The Moon and Polaris

Chapter 1: Kiki vs. Iori: Final Round

"I challenge you, Iori Yagami!" Kiki stood tall in the alleyway, pointing to the man in front of her.

Iori looked over his shoulder, narrowing his eyes at the woman behind him. Her small stature, her short black hair, her bright brown eyes burning with determination... Iori grew tired of seeing all that every single afternoon for the past week. With a groan, he turned around. "Haven't you had enough already?"

"Hell, no, I'm not!" Kiki declared. "If I beat you, I'll definitely get invited to KOF!" She stretched her arms, bounced in place, and readied herself into a fighting stance. "Come at me, Iorin! I can totally take you on this time."

He shook his head, "I told you to not call me that." He spread his legs wide apart and sprawled out his fingers. "If I beat you, never show your face to me ever again, got it?"

Kiki smirked and nodded. "Sure, but I don't plan on losing."

The two of them stared each other down and then rushed toward each other, raring to land the first hit. Iori jabbed straight at Kiki's face, and his fist connected with her cheek. She stumbled back and brought her forearms up in front of her head, anticipating another blow. In response, Iori crouched and kicked his leg out, striking Kiki's ankles. The girl yelped as she got knocked to the ground. She attempted to get up, but Iori pressed down on the middle of her back with his foot, pinning her down to the ground. As she made another attempt to stand, Iori pressed down harder. She continued to wriggle free from Iori's sole for a while longer until she finally gave in with a huff. Kiki craned her head up, gazing into the man's cold red eyes.

"Get out of my sight." Iori turned around and started to walk away, unaware of the girl propping herself up on one knee behind him.

"W-Wait...!" Iori looked over his shoulder with a scowl as Kiki steadied herself against an alley wall. With labored breaths, she called out to him, "I'm... I'm not through with you!"

Iori sighed and turned back, "Damn it, woman, give up already. At this rate, I'm going to kill you."

"No!" Kiki cried. "I'm getting into KOF no matter what. Screw what everyone else says. Screw what everyone else wants me to do." She coughed, still breathless from struggling earlier. "I made this decision on my own, and I'm gonna see it through. I'm not gonna let anyone tell me what to do anymore. I'm making my own future!" Iori perked up at Kiki's last statement. He faced her once more. Hunched over, she rested her hands on her knees, trying to catch her breath. "I don't care if I win." She straightened her back. "I don't care if everyone beats me." She lifted her head. "I just wanna live my own life." She broke into a sprint and reeled a fist back. "I ain't gonna back down from anything anymore!" Kiki shot her fist straight toward an unsuspecting Iori and landed the blow straight to his gut. With the wind knocked out of him, Iori collapsed onto the concrete with a thud.

The adrenaline in Kiki's body began to subside. When she looked down and saw Iori's unmoving figure on the ground, her entire body froze up.

"Oh, shit."

Kiki clamored toward Iori and kneeled next to him. She bowed over and over, "OH MY GOD IORI I'M SO FUCKING SORRY I LET MY EMOTIONS GET THE BETTER OF ME ARE YOU OKAY I DIDN'T BREAK YOUR STOMACH DID I--"

A cough from Iori stopped Kiki's rambling apology. He pushed himself up and glared at the girl. Every muscle in her body tensed. Sweat began trickling down her forehead.

"You win, okay?"

Kiki sighed in relief as the fear rushed out of her body. She stood up and offered a hand to Iori. With an averted gaze, he took it.

Chapter 2: The Agreement

"Even Kyo's disciple isn't this clingy," Iori mumbled to himself.

Kiki jogged up beside him and cocked her head, "What was that?"

He glanced down at the girl and grumbled, "Don't you have anything better to do?"

"Nope!" Kiki flashed a wide grin. She tapped her chin in thought, "I mean, I did come to Japan to see Kyo, sure--"

Iori picked up his pace, "So, go find him instead. I'm not gonna stick around and babysit some brat."

Kiki pouted and caught him by his jacket sleeve, "Now, hold up, bucko. I'll have you know I'm way older than you. I'm twenty-four years old and counting!"

Iori narrowed his eyes at her; her baby face, her... lacking chest, and an over-excited personality to top it off? No wonder only one word managed to come out of his mouth at that point. "... What."

Ignoring his comment, Kiki stepped in front of him. "Besides," she folded her arms behind her back and leaned forward toward him, "I've got a little favor to ask, Iorin."

"If you stop calling me that, maybe I'll listen."

Kiki stood tall and addressed Iori, "Mr. Yagami!" She bowed deeply, "Please take me in as your student!"

Iori stared down at her, thought for a moment, and walked past her. "Nope."

"H-Huh?!" Kiki stood upright and chased after Iori until she matched his pace once more. "Oh, come on! I promise I'll be a good student. I'll do everything and anything you want, no questions asked!"

Iori continued walking, "Then, go away."

"Everything except that."

Stopping in his tracks, Iori sighed, "Go and talk to Kyo already. You said so yourself, you want him, not me."

Kiki rubbed the back of her neck, "I mean, that's true, but you're still a great fighter. Her eyes shone as she gushed, "You're Kyo's rival, for crying out loud! I'm sure I can still learn a lot from you. Even if you're not Kyo, it would still be a great honor to be taught by you, Mr. Yagami!"

He peeked over his shoulder. A faint smile cracked across his lips, "Flattery will get you nowhere, woman."

"You sure?" Kiki smirked. "Because I'm pretty sure I just saw a smile there just now."

With a shrug, he sighed and turned to face the girl. Raising a finger, Iori said, "I'll agree to be your teacher on one condition."

Her eyes widened, "Yeah? Yeah?!"

"Once you're a capable fighter, you leave me alone."

"Deal!" She gripped his hand with both of hers and shook it. "I ain't leaving your side until then, Mr. Yagami! From now on, you're my teacher and I'm your student."

Iori rolled his eyes, "Alright, that's enough."

She stopped shaking his hand, but before she let go of it, Kiki said one last thing.

"By the way, my name's not 'woman'. It's Kiki."

Chapter 3: Training: Day One

Kiki sat cross-legged on the pavement of the empty lot as she listened to Iori's lecture. She nodded at his words and kept her gaze focused on him as he spoke.

"... And that's why your legs are also an important part of your arsenal," he concluded. "Any questions?" Kiki shot her hand straight up. "Yes?"

"I wanna fight now!" she declared. "I'm ready! I'm ready!"

With a sigh, Iori beckoned Kiki to stand, "Fine, but I'd better see some improvement from earlier today."

She hopped from her seat, stood tall, and saluted her teacher, "You got it, Mr. Yagami. I'll do my best!"

The two of them stood a few feet away from each other and stared each other down. Iori raised his open hands in front of him, and Kiki brought her fists in front of her face.

"Ready?" asked Iori.

Kiki nodded. "Let's go!"

The two of them rushed toward each other; Kiki raised her fist and brought it back, getting ready to throw a punch. Iori crouched and kicked outward, connecting with Kiki's ankles. She cried out as she to the ground. Kiki caught herself and rolled away before Iori could land another hit. She closed the distance between herself and Iori again, this time ducking down and kicking at him. Iori hopped back outside of Kiki's range and threw a purple fireball down to the ground. It snaked toward her and hit her shin. Stumbling back from the searing pain, Kiki retreated once more and struggled to stand back up. Iori closed the distance between them and kicked straight at her chest. The wind knocked out of her body and she flew back from the impact, sliding a short distance across the pavement.

Despite hearing Iori approach, Kiki lay still on the ground. She gasped for air as she tried to keep her mind away from the pain in her chest, back, and leg. Iori loomed over and gazed at her with his usual cold glare.

His brow furrowed, "There was an improvement, but not much." Kiki groaned from exhaustion and disappointment. Crouching down, Iori continued, "It was a fluke that you managed to last this long this time around." The girl pouted and remained silent. "What were you thinking when you tried to attack me?"

"I just wanted to hit you," replied Kiki. "What else do you think I was trying to do?"

Iori shook his head, "What about defense? Counterattacks? Anything?" With a frown, Kiki averted her gaze and shook her head. He pinched the bridge of his nose and stood, "Get up." With a grunt, Kiki pushed herself up and rose to her feet. "Hmph, at least you can do that much. Now, listen. I'm not going to repeat myself." Kiki nodded and stared straight into Iori's eyes. Raising a finger, Iori began his lecture, "First off, you're predictable. You start off each fight the same exact way: you run toward your opponent and attempt to punch them at your shoulder height."

Kiki closed her eyes and pondered for a moment. The fight just now, the one from earlier this afternoon, the day before that, and the day before that... Yeah, he was right. Every fight started like that. She nodded with a newfound understanding.

"Now," Iori continued, "this may work if your opponent knows jack shit about you, but once they catch on, they'll counter it right away. Usually with something like a low kick or a grab, depending on their fighting style."

"Hm, yeah, that makes sense--oh, wait!" Kiki dug through her back pocket and pulled out a small notebook and pen. She opened it up to the first page and jotted down some notes. "Got it, got it." Without looking up from the notebook, she continued to write. "Keep going, Mr. Yagami."

When Kiki turned the next page of her notebook, he continued, "As I was saying, while this approach can get countered, I'm not saying you should stop doing it. It's one of the many ways you can start. If you have different opening attacks, it'll keep your opponent on your toes. Understand?"

"Yeah! Yeah!" Kiki scribbled in more notes. "Totally get it!"

"Alright. My other point." He shot her a glare, "You're holding back."

Kiki's pen stopped and she looked up at Iori, cocking her head, "What do you mean, Mr. Yagami?"

"Don't play dumb with me. I know you can hit harder than you did now." He tapped his stomach with his fist, "Remember when you knocked me to the ground? When you hit me right here?"

Kiki bowed her head and rubbed the back of her neck, "S-Sorry, that was--"

"Don't apologize." Iori approached her and demanded, "Hit me like that again."

She blinked. Her mouth hung open. She almost dropped her pen and notebook. "Uh."

He stepped closer. "Didn't you hear me? Hit me."

A blush rose to her cheeks. "M-Mr. Yagami--"


Squeezing her eyes shut, Kiki shot her fist straight toward Iori's chest with all her might. She heard his footsteps stumbling back a few paces. Cautiously opening one eye, she looked and saw Iori with a slight smile on his lips.

"That's more like it, my student."

Chapter 4: A Talk Over Dinner

Kiki sprawled out on the pavement, drenched in sweat and panting. Bruises started to form on her arms and legs, and her whole body felt sore.

Iori shuffled toward her, "That's enough." Raising a limp thumbs up, Kiki smiled at the man and pushed herself off the ground. She wiped the sweat off her brow. Iori turned around and started making his way out of the lot. "Let's get dinner. You need to keep your energy up."

"Coming!" Kiki skipped and caught up to him, proceeding with a hop in her step as she walked side by side with him.

"There's a ramen shop near here. That work?" Iori asked as he and Kiki walked through the quiet city streets.

She nodded, "Yup! Ramen's good."

"It's another couple of blocks ahead." He turned to her, "Tired?"

"A little," She grinned at him. "But that beating ain't gonna keep me down. Besides, I'm getting hungry. I'm sure I'll be fine after some food in my belly!"


The two kept walking and eventually came upon the ramen shop. Iori opened the door and let himself inside. Kiki caught the door and entered right after him. Dim lamps hung on the ceiling of the establishment. A few patrons sat at different sections around the bar. Each of them had varying amounts of noodles left in their bowls. The scent of freshly cooked meat and warm broth made Kiki's mouth water. Noticing Iori already settled in his seat at the bar, Kiki hopped onto the one beside him.

The chef behind the counter turned to the pair, "Welcome! What will you two be having?"

"Pork ramen," Iori said.

"Oh, same here!" Kiki beamed.

"Two pork ramens, coming up!" the chef announced. He set two glasses of water in front of them, then turned back around to start cooking their meals.

Kiki bounced in her seat as she waited for their food. Iori narrowed his eyes at her and rested his chin on his hand as he leaned on the bar. "Just looking at you is exhausting."

Kiki cocked her head at him, "Hm?"

"How are you still so full of energy?" he grumbled. "You were on the ground gasping for air a few minutes ago."

With a giggle, she replied, "I'm super excited! It's been so long since I've had authentic ramen."

Iori raised an eyebrow, "Oh?"

"Mm-hm," Kiki rested her elbows on the bar and her head on her palms as she swung her legs underneath the stool. "I actually used to live in Japan when I was a kid, but I had to move to America because of my parents' work. When I still lived here, we'd come to ramen shops like this sometimes." She grimaced, "Sure, I had instant ramen while I was in the states, but, man, you just can't beat the real thing."

"Hm," responded Iori. Whether it was a "hm" in agreement or boredom, Kiki couldn't tell. Not that she minded either way.

She observed her surroundings as she took a sip of her water, then glanced at Iori who was staring off into space. "So," she piped up, "do you come here often?"

Iori shook his head. "Only every once in a while when my band and I have a performance at the venue nearby."

