Between Now and Destiny
Kagome Higurashi, once-upon-a-time time traveler, was now a time traveler in an entirely different sense. Twenty-eight years had passed since she had won her freedom from the void, and she was now in a New York police station arguing with a truant officer about her school status. He had to be the one cop on the beat who didn't buy the 'Asians always look young' story she'd been giving out since having to leave Japan.
Shine patrons had started to comment on her never-aging face twenty-two years ago, and finally Mama had set her down and told her to travel. "Kagome, we love you dearly. But I worry more now than I did when you were in the Warring States era. I've noticed a couple of strangers who keep checking in every couple of months..." she shook her head, "They mean you no good. If I can get you smuggled out, will you promise to travel? Stay among those who will discount your youthfulness as part of your heritage, and never stay long? I can face Amida, so long as I've kept you free."
Kagome ran her hand through her hair, and asked the officer, "How can I prove I'm not skipping school? You all have already searched my backpack. I don't have an ID or Social Security card because my wallet was stolen this morning." And the kid who took it was in for a surprise. She'd learned a few tricks in the past couple of decades, especially when it came to her possessions.
In the meanwhile, though, she was dead broke. That ID was brand new, bought from a very expensive, very good dealer only a week ago. So she'd had to walk to work this morning instead of riding the bus, which had brought her to the attention of a grumpy truant officer and her current predicament. Thankfully, over two decades of traveling had nearly eradicated her accent, or she was sure this cop would be calling Immigration next.
Officer Kincaid looked at her skeptically. "Is there anyone who can vouch for you?" He wasn't impressed when she buried her head in her hands and let out a muffled groan. I'm surprised he still holds a badge, much less is alive... talk to some of the teenagers from the neighborhood he picked me up in the way he's doing, they'll kill you for the hell of it.
"No, Officer. As I said, I moved here just three months ago." She stated once again, making sure no hint of sarcasm escaped. If he wanted, he could ruin her life even further than he had. "I'd only had that job a couple of days but, as you arrested me in the kitchen, I'm sure that not only am I fired but they will deny ever even knowing me." And I highly doubt you'd take the word of most of the people I'm around, not that I'd bring them to a cop's attention.
She rubbed her hands over her tired face, fighting the urge to pin the officer with a hard stare and make him quake in his boots. She was unsurprised that he nodded in agreement. The restaurant was on the border of a small, insular, mixed Asian community and the ganglands; bringing cops to the door of your establishment was highly discouraged on either side.
Heck, don't even know if I can carry on my apprenticeship with Master Li, she worried. Many of the people who relied on the ancient healing arts still believed in magic... and everyone in that little community believed in discretion when it came to foreigners and authority figures. She'd have a much easier life there... the apothecary's certification was for life and her timeless face would be an asset, especially for those who still believed.
Master Li, a highly revered eighty-four-year-old practitioner of Chinese medicine, hadn't wanted to take a Japanese apprentice at first, but she had kept asking. He had even gone so far as to order her out of his shop several times. The turning point had come when she had come in and noticed the signs of severe pain in his face and body language.
Instead of speaking, she selected several herbs from the main stock, and quietly requested a couple of very rare items. After paying for them, she took a small mortar and pestle made of jade from her pack. She carefully crushed the ingredients into a fine paste while chanting an ancient and, unknown to her, lost sutra, a miniscule amount of her power snaking easily through the semi-precious stone into the mix.
Carefully scraping every last bit of the medicine into a disposable container, she told him to mix a fingertip's worth in hot water and drink it, while she went in the back to clean up the utensils she used. She had no desire to poison herself or anyone she might treat after all, and that's what would happen if the implements weren't cleaned immediately. Sango had taught her this one, as they had needed stronger pain relief than what she could lay her hands on occasionally, but also so she could recognize a poisoned cup.
Returning to the front of the store, she put everything back in her pack and bowed to him, warning him to not drink it more than four times, and to dispose of the toxic medicine and cup after twenty-four hours. She then turned to leave, saddened that she'd come too late to do more than offer pain relief. He was very good at concealing his illness.
A cleared throat and a small, decisive click had her turn back: an ancient handwritten scroll had been placed on the counter and slightly unrolled. Relieved, and smiling inwardly as she recognized a test, she made her obeisance to Master Li and then to the scroll before stepping up to it, hands behind her back, and intently reading what she could see in perfect silence. Ten minutes passed, fifteen, and then finally, twenty-four minutes later, he asked what she had learned so far. Bowing to him, she responded, "I learned that I am still a foolish girl, as I did not remember my gloves. One never knows when wisdom will present itself, therefore one should always be prepared for it."
Miroku would be so proud of her...
