A/N: I'm sorry it took so long. I actually started to write this story without planning it out properly and I got stuck in the middle of chapter 2. Sadly, it's probably going to happen again at some point... :/
Since I'll be going back to the university in two weeks, I'll try my best to write at least two more chapters beforehand, but I can't promise you anything. Let's just say I have had a reunion with "Naruto" quite recently and I'm back into that fandom for now, so I'm kind of unable to write anything not Naruto-related (hopefully with the exception of this story).
Anyway, have a nice read and please, leave a review after you're done! :)
Chapter 2: Protective measures
Happy's expression, when he saw Tony with a handful of a now hiccupping Loki, was priceless and definitely a highlight of the last few hours. The man didn't ask any questions, probably too confused to pick one. Tony himself had a problem with determining how much of it was the product of his vivid imagination, because a grown-up turning into a child over night (or day, depending on how you looked at it)? How crazy was that?
On the brighter side, Pepper had called him soon after the miniature God of Mischief decided to go all monkey on him and she hadn't sounded as angry as he was expecting, which was a good thing. Dealing with an angry Pepper was not something he needed right now. Or ever, really.
They spent the rest of the flight in a relative silence, except for the occasional teary hiccup. Happy had abandoned the pilot cabin and was sitting with Tony as a self-appointed bodyguard, his eyes trained on Loki, who stubbornly refused to emerge from the confines of Tony's jacket. Not that he voiced it or anything. He just held on to the brand-new AC/DC T-shirt so tightly with his little chubby fingers that it was probably impossible to remove him without damaging it. He was surprisingly strong for someone so small, but then again – Asgardian, right? They were wired differently. At least the boy was no longer trying to suffocate him, which was an improvement. Those tiny arms were able to squeeze someone to their death, no doubt about that.
It was between early-as-fuck and this-damned-hour-shouldn't-exist, when they landed in New York. The city greeted them with cold rain and fog so thick it was hard to see beyond the length of one's arm. Coulson was waiting for them at the runway, hands folded over his chest. He had the whole I-didn't-have-enough-coffee-to-deal-with-your-shit look on his face that Tony knew all too well. It was directed at him more often than not. He would even go as far as stating that Coulson never gave the look to anyone but Tony. It was pretty mean, if anyone asked him.
Manoeuvring down the stairs with arms full of a clingy kid was harder than Tony expected. For one, he couldn't use his hands to gasp the railing and his footing was off, because of the additional weight. He somehow managed to do it without falling flat on his ass, which kind of saved him from further humiliation in front of Coulson, through there was still snot on his shoulder to do the trick. He could feel it. Children weren't bad, but they sure as hell were gross.
"Stark." Coulson's voice was as collected as always. Tony seriously doubted that there was anything that could really shock the guy anymore.
"Agent Phil Son of Coul, well met," he responded with a grin and snorted, when Coulson's eye twitched. It happened every time someone addressed him as Thor usually did. He was quite sure it would never stop to be funny.
"Before you say anything," he added before Coulson had a chance to even open his mouth, which earned him a glare. "I don't know what's going on. And I would really like to know, because I think that the amount of crazy in my life is alarming, if you ask me and I would know. Anyway, I will spill all the dirty secrets, but after we get to the Tower, because saying things twice is never fun. And I need coffee."
"You look like you had had enough coffee, Stark," was Coulson's only response as he lead them to the car.
"Nobody was asking you opinion, Agent Man."
Coulson smirked the all-knowing smirk that everyone hated, because it was fucking disturbing, and then glanced at the child before looking at Tony again.
"I thought he was an adult."
"Well, life is full of surprises!" He hosted Loki up a bit and sighed heavily.
"I can hold him," Coulson remarked, apparently noting his discomfort, and there was only that much Tony could do before starting to laugh. Not that the situation was really funny or anything. It was just the fact that Loki stabbed Coulson in the back and the man had just been cleared for active duty two months ago. And he wanted to hold the miniature version of the person who almost killed him. When did Tony's life become so ridiculous?
When he calmed himself enough to do something beside snorting, he just got into the car, ignoring Coulson's questioning look. The man got inside soon after and gave their driver directions before Tony decided to answer the unspoken question.
"He doesn't like strangers. Happy tried to touch him back on the plane and he started crying again," he murmured, his eyebrows knotted in slight confusion. "He seems to like me, for some reason. Then again, he is pretty scared and I can probably pass for a cuddle buddy for now."
