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Definitely Not in Kansas
Marvel-MCU

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#1
Definitely Not in Kansas

”I’d hate to break up the set.”

The words haunted him, even now. It was as though it had been a prophecy, something, somewhere, trying to warn him, to tell him that this was precisely what he was about to do. He should have just listened to Tony. Why had that been so impossible?? It shouldn’t have been; he knew that Tony was trustworthy, a good man, a good friend. Tony, who had opened his home to him and the others, who had allowed them a place, the chance, to become a family, who had ever been happy to help however he could. And yet, when Tony had needed Steve to just listen to him, to compromise, Steve had found himself unwilling to do even that.

And now he found himself in Limbo, wandering around a New York he didn’t really recognize, staring up at a tower that was no longer home, as much as he might yearn for it to be. The familiarity of this place, how it made him feel at home even though it wasn’t was bittersweet torture. He kept finding himself looking up, looking for Iron Man or Thor or Falcon, and he knew… He knew he wouldn’t see any of them.

They were either back in the real New York City, or they were ensconced away in Wakanda. Or on Asgard, probably bemoaning the foolishness of their strange Midgardian friends, in Thor’s case.

He hated to break up the set? Well, he’d done a pretty damn thorough job at that, hadn’t he?!

And now he was regretting all of it. Every decision, every step that had brought them down the path they’d ended up on. It took him a moment to realize the irony of the date and what had happened. "Happy birthday, Tony." he thought tiredly.

Steve found his feet taking him away from the almost-familiar New York and into the strange inner area of the city he had found himself in. It wasn’t exactly bustling the way New York did, with all of it’s people in a rush to go wherever they were headed, but Hub wasn’t entirely dissimilar, either. Odd and strange, but it was just another city, like so many others. He wasn’t home, wasn’t even close; he didn’t know where he was, but it definitely wasn’t anywhere he knew. Quietly, he reached up to scrub a hand down his face before shifting to correct his posture, holding his chin up, and marching into the city, determined to figure out just how he’d gotten here and where exactly here was.

“That’s not going away anytime soon.”
*
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Dungeons and Dragons-Forgotten Realms

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#2
These worlds made for an interesting curiosity, at the very least.

Arjay had known what he was getting into when he’d stepped through that portal… well, more or less. He’d expected to end up on another plane of existence, but no, he hadn’t known what, exactly, he was going to find. He would have expected some sort of outer plane, perhaps the another place on Faerun in some undiscovered land, he’d even, in a fleeting moment of vanity, thought that perhaps his goddess had had mercy on him and offered him a portal to one of the realms she called home. He hadn’t expected what he’d found, though, this world of many worlds. He didn’t feel trapped here, not in the least. Returning to Toril was a simple matter of casting a plane shift, or perhaps opening a gate. Making sure he could find his way back to his own portal had been his first priority, but since then, he’d let himself be absorbed by the endless curiosities offered by this place. At first, he found more worlds that were much like his own, but with differences that were often entertaining, occasionally disturbing, but always fascinating to the scholar in him. As he’d ventured out, though, he’d allowed himself to cross into worlds (or at least the echoes of them) that were glaringly different from his own, such as this one he was walking through now.

The air here had taken some getting used to, reminding him of the sulfurous air he’d find near a volcano, only less caustic. Dirty was the only word he could think of to use. The city was all stone and glass and metal, and at first glance it had been… well, ugly. It had taken him some time to start seeing the subtleties in some of the architecture, picking out the older buildings, with the more decorative stonework. Oh, it was no dwarfcraft, that was certain, but when had dwarves ever built anything as tall as the buildings he saw here? And the devices they had… well, he knew they weren’t magic, but they were much more reliable than the gadgetry he’d seen on Faerun, from Lantan or anywhere else. He’d spent days simply watching and experimenting, figuring out what devices did what. He knew that he wasn’t remotely close to being proficient with any of them, but he could understand their uses… and that he couldn’t bring them back with him to his world. That had been one of the first things he’d tried, just out of curiosity.

The place and the things looked into, he began looking at the people. He didn’t know what constructed these shadows of cities, but he had become reasonably adept at picking out who was a shadow and who was real. For instance, this man here, who was quite obviously not used to his current environment. He’d let countless people pass him by over the past weeks, but this one… well, he didn’t know what reason he had to stop him, save that he was simply weary of the solitude he’d found himself in here. His goddess hadn’t placed him here to wander alone, there had to be people here worth knowing.

He casually took up pace with the man, quite the strapping specimen of a human, actually, now that he got a close look at him. His own appearance was nothing to turn your nose up at (even now, as illusions altered his features slightly so that he could blend in on these worlds that were filled with seemingly nothing but humans), but this man had a physical power that Arjay at his best would have never matched. “They aren’t going to notice, you know,” he said, as the man straightened his posture. “Them, I mean, these people, this city. You could crawl down the street, and they’d only notice as much as you expected them to. I think there’s something in people that instinctively keeps them from looking to them for companionship… well, most of us, anyway, and never for long. Still, we keep up appearances regardless, even after we realize it.” He smiled easily over at the bigger man. “I’m sorry, am I intruding? I thought I sensed a fellow traveler who might need some true company as much as I could.”
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Marvel-MCU

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#3
Definitely Not in Kansas

Steve was walking through the streets of this new, alien city, unsure of where he was, or really how it was that he’d gotten here. He was looking out, ahead of himself, paying just enough attention to where he was and where he was going to not get entirely lost and not to run into anything, but past that? He felt like as though he were cast adrift. So very far away from home, with no idea how to get back to where he was supposed to be, and really, now that he was thinking of it, not all that sure that he would be missed.

After all, he was a fugitive from the law, holed up in Wakanda with the rest of the ‘Rogue Avengers’ as some of the media channels had begun calling them after the whole debacle. And on top of that, the people he cared about most… He had either hurt them, or they had wandered off, or they were stuck with him at the palace. Then again, he spent much of his time alone these days anyway; it could be awhile before anyone would even realize he was gone, if at all.

