“Mr. Stark,” Steve began. “I think it would be best if you avoided any personal contact to ambassadors from the nine realms. It is not that we don’t value your insight, but your manner can be a little…”
“Erratic?” helped Natasha, her face blank with a faint hint of amusement in her eyes.
“Yes, Friend Stark,” Thor chimed in earnestly. “As you might remember, our first encounter was not very level-headed.”
“You basically landed on top of the helicarrier, buddy. You did not make your intentions clear, and I was the only guy that could have stopped you at that moment. We will know about the arrival of the ambassadors. I want to be there as a negotiator.”
“Mr. Stark, you are an industrialist and the owner of one of the most powerful companies in the world. Having you here negotiating with the ambassadors from other worlds is unacceptable. Every ethics committee would be appalled at the mere suggestion,” said Mitchell O’Connell, one of the UN representatives.
“I’m not going to profit from this. I’d be here as a Consultant of SHIELD and the Avengers Initiative. I need to look at the tech and/or material they offer and the weapons they bring because I’m in charge of the Avengers’ safety. I can’t do my job if I don’t know what I’m dealing with.”
“We can take care of ourselves, Stark,” said Clint. “No offense, but… while I really appreciate the gear, we are doing just fine without it.”
“I’m aware of that. Nevertheless…”
“Stark,” Fury interrupted with a long-suffering sigh. “We’ll give you any material that they provide ASAP. Stay on the grounds if you wish, but do not get close to our visitors. I’m aware that you can charm any crowd, and the press, and business partners, but this mission is vital, and you are a loose canon.”
“Nick, come on!” Tony’s eyes blazed. Thankfully, he was not the kind of person whose face reddened when they were angry (and embarrassed, or defensive). “When was the last time I was being abrasive and unhinged?”
“When you met either one of us?” suggested Natasha.
He met her when he was dying, Barton was a smartass and Steve was Captain America (which still meant more to Tony than he could put into words).
“Bruce, was I being abrasive when I met you?”
He distinctly remember shaking hands with his favorite lab partner; and complimenting his work.
“Uh…” muttered Bruce, avoiding their looks as he started to clean his glasses. Tony’s stomach lurched.
“You poked him in the side with an electric pen,” Steve answered for Bruce.
“I just wanted to show…”
“You poke things and people to see what happens, Stark. You stress-test everything,” said Natasha. “Usually, we don’t mind, but this is important.”
Wanda and Pietro were silent throughout the exchange; it was not a secret that they did not like him. They were loyal to the Avengers Initiative, though. After all, Steve had showed them that what HYDRA did was wrong; Wanda had seen HYDRA’s atrocities through Steve’s and Bucky’s mind. Change of heart aside, that did not mean they had to like the man whose negligence had killed their parents. Wanda looked at him and Tony immediately conceded.
The Dwarves of Nidavellir were as fearsome and strong as Thor had promised, but not nearly as short as Steve had expected. In fact, he had the feeling they could bench-press him effortlessly if they so wished. As they walked into the conference room, he exchanged glances with his team. They had agreed on Wanda hanging back because of the Dwarves’ mistrust when it came to magic. Natasha was by his side, while Clint was with Wanda. Bruce was with them, mostly as a scientific advisor. Thor walked beside the Dwarves as a mediator.
Master Elrik, the chief ambassador looked around and smiled for the first time since his arrival, “Beautiful!” His hands gently caressed the surface of the table. Steve could not really see the appeal. The room was not quite as grey as the usual conference rooms, but it was not decorated like the halls of Asgard either.
The party met with Fury, O’Connell and the other ambassadors whose job was to initiate trade with Nidavellir. Firm handshakes were given, hopefully not as firm as the ones Steve had received, and they were invited to sit down. Master Elrik frowned.
“Is everyone present?”
“This is just an informal meeting, Master Elrik,” said O’Connell. “You will meet with the UN Assembly at another time.”
Master Elrik shook his head, “I see your warriors,” he looked at the Avengers, “your commanders and leaders,” he looked at Fury and O’Connell, “the wise,” a respectful bow to Bruce, “and your healers.” Right, Dr. Andrea Heinrich from Germany, was actually a physician, though how the dwarf knew this was a bit of a mystery. “Where are your builders?”
Thor decided to get a word in. “Midguardian society greatly respect their builders, Master Elrik. They are wealthy and well-known. However, because they personally gain wealth from what they build, one cannot be favored over the other when it comes to trade.”
Nicely done, Thor.
“Then why lead us into these halls, giving me glimpse of what the builders of Midgard can do, but not introduce us to them?”
Thor looked surprised, “I do not understand.”
“You would not. The halls of Asgard were built before you were born, its builders long passed away. This room, everything here has been built recently. The walls still sing praises of the one who designed and built everything down to the last stone. Strong is his name.”
“Stark,” said Steve automatically. “His name is Stark.”
“Yes, him. We wish to meet him.”
Fury immediately gave the order to gather Mr. Stark ASAP.
Steve winced when the agents returned with the engineer five minutes later. The man wore a black, long-sleeved shirt and black trousers, his attire not looking like that of a businessman but not like that of a blue-collar worker either.
“Friend Stark, this is Master Elrik, chief ambassador of Nidavellir. Master Elrik, this is Tony Stark.”
Tony walked right into the Dwarf’s comfort zone, and Steve winced again. This would end in a catastrophe.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Master Elrik,” he said, shaking his hand before he shook hands with the rest of the party. “I can see from the pattern on your sword that your people were the ones that built Mjölnir. How did you melt the original material? Given its properties, you would have had to heat it up to at least 1.5E+06 Kelvin in order to be able to work with it. Did you use a particle accelerator?”
