By seven thirty the following morning the pain in the backs of Jin's shoulders forced him to forfeit any further attempts to sleep. Laying defeated and motionless on the bed, he spent a long while staring irately about the living room. The room wasn't large, but seemed more spacious from its lack of furniture-- there were only the sofa-bed on which he lay, a wooden coffee table, an old reading chair, and across the room a table covered by a drape of colorful fabric, bearing a tiny television. For once he found himself wanting to watch the dreaded device, in order to distract from the deep ache in the pair of wounds which throbbed like guitar strings his heart plucked with every beat, and the mild, dry itch that skittered diligently over his burns.
There was a door next to the television and Jin could see that it lead to the kitchen. He watched it patiently when the sounds of someone puttering about within it drifted into the living room, and soon enough Stacy emerged with a content expression and a mug of green tea. She was already wide awake and dressed, in a plain orange t-shirt and faded blue jeans, white socks on her little feet. "Good morning," she hummed. "You slept a lot later than I figured you would. How's it going?"
"Yeah, figures. All I have meds-wise are a couple over-the-counter things, so I guess you'll just have to rely on that until it heals some. How long did they say it'd be?"
Jin licked his lips. "...A few weeks for the burns. She didn't mention the gashes."
Stacy sipped her tea thoughtfully, standing before him. "Well that sucks. At least you'll have the TV, meanwhile. Although I don't have cable... But hey, you're a martial arts guru. You know how to handle a little pain."
"I'm not a guru," Jin sighed, but his weary expression faded quickly with epiphany. "...You mean you're going to let me stay here?"
The look with which Stacy regarded him was surprised, and perhaps even a little insulted. "What'd you think I was gonna do, make you some eggs and then toss you outside? I'm not a bed-and-breakfast. Speaking of, do you want something to eat, or should I change your bandages first?"
Jin sifted through the deluge of comments as quickly as he could. "I just thought... I don't know... I guess change the bandages first, please, since the burns aren't hurting right now... And thank you, for all of this. I'll pay you back somehow. I promise." He lifted his head to see her better, and to show her the genuine gratitude on his face.
Stacy waved a hand, sipping her tea again. "It's not a big deal. Just ask your grandfather to, I dunno, buy me Italy." Seeing Jin's almost wounded reaction, however, her jocose grin fell blank. "Don't like ravioli?"
"No, it's--. Nothing. Sorry." He drummed up a reassuring smile.
Leaving her tea on the wooden table Stacy drifted from the room, raising her voice to continue the conversation. The house was small enough that Jin could hear her wherever she went. "Does he know you're in Australia? I imagine he'd notice if you went missing. Hell, he'd probably--..." She reappeared in the the living room entrance, rolls of gauze and tape in one hand and a questioning gaze on her face. "...send people after you."
"I can't go back," Jin said almost desperately. "There are things going on there that-- I can't handle yet."
"So you're running away?"
"I'm not running away, I just have some enemies that I'm not strong enough to face yet."
"Said Kazama Jin of the third Iron Fist Tourney fame."
Jin ground his face into the mattress with a muffled, "You don't understand. You say my name like I'm a superhero." He felt it rock as Stacy knelt onto it by his side, setting down the gauze and tape.
"I don't think you're a superhero," Stacy said dubiously. "It's just odd to me, that's all. That you got into the Tournament-- much less through all the prelims and into the finals-- says something about your strength, you know. And suddenly you're running half-naked out of the hospital in a tiny town in the heart of Australia, hiding from your family and scared of the world? Can you admit that sounds pretty weird?" She carefully peeled away the gauze on the back of his neck, and then that covering the tops of his shoulders.
"Yes," Jin said haggardly into the bed, "it does sound weird. It's very weird. My whole life is weird. But I'm not talking about--" He heard Stacy inhale sharply.
"Jesus. It's peeling like crazy. You sure it doesn't hurt?"
"The cuts hurt. The burns are just itching."
