It's been years since Maria Hill has been sledding.
There aren't any good hills nearby anyway, and it's not as if she gets much Christmas leave. There's always something going on, something that S.H.I.E.L.D. will eventually have to cover up, so she's working hard and not really in a particularly festive mood.
But she can still remember sledding, still remember the cold wind on her bright red face as the ice bit into her skin, remember the sudden shock as she fell face first into fresh white snow. Everything was calm and peaceful and full of life, she was young and didn't have to worry about the world ending every other day.
She guesses she lost the privilege of innocence once she joined the army. But sometimes, around the holidays, she thinks about sledding.
It's not until one Christmas when she's in the Avengers tower with two super spies, several gods and who knows who else Tony invited, that she actually gets to think about sledding in a less abstract fashion.
She's standing by the window, looking out at the city, and she can almost feel the piercing ice on her skin, when Sif approaches her from behind. She's barely spoken to the Asgardian the whole two weeks she's been here negotiating, but there's a commanding and powerful presence about her that Maria respects, and she doesn't talk much either. That Maria appreciates.
"What is this strange Midgardian custom?" she asked in a low voice, raising a hand to point at something outside. Maria looked in the direction Sif was pointed and startled, a small smile spreading across her face.
"It's called sledding," she said as she looked down at several children sled down a giant pile of snow, "and you ride down the hill ... It must sound pretty stupid," she realised, looking up at Sif with a small blush. The woman was still staring down at her, and for all the spy training int he world Maria couldn't place the expression on her face.
"It's supposed to be fun," she said in a small voice, staring at the children out the window and feeling childhood memories wash over her.
Sif exhaled. "I would like to engage in this sledding with you, Maria Hill."
Maria's eyes widened as she stared at Sif. The woman looked completely earnest, staring at Maria with wide eyes.
Ignoring the obvious innuendo, Maria tried to keep a straight face. "Sorry to burst your bubble, but sledding is for kids."
Sif looked slightly confused by the wording, but nodded, her face falling slightly.
Maria tried her best not to laugh at the crestfallen Asgardian and tried to search for other excuses. "We don't even own a sled."
Sif smiled, and Maria decided she rather liked it. "I have my shield," she said wickedly.
Maria raised an eyebrow. "Your shield?"
Sif nodded. "I believe it would be an acceptable replacement."
Maria tried to process the fact that she was going along with this crazy idea. "I haven't sledded in years," she confessed.
"Do not worry, Lady Hill, I shall protect you!"
"That's not what I - " Maria started to say, but Sif was already gone, and Maria was left behind to contemplate the fact that she was about to go sledding with a centuries old goddess.
It's only natural that the first Christmas she had off in years was the one that involved a scenario that sounded like it was deleted from a movie. That was just her luck.
She stood outside in the bitter cold, shivering even in her large black coat, and waiting for Sif. Naturally, a woman with a shield had attracted a lot of attention form the children, and there were about ten gathered around her, observing her shield and chattering excitedly. Maria had to smile at the sight - this larger-than-life goddess surrounded by a bunch of tiny six-year-olds looking at her like she'd put the stars in the sky.
Sif finally wandered over, a conga line of kids trailing after her.
"They said it was okay for us to use their ramp!" Sif said with a cheery smile.
"Sif says you ain't ever sledded before!" one boy yelled up at her. Maria leaned down so she was eye level with him.
"Not in a long while, no." she smiled.
"Your girlfriend is really pretty," a young girl said, curling a lock of blonde hair around her finger. Maria's brow furrowed and she was about to comment before the mass of kids swept her away to the ramp, chattering excitedly and asking her questions.
Sif was stood with her shield on top of the makeshift ramp, waiting for Maria.
"Do we really have to do this?" she whispered. "They're all watching us."
"I promised to protect you, Lady Hill," Sif said solemnly.
"Maria," she automatically corrected with a smile.
"Maria," Sif nodded and smiled back, and Maria felt something shift inside of her, something she hadn't felt in a long while.
Sif sits down on the shield and gestures. "Sit in front of me," she said.
Maria sat and immediately felt Sif's arm rap around her, holding her tight against the other woman. She could feel Sif's breath hot against her neck, a stark contrast to the outside chill.
"Are you ready?" Sif whispered, and the feeling clicked into place.
"Do you want to go get coffee afterwards?" she asked, turning her head around to face Sif.
"I do not believe I have experienced that custom yet ... But as with sledding, I would very much like to do so with you, Maria," Sif smiled and pressed their foreheads together, and Maria felt butterflies inside her stomach, like a cheesy high school girl with her first crush. But it all felt to surreal - Sif was a goddess, a goddess who was going to go on a coffee date with her.
Maybe her Christmas luck was starting to get a little better.
"Let's get this over with," she said with a laugh, and Sif pushed them away.
Maria felt the ice bite into her skin as she buried her face into Sif's shoulder.
The world felt as if time had slowed down - it was calm and peaceful and she was being held my an Asgardian, and for one day she didn't have to worry about the world ending.
Life was good.