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Brave New Worlds

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When Tony woke up, he found his husband sitting cross-legged on the far side of the bed, channeling Dr. Doolittle with a pair of large black birds. Loki didn't look happy, in his special new Unwilling King of Asgard, "This news pleases us not!" kind of way.

He'd clearly showered recently, because his now shoulder-length curls were still damp, and the birds must have barged in before Loki had a chance to fight his usual morning hair-battle. Barring some semi-powerful magical intervention, those curls would be there for the duration.

Poor Lok, he hated his natural hair with a fiery burning passion (Tony, on the other hand, found it adorable) and he'd be mortified to have to attend his very first Avengers meeting looking less than perfect by his own particular Loki standards.

To Tony, he already looked perfect, and if Loki hadn't been otherwise engaged, he would have told him exactly that, maybe reinforcing the assertion with some practical examples--the more physical those examples happened to be, the better.

To the casual observer, the big birds appeared to be making lame excuses, the two of them cawing dolefully and shuffling their shiny jet-black feet. They had a look Tony'd seen many times before, the look of mediocre employees recently under new management, employees who'd previously been poorly supervised and were kind of used to just sliding by in their work. They were clearly totally unused to a king who had certain standards to uphold (not running the kingdom as a tyrant's paradise, for one), and was not merely immune to flattery, but also totally saw straight through their bullshit when they tried to fudge the truth.

Ha ha, assholes, meet the new boss, NOT the same as the old boss, Tony thought--then, like any sensible guy whose husband is having an unsatisfying royal business conversation with avian messengers from the Realm of the Gods--because that happens every day--he padded off, used the bathroom, took his own shower, then pulled on some respectable-enough-to slide-by-where-everyone-knew-and-was-used-to-his-slovenly-ways kind of clothes--comfortably worn jeans and a long-sleeved tee that had managed to survive the conflagration at the penthouse by virtue of having somehow wound up shoved beneath the daybed in his workshop --for that morning's meeting.

When he returned, he found the visitors had (literally) flown the coop, and that Loki had shifted his cross-legged sitting to the exact center of the bed. The reluctant new King of Asgard now had a half-frustrated, half sad-puppy expression on his face and was twirling a large black feather between his fingers.

"If you hold it in your trunk and flap your ears you'll be able to fly," Tony deadpanned.

"I have not..." Loki began, then gave a dry little laugh. "Ah, yes, the Dumbo of Walter Disney. Most amusing."

"Sound more amused, then?" Tony slid up behind him on the bed, pulling Loki close--the better to kiss his neck while rubbing a hand in soft circles over his husband's delightfully rounded belly.

"You got up what, like, thirty times last night, and now I find you up early, taking on the middle management? Are you feeling okay, babe? You must be pooped."

"Pooped...?" Loki repeated flatly, his tone and his expression both hovering somewhere between confused and disgusted. It having been considered perfectly acceptable back home in the Golden City to openly discuss acts of extreme violence, but beyond the pale to mention natural physical functions, his husband could be oddly prim (by U.S. standards, anyway) when it came to certain subjects.

"Oops, sorry. Um... tired? Exhausted?"

"Ah." Loki laughed. "You realize, of course, that to an outsider your American idiom can seem odd in the extreme?" Loki stretched like a cat, his spine making a series of little crackling noises.

"It is my misfortune," Loki went on, "That the head of your son rests directly atop my bladder. He also demands feeding at ridiculous intervals, and so I am indeed, as you say, 'pooped.' After the meeting, I intend to come home and wallow upon the sofa, where I shall binge-watch something unenlightening in most unbecoming sloth."

"Binge-watch," no less. Tony laughed internally and kissed him again--how could he help it? His husband was too adorable, with his big words and those big puppy eyes, and the way, even when using slang, he tended to sound all posh and proper. "I think you've more than earned some downtime, my gorgeous sloth. And definitely some wallowing. Want me to get the kids out the door this morning? I'll let you totally off the hook except for goodbye kisses and maybe Hela's hair. She claims I'm incompetent, probably based on the fact that she always looks messier after I'm done than she did when I started."

