The day Nomura woke up in the past was the day she did something she'd never done before: she called in late to work. She didn't even remember the name of the man who had answered the phone, but he assured her that he could open the museum and get it ready for the day without her.
She thanked him tersely – it was as pleasant as she dared right now – before putting the phone away and peering around a bush at the house across the street and down just a little ways. It was an old, familiar house. One that she hadn't seen in over a hundred years. Once she'd left her apartment this morning, she'd headed straight here because she had to see for herself. She had to make sure he was alright.
The sun was rising. She didn't have much time and would have to change into her human guise soon, but if someone got incredibly lucky and managed to glimpse her, she could get away faster in this form. Not to mention, she'd spent the last 200 years of her memories in this form. It was more comfortable and reassuring to her.
Thankfully, this form also tended to help her keep calmer and steadier. She was more powerful like this, and part stone – not the racing, pulsing lifeblood of a human. That trait tended to make both trolls and changelings (in troll form) able to sit as still as literal statues for hours on end. Soft, human bodies couldn't do that. Not comfortably and not without practice. She didn't have that practice anymore, and right now, she needed that ability. She'd already waited for almost an hour with nothing really changing. Within the last twenty minutes or so she could make out movement inside the house, so someone had to be there, but they hadn't left yet. She took a deep breath but otherwise didn't move. They had to come out some time. With her eyes alone, she glanced at her phone, situated in her utterly still hand. Almost 7:34. What time was school for this kid? Shouldn't it be starting soon?
Still, she was nothing if not patient, and also determined to wait and make sure everything was alright here without raising suspicion. So she fell back on centuries of experience and simply waited.
Another ten minutes passed before the door finally opened and a very harried-looking Dr. Lake strode out behind a little ball of energy who ran to the old, blue car, his backpack bouncing around like it didn't actually have anything in it.
At first, all the changeling could do was breathe a sigh of relief. But almost immediately after, Nomura really understood how far back she'd come, because while she had very little experience with the human whelp's growth patterns, she was sure this kid's age couldn't have reached double digits yet. He was so... young. By Daya's grace... she couldn't do anything with or for him now! If she so much as looked at him wrong, he could break! He was so... fragile.
This had been a bad idea... she needed to leave...
And yet, she couldn't seem to make her feet move. So instead, she continued to hide and watched as Jim Lake Jr. rushed around to the driver's side of the old car and opened the door for his mother.
The moment Barbara saw, her worry lines melted into an adoring, if somewhat sad, smile. "Oh, Jim... thank you. My little gentleman," she said as she bent down and kissed the top of his head. Nomura had seen children protest their mother's treatment of them (not that she blamed them – two centuries around Jim Lake Jr. and she still couldn't fathom the nastiness that was kissing), and half expected Jim to do the same. He didn't. Instead he preened like he'd been given the worlds most precious gift as his mother got into the car and closed the door behind her.
Nomura snorted softly. Even at this age he was just too pure for this world.
Before the door was completely shut, Jim ran around the back of the vehicle to the other side. Before he reached for the car door handle, he paused and looked around, frowning. Then he turned towards Nomura, expression wary and eyes searching. She knew she was well hidden, but she still double checked – made sure her eyes weren't glowing, made sure she didn't move a centimeter and held her breath as she watched. Heh. Maybe that's why this kid was chosen. Even at this age, he seemed to have a sixth sense.
His mother starting the car seemed to snap him back to the task at hand, and he quickly climbed into the car beside Barbara, strapping himself into the booster seat Nomura could see there before closing the door.
"Is everything o—" Barbara started, and that was all the changeling heard before the door's closing cut her off. A couple of seconds later, they backed out of the driveway and headed down the street, right past where Nomura was hiding. She could see Jim looking out the window.
He must have caught something because for an instant, his eyes widened and his head turned to stare at her... again.
And that was her cue to leave. Actually, she'd probably overstayed her welcome.
The moment the Lake car was out of sight, she'd bounded across the house's backyard and over the Fence and leaping through the other people's property before finding a nice grove of trees. Then, she slowly stepped out and onto the streets in her human guise, carefully checking around her to make suer she hadn't been spotted. When she was sure she was fine, she glanced at her phone again.
