Note: Several years ago, I wrote an IorixKyo fanfic called "Lost Memories" based on this same plot. One thing I always regretted was making such a short story out of such an interesting idea ^^. I wanted to rewrite it, but I soon realized that Kyo, Iori and the world in general have changed too much. The twists and turns of the story don't work anymore. After giving it some thought, I decided to reuse the main plot and adapt it to fit KOF XIV, KOF for Girls and the early chapters of the A New Beginning manga. The story won't be the same, but I'll try to stick to what matters: the relationship between Kyo and Iori.
Please keep in mind that English is not my first language.
The stadium where the final match of the "The King of Fighters" tournament would take place that year was filled to the brim. Thousands of excited fans where chanting "Antonov", the name of the Russian billionaire behind the event's organization. Everyone's eyes were fixed on the stage installed on the far side of the field.
A dozen giant screens installed around the stadium displayed the tournament's logo clearly outlined against a pulsating burgundy background, heightening the audience's anticipation.
"Heh, what's there to be excited about?" muttered Kusanagi Kyo, looking at the scene from a private luxury box, several meters above the spectators.
Kyo was standing in front of the balcony's handrail, hands thrust deep into the pockets of his jeans. His dark brown eyes swept the audience and lingered on the empty stage. He scoffed at the decoration—unnecessarily ostentatious, just like the image this iteration of the tournament sought to project. What were those arches supposed to evoke? Their thick and imposing grooved columns looked Greek (or were they Roman?), and long staircases led from the stage to the main ring through a long carpeted path. The match would take place there, in the middle of the field.
The stadium was partially roofed, and the rays of the sun fell vertically on the central area. The sky above was clear and blue, with only a few scattered clouds.
The tournament's opening ceremony had been held there, several weeks ago.
A mysterious dark energy had appeared briefly during the first match, but then it was gone, allowing the tournament to continue without any setback. However, the participants—KOF veterans in the most part—were able to still feel the entity's presence and remained alert, knowing that they could not drop their guard.
Kyo in particular had a good reason to remain vigilant. The dark energy had interrupted the tournament during the opening fight when he was facing Yagami Iori, his lifelong rival. The energy had possessed Iori, encountering no resistance, and had taken control over the redhead's body and actions.
The possession had lasted only a few minutes, because Kyo had managed to bring Yagami back to consciousness. Kyo had suffered some minor scratches, but he was otherwise fine.
However, he was worried about Yagami. The possession by the entity had been sudden and absolute. The redhead didn't even have a chance to resist it.
What would have happened if he hadn't been there to call Yagami's name? To make him return to his senses? Kyo didn't know.
A faint rustling sound interrupted his thoughts.
"I thought you had gone home after being disqualified," Kyo said, smiling smugly.
"I still have something to do here." The voice was deep and low, but audible despite the noise of the crowd. There was disdain in the humorless intonation.
Kyo turned his head to look over his shoulder. Iori was stepping out onto the balcony, an unreadable expression on his face. He wore a long wine-colored trench coat that had burn marks on its torn right sleeve. The burns were a reminder of their fight, and Kyo carried a similar mark on the sleeve of his white jacket.
Iori walked toward him and Kyo instinctively brought his guard up, ready to deflect any sudden attack.
However, the redhead merely stopped next to him and gazed at the stadium, just as Kyo had been doing seconds ago.
If you wanted to admire the view you could have picked any other balcony, Yagami thought Kyo, looking at Iori out of the corner of his eye.
Iori studied the crowd and then the stage. His hair swayed in the breeze and Kyo got a glimpse of the cold crimson glow in his eyes. Years ago, those eyes had looked at him with unfathomable contempt and Iori had gone after his life moved by crazed obsession. He hadn't listened to reason back then.
But everything had changed. Nowadays, an encounter with Yagami could lead to violence or to a harmless exchange of words.
But now he's even more annoying, thought Kyo bitterly. Talking to him is like walking through a mine field. It's impossible to tell when he's going to explode.
