1964-06-22 - Tea With Stephanie
Summary: Kai comes to visit Stephan Strange at a bad time.
Related: None
Theme Song: None
kai strange 


Timing is important. Truly. Mistime a step, you fall down the stairs. Slide the pan just right and the eggs land sunny-side up and not on the kitchen floor. You get hired, you get fired…and maybe a damn Fae cat is one step too fast and too canny for the Big Fluffy. Whomever is at the door in the next…say, thirty seconds, gets to hear the following:

"Aralune." Questioning, the baritone. "Aralune, where are — no. No, stop. Don't touch it — tsst! Don't — no, DON't — GODS BE — " The sound of glass shattering distantly followed by the sound of a minature windstorm that rises and falls as quickly as it came. The skittering yowl of a Fae cat so very sorry for what it just did and then a barrage of loud curses, including the epitaph of 'skinning a cat'.

If said person knocks, then the irritated shout of: "JUST ONE GODDAMN SECOND!" In mezzo-soprano.

*

Kai holds his fist to the door, about to knock again, but he pauses as he listens to the madness within the Sanctum unfolding. A small smile comes to his lips. He remembers this place, and it was never dull. "All right," he calls back, perhaps too softly to be heard. His hand falls to his side, and the fist slowly unclenches.

Aralune. That was the kitty cat. He tries to remember what she looks like. Big, that much he knows. Sleek, pretty. He takes a deep breath, pushes back memories of dark elves shrieking with delight as he screamed. He swallows. "Take your time," he adds.

*

The silvery ward-spells relay Kai's words to the petite dark-brunette about five steps from stalking up the Grand Staircase after the errant Fae kitten. She pauses, in her modified storm-blues, and waffles between indulging in some corporal cuddling of Aralune verses the Moon Elf…but only for a second. Little does the Malk know that the arrival of the Elf saved her bacon. Wanda might have come home to the kitten shaved bald — or wearing a Cone of Shame. Who knows what crisis was averted?

The front door opens suddenly, indicative of the temper of the master of the mansion, and Kai is confronted by 5'5" of Supremely-irritated woman, silvered temples and all.

"Kai, hello, you caught me at a bad time." She grimaces, knowing it was her temper that heralded this word choice and then sighs slowly. There's a moment of collecting composure and Strange tries again. "Come inside, we can talk over tea. Close the door behind you." The dark hair has a propensity to curl at this length, to shoulders and slightly beyond, and the Sorceress tucks it away behind her ear even as she grumbles, leading the way to the living room and the high-backed chairs.

*

Lindon looks up, expecting the tall sorcerer, then looks down, brow furrowing as he studies the woman he doesn't recognize. "…I'm sorry," he says with a scant lilt of a question. He steps inside and looks around. Yes. He remembers all of this. He's dressed without his usual flair in just jeans and a plain white t-shirt. "I'd love some tea."

He closes the door behind him, "You're a friend of Dr. Strange?" he asks. Maybe Strange has told this woman about him? Not that he minds the strange familiarity. He's a friendly sort, even if he is a shadow of himself.

*

"Oh-ho. Oh-ho." It's a dry mockery of laughter. The woman shakes her head even as she picks out the appropriate satchets from the collection. That vault-like memory contains the type of tea appreciated by each guest that filters through this room and the Petitioner's Chair. "That's a good one, Kai."

The Elf is gifted an arch brow complete with faint dimpling of a smile. The realization seems to hit the good Doctor a second later and the Elf has the pleasure of seeing Strange momentarily wordless.

A scarred hand gestures to all of herself. "It's me. I'm Doctor Strange." Those steel-blues, hiding behind thicker black lashes, flash frosted-violet and after another heartbeat, in flits the crimson Cloak of Levitation. It swirls once around the petite woman, curves and all, before clasping at her shoulder. Automatically shortening its hems, it fits her to perfection, collar and all. She smirks and there it is, that playful charm to twinkle and cajole. "Remember how fickle it is," she murmurs, glancing at one of the collars. It wiggles.

*

Having to look up to see Kai must be an interesting experience. Not such a tiny elf now, is he. "You're Doctor Strange," he asks with a breathy laugh. But the flashing of her eyes convinces him that, at the very least, she's got a handle on sorcery, and the laughter dies on his lips.

His gaze flits to the Cloak, and he tilts his head. "I remember," he says. "The kerchief." He gives the cloak a little wave, as though it could see. "Do you do this often?" he asks, "because if so I feel rather cheated."