Coulson nodded slowly. They were quiet for a moment.
"So this is Loki."
"Yes," came a muffled voice and both Tony and Coulson stilled. It was the first word Loki spoke after turning into a child.
"Hello there, kiddo," Tony said as softly as he could, because the last thing he needed was another full-on hysteria marathon. "You okay there?"
Loki trembled, which was an answer in and on itself.
"Do you know how old are you?"
"What is the last thing you remember?"
"Mommy was singing," the boy answered and then added a barely audible 'I want my mommy', in a voice so small and broken that Tony's heart clenched painfully. It was far worse than the crying from before. This spoke much clearer about how lost and afraid Loki truly was. He was so very fragile now and the only thing Tony could do to make it better was hug him tighter.
There were no more words said for the rest of their journey.
When they stepped into the Tower, there were only Thor and Bruce present in the penthouse's living room, the former fast asleep on the couch and the later sipping tea. Loki was sleeping, nested in Tony's arms, exhaustion and the events of the day evidently taking their toll on him. Coulson had already disappeared to his quarters at this point, claiming that he had a few important calls to make before the team meeting.
Bruce spotted them almost immediately. He stood up and waved his hand in the general direction of the elevators. Tony nodded once, turned around and walked back where he came from, with Bruce close behind. When they rounded the corner and were finally out of Thor's earshot (who could have guessed that the guy had such sensitive sense of hearing?), Bruce sighed heavily and rubbed his eyes. Up close he looked like someone who forgot that sleep was kind of necessary to function properly.
"I had a look at those scans JARVIS sent me," he started and Tony cringed , because he knew that tone of voice.
"Not good?" He asked, when Bruce didn't elaborate and the doctor nodded . "How bad exactly?"
"When he was still an adult, he was dehydrated, lacking nourishment of any kind and just very ill, generally speaking. And there was also damage to his brain – to his occipital lobe, to be more accurate. His blindness was surely caused by an injury or some sort of head trauma, but I'm not sure since I didn't have a chance to get a closer look." He glanced at Loki and smiled sadly. "But since he is a kid now... We need to do the tests all over again. I highly doubt the results will be the same. He does look quite healthy now."
"The tests. Do we need to do them now or can it wait?" Tony was ready to wake Loki up if it came to that, but he was dead on his feet and the little guy deserved some rest as well. Through he wanted the answers as fast as it was possible, he was ready to wait a few hours if it meant a much desired rendezvous with his bed.
Bruce gave him a questioning look.
"The kid cried himself to sleep, Bruce. He is drained. And scared. I don't think it will work out well if we wake him now. Plus my last cup of coffee was, like, four hours ago and I need sleep." He yawned in emphasis. "I'm thinking about just a few hours. Then we can also ask Thor if he has any idea what has happened."
"I guess we can wait a bit," he said after a moment. "Speaking of Thor. He had burst into the penthouse two hours ago and all but demanded to see his brother. Who told him?"
"Told him what?" Asked Tony as he made his way towards his room.
That was actually a pretty good question. If it wasn't neither Tony nor Bruce, it left only one person. Coulson was friends with the God of Thunder, more than they were, at least, so it was quite easy to imagine that he would tell Thor about his brother's whereabouts. Tony couldn't blame anyone for spilling their heart to the man, because he could make the most heartbreaking puppy dog eyes known to mankind. Not that Coulson wasn't immune to this sort of treatment, but apparently even he had limits (who knew, right?).
The question that plagued him more was why Thor haven't told them that Loki was not in Asgard.
Thor was an open book kind of guy. He wore his feelings on his sleeve and wasn't afraid to talk about them. He also didn't have secrets, as far as Tony could tell, because, when he was hiding something, it was always written all over his face. For that reason surprise parties were out of question with him – he got all excited and smiled like an idiot for no apparent reason. The random hugs didn't help at all. So how was it possible for him to keep Loki's disappearance under wraps? Something major must have happened and Tony wasn't particularly excited about finding out what it was exactly. Asgardian problems tended to be quite overwhelming and had disastrous consequences, as history proved time and time again.
"Well, someone certainly has a big mouth in here," he commented. "And it's not me."
"Figures." Bruce gave him a look before removing his glasses. He squeezed his eyes and started to massage them slowly. Tony was not the only one in a dire need of rest.
"Okay, off we go. And you are going to sleep too," he announced sternly. "I won't let you even look at the junior here, if you don't. Si? Si."
"Whatever you say, Tony."
