Chapter Five: Morning Mayhem

The next day was slightly better than the rest of the days. Slightly. After initially waking up to find himself in the arms of his foremost rival, Hwoarang promptly leapt out of bed with the agility of a cat before raising an accusing finger at Jin. The latter mumbled incoherently in his sleep and raised one sleepy eye to look at him.

"What is it now?" he groaned. It's too early for this.

Hwoarang glared darkly at him—his vision now focused entirely on the dark-haired fighter before him. "I'm leaving," he announced after a dramatic pause. He then turned abruptly and stalked out of the room.

It took several moments for Jin to fully comprehend what the Korean man said before he buried his head deeper into his pillow. It seems like someone up there likes me. Within seconds he had fallen asleep, giving no heed to what Hwoarang was doing.

The redhead had ventured into Jin's living room and immediately went to the bathroom to fetch his old clothes. Noticing they were still dirty, Hwoarang shrugged and packed them into a bag before taking some of Jin's money and heading out the door. He was feeling much better this morning. His head was clear and he was pleased to note that there were no fuzzy images blurring his vision.

As he continued walking, he felt a slight pang for taking Jin's money and clothes. Why am I feeling guilty for this? Haven't I done worse? Hwoarang pursed his lips and quickened his pace. There was no way he was going to let his mind linger too long on Jin. He just let me stay for the night. That's it. I owe him nothing. After all, if it weren't for him, I wouldn't have even needed to stay with him! Having made this excuse, Hwoarang smiled satisfactorily.

When he reached his apartment, the Korean youth plopped down on his couch for a few seconds, wondering curiously what he should do. Then suddenly, he jumped up and tore off his clothes and dumped them on the floor. Hwoarang sneered at the clothes derisively before changing into his own. He did not want to be reminded of his rival this early in the morning. Waking up to see him right there beside him was traumatizing enough.

It only took him a little while to realize how much of a child he was acting. Hwoarang crossed his arms irritably before grabbing a smoke from his pack and lighting it up. Inhaling the nicotine did relieve his tensions somewhat and he walked over to his window, staring down at the world below him. In general he tried not to smoke—since it was bad for fighting—but every once in a blue moon he kept them for stressful situations. This was one of those occasions.

"Was he just mocking me?" muttered Hwoarang bitterly as he blew out.

He held the cigarette in his left hand as he ran a hand through his hair. Needless to say it had been the strangest night of his life. Jin was actually nice to him—and he, the infamous Blood Talon, actually enjoyed his company. He could have blamed it on the concussion, but that would have been a cowardly way out. And Hwoarang was no coward.

Flicking a piece of ash off his shirt, Hwoarang threw the cigarette out the window and watched it land on the concrete sidewalk. So much for a relaxing morning. Try as he might he still couldn't get Jin out of his mind. Fucking bastard just won't leave me alone, cursed Hwoarang mentally as he put on a jacket and walked out of his apartment.

For the second time that day he was greeted by the crisp morning breeze. Glancing at his watch, Hwoarang clicked his tongue in dismay. I must be insane—waking up this early. He had wondered why there was barely anyone on the streets. It was only six a.m. Hwoarang was in general never an early bird, but for some inexplicable reason this morning had been an exception. Most likely it was Jin—Hwoarang wasn't accustomed to having someone fall asleep that closely beside him, much less a full-grown man. The redhead narrowed his eyes as he headed towards the café. And no matter what his rational side tried to say, he could deny the fact that it hadn't been as unpleasant as he expected.

I should really go and check if this concussion doesn't have me thinking up crazy thoughts. Hwoarang sat down in his normal place and ordered black coffee and two bagels. His order came swiftly since he was the only patron visiting at this ungodly hour. Hwoarang sipped his coffee and relished the taste. Most would have called him insane—for actually liking black coffee—but to Hwoarang it was the best thing that ever came to this world besides Tae Kwon Do. He then began to cream up his bagels before biting into them slowly.

