Chapter 1: 1
Soft, burning, tendrils of fire.
The spinning blades of the helicopter suddenly seem deaf, separate, from his ears. Below them, the enemy base smolders and dies within the grip of the building inferno. The smoke reaches higher, higher, licking the edges of their transport, as if trying to drag them down to the fiery swamp that awaits them below.
Forest can feel the heat seeping through the floor. It pushes through the leather of his seat, through the soles of his shoes, leaking into his veins and dousing his forehead in sweat. There is a cry somewhere, clawing at the edges of the breeze, before it falls into the immortal crack and slap of the flames.
The velvet stitching of the arm rest splits beneath his nails.
Nina crosses her legs, coughs, and pops a mint, as white as bone, into her mouth.
Gordo sits opposite. Forest can't really see, but as Eddy lowers his chin to his chest, the sunlight cloaked in smoke flashes through his shades; his eyes are tightly closed.
Jin, seated beside Forest, observes the hapless heap of crumbling bases behind the protective sheen of his window. He tilts his head, as if trying to gain access to a better angle, his eyes hungrily searching the scene below. The amber swirl beneath and around them cushions his features in a deft, red glow.
His lips lift and hold.
As they return to the Mishima tower, Forest tries and fails to get used to the shake in his legs. The four of them stand together in the lift. Gordo taps in the buttons. He lingers closer to the door, closest to Forest, as Nina and Jin engage in a low conversation about further threats from the G Corporation.
They seem to have devised between them this silent, sufficient body language, and as Jin hands her a clipboard with tightly binded papers, she nods and exits at the next floor. Eddy follows suit at her call; he steps through the closing doors and turns to look back at Forest until the metal barriers shift and shut them out.
The crawl up to the top floors is a lengthy one. Jin taps his finger on the base of his own clipboard, his eyebrows creeping closer together at some unknown statistic. Forest clears his throat, clasps his hands in front of his lap, and proceeds to be as stone.
Finally, mercifully, the doors peel back to reveal Forest's floor. He can't help but release the breath he's holding in. As he moves out into the break of chilly, circulating air, there is the twinkling of an electrified bell. He turns. Jin Kazama, his finger pressed down hard on the lift hold key, observes him from beneath the curl of his eyelashes.
"Do not forget. Tonight. Six o'clock."
Forest bows at the waist.
As he folds himself back upright, Jin is still standing, still staring, as if he could rip right through him with his eyes. The bangs that fall in front of his face seem longer, wilder. Forest manages to keep his gaze, but only just.
Jin parts his lips, as if to say something more, but instead he half smirks and releases the button. The doors slide and click.
In the corridor, Forest covers his face with his hands.
The Mishima dojo is immaculate. It is spiked with rows upon rows of weights and stools and bars. Every bit of it is stainless steel, heavy and hard and humungous to behold. It is the largest dojo Forest has ever seen, spanning four times his father's, even when Dad was at his best and they had the roomy, airy walls and floors of what once had been the old restaurant's main dining area.
Every evening, Forest prepares himself for Jin's training. He showers, before and after, for Jin is so fastidious and Nina has warned him about always setting an example. His new fighting attire is karate trousers embellished with a dragon motif, which resembles the back of his working uniform. He insists on his white singlet, if only to provide his body some protection from the white hot heat of Jin's incoming fists.
On the first evening of their shared training, Forest's chest had been wrung with tension. He'd still had been reeling from the compromises to his freedom, and the dojo, to him at first, had seemed cold and brutal and dustless. There was metallic sadism winking off the heavy ends of the gym equipment, and upon seeing Jin advance through the doors, he'd been shocked to see his employer in his training clothes. He'd only ever witnessed Jin in designer suits, silken shirts, impeccably pressed trousers. But Jin's chest was bare, his karate trousers stitched with winding tongues of flame, and of course, the iconic red of his gloves strapped hard to his wrists.
While they'd trained together before, once in jest, sometimes after in quasi-awkward friendship and then, at that time, in a confounding mix of comfort and skill, well none of that even touches what commences between them now. Jin's punches are compounded with a new, severe vice and Forest, fighting his doubts, forcefully conditions his body to be obstinate in the face of Jin's frightening and incomparable skill.
After each session, as whatever agitation scuttling beneath Jin's skin begins to abate in the running of their sweat, they bow and Forest formally excuses himself. Jin is always the first to leave. Always in the corner is Nina Williams, who ever watchful, shadows Jin as he goes through the door.
There is emptiness in this world, but nothing quite as empty as the silence that lingers behind them in the dojo of sweat and steel.
His room is a cool vacuum after the air tight space of the dojo. Exhaustion has been grinded deep into his bones, his eyelids anchored with doze, but he eyes the bed with distrust.
The sky outside is bare, starless. The lights of Tokyo whizz and curl below his window in snake like twists. Forest has long since abandoned the view. A phone sits on the bedside table, but it's a tease, for each call and text and fax is carefully monitored. There is a television; a huge plasma screen stylishly concealed via a sliding door in the lounge, but Forest neglects to watch it. The news channels relay his actions, his experiences of previous days, in crisp beautiful colour and it makes him sick.
His private castle is a gilded prison.
Forest looks around the minimalist mammoth of his apartment and resigned, begins to undress. He folds his training clothes and leaves them in the corridor for the maid. The very action makes him feel strangely uncomfortable, but he has little choice. As he pads back to the moon stroked bed, his stomach begins to clench and he breaths in hard through his nose.
He nestles his head on the pillow. It isn't long before sleep sinks him further into the bed, until his consciousness is floating and vulnerable and he, himself, is powerless.
The flames slink into his head, into his dreams. The helicopter hurtles through the air in spinning, dizzying patterns. Both doors are missing and the windows are nothing but frames of empty air. Gravel and weeds and bloody sun merge in a chaotic blizzard around them. Nina Williams chews on little bones as white as mints. Gordo's eyes are nothing but burrowed holes of shadowed reflection. Forest huddles away from their skunking, perverse parodies and his arm bumps against Jin's.
Jin observes the carnage from the gaping wound of the window.
As his lips pull back, his front teeth cut into the flesh of his tongue. The pupating fangs are as cut and jagged as razors.
Forest shakes himself. His weary consciousness blurs into a mix of the room and the wispy, scarlet remnants of the dream, but Forest stiffens his body and forces his eyelids open.
The heating hums gently. There is the raising twinkle of a woman's laugh below.
The bed sheets are wrapped around him in mocking warmth.
Forest shivers and throws them back.
The next morning Nina tsks when she sees him.
"I wouldn't dwell on it, kid," Opening her powder mirror, she gestures towards the purple visible beneath his eyes. "You'll get used to it eventually."
Forest nods and shadows her to the lift once more. Once inside, she offers him a pair of shades. He goes to takes them, thinks of Eddy, and politely refuses.
The party is a nice change from the board meetings, the countless flights to far off destinations, the ceremonies, and the places that leak fire and blood.
The ballroom they've entered, despite being more intimate in terms of size, is a sight to behold. Men and women practically drip in finery and class, weaving in and out of one another in shared, civilized small talk. The floor is lined with black Italian marble and the ceilings are etched with ivory white rose carvings. Outside the French windows the Monegasque coast sparkles; a rich turquoise disc stitched with diamonds. The entire effect of the Rochefort's personal palace is dazzling.
As Jin moves further into the crowd, Nina on his right and Forest on his left, do the crowds quiet to a murmuring buzz. Forest glances at Nina; she returns his stare, but offers no indication of what is to come. The quiet of the surrounding folk finally falls into dead silence.
Mr. Rochefort is a small, bumbling man. His fair hair is thinning, his body gone soft from sitting behind a desk. His suit, despite being of the highest value, looks baggy on the chest and his forehead glistens with moisture. He pauses in front Jin's indomitable shadow, and forces a weak smile.
"Mr. Kazama…" There is a hitch in his voice that begins to play havoc with Forest's memory. "What a pleasure to have you here."
He holds out his hand. Jin stares at it until the very oxygen seems to ice. Mr. Rochefort sucks his teeth, and lowers it.
"We're here to discuss business," Jin's words cut the silence in dark, rumbling currents. The other guests draw back in whispering clusters. "I trust you have the papers?"
"Indeed, Mr. Kazama," The older man replies quickly, linking his fingers tightly together. What might have been a humbling gesture is culled by the white in his knuckles. "I-I-I thought we could debate the ownership of the oil fields over a glass of our best wine. We have our own vineyards, as you may know…"
"There is no need for debate," Jin says smoothly. "Everything is decided. The papers." His lips curve. "Please."
Mr. Rochefort gabbles one last plea.
Jin's shoulders seem to broaden. The leather creaks in his shoes as he leans forward, ever so slightly intent.
"The papers," he repeats.
Jin refuses the request to enter Rochefort's private quarters. The quivering mess of the man is forced to bring them out, in front of his guests and family, and shivers and sweats as Jin slides them easily from his grip. Jin hands the papers to Nina, who files them in the folder tucked under her arm.
A flash of gold.
Forest blinks. He turns his head towards the staircase, wondering if he'd imagined it, but then he sees her.
Lili is dressed in a white dress, puffed at the bottom, with frilled cuffs on her neck and wrists. Her hair, the colour of thriving maine, drenches her back. But her eyes are fuelled with a sharp, scorching fury.
She glowers at Jin, before her eyes slide sideways and their gazes meet. For a moment, her mouth drops and an odd, hopeful light takes hold in her eyes. And then the realization dawns, on him and her, with bitterness so prominent he can practically taste it.
Forest looks away.
Each clack of her heels on the stairs punctures the silence like a gun shot.
"How could you?" The creeping venom in her screech poisons Forest's defenses. He feels his insides begin to shrivel with shame. He tries to close in on himself, but Nina is staring at him blankly. Mr. Rochefort just gawks at his steely and statuesque daughter. "I trusted you, Forest! I trusted you!"
Forest sees her hand raise, ready to strike, and in a way, he wants to feel the slap, the sting. Maybe it'll be enough to crush this unimaginable world in one violent blow. He closes his eyes.
There is a sweep of air, blown gentle and strange against his face, and he blinks his eyes open.
Jin has caught her wrist.
He places one foot in front of Forest, his expression one of flawless composure. Lili's cheeks are burnt pink and there is the shimmer of tears on her cheeks. She gulps, shifting once more to get closer to Forest, but Jin holds her stern and still. Forest's feet are frozen, anchored, to the floor.
"It is appreciated, Ms. Rochefort," Jin whispers coolly, but there is something gnawing at the edges of his tone. His thumb presses down on the delicate grove in her wrist. "That you do not lay a hand on my associates."
Lili's eyes are wide and wet.
"I may speak to him if I wish."
"Emilie…" The desperation in her father's whisper seems to make Lili shrink. She glances back at him, but then back, once again, to Forest.
This does not go unnoted by Jin.
"Mr. Law has more important things to attend," He says simply. "Then to cater to the whims of an indulged brat."
He releases her hand. Lili, red as lava, goes to snap back but her father's hand on her shoulder stops her mid-sentence. The previous joviality of the party has been sucked dry and there is nothing but the ringing of appalled silence.
Jin nods to Nina. She replies in kind, and gestures to Forest to follow her to the exit. As Forest turns, his ears catch the beginnings of Lili's small, humiliated sobs. For one instant, a brief, painful instant, his feet pause on the marbled floor.
From the corner of his eye, he spots Jin watching him.
Forest bows his head and resumes his heavy trek back to the plane.
As they leave the Rochefort home, Jin walks in perfect tandem to Forest's steps.
Nina, waiting beside the plane, is a safe dot in the distance.