"Our curls came down to us from my father, the noble Hodr," Loki said, looking thoughtful and a little sad, "And, of course from Frigga, my dearest grandmother." Even now, when he'd had some time to get used to the idea, Loki's voice got a little weird when he talked about Frigga being his grandmother--or, for that matter, Odin being his grandfather-by-blood, rather than his kinda-father-by-thievery-and-subterfuge.

Though, of course, for totally different reasons.

Tony knew it gave Loki pleasure now to look at his children and detect a gesture, a glance, a way of speaking that reminded him of Frigga. Maybe she wasn't everything she'd needed to be, but she'd raised him (more or less), and Loki had loved her. He'd always love her. There'd been so little else for him to love, growing up.

Tony sometimes thought the type of people who would smugly proclaim, "Everyone gets to choose their own actions," probably never in their lives had to suffer through the kind of upbringing that made making good choices so damn hard. He knew he himself had been an utter asshole to Loki at the start, so fucking superior, so willing to blast first and ask questions later. Even when he and Loki traded words, he'd talked at him, not to him, when a blind man could have seen the hurt bubbling up from Loki's vast well of pain.

Yet even after all that, in the most extreme of extreme circumstances, Loki had come to him, trusting Tony, of all the people in the world, to save his children.

"You appear thoughtful, beloved." Loki turned his face, touching Tony's cheek with one long, slender hand, then capturing his lips in a deep, warm, toe-curling kiss. "It should be said, you remain incompetent in one thing only, and that is in the dressing of Hela's hair. As it is, indeed, supremely obstinate hair, I believe you may be excused for your failure."

His hand moved slightly, cupping Tony's cheek now, and his green eyes, only inches from Tony's, flickered from bright to dark, studying him so intently it seemed as if they read every line in his face and every thought in his head.

"You have changed so, my beloved," he said, after about a minute of this highly-focused scrutiny. "I would say I scarcely know you, except that I know this kindness is not new, that it always lay within you. And yet you will inform me, Tony, will you not, if you ever miss your wilder days? If you are ever dissatisfied with having been so thoroughly domesticated?"

"I'm happy with you, babe," Tony said simply, wishing he could show his husband just how deeply he meant the words, that things that had pestered him for the better part of his life now weren't even really an issue, that the little ship of himself now lay snugly at anchor in the only safe harbor it had ever known.

Loki kissed him again. "My husband, you are most worthy of adoration, and so I do adore you, with the whole of my heart. Let us, together, get our children ready for school."

He didn't mention his earlier convocation of rooks, or unkindness of ravens, or whatever the hell that had been--but Tony knew his husband well enough at this point to have picked up on a couple things.

One, that the birdy confab really hadn't filled him with joy.

Two, that Loki was not only worried, he was nervous as hell about something--though that might just have had to do with his first official Avengers meeting (including his swearing-in, which Tony thought was dumb, though Steve insisted that kind of ritual was important, and Loki seemed to agree with him) taking place that morning.

Come to think of it, the thing bothering Loki could just as easily have been the recent reappearance of his not-ever-friend, the repetitively named necromancer, evil (possible) Super-Soldier and (almost certainly) Hydra flunky, Professor Nels Lars "Judas" Nelson, and the--literally--hellish battle that had taken place atop Avengers Tower just the week before.

"You know you don't need to worry, right?" he asked, resting a hand in the small of Loki's back to steady him as he began the slightly complicated process of shifting his very pregnant self off the bed.

"Here's what happens," Tony continued, "Steve cooks, and we eat, a shit-load of pancakes. Steve--or possibly Natasha, now she's our new fearless leader--makes a dull speech. We kind of toss ideas back and forth for a while, most of the time straying totally off-topic, then someone wins the bet about how many dozen pancakes your brother managed to consume in one sitting. That's about it, really."

