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Transcending Time

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    “How do you know my name?”

    Yeo-Wool. She asked the question as if he could ever forget her name or her beauty. In this life or the next or another a hundred years down the line. He couldn’t forget even if he’d tried, even if he’d wanted to. His mind wouldn’t have allowed it, even if only on principle, every image, every memory branded there for eternity.

    “I’ll only ask one more time. How do you know my name?”

    He struggled to find the words. “I...I think we’ve met before. You’re familiar to me.”

    Her eyes narrowed just slightly. “If we’ve met, I would remember.”

    A small smile tugged at his lips; after lifetimes, he had seen the world change around him, and yet she still remained just the same. Somehow, that didn’t come as a surprise to him. “Or...no, I remember. A friend of mine - he said he knew you from your school days. Talks as if it were ages ago.” Oh, the irony of that.

    “And who might this friend be?”

    “Does it matter? You’re every bit as beautiful as he said. Perhaps even more so.”

    She watched him intently for another few moments, as if he were a puzzle she couldn’t quite figure out, then holstered her gun. “Tell me what happened here.” As she walked past him, the tension he’d felt began to dissipate. She was back to business, and that was enough to distract him from the way his heart thumped loud in his chest. No matter how he felt, she didn’t feel the same for him, not yet. He’d waited thousands of years for this; he could wait a few more weeks or months. At least now, he knew what he was waiting for.

    “There was a man trying to take a woman’s purse. I was only here to help her. They were both gone before you came.”

    “And why would they run?”

    He knew the reason, knew the secret they had seen in his eyes. Instead, he smiled, a little cheeky, the way he recalled being when he’d first met her. “Perhaps they were both scared of ending up with a gun pointed in their direction, despite the beautiful face behind it.”

    She eyed him warily, resistant to fall for his charms. Unsurprising, all things considered. She hadn’t been so easily swayed the first time around either. “I’ll need you to come to the police station and give us a statement about what happened here tonight.”

    An easy smile came to his lips for the first time in many years. She wasn’t ready yet; to her, he was only a stranger whom she’d happened to see at the scene of a possible crime. Yet still, it would all work out in the end. “Of course. Lead the way.”


 

     It didn’t happen quickly. Really, by most conventional measures of time, the going was rather slow. Fortunately, living for hundreds of years meant that his sense of time was considerably far from conventional. That night, he’d done as requested of him - followed her to the police station, sat through their questioning without the slightest shred of resistance, gave them the story of what had happened. Well, not quite exactly what had happened. He hesitated to reveal just what had sent the loan shark running. If he’d learned anything over the years, it was that people had grown more cynical; spouting off about the truth of his ancestry would have him sent to the nearest insane asylum, without a doubt. So he didn’t press for anything that night - merely offered Yeo-Wool a glance and smile, risking a quick wink in her direction. He didn’t expect anything more than the skeptical look in her eyes, but that would be enough for now. He might be in love with her first, but she wasn’t the type to fall head over heels from a single glance. The first time around, it’d started slowly, then deepened all at once.

    So he waited a few days before venturing back to the police station. With a few inquiries he was able to catch her attention, flashing her a grin as she came into sight.

    Yes, that most definitely caught her attention.

    “Kang-Chi, right? Was there something more you needed to tell us about what happened?”

    “No, no,” he shook his head with a wider grin, “I merely couldn’t get the thought of your beauty out of my head. I’ve tried, but nothing can quite dispel it from my mind.” He didn’t let any sadness show, for the irony wasn’t lost on him. How many times had he tried to forget her in hopes to leave behind the pain, all in vain? “So I thought it best to ask such a lovely woman to coffee. When you’re finished protecting our city, of course.”

    She still searched his face as if still trying to solve that same mysterious puzzle. “Quite forward of you, isn’t it?”

    He shrugged, feigning nonchalance, though he allowed the honest sincerity to bleed into his words. “I’ve found that even if it seems as though life may go on forever, there are some things which shouldn’t be approached with hesitance. Even one more day might mean a world of difference in the end.”

