Note: Japanese words in the original version are written in italics here.
The streets of Sapporo were filled with hundreds of people, tourists and natives alike, who had all come for the opening of the cherry blossom viewing season that heralded the coming of spring. The 1500 plus cherry trees that had made Murayama Park famous as the best site for cherry blossom viewing swayed gently in the wind, turning the entire park into a fragrant pink pavilion. Some visitors milled about to marvel at the blossoms while others had settled under the trees with food and wine. As part of the festival this year, Hokkaido had been chosen as the site of an exhibition fight that was open to all levels of mixed martial artists. Fighters from all over the world, as well as MMA enthusiasts had flocked to the city, eager to both show their skills and to size up the talent from across the globe. Today, they would enjoy the scenic beauty of the park. Tomorrow would mark the first day of the exhibition.
Ramen stands peppered the city, their owners hoping to capitalize on the influx of tourists. At one of them, a blonde couple was sitting at the makeshift counter. Though the slim, elegant woman picked at her noodles, her significant other was eating with gusto, shoveling ramen with incredible speed into his mouth with his chopsticks. His girlfriend sighed and attempted to wipe his face with a napkin, which did little to deter his enthusiasm.
"Ken, please slow down. You'll choke!"
"No way," he mumbled through a mouthful of noodles. "Babe, you don't understand, the packaged stuff doesn't hold a candle to the real thing." He downed the soup at the bottom of the bowl and shouted to the old man behind the counter, "Hey! Gramps! Keep it coming!" He let out a loud belch and sighed contentedly while his girlfriend made a face. "Reminds me of visiting my grandparents as a kid, I don't think I ate anything else."
"Until Master Gouken made you eat plain food."
Ken turned around at the sound of the familiar voice and his face broke into a wide grin. "Ryu, how you been, Buddy?" He gave him a friendly punch on the shoulder as a greeting.
"Good," Ryu replied. "Good day, Eliza," he said, bowing in her direction.
"Oh for Chrissake, it's just Eliza!" Ken laughed. "Lighten up, Ryu."
"What do you mean just?" Eliza retorted, shooting him a look.
"Hey what's with the Japanese, man? You gotta keep practicing your English, you still got that accent - Oof!" Ken rubbed his ribs where Eliza's elbow had just planted itself.
"Sorry," Ryu said. "I will try to do better."
"And stop apologizing all the time, will ya?" Ken ran his hand through his blonde mop. "You'd think after all these years you'd loosen up."
"My apologies." Ken slapped his forehead while Eliza giggled.
"Dude, are you wearing jeans?" Ken had almost failed to notice that Ryu was wearing modern clothing. Instead of his usual tattered karate uniform, Ryu sported a plain white T-shirt, cross trainers and a pair of jeans, but his trademark red headband remained. Ken nodded approvingly. "Welcome to the 21st century man."
"I did not wish to attract any unnecessary attention," Ryu explained.
"Contractions, man, use contractions," Ken instructed. His tone brightened. "You psyched about the matches tomorrow?" He jumped on Ryu and grabbed him in a playful choke hold. "Not that you get psyched about much anyway, not to mention that we both know who's the best fighter around." His attention was diverted by something behind Ryu. "Hey! It's that Chinese chick - Ow!" He glared at Eliza. "What'd I say now?"
"Don't say 'chick', sweetie," Eliza admonished. "It's sounds uncouth."
"Moi? Uncouth? I'm outraged!" Ken leaned over to Ryu and mumbled out of the corner of his mouth, "Hey, what does uncouth mean, bro?"
"I don't know," Ryu muttered in reply. He turned to look at the woman his friend had pointed out. He had seen her compete in several tournaments, but neither he nor Ken had ever fought her, despite her reputation as one of the most skilled female martial artists in the world. She usually competed in a blue qipao, but today she was simply attired in a white sundress. The ribbons that held her hair in place danced lightly in the breeze. She plucked a blossom from the tree nearest her and pondered on it before delicately inhaling its scent. Seeing her this way, out of her fighting garb, Ryu felt a strange air of sadness about her.
Ken threw an arm around Eliza. "Good thing you're so hot, Baby," he drawled. "If I was a free man, I'd have to go over there and introduce myself."
