Author's Note: The race begins, circa Tekken 3. There might be gaps here and there in the narrative as a result of vicious editing by the authors' harddrives. Always make a back up, guys.

FEEDBACK: Constructive criticism is welcome!

DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em.

In the Skin of a Lion

Chapter One

By Aaronica and Orfik

Kazama never would have expected night classes to blow as much as they did. He'd gotten out of Chem, he'd stopped downtown for some coffee and, with the covered cup in hand, it would be well past midnight when he returned home. The park through the Yurei District was a shortcut and, while not terribly well-lit, Jin had little reason to be concerned.

It was in fact refreshing to know there would be life in the park, and he hoped it wasn't human. The love of nature had been inspired by his mother but now, at nineteen, was very much his own. He took a swallow of the hot coffee. Considering the work he had to do that night, it was going to come in handy. Kazama continued confidently down the street, nearing the park.

When he turned up that night, Hwoarang wanted to fight him. He had no business walking the streets -- let alone the Korean's turf -- without a limousine creeping just yards behind him like some domesticated animal, as per usual. Without his little ring of Versace wearing sunglass toting baby-sitters to protect him if he got into a scuffle. It was just disrespectful.

"You're just askin' for it, aren't you, Kazama?" Hwoarang called through a crooked smile. The surprise on Jin's face as he sought out his addresser, followed by the dulling of his gaze with exasperation when he recognized the redhead pushing from the wall, were both the Korean's small victories. He was measuring everything in terms of victory these days.

Readjusting the strap of a bookbag over his left shoulder, Jin looked back to a path that would take him deeper into the Yurei District before he reached the capacious dwelling of his grandfather. It was a rundown section of Tokyo, a neighborhood full of dilapidation with poor families, crumbling businesses, abandoned buildings -- full of ghosts, which inspired the name.

It was also the turf of one rather vicious renju lead by Blood Talon, known simply as the Yurei.

"I'm not going to fight you," the Japanese maintained with clement stubbornness. He glanced back to his would-be rival, wondering at the fire in his eyes.

"Hell you're not, you pansy. You think you're better than me?" Hwoarang's glare spit flames. Jin embodied everything he hated. Japanese, a rich kid, a tree-hugging hippy, obviously a mama's boy, and a fucking Mishima. The last thing alone was enough to draw Hwoarang's revulsion, but this reluctance thing. This reluctance thing, and his obsession with conquering Jin Kazama -- they were things Hwoarang couldn't understand.

He didn't want to try to. As soon as he kicked the Japanese's ass the world could return to its previously scheduled program.

"No." Jin stared at him, wonderment gone. He probably thought he was in control. It made Hwoarang want to give that cowlick on his head a trim with extremely sharp spurs.

"You probably think this Ghandi act is cute, huh? Well, that act means shit to me."

It had been a draw, for chrissakes! Yet, a year after the most humiliating act in his life, Hwoarang sat across from Jin Kazama drinking a beer. The force of the irony was lost in the Japanese's disarmingly honest stare on the plate of greasy karei and rice in front of him. Hwoarang'd suggested the dish. He was still upset that Jin turned down his call to a rematch, but had gotten past trying to convince the Japanese against his will. Hwoarang settled for asking him if he had a light, and as Jin handed over a zippo he probably never used, curiosity triumphed over the Korean.

"So ... if you're not about fighting, what are you about?" After he took a drag off his Camel -- an imported, American brand, and a pricey habit he picked up from old GIs -- Hwoarang reached for his beer and set it to his mouth.

"What do you mean?" Jin asked, partially relieved at the lifting of silence. He found a rhythm in the way Hwoarang talked that made him eager to hear more of the redhead's voice. It was probably the hint of Korean in it, an accent both strange and rough to Jin's ears. It wasn't anything like the proper way of speaking they taught at Mishima Tech, with its edge that secretly thrilled the Japanese.

Hwoarang took his time swallowing the last of the beer in his mouth, and narrowed his eyes into smug focus. "You know, like morals, like convictions. Like stuff that means something to you."

"I think there's a lot of patience people can learn from nature."

"So you're a hippie?" the Korean jeered, folding his arms over his chair. He'd straddled it backwards, and so he could rest his chin on the rim casually and study the gentle tree that fields and fields of Mishima manure seemed to have spawned.

"Hippie .. ?" Jin echoed in slight confusion. It sounded like something about Elvis Presley he'd heard. That American was supposed to have been 'hip'. Suddenly, Jin felt self-conscious about his hair.

"Why won't you fight me?"

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