He felt her hands freeze in mid-peel. "Sorry!" she winced.
"It's all right. It could be worse."
There was a weighted pause before Stacy asked, "You didn't feel that?"
Suddenly cautious, Jin lifted his face. "Feel what."
A severed patch of dried skin, saucer-sized, was lowered by two fingers into his line of vision. Stacy's sudden silence was telling enough. After a frozen moment he finally lowered his face back to the bed and said, resigned, "Peel off the rest of it. Please."
Neither of them spoke as Stacy dutifully loosened the bandages from his back and arms, piling them next to her leg before she began to remove the burnt flesh itself. It came off into her hands painlessly, like thick, brittle paper, and the skin revealed beneath was unblemished and smooth. Jin was quietly surprised that she seemed so unphased by the unsettling task. She told him when it was finished and he pushed himself up, though the pain of the stitched gashes on his shoulders was still very real. He sat glancing mutely from the heap of gauze and dead skin to her face, curiously set and waiting. "You don't look too stunned," she said.
"You don't either," he said feebly.
"Because one of us knows what's going on, even if it isn't me."
Jin groaned quietly as he rubbed his face with his hands. "It's a long story," he mumbled.
"Well..." Stacy got off of the bed, scooped her mug up tea up from the table, plopped down in the reading chair and folded her legs below her. She watched him evenly. "I'm listening."
Jin, with his hands in his lap and his swarthy head bowed under the weight of his thoughts, told Stacy of his past. Once he had adequately explained his heritage he excluded nothing, no matter how personal. He narrated all of the events and people in his life from the night in the forest several weeks before the Tournement to the night he escaped Takeda at the hospital and stopped paralyzed in his tracks before her. After her initial pessimism faded, Stacy's expression had shifted empathetically throughout from sadness to horror to pure amazement and back again. By the time he reached the present, her tea mug was empty, all the evidence of his burns was in the kitchen garbage, and the ruptures from his wings were freshly sterilized and bandaged. Lumped at Jin's side were the hooded sweatshirt and dusty, oil-spotted jeans of Stacy's ex-boyfriend which she had found in the bottom of her closet and which he was in no particular hurry to wear. Stacy herself was curled in the reading chair again, her hands hooked about her shins.
"That's... all of it. That's everything I know," Jin sighed. He looked tentatively into her face, his question unvoiced but lingering like heavy smoke in the air between them.
"That was--... Jesus. Well... ... Hey. Relax; I'm not gonna boot you out or anything," Stacy said distantly. She pulled herself free of the tale with effort as though it had physically ensnared her. "You're still half-naked and you kinda smell."
Jin smiled wanly.
"So what do you plan to do now? Besides wash up a little I hope."
"I have to talk to Joon. And I'm going figure out what my mother is trying to tell me ab--" Stacy was looking at him flatly. "What?"
"You know they have him bugged or something."
"I'll send him a letter."
"Suddenly getting mail from Australia? Kinda fishy."
"I'll send someone to talk to him."
"I don't know!" Jin snapped. At a mere perk of the tiny brunette's brows, Jin quieted quickly. "I'm sorry. I just really want to let him know I'm all right."
"Of course you do. It's only natural. I'm just saying you probably need to lay low for a while-- I'm actually surprised they let you get away so easy."
Jin gazed at his hands sullenly, and after a moment said, "I'm sorry I dragged you into this, Stacy-san."
"Hey, I did it myself," she shrugged. "And I'm not sorry yet. I'll think about regretting it when they nuke my house."
Jin stared, horrified.
"I'm kidding, Jin," Stacy grimaced. "Judging from the history you've told me, they're way more subtle than that."
The doorbell rang, and they both turned mutely towards the sound.
Stacy slowly glanced at Jin.
"Should I get it, or you wanna?"
Jin mumbled hollowly, "I'll be in the kitchen." Grabbing the borrowed clothes, he climbed off the bed and padded onto the linoleum, and once there leant heavily against the wall just inside the door. He felt rediculous for hiding like a child, as though there was any point in adding a handful of extra walls between himself and forces that could track him across oceans and lifetimes.