Kiki's eyes lit up, "Oh, yeah! My friend mentioned that to me. That you're in a band, I mean. He's a huge KOF nerd, so he knows a lot about the participants." She turned to him and asked, "But anyway, what kind of music do you guys play?"

"Rock," he answered and sipped his water.

She nodded and smiled, "Cool, cool! I'd love to hear you guys play sometime."

"Hmph," Iori continued to drink from his glass.

The chef set two steaming bowls in front of the pair, "Two pork ramens!" Kiki gazed upon the contents of the bowl with wide eyes. Thin cuts of pork, sliced leek, half of a medium-boiled egg, and thin wavy noodles all submerged in a light brown steamy broth... Kiki couldn't help but bounce more in her seat as she took the whole sight in.

"Quit staring and eat already," Iori grumbled as he split his chopsticks. Kiki snapped out of her trance and split her chopsticks as well.

"Thanks for the food," the two said in unison.

Kiki slurped up her noodles and squealed, "So good!"

Iori brought the noodles to his lips and ate his meal as well.

After they finished off their bowls, Kiki pulled out her wallet. Before she could put money on the bar, Iori set a few bills and coins down already. He had put down enough to pay for both of them. Without another word, Iori rose from his seat and headed toward the door. Kiki glanced back and forth between Iori and the money as she tried to process what happened. Iori was almost at the exit when Kiki got up from her seat and rushed to his side.

"Thank you! Come again!" the chef called out as the two of them left the building.

Kiki caught up to Iori and they walked together once more. "What?" he asked.

She stumbled over her words, feeling a bit flustered over Iori's little act of kindness, "I just... Uh, thanks for paying for me too. You didn't have to do that."


The two kept walking for a while until Iori stopped. "What are you doing?" he asked.


"I'm going home," he declared. "We trained. We had dinner. We're done for today."

"Uh," Kiki bowed her head. "Right. Yeah." She started walking in the other direction and waved goodbye. "Thank you for the lesson today, Mr. Yagami." She stopped for a moment. "Oh, I should give you my number! That way, we can schedule another one." She ran back up to Iori and pulled out her notebook. She scribbled her phone number on a blank page, ripped it out, and handed it to him.

Iori examined the paper. In pink gel pen, it read "Kiki Cruz's mobile phone number!!" with the number underneath it; the handwriting had a cute roundness to it. Next to the number, she had drawn a chibi headshot of herself with a big smile and showing a peace sign. Iori blinked and snorted. He had only known the girl for a week, but this was definitely something she would do. Iori folded the slip of paper in half twice and stuck it in his back pocket.

With that out of the way, Kiki turned back around and walked in the opposite direction once more, "See ya, Mr. Yagami! I'm looking forward to the next lesson!"

Iori turned around and started making his way back to his apartment. As he walked down the sidewalk, he realized something. The only thing noteworthy in the direction Kiki was going was a few love hotels. He came to a halt, pivoted a complete 180, and broke into a sprint after Kiki.

Chapter 5: Settling In

"Mr. Yagami, it's fine! Really!" Kiki continued to protest as she trailed behind Iori. "I've saved enough money to stay at that love hotel for at least another month!"

"And what about after you've run out of money, huh?!" he barked back. "You idiotic woman, didn't you think this plan of yours through?" The two of them approached Iori's apartment complex, and Iori fished his keys out of his pocket. He swung the front door open and entered with Kiki going in right after him. The keys on Iori's keyring jingled as he unlocked the inner entry door of the complex.

Kiki kept her eyes on the ground as she and Iori walked through the lobby and up the stairway. "Sorry for being a bother, Mr. Yagami," she muttered. Iori remained silent as they kept moving. They stopped on the second floor and proceeded through its hallway. Iori stopped in front of one of the doors, stuck the key into the lock, and opened it. Kiki entered right after him and the two of them slipped their shoes off at the entrance.

Iori went further inside and into the living room. Kiki followed him and observed her new surroundings. Dull concrete walls surrounded the dwelling. A sliding door was opposite the front entrance, leading to an empty balcony. In the middle of the living room, a worn-down sofa and coffee table sat. An open doorway was in front of the coffee table, leading to a small kitchen. On the opposite side was a hallway, leading to the rest of the apartment. In one corner of the room were a half-full bookshelf, a desk with sheet music spread across it, and a bass case. The bookshelf looked a little dusty, but the bass case definitely wasn't.

"You take the bedroom," said Iori as he unbuttoned his jacket and shirt. "I'll take the sofa."

Kiki's eyes widened, "What? No! Come on, I've inconvenienced you enough. Take your own bed."

"I'm surprised this is what you'd call an inconvenience considering everything else you've done this week." Iori quipped.

Kiki hung her head. Yeah, the daily street fights probably did get annoying after the first time.

"I don't care what you do in there," Iori stated as he threw his garments over the sofa. "If you touch anything, make sure it goes back where you found it. Also, bring me the alarm clock that's on the nightstand." He waved his hand toward the hallway as he lay himself on the sofa. "Go down the hall. It's the first room on the right."

"'Kay," She shuffled over to the room and entered. Somehow, the bedroom was more barren than the living room. All it had was a bed (more like a mattress that happened to be on a metal bed frame), a nightstand, and a closet. Kiki set her backpack down next to the bed. She checked the nightstand and found the alarm clock there, as Iori said it would be. She picked it up and trudged back to the living room with her head low.

She found Iori laying on the sofa reading a novel. "Here's the alarm clock, Mr. Yagami," she whispered, handing it to him.

He grunted in response, took it, and set it on the coffee table, never looking up from his book. "Sorry again," she repeated.

A groan from Iori made Kiki jump. He set his book aside and rose from the sofa. "Quit apologizing!" he shouted. "I'm so damn close to kicking you out."

"Sor--" she stopped herself, "I mean, I... Uh..."

"If I really didn't want you here, I wouldn't have dragged you here with me." He lay back down and draped an arm over his eyes. "Go back to my room and sleep."

Kiki nodded and tiptoed to the hallway. Before she left the living room, she glanced back over her shoulder and smiled.

"Thanks a lot, Mr. Yagami."

Chapter 6: Phone Home

Iori tossed and turned on the couch, deep within his usual nightmares. Blood splattered everywhere. A large snake bared its fangs. Corpses piled around him. An overwhelming fear stirred in the pit of his stomach. He coughed. His hands were stained red. The snake lunged toward him.

The impact of rolling off the couch and onto the floor woke him. Muttering swears under his breath, he blinked his grogginess away. He patted around the top of the coffee table, searching for his alarm clock. He grabbed it and turned its face toward him. A little past midnight. Iori groaned; he barely got two hours' worth of sleep. He rose from the floor and shuffled toward the bathroom. He didn't need a mirror to know he was a mess, but god damn, a few splashes of cool water on his face would help right now. On his way to the bathroom, he passed by his bedroom and noticed the door was cracked open. The light was still on, and he could hear Kiki's voice.

"Hey, Kai, it's me," he heard her say. "Yeah, things are going great! It's morning where you guys are at, right? ... Okay, good, I got my time zones right, then."

Curious, Iori leaned against the wall outside the doorway and listened. A phone call?

"So, I didn't find Kyo but guess who I found instead?" She paused, waiting for a response. "No, it's not anyone on the Japan team. ... It was Iori! Iori Yagami!"

He frowned. She was way too excited about meeting him. Didn't she want Kyo? Iori couldn't understand why her meeting him would be any better. As he pondered over Kiki's logic, Iori realized he knew absolutely nothing about this girl. Although he wasn't the type of person to eavesdrop, he had to know more about her. She was going to live with him now, after all. What kind of person was she, letting herself get involved with a guy like him? He peeked through the crack and saw Kiki sitting on the bed, holding a mobile phone to her ear.

She rubbed the back of her neck, "I know, I know. It's pretty crazy." A long pause. "What? He's not gonna--Kai...! Oh, come on, I'm not gonna get hurt!"

Iori couldn't help but smirk. At least the person on the other end of the line seemed to have some sense in them. They knew how dangerous he was, so were they the friend Kiki mentioned at dinnertime?

Kiki groaned and pouted. "Don't worry, okay? He's actually really nice. ... I'm serious!"

He frowned. How delusional. She didn't understand a thing.

"Anyway," she continued, "I was wondering if you could relay your notes over the phone? Mr. Yagami mentioned that it would be useful to know stuff about who I might be facing off against in the future."

Iori perked up. Well, he didn't say that exactly, but damn, she actually paid attention to his lecture.

She leaned over the edge of the bed, unzipped her backpack, and pulled out her notebook and pen. "Yes, I called him 'Mr. Yagami' just now. Shut up." She opened the notebook to a new page and began writing something in it. "Anyway, I want notes on everyone. ... Yup, everyone. ... Yes, even the American Sports Team. They've gotta make a comeback at some point. Maybe this year will be their year!"

Iori stood by the doorway, listening to Kiki discuss her friend's notes over the phone.

"Just gotta keep my distance from guys like Clark and Daimon. Got it"

"How exactly can Choi just zip through the air?"

"Bro, how do you expect me to get close to Billy when he's got that long-ass staff?!"

Iori decided that he heard enough. He slunk into the bathroom and washed his face. Before Iori retreated to the living room, Kiki peeked her head out of the bedroom doorway.

"Did I wake you up?" she asked. "Sorry--"

Iori turned back around and lightly pinched her cheek. "What did I say about apologizing?" he grumbled as Kiki whined. He let her go, and she rubbed her cheek. "Don't stay up too late. You'd better apply what you learn tonight tomorrow afternoon."

Kiki cocked her head at him, and her eyes widened at the realization of what he was referring to. "Okay!" she replied. "Good night, Mr. Yagami!"

Without a word, Iori proceeded to the living room with a small smile on his face.

Chapter 7: Beginning of a Rivalry

Kiki peeked inside the fridge, noting its lack of contents. "Mr. Yagami!" she called out, "We're outta food!" It had been almost two weeks since Kiki moved in with Iori. At that time, she discovered that fridges tend to get emptier when more people live under the same roof. Hearing no response from Iori, Kiki peeked into the living room from the doorway. His chest heaved in an even rhythm, and his mouth gaped open as he snored.

She grabbed the clothes that she threw at the foot of the bed last night: a t-shirt with a smiling frog printed on it, a light sleeveless hoodie, and a pair of baggy jeans. After putting them all on, she snuck over to the front door. Lacing up her pair of high-top sneakers, Kiki exited the apartment.

Kiki surveyed the street, trying to remember the route to the convenience store. Though grocery shopping was a priority, Kiki's growling stomach was a bigger one. She would rather go to the supermarket with Iori later when he would be awake. Despite visiting the convenience store a few days ago, she struggled to recall where it was. Her stomach rumbled louder the longer she stayed in place. With a sigh, Kiki picked a direction and marched.

The girl turned at random street corners that seemed at least somewhat familiar. Did she end up going in circles at some point? She couldn't tell. She kept drifting along the sidewalk, trying to find landmarks to help her get her bearings. Continuing to meander, Kiki turned at another corner--

"Watch out!"

Before Kiki could see who called out to her, a strong force knocked her to the ground. She found herself on her back with a huge mass on top of her. The mass pushed itself up, allowing her to get a better look at it. She realized what had toppled her over was a young man in a bright blue school uniform.

He looked down at her with wide, doe-like eyes. "Wh-Whoa, sorry!" he cried. "I ran so fast, I couldn't stop myself!" Bringing himself up to his feet, he offered a hand to Kiki. She took it and he pulled her up. "Are you okay? You're not hurt?" he asked.

Kiki shook her head, "No, I'm alright, uh...."

"Oh, sorry! I haven't even introduced myself." He bowed to her, "I'm Shingo Yabuki! Nice to meet you! Sorry again about bumping into you like that. Anyway, I gotta..." Shingo looked down at his hands then down at the sidewalk. "Oh no!" Kiki traced his line of sight and saw two yakisoba breads on the pavement, sad and no longer appetizing. Shingo crouched and examined the two fallen sandwiches, "Aw jeez, I'm already running late, and this happens...."

Kiki piped up, "I can buy you two more to replace them."

Shingo sprung up and shook his head, "No, no, it's fine! It's my fault this happened, so I should take care of it."

"I insist," offered Kiki. "Besides, I was on my way to the convenience store anyway. But, uh," she rubbed the back of her neck and laughed at herself, "I'm actually lost." She smiled at Shingo, "If you show me the way there and back home, I'll call it even between us. What do you say?"

"Well, when you put it that way..." Shingo crossed his arms as he mulled it over, "Alright, I guess that's fine. I'm already late for my training session anyway. It won't matter too much if I'm more late."

"Alright, it's settled! By the way," Kiki bowed to him. "I'm Kiki Cruz. Thanks for helping me out, Shingo."

"It's no problem, Ms. Cruz," Shingo walked ahead and beckoned Kiki to follow him. "Well, let's go!"

The pair exited the convenience store together. Kiki munched on one rice ball and carried another in her hand while Shingo had two yakisoba breads in his. Kiki handed Shingo her other rice ball as she took out her notebook and flipped to one of the pages. Iori's address was at the very top. Showing the page to Shingo, she asked, "You know how to get here?"

