1965-07-10 - Street Level Heroing
Summary: Steve and Kai go to check in on old Mrs. Keller.
Related: None
Theme Song: None
steve-rogers kai 

Not all heroes wear capes, and even the ones who wear spangly outfits don't do so all the time. "I used to go in my costume," Kai tells Steve, very quietly as they walk down the dim hallway of a rundown tenement, "but now that I wear that while I'm out Avenging, it seemed more sensible to dress down." He's got a bag of Chinese takeout in one hand, paid for by the money Loki gives Kai to fritter away. They come to the last room at the end of the hall. The light is out, and the number has worn away on the door. "I used to go in through the window. Sometimes I still do. You have to still maintain a sense of style, I think."

"That style is probably going to get the authorities called on you, Kai." Trust the Captain to remind the younger man — Elf — of proper decorum. He's certainly not sporting the shield or stars and stripes this evening. In jeans, work boots, and a grey-and-white plaid button-down beneath a light running jacket, he's simply a New Yorker running an errand. Steve glances around the hallway and back at the apartment door in question. "You've got a friend who lives here?" he asks of the Elf.

"To be honest, I'm surprised at how little time I spend in jail," Kai admits. It's that face. What little old lady is going to call the cops on that sweet blond boy with those big blue eyes? He smiles at Cap brilliantly. Then he knocks lightly on the door and calls through, "Mrs. Keller, it's me. I brought a friend." Then he ushers Cap inside.

It's a small place, sweltering hot, with a small fan rattling in the living room's single window. There's a couch with a crocheted blanket over the back, and in an easy chair is an old woman who is tiny and fragile. She's in a house dress, her hair is loose and frizzy. She peers at the door. "Kai?" she asks, hopeful and half-confused.

There are dishes in the sink, the place smells stale. The poor woman's hands tremble as she reaches for her reading glasses.

Steve follows inside after looking behind him — old habits die hard, even in New York City — and closes the door with a polite attempt at minimal noise. He looks about the place and his brows gather. Memories…memories push up against his inner view like so many bird at a windowpane, beating silently, each striving to be the one let in to flash between the world of now and his past.

Someone speaking brings the Captain back from a reverie in swamp coolers, sticky shoulderblades, and lukewarm water to fight the cough-inducing pleurisy made worse by the humidity of summer. He lingers by the door and watches, almost feeling out of place.

Kai in contrast bounces over to the old woman's chair and plants a peck on her cheek. "Who else? I bought too many noodles again." He presents the bag to old Mrs. Kellar, but only briefly before he whisks it off to the kitchen so he can put it on a proper plate with a proper fork. It's not always great for the soul to live out of paper cartons.

The tired lady just sighs and settles back in her chair. She finally puts her reading glasses on, which still renders her fairly blind as she glances toward Steve. "You got caught up in the whirlwind, too?" she asks.

Meanwhile, Kai bounces back in with the noodles, presented to her on a TV tray, and he tells Steve, "This is Mrs. Keller. Mrs. Keller, this is my friend Steve. We were just in the neighborhood and I had to come see my favorite girl."

Mrs. Keller swats at him for his cheekiness, but she's grinning. "Hello, Steven."

Seeing that he's been outed by introduction, the Captain steps further into the warm apartment. The stretch of setting sunshine let in by the window slides across his body as he walks over and pauses behind the couch with its knitted throw. He gives Mrs. Keller a friendly smile and small wave at the level of his ribs.

"Just Steve, please, m'am. I decidedly to tag along. It's been a long time since I've been to this part of town." His eyes scan the room again, noting the aged bric-a-brac and decor. "We were eating out and Kai mentioned that he had a friend who would like some Chinese food. All his idea." He gives the Elf an approving look.

Cap's secret might still be safe yet. She squints at him fuzzily, but then she smiles. "Steve, then." Food is put before him, and she starts to eat. It's a small portion, but she's a dainty eater. Poor thing can't be more than a hundred pounds. Kai bounces off again, into the kitchen to tackle dishes. "He's a good boy," the old woman confides to Steve. Her gaze goes to a photo on the wall. It's a younger woman looking back, standing beside a soldier who is young enough to be her son. She can't possibly make it out with her poor eyesight, but she knows what it is. "So what do you do, Steve?" Yeah, she has no clue who he is.

