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Mother of Monsters

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Tony is enjoying the sudden downswing in villainous activity, using his free time to catch up on some of his projects and spend time with Pepper. Or at least, that’s what he tells himself, because it’s not as if he misses putting on the armor and kicking villain ass. It’s just that he doesn’t want to get out of shape, or anything.

So maybe he misses it a bit, but going three weeks without a single incident -- not even giant rats in the sewer -- means that everyone else is starting to feel it too. They’re overdue for a Loki-related explosion by almost seven months, and overdue for at least six smaller pranks as well. (Loki usually keeps a pretty reliable schedule, one major attack per year and a smaller mayhem-causing event every month.)

And that’s just Loki.

They haven’t heard a peep from Doom since he holed up in Latveria two months ago, HYDRA seems to be taking some vacation time after their last ass-kicking, AIM is still suffering from the backlash of Thor’s epic electronic revolution, the Wrecking Crew haven’t managed to break out of jail yet, and the lesser-known villains are getting so pathetic that it’s actually better to just let the NYPD handle it.

Apparently, sending the Avengers to deal with that teenager who could control bunnies with her mind was deemed ‘excessive force’ and not well received by the public at large.

Whatever.

Tony ducks into the nearest, hippiest-looking store he can see. If he’s lucky, they will be able to point him towards a gluten-free vegan ice cream with chocolate “substitute” of all the godforsaken things (he is starting to have his doubts about where Bruce is on the scale between genius and insanity). He takes a minute to peruse the store for any of the dirty, scary hippie types who want to either condemn him for his consumption of precious metals or gush about clean energy at him. The coast is clear, but probably won’t stay that way for long.

Do places like this have an ice cream aisle?

Tony sees a sign that says “Rice Cream!” and manfully represses the urge to sob in despair. Bruce is absolutely never going to have ice cream again, if this is the shit he’s going to bring into Tony’s house.

“Dear God,” He mutters to himself, opening the freezer and rummaging through the tubs. Most of them seem to be in various flavours of boring or gross, and he’s not seeing anything chocolatey. Does it need to be fake chocolate? Why can’t Bruce have normal chocolate like a normal person?

Oh, right. Caffeine. That would probably not be a good thing. He’d hate to see Hulk with a withdrawal headache.

“Hmm, I see. Are you sure it’s safe? I’ve been warned about putting an infant on a restrictive diet, you know, and I really wouldn’t want to do anything to harm her--”

Tony raises his head from the depth of the world’s most depressing ice cream freezer. He knows that voice. That is a familiar voice, a voice that is known to him.

“Well, we’re still breastfeeding for at least another six months, but I’m not sure if a change in my diet will affect the quality of breast milk. I’d hate to be depriving her of any essential nutrients at this key stage in her development,” the voice continues.

It’s Loki.

Loki is standing in the grocery store.

Loki is standing in the grocery store, wearing his armor-- complete with helmet-- and talking to the terrified-looking woman sitting behind a cheerful “Ask a nutritionist!” sign.

Tony very carefully re-inserts his head into the world’s saddest ice cream stash and digs his phone out of his pocket, hitting speed-dial 4 to connect him to Steve. Please, let Steve pick up his phone, he prays, except that’s probably not specific enough.

Dear God, Tony thinks very carefully. If you exist, and I have my doubts about that but we’ll discuss the matter some other time -- please ensure that Steve has remembered to charge his phone, and he’s also remembered to bring his phone with him today, that he hasn’t accidentally left it in airplane mode, remembered to turn the ringer back on after his most recent trip to the theatre, and that he will pick up the phone when I call him.

“Hello?” Steve’s voice sounds confused. “Is anyone there?”

“Shh,” Tony hisses at the phone. “Cap, I’m hiding in a frozen wasteland of despair, and Loki is harassing a nutritionist. What do I do?”

The best thing about being friends with Captain America is that he always knows what to do.

There is silence from his phone, then, “Tony? Is that you? Why are you whispering?”

“Loki is here!” Tony whispers. “Loki! God of Bullshit and Fuckery! Here!”

“Are you hurt? We’ll have backup there for you in ten minutes!” Captain America says. “Give me a sitrep -- are there any casualties?”

“Um, no, no, he’s not like, doing anything. He’s talking.” Tony ducks his head back to check. “Yeah, he hasn’t spotted me, and I’d like to keep it that way since I don’t think this grocery store could survive the damages of a real fight in here.”