Shingo read the address and nodded to himself, "Yeah, I know that area. I can take you there real quick!"

"Awesome!" Kiki beamed as she took a pen out of her pocket. "Do you mind if you keep holding onto my rice ball until I get back? I just need to write down the directions."

"Yeah, sure," replied Shingo.

The two of them walked side by side as Shingo told Kiki the names of each street they were passing through. Kiki scribbled the directions down in her notebook.

"So, you mentioned you were running late for a training session?" Kiki her head at him. "What're you training for?"

Shingo smiled wide and gushed, "I'm actually training to get into the King of Fighters tournament! Kyo Kusanagi's my teacher!"

Kiki stopped writing in her notebook. Her eyebrows raised and her eyes widened, "Wait, wait, wait, you know Kyo Kusanagi?!"

"Yeah!" Shingo beamed. "Mr. Kusanagi is the best! He's been teaching me a lot of cool moves."

"Dude!" Kiki cried, "You gotta introduce me to him sometime. I got stuff to do today, but I really wanna meet him. That's why I came to Japan in the first place!"

"Wow, you're a fan of Mr. Kusanagi too?! Man, us meeting each other like this, it must be fate!" Shingo laughed to himself, "Just kidding. But yeah, we can set up a meeting whenever you're free. Do you mind if we exchange phone numbers? You can call me and let me know when you're available."


The pair exchanged notebooks and wrote their phone numbers in them. Kiki jumped for joy and squealed, "I can't believe it! I'm finally gonna meet Kyo! Thank you so, so much, Shingo."

"You're welcome, Ms. Cruz. It's the least I can do." As he continued to guide Kiki, Shingo asked, "Hey, just wondering. How long have you been in Japan?"

"Let's see," Kiki calculated the days gone by in her head. "I've been in Japan for about three weeks now, but I've been living in that apartment complex for two." Shingo nodded without a word as she continued. "Don't ask about that first week. You don't wanna know. But anyway, I'm actually training to fight in KOF too."

"Wow, that's so cool!" Shingo cheered. "Hey, maybe we'll face off against each other one day!"

Kiki giggled, "That would be really cool. Mr. Yagami has been teaching me a lot, so--"

Shingo stopped in his tracks, "Wait. Did you say 'Yagami'? As in 'Iori Yagami'?"

"Huh? Uh, yeah." Kiki cocked her head at him. "Is something wrong?"

His brow furrowed, and he pointed at her face, "Ms. Cruz! You and I are now rivals!" He placed the rice ball he was holding for her back into her hand and ran off. "Just take a left at the next street corner and the apartment building should be on the right! And next time we meet, it'll be in the ring!"

As Shingo darted off, Kiki stood in the middle of the sidewalk, dumbfounded.

"... What just happened."

Chapter 8: Kyo vs. Iori: Round [Lost Count]

Kiki recounted her meeting with Shingo as she and Iori strolled to the supermarket. "So, I guess I have a rival now?" she concluded her story with a shrug.

"Good," Iori replied with his usual poker face. "Now you have another thing to work toward."

"I'm not gonna kill him!" Kiki cried.

"That's not what I'm saying," Iori punched his fist into his palm. "Just show him who's boss."

Kiki shook her head, "No! I don't wanna hurt him!"

"Then what the hell am I training you for?!"

"I'm sorry!"

Iori pinched the bridge of his nose and grumbled, "This is exactly what I meant when I said you're holding back. Speaking of which," He wagged his finger at the girl, "stop doing that. Every training session for the past week, I had to tell you to hit me harder. You have to do that without me saying so."

"But what if I break something?"

"I've already told you, you're not at that level yet."

"And when I am?"

"Then, good for you!"

As the two of them conversed, a voice called out in the distance, "That's her!" Iori and Kiki turned their attention to the direction of the voice. Further up the road, they saw Shingo with a young man in a black school uniform bolting toward them. Shingo and his companion came to a halt and locked eyes with Iori and Kiki.

"Cruz!" Shingo shouted and pointed.

"Shingo?" Kiki questioned and cocked her head.

"Kyo!" Iori howled and ignited a purple flame in his hand.

"Yagami!" the young man yelled and ignited an orange flame in his.

"Kyo?!" Kiki cried and whipped her head back at the pair in front of them.

Iori and Kyo charged at each other. Purple and orange embers flew in the air as the two of them exchanged blows. They yelled and grunted with each strike and dodge.

Kiki whipped her head around, noticing bystanders crowding around them. She brought her attention back to Kyo and Iori and cried, "Now?! Here?!"

As the fight continued, Kyo glanced at his surroundings as he dodged each of Iori's kicks and punches. The crowd looked on at the scene with a mix of excitement and concern. Some whooped and hollered while others pulled out their phones, ready to call the police, no doubt. Iori sent a punch straight to Kyo's face, but Kyo caught it in his hand before it could connect. "Let's settle this somewhere else, Yagami."

"Killjoy," Iori brought his fist down and mused through gritted teeth. "The usual place?"

Kyo smirked and gave him a small nod. He sprinted in the opposite direction from which he came and beckoned Shingo to follow him, "Come on!"

With no hesitation, Shingo ran after him, "Wait up, Mr. Kusanagi!"

Iori flashed Kiki a devilish grin, "Change of plans."

Kiki held her head in confusion as she tried to process what happened, "Okay??"

The pair ran through the bustling streets. Iori kept his sights on Kyo, barrelling through the crowds of pedestrians. Kiki scampered after him, directing "Sorry"s and "Excuse me"s at complaining passersby.

The two pairs arrived at the local train station and waited for the next train to arrive at the platform. Kyo and Iori glared at each other at a distance. Shingo tried to do the same with his rival, but Kiki's perplexed expression didn't help at all. Once the train rolled in, the pairs piled into separate cars. Iori and Kiki squished into the car with the other passengers. Kiki clung onto Iori's jacket; her face pressed up against his exposed chest.

"Mmph mm mph mph mm-mmph mmph mm mmph?" Kiki asked, face still between Iori's pecs.

"I didn't understand a word you just said," grumbled Iori.

Kiki tilted her head up and repeated her question, "How long do we gotta ride this train?"

"Just a couple stops," he replied. "Stay close. Don't get separated."

"'Kay--" Kiki cocked an eyebrow, "You okay? Your face is kinda red--"

"I'm fine."

About fifteen minutes later, the train's P.A. system announced the name of the next stop. Iori nudged Kiki, signaling to her to get ready to go. She clung tighter onto Iori's sleeve, anticipating breaking into a sprint as soon as the car's doors opened. The train came to a halt, and Iori pushed his way out with Kiki still clinging to him. They watched the other train car's doors; Kyo and Shingo left it at the same time Iori and Kiki left theirs. The pairs locked eyes with each other. Kyo and Iori rushed side by side toward the station exit with their two disciples right behind them.

Kiki huffed, "This is turning out to be quite a day."

"You bet!" Shingo grinned at her. "I get my own rival, and now I get to see Mr. Kusanagi fight for real? Against Mr. Yagami too? This is the best!"

"I just wanted to pick up groceries," Kiki whined under her breath.

A few minutes of running later, the four fighters arrived in an alleyway between a liquor store and a hotel. Kiki steadied herself against a wall to catch her breath. Shingo observed Kyo and Iori leering at each other.

"Get him good, Mr. Kusanagi!" Shingo cheered.

"D-Do your best, Mr. Yagami...!" Kiki managed to call out.

Flames danced in the two fighters' hands. A heavy, tense atmosphere grew around them. Kyo's hands clenched into fists while Iori lowered his stance. The two of them kept their piercing glares on each other. With no words spoken between them, they rushed forward and began their brawl.

Kyo crouched low and kicked a leg out. Anticipating this, Iori hopped forward and clawed his hand down toward Kyo's face. His nails scraped across Kyo's cheek, causing him to recoil from the attack. Iori continued with his assault with an uppercut with his left hand into Kyo's abdomen. He shot into Kyo's gut with his right fist. Raising both fists above his head, Iori finished with a downward slam onto the back of Kyo's head.

Kyo swore under his breath as he struggled to recover. He rolled back, avoiding a downward swipe from Iori's leg. Rising to his feet, Kyo stepped forward and punched with his right fist, knocking Iori back. He followed up with a burst of flame and finished off with another fire blast. "Your body's helpless!" he yelled. Iori flew back from the flurry of blows and fell to the pavement with a thud.

"Nice one!" Shingo raised a fist and cheered.

Iori grunted as he pushed himself back up to his feet. "You can do it, Mr. Yagami!" encouraged Kiki.

Kyo charged toward Iori, reeling his fist back. In retaliation, Iori threw a purple fireball down to the ground. "How's this?!" Iori shouted. The fireball snaked across the ground and burst at Kyo's feet. With a cry, he staggered backward. Kyo brought his arms up in front of his face, anticipating another attack. Iori stepped behind him, clawed into his back, and growled, "Out of my way!" Kyo stumbled forward from the attack with a pained grunt.

Kiki's eyes lit up as Iori made his comeback, "Keep going, Mr. Yagami!"

Kyo struggled to keep himself steady. Iori sprinted toward him, grabbed his face, and slammed his head into the ground with a roar.

"Die!" he shouted as a purple flame erupted from Iori's hand. Shingo and Kiki gasped at the same time and looked down at Kyo, concerned for his safety. Kyo rolled away from Iori, putting out any remains of his flames that still burned on his clothes. Kyo dashed toward Iori once more, and Iori attempted to slash at him before he could get too close.

Before Iori's nails could make contact, Kyo ducked down and kicked at Iori's shins with one foot. Iori wavered from the hit, and Kyo kicked him again with his other foot. Iori's legs gave in and he collapsed onto the pavement. Iori tried to push himself up. Kyo raised a hand above his head. A bright orange flame engulfed his hand as he yelled.

Shingo's eyes widened, "That's...!"

As soon as Iori rose to his feet, Kyo charged at him, bringing his inflamed hand down and sending a large fire blast forward. "Chew on this!" The flames hit Iori straight on and knocked him back. He slid across the pavement, groaning in pain.

"Mr. Yagami!" Kiki rushed to the man's side and kneeled down next to him, checking for any serious injuries.

"Don't worry. He'll live." She heard Kyo say. She turned around and saw him and Shingo approaching her. "So," He beckoned her to stand. "let's talk."

Chapter 9: Something About Kyo

Kyo and Kiki sat on the park bench as they waited for Shingo to come back from the vending machines. Iori rested on the bench with his head on Kiki's lap.

"I'm back!" announced Shingo as he handed the drinks to Kyo and Kiki. "A sports drink for Mr. Kusanagi, a green tea for Cruz, and a soda for me!"

"Thanks, Shingo," said Kiki. Shingo plopped down onto the bench next to Kyo and the three of them popped open their drinks.

"So, you're that girl that ran into Shingo earlier, huh?" Kyo asked and took a sip.

Kiki giggled, "More like he ran into me." Shingo rubbed the back of his neck and chuckled nervously at the remark. Kiki introduced herself as she sipped her green tea, "Anyway, I'm Kiki Cruz." With a bow, she added, "It's an honor to meet you, Mr. Kusanagi!"

Kyo opened his mouth to say something but closed it again. He pursed his lips as he contemplated what to say. "You..." He began and gazed at her expectantly.

Kiki looked up, "What?"

"It's just..." Kyo shook his head and laughed, "It's weird hearing you call me 'Mr. Kusanagi' since you... You know. "

Kiki cocked her head, "What?"

"Oh, I get it!" exclaimed Shingo. "It's because you and Mr. Kusanagi--"

"Shut it, Shingo!" Kyo smacked him upside the head. He shook his head and turned his attention back to Kiki. Noticing her unwavering confusion, he sighed, "Look, just forget it."

"Why is everyone so weird today?" Kiki mumbled.

Kyo glanced down at Iori, "So, you and Yagami, huh?" Kiki nodded. He chuckled to himself, "Never thought him of all people would be teaching someone. Let alone a girl."

"Yeah, well," Kiki shrugged, "a week's worth of constant street fights can probably convince a guy to do whatever you want."

"Sounds about right," Kyo said as he glanced at Shingo.

Shingo raised an eyebrow as he drank his soda, "Wuh?"

"Still," Kyo continued, "KOF ain't gonna be easy. Even the most veteran fighters don't make it into the tournament, let alone actually win. What makes you think you can compete?"

"Well, everyone's gotta start somewhere, right?" Kiki grinned. "Besides, training for KOF is way better than what I was doing before."

"What were you doing before?" asked Shingo.

"Went to college for the past five years." She wrinkled her nose at the thought. "It sucked, honestly. Only did it because my parents told me to." She groaned. "Plus, the stress? Unbearable. Besides," she pumped a fist in the air, "if the guy who hasn't even graduated high school can become champion, maybe I've got a chance too!"

Kyo's brow furrowed, "You wanna take back that last part?"


"However," Kyo's expression softened, "I think you can do it."

"But you've never even seen me fight," Kiki pointed out.