*

"Oh gods below, not if I can help it," Strange replies, the laughter conveying rueful acceptance of the circumstances. "No, you…likely heard me yelling at Aralune. The Malk kitten," the Sorceress adds as she walks over, a saucer and tea cup in one scarred hand. She offers it out to Kai, nodding her head in encouragement for him to take it. Indeed, looking up at the Elf is a novelty. How the petite brunette manages that air of utter confidence gives her a few inches of height she physically doesn't have currently. "She knocked over one of the few weaponized spells I prefer to keep under wraps. A favorite of hers, unfortunately. I should have changed the coloration and natural luminescence within the baubles. It's too attractive to her. But…too late now." She shrugs with that same lazy nonchalance and turns about. Collecting her saucer, she settles into the favored high-backed chair — looking very small in it despite the fact that the Sorcerer Supreme is very much present. A sip and she sets aside the cup. "You feel…cheated?" A dark brow wings up in amused disbelief.

*

Kai drifts to the seat he usually takes and sits. The tea is taken, and he offers her a smile. He's taking all this rather well, all things considered. He grew up on some pretty interesting stories. He laughs a little and says, "She's a capricious little darling. I'm lucky Kevin just wants to dig on the carpet and hide under blankets."

He takes a sip, then adds, "I feel cheated because if you did do this often and not shown me, I've missed out on the opportunity to have such beautiful company." He inclines his "I may be gay as a Christmas tree, but I know loveliness when I see it."

*

"Kai, the seven hells!" And the Sorceress lets out a ringing laugh, the same belling guffaw known to her normal self save for the pitch. "You are ridiculous," Strange finally gets out, wiping at the corner of one eye. The sigh is heavy and those steely-blues find the Elf again, reflecting the true grin on plumper, more feminine lips. "But thank you. Wanda feels the same…surprisingly enough." Her nose wrinkles even as she laughs again, eyebrows flicking up at the personal admission. An 'ahem' brings the conversation back to the more formal and more likely task of a check-in.

"You seem…hale." Strange offers up the observation with no more emotional coloring than necessary. A slight tilt of the head betrays the more careful once-over by the good Doctor.

*

Kai laughs softly and ducks his head. He's a shade of his former self, but at least he's retained his good humor. "Wanda is a woman of imminent good taste," he says, then takes a sip of his tea.

At the mention of his state, he glances down at himself. "Alive in every sense that counts, I suppose," he says. Then he swallows, and his smile is a little wan. "It has been hard to get to sleep," he admits. "The dreams are…" He takes a deep breath and lets it out. "Sometimes it's like reliving Svartlheim. I don't think Bucky or I will ever be afforded the luxury of forgetting."

*

"The dreams are always the worst," Strange replies, lips thinned. "I understand." The truth of the statement lies in the gravity about the petite figure. The Sorceress is indeed haunted regularly for the efforts needed by the mantle. "I did deal briefly with Barnes, if you weren't aware of it. Yes…" The woman's voice fades out briefly before her eyes flick back to Kai's face. "You haven't escaped or completed the promise you made in Nilfheim, have you."

*

Kai shakes his head and says, "I had no idea." He frowns into his tea, but then takes a drink and his expression smoothes as he says, "Until I find Loki, stop searching, or they grow impatient, no. I'm still bound by the task." He closes his eyes briefly. It doesn't hide the misery, or the haunted air about the usually upbeat fellow. He's good at faking, though. Someone who didn't know him might not realize anything was wrong. "What Bucky did," he says, "in the end, it was mercy. Even if he didn't mean it to be, even if he feels guilty. They had broken me. I would've been eating out of their hand like a lap dog if he hadn't ended it. At least, no matter my circumstances, I still get to be me."

*

The Sorceress leans her chin on one hand, two temples buried up into silver temples. It's familiar stance in the high-backed chair and her contemplation shows in the half-lidded attentiveness she grants Kai.

"You are plucky, Elf." The empathetic smile is there to accent the statement. "Nilfheim could not break you if it tried. Remember this, even when it haunts you. I will tell Barnes the same next I see him. I suspect we'll see each other soon enough." The dark berry tea is sampled again and she licks her upper lip as she sets the cup down on the saucer again. "I'll be honest with you, Kai. This is a promise beyond my power to break. Bargains are not things to be taken lightly by anyone with any power, including that of the Arts. Diplomacy keeps my actions within the realm of Midgard as well. There is little I can do beyond act upon my connections within the realms — and I still cannot guarantee a solution this way."