Stacy went to the door and pulled it open to be met by the straight, suited man tall and broad enough to fill practically the entire space of the doorframe, and almost two feet taller than herself. She angled her face towards his and greeted him sweetly in his own language. "Hello again, Eiji. You've gained weight."
Takeda adjusted his mirrored shades, a gesture of irritation that only Jin could interpret, and ignored her barb. In meticulous English he said, "Hello, Miss Grant."
Stacy's smile was laced with saccharine. "Isn't it the tiniest world!"
In the kitchen Jin frowned and skimmed the floor with his eyes; Takeda's bass voice was easy enough to recognize, but he could comprehend nothing of their English besides his own name and the trading of theirs. Before that, though-- had Stacy implied they knew each other?
/Of all the mouthy American women for Jin to stumble upon./ Takeda cleared his throat and forced himself to remember his mission. "I came unaccompanied."
"Well that was silly."
"I'm not on duty. I want to speak to Jin."
"You'll have to come back tomorrow, he's doing his hair. He has that awful cowlick, you know? Right back--"
"I know even you can comprehend the severity of this, Stacy."
A biting reply died on Stacy's tongue as she remembered what Jin had told her of Takeda and his devotion to Jin's safety. Takeda had been the person who met the fifteen-year-old grandson of Mishima Heihachi upon his arrival to the massive, bewildering city. For four years he had been the head of the security forces assigned specifically to protect Jin; a comforting omnipresence. "...Fine. Get inside already." With a frown she closed the door behind him and, reverting to Japanese, called to Jin.
Takeda's stare teemed with gratitude as he watched Jin approach, injured but alive, through the living room wearing in a sweatshirt and jeans-- things that Takeda, except for the first time he had seen Jin, could not recall ever seeing him wear. That gratitude lingered, even if it was barred by his shades and habitually separated from his voice. "Kazama-sama," he bowed.
"Takeda-san..." Jin nodded in return, and his smile was genuine but shaded with confusion and wariness.
"I'm not here for Mishima Heihachi. I wanted to see you myself." After a moment Takeda turned his head expectantly towards Stacy.
"Please give us some privacy."
"Yeah sure. Famous last words."
"It's okay, Stacy-san," Jin reassured gently. "I trust Takeda-san." Stacy looked between them, snorted, and drifted to the kitchen to wash the breakfast dishes. Takeda resumed once he heard the water running, his face angled towards the direction of the sound.
"Mishima-sama has been trying to find you since the day you disappeared. My orders were to locate and eliminate you." He looked at Jin now. "I'm not trying to worry you. I tell you this only because I want you to know the danger that you're in."
Jin swallowed, before nodding his comprehension.
"After I make my report, you'll be dead to your family and the world." From under his coat Takeda removed a compact bundle of cloth and offered it to Jin. Jin accepted it cariously, and unfolding it he found a black gi emblazoned with vivid, greenish flames. He could smell the newness of the cloth. Between the pair of garments was a document-- a birth certificate, he read, for Miyama Kunzo. Jin raised his wide eyes to Takeda. "Live here, Kazama-sama. Stay with Stacy, because she's trustworthy, and a good friend if you can stand her."
"I heard that!" Stacy hollared from the kitchen. Takeda ignored her.
"Train, and when you're ready, return to claim what's owed to you. You're a pure spirit that's sprung from a corrupted line, but you'll be the strongest of them all, and you'll be able to fix the horrors that it's caused."
"Don't leave this house for two more days, and whenever you're out, try to keep your face covered. Grow out your hair. Never show the mark on your arm. Never answer to your true name; write it off as a strong resemblance." Takeda was momentarily silent, listening to a sudden request on his earpiece and gazing at Jin's face to brand it into his mind. He bowed again to Jin. "I have to report back. Please be careful, Kazama-sama."