He wasn’t quite sure when the other man had fallen in beside him, matching his pace, but suddenly Steve was aware of him. Glancing over at his new companion, Steve blinked. Not what he’d have expected. With a small shrug, he acknowledged what the other man was saying, “Sure, why would they notice? They wouldn’t back home, either… Everyone has their own things going on, their own lives..” He considered the comment about people instinctively not looking for companionship. “No… No, you’re not intruding. I…”

Considering his answer, Steve spoke slowly, “I feel like I’ve been alone for a long time now. That’s not entirely true, not really, I’ve had friends and family, but it feels like I lost them a long time ago. In truth, it’s only been a year or so, and even then I wasn’t entirely alone, just…” He sighed, “I’m sorry, you don’t need my life story. His gait had slowed as they spoke, and finally he paused entirely, turning to offer his hand to the man beside him, “I’m Steve.”

“That’s not going away anytime soon.”
*
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Dungeons and Dragons-Forgotten Realms

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#4
Arjay looked at the other man a bit curiously, then smiled. “Ah. You haven’t been here long, have you?” It was more of a statement than a question, like he didn’t really need an answer. “Well… have you at least realized that this isn’t exactly the world you know? That something feels… off in this place?” He shot the man a significant glance, but didn’t force him to answer. “Either way… you don’t seem like a man that the masses could easily walk by,” he added, chuckling quietly. If there was one thing Arjay knew, it was people, and this man, his bearing, his presence, he would have been a great man in any world. He could have used men like him in Shadowdale, he knew that much. Maybe, gods willing, when this was over, he’d have him there… but first, he needed to get to know the man.

That matter might be easier than he suspected, though. For someone from an entirely different world… “Now that is a song quite familiar to my heart,” he admitted. “Like a man swimming in an ocean of people, yet never getting wet. “When the things you knew seem so far away that even the familiar is alien and unwanted. Yes… very familiar song, my new friend. I wonder if that is a common thread to those of us who find ourselves here.” He looked at the hand a moment, seeming rather pleased with the situation, then clasped the man’s hand, not exactly like anyone Steve would have been acquainted with would have, but rather like someone who was familiar with the gesture, had seen it done, but hadn’t done it much himself. “Arjay. Arjay Lo’Ran, at your service,” he said, his Faerunian accent showing more clearly as he spoke his name.

This man, however, didn’t seem to completely grasp just how out of his comfort zone he was, so Arjay steered their travel a bit. He’d found that all that was really needed was to want to get to where you were going, at least for the sort of travel Arjay intended. “It’s a predicament that I’ve had cause to encounter many, many times in my life, I’m afraid. And one thing has always seemed to be true. When the world around you no longer seems to be a friendly place?” He walked across a street, familiar enough to wait for the light to turn before he started across… but halfway across, the world seemed to shimmer. As they reached the other side of the street, they were standing beside a river in a star-lit clearing, an unfamiliar moon shining over them with the tear-like shimmer of smaller satellites trailing under it. “Then sometimes, it’s best to find a place that feels friendlier, yes?”
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Marvel-MCU

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#5
Definitely Not in Kansas

Haven’t been here long? Steve shook his head, “No, I suppose you could say I’m a new arrival.” The might not need an answer, but it would have been impolite to just not say anything, especially when asked a direct question. “Oh, it is definitely not… Where I’m from. Things are different here.” He nodded, having recognized that he wasn’t home, but then New York wasn’t, couldn’t be, home anymore. Not after everything. Not with him being a wanted criminal. Something deep in his mind told him it was worth it, getting Bucky out, saving him, even just to go back into cryogenic stasis was worth anything he had to sacrifice to do it. But another voice, softer and quieter, reminded him of look on Tony’s face after he’d smashed the faceplate off, of the fear and betrayal and the expectation of death he had seen in the inventor’s brown eyes. Was Bucky worth that? The sides of Steve warred over that question; on one hand, yes, Bucky was Steve’s best friend, they’d saved each other countless times, had so many adventures together… But Tony was also Steve’s friend, and they had fought side by side and back to back and…

He blinked and then shook his head to clear it, giving the other man a small smile. Definitely not intruding. It was good to get pulled out of your own head sometimes. Right now was a good time for that. “Oh, I can blend in when I really need to. Most of the time.” Here, well, that might actually be easier. Here, people didn’t recognize Captain America, even if that wasn’t who he was anymore, couldn’t be, people knew what he looked like. His picture had been on television during the whole mess with Project Insight.

Familiar to his heart. Who spoke like that? Still, Steve nodded slowly, “I hope not. This isn’t a feeling I would wish on anyone else.” Giving his new friend a smile, Steve tried to relax a little bit; he was tired, and all he wanted was something familiar. A good day. That was why he’d gone to Coney Island. For something familiar and good. And he’d been able to see the tower from the ferris wheel. For just a few hours, Steve had been able to forget the worst of everything. For just a few hours, and now he was here. Maybe this was for the best. Wakanda was beautiful, but it wasn’t home. Not even close. Arjay didn’t shake hands like people tended to, but Steve just smiled and didn’t let it bother him at all, “It is good to meet you, Arjay.”

Arjay was taking them somewhere, but Steve didn’t mind. For once, he didn’t have the pressure to lead, to be the one in control, in charge, and that was… Nice. It was a relief. He didn’t have to pretend to have it all figured out, he didn’t need to hold it together for anyone, which...actually sort of made it easier to hold it together. “Well, sometimes we ourselves are what causes the world to grow hostile. Steve walked with Arjay, relaxed for the first time in what felt like ages, and chuckled when the world shifted around them. “Alright, that’s… Different.” And then he took in a deep breath as he took in the view around them. “This… It’s beautiful.” He could paint this. He wanted to paint this… He needed his watercolors. No. Oils. They’d give the richer, deeper colors… “Is this always here? Can I come here? I need…” he shook his head, he needed a canvas and easel and paints and brushes… Too much, he had none of his things with him...

