Forrest finds Jin training in the old dojos behind the dormitories, maybe because he is tired of whispers of how he looks like his father and how he glares at them all with his mother's eyes.
The training room is ancient. Dust is laid thick on abandoned equipment. The fighting dummies are heavy with rust. Jin pounds the sandbag, and later Forrest will wonder if he was imagining each thrust of his fist hurtling towards Ogre's heartbeat. As Jin retreats his hand, the bag creaks with its swing and the sudden rush of silence descends like a death shroud.
Forrest rustles behind him. He's a new contester, self conscious in his yellow tracksuit, until he saw the girl is blazing red with bows in her hair. None the less, he is sure his overly bright attire will make an impression. He puts down his duffel bag and attempts a shy smile.
"I hope I'm not disturbing you."
Jin steadies himself on the weeping sand bag, and stares at him. The quiet thickens the air between them and noting the heaviness in Jin's expression, Forrest's smile fades a little and he motions to the exit.
"Sorry, I should have knocked. I'll go to the other..."
"It's fine." This dojo is a wreck, sure, but Jin is a little slow to turn back to his training. The impression of a young man not wanting to be alone. And he thought he was all about impressions. Jin's tone is quiet, polite; possibly the way Heihachi likes it. "I don't mind, really."
"Oh, good to know," chirps Forrest, and he winces at his own merriness. Everyone here is wary of this young man, this descendant of Mishima. They duck at his eye contact and shiver as he passes, as if he has a curse woven into his blood. And Forrest is aware of his own perspectives and how simple and shallow they are (much to his father's annoyance) but to him Jin just seems serious, and well, a bit lonely.
The girl with the pigtails is sweet, and the red haired Korean biker has the kind of fashion sense that would make his father's face turn blue, but they are all so dominating. Jin's self contained quiet is refreshing.
Forrest unzips his duffel bag, and sets out his shiny new apparatus. He notes a twist in Jin's face as the sandbag bleeds its rotting contents, and so he hangs up his own and catching Jin's eye, nods to it.
Jin pauses, fastening his fighting gloves tighter onto his fists. He scours Forrest's expression with such an intensity the other man fears his face will go numb, before Jin relaxes and approaches, bowing in thanks.
They train together in silence. Forrest wonders why the grandson of filthy rich Mishima had been punching a decrypt old sandbag in this broken down dojo. He figures Jin senses this incoming question, but seems to be grateful for the lack of it, so he keeps strum.
As he turns, mid kick, he sees Jin's eyes on him. They are intent, strong, and as the two men pass each other to leave two hours later (Forrest mumbling an awkward goodbye) their skin brushes, and a break of electricity dances across Forrest's flesh and melts into his blood.
"Thanks for the kit," Jin bows once more, his face expressionless at Forrest's sudden shock. He swings on his heel, and leaves too quickly, into the night.
The next day, when Jin arrives, he does it with a forlornness that foretells he expects to be alone. Forrest lifts his head, and waves in greeting. The punch bag awaits Jin, hung in his corner.
That day, they train together.
Between them, they clear out the dojo. Forrest mops and brushes and sweeps with superhuman gusto, transforming the cobwebbed corners into shining surfaces. Jin, who is in the process of shifting some broken gym kit, appraises his friend's actions with a budding smile. He dumps it down and stretches, arching his back.
"You seem good at that."
"Ah..." Forrest wipes the sweat off his forehead. There is a light blush on his cheeks. "It's Dad really. He makes me run errands around the dojo, so...yeah."
It's theirs, this small dojo, tailor made for the two of them. Sometimes, they train in complete silence, absorbed with the skill of their separate arts. Occasionally, they share snippets of light conversation. Or Forrest does, at least. Jin nods and looks genuinely attentive, and each small vocal tug he can get from him sets off a celebration in Forrest's brain. He feels bad talking so much, but Jin seems to savor the sound, and shoots an oddly reproachful glance in Forrest's direction if he stays quiet too long.
After their third day, as they pack up the equipment, Forrest sidles up to Jin and takes a risk.
"I've got the maisonette to myself today. Paul isn't there. I didn't know if you wanted to come round to dinner."
Dinner. He's inviting a guy to dinner, and immediately Jin stiffens and he feels his own smile tightening. He's done it this time, he's overstepped the mark, Forrest you absolute idiot...
"I'd like that," Jin hauls his rucksack over his back. "Thank you."
"G-Great." Forrest is fighting to not stumble over his words. He reaches for his own duffel bag, and follows Jin out of the door. His steps feel lighter. "Is there anything in particular you fancy? I can pretty much fix anything..."
The other man pauses by the door. To Forrest it seems as if Jin is winding through his memories, trying to find a suitable reply for such a simple thing as a favourite food. Maybe Jin is a man for whom a simple thought is a scarce and indulgent thing.
When they tire of the sandbags, the weights, the general work outs, Forrest suggests that they practice spar with each other.
At first, Jin is reluctant. He mumbles a few excuses, showing that odd, spontaneous shyness he is sometimes victim to. But Forrest laughs, throws a couple of soft punches near the edge of his nose, and exclaims it's no big deal, he and Paul do it all the time.
Jin is intense. Incredibly intense. Forrest works himself breathless, fighting to keep up, seized with a sudden heated shift in his chest. The pair battle until they fall away from each other, slick with sweat and gasping for air. Jin, for one moment, looks suddenly lost, before a new firmness sets behind his eyes. He focuses down on the curling of his fists.
For the first time, Forrest is aware of a chill biting the hairs on his arms. It's what everyone else has seen, except him, until now. His gaze flickers to the exit.
"That was…" Jin's voice is clearer, louder, richer. He opens his eyes and stares right at Forrest. There almost seems to be a small, content smile touching the edges of his mouth. "…good. Let's go again."
Jin is smiling. He can make Jin smile. Forrest nods, grins once more, and braces himself.
Up in the tournament charts, he sees his name next to Jin's.
He swallows, sick to the stomach with fear and excitement.
There is a phone call. A phone call for him.
His mother whispers through the head piece, as if trying to contain the air on the other side of the line. His father is frantic with worry. Last night, he'd even gone to the off license...
It takes Forrest ten minutes to pack. He slips a note for Paul, making sure to use small words, and heads across the grounds to the waiting bus. For one, singular second, he pauses by the entrance of the old dojo.
The bus can't be delayed any longer.
A year and a half later, the winter arrives and hits them hard. Cold wind causes muscles to creak and tighten, making training uncomfortable and chilly, so his father's students swap the school of hard knocks for hot chocolate and cosy evenings. It isn't just their muscles that are tight; their wallets are as well. So, in a bid to raise more cash, Marshall drags Forrest to Australia to discuss a small international tournament with overseas dojos. A perfect advertising ploy, or so it seems.
In Brisbane the weather is ferocious in the wake of cool autumn storms. Rain lashes the scores of narrow scrapers gathered together in grey masses, and Forrest's shoes are soaked right though. He stands there dripping in the equally grey hallway of the dojo as his father discusses business in the master's office.
The night is drawing in. The last weak spats of fading daylight streak the dojo floor. Forrest hovers by its entrance. He can hear the slow pound of fists and the squeak of a rattling sandbag. He glances down the hall, but the shadows through the office window are still.
The dojo is abandoned, save one man. A hood is pulled over his face, shading everything but a sombre mouth set in a hard line. His fists are balled within the confines of worn red gloves, and each strike sets the bag swinging. Forrest's damp shoes squeak on the floor. He winces.
A fist halts in mid-air.
Forrest's cheeks begin to flare. He battles whether to mumble out an apology or slink back to his father, but then the man turns, and then the world just stops.
The dark eyes of his old friend are chilled with bitterness, but upon seeing Forrest, they intensify. The air between them is charged like electricity winding through water and Forrest can't breathe. He knows of things, things such as bounties and whispered names and Heihachi Mishima, and there was a reason he always failed to open a newspaper. But Jin Kazama is there, in the flesh, bruising a sand bag in an old dojo in backwater Australia, and of all the dojos in the entire world…
Jin Kazama remains deathly still, but his very blood is an electric current and all the hairs on Forrest's arm bristle. A hearty laugh breaks the silence, easing its way down the corridor, and Jin's eyes narrow into silts. His father has just launched into one of his wishful rants about money making opportunities falling into his lap, and the air heaves again for Jin slowly falls into a fighting stance.
"No, I…" Forrest untangles his vocal chords. Jin remains impassive, fists still raised. Forrest steals a glance behind him. He grimaces. "Shit."
His father is closing the office door behind him. He looks up sharply, his smile dying on his lips.
"What's the matter, son?"
From over his shoulder, the dojo master watches him. He's a much older man, just hitting that final square between retirement and sage hood. The muscle has begun to wither on his arms, his skin loosened with lines and wear, but his eyes are as grey and stormy as the outside sky. Forrest swallows deep, and sighs.
"I think I dropped my wallet outside."
The next second is hurled by so fast he doesn't have time to think. He's yanked through the corridor with such speed that the walls blur in grey lines, but just before the door slams behind them he catches the old master's eye. A tiny smile tugs at the sagged mouth, and then, there is Jin, observing from the shadow of the dojo's door frame. His eyes are bright and burning and they brand themselves on Forrest's brain as he stumbles out into the street. His father scrambles desperately on the floor but the rain seeps into the air and Forrest feels as if he is drowning in sea mist.
Half a week later, they meet with Paul Phoenix who invites them to stay the night at his digs. Forrest feigns fever and remains instead in the one bed roomed basement flat that is on loan from the martial arts guild. It's a grotty little place, with beige walls and poky rooms rimmed with mould, but if you thump the television enough the static gives way to a fuzzy picture and he rather likes the lumpiness of the couch.
He clears the old pizza boxes and beer cans from the plastic table, and just as he ties up the rubbish bag there is a knock on the door.
He sucks in air through his teeth. Switching off the television, he stuffs his hidden stash of dollar bills in his back pocket and creeps to the door.
"Paul, I told you…I'm contagious. How can you be the best in the universe if…?"
Jin Kazama scrutinises him from beneath the flap of his hood. His hands are buried in his pockets, but the rainfall is still awful and Forrest can only imagine how shoddy that hoodie must be by now.
"Jin?" Forrest removes the door chain, and pulls it fully open. Golden light spills out into the doorstep. "Are you all right?"
"Are they here?" Jin's voice is hushed, polite, and Forrest remembers a lone teenager in a broken down dojo.
"No." He opens the door a little wider. Jin remains on the doorstep, but his eyes slide to, and then beyond Forrest's shoulder. Forrest clears his throat. "Do you want to come in?"
Jin blinks. He removes his hands from his pockets, and his gloves are crusted with blood around the knuckles.
"Is that…do you mind?"
"No." He gestures him in, attempting a quick smile. Jin doesn't return it, but his shoulders relax as he slopes into the thankfully dry hallway. As he moves past, there is a spontaneous shudder of energy emanating from around and it seems, within him. Pressing back a shiver, Forrest trails Jin into the kitchen. His face grows hot at the half spilled garbage bag. Jin appraises it blankly.
"Ah, sorry about that, I wasn't expecting…"
"It's fine." Jin doesn't budge an inch as Forrest finishes up the bin. He has a stare down with his shoes. "Heihachi…" The name is practically a growl. Forrest's hand freezes as it reaches for the fridge.
"…hated mess. I don't mind it. It's…" He furrows his brow. "Accessible."
"It's a bit of normality, I guess," Forrest is already taking out the cooking utensils. It's the only thing he can think of, and any distraction is a blessing at the moment. There is some rice around here, he's sure of it. Some eggs too, and a frying pan. Egg fried rice is plain, but tasty with a simple sauce. He must keep the heat at an even temperature, to prevent toughening the rice or clotting the sauce. He must…
Jin accidently knocks the table. It clatters on its feet.
Forrest half grins. He can still feel the weight of Jin's stare; it isn't quite so intense. His clothes aren't in the process of singeing. Jin must be feeling better.
He cooks in silence. Jin roams the flat, allowing Forrest time to unwind the tightness in his stomach. Jin's exploration is punctuated by his footsteps, oddly deft for a man, but they pause in the living room. Leaving the sauce to simmer, Forrest wipes his hands on a dishcloth and heads into the paltry piece of space that Dad calls the lounge. Some training equipment is scattered about. Marshall believes in practice no matter the circumstances or environment.
A flying sandbag almost knocks him back. Jin reappears from behind it. Unprompted, he punches the bag again. And again. And then again. Each hit is harder than the first. The bag sways dangerously, almost unhooked from its holder, and Forrest stills it with his palm. Beads of sweat glisten like dew drops on the bulging vein of Jin's temple.
"Jin…" His hand finds Jin's shoulder. Jin's eyes, brown and deep and dark, are still locked on the almost weeping bag and Forrest thinks of the sand littering the floor of the old dojo. "C'mon. Let's eat. I've cooked some fried rice."
It takes some guidance, but Jin sits opposite him on the half collapsed table and tucks into his food. He eats it slowly, painfully slowly, holding his chopsticks beautifully, and Forrest struggles to mimic until he finally gives up and gets a spoon from the drawer.
It takes him a moment, but he spots Jin observing him from over prone chopsticks. Forrest grins, sheepish, and scratches the back of his head. A nervous habit and one his father hates.
