Author's Note: I have a horrible, horrible habit of getting obsessed with weird literary parody, especially in fanfic form. I've previously tortured GI Joe with Shakespeare and religion parodies, and now it's the Avengers' turn. Thor is a space Viking, and Vikings wrote sagas. Sagas are about heroes. The Avengers are heroes. It sort of spun out of control from there.
In a way, this one can actually be blamed on my father. He's the kind of guy who reads his kids the Canterbury Tales, and his favorite party trick is reciting the opening of "Beowulf" in Anglo-Saxon. If you want to know what that sounds like, go to Youtube and search "Beowulf performance"; Youtube user kochvision has the goods.
A note on terminology. In this story, I'm technically combining the definitions of "saga" and "epic poem." A saga would usually be in prose form, sort of like an edda, but what I'm basically doing here is calling an epic poem a saga. This is for a very simple reason: I freaking hate the word "epic" and its rampant misuse by the Internet, as well as the connotations it now carries. Blame me, not Thor, for the misuse.
This is part one of two. The next chapter will come in a couple of days, and "RSVP" will be updated by Friday.
Special thanks to my gorgeous, inspiring, and patient beta Ami Ree, who didn't bat an eye when I told her I was having Thor write a freaking poem.
Disclaimer: Thor Odinson, Bruce Banner, and all associated characters and concepts are property of Marvel Comics Inc, and I derive no profit from this. Please accept this in the spirit with which it is offered—as a work of respect and love, not an attempt to claim ownership or earn money from this intellectual property.
Thor Writes a Saga
by Totenkinder Madchen
"Awake! What, do you still sit
On the mead-benches, drinking away your years?
Or shall you be as strong as warriors of Midgard
Mortals who, though merest flesh and bone
Smote mightily the Chitauri forces of Loki Silvertongue
And won honor among the Nine Realms?
Cast off your sloth, my brothers, as Midgardians do!
Attend my tale, that ye too may cry in strength
'We have a Hulk!'"
Thor stopped. Frowned. Then, slowly, stabbed one finger down on the backspace key.
At least this time the thrice-blasted thing didn't break, which was a mercy. The Man of Iron, Tony Stark, had sworn that if he broke any more of the fragile items that passed for technology on Midgard, Thor himself would be learning to fly without his hammer. Tony's maiden, Pepper, had quietly assured him that she would have one of the many servants of Stark create a computer worthy of the strength of Thor—but for now, he had promised himself that he would learn the ways of Midgard, and that included using these boards of keys. Perhaps they would not break so often if he were having better success with his saga.
Of course, warriors and king's sons were not expected to write sagas. Thor Odinson was no mere skald, to make his living with his words instead of his deeds! Yet it was the only thing he could think of, the only possible way to redeem himself and make payment to his glorious friends. For Thor, prince of Asgard, was in the Avengers' debt.
His new comrades had proven themselves mightily, and welcomed him to this realm where he had once been exiled. Their gifts filled his chambers in Stark Tower, despite his protestations that he had no need of such things: "Trust me, Thor, you'll want it." "You gotta try this, Point Break." "What do you mean, 'we don't have mouthwash on Asgard?' Take it. Please."
And they had opened their strange world to him. Steve Rogers, the valiant Captain, especially seemed to enjoy showing Thor the wonders of the city of New York. He appeared to draw comfort from it, Thor had observed, for the city itself was a thing the soldier had loved so well in times past.
He must repay such kindness, and with the Midgardian winter festival fast approaching, it was time for Thor to give gifts equal in weight to that which they had offered him.
But for a long time, Thor hadn't known what those gifts might be. They were no servants of his, that he should present them with gold rings and bracelets. They were not the lovely Jane, who desired so to see the Bifrost and the other realms beyond it. They were not even—and a lump rose in his throat at the thought—his brother, whom he had once delighted with books of ancient magic.
And Tony had said that giving Asgardian technology to anyone close to SHIELD would be "handing a coke fiend a razor blade and a rolled-up Benjamin," whatever that meant.
So a saga it must be. In the months since the Battle of Manhattan, stories of the deeds of the Avengers had spread far and wide—through television, newspapers, and the invisible network of lies called the Internet, which Thor didn't trust. (Too inconstant. Too tricky. Too . . . Loki.) Most of the stories told were half-truths at best, the better to keep their mortal enemies from discovering their secrets. The battle-hardened Thor understood the value of surprise, but it seemed to him manifestly unjust that his valiant friends would never have their true tale sung in the houses and shopping malls of their people.