“That’s not going away anytime soon.”
*
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Dungeons and Dragons-Forgotten Realms

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#6
This Steve was, apparently, a somewhat innocent soul. Oh, he was worldly, Arjay could see that, but there were bits of his answers that told Arjay that he was dealing with someone who hadn’t had his ideals questioned until very recently, hadn’t had his faith in the world shaken until lately. Ah, you sweet, summer child. “We don’t wish it on anyone, no, but if I’ve learned anything in a rather hard-lived life, it’s that everyone will come to a time in their life when nothing seems to be in the right place anymore. I’m beginning to think that it should be looked at as a matter of perspective. When you grow a bit too much, everything looks different, and nothing you would normally wear fits, yes?” He smiled sadly, shrugging. “You may have just had a bit too much growth, and you need to re-dress yourself and get used to how everything fits now.”

“The world is always hostile, Steve,” he said. “The question is whether or not we can hold back that hostility, whether we can surround ourselves with the peace that we need to stay whole. Sometimes, we can. Others…” he shrugged. “I’ve lead men into battle, I’ve lead a whole army into battle, and then found people telling me weeks later that I was the biggest problem facing my people. We will all find ourselves waiting an eternity if we wait for universal approval.”

He took a deep breath of the much cleaner air, and with a gesture, let the Seeming spell melt off of him. His ears were now their proper delicately pointed shape, his clothes no longer looked Earth-factory made, but the well-crafted tailored clothes and styles of his own world. A lute and a small pack were slung across his back, while a beautiful sword with a gilded hilt set with polished wood and a glowing heart-shaped pommel stone hung at his hip. “This place is always here… for however much anything is ever ‘always’ here in this Hub of worlds. It’s a reflection of my world… a reasonable reflection, but still only a reflection, as the place we just left was just a reflection of your world. Simply the construction of this place is fascinating, without even taking into account the idea that you can enter strange, alien worlds from it.” He glanced over at Steve, offering an unapologetic shrug. “Your pardon for the slight deception… I’ve been attempting to perfect blending in on your world, in case I ever feel the urge to visit it to see what wonders are waiting to be seen there.”
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Marvel-MCU

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#7
Definitely Not in Kansas

Steve didn't consider himself innocent. He had seen and done too much to make that sort of claim. But he was an idealist, preferring to look at the "bright side," believing the best, and for so long believing that his way was the right way. Now, Steve was so certain about himself. For years, he'd had the pressure of being Captain America on his shoulders, carrying that weight without complaint. Leading the Avengers had been a task, but one he had thought himself well suited to. Even Tony tended to fall in during combat. (Even if the engineer tended to be a bit too willing to sacrifice himself.) But Siberia and the subsequent months spent gathering himself and to be frank, hiding, had shaken Steve's personal beliefs. Along with his self-confidence. His voice was quiet when he answered Arjay, "And when it’s your entire life that no longer fits? When maybe you can't consider what's happened 'growth'? What then? Because… I… I don’t know.”

Giving Arjay a small smile. Steve told the other man, "In my experience, nothing is always any given thing." Cake wasn't always easy, villains weren't always evil, Steve Rogers wasn't always right. I'm not sure I'm cut out for peace. Someone told me once, that I’d be nothing without war. I dismissed it at the time, but now, I’m not so certain he wasn't right. I'm a soldier whose been away to war for too long. Peace is… Foreign. Uncomfortable. Maybe.” Universal approval. "I know. You can never make everyone happy at the same time. But… Is it really asking too much to mend the rifts in my family? To pull us back together? We… We were a team, and I broke that. I just want the chance to make it right again."

Steve didn't notice the changes to Arjay right off. He was looking at the horizon. When he turned, he did take in the differences, and while some were more jarring than others, Steve didn't react negatively. This whole place was so strange, and he’d learned to take strange in stride long ago, when he woke up decades in the future to a world as foreign as it was familiar. When he had met gods and fought along side a man in robotic armor. "It's beautiful.” He smiled, "If you don’t mind,” he didn't want to assume, "I'd like to come back, with paints, to paint this.” Arjay's apology earned a shake of his head, “So this is what you really look like?” It was odd, he knew, how easily Steve accepted this, “Where I'm from, my world, there is a man who can make himself appear however he wants. As well as do the same to others. There is a man who can wield lightning and thunder as a weapon, and a hammer that only he can lift. I have fought beings from other worlds, and incredible people from my own. And we have…stories…about people who look, well, like you…"

“That’s not going away anytime soon.”
*
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Dungeons and Dragons-Forgotten Realms

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#8
“Well, my friend, when you find your life feeling like that? You’re going to need to take it to the tailor and make it fit again, because I’m afraid that we do really only get one life.” The smile he offered the other man was amused, but not unkind. “Besides, nothing can truly happen that isn’t growth. If something changes, if something happens, whether it is good or ill, we either learn from it, or we shun it and shut that incident away. One of those is productive, one of them is childish. I’ll let you decide which is which, you seem like an intelligent man.”

He listened to this abbreviated version of the man’s woes, and nodded in understanding. “Well, Steve Rogers, Man of Many Wars and No Peace, when that question is raised toward you the first thing you must do is consider whether the idea might have some merit. If it does, well, there’s no shame in that. A soldier is an honorable profession, and whether people like to admit it or not, wars must be fought as often as not. Getting wrapped up in that cause is understandable, war is a very intense business. The matters of life and death that one must deal with are too critical to be given any less than your full attention. However, when one can, then, one must ask why they are doing it. Why are they fighting. Who is Steve Rogers? What drives him to fight, what sends him to war? What does he love, what does he fear? And, when you have those answers, you have to ask yourself what is missing from your life that you are dedicating it so thoroughly to war. As to your family… well, you know your family better than I, I’ll grant that straight away. However, I’ve never seen a family which time and effort could not heal. If you are the offending party? You need to be prepared to admit that, and you need to be prepared to show that you are able and willing to change.” The lessons one could learn in just two centuries of life… really, how did humans ever manage to learn so much in their lifespans?

When Steve said that his world was beautiful, Arjay offered him a bright, slightly impish grin. “You haven’t seen the half of it, my friend. Ah, the places that you should see… but all things in their time, I suppose. Yes, by all means, we can return with paints, we can seek out a more suitable location for it if you like. Art is a pursuit that people are far too quick to place at a low priority, I do try not to be one of those people.”