"Bad, I know," He closes the drawer, causing the cutlery to sing. "Damning my heritage, Dad says." Forrest shrugs, and Jin's lips soften. "He uses a fork, you see."
He fills up Jin's bowl three times, and finally gives him the rest of his portion, and Forrest is soon sleepy and full. He goes to wash up, but Jin takes the bowls out of his hands and turns on the tap. Forrest washes, and Jin dries, and soon everything is safely put away.
"I used to do this with my mother," Jin says quietly, so quietly Forrest struggles to hear, but he nods and half smiles, and the air isn't electric or energized, but heavy with a tangible melancholia and Forrest feels something give way in his chest.
Later that evening, he gives Jin his bed, refusing any excuses and claiming that no, really, he likes the lumpy sofa. Jin disappears into his bedroom and Forrest snuggles into the couch and in the morning, the rain has cleared. Sunlight, brisk yet a little timid, drains through the blinds and hits the few sand grains twinkling on the grey skin of the punching bag. Forrest falls out of bed; stretches, yawns, and is suddenly hit with an odd ache in his gut.
The bedroom is empty. The bed has been impeccably made, the sheet folded, and the rest of the egg rice is missing from the steel canister in the kitchen. On the table there is a letter, on which there is only one word. Forrest can just about read it, as his Japanese is lacking to say the most, but he sits down and scrutinises it until it becomes an inky haze.
There are voices, swelling in volume, heading towards the front door. Forrest snatches the letter; folds it in two, and lets it join his secret dollar stash in his back pocket.
Paul bustles in, Marshall stuck under his arm in a headlock. He gives Forrest a hearty slap on his back, and sniffing, gives the boy an approving grin.
"Whoa! Egg fried rice, eh?"
His father, aiming a well-timed kick to Paul's shins, pops up over his reclining friend's shoulder and grants Forrest an uncharacteristically playful wink.
"Brilliant practice, son."
They both beam at him.
Paul's smirk droops. Marshall pats his stomach.
"Any for us?"
It's a year later. The summer is strung with fitful heat and makes drivers sweat, scold, sleepy. The sky is a stark naked blue and the sun is a swollen ball of scorching cruelty. Forrest can hear Paul swear beneath his breath as he perspires within the thick hide of his biking leathers. His own arms, locked around Paul's waist, are slippery with sweat and his stomach flip flops and circles, again and again, for god knows he hates this damn thing.
Tires screech on pavements cracked with droves of blinding sunlight, for a young driver has looked at his phone instead past his wheel, and Paul screams obscenities as he wrenches the bike sideways. It hits the sidewalk, overturns, and Forrest's arms slip from around Paul and he hits the flagstones…once, twice, his arm is trapped beneath his bulk and the world hits black.
The moon lays a cooling sheen on the bed, on his face, on his arm, wrapped and bound in plaster. Outside Paul's voice rises and falls in quivering tones; to light joking, to scrambling excuses, to finally a muttering confession.
No, I don't have a credit card. Or an authorized license. No, not even a dollar.
I have nothing.
Forrest's fingers inch over the bandage; fiddling with the starchy material and overzealously applied tape. His eyebrows tighten. Light from car lamps steals in through the drawn curtains. They dance on and then over his face. They shiver over the white walls of the hospital room.
Another voice. Tinny and small, straining through the cellphone. It begins in hissing whispers, and then explodes into a string of shouting expletives, threats, demanding explanations. And then, it asks, in an even smaller voice trembling with static, what the bill is.
Forrest's fingers close around the bandage. Fresh blood bubbles and stains through.
Much later that night, his father enters the room. His hair is disheveled, his clothes crumpled from travel, and he's forgotten to shave. His teeth are clenched; his body wound tight, but the moonlight dashing across the floor captures the wet glimmer on his cheeks.
Forrest pretends to be asleep.
After a week, he's allowed home. Dad has already left for Japan in the wake of the next tournament, Paul in tow, and Forrest sits in the empty dojo and stares at the wall.
His mother is there. Older, frailer, and she bursts into tears when she sees him. He hugs her, aware of how her head barely reaches his shoulders, and she sits him down and cooks his favourite meal. They eat quietly together and spend the evening watching television.
Heihachi Mishima is dead.
Forrest struggles to his feet, complaining of the ache in his arm as his mother draws her attention away from the news channel. She gasps at the paleness present in Forrest's face.
"Is it still that bad, son? Oh dear. Maybe I should…"
"No, it's okay," he nods, smiling although his cheeks smart with the effort. "I'm all right, promise. Just…" His eyes dart to the fuzzy sheen of the television. "Tired."
That night, he dreams of devils in wastelands. Scarred land and smoldering forests and wings breaking from shoulder blades with the sound of cracking coconuts.
That morning, he binds his arm anew and creeps downstairs to the dojo. He begins to train, and trains hard.
His arm is healing, albeit slowly, but his muscles are fife from gunshot kicks and his biceps harden, define, and it isn't long until he gains an audience.
There is a tap on the window. Several taps, reminding Forrest of manicured nails, and in one brief burst of euphoria he thinks its Xiao. But a different girl is splayed against the window. There is a little blur in the glass where she'd been breathing heavily, and her hands have left bold sweaty imprints on the window. Forrest straightens; lowers his fists, and clears his throat.
She's stupidly pretty, blonde hair a golden drape down her back, although her eyes buzz with bizarre, hungry energy. Forrest attempts a half smile, trying to shrink inside his yellow tracksuit, but it is far too adequate an invitation for the shop bell twinkles and quick as a wink, she's sauntered in.
"Oh no, don't stop," she gasps, fanning herself with a delicate hand. Her voice is breathy, soft, tinged with class and cloaked with a light French accent. Forrest glances at a flash of gold on her wrist. A female Rolex, crusted with cuts of diamond and sapphire. "Did you really learn all that? I mean, on your own? Truly?"
"Ah, not really," Forrest gestures to the equipment and to Paul's old poster, peeling on the wall. "My father owns this dojo. I'm just a secondary instructor."
"Oh no…" She flicks her immaculate mane, winding a stray hair around her index finger. Her nails are sharpened into pink, polished perfection. Forrest's t-shirt is sticking to his back. "I just can't believe that."
"Well, it's true," He steadies the sand bag with his good arm. "He's out of town at the minute. If you wish to join the dojo, it's open Sun…"
He hears it coming. A swoosh of a high spinning kick. He revolves on the ball of his foot, crosses his arms and blocks. A designer sneaker halts just short of his nose. The bones in his bad arm creak. He winces, knocks her foot away, and ducks a hastily thrown punch.
"Hey…what the hell?"
The girl has launched herself off the ground in a double corkscrew kick, and he barely has time to throw himself back before two Gucci soles break his face. She pulls off, and he staggers upright. She's hugging herself in pure, unrivalled glee, and she beams at him with such reverence Forrest's face burns not just from the blood flow.
"You're perfect," She nods at no one in particular, pulling forth a crumpled letter from her back pocket. GROUP BATTLE is illustrated in bold red print. "You're perfect. Oh, you are!"
"Wait." He takes the paper bustled in front of his face. "You come in here and attack me, and now you just expect…"
His attentions drag across each line, each word, as the girl chatters about excitement and underground fighting rings, and how wonderful it is, to go out and loosen one's limbs in a no holds barred battle. Forrest frowns at the sand bag, at the deserted dojo, and doesn't return the confrontational glare from Paul's younger counterpart on the poster. He'd heard of these fights. They were highly secretive, highly exclusive, and very illegal. His father banned him from fighting fellow competitors, let alone partaking in one of these underground brawls, but Dad isn't here and his arm revolts with each strike of his fist against wood.
"Sure." He crumples the poster into his fist. The girl shuts up mid babble, and cocking her head to the side, quirks her lips. Forrest hesitates, and then smiles back. "Sure, why not?"
The concrete jungle shakes with strobe, with blood and alcohol and sweat, and each call is a bay for murder.
Lili is a common phenomenon here. She has already taken out three guys with necks thicker than her knees, and with each win, she wraps her arms around his neck and swings from him like a monkey. He grins, settling her down, only to have her scuttle off into the crowd. Her wrist watch is missing, but he isn't sure if she's noticed, or whether she even cares.
He's been loitering around the rings of howling gangs, but his patience is wearing thin and no challenge has presented itself. He's about to leave, even if his conscience nags him about leaving Lili but she seems more that handy enough to take down entire sectors of these punks, so what the hell…
There is a man standing in the opposite ring. Sweat burns off his exposed chest, and each strike against his opponents makes them close like depressed sandbags.
The sudden stillness causes a crowd to form around Forrest, closing him in with this man whose aura creeps off his person in red, angry waves.
Jin's glower fades. His eyes are haunted, wary, old beneath his trademark hood. His presence, now strangled with sorrow, drives something sharp into Forrest's chest and his bad arm bursts with agony. Turning in disgust, he elbows his way back through the crowd, met with cries of disappointment and boos. A thug with hair shot up like a distressed porcupine aims a punch at his chest. Something glints, hidden within his fist, and Forrest scowls. He blocks the clumsy hit, grapples and pulls the man close; he allows his muscles to tighten, bulge with energy, and the resulting clout sends the punk crashing through the crowds.
Bystanders combust into whooping cheers. Someone thumps his back in drunken congratulation. Forrest shrugs him off, smiling to keep the peace, and ducks beneath the wire fencing surrounding the arena.
The night air sweeps onto his face in a cool gush. As he walks, his hands buried in his pockets, the clouds move over the stars and his feet begin to pick up. A yell behind him prompts him to slow; Lili, her bag slung over her shoulder, is running down the darkened street. Her hair is stuck to her forehead in sweaty clumps, her lip gloss smudged down her chin, and as she catches up with him, she crosses her arms across her chest and pouts in a way that wouldn't be ill placed in a child.
"You left just as it was getting good! You could have vanquished those inbred hooligans…"
"Lili…" He hands her something sparkling and small in his palm. "I think you lost your watch."
She is silent for what seems to be the first time. Forrest rocks back and forth on his feet, scanning the surrounding houses. Everything is downgraded here. The place is populated by old warehouses and paint strapped suburbs. Perfect for a dodgy brawling underground.
"Well, I…" She's choked up. Forrest's head snaps up suddenly. She sniffs, quickly dabbing at her eyes with a frilled hankie, and Forrest cannot believe that she actually exists. "I guess chivalry isn't dead after all."
They work home together. Or rather she walks him home. It begins to drizzle, outlining the summer night with a damp chill. Forrest offers her his jacket. He holds it over the both of them, but mostly her, and as the dojo creeps into view, the stagnant shapes of the equipment in the window quicken his pulse.
"That watch was my mother's."
A limo is parked in the alleyway. Lili catches his arm as he goes to enter the front door. The bottom lock is broken.
"Can I see you again?"
She's all blue eyed, bow lips pulled upwards in a truly genuine smile, and for a moment she looks just like a normal girl. Forrest's teeth tug at his lower lip.
"Well, I guess…"
"Splendid!" She's already in the limo. It took merely a pink and gold blur for her to get there. "I'll pick you up tomorrow then."
"Hey, I didn't say…"
From the window, she blows him a kiss. The limo revs up with a grace that would make Paul jealous, and in a flash of silver, it turns the corner and slinks off into the night. Forrest waits for the noise to fade completely before his fingers coil into fists and he nudges the dojo door open.
Slowly, silently, it opens inward.
The insides are untouched. The equipment, exactly as he left it. All is deathly silent.
"I know you're in here."
A silhouette rises from behind the pull up bars. Light bounces off the studs in his gloves.
"I thought it was you." Forrest's voice is frosty. He idly wipes dust off the nearest apparatus. His heart beats hard in his chest; loud, deafening, to his ears. "What do you want?"
"Do you know that girl?"
Jin's tone is lower, weighted. Older. So much older. He sounds like a person who has lived for ten decades, not a young man just reaching two. Forrest forces his teeth on his lower lip; drifts around the equipment, drawing floor space between him and the intruder.
"Not before tonight, no." He stops by the door. Jin's eyes prick through the dark, as if trying to see if Forrest is lying. "What is it to you, anyway?"
"She's very rich."
"She has a ship. A tanker."
"A tanker?" Forrest frowns. The light switch is across the room, just behind Jin's right arm. "Why would a tanker interest…"
"She's using it as transport for the fifth tournament," Jin straps his gloves tighter against his fists. A crack of light, like lightening, seems to break the air around it. Forrest is sure he imagined it. "She's been travelling around looking for underground fighting rings. I've been trailing her this entire time."
"Trailing her?" Forrest absently rubs his brow. His gaze is now off the opposite door, off the light switch and the phone and the staircase, and at this switch in attentions, Jin tenses and his eyes blaze. "Why?"
"I need it as a mode of transport," Jin, once so sedentary, is edging around the apparatus and gym mats, closing the gap between them. The lines in his face have softened slightly. He still has his sight set on Forrest; intense, unrelenting. Forrest thinks he'll never get used to that stare. "She seemed…" He pauses. Forrest doesn't hold his breath. "…keen on you."
"I'm not the type to lay out a honey trap," Forrest replies drily. He leans up against the training saddle, arms crossed. He faces Jin with his own mask of defiance. "And I don't see how me getting friendly with Lili is going to get you on that boat."
