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There was something strange and irritating buzzing in his ear, but he didn’t have a hand free to swat at it, so he just sat and stared. He knew it wasn’t logical, but he couldn’t stop staring.

A smoke-roughened voice muttered somewhere nearby. “Fuck me, the last thing I need tonight is another hysterical O.”

That got his attention. Some sexist jackass mouthing off usually did. Mother always said he needed to learn temperance, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t going to happen. He turned to helpfully offer a piece of his mind, and found a middle-aged fireman standing next to a young woman in an EMT’s gear.

Oh. The buzzing. But it hadn’t been buzzing, he supposed.

His medical training kicked him in the head. You’re in shock, stupid. You probably have a concussion and smoke damage in your lungs, to say nothing of dozens of bruises, lacerations, and a burn or two.

The EMT was glaring at the fireman. She started to open her mouth, but Loki helpfully interrupted. He wasn’t in the mood to be his usual charming self. “Then why don’t you go help the others hold back that dimwitted alpha who’s gone feral, you narrow-minded self-flagellating nitwit?”

They both turned to stare at Loki for a second, wide-eyed.

The fireman’s eyes narrowed for a moment, and Loki thought he was going to have a real argument on his hands, but the older man shook his head. “Got a point there, momma, guess he needs a knock on the head more than you do.” Then he broke off and said in a softer tone, “Let the girl look the two of you over, though.”

Two?

Oh. How had he forgotten?

Something awful twisted in his stomach. He’d forgotten. And she was so quiet. That wasn’t normal, it couldn’t be normal. He looked down in terror, but all he saw was a tiny sleeping face. Breathing normally, fingers curled around one of his.

The EMT approached, and put a hesitant hand on Loki’s shoulder. “I don’t see any serious injuries. How do you feel?”

Loki shook his head. “Fine. I’m fine.”

Looking down into his arms, she frowned. “How is it?”

“She,” he corrected in a monotone.

The girl was confused. “What?”

“She,” he repeated. “She’s a girl, and her name is Abigail.”

She understood immediately, to her credit. “I’m sorry, Mr…”

It took him a second to gather the answer she was looking for. Definitely a concussion. “Loki. Loki Burison.”

Smiling encouragingly, she nodded. “I’m sorry Mr. Burison. I didn’t mean to insult your daughter.”

She kept talking, but it was all buzzing again. His daughter? He didn’t have a daughter. And yet, there he was, sitting on the side of the road next to the burned-out twisted metal shell of a Greyhound bus, holding a baby.

 

 

*

 

 

When the bus stopped in a tiny town in Pennsylvania and six people got on, one carrying a baby, he knew that it was not going to go well.

The bus was bad enough.

Pennsylvania was bad enough.

He was sitting in a seat that didn't have enough leg room, all his remaining worldly possessions were tucked into two bags in the overhead storage compartment, and all he had to do was ruminate on how he had come to this.

The group that boarded was mostly made up of what appeared to be a family unit. Two annoyed teenage girls, an elementary age boy who was so full of energy that he was hopping in place, and the most sad and bedraggled looking couple he had ever seen in his life. The man, a fellow with a grey speckled beard wearing a filthy baseball cap and a perpetual slouch, looked like he wanted to commit violence on himself just so that he could escape the situation. The woman, pinched and unhappy as she seemed, set about demanding that previously settled passengers move so that her family could sit next to each other. Alphas. He rolled his eyes at her aggressive posturing, and went back to looking out the window.

Fortunately, she did not approach him to move. He didn’t take self-important orders well.

He had not been prepared to deal with a bunch of rednecks who probably had more children than either teeth or sense. He could only sit and wish he'd had enough money for a plane ticket. At least that way he'd be there already, even if he'd somehow been accosted by a similar group of slack-jawed yokels while in the air.

"Excuse me, is this seat taken?" It was the woman with the baby, of course. And not only was the seat not taken, it was the last available seat on the bus. Even if he tried to send her away, she'd end up back there. But if he did that, everyone would be offended by his horrible cruelty to the poor teenage mother.

He sighed angrily, but couldn't give the answer he wanted to. "No, it's not."

"I'm real sorry, Sir, I don't mean to be a bother." At least she spoke recognizable English, even if it did have some kind of ridiculous southern accent attached. Was Pennsylvania a southern state?

"It's fine." He didn't have to be a boor, even if it was what he desperately wanted to do. He was civilized. He supposed it wasn't her fault she was from Pennsylvania.

The bus was blessedly quiet for a few minutes after pulling out of Nowhere, Pennsylvania. Inevitably, though, the brat started squawking before the hour was out. All he had wanted was a nice quiet trip to New York, where he didn't have to deal with things like... people.

He tried to focus on the rolling hills and farm land of some kind that was passing them by. It was green and brown, and smelled truly awful sometimes. He tried to distract himself by reciting lists of memorized material from anatomy classes. That was even more annoying than the screaming. He even thought about blocking it out with music, before remembering that his iPod was one of the things he'd sold to procure the stupid bus ticket.

"I don't suppose there's any way you could make it be quiet, Miss?" Again, he could be civilized. He could be more civilized if she could fix that bloody screeching.

"I beg your pardon?" For some reason, she looked affronted at his perfectly calm request.

"Quiet. I'd like to get some rest, and I couldn't possibly do that with the noise it's making." Perhaps he had overestimated her intelligence. She sat there and stared at him as though he was speaking Chinese for a long moment. The squalling creature seemed to take its mother's silence as a cue to become even louder, and he couldn't help but flinch.

"Her name is Abigail, Mister, and she ain't an it, she's a girl."

"One would hope, if you named it Abigail."

"Her. Named her Abigail."

He couldn't help rolling his eyes at the stupid female's insistence, but he knew maternal instincts well enough not to point out that he couldn't care less what primary gender the obnoxious creature claimed. "As you say. Could you make her be quiet?"

"I'd love to, Mister, but she ain't a radio. She's a baby. And she's hungry and tired, not broke."

"Then feed it-her, and make her sleep." Amazing. His father had always warned him that young unwed mothers were the very worst kind of people, but this was just too much. If she knew what it wanted, why didn't she just fix it?

"Again, I'd love to, but I think your missin' the point. I got nothing to feed her, and I don't think she's gonna sleep like this."

"You plan to starve the creature, then?" He probably shouldn't have put it in quite those words, but this was really too much. There should be a required IQ test before people were allowed to breed.

He was completely unprepared for her response. She burst into noisy tears, which in turn only made the brat louder. It stared accusingly at him, and waved its pudgy little sausage arms as if in protest of his words. Against his will, an old Child Psychology text popped into his head. The thing was wearing nothing but a one piece pajama sort of garment, and a diaper. That was wrong. He sighed, and started to pull his jacket off. If he didn't want it screaming all the way to New York, he was going to have to take matters into his own hands.

"Shall I presume by your response that you haven't anything to feed it?" She just kept crying. "Do you at least have some sort of feeding device?"

Sniffling piteously, she reached for the bag she had tucked under the seat. "You mean a bottle? I got one, but I can't make formula on a bus. And she can't have milk."

"Presuming that vodka is out of the question, I believe I have some apple juice in my bag. It's warm, but I don't think it'll care much." Reaching over to take the baby from her mother's arms, it didn't even occur to him that he was probably acting inappropriately. "The black Alfred Dunhill in the overhead. It's not locked."

She started at him blankly for a long moment, but at least the tears were dying up. "The what?"

"Bag. Big. Black. Leather. Bag." Somewhere in the back of his mind, it registered that her allowing him to pull her child out of her arms was a bad sign, but he couldn't connect it to anything else of value that he knew. Maybe just back to Father's point about 'that kind of O'. Not that his father should be considered a paragon of common sense. What did his father know about parenting at all, let alone being a single parent?

She looked numb and disconnected as she stood to find his bag.

Suddenly, the instincts that had lead him to a bus travelling through Pennsylvania kicked in. He was assuming she was single, which was presumptuous at best. He was treating her as though she hadn't the brains of a rabbit, despite the fact that she obviously had the excuse of some mental duress.

Some psychiatrist he was going to make. He'd thrown his whole life away because he knew, and there he was completely ignoring his instincts because he felt like being a selfish child. Odin had warned him that his omega instincts were too stunted to help people in any way other than clinical. Loki had been determined that one didn’t need to be a ‘proper’ omega to help people. He just needed to give a damn, which he was apparently failing at.

"Is this it?" The girl bent back down with an unopened bottle of apple juice in her hands, and the look on her face spoke volumes. If he said no, he was pretty sure the tears would make an instant reappearance. Fortunately, he couldn't imagine a circumstance in which she had opened the wrong leather bag and found someone else's warm apple juice. If she somehow had, he just couldn't bring himself to care.

"That's perfect. Put it in your bottle." She immediately followed his instructions. He knew that, despite all omega stereotypes, he had a commanding attitude, but she'd hardly had a chance to see any leadership skills out of him. The fact that she didn't even look like she wanted to question him set off more warning bells in him. This was not some high school dropout cliché. There was something much worse than that going on in her head.

He wrapped the child tightly in his jacket, making sure to secure her arms and legs. Almost immediately, some of the fussing abated. Now, she was just staring at him with enormous watery brown eyes. He glanced up to take the bottle her mother had prepared, and found himself looking into the same face. Same tears, same trembling lip, same expression of exhausted fear. Blue eyes, but he supposed the sire’s genetics had to be accounted for somewhere.

It was official. He was a monster. He had turned into his father. There was no way to escape nurture. Might as well give up, become a surgeon, and find a paradoxically submissive alpha to stay at home and care for their children whom he could then shame into following suit.

Well, the least he could do was try to help now that he was done throwing his childish fit.

"They like being secure. It's called swaddling. It makes her uncomfortable when her limbs are flailing about." He waved the bottle in front of the baby, who immediately latched on. All screaming ceased. She just sniffled a bit as she tucked into the apple juice.

"How'd you know that? Seems like a weird thing to want."

"I suppose it is. At that age, though, security is more important than freedom."

She gave a like giggle that seemed to border on hysterical to his ears, a fact confirmed when it ended with a hiccuping sob. "Isn't security what everybody wants? I'd sure take some right about now."

"I suppose that depends on your circumstances. If your basic needs aren't being met, then security becomes primary again." Instinctively, he ran a hand through the baby's hair, and despite the bottle, she turned her head to the touch.

"You talk like a doctor, Mister. Wish I knew things like that."

"Do you have family in New York that will help you? I'm sure anyone who's had a baby can tell you things like that much better than I can. My experience is from textbooks, it's unsurprisingly less useful in the real world." He thinks he hides the spikes of both pride and annoyance at her doctor comment. Why can't it ever be simple?

"No. I ain't got family. My Aunt and Uncle tossed me out when I wouldn’t..." she gestured to the baby and her eyes shone bright again.

He felt ill at the notion of being forced to make that choice, but tried to cover it up. "Then why New York?"

She blushed bright red at that, and almost stammered her answer out. "I... I aint lookin' for a handout or nothing, but I thought maybe her sire would want to meet her." Something in Loki’s expression must have given away his disgust, because she immediately tried to excuse the absent parent. "I can't blame him, y’know? It was just a party after the Miss Georgia pageant. He prob'ly don’t even remember my name. I didn’t even win."

It was then that he realized he had somehow picked up on some sign to give Abigail back to her mother, who had laid her over her shoulder and was patted her back in what appeared to be a comforting manner. When she spit apple juice onto the little towel her mother had put on her shoulder, he was reminded of just how little he knew about children in a practical sense. With that, the child was asleep so fast that he would have worried she'd lost consciousness If her mother had displayed any concern.

"So," he began, fishing around in his head for a non-offensive subject. Hopefully, he could find a topic that wouldn't make everything worse. "Why Abigail? Does it mean something special?"

She smiled at him, and his mind registered that he hadn't seen her do that before. "It was my Momma's name. She was a beautiful, strong woman, so I figured I ought to give my baby girl the best shot I could at bein' the same."

He absentmindedly ran his fingers across the baby's cheek, and smiled himself. "It's perfect for her."