When the tales of Earth began, Steve found that he had Arjay’s eager attention. “Ah, so you have magic as well!” he said brightly. It appeared that their worlds did have a few more things in common. “I can do all of that- and more, of course, though I try not to brag. Well, except for the hammer no one can lift, I was never one much for hammers.” He patted the sword at his hip in explanation. “But please, do tell. You have tales of elves on your world? Good tales, I hope? That would suggest to me that there are, or were, some of my people in fact there, otherwise where would the stories come from? I mean… obviously my world is filled with humans. You all outbreed us at a remarkable rate, though it’s not for lack of trying on my people’s part.”
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#9
Take it to the tailor and make it fit again. Steve gave a small half smile at that; Tony was the one with a tailor, not Steve. “I would take it back if I could.” He held up a hand, “I know I can’t, all I can do is try to make things right, if I can, but I would. I just have no idea how to proceed. How to go about trying to correct the mistakes I’ve made.” Steve fell silent for a few moments as he considered it, “I suppose I have time here, now, to consider how I should approach trying to rectify what my actions and decisions tore apart.” How to at least mend the bridges between the opposing factions of the Avengers. If he could do that, then maybe just maybe, he could at least live with himself. He smiled to Arjay, “Pretty sure I can tell which is which, yes.”

Many wars. Not really, just the one. Or two, considering what people were calling the whole mess over the Accords and Bucky. Was the thing with the aliens and Loki in New York considered a war? It had felt like one, that was for sure. A short one, but it had been exhausting. The questions that Arjay presented him were… Some were easier than others. He fought to protect people, both the people he loved, and innocent people. What did he love? His friends, more like family to him than anything he’d had in so very long, what did he fear? Losing everyone all over again. And while he hadn’t lost everyone, he had lost some. What was he missing? Who was he? Those were much harder to answer. Much, much harder. “When I call them my family…” Steve took in a breath, “We’re not blood, not hardly. But they were my family, the only one I’ve known in a long time. I’m just… I worry that one in particular won’t forgive me for what I’ve done. I wronged him. He’s a good man, right to his core, and I didn’t trust in that, I kept secrets from him. How do I even start making things right? There’s a lot of what-if’s involved.”

Not the half of it. Well, of course. His own area was mostly just New York, and there were many other places than that to see on Earth. “I imagine not. Everyone I know would look at this and think that I made it up… And I’m looking upon it with my own eyes.” He smiled, “I’m not the best, but I enjoy it. And I like to think I do a decent job of it. I enjoy it, though. Putting paint to canvas or pencil to paper. It’s comforting.”

He spoke of his own experiences, and chuckled, “Well, not most. Most people, like the ones you see walking along the streets, they don’t know it even exists, really. But we have some who know of it. Some who can even use it.” He grinned, “Thor’s hammer is a unique thing. It’s of Asgard, which I’m not really sure how to explain.” Elves. How to even explain without possibly offending his new friend? “Well, I should start by saying that on my world, elves are a myth, they aren’t thought to be real. And there are a lot of different versions of them. Right now, the most popular seems to be centered on stories about other places, other worlds… Where magic is real, and elves live forever. Most of the time the elves are good, yes. Sometimes they’re villains, but I’d think there would be less than good elves just like there are humans, right?” Filled with humans. “Well, I know approximately how many humans are on my world, so… I can’t argue your point there.”
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Dungeons and Dragons-Forgotten Realms

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#10
Arjay was quiet for a while as he listened to Steve’s generalized problems. He still knew none of the specifics, but he saw no reason to badger him for them. They wouldn’t help him give advice any more than the general situation would. “Steve,” Arjay said, for a moment dropping the over-cheerful showmanship of his personality, “I’m over two centuries old, and I’ve spent that time making mistakes just like anyone else would. My people… they would like everyone to think that age brings wisdom enough to be infallible, which I’m sure you can see is absolute rubbish. The older you are, the more you realize just how many mistakes you habitually make… but the better you see what to do afterward.” He looked over at the other man. “You can’t take back what you did, no. You’re right about that. What you do need to accept, though is that perhaps there isn’t anything to be done to fix it, either. The situation is in the past, and some situations, when they come about, will simply stay as they are. There may be no return to the way things were, but that is simply the way of time. There is an entirely realistic possibility that this is a situation which will forever be in your history as an abject failure. Don’t look at that a sign of dishonor, look on it as a sign of mortality. We make mistakes, and those given greater power, greater authority, simply greatness, are given the ability to make greater mistakes. It isn’t a sign of how badly you erred, it’s simply a sign that you were commanding forces too great to make a small mistake. It is, simply put, just what happens. Not every general who led their armies to defeat was a bad general, even if history might look upon them that way. Some were simply put against something that was greater than they were.” He sidestepped, walking backwards in front of Steve. “You, Steve Rogers. Would you say that you are greater than all of your fellow man, a higher moral authority than they are, beholden to none because of your infallible wisdom and unfailing judgement?” When Steve gave a reluctant negative to that question, Arjay smiled. “Of course you aren’t. You may be given to being right in certain situations. You may have experienced more very public situations where you were right than others have. You may even have a talent for getting people to believe in you even when you are very wrong. You are, however, still a man, and still able to be wrong on occasion. And, just like any other man, you are deserving absolution when you seek to atone for your mistakes. As to where to go now…” he hesitated, making a little gesture to show that that was more difficult. “The question is… what would you be doing had you not made that mistake? That is what you must do. If you let that mistake define your every move, you are allowing it to continue. The most persistent lie that we tell ourselves is that we do not deserve to carry on as we would have after we err greatly, when the truth of the matter is that it is the best thing we can do. The best thing you can do is to carry on as you would have, only now with that knowledge that you might be wrong, that you need to temper your judgement with that of others on occasion, while still trying to recognize when you are right.”