“What is he doing in the grocery store?” Captain America sounds confused.

Tony thinks about this, replaying the conversation in his mind. He hadn’t really been paying attention, but his mind tends to remember all sorts of useless stuff without his input, and this is no different. “Um, he’s discussing switching to an all-vegan diet with the nutritionist?” he replies slowly. That absolutely cannot be right, but his brain is insisting that’s it.

His phone is silent.

“I think he’s leaving.” Tony hears Loki, heavy in his armor, moving away from him. It’s probably safe to exit the freezer, as he’ll probably get hypothermia before he finds some suitably terrifying ice cream substitute for Bruce, but he’s decided that hiding like a coward is the better part of valour. “Steve, he mentioned a baby.”

Steve makes a noise that is probably him choking on air.

“I’m really worried, Steve,” Tony confesses.

--

Later, at the Tower, while Bruce refrains from bitching about his lack of carob-flavoured rice-milk ice cream product, Tony relays the details to the rest of the Avengers.

Natasha looks suitably unimpressed, Clint scowls at the mention of Loki’s name, Bruce is sulking about the fucking rice milk ice cream, and Steve is filled to the brim with concern about Loki’s plans.

Tony is really glad that Cap’s taking the lead on the whole ‘worrying’ thing, because his brain absolutely cannot compute the possibility of Loki having a baby. Where would he steal a baby? Why would he steal a baby? And what the fuck does he need it for? It would probably have come up in conversation by now if Loki like, had a taste for young human flesh, or something. Thor would have mentioned it.

“Nay, my brothers-in-arms.” Thor declares solemnly. “Er, that is, my brothers and sister. My siblings-in-arms. Tis not unknown for my brother to cease his mischievous doings while he gestates his spawn.” (Thor is the only person on Earth who still calls Loki’s antics ‘mischief.’)

Tony takes a second to parse that, and then another second because the first was not enough. “Gestate,” he repeats. “What the fucking fuck do you mean, gestate? Like, like a seahorse? Does he have a-- oh god, oh god, why did my mind go there, now I can’t help but think of Loki walking around with a goddamned flesh pouch in his abdomen where he keeps tiny seahorses or kangaroos or -- fucking, I don’t know, someone stop me from talking before I make this worse--”

Clint’s shoe hits him on the side of the head. Tony rubs his temple but nods at Clint in thanks.

“Got your back, bro.” Clint says, deadpan.

“My brother has borne several children in the past,” Thor says. When none of the Avengers say anything in response, instead electing to stare at him in horror, he seems confused. “Did you not know of this?”

“I think I speak for all of us when I say, what the hell, man?” Clint says, doing something vaguely threatening with the salt shaker from the center of the table. “Your brother is just. So. So messed up, Thor.”

Thor shrugs. “My brother’s offspring have often been deformed or misshapen. His eldest, Sleipnir--”

“Wait,” Bruce holds up a hand, pausing the conversation. “Before we go any further. When you say Sleipnir, Thor, are you talking about your father’s horse?”

Thor smiles. “Ah, you have heard of him! Excellent!”

Tony groans.

Steve gives him a look of commiseration.

--

Loki’s family history could probably not get any more screwed up, but if it can, he is apparently determined to try, Tony decides eventually. That is the only rational explanation, and the word ‘rational’ is being used in only the loosest and most general way.

“I quit,” he says. “I don’t care. Loki’s someone else’s problem now.”

Thor stands up. “I must speak with the Allfather,” he announces to the room at large.

Bruce, who is lying face-down on a couch in the corner, mutters something that sounds suspiciously like “Duck You, Four.”

Natasha continues petting Bruce’s hair.

“Once again, I think I speak for everyone here when I say, good luck with that,” Clint says from his perch on the bookshelf. He looks like he’s whittling the salt shaker into a shiv.

“I think the responsible thing to do,” Steve says firmly, from where he’s sitting at the table. “Is to ensure that Loki’s not a danger to the city as long as he’s taking care of this. Er. Latest development.”

“Someone else’s problem,” Tony reminds him. “I quit. I’m moving to... er, a place far away. I’m moving to Australia. I will go throw some shrimp on the barbie, okay? I will frolic in the sunshine with koalas and wallabies and I will absolutely let a dingo eat that baby if it gets near me.”

