It was supposed to be a “cultural exchange”. Meeting the Asgardians, extending the hand of friendship in the name of humanity.
In retrospect, it was probably a bad idea to send Tony along.
But Tony had been so ready to be nice. He’d been respectful to the King, he’d complimented the food and the architecture, he’d been on his best behavior. He was trying to prove that he could be the responsible adult Steve seemed to expect.
But it was just so damn hard, because the Asgardians were making no such effort.
Everyone he talked to looked down on him like he was a child. His compliments were met with smug smirks, his respect seemed only to make them feel superior, and everywhere he went, people were rude.
What was more infuriating was that Thor didn’t even notice. Tony had tried to bring it up, but Thor waved it away as “nonsense”. At first, Tony thought that maybe he was misreading the situation. But he saw the way Thor was received, and the difference was staggering. His next thought was that Thor was really just that blind and oblivious, and wanted to believe the best of people.
The alternative did not occur to him until much later. Because how could you even begin to suspect that? He wasn’t good at trust, but he trusted that his team respected, you know, his species.
On the day they left, there was a feast. And Odin stood up to say his piece.
Every new word just made Tony angrier. He droned on and on about the importance of reaching out to brothers, but there was such an undercurrent of near-hostile condescension that finally Tony just couldn’t take it anymore.
“Humans are like Asgard’s children, and of course we will always be there to help protect them from the other realms.” Odin said.
Tony stood up. He didn’t really want to argue with the king. He just wanted to step out of the hall so he didn’t punch anything.
“Mister Stark? Is something wrong?” Odin called. Everyone turned to look at him. Natasha facepalmed.
“Nothing, nothing’s wrong.” Tony said, smiling through gritted teeth.
“Why don’t you sit back down, then, and continue enjoying the feast?”
“I’m sorry, sir, I just need to step out for a minute...” Tony gestured towards the nearest door.
“No, sit back down.” Odin said.
Tony looked at him, and then at Thor, who seemed utterly unconcerned, and then at his team. Steve looked concerned, and Natasha and Clint were both braced as though expecting the worst.
“I’m sorry...sir...I think it’s best if I leave. Now.” Tony said, very slowly. The hall had grown quiet.
“I said, sit back down, Mister Stark.” Odin said, and there was an edge to his words.
Tony had given up on getting out of this cleanly.
“No, that’s it, I’m done.” Tony said. He pushed in his chair. “I’m sorry, guys, I’m done.” He really was sorry. Clint gave a slight tilt of the head, which might have been acknowledgement of Tony’s good behavior, he wasn’t sure. “I can’t just sit here and listen to him call my entire species wimpy crybabies. I wanted to leave quietly, you all saw it.”
“Tony...” Steve said quietly.
“Mister Stark...” Odin said, dangerously.
“No.” Tony said, turning to face him. “I will not sit down. I have been nothing but respectful, and you people treat me like shit. Humans are not children, we are not inferior to you, we fought off an entire army of Chitauri without your help. You couldn’t even keep one person locked up. You may be a king, but you are not my king, and I don’t need your permission to leave like this is high school and you’re hoarding the bathroom passes.”
“I do not allow people to speak to me in this manner.” Odin growled, also standing up. “Do not proceed under the impression that the regard of my son will spare you from the consequences of what you say.”
“Are you fu-are you kidding me?” Tony asked him, heatedly. “I don’t need Thor’s help. I don’t need to hide behind an Asgardian just because you think you’re better than us. I’m saying this now, because I want to, consequences be damned. You can’t get away with treating us like shit. We are not beneath you. And I will not sit down and listen to your condescension, because frankly, that would be betraying my species.”
“Do not dare to-“ Odin began, but Tony got up and left the hall.
Tony waited on the bridge for a while. He expected the others to stay in there for a few more hours, but in 30 minutes they had all come to the bridge.
Thor said nothing. He just stared hard at Tony, as if trying to make him realize something.
Tony turned firmly away. They were transported back to Earth.
“That was unacceptable behavior.” Thor thundered. “Odin is the king of Asgard, he is not to be treated like-”
“Do you think humans are inferior to you?” Tony asked loudly, staring him in the eye.
Thor spluttered angrily. “I...the cultures are very different, I have a different perspective from-”
“Do you think humans are inferior to you?” Tony repeated. “It’s a simple question. Do you think humans are inferior to you?”
“Asgard is more advanced, technologically. We have had thousands of years more time than you to develop. We were once like you.”
“So, yes.” Tony said. “You used to be stupid, like us, but you grew out of it.”
“Do not twist my words-”
“I’m not twisting anything. You’re just like him, you think we’re cute. Sentience is not some adorable trick we perform for your amusement. I am not a trained dog, and I will call out any king or god of whatever who acts like I am.”