"And the oath-taking." A little tremor went through Loki's muscles, though Tony knew he'd tried hard to conceal it.

"Oh, babe..." Tony sighed. "See, I knew it. I knew you were worried. It always does make you hyper-snuggly."

"It does not," Loki breathed.

"You saved us, my BAMF baby. Without you, the team, the tower, and probably even the entire island of Manhattan would have been crispy critters, and if Clint had the same equipment you do, he'd now want to personally bear your beautiful babies, he loves you so much. You and the kids having saved him from a truly heinous death and all."

Clint, it had to be said, was still going around with his arm in a sling, to spare his bad shoulder, and a more-than-slightly-haunted look on his newly-gaunter-than-usual face. Having been used, in the course of the battle, as a giant hell-spider's handy human egg sac wasn't easy on a guy, and if Loki and the kids--and most especially, Loki--hadn't been present...

Well, it would have been "goodnight, Clint," in the most gruesome possible way.

The actual hatching of those eggs had been horrific to the power of infinity, and it was all down to Team Loki that the eruption of said nasty baby spiders took place safely in the Hulk Tank, not inside the body of everyone's favorite archer.

Bucky had vacated the Tank permanently. For one thing, by his behavior in the battle, he'd pretty much proven no real need remained to keep him locked up. Yes, Loki continued to work with him, slowly teasing out the shit Hydra implanted in his head, but his intent was to bring Bucky peace of mind, not to prevent him from going all Winter Soldier on their collective asses.

Bucky, quite understandably, said the Tank now gave him the heebie-jeebies, and who could blame the guy? Loki had done one of his spiffy magical clean-ups, leaving the place shiny again, but memories lingered, and none of them were anxious to return to the site of those particular horrors.

Which was to say, it wasn't only Bucky who had terrible dreams about that night and the following morning, Tony would be willing to bet they all did, to some degree, maybe even Natasha, whose head was generally cooler than the rest of theirs combined.

The thought of the all-out war on top of his beautiful tower, followed by the subsequent battle to save Clint's life, wasn't something Tony wanted to think about too much either. The flashbacks still made him feel more than a bit sick and shaky, and he couldn't even imagine what they did to his husband, who'd already gone through all sorts of hell even before all hell broke loose, and had been right in the very thick of it.

"I acted as I must," Loki said softly--but Tony could practically hear the bad messages of a thousand years clanging like alarm bells inside his head.

He squeezed Loki's hand, gently but firmly, until he saw that he'd fully gained his husband's attention. "It's not just repaying a debt owed, babe. That's not why we asked you to join. You're one of us now. You belong. Not only do your bro and I love you like crazy, each in our individual ways, but the others like you a lot. Genuinely like you, and not just for what you can do. They like you, Loki Laufeyson Stark, for yourself. Just as you are."

Loki let out a slow, shuddering breath and drew himself up to his full height. "I shall listen to your words, husband."

"Good. Because I'm not bullshitting you. I'm really not."

"Yet another odd fecal reference," Loki remarked, looking superior.

Tony couldn't help but laugh.

They left the bedroom expecting to find four half-awake, semi-grumpy and wild-haired children wandering like zombies around the apartment, but instead discovered four washed, brushed, and neatly-uniformed kids already at the table, being fed a substantial breakfast by the always-reliable Mrs. Ransome.

Sleip's work, Tony guessed. Their eldest took his position as big brother and head kid seriously, and he beamed when Loki spoke a few soft and complimentary words to him in Aes.

"There are crepes!" Loki exclaimed then, and dived in headfirst, scarcely even bothering to settle into his usual seat beside Fen before he loaded up his plate. Since his husband remained pretty much as skinny as ever except for his giant baby bump, Tony could only assume Edwin would be born the size of a linebacker.

"Is there whipped cream?" Loki asked plaintively.

"I can easily make some for you, dear," Mrs. Ransome replied. Their family cook loved Loki.

Everyone who didn't know who he really was loved Loki.