“I didn’t understand any of that,” Steve reprimands him.

“Duck you, Sleeve,” Tony replies with a glare.

“Nay, my friends, your intentions are good, but ;tis not a circumstance likely to last,” Thor tells them. “Loki is on Asgard known as the mother of monsters, and for good reason! While Sleipnir’s visage is strange, his siblings were often born as true horrors, and were either killed or cast out of the realm by the Allfather’s command. I dare not hope that this latest birth has gifted my brother with a true child.”

“Er,” Tony says, lifting his head up from the floor.

“Killed or cast out,” Natasha repeats in a monotone.

Thor looks uncomfortable. “It had to be done--”

“You killed your brother’s children,” Natasha interrupts, her voice creepily even. “And you’re surprised when he hates you?”

Thor looks at her helplessly.

“Um,” Tony says, because well, he doesn’t like children. Well, he likes children, he just prefers that they be very far away from him. Far away from him and alive, he likes children to be alive, also happy or healthy or whatever kids were supposed to be. Point is, Tony really enjoys when other people’s filthy, germ-covered, sticky brats were far, far away from him, and also not dead. “I might be on Natasha’s side here,” he admits.

From on top of the bookshelf, Clint doesn’t stop whittling. “I vote we don’t kill the kid,” he chips in.

Bruce raises a hand. “Seconded.”

“All in favour?” Tony calls out.

All hands raise, including Thor’s.

“Motion passes. Avengers remain on the light side of the force and do not kill babies. Next order of business?” Tony flops back down onto the floor, staring up at the ceiling.

“I wasn’t going to kill it,” Thor protests quietly, but he settles down soon enough.

The assembled Avengers sit quietly for a few minutes.

“We should call child services,” Bruce says from the couch. “There’s no way the kid is safe there.”

--

Loki sniffs imperiously, but opens the door to admit Thor. “I don’t know why you’re here,” he says.

“I heard that you had given birth,” Thor tells him. “I have brought a gift for you, on the occasion of your child’s first days, and a gift for the babe, so that he might enter the world with his due as a prince of Asgard.”

Narrowing his eyes, Loki inspects the gifts that Thor had hastily wrapped in some sort of colourful paper. “I’ll have you know the poison is unnecessary,” he says primly. “Odin Allfather has proclaimed to wash his hands of me, and has declared he shall not raise a hand to intervene with my brood.”

Thor flushes. “The poisons are for you,” he says. “For your work. I know how difficult it is to find dragon’s venom on Midgard, and you do so love potions.”

Loki nods, because that’s true.

“May I see the child?” Thor asks hopefully.

Loki considers this.

“No,” he decides, then summarily kicks Thor out of his apartment and slams the door in his face.

--

The people at Child Protective Services call Tony and yell at him. Their representative, a stern-faced, iron-haired woman who reminds Tony of Professor McGonagall but whose name is actually Caroline Spencer, actually swore at him.

Actually, Ms. Spencer called Tony, and Thor, and Fury, and yelled at each one of them individually, before scheduling a conference call to yell at them as a group.

“I don’t see why leaving a baby in the hands of a known killer and terrorist is a safe decision,” Fury says, at which point the social worker’s voice breaks down into heavy, heart-wrenching sobs.

Clint, Tony, Thor, and Fury all stare in horror at the phone, which continues to make terrible wet noises of sadness.

“Er,” says Tony, who is ostensibly the best of the group when it comes to consoling crying women, because Pepper stubbed her toe once and he totally comforted her until she was okay. “There, there?”

“We can’t take it away,” Ms. Spencer sobs. “Where would we have the resources? The facilities? The staffing? We can make accommodations for most special needs children if necessary, but there’s a limit, Director Fury! There’s a limit to what we can do!”

“Er,” says Clint.

Fury looks like his good eye is going to twitch itself to death. “Ms. Spencer,” he says grimly. “I understand your concern, but I’m afraid that it’s simply not--”

“There is no place we could take that child to take care of it,” Ms. Spencer continues, as if she hadn’t heard Fury speak. Maybe she really hadn’t. “And nowhere would be safe. Can you imagine what Loki would do to us, if we took his child away?”

Tony taps his phone quietly, and then pulls up the appropriate wikipedia page. “Looks like he’d cause Armageddon,” he says, squinting at the text. “That’s what Ragnarok means, right, Thor? The end of the world?”

