He made a face. "You're no fun."
"Twenty minutes, Henry. And I expect that homework to score perfect marks, as well."
"Always does," he pointed out, grinning.
She ruffled his hair. "Cheeky brat."
"That's me," he agreed.
Magnus shook her head and left the shooting gallery. She was so preoccupied that she nearly ran Steve over.
"Oh, how careless of me. I'm dreadfully sorry!"
The lizard-man waved off her apologies with a good-natured, toothy grin before going on his way. She went on her way, trying to be more mindful of her surroundings, but still lost in thought. This development was most unwelcome. Steps would have to be taken. She could have ignored the enthusiasm and proficiency with the gun, but the attack against Henry was insupportable. She stopped in her lab for a few supplies before heading upstairs to the family living quarters.
Ashley was sitting at the table in the family kitchen, staring at her lesson with a pencil hanging out of her mouth, counting on her fingers.
"Don't chew your pencil, Ashley," she directed, laying the supplies on the table. "It isn't seemly."
The girl took the pencil out of her mouth and looked at the equipment on the table, frowning. "Are you going to give me a shot?"
"I'm afraid I need to take some blood, sweetheart. Would you like me to numb the skin first? I have cream for that."
Ashley shook her head. "It doesn't hurt that bad. Is it because I was naughty?"
"Of course not, dear. I don't do medical tests to punish people. I just need to know something."
Ashley nodded and held out her arm. "I'm sorry I knocked Henry down."
"Why did you do it?" Magnus asked, swabbing her arm with alcohol.
"I don't know," she whispered. "I like Henry!"
"Of course you do, dear. He's like a brother to you. Which means that he can be annoying, but that you still love him in spite of it. Isn't that right?"
Ashley nodded as Magnus tied a tourniquet.
"You have such lovely veins, darling." She smiled reassuringly. "You've done this plenty of times before. There's nothing to be scared of."
"I know. You wouldn't hurt me."
"Of course I wouldn't."
Magnus slipped the needle into the bulging vein, attaching the first test-tube. She took several large tubes, just in case; better to take more now than having to stick Ashley again later. Ashley was, as always, stoic. She watched the procedure with mild interest and held a cotton swab against the prick once the needle was removed.
Magnus shook the tubes to mix the blood with the preservative inside, then laid them aside and bent to look at Ashley's homework.
"That's a multiplication sign, not a plus sign, dear."
"Oops," Ashley answered, quickly erasing her answer and writing in a new one. "That better?"
"Much, my clever girl." Magnus bent and kissed the top of her head, then went and put the vials of blood into the refrigerator.
"Aren't you going to test it?" Ashley asked.
"It can wait until after I've put you to bed," she assured her, sitting down again. "I'll even read you a story first."
"Even though I was bad?"
"My darling Ashley, I would love you no matter how bad you were," she promised.
Ashley smiled and bent over her homework again.
Magnus waited to run the blood until Henry was in bed as well, not wanting to be disturbed at her work. She loved the two children dearly, but they could be something of a distraction.
It was a test she had run repeatedly since Ashley's birth, grateful each time for a normal result, but dreading the next time it seemed necessary to check. She hoped against hope, knowing as she did that it was futile. Ashley was, after all, her father's daughter.
Therefore, it was no surprise when the child's blood-work came back with a series of abnormal markers. Heightened intellect, heightened reflexes, heightened aggression. Everything that it took to make a normal girl into a killer. A clear instance of Nature overcoming the power of Nurture.
"Oh, my love, I'm so sorry," she whispered, staring at the results. Her beautiful little girl…
She jumped, startled. Ashley was standing at the lab door in her nightgown, looking troubled.
Magnus turned off her computer screen even though the test results would mean nothing to the girl.
"Darling. What is it?"
"I had a bad dream."
"Come here," Magnus directed, opening her arms. "What happened?"
"I was in a dark place and there was a bad man and he hurt the big guy and…" She trailed off, sniffling. She took a moment to compose herself before concluding, "And then I made him go away."
She felt her heart leap with joy. There was a way! Ashley could still be saved from her own nature, be a force for good, even. She cuddled the little girl close, climbing to her feet and carrying her back to her bedroom. She tucked her in, then stretched out next to her, wrapping her arms around her daughter.
"There's my big, brave, beautiful girl," she whispered in the darkness. "Henry told me that the two of you have been secretly fighting each other?"
She had been livid at the young man's revelation earlier in the evening, restricted his computer use for the next two months. But what had really troubled her was not the idea of Ashley and Henry sparring with each other; she trusted Henry to be careful with Ashley's safety. What had really chilled her to the bone was the fact that the six year old girl routinely bested the gawky but very strong teenager.
"I know, I'm not supposed to…"
"Maybe mummy was mistaken about that. I think it may be time for me to start training you formally the way I've been training Henry." The girl's aggression had to be moderated and given an outlet or the results could be disastrous.
"Really?" Ashley asked, looking up at her hopefully.
"There's no reason why you shouldn't at least learn how to defend yourself. And maybe, when you're older, you'll have an opportunity to defend others as well. How does that sound, love?"
"You mean I could help the abnormals, like you do?"
"I'd like nothing better than to see my wonderful girl grow up to follow in my footsteps. Would you like that?"
Ashley nodded eagerly.
"That's my girl," Magnus murmured, kissing the top of her head. "Now get some sleep. I'll be here to keep the bad dreams away."
"I love you, Mom."
"As I love you, sweetheart. Rest now. And always remember that Mummy loves you very much."
Ashley made a contented noise and nestled into her mother's chest. She was soon snoring softly.
Magnus sighed and allowed herself to relax. Killer, Henry had called Ashley. He could not have had any idea, unless his abilities allowed him to pick up on something a normal human would not have. But it did not matter. Because Ashley had a loving family, a structured life, a life of purpose. It would take work, but any amount of effort would be worth the end result. Ashley could still be saved from her own nature.
Laying in the darkness, holding her daughter close, Magnus started reflecting on how to channel Ashley's natural aggression into a less destructive channel. And it occurred to her that the child she had borne only to have some company could become something far more important.
Ashley Magnus could become her partner…