Near the beginning of it all, Pepper said, "I'm not sure how I feel about sharing you with Loki."
"In my defense, you said it was fine for me to keep sleeping with men, as long as I was discreet. I'd say someone who doesn't even use an actual entrance to the building counts as discreet."
"I anticipated human men."
"Well, your lack of forethought isn't my fault," Tony said. Pepper was starting to look distinctly unimpressed with that argument so he hastily added, "Anyway, you're not sharing me with Loki, you're sharing me with Loki's adorable mutant hawk child."
"By all means, remind me about the child you have with Loki."
"And the way you have accepted your almost-step-daughter is very generous and open-hearted of you. In fact, it speaks tremendously to your strength of character." Tony gave her a winning smile.
"Sharing you with Loki," Pepper repeated. "And not even an illicit sex tape to show for it."
"Kinky, Pepper, I'm impressed."
"Oh, please, that's not even the kinkiest thing I've said this morning."
That was entirely true, and Tony grinned. "Really?" he said innocently. "You might have to refresh my memory."
"No," Pepper told him, because she was a cruel, cruel woman. "I'm leaving before your insane baby-mama gets here. Try to leave the place in one piece."
"Wow, that was worth it just to hear you say 'baby-mama'."
She kissed him goodbye and left, and then there was nothing for Tony to do but wait. This mostly involved fidgeting with poorly-suppressed anticipation. For some reason, he actually really enjoyed spending time with Annie, more than he'd ever expected to enjoy hanging out with someone who didn't have opposable thumbs. Loki was another story, because Loki was pretty much ninety percent pure asshole, although that lingering ten percent of sarcastic, biting wit could be pretty hilarious.
Loki showed up at ten am, dressed in his casual leathers with Annie perched on his armguard. When Loki was in a bad mood, he wore full armor and that ridiculous helmet. (Tony making fun of the helmet didn't tend to improve his mood, either.) Once, he'd apparently been in an uncharacteristically good mood that had evidenced itself in human clothes; shirt and tie, dress pants, and a well-cut, knee-length coat. Loki in a good mood was only marginally less terrifying than Loki in a bad mood; on the whole, Tony preferred the black leathers.
"Good morning," he said, because it was always worth starting off politely. Annie cheeped and stretched her wings. She wobbled briefly, then launched into a short, unsteady flight to the sofa.
"Hey, pretty good," Tony said encouragingly, and stroked the soft feathers on her head with his thumb. Stroking always made Annie lie flat like a small brown torpedo, all eight eyes half-closed in contentment. It was, he had to admit, pretty damn cute.
Loki was prowling around the room, presumably checking for traps or maybe secret panels that an armed Avenger might lunge out of. It always took him a few minutes to settle down when he knew he was expected. Tony suspected it was mostly for show, actually; Loki trying to pretend he hadn't been domesticated.
Actually, it was kind of weird that Clint hadn't snuck in and tried to shoot anyone yet. Maybe he was planning something. That was worrying.
Loki paused by the window, staring out at the city. "Look at them, trapped in their miserable little existences. Full of jealousy and petty squabbles and despair."
Pot, kettle. Tony bit that retort back and instead shook his head. "You can't make them better. People don't work that way."
Loki made a noncommittal noise and resumed pacing. It was, all things considered, a very good thing that he'd put the whole 'rule the world' thing on hold while raising a kid.
Annie had apparently had enough of stroking because she gave Tony's hand a sharp nip. Tony gave her beak a flick. "Cut that out, featherbutt. No one likes a biter."
Loki snickered. "That's not entirely--"
"You, stop talking," Tony said, shooting him a dirty look.
Annie started climbing up his arm, beak and talons digging in painfully. With a bit of flapping as well she succeeded in getting to the top of his head, where she cheeped twice and surveyed the world around her. Tony smirked, valiantly pretending that he wasn't bleeding under his shirt. "Aww, she likes me best."
Apparently satisfied he wasn't about to be arrested, Loki wandered over to take a seat on the sofa. "She's still unsure of her wings, and you're closer to the floor." He flicked his eyes over Tony as if to indicate abnormal lack of height.
