NOTE: post-XIII, assumes Team Elisabeth's ending is true.

Duo Lon isn't the best company in the world - too much doom and gloom - but he's better than Elisabeth, she who was born on a silver platter with her nose in the air.

...That's not how the saying goes, is it.

So for the most part Duo Lon is cool, maybe he'd be cooler if he was more eager to spar. Shen might even go so far as to call the guy something of a friend, only he's sure Duo Lon doesn't "do" that whole friendship thing.

But what other word is there for a guy who you fight, fight with, rely on, and then you all go drinking afterward?

"Acquaintances," Duo Lon suggests, succinct as always.

Shen scrunches his nose. "I don't know, that sounds kinda..."


"Yeah. I guess." Shen's had a lot to drink, it's clouding his mind and words a little. He really wants some Shanghai crab, but it's not quite the season yet.

"I don't know that 'friends' is the right word," Duo Lon admits. His freaky, spindly fingers are laced together, and the cup of rice wine in front of him is untouched, condensation gathering on the outside. It's his fourth though, and pretty strong stuff, so Shen can forgive that this time.

"What, I'm not good enough for you?" Shen doesn't actually think this.

"No. We're just... not there yet."

Back before all this KOF shit, Shen knew this guy who used to "list" everyone in "rank" of how much of a friend they were. Which is 100% bullshit, now that Shen thinks about it. It's always been a "yes/no" affair with him.

"I don't even remember how we met," Duo Lon admits.

Shen splutters; he feels like he's been told he's as important as dog shit. "How the hell do you forget something like that?"

"I don't know." His expression is blank, unyielding.

"It was right fucking here in this city."

"I know." Duo Lon is infuriatingly patient. "I just can't remember the details. Do you?"

"No, but maybe because I'm drunk."

Duo Lon shrugs, as if to say well then shut up.

"So, what'll it take to get us to friends?" Shen asks. He leans closer, balancing on the edge of his seat, so that his knee is pressing into Duo Lon's thigh.

It's a pretty blatant move, and of course Duo Lon doesn't miss it, he can't miss it. He looks down at Shen's leg, then back at his face, pointedly.

Shen doesn't do anything, only waits.

Duo Lon hesitates, then says, "There's no checkpoint, Shen. It just happens."

"So you trust me?"

"With some things." He moves his leg away. "Other things, not so much."

The next day, Shen wakes up in his own room with no memory of how he got there, and a terrible hangover that feels like his head will explode. In retrospect, it probably wasn't a good idea to try and... what, seduce Duo Lon while talking about friendship?

Is that even the right word for what he was trying to do? Because Shen was drunk out of his mind and really, more trying to get all up in Duo Lon's grill, he doesn't even likedudes.

Though it was still kind of gay.

Shen rolls off the messy bed and groans, holding his head. It's a pounding pumpkin of pure pain, and has him crawling - literally crawling, like a slug - into the bathroom to look for ibuprofen.

He rolls right back into bed for the rest of the day, intent on sleeping away the worst of the headache before he goes right back out to do the same thing again. Shen has never really cared about money other than the part where he needs some to pay for his basic needs, but ever since they won the King of Fighters tournament he has been positively rolling in dough, more than he necessarily needs.

Elisabeth didn't take her share, even though it's been a long time since the Branctorche clan's days of prosperity (what with the whole 'they all burned to death' thing), so Shen and Duo Lon split it right down the middle. Shen has been happily squandering it on food and booze; he has no idea what Duo Lon is doing with his half.

Of course, he still fights.

It's never been about the money, only for the thrill of cracking fists against faces, and the hope of encountering the ultimate opponent.

Shanghai is boring. King of Fighters was a letdown, in the end.

"What the hell am I going to do?" he demands.

Duo Lon's incredibly helpful reply is, "Perhaps you're the strongest man in the world now." The bar is noisy, so it is hard to hear his voice, which is too quiet sometimes.

It's hard to tell whether Duo Lon is serious or deadpan. His jokes aren't very funny... or maybe they aren't jokes.

"I'm going to go crazy if I don't fight someone strong."

"We could spar, if you like." Duo Lon folds his hands on top of the table.

"Maybe I should try somewhere else," Shen muses, clutching his pint. "You know, like fight my way across America."

"Most of the population is clustered along the coasts."

"Okay, I'll fight my way down the coast." He takes a swig of beer.

Duo Lon has a creepy way of never blinking when he looks at someone. He's doing it now. "If King of Fighters couldn't satisfy you, what makes you think America will?"

"It's a change of scenery, at least. And I'm tired of looking at your gloomy face." Shen shrugs with affected nonchalance. "Speaking of, don't you have like clan business to take care of?"

"I don't have any new leads on Ron." Duo Lon's face remains impassive, but he never likes speaking of his family and especially his father. His crazy Pops.

"So that's why you're here in Shanghai?"

"It's a change of scenery at least." The corner of his lip twitches.

"Ohhhh," Shen drawls, motioning toward Duo Lon. "You're repeating my words at me to be sarcastic. Fuck, you are so funny."

"It is a gift."

