More Than Heroes
Chapter 1: Names; Languages; Arts; Tools
Heimdall burst into the hall.
"My king. An alien force known as the Kree are invading Midgard. Thor asks that we send Sif and the Warriors Three to help fight them."
Sif looked up with interest at the gatekeeper, and then at Odin. The Allfather's gaze swept the room, and then he spoke.
"I leave the choice to the four of you, but I think I know your minds well enough to say, fare well. Protect Midgard. Return with new tales to tell when next you feast in this hall."
Sif stood, nodding at Odin. "Thank you, Allfather. We will." The Three rose as well, and they followed Heimdall out of the hall.
When Thor had come back to Asgard with Loki and the Tesseract, he told the story of the battle against the Chitauri and the five warriors who fought beside Thor, calling themselves the Avengers.
A man with an eyepatch handed Sif a device to put on her ear, so that she could hear the voices of the heroes of Earth fighting in the chaos around them.
"Hulk, get up on that ship! Bring it down!"
Sif watched the green creature leap. She recognized that name from the tales.
Ships poured down from the skies, into an area which was full of large, featureless rectangular structures and thin metal latticework things. The man in blue who had directed the Hulk upward stood his ground, taking the energy bolts on his shield while he directed the others away. "Hawkeye, you take one of the cranes. Spidey, you got him? Then look out for targets exiting the ships. Thor, Iron Man, get up there and stop the ships as high as you can."
"Will do, Cap," one of them replied as Cap paused for breath. The Three were already wading into the fight on the ground, pounding away at the ships. Sif followed.
The man in blue continued. "Rose, stay back! These guys are too much for you. You'll do the most good guiding the evacuation."
"Oh, you don't have to tell me twice!" said a voice that was melodious but thick with irony. "These warehouses seem mostly empty, though, thank God." A woman in a short pink gown and black boots kicked in the door of one of the buildings and slipped inside.
"Mystery, you use your eyes. Take any opportunity when you see it, and let me know if these things have a particular weak point."
There was no more talking for a while as ships exploded above them and flaming debris rained down; ships exploded on the ground as Sif and the Three overwhelmed them with blows; but they just kept coming. The Helicarrier must have been nearby, because bombers appeared in the sky out of nowhere and took out the ships even higher than where Thor, Hulk and Iron Man were working. But none of them were even close to the eight big ships hovering far above, only two of which seemed to be sending out their smaller fighters. Stopping them from gaining a hold on the ground was the more immediate problem. This was going to be a long fight.
Ships continued to find their way to the ground, and Kree warriors poured out of those that managed to land safely. Hawk took out several of these, and Spidey immobilized several more with a ropelike weapon that intrigued Sif. A woman in black with deep red hair appeared and shot these helpless Kree in the head, all but one, who she dragged off.
Over the comm, a voice, probably the archer's, commented, "There's something creepy about seeing you spiders work together."
"Oh, Widow is creepy enough all on her own," a surprisingly young-sounding voice replied.
Despite their best efforts, the number of blue-skinned Kree on the ground increased. Cap and Widow were neck deep in them but seemed extremely skilled at working together in melee. Sif and the Three, similarly, fought in their own coordinated knot of battle. A blue and gold armored man, possibly the Mystery the Captain had spoken to before, popped in and out, striking a blow and then moving instantaneously to another spot.
In response to an unheard signal, the Kree on the ground all suddenly retreated. There was a bare two seconds of confusion before a glowing shield rose up and encircled them. At this, the ships in the air stopped and retreated upwards again as well.
The Avengers and the Three all tried their hand at breaking through the shield, but to no avail. Hulk roared and beat his fists against it.
In the lull, a conversation began.
"So who are the Kree?" Cap asked. "Why are they in New Jersey? What do they want?"
A smooth voice replied. "In general, the Kree want only to conquer and rule. Specifically? The Kree and I...let's just say my former associations in their corner of space may have something to do with it."
"So they could be after you. Great." Cap was trying to keep annoyance out of his voice.
Hawkeye's voice came over the comms. "M, you know I believe you've changed, but sometimes I think you're more trouble than you're worth. No offense."
"None taken, Hawk," replied the smooth, oddly familiar voice.
Then the shield began to expand.
"Looks like it's time to break out the big guns," said a cocky voice that Sif could now identify as Iron Man. She looked to the gold and red armor to see a panel slide open on his arm. His other hand reached inside to pull out an impossibly large oblong thing, which then caught fire and leapt into the air, up to the eight huge ships hovering in the sky. It hit one of them with a small thud. The ship began to fall slowly out of the sky.
