Author's Note: Mishima Heihachi and Kuma, plus Jin's wingéd alter ego all make an appearance. The scene with Heihachi takes place prior to theevents of 'In the Skin of a Lion'.

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DISCLAIMER: All Tekken characters are property of Namco and not the authors.

In the Skin of a Lion

Chapter Seven

By Aaronica and Orfik

Jin was there under the sordid flesh and the wings and the long, spidery strands of hair that fell against a still-familiar jawline. The jewel in the center of not-Jin's forehead glowed and simmered in irritation.

>> Kick me again... I beg you. << The demon continued to say nothing -- it had made, in fact, not a verbal sound since its sudden appearance mere minutes ago, since it slung Hwoarang's body onto the helicopter pad of some skyscraper. His gaze was unwavering and curious and he rested his elbows over his crouching knees, not moving.

If Hwoarang's expression seemed confused at first, anger -- as smoldering as the illumination at the demon's brow -- rippled from it now.  Hwoarang's glare was reliving the destruction of Hachi and the ruins of Kim as it lingered over the execrable, winged specter, marring the Korean's smooth full lips with a hateful frown. He spoke under his breath, controlling an instinctive urge to rip his razored heel up under the belly of the beast.  Jin was in there.

" .. why the fuck did you bring me here, you bastard .. ?" he asked quietly.

And the demon shuffled forward on clawed feet in his crouched position, once more akin to a curious bird shifting its place on a telephone wire. ... A sadistic, demonic bird. When his mouth moved the words came not spoken but directly into the Korean's mind, a bass sound both searing and frigid.

>> He thinks he loves you, you know. <<

/ I don't believe this is happening. / Hwoarang's caustic tone faltered under the psychic invasion, weakened by a defensive effort to harden his thoughts. / I don't believe in monsters. /

" .. what .. ?" / I don't believe in you. / Countenanced hate became countenanced confusion again, and the Korean's lips moved perfunctorily; his limbs were immobilized, as if he were submerged in water. " .. who are you .. ?"

>> You don't have to believe. << said the voice with no trace of emotion. >> For tonight I'll take you from him. << The winged beast leapt gently from the roof, only to swoop down upon Hwoarang, a foot on the pavement on either side of the man's arms. He was staring closely at the Korean's beautiful face a second time, the only difference being that it was not with fingers tracing down his face but one monstrous grip clenching about his throat.

" .. no .. " Hwoarang whispered; he'd squeezed his eyes shut when the feathered mass threatened to crush him. His eyelashes fluttered open when the Korean realized he was still alive, ribs intact; however the violent shove upward he gave -- its strength lessened by both his vulnerable position and his injured left hand -- made him seem fearless before death. Sinking his fist into the hellish angel's chest, Hwoarang arched his body like a tense bow, gritting his teeth against a yell as he brought his knee into its lower back.

And the winged one smiled throughout: the punch did nothing to disturb his chest nor the archaic writing that scrawled down its length, but he did give a fluttering little hop upon the violent knee. He was not invincible. If allowed to chip away at his strength, Hwoarang would be able to fall the demon. It simply seemed as though he wouldn't have enough t--

That pleased smile twitched suddenly into nothingness. A shrill snap sounded against the pavement moments before the fragments of the jewel formerly gracing his forehead fell into Hwoarang's hair. With dazed eyes, the scarred angel lifted his empty fingers to touch the place where it had formerly resided.

... No. He didn't have the p--...

Something near a brief seizure wracked the demon's body and he fell off of his perch above Hwoarang's body, crashing heavily and limply upon his side against the pavement.

And like two precious sculptures of ice the being's wings shattered noiselessly, exploding into thousands upon thousands of silky feathers whose darkness went far beyond that of the night sky. They took to the air, drifting in the breeze to rain gently upon the city below the enormous building like a tainted downy rain.

They left not a single trace of their former presence on the shoulderblades of what was now Jin.

The shattered fragments of possession sprinkled onto Hwoarang's chest as he made a leaden effort to sit up. Gathering the wrist of his impotent hand in its partner, he brought the bloodied digits to a vantage of better view on his thigh, appraising the damage before he cut his gaze to the supine figure with abrupt concern.

/ >> He thinks he loves you. << /

The Korean scrutinized the apparently unconscious figure silently for a moment, lashes rising when he trailed the fluttering, onyx confetti of a macabre festiva de sangre.

