Author's Note: Takes place two weeks after Devil Jin's attack.

FEEDBACK: Constructive criticism is welcome!

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

In the Skin of a Lion

Chapter Nine

By Aaronica and Orfik

Evening. A funeral.

The procession has led the mourners to the river bank, where they place tiny boats into the water. Each boat holds a candle, lit just before pushing the vessel off to join the others. The water is on fire. There is flickering everywhere.

The last group of mourners stare at a latecomer, a man in a crumpled black suit. There are outraged whispers. The man wears a cast over one arm. His left hand is bandaged. The man holds a boat in the right.

The man is a teenager, the man is a delinquent, the man is Korean. His gaze is Hell.

"I took care of it."

"How'd you take care of THAT?" Taisho gave Hwoarang a glare, but his question wasn't skeptical. It was amazed. They thought the monster that murdered Hachi and Kim had killed Hwoarang. Ryo was still crying.

"How could you be late? I can't believe you were late. Hachi loved you. You were late to his funeral!"

"They shipped Kim back to Seoul in a box, Ryo. A FUCKING BOX!"

" .. he wasn't Japane -- "

"I'm not fucking Japanese," Hwoarang seethed. "It's taken care of. Over."

The situation reminded Jin of that first night that he had set off in search of Hwoarang -- only he had finally wisened up and was wearing a thicker, wool-trimmed coat. But tonight his pace didn't seem so casual and his shoulders weren't as relaxed, as though that burden on his shoulders was something tangible. Jin didn't know where Hwoarang would be and would simply check each place he thought of until he was successful, calm and patient like a dog that lost its master. He tried the bar first.

It would probably make sense -- seem painfully obvious, in fact -- once Jin noticed the faded atmosphere of the rathskeller. Sobered to a quiet modesty, there was less smoke in the air, less noise, and less people: a haunted place. Hwoarang had heaped responsibility for the change on himself, and could hardly find the courage now to show his face there -- despite his having 'killed' it, having 'avenged' Hachi and Kim. That what he had told what remained of his gang, anyway, that he'd killed the winged monster. Protecting Jin made Hwoarang's heart cave. He was a monster.

The Korean was at the temple; he had been coming there regularly over the past two weeks -- he didn't want to be found, and no one would find him here. This place was his secret. One he told. Perhaps, subconsciously, he hoped Jin would come. But Jin hadn't, and those fourteen days of no communication between the teenagers, of Hachi's funeral and Taisho's rage, Hwoarang had stopped expecting.

Jin tried the street where he'd run into the Korean that very first time, and also the corner where he'd been lounging with a cigarette one time after, and almost half a dozen other places that gave Jin any glimmer of hope at finding Hwoarang. It was already getting late by the time he drove to the temple, but like many things, the fact didn't matter to the Japanese. What did matter, however, was the motorcycle that he saw when he parked his car. Jin touched it when he rose out of the vehicle as though expecting it not to be tangible; something his mind had merely conjured to put him at ease. Jin turned his face to the structure and then began to walk towards it.

The ledge upon which they had made oral love burned; Hwoarang found the heat unbearable after two or three days, and had migrated to a more secluded, overgrown bower between a rectangular, crumbling columnar structure. The vantage afforded a biased view of the shoreline, but offered the cover he sought from open spaces; the Korean sat there now, back against the wall, one knee bent up to his chest to support a resting forearm -- the left arm, its hand possessing two fingers stretched straight with splints. He nursed a bottle of liquor in his other hand, and wore a leather jacket, jeans and chaps, his hair left unrestrained to frame his introspective face.

Somebody's standing on the cliff, Hwoarang -- the person you most hope and dread to see. Jin stared at the water with detached and empty eyes, as though the scene was now meaningless. He knew the Korean was there, somewhere, but had not yet called out. Part of him probably expected Hwoarang to dread him and hence figured he would run if Jin called. After only a moment the visitor turned from the water to retreat the way he had come. He would check inside the temple.

