Huge thanks to the reviewers, as always! Everyone, welcome to the grand finale!
Chapter 5: Showdown
The incessant pounding awoke Hwoarang. Startled, he looked around in disorientation before identifying the source of the noise. Someone was banging the door like mad and—this was where he woke completely—calling his name.
The need to hurry settled upon him, and he disentangled himself to scramble up. Jin gave a displeased sound at that... and was out like a light again the next instant. An amused look crossed Hwoarang's face before another pound from the door darkened his mood.
"Just wait!" he shouted. He jumped up and looked for something to cover himself with. The task was more than difficult in the nearly lightless room, in his just awoken state.
To hell with it.
Hwoarang snatched a pillow from the bed briskly. It was hardly an elegant solution, but the moron coming through the door seemed to lack grace himself. Hwoarang bolted to the door, fumbled a bit with the unfamiliar lock, and opened the door a crack. "What?"
"You are Hwoarang?" the official behind the door asked. Another one was standing just a foot away.
"You have a match. Come with us."
"You got rescheduled. We gotta leave now, or you'll be disqualified."
"Wait just a minute—"
The official shook his head. "I'm sorry. It's now or never. Either you come now or throw in the towel."
"Hell if I'm quitting!" Hwoarang was immediately riled. "Give me a minute."
"You don't have much t—"
The door had already been slammed shut, as Hwoarang returned to the room with a new frenzy. Clothes, guards... He'd have to make do with what he had worn earlier, and hope it was still decent.
The white dobok top shone faintly in the dark, neatly placed on the back of a chair. Hwoarang flung it on. The rest of his clothes, then... Without any pretense of decorum, Hwoarang dropped down on the floor and felt his way around. He found the underwear and the protective gear, thankfully, and slipped everything on in a flurry.
A new knock came from the door, along with a demand to be fast.
"Coming!" he shouted and managed to tie the footpads on. Pants and tti, pants and tti..., he repeated to himself. One hand found the tti just as he spotted the white pants leg. He grabbed it and bolted upright, flung the tti around his neck just as he pulled the pants on without even looking.
"Time's up," the official called, and Hwoarang, with an apologetic look at Jin, took his gauntlets with him and rushed to the door.
Jin woke up just enough to catch a glimpse of the receding form, and nearly froze. "Wait! Hwoarang!"
Hwoarang heard him faintly, but it was too late then as he rushed down the corridor with the officials, who predicted doom with the timing, all the while cursing to himself and longing to stop and tie his sagging pants.
He looked down and stopped dead on his tracks. "Wait! I gotta change these."
"You'll be disqualified. We haven't the time," the officials rushed to him and dragged him along. "Come on. It's our necks on the line, too."
"No, I gotta—"
"Come on!" The officials herded him into the yard and into the helicopter, which took off at a precarious speed.
Once inside the helicopter, the officials relaxed and gave a collective sigh of relief. One addressed Hwoarang, who was straightening his clothes and gear and running his hands through his hair in an attempt to look a little less unkempt. "Sorry about this, man. It's not our doing, but the rules are tight. You show late; you are out."
"Yeah, yeah," Hwoarang said with a sigh as he retied the tti more tightly. "What's with the rush? You could give a guy more time. This can't be legal."
"We couldn't find you. Someone told us the wrong room. Can you believe it? It's too early in the morning, so we couldn't go busting doors. We searched the house and pretty much everywhere else, until this one guy at the gym told us where to look."
"Who was that, that guy?" The question came in a casual voice, not betraying any excessive interest.
"Some boxer. English, I think. He wasn't the only one there, either. Funny time to be up and practicing, but these fighter types..." At Hwoarang's reproachful look, the man quickly amended, "Not you. You're all right."
"Cool pants," the man tried.
"Thanks." Hwoarang glanced ruefully at white pants leg. Then, he looked at the black pants leg, and retied the belt tighter for the third time.
Great start for a day.
At least it couldn't get worse than this.
Fate begged to differ.
The stony setting might have been awe-inspiring under different circumstances. Now, Hwoarang barely registered the grotesque statues as he was rushed to the arena. As he saw his awaiting opponent, his breath caught.
Live and august, Baek Doo San stood before him. Though he now had gray in his hair, his poise was impeccable and his gaze as stern as it had been two years ago.
Hwoarang was at a loss. He bowed automatically, and Baek reciprocated gravely. Baek was scrutinizing him wordlessly, and Hwoarang fought back the burning on his face. "Master, I—"
"It is all right. Come on," Baek said with a shake of his head, just as the bell rang.
Hwoarang felt like he won by chance. The master was neither holding back nor out of practice, and Hwoarang found himself dangerously close to taking the final blow more than once.
They were well-matched, until Baek made a mistake. One kick too high up and lacking coordination and Hwoarang managed one of his own, which pushed Baek on the ground for good, prompting a ruling for a knockout.