/ >> .. you know. << /

The words stung his mind, more tangibly than the fractures in his hand.

The violet flesh had paled to familiar, creamy amber, and the serpentine locks of longer hair had eased somehow back to normal length; it was heard to discern whether the blasphemous script still remained on Jin's chest, pressed as it was against the flooring with a limp forearm sandwiched beneath. The Japanese's face lay half against the rough concrete but bore no traces of pain, nor any other expression. All that could be read from it was simply but surely that it belonged to Jin.

The climb to Hwoarang's feet heaped revelation upon revelation of physical ailment; a concussed head; bruised elbows; a sprained wrist; and his bleeding knuckles. Repetition of the demon's confession -- even though delivered through a violating means and by a despicable messenger -- shook Hwoarang more than his injuries, and he sought comfort in escape. A scan of the roof's environs offered the possibility of a lighthouse, but the door lacked a handle from the outside. The Korean walked to an edge of the building, a gust of wind sweeping blades of hair back from his face as he peered over the side: Mishima Corp. Dizzied by the immense height and his precarious condition, he was a cacophony of spurs walking back, coming to a pause at Jin's feet.

The touches of the wind were gentle to the body so low against the pavement, as if apologizing to Jin for the abilities it had leant to his former shape. There was a sparse twitch on Jin's back just next to his left shoulderblade before the activity spread to his right shoulder, and then his left bicep, and then his neck. The energy melted into a shiver that rippled through the entirety his half-clothed body. Jin's eyes fell slowly and heavily open upon the hard terrain so nearby as he attempted to push himself up and failed.

" .. Kazama .. ?" Hwoarang asked quietly, coldly. Distanced from their recent intimacy by his fear, the Korean's gaze was narrowed and defensively calculating.  Hwoarang stood at an impersonal distance, retaining hold of his wrist, the slant alignment of his feet betraying his trademarked combat stance.

"... Joon-kun. ... Are you hurt? ... Joon-kun. ... ...I heard ... your spurs." It was a weak and desperate sound that fought for air, so unlike the controlled and even-mannered voice Jin normally carried ... and it was fitting that his first waking thought had been of Hwoarang's health. Fingertips clutched fleetingly at the pavement and with supreme effort Jin managed to get his face off of it, to roll onto his back. He tried to find Hwoarang with hazy and fearful eyes. Then the apologies began.

"I'm sorry. Joon-kun -- It wasn't me, he wasn't..." It wore him out and he felt silent.

/ Jin-kun. / The shell of icy ambivalence in Hwoarang's gaze splintered, and he recalled the disconcertment and disbelief of preceding events. "Hachi." Unable to iron out the pained wrinkles enmeshing his brow, the Korean moved forth in languid paces that stopped at Jin's side. "Kim." Staggering from the visceral horror of recent memory, he collapsed on his knees beside the Japanese's head, staring at him with welling eyes. The serrated edge of a knife embroidered Hwoarang's voice with pain.

" ... why didn't you tell me .. ? Why .. didn't you trust me?" He couldn't help asking this of Jin, as unfair as it was -- Hwoarang thought he was in love, too.

"Because if I told someone else -- it meant I'd have to believe it too," Jin choked. "It meant --" Seeing the agony in Hwoarang's eyes only doubled his own. He reached for the man's hand, desperate for any touch he could get, and his hands only recoiled when he saw that not even this small request was an option. Hwoarang's hand was smashed. Jin's arms sank against the pavement, utterly defeated. The chilly air stung the tears pooling at the corners of his eyes which refused to be banished by his blinking.

"Blame me," he pleaded. He simply couldn't bear that look in Hwoarang's face. "Blame me because it's still my fault. Joon-kun, I'm sorry--!"

"They're dead." His whisper hardly contained enough sound to travel the short distance between them. Hwoarang couldn't look away, and even Jin's entreaties had no visible effect on his horrified stare, which searched the Japanese's eyes for answers.  The Korean swallowed more impotent words, a streak of rolling glitter at the corner of his right eye the only reason to close them, to cease looking.

The Japanese covered his face with dirty hands because there was too much to fathom without the burden of sight. He was a murderer now. It was under the guise of feathers and talons and a soul that was not his, but the immeasurable weight nevertheless fell squarely on Jin's shoulders.

"What did it do ... What did it do to you?" Jin dreaded the knowledge and yet was desperate for it, his fingers sinking away from terrified and imploring eyes. 

