Chapter 1: Step One: Realize You Have a Problem
Tony ended up blaming Hawkeye for the whole thing. This wasn’t necessarily because Clint actually caused the problem, but more because he was the only available target for Tony’s ire who would hesitate to hit him back. And besides, Clint had been there.
They were saving the world. Tony didn’t actually remember the name of this particular villain who kept trying to blow cities up. It was something vague and overdone, like Crackling Dynamite or something, he didn’t really know. But the man had a machine, and Clint was the last one to hit the machine, and the machine broke.
To be fair, the machine didn’t do anything right away. It was really only when Tony had spent all of this time and effort getting it back to the mansion, complaining every step of the way about Pepper and how she was with Happy Hogan instead of him, and how Steve thought this was a dumb idea, etcetera, that it actually exploded.
At the time, Tony was more upset at how the machine exploding destroyed most of his second-best garage.
“I just bought that pool table!” he exclaimed, throwing his hands up into the air.
Clint squinted at the crumbled metal remains. “Why did it do that?” he asked. He put his hands on his hips and kicked at one of the pieces with the tip of his foot.
“More to the point,” Steve said, “did anything else happen?” He looked bewildered, rumpled, sleepy, and not like he particularly wanted to be dealing with this right now.
“It even destroyed the balls and the cues!” Tony cried. “I mean, come on! What sort of aim was that?”
“Tony, you have two pool tables upstairs,” Steve said. He rubbed at his forehead.
“It was new!” Tony wailed, and waved his arms dramatically, since Steve didn’t seem to understand the point of this conversation.
And so it turned out that between the machine exploding and the pool table’s demise, the Avengers didn’t notice that Thor never joined them. In fact, none of them even noticed that the God of Thunder had somehow vanished completely until the next morning, when Tony was in the kitchen with his bowl of cereal and somebody started screaming bloody murder upstairs.
He was the last to arrive on the scene, clutching his spoon in one fist. Natasha stood as far away from the group as possible, obviously completely puzzled, her cell open. Clint had that shifty look in his eyes again, like he was going to try and make a run for it as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Steve looked bewildered and sleepy again and he still had his pillow.
Bruce was in Thor’s room, evidently the first responder, and he struggled to hold onto a screaming, flailing golden-haired boy. The boy smacked Bruce over the head with his fist and shrieked, “Let me go let me go let me go!”
“Jesus,” Tony said. “What happened?”
“That,” Natasha murmured, “is a very good question.” She finally put her phone up to her ear and turned away. “Coulson? There’s something you need to see.”
Clint edged away. Tony decided to take the bull by the horns and stepped up to grab the boy from Bruce’s arms before the man lost his temper and turned into an enormous green rage monster in Tony’s house. He shook the kid a little and pointed the spoon at him, just so he knew that he meant business.
“Who are you?” he barked, pulling out the Authoritative Voice. Usually it worked pretty well, even on people that didn’t like him. “What are you doing here?”
“Tony, he’s just a child,” Steve said, sounding exhausted.
The boy stared at Tony like he had grown two heads, shaking and shrinking back. He had big blue eyes and smooth blond hair, and he was obviously fixing to cry.
“Don’t you even dare, kid,” Tony warned. “What’s your name?”
He sniffled and pushed against Tony’s hands. “Let me go!” he said, clearly trying to pull himself together. “You can’t keep hold of Thor, the God of Thunder!”
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” Tony said, and dropped the boy like a hot coal. “Don’t mess with me. Is that really your name?” He glared and pointed his spoon at him again, squinting down its handle.
“Stop it,” Steve ordered. He pushed Tony aside and knelt down on the boy’s level. “My name is Steve,” he said kindly. “You’re Thor?”
The kid nodded, tears welling in his blue eyes. “Where am I?” he asked. He twisted his small fingers together. “This isn’t my home. I—where is Mother? Where’s Father?”
“They’re not here right now,” Steve said, still very gentle. He set aside his pillow and touched the boy’s shoulder. “You’re not in Asgard right now, Thor, all right? Now, I just want you to take a few deep breaths. We’ll figure out a way to get you back.”
“A-all right,” the tiny Thor stuttered, and he sucked down air like he’d been drowning. He scrubbed at his cheeks almost self-consciously. “What about my brother?” he demanded suddenly, his eyes brightening and his spine straightening. “Is Loki here? He’s littler than me, he’ll be scared if I’m not there to be brave for him!”
“Um,” Steve said, stumbling for the first time, his free hand clenching by his thigh. Tony crossed his arms and glowered. “No, your brother isn’t here. Not in the mansion, anyway.”
“I have to get back to him!” Thor tried to dart past him, but Tony blocked his path and Steve grabbed him around the middle, pulling him back. “You don’t understand, Mother and Father said that I have to watch over Loki! If I’m not there when he wakes up, he’ll get scared!”
“Cool it, squirt,” Tony said. “Your brother’s probably still on Asgard. I hope he is. We’ve certainly heard more about that goddamn little brother of yours in the past.”
“Tony,” Steve said warningly. The tiny Thor stared at him.
“I do not understand,” he said, voice high and quavering.
“Forget it,” Tony said.
So that was how Tony Stark found himself sitting at the breakfast table with a tiny god, while Steve cooked something on the stove and Bruce hid somewhere in the shadows. Thor sat very rigidly in his chair, his small fists folded in his lap, his lips pressed together to stop them trembling. He wouldn’t look at Tony—though he wouldn’t look at any of them, so Tony didn’t take it personally. Kid Thor was much more prone to tears than he would have guessed.