    Something about those words seemed to speak to her more deeply, her expression changing ever so slightly, softening at the edges. In hindsight, he attributed her answer to that tiny portion of truth he’d shared in that moment. “8 o’clock, I’ll be off duty, we can go to the cafe down the street. If anything happens at the Precinct, that comes first.”

    His smile became more genuine, more real, any of his put-on charm slipping away. “Perfect.”

    From there, things progressed as would be expected. Coffees and dinners and walks in the park and movies after her day at the Precinct each becoming ever more frequent and - surprisingly - never interrupted by some emergency. Eventually, he deemed it safe enough to visit her at work, bearing lunch and watching her work before taking his leave. It was alike the first time around in so many ways, and also still different. As before, she’d begun to lower her guard around him, permit herself to be less cautious in his presence, let him see the secret, softer side to her that she seldom revealed to anyone else. Though that wasn’t to say he disliked the side of herself she revelled in around her coworkers; quite the opposite, rather. He’d first met her as a warrior, and that hadn’t changed in the slightest since then. Despite the change of scenery, she was the same confident, brave, stubborn woman he’d met hundreds of years in the past, and he loved her just the same. As for him, he hadn’t really known the feeling of home in a long time - a man out of time, he’d often remarked to himself in the quiet moments between the tumultuous situations he’d flung himself into over the years. Being with her again, feeling more assured in the fact he might be able to keep her longer this time, it was like he’d rediscovered the sensation of feeling at home. Like everything was right with the world, like he didn’t have to search any longer. Even for the Book; despite how it might grant him everything he might want, he’d long ago dismissed it as mere myth.

    And yet, there was still something markedly different this time around, some obstacle which hadn’t existed for them. He knew what that obstacle was, but he feared losing what he already did have to the hands of the cynicism more deeply ingrained in all people now more than then.

    He knew he would have to tell her, but not yet. Not yet. Not when things were going so well, so easily.

    Perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise that something would turn that upside down.

    It was during a late dinner, in the middle of a perhaps surprisingly animated conversation on the merits and faults of certain TV programs (even they could have such domestic conversations, after all, and it was easy conversation to start with the way society was now) when the alarms sounded in the distance. Neither of them heard it at first, but it didn’t take much before they’d fallen silent. Their evening was officially interrupted as the sounds of screams reached their ears; both of them were out of their seats in an instant without needing to spare a word explaining their intentions to the other. Everything passed as a blur until they came upon the column of smoke erupting from the library, the fire raging an angry orange through the windows it had blown out. Sirens began to blare in the distance, cutting through the din of people yelling in fear and alarm. Yeo-Wool was on her phone, her lips moving with words he could barely make out - calling the Precinct, making a report, calling for backup should it have something to do with an arsonist who had begun to make a name for himself in recent months.

    However, what he could hear were the cries for help from another woman in the crowd, screaming for her daughter, desperate for help in case she should still be inside the burning building. And that was all it took.

    Before he knew what exactly he was doing, he could hear Yeo-Wool calling his name from behind him as he raced into the burning building, acting on instinct over all else. The smoke was immediately heavy around him, thick black smoke grating in his lungs, fueled by the oppressive heat burning his skin from every direction. He smothered a cough into his jacket and allowed his powers to take over, just until he found the girl, until he had her safe. He had to find her, he just had to listen...and there! Another floor above him, on the far side of the room, away from the staircase.

    Racing for the stairs, he had only one goal in mind. Until a flash of green appeared from the corner of his eyes. Pausing for just a moment, he could make out the shape: a book, one likely taken from the buildings Rare Collections for a showing, golden gilded and adorned with emeralds, one at each corner of the cover and another elegantly encircled with gold in the center.

    The Book.

    Never before had he seen it or even heard descriptions of its appearance, but he knew he’d finally found it, could feel it with more certainty than he’d ever known. The answer to all his problems, the one thing in existence that would give him the opportunity to live out a mortal life with his love and never have to fear living without her again. And it was just across the room. Within his reach.

