Tony Stark sauntered into the Avengers debriefing room rather pleased with himself. He had managed to ditch (again) the sling the doctor had given him after he’d dislocated his shoulder, and three minutes with a SHIELD computer and he would fake his doctor’s release for him to rejoin the active team. He casually strolled over to the console on the wall but froze when he saw a color flash in the corner of his eye. He quickly turned around and did his best to act casually.
There, feet dangling over the side of the massive conference table, sat a kid wearing a Captain America (why was it never Iron Man?) t-shirt. Tony couldn’t guess exactly how old he was (somewhere between an infant and being able to drive), but with his dark curls and hazel eyes the boy looked familiar. Extremely familiar.
Tony experienced a moment of pure panic. Was this his kid? No, Pepper would have told him if he had a kid, and he definitely would have noticed. He was 97% certain at least, and this kid was too young to be from Before. Probably.
“My auntie says it’s rude to stare.”
Tony pulled himself out of his thoughts to focus on what the child was saying.
“Of course, she’s always staring at Uncle. And he stares at her. And Mama and Father stare at each other a lot, and sometimes Father stares at me, so it can’t be that rude.” The kid had a weird accent, once again very familiar but slightly off.
Never mind that, he had a computer to hack and he didn’t need a witness.
“Okay kid, I don’t know who you are, or how you got here, but Avengers headquarters is no place for a toddler, so let’s find you an adult and--”
“I’m Ullr,” the boy--Ullr--interrupted. “And I’m not a toddler. I’m six and a half. And my uncle brought me.”
“Who’s your uncle?” Tony asked, although he was beginning to suspect.
“Thor, son of Odin, bearer of Mjölnir, and mighty Avenger!”
“You’re Thor’s nephew?” Realization slowly dawned. “Wait, that means your dad is...”
“Loki,” Ullr proclaimed proudly.
Tony’s jaw dropped. “You’re Loki’s kid?”
“And Sif’s. Father says anyone who has met me knows I am definitely her child. I don’t know what that means.”
Tony knew, of course, that Loki had kids (Thor was an obnoxiously proud uncle), but it wasn’t like Loki brought them to the Avengers’ picnics. The trickster god had once been their foe, and while he occasionally helped them theses days with magical threats, they weren’t exactly on friendly terms. Tony had trouble imagining the guy who threw him out of a window changing diapers and kissing boo-boos and telling bedtime stories. Then again his dad had never done any of those things, so what did he know about fatherhood?
Thor and Steve walking in pulled him out of his thoughts. Thor beamed at the sight of his nephew and Tony.
“Tony!” he boomed, “I see you have met my nephew! Ullr, son of Loki and prince of Asgard, this is Steven, the Captain of America!”
Ullr’s eyes lit up and he scrambled off the table to run towards his uncle. Tony could see Steve put on the “America's Golden Hero” face he always wore around kids and prepare for the usual barrage of adoration, but Ullr skittered around him and instead stopped in front of the distinctive shield strapped to Captain America’s back.
“It’s the shield!” he shrieked. Ullr sounded like he had discovered a pony and a rocket ship from Santa under the tree on Christmas morning. Assuming that he got presents from Santa. Did Asgardians even celebrate gift-giving holidays? Tony would have to ask Thor later.
“Yes, that’s my shield,” Steve replied, sending Thor a confused look. “Would you like to see it up close?”
“Can I?” The kid was actually jumping up and down with excitement. Tony was hard pressed to see the cool collected trickster god in him. Maybe this was Sif coming through? She had looked pretty gleeful after knocking him on his ass that one time he had made a slightly off-color comment.
Steve shrugged and set the shield on the table. Ullr reached out a hand to reverently trace the star in its center.
“Uncle says that the shield is almost as mighty a weapon as Mjölnir.”
“Well I don’t know about that,” Steve replied, ever the humble soldier, “but I think it’s pretty swell.”
Tony had seen Captain America literally tear enemies apart with that shield. He had seen Steve learn how to navigate modern technology in a day thanks to an enhanced super-soldier brain. Steve was also the only person who could refuse Fury’s orders and get away with it because Fury didn’t scare him. How could a guy like that still use the word “swell?” It was a mystery.
“I too hope to be worthy of wielding such a weapon some day.” Ullr turned to look solemnly up at Steve. “I hope you know how lucky you are to have this, mortal.”