“Nay,” Thor shakes his head. “Ragnarok is not the end of one world, my dear friend, but the end of all worlds. All realms. All dimensions that can be known in the universe, and perhaps all of the multiverse itself.”

Tony stares at him.

Clint stares at him.

Fury sighs. “Very well, Ms. Spencer. I shall respect your decision in this matter, but if any harm should come to the child while it remains in Loki’s custody, you have to be aware that I’ll hold you directly accountable. This is not the--”

There is an audible click from the phone on the desk.

Tony stifles a laugh. “Did she just hang up on us?”

Fury sighs again. “Get out of my office,” he says.

--

Thor decides to make another trip to see his adoptive brother and his baby.

“Why?” Tony asks, confused.

“Why,” Natasha asks flatly.

“Remember to bring a gift,” Steve says helpfully.

“Maybe you should bring a mutual friend?” Bruce offers. “Someone to break the tension between the two of you?”

Thor considers this carefully. “I believe you may be right, good Doctor! Verily, I shall ask one of my comrades to accompany me, someone who has spent time in Loki’s presence, whose appearance may bring my brother some comfort...” He turns to look at Clint.

“No.” Clint says.

Thor sighs, then turns to look at Tony.

“Why are you looking at me?” Tony asks.

--

According to Thor, Loki thinks Tony is ‘less pathetic than other mortals’ which is probably meant to be a compliment but really just sounds creepy. Tony refuses to go visit Thor’s brother/nemesis, on the grounds that a) he likes being alive, and b) fuck no.

Thor offers to let Tony study Mjolnir.

--

“If he kills me, remember, you have to cry at my funeral and say all those nice things about me and my manhood at the memorial,” Tony reminds Thor as they ring the doorbell. “And. And. Oh god, please remember to feed and water the robots in my shop -- wait, no, that’s Pepper’s job, I think I left you something in the will though, so don’t screw it up.”

Thor rests a heavy, comforting hand on Tony’s shoulder. “Fear not, my Midgardian Friend! My Brother will likely not resort to violence.”

There is absolutely no way that Thor could know that, because Thor is not a psychic. Tony narrows his eyes at him and flips his sunglasses down over his eyes just in time for the door to swing open.

Loki blinked blearily at them, clutching a towel in one hand and a clean diaper in the other. His hair is a rat’s nest, his eyes are bloodshot, and he has huge bags underneath them. As Tony takes in the scene he realizes that the demigod is wearing what looks like a loose-fitting fuschia pink halter top and a pair of grungy sweatpants.

No, not sweatpants. Loki is wearing Yoga pants. Ratty ones. So old they have holes worn through in places.

Tony stares, grateful that he’d brought mirrored sunglasses today.

“You may as well come in,” Loki says, grumpily, moving aside. “I doubt she was going to take a nap, anyway.”

“Er,” Tony says.

“Are you well, Brother?”

Loki glares at him. “I am looking after a newborn on my own, Thor, how do you think I should be faring? Perhaps I should be well-rested, after sleeping a full night on my bed of rose petals and goosedown?”

Tony holds up his offering, which is a cup of mostly-still-warm coffee. “I come bearing gifts.”

Loki stares at him, uncomprehending.

“Drink it,” Tony says.

Somewhere in the apartment, they hear a baby start to cry.

“I’ll be right back,” Loki says, turning and trudging back into the depths of his rooms.

Tony and Thor wait in the doorway, feeling awkward, but at least Tony is now moderately sure that Loki won’t murder him. Not without warning, anyway, and Tony is at least fifty percent certain that Thor would buy him enough time to get into his suit. Probably. Okay, he’s thirty percent sure.

Loki appears, holding a crying bundle of blankets. When he sees the two of them still loitering in his doorway, he glares at them with the sort of hate-filled intensity that should, in a universe that made sense, have resulted in their immediate fiery immolation.

“Close the door,” Loki hisses, when it’s clear that they won’t burst into flames on the power of his hate alone. “You’re letting out the warm air.”

Tony steps into the apartment, Thor a half-step behind him. They close the door.

The baby is still crying, pitifully, and Loki lugs the heavy-looking bundle of blankets over to a makeshift changing station in the living room. Tony, desperately trying not to bring attention to himself, peers around the room and determines that it’s a... really boring looking apartment. Clearly, Loki’s career in villainy isn’t breaking the bank. Metaphorically speaking. Loki has literally broken several banks, in the past, which is why Tony’s a little apalled at his living conditions. Sure, he’s a villain, but doesn’t that mean he could like, steal or magic up some sort of non-shitty coffee table?