Shingo shot his hand up, "We can fight now!" Kyo smacked him again. "Yeowch!"

Kyo turned his full attention back to Kiki, "Trust me. You can." His eyes lit up as he smiled at her, "Even if it takes an eternity for you to get there, never forget someone's gonna be out there rooting for you."


Before she or Kyo could say anything else, Kiki felt movement on her lap. "Mr. Yagami!" she beamed. "You're alive!"

Iori sat up "Of course I'm alive," he scoffed. "I won't die until I kill Kyo."

Kyo rolled his eyes, "Yeah, yeah, that's what you always say." He finished off his bottle and tossed it into a nearby trash bin. Getting up from his seat, Kyo nodded to Shingo, "Let's go."

"Already?!" Shingo downed his drink and threw his can into the trash as well. "Can't I have just one match with Cruz?"

Kyo waved his hand dismissively as he walked away, "You can always do that later. We gotta go."

Shingo sighed, "Okay...." He ran after Kyo and yelled to Kiki, "We will face each other one day, Cruz! I swear it!"

Kiki gave a small wave to the two of them as they ran off, "Bye, guys!"

Once they were out of earshot, Shingo asked, "Why didn't you tell her, Mr. Kusanagi? She's--"

"I told you to shut it, didn't I?!" Kyo looked back to Kiki. She grinned from ear to ear and made large gestures as she conversed with Iori. Kyo frowned, "She obviously doesn't remember anyway."

Chapter 10: A Quick Fix

Back in Iori's apartment, Kiki and Iori unpacked groceries from their supermarket trip. Kiki remained silent as she put packages of meat and fish in the freezer. She babbled on and on about Kyo and Iori's fight at the park. But at the supermarket and on the way home? Nothing. This sort of silence was relieving for Iori, but the fact she was so quiet did raise some flags for him.

"Something on your mind?" Iori finally asked.

Kiki jumped from her train of thought coming to a sudden halt, "Huh? Oh, yeah." She closed the freezer door and leaned against it. "Just thinking about what Kyo said to me when we were at the park."

Iori grabbed a package of noodles from one of the plastic bags, "Go on."

Kiki stared at the ceiling, "It's just... I dunno. Kyo seemed to be acting weird the whole time. Honestly, I pegged him as a cocky bastard who didn't know when to shut up."

Iori snorted and put a plastic bag full of chips and cookies by the fridge, "Well, you're not wrong."

She snapped and finger-gunned him, "See, exactly! And that's the thing. Earlier, he just seemed more... gentle. And that last thing he said. I...." She trailed off.


She shook her head. "Never mind. I'm probably just imagining things. Still, so weird! The Kyo I met was not the Kyo I saw on TV last year."

"Fridge," Iori handed a carton of milk for Kiki to put away. As she did, he said, "Say, humor me for a bit. With Kyo being Kyo, why did you want to learn from him in the first place?"

"Well, with him not graduating from high school and me being a college drop-out, I felt like we could connect, y'know?"

Iori whipped his head around and narrowed his eyes at her. "You went to college?"

"Yes?" Kiki cracked a wry smile at him, "Is that really so hard to believe?"


Kiki pouted, "Hey, I'll have you know I could've gotten an engineering degree."

Iori's brow furrowed, "Engineering? Really?"

"Do I really not seem the type?" Iori opened his mouth, but Kiki stopped him, "Don't answer that."

After the two of them put away the rest of the groceries, they moved to the couch. Kiki plopped down on one side and sat cross-legged. Iori sat on the other end, resting an elbow on the arm of the couch.

"Just saying," Kiki continued, "if you've got some gadgets that need fixing up, I'm your girl!" She chuckled. "Though, to tell you the truth, the stuff I learned in college leaned more toward the 'making' aspect of working with gadgets rather than the 'fixing' part. Still!" Her whole face glowed as her excitement grew, "I'm awesome at fixing stuff! I was basically my family's repairman, after all!"

"Is that so?" Iori gazed at her expectantly.

Kiki's eyes lit up, "Got something for me to work on?"

"Actually, yes." Iori rose from his seat and headed toward his bedroom. Kiki hopped off the sofa and followed him. She climbed onto the bed and observed Iori as he rolled an amplifier out of his closet. "This thing can't turn on anymore."

Kiki slid off the bed and examined the amp. She put a hand to her chin as she circled the machine, "I see, I see...." She turned to Iori and rubbed the back of her neck. "So, good news and slightly less good news. Good news is I brought my tools with me so I shouldn't have a problem popping this baby open if need be." She averted her gaze, "Slightly less good news is that I've never worked with something like this before, but I'm sure I'll figure it out!"

Iori frowned, "You'd better not break it even further."

Kiki stood tall and saluted to him, "Worry not, Mr. Yagami! Your amp will be in tip-top shape in no time. I'll get to work right away!"

"Good," Iori left the bedroom and called out, "Again: don't break anything."


For the rest of the afternoon, Kiki worked on the amp. Getting it open was one thing, and understanding its inner workings was a whole other thing to tackle.

Iori popped back into the bedroom once to give Kiki food for dinner.

"Thanks, Mr. Yagami," she said without taking her eyes off the mess of wires she was fiddling with. As he left the room, he heard her say, "Alright, that connects to the speaker. Shouldn't touch that. That's the volume, those are for the transistors..." Iori stood in the hallway for a moment, taking in Kiki's mumbling. So focused. Just like that night when she moved in, he thought. With that, Iori went to the living room, picked a novel off his bookshelf, and lay on the couch to read.

It was approaching 9 P.M. when Iori noticed that there was no longer any noise coming from the bedroom. He put down his book and approached the doorway. Rapping his knuckle against the door, Iori listened for Kiki, but there was no response. Cracking the door open, Iori saw Kiki resting her head on top of the amp with a pair of pliers in her hand. The back cover of the amp lay on the floor beside her along with a small plastic bin with screws inside it.

Iori sighed, "Damn it, woman. At least get yourself into bed first." He tiptoed around her, grabbed a thin blanket from his closet, and draped it over her shoulders. He flipped the lights off and returned to the door. Before leaving the room, he glanced at her and mumbled, "Night, Kiki."

Chapter 11: Harmonious Cacophony

Later the next morning, Kiki entered the living room with a cheerful, "Morning, Mr. Yagami!" Iori grumbled as he blinked his tired eyes open and sat up from the couch. Kiki rolled the amp toward him and gestured to it with a flourish, "Ta-da! All fixed!"

"I'll be the judge of that." Iori slipped off his seat and trudged over to his bass case sitting in the corner of the room. "Plug it in."

Kiki rolled the amp over to the outlet closest to him and plugged in the power cord. Iori took out his bass and connected it to the amp. After turning the dials down, he turned it on and fiddled around with its settings. Kiki sat on the floor as she watched Iori pluck at the bass strings. The tones resounded from the speaker as he played a simple scale. Nodding to himself, he set his bass down and turned off the amp, "Not bad."

Kiki smiled wide, "Glad I could help, Mr. Yagami!" He shuffled toward the kitchen. "What are you doing?" she asked.

"Gonna make a few calls," he replied. The girl followed and observed him as he picked up the receiver and dialed a number. After a few moments, Iori spoke up, "Mizushima? It's me." A pause. "Got my amp fixed." Iori recoiled and held the receiver a few inches from his ear. Bringing it back, he groaned, "You're too damn loud. Look, are you free later or not?" A pause and a nod. "Alright, we'll meet at the café at one and schedule our next practice. I'm gonna give Izumi and Mochizuki a call too." Another pause. "Yeah, yeah, bye."

Kiki leaned against the fridge as Iori called up the other two people he mentioned. Once he finished his last phone call, Kiki piped up, "Your band?"

He nodded. "You're coming with me."

Kiki raised an eyebrow, "Huh? Why?"

"When they find out you're living with me, I'll never hear the end of it," he grumbled. "Might as well get it over with."

"... Never hear the end of what?"

A few minutes before the meeting time, Iori and Kiki arrived at the café with him entering first and her behind him. Surveying the area, Iori found a familiar face sitting at a table near a window on the other side of the building. If Kiki didn't know better, she would have mistaken this man as a KOF fighter himself. With a large, muscular body like his, his grey polo shirt would have burst at the seams if he moved around too much. The man waved to Iori and he waved back.

As he and Kiki seated themselves at the table, Iori greeted, "Hey, Mochizuki."

"Good to see you, Yagami." The man spoke in a deep, but gentle tone. Mochizuki nodded to Kiki, "I'm Shun Mochizuki, one of Yagami's bandmates. Drummer. And you are?"

Kiki grinned and bowed to him, "I'm Kiki Cruz, Mr. Yagami's student. Nice to meet you."

Shun raised his eyebrows, "Student?"

"Training her to get into KOF," replied Iori.

"Oh?" Shun chuckled, "Well, don't work her too hard."

It was exactly one o'clock when another person had entered the café. This time, it was a young woman with short, bleached blonde hair. Kiki didn't expect a rockstar (especially one who's in the same band as Iori) to wear a denim jacket, jeans, and a bright pastel graphic tee. But, the fact her face lit up when she spotted Shun and Iori signaled to Kiki that she was, in fact, part the band. She skipped over to their table and greeted them with a voice as warm and bright as her smile, "Shun! Iori!"

"Hi, Izumi," Shun gave her a small wave, and Iori nodded to her.

"And who might this be?" She cocked her head at Kiki. "Did one of you guys get a girlfriend without telling me?"

A blush colored Kiki's cheeks, "Eh?"

"She's Yagami's," Shun teased.

Kiki jumped, "Eh?!"

"Don't say stupid shit," Iori groaned. "Izumi, this is my disciple, Kiki. She wants to fight in KOF one day."

"It's very nice to meet you," Kiki bowed to her.

"Nice to meet you too!" Izumi grinned. "I'm Aya Izumi. I'm the band's guitarist." She leaned into Kiki's ear and whispered, "If Iori's causing you any trouble, you come straight to me, okay?"


Iori shot Aya a glare, "What was that?"

She pinched his cheek, "Don't worry your little head over it, Iorin." He rolled his eyes and swatted her hand away. Aya giggled at his reaction and scanned the café. She pouted and put her hands on her hips, "Probably shouldn't even bother asking, but where's Yuta?"

"Late as usual," replied Iori.

She sighed, "Of course he is." Shaking her head, Aya took a seat next to Shun. "Seriously, Iori, you gotta schedule these meetings better."

"Ain't my fault the guy can't keep track of time," he said with a shrug.

As if on cue, the final band member burst through the door. Now, this is what Kiki expected a member of Iori's band to look like. His button-up shirt had its two top buttons unfastened, showing off his chest. With his sleeves rolled up, Kiki could see a multitude of bracelets around his wrists. The studs on his pierced ears glittered under the cafe's fluorescent lamps. He scouted the café with a look in his eyes that could make any woman's knees go weak. Once he spotted them, he waved at the group with his whole arm and paced to their table, "Yagami! Mochi! Aya! Hey!" His loud voice seemed to echo throughout the small café.

Iori waved back at him, "Mizushima."

"You're late, Yuta. Again," Aya grumbled.

"Aw, it's fine," Yuta cooed as he swatted with his hand. "Besides, this meeting's supposed to be short. Who cares if I'm a minute or two late?" He jerked a thumb at Kiki, "So, who's she?"

"That's Kiki," said Iori. "She's my disciple, and she's living with me."

All three bandmates blinked, then cried in unison, "What?!" They clamored all at once.

"You have a girlfriend?!"

"Why didn't you mention that last part earlier?!"

"... Huh."

"I now see what you mean," Kiki quietly quipped to Iori.

"Will the three of you shut up already?!" Iori bellowed. The trio shut their mouths immediately. "Look, she needed a place to stay, and I took her in. Nothing else to it." Kiki nodded in confirmation.

Yuta crossed his arms and squinted at Iori, "Uh-huh. Sure. Whatever you say, Yagami. By the way," he smirked at Kiki, "the name's Yuta Mizushima, best singer this side of Osaka. And if you ever change your mind about staying with Yagami, my place is always open--"

Iori yanked him by the sleeve and forced his ass down to the chair next to him, "Take your damn seat."

A few moments later, a waitress approached the group and took their drink orders. For the rest of their time there, the five of them discussed when their next practice would be and the possibility of future gigs. Once they were done, they all went their separate ways.

"They were really nice," Kiki said as she and Iori strolled back home.

"Is that how you'd put it?" grumbled Iori.

She giggled, "It must be fun being in a band with them."

"I guess," he shrugged. "I'm bringing you with me to our practice next week."

Kiki's eyes widened. "Huh? Are you sure?" She rubbed the back of her neck, "I don't wanna get in the way or anything."

"It'll be better than sitting around doing nothing at the apartment for an hour," he remarked.

"I could always train on my own while I wait," suggested Kiki.

"True. Still," he smirked at her, "I have a feeling they want to see you again."

Kiki showed him a wide grin and pumped her fist in the air, "Okay!"