"You have a diploma?" the cop asked, bringing her attention back to the here and now. A clamor had started up in the front, but everyone ignored it, surreptitiously watching the drama unfolding as the officer relentlessly grilled her.
"No," she explained. "I had to drop out to work, never had the time and money to go back." All true, and a perfect lie, nothing to catch a sharp-eared cop's attention.
Another cop two desks over called out, "Kincaid, just cut her loose. She ain't lied once and you know it. It'll be a shitty thing if she's lost her job just cause you're pissed we had'ta man the desks instead of seeing Captain America with the rest of the squad."
"Shut it, Jenks," Kincaid snapped. The noise at the front had diminished, and their disagreement was loud in the silence. Even the inveterate gossips stilled at the argument, eyes on the new visitors.
Kagome looked up, surprised to see a man in a skintight blue suit with wings on the cap and a large star on the chest standing in the middle of the room, a red and white circular shield on one arm. A stray memory of Inuyasha flashed through her head, softening her eyes in memory as she looked at the oddly-dressed man who's image had been splashed all over the world for several months now, along with a handful of others. We gave Inuyasha hell over his garish clothing... at least he'd had a perfect excuse. Fire rat fur doesn't take dye at all.
She was a bit startled when he came over to them, his eyes slightly narrowed. The force of his personality was like a punch, his ki making her feel uneasy. She tried to examine it, endeavoring to slip into a trance without it being obvious she wasn't paying attention to her captors.
Human, but more. I feel youki... but too much for a descendant. Youkai had all left for another realm hundreds of years ago, their reasons unknown to her. The blood would have been all but bred out by now. And anyways, it's twisted in some way. Unnatural. She came out of her trance to hear him speaking to the cop about her.
"...Officer," he said, leaving her to wonder what had been said that had Kincaid at attention. "So that's all she's done? No record, no illegal behavior, just an overly young-looking woman walking to work?" He had a warm, pleasingly low-pitched voice, and it was obvious he was used to command. Her fingers twitched, and she wondered what he'd do if she slipped the hood off to see his features better.
"Captain America! Sir," Officer Kinkaid stood at attention, stumbling over his words while trying to defend his actions. She would have laughed, if it wouldn't cause her more trouble later. "She's a truant, sir; there's no way this girl could be eighteen. We're just have to find out which school, as she won't tell us."
She made a mou of displeasure at that. It was true that she wasn't eighteen, but imagine the shock if Officer Kincaid was to find she was actually forty-four. "Actually, I was just about to clock into work when this officer, who followed me into the kitchen of the restaurant I worked at, arrested me for truancy. I am of age; however my wallet was stolen and I have no other ID."
The superhero, as the newspapers touted him, looked at her intensely as she spoke, weighing her words and observing her body language. He nodded, as if coming to a decision, and spoke again to Kincaid. "Will you release her into my custody, officer? I imagine the police force has more important things to spend their time on. I will stand surety for her, and investigate the matter. If she's underage, she'll go back to school. If not, then Miss, I'll help you get another job."
As Kincaid began to ramble about her good luck, she tried valiantly to look like she was honored. Of all the... just how many people in New York, and I have to attract the attention of one of the few who could blow my cover out of the water. Somewhere, a god must be laughing.
When she mentioned that their destination was a small neighborhood that required passing through some very rough claimed territory, he took a look at the car and his clothes and had the driver pull into a service station. The clean-cut all-American guy that emerged from the gas station restroom was a pleasant surprise. He smiled at the look on her face. "I imagine tights would be the wrong thing to wear, if we want to get in and out without a fight. I've been told this is a dangerous area. If you don't mind a walk, Miss Mikosama, I'd like to let Sebastian take the limo home."
She agreed, smiling brightly. His old-fashioned manners were charming, and she wished more people were like him. Americans are so intimate with strangers, she thought, appreciating his reserve. Its nice to find one that knows how to be courteous. He's still a bit more relaxed than my people, but it is a pleasant compromise.
They walked through the dirty streets, Kagome occasionally pointing out a landmark. They had almost gotten to her neighborhood when a group of toughs walked up to them. Recognizing one of them, she laid a hand on Captain Rogers' arm, looking up to him and giving a slight nod as he let the tension in his muscles drain away.
"Roberto," she greeted the teen in the front. "I hope your family is well."
He shifted his stance, arms crossed, slightly leaning back as if he had a wall behind him, the machismo thick in the air. He gave a crooked smile. "My Maria, she told me if I saw you again to tell you she lights a candle to the Virgin for you every week. My son, he's healthy now, fat as can be. You couldn't recognize him from his baby pictures." He swaggered up to her, handing over a photo. "Been carrying that for a while, knew I'd run into you sometime or another."
