1964-07-09 - Tea and Scones and Living
Summary: Kai and Strange have a heartfelt reunion and discuss the business of living.
Related: None
Theme Song: None
strange kai 


Another dawning day, another walk around the Greenwich Village neighborhood. Why? He isn't really sure. Maybe it was the sweet promise of warmth in the air; maybe the halycon blue of the skies above; maybe something else entirely, some tapdance along a string of compulsion on his part.

Regardless, Strange waves to the old lady next door where she sweeps off her porch of breeze-blown leaf litter. She gives him a distracted greeting in reply that he returns with a laugh and a comment, enough to garner him a laugh from her in response. Good neighbor for the day: check. In a button-down polo shirt and dress pants, he saunters along, hands in his pockets. No hurry to get anywhere but perhaps the tea shop. They've run out of scones and Wanda does love her honey-slathered scones.

Scones. Even as he pauses at a street corner, awaiting the walk signal, he gains an air of pensive melancholy. It's been some time since he heard from the Elf. It's an effortless flashback to the dinner at Saganaki's, under the orange tree and its blossoms, and he was be so certain in his request that Kai meet him for tea this week. It's a sore spot he hasn't touched on and he's hesitant to test for a pulse point in the Alfheimian's aura. After all…that had disappeared shortly not long after the Greek dinner.

The little folded kerchief in his pocket patpats his pec as subtly as it can manage and he glances down at it with a weak smile. "I'm fine," he murmurs in a volume barely audible to even himself. The Cloak in disguise settles down again. Limos, delivery trucks, taxis — they all stream by as the growing crowd waitings to cross the street.

*

Scones. Scones and chai tea. They didn't have those where Kai has spent the past however long. The real kicker is the time distortion one experiences from being in a featureless or unchanging place. He can't believe how little time passed on Earth. It's a blessing, really. Everything is still as it should be. Mrs. O'Riley's persists. He stands on the corner where, months ago, he almost got hit by a car while he and Strange were coming to the tea shop. This time, he waits to look both ways.

That's when he spies Stephen, and he smiles broadly. No longer heeding traffic (but fortunate that it's heeding him), he jaywalks to get to the Sorcerer Supreme, picking up his pace to a jog. "Doctor!" he calls out. That familiar voice, well-known cheer. He beelines for the sorcerer who, if he isn't careful, is going to get hugged.

*

The good Doctor's attention lifts from some idle spot somewhere to his two-o'-clock as he hears his title called out. He glances left and then right and then finally spots the inbound, traffic-dodging missile that appears to be none other than —

"Seven hells!" Strange breathes, even as he makes his way out of the waiting crowd and off to the open half of the sidewalk. "You were — I'll be damned!" Kai's probably close enough at that point to hear said self-damnation and to see the delight still skewed towards uncertainty. Can't blame the Sorcerer. The bad guys like to use all sorts of terrible illusory tricks and generally take advantage of relationships as points of weakness.

*

If the elf is an illusion, he's an illusion that wraps his arms around Strange and hugs him so hard it's almost too much. He's a lot stronger than he looks. He catches himself though and eases up. Mortals are breakable, that's right, and some immortals don't appreciate being squeezed. He feels real. He smells real (cigarette smoke, a small trace of weed, he's forever who he is).

"They came for me," he says, his voice strained with emotion. "Loki, Bucky, Thor, the Lady Amora, Captain Danvers, even Lambert! They conquered the underworld and brought me home." His voice is thick with emotion. "It's just like you said."

*

Indeed, the Sorcerer's ribs creak for a second and he pats the Elf's back in a rather rapid pattern to aid in noting this fact even as he tries to keep air from leaking out too quickly.

But this is real — it actually is that Moon Elf who owes him a chitchat over tea and scones. Strange listens and laughs, the tiniest catch in his voice. God, the relief is a wash through him that leaves him grinning from ear to ear.

"I'm right more often than not, I'll have you know," snarks the man, taking a moment to ruffle the Elf's hair. He'd not normally do this and realizes afterwards that he might have crossed some social boundary as Midgard's Mystical diplomat between the Worlds.

Oh well. The Elf is now ruffled. "You're just in time for tea too, how serendipitous. Come," and Strange tilts his head towards the group of pedestrians just beginning to cross the street. No taxis to smush them now!

*

Kai grins at the Sorcerer voicing his ego. He wouldn't be Strange if he didn't. The Elf's curls splay in disarray, and he cares not one whit. It suits him. "I told you," he says as he eventually releases the Sorcerer. "That I'd meet you for tea." He sniffles and wipes his psychedelic sleeve over his eyes.

