Kindred Spirits
by hustler one

Pain.

Pain is something every human being comes to feel and become familiar with. It is unavoidable; at one point or another each and every one of us experiences it, often each and every day of our lives. Often it is a mere sting associated with hitting one's toes on a table leg, or a scrape a young one recieves after tumbling down from the seat of his or her bike.

Other, more rare times, it is more, perhaps a broken bone, a deeper cut, requiring stitches or some other sort of medical aid. Still other times, even further and fewer between, it can be a different kind of pain, a harsh, excruciating pain, one so all consuming and painful that one feels nothing else; it is only the pain that exists, and sometimes, in these rare, perhaps once in a lifetime moments, death can be the only release possible from the pain that has so quickly and brutally entered their lives.

Death.

It is a pain experienced by a very unlucky few. Many give in to their pain, wishing to get it over with at the uncountable cost of their very lives. A truly high cost, one no one can afford to pay, but pay anyway. Street Fighters form a large amount of these people, for in their chosen path of life this kind of pain is the one many of them can and do encounter. This is what makes them so tough: the knowledge that their very next opponent, the one they see beyond their fists, can be the one that can cause such pain. And so street fighters fight, knowing full well that their next opponent could be their last, that they will never see another sunrise, never hear the song of birds in the morning, never feel the wind's cool breeze, or the touch of their loved ones...

But recieving pain is one thing. Giving pain is another. For a few, some would say mad, insane human beings, giving and inflicting pain becomes an art, something to be enjoyed fully at the cost of the lives of the one who is in fact receiving the pain. These madmen revel in it, enjoy it. Sadistic individuals, these men and women are.

One of these men is M.Bison. He loved to inflict pain. Pain was his friend, his ally. Everyday he loved to inflict it, whether it was on the latest fool to try to defeat him in combat or reprimanding the concubine who failed to give him enough of what he craved.

Today, his daily dose of pain was inflicted on the unlucky soul of one of his Dolls, the one known as Juli.

He held his palm out to her form sprawled against a tree, her battered frame's chest rising and fell weakly. She was still alive, but just barely. A cold smile played upon his lips as he sent his dark energy, his psycho energy, coursing through her weakened body.

Immediately the effect was evident. Her eyes shot open and then closed shut, bloodshot and tired eyes, her bloodied lips parted, and she screamed loudly in pain, as if screaming could alleviate the pain the energy was causing to her body. Her hands clutched at her chest, as if something were inside her, threatening to rip out her heart. Her entire body shuddered and shaked fiercely, as her screams, and the pain within her, intensified.

Bison did not move, his dark energy still erupting from his palm, into Juli's body, causing her to scream all the more loudly in pain. He smiled, as he intensified the power of his energy, causing his doll's curvaceous body to again contort in pain. He looked upon her features, her bruised and bloodied face. It was battered, but still beautiful, as always. She was indeed a beautiful creature... it seemed almost evil to cause such pain to such a woman...

...but then again Bison was evil. Evil was his name.

And so he stood over her, as a devil playing with his pawn, as the tortured angel before him screamed and shouted, her normally soft and emotionless voice filled with wordless screams of agony. With a flick of his wrist, her body began to move, to...levitate in midair, as if he had grabbed her by the throat and lifted her up, yet his fingers had not touched her. Still she clutched at her chest, as if at any moment her heart could explode. Truly what she was feeling at this point was the kind of pain that only had death itself at as a release.

But death would not come mercifully, as the very man torturing her commanded death itself.

Bison regarded again her form, as it floated in front of him, held up by his dark energies. His pupilless eyes roamed over her body, twisted in pain as it was. It was a body that he could enjoy ravaging and playing with, as a cat playing with a mouse before killing it... but he corrected himself. It was a toy indeed, but it was a failed toy. All toys are destined to lose their novelty and be thrown away, failures. It had failed in it's duty, and therefore it was imperfect.

Imperfection was something M.Bison could not tolerate.

Besides, he had other things on his mind, the warrior Ryu one of them. He had watched the entire battle between him and Juli, seeing how the warrior calmly and cooly disected the doll, before finally finishing her off. Could he be the challenge that he so craved? Could he be the one to actually topple the almighty M. Bison? He had again defeated the other three Kings of Shadowloo, including Sagat. Truly this meant he was strong indeed. Could he be the one? It had been so long since he faced a warrior worthy of dying at his hands... could this mere child of a street fighter be the one to actually defeat him?

