This was written in just about four hours for Strike To Incinerate. You are a great storyteller, a great roleplayer, and most important, a great friend.

This one's for you, pal. Don't kill me.

GA

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As if he hadn't been wary while Kasumi was in the bathroom for ten minutes straight, the big smile she came out with made every instinct in him cringe in horror.

Iori was settled on his couch, the television showing a news anchor whining about the prices of energy. The flame fighter was nursing a beer, even though he normally didn't drink during the day. Something told him that a bit of a buzz would be necessary to get through the next twelve hours with his sanity...or whatever remained of it.

Kasumi, still beaming, curled up next to him. She set her head on his shoulder and hugged his arm like a teddy bear. The thought amused Iori, and his base instincts relaxed a bit.

Then she reached over, plucked the beer can from his hand, and set it aside. "No more of that," she murmured sleepily, cuddling closer to his body.

Iori frowned, but said nothing. It was almost empty anyway. He turned to the TV, trying to ignore the young fighter wrapped around his arm. Kind of like a boa constrictor.

A small hand suddenly dove into his shirt pocket, snatched up the packet of cigarettes within, and threw it somewhere. Kasumi nuzzled her face against his shoulder.

"No more of those either," she muttered, smiling.

Enough was enough. Iori violently knocked her off. He shut off the television and glared knives into her as she lay prone on the floor.

"I let you live here when you absolutely need to," he snapped, "I expect that you keep to yourself."

Kasumi's sated demeanor evaporated in the wake of a tidal wave of fury.

"Keep to myself, eh? I'll remember that next time you want some, Yagami!"

"You have no spine; I'll take you when I want to, where I want to, and you won't do a thing to stop me, because you love it and refuse to let me go."

Kasumi blushed at his innuendo, but did not back down. "You're talking about rape, Yagami, and that's not what I want between us."

"Then what do you want? To be my bride? You're not nearly pretty enough."

Kasumi sliced at the air with her hand, and a bluish white arc of energy flew at Iori. He barely avoided it, then rose and forcefully took her hand. He dragged her on the floor towards the exit, uncaring about any pain she might be in.

The female fighter said, "I wouldn't be your bride if you were the last man on earth!"

"Enough!" Iori roared, hand on the doorknob, "I have had enough of you! Leave here, and never come back!" Perhaps in a moment of pity, he paused before throwing her out. "Have anything else you'd like to say?"

To his surprise, Kasumi burst into tears. She lay a hand on her belly, and said:

"Iori, I'm pregnant."

The flame fighter recoiled, wounded worse than any energy blast could inflict. He let go of Kasumi's hand; the female fighter immediately sat up and wept into her hands. In a daze, Iori staggered back to the couch and nearly fell upon it. He ran a hand into his vibrant red hair, and was silent.

After a few moments, he said, "Are you sure?"

Kasumi slowly started to compose herself. Between forceful sobs, she said, "Y-yes...missed last two months... Bathroom...pregnancy test...positive."

Iori was quiet again, then got up on unsteady legs and went into the kitchen. He came back with a roll of paper towels. He gave it to Kasumi, and quietly said, "I have to think about this." Even quieter: "I'm sorry."

He walked away to his bedroom, slammed the door behind him, and locked it. Kasumi wiped her tears away and held a hand to her belly, as if trying to feel the tiny blob of cells inside her that would one day be a human being.

Iori stayed in his room for over an hour.

When he came out, he was still dazed, but had his thoughts in order. It was apparent that he had been crying, but not a lot. It was also apparent that he had hit himself in order to stop.

Kasumi was perched on Iori's couch, reading a magazine for guitarists. She barely understood what it was talking about, but it got her mind off their fight...and her confession. She kept reading as Iori sat next to her, and only put it aside when he took her arm, much more gently than before. Almost apologetically.

"Kasumi," he said quietly, "First of all, I want this to be confirmed beyond a doubt. If you are really...with child, then I want to know it for sure.

"Secondly...do you want to bear this child? I understand if you do not."