“Tony, he’s scared,” Steve sighed when he voiced this opinion, after Bruce had volunteered to take the boy downstairs. “Just be quiet, please?”
“You’re really Thor?” Tony asked now, just to make sure. This tiny boy didn’t remind him much of their resident God at all.
The boy finally glanced at him and almost immediately away again. “Of course I am,” he said, regaining a little bit of equilibrium, if his volume was anything to go by. Ah. There was the Thor Tony knew. “Father says that the Midgardians worship us as gods.” His blue eyes met Tony’s, less watery than before. “This is Midgard, is it not?”
“Bingo,” said Tony.
Bruce emerged from near the cupboards, the Scientist Expression on his face and a box of cereal in his hand. “How could you know that?” he asked.
“It feels like Midgard,” Thor said mulishly, crossing his arms, obviously daring them to refute his conclusions. “None of you are of Asgard.”
“Well, that’s true enough,” interrupted Steve, in a way that absolutely shut down the conversation. He put some eggs and toast on a plate, somehow perfectly arranged, and then set it in front of Thor. “Eat,” he said firmly. “Tony, could I have a word outside?”
Not very reluctantly, Tony got to his feet and gave Thor a cheery wave. “Later, kiddo,” he said, and followed Steve out of the kitchen.
“Tony, I need you to watch him,” said Steve immediately.
Tony cried, “What? No way! See this?” He gestured to his whole body. “This is not kid-watching material, Captain. I’ll probably blow him up.”
“He’s Asgardian,” Steve said, too reasonably. “They bounce. Besides, he likes you.”
“He does not,” Tony said, highly affronted.
“I have to talk to Coulson, Bruce can’t watch him, and Clint and Natasha have to be on duty while we try to sort this out,” Steve admitted finally. “So until further notice….”
“I’m Uncle Tony,” he finished for him, resigned. He sighed in a very put-upon way, just to make sure that Steve knew how much he was asking. “Right. Okay. But you owe me one.”
And that was how Tony Stark, CEO of Stark Enterprises, genius, playboy, billionaire, philanthropist, etcetera, ended up as the babysitter to a tearful godchild.
“Jesus Christ,” he said to nobody in particular.
Chapter 2: Step Two: Realize that Your Problem is Twice as Big as You had Assumed
In which Tony swears a lot in front of small children.
“Let’s watch television!” Tony suggested at top volume and with maximum excitement.
“Tony,” Bruce said on his way back out of the kitchen, ten minutes later. “Children shouldn’t be watching Kill Bill Volume 1.”
“Spoilsport!” Tony yelled after him while Thor sniffled into the cushions. Tony rather thought that it was the trauma of Bruce’s gentle scolding and not the blood and guts—little Thor probably liked that part.
“Loki could be in trouble!” Thor wailed, and covered his face with his small hands. He peeked out at the television tearfully. “What if he has been captured by one of Asgard’s many enemies?”
“Oh, good point,” Tony said. “Here’s to hoping!” And he downed another glass of Scotch. For some reason, this combination only made Thor sob harder.
“Tony,” said Steve, horrified. He abandoned Coulson in the hallway, turned off the television, and put his arms around Thor. The tiny kid clutched at him like a drowning soul, pressing his tearstained face into his shoulder and probably soaking his carefully starched shirt.
Coulson looked at Thor with about as much composure as could be expected from a SHIELD agent confronted with a god suddenly turned into a child—ergo, Tony was completely impressed with his calm demeanor. How anyone could be so relaxed with a shrieking kid in the room, Tony could never understand.
“We were watching a great hallmark of American cinema!” Tony said.
“He’s a child,” Steve snapped, finally starting to lose his temper. He petted Thor’s smooth golden head and rubbed his back with the palm of his hand. Thor hiccoughed and went limp, still sniffling a little. “Tony, please.”
Coulson came over and knelt in front of Steve, touching Thor’s shoulder gently. “Thor?” he asked. “My name is Phil. Can you turn around and look at me?”
Rubbing at his red cheeks, Thor obeyed and blinked at Coulson with watery blue eyes. Tony couldn’t believe it when Coulson actually smiled at him—Coulson smiled, what the fuck was this—and said, “How are you feeling?”
“Scared,” Thor whispered. His voice trembled. “Where is my brother?”
“Your brother isn’t here right now,” Coulson said, choosing his words carefully. “I’m sure he’s safe at home.”
Steve patted one of Thor’s tiny shoulders and said, “We’ll try to make sure for you, okay, bud? So for now try not to worry about him. I promise he’ll be safe.”
Thor looked, at best, extremely skeptical. “I suppose he may be,” he said doubtfully. “He has nightmares about frost giants, you see, and if I am not there to comfort him he gets very frightened.”
“Your mother and father will watch over him, all right?” Steve smiled at him and gently set him back on the couch. “Now, Coulson and I have to go talk about some important things, but I promise I’ll be back later.”
“Oh,” said Thor, but just then he caught sight of Tony making faces at Steve’s back and his face lit up. “Do that again!” he demanded.
Coulson looked at him with one raised eyebrow. Tony stuck his tongue out and Thor gave a small giggle. He covered his mouth with his hands, like he didn’t want to get caught at it, and even with tears all over his face Tony thought that he was actually pretty cute.
“Okay,” Steve said slowly. “Tony, I’ll be back in about an hour. Just keep track of him until then—and no more television.” He looked at the TV with distaste, and Tony laughed at him. Watching him with wide eyes, Thor’s mouth turned up at the corners.
“How about Life?” Tony asked sarcastically. “Is a board game tame enough?”