No, he corrected himself. No. No one can defeat me.

He laughed cruelly at the unforgiving skies, before turning his attention to the now almost unconscious woman who levitated in front of him. Wait, he thought. He looked at the woman with a renewed attention, like a child first looking at a toy he wanted in some store's windowsill. A cruel thought appeared in his dark mind. She wanted death, eh...

Mercifully, or mercilessly, perhaps, he stopped the flow of dark energy coursing through his doll's body, and absorbed the psycho energy he had implanted into her back into his own body. Her barely conscious form dropped from the air, as if the invisible chains holding her up had just snapped. She lay crumpled and broken on the dirt, her eyes closed, her chest still rising and falling weakly.

He regarded her once more.

Suddenly, his voice boomed, as he threw his head back and laughed, taunting the dark, uncaring sky, his cruel voice falling on deafened ears, as under him his doll fell into the relative comfort of unconsciousness. Instead of giving her the release she wanted in the form of death, he turned, the same maniacal laughter still booming from his lips. He reached down, and took the doll's beret from her head, which carried the winged skull and thus marked her as a soldier of Shadowloo. Bison grabbed her chin and put the beret in front of her face for her to see. Then he made a fist with his hand, crushing the beret's metal winged skull. After giving her one last look, and after the booming laughter started again, he left her there to die.

Juli did not die there, but whether this was fortunate or unfortunate, she could not tell.


* * *

The next day...

It was a bright, sunny day, the birds whistled and a soft breeze blew, making it hot but not too hot. The rains of the previous day had subsided and left the odd puddle here and there, but the greatest evidence of a storm having just passed was the sweet smell in the air, the smell of dew and the smell only found after walking through a forest after a good rain shower.

It was on the side of this mountain, within this forest, that a man made his home. He had built it himself, and he was quite proud of it indeed. Outside one could see the odd piece of training equipment; punching bags, wooden sparring blocks, and other assorted items used to hone one's fighting skill stood around the small house. The house itself was built of bamboo and other local materials, in true Japanese tradition. Inside was a simple man's belongings, no more than a simple bed, a table, two chairs, and other associated simple furniture for storing clothes and what-not. On a small table was a radio and a portable t.v.; the occupier of the house was simple, yes, but not a complete hermit.

Ryu Hoshi stepped out it's doors, a towel around his neck, breathing in this same beautiful morning air, ready for his early morning jog that would take him down the small mountain he had built his home on, around the surrounding countryside, then back up the mountain to home. It was a daily ritual and while Ryu didn't really need the exersize, he still continued to take it, if for no other reason than to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. He began at a walk, stretching his body and preparing for another day's training, and when he was far enough from his home, he began the jog.

Many things filled his mind, the most prevailing thought that of his battle with the Shadowloo dolls. He had a practice of dissecting every match he had taken, in order to see what his weaknesses and mistakes were, and learn from them in the future. The first doll, Juni, wasn't much of a challenge; he had fought much more dangerous opponents in the three tournament rounds on his way to their meeting, and thus he didn't learn much from her. Still, he learned that inexperience was a street fighter's greatest enemy. It was important to gain something from every battle, win or loss.

The second battle with a Shadowloo doll was what intruiged him the most. Juli, the commander of the dolls, quite the formidable foe; she presented him with his greatest challenge thus far in the tournament, giving her almost as much of of challenge as a spar with his rival, Ken Masters. But however much he concentrated on dissecting his match with her, he constantly found himself thinking of other things, such as her eyes, those deep dark brown pools that looked endless; as if a man could drown in them and lose his soul to them. They looked deadly, yes, but also they possessed a kind of innocence that was associated with a woman who had no idea what the concept of freedom was.

Ryu found himself wondering what had become of the dolls. He assumed that a Shadowloo extraction team would have picked her up by now, and taken her back to base for medical treatment. Nonetheless, for reasons even he himself didn't fully comprehend, he found himself taking a detour from his daily jogging path to the small clearing beside the highway where their battle had taken place earlier. It was more curiousity than anything else, he told himself. He was intruiged by her, but had no idea know why.