*

"They talked so many circles around me," Kai says, "and I was so addled from what the dark elves did. I was suggestible." He sighs and rubs at his forehead. "It hardly seems fair, or at the very least sporting." He fidgets with the teacup.

"Bucky's going to try to rescue me," he says. "Lady Amora has offered her assistance as well. I'm not letting myself get my hopes up. For now, I'm just going to keep looking for Loki. As long as I'm looking, I'm fulfilling my end of the bargain. If I find him…" Loki stares at his tea for a long moment. "I hope he gets angry. I hope he breaks things off and refuses to go. That way at least one of us gets to live."

*

Strange nods slowly. A curl of dark hair is wound about a fingertip and then slowly rubbed as the guest is considered more.

"You have the might of the Enchantress on your side? That is…a singular note of accomplishment." The smile has the faint shadow of a sneer on it for all of a split second. "I never suspected her to be so…charitable. Between her and Loki, you have a fighting chance, Kai. I won't sit here and disparage it."

*

"She has always been kind to me," Kai says with a small smile. "The other night, we shared mead and tales of our heartache. Thor has returned to himself and doesn't remember their time together." He presses a fingertip to his lip. "I don't know if that's supposed to be known. But I would like to think she and I have become friends."

He smiles, then. One of the few genuine, smiles he's had since he got back. There's a glint of life in his eyes. "I won't despair," he says. "I don't feel like I've done enough in my life to merit being surrounded by such excellent people." He tips his teacup toward Strange in a wordless toast.

*

The toast is returned with what curvature of lips Strange can muster through the mien of formality she draws tightly about herself. The crimson Cloak seems to sense her unspoken pain and slips in closer about those leanly-muscled legs, acting as blanket and silent comrade.

"Would that you were the diplomat for your own Realm. You attract friends wherever you go. I have faith that you will twist this to your own good." The Sorceress sips at her tea again and falls silent, musing at her own reflection in the dark tea.

*

Kai laughs a little and says, "In my own Realm, I'm 'that boy,' the one whose parents stole from Asgardian royalty and rot in prison for it. They whisper wherever I go: will he turn like them? Blood will out. My grandmother is ashamed of me." He shakes his head. "I'm afraid they wouldn't take well to putting me in charge of a bake sale let alone diplomacy."

He studies Strange for a long moment. "You know, it's funny. No matter how you look, you're still Strange. Your advice is always so sound, and I end up feeling so much more at ease. You can make death seem not so bad."

*

The Sorceress glances up from her tea and tilts her head from side to side.

"I certainly hope that I remain inherently myself, even were I to wear the guise of something inhuman or otherwordly entirely. I think you're buttering me a little heavily, however," she murmurs, " — ascribing me the ability to make dying less of a blow." Silence dogs her for long enough that the Elf might wonder if she's to continue talking, but then, Strange does. "Lady Death and I are old friends." There is a haunted shadow within the eyes that rise to meet Kai's, a flickering of bone-deep empathy for being snarled up within the skein of the ones who tend the afterlife.

*

Kai shakes his head. "No, no, no, it's not heavily at all. Allow me my gratitude." Then silence descends, and he studies her. The features are different, but here and there he can see the sameness. And she is pretty, a face he intends to paint when he gets the chance. "You say old friend," he says, "but you sound like you mean you wouldn't mingle well at a party."

*

Should such an artistic endeavor come to be…don't show Strange the painting. Don't do it. He'll strut around and be very egotistical for a while and then Wanda will have to pluck his peacock feathers.

"Were I at any party and Lady Death chose to show, it was not for my devising. It would be a show. We…disagree on an elemental level." The Sorceress is reticent in speech and retreats into her cup of tea again.

*

That's the best possible reason to show him!

"I'm sure Lady Death disagrees with quite a few people. I disagree with her rather fervently on the question of whether or not I should be dead." Kai finishes his tea, and he goes to pour himself more from the pot, familiar enough in this place not to stand on ceremony. "But I take it it's deeper than that?"

*

Scone Elf, thou art the worst of enablers to this man's overweaned pride. Never tell the Witch.