They sat there for a long moment, just watching Abigail sleep, before she turned back to him. "I'm Maxine. Thanks for your help."

"Loki. Thank you for not slapping me when I suggested intoxicating your baby."

She giggled in a way that seemed genuinely amused. "I figured you were just a little frazzled. Everybody seems to get mad when she starts in. It's not the worst I've heard."

He scowled at that notion, suddenly and irrationally protective of this little underdog and her child. Before he could open his mouth to say anything, though, Maxine cut him off.

"So, what's a guy whose suitcase has a name doin' on a Greyhound?"

 

 

*

 

 

Maxine had fallen asleep in the late afternoon, and he’d taken Abigail so that she could get some obviously-needed rest.

When the tanker truck had jackknifed in front of them, he’d been in the back of the bus, changing her diaper. He hadn’t even known what had happened until he’d been dragged out the back fire exit by a teenage girl who explained that the tanker they had hit was on fire, and they needed to go, now.

Two hours later, he was sitting by the side of the road, still holding Abigail.

He’d barely recognized Maxine when they had zipped her into the bodybag.

And that brought him to the EMT who was examining his daughter. It was such a simple thing. I’m sorry, Miss, she’s not my baby. I’m a student on my way to Columbia, I was just holding her for the woman in that bag over there.

So why wasn’t he saying it?

Because Frigga Burison had been a social worker for fifteen years before she just couldn’t take it anymore. Loki’s mother was one of the strongest people he’d ever known, but she just hadn’t been able to take one more crack baby, or abused mother, or case of family violence. Hell, she had adopted the first crack baby who grabbed her finger and held on for dear life.

Odin told her she hadn’t been suited to the work, but how could anyone be stoic in the face of suffering like that?

The point, though, was that Loki knew what would happen to Abigail. She was young, cute, and not addicted to crack like he’d been at that age, but it didn’t mean she was any more likely to end up in a happy home. She’d be shunted into the system, into foster care, until some couple decided that she was cute enough to be a member of their family.

But Abigail already had a family.

Abigail had a father who wasn’t ever going to get a chance to know her if Loki handed her to the EMT and walked away. His name wasn’t on her birth certificate.

Maxine had told him the story, her face a mask of shame, about how the nurse had laughed when she’d told her the baby’s father’s name. Okay, honey, you go ahead and think that, but I’m not putting it on an official document. I don’t wanna get sued by a billionaire. I’ll put Elvis if you want, but I ain't saying the girl’s sire is Tony Stark.

 

 

 

It was almost distressing how no one questioned whether Abigail was his.

No, it was distressing.

The surviving passengers had been dispersed in ambulances to multiple hospitals, so none of them were there to point out that the baby wasn’t Loki’s. No one asked for a birth certificate or… what, did babies come with proof of purchase?

Again, he blamed the concussion.

Abigail, the EMT told him, appeared to be fine. He had protected her completely, she assured him. The teenaged girl who had pulled him out had told her some nonsense about him shielding Abigail with his own body. He didn’t remember anything of the sort.

They wanted to take them both to the hospital for observation, though, because one could never be too careful. He didn’t want to risk brain damage or a dead baby, so he allowed them to take him and Abigail in the ambulance.

They treated him every bit like a nervous mother. They kept him apprised of everything they were doing to ‘his daughter’, and assured him that she was well. She was in better shape than literally anyone else who had survived the accident.

It was agreed by everyone: he was an excellent mother.

When he started giggling hysterically, the doctors blamed his concussion and sedated him.

They held him for just over two days.

He had been briefly concerned that his family was going to show up, but then he remembered that even if he hadn’t walked out on them a week earlier, all of his possessions had burned in the fire. They had no way of knowing who to contact in case of an emergency. The nurse had asked him, but he’d explained that he didn’t have anyone to call.

He had medical insurance since he was enrolled at Columbia, so they didn’t give him any trouble about the paperwork. He wondered if he would get in trouble for listing Abigail as a dependent.

Not quite seventy-two hours after Abigail’s mother was killed, Loki found himself alone with the child, standing on the street in front of a skyscraper in downtown New York.

The hospital had taken him out in a wheelchair (ludicrous, but necessary for liability), given him a baby, a bag, and a packet of paperwork, and gotten him a cab to the destination of his choice, Stark Tower.

It was strange, really.

He’d gone through the two days gritting his teeth and smiling when the nurses gushed over what an amazing mother he was, and how they hoped they would be such wonderful parents, but he hadn’t cracked and said anything nasty. They were being kind, after all. It wasn’t their fault that Abigail wasn’t his, and he wanted nothing more than to take her to her sire and get back to his own life. He certainly didn’t want credit for doing anything he hadn’t done, or being someone that he wasn’t.

So why was he hesitating to go into the building, when his goal was so close?

Obviously, he was nervous. Telling an infamous playboy that he was a single father wasn’t going to be fun.

He pulled a fresh bottle of formula from the diaper bag the nurses had put together and insisted he take, since his had obviously been lost on the bus, and waved it in front of Abigail. She sniffed at it, and looked at him accusingly.

He rolled his eyes. “It can’t always be apple juice, brat. You need to get real sustenance, too.”

Somehow, that seemed to appease her. Logically, he knew that the sound of his voice was what was soothing her, but a tiny corner of his brain whispered that they were having a conversation. Little Abby understood him, of course she did, and she was a good girl.

Gods, being around a baby had fried his hormones. He did not have a maternal instinct. He wasn’t a good mother.

He wasn’t a mother at all!

A big man in a dark suit stopped and peeked at Abigail around her bottle, and then grinned at her. He smelled of non-threatening beta, so Loki quelled the urge to hide his—Maxine’s—baby from view.

“What’s her name?” The man asked.

Loki was impressed, against his better judgement. “Abigail.”

The man grinned. “She’s beautiful. Two or three months?”

Loki nodded. “Ten weeks tomorrow.”

The man smiled, then stopped and blinked up at Loki. “I should ask you to talk to my wife. She’s always saying that a baby will ruin her figure, but you don’t seem to have had any trouble.” He looked at Loki’s waistline appreciatively, and then his mouth fell open in horror. “I mean you look fine! I meant… I didn’t mean to…”

Rolling his eyes, Loki chuckled. “I understand.”

He did not elucidate. The man seemed nice enough, but Loki was trying to work up his nerve to go in and talk to Abby’s father. Talking to strangers didn’t figure into it.

“Are you waiting for someone?” The man persisted.

He was probably going to try to drag Loki off to talk to his wife or some nonsense like that. Loki had always found that the best way to get rid of someone was to make them uncomfortable, so he told the simple truth.

“I’m here to introduce Abigail to her sire,” he informed the man. “He’s going to be somewhat surprised.”

The man’s eyes went round, and he looked back down at Abigail. He seemed to reach out without thinking, and pressed a finger to her little round cheek. Her deep brown eyes turned in his direction, searching. “Shit,” he said eloquently.

Loki cocked his head. He wasn’t any great expert, but he was sure the man wasn’t Tony Stark. Stark was younger, in his thirties, and an infamous alpha playboy. This man was a staid beta in his forties.

The man looked up at Loki, concern evident in his eyes. “Tony doesn’t know anything, does he?”

Loki blinked in shock.

“She looks just like him,” the man explained. “Oh, hell, he’s gonna freak out. Did you make an appointment?”

“We just got out of the hospital,” Loki explained. “I didn’t have time.”

“The hospital?” the man’s concern amped up so much that Loki could smell it. “Is everything okay?”

“We were in an accident on the way here. Our bus hit a truck. But we’re both fine. Abby wasn’t even scratched, I had her wrapped in my jacket.” Loki tried to use his best soothing tone, and it seemed to work.

Suck on that, Odin ‘you have no omega instincts’ Burison.

The man was obviously still concerned, though, and he wrapped a protective arm around Loki’s shoulders. Normally, he would have been offended and assumed chauvinism, but the man was just so non-offensive that he couldn’t muster an ounce of irritation.

“I’m Happy,” the man informed him. “Um, that’s what people call me, that is. Happy. Happy Hogan. I guess it’s kinda inconvenient sometimes.”

“Happy,” Loki repeated, almost disbelieving. And yet, it fit the man. “I’m Loki Burison.”

Happy grinned at him. “Great!” He led Loki into the building and onto an elevator, waving the receptionist and security personnel away. “We’ll get you up to see Tony right away. He’s gonna be shocked, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve always had this feeling that he’d be a great father.”

Loki quirked an eyebrow, but the man didn’t even seem to notice.

“Everyone always says Tony’ll sire hundreds of kids, but he won’t ever be a decent father, but I think they’re all wrong. Tony’s careful. There’s a reason he’s not paying child support to hundreds of kids. But every time some girl claims she’s got his kid… it’s almost like he hopes it’s true, y’know? Like he’s disappointed that he’s still not a dad?”

Loki was frankly amazed at the man’s ability to talk without pause. He was nervous, obviously. He thought Loki was judging Stark, or held him in a low opinion. He supposed that if he were an abandoned lover with a child, he might. On the other hand, it wasn’t as though Stark had created the child without help. And Happy’s picture of a man who wished for fatherhood was… compelling?

Loki shook his head as they exited the elevator. The concussion. The baby, doing awful things to his hormones. He was not going soft in the head. The dull ache between his temples that had been blooming since he’d left the hospital had become a continuous throb, though. He winced.

Happy seemed to notice, and looked at Loki with concern. “Are you okay? Do you need to sit down? Did the hospital send you any medication?”

A red haired woman who had obviously heard part of the conversation came rushing over. “Happy? What’s going on?”

Happy positively beamed up at her. “Tony’s a Dad, Pep. For real this time.”

The woman paused with her hand outstretched, then dropped it and speculatively looked Loki over. “Not his usual type,” she observed.

Loki quirked the same eyebrow again.

Happy shushed her, and Loki decided to hold his tongue, to keep the kind man… well, happy.

He led Loki to a cushy sofa and ran to get him a glass of water, for which Loki was quite grateful. He used it to take his antibiotics and a fresh pain pill. The hydrocodone was a bad plan. He needed his wits about him when he was about to meet with Abigail’s father. But his head was killing him, and he had rather underestimated how much pain moving around was going to cause.

Shockingly, it turned out that lying in a hospital bed caused less pain than catching a cab to meet his baby-daddy. Maxine’s baby-daddy.

The redhead looked bored, and announced to no one in particular that she was going to tell Tony he had… ‘someone’ to meet.

Loki frowned after her.

Happy, nervous, also frowned. “She’s not usually like this, I swear. It’s just that this has happened before, and it’s never been Tony’s baby. But Abby is. I know she’s Tony’s like I know my own name.” The man spoke with such conviction that it surprised Loki a bit. Loki was a stranger to him, and Abigail was a baby, unable to speak for herself. Why was he so invested in them?

He finished the glass of water and handed it back to Happy, thanking him.

The woman sailed back into the room looking smug, and held a hand out in the direction of the door. “He’s free right now.” Loki stood, somewhat shakily, and headed for the door. Happy obviously wanted to follow, but didn’t. As he passed the woman, she whispered, “And he says he’s never met anyone who looks anything like you.”

Loki wasn’t sure where her animosity came from, but he found himself hoping that Happy was right, and she was just concerned for Stark’s benefit.

The office was not what he was expecting. The enormous mahogany desk and leather chair, sure. The huge table with what looked like a train set? Not so much. On second glance, it was actually a model of the kind that architects used. Stark was planning to build another enormous phallic monument to his own ego, no doubt.

Alphas. All the same, whether they were wearing faux Chanel and riding a Greyhound bus, or playing with models in billion dollar buildings.

Stark looked up from his toys, and gave Loki a once over. And then another. A sly grin crossed his face.

“Lemme guess, my baby?” He rounded the table and only glanced at Abby as he gave Loki another lascivious look. “Bad news, sweetheart. There’s no way you’ve had my baby.”

Loki just waited for the metaphorical other shoe to drop.

“I’d remember making a baby with you.” Stark told him, a grin still on his annoyingly handsome face.

Of course. Loki rolled his eyes.

Alphas.