His husband stopped, eyes huge and meltingly green, one cheek bulged out slightly with half-chewed crepe.

"That's not what I meant," Tony said. "Loki, you know that's not how I think of you."

"I should shower," said the clearly-already-showered Loki softly, pushed back his plate, and left the table.

Four sets of green eyes turned on Tony accusingly.

"Nice job, Dad," Jöri told him.

"Nice," Fen echoed.

Hela merely sighed and shook her head, while Sleipnir looked confused. A few seconds later he looked less confused--one of his siblings obviously having sent him backstory along the family grapevine.

Mrs. Ransome brought Tony a cup of coffee and patted his shoulder. "I wouldn't worry too much, Mr. Stark. Pregnancy hormones can make a person awfully emotional, and I'm not sure the news from Asgard was good this morning."

Tony had a sudden image of his family as the subject of a Sunday evening animated series, featuring himself as the doofus dad who never could get anything right. He might as well work at a nuclear power plant and have a donut obsession.

"It's not that bad... Homer," Hela told him indulgently.

Two minutes later Loki reappeared, fully dressed for the upcoming meeting (which meant he looked about a thousand times more elegant than Tony himself), and--best of all--composed.

"I cannot hold you responsible for the unvoiced thoughts that enter your head," he told Tony, "However ill-worded. I know you truly meant that those aware of my previous reputation are, ever, understandably harder to win over than those unaware, and that is true, even perhaps justified."

"You totally came back for the crepes," Tony accused.

Loki laughed, his green eyes sparkling. "Yes, that much is also true."

Loki got snuggly again in the elevator heading up to Avengers Central, wrapping Tony in his arms and pulling him closer than close, kissing his neck, running those crazy-long fingers of his through Tony's hair.

"I am very sorry I was cross with you at breakfast," he murmured. "Do you forgive me? It is difficult for me just now to..." His head dropped onto Tony's shoulder suddenly. "Oh, I do not like this elevator! I do not! Hold me tightly, please."

Tony held him, as commanded, while a leaf-green light shimmered around his husband's body and the elevator sped on to their destination. He assumed that the speed made Loki uncomfortable, his inner ears--or whatever his body possessed that served the same purpose--not keeping up with the rapid motion. Loki wasn't necessarily the most patient guy, and he liked to move fast, under normal circumstances, that was for sure--but moving fast clearly wasn't the most fun thing ever for him in his current condition.

In the old days, Tony would just have ordered J.A.R.V.I.S. to slow their rate of descent, but since that ship had sailed (in the most emotionally painful possible way), he should reprogram the elevators to detect who was riding and adjust the speed accordingly...

No, what he should really do was bite the bullet and design a replacement for J.A.R.V.I.S. (maybe dust off the "Friday" A.I. he'd scrapped some time ago, when his shiny positronic boy proved so much more interesting), adding extra safeguards to make sure Friday didn't get sad and jealous and do bad shit, or fall into any other unfortunate habits that Tony had never anticipated.

He'd gone from being furious at J. to grieving a bit over the whole situation, because, in a way, he'd lost two sons in the previous year--J.A.R.V.I.S., the child of his mind, and his constant friend and companion, and baby Wilhelm, child of his body, and of Loki's.

His eyes stung, and the familiar self-reproach welled up inside him. He'd never meant to let his greatest creation down, but he had, Tony knew that now. He'd totally failed to anticipate how much of a person the A.I. would become, and to make him feel... What? Special? Important? Loved?

He also hadn't meant to let the bad guys--whoever they were--get to his husband, making Loki get sick over and over again with viruses his altered body couldn't fight off, illnesses that caused him endless suffering. That killed their child, and that nearly broke the two of them.

"Beloved, my beloved," Loki said softly, taking Tony's hand in his own, pressing their twined hands over his heart. "We've arrived."

"Yeah." Tony pulled in a deep, shaky breath, and ran his free hand back through his already-messy hair. "Yeah, I guess we have."