As Takeda was turning to leave he was empeded by a body and the thick, vicelike arms that locked about his sides, unphased by their bandaged and wounded sources. He stared down at Jin's dark head in surprise, before his eyes softened. "Thank you, Takeda-san... For everything you've done for me," Jin said solemnly. "I /will/ come back. I'll be ready."
Takeda nodded gently as Jin slowly dettached himself and, after one final glance, moved back to the door and let himself outside. When he was two paces away, however, the door was pulled open again quickly. "Takeda-san!" Jin waited until the man had turned back, and gave his final, desperate request to his former protector.
"Please tell Joon I love him."
Takeda allowed himself a faint smile. He nodded once, and then, turning, left the house and Jin behind.
For a long while Jin remained just behind the door, gazing down at the cloth and paper still clutched in his hands. Finally he lifted his face and passed through the living room to reach the kitchen, since it was quicker than walking down the hall. Stacy was drying dishes with a towel in front of the sink, her back towards him. "Stacy-san?"
"Mm?" She glanced over her shoulder.
"How do you know Takeda-san?" Stacy turned her face back to the dishes, and was quiet so long that Jin began to doubt she was going to answer.
"Before I lived in Kyoto I spent a year of college studying abroad in Yokohama. I was near a dojo that taught Karate-do and joined up to learn. Eiji was one of instructors." They were both silent as she set a dried plate atop the stack in the open cupboard. She took another from the sink to wipe. "Well, we got to know each other soon enough, and after a few months we started dating. Secretly of course. As I was finishing up the school year, someone found out, and we were both expelled from the school." Jin realized he was staring mutely at the back of her head and dropped his eyes. "I knew of another dojo of Karate-do in Kyoto and I dropped out of school so we could move there-- him instructing and me learning and getting a part-time job. But your grandfather found him and offered him a position in Tokyo as one of his head bodyguards, and Eiji wanted to take it." With a faint and mirthless smile she set the plate in the cupboard and closed it, tossing the towel onto the counter. She shrugged. "In the end we both got our way."
Struggling for words, Jin finally said lamely, "I'm sorry."
"Don't be, it's not your fault," Stacy said as she turned towards him. His effort was nice, however desperate it was. She looked relatively at ease. She began to say something else, but dropped it for other thoughts. "Things were getting rocky as it was. And everything worked out fine in the end, I guess."
"Did you continue Karate-do?"
"I was World Champion last year."
"Trophy's in my room."
"What?" she asked. Jin's empty look made her a touch indignant. "Go see." Jin baffledly but dutifully passed through the kitchen and hall to her door, hearing her trail behind him. After glancing back to reaffirm his permission, he opened the door and turned on the light. Sitting on the long dresser in the modest room, amidst the floral curtains and rumpled bed and dying fern by the windowsill (later he would remember it and mention that she was over-watering it), Jin saw the giant golden prize. He moved dumbly to it, smoothing the pad of his thumb over the engraved base plate.
Stacy thought he was silent for too long and furrowed her brows. "You okay?"
"I can't read English."
"But I believe you." Traces of amazement lingered in his eyes as he looked at her now. Suddenly, though, he wondered, "Why didn't you tell me before?"
"Didn't see much reason to."
"Well... Do you teach?"
"No. The dojo here is awful. I own a music store." She turned in the bedroom doorway and drifted towards the living room. Jin followed.
"So you're giving it up?"
"It's an important part of my life. I'm not giving it up, I just train privately. I still compete." Something growing in Stacy's tone made Jin more cautious. She plopped into the reading chair again since they had yet to fold up the sofa-bed.
He asked finally, ".../Would/ you teach?"
"Not a chance."
"No," she said calmly but finally. "You're welcome to stay here until you can get back on your feet, and I really am glad to lend a hand, but you'll have to find someone else to train with. I'm sorry that Takeda suggested you ask me."