He would compose it now, and give it for them at Midwinter, that they might know they were honored. Then, if Nicholas Fury had no objection, he would send it to Asgard to be sung in the hall of his father. Finally, he would set it aside. When their lives had ended, as mortals' must, he would have the saga of the Avengers sent throughout the land to honor their ghosts.
Now if only the damnable thing wasn't so hard to write!
Groaning, Thor pushed the keyboard aside and rested his forehead against the cool surface of his desk. Perhaps he had misjudged the skalds; their verses stirred men's blood, while his stumbled and tripped over each other like yearling sheep. Even when he thought he'd hit on something, the words flowing neatly for once, he would read what he laboriously typed and discover that it was just a repetition of other sagas he had heard before. His work was . . . what had Natasha the Widow said, the night they had played the drinking game with the film concerning glittering ones who stared at sad women? Oh, yes. Cliché. It was not a word they used on Asgard, but from the way she had described it, Thor knew it was not something he wanted his saga to be.
Perhaps he should clear his head. It was a dank, rainy day, and lightning had already struck the tower three times: perfect weather for a flight across the city. Smiling, Thor called Mjolnir from its resting place by the Mr. Coffee and opened the window.
Stark Tower, now unofficially Avengers Tower, was a much different building now. Broad glass windows had been replaced with thick clear panes of something called . . . well, Thor wasn't sure what it was, but Tony had explained it was something he had designed himself, and would withstand a missile strike. Even better, the crown of the tower now sported defensible positions—a sound choice, in Thor's opinion. And, high at the top, a magnificent lightning rod.
Mjolnir whirred, and the demigod leaped out into the open air a hundred and twenty stories above the ground. The rain, a cold inconvenience to the mortals on the ground, was caught by the high winds around the tower's spire and tried to lash at him. He just laughed and accelerated. The wind rose up around him, recognizing its master, and the lightning flickered down from the sky to greet him.
With no effort at all, he landed on the small platform near the tip of the lightning rod. New York, the jewel of Midgard (or so Steve Rogers told him) lay stretched out before him, silver and black and gray in the rain where his home was golden and shining. Lights flickered in the other towers, the Sky-Scrapers (what a name! Worthy of a Sleipnir foal, it was), as the mortals went about their strange businesses in the waning hours of the overcast day. Far below, yellow taxis crawled like hard-shelled grannijorn beetles. Thor knew firsthand that if he were to descend from the heights, those taxis would turn out to be filled with small, angry Midgardians, who would teach him many new curses if he simply stood in their way long enough.
Steve Rogers discouraged such things, but Thor had seen him stifling a laugh once. His unfrozen guide-friend was not as stiff as he appeared, most often.
New York, Thor mused, was a part of the saga his people would never understand. It was contrary to everything that made the Shining Realms great: a city that was dirty, tangled, primitive, clinging to its technology and fearing the power of magic. Even the dwarves of Svartalfheim lived not in such a way, though their crafts often turned their skies black with smoke—for dwarves were craftsmen like no other, and their noisome work was to a purpose, rather than the seemingly random filth and chaos that the mortals seemed to favor. The people here lived small, insignificant lives, surrounded by machines that so many of them did not understand, governed not by magic or war but by pettiness and greed. If he was not careful, his father's hall would declare such people unworthy of being saved, let alone sung about. And Thor could not agree with that.
He must write well of their mightiness. He must. What listener should reject the wisdom of Tony Stark? The cunning and skill of the agents of SHIELD, the valor of Captain America, the strength of Bruce Banner . . .?
A small smile appeared on the thunder god's face. Bruce Banner! Yes, perhaps there was the answer to his riddle. Speech with the clever scientist would help him think—Bruce, after all, was the most Midgardian of all the Avengers. At the very least, it would give him a reason to leave the tower and see more of this city. Mayhap he could find that big apple Steve Rogers always talked about.
On the rare occasions that Bruce Banner left Avengers Tower, he tried to choose destinations where the one he called the Other Guy could do little damage. One of his favorite places—which Thor understood he wasn't supposed to know about, but JARVIS could tell no lies—was Central Park, a lush expanse of greenery populated mostly by squirrels, families, running people, and the purveyors of questionable Midgardian substances. (Those last tended to scatter when they saw Thor approaching: after he had been told of their strange chemicals' effects, he had made it his personal mission to reeducate any man found peddling them. He did not approve of herbs and crystals which robbed people of their free will.) Bruce seemed to enjoy the open spaces, because there were few things to make him angry and risk unleashing the formidable Hulk. And, of course, there were even fewer things that could be broken.