A rather unladylike snort follows the Elf to the tea stand by the fireplace's hearth. It's one of agreement, have no fear. Strange watches the water pouring to refresh the cup, steam rising from the surface visible even at this distance. "It's more complicated than a simple disagreement, yes…" The laconic speech pattern takes on a distinct Midwestern twang and she frowns beyond the silvery wreathing of rising moisture.

*

Kai moves with quiet precision. He goes through the motions, and sometimes that's the best one can do. Especially when the motions result in a fragrant tea. He reclaims his seat, and he inhales deeply the steam. That's always so nice. It's another thing he'll miss when he's brought back to Niflheim. Tea.

"Is it something you care to discuss or should I suffice to say it would make a fascinating story?" he asks. "I have myself not had the honor of a formal introduction to the lady."

*

"She's not unkind. Simply overwhelming if you're unprepared…and I haven't met a single living being prepared for such an encounter." Strange swallows suddenly, rolling her lips inwards. Finally, the explanation comes forth, still rather succinct and tight. "I have no family, Kai, except for those I call as such. I lost them all before I reached thirty years of age. One of them died in my arms, another two on the gurney, the last before me in the road. Nothing I could do. Too soon." A sharp sigh and a pained grimace, though it's a bruised expression rather than freshly-lanced grief. "I earned my immortality as Sorcerer Supreme and while She does not hold grudges, I am anathema to Her. A wayward scuff of chalk on Her counting board. A thread in the loom that refuses to knot smoothly. I know She awaits a fatal error on my part if simply to balance Her scales." The shrug attempts lassitude the Sorceress doesn't feel. Prickling on her neck means the discussion is drawing some unwanted attention. "We disagree."

*

"I know I'm not ready for such a thing, and I am dead," Kai says. His expression darkens. "I'm dead." It keeps hitting him, over and over. It's so easy to forget, being as he's back in the world, breathing, possessing a heartbeat. Then it hits him again. He looks to the woman across from him.

"You're immortal?" Kai says softly. His smile returns, softening his features. "That's… that's a worthy thing to disagree about. For what it's worth, you've come to feel like family to me."

*

The crimson Cloak patpats the woman's face suddenly and it's enough to draw her from whatever doldrums threaten to consume her. Delicate, scarred fingers brush aside the familiar relic's touch and she gives it a little tweak, smirking all the while.

"Ridiculous thing…" Gruff affection, even in the mezzo-soprano range. She looks to Kai again. "I'm immortal, yes, though with certain limitations. Lady Death wouldn't let me have all of the fun." A bit snarly, this bit, but she smooths out quickly enough and suddenly nods. The rise to her feet is abrupt, the stride over more controlled, and then she stands before the Elf. Maybe she's taller now for how he sits in the chair and there's still that unfathomable dignity about her, an aspect never lost to the Sorcerer, no matter the form taken.

"You might as well consider yourself family as well, Moon Elf. …you've grown on me." And that's a compliment from the Captain of Curmudgeonry with his reclusive habits.

*

Kai smiles up at her, as sweet as any summer day. "Sister," he says. "I never had one, or a brother. Now I've both." He sets aside his tea, and he warns her, "I'm going to hug you." It's good to warn the Sorceress Supreme and her Cloak of Levitation before moving in for that sort of that. He gets to his feet, and now he's the one gazing down at her.

"Can I tell you a secret?" Then he says it anyway, "Loki teased me about someday feeding me an apple of immortality. My people are long-lived, but we're not eternal."

*

"I think you're hugging me simply because I'm shorter." The accusation is brushed heavily with wry humor. Still, the Elf reveals the secret without much more hesitation and Strange is the one giving him the faint frown of concern, face uptilted in order to keep eye contact. "Consider the implications, at least in terms of Asgardian politics, Kai. I visited that garden not long ago. The Norn Sisters are jealous of the apples and not inclined to games over them."

Despite her half-hearted accusation, the Sorceress is probably getting hugged at this point.

*

"That does make it easier," Kai says. Now that he's the one looming. Yeah, bring it in, Kai's going for it. He's a good hugger, too. Maybe it's something they teach in Elf school, but those arms are stronger than they seem, and he's got such an absence of hesitation when it comes to showing affection. "Don't worry about it," he says to her. "It was just silly sweet nothings." He draws back, then tidies her hair a bit. There. Like nothing ever happened. "It was just such a nice thought, and now it's over so quickly. I have to put my faith in him."