Stacy canted her head, regrouping after the fault, but she couldn't help wondering why Takeda /hadn't/ made the suggestion. He said himself that she was reliable, and he knew that she was strong. "In any case. I did what I set out to do and now I'm moving on. I can't think about taking on a student, much less one with a fresh slate."
"I don't have a fresh slate. I've already studied two different styles. You said it yourself-- I'm Kazama Jin of the third Iron Fist Tourney fame."
Stacy grinned at the irony. "That doesn't matter. You have to begin at the beginning. Someone should've told you that you can't put your heart into one style if it's already in another. That's one weakness that'd be setting you back from the start."
The sloe-eyed gaze on Stacy was too stunned to narrow. "What did you say?"
"I said that adding something different on to what you know just weakens your foundations. You have to build on level ground."
"Please don't insult my training if you don't care enough to prove your theories," Jin said quietly, his voice edged with metal.
"It's not a matter of /caring/, Jin," Stacy said briskly. "I explained it."
"Yes it is. Now that you have that trophy to show Takeda, you don't care anymore."
Stacy bristled. "Where did that came from?"
"That's why he didn't want me to ask you. He knows you don't care anymore because you just trained to spite h--" Stacy's palm caught his face and knocked it to the side before he even saw the blow coming. She was standing just before him now, her face set, glaring up into his with hard green eyes. He rightened his face calmly, despite the dizzying pain in the half she struck. "I'm sorry," he said.
She ignored him. "What are you fighting for?"
"I want the strength to fight the evil inside me... And I want to confront my grandfather because of what he's done to me, and tried to do to me."
"So you're fighting for yourself. Doesn't that make you selfish?"
"I'm doing this because they're the things keeping Joon and I apart."
Stacy snorted, looking away. "None of us fight because we're content. You ever notice that? We all fight because we've been wronged. I was wronged by someone who came between me and the only person I've ever loved by waving a six-figure salary in his face."
"... Stacy-san..." Jin's stomach wrenched with a second pang of guilt.
"God damn." She rubbed her face and sighed before dropping her hands. "Fine, Mr. Clean Slate. If you really want to learn, and you can try to keep your mouth shut about my life from now on, then I'll teach you. And it's gonna be hard, Jin. I'm going out. For your first lesson, fold up the couch and vacuum-- it's in the hall closet. And I'm sick of talking in Japanese, so it's English from now on."
"But I don't know any English--!"
"Then I suggest you watch some TV while I'm gone... although I don't have cable." Stacy walked around the gaping Jin to fetch her hat from the rack by the door and pull it on. She tugged open the door and glanced at him. "Well, get moving already."
The door slammed. Jin stared at it helplessly.
"--what's a vacuum?"
And that was how it all began.
Mishima Heihachi steepled his fingers before his chest and leant back into his padded leather chair, which made a slow, displeased creak. "He's dead, finally."
"Yes, Mishima-sama." Takeda was composed and unwavering under Heihachi's steely stare. There was nothing artificial in the cloud of solemnity that had loomed about the detailed report he had given his lone superior. The key to deceit was a firm belief in one's own falsehoods, and Jin, as strong and full of life as Takeda had ever seen him, was nevertheless dead to him now. Never again would he be under his grandfather's roof, nor Takeda's own protection. Jin would be forever out of reach.
But that was the only way.
Heihachi exhaled through his nose. "Thank you, Takeda." With a wave of his swarthy hand Takeda was dismissed. The man bowed deeply, turned, and began to progress across the polished stone towards the mahogany doors.
"Takeda." The voice halted him, and he turned back.
The pair of shots reverberated eagerly in the vast room of glass and wood and stone, but Takeda's giant, heavy body, easing through the air with the grace and stoicism of a felled oak, seemed to land on the floor without any trace of sound. Heihachi coolly lifted his phone to notify Hayase Keika of her promotion and then made another call to lesser men to handle the clean-up. Waiting in the again silent room for them to arrive, he settled back once more, peering severely at body of a man who had forgotten who he worked for.
"Karate-do means nothing to a gun."
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