Disclaimer: All characters of the game "Tekken" are property of NAMCO.
Xiaoyu was in love with the winter.
He couldn't understand why. Maybe it was the snow, or the fashion - she was favouring the peach marshmallow look recently - whatever it was, he didn't share it. He had seen her at her most content when she was bundled up by the heater with small hands wrapped around a cup of green tea. It was simple pleasure, but there was something about the way she had beamed then that made him self-conscious. He had returned the smile.
No-one but Xiaoyu would want to venture outside in this weather. He was expecting that they would be snowed in today. The last thing he wanted was to be trapped in an anglicised establishment where foreigners crowded his space, and made lengthy inquiries while somehow missing the point that he neither cared nor understood many of their words. He could handle English, but his Japanese was still a bit rough around the edges and he had been running into a lot of Europeans as of late.
He was surprised when Xiaoyu took him to a small cafe off the main streets. It was modest, with few customers, but Xiaoyu was pleased by this because, according to her, they served "a mean hot fudge sundae" and she was an impatient customer. He decided to stick to black coffee.
They found a table by the corner, with high-backed cushioned seats and a wooden divider that imparted some privacy. He didn't initially realise that they had the best view of the stage. Upon entry, he hadn't even noticed the stage.
"Do you like it?"
He looked at Xiaoyu smiling back at him. "It's nice. Cozy."
"I thought so too." She removed her mittens and put them in her handbag. "I think there's more you'll like. At one every afternoon they have a stage performance and all the musicians I've seen are so great."
Nodding absently, he glanced around the establishment. The warm aroma of coffee beans put him at ease, but the atmosphere was also amiable. There was light laughter behind him and he glanced over his shoulder, but all he saw were strangers. Lost in their own world, all enjoying themselves, all smiling. Maybe it was something in the water. He leaned back against the firm cushions and released a small sigh.
"I have something for you," Xiaoyu told him after a few moments.
He paused to frown and hoped it wasn't another soft toy. It wasn't as though he had any place to put them. "Is it small and fluffy?"
She handed him an envelope. "This came in the mail the other day and I thought you might want to read it."
It was uncreased, smooth, white and cool like paper should be. Xiaoyu's name and address were printed in perfect Japanese characters; two stamps occupied the envelope's corner. He turned it over and looked at the return address. There was none. There was only one page inside with more hand-written Japanese, but his eyes immediately went to the writer's sign-off at the end. He smiled despite himself and read the letter. It was brief, straight-forward and apologetic as always.
He didn't care for the words as much as the hand that had formed them. He poured over the characters printed in ball-point black ink for a long moment until Xiaoyu interrupted gently.
"I'm hoping to see him when I fly up for my research excursion in a fortnight's time."
He stuffed the letter in its envelope and slid it across the table. "It says the same thing as always, he even remembered to apologise for ignoring us."
She giggled. "You know he's not ignoring us."
"You're right: he's ignoring us and everyone else."
She rolled her eyes, but smiled as a young waiter appeared with their orders in hand. Small hands wrapped around Hwoarang's mug and she sighed happily.
"I'll be drinking that," he informed her. She took her sundae and warmed the spoon in her hand.
"I was wondering if you wanted me to pass anything on when I go," she supplied. "Except a violent gesture, I won't do that."
He gave a snort of laughter and raised the mug to his lips. The coffee scoured a sharp trail down his throat and he kept drinking. However much he might have wanted to, he just didn't have the energy to convince Xiaoyu of passing on a physical greeting. She would probably try to pervert it, anyway. This was one girl who loved to have her own way.
A series of electronic clicks took his attention and he was surprised to see that the corner stage, raised on its foot-high platform, was already in the final stages of being set up. Spotlights dimmed and flashed, he could imagine a technician behind that curtain muttering to himself, "testing, testing.... "
A small stationary was dropped onto the polished table and Xiaoyu pulled out a pen. "I can write down your message, lest I forget. I have plenty of paper, look, I bought refills the other day!"
"That's a feat, to be sure," he murmured. This was very good coffee. He blinked as she tapped on his mug as though calling for his attention. "What?"
