Notes: Eee -- here it is! Both Stacy and Keiji are original characters. Prepare for a helluva ride. ^_^
An Imperfect Circle
Chapter 1 - The First Reunion
"You know you're gonna be seen," Stacy noted in english with a sidelong glance at the hooded man with which she was walking.
It was early in the evening, and unusually balmy, but Jin did not think to pull down the hood of his nondescript black sweatshirt. Jin glanced at her only briefly, returning the language with a shrugging tone:
"There's no one looking for me now. I'm dead." Soon enough his eyes returned to roaming the streets down which they were meandering, and Stacy knew well enough the quiet, contemplative expression that was on his face, even if she couldn't directly see it. Jin had said that he needed to "get lost for a while" and Stacy insisted on going with him, to "keep him out of fool-headed trouble." He hadn't consented, but then, that had never made a difference. The short, lithe woman and the tall, thick man walked close aside one another, almost like lovers but not quite.
The streets might have inspired quiet contemplation because they were the very same streets that premised a tragedy: from challenge to engagement. There was the park district further down, and the block with its line of ultra-efficient apartment buildings, neighborhood stores, and the familiar rathskeller that once witnessed the genesis of something spectacular.
"I don't think I ever went around here. But I only visited Tokyo a couple times when I was living here." Stacy shrugged off her thin coat, wondering why she had even worn it as she tied it around her waist. Jin eased off to the side to dodge a renegade pedestrian, slowly pocketing his hands.
"The school's within walking distance. Sometimes I would wander here after class before going home-- I ran into Joon-kun here a couple times, at the start of everything."
Stacy tossed him a wry glance.
"Yeah, 'just getting lost,' huh."
Jin shook his head gently and protested, "No, I just now recognized everything."
She grinned, amused. "Well, you woulda come here sooner or later, I b--. What?" She turned back to look perplexedly at the frozen Jin, glanced a short ways down the walk, and then back at him.
Nothing much had changed about the rathskeller, and the rarely active sub-level entrance promised to hold everything it did in the past. At this juncture, believing in that promise would have been nothing short of naive; the slim, tall man advancing from the door allowed for suspension of disbelief.
In a swaying, thin leather overcoat reaching his knees and matched perfectly with black slacks and a black shirt, Hwoarang seemed some sort of gloomy writer or expatriate goth. His hair, slicked back and neatly clipped along the nape of his neck, was a strange wine color; and on his neck the bold, jet-black image of a feather in torsion was inscribed. He held a bottle of something in his hand and was drinking, and began to speak to a stout figure who exited after him, the both of them loitering in front of this japanese pub.
"... Is that him?" she asked. Jin said nothing, and from the way he was tensed, Stacy wasn't sure if he was on the verge of running to check or turning and fleeing.
"Hey -- " Keiji exclaimed from further down the block, plucking a dangling cigarette from his lips with his fingers. Shrewd, black eyes peered over the thinner and taller man's shoulder, at Jin. " .. isn't that that guy, Ranga?"
Keiji tapped Hwoarang's shoulder with his hand and pointed emphatically to prove a point, because -- not having a clue who Keiji would recognize that would be more important than the high his imported liquor promised to give him in a few minutes -- Hwoarang was slow to look. Ringed in their reddish rust, his eyes remained dull and placid as they drifted over Stacy and he started to mumble "I don't know her -- " until his gaze came across the lagging figure.
He went silent, and his mouth tightened. After five seconds, he dropped the bottle, and ignored the shards of alcohol soaked glass splashing over his shoes.
Keiji grinned. " .. that Mishima kid. Don't he owe us money?"
Keiji had no real idea just what Jin owed.
After glancing doubtfully between the immobile pair Stacy called, "Hey Hwoarang!" Jin went utterly rigid.
"There's someone with him--!" he hissed, filled with too much panic to be angry. Jin did not hear anything -- not even the breaking glass -- over his own pulse in his ears, pounding like an Aboriginal drum.
"Go to him, stupid," Stacy suggested. She was somewhat dismayed at Jin's paralysis, until finally the Japanese began to move, trekking a pace at a time towards Hwoarang, the journey as agonizing as the gap it was closing; the brunette followed at a distance. Jin stopped before the pair, glancing at Keiji and then staring at Hwoarang, his full mouth, cast in the light, floundering without words, and his eyes, hidden under the shadow of his hood, brimming with joy and fear and relief, and above all, love.
Was that amalgamation of sentiment on his face the answer to the question that had plagued the Korean over the past two years?