Kyo repressed a short laugh. At the beginning, he had hated the constant presence of Yagami in his life. The redhead still pissed him off when he appeared out of nowhere to threaten him in front of others, because this amused Kyo's friends to no end.
Being the butt of the jokes regarding Yagami's fixation wasn't funny. What was Yagami thinking when he said things like 'you're mine' in front of people? Perhaps his goal was to make him die of embarrassment?
Kyo's teammates and friends considered Yagami a fairly disturbed person, and they didn't aim their jokes at him, probably because they didn't want to die. After each encounter, Kyo was made fun of, because he was the object of Yagami's obsession.
A devoted, incessant, invariable obsession that had lasted years.
The crowd's cheering grew louder and brought Kyo back from his thoughts. He turned toward the stage. A voice in the loudspeakers announced that Antonov would address the public, as the 'champion' who was defending his title.
Months ago, when the different teams had received their invitation to participate in the KOF, Antonov had proclaimed himself as 'the first KOF champion', even though no one had heard of him before.
Personally, Kyo didn't have any reason to disprove such bold statement. He wanted a good fight. If Antonov was an impostor, the lie would be exposed through a humiliating defeat at the hands of any of the teams.
When the organizer made his first public appearance, Kyo confirmed that confronting Antonov wasn't worth his time. The man seemed to be an eccentric billionaire, one of many others who had held the King of Fighters tournament over the years.
One redeeming quality in favor of Antonov was his candid pomposity. A buffoon like him certainly couldn't have a hidden agenda to release an ancient deity who wanted to destroy the world. It was obvious to Kyo that he had organized the tournament to feed his own vanity.
The stage was showered by a burst of sparks and the audience cheered with glee. Antonov made a dramatic entrance by emerging from a trap door on the floor amidst a haze of artificial smoke. His wide chest was bare and he held a thick cigar between his teeth. A chunky golden belt decorated with the tournament's sigil hung from his waist.
"Do you think that guy would have kept his cool if he had seen Orochi?" mused Kyo sarcastically, crossing his arms. On the stage, Antonov was stressing that he was the best and that he alone would face the three members of the team that had reached the finals.
Kyo was shocked at receiving at reply—even a short one as such—because he had expected none. Iori was staring at the stage with a furrowed brow.
"Well, I guess it's time to go fight him," Kyo said feigning boredom. "Ah! I get why you came here! This is the best place to admire my victory."
Iori approached him. Kyo kept smiling, but cursed to himself, because he hadn't expected Iori to move so fast. The redhead entered his personal space and leaned towards his face. The gleam in his crimson eyes was disdainful but also placid.
"Go win the tournament. I'll take pleasure in defeating you after they crown you as the champion."
"You're such a jerk, Yagami," Kyo said, pushing the redhead away and making his best effort not to smile, because Iori's words had almost been amusing.
"I'll be waiting, Kyo," Iori said, watching Kyo walk toward the balcony's door. "There'll be no interruptions this time."
Kyo didn't stop. He gestured yeah, yeah, whatever you say, and went to look for his teammates. They had a tournament to win.
Iori's eyes lingered on Kyo until he was out of sight and then his attention returned to the stage.
He perceived Kyo's absence as an emptiness that was rapidly filled by the wicked presence that had been haunting him since the beginning of the tournament.
It was invisible and dark at the same time, quiet, vigilant. Unlike Orochi's attempt to control him years ago, the entity didn't try to speak to him. It didn't give him any order or said "kill Kusanagi".
It was ironic, but it was easier to fight back when a god told him to take Kyo's blood or life. Orochi had tried to manipulate him and make him believe that they shared the same goal, but the god had made a mistake. Kyo's life wasn't the only thing Iori wanted. He didn't want to simply kill him. What he wanted went beyond that, and it encompassed what Kyo's existence represented as a whole.