Ten minutes later, Steve and Clint were gone, but Bruce came back out of his lab to sit with them and play the third person. He chose the green car and Thor took red; Tony puzzled over the pieces before deciding that yellow was an appropriate substitute for gold.
It took a bit of time to explain the concept of paper money to Thor. “It is like… gold pieces?” he asked at last, small brow furrowed.
“Very good,” Bruce said, still calm and all zen. Tony didn’t understand it. Despite Thor’s relative cuteness at this size, he still managed to pull off every inch of that Prince of Asgard routine. “The different colors are different numbers of gold pieces, see?”
Thor nodded solemnly, as though Bruce had imparted some great wisdom.
“Whatever,” Tony said. “Get going! I want to skip being married and remain a bachelor my whole life.”
“Very well,” Thor conceded. “Lord Banner, advance the red steed forth six paces.”
They managed to complete one game before Steve came back for Thor with Coulson in tow. (Tony was proud to say that he won, thank you very much. He saved an endangered species and the family horse won the derby. “What is a derby?” Thor had wanted to know. “Boring,” Tony replied. “But at least it gives me tons of moola.”)
“Oh, hello, Captain,” said Bruce pleasantly. He had accepted his last-place finish with good grace and now tidied up the piles of money into orderly rows. “Nice of you to turn up again.”
Steve smiled like it hurt a little bit inside. Tony spared a moment to feel sorry for him—but only a moment. The Captain was made of apple-pie goodness; he’d have to thank Thor later for showing him reality. “Thank you,” Steve said. “How are you doing, Thor?”
“Acceptably,” said Thor agreeably. “Lords Banner and Stark have showed me a most marvelous game! Though there are no battles in it,” he amended, as though this detracted somewhat from the game’s potential.
“I’ll show you Risk later, little dude,” Tony told him. “Then we can have all the battles you want.”
They left Steve and Bruce with the shrunken Thor, and Tony followed Coulson gratefully back into the kitchen. “Jesus,” he said, grabbing another bottle of alcohol. “This is why I’m always careful to use protection.”
Coulson seized the bottle and put it back, ignoring Tony’s outraged cry. “You’re on duty,” he informed him calmly. “Barton and Romanov are returning from duty. They’ll have a few hours’ rest before we put them on Thunder Duty. For now, Iron Man is going to handle any crisis that comes up, understood?”
“Where are you going?” Tony asked, petulant.
“Fury needs a briefing,” Coulson said. Even that didn’t break his composure. “I’ll return later this evening.”
“Yeah, great,” Tony grumbled. “Can I have my alcohol back?”
“Not on duty.” Coulson didn’t change his expression. “If you break the rules of our engagement, Mr. Stark, I will be forced to take drastic measures.”
Tony believed him. “Nobody cares about me,” he told You mournfully five minutes later, sadly bereft of both alcohol and human companionship. Though… after seeing Thor upstairs he might have to take a break from the latter for a bit. For a few days, anyway. Or hours. Whatever it takes.
You whistled and moved the magnifying glass in the wrong direction. “I,” Tony told it, “am going to use you for an experiment on the Hulk. Jesus Christ, you’re a tragedy.”
Nothing happened for precisely thirty more seconds. Then the alarm went off—he threw himself into his suit—the suit threw itself out into open air—and he was hurtling across town, swearing steadily into the microphone because it made him feel slightly better about the disaster that his life had become.
“The police station on Apricot requests your immediate presence,” the agent on the line told him briskly.
“Yeah, yeah, okay,” Tony said. “JARVIS, pull up the GPS.”
“Don’t you know your own way around town, sir?”
“Oh, god, not you too.”
Citizens yelled and pointed both camera phones and actual cameras in his direction. Tony resisted the urge to pose in midair, but only because he suspected that Coulson might actually shoot him if that happened. And then Clint would laugh, which would suck, because he wasn’t speaking to Clint right now because of the machine exploding.
He landed in front of the station and pulled out the Iron Man Voice™, useful in all emergency situations, copyright Anthony Stark. “What’s the situation?”
The group of cops outside looked nervous—or more nervous than cops usually looked when confronted by a metal man. “We’re not quite certain,” the one in charge said. “He says his name is Loki, but that’s—”
“Step aside,” Tony interrupted. JARVIS reported a rise in his heartbeat. “This situation is more than you can handle.”
“But, sir—!” cried one of the junior officers, who Tony ignored and charged past, breaking the glass door to the station when he tried to push it open.
“LOKI!” he bellowed. “Surrender yourself!”
An anxious young woman sat next to a small dark-haired boy with startlingly green eyes, who took one look at Tony and started shrieking. He wore an oversized sweater and what looked suspiciously like a pair of boxers. The woman held him close and shouted at Tony, “How dare you shout at an abandoned child!”
At that, the miniature Loki only cried harder, snuffling into his palms.
“What the fuck,” said Tony to nobody in particular.
Chapter 3: Step Three: Ride Home in a Tank
In which Tony rides home in a tank.
“Okay, Coulson, we have a problem,” Tony said.
“Let me guess,” Coulson said, in that unerringly calm way he had. “We have another Norse god turned into a child.”
“How do you know these things,” Tony said.
“We were speculating,” Coulson said, by which Tony took ‘Fury was thinking too much as usual.’ Lame.
“You stole my thunder,” Tony complained. The woman kept glaring at him even though she couldn’t hear what he was saying, and the tiny Loki clutched at her sweater, still crying and not looking menacing in the slightest. It was so unfair.
“Thunder is back at the tower, Stark.”
“Oh, okay, okay, you win that round. I’ll pay you twenty when I get back.”