Her eyes were hard. "I'm keeping this child."

Iori continued, "Do you realize what that entails? If you are indeed two months pregnant, there are seven more months of trials ahead of you. As I understand it, you'll be in pain, grow fatigued, and lose the body you have now for something fat and weak. You'll have to give up fighting, Kasumi."

She chuckled weakly. "You have a strange understanding, Yagami."

"What will your friends say? They already don't like you sleeping with me. Don't tell me they have not warned you this will happened."

"You know, they seem to be changing their minds... King once told me that she thought you did have some kind of good looks."

"Never mind your friends, what about your parents? Your mother will disown you, Kasumi."

The female fighter took Iori's hands in hers. His hands were larger than hers, and one bore an N-shaped scar from a brush with an attack dog. Still, she knew his hands had a surgeon's precision, in and out of battle.

"After everything we've been through," she said, "I was kinda hoping that you would take me in."

Iori smiled. "What do you think this is?" he said, "You practically live in my house. We share the same bed. Hell, your friends call here when you don't answer your phone."

"No, not like that. I mean...into your family."

His smile faded. "I have no family, and I'm not marrying you, but I am bound to my clan's traditions. If this child is real, and you decide to keep it, I am bound to stay by your side, no matter what."

Kasumi squeezed his hands. "Child-rearing is important to your people, huh?"

"We do what we must. This brings up another point. If this child is the heir of the Yagami race, it'll kill you. It will drain you of everything you are. When you give birth to the heir, you'll be little more than a shriveled mummy. The exertion of labor will kill you. Since I carry the heir genes, there's a chance that this child will be the next leader of the Yagami. This child could be your death sentence, Kasumi. Are you really willing to bear the cause of your demise?"

Kasumi glared. "First of all, don't patronize me. I know about the Yagami curse. Secondly, you're the only man who has ever gone to the lengths you have to make me happy. I feel like I owe you something for that."

"What lengths? Most of the time...I hurt you."

"But it all works out in the end! Iori, I'm keeping this child, no matter what my friends say, or my parents say, or what you say."

The flame fighter was silent for a moment, then sighed and squeezed her hands back. "Nothing I say at all?"

"No. Come Hell or high water, this baby is mine." She smiled. "Ours."

Iori groaned, letting go of Kasumi and rubbing his forehead. "I never imagined I would be a father...let alone impregnate a fellow KOF fighter."

Kasumi clung to him again, grinning. "Congratulations, Dad."

-

The next week, Kasumi was officially declared two months pregnant by a doctor.

The week after that, she demanded that Iori keep watermelon, fried chicken, raw octopus, and caramel truffles on hand at all times in case of massive food cravings.

-

Four months later, and Kasumi was beginning to show. The bump was hard to see under her baggy clothing, but both mother and father knew it was there. The baby was truly telling the world of its presence.

One night, after making love, the parents-to-be continued to stay awake in bed. Kasumi was reading a paperback, while Iori was studying a book on Italian, which would be his seventh language. The female fighter was content with just sitting next to Iori, who had seemingly taken fatherhood in stride, even if he had to leave the house to smoke now.

She suddenly gasped, and the book went flying as she grasped her belly bulge. Iori was alert in an instant, dark eyes tense. Kasumi noticed he was on the verge of panic, so she smiled reassuringly.

"She's kicking," Kasumi said.

Iori relaxed with a sigh, but still gave her a stony stare. "Who said it's a girl?"

"I did. Ooh, this is the first time she's done this!"

"We still don't know if it's a girl." The flame fighter folded his arms and tried to read again, but he found Kasumi's nude body and the small swell of the baby within her difficult to ignore. He sighed again, threw the book away, and placed his scarred hand over the small swell of the baby.

There was an answering tap from within. Very light, but it was there.

Iori smiled and lay his head gently on Kasumi's belly. The kicks were easier to feel now. Perhaps it was just his imagination, but he thought he heard a quick heartbeat as well. He kissed Kasumi's bellybutton – secretly reveling in her giggle – and simply listened to the child inside. When Kasumi began softly pet his hair, he knew he could have died there, and died happily.