Chapter 12: A Deadly Blue Flower Blooms

Another early evening rolled around in a certain quiet corner of Osaka prefecture. The pink sky hung overhead, outlining silhouettes of towering office buildings. Gentle rumbles of car engines passed by on the city streets. The fluorescent lights of the street lamps flickered. Shadows of meandering pedestrians blinked onto the gray sidewalks. In their usual empty lot, Iori and Kiki trained together. Their grunts and groans of effort resounded in the open space.

"That's it, keep them coming," Iori encouraged her as he blocked her punches and kicks with his palms. Kiki strung together hit after hit, taking careful aim at Iori's hands. After each successful hit, Iori would shift his hand to a different position. His hand would sometimes get knocked back an inch from the impact, and he would take a mental note of that. After a few more minutes of target practice, Iori spoke up, "And stop."

Kiki backed off and did a full-body stretch, "So, how was that, Mr. Yagami?"

Iori sat on the pavement and pulled out a box of cigarettes from his pocket. "Not bad," he said as he put one between his lips. Kiki sat a few feet away from him to rest. Igniting a small purple ember from his fingertip, Iori lit his cigarette and took a drag. "You're improving. I can actually feel some force with your hits this time."


Iori side-glanced at her, "You ready to learn one of my moves?"

Kiki's whole expression brightened. She scampered right next to Iori and leaned in close to his face. "Yes," she squeaked.

"Settle down," he grumbled as he pushed her face away. He ground the tip of his cigarette down against the pavement and stood, "Observe."

Kiki retrieved her notebook and pen from her pocket as Iori walked a few feet away from her. He lowered himself into his usual stance with his feet wide apart and his fingers sprawled out in front of him. "Ready?" he called out.

Kiki gave him a thumbs up, "Ready!"

On cue, Iori lowered his stance even further and closed his hands into fists. Taking a step forward, he shot his left fist up into an uppercut. He then took another step and punched up with his right fist. Then, he ended with a leap forward while swinging both fists above and behind his head then downward.

I think I remember Iori using that move on Kyo a couple weeks back, thought Kiki as she sketched his movements into her notebook.

When he finished, Iori stood tall and walked back toward Kiki. "That was the Reverse Method 127: Aoibana," he explained.

"'Reverse Method... Aoibana...." Kiki repeated to herself as she wrote the move's name above her diagram.

"It's a move that doesn't require flames," explained Iori. "So, I figured it would be easy for you to replicate."

Kiki nodded in agreement, "Makes sense to me."

"So," Iori beckoned to her, "let's see you try."

"'Kay!" Kiki pushed herself up to her feet and imitated Iori's stance. Her mentor observed her as she took a deep breath and began her maneuver.

She punched up with her left fist, then punched upward with her right. She jumped forward and brought her fists together in front of her. Swinging them downward, Kiki's fists almost hit the ground. Upon landing, Kiki stretched her arms above her head and turned to face Iori, "How was that?"

Iori shook his head, "Terrible."

"H-Huh?" She hopped back from shock. "What did I do wrong?"

"Where do I even begin?" he groaned and positioned himself into his neutral stance again. Lowering his body, he explained, "When I start low like this, it gives me a wider range of motion, which means more follow-through." He demonstrated his point by throwing the first uppercut. "If I do what you did," he began as he rose to his original position and punched up, "there's not as much room to work with." He swung his left fist back and forth to prove his point. Kiki nodded and furrowed her bow as she focused. Sure enough, there was a smaller arc of motion than before. Iori explained further, "More follow-through means a bigger impact." Kiki nodded in understanding.

"With the second hit, step as you punch, not after," he said as he showed the maneuver. "The step is the wind up before the actual hit."

Kiki drew arrows onto her diagram, emphasizing the step in her drawing of the second punch, "A wind-up... I see, I see..."

"And with the final part--" Iori leaped, brought his fists above his head on his way up, and swung them down as he landed, "--same deal as the first. Give yourself more of an arc to deal more damage." He swung his arms up and down to show his point.

Kiki drew more arrows on her diagram, noting the arm motion for the last part. Once she finished, she reviewed the diagram. Nodding to herself, Kiki looked at Iori with a burning determination in her eyes, "I wanna try again!"

Iori gestured to her, "Go ahead."

She hopped up from her seat and followed Iori's instructions exactly. She lowered herself before her first uppercut. Then, she led in with a step for the second one. Leaping in the air, she raised both arms over her head and hammered down for the final blow. Upon landing, Kiki stood tall, turned to Iori, and showed her best "How did I do?" grin.

Iori just nodded.

She jumped for joy, "Hell yeah!"

"We're not finished yet." Iori got into his fighting stance, "We're going to practice that move for the rest of the night. We won't stop until I know you've really got it down."

Kiki grinned and got into her stance as well. "Let's go!"

Chapter 13: Wind Down

"Welcome!" The ramen chef greeted Iori and Kiki as they entered the ramen shop and sat at the bar. He grinned at them and asked, "The usual?"

Kiki nodded vigorously and bounced in her stool, "Yup, yup, yup!"

The chef chuckled to himself and placed glasses of water in front of them, "It's always a joy to see you so excited, Miss." He turned to Iori and winked, "You could learn a thing or two from her."

"Hmph," Iori scoffed and sipped his water.

"Yeah, Sensei," Kiki teased. "Even your student could teach you some things."

Iori flicked her forehead, "Don't push it."

The chef snickered and turned around to start cooking the pair's meal. He called out from over his shoulder, "Speaking of which, I'm curious. What are you two up to at this time of night every week? The little miss always seems to be drenched in sweat every time you stop by."

Kiki pumped a fist in the air, "Mr. Yagami's training me to get into KOF!"

"KOF?" The chef mused while slicing some pork. The thought for a moment, then nodded, "Ah, that's right, that martial arts tournament on TV last year." He continued as he chopped a bunch of leeks, "I remember watching a few matches with my kids. My son was a huge fan of that Kusanagi boy. And my daughter--" he glanced at Iori. "Oh! I thought I recognized you from somewhere!" The chef laughed and put the ingredients into the boiling pot, "Yes, yes, my daughter took a liking to you, Yagami." He shook his head and snorted, "Says she's gonna be Mrs. Yagami one day!"

Iori frowned, "Hmph." Kiki giggled and swung her legs under her stool.

"Too bad for her, but looks like I'll have to tell her she's got some competition," the chef commented as he shot a look at Kiki.

She cocked her head at him, "Hm?" Iori rolled his eyes.

The chef dumped the ramen into two bowls and served them, "One for the miss, and one for Yagami." He bowed to both of them, "Enjoy!"

"Thanks for the food!" they replied in unison. The pair split their chopsticks and ate.

After he and Kiki finished up, Iori left their payment on the counter and marched toward the exit. Kiki followed suit, not before bowing to the chef, "Thanks again for the food, sir. See you next week!"

The chef waved goodbye, "Until next time!"

The bright lights of street lamps illuminated the dark sidewalks.

Kiki made large, quick gestures as she recounted her early morning breakfast runs to Iori. "So, then Shingo's all like 'I'll get you for sure this time, Cruz!' and he just comes at me like 'whoosh!'" She shot her arm out for emphasis. "Seriously, he always wants a fight at the most inconvenient times. I just wanna grab a rice ball and go home, dammit!" Shaking her head, Kiki sighed, "Like, doesn't he have anything better to do? The kid's still in high school. He should be studying or something."

"Quite a handful," Iori commented.

Kiki let out a wry laugh, "You can say that again. If I didn't tell him I was your student, do you think we could've been friends?"

"He'd figure it out eventually. So, no, nothing would change."

She shrugged, "I guess you're right."

As they neared the apartment complex, Iori stopped in his tracks. Kiki halted as well and raised an eyebrow at him, "Mr. Yagami? What's up?" He slipped into the alleyway up ahead and nodded over to her, signaling her to follow him. Iori tiptoed as he went further into the alley and Kiki did the same. When he and Kiki were further in the alley, Iori crouched. Kiki peeked from behind him, trying to see what they were stopping for. Iori put a finger to his lips and extended his hand. Kiki crouched as well and gave Iori a curious look. It was at that moment, a rustle came from under a collapsed cardboard box. Kiki's eyes widened and she let out a squeal when she saw what emerged. A small white kitten drew near Iori and nuzzled against his outstretched hand.

Kiki inched closer and whispered, "Can I pet it?"

Iori kept his eyes on the kitten, "Do as you please. Just don't make sudden movements. She gets startled easily."

Kiki nodded and slowly brought a hand to the kitten. It looked curiously at the new hand approaching it. Sniffing Kiki's fingers, the kitten nuzzled against Kiki's palm. Its soft fur brushed against Kiki's fingertips.

Kiki couldn't help but let out another happy squeak. The kitten meowed in reply. A bright smile shone on Kiki's face, "Meow!" The kitten let out another tiny meow. "Meow meow!" Kiki said back.

"What a thrilling conversation," Iori remarked sarcastically.

"Meow meow!"

Iori stood up and began to exit the alleyway, "Come on. You're gonna actually turn into a cat at this rate."

Kiki pouted, "Aw, okay." Before chasing after Iori, she turned back and waved at the kitten, "Bye, little guy. Mr. Yagami and I will be back soon!" The kitten mewed and retreated to its box.

Kiki caught up to Iori and walked by his side, "That kitten really likes you."

"Yeah, I guess," Iori said with a shrug. He glanced at Kiki, "Cats, in general, like me for some reason. Don't really get it."

She bowed her head as if deep in thought, "I mean, animals tend to like people who they think are nice." Showing him a smile, she added, "Maybe they know you're a nice person, Mr. Yagami."

"Ridiculous," he grumbled. He started to pick up his pace, "Hurry up. It's getting dark and I'm tired."

With a nod, Kiki matched his stride and walked alongside him.

Chapter 14: A... Date?

Please don't run into Shingo. Please don't run into Shingo. Please don't run into Shingo...! Kiki prayed as she walked her way back to Iori's apartment from the convenience store. The sun peeked over the horizon, prompting the girl to shade her eyes from its rays with her free hand. She munched on her warm pork bun as she whipped her head around in every direction. Though there was no sign of him, Shingo interrupting the girl's breakfast run annoyed the hell out of her. Kiki picked up her pace and took another large bite of her bun. She continued eating her snack as she watched for the tiniest glimpse of a bright blue school uniform.

As the apartment complex came into view, Kiki let out a sigh of relief. Her morning ritual went without a hitch this time. With a relaxed gait, Kiki approached the building, finishing the last of her meal as she did so. Before she made it to the entrance, Kiki could have sworn she heard rapid footfalls ahead of her. ...And they were getting closer?



Kiki bolted to the entrance, but Shingo was too fast. The boy scooped her up and carried her over his shoulder without slowing down for a second.

Kiki yelped, "Shingo?! What the hell?!" She paused. "We're not gonna fight?"

Shingo panted a reply as he dashed across the pavement, "Not today! I'm on an urgent mission for Mr. Kusanagi!"

"What does this gotta do with me?!"

"No clue! All Mr. Kusanagi said was that he wanted to see you."

Kiki resigned herself to her fate, and thought, Why do I have a feeling literally picking me up off the street wasn't part of the plan?

Kyo stared blankly at Shingo, "... Did you literally pick her up off the street?"

Shingo cocked his head, "Was I not supposed to?"

Kyo groaned and facepalmed, "Put her down already."

Shingo lifted Kiki off his shoulder and set her feet down on the wooden dojo floor. "Anything else, Mr. Kusanagi?" he asked.

He shook his head, "Nah." Gesturing to Shingo to leave, he added, "Now get outta here, will ya?" With a nod, Shingo left the room, leaving Kiki and Kyo by themselves. Kyo shook his head, "Shingo's such a dumbass." He looked to Kiki, "You're not hurt, are you?"

She blinked in surprise, "Huh? No, not at all. Just a bit confused, really." Raising an eyebrow, she asked, "So, what did you want to see me for, Mr. Kusanagi?"

"First off," Kyo responded, putting up a finger, "cut the 'Mr. Kusanagi' shit. It's weird. Secondly," he averted his gaze and mumbled, "... do you wanna hang out?"

Kiki stood dumbfounded and speechless.

"W-Well?" His cheeks turned a light shade of pink. He averted his gaze from Kiki, "Yes or no?"

She stumbled over her words as she tried to process Kyo's sudden proposal, "Huh? Uh, y-yeah, sure! I'd love to! Sorry, I just didn't expect that." Digging her phone out of her backpack, she continued, "Let me just call Mr. Yagami real quick. I don't want him wondering where I've gone."

"Whatever," Kyo said with a shrug and a sigh of relief.

She dialed the number and waited. After a few rings, the call went to the answering machine. With a sigh, Kiki left her message, "Hey, Mr. Yagami? It's Kiki. I'm gonna be out for a while today. Kyo--" Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Kyo shaking his head and making wide sweeping motions with his arms. She stopped herself and faked a cough, "Ahem! Sorry, uh, as I was saying, I'm gonna be out. I'll call you back when I'm heading back to your place. See you later." She hung up and laughed, "Do you think he noticed?"