Well fine. Loki wasn’t usually one for playing the stereotypical omega, and maybe it was the medication kicking in, but he went with it. He smiled back, dropping his eyes to the floor and baring just enough throat to satisfy alpha instinct. “I think you’ll find yourself surprised, in this case.”

“Oh will I?” Stark took another step forward, seeming surprised at himself as he did. “What, I pretend the baby’s mine, and you give me whatever I want?”

Loki’s smile grew. “Oh, no, Mr. Stark. You won’t be pretending. And I will most definitely not be giving you anything.”

Stark jerked back a few inches in confusion.

“Abigail is your child, with a young woman you met in Georgia,” he told the arrogant alpha, no small amount of self-satisfaction tinging his tone. “Maxine. Short, dark, pretty? Accent?”

“The runner up?” Stark asked, still seeming to be in shock. His eyes scanned the room, seeming to search for something.

Loki just shrugged. He’d known Maxine for just a few hours. He didn’t know that much.

When Stark looked back to him, there was something resembling pain in his expression. It made him uncomfortable. Damned baby hormones. “If… if she had my kid, why didn’t she tell me? Where is she? Didn’t she…”

“She was coming,” Loki found himself assuring the man he’d been taunting moments before. “She thought you would want to meet Abigail.”

“Was?” Stark asked in a voice that said he knew what was coming.

“We were together on a bus,” Loki said, sighing. He’d known he was going to have to tell the story, but it didn’t change the fact that he did not want to.

Stark’s sharply indrawn breath made Loki pause and look up. “The accident Wednesday night?”

He knew. Loki could have collapsed with relief. “Yes. Yes, that. I’m sorry, but Maxine was… she…” His eyes watered, and it was damned annoying. Loki Burison did not cry. He was not emotionally affected. He took a deep breath and continued. “I took Abigail. They would have given her to social services. Your name wasn’t on the birth certificate.”

Stark cringed, and seemed to fall in on himself, head dropping and shoulders slumping.

Loki wasn’t sure what it meant. Was he emotional about Maxine? Unhappy he had a child?

The answer was obvious, really. He was utterly overwhelmed. How could he not be?

Loki refrained from being pleased with himself for reading Stark. There was too much going on, too many things vying for his attention at once, and he had to try to keep a level head.

Stark was biting his lip. “She didn’t want my name, or…”

Again, maybe it was the drugs talking, but the uncertainty the man exuded was strangely charming.

“She was concerned about whether people would think she was lying for attention,” Loki told him. It wasn’t exactly what Maxine had said, but it seemed like a logical extension of her words. “I believe that the nurse in the hospital where Abigail was born gave her the impression that you might bring legal action against her.”

Frowning, Stark nodded. “It’s not true, but I guess it’s not shocking. They’re always the ones who bring lawyers into it. But none of them were ever telling the truth before.”

Loki found himself surprised by the statement. Not that Stark didn’t bring unnecessary lawsuits, but that he seemed to be accepting Abigail without question. He had to make sure, though. “You’ll need to do a DNA test, of course.”

“Um, I guess,” Stark agreed, distracted. He was peering at Abigail’s face over Loki’s arm, and pulled his lower lip between his teeth again. “I’m sure I can get it done. Could, um… Could I hold her?”

Blinking in confusion, Loki considered the question for a moment. Still in shock, he thought, that must be it. “Of course you can. She’s your daughter.”

Stark looked up at him nervously, and shuffled closer. When his eyes dropped to Abigail, they softened so much that Loki wondered if he was tearing up. That seemed unlikely, but if the baby hormones were messing with Loki, it was reasonable that they were affecting Stark as well. “Her name is Abigail, you said?”

“Yes. After Maxine’s mother,” Loki agreed, moving the baby slightly away from his chest, to hold her out to her father. Much though his hindbrain was screaming not to let the strange alpha hold his baby, Loki’s conscious mind was being utterly taken in by the nervous, hopeful face of the man in front of him. “Have you held a baby before?”

“Um, a couple of times, I guess. Cradle their head and all that, right?” Stark hesitantly took the final step that bridged the gap between them and held his hands out, then looked to Loki for help.

Loki shifted the baby into one arm, and used the freed hand to move Stark’s arms into proper position, then gently deposited the baby in the crook of his elbow. When he had his baby in his arms, Stark’s whole body tensed for a second, and the two of them stared at each other.

“Fuck,” he whispered. “It’s… she’s my baby. I have a baby.”

Loki’s stomach decidedly did not flutter at the innocent look of adoration Stark was giving Abigail. Happy had been right. The man wanted a baby. He forced himself to take a half step back, giving the alpha and his baby some space. He had done what he came to do, he supposed. His instincts didn’t want him to be even a few steps from Abigail, but legally, and even morally, his responsibilities were discharged. There was no reason to stay.

When Stark leaned in and kissed Abigail on the forehead, the fluttering in Loki’s stomach turned into fireworks. Abby snuffled sleepily and her eyelids drooped, everything about her reading as completely at ease with the alpha. Even the scent of the doctor had made her a little fussy, but she didn’t seem put off by Stark at all.

Loki couldn’t help a small chuckle. “If I had any doubts about Maxine’s word,” he whispered, watching Abigail’s eyes slip shut. “That fixes them completely.”

Stark grinned. “I’ll have you know that being able to sleep anywhere is a Stark family tradition.”

“Somehow, that doesn’t surprise me.” Loki shook his head. “Where shall I put her diaper bag?”

Stark looked around a moment before motioning with his head toward the desk. “Might as well just put it there.” He swayed Abigail in his arms, smiling down at her. As Loki walked past him toward the desk, though, he froze and the smile disappeared. “Wait. You’re not leaving, are you?”

Loki turned to look at him as he set the bag down, his arm twinging at the effort of lifting the bag up to set it on the desk. An affirmation was on the tip of his tongue, but he swallowed the words down again at the giant brown puppy eyes being leveled in his direction. “Of course not. I’m just sore and tired, and the bag is heavy.”

It wasn’t as though he had anywhere to go, anyway. He was lucky he had his wallet, but it was the only thing he had left. Why was he in a hurry? His dorm room probably wouldn’t be ready for weeks yet. It wasn’t as though he had planned the trip out before he’d bought the bus ticket.

The look on Stark’s face transformed at that, from the terror of being left alone with his child to full on protective alpha. It wasn’t a look that he saw very often; Odin had always said that Loki needed to learn to protect himself, since he wasn’t always going to have an alpha to fight his battles for him. He’d seen the expression often enough in the movies to recognize it, though.

“Oh, my god, I have no fucking manners. My mother is spinning in her grave right now.” Stark started toward the side of the room opposite the model, which Loki realized was practically a separate room in its own right. Two bronze leather couches sat there at right angles, a low table sitting between, with an assortment of boxes on it that looked—and smelled, now that Loki was paying attention to it—wonderfully like Chinese takeout. “Oh, um. My lunch.” Stark gave him a sheepish look, but something on Loki’s face must have given away his interest, as he quickly continued “I have way more than I need. Do you like steamed dumplings?”

“I—” Loki’s manners almost got ahead of him, turning down the offer of food before he even considered it. Then he remembered how much money he had, or rather didn’t have, in his wallet. “Yes, I do. If you don’t mind sharing?”

“No!” Stark practically spit the word out in his haste to get Loki to stay. “I love sharing! I’m great at sharing. Do you want something else? Pizza? Thai?”

Loki picked up a box at random and looked inside. Lo Mein. It looked excellent, and his stomach grumbled to remind him that it had only had hospital food for three days. “This is fine,” he answered, and looked back up to find Stark looking at him hopefully. “Better than fine, in fact.”

The man went all alpha, preening at the acknowledgement of his ability to provide. Under most circumstances Loki would have thought it obnoxious, but the man had just been thrust into a caretaker position. Being proud of his ability to provide seemed like a good fatherly instinct. Instead of being annoyed, Loki decided to nurture the instinct, for Abigail’s sake. It was not all because of his empty wallet and belly.

He took a seat on one of the couches and dug into the noodles.

Stark settled himself onto the other couch, moving gingerly so as not to disturb Abigail. “So, um, you haven’t told me your name.”

He hadn’t? He replayed the conversation in his head and realized that no, he had not. “Loki,” he said between bites of food, which was just as delicious as it looked.

Stark nodded “Are you from New York?”

Leaning against the arm of the couch he was sitting on, Loki shook his head. “I was on my way from Virginia, I’m starting at Columbia in the fall.”

Stark looked stunned. “You’re… eighteen?”

“No! No, I’m starting at their school of psychiatry.” Loki couldn’t help the laugh at that. Did he look like the very unwed teenage omega that Odin had spent years railing about?

Stark looked relieved, though Loki couldn’t have said why that was the case. “You were heading up really early for the fall semester, weren’t you? They don’t start in July yet, I don’t think.”

Sighing, Loki nodded. He didn’t particularly want to talk about Odin, but he doubted Stark had wanted a complete stranger to know he’d fathered a child with a woman he’d forgotten about. A bit of turnabout seemed only fair. He was still trying to formulate the best answer when Stark gave a wry smile.

“I know that look,” he said, giving Loki a look of sympathy. “Had to be somewhere else?”

Loki nodded again. “Yes. Exactly.”

“I used to rush back to school before breaks were over.” Stark said as his gaze drifted toward the window. “They tell me now that I had too much in common with my father, and that’s why we didn’t get along. I still say he was just an asshole.”

Unable to completely smother his amusement at that, Loki brought a hand up to cover his face. When he got his laughter under control, he agreed. “Mine, too. He’s disappointed in me; he wanted me to go to Hopkins and become a surgeon.”

Stark raised an eyebrow at that. “He’s disappointed that you’re becoming a doctor, instead of… becoming a doctor?”

“The great and powerful Odin doesn’t acknowledge psychiatry as a valid form of medicine,” he sighed, rolling his eyes for extra drama.

“Your dad’s name is Odin?” Tony looked put out by the idea. “Suddenly Howard doesn’t seem so bad. Also, the hell psychiatry isn’t medicine. That’s a fucking stupid attitude.” After he said that, he paused for a moment, considering. “Shit. I can’t say—I’m cursing in front of—I’m going to be the worst father ever.” He let his head fall against the back of the couch, looking despairingly up at the ceiling.

Loki snorted in a decidedly un-genteel manner. “A few bad words, even a few bad words per sentence, aren’t going to make you a bad father. I hardly think she’ll be held back in life by a poor vocabulary, Mr. Stark.”

“Tony,” the man corrected. “Please call me Tony. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t even know I had a daughter. Jesus. She’d have just gone into foster care or something.”

“Tony,” Loki agreed. “And yes. That was why I couldn’t. I thought you two had a right to at least know about each other.”

Stark—Tony—smiled at him, and it was nearly blinding. He looked down at his daughter with that same grin on his face, and the wonder returned to his eyes. “Holy hell. I don’t even know what to do. I have a kid. I don’t know anything about kids.” Pausing, he looked up at Loki beseechingly. “Do you know how to take care of a kid?”

“Not much,” Loki admitted. “Just what I’ve learned in school and from taking care of Abigail for a few days.”

“But you know things,” Tony returned. “More things than me. And she likes you, right? I mean, she wasn’t crying when you brought her in.”

“Ahh, but she’s not my responsibility anymore,” Loki grinned back, amused at the look of desperation that was blooming on Tony’s face.

He clutched Abigail to his chest and scooted toward the couch Loki was sitting on. The look of desperation was tempered by a childish, hopeful expression. “But… she could be?”

“What?”

“She could be,” Tony said again. “She already knows you, and she likes you, and you just got to town so it’s not like you have a job, right?” Stark waited for Loki to shake his head before continuing in a rush. “So you could go to school and take care of her in your free time and be like, my… nanny? Babysitter? Au pair? Whatever you want to call yourself, I don’t care!”

“This is rather far from campus,” Loki frowned thoughtfully. He wondered if there was some convenient way to catch a bus from Stark Tower to somewhere near his dorm. He wasn’t sure why he was even entertaining the idea. He had no experience with kids, and prior to Abigail, hadn’t even liked any of them. He was about to start at Columbia, and he didn’t know how different it would be to his undergraduate work.