Coulson was smugly silent for only a moment before he returned to business. “Does the subject seem to be exhibiting any threatening movements?”
Tony looked the sniffling Loki over carefully. “Not unless you count crying hysterically as threatening.” If possible, this kid was even cuter and more harmless than Thor. Tony was, by now, pretty certain that he’d been hit over the head when the machine exploded and all of this was a dream, like in the Wizard of Oz.
“All right.” Coulson sighed. “Just get him back here, Stark. Should I send a car?”
“It would probably be best,” Tony admitted. “I think he’d just scream if I tried to fly him back.”
“Stand by,” Coulson said, and hung up.
After making several faces to the inside of his helmet, Tony popped open the front. Loki looked at him with eyes gone huge with horror and started screaming bloody murder.
“Jesus Christ, kid!” he yelled, taking a few steps forward and waving his arms. “Your brother wasn’t this scared all the time!” Well—he supposed that wasn’t true. Thor had been scared by the television.
Loki stopped crying at once. “You’ve seen Thor?” he gasped, eyes huge and green and unblinking. His hair stuck up in the back and curled aggressively at the nape of his neck, and all in all he looked as though he’d slept late and been scared witless ever since. Tony felt a little sorry for him.
“Er,” he said.
The SHIELD car arrived within fifteen minutes, all of which Loki spent interrogating Tony about his brother. Some shine had come back into his eyes, and he seemed quite willing to believe that Thor had appeared someplace else. “I am sure he is looking for me,” he said with conviction. “You will take me to him, my Lord?” And there, he was all vulnerable again, biting his lower lip until it turned white.
“Just Tony,” Tony said, utterly lost. “I’m not ‘Lord’ anybody, believe me.” Unable to handle this kid, he turned to the woman and said, “Now how did you come to be here?”
It turned out that she lived across the hall from a dark-haired man with green eyes—she lived across the hall from a supervillain, yes, because Tony’s life really was this absurd—and she got up to go to work this morning and found a small boy sobbing outside the door. She went looking for the man—“The child has to be his,” she explained. “They look identical”—and found nothing except a tousled bed and a closet full of expensive suits.
“So I got him dressed in what I could find and brought him here,” she finished. She narrowed her eyes at Tony and then at the cops standing outside with their noses pressed to the glass. “Who is he? Really?”
“Nobody you should be living next to, that’s for sure,” Tony said.
Loki looked back and forth between them, his brows furrowed, and suddenly gasped. “Am I in trouble?” he asked, putting his hands to his trembling mouth.
“What?” Tony demanded. “Are you crazy?” He immediately hated himself for saying this because yeah, Loki was crazy. Or at least—the big Loki was.
Loki stared at Tony like he was crazy, and said, “I am not mad.”
“Of course you’re—oh,” said Tony, every inch a genius. “Okay, okay, back up. A) I feel like an idiot. B) I’m not angry at you, squirt. And C) we’re getting a car up here to take you to your brother. Kapische?”
In hindsight, this was not the timeliest revelation of all time.
“You can bring me to Thor?” Loki shrieked, just about breaking Tony’s eardrums and the windows of the police station. The woman alone remained unaffected.
“Uh,” Tony said. “Yes?”
And that was how Tony Stark, genius, playboy, and definitely not babysitter ended up with two sobbing children in one day. Loki clung to him, digging his tiny fingers into the armor and nearly cracking it, and babbled, “Thank you, thank you, thank you” in between his tears. Tony sat there, bewildered.
The woman smiled at him kindly and nodded at the boy. “You should be a father,” she said, batting her eyelashes.
“Oh no,” Tony said.
“You are the most ridiculous person I’ve ever met,” Coulson told him later from the back of the tank that was apparently the only transport SHIELD had in stock on that particular day. Loki sat in Tony’s lap, his arms curled around his neck, and pressed his sticky face into Tony’s neck—or at least the part of his neck that he could reach around the armor.
Tony glared at him. “Shut up,” he said. Loki sniffled and locked his arms even harder around his shoulders. “I didn’t mean you, kid,” he added quickly. “You don’t have to squeeze so much.”
“Are all Asgardians so strong?” Coulson asked kindly.
Loki turned the question over for several long minutes before he finally chose to answer. “Thor is stronger,” he said at last.
Tony rolled his eyes a little. At least tiny Loki didn’t sound so resentful about it as his adult self. “You’re plenty buff, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “Coulson, did you take that woman in for questioning?”
Coulson nodded, still looking at Loki’s small back.
“Are we near?” Loki whispered into his neck. His hands clenched tight.
“Yes,” said Coulson calmly. He leaned across and rubbed his palm between Loki’s shoulder blades, and after a moment the little boy relaxed with a whimper. His nose stayed smashed against Tony’s throat. “Your brother is waiting. He knows that you’re coming.”
Over Loki’s head, their eyes met. They would have to talk about this once they could get Thor and his brother out of the way.
The rest of the ride was silent. Loki refused to let go, but Tony felt when his eyelashes fluttered and he closed his eyes, his fingers loosening only slightly. But he woke up with a jolt as soon as the tank pulled to a stop and Coulson climbed out the top. All the same, Tony had to try not to smash things while juggling a miniature God of Lies, which was something he never thought he’d say.
“There you are,” said Natasha, loitering in the lobby. She had her hands on those shapely hips and Tony paused a moment to appreciate the entire picture she presented, even though she would probably murder him for it. He had a child to use as a shield.
“Where’s Thor?” he asked, but the question was answered when Clint came around the corner, looking aggrieved, holding onto Thor’s hand.
As soon as Thor spotted them, his whole face lit up. “Loki!” he shouted.