"Look." Hwoarang demanded, a groan of misery as he grasped one of the Japanese's concealing hands and jerked him forward. Malled digits were placed against Jin's cheek, smearing the scarlet vestiges of violence over the beautiful features. " .. look at me." Hwoarang was no longer crying; his face was asking again, as he squeezed Jin's wrist like a tightening shackle of iron.

On some outermost level this retaliation is what Jin needed. Punishment; a refusal of forgiveness for that which he could never accept himself. The cursed man would cling to this notion until the agony tore completely through his lovesick heart and he lost his sanity, as he knew it ultimately would. He deserved this. He deserved the pain that rendered him mute, able only to lift dead eyes to Hwoarang's hand and to try harder to quell the hot tears trickling down his temples to the ground. Through that time Jin could think of nothing to say that was not an excuse or apology, both of which he had long ago learned to be useless. But then--

"I'll try to forget," he croaked quietly. "Everything I can about you so that it doesn't know, because I'll kill myself if it ever tries to touch you again."

"You bastard." Hwoarang whispered. He seethed, the throes of frustration demanding an accusation -- needing a vehicle of release. And Jin was that vehicle, the only breathing being present, and Hwoarang voiced again, "BASTARD!" .. in a choking cry, using his good hand to form a fist; the blows came before the Korean could surface from a muddle of demented thoughts, striking the Japanese's neck, his chest and his face.

"I DON'T WANT YOU TO FORGET!" Galvanized by the sludge of anger, each hit became less convicted as tears welled again, teaming with exhaustion to bring Hwoarang's heaving form heavy against the other teenager. The fist continued to beat -- reduced to pawing on one broad shoulder -- as Hwoarang's forehead fell against the other, his lips moving in that incoherent need. / Forget me. A way out. You bastard. /

Still Jin's conviction came, even while soaked in the rain of blows. Hwoarang had to understand, because it was the only answer Jin could find.

"Joon --" Coppery blood in his mouth. A sheet of stars above one eye. "You're the most important thing I have!" An involuntary wheeze, his throat momentarily smashed. Still Jin shouted on for all of the city to hear. "And I'll die if this is all I can give you back!"

As Hwoarang's conviction waned, so too did Jin's, reducing him again to soft sobs that he no longer tried to suppress and which rocked the body that suddenly lay upon his chest. "Stop it," he begged against the touch. "Joon, don't let me do this to you."

" .. just tell me .. " / Don't. Walk away. / Drained of fire, Hwoarang's fist flattened to a hand which gripped Jin's shoulder, and slid to his arm, and ease over his back. / Walk away, Hwoarang. /

" .. tell me what .. " Turning his face into the Japanese's neck, covered in a film of perspiration despite the cold, the Korean's whispers were stretched with emotive distortions. " .. what made you this way .. " Remnants of his own blood sullied his forehead as it brushed over Jin's jaw.  / But the monster killed Hachi and Kim./ Hwoarang began to regret lifting his face, his tear- swollen eyes.  He wanted to run. / He isn't the demon. /

Jin didn't even feel the dozen places that throbbed now on his face and neck and shoulders; the physical pain was utterly incomparable to the emotions raging below the surface. It didn't matter if he swallowed blood. It didn't matter was having difficulty seeing straight. Jin was silent as he tried to remember back to when all of the torment began, his wet and wounded eyes searching for answers among the absence of stars.

"It came to me in the forest," he said slowly and distantly. "After we heard that Mishima Kazuya was dead." He swallowed, and his voice softened. "It bore a hole in me and hides in it..." Leaden arms were defying gravity and pain, settling over Hwoarang's back. He didn't run away. Why didn't he run away?

The hand that had moved to Jin's side with a mind of it's own creeped over that inscribed thickness of bicep now, coined by Hwoarang's perceptive question.

" .. and this .. ?" This. He meant to ask the Japanese about the strange marking before; he remembered Mishima Kazuya. Baek-sensai had told him much about the man, from disposition to appearance, and the Korean's burgeoning acceptance of the possibility of this reality infused him with a curiosity that bypassed his pain -- for the time being.

Kazama was noble in his attempt at a tiny, humorous smile, but the expression looked more pathetic than mirthful and it failed its main purpose; to hide some of the bitterness from his voice.

"Its calling card." A soundless breath filtered gradually from Jin's chest. "You know as much as I do now," he whispered. "That's everything. Tell me why you aren't running away."

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