"She did help us, you know," Forest says quietly. They're walking through the glaring masses of thick, buttery sunshine, among the cropped and cut beauties of the luxury garden. "Unknowingly, but she did help."
He thinks Jin isn't going to answer, for a moment passes, but then…
"That is irrelevant to the task at hand."
Forest looks away, over the crashing surf of the coast.
"Were my actions back then…" They're getting closer to the plane, but their pace has slowed. "Are they no longer relevant?"
Jin's head angles towards him. Forest immediately feels uncomfortable.
Nina, waiting in the plane, grants Forest an unorthodox look.
Forest shrugs and sits down.
As the aircraft lifts into the sapphire jewel of the Monaco sky, Forest observes the Rochefort estate until it is nothing but a blue and white smudge on the landscape.
Within the warping walls and corridors of the labyrinth of the Mishima Zaibatsu, a recovering Ling Xiaoyu has been put to rest.
However banal the hospital had been before, at least it possessed a bland brightness; life and noise and people. But Xiao's new luxury accommodation is big and beautiful and oddly unwholesome. Once upon a time, Forest had wondered if Jin even cared about his old friends, but now, looking at himself and Xiao's pretty prison, he wonders what is more dangerous.
When Xiao had discovered Forest looking after her in his free time, her initial delight faded into distrust. Noting his new, baffling stoicism, she pushed and pushed until he finally told her he held contract with the Mishima Zaibatsu. He'd even tried to joke and said he wasn't lying when he said he'd be seeing more of her.
Distrust turned to disgust.
But now, time has passed in the desolate chambers of Xiao's apartments. Any upheld disdain has been squandered in the sick brunt of loneliness, and Xiao twitches and turns in her bedclothes.
"You look better, Xiao," Forest places the dumplings on the side. He still cooks, sometimes, in the scarily polished kitchens. "I think you'll be out of here in no time."
"He won't let me out," She doesn't look at him. Well, that's basic protocol. He should have known better than to have doubted her stubbornness. "He sent me a letter this morning. Said the outside world was too dangerous."
"Ah." Forest slumps lower into his chair. "I hear they've been getting a lot of slack recently."
The wall clock ticks idly by.
The steam rises on the dumplings. It curls away into thin, cooling air.
Xiao has taken to facing the window. Her hair hangs loose and limp down her back.
Forest glances at his wrist watch. He knots his brow and sighs, rising to his feet. Time now holds a tighter, more anxious place in his life.
"I've got to go. My free time is…"
"It's fine." Xiaoyu reaches for the dumplings. She nibbles one of them, tearing away at the skin with her sharp little teeth. "Go. Do what you have to do."
He wishes to say her name, but the syllables curl away on his tongue. All the skin around her fingernails has been bitten raw. Her skin seems too tight, too pulled back against her face, her eyes too misty and marble like. She swallows.
Something seems to crawl, to pulse, behind his eyes.
He rubs the bridge of his nose. Turning back, he heads toward the door.
Her feet nestle on the floor.
Two milky arms slip under his arms, move towards his chest, and lock.
Her tears wet his back and dampen the gold spangled embroidery of Jin's dragon.
Even if he's been told countless times over, that his duty is to Jin and Jin alone, he is assigned for one day to accompany Nina Williams to a military facility.
That morning, they leave via the steel, weighty body of the Mishima helicopter.
"It's an annual check," She snaps her powder mirror shut. Her freshly applied lipstick is a peach glimmer on her lips. "Nothing fancy."
They parole the grey, soundless corridors. The base is armored like a battle tank. Men in formless uniforms with faces rendered mute by large, round helmets, shadow Mrs. Williams and politely ply her with intel. They address her with nothing but the highest respect, for she commands them with effortless efficiency and Forest can understand, finally understand, Jin's complete and unquestioning trust in her.
The last room they enter is bleached a pure, soft white. Flickering 3D screens line the room, showing a deft outline of what looks like a feminine shape. Thick, fat wires ride in from all directions, finally settling in what Forest can only categorize as a huge mecha coffin.
Nina ushers away the latest grunt. Fixing her gaze on him, she sighs and shakes her head.
"Go on, then," She says lightly, gesturing in the direction of the streamlined, shining casket. "Go and have a look at it. But be quick."
Forest's bow is snappy and short. He sidles up to the coffin, and slides back the shutters on top.
At first, he thinks she's dead. There is no telltale lift in the bosom, no flutter in the lashes, yet her face is as composed and wholesome as if in a deep sleep. Her hair blooms a baffling gumdrop pink and her features are babied, soft, girlish. Her gloved hands are folded over her chest, just so, almost as in a fairytale.
"You won't wake it with a kiss," Nina's voice, dry as always, tickles his ear. He jumps and looks away. Nina tsks. She smoothly places the shutters back in place, blocking out the pink and flower and face of the girl. "Don't get too attached, Charming. It's as artificial as a Barbie doll."
As they walk back to the heavy metal monster of the helicopter, Forest finally poses her with a question.
"Who was that?"
Nina pauses by the entrance. She inclines her head towards his, her lips threatened by a half smirk. Before, Forest would have focused on the floor, the sky, and his hands. But his returning stare is polite, but steady.
"Its codename is Alisa," The vehicle door sweeps open. "A specialized military weapon, designed to protect Mr. Kazama."
Forest thinks of the sweetly turned smile, the vibrancy of plastic daisies, the fineness of fingers rested on a still, pale chest.
Back inside the helicopter, Nina crosses her legs and appraises him briefly. She seems taken aback that he finally opened his mouth.
Forest had never been out in the depths of the Japanese wilderness, only seen it illustrated in pictures and television and the glossy stock photos of his mother's nature calendar.
The reality is brutal. The wind shudders in frost bitten gales, slipping between the gaps in his clothes and nipping in merciless snaps against his skin. Jin is unfazed in the maddening white whirl of the blizzard. The black of his jacket billows behind him like the unfurling wings of a large bat and is a night shade shock amongst the snow.
Forest keeps close. He tries to quell the teeth chattering in his head, for there is no cover he possesses beyond the thin, silky material of his uniform. The cold drives searing pain into his head, setting ice in his temples, and he envies the scouts in their heavy, hibernating amour.
Jin's phone is held aloft by his ear, but the whistle of the air steals any breath of sound so Forest feels trapped in a frozen, soundless bubble. There are lines and lines of troops, brainwashed men hidden in helmets with red eyes. Jin had stood in front of this human horde of military, and saluted. It was a lazy salute, a careless salute, one lacking in faith. But the men, each one wound like a separate toy soldier, struck their hands to their heads with the snap of a long practiced, mechanical unison. Forest had gazed out on this landscape of white and black and red, and not bearing it, had to look away.
A thick pair of boots crunches the snow. The approaching man is the only one not wearing a helmet. His hair should be wild, given that it sticks out in all directions but there is a bizarre order to it, for it is assembled in perfect, soft spikes. His eyes are chemical blue, but there is warmth and an acute, questioning intelligence shining within them that lifts the hair on Forest's neck. This broad figure struts through the men, who rift apart and bow their heads. On his chest is the kingly emblem of a lion and tucked under his arm is a bundle of thick, woolen fabric.
Jin raises his head, and there is a sudden, strange tensity stringing up the air.
As they converse, their heads close together, an equally inappropriately dressed Nina Williams sidles up beside Forest. Her hair is loose, rolling down to her shoulders in golden waves, but the strands have been made stiff by the cold. Her eyes drift to the young commander and her lips set in a tight line. Forest fights the urge to burrow his hands in his pockets, but it would be an unsightly act and he is sure that somewhere in his contract, this kind of informality is forbidden.
The man finishes with Jin. He doesn't bow, or salute, but merely nods his head. As he passes the two, he shoots a glance at Nina, who pointedly glances the other way. Forest blinks at this, before the man catches his eye and his formal front dissolves into an effortlessly charismatic smile.
It's such a staggering sight that Forest's vocal chords fix themselves in his throat.
"Here," The corners of the man's eyes crease as he holds out the material folded beneath his arm, which Forest sees is a double layered military coat. "This climate is punishing for those not used to it."
"Eh..." Forest takes it. His fore finger touches the smooth of the man's wrist and electricity; potent, painful, crackles through and shocks his blood. "Thank you."
"It's no problem." The commander takes the opportunity to fiercely grip Forest's hand in greeting; the thunder in his veins pounds through the exchange and sets off white spots in Forest's vision. "I see you are new to our corporation. May I offer you a personal welcome?"
"Lars," Nina's tone, although smooth, is chillier than usual. "Your men are awaiting their orders."
Lars pauses, oddly still, but smiles at Nina in a way that is almost indulgent. However, a sideways look from Jin stiffens him back into sobriety.
"Of course," Not taking his eyes from Forest, he flexes his fingers, and if on cue, Forest allows a shiver to dampen his back. "I shall see you back at base."
As the sway of his cape clashes with the oncoming sheets of sleet, Nina scoffs, and turning toward Forest, observes the lacquered ends of her fingernails.
"I see you've met the local hero," She rubs her thumb across her lips, which are red, chapped with frost. Jin has followed Lars, leaving the two of them stationed in the wintery wasteland. "How did you find him?"
"He seemed..." Forest rubs his palms together, desperately trying to expel what feels like a bad case of pins and needles. "Charismatic."
"Yes," Nina steps closer to him, crossing her arms. She observes the two blurring figures in the distance. "He certainly comes off that way. The men are puppets to his every whim. Sort of sickening, really."
"I still think I'm new to all of this."
"Not quite, kid."
"You're talking, for one thing." She rests a hand on the curve of her hip. The snow fall has tempered to dotting flakes. They melt on the wiry curl of her hairline. "For a while, you didn't say anything."
The ongoing bolt of Lars's handshake refuses to leave Forest's body, jetting his blood in rankling bites, but her words soak like the snow on his jacket and sting his skin. He hadn't been aware of the untangling of the silences he'd kept locked, hidden within himself.
"No." She says as she turns away. Forest has offered her the wooly enclosure of the coat. "I'm alright."
Forest is stood next to Jin. Eddy shadows the front of the stage; Nina, on the right of their employee. The crowd is settled out in mismatched rows of tables, with sparkling white cloth and champagne tinkered between fingers rich with rings.
Jin stands on the podium.
"Our new deals demand co-operation from all those Governments and Governing bodies called forward. Any resistance is highly discouraged..."
Forest coughs, and adjusts his collar. The air is breezy and brisk, for Jin insists on the air conditioning to be blasted through every nick and kink in the building, even in the deepest of winters. Forest has placed blankets on his bed, worn vests and extra thick socks, but everywhere is punctuated by Jin's insistent, inclosing cool.
"Consider, ladies and gentlemen. The greater good..."
Jin's rich patrons are shackled to their gilded chairs, to the gold tinted glasses of their complimentary champagne. Under the glow of the chandelier, droplets of moisture cling to each finely powdered forehead. Jin's speech is slow, monotonous, eased along in a drawling slur like gum stretched long and thick.
Forest imagines Jin's old, comfortable silences, positioned in the grey flicker of dojo and bedroom and kitchen. The memory only serves to slump his shoulders down further. The dark, otherly, well maintained presence beside him pricks his mind like the touch of an extra-terrestrial.
Near the front, seated near a shivering French heiress, is a man dressed in a grey suit with a fedora tilted over the sharp slant of his eyes. As if sensing Forest's scrutiny, he lifts the end of his hat with his forefinger and thumb. His eyes widen in a barely contained panic.
There is no hitch, no break, in Jin's speech. If anything, it seems to lengthen, to plod on, each word a nonsensical stretch of sound as Forest and the man partake in their stare off. Nina scratches the end of her nose. Eddy stares blankly out amongst the sea of satin and silken table cloth.