Hwoarang looked at his master with no small amount of regret. It had been a fair match, won fairly, but the victory felt hollow. He was making a move to see that Baek was well, when the man stirred and pushed to his elbows.
"Master, I..." He halted, unsure of what to say.
Baek rose up with a slight stiffness and dusted his uniform off with precise, quick brushes. "You did well. There is no need for regret." The tone was approving, though his face was stern.
"Thank you, master."
"I will to see you after the tournament for training."
"Yes, master. Thank you." Hwoarang bowed deeply, and finally acknowledged the calls of the officials, who were ushering him for a ride back.
"Wear a proper dobok for training." The corner of Baek's mouth twitched almost imperceptibly.
Hwoarang exited the stage with another bow.
Back at the accommodations, Hwoarang made a direct course to get out of sight as quickly as possible, into a shower, and into his own clothes before any helpful commentators would corner him.
Surprisingly, no one caught up with him in the lobby. He would have rather expected the whole roster of fighters to be there just for him. He headed over to Jin's room and knocked on the door, but there was no response.
"It's me," he said, feeling rather foolish, and gave another knock. Jin's room stayed quiet, and he tried the handle. Just as he was about to enter the unlocked room, he caught a glimpse of the fighter emerging from the next room. Lee Chaolan took no time to notice his attire and throw a knowing look. With stoicism that rivaled Jin's, Hwoarang waved him aside and slammed the door shut. Thankfully, he missed the Cheshire cat grin that followed.
The room, though Jin-less, was back in a decent order, and Hwoarang found his pants neatly folded on the bed. Without further ado, Hwoarang changed, left Jin's pair on the back of the chair, and went to his own room to freshen up. No groupies tagged along this time.
Later, Hwoarang was sitting at the kitchen table, having a bite in peace, which his fellow fighters allowed. He wasn't sure to what to attribute this miracle, but he welcomed it. The few sidelong glances thrown in his direction were scarcely a distraction compared to the free-for-all a few days earlier.
As the door swooshed, the steady stream of crosstalk and banter dropped. Jin Kazama, without a hair out of place and pristine as ever, entered the room and headed for the food cabinet. All eyes were on him, save Hwoarang's, who enjoyed his food contently. Nothing out of ordinary happened, and yet the atmosphere was electric.
Jin got out whatever he had been looking for, got a drink for himself, and took a seat next to Julia, opposite Hwoarang. "Good morning, Julia, everybody."
"Yes. No. I mean, morning," Julia fumbled, and others murmured something alike as well.
Jin, a paragon of calmness, dug into his food, as did everyone else, to an extent. Only two people in the room seemed interested in eating, though, and the eyes of the remaining occupants kept darting back and forth between them in a comical manner, with varying degrees of stealth. Hwoarang raised a questioning brow when he caught Christie looking at him, and she quickly turned to her food. Hwoarang shrugged it off.
As the silence was prolonged, Jin said, "Did I interrupt something?" His voice was ever friendly and curious.
"Of course not," Julia said instantly, who, along the rest of them, couldn't divert her eyes from another round between the rivals. "Just nice to eat like this," she tried.
Instant murmurs concurred.
Nothing seemed to happen, and, one by one, the fighters made their excuses and took their leave out of the kitchen, until only two remained.
Hwoarang drew a leg up on a chair and kicked back. Jin's dedication to the dish in front of him abated. His gaze met Hwoarang's, an amused expression on his face. "You won, I trust," he said casually.
"Yeah." Hwoarang pulled at his leg and sprawled himself even further. "Barely."
Jin's brow shot up at the confession.
"Jin, it was Baek Doo San."
Jin tried to put a face on that name, but failed.
"My master. Taekwondo instructor. He's alive," Hwoarang said softly. "I thought the Ogre killed him, but he's been alive all this time."
"You learned of this only now?" Jin tried to place the man and the name. Perhaps, he had heard the name. Obviously, it meant a great deal to Hwoarang.
"No, a couple weeks back. I guess I just... didn't expect to see him like this."
"I am sorry."
"Doesn't matter. Just wish it would've been someone else." Jin was looking at him, prompting Hwoarang to reiterate with conviction, "It's fine." He leaned back with a sigh and rested his eyes.
It was quiet for a moment, but then, Jin gave a choking sound.
"I'm sorry. Nothing."
At another sound, Hwoarang's eyes shot open. "Are you... laughing, Kazama?" He stared at Jin in astonishment.
"I apologize," Jin said, barely containing himself. "But you mean to tell me that you went against your taekwondo instructor you haven't seen in years... in... in a karate uniform?"
"It's not funny." Hwoarang scowled.
"It shouldn't be. But it is." Jin was shaking now.
Hwoarang glowered at him, but the mirth was infectious. "I... suppose it's just a bit funny," he conceded, and a smile threatened to break to his lips. "Damnit, Kazama," he said, and this time, he actually gave a grin.
Something broke then, and Jin, the epitome of reserved detachment, broke out in hearty laughter. Hwoarang was pulled right with him and held his stomach as he lost the futile attempt not to join in on Kazama's helpless mirth.