“We used the heat of a star.”
“Nice,” Mr. Stark frowned. “There are easier, less deadly ways to produce that much heat.”
To Steve’s surprise, Master Elrik chuckled.
“Not at the time there was not, Tony Stark.”
Mr. Stark smiled, looking like an excited schoolboy, “You’ve got to tell me that story.”
“I shall, but tell me first. Were you the one who built these halls?” said Master Elrik.
“Well, I designed them, programmed all the electronic devices. Actual construction, or rather rennovation of the building was performed by seventeen of mine and thirty-two of SHIELD’s personnel,” answered Mr. Stark.
“Are you treated with respect?” asked Master Elrik.
“I’m sorry?” The industrialist frowned, confused by the question.
“Builders such as yourself. Do you gain recognition for your work?”
“There are not many people like me. However, we are well-paid for our work,” replied Mr. Stark, still frowning a bit.
“While it is good to hear that you get financially compensated for your efforts, that was not my question. Are you respected?”
“I live in the US; it’s a capitalist country. I’m rich… People treat me with respect,” answered Mr. Stark, eyebrows raised as he straightened up to his full height.
“And your work gets recognized.” It was not a question, and the owner of Stark Industries laughed mercilessly.
“My weapons have gotten their fair share of recognition, alright. Still working on everything else.”
“We appreciate the time and effort Mr. Stark spends on and for our cause,” said Fury, obviously having realized where this was leading. Steve genuinely agreed with that statement.
Master Elrik looked skeptical and asked another question aimed at the engineer, “Is it not your cause, then?”
“Of course it is, but I’m not a member of SHIELD, just like I’m not an Avenger,” Mr. Stark explained.
“So, you are paid to work here,” concluded Master Elrik.
“No,” was the plain reply. “SHIELD couldn’t afford me if they tried and I sponsor the Avengers Initiative voluntarily. This is my way of contributing to the cause.” Steve noted how he omitted the ‘my road redemption’ part. He was suddenly glad that Wanda was not here.
“Why should my people trade with those who will take our aid for granted?” the Dwarf asked, his question aimed at everyone.
“Master Elrik, you misunderstand,” began Fury, but a gesture from the Nidavellir ambassador silenced him.
“You say you respect your builders for you pay them, but you do not pay Tony Stark. You mention his great contributions to your cause, but do not acknowledge that he is part of the cause. He gives you his Mind Children freely, but you do not view him as one of you. I will not trade with people unwilling to give credit where it is due,” he said firmly.
“Wait, Master Elrik, look. They are usually very appreciative, I promise you. My personality does not tend to invite thanks,” Mr. Stark said, making himself taller and looking as arrogantly sure as he had the day they met.
“Master Karruk was banned to visit Vanaheim for two centuries for insulting the royal family because they did not take proper care of their weapons. The other realms do not particularly like the people of Nidavellir for we do not indulge in needless chatter and false praise. If we need to treat the people of Midgard like delicate snowflakes in order to be respected, our alliance will be cut short.”
Steve did not appreciate the tone. Fury immediately interfered, “You and the other masters of Nidavellir will be treated with the utmost respect, Master Elrik.”
“I am not convinced of that, given how you treat your Tonys.”
Confused, everyone stared at the newcomers.
“Pardon?” said Mr. Stark.
“Prince Thor has introduced you as Tony Stark. Is ‘tony’ not the Midgardian equivalent of ‘master’?”
“No,” laughed the engineer, obviously amused by this. “Tony is my first name. Stark is my family name.”
“Then what is your title?”
“Mister. People usually call me ‘mister’.”
“How is your profession recognized? ‘Mister’ refers to your gender and to you being an adult. ‘Captain’, ‘agent’, ‘ambassador’ refers to their title and standing in society. What is yours?”
A snort had everyone turn around. Steve did not know the young, slightly awkward man by name; he was usually with Mr. Stark, and tended to follow him around like a puppy.
“You were saying something, Agent Reynolds?” asked Fury pointedly.
“The engineering division calls him Dr. Stark, sir. You might want to start with that as well.”
“Simon, is there a problem?”
“The BARF people called. The temperature reached critical levels during the last session. They are worried it might fry the inner circuits.” Steve immediately tensed.
“Really got to work on that acronym,” muttered Mr. Stark. “Tell them to bypass the central power grid and install that arc reactor-based power source I sent along with the device. And have them open outlets 3-Alpha-Charlie-Echo-Kilo-4-9, Romeo-Tango-Victor-1 and 4-8-6-India-Sierra-Whiskey-5. That will even the pressure and lower the temperature.”
“Thank you, Dr. Stark. I’ll let them know.”
“Let me know if they need more information or my help.”
“Will do, sir.”
“See, Midgardians do respect me,” said Tony.
“You do not mind,” Master Elrik.
“I’ve never worked for acknowledgment or respect. As long as people don’t complain, that’s approval enough.”
“I don’t know if Master Karruk will agree to that.”
“Let him work with me,” suggested Mr. Stark. “We’ll butt heads every once in a while but don’t all creative minds?”
Master Elrik looked pensive and seemed to be communicating silently with the other ambassadors.
“It is worth to try.”
Steve exhaled in relief. He was not entirely sure what just happened, but it seemed like Mr. Stark’s very presence had first led for all negotiations to go up in flames only to rescue them a minute later. At least, trading and negotiating with the Dwarves of Nidavellir would never be boring.