A flicker of gold circles the incisions of Jin's pupil. The air is suddenly shuddering with thick, black ambience and then Jin blinks and it's gone, simple as that. Forrest's fingers clench into the arch of his bicep. Jin's eyelids palpitate and he's breathing, long and deep, locking it within his chest and then releasing into slow, laborious bursts of air.
Forrest uncrosses his arms. His hand reaches for Jin's shoulder, but Jin's entire body curls inwards and his fingers ball into a fist. He hesitates.
"What is your plan then?"
There is a silence. Then Jin breathes, and;
"She's looking for a backup partner. A tag ally. Someone who has been before." Jin lifts his head. His irises are a deep, muddy brown. Forrest whistles between his teeth. "From your interactions this evening, you seemed suitable."
"I've only just met her," Forrest takes a step back, away from the shadows and Jin. "I'm flattered, but I doubt she likes me that much."
Jin's mouth twitches into a small, wry smile.
"This girl might surprise you."
He is surprised. Truly. Two days after Jin confronted him in the dojo, the bell on the door is shaken into a twinkling frenzy and he's invited as a "battle escort" for the fifth tournament. In some ways, Lili reminds Forrest of Jin. He finds it hard to refuse her anything. She gives him a date, a time, and a personal VIP pass for her own tanker. Her own tanker. Forrest repeats this in his head as she throws him one last glittering smile and she's gone through the door.
The date is three weeks away and Forrest holds back in telling his mother. The summer is straining out one last sweltering blast of humid air before it succumbs to the sleepy cool of September. But until then, the heat makes him itch and short tempered, makes the dojo walls close and damp with perspiration. He thinks of September with a swell of relief, before he remembers and a nervous ball fixes itself in his stomach.
Three days after Lili, he spots a hooded man skulking around the alleyways near the dojo. He vanishes for two days at a time, and then reappears and sometimes he approaches the door and every time he leaves at the last minute. Forrest observes this display until he is certain he's going to develop a nervous twitch.
The next day, he leaves the door open. He cooks furiously in the kitchen. His mother has left town to travel to see her sister in a neighboring city. Forrest boils the rice and simmers the sauce and massages the dough balls into plump, raised perfection and then proceeds to chop the garlic and grind the chilli into a fine powder. It is essential the texture is even, not lumpy or lazy. The smoothness of the powder compliments the creamy thickness of the sauce...
Something shuffles down the hallway. Forrest freezes. The saucepan he's just dropped into the sink utters a dull clank.
The floorboards creak. A hesitant intake of breath.
Forrest scowls. He turns on the tap, rinsing the garlic off his hands.
Beneath the shop that serves as both the Law's business and home, is a small basement area. For Forrest as a child, it had been a secret den of sorts. As a teenager, a place to escape his Dad once in a while. And as a young man, he'd converted it into a personal training area. And now, safe from prying eyes, it was to be a makeshift bedroom for a man on the run.
It is fairly pleasant. The walls were freshly painted, there was decent enough light and of course, it was brimming with training apparatus. He'd even logged down a comfortable futon that rivalled his own bed.
"You know, I'm jealous," Forrest wipes the sweat from his brow. Jin is feeling his way toward one of the old sandbags swinging in the corner. "I actually think this is nicer then my own room."
Jin scans the bed, the light, the mini fridge and the private dojo. He turns to Forrest, and much to the other man's shock, he bends at the waist.
Forrest's face burns in a raw, tangible blush.
"Hey, don't do that...it's okay," He mumbles, pulling the tuft at the back of his head that refuses to lay flat. Jin rises upon command, his face arranged in formal lines and Forrest struggles to change the subject. "Where were you sleeping before?"
Jin is silent, and Forrest is once again expecting a stoic reply.
"In a forest."
"A forest? An actual forest?"
A pause. Jin unzips his hoodie and lays it on the bed. A moment passes, and the corners of his lips quiver.
"Hey, did you just joke?"
As Forrest cooks above, he can hear Jin below. The man wakes at exactly five thirty in the morning. A quick trudge up to the hastily fixed shower in the downstairs bathroom. A quick dash of water. Then he trains. From five forty five to eleven o'clock, there is always the metallic swing of the sandbag or the crack of breaking wood or even the heavy swoosh of his fist zipping through the air. Forrest leaves Jin's dinner by the door. Five minutes later, the plate is empty and the bowl is shining on the drying rack. Jin proceeds to train until they go through the same ritual at dinner. And then, bed at ten.
In between times, Forrest cooks countless wares and takes to the side streets, selling from a small wooden stall and counting every penny he can wager off tourists. At about nine in the morning, the only custom he gets is disinterested stragglers. By lunchtime, word has spread and the queues arch off around the corner. By mid afternoon he's completely out and so he trudges home for rest and his evening training.
When he arrives back, the fading summer sun stretches his shadow over the alleyways that lead to the back entrance of his home. He fumbles with his keys, but the door is open. The light in the hall is off. Forrest feels his way in, shambling towards the kitchen. All is quiet below; he frowns.
Jin is bent over the sink. His back faces the door, his head slung low over the bowl and the porcelain is cracked with the imprint of his fingers. His shoulders rise, hunch, and fall.
Forrest's bag falls to his feet in a soft flump.
"Jin?" He hooks his thumbs into the back of his jeans. His sneakers make sounds on the kitchen floor. "Are you okay?"
The sink creaks with the added pressure. Jin inhales, and starts to laugh.
It's a strange, frazzled, frayed laugh. It bubbles past Jin's lips, high and hysterical and tight. The hair on Forrest's neck is frozen stiff.
Every muscle in Jin's back constrains at the sound of Forrest's voice. The laugh is hurled back into his throat, to which Jin seems to choke out something that almost sounds like a sob. His hands fly to his head; he winds his fingers in his hair and sunlight sparks off what look like sharpening teeth.
"No good," The words seem to battle themselves out. "The sandbag…no good…I need something…like when we…"
It's enough. Forrest cracks his knuckles, closes his eyes, and moves.
"C'mon. Downstairs." He powers his words with an authority he doesn't feel. "Now."
Jin stumbles from the sink and sways like a drunken man. Forrest ducks under his shoulder and catches his arm, pulling it around his neck and steadying his feet. Jin buries his head into the curve of Forrest's neck and he can feel his breath, hot and fast, against the throb of his jugular. Forrest detects the lightest scraping of fangs.
"You gotta help me out here, buddy," He kicks the basement door open, almost knocking it off its hinges. "I think I've been feeding you too well."
As they descend the stairs, Jin finds his feet, but his weight is still braced against Forrest and it takes the other man a second to realise Jin's fist is wound tight into his shirt. As they finally hit the ground floor, Forrest releases Jin and moves to the centre of the room. Jin glowers at him from beneath the wild black of his bangs. His chest heaves up and down with the gravitas of a tsunami wave. Nearby, the tough old sandbag is split and hanging like a pig's carcass.
"C'mon, Jin." Forrest takes up his fighting stance, juggles his feet, and raises his fists. "I'll be your sandbag. I'll deflect, okay? "
Jin stares at him. He goes to spit out something, be it warnings or something else, but it is lost on his tongue and he growls like a caged animal. Forrest doesn't flinch. Standing firm, he throws a punch, stopping it barely an inch from Jin's nose.
"It's okay, Jin," He implores, and the gentleness in his tone takes him aback. "I won't split. I won't break."
A moment passes. And then…
When the first blow is struck, Forrest throws up his hands and blocks.
The moonlight lashes its silver glare on the bruises that line his arms. They spread beneath his skin like black treacle, unfurling like cruel flowers. A passed out Jin slumbers in silence beside him on the futon. His face is peaceful, his breath even and deep.
He's been sitting here for god knows how long, tracing the new, painful patterns on his flesh. He purses his lips, tasting the salty tang of drying blood, and for the hundredth time that night his gaze slips to the man beside him.
"You know," He says to Jin, to himself, to nobody. "This is really going to help with my reflexes."
Jin doesn't stir. He stretches out, his left hand just stopping short of Forrest's lap. His mouth forms a name, but Forrest reckons he imagined it. He seems to imagine…had imagined… so much this evening.
He leans his head back against the wall. The moon tinkers light through the above window, and he scrutinises the darkness of the sky until it matches the spaces behind his eyelids.
I won't split.
The first spats of morning light are a queasy surface behind his eyelids. He's aware of a heat on his skin, as if someone is trying to burrow holes through him with their eyes.
I won't break.
The sound of running water cracks his slumber.
The basement is awash in hot daylight. Dust particles waft in the splintered shafts of light beaming through the window. A mosquito dully whines.
Forrest inches himself up; pain racks down his body, and he gasps. He grits his teeth; breathes deep, and staggers upright. The surrounding area has been swept clean. The futon is immaculately made; the dojo gear has been folded up and put away. And the few bits and pieces Jin calls his belongings have been folded and packed in his backpack.
Forrest appraises them silently. Clicking his tongue, he buries his hands in his pockets and drifts upstairs. Coils of powdery steam weave from under the bathroom door as he passes; quick as a wink, he darts upstairs and freshens up. Even in the heat he throws on his white cooking uniform. The sleeves flow past his arms, past the bruises, and he delicately buttons up the cuffs.
When Jin reappears into the kitchen, Forrest is halfway through cooking breakfast. His shadow fills up the door frame; his hair is a damp weight on his shoulders, towel tucked over his arm and his eyebrows crease at the smell of frying eggs. His mouth is set in a dead line, even as Forrest shoots him a glowing smile.
"I forget how you like your eggs," His voice is a timid lightness in the sun lit kitchen. Oil spits from the pan and burns the ends of his fingers. Jin remains motionless. And then, he blinks. He removes the towel and drapes it over his shoulders. He edges into the kitchen, near the table, and Forrest launches into a quiet story about how he had to battle a noodle thief a few weeks back.
The chair creaks as Jin sits down.
Every window in the house is open. Jin needs, wants, craves air. It bustles through the nooks and crannies and crevices of Forrest's family home. His mother's room is empty and Dad hasn't called.
Mom rings and says she'll stay a while longer with her sister. Forrest nods and says he understands. Jin listens from behind the crook of the doorframe. He's taken to wearing his hood down. His hair is ruffled with sweat and frames the crow black of his eyes.
It's a lazy Sunday. The sun is tempered with the first wisps of raincloud and it shocks Forrest to think he's almost forgotten about Lili and September. About Paul and Dad. About his mother caring for his sick aunt. The old house is devoid of family yet to Forrest it has never felt so full. Jin is everywhere, woven deep into the brickwork and paint and even the dust on the dojo floor. He's never been so conscious, so aware of another person before. It's like the spaces in every room are composed sorely of them; like the house is floating in the middle of nothing and there is nothing but this.
Around seven o'clock, Forrest shuts the curtains prematurely and sits in the dim gold light of the kitchen. He doesn't need to turn around because he knows Jin is in the doorway. Jin used to be hesitant but now there is a strange, calm confidence to his every action.
"Do you mind?"
His words are low and soft yet Forrest can sense it scratching just below the surface; like the first prickles of heat rash. He doesn't ask any questions, because he never did to begin with and he won't anyway.
He flexes his arm. The bones grind within his skin and he takes a deep breath. He turns to Jin and his smile is the most natural thing in the world.
"Of course not."
The tension in Jin's shoulders drain away. His own lips shape into a quick reciprocation, before he beckons and Forrest follows him down into the darkness.
That afternoon and evening the training had been relentless and his muscles are instilled with a predominant, dull pain.
He'd been tired, too tired to walk up the two narrow staircases that lead to his bedroom. The last thing he remembers before bombing out on the couch was the glisten of Jin's eyes from below the slow swing of the fading light bulb. He'd observed him long and hard that evening, his eyebrows knotting at the bruises Forrest had failed to conceal, but his jabs has been as straight and harsh as ever. But Jin had his own scars; two thin, fragile lines of white skin on his back, seeming to join at the point where his shoulder blades meet.
But after it all, after the bows and the cleaning and a late night snack, Jin had watched Forrest drift off on the settee. And Forrest, as consciousness creeps back into his mind, speculates if he watched him long after he'd fallen asleep.
There is a feeling of something close to him, looming over his head, and Forrest feels breath whisper on his parted lips. It's not a heat; it's slight and sensuous, a warmth that cloaks his skin in a weightless embrace. The figure leans in closer, and Forrest, too pulled under by exhaustion, remains motionless.
There is a long silence and a sighing breath brushes Forrest's mouth. He visibly shivers and the presence above stiffens and moves back, seeming to melt into the indigo husks of early morning.
The summer softens and dissolves as the weeks pass and the evenings become shorter, cooler, mellowed by the first crack of red and gold leaf beneath Forrest's feet. His aunt has improved, but his mother will stay a little longer, just to make sure. He checks his mobile and sees his father has rang two, three, four times. Forrest switches it to silent and places it under his pillow.
Jin wounds the badly stitched sandbag with each hurtle of his fist. He exclaims after each hit, his voice a breathy, steady staccato through his training. After the sun bleeds the sky red, Forrest goes and joins him, and they train just like the old days. Forrest's reflexes are now like lightening and he long since learned to ignore the twinges in his arm. The sandbag hangs neglected and seeping in the corner.
The night before the fated day dawns, Forrest makes them two steaming bowls of egg fried rice and a canister of hot chocolate. They sit and eat in silence in their makeshift dojo. Jin's careful gaze from over the top of his bowl triggers in Forrest an unfamiliar restlessness, and he places his own dinner, half finished, on the floor.