"I hope not," Kyo groaned. "Anyway," He stood tall and sauntered toward the exit. With a nod, he asked, "Ready?"

Kyo led the way from the train station all the way to their destination. When they arrived, he announced, "Here we are! The arcade." Beyond the glass windows of the building's front side, rows upon rows of arcade cabinets were lined up. Kids and adults sat in front of some of them, wiggling their joysticks and mashing their buttons.

Kiki's eyes widened in excitement, "Wow! I haven't been to an arcade since I was in America."

Kyo smirked, "Heh, I had a feeling this was gonna be a good idea." He marched forward and beckoned Kiki to follow, "What are you waiting for? Let's go!" The girl grinned and followed right behind him.

Bright, colorful lights from the machines illuminated the dim building. Electronic chimes from various games and laughter from children filled the air. Kiki gazed at her surroundings in awe.

"Say," Kyo flashed a confident smile at her, "any good at Street Fighter?"

Kiki smiled back, "I'm decent at it. Played a bit with some friends some months back."

"Perfect! Let's play a round or two." Kyo began heading further into the arcade with Kiki following close behind him. When Kyo found an open pair of cabinets, he plopped onto the seat in front of one of them. Kiki sat at the other cabinet, excitement swelling inside her.

The pair loaded their respective machines with coins and pressed their start buttons. The game transitioned to the Character Select screen. Kiki chose Ken while Kyo chose Ryu. "Interesting choice," mused Kyo. "Ryu VS Ken" flashed on the screen then transitioned to the two fighters in their stances. As soon as the word "FIGHT" popped up, the pair began to make their moves.

Kiki threw a Hadouken, which Kyo immediately blocked. She backed away and tried again, but Kyo jumped over it, closing the gap between them. Kiki locked her joystick to the right, desperate to block an upcoming attack from Kyo. He assaulted her with punches and kicks, and she continued to block each attack. She waited for a gap in Kyo's attacks. He dished out a heavy kick, and Kiki's eyes lit up. She crouched and sent out a low kick. Kyo recoiled from the hit, leaving him open. Kiki let out a small "Yes!" as she fought back with a string of punches and kicks of her own, knocking him to the ground. She chased after him and prepared to go on the offensive again. Kyo smirked, immediately executed a Shoryuken, and knocked Kiki to the ground.

"Gotcha!" Kyo shouted. As soon as Kiki got back up, he went in for another combo and succeeded in getting the first hit in. With another punch, kick, and Shoryuken, Kiki was down for the count.

She let out a groan and exclaimed, "I'll get you this next round!"

Kyo laughed, "Bring it on!"

Kiki jiggled her joystick and mashed buttons hoping to get one last hit in. Both her and Kyo's health bars were down to a sliver. But with a well-timed Hadouken from Kyo, Kiki had lost. Her shoulders slumped and she let out a huge exhale.

"That was fun!" Kiki grinned despite her loss.

Kyo rose from his seat and approached Kiki, "So, any games you wanna play?"

Without hesitation, Kiki replied, "Pac-Man! I played it a lot as a kid. Hopefully, I haven't lost my touch."

"Pac-Man, huh?" Kyo nodded and headed over to another section of the arcade. "Alright, should be over this way." Kiki walked beside him as he showed her the way to the cabinet.

Kiki's eyes shone as the Pac-Man cabinet came into view. The sight of the colorful ghosts and the circular protagonist made her nostalgic. She rushed up to the stool, parked her ass down, and loaded a coin into the slot. Kyo managed to catch up to the girl as the game started up and showed the large maze on the screen.

The electronic beeps of the game's theme jingled and the characters popped to life. Kiki jerked the joystick to the left, nabbing as many pellets as she could before the ghosts could get to her. Kyo observed as Kiki emptied the bottom-left corner of the maze, leaving a Power Pellet by itself. "For an emergency," she said. As she headed to the bottom-right corner of the maze, two ghosts approached from ahead and behind her.

"Watch out!" Kyo cried.

Kiki smirked as she turned a corner and made for a beeline for the tunnel on the right side of the maze. She went through it and made it to the opposite side. Kyo let out a sigh of relief as she began to clear out the top-right of the board. The rest of the run went smoothly: picked up fruit, grabbed pellets, and escaped ghosts. With that, Kiki completed the first maze.

"Nice one!" Kyo cheered.

Kiki laughed and boasted, "See that? That's how an expert does it." As the game loaded the second maze, Kiki piped up, "Have I ever told you I used to live in Japan?"

Kyo raised an eyebrow, "Oh? Do tell."

"Mm-hm," she replied without taking her eyes off the screen. "I used to go to a local arcade every day after school and just play Pac-Man." She laughed to herself, "Not exciting at all, I know."

"Still, it must have been fun if you played it every day," Kyo pointed out.

"Hm, maybe," Kiki thought for a moment. "I'd say I kept coming back for a different reason, though."

Kyo perked up, "Yeah? What might that be?"

She smiled softly at the thought, "There was a boy." Kyo focused on her as she continued. "I think he was from the local elementary school since he was a bit younger than me, but he was there whenever I was."

"Uh-huh? And what was this kid like?" mused Kyo.

"He was a pretty cute kid, not gonna lie," answered Kiki. She chuckled as memories came back to her. "We'd take turns at playing Pac-Man, switching off between each board. I even taught him how to play better at it." As she grabbed the last pellet in the maze, Kiki sighed, "It was fun." Her heart felt heavy for a moment, "I wonder what he's up to now. He's gotta be in high school or maybe even graduated by now."

"Uh... Yeah..." Kyo cleared his throat and ruffled Kiki's hair, "I'm sure the kid's fine. He probably misses you a lot."

Kiki smiled and continued to play as Kyo stayed beside her. If Kiki were not so focused on the game, she could have caught Kyo stealing glances at her.

"Want me to walk you the rest of the way?" Kyo offered as he and Kiki departed the train station.

"Nah, I got it from here." Kiki bowed to him and beamed, "Thanks for inviting me! I had a lot of fun today. We should do this again sometime."

"Don't mention it," he chuckled. "With Shingo being Shingo and Yagami being Yagami, I figured we could both use a break."

Kiki laughed at the remark. "Anyway, I'll get going, then." She skipped away, not before waving at Kyo, "Bye!"

Kyo gave her a small wave and strode in the opposite direction. He kept his eyes forward as he left the station, but for a brief moment let himself look back. Kiki walked away, continuing onward without stopping. Her figure shrunk as it headed toward the horizon. Kyo stood still, stuck in a mess of thoughts that raced through his head. He frowned as one thought, in particular, weighed down on him.

Sorry, Yuki. Part of me still...

Chapter 15: Shingo vs. Kiki: Round [Lost Count]



Kiki held her pork bun in her mouth and high-tailed it out of there. Shingo gave chase, almost immediately closing the distance between them. Kiki weaved through pedestrians, hoping to shake Shingo off. The boy ran ahead of her and cut her off.

"Gotcha!" he exclaimed as he winded up a punch.

"Mrgh!" Kiki let out a muffled swear and ducked, dodging Shingo's attack. Noticing the whiff, Shingo kicked out a leg. Kiki brought both her arms up: one to defend herself and one to catch her pork bun in case she spits it out on impact. Shingo's foot connected, and he followed up with an overhead kick. The girl rolled behind him before the next hit could land. Rising to her feet, she ran past Shingo, hoping her evasion gave her enough distance. The apartment complex was in sight. Shingo caught onto Kiki's train of thought and managed to close the gap.

"This isn't over!" he cried as he reeled a fist back. With a whine, Kiki lunged forward toward the apartment complex's entrance. She stretched an arm out to the door handle, yanked it toward her, and threw herself inside the building. Though she could hear the boy shouting at her, Kiki dared to not look back. She fumbled with her keyring to get her key into the inner door's lock. Unlocking the door, Kiki dashed inside, up the stairs to the second floor, and into Iori's apartment.

She slammed the door behind her and leaned back against it. Her whole body relaxed as she slid down against the door to her butt. The pork bun she held in her mouth fell onto her lap as her jaw slacked. After a moment of catching her breath, Kiki took a bite of her bun. A small reward for a successful getaway.

Hearing the door slam, Iori peeked out from the kitchen and looked down at Kiki, "... What's with you?"

"Shingo chased me again," she replied and took another bite of the bun. "Speaking of which, mind if we skip out on training today? I'm beat."

Iori furrowed his brow. Hearing faint shouting from downstairs, he walked over to the balcony. "He's outside," he called out.

"H-Huh?!" Kiki scrambled up to her feet and joined Iori at the balcony.

Peering down at the sidewalk below, she could see Shingo waving his fist at her. "Come back down here, Cruz, and fight me!"

"Are you fucking serious," she muttered under her breath.

"You heard him,"


"If you're not going to train, go fight him," He turned to her. "He's been chasing you for the past few weeks, right? So, fight back."

Kiki rubbed the back of her neck and showed Iori a half-hearted smile, "Do you think he'll leave me alone if I beat him?"

Iori observed Shingo who was still barking up a storm like an excited puppy, "No." The smallest hint of a smile cracked on Iori's lips, "Speaking from personal experience."

"... Ah."

He nudged Kiki toward the exit. "Go on. Your rival's waiting."

Kiki pouted and wolfed down the rest of her food. Don't want that getting in the way.

As soon as Kiki emerged from the entrance, Shingo got into his fighting stance, "Done running, Cruz?"

She rubbed the back of her neck and groaned as she trudged closer to the boy, "Yeah, yeah." Placing her feet shoulder-width apart, one in front of the other, Kiki declared, "On one hand, I don't wanna do this. On the other hand," she brought her hands up and glared at him, "this is for all the times you interrupted breakfast."

The two fighters charged at each other, readying their attacks. Shingo leaped into the air, while Kiki crouched down. Shingo let out a battle cry as he launched himself leg first into Kiki, "Shingo Kick!" The girl studied his motions, waiting for the perfect moment to counterattack. But, he came at her much faster than she anticipated. Shingo hit her clean in the back of her head with his foot, knocking her down onto the pavement.

Peeking up to see that Shingo is in range, Kiki jumped up and launched an uppercut into Shingo's jaw. He let out a choked-back cry and flew back from the hit. Shingo rolled back and stood up, barely breaking a sweat. Leaping into the air again, Shingo lunged toward Kiki. She braced herself for another airborne kick, but the boy stopped short in front of her. Dropping down, Shingo swept his leg at Kiki's ankles, throwing her off her balance. He followed up with another kick, then a right hook, "Your body's weak!" Kiki stumbled back from each hit. Her head pounded from Shingo's first kick, making it difficult for her to focus. She blinked a few times, trying to get the stars out of her eyes.

Kiki stretched her hands out in front of her and bent her knees. Shingo charged at her again, winding back a fist and letting out a battle cry. As he shot out a punch, Kiki pivoted away and grabbed his outstretched arm. Yanking Shingo closer, she kneed him in the stomach and shoved him away. He stumbled as he struggled to get back on good footing. She followed up with a tackle, knocking the boy onto his back. The adrenaline rushed through her, and whatever pain she felt before subsided. "Come on!" she taunted. "Is that all?!"

With a grunt, Shingo rose to his feet, cleared his throat, and smirked at Kiki, "I'm just getting started!" The two of them charged at each other and let punches and kicks fly in a flurry. Both fighters blocked each other's hits, not letting the other land another blow. That is until one hit from Kiki connected: a right hook to Shingo's side. The punch caught him off-guard, halting his train of thought. Kiki capitalized on this by punching upwards into his chest. She followed up with another punch. Leaping forward, she ended the combo with both fists hammering downward onto him.

Kiki panted as she stumbled back. She leaned against a nearby fence and caught her breath. She glanced over and saw Shingo who, aside from his heaving chest, lay still on the ground. "I-I won...?"

Shingo groaned. Whether it was out of pain or disappointment, Kiki couldn't tell. She limped toward him and crouched beside him. Bruises started to form on his arms and his face was completely flushed. The boy heaved, "Can't believe I lost."

"It's okay," Kiki smiled and wiped the sweat off her brow. "Who knows? You might do better next time." Shingo cocked an eyebrow at that last remark. "What? You said so yourself: we're rivals." She stood and offered a hand, "This definitely isn't gonna be our last match, Shingo."

The boy's whole face lit up. He sat up and took her hand, "Same time tomorrow?"

"Sure." Pulling him up, she quipped, "Just let me eat something beforehand."

Chapter 16: Blast from the Past

"Come on, Kiki," a voice from her bedroom doorway called out to her. It was her friend and roommate, Forrest. He popped his head through the crack in the door and messed with his dyed green hair, "It's just one little break." He frowned as he observed Kiki's slumped figure at her desk chair. Textbooks and essays lay in disarray on her desk, and empty soda bottles littered the floor. A glimpse of worry shone in his green eyes, "You really look like you need one."