Steve nods agreement; the Elf is certainly a ray of sunshine, regularly casting cheery brightness wherever he travels, skipping or not. He follows her wizened squint and sees the small family behind framed glass. Oh wow — that uniform; how innocent the smile on the young man's face, forever frozen in optimism. Again, the fluttering of memories at the panes of his attention and with a delayed second's worth of effort, he looks back to Mrs. Keller at her question.

"I am an…intelligence and communications consultant," he replies evenly. "It takes me overseas every now and then, but New York City is home. Brooklyn, in fact." That much, he feels comfotable letting on.

"Intelligence and communications," the old woman echoes, then she laughs a little, shaking her head. "Well, I'm not sure what that is, but I guess you get to see the world. My boy, he sent me letters from England and France, but I never got to go."

Kai comes away from the kitchen, drying his hands on a towel, and he just looks at Steve, one brow arching. "That's our Steve," he says. "Intelligent and communicative." He grins at Steve, then tells Mrs. Keller, "I put the rest of the noodles in the fridge on plates. Just pop one in the oven to warm up."

He then comes over to Mrs. Keller's chair and takes up a comb. With the patience of a hardened stylist, he tackles the frizz. "Steve stops by the restaurant sometimes," he says. "That's where that baklava came from."

While no one can see him shuffle his feet slightly, Steve does return that arched-brow with a mild and angelic expression, as if daring Kai to press further. Somewhere, he just knows that Bucky is wondering why the sudden urge to laugh came over him.

"Lambert, the owner of the restaurant, does make some good baklava. That, and…" He mouths the name once before sounding it out carefully. "Paidakia. Lamb chops. We'll have to bring you some in the future, if you want to try the dish." The offer is sincere. His eyes wander back to the picture hanging on the wall. He does want to ask after the young man, but there's a sense of propriety to be minded and toes to avoid stepping upon.

Kai plaits Mrs. Keller's hair neatly. It's a small enough gesture, but she sits up a little taller for it, preening just a titch. She doesn't get down to the salon these days. "I used to make lamb chops for Mr. Keller, before he passed, and my Ronald before the War took him."

Kai's glance goes to the photo and he says, "That's Ronnie. He served with the 92nd."

"That's right," Mrs. Keller says with a nod. There's a mixture of pride and sadness in her features. "He's buried in Arlington."

Kai finishes up her hair, and he fusses over her a bit, giving her a clean lap blanket, tidying up her TV tray. Then he ducks into her bedroom.

"You don't need to be in there," Mrs. Keller calls.

"How else am I going to seduce you!" Kai calls back.

She snorts and waves a hand, then tells Steve, "Tell me you're a nice young man and not a scoundrel like that one." The one she was calling a good boy a moment ago.

While Kai neatly coifs old Mrs. Keller's hair, the Captain walks over closer to the picture on the wall. He recognizes the khaki cotton shirt and trousers, down to the shine on the buttons and drab color. Ronnie's hat is perfectly placed atop his head, not a hair out of place. The pride emenates from him still, after all the decades, from every crisp line of his uniform. Ah…the picture was taken before they sent him overseas then — before the stain of mud and spilt blood marked him forever as a casualty. The phantoms of shouted commands, gunfire, and the deep boom of tanks echo in his ears even as he turns to give the old woman a respectful little nod.

"My sympathies, Mrs. Keller," he says quietly, after learning where the son's body lies. The man falls silent while Kai does his good deeds here and there about the apartment and dimples faintly show at the brief banter. "I don't know, m'am, I've been told that he gives me a run for my money in terms of considerate actions. I, however, do not walk into the bedrooms of a stranger's place." This he clarifies with, again, that angelic expression.

Mrs. Keller inclines her head to accept the sympathies. "He was a good man," she says in her gentle, brittle voice. "All he wanted to do was serve his country, and he did. He laid down his life believing in the cause." Cold comfort for a widow these years on, but she cherishes it because it's all she has. She smiles at Steve and tells him, "You're very kind, Steve. She approves.

