Leather and Lace
By: Maidens of Konan (aka KittyLynne with contributions from Adriana Morgan)
Disclaimer: Fushigi Yûgi is owned by Watase Yuu, Shogakukan Comics, Pierrot Studios, TV Tokyo and Pioneer! The rights to the original plot, dialogue, and the lives of any original characters appearing in this story belong to the author(s). Please do these ideas, prose or characters without express written permission, or risk the wrath of Soi raining down upon your miscreant person.
Notes and warnings: Reincarnation story that does not take Eikouden into account. Alternative pairing. Spoilers for TV series and first two OVAs. Overall rating: M for strong language and adult themes/situations.
The rumble of distant thunder.
Blurred motion and the sensation of rising.
Intense pain and its abrupt cessation.
It was done. The forces of justice, faith and good were sending him onward. The world, his life and everything and everyone he knew would be left behind as the consequence of his actions.
Unfettered by physical imperfection, he sailed through the formless mists of time and space. The void in which he found himself held no terrors, for he was sustained by the bond that united his consciousness with another's; a smiling, lovely young woman garbed in flowing red silk and a headdress befitting a goddess.
He had been born for this woman. He had fought for her. He had loved her with every fiber of his being and would love her for all time. No sacrifice he had made was too great.
This love was worth dying for...and living for, all over again.
The shimmering light beyond the void extended itself like a welcoming hand, beckoning to him. He stretched out both hands and grasped hold with all of his strength, determined that this time it would not elude him.
It pulled him close, using its energy to fill and shape him.
At last. He was there.
All he had to do was remember...
Sergeant Detective Dante Tager rolled over and cursed as the incessant beeping of his bedside clock jolted him back to consciousness. He fumbled for and then slammed his hand down on the snooze button, taking grim satisfaction in hearing the anguished chirp the alarm made as it was cut off.
A bleary-eyed glance at glowing green numbers and the date had him dropping his head back onto his pillow with a sigh of disgust.
Monday, his least favorite day of the week, and five frickin' a.m. He'd purposely set the damn alarm for this time when he was wide awake and delusional about the benefits of getting an early start. He could lie here for a full thirty minutes before he absolutely needed to bolt out the door, for crying out loud.
Unfortunately, a loud grumble from his stomach provided an effective counter argument that not getting up meant having to skip out on breakfast and the vital carbs that he needed more than a few extra minutes spent lolling in bed.
Flinging back his covers, he rolled out of the queen sized four- poster that looked like three people had slept in it instead of one, stopping for a moment to pull up the rumpled sheets and toss the quilt over them. One hand raked long strands of fire-red hair back from his face and the other hitched his flannel pajama bottoms back up around his waist while he ambled off to the bathroom to perform his morning abolutions. A quick shower and shave later, and it was on to the kitchen where a cup of freshly brewed coffee and a bag of his favorite pastries awaited.
It was quick work to fill a mug and snag a jelly doughnut to take with him into the sunken living room. The double paned picture window that spanned a good length of one wall beckoned to him, and he accepted its cheerful invitation, treading lightly across the polished planks of a hardwood floor to reach it. The rambler he called home was ensconed in a housing development built on top of a small foothill. It was a thirty year old construction that had what realtors referred to as 'good bones'. Having virtually unobstructed and picturesque views of his favorite parts of the city more than made up for the long hours of upgrades and repairs he'd put in.
Taking a large bite of pastry and a long swallow of coffee, Dante gazed out at his surroundings with unfettered pleasure. Colorado Springs, Colorado was famous for having more sunny days year round than any other city in America, and today would not be an exception; the only areas not presently illuminated by the sun was the Rocky Mountain range bordering the city's west end. Towering Pike's Peak and its attendant monoliths were still shrouded in shadow, their majestic purple-hued tops providing stark contrast for a cloudless azure sky.
His gaze moved on, picked out the flag waving on the rooftop of the US Olympic Center, the green line of old growth trees lining the downtown sector, and finally, the distinctive red rock mounds that marked one of his favorite of favorite spots in the city- the Garden of the Gods. The park's ancient volcanic formations stood like sculptured works of art amidst lush clumps of pines, prickly sagebrush and desert flowers that were at their spectacular best when being viewed on horseback. Dante's smile at memories of past excursions became a grimace at the acknowledgement that with the way his latest case had been dragging on, it could very well be weeks before he got within smelling distance of a stable.
