Author's Note: Part two of two. In which we discover that Totenkinder Madchen's idea of an epic poem is mangled iambic pentameter, Thor learns about Christmas, Darcy makes at least one unconsciously hypocritical comment, and there is toothrotting amounts of fluff. With bonus touches of Norse mythology!
Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed this little . . . thing. And thanks again to my beta Ami Ree! You're going to go read her stuff now, right?
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.
The day called Christmas was a delight. It came at the coldest, darkest part of the Midgardian—Earth—year, but its traditions were filled with warmth and laughter and light. All of the Avengers and their closest friends were there, and Thor thought his heart would burst with delight.
There were many rites to be observed. Steve Rogers invited the team to attend his church with him, to celebrate the deity who lent his name to the holiday, but none joined him; some shared different beliefs, while some weren't allowed within thirty yards of a religious establishment ("why're you looking at me, Pep? C'mon! I didn't even say anything yet!"). Thor was highly intrigued by the notion of seeing Steve's temple of worship, but he reluctantly refused as well, since it would not be seemly for him to intrude on a ceremony holy to an alien god. Darcy attempted to compensate by teaching him about the many, many midwinter holidays of Earth, but Thor would admit later that he learned little. He did like the notion of the lights that never went out, though.
His favorite part was the Christmas tree. Weeks earlier, the city of New York had invited the Avengers to choose any tree they like from the groves in Central Park, and Tony insisted on it: "Good publicity," he said, "as long as the Jolly Green Giant doesn't decide to show up." The Hulk did not make an appearance, but several photographers did, and the news stations had run segments showing Thor chopping down the mightiest of pines with one swing of Mjolnir. They had set it up in the tallest room in the tower—actually a ballroom, Pepper said, but they needed the room for the full height of the tree—and decorated it most festively. A smaller tree was installed in the common room where they congregated most, and that was where the presents were placed on Christmas Eve.
That part, at least, made Thor nervous. He had chosen gifts with care, but his saga could not be wrapped, and he feared that he would appear stingy or ungenerous to his beloved comrades and his dear Jane.
Fortunately, the calamity did not come to pass. He was woken from a sound sleep at dawn by the gleeful shouts of Tony, who was impatient to get the celebration going and the gifts opened. "Like a little kid," Jane had murmured into Thor's shoulder, but after a few minutes of dozing she had rolled out of bed and encouraged him to join in as well.
Happy chaos soon reigned in the communal rooms. Most of the other Avengers had no family at all, and so for the sake of the holiday, they had made a family out of each other. With Pepper, Jane, and Darcy to add to the merriment, Thor was certain there could be no more joyous occasion in all of the nine realms.
He only wished his brother could be there. But Sif and the Warriors Three had promised him that they would bring the gifts Thor had chosen for him to Loki's prison, and perhaps . . . He brushed away his doubts and allowed himself to hope, a little. Jane, nestled by his side, squeezed his hand.
"Penny for your thoughts?" she murmured.
"Save your coin, Jane." He shook his head and pressed a kiss to her lips. "You have but to ask. I would not share a moment's regret with you on this day, however." He paused. "Not when you have not opened your gift yet."
Jane flushed red. "You didn't have to get me anything," she said, a little awkwardly. "You already proved the existence of an Einstein-Rosen bridge. That's the best present anyone ever got me."
"Then I fear this will disappoint." Thor pressed the small box, carefully wrapped in Mickey Mouse paper, into her hands. "But you must open it. I insist."
Tony made a peculiar noise, like the sound of a horsewhip, and Pepper elbowed him.
Thor tried to conceal his nervousness as Jane carefully unwrapped the gift. It was a small wooden box, but when she exclaimed over the carvings, he told her to open it. Nestled inside, on a bed of silk, was a silver bracelet made of intricate twining vines—elf-worked, though he didn't say so, because Jane seemed overwhelmed as it was. Dangling from the silver vines were a number of carved runes.