Loki had squirmed out of Tony’s arms and flown across the lobby before Tony even knew what was happening. “Thor Thor Thor!” sobbed Loki, and flung himself into his brother’s arms. They clung tightly to each other, sniffling, and Thor petted his little brother’s hair and then looked straight at Tony.
“Thank you, Lord Stark,” he said.
“Jesus Christ, I am not a lord,” said Tony to no one in particular.
Chapter 4: Step Four: Hold a Team Meeting
In which Tony decides that Steve is hot when he's upset.
In the end, since Tony was starting to feel rather vindictive towards Clint, he got stuck with babysitting two sobbing Norse gods while the others barricaded themselves in Tony’s workshop, figuring it the least likely place either Thor or Loki would find interesting.
“They’re probably too wrapped up in each other right now anyway,” Steve reasoned.
“Shut up and help me block the door in case you’re wrong,” said Tony.
Finally, they hunkered together in the middle of the workshop floor like some sort of ridiculous campfire song crew, and lay their cards on the table.
“Okay, first thing first,” said Tony. “Loki is either a far better actor than any of us have previously suspected or he doesn’t remember shit. Discuss.”
“Tony,” said Steve, aggrieved.
“Thor seems to remember nothing,” Coulson supplied, his legs crossed Indian style and somehow looking almost as zen as Bruce.
“Thank you, Agent Coulson,” Tony said. “Gold star!”
“Tony, please,” said Steve, rubbing at his forehead with the heel of his hand. His hair dropped over his forehead in an untidy wave—Tony couldn’t remember the last time Steve had looked disheveled, up to and including the attack on Manhattan. Maybe that was never? He didn’t really know, but it was kind of hot. Perhaps he should revise his stance on ‘no sexual contact’ to ‘no sexual contact that could result in babies.’
Not that Steve would look twice at him—1940s prudishness and all that. But still.
“Yes, dear?” he asked.
Steve ignored him so completely that Tony might as well have vanished from the room. He huffed and crossed his arms as Steve said, “Does anyone know what caused this in the first place? This seems like some of Loki’s mischief to me.”
“The machine,” Tony put in. “Agent Barton broke it.”
“Is this about the pool table again?” asked Natasha. She leaned forward to prop her chin up on her shapely hands.
“Tony is not going to worry about his pool table right now,” said Steve, quite calmly. He stood up and began to pace, worrying his lip between his teeth. It was very attractive.
“I am so going to worry about my pool table right now,” said Tony, petulant. “It was—”
“I think Tony is right,” Bruce interrupted. “While you were all gone picking up Loki, I looked at the machine some more. The emissions seem consistent with what I could detect in Thor’s room.” He also got to his feet and went over to one of the monitors, poking at the screen with his finger until the correct graphics showed. “The signature closely mimics Loki’s magic, from what we can tell, though it’s clearly not his. Even crazy as he is, Loki seems smart enough not to injure himself in building up a spell.”
“What about the Crimson Dynamo?” Steve asked.
Crimson Dynamo, Tony thought. That’s what the name was.
“Hung himself in his prison cell,” Coulson admitted.
“Crazy bastard,” Tony said. Steve glared at him, and a cheeky smile in return got that small spark of anger in his eyes.
“But we still have two tiny gods to deal with,” Natasha pointed out. She leaned back on her wrists and frowned prettily. “Do we know anything about how to fix them? Bruce, do you have any clues?”
“Not much right now,” Bruce said with a sigh. He closed the monitor and returned to his seat on the floor. “Though I haven’t had many chances to examine it yet.”
“Well, get on that,” said Coulson briskly. “Agent Romanov, assist Dr. Banner with anything and everything that he requires to find a solution to our… problem. Mr. Stark, Captain—you’re on Thunder Duty for the rest of the night until the kids go to bed. Then Agent Barton will take over.”
“Aw, dad!” Tony whined.
“Barton has had enough trouble for one day, Mr. Stark,” Coulson said. “I suggest you try not to make it worse.” He got to his feet, dusted off his pants. “Meeting adjourned.”
“Well, this sucks,” Tony said companionably, waiting for Steve with his hands shoved into his pockets.
Steve glared at him in a way that suggested an enormous cold shoulder in his future. Tony sighed, mournful, because Natasha thought the Captain was adorable and if he didn’t have her on his side of this primary school war, then he was screwed. (Too bad he didn’t mean that literally. Woe.)
Clint said, “Oh, it’s you two? There’s a bottle with my name on it. Bye!” And he left, the bastard, ignoring Tony’s extremely manly faces that he made at Clint’s back. At least it got a small giggle out of a still-emotional Thor, though Loki didn’t have the courtesy to look up from mashing his face into Thor’s shoulder.
“Hey, buckos,” said Steve with a kind smile. He sat down in front of them and ran his fingers through Loki’s dark hair, coaxing him into actually peeking out of Thor’s red shirt—though he never loosened his tiny fists. “How’s it going?”
“We are ‘fine,’ thank you,” Thor said with a smile. He scrubbed at his face with his sleeve until his eyes looked marginally less red. “Agent Barton has been teaching us Midgardian terms, has he not, brother?”
Loki nodded slightly and then dove back into hiding.
Tony groaned and said, “C’mon, you guys, all this touchy-feely stuff is driving me nuts. Can we, I dunno, play a video game or something?”
Steve looked at him like he was nuts. Thor asked, “What is this ‘video game’ of which you speak?”
“The fuck,” Tony said. “Are you some sort of miniature meme generator?”
“Tony,” Steve hissed. “Not in front of the children.”