"Shocks of all shocks! Is that the Blood Talon I see sitting by himself?"

Glancing up, Hwoarang spotted an old friend—and fellow competitor from the Iron Fist Tournament. "Oh, it's you, Fox," he greeted dully.

The blond fighter gave a disgruntled look as he sat down across Hwoarang. "What a way to make a bloke feel all warm inside, Hwoarang," he replied sarcastically as he fingered his earphones. "And what are you doing here so early? I thought you were more the afternoon person—not the crazy-at-the-crack-of-dawn person."

"Well, what are you doing here then?" retorted Hwoarang. How the hell does this Brit always appear out of nowhere?

Steve smiled indulgently. "Because I sensed my little Hwoarang was in need of help," he said mysteriously.

"What do you know?" This is bad…

"Your whereabouts last night were most peculiar, no?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." This is really bad…

Hwoarang was staring so deeply into Steve's face that one could have imagined that he was about to kiss him. But the redhead's mind wasn't even thinking of such an act. No, his attention was entirely captured by that teasing, knowing look Steve possessed in his eye. The blond didn't even need to answer Hwoarang's question in order for him to know what he meant. The Blood Talon was promptly reduced to a crumpled state as he slumped in his seat, taking a weary bite from his bagel.

"Do you spy on me or something?"

Steve grinned brightly. "What an assumption you make, Hwoarang! I just happened to catch you and Jin crash so elegantly into each other yesterday. And out of concern for you, I decided to follow. I don't know what exactly happened inside Jin's apartment, but I know for a fact that you didn't get out until this morning," he explained cheerfully.

Hwoarang shook his head and swallowed the last of his bagels. "You're incorrigible, Steve. You know that, right?" he remarked, stirring his coffee absentmindedly.

"But that's not the point is it? What happened?"

"You think I would tell you?" You damn gossip freak.

A whimper. "But I'm your best friend!"

"Wrong. Best friend from the tournament, yes, but not my actual best friend."

"How cruel."

"I know." At least I know how to deal with this guy. Fucking Kazama is an entirely different story.

Steve sighed and leaned back in his seat. "You don't…have feelings for him do you?" he questioned slowly.

Hwoarang almost spit out the rest of his remaining coffee and looked at Steve wide-eyed. "Are you fucking slow or something? Me—like that stinking, no good, absolutely shitty fucking excuse of a fighter?" he demanded.

The blond regarded him calmly. "Well, that was an explosive response. I guess you do then," he deduced.

I am stuck in a very twisted version of the Twilight Zone where everyone thinks I have a thing for Kazama. Hwoarang could only sit still in his shock. Steve waved a finger in front of his nose.

"Shame, shame, Hwoarang. Falling for the enemy. What did you always tell me?"

"Shut the fuck up," came the automatic response.

Steve placed a comforting arm around Hwoarang's shoulders. "There's no need to be so down, mate. It's not all lost," he said bracingly.

Hwoarang glared at Steve. "I feel nothing for Kazama," he said tonelessly.

"Of course not. But that's besides the point."

"Fuck you!"

"Sticks and stones, Hwoarang."

I'll sticks and stones your goddamn ass, you annoying Brit, if you don't shut the hell up! Hwoarang breathed in deeply and closed his eyes. Okay, murdering my friend wasn't exactly on my to-do list today—and I don't think that will go well with my public reputation. The Blood Talon is not a murdering fiend, no matter how…FUCKING annoying the person is. After several seconds of small meditation, Hwoarang looked at Steve.

"I really don't feel anything for him," he repeated steadily.

Steve threw him a calculating look. "Hwoarang, in all honesty, do you really think I believe you?" he inquired seriously.

"No." Fucking hell.

"Good, because I don't believe a goddamn word you just said," continued Steve brightly. "I knew one day this would happen. I just knew it!"

Hwoarang looked at Steve. "What are you going on about now?" he asked wearily. Why do I even bother trying to comprehend this blond's head?