A man. Shifting just left of Forest's vision, on the table closest to the stage. His suit is clean, but his shoes are scuffed and he's hasn't shaved. He fumbles in his pocket, and there is flash of metal. He lifts the gun aloft, and points it in the direction of Jin's chest.
Forest doesn't actually know what enters him that moment. But his limbs spring like clockwork; his mind whirs, his heart fractures his ribcage and he jets into the space between the barrel and Jin.
He just about sees the nerve twitching in the corner of the man's eye, the quiver of the thumb of the trigger, the black bags slung beneath his eyelids, the grind of teeth against crusted lip.
The gun goes off.
Plaster flakes from above and catches in Forest's hair. He'd high kicked the gun from the man's hand; it hits the corner of the stage, and clatters at Eddy's feet. Forest belts the man in three staccato swipes; knee, stomach, head. Not enough to kill, or even to maim, but to knock down and wind. The man stumbles away, crawling on his hands and feet, and Forest sees he is surprisingly young.
A woman screams. There are mutterings and cries from the crowd. The noise is a dull quiver in Forest's ears. There is a silver dash to the side as Nina takes after the man. She leaps; a beautiful, metallic blur, for his sight wavers, but then she latches herself to the man's neck and the insuring crack goes right through him.
I'm such a fool.
The ceiling is a starry swirl above his head. The chairs screech on their legs as people rise and evacuate. He is sure Baek Doo San, the classy bastard, would have slipped out with the rest. His eyes shudder closed. The shadows are a dancing mockery beneath the flutter of his eyelashes. Settling his breath, he turns back.
Jin is staring down at him.
Forest is still stood in the space between Jin and the now vanished gun.
Nina is kicking the body over, ripping the pockets inside out. Eddy hovers near her, but his head is turning towards the two men on the stage.
Jin's expression doesn't change. Natural as can be, he closes the file. He lightly shakes the hair from his eyes, one hand pressed to his temple, as if fighting a headache.
"Mr. Gordo," Eddy raises his head at the order. "If you would be so kind as to dispose of this mess."
Forest exhales as Jin passes. And then promptly piles the breath back in, for Jin's fingers brush his arm. It's a cold, faint, testing touch.
The shoddily dressed assassin is on his side. His pockets have been emptied, but nothing found. It seemed the man had crafted himself as a non-traceable void. Forest's eyes attach to the ghastly pallor of his skin; the neck, hoisted at an impossible angle. Bone prods through skin twisted by Nina's quick, clever hands.
His stomach does some strange twists of their own.
"Mr. Law," Forest slams his back straight at the address. Jin pauses by the door. "I expect our session at six o'clock, as pre-planned."
Forest bends at the waist. Sweat is prickling along his hairline.
"Good to know." The doors swing and conceal him from view.
Nina shields a smirk as Forest glowers down. The quake in his legs travels up his body, settling in a hurricane swirl in his stomach, and he fights not to retch.
Eddy's hand is a soft weight on his back.
"The toilet is that way, Forest."
He has to run.
Despite the hour, night has already poured in through the windows and bleached Xiao's room in shadow. The wind tinkers the windows, making them shudder in their holds, and despite the chill in the rest of the building, Xiao's room is warm, cosy, the dark holding all the warm and comfort of hot chocolate.
She'd retired to bed early.
"Weak," She whispers as he enters. She's hidden beneath a mound of bedclothes, her feet curled beneath her. Her hands, peeking through the duvet, are small and pale in the moonlight. She wets her lips with her tongue, although her eyelashes lay heavy and still on her cheeks. "I-I feel weak."
"Rest then," Forest's reply is gentle. He lifts the edge of her blanket, and pulls it up to her chin. Her neck had seemed too bare, too vulnerable, steeped in the ashy glare of the stars. "Get all the sleep you need. I'll come and see you tomorrow."
As he rises, her hand reaches out; curls around his fingers, and gently pulls him back.
"Stay." Her eyes are liquid coffee beneath the flutter of their lids. Her voice becomes a doughy murmur as she tucks his hand beneath her, burying it beneath the weight of her chest. Forest kneels; rests his hand on hers. "Stay."
He waits a few moments. Her breathing tides out; evens.
Slowly, he pulls his hand free.
He closes the door so soft and swift it's as if he was never there at all.
Jin is waiting in the dojo.
As Forest enters, he discreetly eyes the clock. 6 o'clock. Sharp.
Jin unfolds his arms. Moving to the centre of the floor, he adjusts into a fighting stance. The black of the premature night is a ghastly thrust against the windows. The light above them is too shrill, too much of a harsh shock, to his eyes.
This is the first time Jin hasn't initiated the pleasantries.
The fight proceeds as usual. In tandem with Jin, Forest is a well-oiled machine; he doesn't think of that first time they did this, buried deep beneath the kitchen and lounge and bedrooms of his home. How desperate. How needy. How urgent it had been.
Forest falls back as the clock knells the closing bell.
He bows again. However, on the floor, Jin's shadow doesn't fold in polite reciprocation.
Forest blinks, and rises to his full height.
Jin tightens the strap on his gloves. His eyes drift slowly to Forest, where they suddenly fix with a terrifying intensity.
"That…" He observes the studs on the back of his gloves. "…was unsatisfactory."
"I…" Forest stiffens. "What?"
"Unsatisfactory," Jin repeats, his voice as clear and cruel as cut glass. "It did nothing. It was without energy. Without…" He looks at Forest again, and this time, it is that old stare; the one that dives into Forest's head and blisters the back of his eyes. "Passion."
"There was no change from the usual procedures."
"You disappoint me, Forest."
Forest visibly recoils.
Jin appears to smile. He moves toward the door, and for a moment Forest thinks he's going to leave him in the shaming silence of the dojo, but he moves off towards one of the tables loaded with weights. Idly, he runs his forefinger across it; lifts his hand, and monitors the smudge of dust on his fingertip.
"It puzzles me," He begins slowly. "That you have taken such little interest in the whereabouts of your family."
Forest's heart begins to thud.
"It seems quite callous, don't you think?" The dust crumbles between Jin's fingers. "That you haven't even called your ageing mother."
"Jin." Forest's voice. Iron clad. Shielding the pleading, the pleading he knows Jin can detect. "Stop."
"It puzzles me also," Jin continues, breaking another shelf of dust with his hand. "That you give more loyalty and attention to the man who took them away from you."
"I don't a choice."
"You saw to that. Jin…" Forest takes a step toward him. The barriers between them, professional or otherwise, are beginning to fold inward and loosen his tongue. "Please don't…"
"It must be easy then," Jin's tones have fallen to a soft, coaxing whisper. "To hate me."
Forest snaps his mouth shut. He imagines himself shot with ice, but it doesn't do any good. The same, contagious heat of Jin's gaze trickles sweat down his back, his chest, his hands.
"I don't…" It's strange, why doesn't he? It's logical. His fingers harden into fists. It's more than logical. But he doesn't. He never has. "I never hated you."
"Oh, but you must now," Jin's words are still cloaked in that eerie, unsettling hush. "Even now. Even as you deny it."
"Forest," Jin begins to walk towards him, each step honed with deliberate dilatoriness. "Think of what I've taken. Think of what you will never have again." He cocks his head to the side, and smirks. "Think of how I might have even enjoyed doing it."
"Stop." Forest spins on his heel, breaking their shared gaze. He glances at the door; Nina is nowhere to be seen. "Stop. God, please…"
"I agree. You need to stop this denial. It's consuming you." The next words are infused with a smooth, smirking cool. "Made you weak."
Fire. It stirs in Forest's blood, crashing through him in each heat soaked haze. The cleansing, cold truths of rationale are caged and caught in his mind, overcome by that damn, horrid, unfathomable heat. As he turns back to Jin, he knows it shows in his eyes, for Jin nods, satisfied, and falls back into a defensive stance.
Each breath is a tormented hurl through Forest's throat. He tries to fight it; tries to lock it down deep, tries to mount it with mental earth. He won't let himself go, he just…
"Forest." Jin's voice is firm. "I won't split."
"I won't break."
It breaks in Forest instead.
The new few moments are gleaned together in heat, fury, hate.
He can't touch Jin. He doesn't know why. Each blow, each drop kick, each flip and jab and hold. Jin is unfathomable, untouchable; each attack, blocked, as if batting off a fly. Jin's defense is impregnable, crafted without a single, humbling flaw. Forest hates him for it. Hates hates hates him for it.
During the day, when Jin is busied by documents and meeting and contracts and good knows what else, his attentions are diverted and his manner is just, well, indifferent. But of now, with nothing to distract him, his mind strays to darker things and Forest isn't spared this because he knows too much, and it's his own damn fault for getting involved because he wouldn't be here now, would he?
The dark shadows under his mother's eyes, the slur in his father's voice, the sheen of betrayal in Paul's stricken summer blue eyes, Lili's tears and Xiao's pain…
He strikes Jin. Hard, hurting, deep in his stomach. Jin doubles, a sigh escaping his lips.
The red mist is squeezed from his eyes. He wrenches his arm away and curls it into his chest. The old injury creeps into the bone; a shadow of the cruddy, creaking pain.
He stares at the clock.
A whole hour.
Jin dusts himself down.
"That was much improved, Mr. Law. I expect that sort of performance each and every night."
Forest says nothing. He's conscious of the knot he's nurtured through the past months, tangled away in his stomach, begin to unravel and fade. The lessening, the release, prickles his eyes and he blinks quickly.
Jin bows. He pads to the door.
Forest looks out towards the windows.
Jin pauses. His hand is held aloft over the handle. The moment passes, and the light click of the door echoes off into nothing.
Every blue moon, they're allowed a day's rest.
The announcement is shoved through his door the following morning. Forest almost feels like collapsing when he sees it. Exhaustion of a more prominent, mental kind dragged his limbs into bed the previous night, but the demons in the dark refused him sleep. He scoffs at the ivory tinted paper when he sees it, but then he sees it is signed by none other than Jin Kazama.
Something large and lumpy rises in his throat. He half crumbles the letter with his fist, and shoves it in his bottom drawer.
At first he thinks of going back to bed, but the day is a dark and grey one and he's sick of the crabby grip of tiredness. Instead, he changes; old jeans and a bulky sweater of plain, homespun knit. He ruffles his hair and sighs. Even for a few, precious daylight hours, the little world of his apartment is his.
Naturally, he cooks.
He brought along with him a small handbook, splattered and stained with various ingredients and the like. It's dotted with all sorts of recipes; from American to Italian to Chinese (and even a bit of Korean, for that one surreal time Hwoarang had demanded him to make Baek's favourite childhood meal.) Forest mixes them up, crafting his own creations, which much to his relief, busies his mind.
"I always liked a man with busy hands."
He smacks his head on the open cupboard.
Nina is leant up against his door frame. She cocks a finely plucked eyebrow as he gabbles a greeting.
"Nina." He sees she is dressed in a purple turtle neck and leather trousers; thankfully informal. "At ease, Forest. We're both off duty."
Before he can ask the obvious question, she lifts up her hand and dangles a skeleton key between her fingers.
"I guess if this was a paid job…"
"You would be dead." She clacks further in. Her nostrils pinch at the mixture of smells. "Yes."
"I'm not much of a threat," He smiles as he turns up the oven. Turning on the taps, he starts on the washing up. "You would have no trouble with me."
"I wonder," Her tone is slow and soft as she peers at his self-made recipe book. "After yesterday's actions, I'm not so sure."