But even so, he still couldn't complain. He had a pretty damn good life. Nice house, beautiful surroundings, friends he could count on, making a more than decent salary doing what he loved to do; he was living the American dream.
The only glitch in this paradise- not having found the right woman with which to share his good fortune.
He took a slow sip of coffee while considering the single thorn in his bouquet of life.
It wasn't that he had wanted for female companionship- since arriving here, his social life was as busy as he wanted it to be. For a while, that had meant going out almost every night with a different women- variety was the spice of life, he had thought. But as the days and the dates passed, he grew tired of the superficiality of it all. The club scene was all about 'the flavor of the month'. Bar hopping was mediocre to downright depressing. A weekend singles ski trip, which had cost plenty and given him nothing to show but an empty wallet and contusions in places he didn't want to think about, had been the worst idea of all. He actually liked to ski, and did so, which meant all the women were taken when he finally got back to the lodge.
Getting fixed up by friends hadn't worked too well either. Out of the baker's dozen thrown at him, only one had been worth a long look. As an ER nurse who had shared and understood the tedium of paperwork, the stress of working crazy hours and double shifts, and as a newly divorced woman who knew how hard a high stress career could be on relationships, Sandra had seemed to be his perfect match.
Sandy was intelligent and attractive and liked to keep fit. He had admired her assessment skills and her compassionate nature, and the fact that she held an optimistic view of the world despite being exposed to trauma and loss on a daily basis. She had been darn good company, laughingly referring to herself as his 'best buddy with breasts'. After close to six months of what he assumed was monogamous dating, he figured they were ready for the next level, and made plans for proposing a more permanent commitment.
The very day he'd planned to surprise her with that proposal, Sandy had showed up on his doorstep to blindside him with the news that she'd reconciled with her surgeon ex-husband. Numb and stonefaced, he had silently listened to her profuse apologies and hurried explanations. She had made a mistake in not fighting for the marriage, but she had been too proud to go back. As it turned out, seeing his former wife in the company of another man had made the ex realize that he might actually lose her for good, and so he'd gone after her. Counseling was sought, compromises made, new found harmony achieved, yada yada yada.
During the break up speech, Dante held back the scathing words that were dangling on his tongue, unwilling to destroy the hope and joy shining in his now ex-girlfriend's face as she spoke of what it meant to her to have this second chance at love. Even if he was getting hurt, it was pointless to do anything but what he knew was right- to let her go and wish them both well without rancor or fuss.
Sandy had cried as she hugged him, adding unintentional insult to injury with sisterly assurances that he was a good man, the best friend she'd ever had, and that she was absolutely certain that he'd find his own true love very soon.
After she'd left in a taxi headed for the airport and a chartered flight to Vegas, he had plunked down on his front porch stayed there for a long time, staring out at the range of mountains. If only they could give him the key to understanding the complex, fickle creatures called women...but there was solace to be found in the fact that he could count on the steadfast beauty of the Rockies always being there for him when he got home at the end of a hard day's or night's work. They were his sentinels, his foundation, symbols of steadfastness and continuity amidst the changing power of nature.
And that was how his morning ritual had begun; with a vow that he wouldn't ignore the mountains or take them for granted as so many Springs natives tended to do. He would take this time every day to appreciate them and what they inspired. The wisdom of the ages set in stone, holding answers waiting to be discovered by those who took time to search for them.
Perhaps, Dante thought, taking another sip of coffee, they might even provide the key to the recurring dreams he'd been having for several weeks now, dreams that held the sights and sounds of the ancient Orient and that unfolded each night with odd twists and turns involving villains, monsters and magic, and himself in the role of a character who not onlyd belonged in that place and time, but who had a vitally important role to play in its survival. This sense of urgency and purpose followed him whether he dreamed of brawling in a tavern, trudging along a snow-capped mountain path, worshipping in a shrine, or striding along the ornate halls of an imperial palace.