He walks with Strange, full of frenetic energy, though there's something dimmed in his usual cheer. To be fair, he's had a time lately. "Loki and I are no longer forced to be apart. It's like having a weight lifted. This still feels a bit like a dream."

*

"You did." The two cross the street, avoid being squished by taxis, and continue on down the block. "It may take some time for the reality of things to set in. You're not wrong if it feels like there's a disconnect between it all. I experience a mental lag between dimensions at times," Strange says, glancing to the Elf. "Tea always helps." There's that friendly little smirk again.

The bells jingle as they always do. Old Mrs. O'Riley looks up from her scone dough and her entire face wrinkles in delight.
"Doctor, g'morning to yah. Yah brought yer friend, good good. You take yer seats, I'll get yer teas going. Chai for the lad, blackberry with clove for yerself. Scones too."

"You're a blessing upon this Earth, young lady," replies the Sorcerer and he get the usual 'pish-tush, you git' type of response from the shopkeeper. He takes his usual seat and after resting an ankle on his knee, he settles his arms on the rests. Only for a second though — then he lifts one and laughs once as he looks at Kai. "Go on, pinch yourself. The scones will be here shortly."

*

"Tea will definitely help," Kai says in an incongruently solemn tone. He missed tea. He missed wanting tea. Everything feels so dim after awhile when there's nothing and more nothing to look forward to.

When he spies Mrs. O'Riley, he smiles broadly and all but skips up to the counter. "Mrs. O'Riley, you're looking lovely as always, and your scones smell like Heaven." He just looks at her for a moment, taking her in. He wants to hug the old woman to him but there's a counter in the way and besides, she might take a rolling pin to him.

So he turns to head for the table. He drops into a seat and does in fact pinch himself. "I seem to be awake. I have all my fingers." He holds up his hand. "Did you know in dreams you can't count your fingers?"

*

Mrs. O'Riley would have been more surprised than not and probably not clocked the Elf with a rolling pin. Probably. High uncertainty rate there.

"I did know this, yes," replies Strange, wiggling his fingers where they rest. "It makes for a verifiable sanity check in the Astral Plane at times. That dimension has no qualms in turning your perceptions upon their head." He then sighs and the gaze resting upon the Elf grows steadily more pensive, grave. "I won't ask if it's nice to be back because that's crass. I won't pretend that there wasn't suffering because there was. I won't offer you pity unless you want it. What I can say is that you're a survivor. There will be nightmares. Sometimes shadows will make you jump and you will wake up weeping. I have teas that will help you sleep and they are most definitely of a potency to work, even with your physiology not of Midgardian origin. I don't mind giving you some in the least." It's with that same certainty that he adds quietly, "You will heal…but it will take time — and you have so much of it. There's no rush."

*

Kai smiles tightly and bows his head, glancing aside. "I wouldn't say no to those teas," he says quietly. "It helps to wake up to Loki being there. He's a great comfort to me." The trickster god, a great comfort. How many people have said that about the fallen prince? "As much as I wake up shaking, I also realize just how much danger my friends put themselves in to bring me back. It's humbling, and the greatest thanks I can give is to not squander this gift of life by dwelling on death."

The Elf takes a deep breath and lets it out unsteadily. "The dark elves tortured me. I bear the marks of their 'hospitality' and they're hard for Loki to look at, but he hasn't let it dim his happiness. Someday I'll bear them as badges that I beat them. Just, right now, it's hard."

*

Strange nods. "It won't be easy for some time. It took me years to accept these," and he shows both palms and backs of hands, reddened with the tracks of failed surgery, " — and sometimes I want to abuse the mantle for the sake of preventing it from all happening, but…as you said. Badges, worth of a story of triumph. In the end, we — you — won."

Mrs. O'Riley drops by the cups of tea and the plate of scones, four pastries and all for Kai. "Eat up, lad. Yer still too skinny," she comments before shuffling away again.

The good Doctor watches the shopkeeper move back behind her counter. "She's good people," he murmurs with noted fondness. "Don't ignore the woman now, eat up." He gestures towards the plate. "I can get the tea to you today."

*

Kai looks at Strange's hands, and he nods slowly. "Badges," he murmurs. "Our scars tell the story of where we've been. I look at those and I see sacrifice and power, a price paid in full, which speaks of honor. You didn't come by what you've got by some easy road. It's strange the things I'm seeing now I didn't notice before." He smiles a little. "Death makes us wise, then gives us nothing to be wise about."

For whatever reason, this makes him smile. He sits up taller, and when the scones come, he slathers jam on one and sets to eating it. Even scones taste better now. "Thank you for the tea," he says, licking crumbs from his lips. "The dreams are hard. I dream a lot that I'm still in that place and have gone mad, thinking that any of this is real. I think some of Lambert's satyr wine can help with the dreams."