Forest chews the inside of his cheek. He clatters the dishes with more gusto than usual, and she sighs and tsks under her breath.
"Anyway," She turns the pages of his book idly. "I have something to ask of you."
She places a typed page on the table. Forest wipes his hands on his jeans and peers down at it.
"Irish lamb stew?"
"Yes." She wanders further around the kitchen, eyeing each utensil with disinterest. "The gourmet cooks in the Mishima kitchens are useless with peasant food."
Forest sighs and turns back to the sink.
"And you think I'll do any better?"
"I know you will. Jin told me you're a good cook."
Forest's cheeks begin to burn. Triumphant, Nina smirks and taps at the page with her forefinger.
"Also, the potatoes have to be prepared a special way…"
"Colcannon potatoes," Forest's voice; low, quick. "A mixture of mashed potatoes with either kale or cabbage, depending on preference, which are then infused with light seasoning."
A silence. Nina tilts her head, and smiles.
"You are good," She replies. "I'm impressed. And by the way…" She jangles the keys in her left hand as she swivels back towards the door. "I prefer kale. Extra curly. Fresh. Green."
"Noted." He clears his throat as she totters back toward the door. He thinks of her hands on the man's neck, leaving bold, ugly imprints; the careless, callous ease in which she dispatches any that threaten Kazama. And then he thinks of the reflection of his bruised eyes in her powder mirror, and the comments she makes, unaware and offhand, to him in moments of quiet. He coughs. "Nina. Would you like to join me for lunch?"
She emits a short, disbelieving laugh.
However when he turns, she's already sitting down.
The hapless man has tried his best. Be it plying Jin with fine wines and women, he's exhausted his energies and his vine yards and his personal harem.
"If you would be so kind as to sign."
"B-But this is my life's work! Twenty years of constructing the perfect corporate empire..."
"Ah. And I have merely done it in one. Sign, or face further circumstances that you may find…unfavorable."
Forest's father had always been sneery about the upper classes, the privileged races, those decked out in wealth and ignorance in equal measure. But Forest stares at this stuttering slop of a man, and at the shadow of his family, hovering in the doorframe.
Jin's assimilation of wealth, of land and properties and supplies, seems to be insatiable. Forest stands beside iron fisted bankers, calculating CEOS, monstrous corporate sharks. And more than three quarters of them are reduced to weeping as they sign away their life in ink and paper.
Forest doesn't know much about figures (he guesses quick finger math in his shop shack hardly qualifies) but he can't figure out how, how Jin does this. How with a snap of his fingers another line of chess pieces fall and clatter at his feet. Jin is a dark angel of ruination, of superficial and material loss, and as he sits beside Forest in the helicopter all this secret speculation presses down on Forest's mind like a dark cloud.
It's the fourth time today someone's livelihood has been snatched away from under their nose. Nina is in the cockpit with the pilot. Eddy Gordo, strangely absent, is supervising the buildup of a military operation. Forest is sat in the main bulk of the hull. Jin is sat beside him; in his signature seat, by the window. Forest notes the other empty seats, but forces himself not to dwell on it.
Jin's phone is held to his ear. He speaks in slow flutters of sound; each word so indistinct from its context he could be planning the end of the world and no one would know about it. He finally bids Lars farewell and flicks the phone down into his pocket.
The engine thumps and jolts beneath the floor. Forest, uncomfortable, doesn't dare adjust himself in case of disturbing his superior, but the floor shifts again and jostles both their seats.
Jin's leg presses hard and quick against Forest's thigh. Forest coughs and moves over. The low hum of the engine plays havoc with Forest's head and his head pounds and his stomach turns and god no, not now. He closes his eyes and tries to breath, but when he opens them Jin is boring holes through him with his stare.
"Sometimes," Jin's voice is still stern, still professional, but there is a tangible tendering of his words. Forest shivers. "We have to tear down in order to rebuild."
Forest turns to glare at the opposite window.
"Our methods may seem excessive," His tone hardens at the edges. "But it is for a…purpose."
"There is no doubt of that, sir." Forest's reply is suitably robotic. Jin leans back, the lights in his eyes closing in on themselves. The sky outside the windows is a drifting, cold blue. Hesitant ruffles of clouds grip and break each other with flimsy, powder white hands. Forest opens his mouth, licks his lips, and then closes it again.
"J-Sir," he says quietly, quickly. "May I enquire the reason?"
Jin doesn't respond.
The thrust of his leg against Forest's resumes its pressure. Forest's heart thuds, and he wonders about Jin's chest; that beneath the skin and muscle and curve of bone, whether the space is empty and closed and dark and the only thing that beats there does so out of reluctant necessity.
But he still feels its ensuring, determined pound, through the mask of silk and skin.
That evening, he returns to his apartment. Somebody has pasted a new rustic recipe to his fridge door. The curvy copperplate is none other than Nina's and he smiles, peeling it off the steel. As he walks into the lounge, he idly switches on the television. He never watched it to begin with, but sometimes there are old comfortable comedies from the forties, overly bright sitcoms from the eighties, cartoons and shopping channels and stupid things, things that are light and willfully ignorant, that offer distraction in differing forms.
It's the news channel. He would switch it off, but the name Rochefort titles the headline and his fingers freeze on the remote.
Mr. Rochefort has collapsed from stress.
The cameras glide around the hospital in callous clusters and he sees Lili. Her hair is in a golden bun pulled too tight, and her eyes are stung from the smog of the city. She looks across the sea of reporters as she marches to a silver capped limo headed by her butler. The door closes and hides her from view.
The resistance has bombed out a Mishima research facility. There are currently five people missing and who they believe are being held as hostages. Names and faces flash in garish lines across the screen and Forest can only stare until the program closes into a commercial break.
His ringtone beeps in slurred strings of monotone until finally, his hands shaking; he lifts it to his ear.
"Your promptness leaves much to be desired," Jin. Composed, collected, as always. "I expect you in the lobby in exactly five minutes."
The dial tone is a dead beat in his ears.
Streetlamps are weak, watery gashes of light through the limo windows. Nina, sat opposite him, occasionally catches his eye and smirks. Jin's focus is straight ahead; his body taut, his mind set.
Forest's thoughts are troubled, tenuous. He doesn't know why they're here, out at such a late hour. Sleep threatens his eyelids but the atmosphere is so tight and terrible he doesn't dare rest them. Nina crosses her legs and coughs. Her skin holds an alabaster beam beneath the dim overhead light and she seems suddenly translucent, unreal.
Forest wonders if he is dreaming. Whether he'll wake and there he'll be, tucked up in his shabby old room with daylight filtering through the windows and the noise and mutterings of the café below. Or even back in that time, with the man in the basement, deep in the throes of that warm, weathered summer.
Jin's lips quirk. He's staring at Forest, deep into Forest, and it wouldn't surprise him if Jin could strip him right down with that look. Lay his mind bare, vulnerable, to unpick and mull at his leisure.
The limo rolls to a halt.
Warehouses. Warehouses connected to a road buckled and broken from an old bombing.
Forest can't breathe.
The ruckus outside is deafened by the concealing block of double glazing. Orange red lights streak through cracks in the blacked out windows, dusting Forest's knees in bloody pipelines. They slide over the carpet, over the richly stitched leather, the perfectly honed angles of Jin's face. Nina has long since stepped out, in a bid to aid and head the troops.
Jin cradles his head on his fist. The brandy he's poured himself is untouched. Forest wonders if the burning brunt of it will wake him up.
A gun shot. Something small and hard rummages into the window. Forest jumps; he can't help it. Jin finally reaches for his drink; observes it held between his fingers, and sips.
A tirade of bullets emits a series of deepening dents on the side of the car. Forest can detect shouts, screams, the thunk of sprawling bodies on the sidewalk. Jin opens his phone and checks his messages.
Another voice; rough, thick Korean slurs. More cracks and creaks on the pavement.
Forest lowers his head into his hands. Runs his fingers through the edges of his salt speckled hair.
Jin's phone closes in a short, violent snap.
Jin pours another glass of brandy. He holds it out towards him.
Forest takes it. He has no intention to drink it. Brandy is a strong, blunt taste, but Jin crosses his arms and watches Forest. Just watches him.
He's damned his own politeness before, but Forest bows his head in thanks, and bracing himself, lifts it to his lips.
It isn't brandy. At first, he isn't sure what it is. It's a strange, seasoned flavor, herbal and tangy, but bitter, clear, bold. It rushes straight to his head and he reels in an instinctive cough.
"An herbal drink," Jin's response is deft, disinterested. "From my childhood."
He keeps watch until the glass is finally drained empty in Forest's hand, and Forest's head spins with the indomitable effects of the "herbs."
The limo rocks sideways, almost propelling Forest out of his chair. From outside, a fury bound roar. Another powerful blow cracks the glass from the inside and Jin finally lowers his glass, stares at the place where the damage was stuck, and his eyes narrow.
"Your weakness acts as a distraction," He begins, chewing out each word, and Forest's temper begins to fray. He pauses, rubbing his chin. His next words are as immediate and striking as the bullets outside. "Get rid of it."
"Forgive me for not possessing the natural response of switching off my conscience," The rim of Forest's glass splinters, splitting skin and drawing blood. "Unfortunately, we can't all be like you."
"Alas." Jin responds coolly. "If the world was like me, there would no need for this." He raises his hand and gestures his palm toward the unseen carnage outside.
"What's happened to you?"
"I've merely grown wiser. Have I really changed that much, Forest?"
His name. A gentle weight on Jin's lips. He should be used to it by now, should have immunized himself to its ability to disarm his reasons, his anger, but he never changes. His father always pointed out how stunted his development was, so how wasn't it true?
Forest weakens; sighs, and slumps his shoulders.
"You're doing this for a reason," He desperately tries to soothe the aching spaces between his eyes. "You…you always did everything for a reason. I can't believe you just…started something like this merely for the sake of it."
A ringing. Empty, toneless, heard only to Forest's ears, but the figure opposite seems to tauten. The time trickles like water between them.
Jin reaches into his jacket. He pulls out a small, blunted instrument, dark and black and heavy. Forest flinch is sharp and stricken as Jin calmly holds it out to him.
It was one thing he had never been assigned.
"It is necessary," The shadows outline the dark beneath Jin's eyes. "It is merely a means to an end."
I don't want it.
But it's not an order; it's an offer. But Jin is not offering him the gun; he is giving him the illusion of choice. The gravitas of the inky shades of shadow ply in from all the unlit corners and slide beneath Forest's flesh.
As he takes it, he expects it to be cold, but it is warmed from the heat of Jin's body and the revelation shocks him.
Jin's other hand closes over the gun, over the mild shake of Forest's fingers.
"I'm surprised, Forest," he adds softly. "That you do not sense the change in yourself."
From outside, another gunshot.
And then, finally, silence.
The moonlight is steamed silver off the bold terracotta of Hwoarang's hair. He's on his knees; hands bound behind him, the crook of his jeans soaked with blood and sweat and rainwater. Three grunts circle him, rifles in hand and pointed to the base of his skull.
Forest would have wondered how they got the Blood Talon on his knees, let alone to surrender, but Baek Doo San is being restrained nearby. There is a blossoming flower of red on his jacket, straining through and opening like a widening plaque sore. He gasps and writhes, sweat settled between his temples, but his face becomes composed and cold at the appearance of Jin.
The other members of the group are scattered about; some in custody, some unconscious, most dead. The pavement is awash in a sea of crumbled bodies, crushed by bullets and warfare. The surrounding landscape is a blink of red lights and sirens, courtesy of military vehicles and relief squads. Jin calmly steps through this; Forest follows with his head high, his body rigid. The shadows spread within him and he imagines his skin being glossed with steel.