"I admire you enthusiasm, doc. Really. It's almost infectious!" Bruce rolled his eyes in a badly concealed exasperation. "What? I'm serious!"
They stopped in front of Tony's room.
"I'll ask JARVIS to wake you in a few hours."
"Yeah, that's probably a good idea," Tony sighed heavily. "I'm so dead on my feet I could probably sleep for years."
"We wouldn't want that."
"No, we wouldn't." Tony bended to the right and pressed the door handle with his elbow to open them. They gave in after a moment. He kicked them lightly, forcing back a smiled when he looked at his bed which right now was probably the most welcoming sign for his sore eyes. "See you in a few."
Bruce just nodded and turned around, going back the way they came. When the good doctor rounded the corner, Tony walked into the room and closed the door behind him. He then kicked off his shoes and slowly lowered himself onto the mattress, trying to do so without squashing Loki in the process. The boy didn't even stir.
Tony laid still flat on his back for a long moment, his left hand absently petting Loki's soft curly hair, and wondered sleepily if this whole situation could possibly get any weirder than that.
The sensation was strange – something between itching and tickling, but not nearly as uncomfortable or unpleasant, just mildly irritating. It was back and gone, and then back again and it reminded him of the awful feeling when you know that you're about to sneeze, but then the horrible prickling in your nose goes away for a bit only to come back a moment later when you least expect it.
He shifted, trying to get rid of it, but it didn't abide, through there seemed to be a slight pause before it came back full force.
Tony blinked grudgingly, taking in a sharp breath as he stretched a little. His spine gave a loud pop and he cringed. He absolutely hated the sound of snapping bones. It reminded him too much of Afghanistan and those were never good thoughts, even when he had a bottle of scotch nearby and, if he was not mistaken, there was none in the whole tower at the moment. Pepper had got into some sort of wicked deal with Steve that Tony didn't particularly want to know anything about and together they got rid of his vast collection of liquors. Traitors, all of them.
His head snapped to the side so fast he was amazed he didn't give himself a whiplash.
A pair of big green eyes was staring at him unblinkingly, which made him remember that he wasn't exactly alone in his room.
"Hello, kid," he greeted the godling, smiling when the boy's face lit up like a Christmas tree.
"Hello!" Loki replied with a smile of his own. "You were sleeping really long. Were you in Odinsleep? Because dad sometimes falls into Odinsleep, you know, and I can't waking him up then either. He only wakes up if you poke him. Thor did it once and mommy was really angry with him."
"Um." He blinked at the boy. He needed coffee to deal with this version of Loki. Who knew he would be so talkative? "No, I was just sleeping. Normal sleep. No biggie."
And then it drawn on Tony. He narrowed his eyes at Loki who started to fidget a little.
"Were you poking me to wake me up, Loki?" He asked, one eyebrow raised.
The boy nodded slowly as his fidgeting got worse.
"I'm sorry," he mumbled. He was looking down at Tony's chest and if Tony wasn't mistaken, there were tears in his eyes. What the hell? "I was worried and it worked with Thor, and I'm really sorry... I shouldn't have done it... Don't be angry at me...!"
"Hey, hey!" He sat up and gently grasped Loki's slightly shaking shoulders. "I'm not mad at you. I was only curious, because you kind of spilled the beans yourself with that story about Thor poking your father."
"You're not angry?" The owlish look of complete bewilderment adoring Loki's round face shouldn't be so funny, but Tony was still before his first cup of coffee and strange things tended to amuse him when he was short on caffeine.
"No, I'm not."
"But why?" If it was possible, Loki's eyes were even wider now.
"Well, I don't get angry easily. And it was funny." From a lack of better things to do, he ruffled the boy's hair. "And a piece of advice for the future – don't dig your own grave, buddy, by basically telling on yourself. It kills the joke."
The lack of coffee, it was all because of the lack of coffee. That was the only explanation as to why he was giving advice on successfully pulling someone's leg to a freaking God of Mischief.
The fact that Loki nodded solemnly with a very serious look on his face as if he was going to remember Tony's words for the rest of his life only proved that Tony should refrain from all human to human (or human to princes-from-other-dimensions, for that matter) interactions before caffeine really kicked in. Speaking about caffeine, he was seriously craving some right now.
"Okay, we're getting up," he said as he stretched one last time before moving to the side of the bed and then standing up. "I need coffee and you need a breakfast, little man."