"Stark, where the hell have you been stowing those things, what the hell are they, and do you have any more?" Sif recognized the voice as that of the one-eyed man who had given her the earpiece.
"In Malibu, actually, and they're remotely Jarvis-guided NNEMP bombs powered by marginally unstable arc reactors. I've got a few more where that came from."
He reached his hand twice more into the impossible void, a portal, she guessed, to wherever this place called Malibu was. The second device took down one of the ships, but the third hit a shield similar to the one on the ground, and the ship stayed up. The remaining six ships were now surrounded by the glowing shields.
"Iron Man, Thor, you'd better go make sure those two whales land over water," Cap called. "In the meantime, I'm guessing that the Kree can't fire weapons out of those shields as much as we can't fire in. Otherwise they'd have been up from the start. So keep those bombs ready. Anyone got any more ideas for stopping this shield from expanding further?"
"Actually I do," said the smooth voice associated with the blue armor. A similar portal opened on his arm and he took out another of the oblong devices.
"We know that won't penetrate the shield," Cap objected. "Plus, Mystery, that's a bomb, right? How close do we want to be to it when it goes?"
"True, but it will take out the machinery generating the shield, if I can get the bomb inside, which I believe I can."
"Then do it," Cap said.
Mystery blinked out of existence, taking the device with him. Then he returned without it.
"I recommend that mortals get behind something," he said. "I am unsure how quickly the shield will drop once the device goes off."
Cap stayed where he was, but turned his small buckler toward the glowing field. Hawkeye and Spidey left their perches to crouch behind buildings. Widow was out of sight somewhere, as was Rose. "Jarvis, detonate," said Mystery, and the shield held for a fraction of a second, then fell. The air vibrated dully for a moment. Then melee began again.
A surprising number of Kree had survived the blast and were still fighting, but now Sif had no doubt that they would triumph. She threw herself into the battle.
Then one of the falling ships exploded as it approached the ground. Burning wreckage flew far and wide.
"Shit," Rose swore. "There's still people there. M&M, I might need help with this."
Now Iron Man, Mystery and Rose were doing damage control at that crash site.
"Rose Witch! Look, your four o'clock, that building is falling!" M snapped.
The woman in the pink gown turned, threw up her hands, and roots enveloped the tower.
"Good," Mystery said. "Now, evacuation. Tony and I will cover you."
"You got it, M&M, sweetie!" Rose called over the comm. "Why does your code name have to remind me of chocolate? I'm starved, we've been at this for hours!"
This M&M's voice was strangely familiar, but his blue and gold armor and the way he fought using the strange green light on his chest were not. He used jets of green light to take down the stray Kree survivor of the crash.
Thor managed to get the other large ship to land in the water, where it sank like a stone. When several Kree survivors bobbed to the surface, gasping, Thor shot a bolt of lightning into the sea, and the figures sank again.
"That's...kind of disturbing, Thor," said Spidey over the comms.
At some point the other six large ships had disappeared out of the sky, probably retreating.
Finally all the Kree they could find were dead or encased in spider silk. Everyone was in various states of exhaustion, including Hulk, whose roars had been reduced to grumbles. He plodded over to where several of the Avengers had collapsed onto the paving, and lay down beside them.
The one-eyed man approached them.
"SHIELD will take over from here. You all go do whatever it is Avengers do when they're not avenging, which is all in all something I don't intend to worry about."
Tony was drinking a cold beverage of some kind. "Have I ever told you how much I adore arc pods?" he said in M&M's direction. "Also, I weigh far too much right now. I need to be on the moon." He took another sip from the bottle he held and looked contemplative. "No, wait, I changed my mind. Food is more important. Let's go back to the tower and have food."
"That's a great idea," the Captain said, perking up. "Thor, your friends should come too. They helped us defeat the Kree, the least we can do is feed them"
"My friends!" Thor called to them. "Come, we will feast in the halls of Stark!"
So they traveled through the city to the tower. New York was an even stranger place than New Mexico had been. Mostly there was more of everything.
"And why are all your places called new?" Sif asked. "What happened to the old places?"
"They were boring," the Man of Iron answered. "We left to find where the party had gone. And look. It's right here."
He gestured with his arm as they left the moving box, and Sif stared in wonder at the view.