"What will you do at the tournament?"
It's the first question he's asked. Jin wipes his mouth with a cloth, and frowns. His eyes once again seek out Forrest's and this time he can't look away.
"I will end it." His tone is anchored with darkness; it haunts the insides of Forrest's ears. Jin gestures to himself, and Forrest realises his glare is fixated on his wrists; on the prominent, purple bulges of his veins. "This is my fate."
Forrest twists his fingers together.
"I guess you can't…"
"It can't be affected." The words are infused with finality. Jin is taut, his focus burning through Forrest, as if not seeing him at all. The air is cold, although all the windows are closed tight and the fan is beginning its long retirement into the winter months.
Forrest nods. He drains his cup and attempts a small smile.
"I know." He gets up and pats out the creases in his trousers. Jin lays his chopsticks in his bowl, taken aback. "Shall we begin, then?"
A pause. And then…
He'd woken that morning at exactly five o'clock. The sun is thin and breezy beneath the blinds in his bedroom. He interlocks his fingers on his chest and stares at the ceiling. He licks his lips, dry from the heat, and listens to the pummeling of his heart against his ribs.
The floorboards compress and decompress from behind his door. They are depressed with gentle, pacing footsteps. The clock ticks heavily, too fast and too slow.
The divides between him and the man in the hall shift and collide. Forrest mentally grasps it, and locks it deep within himself.
Lili is a blessed distraction. Her fabulous yellow hair is piled on top of her head, her white dress frilled and jeweled. She appears as he finally finishes locking up the house. Jin hurls his bag on his back and conceals himself in shadow.
The limo is a shimmering lick in the road. Forrest risks her indulgence for quirk by asking if she wants to walk to the harbor. Her eyes light up and she exclaims how wondrous an idea it is; how droll and provincial, a chance to observe the American peasantry as they go about their morning business!
Forrest doesn't even ask.
He has to half jog to keep up with her powerful, striding legs, the limo crawling behind them, but from the corner of his eye he spots a figure ducking through the alleys.
Jin is in the basement again.
It had been the first thing he'd said to him. A weak joke, yeah, but they had to break the ice somehow.
Jin is hidden in the jumbled mess of the hull. Forrest brings him down food stored in Tupperware, and blankets, and even jests about taking his temperature and bringing him hot milk. He's spent half the voyage with Lili and the other half with Jin. The churn and bob of the waves matches the insides of his stomach, but he's taken so many motion sickness pills the rest of the world seems drowsy and loosely sketched.
The middle of the hull floor offers a token of blessed balance. He sits cross legged, near a meditating Jin, and concentrates on his breathing. But even his thoughts are unsettled, jittery. The boat lurches once, twice. His teeth grind together.
His world rocks again as two arms reach around and pull him backwards, into the mild lift and fall of Jin's chest. Forrest's throat is as tight as sprung elastic and he fidgets in discomfort.
"Jin, what are you…"
"Breathe." Jin takes ahold of Forrest's lax wrists and pins them in front of his abdomen. "This will help. Breathe with me."
Somewhere above deck, Lili stamps about the cabins and calls for him. His phone, switched to silent, thrums and vibrates.
But Forrest allows his lungs to expand and deflate, his pulse and breath to meld in perfect tandem to Jin's heartbeat and the beat of his blood, and for a while they are one single entity until both the waves, and him, are calm.
In three days, they're in Japan.
"This is where we part."
The two of them have stolen away to under the pier. The sunlight sieves through the crumbling planks above them. Forrest shrugs at Jin's words, smiling all the way, but not wanting to contemplate why he'd walked so close to Jin as they'd snuck away.
"Do you always have to be so formal, Jin?"
"I thought you'd be used to me by now."
"I guess I am."
Sea foam licks at their shoes in tumbling waves of soapy bubbles. Minutes pass, tempered by the soft, sinking crash of the sea. Forrest hands Jin a paper bag. It's full of some food, a change of clothes (his size, but he's sure Jin isn't that different) and drink. Jin blinks, and in taking the bag, opens it and looks inside.
"Will you be alright, Jin?"
Jin places the bag in his duffel bag, as carefully as if it was made of porcelain. Jin straightens up, but his head is lowered, and his voice; downbeat, but tender.
"Thank you, Forrest."
Damn it, he really is formal.
"I mean, you don't have to be…"
"For everything. Thank you."
Forrest bobs his head, smiling, and this time, it is him who bows. Jin elegantly mimics the notion. A crab scuttles between them, burying itself into wet masses of sand.
A shiver passes down Forrest's back, clawing away at the base of his spine. When he looks up again, Jin is gone.
It's barely a day before his Dad spots him.
He'd been worried about talking to Lili. The banter of a common kitchen boy (a title she had unceremoniously lumbered him with) would surely make her yawn and observe the pristine edges of her French manicure. But Lili, always full of surprises, gorges herself on his advice and memories, and so spurred on by the "mighty call of battle" she even challenges him to fight in the middle of the canteen.
It's a step too far. A hand sweeps out of nowhere and he's swung back from Lili, away from the whispering glances of the other contestants and out into the hall.
At first he thinks it's security; that they'd taken Lili's flair for showcasing a little too literally. But he's sees the classic down turning of a hard lined mouth, the bristle of the "Dragon Beard" and god, is he in for it now.
"What in the world…" His father fists his collar and half lifts him off the ground. He's literally spitting through his bared teeth. "…do you think you're doing?" Despite his fierce hot fury, Forrest can see his father's eyes darting to every aspect of him; lingering, for a second, on his arm.
From around the corner, Paul appears. For some inexplicable reason, he's carrying about eight planks of wood under each arm. Upon seeing Forrest, they clatter and splinter on the tiled floor. Marshall barely has time to move before Paul's sudden charge runs him down flat. For a moment, a spontaneous terror rams itself through Forrest's head; was he going to strike him, because of the accident and the bike? Did he blame him?
Instead, he's gathered up in a crushing bear hug. Dad gulps and exclaims like a gold fish, before slamming his head in his hands. All Forrest can see is the dark, rather unpleasant crevice of Paul's armpit, but a hand the size of a saucer fondles the back of his head.
"Are you okay, Woody? How's the arm doing, buddy?"
"Better. Better, thanks Paul." Forrest attempts to pull back, namely for the salvation of his spine, but Paul's next question is so weirdly husky and mature it catches him right off.
"Are you sure, bud?"
And the white of the hospital room and the silence in the dusty dojo, and the glitter of the sun through Lili's hair and on the back of his mother's car, and Jin's fists colliding into the weeping mess of the sandbag and then into the half healed bones in his arm, and the gurgle and cry of the waves battling against the hull and the feeling of held breath, light and feverish, on his lips; it all blends into an amalgamation of sight and sensation and sound. It whisks itself inside Forrest like a fevered summer dream, before it cracks through and unfamiliar moisture builds in his eyes.
"I hope so." He balls his fists into the back of Paul's gi; buries his head in his shoulder. Concern of a different sort tightens the lines in his father's face. "I really hope so."
Lili doesn't last long in the tournament. The speed and grace of her self-made style is beaten down in less than five minutes by a feisty girl in blue. He's just coming out of the bathroom, toweling his hands dry, when two slender arms encircle his neck and she's blubbering inelegantly on his chest.
Just about to enter the lavatory is Steve Fox. He swings his focus onto a bewildered Forrest and the weeping girl, and with an easy smile, offers his friend thumbs up before closing the door behind him. Forrest weakly sighs, and with a carefully coordinated hand, pats her back gently.
"I-It's hopeless," She sniffs, rubbing the edges of her eyes with her fist and parts of his clothing. "A-A-All that training…"
"Was worth it," he says quickly. "Just because you didn't get it this time doesn't mean you won't next time." She emits another high, mewling wail, nails clawing into his collar. His hand tiptoes to the back of her head. He isn't sure, but he's got the feeling Steve's ear is stuck to the other side of the door. "Anyway…" He winces at the next line. "This may seem lame, Lili, but just enjoy the taking part. You've got a rival now, haven't you?"
She blinks owlishly up at him from within spats of pink, scented tissue and the very wet front of his shirt.
"Yeah," He steps back, amazed there aren't open, bleeding groves on his chest. He grins and hoists his fist up in an offensive stance. "That Kazama girl who nailed you? Well, aren't you going to get her next year?"
Suddenly Lili's face is awash with manic illumination.
Which is her usual, really.
"Of course…" Her hands fly up to her chin. "Revenge."
"I think revenge is a bit strong…"
"No, no, don't you see? This was a sign. A sign for me for go forth and sweeten the honeys of my strength!"
Forrest blinks again.
Lili pauses, suddenly self-aware, and sighs, flicking her hair.
"It gives me time to beat her, silly," Despite her tiresome tones, he can detect a softness rippling beneath her words. He freezes as her fingers drift to his chest; she twiddles his buttons beneath her finger and thumb. "You know, you've been really nice throughout this whole trip, Forrest."
It's the first time she's said his name. Not "kitchen boy" or a pun on the "forest" in "Forrest." Just his name, simple and sweet and tipping off her tongue. He has a sudden desire to flatten his hair.
"It's okay," He's said it before, to somebody else. He looks into Lili's eyes and suddenly feels terribly guilty. "You don't have to thank me, don't worry…"
She kisses him. It's a dry, warm pressure on his mouth, her lips sticky with gloss and he can taste the cherry balm. He pulls away as soon as she tiptoes to kiss him again; he grins, but his hands on her shoulders are firm. The gleam in her eyes is wicked, but spelled with an affectionate air and her cheeks are pink.
He pats her head like he would to a spunky kid.
"I'll look forward to seeing you soon, Forrest," she giggles, sweeping around on her heels and tottering down the hall. "Maybe next time I can face you in the tournament."
"Maybe," he whispers to himself, as the figure in white blows him one final kiss and vanishes around the corner.
His father doesn't win the tournament. He finishes fourth place, with a small bundle of consolation money. It's enough to keep them afloat for the next year maybe, but it doesn't touch their debts. Paul defeats the bear he hates so much, but when he arrives back to their lodgings he is shaking and pale, blood and fresh scars gouged deep into his chest and it takes everything Forrest has not to panic. Paul is naturally exhausted, and it is only then that Forrest sees the wear on his face, the worn away humps of his muscle, and the most powerful man he had ever known is just that; a man.
As they arrange travel arrangements for home, Forrest scans the local tournament newsletters, but the name he seeks is nowhere to be seen. Ling Xiaoyu is defeated by the long running contender Nina Williams, and after a year apart they meet each other in the flesh.
They meet in a café; her choice. They sit and talk until the coffee, untouched, is cold in their hands. He asks her about her reasons for entering the tournament. She smiles and giggles, although it is a little hollow, and she muses about how far one can take childish dreams. Forrest walks her home to her luxurious flat. She invites him up, but he is suddenly afraid, afraid of what might, could, or will not happen and declines.
The next day, they meet again.
When Paul goes to the local hospital to check up on his latest stitches, he needles Forrest relentlessly to accompany him, so Forrest finally gives in and tags along.
As he waits in the visitor's lounge, he explores the surrounding corridors and idly glances through a room window.
A man is wired up to what looks like a multitude of machines. His face and body is heavily bandaged, his skin sickly with sheens of sweat, but beneath his facial dressings Forrest spots a shock of red hair. The machine beeps slow and sad.
He places his hand over the glass. For a brief moment, the weight of his fingers plastered to where Hwoarang's hand rests is the only thing that stops his knees breaking through the floor tiles. Upon a closer analysis, he notes bruising on Hwoarang's arms, legs and torso; perfectly formed buttons of vicious mauve. His own arms begin to throb with memory and he feels sick.
A gentle cough breaks his stupor.
A middle aged man is observing him from a crack in the door. He is dressed in an immaculate suit, toying a fedora between his gloved fingers. His eyes are slanted and serious, but not unkind. Forrest shoves his hands in his pockets and moves away, back towards the waiting room and an impatient Paul.
Later, he returns. He gives the nurse a Tupperware of Hwoarang's favourite food and a small posy. In a way, he's glad Hwoarang isn't awake to see the flowers, save the endless bouts of scoffing, but only Forrest is aware of the meaning. The flower he leaves behind is a citron. In China, it is the purest sign of good luck.
At the airport, their passports are refused. The beaten martial artists and contenders of the now closed tournament are gathered together and are told they are to stay in Japan. Any professional martial artist or instructor, be it casual or dojo master, are declined an exit from the country.
This is the command of the new head of the Mishima Zaibatsu.
His phone thrums endlessly.
It draws him out of sleep. He's bunking on a torn up sofa in the flat above the small café Dad has managed to rent out. China Town in Japan is cramped, colourful and bustling. Marshall has secured a little opening just outside the main drags, in a rural area with livestock roaming the streets and tight, arching pathways. You can't go out after midnight without getting mugged, be it by loose poultry or the local thugs. The placement is on loan from an old friend. At the state of the place, Forrest isn't sure if this anonymous person isn't a previous enemy.
He crawls out of bed, battling sleep from his eyes with the back of his fist. The air drifting in through the cracked window is cool, rain speckled. He bumbles into Paul who is wrapped up in about three duvets on the floor. He utters one dull snore and turns over.