The warehouses crowd in like huge, industrious tombstones and cloak each and every line in Jin's face. He glances sideways at Hwoarang, bypassing a glare of inflamed manila, and beckons to Nina. They draw their heads together and he whispers something in her ear. She nods to the surrounding troops, who salute in that same, spooky unison and shove the struggling survivors into the backs of the armored vans.
It barely takes a second for Hwoarang to shake off his captors.
A spiraling high kick, headed for Jin's neck.
Nina Williams is a blur. She catches his leg, bringing the weight under her, and Forest knows that when she has him at the right angle, she will embark on a quick, agonizing break. But Hwoarang scoffs; his other leg whips up, bracing itself on her chest, and the ensuring clout sends her flying. She crashes into the tarmac; rolls back on her feet, but one hand is grappling at her breast and Forest can see she is badly winded.
Forest's job is just to be another body, another barrier. And he hasn't felt pain in a long time. Not the kind that rips through your body; makes your nerves scream and your eyes water.
Hwoarang pulls his leg back in a warning stance, eyes slitting dangerously at Forest's approach. He's a wild, wronged animal, set free from a cage where the very bars are welded with fire.
Jin's arm blocks Forest's path.
"You're a coward, Kazama," Hwoarang lowers his leg, eyes ablaze. "Hiding behind body guards? Pathetic. Afraid I'm gonna beat you again?"
Jin's whisper is uncharacteristically dangerous.
"Are you still as blind as you've ever been?"
Forest and Nina exchange glances. She grips her stomach, staggers, and half smirks as Forest slips his arm around her shoulders.
"Yeah." Hwoarang cracks his knuckles, but there is a frayed, frantic edge to the action. "If you hadn't been so damn weak as to give into the beast in your blood."
Forest begins to sense something. He isn't quite sure what it is, if it's anything at all, but the wind begins to pick up, casting a chilly, cutting breeze on his face. He shivers, trying to shake it off, but it continues to blow in bouts of agitated air.
"This whole resistance was pointless." Quiet. Low. Cruel. Too solid, too smooth and pointed. "But you have provided us with a possible link to who has been leaking information from our data files. But as of now..."
"You're just like your father," Incorrigible, ignorant, idiotic Hwoarang. "Remember when you used to preach peace? All that self-apologetic shit, but in the end..."
"You must step down, or the consequences..."
"You're a goddamn monster. You might have had hope once, back when you used to spew all that Momma's boy crap, but now you're just like..."
"Enough." A warning of warm liquid amber, swanning in the hard dark circle of Jin's irises. His voice chipped with ice. "Enough."
Hwoarang loves to unveil blue, fleshy strings of nerves; pluck and torture them with the jagged ends of his nails. Strip a person down to their base and challenge their very essence to a duel. But Jin's pity, if he ever had any, is near vanquished and he's broken the spirits of so many, down to the most powerful, prestigious governments, so what chance does Hwoarang have?
Jin silently orders Baek forward. The gun barrel is placed firmly between his eyes.
Hwoarang's face pales.
"Enough." Jin's eyes are as brown and moist as earth. "Surrender."
There is no other choice. Forest distances himself from Baek's searching gaze and looks to the murk of the sky, and a moon driven red with bloodshed.
There was never any choice.
When they return to headquarters, it's past midnight. Forest is frazzled with an overly exhausted energy, which he hopes will thankfully flicker and fail before his head hits the pillow. Tomorrow, they have to be up early. Something about an investigation in Egypt.
As they stand in the elevator, Nina steps out at her floor. She steadily appraises her superior as the doors slide shut.
As the elevator rises them up, up, towards the polished and lonely caverns of Forest's quarters, he reaches into his pocket and hands Jin the gun.
Jin silently raises an eyebrow and takes it. Forest feels the tension in his shoulders loosen, but then Jin turns it over in his hands and lowers his head.
"I feel it." His finger dusts the trigger, the barrel, the turn of the handle. His voice is suddenly breathless, heightened into a crisp, urgent whisper. "It's moving now. I know it."
Forest shifts uncomfortably.
Jin looks up, as if remembering Forest, and his lips move in a shadow of his old smile. Forest's chest tightens at the sight.
"Everything…" His hand closes into a fist. His eyes glaze. "Everything is in motion."
The elevator doors clink open at Forest's floor. Forest swallows hard, his eyes still on Jin.
Jin's hand falls slowly down to his side.
"Mr. Law. I believe this is your floor."
Below them, beneath brick and rock and metal and plastic, the last smoking remains of the resistance are dragged behind bars of steel and strife. Sweat dampens Forest's brow.
The corridor is a blackened length of nothing but the light in the elevator is dim and artificial, odd and stinging to his eyes, but an ungodly sensation is crushing his chest and he can't physically move.
The men and women below may wonder if they are in hell.
He doesn't want sleep to claim his eyes, he just doesn't…
Jin draws closer to him as the doors ride together and shield him from the corridor, the darkness, the doubt.
To Forest, Jin is a walking shadow, swelling and spilling near him, toward him, over him, in him.
The elevator ascends to the top floor.
Chapter 2: 2
Nina hands him the bag. The hour is early, the sun a feathering pink on the horizon. The private landing lane is tinkered with floor lamps; a line of mild flares in the thinning dark.
"A bag?" He swivels it in his hands, hiding a grin at Nina's rolling eyes. "What do I need this for?"
"To save you emptying your breakfast in my lap."
"Watch it." She heads towards the plane; Forest follows. "God knows I'll be watching you."
She smirks as his cheeks burn.
Jin Kazama makes his way across the field.
Upon his arrival, Nina nods and Forest bows.
The door to the jet lifts up, allowing them access. Nina is the first to board. As Forest covers Jin's back, Jin's head turns ever so slightly in his direction. Forest breathes in and stares out, across to the birth of sun on the skyline.
The newly awakened ruins are misty dents on the horizon. The sun flails their backs with its merciless heat. Forest sweats and struggles within his uniform and even Nina seems to snap at the surrounding officers more than usual. Jin, composed and indifferent, glides through the burning husk of the day with a well-rehearsed chill. Forest presses close as they walk.
He has never known heat like this before. The sand is a golden scorch beneath his boots and the wind is heavy, still, breathing through flecks of dust. But Jin's walk is intent, hasty, and Forest strides to keep up with him.
By the time the sun has melded with the sky in a bloody mesh, do they reach the ruins. Or what seem to be ruins in name only. The temple seems untouched by time, by the battering cruelties of the sand. Monuments of gods long dead hunch over the mighty stone of its entrance. It could be the encroach of the night, but the air throbs with a sleeping dread and Forest shudders in its unnatural shadow.
He expects scientists, soldiers, but nothing mills around them but the wide spaces of stone and sand.
Jin nods, crosses his arms and stands completely still.
Forest blearily observes his back. The sun boils out into brazen orange.
A solider calls Nina back.
When she speaks, her voice is strangely delicate.
"Sir." The soldier behind her scuttles back into the shade. "There's been an attack on one of our main bases." She glances back at the soldier, who stands to attention. "According to witnesses, the man leading the revolt was none other than Alexanderssan."
The spell is broken.
Jin revolves slowly on his feet. His expression is, as always, no expression.
"We must leave."
As they return to the jet, the sand shifts and swallows their footsteps.
That evening, Jin's personal jet weaves through the dense clouds of midnight. The moon is a heavy, silver sphere in the sky and it winks at him from behind the curtains of the circular windows. The lights are off; the seats have been lowered into beds. Nina is on the other side of the gangway, her head resting in her hands. Her eyes are closed and her breath is light on her parted lips.
Jin had refused to put down the bed and instead seems to slumber on the chair beside the window. His cheek is propped against his knuckles. Forest watches the moonlight glide across the curvatures of his face and Forest's throat, suddenly, is dry. Quickly, he turns over, wincing at the rustle of the sheets, and stares at the rich black padding of the wall.
The fabric of the pillow is scratchy against his face, the covers too light to seal off the cold yet too hot on his body. The jet's journey is smooth and steady but still there is a dull, sick dip in his stomach. He forces his teeth together, imploring himself desperately to breathe, but every inch of his body aches and he is suddenly afraid. There is a huge range of air between here and the ground, a plunging, empty space of tight oxygen and crushing pressure, that'll drag you down and smash you on the earth.
Forest swears under his breath. He rips the covers back, slamming a hand over his face. Nina sighs softly in her slumber. He envies her.
Jin's head is turned toward Forest. Shadows collect under his eyes, which blaze through the dark and seek him out.
Forest's windpipe closes; the air is thin and dangerous. Jin crosses his legs, and tapping one finger on the arm rest, watches in silence.
The plane hums around them, a barrier of sound that closes in and conceals the rest of the world. Forest balls the covers into his fists and closes his eyes.
The chair creaks as Jin moves.
"I know you're awake."
The dark rumble of his voices splinters any pending exhaustion. Forest flops his head back on his pillow, and with a sigh, he lifts himself upright, dutifully meeting Jin's eyes.
Being upright is doing little for his stomach; he's aware of his face paling. His formal address of his superior has deepened Jin's frown, but undeterred, Jin leans back his head and indurates Forest into his stare.
There is a lenience lining his tone. He has retreated back, back towards the head rest, so the moonlight does not lay its hands upon his face.
Forest gasps for air in the grubby waysides of Tokyo city, in the decadent avarice of the homes of Jin's business partners, in his spacious apartment with its cold walls and endless view. But the air is about them now, soaking through the steel of the plane and parting the closed, cramped bags of his lungs.
He doesn't respond, but he leans back until he feels the pillow cradle his head, and he nods, listening in the dark for the initiation and then deflation of Jin's own breath. Air, fresh, uncomplicated air, brushes his cheeks, the curves of his eyelashes, slips between his lips and grants him deliverance.
The plane skims the clouds as it is devoured by the night.
When they arrive back, there is a social gathering in the Mishima throne room. Forest never believed that they actually had a throne room, rumors be damned, but the middle of the Mishima tower had been carved out into a monstrously decadent hall, rich with gothic affluence. Everything is clad in mixtures of delicious, melting blacks, midnight indigo and salacious red.
It is a formal occasion. Forest, dazed from lack of sleep and the burning shadow of the tortuous heat, had staggered back into his room only to find a freshly pressed suit and a note confirming the occasion.
He hates the insultingly spacious throne room. The centre piece is a monument, hollowed with the likeness of a huge, gaping well. An unorthodox commission by Kazuya Mishima in his younger days. Etched around it are the leering forms of gargoyles and during the niceties and the heaving crowd of wealthy patrons too terrified to turn down the invitation, Forest sees the ghostly polish of Jin's eyes lingering on the stone scaled bodies of his father's creation.
Jin remains separate from his guests; slouching on his self-declared throne. Forest lingers close by but even Nina has vanished off into the crowds to mingle (or possibly intimidate, he hasn't figured out how she operates yet) but Jin doesn't even spare him a glance. Usually Jin is perfectly stationary, watchful as a hawk, but tonight he rolls his shoulders backwards, breathing deep and long, and Forest remembers that their training has been delayed.
He risks it.
"Sir?" His voice, so quiet. He's become more and more apt at being a shadow; it scares him. "Is everything alright?"
Jin stands. When he looks at Forest, his irises are bleared with a dull, flickering orange, like the dying breath of a candle, but it could merely be the reflection of light in his eyes.
"I shall retire." A great arch frames the exit. Below it, Jin's figure is a lonely spectre. His voice thickens at the questioning steps behind him. "And I am not to be disturbed."
Forest bows in silence.