Thor and the Three joined her at one of the broad windows. Hogun gave an awed chuckle. Volstagg gaped. Fandral exclaimed, "What a wonder this city is!"
"Yes, it is," Thor replied, "and especially so if you think of the fact that the Chitauri attacked on this very spot, less than two years ago. They've rebuilt quickly, well, and with high spirits." Thor was unusually quiet when he spoke again. "Mortals...humans...impress me more with each passing day."
Sif looked hard at him.
"Is Jane well?" she asked.
"Very well," he answered, smiling, but still slightly subdued.
"And you? How fare you here on Midgard?" Sif went to lay her hand on Thor's arm, as she once would have, but stopped. Something in his manner told her it would be too much.
"I miss Asgard; I miss all of you," Thor said.
"Well, with the Bifrost repaired, you have but to ask and Heimdall will open the gate for you," Fandral said encouragingly.
Thor smiled, and then sighed. "Time," he began, and then was at a loss as to how to continue. After a moment he said, "Time is not an ally to me now, it seems. I stay here that I might spend every moment possible with my darling Jane, and yet she..." Thor trailed off again.
"What is it? Is she no longer amenable to your courtship?" Volstagg asked.
"She is amenable, if I am to believe her words on the subject," Thor continued. "Yet, given that, her actions are discouraging. She seems to care more for her work than she does for me. I have discussed it with the other Avengers and they all inform me that this is quite normal for a woman of Midgard, and that I should not let it bother me. But...," and Thor's voice was perilously close to breaking here, "there is so very little time.
Sif's eyes pricked with tears to see the prince, her oldest friend, so affected.
"That is unjust of her," Sif said. "If this Jane will not give you her time, why should you give her yours?"
"Oh, Sif," Thor said, eyes turning to meet hers. "You, out of all warriors, and you, out of all maidens, should know that that is untrue. Those who love a cause, a task, a good work, those who fight and strive to do those things that they are meant to do, no matter how hard the struggle, are more worthy of love, not less."
Sif only blinked up at him, her vision distorted.
Thor made as if to touch her, and then stopped short as well. Then he cleared his throat.
"All of the Avengers have tried to help me with this problem, but I fear it is not a simple question with a simple answer. One piece of advice struck me especially. The Captain - Stephen - told me that the worst thing I could do would be to make her choose. That even if she does love me more than the work, she could never be happy with someone who had taken that work away from her."
"That is very wise," she said.
Thor continued in the barest whisper. "I never asked you to choose."
"But I did choose," she answered, only slightly louder. "I truly never wanted to be your wife."
They stood, not touching, turned towards each other but looking out over the city now.
"Sif, come look at this!" a cry came from behind them. Volstagg beckoned them enthusiastically. "They have a way of telling how done the meat is without cutting into it!"
Sif snorted with laughter, which was a rather messy proposition at the moment. Thor handed her a soft square of paper to clean her face with, and the two of them headed over to the place where the Three and the Avengers were congregated.
This whole place was odd, the shapes of the room simple but adequate in size, and the materials plain but subtly rich. Sif had been informed that Stark was the closest thing there was to a prince in this area, and that this was one of his favorite feasting halls. She supposed to herself that the view must have much to do with that. But as she saw the Avengers cooking in a kitchen open to the rest of the hall, she realized that there were many things about this place and its feast customs that she was completely failing to understand.
Stark himself was pouring drinks, and he apparently had as many kinds of alcohol as the Bifrost had facets. The one they called Hulk when he was green (and apparently Bruce or Doctor Banner when he wasn't) was blending a large bowl of leaves with some kind of oily liquid. The Captain - or Stephen, she supposed - was cooking meat on a hot iron surface. He stuck a small metal skewer into each portion of meat, then took note of the end of the device.
"What color do you like your beef to be on the inside, when it's cooked perfectly?" Stephen asked her.
Sif just stared. This man was a war leader, a warrior and a hero, and here he was cooking food for his own feast. Banner opened an oven and took out a tray of crispy spiced potato slices, prodding them to judge their texture. She looked back to the Captain, who was still regarding her curiously.
"I recommend that you request your meat medium rare," Thor said from behind her. "It will be pink, and the meat will undoubtedly be tender. Stark always receives the best parts of every cow here."
"Well, not every cow," Tony disagreed. "New Yorkers can eat a fuckton of beef. Also sometimes I eat at Burger King with the rest of the rabble, so I've eaten my fair share of the worst parts too."