The phone continues to vibrate desperately. Through his sleepy vision, the blurred screen tells Forrest he has more than four missed calls.
When he answers it, Xiao's voice is a rush of sobs and questions. He half listens, trying to tighten his senses to each quivering timbre of her high, urgent voice.
Jin has just declared war on the world.
Early that morning, there are a string of explosions lining Koto and Kiba. There are sudden, furious crashes of sound and the earth rocks beneath their feet. Paul sits at the window and smokes heavily. His eyes are a crisp, brilliant, grave blue.
By the evening, Japan has surrendered.
Forrest attempts to call his mother that night. The phone lines are dead.
Forrest spies the picture of the front page. It's Jin, sliding out from the black door of a black limo, hair caught in the wind and eyes focused forward. It's not Jin.
It's Jin Kazama, head of the Mishima Zaibatsu.
It's like Forrest had never fully seen his face, only captured aspects of it; the full mouth visible beneath the shadows of a hanging hood, or the shimmers of moonlight in sad brown eyes as they walked back home after a day's training, or the blood dried on his knuckles or how his fingers closed around chopsticks with effortless elegance.
But this is different. It's like he is seeing his face fully for the first time, crystal cut and complete. Jin's face is sculpted with an icy apathy; each line exact, cruel, and beautiful. His hands are clean and manicured. His nose is long, symmetrical and fine. His mouth is full, soft. From his cheekbones to his chin, his face is constructed of perfect angles.
And in the rich chocolate of his sloe eyes, there is the most exquisite, detached disdain for the world and everything in it.
The world that now sits beneath the shining tips of his shoes.
The five months have crawled by.
Spring begins to revitalize on the earth. As Forrest sweeps the flagstones outside the café, he notes the emergence of several green buds breaking through the concrete. Green, fresh, delicate stalks, leaves opening as if to engulf the first clean spats of rebirthed air.
He lies down his brush, and crouching down on one knee, he catches a leaf between his fingers and pulls gently. It doesn't break or tear; it's seated deep into the ground, and the lines surrounding his eyes soften.
"Pulling the weeds, son?" Marshall appears from behind a row of tables, plates stacked high in his hands. "That's a good idea. Presentation is vital in the drawing of prey."
Forrest rubs his temples.
Marshall's grin is practically sharkish.
He staggers through the door, slamming it behind him. Forrest, now alone, stands and retrieves his brush. In turn, the weeds are ignored.
The warmth is just beginning to prickle, to discomfort, to tousle his sheets with sweat. Paul still snores and stirs on the bedroom floor. At first Forrest thought he would hate sharing his room; hate the mumbling and fidgeting and god damn inhuman noise flapping from Paul's lips. But the rough old fighter is an earthy presence, safe and familiar, and his noisy slumber keeps Forrest's dreams from falling prey to the humidity of the encroaching summer and the unsettling beckon of nightmares.
He sits up on the couch. The blankets are tangled around his knees; the air is stuffy and close. He licks his dry lips and listens for the occasional rustling animal outside the window. But tonight, there is nothing.
Forrest treads lightly around Paul, who has managed to spread out like a pointy haired starfish. He treks downstairs, steals a snack from the fridge, and places himself on the windowsill beside the main kitchen. When he was a boy he would perch on the large window in the Law dojo, kicking his legs backwards and forwards, and watching Dad train and Paul heckle and even that scary time when they fell out and fought for real.
His phone rings. The ringtone is a twinkling, giddy mess; Xiao had tampered with it, he just knows it. Grinning at the memory, he flicks it back and raises it to his ear.
"Yo. Thanks for the free Tupperware."
The next five minutes glides past in a slick, surreal mess of sensation.
Hwoarang's voice is thick, as if ridden with anguish and Forrest isn't sure if it is from the pain of his healing wounds or something deeper, a little darker, out of his reach. Hwoarang is so full of fire, so maddened by the constant burning embers of his spirit, that people label him as a hot headed punk and leave it at that. But Forrest knows that beneath lurks a hollowed space of cool, callous ice. It taints his words with frost when he hisses the name, near silent and poisonous, through the cranked static of the line.
It's a proposal. A call to arms. A request.
Forrest's gaze drifts to his open palms. His fingers curl into fists. For a moment, the air is cool and golden dim with a figure materializing in the doorway. But that moment passes; everything is hot, his hair is frazzled by humidity and his eyes ache with sleep.
He refuses. Quietly, at first. Usually, he would make an excuse, but nowadays he doesn't need one.
There is silence on the other side of the phone.
Then a gaggle of words, strangled streams of mottled vowels and he's swearing in Korean, isn't he, the pretentious bastard. Forrest grits his teeth and exhales, inhales, but Hwoarang is like the turbulent assault of waves lashing and dragging the ships down to soapy, ink black depths, but Forrest won't drown in it he won't he won't he won't.
He tells him, straight off, that it is suicide. That there is enough death, enough destruction, slapping its smoky hands on the windows of the world, save them charging in with more weapons and resistance with all the use of indignant ants in the wake of a thundering, careless elephant.
Hwoarang, suddenly as sharp and as cold as a knife, calls him a coward.
Forrest's reply doesn't feel like him. It feels detached, as if falling from the lips of another being entirely. He closes his eyes and sees a pair of brown eyes, stung amber, boring into his. He shivers, but the words come anyway.
"No. I'm just brave enough to see and accept the world as it is."
He doesn't wait for the next insult, the next silence, the new and impressive refusal. He clicks the phone off and lays it beside him on the windowsill. Light trickles in through the spider web cracks in the window. The screen is blank and the phone is motionless.
He leaves it on the windowsill. The sill itself is too narrow from him anyway, and it was foolish to try to sit there in the first place.
He creeps back up the stairs, to Paul and the couch.
He's walking through the streets leading to the colourful, clustering mess of China Town. His arms are heaving with budget groceries, but he's sneaked an apple from one of the paper bags, which he knows is suicide because Dad makes a point of counting. Every. Single. One.
Paul gabbers beside him, telling some story about a fight over his driving skills on Japanese highways and Forrest is nodding and joking even if he's heard it so many times he's beginning to believe it happened to him.
A blur of black, from the corner of his eye.
"Forrest? You okay, buddy?"
The groceries had hit the floor. His half eaten apple is sadly rolling away.
A black car, on the opposite road. As if sensing his scrutiny, it pulls off the curb and screeches away.
"Woody? Earth to Woody…"
"I'm fine." He kneels to collect the groceries. His throat burns. "I'm good, Paul. Give me a hand, eh?"
Xiao strolls beside him, her satchel bumping against her leg. She giggles, fluttering her fingers in front of his face. She'd phoned him earlier. Something about a walk to the library and a fine she had to pay.
And how she didn't want to do it alone.
He blinks, swatting her hand. His fingertips brush the inside of her palms. He hooks his index finger around her thumb, and grins as she pulls away, pouting. Panda, trouping beside them, growls almost ironically.
"Xiao. I hope you realise Dad's going to kill me for going out. There was this whole pile of dishes with my name on it, y'see…"
"Forrest..." She has a way of making his name lift and dance on her tongue. "Your Dad has got to let you live a little. He's always so cross all the time."
Forrest shrugs his iconic shrug.
"Yeah, it's a pain. He cares really, I…"
White light. Blinding. Like sun on snow. A crashing wave of wind and fire. It sweeps into his face, into his ears, his eyes. For a moment he thinks he's floating, as if he's just slipped into some mad blind spot of existence. But there are sudden, dull shocks of pain ebbing down his legs and spine and the pavement burns beneath him.
The library, or what was the library, has been dissected into large clumps of torn brick and wood and wire. Dust collects into the air like an angry swarm, cloaking everyone and everything and there is this quiet, this silence and he can't fathom why there is no screams or prayers or sirens. There's just nothing…
The sky is cruel and sunny on the scattered shrapnel and as Forrest shakes the glass from his hair, he sees it's laced with blood. His body is sore and aching, but he can move, he can move. The white of his uniform is filthy brown and the clever stitching job his mother did on the cuff has become undone.
And then it settles in his mind; a horrid, candid clarity.
It echoes. Through, around, and then back to him.
He scours the landscape, but it's as if whatever the hell had hit them has gouged a wound in the earth and the air. Everything is scabbed by large, impregnable mounds of jagged debris. The whole world is drowning in brilliant monochrome.
A spark of pink. It's one of her bracelets, hanging loose on a pale, limp little arm. She's barely visible beneath what looks like a loose board heaving with shattered stone, and the second it takes between him trying to reach her and attempting to lift the thing seems to stretch out a lifetime.
There is no blood. Well, as far as he can see, but her body is white and tiny and crumpled. Her pink phone, always dangling with good luck Chinese charms, is smashed by her right arm and he can see the glassy remains of her favourite yin yang marble. Her hair is slipping out of her bunches in black, tumbling waves and then he sees the blood, matted and dark and tangled in her fringe.
His knees hit the gravel. Glass presses into his pants and splits through; he ignores it and rests his hand on her shoulder. She feels so small, so fragile beneath his hand and he can feel the hard pressure of her collar bone against his fingers.
Her eyelids don't even quiver.
All Xiaoyu ever does is move. She totters and pirouettes and bounces and spins him in circles. Hwoarang hates it and Jin is indifferent but he always liked it, liked her life and dimensions and easy, uncomplicated sweetness. But now she is motionless. Static. Silent.
But there is movement.
Her chest rises and falls in tiny, shallow motions and she releases a mouse sized moan.
Oh god oh god oh god…
When he lifts her, he expects her to be heavier then she looks but she is pixie sized and fairy light. As if by clockwork, her arms weakly lift and close around his neck. He stumbles through the wrecked street, the wrecked houses, the wrecked city. His feet seem to walk on unsustainable, terror tinged air, and the silence spreads and suffocates until a shout shatters it.
The warehouses they've just entered are mostly undamaged from the explosion, but the road leading away from them is buckled and broken. Forrest realises that there are people milling around him; they appear from behind billboards and half turned over dustbins.
They circle him; strings of hard, angry faces and torn clothes and weather beaten skin. Their gazes lower to Xiaoyu, and one of them narrows his eyes and whispers in the ear of his friend. Forrest's closes her body a little closer into his chest.
A sudden moment of quiet, barely a breath, and…
Before the guy can move even a centimetre closer, he's hailed to the heavens by a power jab. It's as if someone flipped a switch. As the circle goes to close, he finds his voice.
"We want no trouble," He covers her head with his hand. She stirs and shivers. "She's hurt. I'm hurt. We got caught in the explosion near the town centre." He jerks his head back in the direction from whence they came. He knows that beyond the warehouses is a straight route to the hospital. Mishima ran, sure, but Xiaoyu is still a ward and he still begs that somehow, somewhere, Jin still cares. "We'll just go forward and we'll be out of your hair, okay?"
"Not likely." Oh god, this is hardly the time for the red headed youth with the hob nailed boots to crawl out of the woodwork, but here he is none the less. Hwoarang crosses his arms and smirks. "She's a ward of the Zaibatsu. She could be useful to us."
From over Hwoarang's shoulder, another man appears. He's older, close to his father's age, his fedora tilted over his eyes. His face is sombre and stricken with shallow lines. He moves closer to his student, a weathering hand suspended over Hwoarang's shoulder.
"She's no good to you dead," Forrest exclaims, but he is already calculating the odds of battling his way out of this, even if more of the members of the gang are tramping outside to see the gathering commotion. He doesn't read the papers that much, but he catches the news occasionally. This is none other than the homegrown resistance. "Don't you see? She could die if I don't get her to…"
"We have medical supplies within our base," the older man's voice is low, but it channels an instinctive authority and Forrest's tongue has gone lax. Baek Doo San steps forward, next to Hwoarang, who seems to lower his head slightly. Beneath his hat, his eyes are as hard as graven stone. "But she is a part of the Zaibatsu. And you have seen too much." He perceives the fallen man, and mirrors Hwoarang's smirk. "You may even be useful to us."
Xiao, barely conscious, whimpers and her fingernails curl into Forrest's t-shirt. Hwoarang spots this; the muscle in his cheek twitches and he sneers and looks away.
"She needs professional help." Forrest decrees, even if he struggles to capture the gaze of his old friend. "Hwoarang, please…"
"Shut up already," Hwoarang hisses, even as his master's temples crease and his eyes skim from his pupil to Forrest and then back again. "You said you didn't want to be a part of this, didn't you? And now look…" His eyes flash. He cracks his knuckles. "You've walked right in it. You can help our cause, or you can make this really hard on yourself."
Heat begins to claw Forrest's insides and a red mist poisons his sight. The sudden notion of his fist smashing through the beaten up biking goggles and forcing the teeth out of that smirk shines in illustrious colour in his mind, before he closes his eyes and breathes out, allowing it to diminish.
Forrest looks straight at Hwoarang.
"This cause is a lost one." He cradles Xiao closer. His fingers ghost her back to feel the heady thump of her heart. "You're hurting people because of this resistance. It's just making everything worse."
"The world is warped enough as it is," Baek Doo San crosses in front of Hwoarang. He's standing close to Xiao, and the rage buds once more. "We will do whatever it takes to achieve our goal."
Forrest ignores him, his glare fixed on Hwoarang, who is slowly beginning to ball his fists at this scrutiny.