Hey, she might not be early to work, but if she hurried, she could be on time.
Jim was here and safe and for now, that was what mattered. She'd figure out exactly how to work out her plans later, once she'd wrapped her head around her most recent revelation.
Bular was an idiot.
Not that Nomura hadn't known that before, but now she had the misfortune of witnessing his bumbling mess of interactions and plans first hand. She was forced to see once again just how badly the changelings had messed up, falling into support behind this... sheep. None of his actions really spoke of independent thought, not really. He just believed in Daddy's ideal and went with it because it was the only way he knew to live (and probably because he liked the taste of humans – thinking with his stomach, as it were). He didn't want to see another way, and so wasn't open to new ideas – even ones that could benefit the gumm-gumms. And because he was the 'pure' troll, of course his way was the best way.
Never mind that his way had the changelings scrambling to cover his tracks, or the fact that the humans of even this day and age could band together and be just as dangerous as the humans in the future if trolls were discovered. He must have some knowledge of this, seeing as he didn't blatantly out himself, but he also seemed convinced that it was only because of daylight – that once his daddy came back (and consequently, once the 'eternal night' fell, although he didn't speak of that, so perhaps he was even more of an idiot than she'd given him credit for) he could very well take on the entire human race himself and win.
Perhaps that was what made his attitude so... utterly frustrating. He wasn't just an idiot, he was a pompous idiot. She'd go so far as to say Narcissistic as it pertained to troll psychology.
Since her return from the future, she'd had to deal with him a total of once, and that was by far too often. Why had she wanted a position in Arcadia Oaks? For the prestige? For the respect it was supposed to bring? It was honestly so long ago that she couldn't actually remember the nuances, although she could make some good guesses.
She'd worked at the Arcadia Oaks museum for almost a decade before Jim Lake Jr. picked up the Trollhunter's medallion the first time. Thankfully, she'd arrived in the past within that time period, so she didn't have to worry about blackmailing and murdering her way into the supposedly 'coveted' position. At least she also actually liked human art. Her job made some sense. Not that sense had ever really been a big part of the Janus Order... She remembered working hard to get into the upper echelons of the Order, craving the power over others simply so she could feel as if she had some power over her own life. What a fool she'd been. If anything, the position had made her even more of a target than before and then she also had to deal with the brute that was their supposed leader.
Almost two centuries, it seemed, had dulled her memories of the ridiculousness that was Bular and his brute-force... everything. Oh, he was no push over, for sure. The troll could strategize a war or a battle or even a one-on-one fight and do so well. He also had clear goals and experience that he put to good use. She could very truthfully describe Bular as arrogant, bloodthirsty and animalistic, even, but only outside of battle. One would think he would become more animal-like in the heat of battle, but for some reason, Bular seemed to do the opposite. It made him unpredictable and all the more dangerous in Nomura's opinion.
But being a good strategist didn't make him a good leader. And he was still an idiot. Mainly because he treated everything as if it were a a battle, and just couldn't seem to see the bigger picture. Thankfully, for Trollmarket, he was as often a hinderance as he was a help.
The order had already begun to assemble the pieces of Killihead bridge, but it would be years before all the pieces were collected. And with Bular in charge, it was no wonder. Of course, the assembly of the portal had been the main reason the position as museum curator had 'opened' to begin with. The fact that the previous curator had mysteriously disappeared (likely inside Bular's stomach) was still something that people discussed years later.
Which was what Nomura found herself 'discussing' with some local business owners and politicians at a party scheduled for the second weekend after she'd arrived back in time. In all honesty she hadn't wanted to spend her second Friday night mingling with a bunch of lame humans. That was another thing she'd forgotten: just how absolutely boring people could be.
"I hear the case is still ongoing," one woman said conspiratorially. "They have some evidence of foul play."
"I doubt that," a round man with dark skin and a bald head said skeptically. "Mr. Robbins was one of the shiest people I ever met. It was kind of a shock when he managed to get the position as curator. Who would want to kill him?"
