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(She Is Not) A Terra-Cotta Warrior

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It was a very nice Bus, but then again, Phil had always been an honest man at heart.

He could be a goddamned bastard, too, but at least he tried to tell the truth where he could, most days.

Not, she reflected, that it meant she would forgive him for this any time soon.

“Oh, come on, girl,” murmured the millennia-familiar voice in her ear, and she felt the whisper of silken scales across the back of her neck, where Mushu hid beneath the bulk of her vest and the fall of her hair. “You’re lyin‘ to both of us if you say you’re not happy to be back in the field.”

“I’m not happy. And I’m not lying,” she answered, gaze straight ahead even behind her mirrored aviators, ignoring the tiny dragon head poking out of her collar, below her right ear. “I’ve had enough of war, Mushu. I’d had enough a long time ago.”

Mushu sighed softly, his breath - warm, so warm from the constant fire in his chest - ruffling the fine hairs on her neck. “I still think you’re lying, kiddo. The terra-cotta warriors might be made to stand still forever, but you’re not.”

She thought of gunfire and screams and the tears of a little girl, and reasoned to herself that the terra-cotta warriors were also allowed to fracture and fall when the world became too much for them.

She wasn’t.

_______________________________________________

Immortality was a curse, sometimes.

It was easier, she supposed, having an equally immortal - and occasionally immoral - guardian and friend at your side to keep you company through the untold centuries, but it didn’t make it any easier when the mortal friends fell away.

Her grandmother’s loss had been the hardest, she thought, because her grandmother had been the one who understood her the best, encouraged her peculiarities in a world long before gender-neutrality and the concept of female independence.

She hadn’t known what she was, then.

She began to suspect by the time she lost her parents, one after the other, only a few years past her marriage, and realized that she had barely changed since the war. By the time she lit incense in Shang’s memory, the war was nearly thirty years gone, and still, she had not changed.

She and Mushu had fled as soon as the sun set on the last day of Shang’s funeral. Even isolated as they were in their small country home, despite the cautions she took of wrapping her still-black hair in scarves and powdering her face to hide her lack of wrinkles, their neighbors whispered about her persistent youth.

She didn’t need to be attacked as a demon in the night by fear-driven fools, even if she wondered, sometimes, if they would have been right.

For centuries, she wandered, the only constants herself and Mushu. There was usually a sword, often a horse, and occasionally a cricket, and she made her living where and how she could.

Some of the nights were darker than others; a flash of gold in return for blood on her blade, or, on the darkest nights of all, when she kept her eyes shut and fought to pretend that every touch on her body was Shang’s, and quietly counted her coins when it was all over, pretending it didn’t make her feel ill.

She didn’t remember the first time she’d held a gun, but she gained proficiency quickly enough. She had all the time in the world to practice, and little enough else to spend eternity on. She was, after all, a warrior.

S.H.I.E.L.D. came as a surprise, which in itself was surprising. As many years as she’d seen, it was hard for anything to surprise her any more.

She’d aged a little in the millennia since her war, and looked old enough now, at least, that Howard Stark and Peggy Carter took her seriously - even before she picked up a sword. Later, the man who would be Nick Fury would take her seriously with one look into her eyes, and, a few months after that, so would Phil Coulson.

And it would be Phil Coulson, no one else, who would be there when she took a bullet through the heart during what was supposed to be a simple mission. It would be Phil Coulson who held her hand as she coughed up blood and swore and completely failed to die, Phil Coulson who would give an undignified yelp but not leave her side as Mushu burst from his hiding place in her vest, shouting and spitting sparks in agitation. And it would be to Phil Coulson that she poured her out entire story - all two-thousand-odd years of it - a few days later, over beer and bad American Chinese, and he would sympathize, quietly, his eyes full of understanding.

(She’d return the favor, years later, when Phil had a scar on his chest and horror in his eyes, because perhaps it took someone who couldn’t die to understand the nightmare of coming back from the dead.)

“It’s gonna be good for you, you know that,” Mushu grumbled, poking a sharp claw into her earlobe, and Melinda swatted aimlessly at him to make him hide again, because FitzSimmons weren’t that unobservant even if they were too busy arguing over their ‘Night-Night Gun’ to pay attention to their surroundings.

When Mushu was safely hidden back inside her vest, though, she permitted herself a tiny flicker of a smile.

This time, the little dragon might just be right.