The god had failed to understand this, because Iori himself was unable to explain it.
The purpose of the new entity that haunted him wasn't clear, but Iori knew one thing: his body was being targeted, to be used as a host or to obtain the Orochi blood that ran through his veins.
And he also knew that if he succumbed to the control of the entity, Kyo would be the one to bring him down.
And he wasn't going to allow it. Because, when he woke up from the spell during their first match, he had seen Kyo's face inches away from his, and the brunette had a stupid smirk on his lips and a you owe me another one, Yagami expression in his brown eyes. And Kyo had been bleeding, the skin of his chest torn open by wounds Iori didn't remember having inflicted.
Wounds like that wouldn't happen again. He wanted to be fully awake to seize every moment, every second he spent with Kyo. To see every drop of blood he spilled, and hear every groan of pain.
Iori covered his face with one hand while a humorless laugh shook his shoulders.
Such a pathetic situation…
He had survived the battle against Orochi, for what…?
History was repeating itself, as if the only value of his existence was the power he carried within himself, or the fact that his body could be used as a conduit for other beings.
Iori walked away from the balcony and followed the same corridor Kyo had taken minutes ago. The sound of his footsteps echoed on the cement walls of deserted hallways, and was drowned by the clamor of the audience. A voice announced that the match between Antonov and the Japan Team would start soon.
When he reached the exit of the tunnel that led to the stadium's field, Iori saw that Kyo and his teammates were standing on the ring. Kyo had his hands in his pockets and he was smiling confidently. He was going first against Antonov.
The large Russian man was approaching the ring from the stage, walking at a leisurely pace along the carpet, soaking up in the audience's admiration.
Iori crossed his arms and leaned against the wall, without taking his eyes off Kyo. He already knew the outcome of the fight.
"Not bad, for one so young. But you still have a long way to go, boy. Watch and learn."
Antonov was smiling from ear to ear, holding the cigar between his teeth. His left cheek had a bruise caused by one of Kyo's blows, but he still eyed the brunette condescendingly. He was convinced of his superiority.
"Oi, oi, did I hit you too hard? You're starting to lose grasp of reality," Kyo said.
"Nah. This is just starting."
But the outcome of the match had already been decided, because there was no way a mere human could defeat someone who held the power to defeat a god. Antonov had extraordinary strength, but it was unlikely that he knew what it meant to fight for his life. The desperation of not being strong enough to save humanity was unknown to him. If he considered himself the strongest man on the planet, it was because he knew nothing about the world.
Kyo didn't have to use the full extent of his power to face Antonov. While he fought, he thought about the other participating fighters, who were stronger and more capable than Antonov, but who had been disqualified after losing to other strong teams.
The elimination rounds had undermined the tournament's excitement for Kyo. Had Antonov participated since the preliminary rounds, the final match could have offered a more interesting challenge.
Well, there's nothing I can do about it, thought Kyo. And a voice in the back of his head was grateful for Yagami's existence, because the redhead was one of the few fighters in the entire world who was at his level. Heh, I'm zoning out in the middle of a match… This self-proclaimed champion is no challenge at all…
Kyo decided that he had nothing to lose by giving the audience a grand finale, even though it wasn't really necessary for him to summon all his power in order to defeat Antonov. He made an apathetic gesture and spun to evade the Russian's enormous fist. Then he retaliated with a blow towards Antonov's chest. He had plenty of time to think Should I go high or low? and then he decided to continue the attack with a high kick that lifted the huge Russian several centimeters above the ground.
The force of the next kick defied gravity and raised Antonov one meter into the air.
Kyo summoned orange flames in his hand while Antonov started to fall. His Orochinagi hit before the Russian touched the ground and sent him flying to one side, beyond the boundaries of the ring.
"That was overkill, Kyo." Benimaru, one of Kyo's teammates, approached him with a smile while the audience let out a deafening roar.
"I was just trying to provide some entertainment value," Kyo replied smugly.
