The first time they saw a magpie together, Loki pointed it out to Clint. He couldn’t understand why it made his dad so upset. He wasn’t sure why they had to go inside for the rest of the day either, but he listened.
They saw it several times after that. They didn’t dart inside, but he wasn't allowed near it. When he was alone, Loki wondered about its gleaming green eyes.
Around the eighth time he saw the magpie, he told his father about it. Phil had sighed and sat Loki down. He began by explaining that all of this was very hard. That Clint had been trying, but just couldn’t talk about it. That Phil was going to try his best to give Loki whatever answers he needed.
“The magpie is named Ikol, but he wasn’t always a magpie. Once he was like you… Only he isn’t you.”
“What do you mean?”
Phil rubbed at an old scar on his chest. “Like you, he was a Jötunn and he could do magic. Unlike you, he was adopted by Thor’s family He was an outcast. He was unhappy. He wanted other people to be unhappy too.”
“So… Not very much like me then,” Loki pointed out.
“Not very,” Phil agreed. “Once you get past some surface details, you’re nothing alike. But there’s people out there who might not ever understand that.”
“Because he was named Loki?”
Phil smiled sadly. “Not a hard thing to figure out, is it?”
“No,” Loki said quietly, resting his hand on his father’s arm. “Does… Does it matter that I’m like someone else, dad?”
Loki’s father meant many, many things to many people and all of them were good. He was patient, kind, and loving. He was also very wise and methodical. Phil didn’t hesitate but he allowed himself a moment to think about what he would say and how he would say it.
“There was something wonderful in him. A potential he never got to do anything with, and in the end, he gave all of that to you,” Phil said, pulling Loki into a hug. “And then he gave you to me and to your dad. So no. It doesn’t matter. That bird and what he was… None of that bothers me. You’re my son. You mean the world to me. I love everything about you.”
At some point later, Clint climbed up and joined him in the tree fort that Uncle Tony had built for Loki in the hopes of claiming the coveted title of Loki’s favorite superhero.
Loki had tried explaining to his uncle many times and through various means that such dreams were futile. He was willing to dress like Iron Man for Halloween and he was willing to add Uncle Tony to the list he had been keeping in his notebook. But his favorite superhero was Hawkeye.
Clint brought sandwiches and a thermos full of soup. After they ate, he said: “I’m not trying to keep anything from you. I’m just not good with words.”
“You don’t have to be.” Both of his parents had always been great with actions, and most of the time Loki figured that was better.
“Maybe not,” Clint decided, “but the thing is… What your father said… That’s what I would have said. I don’t want you to think that someday I’m going to wake up and change my mind. It won’t happen. Ever. I love you. I have loved everything about you since the first time I held you.”
“I know,” Loki said quietly, hugging Clint’s arm.
Clint nodded, wiping at his face with his free hand. “Yeah well, you’re a smart kid. But I also know the world can be pretty rough. People and places aren’t always going to be kind to you. So I want you to know that I love you. That nothing can change that. Even if you end up being eleven feet tall, I’m going to love you and you’re still going to be my kid.”
Loki laughed. He hid his face against Clint’s arm and tightened his grip. “Of course I am. And what father said is what I would say too. Sort of. I mean, you’re both my people. You’re my dad. You’re always going to be my dad and whatever happens with the world and whatever… That’s not going to change how much we mean to each other.”
“Good,” Clint murmured. “I like us the way we are.”
“Me too,” Loki said. “But I need to talk to that bird.”
“I guess you do.”
In the middle of night, Loki got up to get a drink of water. When he got back, the magpie was sitting top of his bookshelf.
Loki gave him a determined look and crossed his arms. “I’m not afraid of you.”
The magpie tilted his head. “I have no desire to upset you.”
“You’re upsetting my dad. Not me.”
“I know,” the bird said, sounding slightly guilty. “It is unfortunate.”
Loki glared at the bird.
“Perhaps a compromise might be made. Do you understand what a compromise is?”
“I’m seven. Not an idiot.”
“Then I would be perfectly willing to allow your parents to sit in our own discussions if you are willing to have them on a regular basis.”
The bird cawed. “Every other week. Unless something should come up. Being a bird, my schedule is quite flexible.”
“I have tutors already. I even have a few classmates now. What is it that you could share with me that I couldn’t get from another source?”
“I have a unique insight into your magic. That includes its source and its limits. I am also more knowledgeable about your planet of origin.”
“You don’t want to talk about my future?”
“I have no means of predicting your future,” the magpie pointed out. “I have had seven years to think and do little else. In that time, I have come to one conclusion. I have realized that with the sole exception of you, dear child, my judgment is inherently flawed when it comes to planning ahead.”
“Which means, I have no desire to chart a course for you. You must be free to make your own decisions and mistakes. I would just like to help you.”
“I don’t get why that would matter.”
Ikol’s green eyes glittered in the dim light. “You are part of me. The best parts of me.”
Loki frowned, biting at his lip. He found himself wishing his father was here. Phil would know the right questions to ask. “What do you want from me?”
The magpie hopped down from the bookshelf. He settled on the floor and picked at a wing before saying: “I want a chance to be of use. Please.”
“I’d be the boss?”
The magpie inclined his head. “You are Loki,” he said in a gentle, respectful tone.
“Is that a yes?”