She looked at the cherubic face in the picture, noting the bright eyes and pain-free cracker-smeared grin. Showing it to Captain Rogers, she happily gushed over the boy. "I'm so glad he's doing better, Roberto. He's going to have all the ladies after him when he's older."
Rogers agreed, "You have a fine son there."
"All thanks to Lady K. He spit up everything, was skinny as a matchstick. The damn doctors told us he'd get better after surgery, but wanted ten percent up front and postdated checks to cover the rest." He spat, a bitter look crossing his face. "Like someone like me can waltz into a bank and not get kicked out. But then Maria ran into the Lady here. She had him fixed up in a week."
Kagome simply smiled, offering him the photo back.
"Nah, that's for you. Glad to see you've got some muscle with you, hate to have to break some heads if someone hurt you." His grin showed every bit of his insincerity. "See ya 'round, Lady K."
Watching the toughs walk back to their stoop, Steve said, "I see you live an interesting life." The woman by his side didn't answer, just gave him an enigmatic half-smile. He looked around, this place more foreign to him than any country he'd been to during the war. So much had changed in seventy years, sometimes he didn't know if he could change with it. Suddenly aware his charge had moved on during his introspection, he hurried to catch up.
As she feared, Master Li had heard of her arrest. "Kagome," he said, a saddened look on his face. "Had you only remained inconspicuous for a few years... you know no one will have anything to do with you now."
She hung her head, inhaling deeply and mastering her disappointment before she looked back up. "They won't, will they? I'm new, have no family to offend, and I wouldn't be surprised if that cop starts to keep an eye on me..." She let out a single weary huff and turned to the young American. Master Li looked at the two and was suddenly hit with a knowing.
Li inspected the wide-eyed young man who had brought her in as he curiously looked over the shop's wares. He was unaware of the supernatural, as most were in these days of science, unlike the very special woman in front of him. "Kagome," he said quietly, catching her attention. Motioning to her, he went to a special counter, kept free of clutter and covered with a heavily embroidered square of cloth. He drew a small pouch from his waistband and handed it to her.
"Infuse them, servant of the gods, and we will see what the bones say." She looked at him, a warning flash of danger in her eyes. He patted her hand, nodding to her with a wise look. "You need guidance, child, or you will flounder. You have been made into something that only the gods can understand; not even Confucius in all his wisdom foresaw one such as you. Now, the bones."
Taking a deep breath, she released a tendril of ki into the bones. The pouch flared with symbols, and she handed them back to him. She closed her eyes, pulling into that calm space within her as the bones clattered and clacked. All sound ceased except for Captain Rogers' pacing, until finally Master Li spoke. "You are needed once again. The angry one hurts; without the god-touched, his rage will overwhelm him and seek to destroy all that tortures him."
She looked at him, and he quickly hid the thrill of terror he felt looking into her darkened eyes. Her cool mask was quickly replaced though, the steel in her hidden again. His heart swelled, awed that such a warrior had crossed his path in this modern age. There were no questions in those eyes, the impassive, dangerous gray-blue of a winter ocean. She would do her duty and do it well. Scooping the bones into their bag, he bowed low to her, adding, "There are answers waiting for you as well, Kagome. I believe you might even find what you seek."
She bowed back, a dangerous hope blossoming in her heart even as she became aware that they had caught Captain Rogers' attention.
Scooping the bones into their bag, Master Li spoke up again. "Come, Kagome. I have a parting gift for you, as well as something that belongs to you." He shuffled to the main counter and withdrew the scroll he had shown her the day he accepted her.
"You do not need me as much as you believe. Your first master taught you well. I have never seen a youth so well versed in the ancient healing practices, and I sorrow at losing you. This scroll, though, will complete your education." His eyes had a wealth of meaning in them. "I despaired of finding a worthy successor for these arts, and thought to destroy them the day you came and proved yourself to me. But now I can rest in the assurance I have completed the task the gods have asked of me."
With no small amount of gratitude she accepted the scroll and the responsibility that came with it. By giving her the original, he had declared her the chosen heir of his knowledge, something more valuable than his certification. She couldn't wait to study the parts she had yet to read.
Master Li then pulled out a plain wallet, with a little kitsune charm dangling from it. "And, surprisingly, a terrified young man came into the shop this morning. He begged me to take the cursed item he had stolen..." The two looked at each other, perfectly understanding what wasn't said.
Knowing what she was about to do would possibly have severe repercussions should she ignite the interest of the man behind her, but owing at least this much to the healer, she carefully laid the scroll on the counter and pulled out three slips of carefully trimmed washi she habitually carried. "That curse takes time we don't have, Master Li, but I do have a small thing for you."