This, this was why Tony hated spending time with Loki. "Really, short jokes? That's your best effort?"
"I'm afraid most of my wit would go over your head," Loki said, without missing a beat.
Fucking short jokes. To which Tony couldn't even retaliate in kind, because last time he'd pointed out that at least he wasn't some kind of freakish giant, like some people, Loki had gone all still and lethal for no reason and then disappeared with Annie until the next weekend.
"I guess you could call it wit," he said instead. "You're from a primitive warrior society, after all, it's only fair to cut you a little slack."
The look that Loki gave him was comical in its sheer disbelief. "Primitive--"
"Don't take it personally," Tony said cheerfully. "Not your fault how you were raised. I have some sympathy actually; god knows there were some things my father neglected to teach me, or, well, neglected in general, really--"
"You are an inconsequential speck," Loki hissed, jaw tense and eyes blazing. He'd gotten pissed off a lot faster than usual; Tony mentally awarded himself a point. Loki was touchy about the weirdest things and digging them out was kind of fun, in a reckless, semi-suicidal sort of way. "You shout and wave your hands at the darkness, crying out for attention, but one day the darkness will grant that which you seek and it will crush you. Your impudence will destroy you, Stark."
"It's okay," Tony said, with his best beatific smile, and tapped his chest. "I have kind of a built-in nightlight."
Loki stared at him in outrage, and it was worth absolutely every one of those stupid short jokes to see it. He could feel Annie shifting on his head, her talons catching in his hair. She gave an uncertain cheep.
Tony reached up to pat her gently. "Don't worry, Annie. We're not fighting. This is how mommy and daddy show they... kind of tolerate each other."
"For now," Loki grumbled, eyeing him in a way that was probably meant to be threatening but came off more like a sulk. "And her name is Anbjörg."
Tony opened his mouth, then decided for once not to push his luck. "So, what are we doing today?"
Annie cheeped more vigorously, and Loki translated, "Further animal lessons. She wants to know more about her prey."
"You heard 'em, Jarvis. Wildlife documentary. Something small and edible."
"I hesitate to ask what you consider 'edible', sir," said Jarvis, and at his voice Annie gave a distressed cry and launched herself off Tony's head. She circled the sofa a couple of times, then thumped down on Loki's lap to be soothed.
Tony still hadn't figured out what bothered her so much about Jarvis. It wasn't the speakers, because she was fine with television. He'd work it out eventually. In the meantime, he sat back and prepared to learn more than he'd ever wanted - or needed - to know about prairie dogs.
After the documentary, he presented Annie with the toy he'd made her; essentially a winged metal rat. It was actually a little sad how long he'd spent perfecting it given how quickly she was likely to rip it apart, but if there was one thing he and Loki agreed on it was that Annie should have the best.
(There were actually several things he and Loki agreed on, but most of them were sexual positions.)
Annie cocked her head with interest, then Tony tossed the little robot into the air. Its wings unfurled and it puttered off on a randomized flight path. Annie gave a series of quick cheeps, apparently excited, and launched after it. When she got close, it put on a burst of speed and dodged erratically. She gave another cheep and determinedly pursued it.
"Dwarves were ever excellent craftsmen," Loki murmured, watching.
Short jokes. Tony kind of wanted to hit him so instead he smiled and said, "Careful, I think that was a compliment."
Loki raised an eyebrow at him. "You're also less annoying than a dwarf." He put on a speculative expression. "Hm, I think so, yes. Just a little."
"Aww, I wish I could say the feeling was mutual."
Instead of insulting him back, Loki laughed, sounding genuinely amused. "You have clearly never met a dwarf."
Tony tried to imagine something more annoying than Loki. Well, there was Justin Hammer. Without prompting, his brain supplied the mental image of an entire race of Justin Hammers, and he shuddered. "You know what, I'll take your word for it."
"A wise decision."
Annie gave a triumphant cry as she pinned the ratbot to the ground, but her talons had trouble gripping the metal surface and it squirmed out of her grasp. She chased after it with a flurry of indignant cheeps that made him grin.