Had Hwoarang not built up his alcoholic fortitude over the past few days -- underaged drinker he was -- he might have yelled, leapt up and charged for the ghost his reddish-brown eyes glimpsed straying along the cliff; but, in the pessimistic clarity of sobriety, the Korean dismissed the sight as just that -- a ghost. He didn't expect Jin to come -- not after what happened. But what made Hwoarang linger in solitude, poisoning his body with liquor, was a growing conviction that it was all for the best. He figured the Japanese more than capable of handling his demons on his own -- what need of him did Jin really have? And what business did Hwoarang have even ..

" .. thinking of that monster?!" It was a useful, if self- destructive criticism. He took another drag of the half-empty bottle.

Upon finding an empty temple Jin would have sighed out the dregs of his hope and returned home, had it not been for the motorcycle. Hwoarang was here, and he couldn't yet bring himself to believe his tiny but lingering suspicion that the man was hiding from him. He simply couldn't picture his fiery-headed goal doing such a thing. Jin left the temple and came about the side as he had previously, but kept moving past the cliffs. Maybe Hwoarang was behind it.

Again. There it was, again. Hwoarang frowned, glancing over the label on the bottle of liquor before hurling it at a crumbling wall, receiving a discordant serenade to his frustrations which echoed throughout the ruins. Far from feeling drunk, the Korean took his forehead in his good hand and rubbed it over his palm, his fingertips bending to delve between strands of hair tumbling into his face.

The sudden sound should not have come as such a shock to a world-class fighter; but then, Jin was also an emotional and overly thoughtful teenager. Untensing himself, he stared at the remnants of glass and liquor as they fell from the wall, then traced with his eyes the path that the bottle had most likely taken. The starting point of that path also received a stare... And now that he truly looked at it, Jin thought he saw reddish hair through the dense, leafy covering.

The first time he attempted to speak there was only silence, and Jin swallowed and tried again, tentatively. "Joon-kun."

" .... Jin .. ?" Weighted with hollow disbelief, it was the way one would address a voice in one's head. Hwoarang was yet reluctant to look up.

"Joon-kun." Jin would not yet believe that it was truly Hwoarang, nor that the Korean wanted anything to do with him. He couldn't move forward or away and so remained where he was, gazing with eyes much more hopeful than he would have expected of himself.

After a cautious rise -- another moment of staring and wonder - - Hwoarang's feet started a slow, careful stride to bring the ghost within clear, visual range. His pause set him within the center of the architecture, beneath a slanted beam of dusk-warmed sunlight and among wild weeds and foliage. The Korean's expression conveyed an astonishment that effaced all other emotions.

"It .. it is you. I didn't think you'd come." / Even when you said that, Jin-kun. / Hwoarang stepped closer.

Jin's voice was quiet and distant: "They wouldn't let me out before. This was the first night..." He sounded almost wondrous, as though he had forgotten how much he loved to look at Hwoarang. Jin began to move forward, and closed the distance between them by several paces before stopping short upon the sight of the brace. Remember, Jin, that you caused that.

"Joon-kun. I missed you. I thought about you so much --..."

/ Be angry. He's a Mishima. / " .. you could have flew out, couldn't ya?" And you hadn't expected anything less from a Mishima, had you Hwoarang? Curling, disdainful lips; caved brow; scared eyes -- they were all on the Korean's face. " .. broke through a window and flew to me?" .. hadn't expected Jin to .. look at him that way. To find it hard believing that being apart from him .. caused some strange, insistent ache. The Korean couldn't be angry -- not staring at Jin, so he relegated his gaze to the weeds, slashing a spurred heel back and forth, destroying. Killing.

" .. thought of me, eh? Is that a fact?"

The hope, the weak flicker of optimism that Jin had refused to admit existed, was swiftly and utterly demolished. His face fell blank and he even realized that he was ... hurt. But it wasn't without reason. He would leave if Hwoarang wanted -- asked -- him to, but until then Jin decided that he would say as much as he could. A hand slipped from its pocket to float somewhere in the air between them, frozen in a meaningless gesture.

"Yeah... I... ... Yes. Every day while I was awake, and then I'd dream about you." Jin smiled weakly, trying as he always did to find humor in something tense or pathetic.