“Yes, darling,” said Tony, just to see him flush—yes, very attractive. Maybe these kids were good for something after all. “Hey! How about The Lion King? That movie is amazing and kid-friendly, I guess.”
By the looks on the two faces he could see, nobody in the room had seen The Lion King, which was clearly a crime. “Or Hercules,” he added. “I have a feeling that Thor would like Hercules.” Though… maybe it wouldn’t be such a good idea to show Loki Hades. Might give him ideas. “Lion King it is!” he cried when nobody ventured an opinion.
Though in retrospect, that wasn’t the cleverest plan either. Steve insisted on squeezing Thor and Loki in between them—especially since Loki wouldn’t let go of his brother’s arm—but the disaster that was tiny gods only got worse when Mufasa died. Somehow, Tony had failed to account for that part.
Even Steve seemed stricken, while the kids bawled and Tony shouted, “It’s okay! It gets better, I promise!”
“Tony,” said Steve, but without the usual ‘omg Tony you idiot’ tone of voice. At that, Tony relented just slightly and reached over Thor’s head to squeeze Steve’s shoulder. Mufasa dying made him tear up, Jesus. Poor Steve had to be a wreck.
And he had forgotten Scar, and that whole dynamic between Mufasa and Scar, and Scar being associated with green, and the army of Hyenas, and the British accent, and everything that he should have probably remembered. Holy shit, Tony, he thought. For a genius, you sure are a moron.
“Fuck it,” he muttered to nobody in particular, and then raised his voice. “Okay! Okay, sad part over. Who wants some popcorn?”
Chapter 5: Step Five: Give a Gift of Blankets
In which Tony breaks the rules.
“This isn’t working,” Steve whispered as soon as the door was closed.
“Loki liked the blanket!” Tony said defensively. “C’mon! That is the softest fucking blanket I’ve ever owned.”
They huddled together just outside the room where Thor and Loki had curled up on the big bed, hands fisted in each other’s shirts. Steve had (somehow) found some more miniature clothes to stuff them in, though they probably would have gone to sleep in full armor if it meant cuddling.
“Besides, Clint can deal with them after right now,” he added, judicious. “Let’s run while we can.”
Steve sighed in a woebegone manner but, for once, didn’t argue. They passed Clint in the hallway—Tony gave his best glare, and stupid Clint looked at him like he was nuts.
“Bastard,” he muttered.
“We’ll probably be the ones watching them most of the day tomorrow,” said Steve, distracting him utterly. Dark circles were under his eyes, and he rubbed at his forehead, tugging at his forelock between his fingers. He looked exhausted and confused and possibly still traumatized from The Lion King. Tony felt sorry for him.
“We can have a board game day tomorrow,” he suggested. “Or… we could go to the park! Play daddy and all that.” Tony grinned, pleased with himself and his (as usual) genius ideas. This plan was foolproof.
“We’ll have to ask Coulson for permission,” Steve said. “He may not want them running around in public. What if Loki turns vicious and zaps somebody?”
“Spoilsport,” Tony said.
“No,” said Coulson the next morning, starting to look annoyed. “I’m not letting those two out of our sight if I can help it.”
“Spoilsport,” Tony said. He pulled a face at Coulson’s back and left before he noticed.
Steve was sitting in the living room, helping Loki hold his spoon up. The tiny little devil looked like he was going to fall asleep in his cereal. “Ah, hello,” Steve said. “What’s the news?”
“It’s a no,” said Tony mournfully. He pointed his own spoon at Thor and added, “It’s all your fault.”
“Tony!” Steve exclaimed.
Thor just looked at him, unimpressed, and then leaned over his brother’s shoulder. “Loki, the small colored items are the best,” he said. “Eat those first.”
“Mmmm,” said Loki, rubbing at his eye with the heel of his hand, and yawned. His eyelashes were thick and dark, almost like a girl’s. Tony decided not to voice that thought.
And board games, it turned out, were (while not as traumatizing as television), pretty boring as far as Loki was concerned. Especially once he woke up, he wanted to beat Thor at everything, and when he failed, his face fell.
“It’s okay,” Steve said comfortingly. “Look! I came in last.”
“I can see that,” Loki muttered.
Sorry! was, if possible, an even bigger disaster than The Lion King. Steve won with a multitude of actual apologies and Loki came in dead last, chewing on his lip in frustration, his eyes gleaming.
“I am sorry, brother,” said Thor diplomatically.
“Of course you are,” said Loki nastily. He crossed his arms. “That is only because you are always the victor!”
“Right,” said Tony loudly. He grabbed the game and shoved it back into the box. “We’re watching more TV.”
Loki made a point of sitting on the opposite side of the couch from Thor, his little arms still tightly crossed, his whole countenance one big pout. Tony sat next to him, just in case all of this sibling rivalry made Big Loki come out or something, especially since Thor didn’t seem to know what he’d done wrong.
And then Steve fell asleep.
Tony noticed halfway through an episode of CSI: Miami. Steve’s head tilted back against the cushions and his eyes closed. His mouth fell halfway open, but all in all it looked attractive rather than ridiculous. All three of them kept stealing curious glances until it was obvious that Steve wouldn’t wake up any time soon.
Holding a finger to his lips, Tony got to his feet and grabbed a small hand each. Together, they stole out of the room and across the hall into the kitchen. Natasha sat on the counter, and she eyed the kids as Tony found a duffel bag and stuffed it with healthy food like candy bars and cereal boxes.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“We’re going to the park,” Tony said. “Wanna come?” He didn’t feel particularly like dealing with Loki’s sulking alone, but Steve was sleeping.