"This hasn't got anything to do with saving the world." He almost spits the words out. "You're so wrapped up in your man crush for Kazama that you'd rather let other people suffer then damn get over it."
A dull ringing echoes in his ears. There is an absence of movement, of sound, of breath from the surrounding members, and they press back, exchanging quick and agitated glances. Forrest freezes; his very vocal chords are stunned and his arms pang with the weight of Xiao.
From the corner of his eye; a flash of black and white.
Hwoarang regards him with an arctic expression, but the air crackles with a boiling erraticism and Forrest knows, knows he's not just singed the edges of his friend's ego, but he's ripped it right through and nothing, nothing can be the same. The crimson shades in his vision wane and are replaced with blustering shivers that rack up and down his body. It almost tips off the edge of his tongue, but Hwoarang's eyes are slits and his body thrums with a creeping violence. The biker boy tries to smirk, but his lips won't obey and his teeth chatter and gnash in his mouth.
"What's this, Daddy's Boy?" Hwoarang's voice is a slinking, guttural purr and Forrest has never heard that before. His attentions dart to the shine of his hobnailed boots, which are sliding into a fighting stance. Baek Doo San, having gained his bearings, draws in closer to Forrest's side, but his head keeps snapping back to Hwoarang in fretful patterns. "Gonna insult me with an apology?"
Something large and furry slams into the gaping crowd.
Panda looms from behind Baek; with a slap from its paw, it sends the older man flying into the ground. He leaps back, aiming a high kick into the creature's neck, but Panda ducks, initiating Hwoarang into the fight.
Forrest lunges past Hwoarang's incoming foot; he hits the ground, rolls, Xiao still caged in his arms, and flees towards the warehouses. There are yells, shouts, screams spinning in the air around him; eating into his head. He swears, for one second, that there is the sound of gunfire.
The warehouses themselves are based within labyrinth like pathways; Forrest plunges left, right, left. His heart beats wildly, his adrenaline set to dizzying heights, before…
Quiet. Sudden, quivering quiet.
He pants; his gasps for air the loudest thing in the ruined street. From above the surrounding houses, the whitewashed walls of the Mishima hospital beckons like a silent prayer.
When he staggers in, barely walking himself, Xiao draped around him, they identify the ward of the Mishima Zaibatsu and instantly, there is panic. She's ripped from his hands, strapped and stripped down, an oxygen mask pulled on her face. She vanishes between two swinging doors of a blinding, barren white, and he is left, bleeding and weak, in the waiting room.
He leaves quickly, before they can ask any questions. Outside, the ruckus that had deserted them earlier is in full swing. Helicopters zig zag through the skies. Relief teams insultingly supplied by Jin Kazama spill into the blasted areas in a screaming chorus of sirens.
Forrest slips down the stairs, heading toward the back alley. It's the last day of summer. The golden sheen of the fading sun burns his back in a final farewell.
Jin's face, on the television.
Always his face.
The leaves begin to rot in droves of dry, sunset colors. The streets become bare and grayscale.
There are cars following him through backstreets. Men in black slinking around the bustling entrance to China Town; disappearing if approached. Sirens late into the night. The corroded, ruined mess of the warehouses a stain on Japan's landscape.
The resistance is blamed. Nobody believes it, of course, but the entire world is so bound by fear they allow Kazama to donate a memorial in the memory of the twenty five injured and the fifty dead. Some call it a memorial. Others a warning.
Forrest sticks close to the house, the café, the streets he has begun to memorize. He has this apprehension about venturing outside China Town's walls; like a child frightened to take the path home through the woods. It's stupid, his Dad says he's imagining things, but it's as if something is awaiting him within the hooded shadows of the trees.
But there is someone who needs to see him. Who he needs to see.
Xiao is still at the hospital, and he visits her steadily throughout October until he awakes one morning to a monsoon outside his window.
November has arrived.
The streets are grey lengths in the drizzled mists of rain. Forrest slings his drawstring bag on his back, trundling through the puddles that soak their way up to his shins. He'd just been to the hospital. Again. The Chinese dumplings he'd bought her had gone cold. She drifts out of consciousness, her brain waves jumbled, and her speech slurred and whispering. She'd almost dropped into a trauma induced coma, they said. No brain damage. Breakages, of course, but right now they are keeping her stable.
"She'll be fine," said the nurse with eyes that have seen too much in too little a time. "She's a ward of the Mishima Zaibatsu. Mr. Kazama is only providing her with the best and most professional care."
The November air is chilly and wet. The warm, moist summer evenings are well and truly dead. His mother is in America; he can imagine the small lights of the aging family home, with her eating fried squid and watching old murder mystery reruns. Her hands are worn but soft, with domesticity and cooking and sewing. They aren't hard and toughened from fights, and all the lights in the dojo are off and the equipment packed away. He imagines the crinkles surrounding her smile and the weight of her fingers brushing his shoulder, and he realises his feet have slowed to the point of where the water dripping from his shoes are making their own puddles.
He's seen the limo from around the corner, but it taken him a moment to see that it had reduced its speed into a crawl behind him. It's a black shimmer in the shadows of near midnight, and in its reflection, he is but a glimmer in the darkness, for he is clad in the stunning whites of his cooking uniform. As he pauses, it finally stops, as if in acknowledgment of his stagnancy. The windows are blacked out and the glass, from what he can see, is of an unnatural thickness.
Forrest's chest begins to heave. He eyes the surrounding streets, but they seem to go on forever, and by some perverse accord, his feet are fastened to the ground.
The door clicks open. A heel braces itself on the pavement.
The woman is dressed entirely in black, matching the limo and night and even the gleaming sides of her leather shoes. Her hair is an ash blonde, tied back in a tight ponytail, and she is beautiful in a clinical, impersonal way. Her eyes are electric blue. She appraises him coolly.
"Yes." He pulls the bag off his shoulder and rests it by his feet. "That's me."
"Hm." She sizes him up slowly, drinking in every detail, and nods, satisfied. Then, without a word, she steps out of the limo, and beckons him to the open door.
He hesitates. One hand still fondles the string of his bag, but her eyes darken and she points, steadfast, into the smoky dimness of the waiting carriage.
Slowly, so slowly, he bows to her, mentally damning his own politeness, and places one foot inside.
From outside, the limo had seemed wealthy but slick and compact. But inside, it seems to branch out into a miniature luxury lounge. The light is faint, indistinct, tinted with red. The floors, the walls, are clad in a velvety mauve and the cushioned leather seats are a savage scarlet. Opposite him is a silk padded mini bar, decked with wines that aided by his culinary expertise, he knows to be of unbelievable quality and price.
And right at the end, sat next to a bodyguard, is a man possibly wearing the most expensive suit he's ever seen.
Jin Kazama had been, has been, is, watching him. His gaze is lined with a faint, heated intent. In his left hand he toys with a glass of red wine, caressing its rim with one long, angled finger. His lips quirk in a smile that doesn't reach his eyes.
The bodyguard stands up, and earning a nod from his boss, moves toward Forrest with a dilatory step. As Forrest looks at him, his features suddenly sharpen in his mind and he gasps.
He recalls the haunted, but decent youth in the third tournament. The one who'd shown him where the arena was when he got lost on the way to his first fight. But Eddy stares right through him, his very presence a large, numb void. But he glances at Jin, and then back at Forrest. His eyes narrow beneath his shades and he goes to mouth a single word.
"Mr. Gordo." Jin's voice is too smooth, too slick. "Please escort yourself outside with Ms. Williams."
Eddy is clenched with a sudden, volcanic energy and in one startling flashback, Forrest is reminded of Hwoarang. But it fades as soon as it appears, for he once again moves past Forrest, an obedient shadow and nothing more.
The door slams and Forrest is alone, alone with him.
Jin crosses his legs. His smile has melted into a fine, unreadable line. At first, Forrest reckons it's a humble gesture, a little more in character with the man he remembers, but Jin's signature apathy is embellished around the arching tips of his eyebrows.
"We have some things to discuss." Without offering, Jin retrieves a decanter from the cabinet beside him. The brandy is glazed, rich, honeyed amber. Even from the sight of it, Forrest can feel the inside of his throat curling up into smoldering tatters. Or maybe that is the burning breath he's holding in. Jin observes him from beneath his eyelashes; Forrest shivers, but it isn't from the winter's chill.
"The chair doesn't bite." He adds coolly; he places his guest's glass by the opposing seat, and lightly sips his own drink. All Forrest can manage in response is a quick little nod and he perches on the end of the opposite chair. This is possibly a good thing, because Lord knows if his legs could have sustained him much longer.
Jin places the decanter back onto the mini bar. The glass twinkles like his mother's wind chimes. Jin, his eyes still drawn to a frowning Forrest, places his hands in his lap. The floor beneath them jolts slightly, and the limo is moving, shifting gently along. The dark windows conceal the watery moonlight.
"Jin…" His voice is small, even to his own ears. He swallows. Jin interlocks his fingers together and rests his chin on his knuckles. "What is this about?"
"Hm…" Jin parts his lips slightly; Forrest is very briefly fascinated. It's like there is a hot irritant prickling his skin; it's oddly familiar. It doesn't take him long to figure out that Jin is returning his attentions from beneath the half closed walls of his eyelids. The trademark heat of his iron wrought stare. "I have a proposal for you."
The chair creaks as Forrest leans back.
"You're catching on."
Forrest would have asked him how he was, as if they were old school friends who hadn't seen each other in years. But he remembers the bulletins, and the phone calls, and the censoring of the television networks, and the flame of Hwoarang's hair; that in his mind melts and elevates and becomes the sunlight sparking off Xiao's plastic pink bracelets. There are so many things they want to say to him. So many things he, at one time, would have half died to divulge. But here, the spaces between them are different. And he can't say anything.
Or maybe that was one of the reasons why Jin could tolerate him.
"Your family…" Jin circles the inside of his brandy glass. "…according to my sources, are deep in debt."
Forrest makes a concentrated effort to keep his mouth closed.
"And…" His words cut across the first glimpse of a breathless question. "…are facing bankruptcy for the third time. Is this true, Mr. Law?"
"You know it is, Jin," Forrest replies softly. His throat shifts as he gulps. "I told you, remember?"
It had been a while back; well, back at that time, where the summer was long and cool and kind. It turned out that the man who was hiding in his basement was a keen observer. Jin never asked questions, and Forrest never spoke about his father, until after a training session Jin had wondered, openly, where his parents were. Forrest shrugged and threw out the ugly, domestic mess in one sentence; his parents were separating, money was and always had been tight, and it was just the way of the world, really. And Jin had merely offered a dutifully empathic glance, although his eyes were dull and Forrest had wondered what he was thinking.
"Indeed." Forrest is aware of being scanned; Jin focuses on the immaculate white of his cooking uniform, before they draw, once again, to his arm. "I also have intel that your father, according to his credit records, has more than once assorted a wide collection of liquor."
Forrest's chest is suddenly terribly, terribly tight.
Jin mercifully chooses to pause, taking the opportunity to finish his drink, and lifts an eyebrow at the whitening of Forrest's knuckles.
"It was once." Forrest conditions his voice to resemble stone. He tries to imagine himself as being of, and as, stone. But Jin is there, right there, and everything is so so wrong. "His restaurant failed. We lost everything. It was hard."
"That isn't what we're to discuss."
"I have a solution to your dilemmas." Jin tilts his head towards his guest's untouched drink; Forrest hesitates, before reaching for it slowly. "All your debts shall be annulled. As long as you are compliant..." The glass freezes, half way, to Forrest's mouth. "…then you shall earn yourself an enviable income."
He lowers the glass.
"I don't understand."
"I thought money spoke to the Law family."
Forrest visibly winces, binding his fingers around the brandy glass. Jin is silent for a second, allowing the sting to settle, before he continues.
"This isn't charity, Forrest. Like everything in this world, it comes with a price."
"You're acting as if you're making me an offer I can't refuse," Forrest says quietly. A shadow of a smirk teases Jin's mouth. It isn't at all pleasant.
"You will work for me." There wasn't much levity to begin with, but Jin's voice is now anchored with dead pan darkness. "You will act in accordance with the Zaibatsu. You will answer to nobody but me. You shall be by my side at any cost or in any situation. You will be contracted to the Mishima Zaibatsu."
He lowers his head. Shadows crown his brow, yet his eyes seem to glint a faint copper.
"In short, you will effectively belong to the Mishima Zaibatsu."
Forrest places the glass back on the side.
"I thank you for your time, Mr. Kazama," He says flatly. His heart is convulsing viciously in his chest. The beat of frenzied blood deafens his thoughts, but outside there is nothing but sheer, weighted silence. From his leather seat, Jin watches impassively as Forrest bows. "But this is one offer I cannot accept. Good night."
His feet feel as if they're skidding on air. He's barely half way to the door when Jin's voice, suddenly soft, harsh, slithers through the unbearable silence; needling its way into his head.
"I would consider your options before you go through that door." He brings forth a folder that has, so far, been concealed beside him. In Forrest's peripheral vision he sees Jin open it, slipping aside each page and photo with the tip of his fingers, as if such trivial matters don't deserve his attention. "For there are some things that may act against your favour."
"What do you mean?" Forrest turns back; Jin smirks. It was the desired reaction, and Forrest knows it. "I don't understand."