Tony had finished pouring drinks and was now hovering behind the Captain and Doctor Banner.
"Cap, honey, you know how I like my steak," he told Stephen, and winked. The Captain just rolled his eyes, going back to his work, and Stark moved on to where the two mages were discussing their craft.
Sif thought she had spotted blue skin when the male mage flitted by in battle, and had thought perhaps he was a defected Kree. Now she could see that M&M, as he had been called, had darker skin and red eyes, almost the exact coloration of a Jotunn. But he was far too small, and clearly more civilized than any giant. She frowned in thought.
"What d'ya think, Josh?" the one called Rose asked him. "Could we build some pre-made healing spells? You know I'm crap at doing them from scratch."
"You need practice, Darcy," the blue Avenger replied.
Ah, Darcy. Sif recognized her now, but she hadn't been a mage before, had she?
Darcy spoke to the blue man again. "Well, yeah, maybe, but, A. I don't have time, and B. humans aren't quite as resilient as you immortal aliens. I'd be terrified to screw up every time I tried anything."
He sighed. "I can put something together for you, but you have to promise me that you will practice. You have a talent for this, if you would only cultivate that talent."
Stark came up behind Mystery and put his hand on the blue man's sholder. "Darcy, this is supposed to be a party, and you're dragging Joshua into shop talk. Give the man a break." Tony sat on the arm of the chair and leaned down to kiss Joshua on the cheek. The blue man received this affection with equanimity.
"He started it!" Darcy whined. "He asked me what spells I wanted to learn next given my first large-scale battle experience. What was I supposed to do? Besides, Bruce and Peter are talking about genetics over there. Compared to that, magic is a perfectly acceptable party topic."
Tony's eyes sparkled when he heard that. "Genetics, huh? I might have to get in on that."
Joshua shook his head, smiling. "Don't work too hard, darling; remember, it's a party!" and he turned back to Darcy, continuing their conversation where it had left off.
Bruce had apparently finished the dishes he was making to his satisfaction, because he was now standing by a higher section of counter, where Widow, Hawkeye, Spidey and the Three were all nibbling on a selection of vegetables and small breadlike items which they dipped in different sauces. Tony strode over and threw an arm around Bruce, looking between him and the one called Spidey, who was also apparently Peter. The variety of different names was starting to make Sif's head spin.
"What kind of science fun is going on here without me?" Tony said, draping himself over Bruce, who looked momentarily uncomfortable, and then relaxed as his attention returned to the conversation.
Sif took a moment to wonder if Stark was actually sleeping with any of them, or if it was just his nature, like a sort of amplified version of Fandral.
Then Jane arrived.
"Hello, everybody," she cried as she stepped out of the elevator, and then embraced anyone she could find - Darcy, Josh, Bruce, Peter, Fandral, and Sif - before circulating back to Thor and surrendering herself to his enveloping embrace.
"Jane! This is a most pleasant surprise. I thought you would be working?"
"Well, I was." She looked annoyed for a moment. "Sometimes working for SHIELD is crap; my lab got shut down for emergency, I don't even know, alien autopsies or something. But on the plus side I get to spend time with you guys." She gave Thor an extra squeeze and a kiss on the cheek.
"Good thing I made extra steaks," Stephen said as he nodded to her, and then watched Volstagg inhale half a tub of what the lid called 'hummus.'
A few minutes later they all sat down to eat. Sif found herself on one side of the long table, flanked by Thor and Fandral, across from Bruce who was flanked by Steve and Tony. At one end Josh was next to Tony, Darcy sat at the head, and Jane was next to Thor. On the other end there were Volstagg, Hogun, Nat, Clint and Peter.
Sif was not particularly interested in the salad, but Thor urged her to try it, and this was so unusual for him that she complied. It had some kind of berry in it, and an unusual fruit vinegar, and it was actually quite pleasant. The potatoes were flawless. The meat was indeed magnificent.
Sif thought perhaps this was a good skill for a warrior to have. On hunting trips, she, the Three, and Thor had always subsisted on cold rations until they could get their prizes back to the palace kitchens.
Peter and Clint were discussing some kind of game that seemed far too violent for their mortal bodies, but when they began discussing coming back from the dead, she knew it to be abstract. Nat and Hogun seemed to be communicating only with their eyes. Volstagg focused on his food, and Fandral spent much of the meal trying to get the attention of the mortal ladies at each end of the table, but got caught up in the conversation of the game, saying he would like a chance to try it.