"Just in case," he told her, sliding the bracelet onto her wrist. "If you are ever in danger, tear off one of these charms, and I shall know of it and find you. Nothing shall keep me from your side."
"Wow," Jane murmured. "Thor, it's beautiful. Thank you . . ."
"Very caveman of him," Darcy observed in a low but audible voice. "Me big strong man, me come protect you. Ugh."
"Darcy . . . shut up." And Jane kissed Thor, both of them ignoring the hoots and clapping from their friends and teammates.
When the last of the presents had been opened, though, Thor stood and raised his mug of hot chocolate. "My friends!" he boomed. "There is one last gift for you, though it does not sit beneath this tree of pine. When we have feasted and drunk this evening, I shall beg your indulgence and make presentation of it for you. But for now—a toast! To the birth of your god, may he smite his enemies with fire and steel, and to the bonds of friendship!"
Steve made a strange noise, but the rest of the Avengers laughed and joined the toast.
The people of Earth and the people of Asgard agreed on one thing: holidays must be celebrated with feasting, the more the better. Tony especially seemed believe in this, because the spread of victuals he had provided for the Avengers' Christmas momentarily gave even Thor pause. Earth, it seemed, had many foods that Asgard did not. Somewhere beyond the Bifrost, Volstagg would be writhing, sensing somehow that he was not partaking in these highly unusual new tastes.
Especially this item called "cheesecake." It did not taste like cheese, nor was it quite like cake, and yet Thor found he approved mightily. It was very hard not to throw the empty cake pan to the floor and bellow for another.
(Even when he didn't bellow, though, he got another anyway. Tony Stark considered healthy eating an impediment to team bonding.)
All through dinner, Thor could sense the curious stares of his teammates. Tony had asked the wondrous JARVIS to confirm that there were no "herds of cattle or anything, I dunno, what the hell kind of animals do they have in Asgard?" in the tower, and Clint had "accidentally" gotten lost and wound up in Thor's suite, where he proceeded to check under the beds and in the closets. Darcy had been harassing Bruce constantly, having read the scientist's knowing look like a book and clearly hoping for a hint of Thor's mysterious surprise. Bruce was strong, but not that strong, and now Darcy was wearing her own knowing look with a hint of anticipatory smirk.
At least they were willing to help him, though. Thor went to his rooms to get the skald-harp, and when he returned, he found that all of the Avengers and company had been herded onto the various couches and chairs in the biggest communal living room. Someone had replaced the pool table with two stools—one with a bottle of water on it. Thor coughed a little, suddenly nervous, and was grateful for the water. He could feel his teammates' eyes on him as he took a seat and balanced one end of the long-bodied harp against the ground.
"You're shitting me," Tony said conversationally. "Karaoke or beat poetry? Either way, this is going on Facebook."
Pepper elbowed him again, and he rubbed his side, looking hurt. "What? What'd I say?"
"My friends," Thor said, "indeed, this is a custom strange to you. But in my land, this is a matter of greatest honor and importance. When I came here, I was a stranger not only to you, but to your people and your very realm itself. But you have all welcomed me—first my dearest Jane and her friends, and then this team I am proud to call myself a member of. In Asgard, such a group of warriors and wise men—and women," he added, because Darcy's lectures about gender-neutral language were fresh in his mind, "would be celebrated in song and story. Already Midgard is filled with pieces of your tale, and this is as it should be. But Asgard, alas, has not yet learned all."
"Well, if you'd let me install wi-fi in the palace-"
"Tony!" This time it was Pepper, Steve, and Bruce, making the billionaire flinch a bit and actually close his mouth. Thor grinned, and his heart lifted a little. He had spent a great deal of time trying to craft the verses to properly describe Tony Stark, and it was a relief to see the man himself living up to Thor's portrayal.
"Thank you, my friends," he said. "But pray, let there be silence from the peanut gallery." Tony's eyebrows shot up, and he opened his mouth before glancing around and quickly closing it again. "With the help of the wise Dr. Banner-" Bruce reddened, making Darcy laugh and poke him "-I have found a way to remedy this. In just repayment for the kindness you have shown me, and the honor of fighting by your side, I have composed a mighty saga of the Avengers! It shall be sung in all of Asgard, and at last my people shall know the truth of all that you have done!"