Now that was all Loki. Tony couldn’t hold his laughter in at Steve’s dumbfounded expression. He had met plenty of Captain America’s fans, but never anyone who was just a fan of the shield and couldn’t care less about the man. Obviously Ullr knew a good piece of tech when he saw it. Tony’s estimation of the kid went up considerably.
Fury chose that moment to burst in, followed by Banner and Barton, the latter hobbling along in a walking cast. He’d been injured in the same fight where Tony got his sling.
“Listen up people, we got a situation near the Port Authority.”
“Great!” Tony bounded up to him, “I’ll suit up.” He made to leave, but in one step Fury effectively blocked his way.
Fury’s eye flickered from Tony to Ullr and back to Tony. “That won’t be necessary Stark. I spoke with your doctor. And Pepper.” Shit. “You aren’t to do anything until he clears you. Which he hasn’t, regardless of what the computer may say.”
“But I’m an Avenger, we’re assembling, so I should assemble. In my suit. My shoulder’s fine,” Tony protested.
“Stay here, Stark. That’s an order. The situation can be handled without you.” Tony would swear he saw something evil flicker across the SHIELD director’s face. “Besides, someone needs to watch over our guest here.” He waved a hand in Ullr’s direction.
“Don't you have minions for that?”
Fury’s grin showed far too many teeth. “Yes, I have you.”
Clint, the bastard, started coughing in a weak attempt to cover up his laughter. He choked and coughed for real when Fury added, “Barton you too. Stay off that leg. Now get moving people! We have work to do!”
The rest of the team went off to prepare; Thor shook Tony’s hand enthusiastically.
“Thank you my friend for watching over my nephew! I trust that he will be safe in your care. He will be perfectly behaved and do his family proud!” Then Thor was gone as well to polish his hammer or fluff his cape or whatever he did before a battle while lesser mortals prepped.
And Tony was once again left alone with Ullr (and Clint). He wanted nothing more than to suit up and follow his teammates, Fury be damned, but the thought of Pepper’s worry and disappointment made him pause and sigh. Another day in the workshop then.
“Well I’m out. The target range is calling my name,” Clint announced and hobbled to the door.
“You’re just leaving me, with a kid, alone?” Tony’s voice certainly did not squeak on the last word. How the hell was he supposed to entertain a godling for an afternoon on his own?
Clint shrugged. Ullr looked from Tony to Clint in curiosity. Well they couldn’t exactly leave him alone, and Tony’s shop really wasn’t a good place for anyone but Tony to play in. An idea struck him. There was a reason he was a genius.
“Hey Clint! Why don’t you show Ullr here how well you can shoot?”
The boy’s face lit up. Clink shot Tony a nasty glare.
“You are a marksman?” Ullr burst out excitedly, doing the jumping up and down thing again. “Me too!” Out of thin air (did Asgardians have extra-dimensional pockets or something?), the boy produced a slingshot and looked up at Clint expectantly.
And that’s how all three of them found themselves at the target range, Tony and Ullr watching Clint hit target after target first with his gun, then with his fancy bow. Well Ullr watched in fascination; Tony played on his Starkphone. He looked up when Clint casually asked Ullr if he would like to try hitting a target with his slingshot.
Tony had always thought the phrase “eyes as big as saucers” was an exaggeration, but Ullr proved him wrong. Producing stones from some hidden pocket, he pulled the slingshot’s band back and let loose a rapid succession of mini projectiles, several of which hit the target with enough force to tear through the paper. Tony was impressed. Clint was too, judging by the low whistle he gave Ullr as the boy hit one last bullseye.
“Hey kid, you’re pretty good. A couple of years and you might even beat me.”
“Does that mean I can try your bow?” Ullr asked eagerly.
Tony had tried to draw the string of one of Clint’s bows back once (when Clint was on a mission--he wasn’t suicidal) and had barely budged it. He knew they were strong in Asgard--Thor was the undisputed arm wrestling champ of the team--but he doubted that Ullr would be able to shoot an arrow. So he was more than a little surprised when Clint replied “sure kid,” and walked over to the weapons locker. He rummaged around a bit and came out with a pretty wimpy looking bow and a handful of arrows.
“What’s that Clint? Did your bow shrink in the dryer?” Tony taunted.
“Nah, Tony, it’s for when I’m entertaining. Ladies love an archer,” Clint smirked.
“So naturally you bring out your smallest bow for them.”