So with Natasha’s ninja skills, they snuck on out of the tower through the service elevator, Natasha with Thor and Tony reluctantly keeping ahold of Loki. They walked out through the lobby with purposeful strides, Tony nodding seriously to the guards, and then they were free.
“Hey,” said Tony, three blocks of tiny god gaping later. “Where’s the nearest park? Like, you know, the kind with swings and shit?”
Natasha glanced over at him, amusement in her eyes. “It’s just down there,” she said, pointing. “Follow me.”
“Lord Stark,” said Thor, obviously awed, his jaw hanging open in a way that was definitely not cute at all. “What is the magic of these steeds?”
“Steeds?” repeated Tony blankly.
“He means those,” Loki said, sullen, and pointed with his free hand at the cars racing by.
“They run on gasoline,” Natasha explained, stooping down to pick Thor up so they could walk faster, blending into the crowd. Tony followed suit, groaning at Loki’s added weight. Maybe he’d packed too much food after all. “If you’d like, I can get you boys a book on it.” She looked over her shoulder at Loki, who didn’t respond except to hide his face in Tony’s shoulder, the sulky little—
The park looked pretty cool, even by Tony’s very adult standards. Thor craned his neck to see, almost bouncing in Natasha’s arms. How she kept her balance with Thor and those heels had to be a real superpower, Tony was sure of it. “What is this?” Thor demanded. “A play battlefield?”
“No,” said Tony and Natasha simultaneously.
“It’s just for… playing,” Natasha said.
“Nicely,” Tony added.
“Ah, I see,” said Thor wisely. “Court playing.”
A few people saw them, but with Tony’s head down they didn’t seem to recognize them as The Avengers or whatever these people called them. Tony really didn’t know. Thor squirmed his way free and darted for the slide immediately. Natasha called after him, “Be careful!”
Loki refused to let go, his sticky little hands wrapped firmly around Tony’s neck. Tony gagged a little at his strength. “Hey, okay, little buddy, I’m going to need you to go hang out with your brother, all right? Tasha and I have Grown Up Time.” He looked up at her pleadingly.
She shrugged, of course, and then tried to pry Loki free. It didn’t work. “Maybe we should find someone to help,” she said uncertainly.
But then Thor arrived, flushed and panting, and took Loki’s hand and pulled him to the ground. Loki went without a fight, though he wouldn’t meet his brother’s eyes. “Brother,” Thor said solemnly, “two of yonder children have asked me to take part in one of their play-games. Will you do me the honor of being my companion?”
“Very well,” Loki said with ill grace, though he seemed happy enough as he followed Thor back across the playground to a pair of girls waiting impatiently under the jungle gym.
“For a little tyke, he sure has a grip of iron,” Tony complained, rubbing his neck. They trudged over to a bench and sat down, balancing the duffel bag in Tony’s lap.
Natasha laughed at him. “For a playboy, you sure are good with children,” she said. Her eyes followed them, almost protectively, as Thor, laughing, tickled Loki on his sides. His little brother shrieked and fell to the ground, giggling, and then wriggled free to dart off up the ladder. One of the girls pursued him but couldn’t catch up to his fleet steps.
“I am not,” Tony protested, making sure that Loki didn’t fall on his head.
Chapter 6: Step Six: Get In Trouble
In which Tony and Natasha get in trouble.
Thor and Loki had (somehow) managed not to break anything by the time Fury realized that they had flown the coop. They had, in fact, behaved like perfectly normal children—even Loki, so upset when they’d arrived, soon forgot about his grievances in the face of Thor’s constant attentions.
“Smart kid,” Tony remarked to Natasha, who simply shook her head.
“I don’t think he knows what he’s doing, Stark.”
True enough, he admitted reluctantly, but only internally. Thor didn’t seem to be the type to manipulate Loki like that—as far as Tony could tell, Thor probably didn’t even know what the word ‘manipulate’ meant. The only part he didn’t get was how Loki could have turned from this—small and mostly sweet, looking at his big brother with huge, adoring green eyes—to the evil bastard the rest of them knew. Possibly it was all a shapeshifter. Or whatever those things were, the fairies that replaced children—changelings, that was it.
“That’s a stupid idea,” Natasha said when he voiced this opinion. “Look at them.” She pointed at their two godlings and the knot of mortal children they’d somehow acquired. “He’s already fragile, Stark, and it’s obvious to me that he simply went mad with jealousy. Look at how everyone flocks to Thor.” She shrugged.
“Yeah, well, forget you,” said Tony. “My theory makes more sense than that.”
Natasha’s phone went off, and she turned away with a politely murmured apology. Still scowling—sometimes he hated spies—Tony turned his gaze back to the two miniature gods. Thor was telling some sort of story, complete with expansive hand gestures, his eyes lighting up and his face flushed. Loki drooped by his side, his small shoulders slumped, but from the set of his face Tony figured he was just in need of a nap. Destruction, at least, did not seem imminent.
“Yes, sir,” said Natasha. She held out her phone towards Tony, and added, “We’ve been caught.”
“Damn it!” Tony exclaimed. “And we were being nice and normal and everything.” With a much-aggrieved sigh that would have made Steve proud, he took the phone and held it to his ear. “You have reached the life-model—”
“Stow it, Mr. Stark,” growled Fury, complete with a towering rage worthy of his name. “Bring the children back to the tower now. We will discuss this upon your return.” And he disconnected without even a ‘goodbye.’
“Jerk,” Tony said. He handed the cell back and stood up with a groan. “Where’s the food?”