"You know," Loki said, not looking anywhere near him, "if we were on Asgard, I could have you flogged for your insolence."
There was a little too much wistfulness in that statement for Tony to be comfortable with it. "Lucky for me we're not on Asgard, then."
Loki glanced at him with a faint smirk. "Luckier for Asgard, I rather think."
Tony pretended to huff in indignation. "And what about your insolence? When do I get to have you flogged?"
Loki's smirk twisted into something brighter, his eyes gleaming, and for one horrifying moment Tony thought he was actually going to volunteer. Instead all Loki said was, "Commoners don't have princes flogged, you fool. Besides which, I'm a mother with a young child, and therefore to be cherished."
"Huh," Tony said thoughtfully, an idea stirring in the back of his mind. "Actually, we have something like that here."
Loki tilted his head and made a small noise of interest.
Tony nodded earnestly. Oh, he was going to pay dearly for this, but it was too good not to. "Yeah, we even have a term of respect just for mothers we consider particularly... noteworthy. We call them MILFs. Actually, I guess you'd qualify."
"I should think so," said Loki, all casual arrogance, and Tony twitched as he struggled to keep from cracking so much as a smile and ruining the joke.
Annie came back into view, dragging the ratbot, now minus one of its wings. She settled at Loki's feet and started prying at the wing stump with her beak.
"I could make it out of a stronger alloy," Tony said, staring in rather disturbed fascination, "but I'm almost afraid to find out what she's capable of ripping through."
"Daughter of my blood," Loki said fondly, reaching down to trail his fingertips down her back. "All my children are strong. Good girl, Anbjörg. You are a fierce hunter."
Annie succeeded in getting enough of a grip to tear open the ratbot's main body, peeling the aluminum apart like it was tinfoil. She gave a satisfied cheep and started investigating the electronics inside. Tony would have loved her regardless, but he was glad they had something in common, some proof to hold up of the bond between them. Otherwise-- well, it was hard not to feel a little ridiculous, sometimes, parenting a creature he could never hope to understand.
"And all of my children are smart," he said. "One out of one sentient birds agree."
Loki gave an indelicate snort, sitting back up. "Of course she's smart. My intellect is vast as the skies; how could she be otherwise?"
"Wow," Tony deadpanned. "Do you have to be flexible to kiss your own ass like that?"
Loki stretched, putting his long, lean body on display, and smirked. "As it happens, yes. And I am."
Tony's brain helpfully provided him some mental images, and then promptly short-circuited. He tried to remind himself that this was exactly the kind of thing that had gotten them into this situation. Bad sex drive. No cookie.
He cleared his throat, after too long a pause. Loki was still smirking. Asshole. "So, um. I'm going to get a drink. You want a drink?"
"I may as well. And a bowl of water."
Tony got the water first; he put the bowl down next to Annie and she thanked him with a chirrup. Loki had already seized the opportunity to take over the sofa, lying stretched out on it with his arms folded behind his head. Tony rolled his eyes and went to grab a bottle of red out of the wine rack. He poured a glass for each of them, and brought the bottle as well, because Loki had the metabolism of a goddamn elephant. On the way back to the sofa he snagged his tablet between two fingers.
"You, legs," he said, lifting a foot to kick at Loki gently. "Don't make me sit on you."
"Maybe not in front of young eyes," Loki said with a lazy grin, sitting up to take one of the wine glasses.
Tony put the wine bottle on the floor, then took a seat himself. Almost immediately Loki stretched out again, draping his legs over Tony's lap. Tony stared at him incredulously. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Relaxing," Loki said comfortably, and took a sip of wine to prove it.
Tony tried to push his legs off, but they didn't so much as budge. It was easy to forget Loki's Asgardian strength, until there was something he didn't want to do. "Fine," Tony muttered, pretending he had a choice. "Just-- don't move about."
He braced his tablet against Loki's legs, because he could, and opened up a couple of project files while he sipped at his wine. It wasn't long before Annie abandoned the remains of the ratbot and flew up to see what he was doing.