JARVIS informed Thor that Dr. Banner was, indeed, taking a day trip to Central Park. Thor thanked the magic voice and sped off across the sky, rain plastering his hair to his face. Thunder rumbled far above, calling to him, but he resisted the urge to soar higher: his saga must be finished, and it must be worthy of the Avengers. He would not be selfish.
After a moment's consideration, he landed some distance away from the park and hid Mjolnir in the backpack Steve Rogers had gifted to him. "New York's changed, but I don't think it's changed that much," his friend had said wryly, pointing at the mighty hammer. "And if you want to see the city without getting noticed, maybe you should, uh, go a little more incognito."
It didn't take him long to find his friend. Bruce Banner was sitting in a grove of elm and pine trees, dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans, and seemingly unfazed by the thunder and the rain. He appeared to be meditating, but when Thor approached, he opened his eyes and smiled a little wearily.
"Afternoon," he said. "Did Tony send you to check on me?"
"I would not have come if I had been so asked," Thor said cheerfully, sitting down a few feet away from the rumpled scientist. Though it was his custom to greet his friends and comrades with a hearty embrace or handshake, he had learned long ago that Bruce Banner was not comfortable with such contact. He would respect the wondrous berserker's wishes in this. "I also would not have come had I known you were meditating, for it is not my wish to disturb your peace of mind. I have only sought you out to ask a question."
Banner uncrossed his legs, sliding easily out of the lotus position and making himself a little more comfortable on the wet grass. Thunder rumbled directly overhead, and a fresh shower of rain sprinkled down from the elm leaves, darkening the gray in the scientist's hair. "Is it about the Einstein-Rosen bridge—er, the Bifrost? I'd have thought Dr. Foster brought you up to speed on that project."
"Alas, it is not," Thor said, shaking his head a little. "I am confused, my friend, and I seek your council in how I may best resolve my difficulty."
At that, his friend looked a little alarmed. "Is it—are you having problems with Dr. Foster? Because that's not my area of expertise, I'm afraid-"
"Nay, the beauteous Jane and I are well! Though I thank you for your concern, my valiant friend." Seeing that Banner still looked a bit concerned, he added "I give you my word that should such an occasion arise, I should not burden you. Darcy has promised that she shall, if need is great, advise me on how best to keep the heart of her bee-eff-eff."
"Ah yes, Miss Lewis," Banner muttered. Thor considered the man's expression and chose not to mention that Darcy Lewis had been spending a great deal of time in his friend's presence lately. (Truly, though his heart was held by Jane Foster, Thor had observed the low-cut tops that the lady in question had been wearing. As valorous as she was, she would make a fine wife for a mighty warrior such as Banner. Yet it wasn't his place to say such things.) "Er, well, what is it you need?" Banner added, clearly trying to steer the conversation away from shieldmaidens who might bear fine children. "Is it something about New York?"
"In a manner of speaking." Thor frowned a little. "My friend, I ask you to swear upon that which you hold dearest that you will not reveal my secret. It is only in strictest confidence that I speak to you here, in hopes that I may make something worthy out of what is now worth little."
"You don't owe someone money, do you?"
"Nay. In truth, I . . . " The thunder god hesitated, just a little. Would Banner think him less of a warrior, for seeking to tale-craft like a skald? No, surely his friend would never see things so. "I am writing a saga."
Banner's eyebrows shot up, but he didn't laugh or mock Thor, which made the Asgardian feel better. It was good that he had brought this problem to him, rather than to the Man of Iron or some other who might make a jest of it. "A saga?"
"A saga of the Avengers, and the Battle of Manhattan. It will be my midwinter gift to all of you, in thanks for the kindness you have shown me and the honor of fighting alongside you. But I am not a talesmith, and I fear that my unskilled words will not teach my listeners to honor you."
"A saga," Banner repeated, seemingly trying to fit his brain around the idea. "And you came to me? I understand that Miss, er, Lewis did some creative writing in college . . . this might be more her sort of thing."
Thor shook his head. "Lady Darcy is a fine warrior in her own right, but she has not the view of things that you have, my friend. Truly, your mind is a formidable weapon indeed." Banner's face flushed a little, and Thor gave him a grin. "Do not color, for I speak the truth! Warriors must not be shy. I seek your perspective on this matter, that I may pen a truly great saga and give the Avengers and their world the honor they are due."
"Well . . ." Banner frowned again. "I suppose I can give you some constructive criticism . . . and make sure you're not putting in too much ego-stroking for Tony. I'd hate for us to look bad in front of the other planets. What do you have so far?"
"I shall give it for you!" Thor leaped to his feet. "I have no harp nor drum, so it is not as it should be, but the words shall be as I have written." He cleared his throat and raised one hand as a skald did. "Awake! What, do you still sit/ on the mead-benches, drinking away your years? Or shall you be strong as warriors of Midgard . . ."