Far from being offended Arjay seemed amused at the idea of being a myth. “Well, naturally, if we were still there, you’d simply say that there were elves in your world. There are many worlds, many planes that my people abandoned for some reason or other. The fact that there is magic on your world at all, and that there are tales of us, tells me that someone met us, or that we were there. I mean… really, when someone has a myth and that myth matches a reality somewhere, generally the myth can be thought to have originated in the real thing. I’m sure the don’t get everything right, but I certainly hope they got the basics right. We can judge that later.”

Those pointed ears twitched, though, and Arjay frowned, gazing into the distance. “Well now, this is an unpleasant part about my world… I don’t suppose you have a weapon with you, my friend? This situation is about to get… unpleasant. Do you hear that sound, it’s very faint, you might not yet… a bit like a grunting laugh?” He pointed to a hill, where just the faintest bit of light could be seen from the other side. “Orcs, and right in our path. And… ah. Yes, they’re getting closer. Do you have a weapon? This would be much simpler if you do.”
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#11
Definitely Not in Kansas

Getting into specifics meant a whole lot of explaining. Unlike everyone else Steve knew, Arjay didn’t know about the Avengers. Heck, he knew next to nothing about Earth, let alone its heroes. Or the problems between said heroes. It would be a whole lot of explaining, and Steve really didn’t want to get into it. It was one in a whole list of things he was just trying to not think about. Right along with how he had gotten here, where here was, the fact that he was talking to an elf, how to get home…

It was a fairly long list, actually.

Two centuries? Steve nodded slowly. Somehow, he didn’t think Arjay would be able to attribute a good portion of his lifespan to being stuck in arctic ice… Which was something else that Steve tried to not think about too much.

He couldn’t take back what he had done. Steve knew that, but he didn’t know how to make it right, either. Not with Tony, not legally, not any of it. Right now, Steve was struggling with the afterward part of dealing with his mistakes. Making them was far, far too easy compared to correcting them. That was on his mind when Arjay asked if Steve thought he was greater than his fellow man. He had made so many mistakes, both professionally and personally, in private and in public. “A year and a half ago, I might have told you that I was. But.. I see myself in a different, more accurate light these days, Arjay. So no, I would make no such claim. I am only a man like anyone else.”

”And, just like any other man, you are deserving absolution when you seek to atone for your mistakes.”

The words were.. Beyond what Steve would have held out hope for. Absolution? Forgiveness. It had felt out of reach, far beyond his grasp. But Arjay seemed to think he deserved it.

He wondered what Tony would think of that.

And now he didn’t want to think about this anymore.

“I can’t.” The statement was filled with sorrow, but it was the truth. He couldn’t go back to the Avengers, go back to being a superhero, go back to his life. He was a fugitive, a criminal, not a hero, his family had been torn in half, and he doubted his welcome in the place he had called home until he had destroyed it. He considered what Arjay was saying, and sighed, “But I have done what I can.” He might be breaking the law, but Nomad continued to do what he could to help people. He could do what Arjay suggested; he could keep his eyes open and try to recognize when he was being overly self-righteous, and, as Tony might say it, pull his head out of his ass.

“True. Well, there are lots of different sorts of stories. But these are the ones that I like the most.” He spoke of modern and contemporary elves; the adventuring sort of fair folk portrayed in literature and more recently on screen.

When Arjay mentioned weapons, Steve gave the elf a small, dry smile. “Arjay, I am a weapon.” Steve moved to ready himself, looking where Arjay had pointed, and where he could hear for himself the sounds the creatures were making. Orcs. “Like in Lord of the Rings?” Then he sighed. Yeah, he just asked the elf about human...Earth human...literature. “Nevermind. I’ll get to see on my own soon.”

“That’s not going away anytime soon.”
*
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#12
One of the things that came with Arjay’s lifespan was a certain amount of perspective. It took experience to actually see it, but no one’s sins were ever original. People made the same mistakes, over and over, that others had made before in one form or another. Arjay wasn’t sure exactly what the man had done, but he was sure he’d seen something like it before, and he was sure that it had been forgiven when he had. There came a point when the problem transferred from you to those who were refusing to let go of the mistake. In the meantime, all that was left was to convince his dear sinner of this.

“Oh, but you can,” Arjay argued. “You may not be able to act in the capacity you did before, a problem that has plagued me several times. However, you can still act in the spirit which you did before. You can still use your particular skills and strengths as you would have, once you find the way. Honestly, it’s imperative that you do, unless you find some other way that you can define yourself.”

Defining one’s self, however, could wait until there were no pressing orcs. He shot Steve a dry look when he gave his round-about answer that he was unarmed. “Now there is the confidence that I could tell was lingering somewhere,” he said dryly. “I don’t know what orcs you’re used to, but these don’t serve any lord.” He wondered, idly, if rings were some sign of status in Steve’s world, more so than in his own… but that was a matter he could investigate another time. “I’ve… actually got something for this…” He opened a small bag on his pouch, reaching in and pulling out a thick rod, with a ball-shaped flanged mace head at the end and with six buttons along the shaft. “This should serve you well enough,” he said, flipping it over in his hand and offering it to Steve. “Its magic properties are considerable, but you can figure that out later. RIght now, just focus on the fact that it’s a mace, and you can hit things with it. I don’t doubt your prowess, but that sounds like quite a lot of orcs.”