Within the confines of the grey folder, he snatches a glimpse of a photo. His mother, arms bundled with groceries, heading towards her car. Dad, arguing with Paul outside a bank. His eyes rake up slowly, slowly, until they meet Jin's.
Jin closes the folder with a loud snap.
"Why are you doing this?" His words are so quiet, so small, to his ears. He rubs the back of his hand against his forehead. When it comes away, his palms are clammy with sweat. "Was my cooking that bad?"
It's the first reminder of what came before. But it seems Jin is impervious to such things, as he is now impervious to everything and Hwoarang hates him for it and Xiao loves him blindly despite it and him, well, what the hell is he supposed to think?
Jin runs his index finger down the spine of the folder. The hair on Forrest's neck prickles.
"Those are just photos," He turns back to the door, turning away, once again, from Jin. Ice cold sickness dips in his gut. "You have no proof of anything. And there isn't anything to have any proof of."
"So you think," is Jin's smooth reply. He taps his nails on his arm rest. He cocks his head in Forrest's direction. "Tell me, what do you know of the resistance?"
It shows in Forrest's face. And it shows in Jin's face as well.
"My family has nothing to do with it," he whispers.
"They are guilty by association," Jin replies coldly.
"What will you do?"
"That depends on you," Jin holds out the folder to him. Forrest, his legs weak but his insides boiling, crosses the compartment and takes it. Jin's small excuse for a smile is practically poisonous.
"Why me?" Forrest glowers at the floor. He can't look at this man, he can't. "How am I to be of any use to you? You have Nina…" His eyes dart to the car door, but it remains shut and silent. "And Eddy. I'm just a kitchen boy from the slums."
"You shouldn't think so low of yourself," Jin relaxes his shoulders, but his eyes are illuminated beneath the muted blaze of the overhead light. "You have a special kind of… knowledge."
Jin's eyelids lower to the level of Forrest's arm.
The fervor can be felt.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes, you do."
"Then why did you need me contracted?" He struggles to find reason. Logic has to be found somewhere, in the dark of that jolting compartment, slithering through the rain like a black, limbless monster. "What does this have to do with my family?"
"Consider it a greater purpose," Jin drawls slowly, but he leaves it at that. "You will be liberated from your droning duties. Isn't that…" The edge of his mouth curves slowly upward. "What you wanted, Forrest?"
Jin looks at him. Straight through him.
The binding of the folder cracks between Forrest's hands.
"And if I refuse?"
"You won't," Jin's eyes have begun to retain a glassy quality; as if this prolonged confrontation is boring him."As there are others that may suffer from your refusal."
The rain has swelled into a bloated heave of thunder and gale. It drums its watery fists down on the roof. The moonlight, Forrest imagines, is brittle upon the rain slickened streets. The emergence of stormy clouds makes it patchy, thin, opaque. The world is coming apart.
"She…" Forrest rises to his feet. There is a sudden irritation, a jostling of whispers and moving shadows behind the compartment door. "She almost died because of you. That bomb could have killed us both." He narrows his eyes. "And she cares, even after…how can you even…"
"Will you do it?" Jin remains still, seated.
A new, frightening obedience weighs on Forrest's shoulders.
"Yes," he says weakly.
When Nina reappears, she is holding the paperwork under her arm. She snatches a glance at Forrest, who signs it quickly, and reads it afterwards, because it makes no odds what order he does it in. Jin, unmoved, remains in his seat and sips his refilled glass.
"You have three days. Pack your things. On the evening of the third day, you shall be collected."
He nods dumbly at Nina's words. The inside of him is stripped bare, numbed, and he half expects that if he shakes his head a certain way this will all be revealed as a nightmare.
"Do you not care?" It's one last question. It's one that has been thrown at Jin before, he knows that much.
"Power is everything," Jin repeats his signature line, but its deftness creeps into Forrest's skin, into his head, into the tightening cage of his chest.
"You can't even control your own power," he says it flat out, in front of a skillfully silent Nina and an indifferent Eddy, and he opens the car door. The lights of China Town are a constellation of glowing smudges in the nightly mist.
Jin brushes beside him, soft and almost immaterial, as if he occupies the space between senses and existence. Forrest hadn't heard the creak of leather as he'd risen from his chair or the tread of his expensive shoes on the plush carpet. Maybe Jin hadn't been real to him to begin with.
"Well, now," His breath flutters over Forrest's mouth. Forrest holds his breath, suddenly conscious of a troubling truth. "That will no longer be a problem, will it?"
Forrest grabs his bags, and bolts from the limo, from the bodyguards, from Jin, into the place which he no longer can call home.
The kitchen is empty. The cooking utensils have been left abandoned in the sink. The tap releases an idle drip.
He's sitting at the table. The shadows enclose him, muffling him, wrapping him up tight. If he sits still enough, he may meld into them and vanish.
A newspaper is on the side. One of Paul's daily rags. Forrest turns it over slowly, blocking out the headlines.
If he should feel anger, he can't. It's as if his entire world has been punctured by a hydraulic needle loaded with anesthetic. The air he breathes is weightless and drifting in his lungs. His head is light and unfocused. The events of the previous hour have all the fibers of a dream.
As he'd walked back, the streets had been void of thugs. Of forgotten poultry twittering and pecking at his laces. Of anyone. Of anything.
"What am I to do now?"
He mouths it to no one, and gets no answer.
A clatter of dishes shoots him upright.
The room is soaked in crisp November sunlight. His father manifests into his sight, arms packed with groceries. He smirks as Forrest rubs his eyes.
"Asleep on the table, son? Couldn't stand Paul's snoring anymore, could you?" He dumps the whole load in the sink. The tap is switched on in a noisy avalanche of freezing water. "I remember sharing a room with him at the first two tournaments. They broke down our door at three am because they thought we were murdering someone."
We goes on, recounting in spritely detail the story Forrest has heard many, many times. He watches his father's back, silent as the grave, until Marshall turns, puzzled. He's cleaning the grit off their large, infamous wok.
"It isn't like you to indulge me." The wok is placed gently on the drying rack. "Is everything alright, son?"
His tongue is a dry heap in his mouth. Somehow, he manages to work it.
"We won't have to worry about our debts anymore, Dad," he stares at the woven patterns in the wood table. "It's all going to be fine."
The drying rack is clattered back into place. Dad faces his son fully, his arms crossing in front of his full, defined chest. When he was a child, Forrest had been seriously impressed by his Dad's physical feats. Now he can do all the same and even more. He focuses on the grey beginning in his father's hair.
"What do you mean, Forrest? We've got a long way…"
"They're all going to be paid off," Forrest snaps suddenly. He regrets it as soon as the words leave his lips. Marshall frowns, his forehead creasing dramatically. Forrest swallows, and continues, a little quieter. "I-I've got a job."
"Don't be silly. You have a job." Marshall turns his back, screwing the tap so tight it's a miracle it doesn't come off in his hand. "You work here, with your old man, and you are an instructor in a dojo."
An instructor in the dojo…
"No, Forrest," The faulty tap finally stems its flow to a single plink. "This is the end of it. I'm hearing no more on the subject."
"You have a duty to this family, and I'm not just having you walk out…"
"I don't have a choice," He bursts out, slamming his palm, hard, on the table. In its wake is left a trembling quiet. "I don't have a choice, okay?"
Marshall swivels, very slowly, back towards Forrest. A deeper, more conscious worry is beginning to mark his face.
"What do you mean…?" He whispers, as if in disbelief. "You don't have a choice?"
"It's…" The opposing chair creaks. Dad sits beside him, and for the first time, he's listening. "It's Mishima. I made a deal that I can't back out of. Everything…the pay…"
"Mishima?" Yes, most definitely disbelief. His hand has wandered over to Forrest's arm, and he seizes it, squeezing in what Forrest hopes is a supportive manner. His father is still muttering in that deep, low voice. "What do Mishima want with you? I mean, you've never…"
The story, the truth, tingles the edge of his tongue. But the bask of sunlight recoils in his memory and shines in red eyes and sharpening teeth. Pointedly, he glances at the sink.
You have a special kind of knowledge.
"I'm sorry." He adjusts his eyes, his face, away from his father and counts the lines in his hands. "I can't give you that information."
His father's knuckles tighten.
He's wrenched forward, his stomach lurching. The supportive hand has become a stern one.
"How dare you talk to me like I'm some sort of…" His face seems to tear at the sides. A kind of helpless realization is beginning to stain the inside of his eyes. "…client. I'm your father, Forrest."
Forrest breaks from Marshall's gaze.
"You keep saying that," he says, rising to his full height. He paces around the kitchen in fretful, furious steps. "You're always saying that. You're my son…" He pauses, and blinks owlishly in Forrest's direction. A lump rises in his throat. His Dad suddenly looks old. Very old. "Have I done something? Is that it? Am I to blame? Don't you want to be here anymore?"
"It's not like that." He keeps his tone devoid of expression. Weary, but steady. A moist heat behind his eyelids. He bats it away. "I just…don't a choice. They…" He closes his eyes and sighs. He looks up, finally, in his Dad's direction. "…threatened you. The family."
"Threatened us?" He narrows his eyes. "What do you mean, threatened us? You know your old man can take care of any nasty business. Don't you remember…" He gestures wildly, heralding back to another tale Forrest can recite detail to detail. "…that time with the woman in the restaurant? The crooks. We completely…"
"Mishima has threatened you, Dad," Forrest adds quietly.
"Oh." His father's arms drop limp to his side. He sits down opposite, and nods, agitated. "Oh."
He doesn't believe me, Forrest thinks. Or he doesn't realize.
A crack has appeared where his hand made contact with the table.
For the next half hour, they exchange glances. And then they don't look at each other at all.
Dad barks orders whenever he sees him, working him relentlessly on each tiny detail, be it the food or the cleaning, so he finally shrugs and slips out.
He doesn't like the look in his father's eyes. It's as if he's trying to comprehend him, squinting so hard and long at every aspect of him that Forrest fears it could tear him apart. Something has been changed, altered, the stitching and silence of their relationship rocked and disturbed. His father feels it as well, because he doesn't go after him.
The daylight hours seem to flit by, quick and cruel, the light whipping over the ground in nervous gusts. Soon, the sky is darkening and he has nowhere to go but home.
Forrest has spent his time in cafes, consuming the dead end bite of black coffee, as it is all he can afford. He can't sleep. He doesn't want to sleep, because the horrid reality of last night will creep upon him like a large black spider and run him senseless until he doesn't know what way is up, and the time will fasten itself to each thump of his heart until Jin has him, finally, in his grasp.
You can escape your droning duties. Isn't that what you wanted, Forrest?
He hates his name on Jin's tongue, hates how it is smoothed and streamlined and how he can now never say no to it. He hates how he madly blinded himself to each new, terrible leap of Jin's tyrannical rule. He should have listened to…
Hwoarang. Oh god, Hwoarang. That friendship, no matter how fragile or fleeting it had been, was now dead in the dust. It wasn't that Hwoarang bore a grudge. It was just that he would never forgive.
He's sitting on the pavement, outside the closed café. The sun is setting early, just before half past four, in a glorious and golden gush. Light shimmers on the rain water ducking between his shoes.
At least she would be safe. Him doing this, no matter how costly, would guarantee her safety. The weight in his chest lessens. He snickers bitterly, shaking his hair with his fingers. She would never want to talk to him again, most certainly, but at least she was alive.
A pair of cracked biker boots has stopped by his knees.
The metallic clink of a lighter. A snatch of ash tumbles to his lap.
Forrest notes how the drain water is soaking through his laces.
The person above exhales. A rolling cloud of smoke cascades into Forrest's face. His eyes water. He squeezes them tight.
"You can't ignore me forever, kid."
He takes the bait.
"For god's sake, Paul…"
"Yo, no excuses," Paul plants his foot up on the pavement; practically looming over the top of Forrest's head. Paul rests his elbow on his knee, and Forrest doesn't bother to look up, but he can imagine the fire radiating through the sharp blue of his friend's eyes. "I've heard the whole shitload, so don't both to spew it. But I'm jus' gonna say this once."
Forrest doesn't respond.
"You listening?" It's the first ounce of irritation he's ever heard in Paul's tone, directed at him at least, and his body droops as a result. Paul takes this as a bob of the head.
"If you do this…thing," Smoke eats further into his vision, coiling and curling like rouge snakes. "Then ya' gonna break your old man's heart."
Forrest's gaze drifts up, painfully, to Paul. He's got his hair down for once, layered around his broad shoulders in choppy waves. His face is framed in shadow, but is conducted in hard, haggard lines. Forrest breathes in; matching Paul's glare with one of his own, and gets to his feet. Paul, on cue, moves back to give him room.
"What?" He's still going. "You don't care or somethin'?"
"If I didn't care, Paul," he replies simply. "I wouldn't be doing it, would I?"
"Don't talk to me like I'm an idiot, kid."
"Aren't you used to it by now?"
"Am I hearin' this?" Paul takes a step closer, and then another, and another. He cracks his neck from side to side. "Are you askin' for somethin' special?"
Forrest looks at the scabbing slashes, barely visible from beneath the collar of Paul's shirt.
"I'm asking to be left alone."
"No can do, kid."
The road is empty. The insides of the café are black and deserted. The sun lowers into a bloody pool in the sky. Paul scoffs, crunching his knuckles beneath his thick fingers. Forrest allows his feet to shuffle, slightly, into an offensive position.