Banner sat quite still, listening thoughtfully, until the first verse of the saga had ended. As Thor sat down again, a little red-faced himself (he had stumbled over several lines of his own work, not something a prince was accustomed to doing), he tapped his stubble-flecked chin and looked at the god of thunder.
"Why doesn't it rhyme?" he said finally. Thor blinked.
"I thought sagas were poems. They're supposed to, er, rhyme? Or does it rhyme in your language?"
"Nay. The lady Darcy has been educating me in the Midgardian art of 'free verse,' and I thought to put her teachings to good use."
"Maybe not for this," Banner said carefully. "It's just a little awkward, singing something that doesn't rhyme. Or scan."
There was a moment of silence.
"I know what Tony would say," Banner added after a moment. "He'd say it needs more women in it. Preferably topless."
"He would. But I would not put them in, my friend! It would mar the truth of our glorious victory." Thor coughed a little. "And fair Jane would not approve, I think."
Another moment of silence stretched out, infinitely awkward.
"It's good," Banner said carefully. "I mean, it's very . . . inspiring. Very mighty and, er, Viking-ish."
Thor frowned. "I beg you to be honest, my friend. I know it is weak."
At that, Banner laughed a little and took off his glasses, cleaning them on the hem of his shirt. "Are you sure you don't want to take this problem to Miss Lewis? Or maybe Captain Rogers? He went to art school, I understand."
"Nay. Captain Rogers is a fine man, but I do not think he has the answer for me." The prince shook his head. "I cannot say what is needed, my friend. This is a thorny issue. There is something I seek here, some way to teach my home the truth of what I speak, but I cannot find it."
Banner carefully patted the last specks off his glasses and then put them back on. "This really bothers you, doesn't it?" he said after a moment.
"Of course!" Thor said. "This must be done. Only the best will do to honor the Avengers."
"I didn't mean just the saga," Banner replied, shaking his head. "I mean, this whole 'Earth should be respected' business. Er, Midgard. You know. It isn't just about a Christmas present for the team, is it?"
"Perhaps," Thor responded after a long moment. "Is it not fitting? I will desist if this is against the spirit of your holy days, but I had hoped that it would teach the Realms not to sneer at you and your people. Not all of Midgard knows the true story, nor respects you as it should. And the tales I hear from the Warriors Three are disheartening; some fools at home have no stomach for what Midgardians have done."
To his surprise, Banner laughed again. It was a dry little thing, really a hoarse chuckle, but the good doctor laughed rarely and Thor was happy to see it. One laugh in a day was rare; two was almost unheard of. "The gift that keeps on giving," Banner said, still smiling. "Or maybe the dreaded Practical Gift. Don't worry, that's completely within the spirit of the holiday."
Thor shrugged a little. He didn't quite understand what Banner meant, but then, he freely admitted many Midgardian customs were still beyond him. All he really understood about their midwinter holiday so far was that gifts were exchanged, it was a time of great celebration, and people were encouraged to wear warm brightly-colored garments with images of santaclawses on them. (Tony had already procured him several of the garments, another thing for which he was in debt.)
"I do not like that your names do not receive the respect you deserve," he said, doing his best to gather his straying thoughts. "I wish you to know that you are honored, and I hope my saga will have some small part in that. But I do not know how to craft one that will honor all my friends, and also encourage the peoples of Midgard and Asgard to respect you."
"Well . . ." Banner shook his head again, his expression a cross between incredulity and fondness. "In that case, I'd say not to worry about the team or people here on Earth. Considering that you're writing an epic poem just for us, I think you can safely say we know that you consider us worthy. And I know I, at least, am flattered that the Viking god of thunder likes me." His smile was wry. "Concentrate on the Asgardians. I don't really like the idea of yelling how wonderful we are at a whole other planet, but if it's the done thing . . . well, who am I to object?"
"That is a fine idea, my friend!" Thor clapped him on the shoulder, accidentally sending Banner sprawling. There was a frozen moment of tension, and Thor's fists clenched automatically, but the green berserker did not make an appearance. "Forgive me, doctor!" he added quickly. "'Twas not my intention!"
"It's fine, it's fine." Banner brushed off a few wet leaves and sat back down again, rubbing his head where he had hit it against the trunk of an elm. Perhaps being thrown headlong had reordered his thoughts, though, because he wore the look of a man who had been struck by an idea as well as a tree. "Thor," he said slowly, "how many Asgardians are there?"