Not a damn thing had felt as good for a long time. Well, except...
Sense eventually caught with them, leaving them gazing at each other. Jin tossed away his tableware and headed to the door. At passing, he halted and rested a light hand on Hwoarang's shoulder, fingers brushing his neck lightly. "I have a fight tonight," he spoke as if to himself. "The door is open."
With that, he exited the room, while Hwoarang leaned back on the chair and allowed himself a smile.
Julia and Christie were still talking away and questioning the newly arrived Steve, who looked like he had emerged from some dark corner of hell, when alarming noises carried from the kitchen.
"What's that? Who's that?" Steve said and frowned.
"It's Jin and Hwoarang... laughing?" Christie tried and bit her lip.
"Laughing?" Steve repeated. "Together?" He gulped. He blinked. He turned on his heel and walked out. "M'not staying here."
"Steve. Wait, Steve," Julia tried, but Steve was gone. "What got into him?" she asked Christie, but Christie was just as clueless.
"Bad day?" she suggested.
Steve's eccentric behavior found an explanation when Hwoarang decided to pay the piper and make up for his earlier scheming with a bit of sparring. Few things could make a better apology than giving a guy a chance to execute violence.
He caught Steve in the training hall, throwing careless moves at a punching bag, which seemed to engage in the fight more than Steve did.
Steve turned sluggishly.
"You don't look too good. Everything okay?" Hwoarang frowned. Steve seemed groggy.
"Didn't kip a blink last night," Steve muttered.
Hwoarang swore Steve did that on purpose. "That better mean sleeping, Fox."
Steve gave a sound which translated into an affirmation.
"You're not gonna be any good like that," Hwoarang remarked. "You don't have a match, do you? Go sleep." As Steve made no attempt to react, Hwoarang sighed. "I'll take you."
Steve only moved when Hwoarang gave him a firm shove on the back. He allowed himself to be escorted in the house and up the stairs. "There," Steve pointed wanly, and slouched to the third room on the corridor—the one right next to Jin's.
"I didn't know this was yours."
"You realize how loud you are?" Steve suddenly pulled himself to life and scowled at Hwoarang.
"You were loud."
Hwoarang made the connection then. He threw Steve a startled look. "Why the hell didn't you, um, knock?" he tried.
"I did!" Steve seemed on the verge of a breakdown. "In the end, it was easier to go to the gym. Wasn't the only one there, either!"
"Umm..." Hwoarang was searching for words. "I'm sorry," he said feebly. "Didn't realize."
Steve pushed him aside. "Don't need to hear it," he muttered before slamming the door.
Whatever he had meant by that, Hwoarang got the point and slipped on his way quietly.
Luckily, Steve Fox was a much more forgiving man when well rested. By the end of the evening, after a good few hours of uninterrupted sleep, he had accepted Hwoarang's invitation to spar and pay him back with an iron fist, and by the end of the fight, Steve had regained his good humor to the point of having a laugh about it.
"If walls had ears...," he mused with a sly look to an unrelated comment, and Hwoarang had the grace to look sheepish.
Peace was made and consideration exercised in the days to come. Life settled and the tournament progressed, until...
Hwoarang didn't know whom he was fighting that night. He had arrived ahead of time and now stood alone in the field, basking in the moonlight, which gave a pale hue to everything it touched. He wondered if the eerie mood was the making of his mind alone or if it was foreshadowing of trouble to come. He laughed at the thought mirthlessly.
Still, the ill feeling persisted and made him uneasy.
At midnight, his opponent showed. Hwoarang was stretching when he heard footsteps approaching and turned around. His heart sank.
"So, this is it, Jin," he said unhappily. He kicked at the ground. This is how it ends.
Jin was caught off balance as well. The chagrin was audible in his tone when he spoke. "I will not hold back." His voice was pained.
"Neither will I, but you know that already."
The blue setting emphasized the inescapable blue mood. The fight was about to commence.
"Hey, Jin?" Hwoarang waited for Jin to look at him. "There will be other tournaments." Other times.
A moment passed, and then...
They exchanged grins. In tandem, they took their fighting stances.
Sincere thanks to Gypsie for the proofreading!
Published July 14, 2008.
This has been a blast and a great run. I thank for all the reviews and other favorable attention along the way, and hope this isn't the end of it! Special thanks to those who stayed with me all the way, reviewing up to every chapter.
Heartfelt thank you to Gypsie for proofreading the entire story!
Hwoarang addresses Jin by his first name throughout Tekken 5. In both Jin and Hwoarang's storylines, Hwoarang calls him "Jin"—as opposed to "Kazama" or "Jin Kazama"—even though the English subtitles read "Kazama" at both times. If anyone with a good command of the Korean language ever steps in here: I would love to hear the word-to-word translations of the Korean lines!
Salysha finally completes her story, Bedded Rivals.
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Bedded Rivals © Copyright 2008 Salysha