The table looming ominously at shin-height in front of him is propped up with what looks like a dinosaur’s shinbone. Tony eyes it suspiciously, a little concerned about the possibility that the dinosaur will come to life and try to kill him.

Thor makes a noise, a little high-pitched whimpering sound, and Tony quickly looks up and sees Loki struggling with a dirty diaper. With several dirty diapers.

“What the hell is that?” Tony says, far louder than he really intends to.

Loki snarls at the tangled, disgusting diapers and then does something and finally manages to free the whole mess from the--

the--

...

Well. If Tony had been asked to, and he has definitely not been asked to, but if he WERE to be asked, he’d be hard pressed to describe the thing on the changing table as a ‘baby’. It is definitely smaller than an adult, he supposes, but there ought to be definitions of ‘baby’ that are based on something other than size, and quite honestly, Tony isn’t sure that thing qualifies.

“Is that the baby?” Tony continues, because he has no brain-to-mouth filter and no self-preservation instincts to speak of. “Loki, is that the baby? Is that the vegan baby you’re currently raising?”

Loki’s eyes flare red for a moment when he looks up at Tony.

Stepping back, and definitely not ‘hiding’ behind Thor as much as he’s 'making a tactical decision to put the Asgardian god of thunder between him and a pissed off, sleep deprived Loki,' Tony squeaks out an apology. “I mean,” he says, babbling. “I mean that of course that is your baby. Not just any baby, but specifically your baby. Your baby whom we, the Avengers, would like to remain very much alive and very much within your custody for the foreseeable future.” He offers the coffee cup again, like extending an olive branch to a rabid elephant with a taste for human flesh.

That’s probably a really good analogy for Loki. Tony makes a mental note to write it down if he gets out of here alive.

“May I see my nephew?” Thor asks, looking like a kicked puppy.

Loki sighs, turns back to the... thing... on the table, and begins doing something complicated with a baby wipe. A box of baby wipes. Tony isn’t certain, but he thinks the... greyish lump of tentacles, that’s a good description, he thinks it’s wiggling.

He’s starting to realize that Thor’s earlier description of Loki’s kids being “monstrous” may not have been an exaggeration.

“What’s her name?” Tony asks, because Loki still hasn’t said anything and it’s freaking him out. Also, it's a subtle hint to Thor to remember that using male pronouns for a female-prounouned baby is probably a bad idea.

Loki turns around, holding the baby-thing, and for the first time, Tony gets a really, really good look at it.

It’s pretty hard not to be absolutely frozen with horror, because Loki’s child is a Lovecraftian Nightmare. It has tentacles. Not like, a little bit of tentacles, but a lot. Flippers and tentacles and little pincer-type things beside what Tony can only assume is a mouth. It has... eyes. Lots of eyes. Blinking, glowing red eyes that surround it’s head in a halo of terrifying omnipresence. It has dark, slimy-looking grey skin, and probably has scales, and it’s currently wearing like, six diapers. Diapers which, instead of being wrapped around a baby’s bum, are currently haphazardly spilling tentacles in every direction while making a strange diaper-bundle around it’s middle.

Tony stares in revulsion.

The baby waves a tentacle at him, threateningly.

“Gorgeous baby,” Tony lies through his teeth. “She has your eyes.” It’s a good thing Tony thinks most babies are hideous, because nothing other than a lifetime of lies and avoidance could have prepared him for this moment. “Thor, doesn’t the baby have your brother’s eyes?”

Too late, he remembers that Loki hates being reminded of his and Thor’s familial history.

Fortunately, Loki just thrusts the ... baby ... at Thor, and grabs the coffee in one smooth movement. “I have named her Bella,” Loki says, sipping the coffee. He doesn’t seem to care about the temperature, drinking it lukewarm.

Tony blinks at him. “That is a very... nice... name,” he says. After a moment, in which Thor is holding the wriggling creature with curiosity, Tony says, “So, is the... um, other parent still in the picture?”

“I have no intention of taking up with him again,” Loki says, growling a little around his Starkbucks cup. “After he left me with his spawn, and has made no effort to assist with my gestational period, I daresay that if he were to reappear now I would eviscerate him and use his entrails to hang the mobile above Bella’s hatchling pond.”