"If you were a free man, she'd probably not be into loudmouth three quarter Japanese guys whose eyebrows are a different color than their hair," Eliza shot back.
"Oh I don't know, Babe," Ken chuckled. "You never seemed to mind that the curtains don't match the drapes." He noticed that Ryu was still studying the lady. "Wey-hey-hell, maybe she'd like a quiet, all Japanese guy, eh Ryu? You should go talk to her. She looks like she can handle you."
"That's okay," Ryu demurred. "I – Hey! Where are you going?"
Ken was already walking towards the woman. "Just going over to say hi," he waved nonchalantly with a wink.
"Idiot!" Ryu hissed under his breath. "Get back here!" But he was too late. Ken had begun to engage her in his usual lively way and he managed to elicit a small smile from the lady. Much to Ryu's dismay, he began walking her back to the ramen stand.
"Lady, gentleman, allow me to introduce Ms. Chun Li. Chun Li, this is my girlfriend Eliza." She gave a small bow in her direction. "And this is my good friend, Ryu."
"Yes, I know," she replied with a small smile. "You've won many tournaments so your reputation precedes you." Ken seemed a bit annoyed that she acknowledged only Ryu's fighting skills. Up close, Ryu could see that she was actually quite tall, only a few inches shorter than him in her ballet shoes.
"Thank you," Ryu said, bowing towards her. "You have quite a reputation for winning as well." She smiled at his compliment, and this time her smile reached her eyes, which were a warm brown color.
"So," Ken broke in loudly," I was telling Chun here that we should show her around since you know the area so well. Not much time left before the matches start, right, Ryu?" He clapped his friend loudly on the back. "We should all go to dinner tonight somewhere nice. You pick the place, Buddy and we'll go there. All the fighters are staying at the same hotel se we can all just meet there." He smiled broadly, obviously quite pleased with himself.
Bowing, Chun Li explained that she had a matter to attend to and thanked the group for their invitation. As she walked away, Ken hooted gleefully but then stopped abruptly when he noticed the glum look on Ryu's face. "Yo, you should be thanking me, man. I took care of the hard part."
Ryu sighed. "It can't be helped. I will try to find a suitable place to eat."
"Pick a pricey joint," Ken encouraged. "Dinner's on me! Come on, Babe," he said, steering Eliza away. "I think I need a nap after all that ramen."
Back at the hotel, Chun Li opened her laptop to check her email. The screen read one new message. "Damn," she whispered, after reading it. Closing the screen, she stood up and walked to the bathroom. She needed a shower before going to dinner, and tomorrow was going be a long day. Slipping her sundress over her head, she turned the faucet on and stepped into the shower stream.
Ryu unlocked the door to his room and stepped inside. Ken could be so ridiculous at times, but like it or not, he could not be rude, so he set about brainstorming ideas of places to eat. There was a traditional Japanese inn that had a very nice quaint feel to it. They could all have dinner inside one of the rooms and since they provided robes, he wouldn't have to wear western clothing, which was a plus. As he took off his shoes one by one he still wondered how it could feel so foreign to him, but his thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a keening scream from down the hall. It was a woman's voice. Dropping his sneaker, he ran out of the room into the hallway. Following the sound, he stopped in front of the door that the noise was emanating from and by the sound of things, there was one hell of a fight going on inside. The sound of breaking furniture coupled with the shouting of the people inside was becoming more and more frenzied. Turning the knob, he found the door was still locked. "Hey!" he shouted into the door, "are you okay in there?" There was no answer as the ruckus inside continued unabated. "Shit!" Rearing back, he kicked the door in and was greeted by the sight of Chun Li desperately trying to simultaneously fight and cover her naked body with a towel, and neither battle was going well. Her attacker was masked and he slashed at her with a three pronged set of blades attached to his right hand. With a cry, he lunged at her and tore the tattered remains of her hotel issued towel away from her. Instinctively, she covered her bloody body with her arms and the masked man shot forward, attempting to take advantage of her vulnerability.
Closing her eyes, Chun Li crouched close to the ground covering her breasts and awaited the blow to come but they flew open when she heard a second voice.
