Disclaimer: King of Fighters, Fatal Fury and related characters are the property of SNK. I'm just borrowing them for some non-profit entertainment.
Sorega Ai, Deshou?
Chapter One: Transportation and Arrival
Andy gazed out his window as the veil of cloud cover parted to reveal the jagged coast of the archipelago. Turning his attention back to the piece of paper he'd been clutching like a talisman since take off. The boy reread the letter that was written upon it in polite if a little overly formal English.
'Dear Tung; my old friend,
'Please allow me to express my deepest condolences for the loss of your friend and pupil Jeffry Bogard. I myself had only met him once, briefly and hoped that we could have met at least once more before his tragic passing. Please convey my sympathies to his children.
'On the subject of the young Bogard brothers, I would be more than honored to accept the younger boy, Andy, as a student of my style of ninjitsu. I, unfortunately, will be unable to pick him up from the airport, as I will be attending to family business that day. But our mutual friend Yamada Jubei has agreed to pick the boy up and accompany him all the way to Niigata.
'I look forward to what we may learn from each other.
'Sincerely, Shiranui Hanzo'
Andy folded the note again and replaced it in his pocket, his attention returning to the window and the ground that was steadily rising up to meet him. He was only nine and had never been to Japan before. He'd never even been outside of South Town before. Now here he was in a completely foreign country, halfway around the world. He was completely out of his comfort zone and there was no turning back now.
But then again, it seemed like he hadn't even had a comfort zone since dad had died. The boy shut his eyes as if doing so could block the memory that rose to the surface of his mind. Jeff Bogard, his and Terry's adopted father, stabbed. Geese engaging him in a one on one fight, Jeff falling to the ground, Geese's vile smirk of triumph… Jeff's… his father's death.
"You okay, sweety?" A passing flight attendant asked. Master Tung had requested that they keep an eye on him. Not just because he was only nine years old and flying alone but because he was nine years old, flying alone and he recently had witnessed his father die an extremely violent death.
Andy blinked at her in confusion, then wiped his eyes. He wasn't aware that he'd been crying. "Fine. Thanks." He lied.
She regarded the boy a moment longer before replying, "Well, if you're sure… We'll be landing soon, hun."
The attendant gave a polite bow of the head before continuing on down the aisle. Andy returned her bow with a slight nod of the head. If he was going to be living in Japan for the next ten years he should really get used to all this bowing all the time.
Master Tung had taught him and Terry that it was polite to bow to your opponent before a match, that it conveyed respect for the other fighter. He often saw Jeff bow to Tung after a lesson or a practice match; this was explained as thanking the master for his instruction and his time.
It was a new concept for the nine year old to bow when someone is introduced, when someone enters a conversation, when a conversation is ended, when entering a room or leaving it, when thanking someone, when apologizing to someone… He hadn't even touched down in the country yet and his neck was already sore.
Master Tung had warned him that the Japanese bowed for almost everything and that if he was ever confused or didn't understand anything he should just bow. Andy had accepted this advice and not thought much of it. But after nodding every time an attendant offered him a drink or peanuts he was already sick of the motion and he wondered how he was ever going to survive the next ten years.
Andy bowed to the flight attendants yet again as he exited the plain. They were bowing to and thanking all the passengers as they exited. He felt so awkward bending at the waist while balancing his carry-on over his shoulder and muttering a timid "Arigatou" in an awkward American accent.
They giggled after he passed saying "Otoko wa kawaii desu ne?"
"Deshou!" Replied her friend, and the two giggled softly behind their hands.
Andy tried best not to pay attention as he stepped out of the gate. He didn't understand a word they had said, for all he knew they could be discussing anything between theoretical astrophysics to the last episode of Fraggle Rock.
Master Shiranui's letter had said that one of his friends would be here to pick him up. Andy furiously hoped the man spoke English, otherwise he didn't know what he would do.
The boy cast about for any sign that one of the people gathered gather to meet their loved ones at the gate was there for him. Several people held back from the main crowd holding signs, which he assumed bore the names of passengers they were there to pick-up. He scanned the signs, admiring the intricate yet indecipherable characters that were scribbled across them. Japanese really was a beautiful, if a little incomprehensible, language.
Andy was about to turn away from the sign bearing lot and find a seat to wait in until this Yamada Jubei arrived when some one new came jogging up to the gate as if in fear of being late. He was the oddest thing Andy had ever seen, dressed not in normal modern casual wear like most everyone else or even in one of the neat black suits worn by the waiting chauffeurs, this man was dressed in a light cotton robe with a second, shorter red vest-like robe over that, white 'flooded' pants that showed his boney ankles and was heal up with a black sash and sandals that were practically just two blocks of wood strapped to each foot.