"It was obvious from the beginning. You and Jin. Your rivalry was just a wall—a sort of shell—that needed to be broken down to reveal what was really lying underneath."

For a second Hwoarang imagined the entire café growing silent and an eerie wind blowing through the small room. Steve continued staring at him and all the redhead could do was stare back. His mind was reeling. Rivalry—a wall—lying underneath? And suddenly, Hwoarang burst.

"ARE YOU UTTERLY MAD!"

Steve placed a finger in his ear and winced painfully at the fuming Korean youth standing before him, palms flat on the table and a murderous glint in his eyes. "Hey, it's just my interpretation of this 'rivalry' of yours. You can't kill me for that," he pointed out.

"Did I really label you as my best friend? I must have been fucking high when I said that!"

"Hwoarang, you're scaring the workers."

"Fuck them!"

"Hwoarang."

The redhead sat back down in his seat, arms crossed over his chest obstinately. Steve shook his head exasperatedly.

"Jesus, you didn't use to curse this much," he commented.

Hwoarang remained glowering at the blond fighter. "You try remaining calm when your supposedly best friend is making crazy accusations about you and his most hated rival," he said coldly. This Twilight Zone stinks like hell.

A ghost of a smile flitted across Steve's face. "Do you really hate him, Hwoarang? I can't imagine you doing something like that—and all because of a draw?" he asked curiously.

Hwoarang sighed and slapped his knee. "It's not just the draw, Steve. It's everything else. His entire attitude, his entire lifestyle, just sickens me," he explained annoyingly. Perfect Kazama—the orphaned child whom everyone is after—Saint Kazama! Someone just fucking kill me already.

"How do you know he doesn't have it just as hard as you?"

Dark eyes cast Steve a critical look. "What do you know and how did you find out?" he inquired sharply.

Steve shrugged. "Just rumors really. But it seems like little ol' Jin has his own share of difficulties—like the rest of us," he answered offhandedly.

"Who bloody gives a damn?" God, I've been hanging out with Steve for too long. "It's his attitude that kills. He's so fucking weak-spirited—did you know that? I would've been fine with a draw—if it weren't for the fact that he was so utterly calm about it. It was like he didn't even give a flying fuck about the fight—and that just bothers me like a fucking knife in my hand."

"Because you take every fight seriously."

"Precisely."

"You know… I've never met anyone as committed to the fighting spirit as you, Hwoarang," complimented Steve with a smile.

Hwoarang looked darkly at him. "Too late for sucking up now, Fox," he stated firmly.

Steve chuckled. "Well, to be quite frank, you can't blame him, Hwoarang. He probably thought it was just a regular street fight—not really worth his time and effort—so obviously he wouldn't care much about it ending in a draw. Not everyone is like you," he said slowly.

"You think I don't know that? But it still fucking irks me! He's the only one I've never defeated flat out." Ah, how I hate you for that, Kazama.

"Then doesn't that deserve some special treatment?"

"That deserves no special treatment, Fox."

Steve gave a whimsical grin. "I still think you'd make a great pair," he commented.

With a speed like none other, Hwoarang reached out and bopped Steve hard on the head with his fist. The latter stumbled in his seat and rubbed his sore head with a half pained, half amused expression.

"Temper, temper."

"Go away, Steve. You're bugging me."

"That's what I'm here for, right?"

Hwoarang glared hard at him. He seemed to be doing that a lot this morning. "Don't you have some…training to do?" he queried.

Steve gave him a toothy grin. "But this is so much more entertaining," he pointed out smartly.

Why do I always end up hanging around sadistic people? Hwoarang stood up and paid for his meal before heading outside. Steve followed along doggedly. The streets were just as empty as before, but there were now more people coming out to open their shops. Hwoarang passed them by, giving a slight nod to some of the owners he knew. He knew Steve wanted to talk about the subject more, but he was determined to stay silent and go along his way.

The problem was, Steve stuck to his side like glue.