In that brief moment of staring into Jin's eyes with much the same paralysis and reading them, Hwoarang had to determine this. His gaze was confused, and it was bulwarked; the tension in his brow was severe, and he scarcely seemed able to breathe. With his old friend waiting for some sort of cue; Jin waiting for some sort of cue; that woman waiting for some sort of cue from Hwoarang. Hwoarang folded, and it wasn't because he was a coward.
It was because he felt himself strong enough to protect himself. Speaking in a hollow tone, he gave Jin a cynical, sickly grin.
"Dead men can't owe money, Keiji."
Those words puzzled to an immediate reply: "Dead .. ? But I just got out the pen, Ranga, and what's the point of killin' him?"
Hwoarang was still staring at Jin, and his hands were now tucked in his pockets where no one could see them tremble.
"You can't kill a man that's already dead, Keiji."
"Hwoarang --" Jin fumbled over the name as though suddenly unaccustomed to it, but it was swallowed regardless by Stacy's nonchalant interjection to Keiji.
"They need some space. I've never been to Tokyo, why don't you show me the pub?" She tipped her head and smiled Just So. She was valiant.
The bulldog of the Yurei deigned to consider. He was going to turn the offer down but --
"Yeah. Go take his girlfriend for a stroll, Keiji," Hwoarang condoned. He was hardly able to hold the structure in his voice, and had to look from Jin to keep from buckling.
Keiji started with uncertainty, but after staring at Hwoarang a few seconds he cut between the men. He had an 'I have no idea what's going on but we can still have a good time' smile for Stacy, and he offered his elbow.
"Now what are you, Greek?"
Stacy gladly slipped her arm into it, looking so small amidst the trio of men. Jin did not tell her to be careful, however; even if he had had the voice, it would have been a foolish and patronizing comment.
"I'm a little bit of everything, really," she said easily towards Keiji's coarse, broken-nosed face. "If you buy me a beer I'll give you the list."
When they were moving behind Hwoarang, she gestured sharply with her free hand at the small of her back, curling it into a thumbs-up for Jin.
Each moment of the pair's departure was an eternity, and Jin realized only once they were out of sight that he had been holding his breath.
"Joon," he whispered unevenly. He wanted to reach, and to touch and to hold. He damned the world in which they were cemented and wished he could smother Hwoarang in his arms and steal him away to their own arcadia. He blurted, quietly amazed and overjoyed, "You're here --"
" .. and you. You," the Korean said with an alarming amount of calm, as he forced his eyes back to Jin. Each was animated with a struggle, but Hwoarang's lips retained their sick, flimsy curve as he pointed to his neck.
"You missed your own funeral. Here's your urn." Upon closer inspection the feather was a violently fresh, black tattoo, twisted painfully in the shape of a shedding 'S' from the back base of Hwoarang's neck to the crook where throat met chin -- from point to flare -- with a sharp, serrated edge.
Jin traced the tattoo with his eyes, again and again, as though if he did so long enough, the meaning he read in the marking could be replaced with one that paralleled his own hopes.
"I didn't die --." He pulled his eyes onto Hwoarang's face, some of his elation withering into a more imploring tone. "I was in Australia, I just appeared there after -- Can we go somewhere? Anywhere, I don't care, I'm just so happy to see you, I have to know how you've been and tell you what happened..." His fingers were begging him for Hwoarang's shoulders.
"But your girlfriend .. " Hwoarang faltered, gesturing caustically to the door. Removed from its shield of a pocket, the hand shook only slightly. Hwoarang lowered his eyes to his shoes. A diamond, invisible until it touched his jaw, revealed its wet trajectory down his cheek when he raised his face to look down the street, and artificial rays of light caught it. " .. you can't just leave her here with Keiji. He hasn't had a woman in years."
"Stacy's just my friend," Jin assured quickly, invigorated by the potential opportunity. "She's not in danger, I promise. Joon..." he murmured as though the name was suddenly new and wondrous; thrilling. He moved forward, reaching to wipe away that watery trail with his coarse fingers.
"You're real," Hwoarang gasped. As he was touched, he closed his eyes like a proper votary, and he soon wrapped his fingers around Jin's wrist and held on to it. The tenacity of the grip was pitiable and desperate to Hwoarang, but honest. He'd miscalculated his strength. " .. where can we hide now?" he wondered aloud.
Finally free to gather and hold Hwoarang's shoulders, Jin's hands did so readily, savoringly. He pressed his cheek against the redhead's -- he'd cut his hair! -- temple and shut his eyes, inhaling the scents that Hwoarang offered, comparing them to all the ones that he remembered.
"We can hide anywhere," Jin hummed, drunk with longing and affection. "No one knows I'm here but you. I'm dead to everyone else ..."
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