Tony, surrounded as he was by Josh, Bruce and Jane, started a conversation about the current and possible applications of portable Einstein Rosen Bridge generators and the experiments he was doing at his secret moon base. Darcy, bored, talked to Thor about the latest music she had downloaded, and Thor listened with polite interest until Darcy gave up and poked Josh with a fork. He glared, and then chided her for not using magic, which was a far more subtle weapon.
"Do you cook often?" Sif asked the Captain, since he was not engaged in conversation.
He beamed at her. "I have been recently. Bruce and Jarvis are teaching me. It seems so easy but I think that's more the skill of my teachers than anything else. What Bruce doesn't know, Jarvis can find out in a blink. And he never lets me forget and burn things, which is nice."
"Who is Jarvis?" Sif asked. "I think my mind has tried to remember too many names and I've lost a few. Is Jarvis here? I've got a name - or four - for every face here, I think."
"Oh, Jarvis doesn't have a face - or a body, for that matter," Steve said with a slightly worried expression. "So I guess you haven't been properly introduced. It tends to be memorable."
Sif looked at him blankly.
"I'm probably not the best person to explain this; I'm not familiar with modern Earth technology either. Jarvis? What are you?" Stephen said, turning his eyes slightly upwards.
"Lady Sif," said a voice from behind her. She turned, but there was no one there. "If I may attempt to explain. Earth has many thinking machines of varying complexity. I am among the most complex. Mister Stark created me to take care of his residences and the people inside them. I also help to run his armor."
Sif frowned. "But where are you, and what do you look like?"
"There are several places in the tower, at each of Mr. Stark's other residences, and one bank in each of Mr. Stark's suits of armor, where my core programming may reside at any given time. I can see, hear and speak through any machine connected to these that has the appropriate hardware. Given that there are millions of simpler thinking machines on this planet that have the capability to connect with each other and myself, one might say that I am everywhere. On the other hand, given that there are no physical systems dedicated to my function and no other purpose, one might say that I am nowhere."
Sif's eyes widened. "I did not realize that Midgard had such magic."
"Mr. Stark might object to the use of the word 'magic'," the thinking machine replied. "He insists that everything he does is perfectly in accordance with the limitations of science. However, given that very few other people can understand how Mr. Stark's creations work, and given that he has been making use of certain components that can only be created by the mages, Joshua and Darcy, and which are based on the same principles as your Bifrost, I would venture to say that the term 'magic' applies to much of what Mr. Stark does, perhaps including myself."
"Hey I understand exactly how arc pods work, even if I haven't figured out how the two of you make them," Tony interjected, gesturing at the two mages beside him.
"But none of the rest of us do," Clint replied.
"Speak for yourself," said Peter and Bruce simultaneously. Peter's words were punctuated by a gentle shove to Clint's shoulder. Jane merely nodded.
Thor spoke now. "I do not understand your definition of magic, Tony. On Asgard it is simply any skill or device that cannot be understood without years of specialized study. It is any technology or technique complex enough to be, by nature, arcane."
Tony shook his head. "If that's the case, explain to me the mechanism of biological magic."
Sif could tell that this was an old argument by the way Thor sighed at the Man of Iron.
"You know I have not taken the time to study such things. You must ask Joshua, as I continue to tell you and as I'm sure you have done. Just because you cannot master a science does not mean it is not a proper science."
"It usually does," Tony said with a raised eyebrow.
Jane frowned a little at him now. "Tony, there are always going to be questions that science doesn't have the answer to. Admit it, how disappointed would you be without a problem like this to bang your head against? The unexplained is what scientists live for. Just because this question is taking longer than usual is no reason to insult the whole field."
"But I'm confused! I hate being confused," Tony whined. He grabbed Bruce's shoulder. "How do the cells process and make use of the extradimensional energies?" Then he turned to the other side, grabbing the glowing green pendant hanging from Joshua's neck. "What the hell does being in contact with your skin do to this perfectly normal arc reactor?"
Both men sighed in the same 'not this again' manner that Thor had. Joshua laid his blue forehead against Tony's tan one, a blue hand encircling the inventor's neck, and said softly, "We will get this stuff through that thick head of yours sooner or later." He smiled, slightly mocking but also soft, and Tony's face echoed it.