“You can use a company car,” Tony answered smoothly, almost as though he’d been expecting the concern. “You’ll be a Stark employee, so you’ll need proper transportation. And you can have an apartment here in the building.”

Loki considered that for a moment. “An apartment? I have a dorm room arranged—”

“This will be better,” Tony pointed out, as though there was any chance Loki didn’t know that living in a dorm was the worst. “Your own rooms. A kitchen. No communal bathroom! All you have to do is watch Abigail when you’re not in classes.”

Loki thought back to his undergrad dorm. The containers of mystery mold in the fridge. The constant stench of burned popcorn hanging near the microwave and sometimes permeating the whole hall. The bathroom wall covered with unknown substances (Loki hoped there were aliens involved. He didn’t want to think they were from humans.) Or an apartment at Stark Tower. And a car. It was too generous, really.

“I won’t be a kept boy,” Loki said, giving Stark his hardest look.

“Of course not! Like I said, you’d be here to take care of Abigail,” he held the baby up a bit, as though to show her to Loki. “And I’d pay you a salary, from which you’d have to buy your own groceries and… stuff.”

“Stuff?” Loki asked, suspiciously. “What stuff?”

“I dunno. Um, clothes? What else do Os buy? Hygiene products or something?” Stark wouldn’t even look him in the eye when he said that, as though he knew exactly how ridiculous a statement it was.

Loki snorted again. “In that case, I quit.”

Tony grinned impishly at that. “But to quit, you have to accept the job, right?”

Without a shadow of a doubt, Loki knew he should walk away. Run, even. His self-preservation instincts were strong, and they were telling him that if he didn’t run, he wasn’t getting another chance.

Snuggling further into the surprisingly comfortable couch, he gave Tony Stark his most shark-like grin. “I don’t know. I think I should ask for a raise before agreeing not to quit.”

 

***

 

It took less than a day for Stark to arrange a small apartment for Loki. It was just a short elevator ride from Stark’s penthouse, and by noon the next day it was fully furnished and baby-proofed. Loki had always known it was good to have money—he’d certainly never been in need during his childhood—but the difference between his family’s upper-middle-class comfort and Stark’s billions was, well… stark.

Stark had also bought so many baby toys that Loki didn’t think Abigail would be a baby long enough to play with all of them.

On the second afternoon, Loki and Abigail were sitting on the floor in the penthouse, going through the shiny, colorful boxes. In the style of small children and pets everywhere, Abigail was much more impressed with the shiny boxes than the toys themselves. As Abigail reached out to bat at one particularly bright red box, the elevator bell sounded.

“...keep telling you, Tony, I’m not that kind of doctor. I’m not qualified to give anyone a check-up,” came a voice Loki didn’t recognize. The tone, that he did recognize. He’d heard it from Frigga so many times in his childhood. It was the one that said ‘I wish someone, at some point, would listen to a damned thing I say.’

Stark laughed. “You know, B, you say that so often I’m starting to wonder if you’re any kind of doctor.”

The only response was a sigh.

Loki had the feeling that this was a long-standing debate. He turned to look as the two men walked into the penthouse proper, and wondered for himself what kind of doctor wore a rumpled suit and looked like he shaved only sporadically.

He stopped when he came into sight of Abigail, and took a deep breath. “Jeez. You weren’t kidding. You… have a baby.”

Like Happy, he smelled of non-threatening beta, so Loki didn’t flinch away when he walked over and knelt down next to them. The harmless vibes, exhausted demeanor, and fact that he had arrived with Abigail’s father probably helped.

Also, Abigail once again accepted the stranger with aplomb. She squealed in delight and threw her little hands up as much as was possible in her blanketed state. The man looked as surprised as Loki and pulled back a few inches, before a smile spread across his face. He reached out to take her hand, then hesitated, looking to Loki questioningly. Loki looked at Stark, who grinned and nodded.

So it happened that the strange—doctor?—found himself with an armful of squealing baby girl. Impressively enough, he didn’t even hesitate once she was handed off. He just pulled her in and grinned brightly. “You’re gonna be just like your daddy, aren’t you?”

“A pain in the ass?” Stark offered, earning two pointed glares.

Abigail took the opportunity of the doctor’s distraction to whack him in the face with a flailing limb. His attention immediately went back to her, smiling as people do at babies—guilelessly, and with his whole body.

Meanwhile, Stark turned back to Loki, and with trepidation in his voice asked, “is everything okay for her? I didn’t, like, look at all of it, I just told them to get stuff for a baby.”

Loki snorted. “They bought enough for ten babies, but other than that I’m sure it’s all fine.”

“That’s pretty much the story of Tony’s life,” the other man said, looking up at Loki with a smile. “You’ll get used to it after a while. Kind of.”

Stark grinned at that. “Why would he, Bruce? You haven’t.”

The doctor—Bruce, Loki supposed—rolled his eyes. “That’s because every time I get used to it, you deliberately outdo yourself just to shock me.”

Stark didn’t respond, but the grin that crossed his face was reminiscent of a schoolboy who’d been caught drawing a dick on something.

Loki huffed an exasperated sigh. Since the doctor was holding Abigail, he decided that he had a moment to organize the piles of boxes, and busied himself doing so. The whole situation still felt like some kind of bizarre dream, and part of him was convinced he was going to wake up back on the bus with Maxine.

What a stereotype, Loki heard Odin’s voice say in his head. Look at you clean while they sit around and do nothing. Just like a good omega.

He stopped moving and took deep breaths, trying to exorcise the voice. He’d run halfway across the country to get away from Odin and his judgments. Giving the man residence in his brain wasn’t going to help him get away.

“Um,” the doctor’s voice cut through his distraction. “I think she needs changed.”

Loki looked up, expecting to find a baby being thrust in his direction. Instead, it was her father that Abigail was pointed at. Tony, who took her without question and walked directly over to the changing table without so much as a glance in Loki’s direction.

He set her down and then stared for a long moment. “Okay,” he said finally. “I’ve got this. How hard can it be, right?”

The doctor threw his head back against a cushion of the couch he was sitting near and groaned. “Seriously?” He shook his head and looked over at Loki. “Every time, he does this. Every. Single. Time. For once in your life, Tony, just admit that something is beyond you and ask for help.”

Back still to the room, Tony waved a dismissive hand. “I can do this. It’s not complicated or anything, right? Front to back. It’s not like it’s nuclear physics, doctor.

Loki raised an eyebrow at the doctor, and got an eyeroll in return. “He thinks he’s funny. He treats me like I’m a psychiatrist, he asks me to do a checkup on his baby, next he’ll be asking me to set his broken bones. Yes, Tony, thank you, I am a nuclear physicist. No, I cannot write prescriptions.”

A nuclear physicist. Well that made more sense. More the Einstein style of doctor than the Doogie Howser style. It made the hair make more sense.

“And he thought the baby needed the same treatment as a bomb?” Loki asked tentatively. He was uncomfortable making conversation with strangers, but still wanted to be something other than just the silent baby-caregiver.

Bruce seemed to find it acceptable and snorted a laugh. “If she’s anything like her daddy, I’m sure there will be explosions in her future. And you actually agreed to help this jerk?”

“I was afraid he’d feed her only juice, buy her a pony, and make her bedtime never.” Loki grinned.

Across the room, Stark froze. “Is.. um, is juice bad?”

Sharing a look, Loki and Bruce both burst out laughing.

Tony scowled back at them. “You both work for me, you know. I could fire you.”

Bruce smirked and looked up at Loki. “He says that all the time, but he can’t even bring himself to fire people who are actually incompetent.”

Tony, who was actually having some success at the changing table if Abigail’s amused cooing was an indicator, nodded in defeat. “They just look so sad. One girl stood there for a full minute after I stopped talking, like she didn’t know what to do. It was the most awkward moment of my life.”

“This, from the man who has woken up naked in the beds of complete strangers… and their spouses,” Bruce says, trying to hide a smile.

“Don’t worry about it for me,” Loki said smugly, leaning back against the couch. “You won’t have to fire me, I’ll quit.”

 

***

 

Taking care of Abigail was somehow both easier and harder than expected.

There were the tedious expected bits, like diaper changing and feeding, and the long nights when she couldn’t sleep and Stark begged for his help. Those were occasionally annoying, but Loki had definitely been through worse while working one of the menial jobs available to people under twenty-five with no college degree. Burning his fingers on the deep fryer at that fast food place had been much worse than a few lost hours of sleep.

In fact, Loki decided a few weeks in, it might be a perk of the job.

Tony had called him just after ten, Abigail wailing in the background, and sounded at the end of his rope. “Nothing I do makes it stop. I changed her, I fed her, I tried to rock her to sleep. How do I make her better?”

And off the clock or not, no one with a heart could ignore a plea like that. So Loki had made his way upstairs, not bothering to change out of the sweats and ratty t-shirt that made up his pajamas, to find a frantic Tony Stark pacing the floor trying to calm his crying daughter. He held her close, singing something softly, and his relief was a physical thing when his eyes found Loki.

He hurried over and held her a bit further from himself so Loki could take a look. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to be looking at or for, but she was most definitely unhappy. It seemed louder than the way she usually cried when she wanted something, more frantic. If only Maxine could see him now, Loki thought wryly, trying to interpret Abigail’s cries instead of just being annoyed.

If Maxine could see him now, he hoped that she would be pleased with how he was doing.

If the crying was worse, it was because the something wrong was worse. Was she in pain? A little light flashed on in his head. He’d been reading about what to expect from a baby at her age, and three months was a little young, but maybe…

Striding into the kitchen, Loki yanked open the cutlery drawer and grabbed the stack of spoons, then put them in the refrigerator. If he was wrong, it was going to look stupid, but that couldn’t be helped. He ran his hands under cool water for a moment, hoping that would be enough in the short term, and went back to where a confused looking Tony was still holding Abigail close.

When he put his fingers to her lips, she immediately latched on. She sobbed around them for a moment, but it slowly tapered into wet little whimpers. Sure enough, he was almost certain he could feel the early signs of a tooth trying to come in where she was gumming at his fingers.

Tony was looking at him in awe, and his eyes shone a little, almost as though he wanted to cry. “How?” he asked, his voice more breath than force.

Loki grinned at him. “Abigail is exceptional, of course. She’s teething. Early.”

“The spoons in the fridge?” Tony queried.

Loki nodded to where she was gnawing on his warming fingers and still sniffling. “They’ll help cool it, lessen the pain.”

"She's not dying." Tony looked like he was going to collapse in either exhaustion or relief. “Oh, thank god.”

“Why don’t you get some sleep?” Loki asked, bumping their shoulders together and then holding his hands up for the baby. “I’ll put her down and sleep on the couch tonight.”

“You don’t—”

“I know.” Loki cut him off before he could finish the thought. And he did know he didn’t have to. But somehow, he thought he should repay the man for the image he cut: exhausted Tony Stark walking his daughter back and forth across the penthouse wearing nothing but a pair of very… nice… boxer briefs. Maybe it was guilt for the lechery that drove him to make the offer, but the scene felt like an unexpected job perk.

As though Loki’s cool fingers were some kind of reprieve from the gods of child-rearing, Abigail fell asleep before Tony even made it into his bedroom, and Loki made his way to the couch not five minutes later for his own rest.

After that night, he found himself spending most of his time in the penthouse instead of his apartment. Especially in the short term, while poor Abby was in pain, he couldn’t justify going to his own apartment for the night. The couch was as comfortable as any bed.

The only thing he couldn’t figure out was why he was settling into the role so easily. It wasn’t something he’d been taught how to do. It wasn’t something he’d ever aspired to. And Odin had told him enough times that his omega caregiver instincts were broken; he knew it couldn’t be that.

 

**

 

Loki’s classes started toward the end of August. He arranged to take as many classes as possible in the evenings, and concentrated all of them on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so he could be at the tower the rest of the week.

The first day of classes, he came back to the penthouse to find a disaster area. Once again, Tony was pacing the floor holding a crying Abigail. When he turned and saw Loki walk in, his whole face lit up. “Thank god!”