"I've been looking for you for three hours. But they say it's always the last place you look that you find it.. right?" Jin couldn't touch Hwoarang and it was a deep-rooted struggle to keep himself from moving to do so.

The Japanese's mere presence -- his voice, proximity, words -- were fast draining Hwoarang of his confrontational posturing. He raised his gaze from shredded flora to the extended hand, having lost his voice. Having muted his accusations, and remembered where the true blame rested. The Korean, ultimately, was at fault.

" .. I was here the entire time."

It was pretty simple, really: "I should have checked here first." Jin's face softened; pardon him, Hwoarang, because he really couldn't help it. He did not look away from the redhead due to the knowledge that it soon might have been a rare privilege.

"Joon-kun ..." he began softly. "I'll leave if you want me to, but I had to see you again. I didn't know what you'd do or where you'd go, and... ..." He spoke now almost to himself.

"And it scared me, because I've lost enough people that I cared about in my life."

/ Don't take it, Hwoarang. / Jin's fingers were a visual magnet, his slightly concave palm a temptation. The Korean knew those fingers more worthy of the appellation 'Blood Talon' than his own, but he found his hand had acquired a will in and of itself, responding to the threat of solitude. The Japanese received a gloved grasp at the expense of Hwoarang's survival instincts, and his gaze remained locked on the clasped hands -- as he whispered.

" .. I don't want you to leave. Don't leave."

Jin opened his mouth to speak but emitted only silence, swallowing as he closed it again momentarily to make sure he still had his voice. Threading his digits between Hwoarang's he gave the hand a slight but prolonged squeeze. There were too many things to say and as a result Jin said none of them as he moved carefully forward, closing the distance between them. If uncontested, he would ultimately lift his other arm behind the man's back.

Hwoarang was already well on his way to wrapping his free arm around the considerable width of the Japanese's shoulders, drawing the other as tightly against him as he could without grasping with that incapacitated hand. His slender body was a muscular collection of shivers that Jin could feel -- such proximity to a lover. To a demon. The Korean nudged the line of Jin's jaw with his nose, his words offered to the warm neck which his lips hovered centimeters away from.

"Jin-kun .. I was scared, too."

It was true what Jin had said, that everyone who had mattered to him in his nineteen years was gone. It was a terrifying notion, and this situation was similarly frightening. Jin's eyes stared far, far past the ocean as he rested his cheek on Hwoarang's shoulder. He kept his voice soft so that it would not betray his lack of control over it.

"I'm still scared, because I don't know what's going to happen."

The narrower teenager stiffened, revealing the fear Hwoarang'd sought to conceal from Jin. Jin frightened him. When first he witnessed the Japanese's preternatural characteristics, it was in a celestial glow; retreating; pitiable in that warehouse. All the more intrigued, the Korean developed what he was beginning to realize as an obsession, displacing that virulent hate somewhat. But the devilish, murdering specter that plucked him from the earth and flew with vulture-black wings through the night sky, eyes smoldering a murderous red, frightened him.

And the pacific, kind face of Kazama Jun's son saddened him. Hwoarang shifted, staring into that unthreatening face -- the mask for a greater evil.

" .. will you kill more people?"

/ He still considers it to be me. / But Jin couldn't blame Hwoarang for the thought. He told himself that it made every iota of sense, and that the sliver of hurt that the inquiry drove into him was unjustified. He canted his face against the shoulder to see up into Hwoarang's face as best he could. For several moments he pondered the circumstances.

"That was.. the only other time it's happened since the first time, and that was months ago. Maybe it'll be months until the next. Or maybe it'll never happen again." / He still thinks I'm the demon... /

".. why .. " It was difficult to meet the indignancy in Jin's gaze, but even so, Hwoarang held the stare, cupping a large shoulder with his right hand. He had to know. He had to protect Jin. " .. why do you think it happened again?" / Please tell me the truth, Jin- kun. /

The truth the Korean expected was one he feared, but he was resolved to protect Jin from himself; his reasoning had always been forthright, or muddled with emotions, and that he failed to make the distinction between the Japanese and the demon was no mistake. The transformation had been too aggressive -- it was no mere parasite.