Tony takes a minute to absorb this. “Yeah,” he says, at a loss. “That. Sounds like he’s a real jerk.”

Thor makes a noise, sounding kind of like pain, but fuck if Tony’s going to try and rescue him from his own goddamned niece-nephew. Niephew? Nibling. This is Thor’s fault, none of this was Tony’s idea.

“Indeed,” Loki says, scowling.

“Well you are better off without him,” Tony says cheerfully. “And, uh, you... deserve better treatment. From the father of your child. Yeah, definitely deserve better. I’m sure you’ll find someone else.” He’s lying through his teeth, because he doesn’t want to die and also because he is like ten thousand percent certain that Loki does not, in fact, deserve better. Loki is a very, very bad person. Loki deserves to be left at the altar. Loki deserves to be punched in the nuts.

“Loki,” Thor grunts, holding out the baby. It has all... er, Tony isn’t about to count the tentacles, but it’s clinging on to Thor’s arms with glee, the tentacles leaving red, bubbling welts behind as it lashes out at its adoptive uncle. “Loki, your child--”

“She’s a girl,” Loki says, still sipping from his coffee and making no effort to take the baby back. “And her name is Bella.”

“Er, yes. Bella, could you-- her touch, it pains me, would you--”

Loki sips his coffee peacefully, ignoring Thor’s pain as only Loki can. “That would be her Jotun heritage,” he says calmly. “My side of the family, of course. It’s a good thing she’s still young, or you might have lost your arms.” He looks mildly disappointed at this.

“I’m sure she’ll be up to killing full-grown Asgardians in no time,” Tony offers, smiling his Media Smile. “She just hasn’t had much practice. After all, I bet she can kill a human just fine, hmm?”

Loki seems mollified. He retires to the couch, propping his feet up on the coffee table, which wobbles threateningly and then stabilizes.

“So, Loki,” Tony says brightly. “How’s villainy been treating you? I bet you’ve got your plate full, with your career and now a newborn. I would assume newborn. Are Jotuns mammalian? You don’t need to answer that, I just thought that the gestational thingy you do would be less horrifying if you laid eggs or something, but hey, who am I to judge? I am not judging. Not judging at all. Do you need a lawyer? I mean, something tells me getting child support paperwork filed so Cthulhu needs to chip in for his hellspawn, that’s not something you want to do without a lawyer. I know one you can have, just let me know. He’s already evil, so you can keep him. If you want. Or kill him. I don’t really have a preference.” Sanders from the legal department had managed to offend pretty much everyone at HR with his sexist, racist, homophobic comments, and they were just waiting for a reason to fire him. Unfortunately, he was a really good lawyer. He'd probably fit right in with Loki's villain-y friends.

Loki blinks. “That won’t be necessary,” he says. “Should Bella’s father return, I shall rend him limb from limb and dance in his blood. I doubt that his mutilated, dessicated corpse shall be adequately able to answer a lawsuit.”

“Good point,” Tony says faintly.

“Loki,” Thor chokes out, from where it looks like he’s being strangled by his niece-thing. His face is turning kind of purple.

“For Níðhöggr’s sake, Thor, hold her properly!” Loki snaps. “No wonder she’s trying to kill you, she thinks you are about to drop her!”

“Yeah, Thor.” Tony chimes in, because he’s not in a million fucking years going to offer to hold the monsterling. “Babies like to feel secure, hold her next to your chest and sit down.”

Thor visibly struggles for a long moment before he staggers over to the closest chair, a ratty-looking thing with stains all over the cushions. He sits down, and the grotesque amalgamation of limbs in his arms immediately releases it’s-- her -- stranglehold on him. Thor heaves a deep sigh, and then beams delightedly down at his... er. Niece-thing.

“What a strong child you have!” Thor says to Loki, who is glaring at him. “Surely, he shall grow to be a fine warrior!”

“She,” Loki says, eyes flashing red again. “Is a girl, Thor. And she shall grow to be whatever she wants to be, without your input or approval.”