Arjay drew his own sword, murmuring solemnly in elven as he did. “On my signal, they’ll start to either panic or rush us. More than likely, both,” Arjay told him. He shot the man a fierce smile, adding, “You’ll know the signal when it happens.” As Arjay raised his voice, chanting melodically in elven, the orcish laughter and grunting quieted completely, only to resume as panicked and pained shrieks as a sudden bolt of lightning crashed down on the other side of the hill, a boom of thunder momentarily covering the sounds of orcish outrage. A moment later, a mob of angry orcs came rushing into view at them, huge bulky warriors, flanked at points by the occasional shaman who began casting their spells upon the fight. With a slash of his hand, Arjay sent another bolt of lightning down into the rush of orcs, scattering them about. “Oh, there’s more where that came from, but they’ll be upon us any moment,” he called over the ringing of his ears from the thunder. He backed up a few steps, letting Steve take the oncoming rush of orcs first, his own concentration on bringing more lightning down into the largest masses of orcs, leaving smoking corpses here and there and sending more of them fleeing for cover.
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#13
Definitely Not in Kansas

Steve didn’t try to claim that he was the first to make the mistakes he made. Maybe he made them in a unique way, and his circumstances weren’t something anyone else could claim down to the details, but no. He had betrayed one friend to help another. He had hurt someone he cared about, someone who had been important to him, and left him like that. That wasn’t original. And in retrospect, he had made plenty of wrong decisions. He had, indirectly, lied to one of his closest friends. He’d kept information that Tony deserved to know from him. But the idea that he could atone, that maybe he deserved the chance to atone for his wrongdoing, that was something that Steve hadn’t really thought. It helped to hear from someone else.

“I can’t even go home, Arjay. I mean…” He sighed, “Even if I could go back to my world, I couldn’t go back to the place that I really think of as home.” Exile was the best word that Steve could come up with to describe his situation, and so he used it, “I suppose you could say that I’ve been exiled. I broke a law, one I wasn’t sure was right, that at the time, I was convinced was wrong, and I betrayed a friend. I lied, I kept something from him, in the name of helping another friend. I hurt one, badly, to help another. I might be able to go out and help others, where I was staying before I ended up here, but it can’t be as myself, and it won’t be legal, and it won’t be with my team.” Maybe a part of his team, but a part didn’t make a whole. He missed fighting with Tony and Rhodes and Vision and Thor and Bruce… Thor and Bruce had been away for awhile, but Steve had to wonder what the two men would think of his decisions. And where they would fall on the Accords.

Orcs. Steve had an image of what he was expecting in his mind, and surprisingly, he wasn’t all that incorrect. What he wouldn’t give for his shield right now… But Arjay was handing him a weapon of sorts. A mace? Well… Steve hefted the weapon in his hand, getting the feel of it and its weight before he took an experimental swing and nodded a firm nod, “Well, I might make my share of mistakes, Arjay, but war and battle is something I’m quite familiar with. Not my weapon of choice, but it will serve.”

The lightning earned a bark of laughter from Steve, who told his new friend, “Oh, Thor would like you.” And with that, Steve was rushing into the nearest group of orcs, mace flashing as he darted between them, taking long swipes with the weapon interspersed with kicks as he felled his own share of the ugly swine-like creatures. He didn’t chase down those who ran, preferring instead to stay in the midst of the thickest melee.

He felt just the slightest bit guilty that he was happy to have a real fight. Just the slightest bit.

“That’s not going away anytime soon.”
*
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#14
Arjay didn’t even flinch at the declaration that Steve couldn’t return home. “Then don’t go home,” he said. “My friend, you have the unique opportunity to be at the nexus of nigh-unlimited worlds. If you can’t return to your home, perhaps this is the sign that you should be looking at your options. I’m sure that there is a world that needs you, should you be exiled from your own, whether that exile is self-imposed or not. However, if your only concerns are legalities…” He looked at the man, then simply shrugged. “I’ve worked under countless names. There is an entire city that is free from tyranny today because of me which will never know that I had any part in the matter. Laws tend to serve themselves. What is expedient and desirable one day will be thought of as inconvenient and easily discarded the next. Please, take it from one who’s had plenty of experience in the matter: Whether you are an outlaw now or not, the law will change. Whether your team will have you back or not, you will find another. And whether you act as yourself with the law or facelessly against it, you will do what is right, to the best of your ability.”

Arjay Lo’Ran had walked many paths, filled many roles, held many titles in his centuries of life. At the core of it, though, if there was one role he kept returning to, one path that he never seemed to stray from: he was a warrior. He held the spell to call the lightning down in his mind, sending a bolt streaking down into the thick of the fight whenever the charge built up, but the battle raged in front of him, and he couldn’t resist its call. The sword in his hand, held in a backward grip along his arm, practically sang in his hand to shed the blood of the elves’ ancient enemy, those hideous creatures of violence and destruction. And so, as the orcs threatened to spill around Steve, Arjay darted forward, whirling to bring his sword slashing across the first one, then gripping the pommel with his left hand to thrust it back, driving the blade through the orc. Another bolt of lightning fell an orc that was trying to bear down on him, and he used that momentary reprieve to slice his blade free of the orc’s body, leaving its mostly bisected corpse to fall to the ground.

He wondered what Steve’s weapon of choice was. The man was doing well enough, but he’d obviously never used a mace before. Well, when the man took the time to attune himself to the rod, he’d find that one of the other forms of the Rod of Lordly Might suited him better. He had no further chance to ponder the matter, as the orcs were still rushing in, bolstered by their shamans in the rear who had gathered up the stragglers and those that had been driven back. Magic was coming… magic that they needed to resist, or cut down before it struck them. Stabbing his sword into one dying orc, he cast another spell, sending balls of light whirling about him, drawing the eye of every orc on the field for one moment, as his voice rang out in an ancient elven war song.

”The sword will fall and the arrow will fly,
The hour of war is upon us all,
There is nowhere to flee, and we do not ask why,
Every brother and sister heed Corellon’s call!

Though our bodies will break, though our blood will be shed,
We march side by side ‘til the forests run red,
The battle will rage ‘til our enemy yields,
Or we all sing together in Arvandor’s fields!”


Bolstering himself, and Steve, with that subtle, musical magic, he chanted the fierce, melodic words of a spell, sending the winds into a spin around the orcs gathered with the shamans, battering them into each other, lightning dancing within storm sphere that he'd called and lashing out with sizzling power every few seconds. The spell in place, he strode into battle again, dancing aside from strikes aimed to take his life while returning careful slices to help Steve cut down those orcs still swarming around him.
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#15
Definitely Not in Kansas

Then don't go home. As though it were so easy. "No. I... While I can’t just go home, I can't abandon them, either. If they need me…” Steve shook his head; no, he wasn't in a hurry to find his way home, but he wouldn't just leave them, either. If Tony ever called for him (though he didn't have high hopes), he wanted to be able to go help. He’d made a promise, one he intended to keep.