Kai emerges, all innocence, and ducks back into the kitchen. He returns with tea sweetened with a bit of honey, and he sets it on her tray. Her dishes have been washed, the kitchen tidied, sheets changed for nice crisp clean ones, a relief on these sweltering nights. "Brought you a spot of tea, luv," he tells the old woman. To Steve, he says, "Don't tell me you're trying to steal my girl." This gets him another swat.

"I wouldn't dare try it, Kai," replies the Captain after trying and failing to hide a smile at the old woman's action. Good — you tell that young upstart what-for, Mrs. Keller. "I'm here as moral support and second opinion that the Greek food from Saganaki's is well worth trying."

He walks over to the window now and frowns at the fan, trying its damnedest to move cooler air into and around the small apartment. "We'll get you a new fan too next time we visit, Mrs. Keller. This thing has seen enough in its time."

Mrs. Keller says, "Oh, now, you boys don't have to put yourselves out." It's not exactly a no, though. Pride demands a token refusal. She continues to pick away at her noodles.

Kai nods to Steve in agreement on the new fan. He claps him on the shoulder companionably. "Is there anything else I can do for you, Mrs. Keller?"

Pride demands. She sniffs and says, "Go on, then, keeping an old lady up all night. I need to get some rest."

Kai grins at the complaint. "I'll come earlier next time," he says. He gives her another peck on the cheek, takes the swat, and make shis way toward the door.

"Thank you for keeping an old woman company," old Mrs. Keller says to Steve. "Try to keep this one out of trouble, if you can."

The inclination of head is returned to Kai by the taller man. He makes to walk towards the front door of the apartment now, but not before stepping over to the old woman in her chair.

"You're welcome and I'll do my best, Mrs. Keller," promises the Captain with a small smile. "We'll get that fan to you sooner than later." Taking up a gnarled hand, he gives it the gentlest squeeze. "Have a good night then." His travels to the door are in no real hurry and he lingers to make certain that Kai completes his goodbyes before opening it up into the relative silence of the hallway beyond.

The old woman peers up at Steve, and seeing him up close, she has to wonder. It's there in her gaze. Is it? No, it couldn't be. Not in her little apartment in Hell's Kitchen where she's forgotten and alone. Almost. Not always. There's Kai. She squeezes Steve's hand as she dismisses the possibility of who he is with a shake of her head. "That's all any of us can do, Steve," she says.

Kai says his good-byes, and then he ushers Steve back out so Mrs. Keller can finish eating in peace and retire to bed. "Isn't she a darling?" he asks in a low tone as he's leading the way out of the tenement.

"She's a sweetheart," Steve agrees quietly as they travel down the hallway. "It's good to see you be there for her. Amazing how the little things make all the difference in the world to someone. I bet she treasures your visits each and every time."

He half-smiles down at the Elf. "Let me know next time you intend to visit her. I can grab a solid working fan and she can finally have some air-flow into that place. I can empathize with the close heat." And boy, can he.

"I like doing it," Kai says. "I used to do the whole mask and costume, but they don't need a glowing angel-looking bloke descending from the heavens. They just need a person who cares about them. Someone who will do a bit of shopping or come say hello." He nods then and says, "I should be by around this time next week." He grins at Cap brightly. "She likes you. I bet you remind her of her son. I'm glad you came with me."

Steve shrugs, hands in the pockets of his jacket. "It was no skin off my back to come along. If I brightened her day, I can sleep better for it. Besides…it's just as wholesome as disarming nuclear weaponry or bouncing my shield off the face of some unsuspecting assassin. Fills my heart with joy."

On that wry note, he smirks and then the edge wears away. "It's nice to be human and human alone."

Kai says, "Yes! That's it! It fills my heart with joy, too." He has a bounce in his step. Maybe he's not solely motivated by the pursuit of his next good time. There's an innocence about the happiness he radiates just now. "Come on," he says, nudging Steve's shoulder with his own. "Let's get a beer. My treat." He leads the way to a bar so dark it's doubtful anyone will recognize Steve, but the beer is good and the people mind their own business.

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