Hwoarang eventually headed back to his apartment and stopped right before his door, not looking at Steve, who still lingered right behind him.

"I'm going in," he announced.

Steve nodded. "Right," he agreed.

"You're not," clarified Hwoarang.

Another pout. "Why are you so mean to your best friend?" he whined.

Hwoarang whipped around to face Steve. "You are so—"

But whatever he was going to say died on his lips when he spotted a figure entering the hallway—a certain hooded, dark-featured person he knew all too well and didn't wish to see again for a long, long time. Hwoarang stared at Jin as he approached them slowly.

Steve smiled and patted Jin on the shoulder. "Ah, so you made it!" he quipped happily.

Both Hwoarang and Jin continued staring at each other in bewilderment. Finally Hwoarang looked at Steve and pointed at Jin numbly. "What is he doing here?" he asked in a mild tone.

"I invited him. We sometimes train together and so I asked him to meet up here."

"At my fucking apartment?"

"Well, what's wrong with that?"

Hwoarang's attention was once again focused solely on Steve as all he saw was red. "Are you psycho or something?" he demanded hoarsely.

Steve shrugged dismissively. "Well, I still haven't had a bite to eat and we all know how bad it is to work out on an empty stomach—so Hwoarang, how about you invite us in and let us have something before we go? And hey, you can even join us!" he suggested.

"Go to the fucking café if you're so hungry!" This is not happening.

"I have no money."

Hwoarang jerked a hand in Jin's direction. "Get him to pay then!" he ordered fiercely. He would have even offered to pay for their breakfasts—had it not been for the fact that it would make him appear weak. Damn all the forces of the universe…

"I told him not to bring any because we wouldn't need it."

"You fucking bastard!" This is happening. Fuck it all.

Steve continued with his happy expression. "So Hwoarang? I know you're not that mean to leave the two of us hanging out here," he said.

Hwoarang stared at him dumbfoundedly. Inside, he was torn. There was Jin, the person he was most desperate to get away with after having spent an entire night with. And then there was Steve, whom Hwoarang had to applaud for his cleverness in getting them together, despite it causing him a lot of trauma. Hwoarang sighed resignedly and unlocked his door, gesturing for the two to follow.

Life just enjoys knocking me around. And there couldn't be any truer statement than that.

"Hmm…so have you restocked your frig yet, mate? I'm starved! Aren't you also, Jin?"

"Uh…I suppose…"

"There's no need to be shy! Hwoarang's our host now!"

The Korean fighter sat down on his couch and surveyed the scene before him. Steve rummaged through his refrigerator like a maniac and Jin could only stand by, watching him with something akin to amazement and confusion. Hwoarang lit up another match and breathed out deeply, hiding his face in the palm of his hand. Oh yes, when everything was said and done, Steve would suffer. A morbid smile slowly made its way onto his face.

"Oi, Hwoarang! You know smoking is bad for you!"

Steve then promptly dodged a well-aimed pillow thrown in his direction.

"Shut the fuck up, asshole, and get your damn food!" snapped Hwoarang, staring hard enough at Steve to make a hole in his head had this been a science fiction movie.

"Well, I protest to being an asshole, but I certainly can't say no to food!" chirped Steve.

Then for a brief instant, Hwoarang shared a glance with Jin. The two stared at each other for a split second before each party looked away quickly. Hwoarang inhaled deeply and gritted his teeth. I'm really fucked this time—no doubt about that. He watched as Steve finally settled on making tuna sandwiches for both himself and Jin.

"Hmm…do you have celery, Hwoarang?"

"Just stick to the goddamn tuna!"

This time Hwoarang could feel Jin's gaze on him and he readily ignored it, staring at the wall blankly.

"Hey Jin, stop staring at grumpy over there and help me out!"

Hwoarang's cigarette hand twitched.


TBC

Ah, this chapter was most delayed. Pardon the lateness! I hope you at least enjoyed it. XD