“Hey, lets not get into discussing gender politics just yet,” Tony interrupts, a bit concerned. Loki might not want Thor dead as much as he wants Thor to suffer forever and for the rest of eternity, but he’s starting to look a little murder-y. “I’m sure that without a stifling atmosphere and with a supportive parent, Bella will have a happy and fulfilling life with whatever her chosen area of study or expertise is.” He adds, as diplomatically as he can. “I’m sure she’d be an excellent serial killer, or thief, or even a havoc-wreaking sorceress, if she wants to be.”

The baby glares at him, terrifying ghoulish eyes smouldering darkly in animosity. Tony smiles at it, once again, grateful for his mirrored sunglasses.

“This is great,” Tony says as enthusiastically as he can. “You know, Loki, I bet you could use a service. Like, a cleaning service. Maybe a cook or a housekeeper. Someone to help out with the... er, domestic chores. Lots on your plate right now, what with your trying to kill me and everyone I love, and now a baby.”

Shockingly, Loki looks rather touched by the suggestion. “I am exhausted,” the supervillain confesses, leaning a little closer to Tony. Tony edges away as subtly as he knows how. “Even with the incinerator, disposing of this many diapers is difficult. And sometimes, I forget which mouth to feed, and then we have to start the feeding schedule all over again.”

Tony freezes, not sure what part of that he needs to address first. “You have an incinerator in your apartment,” he comments, trying to look around. “Like, a small one, or--”

“No, of course not.” Loki sighs. “It’s full-sized, or I wouldn’t be able to fit the corpses in there.”

Tony nods, swallows hard, and then raises his now-empty coffee cup to his lips to stall. “Er,” he mumbles.

“It’s very expensive,” Loki continues, looking miserable. “And with all of Bella’s needs, I’ve had to have quite a few things custom-made. The car seat alone put me out nearly six thousand dollars.”

Tony eyes the glowering tentacle-beast that’s currently hissing at him. He’s not sure, but it might be monster-baby speak for I am Going to Kill You, but then again, Thor’s the one who has the Allspeak powers and he doesn’t look concerned.

“Er,” Tony says. “You know. Money’s not a problem for me. I bet we could work something out...”

--

And that’s how Tony ends up financing both Loki’s official retirement from villainy, and Bella Lokkadottir’s preschool tuition.

--

“This is a terrible idea,” Clint groans. “Tony, this is the worst idea ever!”

“I know that, Clint!” Tony points his pen at him. “That baby is evil, okay? I could sense it. It was plotting my demise.”

“Bella is a handsome child,” Thor was saying, showing pictures to Steve. “Look at how--”

Steve is carefully looking at the wall behind Thor’s phone, and not at the phone itself. “I don’t need to see Loki’s baby,” he says. “I really, really don’t, Thor.”

“And her name suits her,” Thor continues blithely.

“It does not,” Tony disagrees. “It most certainly does not, unless you are making a Twilight reference, which you are probably not doing. References to horrible teenage soap-opera style romances about the undead aside, even the undead would run screaming from that baby. That baby is an eldritch horror from another dimension. That baby is what gives the boogeyman nightmares. That baby is Satan reborn.”

“He’s not exaggerating,” Steve says to Natasha, who has so far been the only one to successfully avoid Thor’s picture-show. “It really, really is.”

“Maybe we can exorcise it?” Clint suggests after a moment.

“I vote we just... let Loki take care of it.” Tony says. “Like, we stay away from the incarnation of hell on earth, and Loki can deal with it. And we hope that it only decides to enslave our species instead of destroying the known universe.”

“I think that might be a little negligent of us,” Steve says, furrowing his brows.

“I hate to agree with Stark, but I agree with Stark.” Fury says, his head pillowed on his arms, from where he’d collapsed in abhorrence after being subjected to Thor’s unsolicited slideshow of baby pictures. “Just. Let Loki handle it. If it eats him, we don’t have to deal with Loki. And if it doesn’t, we don’t have to deal with... it.”

“Sounds good to me,” Bruce chimes in, looking haunted.

Natasha glares at them. “And when the baby is old enough to join Loki in his schemes?” she asks. “What then?”

“She won’t if she gets into a good college,” Tony says brightly. “I told Loki I’d pay for everything as long as they keep on the right side of the law. I don’t think he’d want her to risk her future for a cheap thrill.”

There’s a long moment where everyone stares at Tony in blank incomprehension.

“Yeah,” Tony says. “I didn’t believe it at first, because the guy’s completely batshit fucking psycho? But it turns out that Loki’s actually a kind of good mom.”

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