Several minutes later, he reached the clearing. He couldn't explain it, but he felt some kind of disappointment to find that neither of the dolls were there. Signs of fresh footprints, most likely that of the extraction team, littered the area. Ryu found a small frown appearing on his lips, but he shook it off and turned, ready to begin his jog once more. He chastised himself for thinking of something other than his battle with Bison, which was to come in a week. He had to prepare himself; this battle promised to give him his greatest challenge. Defeating the King of Shadowloo was a challenge he needed, and a challenge no one else had yet conquered. It demanded his complete concentration.

With this, Ryu pushed all the thoughts concerning the dolls out of his mind. They were unnecessary and they distracted him. Thus, he pretended that the battle that had took place where he stood last night did not happen. He turned and was prepared to close the book on the Shadowloo dolls, when his eyes caught something red glistening on the ground. He moved up to it, and found that it was the heavy steel fighting gauntlet Shadowloo dolls wore in battle. He crouched and took it in his hands, examining the cool, wet metal, and took a look around...

...To find that Juli's body lying crumpled on the ground next to the same tree he had left her on last night, lying on her side, her eyes closed. He rushed over to her battered form, checking for a pulse. Was she alive? She had to be...

He was relieved to find that a weak pulse still coursed through her. Her eyes were shut tight and her face contorted in an emotion of fear, as if she were having a nightmare that no one could wake her up from, a nightmare she was damned to live in for all eternity. He shook her slightly, hoping to wake her up if she were asleep. But she didn't stir. A thin rivulet of drying blood led from the corner of her mouth down to her neck, as well as down the side of her face, evidence of her battle with Ryu the night before.

He brushed a stray lock of chocolate hair from her face. Her beret was missing; she probably had it knocked off in the battle, just as her gauntlet was. But why had a Shadowloo team not taken her back yet? The other doll, Juni, was missing... why take one of the dolls but not the other? Maybe the team had left her for dead, he reasoned; Juni, afterall, was knocked out early, and Ryu hadn't physically hurt her as much as Juli had demanded him to hurt herself. Maybe the team determined that Juni could be saved, and Juli couldn't.

So heartless, so very heartless, of a corporation to leave one of it's own out here, in the wilderness of Japan, unconscious and hurt, alone to die. Ryu swore, to no one in particular, but he cursed Shadowloo. Juli was an enemy to him, yes, but no one deserves to be left out here to die alone, friend or foe. She had no family, yes, no one to mourn her death, or care about her passing, but to Ryu it still seemed a great waste of life. Besides, she still had a pulse; she could still live. Without knowing quite why he did so, he slid one of his hands under her knees, the other behind her shoulders, lifting her easily as he did the night before. Carefully, slowly, moving as if he were carrying the most delicate creature in the world, he made his way back to his home with her in his arms.

* * *

For a brief moment in time, Juli's life flashed before her eyes. She had no memory of her life before Shadowloo, for they were erased following her induction into the cruel corporation. What she remembered now was the years of brutal training, the endless hours strapped to a doctor's table while Shadowloo "doctors" messed around with her genetic structure, and perhaps most haunting, the psycho therapy which reduced her to a mindless, robotic killing machine. Her time with Shadowloo was painful, yes, but being robbed of her memories before the evil corporation had taken her from her family, she had nothing else to compare it to, and thus Shadowloo was the only home she knew.

Now, as she lay on her back, her eyes closed, unknown emotions stirred up in her heart. She felt as if she was missing something; as if a part of her personality was taken away from her, but she didn't quite know what. Her body felt weak, her heart even weaker. It was as if some man had come and drained her of all that made her who she was.. as if she had been cleansed of something which she couldn't quite name. What had happened to her? The last thing she remembered was seeing Lord Bison approach her, then...

"NO!"

...she screamed, rising from her lying position to a sitting one, her hand reaching out in front of her as if to stop an attacker which existed only in her mind. But there was no one there, and after clearing the shock of her memory from her head, she found that she was in a small room, with a blanket over her. She still wore her Shadowloo uniform, but her boots and gauntlets were beside her in a neat pile.

Slowly, she put two and two together. Of course! Bison had approached her after her defeat, and drained her of his psycho energy, removing his control over her. That would explain her new memories, these new emotions that she had not experienced until several moments ago. It was a painful process, removing the psycho energy from her that Bison used to keep her under his control... but it didn't matter to him, because he assumed she would die there.

"No," she said aloud, softly, to herself. Surely Lord Bison would not leave her there to die. Bison was her King, any time now he would come and bring her back to Shadowloo, where she would continue to serve him. Right?