    The groan of the building and the whimpering cries of a child snapped him out of his reverie. At this rate, the building would come down at any moment, of that much he was sure. Too quickly for him to save both the Book and the girl, even at his fastest, unaffected by smoke and heat and exhaustion. He could only spare a second for his decision. The Book. His one chance to finally become human and be with Yeo-Wool for not only the rest of this life, but for whatever might come after. His only chance to give himself that life. Or a frightened, helpless young girl with a family of her own, with parents tortured by the thought that they may never see their daughter alive again.

    He sprinted up the stairs.

    Stumbling at the landing, he followed the weakening cries and navigated slowly through the ashes stinging at his eyes until he came upon the girl - 7 years old at most - huddling in the far corner, fear dancing a bright orange in her wide eyes. It took little coaxing to guide her into his arms, hugging her close as he moved as quickly as he dared without jostling her. Across the room and down the stairs...where he dared to glance back in the direction of that sparkling, magnificent green.

    Nothing more than a twisted pile of blackened, burning wood.

    He arrived to the sound of cheers and gulped in fresh air, though he paid little attention to the former, pushing his way through the crowd until he was standing face to face with the woman who had first uttered that cry for help. The smile that split his face at her teary thanks and joyful reunion was genuine, enough so that it he at first didn’t notice the voice calling his name.

    “Kang-Chi!” He spun in place just in time to see Yeo-Wool running toward him from the older man she’d been talking to, soot marring her cheek. “You’re safe.”

    Laying his palm on her cheek, he felt his heart beat faster in his chest. “You followed me. Why would you do that?”

    She shook her head slightly as if his question were ridiculous. “I saw you go. I had to make sure you were okay.” A pause. “I don’t want to lose you.”

    What followed was more a reflex than a reaction as he pulled her to his chest, wrapping his arms tight around her and feeling the sentiment reciprocated. His voice was raspy as he spoke, though he was certain that had nothing to do with the smoke. “I can’t lose you either.”

    He couldn’t lose her.

    Not again. Not yet.


 

     They didn’t talk more of the incident until later that night, after they’d both returned to her apartment and washed themselves clean. Climbing into bed and wrapping themselves around each other came naturally, despite never having done so before in this life. A fact which Kang-Chi was sure wasn’t lost on either of them. Not that it made much difference to either of them, though it was Yeo-Wool who broke the silence.

    “What you did there, it was very brave.”

    He couldn’t muster the response he would’ve liked to. All the rest of the evening, he’d known he was being distant, but it was difficult to dispel the image of the Book from his mind. So close, and now gone forever. “Thank you.”

    Without looking, he could feel as she tilted her head at him, gaze always perceptive and knowing. “What’s wrong?”

    “Nothing. I’ll be fine; just a little tired, is all.”

    She wouldn’t believe that, and he knew that full well. Still, she chose not to push further, and he stroked a hand down her arm in silent thanks. A movement which she turned to watch with interest.

    “That bracelet. Why do you wear it? I haven’t seen you without it.”

    His hand stilled in its periodic motion. “It was...given to me by a friend. A long time ago.”

    She nodded along. “It means something to you. It must.”

    “It...it does.” He hesitated. He had to tell her; he knew he had to, always had known that. And maybe now was the time, now with the Book gone and any faint hope he might’ve still held onto now dashed. There were no options left to him, as far as he knew, and he had to tell her at some point. “I...Yeo-Wool, there’s something I need to tell you.”

    Concern colored her eyes, furrowed her brow. “Then tell me.”