Legalities. Aliases. Steve nodded. "I gave up the name I used to use. The suit, the shield. I'll always hope to be able to go back, but until then, I do what I can where I can." He didn't want another team, though. He wanted his team. His family. The pained look at Arjay’s words only barely flickered across Steve's features before they settled back into calm stoicism. "Or I can work independently. I've done that before." He would definitely try to do what was right, though. That much was absolutely right.

The lightning was actually familiar to steve. It reminded him of fighting alongside Thor, seeing it, teams streak through the sky, hearing it ring in the air, smelling it.

It felt good to be fighting a clear enemy again. Hydra, the Chitauri, Ultron, even Helmut Zemo, those were clear, certain enemies..

But Bucky had changed things. Suddenly, who the bad guys were became blurry. Mind control made you have to really consider who and what you were fighting. Steve had lost his way, then, and he knew it. Tony should never have been anywhere near that classification. And yet, Steve had fought him, and fought hard.

These Orcs, though. They were a clear enemy, coming to attack. After his initial broad attack, Steve shifted to focused, tactical strikes, using his strength to deliver punishing blows to the Orcs surrounding him while blocking their incoming strikes as well.

It was right at the start of Arjay's song that one of the Orcs Steve defeated dropped his bucklers; a round shield with a thicker leather strap on it. It wasn't Steve’s (Howard’s) vibranium shield, but it would do for now. Steve hefted it then gave two of the advancing Orcs a fierce smile and threw the buckler with the force and precision that Captain America was known for.

God, it felt good to use a shield again.

Maybe he wasn't entirely proficient with a mace, but shields? He could wield a shield like no one’s business. The wooden shield splintered on the second hit, sending shrapnel between the two disoriented and wounded orcs. Feeling adrenaline rushing through him at the sound of Arjay’s war song, Steve reached down to scoop a second buckler, slipping his arm through the straps and thrusting forward into first one, then the other orcs’ faces, sending them both collapsing to the ground before he turned to wield mace and buckler against the orcs around him with brutal efficiency. Alright, yes, he had definitely missed fighting with his shield.

“That’s not going away anytime soon.”
*
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#16
“Every single one of you is a disgrace to your foul race,” Arjay commented idly as the remaining orcs staggered forward, their will to fight wavering between the elf’s careful swordplay and magical might and the veritable onslaught of martial force that Steve brought to the battle. Their numbers were dwindling, it wasn’t really any question which way this fight was going, not anymore. Not unless the shamans could muster some sort of magical force to aid them enough, and that was exactly what Arjay meant to prevent.

Steve could handle the rest of the orc warriors, the two shamans were what Arjay needed to worry about now. With a slash of his hand, a thunderous crash rang out, with the closest shaman taking the brunt of the damage, centered as it was on his head. Arjay pushed forward, running it through while it was still reeling, its ears and eyes bleeding from the intensity of the sound, and with the thrust of Arjay’s sword, the ringing in its ears was put to an end.

He spun toward the other shaman, only to find it halfway through a spell, a spell that Arjay knew he had no hope of disrupting, but what else could he do? He charged the beast, willing the spell he was still maintaining to lash out with its lightning again, eliciting a squeal of pain from the orc as its spell finished. His sword bit into the orcen priest’s shoulder, and he felt the hot, wrenching grasp of the monster’s hand on his arm at the same moment. The spell coursed through him at that contact and he cried out, his body suddenly wracked by twisted magic. He could feel the absolute fury from his sword, could feel that familiar loving presence even through the spell, and he knew that as terrible as the damage being inflicted on his body was, it would have been so much worse otherwise.

He fell back as his body was wracked in painful spasms, coughing through a throat that was suddenly struggling to draw breath. His heart pounded in his chest, a sudden and constant pain that sent him falling to the ground, the orc laughing that evil, piggish laugh as it closed on him, a crude mace held in its hand. Arjay’s hand gripped his sword as he panted, staring defiantly up at the priest of his people’s most ancient enemy. The orc was lightning-scarred and dripping blood from a wound through its shoulder. Its breathing was labored, and it was favoring one arm, but it was physically the more powerful. It knew that one good blow would kill the elf… and Arjay was determined to not give it that blow.

He knew several spells that he could use, spells that would bring down the injured creature, but one burned through his mind as his sword glowed in his hand. There were few spells granted to him by his goddess, and she wanted this kill, she wanted it badly, she wanted the death of this horrid creature that had laid its filthy hand upon her servant. Arjay coughed and rasped, but he choked out the spell, his arm swinging up to point his sword at the orc. The night sky seemed to turn to day for a moment as a beam of pure, beautiful, terrible golden light lanced down from the heavens and burned through the shaman whose squeal of pain died before truly being born as the holy fire burned through his lungs.

Panting, trying to catch his breath, trying rest through the laboring of his weak heart, Arjay pushed himself around on the ground until he could see Steve, meaning to use his magic to help him, but he found that the man needed no help. Instead, Arjay simply watched the man work with faint amusement. “It figures,” he mused, his voice hoarse, but audible. “I give you one of the more storied weapons from my world, and you prefer chunks of wood slapped together by orcs.” The elf was pale, his veins black and clearly visible through his pale skin. Moving was an effort, even breathing pained him, but was he not going to joke in the face of risks to his life? Of course he was.
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#17
Definitely Not Kansas

Honestly, steve had no idea what to do about the Orcs that were casting spells. Magic wasn't something he had any experience with. But Arjay obviously had plenty of knowledge in magic, so Steve figured to just let the elf handle them.

Keeping the remaining fighters busy (primarily by leaving them lying on the ground one way or the other) wasn't terribly difficult. He had the wooden shield, and the mace was a very effective weapon. One that maybe he should learn how to better use, though he was fairly certain he would always prefer a shield.

The orc warriors were met with blunt force trauma in the form of Steve Rogers wielding a mace with brutal efficiency and a shield that both offered him protection and another instrument to inflict damage too. It helped that the Orcs didn't match Steve in strength, stamina, or agility.