Loki rolled his eyes. Of course the only reason someone would be so happy to see him was for the ability to pass off a crying child. Tony didn’t rush to leave, though. He gently set Abigail into Loki’s arms and then watched her as she stared up at them. The crying stopped almost jarringly fast, and Loki realized with a shock that Abigail had missed him.

She had missed Loki. The failure of an omega who had no idea how to be the June Cleaver of every dimwitted alpha’s dreams. A baby wanted him.

If he’d been inclined to such things, he probably would have hyperventilated. Instead, he just stared down at her in shock as she stared up at him, making a strange little cooing noise that pressed on every emotional button Loki had.

He grinned at her and walked them over to the couch. “Was it very bad when I was gone, then? Your father made the formula wrong and then sang you strange songs?”

“Hey!” Tony protested. “I’ll have you know I sang her that horrible mockingbird song you’re always singing. What the hell kind of kid’s song is that, anyway? Dogs that won’t bark and birds that won’t sing. Weird, man.”

Loki shrugged. “My mother sang it to me, I think. And all children’s songs are a little odd. At least she isn’t attached to Alouette.”

“Is that the one about killing birds that everyone thinks is cute because it’s French and they don’t understand it?” Tony curled up his nose in pre-emptive disgust.

“It is that,” Loki agreed. “But don’t worry, I don’t even know the words, I promise I won’t sing to Abigail about pulling birds apart.”

Tony stared off into space for a moment, then refocused on Abigail and Loki, smiled, and nodded. “Yeah, that’s good. Just keep telling her in song that her father is going to buy her a bunch of horribly disappointing things. It’s probably even true.”

Rolling his eyes, Loki pulled Abigail close to himself and sang. “Hush little baby…”

 

***

 

After that, the transition was much more smooth. Abigail got used to Loki being gone occasionally, and Loki started to warm up to the idea of someone wanting him around.

Every morning found him sitting at the dining table in the penthouse, making Abigail’s morning mush—he didn’t care what the box called it, cereal it was not. She seemed to enjoy it well enough, so every morning he fed it to her.

She seemed particularly happy one Wednesday, grinning at him around her spoon and only letting half of her breakfast fall out of her mouth and down onto her “On Wednesdays We Wear Pink” onesie.

They were almost finished when her harried looking father came rushing out of his bedroom still in the process of putting on his suit, and boy was that unfair. Loki put effort into his appearance and all, but there wasn’t any point in wearing a suit to take care of a baby, so most days he ended up in yoga pants and a t-shirt. Tony’s three-piece suits made him feel downright slobby.

On the other hand, that morning, Tony looked slightly less than his best.

Abigail grinned at him and exclaimed, “Ba!”

Tony, slinging his tie around his neck, snorted at her. “Don’t I know it. You’re gonna be the death of me, kiddo. It’s a good thing I’m not driving today, I’d probably get myself killed.”

“She didn’t let you sleep?” Loki asked, raising an eyebrow.

Tony poured himself a generous cup of the coffee Loki had made for himself, grabbed one of the muffins that seemed to appear in the penthouse as though by magic every morning, and sat down at the table. “This talking thing is like a shiny new toy. She kept waking up and trying to tell me all about it. Ba ba ba ba ba.”

“Ba ba!” Abigail squealed in response, spitting out most of the last mouthful of mush.

Tony gave her a tired grin. “Unfortunately, daddy has a board meeting today, and dealing with the assholes on my board on three hours of sleep is going to be the least fun we’ve had since that bout of colic.”

“I could take her tonight,” Loki offered. “Make you sure have a chance to catch up a bit.”

Standing back up, Tony turned his grin on Loki. “Thanks. You don’t have to do that, but I’m sure as hell not gonna turn it down.”

The elevator sounded Happy’s arrival, and Tony set down his coffee to put his coat on, then leaned over to kiss Abby on the cheek.

It all felt so very domestic that for a moment, Loki expected to get his own kiss on the cheek. That, however, was a silly fantasy probably born of Stark being ridiculously attractive and Loki being slowly stewed in baby hormones. That was a thing; he was sure.

If his wave to Happy and Tony as they hustled out the door was more distracted than usual, he didn’t think either man noticed.

 

***

 

Fortunately for both of them, Abigail was what the textbooks would call an easy baby. She slept through the night when she wasn’t sick, she ate and pooped at reasonable intervals, and she hardly ever cried unless the situation warranted it. She was unreasonably impressed with everything, especially toys that she could take apart and then shove at Loki to put back together.

That fact made Loki start to worry that she was going to be as clever as her father. Was he really qualified to care for a baby genius? He was more than smart enough; he didn’t feel inferior in any way. He just didn’t have any real childcare or teaching qualifications.

Conversely, Stark seemed to worry about everything but that. He fussed over and checked in on her constantly, even when she was asleep, but when Loki broached the idea of getting her some kind of specialist, he just rolled his eyes.

“I’m not going to make her be different from other kids in any way she isn’t already,” he answered easily, as though he’d already considered the subject at length.

“What if she’s missing out on learning opportunities because you have me instead of someone who knows how to teach children?” Loki was genuinely confused with himself. He had a fabulous job with utterly unreasonable benefits and salary, and it seemed like he was trying to give it away. That wasn’t like him at all.

Tony smiled at that, and his answer came just as fast. “She’s not. She’s going to have every opportunity to be a kid, and act like one. No tutors, no accelerated programs, and no dinnertime quizzes on what she learned today. Not unless she wants them.”

A portrait of a somber young Tony in a suit being quizzed at the dinner table gave Loki a moment’s pause. He had always thought Odin’s dinner time lectures about How the World Works™ were the worst. He’d been lectured so many times on how the world was out to get young omegas because they were weak. Everyone had to live with their own tribulations, though. Being a rich alpha made Tony’s life infinitely easier in some ways. In others, he supposed, it did not.

That was the point in the conversation when Abigail decided to make her presence known, by hurling a block with surprising strength at the giant window next to her. The clang reverberated throughout the room and she lay on the floor staring in shock, mouth open. For a moment, Loki was worried she had frightened herself. Then she squealed in delight and reached for another block.

Tony grinned at Loki. “What did I say? My kid, all the way.”

All Loki could do at that was smile indulgently at both of them, and move Abigail further away from the window. The last thing he needed was broken glass everywhere. She pouted, trying to continue throwing blocks at it, but to little effect. Her throwing arm wasn’t that strong.

“Why do I get the feeling this is going to be a new thing?” he asked, placing himself between the baby and the window.

“I dunno,” Tony grinned. “Maybe because she’s my kid, and you’ve met me?”

Abigail threw another block at the window and instead managed to hit Loki in the chest. Loki picked up the block, looked up at Tony, and nodded. “Definitely. I’d better quit now, to avoid whatever horror comes next.”

 

***

 

It had taken some convincing to get Tony to have a DNA test done at all, but eventually, his lawyer had insisted.

“In order to file an Order of Filiation, you need to have DNA proof that she’s your child, Mr. Stark.” The man was cleaning his glasses for the fourth time since he’d entered the penthouse. Loki assumed it was a way to keep himself from throttling his client.

“Why can’t I just say she’s mine?” Tony asked, all petulance and stubbornness.

“Because the mother isn’t available to corroborate that,” the man sighed. “And unless we get this paperwork started immediately, a judge is going to be inclined to wonder why you’ve had custody of the child for so long without any legal right to do so.”

Tony tensed, and for a moment Loki thought he was going to stand up. “No legal right? She’s mine!”

“Yes, I know that,” the man had barely put his glasses back on, but he pulled them back off and started scrubbing the lenses with his little cloth, so hard that Loki was worried he’d break them. “But, legally, until we file the order, she isn’t. And to file the order, I need a DNA test.”

It occurred to Loki then that some tiny part of Tony was afraid she wasn’t his. It was obvious that she was; she couldn’t have been more like her father if she’d been aware enough to try. But some corner of his psyche didn’t want to lose what he had, and there was always the tiniest sliver of a chance that everything they thought was wrong.

Loki picked up Abigail and went to sit on the couch next to her father. She seemed a little uncomfortable at the tension in the air, but then she recognized her father and her face immediately brightened. She threw out her arms, a silent demand to be held by one of her favorite people, and followed up with a decisive, “Da!”

It was the equivalent of her first word, though she didn’t really mean anything by it yet. On the other hand, Loki could use the immediate emotional reaction to soothe Tony. “See, even she knows where she belongs,” he grinned. Then he leaned in and whispered. “Maxine was a good woman, Tony. Trust her. Everything will be fine.”

They locked eyes for a moment before Tony slumped and nodded, holding his daughter even closer. “Okay,” he mumbled almost unintelligibly.

 

Tony and Loki and baby makes...

 

The lawyer spoke up again. “Excellent. We’ll get that started and apply for legal guardianship, which we can then convert to permanent custody. Given the resources at our disposal, I don’t doubt this can be taken care of quickly and painlessly.”

Loki snorted. “Of course. If you were someone who didn’t have millions of dollars it wouldn’t work that way, but money makes everything quick and painless.”

Tony smiled up at him. “Well, it’s gotta be good for something, right?"

Loki returned with a sly smile and asked, “What, not for buying her a bunch of horribly disappointing things?”

“I dunno, I’ll bet she finds me a huge disappointment when she’s a teenager,” Tony said, and leaned in, letting his head fall onto Loki’s shoulder. “It’s not like I know what I’m doing.”

It was so natural and yet so jarring, Tony resting his head there like he did it every day. Odin’s voice threatened to bubble up and say something nasty about Loki’s omega nature, but he mentally pounded it back down. Instead of worrying, he brought his arm up and wrapped it around Tony’s shoulder, brushing his fingers across Abigail’s cheek. “It’s okay. She won’t know what she’s doing, either.”

The lawyer gave Loki a thankful smile and held out a stack of papers. “I just need a signature here, to allow the test.”

Tony didn’t say anything, he just sighed heavily, pulled one hand away from Abby’s back, and signed the page.

 

***

 

The semester seemed to fly by, and as it did, Loki got busier and Tony always seemed there to pick up the slack. When he had to study for midterms, Tony somehow had a week away from work and didn’t need him there. Admittedly, he ended up spending half of his time sitting on the couch in the penthouse studying while Tony took care of Abigail a few feet away—just in case—but he still had all the time he needed for studying.

Still, he worried when time for finals arrived. It wasn’t as though Tony had any reason to keep him around, when anyone could take care of Abigail. Neither she nor her father were difficult to deal with, and the job paid more than such a position would anywhere else. Loki had actually been able to cancel his student loans for the term altogether and pay for his classes outright. That wasn’t something a man in medical school could expect to do.

Instead of being harassed to help with Abigail during finals week, Loki found even more support from Tony than he’d ever gotten before in his life.

He got the call at five, just after he arrived home from his day’s testing; it was Tony asking him to come up.

He had another test the next afternoon, Anatomy and Physiology, a test he wasn’t looking forward to. He knew that he should be spending every waking moment studying, but if he had to open his textbook again, he was worried that it would make him cry.

So Tony asking him upstairs, while a terrible idea, sounded like a balm to his exhausted soul. Seeing Abigail and Tony, maybe eating some dinner, not staring blankly at page after page of charts… it sounded like heaven.

Even better, when he stepped off the elevator, the first thing he noticed was the smell of Pad Thai. Also, that likely meant there were spring rolls to be had.

He found Bruce and Tony sitting on the couches in the main living area, trading Abby back and forth so that they could eat.

“Hey, Loki!” Tony grinned at him as he slid a spoon out of his mouth and dipped it back into a bowl of soup. “First exam today?”

Loki nodded.

“Don’t tell us how it went unless you’re absolutely certain you got an A,” Bruce interrupted. “No reason to worry about something you can’t control anymore.”

Tony nodded at the sage advice. “So… ‘nother one tomorrow?” he asked, before taking another spoonful of soup.

“A&P,” Loki agreed, and both men groaned. A little surprised, he cocked his head. “You’ve taken anatomy classes?”

They nodded in unison, then looked at each other in slight surprise.

“I thought about getting an MD,” Bruce explains. “After… I—it’s kind of hard for me to find work in my field these days. So I thought about getting the MD and joining Doctors Without Borders, just taking off and helping people.”