In some of the dreams he found could run so fast it felt as if he were about to take flight. In others, he'd be surrounded by a fire which never burned him and seemed to bend to his will. There were times he'd awaken with the sounds of battle or the echoing cry of a bird lingering in his ears, and on more than one occasion he'd woken up with the scent of incense clinging to his nostrils. He'd been seriously creeped out by the subconscious phenomena at first, but when he realized it hadn't caused sleep deprivation or any other ill effects that he could tell, eventually he'd just accepted them. There were worse things than starring in a scratch and sniff fantasy adventure scripted by his subconscious, and he'd say he actually looked forward to finding out what was going to happen next if it weren't for one sticking point. His dream self, no matter how hard he tried, couldn't free the captive and mysterious young woman who appeared at the end of every dream that he'd had.
Imprisoned in what looked like a water-filled snow globe that hovered just out of his reach, the finer details of her face and form were obscured by the water, leaving a tantalizing impression of large eyed beauty. A muscle clenched in Dante's jaw as he thought of the way the young woman stretched out her arms to him. He could feel her emotions, as crystal clear and compelling as if they were his own. Feelings of love, loss and longing that drew him towards her as if they were two halves seeking to be whole.
Every night he fought tooth and nail to get to her, only to have her pulled away by an unseen force at the moment he got close. For weeks his attempts had continued without a resolution. It was beyond maddening, but he couldn't give up. Imagining the passionate reunion that would be his reward after breaking through the barrier kept the fires of his determination stoked.
This morning's vision of her had been the most exciting and agonizing yet. For the first time, he had finally reached and broken through the bubble barrier. Half blinded by the deluge of water, he was still able to feel the brush of her fingertips against his, and then to savor the grip of her two hands around his one. With a pounding heart, he had began to pull her towards him, wanting nothing more than to hold her...so close, the closest he'd gotten.
And then he'd woken up.
Dante looked down at his clenched hand at the mangled remains of the doughnut that had squirted jelly over his fingers, and a smirk tugged at his mouth.
Was he losing it? His family worried about him enough as it was. And this was definitely not a subject that he could discuss with anyone he worked with without having to answer questions about his mental state or chemical abuse issues. He had taken enough psychology courses to know what the diagnosis would be if he told the precinct doctor that he was certain that some woman was calling out to him in his dreams and that there was a reason and a purpose for his finding and rescuing her in real life.
He wasn't exactly a proponent of psychic readings, but he was open minded enough to consider seeking psychic help on cold cases. So maybe he should make an appointment with one- after all, dream and vision analysis was their forte, and they were certainly used to being discreet in dealing with weird shit. They could probably answer some of his questions like, did the fact that he'd touched the young woman mean that she was near to him in real life? If so, how could he go about finding her? Should he even try?
Dante tossed back the remainder of his coffee. He wasn't big on the supernatural, but what his subconscious had been showing him night after night had to be some kind of message that this dream woman existed, and he'd find her. He was sure of it.
But for now, it was time to stop lollygagging, he had to get to work.
"Ooooh, noooo...ehere did I put those keys? I shouldn't have hit the snooze button! Taka is going to very unhappy with me!"
Miaka Yuuki was in the process of ransacking her apartment. She scurried into her bedroom and began to frantically sift through the clutter of papers lying atop her dresser, then moved to the adjoining bathroom- only to emerge a few seconds later looking more perplexed than ever.
"Why didn't I think to have a spare set made when I moved in?" She inquired aloud to no one in particular. "Taka has a lunch meeting and an international client conference tonight -I won't see him at all today if I don't get going! I suppose I have to call a taxi…let's hope they can get here in ten minutes!"
Something soft and warm brushed against her bare ankles, startling her out of her self castigation. Miaka looked down and straight into the blue-eyed stare of the feline sitting in front of her.
"I don't suppose you happened to have seen where I left my car keys, Mizu?"
The Siamese gave her a baleful, unblinking stare and then looked away.
"You know where they are, don't you?" His owner exclaimed. "If you do, please tell me!"
The cat took its time stretching, then finally gave a reluctant meow.
"Wonderful! Could you show me?"
Miaka followed closely as Mizu padded over to the unmade bed and pawed at the sleeves of discarded outfits that were hanging over its side. His mistress hurriedly tossed the pile of clothing aside and much to her delight found the missing keys that had been hidden underneath.
"Zu Zu, you've saved the day! Treats from the fish market for saving me from Taka's 'time is money' lecture!" Miaka exclaimed, stroking the cat's silky, smoke-colored fur as the animal feigned indifference. Not fooled by the display of aloofness, she continued the caress until her pet gave in, arching in contented pleasure as the sounds of deep purring filled the air.