He saw Arjay fall. Too far away and fighting his own fight, Steve redoubled his efforts to finish of the rest of the orc warriors. Once he’d managed that, there was no hesitation as Steve rushed to his companion, eyes on the worrisome veins of black that he could see even from where he had been fighting the other Orcs. By the time he reached Arjay, the elf had recovered some. Enough to make a smart remark. "I miss my shield." He shrugged, "Theirs weren't nearly as well crafted as mine was, but it was…. Familiar I'm better with a shield than a mace. It’s quite a fine weapon though; I'd just need practice to use it better.”

Frowning. Steve looked at the wounds? On the elf. “What do we do about that?” If anything could be done.



“That’s not going away anytime soon.”
*
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#18
Arjay forced himself up to his feet. Taking an end of his cloak, he cleaned the shining blade of his sword, which seemed to shed the filth of battle when given a modicum of assistance. Kissing the glowing pommel stone, he sheathed it again and tried to remain steady on his feet. “I never had much use for shields,” he admitted. “Always got in the way, for the most part. Better to learn to use a sword for the purpose, or to simply not be in a place where you can be hit, or at least that’s what my father taught me. He was a magnificent fighter…” He chuckled, a weak sound that turned into a cough.

“What we do,” he coughed, “Is get out of the sudden stormy weather that I admittedly triggered.” No, it wasn’t raining, but using storm magic wasn’t something that simply had no effect on the world around you. The winds were much livelier, and if the atmosphere had been at all right, he thought that it might have started raining now. As it stood, he just needed to not get a chill from this. “If I’m reading the lay of the land correctly, and I believe I am, there should be a cave over there. We rest a bit, we start a fire, and I’ll take care of the rest.”

The walk was brief, getting them mercifully away from the dead orcs, and Arjay instructed Steve in the finer points of gathering some firewood, even showing him which button on the rod turned it into a battle axe for the purpose. Once the fire was gathered, Arjay forced a spell out that set the wood ablaze, huddling in closer to the fire once it was started to drive the cold from his bones. “Appologies,” he said, forcing a smile at the other man. “A few years back, I was taken by a few less than scrupulous tyrants who were intent on finding out firsthand just how the insides of an elf functioned. They made sure to heal everything as they went, so that I wouldn’t die in the process, but they didn’t do it well. I can generally maintain good health, but shocks to my system strain my heart now. Apparently, the only way to fix it would be to take my heart back apart again, and… no. I’m rather fond of keeping myself in one piece now. We’ll rest a bit so I can gather my strength, then I can heal the damage that monster did to my body.”
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#19
Definitely Not in Kansas

Too many times in his past, Steve had watched good men fall in battle and get up when they shouldn't to just let Arjay stand and start pushing himself. He didn't stop the elf, but Steve did move to lend Arjay some support, just as he would, and often had, for the Avengers. "It's all about your style. I've always had my shield.” He paused suddenly as he dealt with a simple but uncomfortable fact, "Until last year, anyway. I miss it.” Steve forced a smile, "He must have been skilled, to teach you as he did.” Steve had taught himself how to fight, mostly. There were no instructors that taught a soldier to wield a shield, especially not offensively.

The cough made Steve worry. His new friend hadn't been sick before, and now it was visible that something was very wrong. Magic, of course.

Arjay's mention of the weather had Skve looking up at the sky before shifting toward where Arjay said there should be a cave. Nodding, he moved to help Arjay and head to the cave. The elf might be surprised that Steve was actually already somewhat knowledgeable in how to gather firewood, though he still paid close attention to the elf's instructions; who knew what properties foreign trees might have?

Steve didn't leave Arjay on his own for long.

The story Arjay shared with Steve was... Horrific. How people could be so cruel, so thoughtless of the suffering of others, was something that Steve still couldn't really wrap his head around. Nazis. Hydra, it didn't matter, there were always that sort of people around. "Nothing for you to be apologizing for, Arjay. I've nowhere else to be, and the company here is good.”

“That’s not going away anytime soon.”
*
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#20
The man, apparently, had skills that would be useful on Arjay’s world. Miracles may never cease, he supposed. While Steve gathered the wood, the pulled out one of the bags from his pack, opening the bag of holding to remove the meal he’d had packed for him when he’d left the tavern that morning. It wasn’t very extensive, he had to admit. While his companion was gone, he slowly laid out a few pieces of fruit (assorted from various worlds), a small block of cheese with a knife to cut it, a cold breast of cooked turkey wrapped in leaves, and a salted chunk of venison that needed cooking. He liked to give himself options, which led to a redundant meal, and since he had company and would soon have a fire both meals would go to good use. He was just removing the bottle of wine from the small bag when Steve returned with the wood, which he promptly set ablaze.

“Well, I’m glad you think so, because it looks like our dining locale is much more humble than I had planned,” Arjay joked. “If you could possibly spit that meat so that it can cook?” he suggested, opening another bag of holding that held his cooking and eating implements. As Steven complied, he popped the cork off of the spiced wine, chanting a spell to heat it as was proper, and pouring it into a wooden cup. “I don’t know if this will agree with your palate,” Arjay admitted, indicating the bottle and another wooden cup, “But you’re welcome to it. When I’m like this… well, I know how I need to treat it by now. It’s tedious, but not all that alarming.” Draining the glass, feeling the spiced wine burn down his throat, he sighed, reclining against his pack, looking more comfortable, if not more healthy. “Really, don’t worry about me. The mundane problems, I’m more than used to by now, and the magical?” He made a face. “There are two types of priests in my world. Those that we might consider of the light, their gods freely give them the power to heal, but the gods like those of the orcs? They give their power more freely to harm than to heal. It turned out better than it might have, my fortunate turn for the day saw me through it,” he added, giving the hilt of his sword a meaningful caress. “Help yourself to the food, it would be a waste not to eat it all before I return home for the day. These fruits were called… Muja fruits, I believe?” he said, picking one of the red-orange fruits up. He shrugged. “They seemed interesting, I haven’t tried them yet, though.”
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