"Well, he did keep a rather tight ship," Nomura said as she sipped a drink and tried not to just revel in it. It had been so long since she'd tasted something this subtle and actually enjoyed it. That was one thing both she and Jim had reminisced about – food. Eventually, he'd gotten to where he could whip up some pretty amazing troll dishes, but it wasn't the same and they both knew it. She refused to let the memory distract her though. "I was rather pleased when I found everything so neatly organized. I would have liked to meet him."
Lies. She honestly couldn't care less. The two humans she was speaking to didn't catch on (they never did) and nodded in agreement.
Of course, that's when a flash of red hair caught her attention and she turned. To her surprise (a pleasant one, for once), Barbara Lake was there, dressed up and looking like she really wanted to be somewhere else. Nomura could relate.
"Oh, look at that. I just saw someone I would like to speak to," she said to her current companions, grateful to find a reason to get away. "If you will excuse me, please."
"Of course," they both said, graciously, taking the opportunity to turn and find someone else to speak to themselves. Nomura made her way over to the refreshment table to find Barbara scrutinizing more or less everything in front of her.
"It is a rather poor selection," the changeling commented, seeing the varieties of finger-sandwiches, breads and vegetables. They had some fruits too, but very little that really appealed to her. It looked like Barbara felt similarly.
"I was just looking for something a little... healthier," the doctor protested, her face a little red from being caught scrutinizing the free food.
"Well, they did have fruits and I know there are some vegetables left," Nomura replied, pointing to the end of the table and noting that the trays there had been picked over far more than just about anything else.
"Oh, thank you, Ms...?"
"Nomura," the changeling held out her hand and smiled a genuine smile. The first one she'd given this evening. "Zelda Nomura. Museum curator."
"Oh! It's a pleasure to meet you Ms. Nomura. I'm Dr. Barbara Lake."
The changeling nodded to the end of the table and a place a little further out of the way where they could talk. Barbara acquiesced and they moved just a couple of feet down to the relative privacy, the doctor bravely picking up a few items on their way.
"I thought I recognized you from my visits to the hospital a couple of times," Nomura replied, letting the lie slip easily from her lips. "Not that I visit often."
"I certainly hope not," Barbara replied.
Nomura shrugged. "I just wanted to actually meet you. It's nice to see a familiar face here."
"Oh?" the red-head looked surprised. "Don't you know most of these people here?"
"Not really," the black-haired woman replied. "I'm still fairly new around here. Transferred from across the country a couple of years ago and haven't had the most time to interact."
"It is a rather small-knit community," Barbara said sympathetically. "Where did you transfer from?"
"New York... the state, not the city. I ran a small museum outside of the city where I worked since I graduated from college." At least that's what her resume said. She'd made sure she had her story straight as soon as she'd gotten to work that first day.
"What made you decide to come all the way over here?" the doctor asked, and Nomura was happy to see the genuine curiosity. Like mother like son, she supposed.
"Who doesn't dream of going to California once in their life?" the changeling answered. "Besides, I was looking for a change. I didn't have many friends and no family, so there was little keeping me back there."
And there was the pity she hated from more or less anyone but Jim. No, scratch that, she hated it from Jim too, but just saw it so often that she'd gotten used to it.
"It's really nothing," she assured the other woman with a wave of her hand, and decided that a topic change was in order. "What about yourself?"
"Oh, I have family up state. Moved here when I got an internship at the hospital that practically guaranteed a job once I graduated school. Haven't left since."
"I'm guessing you graduated then?"
Barbara nodded as she took a sip of her own drink. "Oh, yes. I've been a resident doctor for the last two years, and have been working at the hospital for almost six. Moved here just after my son turned two."
And there was something she could grab onto. "Your son?"
"Oh, yes. Jim," the doctor said, her eyes lighting up. That expression took ten years off of her face. "He's eight now. Will be nine in a couple of months. A mother couldn't ask for a better child. He's so mature for his age, always looking out for others," she said, smiling fondly.
"A real hero in the making, huh?" Nomura asked, a nostalgic smile crossing her own lips.