Natasha pulled it out from under the bench and unceremoniously slung it over his shoulder. “They’re going to drop soon anyway,” she said.
“Do I get Loki again?” Tony demanded. “He’s going to fall over before we leave the park, at the rate he’s going.” They both looked him over. The poor little thing looked about ready to start snuggling again.
“You brought the food, you carry it home,” Natasha said reasonably. “I’ll take Thor.”
“Yeah, yeah, fine,” said Tony, with much more grace than he would have an hour ago. He marched over and knelt behind Loki. “Okay, squirts, time to go.”
There was an immediate roar of protest. The children looked about ready to revolt at the very suggestion of the brothers leaving. “It was just getting exciting!” whined a particularly freckled specimen.
“Who gets dismembered?” a girl asked eagerly.
“Yeah, who loses their head?”
“Sturlson,” said Thor magnanimously. “But it was a fair and noble death, and his children sing songs of his prowess to this day.”
“Not very good ones, though,” Loki amended. He stifled a yawn with the back of his hand while Tony blinked at them in consternation.
“Story time is over,” Natasha said firmly. When she had arrived was a mystery. She pulled Thor to his feet and smoothed down his hair with her palms, her curls hiding her expression.
The freckled child squinted at them. “Hey,” he said suddenly. “I know you. You’re Iron Man!”
“Nope,” said Tony, scooping Loki up in a hurry. He propped him up on his hip and got to his feet without falling over, which he figured was worthy of a medal of some kind. “Nat, let’s skedaddle.”
With Natasha dragging a startled Thor after her, they made good their escape and disappeared back into the crowds on the sidewalk before the redheaded stepchild could spread the truth too far. “That was close,” Tony said when they were a safe distance away.
Loki pulled on the neck of his shirt. “Put me down,” he said imperiously. The effect was somewhat ruined by the cavernous yawn that took over immediately afterwards.
“Are you kidding me?” said Tony. “No, I’m not fu—I’m not putting you on the damn ground, kid.”
“Tony,” said Natasha. “Barely better.”
“Thor gets to walk,” Loki whined. His eyes widened and his eyelashes fluttered.
“Puppy-dog eyes will not work,” Tony said quickly. “I don’t have a heart, squirt. Nice try.”
Loki’s pouts turned to snores within two blocks.
They made it back to the tower with two god-children, exactly as many as they’d left with, so Tony thought that the reaction of the guards was a bit over the top. Tony only barely managed to warn them off grabbing him with his best glare; Loki’s arms were wrapped loosely around his neck, his eyes shut against his skin, and he didn’t much fancy dealing with a cranky trickster. Odin only knew the sort of mischief he’d get up to if he didn’t get his goddamn nap.
Fury loomed as soon as the elevator doors opened up on the ninety-eighth floor, his eyebrow down and his hands on his hips. Even the patch glowered. Tony gulped; Natasha remained unaffected.
“I specifically ordered you not to take the children from the tower!” he shouted. Thor quailed against Natasha’s leg. Loki stirred slightly with a small groan, and some of Fury’s anger left his face.
“Yeah, can we put them to bed before the inevitable scolding?” Tony asked. “This one didn’t fight it, but that’s only because he has a death grip on my neck.”
Fury made a face but nodded. Tony maneuvered himself out of the elevator, Natasha following with Thor, and walked past the kitchen—where Bruce stared, in the middle of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich—to the bedroom where they’d stashed the kiddos last night.
“I need you to hang onto your brother, okay?” Natasha told Thor softly. Bless his warrior’s soul, Thor nodded solemnly and went to sit on the bed, holding out his arms for Loki when Tony finally managed to unwrap his legs from around his torso. Loki squirmed and whined, but he subsided when he had Thor to clutch at.
“Sleep tight,” Tony said. “Don’t let the bedbugs bite, all that jazz.”
Thor had that confused look on his face again, but he dropped onto his back anyway and let Natasha take off his shoes and tuck them in. Loki never stirred. Only then did they leave the room, shut the door, and turn to face the music.
“That sucked,” said Tony to Natasha thirty minutes later, rubbing at his forehead. Fury glared at him one last time before sweeping into the elevator, followed closely by Coulson, who at least hadn’t threatened them with Super-Nanny. Tony thought that was a plus.
“I still think it was the right thing to do,” Natasha commented quietly. She looked over Tony’s shoulder significantly.
He turned—and there was Steve, his arms crossed, his face stuck halfway between sympathy and anger. “Oh, hello,” Tony said. “Have a good nap? We just put the two wee devils down, FYI.”
“I see,” said Steve coldly. “And I suppose it was your idea to leave the security of the tower with two defenseless children, putting them out into a world they could never be prepared for?”
“Uh,” said Tony. “Yes?”
“Brilliant answer,” Natasha murmured. She turned on her heel and left—probably to find that bastard Clint. Tony was definitely going to have to have a conversation with him.
“How could you?” Steve said. “Do you even care about their safety?”
“How could you?” Tony exclaimed, betrayed. “I took Natasha with me! We were all perfectly safe! I made sure Loki didn’t break his neck or destroy the playground in a fit of pique! I did a pretty fucking good job, if I say so myself.”
Steve studied him closely, eyes narrowed. He looked much better rested, Tony couldn’t help but notice. And there was… something… right there, in among the blue of his irises, something that didn’t look entirely upset.
Tony thought that maybe he was imagining it.
“I put the kids to bed,” he said. “Doesn’t that count for anything?” He pulled out the best approximation of Loki’s puppy-dog eyes that he could manage, and had the pleasure of seeing Steve’s face soften.
Well, he had a toe in the door. Maybe the children were good for something after all.