*

"Don't let Lady Death hear you decry her of not imparting wisdom. She has a peculiar sense of humor." Is the good Doctor joking? …eh, it's hard to tell, even if his expression has a ghost of dry mischief about it. He sips at his own tea, licking his lips in contentment. This is simple happiness, tea with a friend.

"Satyr wine?" His eyes shift to Kai again. "How would it help with the dreams? I wasn't aware that it had soporific qualities beyond that of being wine."

*

"Oh, she is nothing if not educational," Kai says with an air of his typical conversational poise. A scone in hand demands it. Speaking of which, he's working on his second. Mrs. Riley did tell him to eat up. She'll risk a jam shortage if she keeps that sort of encouragement up.

The Elf grins slyly at the question of satyr wine, and he explains, "If you drink enough of it, you'll sleep so deeply even dreams can't find you. After letting that satyrkin get me drunk, I was obliterated. In the best sense, not… not the way I have been lately."

*

"That is an excellent way to describe her," and the Sorcerer laughs. Better hope Mistress of the Kid-skin Gloves isn't listening in.

"Ah, but the satyr wine has strong sopoforic elements to it then. I'll keep that in mind if I ever run out of tea. The Greek restaurant isn't very far, a simple walk…or Gate, I suppose." Strange drags a fingertip along the curve of the tea cup's rim. "Still…I'm not one for hangovers, especially with the sulfites found in wine. I'll stick to the steeping."

*

"I can't believe Lambert literally went through Hel for me," Kai says. "I mean he's always been nice to me, and he likes to feed me and get me drunk. You can't ask for a better pal than that. But he literally went through Hel." He waves a hand then and says, "I recover too quickly to get too hungover. Most of the time I can barely get drunk. Mortal booze just doesn't affect me that much." He sighs quietly and sips his tea. "I missed this," he says.

He studies his teacup for awhile, and he says, "You know, there are all these stories of how mortals got fire, and how it's a gift or something stolen from the gods, but they never take time to thank the powers that be for tea. I know it doesn't fit with the partier image, but more and more, when I want to drink, I just want to settle in with a mug of this chai."

*

Strange smiles, enamored of the brew as he is. "A very good friend of mine once mused over the fact that tea could solve most of the world's problems if people would sit and talk over it. A diplomat's boon companion…unless you're in Asgard." He sighs. "I'm grateful that the Court bends to my requests for tea. I can't imagine attempting any political talk after drinking with the eldest Prince, for example." Asgardian mead is nothing to trifle with.

Then the small vee of a frown appears. "Are you so surprised that others came for you? You count yourself that low in worth? Kai." The gentlest of recriminations is implied in the tone. "Every soul is worth the world itself. It is life. Life is precious and should be protected as such. Well and good they searched you out."

*

"That's a good point," Kai says. "I should learn the beverage of choice for different cultures, just in case I ever end up visiting them. My grandmother might approve of me, yet." Not that he seems terribly concerned either way. Oh, he learned politeness, old woman. He just chose a more entertaining option.

He has to think about Strange's question for awhile, his brow knitting and his lips pursed. "I'm not so surprised I can't see how it happened. I've been truly blessed to be surrounded by some of the finest beings in the universe. If I'm uncertain of my fortune, it's not that I think myself low, just not above anyone else. Who am I to be spared when no one else is given the same luxury?"

He leans back, and that's another question he has to think about. "They all deserve to be saved, if not from death itself than from the places lost souls end up. But they weren't saved. I was. I don't know why Providence arranged things in such a way that this would be my outcome." He ruminates over a drink of tea, then says, "That's what's humbling, but it's also a responsibility I'll gladly take on. If I'm to be alive, then I'll make it a life in service to others."

*

Strange lifts his cup to Kai's conclusion in a little salute. "And there's nothing better to be with a life renewed, in my humble opinion." Humble? What's that word? "Are you intending to continue your work as Hjuki then? You still have the Apple…?"

Mark his interest in this particularly. He knows that relic. It shouldn't be missing.

*

"Loki has kept the Apple in safe keeping," Kai says, "but I'm sure he'll give it back. He was willing to fight Asgard itself to keep it in my hands." He nods then and adds, "I'll continue as Hjuki, and I'll train with the Avengers. They're a good team, and we stopped Doctor Doom. That was a big deal." His eyes are wide with his seriousness. "We could do much more good."

There's a quirk of a smile, and he adds, "In any case, the Apple is safe. It does my heart good to know that even in his grief my dearest had the thought to hide it."