"He's my hero now."
Nomura had always liked Barbara. For a weak human, she'd been a very stalwart individual. But now she couldn't help as her respect went up even further. No wonder Jim had turned out as he had with such a great example to follow.
"You must be very proud."
"Oh, I am. It's just..." she faded off and shook her had as if to dismiss the thought.
"It's just what?" the changeling pressed gently. She was actually proud of herself. Normally she didn't do gentle.
Barbara blinked and glanced over at her as if assessing her for just a moment, but must have seen something in Nomura she liked or trusted because she decided to finish the thought.
"Like I said, he's so mature. He's eight... and he already cleans the house without being asked because otherwise it just won't get done. I just don't have the time to really do anything other than a little tidying up here and there with my new work schedule. I'm kind of lucky to get the sleep I do. He's taken on so much and I just wish he could have a normal childhood."
"I take it his father isn't in the picture."
A pained look came over Barbara's face. "No," she said quietly.
Well, that did it. If Nomura ever met Jim's father, she'd take great pleasure in relieving his body of his head.
"He shouldn't have to be so mature," Barbara practically whispered. Nomura wasn't sure if she was supposed to hear that.
"I knew someone like that once," she said anyway. "One of the few people I respected. This world isn't good enough for such pure hearts."
The doctor looked up at her companion. "What happened to them? If I may ask."
Normally, depending on what form she had at the moment, when someone asked her something sensitive, she'd politely let them know it was personal or she'd tell them where to go and how to get there with her blades. But this was Jim's mother, and the changeling thought she deserved to know, even if she'd never know it was her son Nomura was talking about.
The changeling took a steadying breath. "He became a soldier and was assigned to protect a community. He did a phenomenal job of it until he was captured, tortured and killed. By that point... his death was a mercy." The mental image of Jim's body slowly turning to stone before her very eyes took over her vision, and that quickly, she wasn't at a social gathering anymore, but in that blasted facility almost two centuries in the future.
A sharp intake of breath brought her out of her memories and she glanced up to see that Barbara's face had gone pale. She had a hand over her mouth and was looking at Nomura with a mix of horror and sadness. It wasn't quite the pity she hated so much, but it was close enough (and just as painful).
"I'm so sorry," Barbara said softly.
"It is what it is," Nomura replied, almost hating how coldly her voice came out.
Barbara took the hint and changed the subject.
"What about you, then? Do you have any children?"
Ah, yes, that was safer and far less painful ground. She still snorted. "No. I'm married to my work. Probably why I don't have a social life."
"I certainly understand that. This is the first social gathering I've been to in..." she faded off, thinking, "I can't remember when. My boss practically demanded I come to this tonight. Something about getting away from work and home."
"As if we actually have time for something like this," Nomura replied, emptying her cup. "But the museum had to be represented, and I'm not cruel enough to make my assistants come instead... well, I wasn't this time."
Barbara nodded, giving her plate a rather disgusted look.
"That bad, huh?" the changeling asked, nodding to the focus of the other woman's attention.
The red-head sighed and nodded. "Isn't party food supposed to be better than this?"
"I wouldn't know."
Barbara sent her a small smile, then something seemed to occur to her. "I think I'm done with this party and I want to get some real food. Would you like to join me? There's a Zupas a couple of blocks down."
If it were Jim, Nomura would find a way to tease him about ditching an awkward situation. She found that urge to do the same to his mother right now and couldn't help it.
"Are you asking me on a date, Dr. Lake?"
Barbara looked surprised and then her face flushed as she shook her head. "Oh, no! I didn't mean to imply that at all! I'm sorry! I mean, I don't swing that way... I mean if you do, that's fine and you... um... I didn't mean to imply that... and... that didn't come out like I wanted it to..."
Nomura couldn't help bursting into laughter. After a couple of seconds, she got herself under control and grinned at the still red-faced woman.
"I think we'll get along just fine. And sure. I put up an appearance here. Let's go get some real food and then I can get back to work."
Barbara smiled and they made their way to the hostess separately and made their excuses. Nomura found Dr. Lake in front of the house the party had been held at.