Sif looked back to Stephen, who was sighing softly. "So many brilliant people here and I understand exactly none of it. I'm still trying to puzzle out what exactly is the internet and when did telephones and typewriters grow brains and start learning to talk to it?"
"It's magic," Sif said with a shrug. "We warriors have no reason to understand it."
"But it's such useful stuff. The internet is basically a worldwide repository of shared knowledge, and I don't always have Jarvis around to help me navigate it. I'd hate to be without at least a working knowledge of what it is and how to use it."
"This is an interesting phrase," Sif replied. "'Working knowledge'? That is exactly what I mean. The essentials of its use and no more. I do not need to know how to make a sword in order to learn how to swing it."
"That's true," Peter contributed from beside the Captain. "Most internet users only have that working knowledge themselves. Only maybe one in fifty can code their own rudimentary HTML, let alone how to set up a server or even ping a site."
"That was complete gibberish to me," Clint said, "and if you understood any of it, Cap, you're working way too hard."
"I do know that HTML is one of the languages computers use to speak to each other," Steve said.
"You do not need to know the languages in which thinking machines speak to each other, Stephen. You are a great warrior, and a great war leader, and no one should be able to ask more of you than that." Sif spoke with emphasis, and several heads around the table turned towards her.
"I can ask more of myself," Stephen said into the sudden hush. "People keep calling me a hero, and praising me for being able to fight. Well, it seems to me that I'm not doing a good enough job unless there comes a day when no one needs to fight anymore. And on that day I'd like to be able to say that I'm something more than a hero."
Sif blinked, uncertain how to reply to that. On Asgard, there was nothing more revered than a great warrior. There was nothing one could be that would mean more than being a hero. Her mind rebelled at absorbing such an alien concept.
Fandral nudged her. "Now who is trying too hard?" he teased. "We are warriors of Asgard; what could possibly mean more than that? Now, have some more wine and leave the thinking to those mad enough to enjoy it."
Sif heard a strangely familiar mutter, and turned to see that Joshua was giving Fandral a scathing, almost pitying look. There was something about the mage that bothered Sif. But she set it aside, took the offered wine and returned her attention to her meal.
If she saw that the Captain was now watching her curiously, she didn't let it affect her carefully lighthearted mood.
Once they were done eating, Stark was the first to stand. "Ice cream and a movie?" he asked the room.
"Yes!" Clint said, standing as well. "But it's got to have action, no chick flicks. Agreed?"
"But not something too violent," Jane said. "You all just got back from a battle and you know I've been worried."
"I second that," said Bruce.
"It must have bold heroic deeds for our visiting friends. Some of your Midgardian movies can be quite confusing," Thor said.
"Hmm. That does narrow things down," Tony said, forehead wrinkling.
"Oh! Oh! Oh!" Darcy stood up, yelling. "I have the most brilliant idea. We need to watch The Incredibles!"
And so it was agreed.
They congregated back in the kitchen, where a cold, sweet substance in various flavors was brought out and served very casually, the humans and Thor all grabbing their favorite variety and their favorite bowl. Steve recommended vanilla to start with.
"It may be considered plain by some, but that makes it a good place to start. And it has got flavor. Vanilla is in a lot of desserts; it just makes sweet things taste sweeter, somehow."
"But if you've never had anything chocolate, you have to try this," Natasha said, holding up a tub of chocolate ice cream.
Joshua shook his head. "You are all wrong. Strawberry ice cream is the most essential flavor to try. It is perhaps the best food Earth has to offer."
"That's settled, then!" Tony announced. "Sif, you get to eat your ice cream Neapolitan style."
This apparently meant a small serving of each of the mentioned flavors. Then they had to sit her down and watch her try all three, to see who was right.
She tried the vanilla first, because Steve had put forth a compelling argument. It did have a deep, almost floral sweetness. Then the chocolate. It had just a hint of a strangely satisfying bitterness. Last, the strawberry. It tasted like a sunrise, fresh, and very slightly tart.
"So?" Tony asked expectantly. "What do you think?"
"I see why people eat these together. They are so different; they compliment each other well."
The room, as one, gave an exasperated sigh. Sif smiled to herself.
Volstagg tried all the flavors before getting himself a bowl of the peanut butter chocolate. Fandral somehow quickly zeroed in on the butter pecan and declared it a food more than worthy of the gods. Hogun quietly avoided being seen to choose a flavor, although somehow he ended up with a small mug presumably containing ice cream at some point before everyone headed off to the area where the entertainment was to be viewed.