Taking the brush and ink Master Li offered, she confidently wrote a series of ancient kanji down the paper. Setting aside her brush, she picked up the new sutra, and concentrated. With a short prayer, the kanji fluoresced, power flickering over the paper. One, she immediately gave to Master Li, happy when he suddenly straightened, the pain from his cancer mollified. The other two she laid on the counter for him to use later, silently praying that his suffering didn't last longer than it needed to.
"Wrap the other two in silk against the time that one fails, your touch will trigger them." She bowed very low and made a promise, one that meant much to the dying man. "Time never forgets, eternal memories are kept in scent and smoke."
His eyes shone damply and he blotted at them with his sleeves. As they opened the door to leave, he called out, "Thank you, beloved child. I wish you and your friends luck, Captain."
Steve paused and inclined his head, accepting the well-wishes; his brain working overtime. She was definitely no truant schoolchild. There was a little of their conversation that he couldn't hear, mainly when the elderly man had told her fortune, but he'd what he'd heard and seen was enough to make him eye the small woman with curiosity. He held his tongue, though, simply asking where she lived.
She shook her head, motioning to the large pack she carried. "I'm a traveler. There's little of importance in this life that you can't fit in a backpack."
Remembering all the times he lived from his rucksack, he agreed with her, at least mostly. "But it is nice to have a place to call your own."
He regretted his words as her face became melancholy. Ninety-plus years old, and still have no clue how to speak to a woman. You are an utter idiot, he chided himself. "If you have no place to stay tonight, you could stay with me." His cheeks reddened, mortified at his slip of the tongue. "I don't mean with me, I meant at my place." He rambled on, feeling he was digging himself further into a hole with each word.
"Actually, its not my place, Stark owns it, but he built it for the Avengers, so we all have places in it... I'm sure Agent Romanoff wouldn't mind you staying in one of her rooms..."
Kagome placed her fingertip against his mouth. "If there is an open room, and your friends won't object to a stranger staying in their sanctuary, then I would be most grateful for your offer."
Steve smiled, the warmth of her fingertip against his lips doing strange things to his heart.
When they turned into his building, she became wary. Large, high tech, and watched by hidden surveillance teams covering the road and parking garage... She had the passing thought that she shouldn't be able to fall into war vigilance so quickly, but shrugged it off. If it was there, she'd need it. If only she had her Asuzazan bow! It had not come out of the void with her, so she had no idea what could have become of it.
She wondered for a moment if this was all a set up, but decided to hope she was still a decent judge of character. She turned to look at him, attention caught by him running his fingers through his hair.
"I, ah, haven't ever brought anyone back with me before... hm... they're good people, well, Stark can drive you insane..." He huffed, trying to get the right words together as he paid the taxi driver and signed a quick autograph.
Turning to her and offering his arm, he continued, "Just, please, ignore any teasing. You can get a good, safe night's sleep, and we'll look into the job issue tomorrow, if you don't mind Miss Mikosama. And ignore Tony if he comes through. He's got a quick mouth and is a terrible lech, but otherwise he's a decent guy."
She was amused and touched, so she said nothing as she took his arm and they walked through the privacy gate. She liked this gentleman. And who was she to turn her nose up at the chance to meet these incredible people, even without Master Li's foretelling. They were probably the only people who could hear her story and not think her mad.
That's not to say she'd be blabbing her life story anytime soon, even if she was supposed to be here among them. It was very obvious she was being moved according to a higher will. Meeting Captain America at a small inner city police station he wasn't even supposed to be at was about as subtle as being pulled down a dry well that had suddenly turned into a time portal.
After all, if she was needed by the world once again, what better way to meet 'the angry one' than by staying with the Avengers, even if they were a bunch of people who went about their lives like comic book heroes?
She softly smiled. Well, one might say I was a manga heroine once upon a time...
Almost all I know of Chinese culture comes from the novelists Pearl S. Buck and Robert Van Guelik, both of whom I highly recommend. Imperial Chinese literature has some constants; Taoists are strange, old, and wealthy, Buddhists are thieves and leches (yes, Miroku is a perfect characterization of ancient Chinese tales), and Confucianists are wise, noble, and all a perfect Chinese gentleman should be... which is the feel I wanted for Master Li. Her promise to him was a haiku, promising to burn incense in his memory for the rest of her life, very important to a culture that practices ancestor worship. (Consider my complete disregard for Communism's changes to Chinese culture poetic license.)
This is my first try at a multi-chapter actiony-drama-romance... I'm usually an angst and comedy writer. I have completely finished it (except for edits), so you won't be left hanging. I hope you enjoy!