"You're such a good boy." She crooned, now scratching her kitty under his chin. "If only you would let Taka see what a softie you are."
The purring ceased as quickly if someone had hit an off switch, and Mizu pointedly moved out of reach, crooked tail twitching back and forth in quick, angry motions that spoke of his deep displeasure.
His mistress sighed. "Don't take it so personally. It's not that Taka doesn't like you, he just has to keep his distance because he's allergic to you! I'm sure that will change once he starts on the allergy shots."
The cat growled and began to sharpen its claws on a nearby scratching post.
"And he's not going to have you de-clawed. I would never let him, even if he tried. So there's no need to get angry!"
A low yowl and increased vigor in swipes at the post said that her attempt to mollify had failed.
"I'm sorry you feel that way, kitty. I really don't want to argue with you, so let's change the subject." The skirt of her strapless sundress billowed around her, showing off the shapely legs beneath as she pirouetted in front of the dresser's long mirror. "All right. How do I look?"
The cat stopped its scratching and meowed. Miaka's smile returned.
"Thank you! It's comfortable, and even better, it was a great deal at the outlet store!" Her smile faded. "It's not the designer Taka favors for me, but I can't justify spending a half-month's rent, especially when he's helping me out with rent in the first place. I wish he'd let me take the unit in my price range..."
Mizu's stare was unrelenting in its condemnation.
"Excuse me, but I did not cave! If you recall, I've repeatedly said no to living with him." Turning away from the sharp feline gaze, Miaka made a pretense of straightening her hair. "This was a compromise we could live with."
Compromise or not, if someone had told her ten years ago that she would be living and working in Colorado Springs, USA, she would have laughed. And if someone had told her ten years ago that she would be doing those things while refusing to live with her longtime love Taka, she would have said they were delusional.
Yet here she was, doing just that.
In this day and age, living together before marriage was an accepted and even a respectable practice. But after getting through the mountain of paperwork involved in moving to a foreign country, becoming proficient in English and managing to find a sufficient means ot supporting herself, she had found herself reluctant to accept the live-in status offered to her instead of the designation of a soon-to-be-bride that she had envisioned herself as becoming once she arrived in America.
No ring had been forthcoming. Taka had wanted to establish himself and his career first.
And she'd found she preferred to have her own space while he did.
It wasn't easy living on her own in a strange place. But whenever loneliness threatened her resolve and self- doubts tempted her to give up her independence, a whisper deep in her heart said to hold on, that something good was about to happen and that she needed to stay right where she was.
That feeling had grown quite strong over the past few days.
And now, after weeks of texting and sporadic face to face encounters, Taka had phoned the day before and made an actual breakfast date with her on her day off. For him to take flex time on a weekday was totally unheard of. The fact that he would make that effort raised hopes that maybe he had finally realized that their relationship needed more than bare bones maintenence to survive.
Maybe today would be the day her patience was rewarded. But she wasn't going to hold her breath.
After leaving some food and water for her pet, Miaka stepped out into the fresh mountain air and locked the door to her apartment. The early morning breeze sent a chill across her exposed skin, but she didn't bother to turn and go back for a jacket. Though it might feel a bit cool now, she'd been living in Colorado Springs long enough to know that a clear, cloudless sky over Pike's Peak was a strong indication of a scorching hot day to come. The sundress was a good choice.
Dashing down the outer stairway to the parking lot, she strode across the black asphalt to the flashy scarlet LeBaron convertible that Taka had arranged for her to lease from a dealership.
After unlocking the door, she climbed in, tossing her purse into the seat next to her, and then set a bottle of mineral water into the cup holder between the driver and passenger seats. Since her arrival in Colorado six months ago, she had been advised by several natives to make a habit of drinking at least sixteen ounces of water first thing in the morning to combat the effects of high altitude and dry climate.
She would have to put off that little ritual until she got to the intended destination. If she didn't hurry, she'd lose the chance for the good conversation she hoped to have with Taka to the demands of his job. The clock was ticking, and a delay for an emergency potty stop wasn't acceptable in a world where time was as precious a commodity as money.
To be continued…
Reviewers welcomed with a bag of Mile High doughnuts!