Loki jumped up and moved to where Tony was standing without a word. He extended his arms as if waiting to be picked up and Tony did just that, hoisting him on his left hip.
"So he can see now."
"And he is actually hyper in the morning."
Loki dashed by Tony and Bruce at the speed of a mini cannon ball, chasing after Colonel, Steve's German Shepard puppy, like there was no tomorrow.
After they had walked out of the bedroom, Tony took them straight to the kitchen where he prepared a bowl of Lucky Charms to munch on before someone more culinary-adapt decided to grace them with their presence. Soon enough Bruce and Steve had joined them at the counter, the latter swiftly starting to make something that was remotely nutritious while still being tasty. Loki wolfed it all down – two bowls of cereal, a plate full of pancakes and some sliced fruits – before his attention was drawn to the Tower's mascot.
Colonel was, for all intents and purposes, Steve's pet, but there wasn't one person in the entire Tower who didn't love the damned dog. Being the man he was, Cap was apparently incapable of refusing anyone who needed his help and so he had picked the little black-and-brown ball of fur from the cardboard box with words "FREE PUPS" spelled on the side that someone had left in a back alley near Steve's favourite cafe. Since that day no pair of shoes, no newspaper, no book, no food and no piece of furniture was safe if left unattended, but somehow no one seemed to mind. Animals, as much as children (at least in Tony's limited experience), had this uncanny ability to grow on you until you couldn't very well imagine your life without them.
As Tony watched Loki jump over a pillow, which had found its way onto the floor in the last half an hour of complete madness, he made a mental note to never give the kid this much sugar in the morning, just to stay on the safe side.
"Where is Goldilocks?" Tony asked, glancing at Bruce before turning around to pour himself another cup of coffee. "I thought he would be glued to Loki's side."
"No idea." Bruce shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe he got a mission?"
"Nah. I can't believe he would have accepted it with this little guy here." Tony gestured in the general direction of Loki. Then he heard a childish giggle and turned around, only to cringe at the scene. Colonel had Loki pinned to the floor and was licking his face while the child tried to push him off rather unsuccessfully, all the while giggling like a maniac. "Bad dog! And Loki! Just ugh, this is so gross!"
He put his cup on the counter and then quickly made his way over to the two. He grabbed Colonel's collar to drag him away. When he was sure that the dog was a safe distance away, he helped Loki to his feet before hoisting him up onto his hip and bringing him to the kitchen. Once there he fetched a towel and brought them both in front of the sink. He damped the towel and without further ado proceeded to wipe off the dog salvia from the kid's scrunched up face.
"Stop doing that. You'll get wrinkles," he admonished and forced himself to remain calm when he heard a series of chuckles from Bruce's general direction. Steve, who was standing to his left, was clearing his throat too forcefully for it to be merely a coincidence. Damn traitors. That was so not funny.
"I see that you have embraced on your new role, Stark."
Tony stiffened. His eyes moved away from Loki's face to land on Coulson's. The man was smiling at him smugly. Great. Just the thing he needed to make his day better.
"Son of Coul," he greeted him and smirked, when Coulson's smile dropped. Point for him. "Maybe you can tell us where Tall, Packed and Blond went off to?"
"Thor is in Asgard," the agent replied calmly as he helped himself to a cuppa. "I sent him off two hours ago."
Tony felt Loki go rigid in his arms.
And it gets even better!
"Thor was here?" The kid asked quietly, his voice breaking slightly at the end and his lips quivering in a sure sign of an upcoming sobbing marathon. He discarded of the towel and hugged Loki closer while giving Coulson a death glare so ferocious it was a true miracle that the man was still alive.
Secret agent his ass. Was he socially crippled or something? Maybe the near death experience had indeed left a permanent mark on his brain that was somehow able to prevent him for thinking before speaking, because even Tony wasn't as clueless and he had no brain-to-mouth filter whatsoever.
"Why exactly did you send him to Asgard?" He asked after calming himself with a few deep breaths. He was getting ridiculously protective over Loki and the last thing he needed right now was to go mother-bear on one of colleagues.
"I didn't send him, actually. I've phrased it wrong, sorry. He decided to go and pay his parents a visit to 'seek answers he knew not', as he had put it," Coulson said as he took a sip of his coffee. "He had also said that he would be back the day after tomorrow."
"Oh, okay," Tony murmured as he patted Loki's back. The kid was not shaking anymore, but he was once again hiccupping. "So, till then..."