“Just because we acknowledge that we are more intelligent while you refuse does not mean we insult you!” Thor said heatedly.
Even Steve looked shocked at that.
“Hey...” He said. “Let’s calm down, here...”
“More intelligent?” Tony asked. “More intelligent? Tell me, Thor, how does a car work?”
Thor scowled. “I do not spend my time analyzing the quirks of Midgard.”
“No, you’re right. How does a battery work? Surely you know that, being so vastly superior to us lowly humans. No? How does a lightbulb work, Thor?”
“You ask only what you know I cannot answer!” Thor said. “How does my hammer work, Stark?”
Tony straightened up and looked him dead in the eye.
“There’s a layer of passive protective magic which keeps it set in one place unless a person who meets certain guidelines activates it and calls it forth. There’s a sigil of electricity on the side which acts as a lightning rod and a spell of wind on the handle to account for flying.”
Thor looked flabbergasted.
“Oh, sorry, I wasn’t supposed to know that, I’m just a stupid human.” Tony spat.
Steve touched his arm. “Tony, how did you know that?” He asked.
“I developed a fucking anti-magic field, you think maybe I figured out a few things about magic?” Tony asked sarcastically.
“Have you contacted my brother?” Thor asked.
“No.” Tony said. “I didn’t have to, funny thing, I can figure stuff out all by myself, without help from you or Loki or any of the other so-called gods.”
“Do not disrespect my species-“ Thor began.
That was when Tony finally snapped.
“Get out of my tower.” He said.
“What?” Clint blurted out. Tony ignored him.
“I’m serious.” He said, when Thor didn’t move. “It’s my tower, and I want you out of it. You have one hour to pack your things and leave, and then I’m fucking kicking you out. You racist, hypocritical bastard. Use your superior Asgard mind to find somewhere else to stay.”
Tony stormed out before Thor replied, slamming the door behind him.
“That was childish.”
Tony was used to Natasha sneaking up on him by now. He grunted and didn’t look up.
“You alienated one of our friends, and made a potential ally into a potential enemy.”
He kept stubbornly silent and finished his glass of scotch.
“As a SHIELD agent, I’m inclined to call in Fury to convince you to change your mind.”
“Try it, see what happens.” Tony muttered darkly.
“But I want to thank you for standing up for the human race.” She said.
He glanced up, sharply. Her tone was neutral, and her face showed nothing, but something about the way she was standing, possibly because he’d spent so much time around her, possibly because he was insane, felt warmer than usual.
“You’re welcome.” He said.
She nodded, and went to the minifridge. She pulled out a bottle of vodka, settled into a chair, and began swigging it rather ungracefully.
He gave her her peace and quiet. They sat like this, drinking in silence, for a long time.
“Steve will be upset in the morning.” She said finally. “But he’ll go easy on you. He was shocked by what Thor said, we all were.”
Tony nodded and threw back another glass.
“Banner is still in the Middle East, but he’s always on your side. When he comes back I doubt there will be trouble. He might be nervous that you’re going to kick someone else out. He’s not used to having a safe place to come back to.”
“I would never kick Banner out.” Tony argued.
“Just make sure he knows that.” She said.
“What about Clint?” He asked.
“Clint thinks it was awesome.” She said, and wrinkled her nose. “He’s such a child.”
“Is he happy with the bow? Any improvements since last time?”
“He wants you to take laser targeting off the bow. He said if you could put it in goggles that would be better, but it only trips him up when he’s shooting.”
“Alright. Can do.”
Tony no longer felt any remorse for stealing books from Asgard’s library. When he had time away from the labs, he poured over them. He was sure to hide them from the team, not just because they were stolen, but also because of their contents.
So far, it had been slow work learning about magic. What reliable information he could gather was scattered among ridiculous stories and superstitions. His so-called “anti-magic field” was just a small speaker which used sounds just below normal hearing range to disrupt the concentration necessary to cast spells. Very low tech, and it only worked so long as you didn’t know how it worked. It was basically just a headache machine, on the premise that people can’t cast magic when they have headaches.
He didn’t want the team to know how much he was obsessing over this. Steve already thought the whole thing was unhealthy. But damnit, it was like a whole world of information, a new set of rules to the universe, were being dangled in front of him. He was not the kind of person who could just swat that away.
No matter how hard he prayed, though, the books weren’t much help. They assumed and relied on the reader’s prior knowledge of the basics of magic, knowledge Tony didn’t have...yet. The only useful information he’d gained had been about Thor’s hammer.
Some combination of insanity, the debacle with Thor, sleep deprivation, and the grip of obsession and frustration made him do something that was absolutely, categorically unreasonable.
He started looking for Loki again.