Tony looks a little surprised at that, but nods in comprehension. “Makes sense, I guess. But SI wouldn’t be the same without that giant brain of yours, B. And you’ll always have a job here, if only because I can’t fire people for shit.”

Bruce rolled his eyes and looked at Tony expectantly. When nothing was forthcoming, he prodded. “You? A&P?”

Tony shrugged. “It’s a science class,” he said, but from the shifty way his eyes avoided everyone else’s, including Abigail, it was obvious that there was something else to it. It only took Bruce handing him his daughter, and her giant liquid brown eyes staring up at him, to make him break. “I considered going med for a while. Thought it would piss Howard off.”

Bruce burst into laughter, but for Loki, it hit a little close to home. “You didn’t think he’d have approved of you being a doctor?”

Tony rolled his eyes. “You know how your dad thinks Psychiatry is a soft science? My dad thought medicine was a soft science.”

Bruce, who had been in the middle of grabbing a fork, dropped the utensil back on the coffee table. “You’re joking. Tell me you’re joking.” He and Tony shared a look that said it all. He wasn’t joking.

Loki sat heavily in a plush armchair across from the two of them and sighed. “So I’m just going to be a sad imitation of a real scientist, is what you’re saying?”

Tony smiled wryly. “Dad always said that those who can, move humanity forward, while those who can’t, learn rote skills like how to hand out antibiotics to idiots who don’t use condoms. He was kind of an asshole. Obviously.”

Loki sighed again. “Odin says that the only people who become psychiatrists are people who have gone through a real education in medicine and then decide they can’t handle it.” He paused a moment, staring out the window. “It was as though he thought that me not wanting to be a cardiac surgeon meant that I’m afraid of blood. He probably believes that I am. Just an omega, after all.” The last trailed off into a whisper.

He didn’t like to point things like that out; didn’t like to draw attention to the fact that he knew there was a deficit in gender dynamic relations. It was usually the best way to get himself labeled a hysterical omega, or a genderist shrew. As though asking for equality made him hysterical or unreasonable.

He was so lost in his thoughts that it took a moment for him to realize that the room had gone quiet. Damn. Of course he offended—

He looked up to find Tony and Bruce looking at him in shock.

“What?” he asked, a little defensive.

“Yo-your father,” Bruce stuttered. “Your father thinks that you don’t want to be a surgeon because you’re an omega and therefore afraid of blood?”

Loki shrugged. “Odin thinks that my every failing is because of my gender. Omegas aren’t as smart, or as strong, or as strong-willed. I’m not even sure anymore.”

Tony handed Abigail back to Bruce, who automatically put down his fork and took the baby.  Walking around the table, he knelt down in front of Loki, grabbed his hand, and squeezed. “You know that’s utter bullshit, right?”

“I—think so?” Loki tried to say the words, but somehow they came out more as a question.

Tony shook his head. “No. You know so. Because you’re as smart as the people in this room, which makes you way the hell smarter than some asshole who thinks that not being a surgeon is a failing.” Throwing his head back, he groaned at the room in general. “God, are all dads horrible?”

Loki smiled softly at that. “Now, that’s a question I have a definitive answer for. I know at least one father who isn’t horrible at all.”

Tony blushed, but for just a moment, he squeezed Loki’s hand even tighter. Then he seemed to realize what he was doing, and pulled back. “Sorry. I just… whatever that asshole said, every word was wrong. You’re so much better than that.” He stood slowly, and went back to his place on the couch, picking his soup back up.

It was quiet for a moment before Loki decided to intervene. “So, did you get enough Thai for everyone, or do I have to quit?”

 

***

 

It was over Christmas break that things changed for the… stranger.

Loki had taken Abigail for a morning stroll through the park, stopped at a grocery store to pick up more pureed fruit for her lunch, and then gone back to the tower, only to be ambushed by Happy on the way in.

“Thank goodness, we were getting worried,” the man said, ushering Loki toward the private elevator as fast as they could move.

Loki, after getting the stroller into the elevator, turned to look at the other man. “Has something happened? No one in the park or the shop said anything. I did catch some jackass trying to take a picture of Abigail, but I stopped him.”

Happy scowled at that, and nodded. “That’s not a surprise. I suspect it’s going to be a bigger problem from now on. Is your phone off?”

Pulling his phone out of his pocket, Loki found that he had forgotten to turn the ringer back on when he got up in the morning. Oops. There were three missed calls from Tony, as well as a text that said “come home asap, don’t talk to anyone. Please.”

That didn’t sound ominous at all…

When they arrived at the penthouse, the first thing Loki heard was the television on the wall blaring one of the annoying twenty-four-hour news channels. Before he could gather his wits to ask that it be turned down, he heard something that caught his attention.

“—not clear yet whether this mysterious omega is the carrier of Mr. Stark’s child, but if he is, this would certainly be an unusual development in Mr. Stark’s habits—”

Some smarmy blonde pundit with fake boobs, who Loki recognized from Odin’s favorite Fox news shows, broke in with a nasty, “Yes, it would. I always thought Stark had good taste.”

The anchor, who looked less than impressed with having to report on Tony’s love life at all, rolled her eyes openly. “I’m sure the young omega whose life is currently being turned upside down would agree that his looks are the most important part of this discussion.”

The blonde shrugged. “I’m just saying, the Bible—”

“Has nothing to do with the discussion of the day,” interrupted an older man. “And while I’d be happy to point out that the omega is as attractive as any I’ve ever seen, I think the point is what this means to the future of Stark Industries. Does Tony Stark really have a mate and child, and how do they fit into the future of this company?”

The anchor nodded and started talking about stock numbers, but Loki wasn’t processing any of it.

Him. They were talking about him. They thought he was the carrier of Tony’s child, and were debating—what, his looks? His primary gender classification? He sat down on the nearest piece of furniture and stared blankly at the television, despite the fact that it had moved on to a commercial about car insurance.

A moment later, he felt the cushion beside him dip. “Loki?”

Tony’s voice was oddly soothing. He wasn’t apologizing, or offering retribution, or angry, or any of a dozen other aggressive emotions he could have been. He was concerned.

“I suppose this is why you offered me so much money?” he asked, trying to regulate his breathing and failing horribly. Every time he let a word loose, his lungs tried to draw air back in, and it sounded like he was about to start either sobbing or hyperventilating. Neither would have surprised him.

He’d spent the morning wandering around New York with Abby, completely unprotected, while his face was being plastered all over the news. That man with the cell phone hadn’t just been creepy, he’d been trying to cash in on an innocent baby girl. Abigail had been in danger.

Tony’s arm had wrapped around him while his brain had been wrapped up in thoughts, and he found himself pulled tight against the man’s side. For possibly the first time in his life, he gave into the instinct to bury his face in an alpha’s neck and accept comfort.

Of course, Tony gave off strength and home and safety far more than Odin or even Thor ever had. It helped that Loki knew Tony’s comfort came without the previously inevitable speech about not showing weakness.

“I actually pay you so much for putting up with me,” Tony murmured in Loki’s ear. “I guess I’m going to have to start paying you more if I want you to put up with this.”

Loki snorted, and tried to pretend that his eyes weren’t at all wet as he leaned back. “Don’t want me to actually quit, is that it?”

Without a trace of the usual mirth on his face, Tony looked him in the eye and shook his head. “I don’t. But I won’t blame you if you do, Loki. This is more than anyone should have to deal with. Abby and I don’t have a choice, but you do.”

The earnest look on his face threw Loki off. His expression said he thought Loki was going to jump on the chance to get out, but there was not a drop of recrimination in his eyes.

How many times have you been abandoned? Loki wondered, but kept the thought to himself.

Instead, he gave Tony a faux-sly grin. “So, you’re saying I’m in a position to renegotiate my contract for better benefits?”

Bruce, who seemed to have become a fixture in the penthouse since Loki’s finals, came out of the kitchen bearing a tray full of mugs. “Tea,” he offered, holding the tray out to them both. “It always helps me relax.” The warm green and jasmine aroma drifting from the mugs was already making Loki feel better, possibly because it was making him think of lo mein and his first day in Tony’s office.

Tony took a mug too, but with his left hand, since the right arm was still wrapped around Loki. “Thanks, B.”

“There has to be a reason you keep me around, right?” Bruce grinned, his eyes twinkling with mirth.

“Yep,” Tony answered. “I keep you around for the tea. Also, you make a mean tandoori chicken.”

Bruce gave Tony an encouraging look then, and Loki knew it was something to do with the situation. He hoped dearly that it wasn’t worse. Tony squeezed Loki’s shoulder and shifted his feet uncomfortably for a moment. He bit his lip, opened his mouth, then shut it and bit his lip again.

Bruce gave him a light kick, and he glared up for a moment. “Fine!” he growled, then turned to look up at Loki. “I, um, I have an idea of what might help with this mess.”

“Help?” Loki asked. “Oh, please tell me you’re not going to try to sell me some ridiculous romcom plot where I pretend to be Abigail’s mother.”

Tony moves his hand with the mug in it as though to hold it up in supplication, and barely manages to avoid dropping it on the carpet. “Nothing like that, I swear! It’s just that Abigail only goes out with either you or me, so there’s not a lot of point in giving her her own bodyguard. But you… you go to school all the time, and don’t have any protection.”

Everyone went quiet, giving Loki a chance to process what had been said. “You… want to give me a bodyguard?” he asked, somewhat incredulous.

Tony sighed. “The last time I tried to date a girl, she got harassed. And not just by the press, but by business rivals, other women who thought they should be dating me instead of her, complete strangers who thought that my morality was reflected in her…”

“Dated?” Loki asked, his voice pitching high and his eyebrows climbing his forehead.

“No! I mean, not like that, or as such, or… no.” Tony sighed the sigh of a defeated man. “What I’m saying is that even if I tell everyone you’re only Abby’s caretaker, it’s going to be awkward for you. And I don’t even want to tell them that much. It’s none of their damn business. A bodyguard can deter at least some of the crazy.”

“Are you planning to keep Abby a secret?” Loki asked, not sure what answer he would prefer. Keeping her a secret protected her, but it also sent a message that he was ashamed of her.

Tony shook his head adamantly. “No way. Abigail’s mine, and I want everyone who meets her to know it.”

Later, Loki would realize that was the moment that the war had been lost. There was no longer any chance of him emerging from it unscathed. Tony Stark was just too loveable not to love.

 

***

 

“Mother?” Thor’s hesitant voice came from the living room.

Frigga rolled her eyes. He’d probably misplaced a tool again. One would think a professional contractor would keep better track of his hammers and whatnot. “Yes, dear?”

“I think you should come see this,” he answered, his voice still a little soft and… surprised? That was new.

She rinsed her hands of baking flour and headed out to the living room where she found her elder son staring in shock at the television. On the screen was grainy footage of… her younger son? And a baby?

Oh no, that wasn’t possible. Not even a bit. She’d seen Loki just six months earlier, and he hadn’t been pregnant. Or if he had, it had been early stages. And if he’d had a baby, it would be considerably smaller than that one. That baby was at least six months old.

Still. It was her baby, holding a baby.

After a moment, she forced herself to pay attention to the newscaster droning on in the background. Something about… illegitimate children with unknown omegas, and disgrace to the Stark name, and… Stark?

Frigga sat back on the sofa and let the whole situation sink in. Loki with a baby, who was apparently Tony Stark’s. Tony Stark, infamous playboy who slept with anything. Now, she might know that the baby wasn’t Loki’s, but if there was one thing that could be counted on, it was that Odin wouldn’t understand at—

“FRIGGA!” her husband yelled, and the door slammed behind him so loudly that she was worried it might have broken.

Not only not understanding, she thought, but home in the middle of the day and angry.

“Have you seen what that omega has done?” he continued at too high a volume, even as he entered the room where they were sitting.

Thor turned toward his father, looking a little confused. “You mean Loki?” he asked, as though it wasn’t obvious.

“What other omega could I mean?” Odin thundered. “Is there another omega besmirching this family’s good name by having a child out of wedlock with some rich playboy?”

Thor cocked his head, but didn’t answer.