-

Three months passed. Time for the baby shower.

Kasumi was as large as a house, and due in several weeks. She was slightly disappointed when an ultrasound had confirmed that the baby was not a girl, but a little boy, but she was glad the child was healthy.

Most of her friends had flown to Japan just for this baby shower, and the ones who could not make it sent gifts anyway. Iori didn't make friends, but he was happy to see the mother of his child surrounded by her closest companions. That, and it seemed that the child in question was not the next Yagami heir. Not only would that dethrone Iori, but also kill Kasumi, and when he thought about her being in any harm, chills turned his spine into Arctic ice.

In the end, the parents-to-be had enough equipment to deal with an army of babies instead of just one. But this baby was the offspring of two people whose strengths were borderline superhuman. What would it be able to do?

-

Due date. Kasumi had been in labor for six hours. It began at three in the morning. She had clawed at Iori until he was just awake enough to drive to the hospital.

Iori himself had been forced out of the delivery room by Kasumi's mother, Shizuka. Shizuka had not disowned Kasumi. Blood ran thicker.

Still not entirely awake, Iori was on his second cigarette and staring at the door to the hallway to the delivery room. He wanted to be by Kasumi's side...but some instinct kept him away. Plus, Shizuka would only screech at him, calling him a monster or a devil, and that would upset Kasumi and cause the whole process to become more and more complex—

He tried not to think about it.

"Hey there. Redhead."

Iori looked up to spot an older man with long black hair and a mustache. While he was dressed casually, he wore a white headband with a black spot on it. He seemed nervous.

"Who are you?" the flame fighter asked.

"I'm Ryuhaku Todoh," the man said, "I'm Kasumi's father."

"She's told me about you. I assume you're here because..."

"Yeah, because." Todoh sat beside Iori. "So...you're the father of my grandson?"

"Yes, I am."

"Geez," Todoh chuckled, "I can't imagine what the pup is going to look like. Whoa, whoa, whoa, don't give me that look, you could kill someone with that look. All I'm saying is that between what I've taught Kasumi and what you can do...that child is going to be one powerful little fella."

Iori took a drag on his cigarette and exhaled a thick cloud of smoke. "He's not the heir. That's fine by me."

"Not the heir?"

A third man had entered the room. Iori dropped his cigarette in shock.

The third man was wearing a traditional yukata, and he seemed to be slightly older than Todoh. His face was lined with wrinkles from age and the world's worries, and he had a black beard that made him look like a pirate.

Iori's father, Kurohige Yagami.

Iori got up from his seat. "Father, what are you doing here?"

Kurohige stared at his son. "I am here to attend the birth of my grandson, what else? You always were slow on the uptake, Iori."

The younger Yagami snarled, but did not move. "I will not fight you here."

"No, we will not fight, not in a place of new life. That would be a very bad omen. But I feel more bad omens, Iori. You, the heir, not producing another? Who will be the next to carry the flames of the Yagami?"

"Kasumi will not be a victim of the curse."

"Then find another woman. I don't care for this little urchin you've picked."

"Urchin!?" Todoh cried, "How dare you call my daughter an urchin!"

Kurohige grinned maliciously. "Ah, it seems I have an in-law now."

"No way! I don't want to be related to a jerk like you!"

"You have no idea," Iori remarked dryly.

"A woman outside of the bloodline," Kurohige said, turning to Todoh, "Who knows what will happen to her now? It is rare for a Yagami man to impregnate a commoner. So rare, in fact, that I believe this may be the first time a half-blooded child is born."

"Commoner!?" Todoh was outraged now. "You don't look so high and mighty yourself! You may wear traditional garb, but can you fight on the streets, without rules to protect you? I'm not afraid of you, show me what you can do!"

"I refuse to fight in a place of new life."