It was then that she realised that she was missing her beret. Again, her memory flashed before her eyes; the image of Bison crouching in front of her bruised and battered body, then taking the beret from her head and crushing the Shadowloo insignia, the symbol of her service to him. It was an act of disownership, as if Juli were a pet Bison did not want anymore, a runt to be thrown to the curb, left to fend for itself. So he did leave her there to die. After devoting her life to his service, he had left her there to die...

Disowned by the only home and master she knew, with no one to turn to, Juli cried herself back to sleep.

* * *

Whether days or weeks or hours had passed before she woke up again, she didn't know. What she did know was that she felt sore all over, as any fighter feels after a fight which nearly costs them their life. Hesitantly, she rose to a sitting position and took a look around. She was in the same small room she earlier awoke in. It was simple, made of bamboo and other local materials, evidence that she was still in Japan. So it wasn't a dream, Juli told herself. She almost wished that it had been a dream, that she would wake up any moment now in her Shadowloo quarters, ready to take missions from Bison...

She shook her head to clear her mind of these thoughts. If Bison had disowned her, than she may as well to the same to him. At least now she was free, free to do as she wished. She would make her own destiny, Juli told herself, no more mindlessly killing him or her for "political" reasons...

But she was an assassin by profession. Killing was something she was good at, regardless of who her target was. She realised now that she never liked killing, never liked to see blood or hear cries of pain...

"What?" she said aloud to herself.

What.. what were these new thoughts, these new emotions that had arisen within her? Never before had she wanted to be free, and now she had just told herself she was free to make her own destiny? And why is it that she now had a great dislike for killing? Never before had she felt this way...

It was the psycho power leaving her, she reasoned. When Bison had drained her of his power, he also took away the memory erasure that Juli undertook almost daily, as well as the psycho control that reduced her to a mindless slave. Thus, all these once repressed memories and thoughts, such as her now apparent disdain for killing, now rose to the surface for the first time.

Juli buried her face in her hands and shook her head, then ran her hands through her hair. It was all too much to take in at once. She decided to investigate her surroundings, and find out where the hell she was, to distract her mind more than anything else.

She took another glance around. She was sitting in a small bed which was put in the corner of a small room. It was a simple room, with a dresser and a closet against the walls. A simple blanket covered her, and to her left Juli found her boots and gauntlets in a neat pile next to the bed, next to what seemed to be a simple white t-shirt. She may as well change out of her uniform, Juli thought. Afterall, it was all dirty from having been thrown around in the dirt, as well as having her own dried blood all over the collar. She swung her legs over the bed so they touched the floor-

-only to grunt in pain as she put pressure on her left leg. She looked down and saw that it was heavily bandaged and splinted. Of course! Her duel with the warrior, Ryu, left her with an almost broken knee. On this trail of thought, she brought a hand to her face; only to find that her face was clean, free of blood, as if someone had cleaned her up before laying her to rest in the bed. A bandage adorned her right cheek, under which Ryu had left her a cut. Whomever had cleaned her up knew what they were doing; her leg was bandaged in just the right way to prevent future injury, and her cuts taken care of cleanly and efficiently.

"Maybe I've died and gone to heaven," Juli said aloud to herself.

Heaven or not, she reached over to the t-shirt lying on the bedroom floor, and unfolded it. It wouldn't cover as much as she would like, but it would cover the important things and that was what was important. Carefully, hesitantly, she slipped out of the one-piece Shadowloo uniform. Juli grunted in pain occasionally as the jumpsuit made contact with a particularly sore or bruised area, but within several minutes she had succeeded in getting the uniform off and getting into the t-shirt, which was slightly tight on her and only reached up only to mid-thigh. She kept on her panties under the shirt - whomever had taken care of her obviously didn't have a Victoria's Secret next door, but she couldn't complain.

As she sat on the bed, she neatly folded her battered and torn Shadowloo uniform, and placed it on top of her boots and gauntlets. She stared at the pile of clothing that was her uniform for a little while, deep in thought. It was what she wore everyday of her service to Shadowloo. That pile of clothing represented her entire life up until a short time ago, everything she lived for, cared for, and was willing to die for. Now she saw that this corporation which she saw as being her only home wasn't really as clean and righteous as she thought it to be. It was odd; why hadn't she seen it before? Why hadn't she seen that she was murdering innocent people? Yet another effect of Bison's demonic Psycho power...