Craning her head up, Kiki stared in Forrest's general direction. In a tired monotone voice, she remarked, "This has to get done tonight. I can't--"

Forrest opened the door a tad wider and let himself inside the room. "There's no way you're gonna get one hundred percent on this lab report if you're this exhausted. You're better off just getting some rest, giving it your all tomorrow, and getting an eighty percent at most." Offering a hand and showing her a soft grin, Forrest said, "Now, let's get you into the living room. Kai's been hyping up this tournament for god knows how long. Might as well see what all the fuss is about, right?"

With a shrug and defeated sigh, Kiki took Forrest's hand. He guided her out of her bedroom and onto the couch in front of the television. Kai was already there at the edge of his seat. His blue-grey eyes were glued to the screen. A notebook lay open on his lap with a third of a page already filled with notes. He tapped the eraser end of his pencil in a rapid rhythm. Kiki sat down next to Kai, huddling her knees up close to her face. Forrest plopped himself down onto the spot next to her.

"You guys are in for a treat!" Kai said with his gaze still on the television. "They're finally broadcasting KOF to the general public, so now everyone can see the best of the best martial artists in action."

Forrest leaned back in his seat. "Now that you mention it, if this is the first time they're doing a public broadcast, how did you watch it last year?"

Kai waved his hand dismissively, "Don't worry about it. Anyway--" Finally breaking his gaze away, Kai grinned at Kiki, "--just trust me on this one. Once you see a match, you'll understand." The only response she gave was a small nod.

Commercials played on the screen, then the Satella News Network logo popped up. The screen transitioned to a live broadcast from the KOF Stadium. The reporter on the screen announced, "Here we are at the KOF Stadium where this year's King of Fighters tournament will commence! I hope all of you at home are excited as we are!"

Kai bounced in his seat. Forrest chuckled at the sight, "Jeez, man. No one's throwing punches yet and you're already this fired up?"

"I've been looking forward to this all year! How can I not be?"

The boys continued their back-and-forth and the broadcast droned on. Kiki wasn't absorbing any of it. Her attention remained unfocused until the first round of the tournament. It was a young man in a Japanese school uniform up against another young man with red hair.

"--to think he hasn't even graduated high school yet!" One reporter remarked.

"I wouldn't say that to his face if I were you, Jane," the other reporter joked, "You might get burned!"

Kiki perked up and blinked her vision into focus. The schoolboy threw a punch at the red-haired man, and was his fist on fire? He threw another punch, and yup, that was definitely fire Kiki saw. He finished off with a roundhouse kick, sending the red-haired man flying across the stage. Kiki's eyes widened as she instinctively leaned forward.

"Told you so." Kai's comment snapped Kiki out of her trance. He continued, "So, who's got your attention?"

"Uh," her mouth hung open as she kept watching the fight. "The schoolboy. Yeah. Him. Who is he?"

Kai smirked as he flipped his notebook open to an earlier page. "Well, my dear Kiki," he handed her the notebook and pointed at its header, "that is Kyo Kusanagi. Twenty years old, still attends high school, and wields the legendary Kusanagi flames."

Kiki took the notebook and skimmed over Kai's written notes. Small sketches of Kyo filled two pages. Each diagram had short captions and numbers Kiki did not quite understand. On top of that, there also seemed to be notes about his height, weight, birthday, favorite food...? "... Did you have to be this thorough?"

Forrest looked over Kiki's shoulder and studied the notes, "Man, he won the past two years? He must be pretty strong."

"Yes, very," Kai replied. Kiki noticed Kai had pulled out another notebook and written in it while she was not paying attention. "From what I can tell, his team has a ninety-two percent chance of winning this year too."

Kiki handed the notebook back to Kai. "All that and the guy doesn't even have a high school diploma, huh?"

"Something going on in that head of yours?" asked Kai. Kiki shook her head without a word and turned her attention back to the television.

The match continued: Kyo and his opponent exchanged blows; the two of them showed no signs of backing down. The red-haired man lunged forward and attempted to grab Kyo, but he sidestepped away. As a counterattack, Kyo let out a fiery punch, knocking his opponent away. He then raised his hand up in the air; a red-orange aura surrounded him. As his opponent got back up on his feet, Kyo unleashed a large blast of flame, bringing him down for the count.

"And there we have it, folks!" One of the reporters announced. "Team Japan wins the first round!"

The camera pointed at Kyo: he ignited a flame at his fingertip, blew it out, and winked. "Got burned?"

Forrest scoffed, "Cocky bastard. Just because he was the champ for the past two years doesn't mean he's gotta act all high and mighty. Right, Kiki?" He glanced at her and noticed she didn't turn to acknowledge him "Kiki?"

She sat still with her eyes wide and a small smile brightening up her visage, "So cool..."

With a snort, Forrest ruffled Kiki's hair, "Glad you're enjoying yourself."

That seemed so long ago. Kiki thought.


Snapped out of her daydreaming, she spun around and looked in the direction of the voice that called out to her.

Iori stood at the doorway of the bedroom, staring at her with his usual piercing glare, "You were already up?"

"Uh, y-yeah," Combing through her bed head with her fingers, Kiki mumbled, "Sorry, Mr. Yagami. Was just thinking about stuff. I didn't realize what time it was. What is the time, anyway?"

"Around nine," Iori declared and began to walk away. "I made fish and rice for breakfast. I already ate, so the rest is for you."

With a bow, Kiki said, "Thanks, Mr. Yagami." She got out of bed and headed to the coffee table in the living room where her breakfast was already set. As she ate, she could hear Iori washing his dishes in the kitchen. The pair did their activities in silence. Kiki stared out the glass balcony door as she munched on bits of fried fish and rice. Her mind started to wander back to her memories of before coming to Japan. Before she could dwell on them, Iori joined her at the table.

"You seem off today," he observed.

"S-Sorry," Kiki squeaked as she popped a bite of rice into her mouth. "I was just thinking about stuff this morning."

"So you've said."

"I just..." her words trailed off as she tried to think of how to express herself. "I just wanted to say 'thanks.'" A warm smile spread across her face. "I really appreciate everything you've done for me the past couple of months, Mr. Yagami."

He cocked an eyebrow at her, "Is this related to what you were thinking about earlier?"

With a nod, Kiki answered, "Yeah, in a way. KOF really changed my life, and me participating in it is possible because you took me in."

"More like because you forced yourself into my life," grumbled Iori. "Did you already forget Kyo was the actual reason you came here in the first place?"

Kiki rubbed the back of her neck and laughed, "No, of course not! I'm grateful to Kyo too, but you're the one who's been training me."

"Again, because you forced my hand." Iori rested his chin on his palm as he leaned on the table, "You have nothing to thank me for."

"Okay, okay," Kiki waved her hand dismissively, "even if that's all true, you didn't kick me out of your life. That's gotta count for something." Iori sighed and stayed silent. "See?" A devilish smirk spread across Kiki's face, "So, with that, thanks for letting me stay, Iorin~"

He reached out a hand and pinched her cheek, "I told you to not call me that."

"Respect your elders!" Kiki cried.

"Respect your teacher," Iori quipped.

Kiki let out a short laugh and grinned, "Mr. Yagami?"

"What now?"

"Just wanted to say 'thanks' again," her voice and expression softened. "I haven't felt this happy in a long time. So, thanks. It's been fun."

"Hmph," Standing up from the coffee table, Iori patted Kiki's head and walked to the front door. "Time for band practice. Want me to pick up something for lunch?"

"Yes, please!"

With a wave, Iori exited the apartment, leaving Kiki to the rest of her breakfast alone. Once again, she looked out the balcony door at the bright blue horizon. For the first time in a long time, Kiki felt at home.

Chapter 17: Birthday Buddies

"Did I ever tell you my birthday is next week?" Kiki asked as she and Iori walked back to his apartment from the supermarket.

The man glanced down at her for a moment, then turned his attention back to the road ahead, "No."

Kiki grinned, "Well, it is. December seventh. Mark it down!" She punctuated her last sentence with a wink and a finger gun. With no reaction from Iori, she shrugged, "Anyway, I'm saying this now because I've got a favor to ask, Mr. Yagami."

"Go on."

"Mind if we skip out on training that day?" She hung her head low, "I understand if that's out of line to ask, considering that we've been following a strict schedule this entire time, and--"

"It's fine."

Kiki blinked, "Wait, for real? Are you sure?" Iori nodded, and the girl's expression brightened. "Awesome! Thank you so so so much, Mr. Yagami! I didn't expect you to say 'yes' at all, so I didn't have any huge plans or anything, but now that I do have the day off I have so many things I wanna do, and--"

Iori placed a hand over her mouth, "Calm down."

She pried his hand away and stuck her tongue out at him, "Anyway, there's another reason I want the day off."

He cocked an eyebrow at her, "And that would be?"

"Well, uh," Kiki hesitated for a moment, "it's just that Kyo's birthday is coming up too--"

Iori glared down at her, "Kyo?"

"Don't." She gave him a stern look, "I was planning on buying a present for him once I'm done celebrating my own birthday. So, don't kill him before he turns another year older, or else I'll be sad." Kiki put on puppy-dog eyes and pouted, "And you wouldn't want to make your poor, little disciple sad, right, Iorin?"

"What did I say about you calling me that?" Iori asked as he pinched Kiki's cheek with his free hand. "What you've told me is not going to sway my actions. You do as you please, and I'll do the same."

Kiki's brow furrowed as she tried to interpret his words, "So, does that mean you're still gonna try to kill him, or...?"

"I will if I feel like it."

"... 'Yes' is a shorter answer, Mr. Yagami."

Kiki knelt down and laced up her high-tops at the front entrance, "Are you sure you don't wanna tag along, Mr. Yagami? I think it would be fun."

"Do you really expect me to accompany you in buying Kyo a birthday present?" Iori asked as he sat on the couch and strummed his bass.


He rolled his eyes at her.

"Suit yourself," Kiki said with a shrug. She rose to her feet and finger-gunned Iori, "Catch you later, Mr. Yagami! I'll try to get home before midnight."

He waved goodbye but didn't even bother to look up from his bass. Once Kiki left the apartment and shut the door behind her, Iori waited for a few moments and put his bass away. He entered the kitchen, picked up the phone, and dialed a number. "Mizushima? It's me. I need you for something."

Kiki weaved her way through the large wave of pedestrians and emerged from the train station. Tall skyscrapers surrounded her and bright, colorful lights flashed on billboards. Roars of car engines and chatter from the sea of people filled the air. "Aw, yeah! Dotonbori, here I am!" Kiki cheered. "Man, I don't know where to start," she thought aloud as she wandered the lively streets, "Maybe Kiryu Ramen? Nah, I always get ramen with Iori. Maybe Hariju...? Not sure if I'm in the mood for beef, though."

She walked alongside the Dotonbori Canal, hoping to find a place to sate her hunger. It was then she caught a glimpse of a giant crab on one of the buildings on the other side of the canal. "Kani Doraku!" she squealed. "Man, crab sure does sound good right now." She dashed ahead but stopped when she saw a familiar face by the bridge. "Kyo!" She ran over to him, waved her arms, and called his name over and over.

Finally catching his attention, Kyo met her at the foot of the bridge, "Hey, Kiki. What are you up to?"

"Heh, that's my line," she remarked. "It's my birthday today, so I was gonna treat myself to some crab at Kani Doraku."

Kyo surveyed the area with slight concern, "Yagami's not with you, is he?"

Kiki giggled and shook her head, "Nah. After I mentioned I'd also be out buying you a birthday gift, he--" She slapped both hands over her mouth, "I mean...! Uh, forget you heard that last thing! I wasn't gonna surprise you with a birthday gift! Nope, not at all!"

"Whatever you say, Kiki," he said with a smirk.

"So," she cocked her head at him, "what're you up to?"

"Meeting up with my girlfriend for a date," Kyo replied.

"Girlfriend?!" Kiki cried. "Well, I shouldn't be too surprised. I'd be more shocked if you didn't have one. With how handsome you are and all."

"Flattering me now, are you?" Kyo chuckled, "Please, Kiki, I just said I'm taken."

"Dude, stop~!" Kiki playfully shoved him.

As the pair continued to joke around, a voice called out to Kyo in the distance, "Kyo! Over here!" The two of them looked over and saw a young woman with short brown hair heading toward them.

Kyo's eyes brightened as he zoomed right to her; Kiki tailed behind him. "Yuki!" he greeted, "You ready to go?"

The woman, Yuki, nodded. "Yeah, but," she stared at Kiki and placed her hands on her hips, and got up in Kyo's face, "Are you going to introduce me or what?"

Kyo rolled his eyes, "Jeez, calm down, will ya?" He nodded to Kiki, "That's Kiki. Kiki, this is Yuki, my girlfriend."

Kiki bowed to her, "Nice to meet you, Yuki."

"No need to be so formal!" Yuki grinned, "It's nice to meet you too."

"She's Yagami's disciple," said Kyo, "and this is gonna be a shock to the both of you, but we've actually known each other for about ten years or so."

The two girls looked at each other, then back at Kyo, wide-eyed. "What?!" they exclaimed in unison.

"What do you mean?" Kiki asked. "Sure, I've lived in Japan for a bit, but it's not like we were going to the same school or anything."