*

No one else is taller than Strange normally — granted, a few folk are, but they aren't the hugging sort. It's weird, at first, but the Elf can probably feel the tension leaving the petite woman's frame enough to acknowledge that yes, indeed: it's a hug between friends.

The comment is somewhat muffled against the Elf's pectoral: "Don't get used to it." Then they disengage and she grimaces for his smoothing of her hair. Her own hand follows, like as not overly-fixing it, but oh well. Control freak, ahoy! Grudging affection, yay! "Faith is important, don't dismiss it. I can't see the future…" The pause is significant enough to engender curiosity, perhaps, or act as wicked tease. The master of the mansion's a jerk sometimes. "…but I have the suspicion that between you and that Trickster God, you'll find a way out of this whole…mess." She waves off to one side before folding her arms. "You might not even need my help." And there's that imdominable ego, complete with smirky-smirk.

*

Kai grins, and he says, "I'll cherish it for the moment that it is." He reclaims his seat, looking quite pleased with himself. Another treasure to take with him to Niflheim, this memory. "Though I think hugs are positively medicinal. Think of how many of the world's ills would be solved if we just embraced one another and didn't have to fear a shiv."

His smile lingers as he thinks about the Trickster God in question. "But if we do, it's good to know that you're there. But, of course, not at risk to yourself. I keep trying to tell Bucky don't hurt yourself trying to save me. He blames himself, and I just…" He shakes his head. That man.

*

"Yes. Barnes strikes me as a man who lacks a good portion of common sense in the vein of self-preservation." But don't tell Bucky that…he likely knows it already. After all, he tempted Fate itself by shooting at a certain Witch and suffered the blunted version of the Sorcerer's wrath. "Hugs won't solve this…though I'd find particular irony in it all if they did." The petite woman shrugs and wanders over to the tea stand. Idly, Strange fixes a few bags out of place in their containers and uses one of the cloths to shine a spot from the teapot, still warming water in its forever-charmed state. "I'm here, Kai, but be mindful of diplomacy. It'll be hinderance to my involvement." Those steel-blues flick to him and linger, the ghost of a possible apology within their depths.

*

"Sometimes they can treat the symptoms," Kai says. "Just feeling like a living being again does all sorts of things for being dead." He takes a drink of his tea, committing to memory the flavor he loves so much. Just in case things don't go well. "My dear." She's 'my dear' now? "Don't do anything that will upset the balance of anything. Your responsibilities outweigh one life and, for what it's worth, it was a good life."

*

'My dear'? …the last person to call him that was his aunt about ten years back. Strange closes her eyes and shakes her head. Yep, time to get back to business proper. No more waltzing around in winsome glory. His pride can't take much more of affection.

"My responsibility is to life." She draws up short in her pacing within the open space before the hearth and somehow gains imaginary inches for the stoic expression and air. "The life of this Realm. You live here, you claim it as home. You are a soul within it and the gods be damned if anyone says otherwise. You are under my protection. If I can do anything…I will."

A curt nod and then those lambent, now frosted-violet eyes close off again. A series of complicated gestures brings liquid magic to life and then breaking wrists sends the counter-spell swirling about her. A bright flash, bright enough to leave after-spots in one's vision, and when it clears, oh look. All 6'2" of that cantankerous Sorcerer who lays claim to the mantle, this reality, that much-lengthened Cloak, and this Sanctum. He rolls his shoulders and sighs in bone-deep contentment. "Much better." Even that familiar baritone returns.

*

This is Kai's delight, of course, the Sorcerer Supreme in a position where he… she is someone he can shower with affection and face no immediate doom. He watches her in her stoicism, and it's a whole new kind of admiration in his eyes. No matter what shape, she is a commanding presence. It's easy to be one at over six feet tall, but at five-five?

He lowers his gaze to his teacup. "Humbling words," he says quietly. "You make me want to strive to be worthy of them." When he lifts his gaze, he has to keep lifting it. There's the Sorcerer he knows! Large and in charge. "Aw, I liked her. My sister." That humbled expression turns puckish. "I suppose you'll do, though."

He finishes his tea, and levity is tempered as he says, "I should get back to my search. He's not at home, he's not any of the places I know of, but I have to keep searching." His geas, such as it is. "Thank you for the tea and conversation. I don't think I'll ever tire of these." And then? He bows. His grandmother would say death becomes him. "Farewell."

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