Well, hello there! And here you probably thought I was, like... done for awhile. Nope. when I said I would write King until I died I meant it.

Anyway, there's a special surprise here; I'll tell you at the end. Onward~


In a brightly-lit locker room at a sprawling arena, the female fighter known only as King stood with her hands on either side of one of the polished porcelain sinks, her eyes fixed intently on her reflection in the mirror. She had never been scared of things she could kick into submission and she sure as hell wasn't scared now.

But she was… something.

She pressed her lips together as her gaze lingered on a small scar on her forehead - a glaring reminder of the horrific incident that changed her forever. Her confidence in her abilities was shattered by what happened, and though she had regained it little by little over time, the fact of the matter was that this match was going to be her first real test since… it… happened, the occasional bar fight notwithstanding. She averted her eyes, suddenly unable to look at herself.

"Bb?"

King jumped at the voice of her teammate-and-totally-platonic-lady-love, "Blue" Mary Ryan. The smaller woman stood near the edge of the room, her ridiculously toned arms crossed over her chest, concern written all over her lightly freckled face.

"I'm good," King stated as she quickly turned around. She fixed her hair so that it hid the scar before clearing her throat and bringing herself to her full height.
"You're making that face."
"What face?"
"That face - you know the one."
"I am no -"
"So -" Mary cut King off as she plucked her jacket from a nearby bench - "Like, do you really expect me to believe that you're good right now when you're making that face?"
"...No."
"Okay, well what's up?"
"I can't lose," King answered simply.
"Pfft, why would you?! Everyone knows you can take her easily! Easily!"

King narrowed her eyes.

"I know," she lamented, "I know I can take her out, but -"
"Bro. She doesn't have a gun -" Mary gently pointed out.
"No, but -"
"- and you're not going into this with a head injury. She's not gonna get the drop on you, so do what you do and get in close before she can start with the fireworks!"
"You're right, and I intend to," King told Mary firmly. "I intend to show her - to show everyone - that I'm the leader of this team for a reason!"
"That's the spirit! And, to think - you were having doubts about even entering."
"You and Mai are very persuasive…"

"You guys!"

Almost as if summoned by the mention of her name, King and Mary's friend and teammate, Mai Shiranui, burst into the room, the ornate kimono she chose to wear for a dramatic entrance dragging behind her.

"They're about to announce us! We need to be ready literally right now!"
"Come on, O' Fearless Leader -" Mary walked up to King and slung an arm over her shoulders - "Let's do this."

King nodded.

"Let's do this," she said - possibly more to herself than to her friends - as she forced every intrusive thought about the incident to the very back of her mind. She calmly walked with Mary as Mai hurriedly skipped a little ahead of them.

"Kingy," Mai started after a moment. "I know what you're thinking back there and you'll be fine. Just breathe."
"Right now the only thing I'm thinking is that I'm going to take this," King affirmed while adjusting her bowtie.
"Don't worry - she's good," Mary chimed in.

"KING-SAN!"

The familiar voice of King and Mai's former teammate, Yuri Sakazaki, echoed through the long corridor as she sprinted toward the trio.

"Yuri!?" King instantly stopped in her tracks, surprised. "What -"
"I wanted to wish you luck. I mean, all of you," Yuri explained, "But you especially."

King made a face. In the days leading up to the tournament Yuri had somehow decided that an actual, honest to god match would trigger her PTSD and cause her to suffer a brain-breaking relapse. The consideration was touching, but not helpful in any sense of the word. Especially not right before the fucking match!

"Thanks for the concern..."

King worried that she came across as insincere but it couldn't be helped; although she appreciated everyone looking out for her she was starting to become slightly annoyed with all of the uncertainty surrounding her state of mind. Nevertheless she took a deep breath and squared her shoulders as she began to walk toward the exit.

"...But if you're going to worry about someone, worry about her."

###

In a backstage hallway on the other side of the arena, a young man waited quietly outside the locker room door. He had been patient, at first… but, as this was the womens' locker room, he'd started to get dirty looks from some of the people entering. Or leaving. Or just passing by. After a while he stopped sheepishly trying to explain and ignored them, anxiously munching on a meat bun and wondering what was taking so long.