    With a sigh, he began to explain, telling her stories of the past hundreds of years, that he’d been alive to see all of them, stand by and watch the world as it changed around him. He explained how he’d promised himself that he would put his life to use by defending those who couldn’t defend themselves, protecting the weak against injustice and danger at any and every turn. Saving people whenever he could, whether that was rescuing one child or even taking part in battles against those who had been corrupted by power. How all of that had been done not only as a promise to himself, but to the person who had inspired him with her own strength to do good. The one person he hadn’t been able to save. Every mistake in that span of time haunted him to this very day, but none so much as that one. And it was for her that he’d chosen this path. Chosen to take his life and do right with it whenever he could, and for as long as he might have to in order to someday make up for that mistake.

    Taking another deep breath, he dared glance back at her, nervous as to what her reaction might be. Skepticism instead of concern filled her brow as she watched him with that same searching look. “Why should I believe any of that?”

    Another breath. This was far harder this time around. “Do you believe in the old myths? About the magical creatures that would roam the earth?”

    Her expression turned more puzzled. “I’ve never had reason to. Why?”

    He looked down and steadied himself before blinking up, recognizing the moment her eyes met the shock of piercing jade green. She gasped, pulling away on instinct as he blinked again, this time to clear the color away.

    “You...you’re…”

    He offered her a nod. “That’s what the bracelet is for. It helps me control my powers, makes sure they can’t get out of hand.” She didn’t speak for another moment, and he began to slide away, dropping his gaze. “I’m sorry…”

    A hand grasped his arm. “No, you don’t have to go.”

    He shook his head. “I don’t want to hurt you, or for you to have to live with knowing -”

    “Don’t worry.” He looked up to find her gracing him with a smile - small and a little tentative, but real nonetheless. “I’m not scared you’ll hurt me. You proved that tonight. And in the years past. Stay.”

    Slowly, he relaxed back into the bed. “You’re certain?”

    The smile grew wider, more confident, as she laid her hand at his neck beneath his jaw, drawing him in closer. “I am.”

    Her lips were soft and sure as they met his. A second first kiss to rival the one they had had hundreds of years ago.

    As the night deepened, they began to doze, snuggled close together in their shared warmth. At the edge of consciousness, he was awake enough to hear the question whispered into the dark. “The woman who inspired you - who was she?”

    With a fond smile, he pressed gentle kisses into her shoulder, breathing the answer softly into her skin, “You. It has always been you.”


 

 Epilogue

    The years passed as they lived always at the others’ side, Yeo-Wool always ensuring that he kept the promise he had made; that came as no surprise to him. It wasn’t long before they were married, a luxury they hadn’t been afforded the first time. Nor did it take much longer for them to settle into a surprising domesticity, despite the circumstances. So there was nothing unusual about the evening seeing them cuddled together on the couch, the news providing soft white noise all the while.

    What was unusual, however, was the story being reported. To any other person, there was nothing particularly special about the small exhibit opened by the recently rebuilt library. Except this wasn’t any other person.

    “Kang-Chi?” There was that note of concern in Yeo-Wool’s voice at suddenly seeing him so entirely enraptured by the television.

    “It’s…” But how? He’d seen it destroyed! And despite that, the golden gilding, the bright flashes of emerald green, the aged leather binding - it all stared at him through the screen. “It’s the Book…”

    “What? That’s the Book?”

    There was an odd note to her voice, but he was too distracted to quite decode it. “I...but I saw it destroyed in the fire. I’d thought it was gone for good…”

    “The fire when you saved that child?” That strange tone hadn’t gone away, and he couldn’t ignore it.

    “Yes, why…?”

    Her grin grew, and her eyes lit up. He would never tire of her beauty. “When I followed you into that building, I couldn’t find you. But I did see that book. It looked important, so I took it. I’d only just returned it to the owner of those collections before I found you outside.”

    He had his arms around her in the next instant, and she was assuring him that she would find a way to let him see the Book. After all, it wouldn’t still exist if not for her - so beautiful, so perfect, he could live for thousands of years and never think anything different.

    Except now, he didn’t have to. Things could be different this time; things could change (although he doubted Yeo-Wool would ever let him succumb to sloth - she never had). He wouldn’t have to live without her again. They could finally have the happy ending he’d always dreamed of with her. It would be perfect.