He isn't sure if Jin turns his head. But there is a pause. A waiting pause. And then footsteps; soon to be nothing but an echoing memory in the halls.
Forest needs air.
The outside balcony sits above the glittering spill of the city. It's enormous, white as plaster, and thankfully empty.
The barrier is a hard jolt against his gut. Forest cups his head in his hands. The swirl of carnivalesque shapes and lights and sound merge into a blur and he releases a sigh.
"Thinking of jumping?"
A sarcastic aria of a high, twinkling voice and he smiles despite himself.
Lili is a vision in blushed peach and hair spun in a bun.
Wealthy patrons and their relatives...
"Lili." He bows. Again. "You look lovely."
It's sincere. It really is. But her eyes narrow into sapphire slits and he sighs and finally, gives up.
"It doesn't matter what I say." He turns back to the balcony. "Because it's all done now, is it?"
"Yes." She sniffs. "Yes, it's all done."
He expects her to leave him. He wants her to leave him.
A nail, sharp as flint, prods his back.
"I heard about your family."
Forest brushes imaginary dust from the front of his suit.
"I didn't…realise." She sniffs. "At the time. I didn't know."
He turns up his cuffs. The dusk is studded with the city sparkle, but all he can focus on is the crook of his arm.
"How did you know?"
She inhales sharply. Something small, painful, begins to niggle at the back of Forest's brain. He rotates on his feet, more slowly than he means to at first, and Lili takes a step back.
She folds her arms and cocks her chin.
"Lars told me," she replies simply.
His fingers close around her elbow, so quick; he'd barely had time to register his own movement.
Lili's eyebrows knot together, but her retort fades on her lips as Forest throws a cautionary glance to the bustle behind the French windows.
"Lili…" His tone is tender, pleading, a brief outpouring of something he buried deep and the light in Lili's eyes is pained. "You mustn't get involved. Do you hear me? It's dangerous." He releases her arm. "I've seen people loaded with bullets for less."
Manicured nails settle on silk wrapped hips.
"I can take care of myself. I'm more than perfectly capable…"
"How did you even get involved?" His fingers itch to touch her again, to pull her close and shield her, but Lili is proud and pompous and made of iron.
"I gave him funds," Her cheeks begin to prickle pink and for the first time since he's known her, she turns her eyes down. Forest thinks of the magnetic charisma sketched in the lines of Lars's smile and inwardly groans. "And some transport. He filled me in on some details. There was a girl with him. Pretty thing, sweetly spoken."
A shake in Forest's hands. He curls them into fists.
"Yes, and what a girl, I may add. Hair as pink as posies…"
"What else?" Jin's darkness wires through his blood and he steps closer. The shadows droop forward and hood his eyes. "What exactly did he say to you?"
Lili's fingers flitter beneath the creases of her throat. Her choker is too close to the white freeze of her skin and has left a reddening welt. She looks up at Forest, and a sudden apprehension shudders into her eyes and Forest feels his own widen.
The shadows recede and die.
"It's...never mind. Forget it." He fingers his temple. His blood sings guilty songs in his head. "Just stay away from here. As far away as you can."
"Or what?" She whispers. She's no longer shrinking, but standing tall. "Or you'll march up to that corrupt monster…"
"How else will I protect you?"
A stormy faced Nina Williams clacks out onto the patio.
Forest straightens up at her address. Lili stares sideways at him, her mouth forming invisible words but he can't read them.
"Mr. Kazama is absent from this event," There is a cold spike in her words. "This is highly unlike him. You're not performing your duties."
"Of course, Mrs. Williams."
As he goes to follow Nina, a hand tugs on his own.
"Lili, I have to go…"
"You haven't changed, have you?" She ushers him closer, her eyes blue and blurred. Her nails leave groves in his palm. "You haven't, have you?"
"No, I haven't," He says gently. "I…hope not, anyway."
He doesn't want to leave her then, but Nina coughs purposefully and he has no choice.
"Upstairs," Nina hands him her skeleton key. "Now."
The noise of the party fades, bit by bit, as the elevator creeps higher. The lift judders at the floor that he knows holds the sleeping Xiao. His fingers ghost the buttons but Nina's key is a weight in his pocket, so he lets his hand slide down back to his side.
Strangely, aside from the blurry overhead of the elevator's bulb, there is no light to be found in the upper building. There are no soldiers, no scientists, no security. The floors merge into a moonstruck void and Forest is conscious of his heart beating faster as the iron cage shivers around him.
There is also a smell. It's an odd, musty scent, like the dank core of decay and the wither of dying leaves in autumn. Forest eyes the ventilation shaft. He listens for the hum of the generator, but there is nothing. He raises his hand and feels the guttering of the shaft. Again, nothing.
The lift jolts to a halt.
The lift doors clatter open at the top floor.
Forest clears his throat, merely for the excuse of sound, and feels for the key in his pocket.
At first, he thinks it's snowing.
The dark is littered with wisps of soft, falling whites. An unseen draft carries them up in twists and bursts that sails them up into the hurricane of black above. The ceiling in Jin's office had always been high, but as Forest observes it, it seems to have suddenly taken on a new, terrifying dimension.
The white is feathers. Torn asunder from the velvet couches, the plush office chairs, the feet rests. Long, fearsome gouges have been ripped deep into each piece of furniture, rendering it broken and unrecognizable. The great mahogany desk is split in two, as if struck with an unimaginable force and any other object, be it document or ornament, has been annihilated in masses of shattered glass and wrecked paper.
The only thing eerily untouched is the giant portrait of Heihachi Mishima. The wrinkled catacombs of Heihachi's eyes bore deep, deep into Forest's and he coughs, the sound a wide spread echo in the destroyed hallway and he stops mid curse, because he sees what is sitting below the monster portrait.
Positioned on the thick bottom of the lower frame, is Jin Kazama.
His head is downcast; eyes closed, as if pensive. The front of his hair seems wilder, coiled over in thin back filaments, hanging down to his chin. His formal clothes are ripped rags, the silk shirt gaping at the chest, and Forest is suddenly aware of strange, inky formations entwining across Jin's chest. A mysterious, lovely, horrific pattern, closing in at his shoulder blades. He sits still, unnaturally still, as if clad in a waking death.
The air is alive with a shifting, trembling energy and the feeling, oh god the feeling, that swirls round Forest in its hordes of terrible warning is the most awful, the most piercing, winter white fear. It seems to be the very essence of terror yet Forest can't, can't define it. He expects his mind to scream at him to flee but it is as paralyzed as his feet.
The creature stirs. As it lifts its head into the lonely moonlight, another tattoo imparts itself over the soft rise of his temples. It meets in the middle of his brow, seeming to form a hard circle of vicious, vibrant ruby.
The thing rears its back, uttering a long sharp hiss. With its back free, the creature arches its neck and actually appears to smile.
Its teeth are jagged like the sides of broken seashells, pearly white and veined with pink gum.
It seems to sigh, rolling its shoulders from side to side, until a flash of black begins to creep up from behind its back. Barrages of feathers, as black as a raven's down, emerge one by one in a creaking entourage of glossy arches. Each one is immaculate, morbidly stunning, stitched in perfect line with the next, and Forest's breath is stolen as the feathers pan out into a pair of huge, otherworldly wings.
They flap once, twice, thrice.
Each powerful gust pours through Forest in violent bursts, seeming to strip him down to his core. Forest's eyes flutter closed. He's lost, for a single second, in the enormity of the moment.
When he opens them, the creature, leant back across the mantel, is smirking.
Its eyes meet Forest's. Eyes the lush colour of bleeding suns.
They're both still. Powdery weaves of feather flutter and settle in the space between them.
Forest is slammed against the glass wall of Jin's office; the shine of busy Tokyo lost in the murk of the night. The only lights are thin, pinprick torches of cars, creeping up to the overhang of the tower.
The glass behind his back suddenly feels fragile, lacking in thickness, and Forest gasps as the twisting hooks of a claw palms him further against it. Forest hears a small, barely definable crack.
The creature sniggers; a low, demonic rumble against the burn and bulge of his jugular, for the thing is nuzzling his neck, of all things. The scalding wave of its breath sears Forest's skin.
The creature lifts him higher, higher, until they are placed in the middle of the Mishima's mighty window. The wings beat at the glass, at the air; Forest can't take his eyes off them.
A talon closes around his neck.
Forest's chest rises and falls in quick, desperate breaths. Jin, no, the thing allows its lips to move back in a tiny, self-contained smile, and suddenly, suddenly it isn't this devil but Jin...
Forest doesn't know why he can't do anything, it's like he's under this spell, but with each squeeze of Jin's claws against his chest his body seems to sink, deeper and deeper, into a suicidal catharsis.
The creature pulls back, the razor edges of its teeth stained with blood. Forest feels the bubbling, the heat, in his neck and his shirt is being doused in blood. The demon laughs this time, actually laughs, high and hysterical and horrible. Licking its lips with a forked, brick red tongue, it leans into the freshly delivered wound and laps like a starving dog. Forest shakes and gasps with each lash of it, finally bringing up his hands and setting them deep into the remains of Jin's shirt.
He bends his knee, setting his foot against the weakening glass, and prays.
The ensuring kick causes the thing to retreat. It doubles up; Forest is released. He hits the floor, landing on his hands and feet, and he barely has time to set himself into a fighting stance.
The ensuring clout throws him back against the window. His arm smashes beneath him and the ensuring yell seems to tear straight from the lungs. The entire length of the window rattles with the impact.
The creature tsks from the corner. Its lips spread and move and out pours a garbled, grotesque slur of speech and it is the loveliest, darkest, most horrific din Forest has ever witnessed and he bristles at the sound.
It lowers itself to its knees, smirking. It stops, suddenly still, and a shudder ripples down its body. It turns from side to side, shaking its head like a dog shakes off water. Its tongue runs across lips stained with Forest's blood.
Forest pants; winded, wounded, unable to move. He rolls onto his side, hugging the throbbing limb to his stomach.
The eyes open, the colour of smoking amber, and focus on Forest.
I'm going to die.
It begins to slowly drag itself toward him, claws scratching along the marble of Jin's floor, wings unfurling and swooping in loud, voluminous flaps. Forest shivers at the sound, and the creature breaks forth into a rumbling purr. As it draws close, it flaps its wings again. Forest inches back. It laughs again, louder.
The feathers crush down on either side of Forest's head; black bristles a ghostly caress on his temples.
"They are rather magnificent." Jin's voice. But not. Deeper, pressed with danger. The creature catches a feather between his claws; breaks the spine with his fingers. "Not many mortals are granted such a unique perspective."
Forest's mouth remains firmly closed.
The creature sniggers. Brings the feather down, and tickles it across Forest's cheek.
"Jin." It hurts to speak. At this point, it hurts to breathe. Forest is aware of the numbness fading in his neck. Pain. Faint headed, piercing pain. "Please."
A flash of black in the creature's eyes. It recoils, hissing, its composure designating with each twist of its face. For a moment, it looks as if something is desperately trying to wiggle out of its skin, but when it glowers down at Forest; its eyes are the same blood orange as the desert sky.
The world dissolves in chemical colour and Forest is sinking. He struggles, but the pain is swelling into agony, and his body screams for respite or something even worse.
The large dark shape of It melts out of his eye line. Forest pants, catching each breath in his throat, and aimlessly toys with the gouge in his neck.
I'm going to…
"I didn't bite deep, child."
A string of hysterical, unholy noise and what in the world actually makes that sound he thinks he'll go mad if he hears it again.
The pressing cloud of silence lifts. Forest hears the twinkle of glass, of feminine laughter, of rumbles of male voices, of footsteps on polished marble and the shiver of the crystal on the chandelier. Of the swoosh of Lili's hair as she walks.