Frigga was pretty sure that her face looked like she’d been sucking on lemons, but she wasn’t particularly interested in changing it to suit her husband’s wishes. “That omega is your son, and don’t you dare even imply otherwise. I have legal documentation signed by you saying so.”

Odin glowered, but for once in his life, he didn’t say anything.

“Your son has also not had a child,” she continued, “no matter what foolish conclusions you are willing to jump to.” He opened his mouth to interrupt, but she cut him off. “I know our son, and I know he hasn’t had a baby. And, husband mine, even if he had, I’m ashamed of you for acting as though that would be something disgraceful.”

By the time she paused for breath again, both her son and husband were staring at her open-mouthed.

It was about time, she thought to herself. She hadn’t argued when Odin had pressured Loki into going to Johns-Hopkins instead of following his own dreams. She hadn’t argued when Odin had cut off his own contact with Loki, though it had made her heartsick. It was about time she started doing something to protect her baby boy.

She smiled at them, her very sweetest smile. “Now then. I am going to visit my baby boy over the summer this year,” she informed her husband and elder son. She thought that would give her baby time to deal with the media mess he was going through. She also didn’t want to drop in unannounced. “I would like both of you to come with me, provided you believe you can be civil.”

And so Frigga made plans.

 

***

 

In January, Tony was granted permanent custody of Abigail, and since the court documents were open to the public, the media frenzy was inevitable. Somehow, someone found Loki’s cell phone number, so he started getting calls day and night.

At three in the morning the day before classes started, he answered his phone, assuming it was Tony with a baby-related emergency, only to be inundated with questions.

“Wait,” Loki said, his sleep-addled brain struggling to catch up with the rapid fire inquisition happening in his ear. It took him only a moment to realize that they knew who he was, and were asking information about Tony, Abigail, and his relationship with them. His first instinct was to get angry, but he tamped it down. His second instinct was to hang up. He decided to go with that one.

The number called back a moment later, so Loki blocked it. That was followed by another call, from an unidentified called. After ten minutes of incessant ringing, Loki turned his phone off and went back to bed. He dreamed of strange alphas with phones held out, chasing him and Abigail down the street yelling obscenities about his relationship with her father.

He wasn’t sure that he wanted to, but in the morning, he decided that he had to broach the subject with Tony. He needed to be able to turn his phone on, after all, and when he’d tried that morning, he had found more than twenty missed calls, and he hadn’t even bothered listening to the messages.

Abigail was happily eating her mush, and she got more of it into her stomach than down the front of her shirt regularly, a fact for which Loki was quite proud of her. Loki was in the middle of wiping her face when an unusually quiet Tony sat down in a chair next to him.

“Are you okay?” Tony asked. “You seem off this morning.”

Somehow, Loki wasn’t surprised. He suspected that Tony knew him better than anyone else alive, including his own family after only six months of having known each other. Loki decided to go with the truth, since Tony always seemed willing to do the same for him.

“Someone found my phone number last night,” he admitted. He pulled the phone, once again turned off, out of his pocket and handed it to Tony. “I wasn’t sure what to do. I just hung up and didn’t answer again.”

Tony’s jaw set in a level of anger Loki hadn’t previously seen on him, and the tiny part of him that wanted nothing more than to be protected from the whole mess preened. “I see,” Tony ground out. “I’ll take care of that. We’ll get you a new number. Just… stay in today, and I’ll have it taken care of by this evening.”

Despite the bodyguard that Tony had assigned to follow Loki and Abigail around when they went out, Loki ended up staying in more often than not since the news had broken, so that was fine with him. Happy assured him that the press would find a new target soon, and Loki and Abigail would be back to strolls in central park in no time, albeit still with a permanent bodyguard.

It didn’t bother Loki as much as he had expected it to; he had always thought that being any kind of celebrity would be horrible, with paparazzi following him everywhere and asking him questions he didn’t want to answer. The truth was a little less dramatic. Every now and then someone would make themselves known and start trying to take pictures. The bodyguard shut them down pretty quickly, Loki and Abby relocated, and it was over. Only a very few of them made real nuisances of themselves.

Still, Loki had decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and stayed home most days. Abigail didn’t much care, as long as she had something to look at or something to play with. (i.e. break)

By the end of that day, Tony had gotten Loki a new phone with a new number, and had a press conference saying that any press outlet buying photos or printing information gained by harassing his friends and employees would no longer be getting information directly from SI, nor would they be welcome at his future press conferences. Naturally, there were complaints about Tony being unreasonable and trying to curtail freedom of the press, but the net result was that Loki’s life got a lot quieter very quickly.

The spring semester started with a bang, as all of Loki’s fellow students now recognized him as ‘the guy with Tony Stark’s baby’. Despite the fact that Maxine’s existence and Abigail’s maternity were public knowledge, people seemed to believe that Loki was actually the baby’s mother.

Fortunately, Loki had realized that his initial response to the three am caller was the right one. When someone started talking about things they didn’t know, or asking questions that were none of their business, he ignored it. It worked quite nicely, and had the added bonus of cementing his reputation as ‘the ice queen’. No alpha wanted an omega who went around smelling of someone else’s baby and didn’t deign to talk to him.

Of course, the drama had distracted Loki from everything but itself, so when he went looking for his next pack of birth control pills and found that they were literally his last on his current prescription—meaning that when he finished them, he was due for his yearly heat—he was astonished. Surely it hadn’t been a year?

Why was the stupid heat even a requirement? Loki was studying to be a doctor, he was well aware that the one week off the pills to have a ‘cleansing heat’ every year was medically unnecessary. It had always felt like a way for the misogynists to control an omega just a little bit, since so much of that control have been wrested from them when O’s had gotten the vote, and the right to birth control. One year he had even tried to convince a doctor that he’d lost his last pack, so he could just keep taking them, but the doctor had been unsympathetic.

Well,” he’d said, “You’ll just have to have your heat a little early, then. We can’t take a chance on controlled substances like this being abused. Really, they’re just a crutch anyway, not meant for long term use.”

Loki had only barely refrained from hitting the man. Smug controlling bastard.

Anyway, the point was: Loki was going to have his heat. Unfortunately. Also, he was going to have to inform the only man he’d considered in the context of his heat about it, because he wasn’t going to be in any shape to take care of Abby that week.

Once again, he went to work in the morning filled with dread. That in and of itself wasn’t unusual. He’d always dreaded going in to fry potatoes and flip burgers. He just wasn’t used to dreading Abigail and Tony.

This time, it didn’t even take Tony till breakfast to see that something was wrong. He was coming out of his bedroom, tying his tie when Loki came out of the elevator. Loki found his eyes lingering on first Tony, then the door of the bedroom he’d just come out of. He wondered, for just a second, what Tony would say if he asked for help in… erm… dealing with his upcoming heat.

That was silly, though. Someone had to take care of Abigail.

Bruce could watch her, a sly voice in Loki’s brain offered. And then you could spend five days with a man who definitely knows how to please someone in bed.

Loki shook his head to clear that pipe dream. He’d like it, certainly, but he wasn’t sure he even wanted it. It would complicate their relationship to the point of putting a strain on things, and Loki liked what they already had a lot. He liked Tony, and Abigail, and Bruce, and Happy, and just the thought of losing them because of something as superficial as sex was incomprehensible.

He gave a weak smile when Tony noticed him looking toward the bedroom. “Sorry, distracted.”

Tony raised an eyebrow. “Everything okay? If you need the day off, I’m sure Bruce or Happy would be more than willing—”

“No!” Loki said with a bit more vehemence than intended. “I’m fine for today. It’s just that…” he looked over to where Abigail had been playing on the floor, but was watching her Daddy and Loki instead. Expecting someone to feed her, no doubt.

So without finishing the sentence, Loki went over to the kitchen and started to mix the ‘cereal’ for her breakfast. He wondered, offhand, if maybe he should be putting something that looked a little less like glue into her standard breakfast.

It didn’t take long for Tony to come over to stand beside him. “You gonna talk to me, or you want me to guess? I’d ask if I drunk dialed you, but I haven’t had a drink in…” Tony broke off, looking surprised. “Um, a while.”

Loki snorted. “Well yes. You have better things to do than waste your time getting liquored up. You have a baby who needs you.”

Tony leaned against the counter next to Loki for a moment, then nodded. Not to be completely deterred, though, he sighed. “So. Why do you look like someone is about to make you eat that bowl of ectoplasm for breakfast?”

“Ectoplasm?” Loki asked, brow raised.

Tony grinned. “The only other comparison that came to mind wasn’t appropriate for little ears.”

Loki stifled laughter and shook his head. “I’m sure this tastes much worse.”

That widened Tony’s grin even further. “Really? Don’t think I’ve ever heard it put like that before. You know…" He broke off, eyes widening. "Jesus, what am I doing? I’m sorry, Loki, ignore me. I don’t know what the hell I could possibly be—”

“I’m going to go into heat,” Loki blurted out, trying to salvage the conversation by somehow making it even worse.

Tony froze. “Like, now? Today?”

Loki sighed and shook his head. “Next week.” Today might have made things easier. He could convince Tony that he couldn’t control it, and so very desperately needed… no. Not that, not ever that. Manipulating someone with a faked need for sex made one practically a date rapist, and that was a group Loki was not interested in joining.

The odd thing was how many alphas believed it. How omegas in heat were completely incapable of controlling themselves. An excuse for poor behavior, Loki supposed. The alpha hierarchy had always come up with specious reasons why omegas were incapable of being equal to their alpha counterparts. O’s were nurturing, so they should stay home with kids. They weren’t physically strong, so they shouldn’t be soldiers. They were smaller, so they needed to be protected, even if they didn’t want it. And all the while, they were expected to be grateful for the oppression.

The worst part was that some of them were.

Loki realized that there had been moments of silence between them, and looked at Tony, worried that his internal rant had been playing across his face. Tony was in the middle of his own thought process, though, as shown by the rapid-fire facial expressions that flitted across his face, ranging from mild annoyance to dreamy happiness.

Oh.

Did that mean that Tony was entertaining the same stupid ideas he was?

Tony shook himself out of his own reverie, and looked to Loki. “So, you’re going to need a week off?”

Loki nodded, sighing. “I suppose.”

Cocking his head, Tony leaned in. With anyone else, or even just the man everyone else thought Tony was, Loki would have been expecting a ridiculous come-on. From Tony, it didn’t surprise him to hear, “Is there something else? Somewhere you need to go for it, or… someone,” Tony paused to take a deep breath, and Loki thought he heard him counting under his breath. “Someone you want us to take you to?”

“A doctor who would give me some birth control pills for the gap would be nice,” Loki said bitterly, opting to ignore the leap in his stomach at the notion that Tony was jealous of the idea of him spending a week having sex with someone else.

Tony pulled back a bit. “For the gap? You mean like, and not have a heat? Isn’t that dangerous?”

Loki rolled his eyes. “As much as the medical community would like us to think so, no. And the heats caused by the break in the pills? Isn’t even a real heat. You can’t get pregnant during it. No egg is released. It’s just a nineteen fifties-esque way to maintain a semblance of what the medical community thinks is normal. They think that omegas should go into heat, so they force them to, even if it’s not natural or necessary.”

Tony leaned back and stared at Loki for a long moment, and Loki was afraid he’d crossed a line. The man’s eyes whipped back and forth, almost looking like he was reading words on a page, and then his mouth fell open. “Jesus. You’re… that’s true. I mean of course it’s true, but… it’s ridiculous!”

Loki tried to offer up his best ‘bitch please’ look. He thought it was pretty good.

Tony wasn’t paying much attention to that, though, he just went on. “So modern medicine still thinks original sin is a thing, and omegas should be punished by having to live through a regular heat.”

Loki had discussed the subject with other omegas before, and it had been accompanied by a lot of ‘preaching to the choir here,’ comments. On the unusual occasion he’d tried to bring it up outside that tiny group of educated omegas, he’d been immediately shot down with ‘but you’re not a doctor, and you don’t specialize in that, so you don’t know.’ As though he hadn’t researched it to death.

Tony, on the other hand, looked downright angry. Not at Loki, but on his behalf.