Once again, Juli shook her head to clear her thoughts. She looked around, looking for a brace or some kind of stick she could use to support her when she tried to get up and walk. To her surprise underneath the bed she found a simple wooden crutch, made of two long, sturdy branches of wood, one to to support her and one vertical stick to go under her armpit to brace herself against. It was simple, yes, but upon trying it and taking some careful steps around the room with it, she found it more than adequate.

As she walked, or rather, stumbled towards the door leading out of the room, she found herself thinking of her rescuer, whomever he or she was. She surely would have died if she had been left outside in the rain after Bison drained her of his power. And who would want to rescue her, a professional Shadowloo assassin? Her reputation inspired fear in the hearts of men, but what man would have the guts enough to overcome this and clean her up and tend to her wounds, and thereby save her life? So many questions...

As she reached the door and opened it, Juli found herself in another small room that she assumed was the living room and kitchen. A small t.v. sat on a stand next to a radio. To the opposite of that was a simple couch, for one or two people. Closer to her she found a simple wooden table with two chairs, and a portable propane-powered stove and a small, battery operated refridgerator. On the stove was a pot of something boiling; what it was, she couldn't tell at the moment, but she knew it smelled good.

She wondered where she was and who lived here. Who would want to live in the wilderness of Japan, alone, and without anyone to talk to? At least she wasn't dealing with a total hermit, as the t.v. and fairly modern appliances atested to. She needed to know who her rescuer was...

She stumbled towards the door, intending to look outside and see if the owner of the house was outside. She had almost reached the door when the door swung open, revealing the form of a young man with a towel around his neck, dressed in a simple karate gi. He was very well built and muscular, and possessed a boyish, cute, yet handsome face. Reddish-brown hair adorned the top of his head, around which a simple white headband was tied.


Ryu Hoshi was her rescuer, she realised.


"Hi there," he spoke, a smile beginning to appear on his face, as if Juli were some friend he had seen many times before and was very comfortable with, instead of a Shadowloo assassin.

"H..hello," Juli replied, hesitantly, her voice flat and emotionless, as if her mind was trying to come up with an emotion to accompany the words but it had failed in doing so.

"Well don't get too excited," he said, the tone of humor prevalent in his voice as he said with a smile, "we can skip the formal introductions: you're Juli, commander of the Shadowloo dolls, right? I'm the man you tried to kill three days ago, remember?"

"Three... days?"

"Yup. You were out cold. I found you in the same place that we fought in while taking a jog. Whew, you were beat up good. You could have died there."

"So you... you... saved me, warrior?"

"Heh heh. 'Saved' is such an overpowering word. More like carried you up here, and cleaned you up and bandaged you, preventing you from dying." He gave her a crooked smile, then moved past her into his home.

"Welcome to my humble abode, by the way," he said, as he walked over to the refridgerator and opened it, taking out a water bottle and taking a sip, "Stay as long as you want, and when you're fully recovered you can go back over to your buddy Lord Bison and we can make like this never happened."

At the word 'Bison' Juli cringed; she leaned on her makeshift crutch a little more. Upon seeing that Juli wasn't in the mood to talk about Bison, Ryu decided to change the subject.

"Sorry about the crutch," he began, "it's not my best work. And that shirt's the smallest one I had. It's not what you're used to, but oh well."

"Why... why did you help me, warrior? I tried to kill you..."

"No one deserves to be left outside in the rain to die," Ryu said quickly, without thinking first of what to say, as if he knew in advance Juli would ask him the question. He took sips of his water bottle and looked outside his window at the surrounding Japanese countryside. "No one deserves to die alone, Shadowloo assassin or not. You may have tried to kill me, but only because you were ordered to. You did what good soldiers are supposed to do."

"Aren't you afraid th-... that I'll try to kill you? Or that once I... leave I'll tell Bison where you are?"

"No," Ryu said, looking straight at the battered Shadowloo assassin, "because in that condition, you couldn't kill a rat. And besides," he said with a thoughtful look, "I prefer to believe in people."

Juli took a moment to consider this. How honorable of a man to help his enemy, even one who had tried their level best to kill him several days before. It took an honorable man to put his faith in a stranger, let alone a stranger that worked for most notorious drug and weapons cartel in the world... gullible, maybe, but still honorable.