This was Tony's favorite part of the day: rambling on about science to an appreciative audience. Annie couldn't really ask questions unless Loki translated them (and Loki liked to editorialize with smug comments about how magic could do it better), but she cheeped encouragingly in all the right places, and unlike Pepper her eyes never glazed over when Tony got too technical. Hell, even Bruce had trouble sometimes; he was smart as hell but they had different specialties and raw intellect could only go so far.
Eventually Annie settled herself into the small crook in between his body and the arm of the sofa, where she tucked her head under a wing to go to sleep. Loki seemed to have fallen asleep a while back. Tony kept working, with a mumble to Jarvis to flick the lights on when the room started to dim. He wasn't paying much attention to anything but his tablet, so it was a surprise when he heard the shutter-snap sound of a camera phone. Actually, it was a surprise he heard anything at all.
He looked up, and blinked in surprise to see Pepper standing in front of the sofa. "You're home early."
"No," she said, mouth curling with amusement as she put her phone away, "your mistress is here late." Huh, it had actually gotten pretty dark outside. When had that happened? "Not that you all don't make an adorable picture."
Tony considered throwing something at her, but all he had to hand were a tablet and an empty wine glass, and those were both a little too solid. See, this was exactly the reason why Loki shouldn't go to sleep while lying half in his lap. "I'd like to see you try moving a stubborn demigod," he said defensively. "He's worse than a toddler."
"Demigod," Loki repeated in clear distaste, not even opening his eyes.
Tony couldn't help but shoot him a look of disbelief. "You object to demigod, but not to toddler?"
Loki opened his eyes at that, expression dark and unreadable. "I've been a toddler many times. I'll be a toddler again. I have never been as weak and pitiful as some half-caste demigod."
Sometimes Tony had no idea how to react to the shit Loki said. "You know, I'm pretty sure--"
"Hush," Pepper said firmly, saving him from saying something that was probably going to get his ass kicked. She turned to Loki. "Are you staying for dinner, Your Highness?"
"Oh my god, 'Your Highness', stop calling him that, you'll give him ideas."
"The Lady Potts knows how to conduct herself in polite company," Loki said, with a smug look that suggested not only did Tony not know, but was probably incapable of it. "Thank you, but no. Anbjörg and I should be on our way." He swung his legs off Tony's lap and stood up, adjusting his clothes.
Tony scritched at the back of Annie's neck until she woke with a sleepy chirrup. "Hey, kiddo. Time to get going. I'll see you tomorrow."
She climbed onto his lap to stretch out her wings to their fullest - they were starting to get pretty big - then flew to perch on Loki's arm. Her landings were still clumsy but she was learning fast.
Tony watched them disappear, then pulled a face at Pepper. "Seriously, 'Your Highness'? That's not even his proper title, his proper title is 'Asshole', or on very formal occasions 'Sir Dickhead'."
"He is a prince," Pepper pointed out. "And yes, I do have a vested interest in staying on the good side of the magic-wielding god with the volatile temper."
He eyed her suspiciously, because it wasn't like Pepper to suck up like that. "And it annoys me?"
"Maybe a little of that," she admitted, picking up the empty wine glasses.
"You're evil. Why am I only attracted to evil people? Pepper, I think I need to be recalibrated."
"Much as I would love to be able to reprogram some of your more... frustrating traits, you're not actually an AI, you know that, Tony."
"I could be." Tony put his tablet aside and followed her to the dishwasher. "Maybe I replaced myself. I've even got a power source. You'd never know."
"Well, then, I guess you won't need any lasagna."
"Oh, no." He clutched at his arc reactor dramatically. "Power source... failing. Need... organic fuel. There's no time to waste!"
Pepper turned him around and pushed him firmly back towards the sofa. "Pick up your toys, first."
Tony sighed and went to go pick up the pieces of the ratbot. When he got closer, he saw that it was suspiciously intact. That... wasn't how Annie had left it. With a bad feeling in his gut, he stooped to pick it up, and it scuttled under the sofa. A moment later it came flying over the top of the sofa, right at his head. Tony tried to duck and jerk backwards at the same time, and fell on his ass. "Dammit, Loki!"
He couldn't be sure, but he thought he heard distant laughter.