The man reached a hand into the folds of his robe and withdrew a piece of folded paper and unfolded it and held the sign aloft. Andy flabbergasted to see the words "Bogardo Andy" written across it.
Assuming that this must be Yamada Jubei, Andy approached the odd looking fellow. "There's only one O in 'Bogard'." He said.
"Andy-chan desu ka?" The man asked.
His own name being the only recognizable word in that sentence Andy simply bowed, taking Master Tung's advice. When in doubt, just bow.
The man regarded him quizzically for a moment before asking, "Nihongo ga dekimasu ka?"
Once again not understanding, Andy blinked up in confusion. "I'm sorry?" He said in English.
"English for now, then." The man said. His words were heavily accented so that it sounded more like 'Engrish foru nao, sthen.' Under any other circumstances, hearing his own language being botched so thoroughly would have made him snort with laughter. At the moment, however, he was just glad that he could at least somewhat communicate with someone.
"I'm Yamada Jubei. Hanzo-kun sent me here to pick you up." He held out a hand, offering to take Andy's carry-on. The boy extended the backpack gratefully. "Did you have any checked bags?"
"No." Andy replied. "That's it."
Even after Jeff had adopted him and Terry, Andy had shied away from accumulating possessions. He rarely had gotten to take them with him when moving from foster home to foster home, taking only what he could fit in the black plastic bag they provided for him. Jeff had sometimes worried about his aversion to forming attachments to objects, but then again, Jeff just seemed to worry about him and Terry in general.
After Jeff's death, Andy didn't see a point in bringing anything that wasn't absolutely necessary with him to Japan. His purpose in coming here was to learn the skills he would need to avenge his father's death, toys and amusements would only distract him from that goal.
"This is it?" Jubei examined the bag critically and tested its weight. "Well, after we get you settled we'll see if we can't hook you up."
Not knowing how to respond to that, Andy just bowed again and said nothing.
After a short cab ride and long subway ride Andy and Yamada Jubei were finally on a train heading from Tokyo to Niigata province. The boy watched out the window as the dense buildings of Tokyo city melted away to more sparse rural residences that seemed to have been taken from another time all together.
As the train sped farther north, climbing the mountains as it went the houses seemed to disappear, as did almost all signs of human habitation. After a while Andy lost interest in what was outside and slumped back in his seat. His flight had arrived fairly early in the morning local time but he was still on American Eastern Standard time so while it was just a little after six in the morning for Jubei it was still five in the afternoon yesterday for Andy.
"How was your flight?" Jubei asked in an awkward attempt to make conversation.
"Fine." Andy didn't feel much like talking. He was tired, was in a strange land far from home with nothing familiar to draw comfort from and he really needed comfort right now.
His mind wandered to Jeff and little thing that he hadn't noticed much while he was alive. How he would heat a glass of milk whenever one of them couldn't sleep, how he would sit at their bedsides and tell them stories about his own youth and how he had had to grow up alone. One might think it wasn't quite appropriate for a parent to share depressing childhood experiences as bedtime stories, but Andy had always found it comforting that he could relate to Jeff through their similar experiences.
Before he and Terry had decided to take their chances on the streets they were mostly alone. The System was constantly moving them from one foster home to another (mostly for problems of fighting, either at home or at school), few foster parents wanted to take them for very long and none wanted to take the both of them together.
So, he and Terry were split up and sent to separate homes (sometimes on opposite sides of town). Sometimes they got to see each other in school, but usually not, sometimes the foster families were nice and sometimes not. But every time Andy started getting used to a place, getting comfortable with a family, something would always happen to mess it all up.
Whether it was a fight on the play-yard, or a disagreement at home (either with another child or a parent) it seemed he was always the one at fault because he was the "difficult" child. Finally, there came a point where he just stopped trying. H wouldn't attempt to get to know a family, he wouldn't make an effort to fit in or get attached to any one. What was the point when they would just send him to another house in a few months?
'Don't get attached, don't get hurt.'
That was his motto. Every time he was sent away he felt hurt or betrayed, when he stopped trying he stopped caring and that worked for him. And when Terry came knocking on his bedroom window one night he was easily willing to run away.
The two had found shelter in an abandoned warehouse in South Town's industrial district. It seemed to be a favored home for the dregs of human society. Andy and Terry shared a space with addicts and the insane along with a few other children whom had run away, abandoning the Foster Care System to try their chances on the streets.