The problem was that Jin didn't know the truth. It was something he had thought about and he had several theories but had yet to understand that side of himself well enough to know any of them for sure. ...Still, some possibilities were more flattering than others. His voice was slow, unsure.

"The afternoon it happened, Hayase-san and I got into an argument. ..A loud, unthinking argument, because I was angry." The sort that Jin had always despised. "And since I rarely feel anger like that, I think it might have had something to do with it -- like a trigger."

It was a very feasible possibility. The other that Jin would not suggest was that the devil's desire to take away that which Jin cared for most had been enough for it to overcome Jin's small amount of control over its manifestation. The Japanese slowly lifted his head.

Anger. The answer made sense -- more sense than it would have if Hwoarang hadn't been looking for relief from his first premonition: that THEY were the reason. His hand rose from Jin's shoulder to smooth his cheek with tepid fingers and thumb; the soft leather covering his palm was cold against the Japanese's chin. He spoke quietly, trying to comfort.

" .. then I have to keep you happy." Hwoarang offered the most convincing smile one could manage in a quandary such as their's, closing the distance between their mouths to filch a brief kiss. And then he whispered again, the rhetorical question laden with necessities. " .. don't I?"

Jin's fingers floated savoringly through a field of flame simply because they could never get enough of doing so.

"You are what keeps me happy, Joon-kun," was the earnest reply. "I was angry because Hayase-san was trying to regulate my seeing you." Jin now took his turn at claiming a small, chaste kiss. "...And she was mad because I won't let her."

Hwoarang quieted the undesirable facts with the third lock of their lips, his thumb taking up a stroke of Jin's plump, lower one when they parted.

" .. don't let that anger you, Jin-koi. She can't keep me away from you." / Not even the evil inside you can keep me away. / Hwoarang's eyes were a sultry shade appraising the Japanese's fine, aristocratic features, burning with unquestionable conviction.

"It was stupid of me... But you're right. I won't let her stop us." Jin said vehemently after kissing the pad of that finger. And then there was a second's pause before Jin smiled at the realization that he had just been called 'Jin-koi.' Dipping his chin he pressed his forehead against the Korean's.

"...Joon-kun, I want to take you out one night soon. With a limo, and an expensive restaurant, and all the other things that people expect of a Mishima."

The prospect reaped a surprised laugh from the tae kwon do artist. He continued to probe Jin's soft lips with his finger. Soft, like a girl's. Hwoarang's voice started in a murmur, tapering to a whisper lined with reverence.

" .. doubt I'm what people expect of a Mishima." / .. expect of you. But your lips are so soft, Jin-koi. / The Japanese's beauty stilled the Korean, his vibrant lashes lidding the gaze he fixed on his caressing finger.

Pliable lips were pulled a little more taut when Jin smirked. "Doubt I care, either. We'll do it if you want to." Jin let that finger sink further between his lips, mostly curious to see Hwoarang's reaction. His hands slipped regretfully from Hwoarang's hair with the aid of gravity and both of them splayed over the bones of the Korean's shoulderblades to ease gradually towards the small of his back.

"If you want to wine and dine me, I'm game," Hwoarang whispered. His thumb eased deeper into the dare. / I want it to be like this, always. / "... I want you to be happy .. "

Watching his digit slide through Jin's lips was enough to excite the Korean, but the sensation of being enveloped in moist heat pulled a sigh from Hwoarang's chilled lips and drew his bright lashes down further. He curved his frame against Jin, frustratingly aware of the thick, wool-lined coat as a bulwark to his passion.

Jin's mouth closed gently about the contour of the finger and he even met its tip with that of his tongue in one brief touch. After this, however, he eased his lips back and off of the extension.

"I am happy," he said with the softened remnants of the smirk. "To put it mildly." Jin brushed the tip of his nose over the side of Hwoarang's cheek as he pressed his own face closer, then kissed the flesh in passing before they were ultimately cheek to cheek. As brawny arms gave a squeeze to the body in their grasp Jin shut his eyes fully against the chilly darkness and solemn grounds.

"We should go inside or something."

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