*

"It was an excellent decision on his part, yes. I wondered as to its whereabouts during your absence. I did hear about this Doctor Doom, yes, and very well done in regards to his defeat." Strange sips at his tea. "The Avengers did their name justice in regards to the actions of Doom. I appreciate them and the other metahuman groups tackling the physical half of reality. The Mystical half gets busy enough as it is."

*

Kai grins and ducks his head. "Yeah, we did pretty well. It's an interesting group. Mostly I soaked up laser and gunfire so it didn't hit the squishier teammates. I took a bazooka blast to the chest. You know, it's good to remember that and be reassured I'm not easy to kill. The dark elves had to work at it." That seems to cheer him up a little. "I'm going to check in on the team soon, let them know I'm okay." With a sigh, he adds "Bucky blames himself. There's no talking him out of it."

Strange's brows rise high. "Surviving a bazooka blast to the chest is certainly a way to ascertain this. I can imagine the shooter was flabbergasted." A big sip of his tea and he sets the cup on the table before lacing his fingers in his lap. Leaning back into the chair, he gets more comfortable and wiggles his shoulders back into it.

"If I may be brutally frank for a moment. From your tone, I suspect you don't hold him accountable for what happened or, if you do, you've forgiven him. Barnes should move on, work on healing himself. Very few of us can go back into the past and change things and even then…temporal paradoxes are nothing to idly consider. Don't take me as callous, please. Actually," and he holds up a finger. "I'll share a Wandaism." Yes, that's a word. "He should insult his captors by living. Grow. Laugh. Be anathema to the suffering they believe in."

*

"I think he was really angry," Kai says. Then he sits up and leans in, regarding Strange intently as he says, "I know! He was forced to do their bidding. They took his mind away from him. The sole blame rests upon their heads, and taking any of it on is… is… it's like saying 'that part wasn't your fault.'"

He sighs, and he shakes his head. "I don't know what to do with him except love him as my dear friend, and when he gets maudlin, try to cheer him up. He's got a deeply burdened soul, and maybe blaming himself gives him the illusion they hadn't taken everything away from him that made him him."

*

"It's entirely possible, but…I've found that brooding only gets one so far, even if it feels like an accomplishment at the time." He smiles before closing his eyes and shaking his head. "The Witch won't let me brood anyways. Remember the Wandaism. She's correct. It only accomplishes so much. Living is the answer in the face of such things, I believe."

The Sorcerer then indulges in a lingering observation of the street beyond the front walls, windows as they are. Couples walk by, a few with young children. Cars drive past. Pigeons hunt for crumbs on the sidewalk and swirl up when disturbed only to settle again.

He murmurs, "It's amazing how life continues, even after such terror. To linger in the past is to be left behind while everyone else forges on. Shadows need to be shed." His eyes, partially lidded, consider Kai again. "Cheer him up and help him live again."

*

"Your lady is both lovely and wise," Kai says with a nod. He takes another drink of his tea, eyes lidding with pleasure. "I don't have it in me to brood," he says. "I have a good cry, eat ice cream, and sketch or paint until I feel better."

He strokes his beard idly. "It was something else, to come back and see the sun still shining and people going about their business. One of the people I keep an eye on asked me where I'd been like I'd just gone on vacation or something. It's kind of comforting. And offensive, to think the world without you just… goes on." He smiles wryly. "I'll cheer up Bucky. I'm a light elf. Who better to dispel shadows?"

*

"Exactly," Strange says in regards to the Moon Elf's statement of luminescence, and points to further accent his agreement. "You have the grace of perserverance through positivity, Kai. Utilize it for Barnes's sake."

Taking up his tea, the Sorcerer finishes it out. He holds on to the cup for fiddling's sakes. Man's a fidgeter at heart. He sincerely can't help it. One fingertip rubs back and forth along the rim again.

"I'm glad you're back, Elf. Who else was going to eat the scones that Mrs. O'Riley brings each time I visit?" He gives his fellow tea-drink a true smile.

*

"I almost lost it," Kai admits quietly. "I've tried to tell Bucky this, but in some ways, him killing me saved me. They couldn't touch me anymore. They couldn't break me. I was in a bad place, but I was still me. If he hadn't ended it, I don't know who I would've come back as." He shakes his head. "That moody bastard saved me in all the ways that matter. I guess I'll just have to return the favor."

He grins, then, one of those bright and warm grins that lights up his whole demeanor. "I won't let you down in the scone department." In fact he takes one off the plate and tucks it in his pocket, then makes to get up. "I should go check in on a few of my regulars. They've been without their grey-clad errand boy for awhile." Little old ladies who need someone to get their medicine from the pharmacy, or help cooking or getting groceries. Such is his usual life.

"It's good to see you again," he adds, quieter. "Next time we meet, may I have no tales to tell."

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