A pink, overlong tongue dances out of the creature's mouth.
Three floors down, Xiao tosses and turns, driven to distraction by nightmares.
No no no.
"No good," The words seem to battle themselves out. "The sandbag…no good…I need something…like when we…"
Jin. Jin was trapped in that.
Forest crawls onto his front. One foot steadies itself on the floor. The other waggles desperately and he loses his balance. His knee smashes to the ground and he bites back a curse. His bad arm is a weight on his side, but gradually, he manages to flex it. His feet finally find their place, and he stands.
The thing slithering in Jin's skin breaks off the door handle.
Forest shambles closer. Takes a deep breath, and dives.
He slides his hands beneath the thing's arms and fixes them over its chest.
The creature roars.
It throws itself back across the floor, wings batting in furious symphony against Forest's ears. Sharp cut feathers scratch along his cheeks and on the arch of his eyebrows, barely missing his eyes.
Forest's biceps bulge. He grits his teeth, sweat pooling on his hairline, and begins to back pedal his feet. The open wound pulls and tears.
The creature inhabiting Jin's flesh writhes and hisses.
"B-B-Breathe," Forest whispers in the curve of its ear. "Breathe for me."
"Breathe," Forest's own breath drains slowly from his lungs, ebbing away into the bite of exhaustion. The creature twists away again; Forest holds fast. "C'mon. This will help."
He imagines the lift of Xiao's sleeping breast, the leather snap of Nina's heels down the hall, the glitter of Lili's nails beneath dimming skies.
And then there's just Jin.
It feels separate from the rest of his body. Almost numb, distant, ethereal. Like the shadow of sensation expressed in a dream. But then the claw retracts and strikes through his left shoulder, tearing flesh and tissue and Forest feels a gathering pool of heat draining from his arm and then out, out, staining his uniform a deeper shade. He's suddenly conscious of descending, his knees breaking beneath him, and the world mingling with the shadow behind his eyelids.
The last remaining feathers finally find their way to the floor, amongst furniture and fabric and paper. A car horn blares down in the streets. A tiny pinprick of a draft whistles through the crack in the window.
Lights dart across the floor, leveling the distance between them.
Jin is crouching on the other side of the room. His dress trousers are torn at the knees, his silk shirt a ghostly hint of fabric around his shoulders. His back is bare and smooth. The inside of his iris is damp, earth brown.
Forest pulls himself up. There is a creak in his body, tingling up and down, before his nerves convulse and he forces back a cry. Blood comes off in his hands, dribbling between his fingers, and his breath is short and quick. His eyes drift down and he can barely make out the deep outline of three, single gashes, torn open on his chest.
Forest meets Jin's glare. Jin looks at Forest, and touches his own lips, which are crusted with Forest's blood. And then, he looks down, at Forest's breast, and the other man recoils, covering it with his hands.
"It's…" He winces at his own rasp. Jin's eyes narrow. "It's nothing."
Jin doesn't speak. He sits, very still, and watches the red stain the skin on Forest's fingers.
When he comes to, he realises he's back in his bed.
He wants it to be day. But it's night. The moonlight is pale on the sheets, over the tight wrap of his bandages.
Forest stirs. He's been awake for some time, living in the darkness of his head. But his eyes are dry and alert, his mind keen and softly buzzing, and he knows this isn't a dream. None of it was.
Nina resumes her seat at the end of his bed. She flicks open her cell phone and mutters into it, before settling it down on her lap.
"You've been out cold for two days," She stands, and straightens her skirt. "You lost blood."
Forest fingers his bandages, and says nothing.
He rests his head back on the pillow.
"Did you know?"
Nina glances back at him. The moonlight catches inside her eyes.
Forest remembers smatterings of orange in ocean black pupils. He sighs and closes his eyes.
Nina stands over him. The skeleton key jangles on her hip. She lowers her head.
"Jin has been here," She crosses her arms. Sits down, again, at the edge of the bed and Forest wonders why she isn't leaving. "More than once."
Forest's chest aches. He bends over; swallowing at the tug of his wounds, and doesn't reply.
As he lingers in the haze of half sleep, someone wavers overhead.
Fingers, feather soft, on the base of his forehead. Move across to the arch of his eyebrows, and then down to the parting in his lips.
It's a phantom feeling, too light and opaque for Forest; he flushes and feels open, young, more then lost.
The figure senses his unease and begins to move back. Forest's hand weakly rises and catches the ends of retreating fingertips, and he fights to open his eyes, but pain has made him weak and he feels as if his chest is cracking open and he isn't sure if it's from the pain.
He sleeps instead.
His wounds close in mismatched bumps and stitches of skin, but as he buttons his uniform, he sees the three slashes, red and angry crust on his flesh, and knows that they will scar.
Nina waits for him in the doorway. Beneath her blouse, her skin is beaten purple and blue.
"Lars." Forest's voice; deadpan, professional. He recalls the report over the intercom earlier. His tone catches slightly, hiked in his throat, and it's a reminder of how he will never change. "Did he hurt you badly?"
"He did worse to Jin."
Forest turns quickly. Too quickly, and Nina smiles.
"Our next assignment is in two days," She sits the file on his desk. "We return to Egypt."
Forest traces the outline of the gun in his pocket.
Chapter 3: 3
So I *finally* completed this. A mix of 2012 writing with some 2017 editing/snippets thrown in. All as an excuse to finish this so I can start on Part 3.
Forest hides the rise of his stitches beneath his uniform. The gouges have disturbed his skin in breaks of angry, mangled tissue; it will scar.
To think that the world could continue after what occurred that night. To think he can still sit here, with Nina opposite and Jin on his left side, looking out the window with is arms crossed, as if all they did three weeks ago was share a mildly troubling conference. Alisa is a sleeping prop beside Jin. Her arms are crossed over her breasts, her chest lifting with the mimicry of breath. Her feet hover millimeters from the floor. Forest watches her as the first lines of moonlight sketch across the carpet.
Most of all, the most horrible thing, is that for Forest this is beginning to feel natural.
But is this was what it was like for Jin, all the time? Even in the places where Forest had derived the most comfort; cozy kitchens and basement dojos, and all that time Jin had demons crawling beneath his skin, waiting to scratch themselves out at the first show of weakness?
Out of the corner of his eye, Forest observes his superior.
This thing could have killed him, could have killed them both. And yet Jin had still opted for Forest's time, Forest's shelter, Forest himself. Despite the danger, the danger that kept all others at arm’s length, he had sought Forest out, placed Forest in the spectrum of that danger, as if he couldn't help himself.
Forest isn't sure if he feels enraged or flattered.
But Forest had trusted Jin. Never once had he felt the prickle of that otherworldly violence direct itself at him, never once had thought the quiet and intense youth that shared his food, his shower, his home as any kind of devil that could lash his skin open at any given moment.
He'd just seen Jin.
Forest can almost hear his father's voice in his head.
"You're shallow, son! All your thoughts and expectations, so simple! It's infuriating!"
Jin’s shoulders have relaxed, his chin high, head back. He is returning Forest’s stare.
A crash, a slam of impact into the side of the helicopter, falling the men, Nina, himself, like dominoes. Forest’s stomach dives as the world dives with him.
Dust and sand blizzard in the air around them. There is another almighty lurch as another grenade narrowly misses the main body of the helicopter, but they are off balance. A door has been torn off in the blast. Nina ducks beside it, cocks her rifle, and shoots the culprit, point blank.
Forest, without thought, dives to shield Jin Kazama from another incoming parade of bullets. Bits of metal shed from the body of the helicopter and slice his skin. Alisa shoots off in a rush of heat and white fire, disappearing out of the destroyed door, twittering something akin to "Destroy, Destroy!"
Forest keeps his arms spread above Jin, his chest hovering above Jin's by a blessed centimeter. Nina had instructed him, countless a time, to keep contact with their employer to a minimum. He focuses on the arm rest, where Jin's finger tap slow, as if bored.
But Jin is looking at him, beneath the turn of his brow. Forest's breath cuts short; his lip has been scrapped by a rouge scrap of metal. Blood dribbles down his chin; Forest can scent the iron of it. His knees tremble. Jin reaches up; catches the blood on the tip of his finger, and incredulous to the chaos around them, slips it between his lips.
The opposing wall splits open in fire and smoke. Forest is thrown backward; he clouts his head on the metal base of the seat.
Everything slows to a low, drifting babble. His mind is cotton wool; it could be for seconds, it could be for hours. But in his mind's eye, Jin rises, seeming to move as if separate from the scene unravelling in smoke around him, and Forest swears he sees a red hue tinting Jin's lips.
Jin kneels; Forest is lifted.
Nina's commands fall like feathers in the air around them. Vacate, defend, flee. Men scamper to the exits with parachutes that resemble tumors growing on their backs. The pain in Forest's chest begins anew; his neck, bandaged and stitched, pangs with the grot of agony.
Nina flies from her post, tumor bursting to reveal a parachute that blooms like a white wing. Forest struggles in Jin's arms; he is suspended, he is without ground. He is afraid.
Jin shrugs his shoulders from side to side, but then surely, he must be equipped with two large black parachutes, which pupate from his back..
Forest feels air, feels the freedom of it, feels the once gentle burn of Jin's eyes.
"Sir..." he chokes on the word.”Jin..."
Jin flaps his wings, wide and powerful, closing in to cover them both.
And then, they plummet.
Light, gold, burns the back of his eyelids. His mouth is dry; he wets his lips, and groans. The tear in his neck and chest ache; his scalp smarts, wetted with blood. Drowsily, he flutters his lashes.
They are behind the temple. Sun bleached walls rise above and around them. Light shines through Jin's hair; his eyes are grave, his gaze levelled at the gulp in Forest's throat.
Jin is knelt, and Forest, with a sudden jolt in his chest, feels the hard press of Jin's lap against his neck and head. His chest is bare, the stitches on his recent goring visible, and Jin's stare, unchanging, moves down to observe it. His work shirt and the bullet proof vest have been torn free, tousled in the sand. Forest sees, though the lessening fog in his brain, that the vest is peppered with bullets. It is then that he feels the ache of fresh bruises across his ribs, and he gasps, gulps, rolls on his back and coughs a spat of blood.
The floor is formed of scalding dust, but Jin's hand is a freeze on his back, ghosting the length of his spine. Forest becomes suddenly, fearfully still. He cannot hear the rush of helicopters, the stomp of military personnel, the silk hiss of Nina's voice. There is just them, the heat of the stone, and the blue expanse of sky that stretches onward and forever. Jin's fingers trace up his back, his shoulder, turn Forest's head until he finds himself, locked, in the intensity of Jin's attention.
Black wings are folded behind Jin's back, as if in repose, their tips a drag on the stone floor. Forest opens his mouth; closes it promptly, but there is no red in his superior's eyes.
"Jin..." he struggles the words out. Blood clots around his lips; Jin cups his chin with finger and thumb. Forest pushes himself up on his elbows, trying to fill the space between them. He shrugs off the sickness, the dizziness, which plagues both muscle and bone. Jin leans forward on his knee; his mouth draws close to the turn of Forest's forehead, and Forest feels lips meet the ruffle of his hair.
A vicious roar rises from below and shakes the temple. Forest gasps: the tremor echoes in his bones.
Jin lifts his head, and Forest does not have to see to imagine his infamous glare fixing onto the distance. Jin gets to his feet. He stretches out his back, slowly inhaling. As if with the suck of breath, the wings clench, shudder, and draw back into his skin. He reaches for his duster jacket, folded neatly beside him, and pulls leather over the back slits in his shirt.