Thor shrugged one shoulder. "Many thousands upon thousands, my friend. It is difficult to tell, for we live long, and are sometimes absent from our realm."
"So, let's say . . . a hundred thousand at least. And they're all as strong as you?" Thor bristled a bit, and Banner held up a hand, smiling a little ruefully. "Okay, okay, sorry. Not as strong as you, but stronger than humans. Stronger than Captain America." He didn't mention the Other Guy. "And you're starting this saga by telling them that a bunch of weaklings are better than them?"
"Nay, that is not my intent," Thor said. Thunder rolled again, and a damp pinecone plopped onto his head. "I mean only to excite their thirst for valor and battle. So begin all the sagas of my people."
"But your sagas aren't typically about . . . oh . . . a bunch of little mortals teaming up with the Prince of Asgard to defeat another Prince of Asgard," Banner pointed out, adjusting his glasses. "If I remember my humanities courses correctly, the hero of this saga should be you. We're more the, ah, helper animals." A small smile appeared. "Like the Seven Dwarves. Snarky, Deadly, Pointy, Smashy, and . . . I can't think of a term for 'patriotic' that ends in a y."
"But I am no hero!" Thor protested. "There is no heroism in doing as one must, nor in facing an enemy with equal strength. I am not as cunning as the Man of Iron, nor as determined as the Widow and the Hawk, nor mighty as you, nor purehearted as Captain America. Had I faced my brother alone, I would have failed, and your world should bear the burden of that failure. I must craft a saga that will make my people understand this!"
Banner tilted his head, giving Thor a strange look. "You're serious, aren't you."
Thor was confused. "Why should I not be?"
"Oh, there's nothing wrong with it. It's just a little . . . hard to get used to, I suppose. A general I once knew would hate you." Banner shifted a little, making himself more comfortable on the damp ground. "But the point is, the only real link between us and them is you. You're the center point of this all. And you're the one who was, er, mortal for a while. If it's you telling them we're worth respecting, they'll listen. You know how hard a mortal life can be."
Thor contemplated that. "Perhaps, then . . . I should begin with the story of my banishment?" he hazarded. "It is rare that sagas go this way, for they are tales of great deeds . . ."
"Then it's time to write a new saga."
"But how? How will this new tale make them respect you?"
"It's all about perspective."
There was another moment of silence, and then Banner heaved a sigh and tugged on a lock of his own hair. "I'm forty years old, Thor," he said slowly, "and I'm going gray. It started at thirty-six—the Other Guy's fault, incidentally, but it probably would have happened anyway. You're—what—eighteen hundred years old? Your race lives so much longer, and is so much hardier, than humans." His voice dropped a little, and his gaze drifted across the clearing towards nothing at all. "You want them to respect us? Maybe try telling them what it's like to be human. Scared. Broken. Knowing that whatever you do you could die from a hundred things you can't prevent. The place where the falling angel meets the rising ape."
He turned his head, and for a moment, his eyes were green. "The stupidest, most useless Asgardian is stronger and longer-lived than any of us ever will be. But because we're scared—because we know that we're fragile, and now there's a universe out there that wants to squash us—we'll rip anyone who tries it to shreds. Fear makes anger, and anger makes strength."
Ordinarily, when receiving a great truth or hearing a speech before battle, it was Thor's custom to roar and stamp like all his fellows. But Banner's words, delivered in a low, almost flat tone, sent a shiver down his spine. He remembered clutching at the hilt of Mjolnir, screaming in the pouring rain as the power he had once wielded was denied him. He remembered knowing that his father was dead, that his mother rejected him, and that his actions had led his people to the brink of annihilation. Facing the Destroyer, terror churning in his gut . . . its fires would tear his puny mortal form to shreds . . . and doing it anyway, because he would have been a dead man inside even if he had run and lived.
"You speak of weakness and madness," he said slowly. "Is that what being a human is, doctor?"
"You tell me." Banner blinked, and the green was gone. "What do you think?"
"I think . . ."
Thor rose to his feet and unzipped his backpack, bringing forth Mjolnir. "I think I have much to consider, Bruce Banner. You have given me things to remember and think on that I had not considered before."
Banner smiled a little. "You're welcome. I hope it helps."
"Indeed, I believe it shall." Thor wrapped Mjolnir's strap around his wrist and began to whirl the mighty hammer, sending gusts of wind swirling around him. "And I shall inform the Lady Darcy that your spirit sings in my words. Farewell!"
It was dim under the trees, but Thor had the vision of a true Asgardian, and he could see Banner's embarrassed blush clear as day. Even as his hammer swept him up into the sky, he couldn't restrain a grin. Truly, Tony was a strange influence on him.