“It is. You are, in fact, the only master I would willingly serve.”
A magpie wasn’t the coolest familiar to have. Loki had been hoping for something more dragon-shaped and a little less weather-beaten. All the same, he wasn’t sure what harm Ikol could do to him. After all, the bird hadn’t done much for seven years besides speak to his parents on occasion. According to Thor, Ikol had probably provided Loki with protection as well since no one, bad or otherwise, had ever come looking for him.
“I guess that could be all right. We can talk about things tomorrow in the afternoon. With my dads and the Professor. And Doctor Strange.”
“Do you like being a bird?”
Ikol tilted his head again. “There is no reason for me to like or dislike it. My soul needed a home.”
“What about me?”
The bird shook his head. “I would not wish the worst parts of me on anyone, let alone a child. You are your own person, that much is a given, but you are also my second chance. You are more precious to me than you can imagine. You are everything.”
Loki wasn’t sure how he felt about that. “Maybe… Maybe if you did a good job, you wouldn’t have to be a bird. I could help you and you can have a second chance some other way.”
“What a strange wonder you are,” the magpie murmured. “But, darling, you must not trust me that much. Not yet. When it comes to guidance and advice about any subject outside of magic, you must look to your parents.”
The bird sighed. “If you must. I should think anyone outside of your Uncle Tony would be able to offer you sound suggestions. In time, you can follow your own instincts, but it is best to learn from others.”
“It just seems… why a magpie?”
“There can only be one Loki and I am not the right one for job. As to the guise I have assumed, a bird —even one made of magic— cannot do much harm. Were I a larger animal or more aggressive, I wouldn’t be able to be near you. No one would trust me. I would not trust me.”
“All of the realms, I think, would agree that they are better off with me remaining in this form or else the grave.”
“You’re not Loki anymore,” Loki pointed out. “You’re Ikol.”
The bird was silent and thoughtful. “And you are a smart boy. Let us worry about my condition when you are older, hm? Life is so highly over-rated.”
After getting the okay from both Professor X and Doctor Strange, Ikol was allowed to visit Loki on a regular basis.
Clint or Phil sat in on nearly every session. If they couldn’t make it, Thor would join the bird and the boy instead. Unfortunately though, Thor had a bad habit of taking over the conversation and taking a stroll down memory lane. Ikol would retaliate by arguing loudly or telling Thor he was a buffoon. Then Loki would climb up on the table and use the air duct to visit someone else.
Clint monitored their conversations and subsequent lessons. He never brought any work with. He never seemed to blink either. Instead, Loki’s dad would make little comments now and then. Nothing major. Just an occasional observation or a correction to some part of a statement the magpie made. He was a big fan of magic though, and had a tendency to get really mushy whenever Loki did a good job at a spell or incantation. Loki sometimes made a face, but he always enjoyed the attention.
Phil would speak only to Loki and never spoke directly to Ikol. He brought work with for the times when Ikol just lectured. If the bird actually taught something to Loki, Phil would spend the time watching them and taking notes. He was a little less vocal than Clint but he was still encouraging. When the magpie left, Phil would offer up additional insight but no real corrections since magic was completely beyond him. Instead, he would send a copy of his notes to both Doctor Strange and the Professor.
Every so often, both Phil and Clint would sit in the room. They would sit in the corner together, holding hands. They both would look amused by Ikol’s attitude and proud of Loki’s skills. And they both would seem pretty content. And Loki was always happy when the lesson was over since that meant he could go and be with them.
If things went poorly, Ikol would just incline his head and fly off. When Loki did well, Ikol would perch on Loki’s shoulder and nip at his ear before flying off.
After a particularly rough session on forming water into ice constructs then carving patterns into them solely through magic, Loki went over to Clint and sat down in his lap.
“Do you think I did okay?” Loki asked.
His dad smiled. “You did awesome.”
“And he’s okay, right? Ikol, I mean.”
“As long as he’s helpful and good to you? He’s fine by me.”
“I’m glad you stay though. Or that father stays. I wish both of you could stay every time.”
Clint gave Loki a hug. “I do too, but either way I love staying.”
“Yeah and… To be honest, I’m not here because of the bird.”
“No. If I thought that magpie was dangerous, I would have shot him by now. I stay because I love seeing what you can do.”
“I’m still learning a lot.”
“I’m sure, but you’re pretty impressive. You make me so proud.”
“Can I practice some more? I want to try to make a SHIELD symbol out of ice again. I bet I can do it perfectly by the time father comes home.”
“In that case, I’ll get you more water,” Clint said. “And me a camera.”
Loki grabbed at his dad and nestled against him. “Not right now. In a minute, okay?”
Clint wrapped his arms around Loki. “Sure,” he said, nuzzling Loki’s hair. “I wasn’t going far anyway.”
“I just… I like being like this.”
Clint laughed. “I kinda like it too. It’ll give me something to look back on fondly when you’re a teenager.”
“Even when I’m a teenager, I’m going to want you around.”
“Oh, believe me. I’ll be around whether you want me there or not.”
“I know you’re proud and father’s proud… But I know father thinks I should play some sports too.”
“Whatever you want to do. As long as you want to do it.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Then you won’t have to. Your father and I want you to be happy. No matter what that involves.”
“No matter what,” Loki repeated. “Not matter what… Will you always be proud of me?”
“Always,” Clint promised.