It was around that time that Terry had run headlong into Jeff. Andy remembered the day quite clearly because they were actually trying to pick-pocket him. He and Terry had gotten a pretty good act down together. He would run on ahead and pass by the intended target without bothering him or her. Then Terry would come running after his "annoying little brother" and accidentally bump into the person in question. And if that person's wallet just happened to fall into Terry's hand, well, that wasn't his fault. He was just a kid, what did he know?
It had worked great! That was until Jeffry Bogard had tracked them back to their warehouse home and politely asked for his wallet back. A cold stone of dread had sunk into Andy's stomach. If this man turned them in they would be put back into to System, or worse, sent to a "correctional" facility.
Terry's thoughts must have been echoing his own because he, without hesitating, offered the wallet back with no protest or drama, only the request that Jeff not hand them over to the "authorities".
The man had accepted the terms and, after checking to make sure he still had his credit card and ID (the cash was long since gone) had offered to treat them to a meal.
Andy and Terry both had been suspicious, normal adults didn't do nice or charitable thing for you right after you rob them. But they were hungry and even though they had spent the cash on candies and soda they weren't anywhere near satisfied.
The adoption hadn't occurred immediately after that. In fact, it wasn't until several month after that fateful lunch that Jeff had come to their squalid warehouse and told them that if they wanted to they could come live with him and his teacher.
They had had a relatively happy home life; it was certainly better than anything Andy had experienced in the System. The four of them fell into the traditional rolls of family quite easily with Tung Fu Rue filling the position of the eccentric grandfather, Jeff as the dotting father that was powerless to the whims of his children, Terry the eldest son that could do no wrong and he, Andy, the youngest child out to prove himself. It was "The Wonder Years – South Town edition" (only slightly less cheesy, no wait, it was twice as cheesy).
But then Jeff died and Andy's happy home was shattered. That was what he got for growing accustomed to his situation, from loving a life or just loving a person. In the end you always got hurt.
'Don't get attached, don't get hurt.'
But he wouldn't let that happen this time. He was here on a mission; he was here with a purpose. To form attachments to the people here would just create distractions. He would train, he would learn and he would grow but he would not love. Love was unnecessary for a life devoted to revenge.
"Andy-chan." Yamada Jubei's voice cut into his thoughts. "We just left Gumma and are entering Niigata now. We should be arriving in Nagaoka very soon."
Nagaoka Station had once been the site of Hori Naoyori's castle back in then Edo Period and Andy had to marvel at the imposing architecture. South Town had tried to make their public transportation look respectable but always just seemed to succeed in being dirty.
Jubei led him out of the station where he hailed a cab. The two climbed in and after Yamada instructed the driver in Japanese that was to fast for Andy to even catch, let alone understand, they were once again on their way.
The cab took them out of Nagaoka, passing through Sanjo to the east in the direction of the Higashiyama mountain ranges. Just outside of Sanjo city limits was the independent town of Mino. Mino could be described as the Japanese equivalent to the American "small town" where everyone knows everyone.
The cab driver let them off in front of, for all Andy could tell, a ridiculously steep set of stairs. There was a tall oval shaped bolder standing erect next to said flight of stairs with three bold looking characters expertly chiseled into it, no doubt informing people what the place was, but Andy couldn't read them.
"It says 'Shiranui'." Jubei informed him after paying the cabby.
Andy gave the stone another look, examining the characters to see if he could read their meaning not that he knew what it said but they remained horribly abstract and unyielding to his mind.
"You'll learn quick enough." The old man insisted. Then he clapped Andy on the shoulder and, indicating the stairs said, "Well, hop to it!"
The climb up the impossibly tall and ridiculously steep stairs left Andy tired, breathless and ready to collapse. This had to be some form of child cruelty, to make a bereaved nine-year-old trudge up that mountain of stairs… Andy was very much missing the old, unreliable death trap of an elevator from the building he lived in with Jeff right now.
"Now, wasn't that refreshing?" Jubei came up beside him, jogging in place and carrying Andy's travel bag over his shoulder, over flowing with spry energy. "Nothing like a bit of exercise after sitting down all day."
The boy gave a noncommittal noise as response. How was it that this old man had more energy than he did after all that?
"Don't worry, kiddo, we'll work-up your stamina." He clapped Andy on the shoulder again. "You should see Hanzo's little granddaughter, she's a real spit-fire, already running rings around the rest of us old men. She's about your age; you'll hate her! …Knowing kids your age."