There was a moment of stunned silence as the Avengers exchanged glances. Jane was smiling, Pepper had her hand over her mouth in the way that meant she was trying not to smile herself, and Darcy had sprawled against Bruce and was giggling at the look on the others' faces. Steve, Tony and Clint appeared to be completely gobsmacked, and even Natasha had lost her customary poise and was wearing a look of "Honestly? Seriously?"
"A saga?" Steve said finally. "Like Beowulf?"
"Indeed!" Thor beamed, glad that someone had grasped the notion. Midgardians—Earth people, that is—were not as used to being lauded in song and story as they had once been, and he was glad to hear that Steve was familiar with the notion. "The song of Hrothgar's son is but a poor imitation of Asgard's greatest works, but it is very like in form to the thing. We have no need of the Internet or the reality TV; only a saga will do for the greatest of heroes."
"A saga," Steve repeated. He seemed to be having trouble digesting the concept. "Like Beowulf." He shook his head. "I read it once . . . a long time ago. Even a poor kid from Brooklyn could go to the library."
"I think you broke him." Clint prodded Steve in the shoulder. "Holy crap, you did. Thor, that's amazing. You wrote a giant freakin' poem about us?"
"I have, Clint Barton. And it was most difficult." Thor frowned a little. "There are not many rhymes for 'archer,' not even in the All-Tongue. And I am afraid 'JARVIS' quite defeated me. I may have referred to him as 'the magic voice' a few times instead."
"I'm flattered, sir," came the cool voice of the AI. "Am I to understand that you intend to perform this saga for us now? The harp is a decided hint towards the affirmative."
"I do." This was the part that made Thor uneasy. Would the Earthers accept his gift? It was a strange predicament, and he hoped he had not made a grave offense to them by offering it.
Tony looked like he was dying to make every inappropriate comment on the face of the planet, but masterfully restrained himself. The nearness of Pepper, Bruce and Steve—and their elbows—likely had something to do with it. "Sounds good to me," he said instead. "The Vikings were a barrel of laughs, after all. Hey, JARVIS! What's proper saga-listening procedure?"
Despite supposedly not having emotions, the AI definitely seemed amused. "Ordinarily, a saga or epic poem should be performed near a hearth, preferably in a meadhall, sir. However, since you do not have a meadhall and it would take some time to construct one, may I suggest turning on the electric fireplace and having another eggnog?"
"I like this saga already," Tony said promptly. He passed out the drinks, and Thor relaxed a little more. True, he would not want his teammates to be too drunk to understand his words, but it was common on Asgard for a saga to be accompanied by carousing. It aided the camaraderie—especially when Sif and the Warriors Three were present. (Which reminded him: he must send a cask of this wondrous Egg Nog to the Warriors. Milk drinks were often considered childish, but not the way Tony and Clint mixed them.)
"Very well." The demigod settled himself a little more comfortably and put his hand on the harp strings. For some reason, he found himself looking to Bruce. The scientist was looking back at him, smiling in that slightly self-deprecating way he often did, making eye contact for a moment before turning back to Darcy. The moment pleased and reassured Thor, and he squared his shoulders and took a deep breath.
"ARISE!" he bellowed. Thunder rumbled high above the tower, and the lights flickered at the massive electromagnetic surge zinging through the room from Thor himself. Clint dropped his eggnog on the floor, the electric fireplace sputtered, and Tony made a noise like a squashed mouse as his beloved prototype StarkPhone 3.5 fuzzed and went blank.
Good. He had their attention.
"Many a time we sing the tales of might
And valiant forces, standing 'gainst the night
Of Jotunheim. Cry we the rolls of glory
And stamp our feet, and beg another story!
Well might we do. But have you now an ear
For bravery in face of mortal fear?
My comrades, raise your cups, and hail the name
Of those whose vengeance put a prince to shame!"