They heard elaborate breathing. Antonov returned to the ring dragging his feet. The exposed skin of his chest was red where Kyo's fire had singed him. It didn't matter that he could still fight. Falling outside the ring meant an immediate disqualification.
"Amazing…" panted Antonov, looking at Kyo before falling to his knees. "The belt is yours, take it…" He took off the pompous accessory he carried on his waist, ready to hand it over to Kyo.
"You can keep it, I'm not interested in that… thing," Kyo said hastily.
"It's the symbol of the champion, you must—"
Kyo stopped listening. The atmosphere around the arena changed abruptly and he looked up.
The clear blue sky and the scattered white clouds had disappeared. In their place, black storm clouds had gathered, swirling, emitting blinding flashes of turquoise lightning.
"Kyo!" Benimaru called out urgently. Next to him, Goro, the third member of the Japan Team, was looking at the clouds through narrowed eyes.
"What the hell is going on?" Kyo muttered, reuniting with his friends.
The audience had fallen silent, and no one was moving, mistakenly thinking that the cracks in the sky were special effects staged by the tournament.
A bolt of lightning surged down, striking the ground some meters away from them with a deafening sound. Two more bolts destroyed a couple of giant screens and a third one shattered the stage, swallowing it in a big explosion.
The voices of the audience were heard again, but this time they were terrified screams.
Kyo shielded his eyes when the dust and smoke reached him. The whirlwind in the sky had turned red, and dozens of bright objects were coming out of it, as if materializing through a portal.
"Tch." Kyo stepped aside as metallic trusses and the stadium's reflectors came crashing down.
When he looked around, Kyo saw the arena descending into chaos. People were running and stumbling, the scaffolding was toppling over, the flickering screens had caught fire. The metallic roof had cracked and a rain of debris was falling onto the terrified audience. Shrilling screams of pain were interspersed with desperate cries for help. Bodies lied face down on the aisles.
A dense black smoke obstructed the view toward the seats. When Kyo looked up again, half the stadium was in ruins. And, amidst the destruction, as if it were some kind of absurd joke, a reporter was commenting on the situation in front of a camera in a very shaky voice.
"Hey, you! Do you want to die?" Benimaru asked harshly. The reporter winced, shook his head and ran for cover.
"We should ask ourselves the same," muttered Kyo with a bitter smile, because the stadium was coming down around them, and they didn't plan to leave until they could find out what was going on.
"We should switch back to the Hero Team name in the next tournament," Benimaru laughed, brushing his long blond hair with his fingertips. "We're always saving the world, after all."
"When have you saved the world?" quipped Kyo, but there was no time to keep joking about it. A fireball was descending from the sky, taking a humanoid shape.
Kyo felt his ki react to that being. It was definitely not human, and his body seemed to be made of fire. The creature's negative energy sent a shiver down his spine.
Kyo wondered if this was the power his father had mentioned, before the tournament started. Was it the same energy that had tried to possess Iori?
With a guttural growl, the creature attacked.
Kyo's teammates were caught with their guard down. Even though the creature was several meters away, disembodied fists materialized in the empty space in front of them and hit so hard that both Benimaru and Goro were sent flying backwards through the air.
Kyo managed to evade the worst blow, and rolled to one side with an annoyed "tsk".
The creature growled again. The syllables formed a word that made no sense.
"Verse? Okay, that's what I'll call you," Kyo said disdainfully, getting back to his feet. He could see the creature clearly now. His humanoid body was covered in armor, where bright golden grooves alternated with a dull opacity.
Kyo was startled when Verse closed the gap between them in a blink. Hands were floating in the air. Two pairs of hands that could attack as if they had a mind of their own.
Kyo threw a punch and his knuckles hit the solid mass of the creature's body. He felt the scorching heat coming out of the molten rock affixed deep on Verse's chest. He heard a cacophony of voices, screaming, wailing.
"What are you supposed to be?" muttered Kyo, and he raised his arms to guard against a pair of hands that flew toward him.