"Did you drive here?" Barbara asked.
"I usually just take public trans," Nomura replied with a wave of her hand.
"Ah. Well, if we're going to be going to eat, I do need to pick up my son. Is that alright?"
It was better than alright. It was... actually bordering on too good to be true. She was sent back in time to help the Trollhunter, even if he wasn't the Trollhunter yet. She hadn't expected to be able to insert herself in his life at all right now. And yet... she wasn't about to say no either.
"That's my car, then," Barbara said as she pointed to a the old, blue hunk of junk Nomura had seen during her self-assigned reconnaissance mission the other day.
Nomura nodded and slipped into the car. A couple of seconds later, Barbara joined her and they drove off down the street with the changeling thinking that the Lakes were entirely too trusting.
"Jim," Barbara said as her son jogged up to where they'd parked in front of the Lake household. She got out and walked around to hug her son.
"Hi, mom! You said we're going out, right? What happened to your party?"
"Yup. And what happened is that they had food there that isn't much better than mine."
Jim looked horrified and Nomura had to hide a snicker.
"Who's that?" the boy asked, noticing the movement.
"Jim, this is Ms. Zelda Nomura. She's going to join us."
"Oh, okay," he said and held out his hand to her. She reached out of the window she'd rolled down and grinned at him as she took his hand, awkward as it was, and shook it.
"You can call me Ms. Nomura or Nomura."
"Nice to meet you Ms. Nomura," Jim said with a bright smile that she hadn't seen on his face in decades.
That was the first time she questioned as to whether or not she should let this innocent boy become the Trollhunter at all. It wouldn't be the last.
"I hear you left the social early," said a familiar voice as Nomura stepped into the otherwise closed Museum.
She scowled at where the voice had come from and her eyes met the glowing gaze of Stricklander. He stood over in the corner, leaning casually against the wall. Well, it seemed they'd be having that 'talk' after all.
She rolled her eyes. "Because they had lousy food and lousy company except for one other person."
"You were there to socialize."
"And I did. Faked out a human enough that she invited me to dinner."
Stricklander raised an eyebrow in surprise. "As in a date?"
Nomura snorted. "No. Just as in good company. Well, for a human. They aren't trolls or robots, Stricklander. To keep up a decent facade, I have to seem human too. Even for a workaholic."
The other changeling's eyes narrowed. "You aren't getting... attached, are you?"
This time it took every ounce of will to not roll her eyes. The hypocrite, seeing as he'd married this woman in the future.
"Please," she said. "I just like a decent conversation that doesn't involve unsubstantiated gossip. We grabbed some decent food and then I came back."
Well, that wasn't entirely true. She'd spent a lot of time talking to Jim and Barbara. Actually, she'd tried to seem interested in little Jim's life, humoring him as best she could without sounding too condescending (hopefully). He was a child and thus boring, but she still figured it would be good blackmail material. Barbara had been entertaining to talk to as well, just discussing random things that had nothing to do with politics or rumors or trolls or humans... just kids and lives and they'd let her go off on a good 20 minute geek-out session (even she couldn't pretend it was otherwise) about pottery and art history and the significance it had on society. She'd slipped up a little here and there, inserting more modern culture into the discussion, but had been able to pass it off as misspeaks. All in all, it had been a pleasant end to an otherwise rough night.
"Hmm. Very well, then. Just be careful, Nomura. Order ranks aren't exactly stable..." With that warning, the other changeling threw open his wings, turned and jumped through the window, soaring up and into the night.
"Says the man who's recklessly flying around," Nomura grumbled. Then she sighed and went over to close the window.
Tomorrow would be her busiest day of the week, but after that she could finally sit down and plan. For now, though, her human body needed rest and she had no reason to refuse it. After placing her leftovers in the little fridge she kept in her work room, next to the cot that she'd set up, she went through her nightly routine and went to bed.
AN: I'm a pretty hard core BarbaraxStrickler shipper, so no, this isn't going there.
Sorry this took so long to get out. Been working on other fics. Hope you enjoyed it. Let me know!