Clint scowled and turned to Ullr. Tony was actually pretty impressed by how patiently the archer showed Ullr how to hold his arms and the bow, correcting mistakes and praising Ullr for getting things right. It wasn’t very long before the kid was managing to shoot an actual arrow, and soon after that he was hitting the target.
Clint beamed like a proud uncle as he set up some slow-moving targets. “The kid’s a natural!” he exclaimed when after fifteen minutes Ullr was hitting those too.
They continued on for about a half an hour more until Tony noticed Ullr’s shoulders sagging and an attempt to smother a yawn. Apparently even six year old gods got tired. Clint had a faintly manic gleam in his eye, as if he were planning on reviving his old circus act with Ullr as his sidekick. Right. Tony needed to stop that before Thor heard and damaged Clint’s other leg.
“Heyyy buddy, why don’t we see if we can shoot some bad guys on the old Xbox?” he called out, rubbing his hands together in a show of enthusiasm.
“What is an ‘X Box’?” Ullr inquired, dropping his bow arm, “is it some sort of weapon?”
“What? No, it’s a game system.” At Ullr’s blank look, Tony just raised his hands and said, “hey, why don’t I show you.”
“Okay!” Ullr turned to Clint and handed out the bow. “Thank you very much, Hawkeye, for teaching me how to use this marvelous weapon.”
“No problem kid, you’re pretty good. Why don’t you hang on to that bow and practice a little more when you get home? I’m sure Asgard has a range,” Clint replied, gathering up a half dozen arrows.“But no shooting in headquarters. I almost didn’t survive Fury’s wrath the last time, and I don’t think your size will stop him.”
Ullr thanked him solemnly and, clutching his prizes to his chest, followed Tony to the Avengers break room. Clint, damn him, disappeared in that ninja way of his somewhere along the way. Tony was once again left alone with the kid.
The Xbox turned out to be less impressive to Ullr, who upon seeing it immediately recognized it for what it is with a “oh, Uncle Thor had a Wii until he broke the window and Auntie Jane took it away.” He deigned to play it anyway.
Figuring that a six-and-a-half year old probably shouldn’t be playing Grand Theft Auto (although he was from Asgard, and who knows what they learned there), Tony found some sort of winter sports game and popped it in. After a quick demonstration of how the controller worked, they were off.
Ullr, as it turned out, had never seen a snowboard before, or a ski hill.
“Mortals do that?” he asked slowly after a few races, “strap boards to their feet and slide down hills in the snow?”
“It’s pretty fun actually,” Tony explained as Ullr’s avatar crossed the finish line ahead of him. He didn’t even have to try to lose that time.
“You have done this?” Ullr asked.
“Yeah, I have a place in Aspen. I don’t get there that often but it’s fun to go. You should try it sometime.”
Ullr nodded. “Yes I want to try. I’ll ask Mama if I can go, but I’m sure she’ll say yes. She always wants me to try new skills.”
Tony had the sinking feeling that he had just roped himself into taking Loki’s son on a winter vacation to teach him how to snowboard. He couldn’t wait to explain that one to Pepper.
Soon video games became boring, and Ullr began to complain with a superciliousness one might expect from a god and Loki’s son. Running out of ideas of what to do with a kid at headquarters Tony got him a snack (pop tarts, figured) and then in a fit of inspiration (or desperation, depending on how you looked at it) took him down to the workshop to show him the Iron Man armor.
Ullr was not impressed by the nearly completed Iron Man armor laid out on the worktop, and seemed to lose interest completely when he learned that Tony actually had to be inside the armor for it to work effectively.
“The Allfather’s Destroyer is controlled by will,” he said, as if that explained everything. He wandered over to peer at one of the shop robots.
Tony was determined to defend his creation. “Yeah, but can this Destroyer thing fly?”
“Your armor flies?” Ullr asked with all the skepticism a six-and-a-half year old could muster. He came back to the worktop to take another look.
“Of course it does! Why would I make a suit that didn’t fly?”
Ullr didn’t have an answer to that. “How? Is it like my uncle’s hammer?”
“That clunky old thing? No, this is bleeding edge Stark proprietary repulsion and arc reactor tech right here.” He stroked the half-finished chest plate of the suit lovingly.
“What does that mean? How does it fly?”
Tony weighed explaining complex engineering and physics to a kid whose home was still lit by torches against a more demonstrative method. The latter won out.