However, he didn't feel the impact. There was an intense purple explosion right next to him.
"Don't interfere, Yagami," Kyo commanded irritably.
He wasn't surprised to see Iori there, but it was too risky for Iori to be near the negative energy. Kyo didn't want to see the redhead succumb to its control again.
Iori didn't listen to him. He charged and Kyo had to do the same, hating Yagami's impulsiveness. Didn't he understand the danger? He could fall under the creature's spell again.
"I'll deal with this," Kyo insisted coarsely, while the two of them punched the creature.
Iori still didn't listen. There was resentfulness in his red eyes. He was angry because the creature's energy had been able to possess him.
Kyo had to yield and join Iori's attack.
The orange Kusanagi fire couldn't be told apart from Verse's, but Iori's purple fire shone cold and vicious when the redhead attempted to rip the creature's armor. At some point, Kyo saw blood on Iori's fingertips, and he was sure that the blood was Iori's, but he didn't have time to worry about it. He had to focus on the enemy, the unrelenting attacks, the hands that materialized in the air and interrupted the flow of the fight.
There was no need for words. Kyo fell easily into the rhythm of Iori's attacks. While the redhead took the offensive, he had enough leeway to seek an angle from where to surprise Verse. If Verse turned his attention toward him, Iori hit it from behind, striking and tearing, breaking its armor apart.
With a quick glance, Kyo looked at his teammates, who had approached to help. But Benimaru and Goro didn't dare join the attack in fear that they would be in the way. Kyo made a dissuading gesture advising against coming any closer. Iori was all the help he needed.
The synchrony of their movements was like a dance. The blazing fire, the fluid sidesteps, dodges, attacks. The feeling of triumph when Iori successfully cracked Verse's armor, opening a path for Kyo's fiery orange flames to seep into the creature steadily, dissolving the darkness.
Kyo covered his eyes when Verse was set aflame. The creature disappeared in a beam of light that rose toward the heavens, where it exploded sending a million tiny fragments in all directions. The detonation made the arena tremble.
With a metallic groan, the remains of the roof started to fall apart. The entire stadium was collapsing.
"Let's get out of here, Yagami," Kyo said.
He didn't get an answer because Iori had one knee on the ground, among fragments of metal and concrete. His eyes were closed and he was clutching his chest with one hand.
Kyo felt a pang of guilt. In the excitement of the battle, he had forgotten that the purple fire still hurt Iori's body.
"Yagami," he called out harshly, returning to the redhead and offering a hand.
Iori opened his eyes slightly. He stared at the offered hand and accepted the help, because the arena was falling down and there was no time for derisive words. Pride was not going to get them both killed in something as absurd as a collapse.
Kyo grabbed Iori's hand firmly, realizing that the redhead's fingers were bruised and bloodied after his attempts to break Verse's armor.
"Come on," Kyo said, looking into Iori's eyes for a second, amused at the fact that his rival was also the person he trusted the most when it came to defeating enemies together.
During that brief moment of distraction, Kyo failed to notice the heavy steel beam that detached from the overhead trusses until it was too late. A creaking sound made him look up, and then his eyes returned to Iori, who was still getting back on his feet.
"Hurry up, Yagam—"
Kyo had only a fraction of a second to assess his options. He could pull Iori up but they wouldn't have time to move aside. Leaving Iori to his fate was inadmissible. Letting his hand go and trying to destroy the beam, even though there wasn't enough time to gather his strength…
His eyes met Yagami's. The expression in Iori's crimson eyes was one Kyo had never seen before.
Iori's violent push propelled him backwards, and Kyo felt the painful impact of the edge of a warped girder against the side of his head. His sight turned blurry for an instant, but Kyo could see that Iori was moving to the side to get out of the way of the collapse. However, the redhead's silhouette disappeared suddenly, when the trusses came crashing down, sending a thick cloud of debris and dust into the air.