A scream of air hurtles by his left ear. He freezes, breath caught, mind once again set and sane.
Paul's fist is hovering by Forrest's left cheek. He pants, pressing his lips back against his teeth. His face twists, and loosening his fingers, he ruffles the side of Forrest's hair.
"Woody…" His voice is as rough as gravel. "This isn't the way to go. It really isn't."
Forrest pulls back.
"Maybe." He shrugs. He turns his back on the street, on the café, and Paul. "I don't know."
His father is a mulling square shape in the door when he returns. His shadow spills out into the courtyard; it's a lengthening murk of guilt that Forrest can't overstep. He lingers there for a minute, in the shade made all the more prominent by the yellow luminescence blazing behind his father's figure. He catches his Dad's eye. Marshall's lip curls and he swings on his heel, marching back into the house.
He's left the door open.
Forrest, aware of a drizzle fining out the evening, follows suit.
Later, he hears the rumble of Paul's bike. And then the tell-tale rumbles of Paul's and his father's voices, humming through the walls.
Forrest is sleeping in the garage. He's already piled down the camp bed from upstairs, alongside a hidden suitcase consisting of his few belongings, and he's aware of his father crossing the corridors relentlessly until past midnight.
The second day is already here. Forrest, tireless, kicks away the duvet and idly peers through the garage windows.
Five figures in black melt away off the courtyard and into the shadows. There is a flash of metal surrounding their pockets, and a familiar emblem is hooked on their jackets.
Forrest remembers. The countdown is underway, and Jin's last whispers to him are but an imaginary laugh in the darkness.
The second day. The sky is black. It rains continuously. Cold, frigid, miserable weather.
He visits the hospital. There's been a turn around. Xiao is up, blinking blearily in the glare of bland overhead light. Upon seeing him, she breaks into a tearful grin and almost bounces out of her bed to embrace him.
The smell of bubblegum is stale, tempered by the ill in her limbs and the hard chemical grind of medicine. But there is ruddiness back in her cheeks, her hair is washed and damp about her shoulders, and he lets her speak, telling him stories of Panda struggling to visit and how icky the food is here and when was he going to cook for her, anyway?
He opens his empty hands and smiles, causing her to mock pout and mope. For about half an hour, he begins to feel like himself again, before she asks about him, and…
The LCD beeps, each wave lifting and raising in delicate laces of static.
Forrest says he'll be seeing more of her.
She's tired now, the nurse insists. She exclaims she isn't, but her eyelids are hovering shut and he holds her hand until she murmurs and mutters in her sleep.
The nurse explains that there was a sudden influx of shiny new equipment. They'd predicted she wouldn't have regained full consciousness for a long while. With the new gear supplied generously by the Mishima Zaibatsu, she was up and talking in two days.
He uses the hospital phone to ring his mother.
She's crying. Marshall had already rang her, and blamed her.
"I won't be able to see you much," he says. "I'm sorry, Mom."
"You're a good boy, Forrest." She declares ruefully. "I don't blame you. You're a good boy. I know it."
He doesn't think she realizes either.
The third day.
Cold, too bright. The sun breaks through the muddy conjoins of cloud and seeks him out. It shines in his eyes, pricking him out of slumber, like thorns based within his lashes. He'd slept in the garage. His head is propped on his suitcase.
Dad is washing up in the kitchen. Each careless clatter of the dishes rattles inside Forrest's bones. Forrest peeks around the corner of the door, running his tongue against his teeth. He's dressed fully in his working uniform, crisply pressed and glaring white. It's the smartest thing he owns.
His father has heard him, he knows that much. He seems to be squeezing the taps with ruthless abandon. But Marshall pulls himself upright, and from the corner of his cheek, Forrest observes the bristling of his beard. His Dad stands. And waits, lowering the plates back into the soapy lagoon of the sink.
Forrest moves closer towards his father's back. He touches his father's shoulder.
Marshall rebuffs the hand, jolting his shoulder free, and Forrest naturally lets go. Silently, he walks to the dojo. The need to defend is one thing that shall be constant. At least he can remember the rejection, and try to convince himself he has no regrets.
The sky is burning sulfur.
A ruckus out-front. His father is briefly distracted; racing out to defuse whatever situation has arose. Forrest half rises from his seat in the back kitchen, confused, before a light clack of heels is heard from the back courtyard.
Nina Williams is appraising her surroundings with a bemused, icy air. She lifts a fine eyebrow as Forrest emerges from the backdoor, his tiny suitcase sat by the bottom stair. When he arrives to her side, he bows in respect.
"Well, well…" She half smiles, and to his hidden surprise, it's without mockery. "You carry light, don't you?"
"I don't need much." He replies stonily.
"Good to know," she turns back to a large, black people carrier, half hidden within the undergrowth. "I was surprised you hadn't staged a getaway. A man of honor, indeed."
The old house is suddenly awake behind him, as prevalent and as painful as an open sore. Forrest grits his teeth, steels his mind, and follows her into the open door of the waiting car.
"No love lost, here?" She says airily. Forrest looks away. She tuts softly. "Sorry I asked."
He thinks he hears someone call his name, but the horizon is seeping out into an indigo slush and the door slams shut behind him.
Long, jagged lines separate the distance beneath the car windows. The tall, broken shadows of the city blossom on the horizon beneath rain mottled clouds.
"You do realize…" She offers him a glass of wine. He takes it, for strength. "…why Mr Kazama has gone so far out of his way to acquire you, hm?"
Acquire me? Like some dog in a pound?
Forrest shakes his head.
"You do know." Nina teases her fingers on the stem of her wine glass. She shakes a stray golden hair out of her eyes. "But I shall give you a briefing of your duties, just to be sure."
In another life, this whole thing would be a sick, surreal dream. But reality is ground so tight into him it's as if the very oxygen is hotwired in his brain.
"You will assist Mr Kazama in his dojo training. From what I can gather, your old methods of mock battle with the boss were highly effective in quelling…" She sips her drink, in a fashion Forrest can't figure out is dramatic or not. "…troubling influences."
"They were just practice fights," Forrest croaks out. "Anyone…anyone could do it. I don't see why I'm so special…"
"He specified you," Nina crosses her legs, resting her head back against the chair. The fading light is a soft weight on her sharp, polished features. Her lips curve. "I think he trusts you."
Her words are as effective as a slap. Forrest even feels the mad flush on his cheeks.
"That isn't all," she continues, suddenly business like. "You are to be by his side as a personal guard. As close as Mr Gordo and myself. But while we monitor everything around him…" Her stare is suddenly piercing, frosty blue, and the armored men in the car shift uncomfortably. "You are to monitor him. Morning, noon, and night. Is that fully understood, Mr Law?"
It is a long way home. But that isn't home anymore. They confiscated his phone as soon as he entered the car. The men surrounding him press in, as if daring him to make a move. But he could take them down if he wanted. His knuckles creak as his nails grind into his palms. He could beat them away like butterflies. He suddenly is aware of the power locked in the pulse of his biceps, in the thunderous turn of his thigh and calf.
But still helpless.
"Yes." He nods, and Nina smiles. "I understand completely."
The Mishima building is a large, black dragon curled around the heart of Tokyo. It's impossibly tall, studded with windows and layers upon layers of shining, dark brick and twisting wraps of metal, which snake up the sides like industrious ivy. The buildings beneath seem to bow and fall beneath it.
"Impressive, hm?" Nina throws him a pair of keys. He catches them between his palms. "Like a kid at the zoo. Wait until you see your rooms."
They enter the building via a back door. As they venture through, Forrest is ushered into a small lift concealed behind wood paneling. Waiting for him is an unsmiling Eddy Gordo. Nina sighs at her colleague's display.
"Well, look who's open with the welcome wagon."
The steel net of the door clatters behind them. Eddy waits until they are midway up before he speaks.
"It's wrong, Nina," He looks past her, past Forrest, onto the constellation of the city lights that reflect in the shade of his glasses. "He's not meant to be here. He's of no use to us."
"He'll be of great use," She responds coldly, jibes forgotten. Forrest remains a silent shape between them. "That isn't for us to decide, Gordo. And you know…" Her voice retains its bite, but she lowers her tone. "…You can't speak out of line again. Not with all you have riding on that line."
Eddy doesn't talk again after that. But as they reach their destination, very close to the top floor, he nods as Forrest passes. Forrest manages a quick, impulsive smile, an expression that is suddenly strangely exhausting, and follows Nina into the corridor. Nina totters through winding corridors until she finally halts him by a large oak door.
"This is your quarters. Your uniform is on the bed. At exactly 21:00 hours, you shall be collected from here to speak to Mr Kazama. Be ready. No dawdling." She taps the end of his chin with a red nail. "And cheer up. He doesn't bite. Much."
And just like that, she's gone.
His apartment is huge, luxurious, each room spiraling off in yet another velvet clad cove. The bedroom is vast, quilted duvets and silk sheets, and even the ensuite bathroom has gold taps. To his shock, he finds a fully functional kitchen, with professional designs and huge, gas powered ovens. But the centre piece is the lounge window; a massive floor to ceiling glass pane, granting a panoramic view of the city.
As promised, his uniform is folded on the bed. Forrest pauses in front of it, his fingers drifting up to unbutton his cooking slacks.
It hits him.
Harsh quakes roll up and down his body. His feet rock on the ground and it takes everything, everything he has to just keep standing.
Something tired, and half torn, cracks apart in his chest.
He lets the white jacket fall to the floor, as if shedding an old skin, and pulls the new uniform free. It's a black suit, not alike what Eddy Gordo made a habit of wearing. But Forrest notes some small homages; it is designed the same way as his formal fighting attire, with the buttons leading up to the high rise neck, but most startling of all, is what is on the back.
It's a sewn dragon. Its scales are a raw, stark white, streaked with gold. Striped down its belly is a blood red gash. Its impressive jaws gnash and snap in thin air. It twists and turns in such a way until it resembles a reptilian tribute to the emblem of the Mishima Zaibatsu.
His brow darkens.
The material, as he slips it over his arms, is a soft, slippery substance against his skin and makes him shiver. He faces the full length mirror beside the bed, and buttons each bronze clasp until his fingers poise below his chin. The black makes his shoulders look broader, his cheekbones more defined and gaunt. Even the messy mop of his hair lies flat and obedient. He looks in the mirror and doesn't know who is looking back.
His cooking uniform is a crumpled mess at his feet.
Nina calls for him, dead on nine 0'clock.
As he emerges her gaze flickers, briefly, up and down.
"That suits you, you know," she says lazily. She hooks her hair behind her ear. She's different now; harder, more professional. The same woman who'd beckoned him into a hellish limo on a dark and rainy night.
He glances upward as Nina escorts him back into the lift. He knows the answer already, but he still asks.
"Mr Kazama…" In her voice, a tug of warning. "…is upstairs. His offices and apartments are at the top of the building."
"Why so high?"
"Why such a personal question?" Nina shrugs, clacking away on the knife edges of her high heels. She signals for Forrest to follow. He does, each step seeming to sink into the floor. "I think it's the view. The boss enjoys having a clear outlook on everything that belongs to him."
She looks over her shoulder.
"And everything we wants, he eventually gets."
The bones in Forrest's knuckles crack.
"I know that."
The door rattles shut; caging them in. The floor lurches as it ascends.
Jin's office dwarfs Forrest's apartment; if anything, Forrest could have made a bet it was twice the size of his family home. A salubrious, cold, luxurious room. A massive window covers the far left wall, drowning the carpet in moonlight. It stretches from wall to wall, a translucent view of Tokyo. As soon as Nina leaves him, Forrest wanders over and stares across to the mountains, and then down to the ant hills of civilization below.
Tokyo is a rising stretch of illumination, patched below him like drunken fireflies infused with the drive and rhythm of the city. And yet, up here, in the vacancies of the whistling winds, there is no sound. It is as silent as a forgotten grave. Jin's strange world of unsettling, self imposed isolation.
Jin is watching him from the arched curve of his leather throne, seated behind a black wood desk. The insides of his pupils dilate and begin to softly pulsate hot, coppery amber. From Forrest's place by the window, Jin resembles a dark prince, crowned with the shadows and the sorrows of the scurrying insects beneath his mighty tower.
He looks like a…
Forrest squints down once again.
"Doesn't this view…?" The chair squeaks backwards. The deft tap of footsteps on the Italian tiles. Forrest remains anchored to the spot. "Give you a sense of vertigo, Mr Kazama?"
A pause. A breath. No different from a shy youth huddled in the doorway, asking for a place to stay.
The memory is crippling.
"Here, away from associates, you may address me as…" Another held breath. "Jin."
"Jin." Forrest responds flatly. The scene under his feet begins to swell, rising up and down, bloating around the sides. There suddenly doesn't seem to be a window, a stretch of glass, between him and the glistening, sequined abyss of Tokyo City.
Jin's hand steels itself on his shoulder.
"I feel as if I'm on the edge of the world," Forrest's tone is airy with a faint, incomprehendable pain. He doesn't flinch as Jin's shadow creeps closer. Closer. Closer.
"The world…" Jin's voice is as it was, back in old kitchens and crumbling dojos and sun licked bedrooms. But the words are wrong. "…shall be exactly as it was, once again."
Forrest, as he has done before, doesn't say a word.
They both stand and watch the lights below stutter out, one by one, until all is dark.