“JARVIS we’re suiting up,” he called and stepped onto the platform.
“Are you sure that is wise sir? Your shoulder is not at optimum fitness,” came the plummy tones of his AI. For some reason, a disembodied voice didn’t seem to bother Ullr at all. Not for the first time did Tony wonder what exactly life was like in Asgard.
“No backtalk today, JARVIS. Just do it.”
The floor opened up and the robots came out, and within thirty seconds Tony was encased in his suit, ready to go. He turned and viewed Ullr through the HUD.
“Pretty cool huh?” He turned around so that Ullr could get a look at the whole thing.
“You’re still not flying,” Ullr pointed out.
There was no pleasing this kid. Resolutely he turned the propulsors on so that he was hovering in midair about three feet off the floor.
Ullr’s facial expression did not change. “You said you could fly. That’s still not flying, you’re just…there.”
Right. If this kid wanted flying, Tony would show him flying.
In one swift movement he flew forward and scooped up Ullr in his arms. Making sure he wasn’t going to squirm out of his grip he opened the workshop launch door and flew out, 105 stories above the New York streets.
“WHEEEEEEEEE!” screamed Ullr as Tony did a dive and some of his choosiest air acrobatic moves.
“Sir, I really must protest,” said JARVIS’ voice in his ear. “The child is not secure and may I point out that neither Thor nor Loki nor Pepper would react favorably upon learning of this unscheduled outing?”
Dammit he hated it when JARVIS had a point. After one last loop around the Tower he headed back into the workshop and gently set Ullr to his feet.
“Why did you stop? Again, again!” pleaded Ullr excitedly, looking exactly as he did upon seeing Captain America’s shield.
The robots came up to take off the suit. When his head was free of the helmet Tony apologized: “Sorry kid, one ride per visit.”
Ullr bottom lip trembled, and Tony recognized the warning sounds of a major pout (goodness knows he’d had that same look on his face countless times). Thankfully, he was saved when JARVIS informed them that the rest of the team was returning from their mission. He and Ullr met them in the debriefing room as they came in, smelling faintly of river water.
“Ullr!” Thor greeted his nephew. “I trust you are well? What have you there?” he asked when he saw the bow and arrows clutched to the boy’s chest.
“A bow! The Hawkeye taught me how to use it! Watch.” He nocked an arrow and aimed towards a poster by the door, tongue sticking out in concentration. Before anyone could warn him to stop, he let the arrow fly. It narrowly missed Fury’s head as he walked through the door and landed with a thud in the wall.
“Oops,” said Ullr.
Fury glared at them. “I think that’s enough excitement for today, don’t you agree,Thor?”
Thor took the hint and quickly bundled Ullr and his bow out of the room. As they walked away Ullr twisted around and waved at Tony. He found himself waving back before he could even think about it.
He turned around to see Bruce giving him a strange look. “What? He’s an okay kid. Now, tell me about all the fun I missed.”
A week or so later:
His doctor--and Pepper--had finally cleared him for active duty, and for once Tony was mostly paying attention to the boring briefing Coulson was giving. Nothing could bring him down, not even the deeply unhappy looks that Thor kept on giving him. He had plans to suit up and fly for hours.
When the briefing ended, he confronted Thor.
“Okay big guy, what’s up? Did I run over your magic poodle or something?” Thor frowned even more.
“Long have I been a great hero in the eyes of my nephew, an honor I strive to live up to. However it seems since his visit here I have been supplanted. Sif tells me he has spoken of little else since his return.”
Poor Thor. “Blame Clint. He’s the one that gave him the bow, not me.”
“No, it is not Hawkeye who has captured Ullr’s devotion.”
“Steve, then? Can’t fault the kid, everyone loves Steve. And his shield is cool.” He glanced around to make sure Steve hadn’t heard the compliment.
“No, Tony, Ullr has expressed that his greatest wish is to grow up to be just as ‘cool’”--Tony could practically hear the quotation marks--”as the Iron Man, Tony Stark.”
Well, that was unexpected.
“Loki is not pleased,” Thor continued.
Tony took a deep breath and reminded himself that Loki was a good guy now. Mostly. And he wouldn’t destroy his son’s hero, would he?
Then Tony grinned. The other members of the team might have supermuscles and badass ninja assassin skills, but he was the hero of a god. Yeah, it was pretty good to be Tony Stark.