Most of this just went in one ear and out the other. Between Jubei's heavy accent and the fact that Andy didn't care about Shiranui Hanzo's extended family he found it easier to just tune the man out.
The stairs opened out onto a white stone courtyard bordered, along the left and right sides, by petite ginko trees will taller evergreens looming behind but otherwise was baren. Andy was lead down the center of the yard to a double-doored gate twice as high as a man was tall and immensely intimidating to a nine-year-old child whom was only four foot three (129.5 cm). Jubei eased this gate open and the two slipped inside.
The inner courtyard was far lovelier and more inviting that the outer with a small stream running through it that pooled into a small pond before continuing back out through an arched whole at the bottom of the wall. The sound of the water running over the rocks was enchanting. Its hypnotic effect combined with the large boulders and miniature trees surrounding the pond made Andy feel like a giant in a fairyland.
"This way." Jubei lead him over a small step bridge that crossed the stream where it fed the pond.
Jubei slid, what Andy assumed was the front door, open and called into the house, "Ojama shimasu."
Another voice called back in answer, Andy did couldn't hear it to distinctly, but it sounded somewhat like the way Jeff would say "C'mon in" to visitors.
"Shoes." Jubei said as they entered.
"What?" Andy blinked in utter confusion.
"Take off your shoes." As he said this the old man slipped his feet from his wooden sandals and laid them out so that he could easily slip them back onto his feet when he left.
"Oh." The boy sat on the ground and immediately started untying the laces of his sneakers. It this was something he was going to be doing everyday for the next ten years he should get some different shoes, something that would slip on and off as easily as Yamada Jubei's had.
A man came to greet them in the entranceway. He was about a head taller than Jubei with the slender build of a fighter whom prized speed over strength but he had te air of one whom rarely engaged in actual combat.
"Ah, Yamada-kun." He smiled welcomingly.
"Kazu-kun, is Hanzo still out?" Jubei asked this in Japanese, but this author feels obliged to translate for you.
The man nodded. "Unfortunately, yes." His eyes then fell on Andy whom was struggling with his second shoe. He knelt down in front of the boy and said in English, "And you must be Andy Bogard. I have a daughter about your age."
"You're English is really good!" Andy exclaimed, happy to have someone he now had someone he could communicate with more easily.
"Thank you." Kazu accepted the compliment modestly. "I studied a semester in Boston before earning my Associates Degree. I'm Shiranui Kazutaka, Shiranui Hanzo is my father."
"Are you a martial arts master, too?" Asked the boy.
"Goodness no!" Kazutaka laughed. "I'm just a waste of space."
"Kazu-kun, why don't you show the boy to his room?" Jubei suggested. "This old man is going to help himself to some of that spiced sake you have."
Kazutaka made a face. "Don't drink too much before Chichi-ue arrives." Then to Andy, "C'mon, kiddo, lets get you settled."
Some time later, Andy had unpacked his travel bag, showered and changed. He now only had to wait for Shiranui Hanzo's return from wherever he was. The boy was anxious to meet his new master and begin his training as a ninja as soon as possible. He wandered the halls and grounds of the Shiranui dojo in an attempt to pass the time, familiarizing himself with the place that would become his home for the next ten years.
After seeing the beauty of the garden in the inner courtyard, Andy had expected to find something just as grand around the back of the building but was pleasantly surprised to find, not a garden but a training field. Unpaved earth stretched out from the back porch to the far tree line that ran the length of the property. To one side human shaped dummies had been fashioned out of straw and stood mounted on polls, awaiting attack. On the opposite side of the field a spacious circle had been outlined in powdered chalk. Andy assumed it was for sparring, but at the moment was instead occupied by a single solitary person.
A girl, about his own age, with long dark hair was twirling about, gesturing with a white paper folding fan. Andy couldn't tell if she was dancing or practicing martial forms in such a way that it looked like a dance. Curious, he walked up to her.
"Hi." He said, breaking the girl's concentration and startling her.
"Kyaaah!" She exclaimed and brought her fan down hard on his head, much harder than a normal paper fan should have been able to withstand.
(A/N: Niigata, Gumma, Nagaoka, Sanjo and the Higashiyama mountain range are all real places. Mino (to the best of my knowlage) is not.
Please review and let me know how I'm doing.
Also, I'd just like to thro out there that it would be great if someone could please, oh please! someone besides me write an Andy/Mai ship. It gets kinda lonely being the only one in the fandom that's actively shipping this pair.)