"How... can I repay you, warrior?" Juli began, slowly.

"Your gratitude is thanks enough. Or, you can give me a rematch."

"A rematch? But... but you won our first duel, warrior."

"Oh I know. But you've been my greatest challenge yet and I don't mind facing you again. But for now, you must be hungry. I'm no Emeril Lagasse, but I make a mean chicken corn soup."

Juli almost smiled at this. It was strange to her, this new emotion. She didn't quite know what it was, but when she was with Shadowloo her emotion indicators called it 'humor' or 'sarcasm.' Now was the first time she actually felt it.. this.. humor. It was weird, she didn't know how to react to it. Never before had she laughed out loud due to humor, and now she felt a smile come close to appearing on her lips, but she didn't quite know why. Maybe it was an effect of this... humor.

Ryu motioned for her to sit down with him, and she stumbled over to the table and sat. The warrior took two bowls and two spoons out of the cupboard the stove sat on, and poured out two bowls of the steaming soup. He passed one over to Juli, and sat down himself to eat.

* * *

They ate in silence, and when Juli had finished taking the last couple of spoonfuls of the admittedly delicious corn soup, she looked up at Ryu to find that he had already finished, and had placed his bowl in a small basin that he would take down to a nearby river to wash later on. Seeing that she had finished as well, he began to move towards her and take the bowl.

"So, how was it? The soup?"

"It... it was.... it- ahhh!"

Suddenly, intense pain clutched at Juli's heart, and the bowl and spoon fell to the floor with a crash, shattering the ceramic into a million pieces. It didn't approach the intensity of pain that Bison inflicted on her several days ago, but it was still a deep, stinging pain, as if some creature had wormed it's way into her body and was tearing her apart from within. It must have been her body adjusting to the absence of the psycho power, like going through withdrawals from a drug, she realised through the pain. She clutched at her chest, but didn't cry in pain; she gritted her teeth, for she couldn't cry in pain and thus show weakness to the warrior...

Seeing this, Ryu rushed over to her and put an arm around her shoulder.

"What's wrong!?"

Juli tried to control the pain, and as quickly as it came to her, it left. She breathed heavily, trying to regain her breath. Sweat had begun to fall down her brow, and she clutched at her chest with one hand, the other curled tightly in a fist on the table. A tear of pain welled up in her eye, but she willed it away. She couldn't show weakness in front of the warrior...

"Nothing..." she said softly, "nothing that concerns you, warrior."

"Well whatever it is, maybe you should get some rest."

He put her arm over his shoulder, intending to assist her to the bedroom-

-when she ripped her arm away from him.

"I have no need for you assistance, warrior. I am not a child."

Ryu seemed hurt by this. He watched helplessly as Juli picked up her crutch, and slowly, carefully stumbled back towards the bedroom door. Her face was contorted in pain as if every step shot pain into her body. She pushed open the door, and was but several steps into the room when suddenly the pain returned. She fell to the floor, giving a small cry of pain, her body writhing in pain. The tears she held back were now falling down her cheeks; she clenched her fists in attempts to take away the pain, and she did so until her nails drew blood from the palms of her hands.

Ryu, who had seen this, ran over to assist the fallen assassin. He knelt down next to her and took her in his arms, then slowly rose up with her and placed her on the bed. Still her face was twisted in pain, her tears falling down those vanilla cheeks. Ryu took a small towel from a nearby drawer, knelt next to her, and used it to wipe the tears away, as well as the sweat that fell vigorously down her brow. She grunted and moaned as if in deep pain, her fists clenching fistfuls of the bedsheets in an effort to alleviate the pain. Ryu felt helpless; he could crush rocks with his bare hands, defeat walking mountains of muscle in street fights, but couldn't take away the pain this woman before him felt.

He brought the back of his right hand to her forehead and found that she was hot; she was on the verge of having a high fever. He began to rise to get some cold water from the kitchen-

-when Juli's hand darted up and caught his forearm, clutching it. He looked down at her face to see that she was staring back at him through pain-filled eyes. Here eyes seemed soft and forgiving now, as if she were pleading for something. At this, Ryu returned to his kneeling position next to her. Juli clutched his hand now, her eyes still locked with his.

"Don't... don't leave me, warrior," she said, her eyes twisted in pain but still possessing a child-like innocence that Ryu could not resist. He knelt next to her and clasped her hand in both of his. She gave his hand a small squeeze.