He took another breath and gazed around the room. Several of the Avengers looked shell-shocked, unaccustomed to having a deep sonorous voice roar epic poetry at them. Darcy 'meep!'ed and swung forward, halfway into Bruce's lap, eyes wide. Pepper was sitting bolt-upright in her chair, her malfunctioning StarkPad forgotten. Thor allowed himself a small smile. If only Erik Selvig could be here! So must many of the Avengers' ancestors have looked, when first encountering Selvig's.
Well-begun, but well-begun was not well ended. He leaned forward a little, grinning, and let the words come.
Know we well, o warriors, Realms of nine
Upon the Yggdrasil, where Asgard shines
The center of her wonder. Glorious field
Of Ida, heart of warriors! Never yield!
O youth, o strength, o power beyond measure!
These are the gifts of Aesir—Asgard's treasure!
But what of Midgard? Who hath chose to tell
Or seek what glorious heroes there may dwell
Far from the shining realm? None travel there
Since Jotuns' fall. Why should they? Small and bare
A world it is. A place of feeble folk!
A place where lives and empires pass like smoke
To ne'er be glimpsed again. What's there to see?
Small world, why should Aesir look upon thee?
What shines upon thee?
The fastest race in all the Realms is run
When humankind who, swifter than the sun
Outrace their very selves in search of worth
Before they die, and must be doomed to earth.
Sinews that bend, and crack, and break with age!
A man of eighty winters is a sage!
Quick breathing he, for life is often fleeting
In fragile shells, though mighty hearts there beating.
This form, o valiant Aesir, stood alone
Against Chitauri. Battled—and he won!
The great hall sat in rapt silence. Warriors, scientists, magicians, scholars, scribes, men and women and children were quiet, their eyes fixed on their gray-bearded king. He sat with his back to the fire, his crimson cloak discarded, his own children gathered around him as he told the ancient tale.
It had grown in the telling. Thanos, Victor von Doom, Surtr—each one had made their mark on the Nine Realms, and on the story as well. Words had been added, phrases tweaked, arguments made for scrapping this or that. But in the centuries since its first writing, the core of the story remained the same, and the truth was there.
As the words flowed, Crown Prince Magni silently passed his uncle a cup of mead. Every year the tale was told, and every year Magni did so. Loki drank from the cup and passed it back, and Magni handed it to his father, who paused in the telling to receive it. King Thor drank as well, and a sigh passed through the hall.
For many centuries, the house of Odin had been reunited, madness chased off. But though they had forgiven, they would not forget, and the greatest part of the Tale of Vengeance still turned upon the fall of Loki and the forces of the Chitauri. All of them knew, and accepted it. And they passed the cup while the tale was told.
Thor caught his brother's eye, and the pair shared a brief smile before the king took up the harp again. At his side, Queen Jane Thorswif—called the Mother of Bridges, the rebuilder of the Bifrost—rolled her eyes fondly and took another bite of golden apple as her husband resumed the great story.
The words were building to a peak, the tale almost done. Now a ripple ran through the hall as some rose to their feet: men and women in scattered groups, looks of pride on their faces. Many of them were from Earth, visitors most highly honored, here to attend the winter feast that had been a tradition since the very first telling of the Tale. Some wore magnificent suits of armor with distinctive glowing lights on their chests and hands. One family, loud and boisterous, shared black hair and striking green eyes; their clothes, even for a formal occasion in a different realm, were loose and easily disposed of. Others were not so striking, but the king and his household knew them all by heart.
They were family.
Hear me, o Aesir, and let us give full hail
To mortal sinews whose spirits did not fail
In face of death and fierce Chitauri might!
Against all magics, madness, fire, spite
And weakness of the human flesh, they stand
With shield and iron and bow and Hulk in hand!
Well honored, we who know them as our friends
For even when the might of Asgard ends
And Yggdrasil herself shall bend and fall
The spirits of the vengeance shall stand tall
'Til Ragnarokk shall toll our ending knell-
And march together to the gates of Hel!