Transformation complete, he looks down at Forest, still knelt in the dust, looking a little lost.
"Are you recovered, Mr Law?"
His voice, cool as ever, and Forest splutters, rising to meet Jin's height.
"And you are ready to proceed?"
"Yes," Forest is near breathless, and doesn't know why. "Anything."
Procession or not, Forest is stationed in the camp outside the temple that has triggered Jin’s obsession. He is sat with the remains of the helicopter, nursing his wounds, an apprehension hot in his body.
He wants to fight, he wants to follow. But Nina is gone. Jin has not stayed. Forest wears his scars like a love letter and Jin, Jin has not stayed.
The surrounding men have strayed. There is a horror beneath the sands, and they feel it. Forest is bleary with heat and pain, the demolished helicopter no shade, but he is unafraid. The horror beneath the sand – of what the men whisper – its kid’s stuff. Hateful gods locked away for a millennia? He’s seen Paul’s bad movies. He’s not afraid of that horror, he afraid of the horror inside Jin and what Jin is going to do about it, he needs to go, he needs to get up and go -
The placating force is strong, but balanced. It’s enough to throw him but hardly enough to wind him, and he’s suddenly conscious of something lowering him gently to the ground.
Alisa’s eyes are cherry red.
“You are to remain here.”
Her rockets hum gently with the deftness of a butterfly wing. As Forest shakes the sand from his hair, she settles opposite him, kneeling down to his level. There is something too delicate, too mannered about the action and Forest inwardly shudders.
“What are your orders, Alisa?” He tries to scramble to his feet, but fine gloved fingers clamp down his bad arm and keep them there. “I must get to my superior…”
“Alisa’s final orders,” comes the soft response, and damn it, she’s crafted from aluminum and heat sensors and silicone and plastics. “Is that I am to protect Nina Williams and Forest Law. These are my final orders.”
“Instructed,” she continues mechanically. “By Jin Kazama.”
Forest’s breath hitches.
“Also,” She releases his shoulders. “Mr. Kazama gave Alisa one final message to deliver. One last message to give to a Mr. Law.”
She clasps her hands over her chest.
“And that he is sorry. Sorry for everything.”
Forest curls the sand beneath his fingers.
“Sorry?” His voice. Creaking, cracking, cracks. He swallows, squeezing his eyes tight. “H-He doesn’t have to be sorry for anything.”
“He says,” Forest swears he can hear the whirring in her chest, the crackle and spark of fiber optic data stirring Jin’s words into her mouth. “That he is thankful for you.”
Jin cooped up in his dragon’s castle, whispering into the ear of a walking doll, his few and final words.
“And he asks that in time, you can forget him. And that is fine. He isn’t worth remembering. But he says that you helped him forget. Forget who he was, and what he was, for a while. And that gave him…”
“Please,” Forest murmurs to the sand, to her, to nothing at all. “No more.”
“…the greatest peace.”
Her lips snap shut.
She zips up, arms swung outward.
“Danger,” She pipes. “Danger, danger.”
And in a flourish, her jetpacks activate and she is gone.
He’d heard it. Whatever the hell it was. He’d hoped it had been some sick hallucination; the sound of blood vessels bouncing off his ear drums, the rush of a hemorrhage, anything. Just any excuse to have that dangerous, deranged roar stay inside his head.
Forest has managed to move, finally. Alisa had not stopped him this time, but maybe its because she is a blur of pink and white, stretched out and still, on the stone.
The sun is too bright, too glaring. It bathes the courtyard in an all seeing eye of gold.
Beneath its unblinking stare, the earth has been torn asunder. In the middle of the courtyard, a plunging abyss has been unearthed, and although Forest can’t see into it, he can imagine the pits of the thing. A cluster of black so complete, like a sea of Jin’s feathers, assorted in tightly locked patterns.
Endless, ongoing, forever.
Jin is there. Jin. Dust is caught in his hair, his bottom lip swollen and bloodied. His knuckles are cut red. His trench coat is torn on one shoulder.
His eyes. Bare, hungry, mad.
Behind him, a panting, wild looking Lars.
In front of him, a twisted mutation of a creature. It stands over fifteen feet; a gnarled ancient beast. The horror beneath the sand, and Forest is afraid.
The air is still.
The creature gargles something. A challenge.
This is it. Forest pushes himself farther up. You are stronger than this. You are stronger than that.
Forest looks at the rotting excuse of a God. The spoils of Jin’s personal and public wars.
Jin, you’ve done terrible things.
Jin tautens. He raises his fists to his face, and lowers them to his side. A typical introductory battle pose, and one they had perfected in their first training session together three years ago.
A wind picks up. A crackling darkness stings the air and rolls off Jin’s aura and Forest can taste it, bitter, on the ends of his tongue.
Dull, dank, downbeat. There is nothing he can do.
Jin’s head turns. Slowly, slight, and Forest’s chest lifts as their eyes meet.
Forest’s lips move.
Jin’s pupils pull from side to side, as if memorizing his face.
Jin flings himself toward the beast, fist held high, and the ensuring blow tears through the thing’s chest.
A hissing shriek, as potent as a screaming radiator, and then the monster, and Jin, topple back, over the side and out of sight.
There is silence.
And then there is light.
It wraps itself around Forest, diving beneath his closing eyelids, coiling around his arms and legs and dropping him deep into sand and sun and finally a merciful black.
The spinning blades of the helicopter are deaf, separate, from his ears.
Nina binds the cut on his hand. They have a medic on board, but it is she was holds the anesthetic and the bandages and the ice pack.
Forest’s fingers are limp against the turn of her wrist.
“The Zaibatsu has been turned over to me,” The pressure of the bandage is tight; painful. Her hands aren’t gentle. “As in accordance with Mr. Kazama’s final wishes.”
She releases him. He leans back against the seat, hands sat in his lap.
“As for you,” she continues. “Your contract has terminated. You’re free to leave.”
Forest’s tongue works against his lips.
It’s a whisper. But it’s all he can manage.
“Yes,” Nina subconsciously looks toward the window; a habit unlike her. “Your contract began and ended with the survival of Mr. Kazama.”
“Jin.” Forest says the name. He crumbles forward, and catches his face in his hands. “Jin.”
She doesn’t correct him.
His father is still in Japan.
They’d taken his luggage from his rooms at the Zaibatsu, and Forest had remained below in the car, eradicating thoughts of that infinite view and the seductive burn of silk beneath him as he slept. The abhorrent luxury that had suckled him like a parasite was now releasing its poison, and was ebbing away with each drop of rain from the sky. A light, feverish rain. The faint beginning of spring.
Nina is standing outside. He’d long since expected her to vanish into the Zaibatsu, to stand in the central chambers of what was now hers, but she stood in the rain and stared at his window.
He opens the car door, and dusts down his now redundant uniform. Her shoulders relax; as she approaches, he bows.
“It’s too bad, Forest,” She says quietly. The body guards are seeing to his belongings; the courtyard is empty. “You were a valuable commodity to us.”
Forest says nothing.
She taps her pen against her clipboard. Forest wouldn’t call it agitation; such things were alien to her. But the she makes a strange sound, deep in her throat, and turns her attention to the crack of thunder overhead. Above them the Mishima Zaibatsu hovers, more potent than the black, rolling clouds.
“It’s what he wanted,” she says softly. “He put everything into that final moment. You should know better…” She lifts her finger, and tilts the end of his chin. “…then to sulk.”
His eyes snap up.
He doesn’t know what she sees, but the tight corners of her mouth release. The hand travels; cups his cheek.
“If you wish to come back,” she continues. “For any reason at all, there is a space here for you. An extra pair of hands that are a little more…” She chuckles slightly, but the private joke is a bitter one. “…sensitive than most, may be useful in rebuilding the world.”
Forest finally speaks.
“It’s been an honor, Ms. Williams.” He grants her his final bow. Moisture prickles the back of his neck. “I wish you the best.”
She guffaws as the guards appear, armed with his very small suitcase.
“What’s ironic is that you possibly mean it, too,” She turns on her heel, and makes her way towards the entrance. “And that’s sweet, in a pathetic kind of way.”
Forest had lived in the worry that he would never be able to show his face in the public forums again, be forced to wear sunglasses and grow beards and large hats. But he is unimportant. No one looks twice at him. He sheds Jin's uniform like a snake skin, and with it, his notoriety, if he had any at all. He has more money than he knew what to do with, and he is numb to the existence of it, but the car has driven him to an apartment, wide and trendy and secluded, near the base of Mount Fuji. Jin must have arranged it. There are herb gardens outside, a vegetable patch. It is away from the bustle of the city.
Forest is unemployed, filthy rich, and completely alone. He knows his father is still in Japan, although no longer in the poultry infested dive Forest had known, for Forest had sent money, to both America and his father's meek overdrawn account, and Forest had received e-mails from the bank confirming the transactions were taken without fuss.
His father who had made no effort to connect to him, or find him, or save him, even if Forest knew there was nothing he could do, not really, not with Jin’s eagle eye and the appropriation of each call and e-mail, but Forest is bitter. Forest sits in his beautiful home and looks out at his vegetables and he cooks, each and every single day, delivers free packages of cooked goods to the care homes and shelters, and he is bitter, and he could walk the way to his Dad, blindfolded, but he can't bear to.
The things he's done, the things he's seen, the -
Jin is dead.
And that is the worst. The man who took everything, who beckoned Forest into his car with body guards at his back, who gave him everything if only for the cost of his soul, who made him bear the weight of a gun when all he'd ever wielded was a wooden spoon, who'd pushed and peeled back the layers of his very self to reach inside and mold it to Jin’s private design -
But why? Why acquire him? Why go to all that trouble, to drag him down, only to have Forest, alone to witness his death?
The thought alone has struck Forest dead.
The reason, the reason that keeps him, here, in the purgatory of Japan, the reason that whirred and spun out of Alisa's mouth like exquisite poison -
Forest thinks of air sweet on his lips, of eyes framed in doorways, of the words that moved small on Jin’s lips -
It's not his fight. It never was his fight. He was merely a combat toy, a witness to Jin’s crumbling humanity, a cook boy, nothing special -
It's not his fight. It's not his fault, he has told himself, night after night, where the dark outside has stretched so long and suffocating, when the uprooted vegetables in his patch look like trussed bodies.
But that reason...!
Forest is alone now. Forest is free. He cannot go back to America, not to the house that has seen too much, not to his mother with blood on his hands. Not to his father, who can and will not understand, who took his money but not his forgiveness.
He'll never see them again.
Paul, with the afternoon sun in his hair like a net of burnt wheat.
You can't, or you won't? whispers a voice that sounds too much like Jin, the Jin from before, with eyes reflecting the expanse of Tokyo behind dark glass.
But Jin’s reason -
Forest packs his things. He books plane tickets to a place where the terrain is twisted and bare and harsh, where he can hide, where the population is small and the war has not touched its islands.
He writes a letter to Xiao. He attaches to it his uniform of silk and dragons, and hopes, above hope, that it is enough of an apology.
He's left her. He left her in a way he could never leave Jin. That's a terrifying, cruel thought.
Forest flees Japan, flees the weight of Jin’s reasons, and in his mind, the sky outside the plane's windows, as night draws on, pulls out to the black of an abyss that swallows Jin, and finally, himself.
“But..." Jin's face mirrored in that huge, immortal window; eyes sunken in shadow. "I am glad."
"Glad?" Forest's echo is a gentle sweep across the floor, the furniture, the files half open on the desk.
"Yes." The tones surrounding Jin's words seem softer, tenderized. "That you will survive this."