They do end up sparring, hours later when Shen is so drunk that he struggles to land his punches, and Duo Lon is a condescending piece of shit, not even doing his freakdog Slenderman thing. Shen gets frustrated enough to just tackle him, and it turns into a clumsy wrestling match or something. Duo Lon lets him win or whatever, lets Shen just collapse on top of him, even if Shen has at least thirty pounds on him, has to be heavy.

And yeah, it is kind of gay.

"Are we friends yet?" Shen huffs against Duo Lon's neck. The night air is cool on his sweaty skin.

Duo Lon doesn't answer, just rests his hand on Shen's back.

Shen hates America.

The food is terrible, the drink is little better than Shanghai's, they're both expensive (it's the principle), and everyone is a fucking wimp. The white people jabber at him like they think he understands, like they think he speaks a word of English. The Chinese people always try English at him first too, and have no sympathy for him, tell him he should expect that.

So maybe Duo Lon was right about America, but Shen is determined to prove him wrong anyways.

His last hope is Los Angeles, where he makes his way to Chinatown because he knows they have got to run somethingillegal there, at least some of those restaurants must be a front.

"You don't look Chinese," the guy at the mahjong place says. He's young, maybe around Duo Lon's age.

"Yeah, I get that a lot," Shen says sarcastically. Of course he fucking does, he has blond hair and grey eyes. "Anyways, you know if there's any guys around here that want to get their asses kicked?"

The guy's name is Han or something; his pronunciation is a little funny, it must be an American thing. He rolls his eyes. "My thing is mahjong, not friggin' Fight Club."

"You know what Shen Woo means?" he asks.

"Arrogant Douchebag?" Han raises an eyebrow.

"God of War. That's what they call me, Shanghai's God of War." Shen doesn't buy into that shit, it's just a stupid name he picked up and never let go, but he's going to play this up. "So maybe it's just me, but so far America has been nothing but dickless babies."

Han rolls his eyes again, so hard that for a brief instant only his whites are visible.

"Don't hurt yourself." Shen smacks Han on the shoulder in a way that'd be companionable if they were friends, but is probably just incredibly invasive seeing as they're strangers, and leaves the parlor.

Everyfuckingbody from Chinatown and beyond clambers for the chance to beat up the arrogant douchebag from Shanghai but it's like kicking a wave of puppies until the guy in the charcoal grey suit.

He's big, about Shen's size, but a little older. And he positively thrums with danger; the kind of man that doesn't have to even think about killing someone because it just means that little to him.

It's nothing new, Shen kind of hangs out with an assassin, but something about the man is disconcerting. Also it's the first real challenge Shen's had since KOF, and he's busy keeping on his toes.

Then Shen gets in a good, clean punch to the man's nose, and the man's eyes flash yellow.

"You a demon thing?" Shen asks, pausing even though he should really follow that hit up.

The demon puts down his fists and straightens from his fighting stance. "Yes," he replies.

"Aw, fuck." Shen is so tired of this whole supernatural thing; nobody will shut their mouth about goddamn Orochi, everyone and their cybernetically enhanced mum has some crazy otherworldly ability, and then there's that whole Dragon Spirit bullshit with Duo Lon's traitor dad, too... Well, there was Oswald, who was pretty normal, relatively speaking. Shen had a lot of fun fighting Oswald.

"Sorry, I should've mentioned it," the demon says sarcastically.

"Why can't I ever have a decent match with someone normal?" Shen complains. "Either they suck balls, or they're not human. Like, ordinary human."

"And you are?" the demon asks. Just rich.

"Of course I am!" Shen is affronted. Does he look like one of them, or something?

"Well, you sound like you have a lot of experience with the occult." The demon cocks its head.

"My best friend is a necromancer who stretches his limbs twice their length." Then Shen frowns, because since when was Duo Lon his best friend?

Well now that he thinks about it, Duo Lon is kind of his only friend.

Is he?

Shen thinks he must have had another friend, but he can't really remember...

"Creepy," the demon says, ruining his concentration.

"Yeah. So you gonna fight me for real, or what?" Shen demands, rolling his neck and punching his fist into his hand.

For the first time in ages, Shen gets absolutely thrashed. To be fair, the demon ended up sprouting leathery wings and a lizard tail, and that extra limbs advantage created a quantitative imbalance, but Shen is mostly satisfied when he returns to Shanghai.

Duo Lon is unimpressed, but that's to be expected. "He had wings and a tail."

"Yeah, almost as weird as you." Shen picks up another crab and rips it in half. It's finally the season, and he's going to milk it for what it's worth.

Still not impressed, Duo Lon just watches him eat for a moment. Then he asks, "Did you find what you were looking for?"

"I wasn't really looking for anything, 'cept for a good fight."

"You're not angry you lost?"

"Kinda. I'll go back and try him again." Shen isn't mad, not really. He technically got what he wanted. "I mean, I hate that supernatural shit but he's right. Ordinary humans aren't even a challenge anymore. I have to look for freaks and demons now to get my kicks."

"I see you've at least learned about humility in America." Duo Lon smiles wryly, just a twist to his thin lips.

"You know me." Shen throws back the last of his drink and stands. "C'mon, let's fight. Bring your freaky ghosts this time."