Unsure of what else to do, he finished making Abigail’s mush and went to feed her. A minute in, Tony turned to grab his coat and wallet, despite it being one of his days off. “I’ll be back later,” he called as he climbed into the elevator.

Instead, two hours after, Happy showed up and said that he’d been asked to bring Loki and Abigail with him. When pressed, he said they were going to the doctor.

Indeed, upon arrival, he found that they were at an obgyn. Not a doctor for Abby, then.

Loki was quickly bundled into the back, Happy happily taking Abigail to hold while staying in the waiting room, and Tony and a nurse ushering Loki back into an exam room. Loki was introduced to the doctor, a kind woman who looked at Tony like he was an interesting lab specimen. Between a lot of awkward conversation and Tony practically begging to be allowed out, they agreed that Tony could go wait with Happy and Abigail.

One he was gone, she skipped right to brass tacks. “You want to skip your heat completely?”

Loki nodded, not seeing a reason to pretend otherwise.

She nodded and started typing something on her tablet. “I recommend having one every three to four years, but as long as you’re in good health and not having adverse affects from the drugs, I see no reason you should be forced to have a heat.”

Loki blinked. He had never heard anything like that out of a doctor’s mouth before in his life. He kind of wanted to have this doctor’s babies. Sadly, she smelled of beta, so that was entirely impractical.

After a moment, she looked up from her tablet and nodded. “I’ve imported your medical files, and it looks like you’re in excellent shape. Recovered from the accident nicely?” When he nodded, she continued on briskly. “I don’t see anything here that labels you a risk for blood clots or the like. Smoker?” He shook his head. “Good. I’ll send this over to the pharmacy, and you should be able to get it this afternoon. Or rather, knowing Stark, he’ll have it delivered to you this afternoon.”

Loki let his mouth fall open as he gaped for a moment. “That’s… it?”

She shrugged. I don’t know who you were seeing before, but we don’t do things that way in this office. Your body, your choice, and you’re not even making an unhealthy one. Good for you. The only thing I can’t help you with is the fact that the press is going to make something of him bringing you here. Given the way he looked at you, and well, the fact that he brought you here, maybe that’s not so important.”

He hadn’t ever found himself at such a loss in a conversation before, so he just nodded again, his mind drifting to the fact that Tony has decided Loki was being mistreated, so he fixed it. He didn’t do it by taking Loki’s own agency away, he just… gave him an option that fit with what Loki wanted.

Dammit.

Loki loved that incredible, arrogant, beautiful asshole.

 

***

 

It wasn’t too surprising, then, that not three days later, the story of the week had become about Tony buying birth control for his mistress/baby mamma/whatever the hell they thought Loki was. Loki, honestly, couldn’t find it in himself to care. He didn’t have to have his heat, and Tony had proven that he cared not just about Loki, but about his rights as a fellow human being.

On the Saturday morning just after that, Loki came back from his afternoon walk with Abigail to find a gorgeous redhead sitting in the living area of the penthouse. Sometimes, Loki wondered if, when he came into Tony’s life, he had walked into some kind of CW show, where everyone was just more attractive than normal people, but no one ever mentioned it.

Initially, he assumed that the woman was waiting for Tony but, when she saw him come in, she smiled brightly and stood. “Loki Burison, right?”

He nodded, still kneeling down to unstrap Abigail—and finding that he didn’t need to, since the little minx had already undone her own straps. Fine motor control like that at eight months, totally not normal. He gave her an unimpressed (but slightly impressed) glare and pulled her out to set her down on her playmat. She giggled wickedly, reminding Loki of her father.

“And you, Miss...?” Loki asked her, trying to be polite and move things along at the same time.

“Natalie. I’m in the legal department, but you’re not in any kind of trouble,” she answered. “In fact, I’m here to ask for your guidance on how to move forward in some matters.”

Loki couldn’t hide his surprise, but he nodded to her. “Well then, by all means, do go on.”

“I’m here for two reasons,” she told him. “I think you’ll like one, and… well, if I were you, I wouldn’t be too impressed with the other.”

“Definitely give me the bad one first, then,” he requested.

“Your parents have contacted SI, and want to come see you over the summer,” she said with a dubious look on her face. “They were informed that we would get you the information, but that if you wanted to see them, it seemed likely that you would have given them your contact information.”

Loki couldn’t hide a smirk at that. It was true. And he was sure that ‘his family’ as a whole didn’t want to see him. Frigga might, but Thor wouldn’t care and he suspected that, after the recent media coverage, Odin was considering disowning him. Still, it might be nice to see Frigga.

“If it’s my mother, Frigga Burison, you can give her my information and let her come visit,” he conceded.

“And if she wants to bring people?” Natalie asked, already efficiently tapping away on a tablet.

“I suppose,” Loki answered dubiously. “I doubt they’ll come, but it would be rude to turn away my father and brother.”

Natalie shrugged. “I’d turn away the Pope if you said you didn’t want to see him. Your call entirely.”

Loki grinned. “For now, let’s say yes. That doesn’t preclude me having one of them thrown out, does it?”

Looking up from her tablet, Natalie smirked. “If one of them pisses off Mr. Stark, or Doctor Banner, or Mr. Hogan, or your bodyguard, or me… Well, you won’t have to ask.”

It was probably odd, but the whole conversation made Loki feel safe. Also, in a tiny boarded up corner of his brain that was labeled ‘DO NOT LOOK IN HERE!’, he was even starting to feel loved.

“And the second thing?” he asked.

“Ah, that would be one of your run-of-the-mill alt-right fundamentalists. He declared that you, personally, are the symbol of the downfall of morality in the country,” she said. Loki’s heart sunk, and he wondered how this could possibly be a good thing. “And he suggested that someone should do away with you, to protect us all from ‘God’s wrath’.”

Loki paused for a long moment. “And this is the one I’ll like?”

She grinned, and it reminded him of a shark. “Oh, yes. Because he actually made a verifiable threat, and I’d like permission to sue the pants off of him, on your behalf.”

Loki paused at that idea. He actually… Well, his life was in danger, so that was bad. But getting one of those crazed people who regularly suggested that their neo-nazi supporters kill people in trouble? Well, that was just… “Yes,” he said, not needing to further consider it. Although… “Could we not involve pants, though? I’d like him to keep those. No one wants to see him at all, let alone without them.”

She laughed at that, and promised to remove pants from the list of things they were suing for.

Meanwhile, Loki’s bodyguard detail was increased.

 

***

 

Right after exam week, when Loki was dreaming of a nice long nap and lounging around catching up with the television he had missed during the semester, was when his family showed up. He had known they were going to visit, and that there was little he could do to control it (other than just saying "absolutely no visiting"), but he wished that they had given him a little time after the semester ended.

No, though. He woke up at seven thirty on Friday morning to Happy knocking on his door, looking apologetic. “Sorry, Loki. Tony told me to let you sleep, but I think if we leave them alone for too long, Tony might seriously harm your father. They, um, don’t… see eye to eye.”

Loki raised an eyebrow, despite the discomfort that caused in his sleep-dry eyes. “They don’t see eye to eye?”

Happy frowned, an odd expression that Loki wasn’t used to seeing on the man’s face. “Your father implied that Tony made you drop out of school to become his mistress.”

Loki let his head fall back against the doorjamb. Only Odin could come up with something so ridiculous. “Okay. I’m going to dress, and I’ll be right up.”

Happy nodded and turned to go, but looked back at Loki for a moment. “Loki? Could you um…”

“Hurry?” Loki asked. “Don’t worry. I don’t want Tony in a justifiable homicide case either, even if he is almost certain to get off easy.”

Some of the tension went out of Happy’s shoulders as he headed for the elevator.

Loki went to his closet and immediately started picking out proper modest clothes that Odin would approve of, and realized after a second that he didn’t have many of those left. Then he realized that was because he didn’t like them, and his wardrobe had changed to match his tastes.

He nodded, went over to his dresser, and pulled out a pair of yoga pants and a Columbia t-shirt. He wasn’t here to impress Odin. Odin was here by his hospitality (okay, Tony’s hospitality), and he could live with whatever Loki wanted to wear.

As such, he followed Happy up after only a few minutes, and ended up being glad that he had.

“—saying you have the right to take advantage of an innocent omega, make him drop out of school to care for your illegitimate spawn?” Odin’s voice was as bombastic and grating as ever. The worst part was that he obviously thought he was defending Loki.

Defending Loki by implying that he was less than a person, unable to make his own decisions and care for himself. Interestingly, Tony wasn’t defending himself. He wasn’t responding. He looked a little like he wanted to kick Odin, but he hadn’t said a word.

A softer voice was speaking under Odin, of course, as Frigga always did. “Now dear, think of your blood pressure. I’m sure Mr. Stark doesn’t mean any harm—”

“Which, of course, means that Mr. Stark hasn’t done any harm,” Loki broke into the mess he called a family reunion. At least he could do it with a bang. He turned to Tony. “Has Abby eaten yet?”

Tony nodded. “Bruce took her out on the balcony, since the screeching was making her cry.”

Odin looked like he was winding up for another round of screeching, probably aimed at the fact that it was being called screeching, so Loki decided to intervene.

“Well then, since everyone has met, no one has communicated anything, and baby Abigail’s morning has been thrown completely off schedule, I’d say we’re on a standard family visit script."

And with that, as Loki had hoped, Odin’s ire is turned to him. “I should have known you’d find this funny. You drop out of school—”

“No one has dropped out of school,” Loki interrupted without a second thought; something he never would have done a year earlier.

Frigga perked up. “You’re still on track to become a… um…”

“Psychiatrist, mother,” Loki agreed. “I carried a 4.0 GPA for my first two semesters, and expect to do better next year, since I’m done with a few of the harder classes.”

“You cancelled your loans,” Odin cuts in, still certain that he’s right.

Loki smiles. “Mr. Stark is paying me enough to cover my tuition. I didn’t need them.”

The room goes quiet for a moment, and Loki takes a deep breath. “Now, if everyone would sit down, I’d love to tell the story about how I ended up on the bus next to a wonderful girl named Maxine…”

 

***

Tony came home with a bounce in his step the night he knew the Burison family would have finally vacated his penthouse once and for all. Well, maybe not "for all", since they’d probably be back on the holidays, but he wasn’t going to focus on that.

When he stepped off the elevator, though, he immediately knew something was different. There was no Loki feeding Abigail pureed lima beans. No Bruce worrying over his latest project specs. The penthouse was quiet, and… not dark, but dim. There was a low light over the dining room table, and the lights in the kitchen were on. Also, there was a smell. Tomatoes. Basil. Oregano. Olive Oil.

Speed-walking around the edge of the bar so that he could see into the kitchen, Tony turned to find Loki in an apron that said “#1 best dad”, standing in front of a pot that smelled suspiciously like his mother’s tomato sauce. He looked up when Tony came into view, and his face changed from concentration to something softer, more… self conscious?

“Happy gave me the recipe,” he said. “He told me that you would like it.”

Leaning down, Loki pulled a pan out of the oven that had golden crusted chicken warming on it, and Tony almost died right then. “My mother’s chicken parm. You made my mother’s chicken parm.”

Loki smiled, a little shy, and it looked odd on his face. So Tony grinned at him.

Then he stopped.

Wait.

“Is this… a date?” he asked, hesitant to be the first person to name it such.

The tips of Loki’s ears flushed pink under the kitchen lights. “If… If you want it to be.”

“I, um, I don’t usually date employees. I tried it once, and it didn’t go so well.” Tony says, biting his lip. He wants it. He wants it to be a date so much, but he doesn’t want to lose Loki’s place in his family.

Loki just shrugs at his words. “Fine. I quit.”

Tony grins and leans across the counter, giving Loki the barest press of lips against his own. “You can’t quit. Who would pay for your tuition?”

“Well then, Mr. Stark,” Loki says with a twinkle in his eye. “I guess you’ll just have to marry me.”

Tony starts to open his mouth, but before he can even form words, Loki has slipped a spoonful of tomato sauce between his lips.

It’s better than when his mother made it.

Tony licks his lips clean. "I'll have a ring ready by tomorrow."