"I won't, Juli. I'm here."

Juli kept her eyes on him, until finally the welcome embrace of unconsiousness swallowed her up again. Just before her eyes closed and the visage of Ryu left her, she realised that that was the first time anyone had said her first name with some tone other than an order's.

* * *

Ryu watched her sleep for some time, as he dabbed the wet towel on her forehead occasionally. He watched as she breathed in and out softly, the peaceful look of her face betraying the fierce pain that she was probably going through. He stroked her hair back, like a mother stroking the hair of a newborn baby as it slept.

For some strange reason, he felt attracted to her; not only physically, for any man can be attracted to this woman physically, he thought. Everything about her called out to him. Her voice was sweet and calm; like some singer, full of authority, yes, but also comforting and soft when need be. Maybe it was her body, her long, lithe legs that the shirt failed to cover; deadly in battle but still feminine and attractive. But it wasn't that... what entranced him most was her eyes. Filled with emotions that he couldn't name, large and deep brown, seductive yet innocent, deadly yet soft.

But above that he felt some kind of kinship with her; both of them had no real home, no real family. All they had was their profession; Ryu was a street fighter, Juli an assassin. It was their life, their only driving force. They concentrated on nothing more. With Ryu it was his street fighting skills, with Juli, her service to Bison and Shadowloo. Everything else, every other emotion was swept aside to concentrate on this one thing. With Ryu he voluntarily shunned these emotions in favor of devoting his life to his fighting skills; with Juli they were taken from her without her consent.

For some strange reason, he wanted to care for her, to make sure she got back on her feet. He didn't quite know why, for he had never felt this way about any one before, much less any woman. For a long time he thought maybe he wanted something other than friendship from Chun-Li, the Interpol agent, but things never went past becoming good friends. After his last encounter with Chun-Li in the third Alpha tournament, he swore to defeat Bison for her. Once he had left her he cleared all thoughts of her from his mind, and concentrated on his fighting skills, readying himself for the next challenger. That was how it always was with Ryu and love. Love was always pushed aside in favor of strengthening his fighting skills.

So as he stroked her hair and dabbed her forehead with the towel, he didn't know why he was doing so. He expected himself to reject her at any moment, to throw all the thoughts of her out of his mind, but for some reason that moment never came, and he was almost happy it didn't.

* * *

So warm, so very warm.

Juli turned around in the bed, savoring the warmth and comfort the simple bed and blanket gave her. She opened her eyes a crack, to find that the warrior had fallen asleep, his head lying on his arms, still sitting down on a small stool next to the bed in which she lay. In his hands was a small wet towel which she assumed he used to dab her forehead with. He had a peaceful look on his face.

She regarded him for a second more, then shook him softly with her hand, intending to wake him up. After a couple of tries, she succeeded, and Ryu Hoshi awoke groggily from his sleep.

"I... I'm sorry, didn't know I had fallen asleep... You... you had a fever..."

Juli looked back at him as he wiped the sleepiness from his eyes.

"I can take care of myself now. My body heals faster than normal people's. Genetically engineered to be that way. You can leave now, warrior."

Ryu made eye contact with her, and kept her gaze a second longer. After a moment's consideration, he rose and began to walk out of the room. He would have to spend the night in the living room couch, but he didn't quite mind. Upon reaching the door, he turned to look upon the assassin once more. She had turned and was on her side, her back facing him. With a soft voice, he said:

"Sleep well, Juli."

Juli stirred somewhat in her sleep; Ryu assumed she didn't hear him. He turned away, ready to close the bedroom door, when he heard her say softly, almost barely loud enough to hear:


"And you as well...... Ryu."


Ryu smiled and closed the door. He went to sleep on the couch with the smile still on his face; it was the first time Juli had called him by his first name.






Author's Note:

well there it is, the second chapter. I know it's been a looooong time coming, but you guys should know by now that I take a long time between chapters. Anyways, we saw a little more development in both characters this chapter... I really tried to capture Juli's angst at Bison disowning her, and I'm not sure if I did it correctly... I think I overdid it somewhat. Oh well, review and tell me what you think.

Stay tuned, same Fan-Story, same Fan-Site, same Fan-Author...

Quote of the Day:

What profit is it to the man who gains
the world, but loses his soul?
-Matthew 16:26

~hustler one