Her lips formed an impatient pout and she tapped her pad. "You don't like it when I'm blunt, I've been very subtle today, but could we move this along? They're going to start the show any second now." A pause inserted itself before a sly look crossed her features. She sat up and leaned a considerable distance over the table, holding herself eye-to-eye with him. "Let's make this quick. I promise to pass it on."
The corner of his mouth quirked as he leaned in. "You would love that, wouldn't you?"
Her smile widened, and anyone who knew her less would mistake it for something sweeter than the smirk it was. "Friends do it all the time. Aren't you lonely?"
In his peripheral vision, he saw the thick curtains part and the slim figure of a woman stepped through. Xiaoyu didn't notice.
"Xiao?" He murmured, holding her gaze.
"Mm?" All it would take was another inch, a breath of distance and -
"... Find yourself a boyfriend. Or a large doll." He pushed her down into her chair with a finger to her forehead. She pouted, trying to look hurt, but her expression mirrored his own mirth. She batted his hand away with the pen and sighed.
"It's a shame you aren't coming on my excursion. I'll take pictures and bring you back a souvenir," she promised, grinning wickedly as she basked in an unspoken victory. The little bitch. "How about a Mashimaro this time?"
His jaw tensed as he fought the habit to grind his teeth in irritation. "Bring me some duct tape and I'll put it on your mouth." He heard the initial pitch of the stage microphone as it switched on.
Her eyes glittered. "A life-size Mashimaro!"
"No, that's for you, but make sure it comes with an 'on' button," he shot back.
"Aw, still not good enough? I was thinking of a simple t-shirt.... "
"The best things in life are free," he quoted. His tone had lost all its humour and it seemed the only conviction he held for his words were their worthlessness.
Gentle notes of a piano rippled through the small cafe, the light noise of conversation fell back before it. Hwoarang avoided the eye of his company and Xiaoyu held the silence. Maybe she was settling in for the music. The piano faded into the black boxes of speakers set high in the walls. A pronounced sound took its place, Hwoarang's gaze was drawn to the two figures on stage. Seated on a wooden stool, a man lovingly plucked at an acoustic guitar in his arms. He was slightly hunched over the instrument in a gesture reminiscent of intimacy, care, and protection. It was easy to think that he was engrossed in his own music, but the strum of his guitar was perfectly timed to the vocal cues of the woman who stood at his side. She didn't look much older than Xiaoyu and was dressed in a casual manner, taking full advantage of the cafe's interior heating with her single layer of clothing.
Her vocal talent was evident, each note rolled into the next with natural and flawless execution. Her voice reminded him of cool rock pools he'd only been told of, soothing warmth that immersed itself in your bones, and clouded cerulean skies. He found the skies easiest to watch when there was some cloud cover, but only dapples of foamy white. He didn't bother studying the skies when black sheets brought the rain, hail and thunder. Everything it had to offer was given right to him in the water that dripped down his skin, and lightning that offered some of the best light shows he had ever witnessed.
Many thoughts swam through his mind as he watched with the other patrons, entranced. The music instilled a deep sense of comfort, almost intangible. He most enjoyed the surprise of hearing a performance in his own native tongue. The singer held her hands free before her, motioning in extension of her words. Her eyes were closed and remained shut until the very end of the performance. Enthusiastic applause stormed the delicate atmosphere constructed by their acapella, Hwoarang blinked as one startled by the sudden change, but joined the polite appraisal.
The musician couple bowed in appreciation and thanked the audience before disappearing through the red curtain. The performance ended as quickly as that.
"I'll bring you back some stories," Xiaoyu told him, softer than before. Maybe the performance had some effect on her as well. "I don't think customs would let me smuggle back what you really want. People don't fit in suitcases."
He shook his head. "Don't worry yourself." He pulled her stationary towards himself and relieved her of the pen.
Xiaoyu wore a disappointed look. "I was going to offer to dice Jin and bring him back in a briefcase. You don't want me to try?"