"Till then we will do our own research," the agent finished for him. "Doctor Banner is actually ready to proceed with the tests."
"Right. What about Fury?"
"He is aware of the situation."
"And he had nothing to say? What a surprise. Pepper?"
"He had had a lot to say, but none of it is child-appropriate." Tony cringed. For some reason he was starting to anticipate a very angry phone call from one Man of Fury and he wasn't looking forward to it at all. "As for Pepper," Coulson continued without a hitch, "she has been informed as well and is, I believe, currently working on Loki's wardrobe situation."
He nodded slowly. That sounded like Pepper.
"Okay, let's go then."
Bruce waved his hand in the general direction of the elevators.
They had been down in the labs for at least an hour. Steve had come with them after forcing a plate full of pancakes into Coulson's hands and instructing him to actually eat it this time instead of throwing it away. Tony had a sneaky suspicion he had done it just to spite the agent for upsetting Loki who was yet to recover. Through the kid wasn't crying or trembling like a leaf, he was too quiet and he looked like a kicked puppy, which made both Tony and Steve uncomfortable.
As the three of them waited for Bruce to give them a green light to go, Tony really took the time to think over his situation.
Contrary to popular belief, Tony Stark liked kids, even if it took him a significant amount of time, one kidnapping by terrorists, saving the world from a psycho prince from outer space and a number of life-threatening situations to come to that conclusion. There was no better time to think, after all, then when an alien army was trying to annihilate the human race. Or when someone decided to throw him out of the window. Or when someone almost razed his house to the ground with him, his girlfriend and his ex inside. Seriously, how sick was that? Tony didn't know what was wrong with his brain, but he was pretty sure he really didn't want to pick it out into pieces to find out. Sometimes he agreed that ignorance was bliss.
Anyway, it probably had something to do with getting older (Tony was not old, shut up, Barton!) and the whole procreation thingy. Not that he felt notably inclined to produce an offspring, because no. Just no. Hands down, one Tony Stark was enough for the entire universe and beyond.
How he had ended up as little Loki's temporary guardian was beyond him. Then again the kid seemed to like him. Only him and Colonel The Dog. And he was going to maybe like Pepper, but Pepper was amazing and everybody liked her.
When Steve had informed him that he was now in fact a father now, Tony had half a mind to go back up to the penthouse and scream bloody murder at Coulson before blowing him to smithereens where he stood with a well-placed blast of his arc repulsors.
Because as much as Tony liked kids, he was no father material and he was damn sure that he was going to fail miserably at fathering Loki, who was already showing signs of emotional instability and some other issues that needed to be addressed sooner rather than later. He was also smart enough to realize immediately that he felt some sort of attachment to the boy. It was hard not to, really, because Loki was the cutest brat ever. From what Tony had gather about him in the last few hours, the boy was very affectionate, full of smiles, a total hugger, clingy as hell, very sensitive and had an appetite of a person three times his size. To put it simply, he cared about him and didn't want to hurt him, which he was bound to do at some point.
"Alright." Tony snapped out of this thoughts at the sound of Bruce's voice. "The last thing I need is a blood sample and you can go."
All the colour drained from Loki's face at the word 'blood', but he didn't say anything when Bruce approached him with a syringe and three little flasks. Tony smirked at the facade of bravery, through he kept his mouth shut and didn't dare to comment on it. Loki winced slightly when the needle pierced his skin and refused to look at his arm as Bruce took one sample after another apparently determined to live through the experience without breaking down.
When the doctor was finally done, Tony hoisted Loki up into his arms.
"You're one tough cookie, you know." A pair of green eyes blinked at him curiously. "You didn't cry, when Bruce got your blood. That's very brave, if you ask me."
Loki's eyes widened comically almost instantly.
"Brave?" He asked timidly, as if he couldn't believe someone actually called him that. Tony had a feeling that it was probably true. Even as an adult, when compared to Thor, Loki seemed small and he truly looked like a shadow of his brother. They were like night and day. He could only imagine the difference, when they were still children. In an Asgardian culture, where strength and honour seemed to be everything, Loki with his willowy body and magic must have been called anything but that. For whatever reason, it made Tony really feel for the kid. A childhood deprived of acknowledgement and encouragement was awful and he knew it better than anyone.
"Yup, the bravest," he declared and watched as a small smile slowly crept onto Loki's face.
Maybe he wasn't going to suck so much at being a parent after all.
I love my Tony. And I generally like writing from his perspective. Just saying ;) Any guesses what will happen next?