"That's because we didn't," clarified Kyo. "You were in middle school and I was in elementary, after all. We met at the arcade."

"The arcade...?" Kiki tapped her chin as she tried to remember. When realization struck her, she shook her head in disbelief, "No way. No no no way! You were that Kyo?!"

Chapter 18: Blast from the Past II: Electric Boogaloo

She entered the building and took off her soaking-wet blazer. Inside the establishment, large machines with joysticks and colorful buttons stood in rows. Electronic beeps, boops, and jingles were playing from each machine. Different games were displayed on their screens. "Huh, the arcade?" Kiki hung her head as she thought aloud, "I'm not even close to home yet." She stuck her arm into her bag, dug underneath pages of homework and textbooks, and found a handful of coins. "Maybe I'll play a game while I wait for the rain to go away."

She walked over to one of the Pac-Man machines near the entrance, making sure to also get a good view outside. Before taking her seat, she glanced at the front window one more time; no signs of the rain letting up. With a sigh, Kiki draped her blazer over the back of the chair, sat down, and inserted a coin into the slot.

The screen loaded up with the maze, pellets, ghosts, and the titular Pac-Man himself. After the opening jingle played, Kiki jerked the joystick to the left and grabbed pellets in her path. She cleaned out the entire bottom-left corner of the board, save for a Power Pellet, and moved onto the right side. Making sure no ghosts surrounded her, Kiki leaned over to check up on the weather outside. Still raining. She continued to play, checking the front window every few minutes for updates on the storm.

Before grabbing the last few pellets on the board, someone burst through the arcade doors. Making sure she was in a safe corner of the maze, Kiki peeked at the entrance again and saw a boy drenched from the storm. He was dwarfed in size compared to the arcade cabinets around him. His white button-up shirt, black shorts, suspenders, and school bag were completely drenched. Must be from one of the local elementary schools, Kiki thought. As much as Kiki wanted to greet the boy, the maze loaded up with pellets for the second board. She quickly moved the joystick to the left and began her routine maze clearing again.

When she cleared the bottom-left corner of the maze, a voice shouted beside Kiki. "Wow, you're super good!"

She jumped and lost focus for a split second. A ghost headed straight for her, but a swift pull of the joystick made her avoid it in the nick of time. Letting out a sigh of relief, she glanced next to her. The boy from earlier grinned at her, unaware of what his distraction almost did. Putting on a polite smile, Kiki replied, "Uh, thanks." and put her focus back on the game. "You startled me there, though," she remarked. "Try to stay quiet, okay?"

"Hehe, okay," the boy whispered.

Though Kiki was back in her groove, she could still feel the boy's eyes on her and the game. It was distracting, to say the least. Despite this, she managed to clear the maze and move on to the next board.

"Nice one!" the boy cried.

Kiki looked at the boy again, and sure enough, that large grin was still plastered on his face. "Thanks," she said.

"Can I try?" he asked.

Kiki glanced at the screen. She still had all her lives intact, and she was only doing this to kill time anyway. She shrugged and rose from her seat, "All yours."

"Yes!" The boy hopped in the seat and leaned in close to the screen. Kiki stood next to him and observed. The boy moved around in random parts of the maze, including places where there were no pellets left. Random patches of pellets were scattered across the board. He also nabbed all the Power Pellets even though no ghosts were even close to his tail at any point. Kiki face-palmed when three ghosts drove the boy into a corner and caught him.

"Aw man..." the boy groaned.

"Alright, alright," Kiki swatted him away from his seat. "Step aside. Lemme show you how an expert does it."

The boy slid off the chair and Kiki took his place. Once Pac-Man respawned on the maze, Kiki went to work. She moved to the bottom-left side, clearing away all the pellets the boy missed during his run. "It helps if you clear the maze section by section," she explained. "I usually start from the bottom-left then go around from there."

"Oh...!" The boy stared wide-eyed at the screen as Kiki started to clear the rest of the bottom part of the maze. As Kiki headed up to the top half, a ghost zoomed straight for her. "Watch out!"

Kiki smirked and turned to the tunnel on the right, sending her to the other side of the maze.

The boy's jaw dropped, "Woah, I didn't know you could do that!"

With a nod, Kiki explained as she grabbed more pellets, "Yeah, those tunnels are useful. If a ghost's chasing me, I try to get there as fast as possible." She continued to nab pellets and avoid ghosts, and before she knew it, the maze was cleared.

"That was awesome!" the boy cheered.

"See?" Kiki held up a peace sign and proclaimed, "Expert." She took a peek outside and the rain had finally stopped. "Well, time to go home," she said as she got off the chair and grabbed her blazer.

"Hey, wait!" The boy caught her by the sleeve of her shirt. "Can we play together tomorrow too? I wanna be as good as you!"

"You sure?" Kiki smirked at him, "You're gonna be learning from an expert. I'm not gonna go easy on you."

The boy nodded over and over, "Yeah! I'm ready!"

"Don't say I didn't warn you," Kiki held out her hand, "I'm Kiki. What's your name?"

The boy took her hand in his, "I'm Kyo!"

"Well, Kyo-kun. From this day forward, I'm your teacher, and you're my student."

"Man, you and that kid were the same person this entire time," Kiki laughed to herself. "Dude, you were so bad at Pac-Man! Honestly, that day when we met, I wanted to bully you 'til you cried."

"Oh, really?" Kyo pinched her cheek. "I'd like to see you try now."

"Ow ow ow!" Kiki cried. Kyo snickered and let her go. She stuck out her tongue at him in retaliation. "It's still hard to believe it's you," she sighed. "With what you said and gave to me before I moved to America, I never would've guessed--" she glanced at Yuki and caught herself, "--uh, anyway, I'm off!" Kiki began to leave, waving at the couple, "Kani Doraku's calling my name! Until next time, Kyo-kun~"

"D-Don't call me that!" A slight blush tinged Kyo's cheeks, "It's embarrassing!"

Yuki giggled and waved back, "Bye! It was nice meeting you!"

Kiki sat in silence as she munched on slices of crab sashimi and ruminated on memories of Kyo. She pulled the thin chain of her necklace from underneath her shirt. As she examined the gold-painted plastic ring attached to it, she frowned.

"You said you'd wait. Idiot."

Chapter 19: Matters of the Heart: Kiki's Side

"I'm home," Kiki announced as she returned to Iori's apartment. Iori lay on the couch, reading a novel.

He took a quick glance at her then looked back down at his book, "Welcome back." Without a word, Kiki trudged over to the bedroom. Iori cocked an eyebrow, set his book down on the coffee table, and followed her. He peeked into the room and saw her flat on her back on the bed. "What's with you?" he asked.

"Nothing," she replied as she kept her eyes on the ceiling. Iori remained at the doorway. Kiki pouted, "It's about Kyo, alright? It's not like you'd care, though."

"Unless it's something that will help me kill him, I won't care," he shrugged, "But I'll humor you. Tell me about it."

"Man, where do I even start?" Kiki sat up and rubbed the back of her neck as she contemplated what to say. With a wry laugh, she began, "Probably should mention me and Kyo were friends when we were kids, huh?"


Kiki recounted her meeting with Kyo and Yuki and how she and Kyo were childhood friends. "And look at this!" She fished out her ring pendant from underneath her shirt. "He gave this to me before I moved to America."

Iori squinted at the ring, "And?"

"What do you mean 'and'?" Heat rose to Kiki's cheeks. "Do I gotta spell it out for you?" When Iori answered with a blank stare, Kiki pouted. "He told me he'd wait for me. And when I came back, we would... We would get..." She shook her head vigorously, "Argh! This is too embarrassing to explain to you! It should be obvious what I'm getting at, right?"

With a groan, Iori pinched the bridge of his nose, "You're being overdramatic."

Kiki sighed, "Look, I know I shouldn't be bothered by him getting a girlfriend. It's not like we were dating at all. We were just kids, but..." She grumbled, "Man, I dunno. Mr. Yagami, what do you think?"

Iori shook his head, "You shouldn't be preoccupied with something so insignificant. What's done is done."

"I guess..."

He kept his eyes on the girl, waiting for her to lighten up, even by a little bit. When that moment didn't come, he spoke, "Hey." She raised her head; her expression was still downtrodden. "Stay right there and close your eyes. Don't open them until I tell you to."

She cocked her head at him then closed her eyes, "Okay?" The sound of Iori's footsteps faded out in the direction of the living room. After a few moments of silence, his footsteps came back.

He placed a small box wrapped in plain white wrapping paper on her lap. "Open."

Kiki looked down at the box and lifted it up gently as she examined it. She cocked her head at Iori, "A present?" With a simple nod from him, Kiki's face brightened. "Aw, Mr. Yagami, you didn't have to do that. I mean, I still appreciate it and all, but--"

"Just open it already."

With a nod, she peeled off the wrapping paper and took off the box's lid. Inside was a Kyo plush. Kiki's eyes widened, "Oh my gosh, it's so cute!" She held the plush close to her chest and beamed, "I love it. Thanks, Mr. Yagami!"

"Whatever," He patted her head. "Go to sleep. It's getting late."

Kiki beamed at him, "Will do!" With that, Iori left the room and closed the door behind him. Kiki listened closely, waiting for Iori to be out of earshot. When he was, she flopped back down onto the bed and squeezed the plush close to her chest. She lifted the plush up into the air and looked into its eyes. Her face grew red as she brought it back down and kissed it on the lips. She frowned. God, I'm so pathetic.

Chapter 20: Matters of the Heart: Iori's Side

Iori brushed his thumb along the strings of his bass as he gazed out the glass door of the balcony. The crescent moon shone against the black sky along with the bright city lights of Osaka. Faint honks of car horns blared from the streets below. Rumbles of trains on their tracks reverberated through the neighborhood. On nights like these (or any night, for that matter), he'd contemplate whatever is eating away at his brain at the time. What Kiki had told him earlier happened to be that.

Her and Kyo... Friends? Iori scowled at the thought. She was excited about that gift. Too excited. What is it about Kyo that she-- He groaned and shook his head. Why his mind wandered to her of all people perplexed him. His thoughts wandered back to earlier that afternoon. As he reminisced, his fingertips pressed firmly against his bass's neck. "This is all Mizushima's fault."

Iori stood behind the apartment complex and took a drag of a cigarette. He exhaled as he stared up at the gray clouds rolling across the sky. A trail of smoke rose into the chill winter air alongside his warm breaths. He checked his watch: a few minutes after eight. He should be here soon, Iori thought. As if on cue, Iori spotted Yuta approaching him with a shopping bag in hand.

"Yo! Yagami!" Yuta waved to him and dug through the bag. He pulled out a Kyo plush and tossed it to Iori. "Catch!"

Without averting his gaze from Yuta, Iori caught the plush one-handed with ease. He examined his catch from all angles, narrowed his eyes at it, and squeezed it with all his might.

"Save that for KOF, Yagami," Yuta laughed. "Anyway, one Kyo Kusanagi plush for your girlfriend, as requested."

Iori stuffed the toy into his coat pocket. "She's not my girlfriend," he retorted.

Without missing a beat, Yuta asked, "So, she's fair game?"

Iori glared at him.

"Use your words, Yagami," he chuckled.

Iori paused for a moment then smirked, "She's too young for you."

"How young are we talking?" Yuta mused.


"Another five or six years, then? Yeah, I can wait," Yuta snickered at his joke, and Iori elbowed him in the arm. Unfazed, Yuta continued, "But, seriously. You sure you don't like her that way? At least a little bit?"

"I don't," he replied, taking another drag of his cigarette.

Yuta shrugged, "I'll take your word for it, then. But," he locked eyes with Iori. "What if I was being serious?"

Iori cocked an eyebrow at him.

"If I was actually into her," he began, "what would you do?"

Iori gritted his teeth, "Why does it matter?"

"You're avoiding the question."

"Because it's trivial."

Yuta's voice softened, "Iori--"

"Drop it already."

"Fine, fine," Yuta patted Iori on the shoulder and held out a hand. "Anyway, I held up my end of the bargain, so cough up." He punctuated that last part with a wink.

"Hmph," Iori pulled out his wallet and handed Yuta a couple of bills from it.

"Thank you, my dearest Iorin," He teased as he counted them. Satisfied with his compensation, Yuta stuffed the bills in his back pocket. "I'll be seeing you next week at the studio then." He began to saunter away, but looked back over his shoulder and grinned, "Keep what I said in mind, Yagami. And remember that good ol' Yuta's always got your back, okay?"

Iori shook his head and ambled toward the front entrance of the apartment complex, "Yeah, yeah."

Iori remained wrapped up in his thoughts, Kiki and Kyo... He let out a growl of frustration. Where the hell did that come from?! She said he has a girlfriend so why...? His jaw clenched. Why does that even matter? Iori put his bass back in its case and got up from the floor. As he rose to his feet, a thought nagged at him, prompting him to turn his attention to the bedroom door. For a moment, he considered going there. He would go into the bedroom, check on Kiki, then... Then what? A groan escaped his throat. He unbuttoned his shirt and sprawled onto the couch. I need sleep.

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