He snickered, the corner of his mouth lifting at the mental image of Xiaoyu bearing after Kazama Jin with a kitchen knife. Pocket-sized portions of Jin. Hwoarang could feed him to the pigeons. "And then you can stir fry him for a dinner at your parents'." His smirk grew at Xiaoyu's giggle and simultaneous exclaim of revulsion. His attention was on the stationary before him, soft yellows and greens with patterns of plaid and flowers, but best of all - lined paper. The pen in his hand touched the post-it pad glued beside the writing pad and soon it was moving, forming Japanese characters on the empty page of stationary. Moments later he slid the stationary back to its owner, but retained the pen.
"If you do see him, you can hand that to him. And no pretend letters from me this time, just that one."
Xiaoyu flashed him that smile that asked, "But why do you have any reason to doubt me?" She took back the stationary, though only received the pen after vocally agreeing to his demand. Excited, she read over his note, but her face fell a moment later. "It's so short!"
Hwoarang shrugged a shoulder. "If he wants to hear more from us, that's not our problem. He has to make an effort, too."
The mock pout was playing on her lips as she analysed the written note before her. "I'll tell him how great everything is in Osaka."
Hwoarang nodded, warming his hands on the mug again.
Xiaoyu's eyes lit up as though she'd been struck by an epiphany. "And how much warmer the weather is!"
He rolled his eyes. They were closed to the equator that was no big surprise.
Xiaoyu was intent. "All we have to do is point out all the exciting things happening here and he'll be back in no time. Especially after he sees this," she tapped the pad with her pen again and reached for her sundae. "I want to stick it to his forehead, he's so busy I bet you that he won't even notice it."
He chuckled inwardly and let the smile find his lips. "So, what's your mission?"
"Operation Homestead: make Jin homesick!" she answered promptly, to his mild surprise. She had even come up with a name for her mock mission, but as long as it kept her busy and happy - and there was nothing like visiting certain friends that could lift her mood - there was no reason to comment. Anyway, he liked the idea of making Jin suffer a little. Reflecting upon the number of headaches brought on by that man, he noted that inflicting Jin with homesickness still wouldn’t cut it.
"This trip is going to be so fun!" she squealed, stuffing the stationary in her carry bag and grinning widely. "I really wish you could come with me."
He gave a snort of laughter upon remembering the last time the three of them had been in the immediate vicinity of each other. Xiaoyu had brought them to an amusement park, but what should have been a simple night out ended in much arguing.
"It's no wonder he can't stand you, you're such a brat the way you gloat!"
Gloat? "... You're so young."
Xiaoyu despised patronisation, but he lived to bother her in his spare time. She always rose to the opportunity, but was one of the few people he knew that could laugh off an argument in the end. Xiaoyu was not adept at holding grudges; at all. In spite of her mutual frustration at being separated from a close friend, she was forgiving enough to offer possible excuses for Jin's extended absence (in spite of the fact that he always offered one himself). She held strong to the belief that he was coming back some day. Hwoarang had stopped caring.
Minutes later they were leaving the cafe and Hwoarang fought to shudder against the sharp cold. Xiaoyu exhaled a thick cloud of steam from between her lips and clutched mittened hands together. They were waiting for a pedestrian light to turn green when he finally confronted her.
"Don't you think that you should give it up one of these days? There’s nothing here for him, Xiaoyu."
She turned to him wearing a look of skepticism. "Or no-one? Don't tell me you gave up, Hwoarang? What sorry excuse for a rival are you, huh?"
"I can pick my fights. You can't fight an absent opponent," he answered.
She thought for a moment before the pedestrian light turned green. The waiting crowds began moving across the street and Xiaoyu drifted ahead with them, he trailed a step behind in no particular rush. "Maybe you don't have to fight?" she threw over her shoulder, with a teasing look. "You are so young."
With hands stuffed in his pockets for warmth, he shook his head to himself, but refrained from reply. It was difficult given his heated, but simple opinions on the matter. He wasn't going to change Xiaoyu's mind.
The bottom line was that Jin had left them both. He knew it was time to grow up and go on... the alternative was sure to set them on a path that would lead them nowhere else, but to the bottom of a well.
Jin couldn't expect them to wait forever.
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