The Avengers had habitual favorite spots, and there was a bit of a scuffle as the seats filled up before everyone got one. Eventually Steve and Sif both stood waiting for the other to take the last seat on the couch.
Steve insisted she take it with such a serious look in his eye that she could not bring herself to refuse. She sat on the soft couch, and Stephen sat down at her feet, leaning against the arm, and he took out a sheaf of papers bound together with wire. She watched with interest. Anything this man did was likely to be worth watching.
It was a drawing of Tony, the one they called Iron Man in battle, the sparkle and mischief of his eyes captured. It reminded Sif very much of Loki. She thought that even had she not seen the armored man excel in battle, this picture would be all she needed to tell her that being on the wrong side of Tony Stark would be an egregious mistake.
Art suddenly seemed like a warrior's skill. Practical. A form of communication as profound and universal as the Alltongue.
Sif had always seen art as a thing that the tame pet known as a wife might take up to occupy her time while her husband was at war.
That it might serve as a way to warn, persuade, impress things on the memory, gain insight into an enemy - or an ally - this was entirely new. Sif felt as if her head were cracking open.
Sif no longer wondered how it was that Midgard and its inhabitants had wrought such profound changes on Thor. These people had a way of making one question one's oldest assumptions, things that, while one stood on Asgard, seemed entirely obvious.
Sif looked in awe at the man who sat below her, building ideas, preserving impressions, performing wondrous magic with the most basic of tools.
She looked at the paper again. The image forming there was a second likeness of Tony, but this time with Joshua, and Sif saw that he was drawing them as they were at this moment, bodies wrapped around each other and oriented towards each other even as their eyes were focused on the entertainment.
Sif decided that those two were almost certainly sleeping together.
It hit her, then, as she looked at the colorless drawing.
Joshua was Loki.
Loki was Jotunn.
She froze for a moment, absorbing this.
All she had known prior was that Loki was banished to Midgard, without his powers, and set as Thor's charge, who was to let the humans do as they pleased with him and make sure he did not escape.
Apparently what pleased the human prince, Stark, was to return Loki's powers to him and welcome him into the ranks of his team, into his bed, into his heart. Because the more she looked back and forth between the drawing and the men, the more obvious it was that this was love.
She whispered to Thor, who was sitting beside her with Jane in his lap. "How long have you known that Loki was Jotunn?"
He looked to her, unsurprised. "Since just after my banishment. Almost as long as he himself has known. Finding out you are a monster...it is not exactly a reassuring thing, and Loki has come to regret many of his actions from that time. But if you wish to know more, you must speak to him of it."
Thor returned his eyes to the movie, but his attention to Jane, kissing her tenderly on the temple.
Sif looked again at Loki and his human love. As much as she distrusted the younger prince, and as much as the idea of Jotunn frightened her, this man, this hero, Joshua, had proven himself to her as an ally, and had clearly convinced Thor of the same and more.
If this place could change Thor, if this place could change her in the bare handful of hours she'd spent here, she could perhaps believe in its power to change Loki. But what finally allowed her to regain her calm was the thought that she trusted Thor, and Loki was still Thor's charge, if in a different way than she had expected.
She would speak to Loki after this.
Steve had turned over another page, and was now drawing a series of Volstagg's expressions as he watched the show. Wonder, surprise, laughter. There was a great deal of life there and Sif knew that Steve appreciated the man's character the way few did so soon after meeting him.
Sif shifted her attention back to the entertainment. An oddly squat but incredibly forceful woman was showing Elastigirl a new set of fighting gear. "It can stretch as far as you can, without injuring yourself," the squat woman snarked at her.
Bruce commented, "Tony, can you let go of your obsession with magic long enough to invent that stuff? Because that would actually be insanely useful."
Tony quipped back, "I'm not a fashion designer, and excuse me for wanting to revolutionize the face of science. Again." But he got out one of his small thinking machines and began to play with ideas.
The squat woman was now berating Elastigirl for crying, saying, "and you will remind him who you are!"
The women in this movie were artists, wives and mothers, but they were also heroes and armorers; they lived in a world where both were important.
Sif suddenly did not ever want to return to Asgard; the thought made her somewhat ill.
"Are you all right?" Stephen asked from below her.
"...No," she said, but did not elaborate.
He patted her a bit awkwardly on the knee, and returned to his art.