"Excuses, excuses! I don't want to upset my daughter, but if you keep it up, so help me, you won't live to hear your grandson cry."

Too late.

A thin, warbling cry came to the waiting room. It was short and not in pain. Just confused and scared of the strange new world it had entered.

Iori was a father.

The flame fighter sat heavily in a chair, shocked into a state of utter blankness. The baby's first cry echoed in his head, and to him it sounded as sweet and as pure as the song of an angel.

Todoh glanced between Iori, Kurohige, and the door, and opted for the door. He bounded towards the delivery room, hope and anxiety written all over his face. Kurohige started to follow him, and that snapped Iori out of his shock.

The younger Yagami rose once more and blocked the door. He glared at his father, his hands starting to burn with the purple flame. It felt good to blaze. Every instinct he possessed was awakened by his son's cry, and now every instinct was intent on keeping Kurohige away from the baby.

Perhaps the elder Yagami sensed it, because he halted in his tracks. He looked at Iori pitifully, and said, "You can't keep the child away from me forever. I'll see him eventually."

"Monster," Iori hissed, hands blazing.

Kurohige sighed sadly. "Iori...is it always going to be this way between us?"

"MONSTER!" Iori roared, and this time the flames traveled up his arms to his shoulders before blossoming out like a pair of seraphic wings, blasting heat, and it felt good, so very good to be releasing all this pent-up energy.

Kurohige was unmoved. He stayed put until Iori realized that all this power could signal a Blood Riot, and he slowly petered out until his fires were gone.

"I'll see him eventually," Kurohige repeated, then turned and walked away.

Iori waited until he was gone before he spun around and dashed madly to the delivery room. He skidded straight through the double doors, stopping bare inches away from Kasumi's bedside, where Todoh and Shizuka were already hovering.

And in the bed itself was Kasumi. Her hair was spread out like a dark halo, and her body was covered in sweat. She was breathing harshly, but only out of six hours of exertion. She was not a shriveled mummy. In fact, she looked beautiful.

In her arms was a little bundle. All that was visible of the baby was his face, which was scrunched up tightly against the bright light. He was sleeping, just as exhausted as his mother was.

Kasumi nodded to her parents, and they let Iori close to her. He pulled up a chair and sat by her side, gently petting her sweaty hair and her face.

"Hello, Kasumi," he said quietly.

"Hello, Iori," she replied, smiling, "You were right. It's a boy."

He chuckled and leaned in to kiss her nose lightly. "He's...an angel."

"He looks like you. He has your chin, your nose...but he has my eyes."

"That can be changed."

Kasumi giggled tiredly. "I feel like crap."

"You look like crap."

"Thanks. Do you want to hold him?"

The flame fighter cringed nervously. "I don't want to hurt him."

"You'll be fine. Just like we learned, remember?" Kasumi yawned. "Hold his head steady. Don't drop him. Keep it simple, stupid."

Iori grinned anxiously and took the baby from Kasumi. He stirred a little as he was shifted, but quickly went back to sleep. Iori was surprised to find that holding his son was easier than he had expected...some paternal instinct was waking up and guiding him like a beacon in a fog.

"He needs a name."

"No duh, genius," Kasumi remarked. Her eyes were drooping, and soon she would be asleep. "I've...thought of some... I like the name...Shohei."

"Shohei? That means—"

"Of Many Equals," Todoh finished, leaning over Iori to get a closer look at the newly christened baby. "I like that name."

"So do I. All right, pup, your name is Shohei. Shohei Todoh-Yagami...the first half-blood. What will you become? Will you control flame as I do, or manipulate energy like your mother? Will you do both? You are a child of mystery, but I would not have it any other way...my son."

When Iori had finished with his monologue, he looked to Kasumi. She had fallen asleep. Todoh and Shizuka were looking at him with genuine love, as if he was a member of their family.

When the flame fighter began to weep for love for this new life that had begun entirely by accident, he knew that he had found peace...forever.

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Another chapter? A sequel? Comments are the only way you, Reader, can let me know how you feel.