Finally, moments before she was due to perform, the equally-young woman he was waiting for came out of the room. He had meant to ask what kept her, but when he saw her outfit he choked on the words.

"...what do you think?" asked Athena Asamiya, giving her boyfriend a twirl.

This was their first tournament since they'd made it official, and she'd promised to wear something special. He was the first person to see what that meant: she had adopted his colors. She wore a blue miniskirt over short white tights, blue sneakers over dark blue socks, and a blue vest over a white, short-sleeved crop top. She even had dark blue armbands on, though hers were really just long - and, of course, fingerless - gloves.

"Guh," answered Sie Kensou, trying to remember how to breathe.
"I thought you'd like it," Athena giggled, walking over to him and giving him a peck on the cheek. "I just wanted to remind people we're more than partners now, y'know?"
"Well this sure does that," he assured her, a grin and a blush on his face. He'd worn much the same thing, after all - his old blue jacket and white shirt with his new dragon-emblazoned blue shorts.

"It's almost like we're man and wife…!"
"H-hold on now," Athena stammered, holding up her hands. "Nobody said anything about marriage. I'm not ready for that yet."
"I know, I know," Kensou chuckled. "But for now, this is more than enough." He pulled her into a hug, his grin softening to a smile; she giggled again in response, nuzzling his neck with her own.

"...ay yai yai, you kids are going to kill me."

The two separated to find Master Chin down the hall, holding his head as he shook it. He'd gone with his traditional Chinese garb this year, looking very much the odd man out. "You two do know why we're here, don't you?"

"Yes, Master Chin," they said in unison.
"This is no silly exhibition. It's the King of Fighters," he lectured anyway. "And remember, the format is different this time. No more bailing each other out; it's just three matches, one-on-one. Are you ready?"
"You know it, Teach!" Sie said with confidence.
"Yes, Master," Athena said, without much.

Chin caught it and raised his eyebrows.

"Athena? Is there a problem...?"

There were a couple problems, actually. A lot if one went back far enough. Athena's mostly-charmed life had taken some turns as of late. First and foremost, of course, was getting together with Sie… but then there was the kidnapping. The failure. The robbery that could have destroyed her. Worst of all, she'd started thinking she must be cursed - then found out she actually was.

But those weren't the problems tonight. Not really. The curse was gone, and with it her suffering; she'd already made her comeback. Now, with this King of Fighters, she was hoping for a return not to form, but to normalcy. She didn't think that was too much to ask… unless something went wrong before the finals, of course.

No, the real problem was her opponent this round. Supposedly she'd been acting "erratic" lately… and she was dangerous enough to begin with.

"...no, Master," said Athena, after a bit of a pause. "Just opening night jitters. I'll be fine once the show starts."
"Hmph. Good. Alright then… let's do this."

As always, the Master let his pupils lead - and hoped they'd prove they deserved to.


* First thing's first: You may have noticed a stylistic change here, and that's because... there are two authors all along! That's right, you guys, this is a collab between myself and our very own Rex Madison! We both realized that we've put our respective baes through hell, and after putting together a small snippet, we decided to go for an all-new project featuring both of our damaged ladies.

* If you're new here you don't necessarily need to read our other stories, but our continuities kick off with Much Like Suffocating (me) and The Deal (Mads). Mine are pretty straightforward, but with Mads just, like, use the cover images as your guide, unless you're reading this on AO3. Then, like... go read. It's good stuff and you know you want to anyway ;)

* If you were like, "Huh?" when Chin had that line about three one-on-one matches, well, here's why he said that: In the manga, The King of Fighters: A New Beginning, that's the format that's being used for the tourney. So, like, we adopted it. Yeah.

As for other notes, ummm... I really don't have any this time around. Weird, right?

Anyway, our updates probably won't be all that "regular" but, rest assured, we're in this 'til the end! Let us know your thoughts and feels, and stay tuned for more!