She looked up to see Ryu jump between her and her masked opponent. Dodging the blades, he delivered a swift barrage of punches, knocking the man's mask off his face. One of his punches connected squarely with his nose, causing her assailant to reel back.
"MY FACE!" he screamed shrilly. "You hit my beautiful FACE!" Blood began to trickle from his nose. Holding his face with his free hand, he turned and fled the room.
Ryu knelt by Chun Li who was still trying to maintain some semblance of modesty and scooped her up. Her cuts were so numerous that her blood quickly soaked his t-shirt. "Are you alright?" She gave no answer and went limp in his arms.
"What the fuck are you doing?!" roared a voice from behind him. Ryu turned with the unconscious Chun in his arms to see a very large man with a blonde flattop dressed in camo fatigue trousers and a wife beater that was altogether two sizes too small for him. "What did you do to her?" he demanded, running into the room.
"No, I - ." His sentence was cut short as the large man's fist attempted to land on his face. "Stop!" It was becoming harder and harder to dodge while holding Chun Li.
A small voice stopped them both in their tracks. "Guile," she whispered, "it's okay. He wasn't the one who did this to me."
Guile covered her body with a sheet. "Who did this?"
"A masked man with a large snake tattoo on his chest and arm," Ryu answered, laying Chun Li down on the mattress of her bed.
"That fucker, Vega again!" Guile growled. "Chun Li!" She slipped out of consciousness again. "Go get some hot water and clean towels!" he shouted at Ryu. "I'll be right back."
Minutes later, Guile had cleaned and closed most of Chun Li's wounds with sticking plaster. Fortunately, only a few of the cuts required stitches, which he sutured expertly despite having such large fingers. Without looking up from his work, he asked, "And you are?"
"Ryu," he replied. "I heard her scream and I came to see what happened."
Guile's face broadened in a smile. "The guy who beat Sagat? Well, between saving Chun and kicking Sagat's ass you're fine by me. I hate that guy, he's such a fucking tool." He smoothed a stray lock of hair off of Chun Li's face. "She works for Interpol. We worked on a case together a few years ago and she's been the closest thing I have to a sister since." Chun Li stirred. "Hey, Beautiful. Bad news - I had to put a few stitches in you and I'm not a plastic surgeon so it might leave a few scars."
Chun Li reached up to stroke his cheek lightly with a bandaged hand. "Shyeh shyeh, Guile."
Smiling, he patted her hand, which was dwarfed by his enormous one. "No problem, Chun. Apparently there are a couple of Shadowlaw informants lurking in this place. I'm going to go check it out." Standing up he turned to Ryu. "Look after her for now will you? Normally she's a hellcat but in her condition I don't think she can defend herself." Ryu nodded solemnly. "Rest up, Chun. And you," he looked pointedly at Ryu. "If anything happens to her there's going to be a lot more blood on that shirt of yours." With that, he sprinted out the door, the thudding of his boots echoing in the hallway.
"He is good to you," Ryu ventured.
Chun Li smiled wanly. "He's a wonderful friend. Don't let his size fool you, or his mouth. He's one of the gentlest people I know."
Ryu smiled back at her. Even with her face bruised, she was still quite lovely and he suddenly felt oddly protective of her. "Rest." Picking up the phone, he rang the front desk, informing them of what had happened. A hotel manager arrived to survey the damage.
"My most sincere apologies, Ryu-sama," he blurted. "We have a new room made up for her a few floors up."
"Good." Scooping her bandaged body gently, he took the key to the new room in his teeth and headed for the stairwell. He tried not to jostle her as he opened the door to the staircase.
"Why are you taking the stairs?" Chun asked softly.
"In case someone else is waiting to hurt you," Ryu explained as best he could with the key between his lips. He carried her effortlessly up two flights and into her new suite. He seated her on the bed and brought out a plain bathrobe from the bathroom. "Um," he hesitated, wondering if she was even strong enough to dress herself.
She smiled at him again, with understanding. "You've already seen everything, Ryu, and you don't strike me as the type to take advantage of a woman. Please, help me into it?"
"Mm," was all he could say as he nodded. He'd never seen a woman naked before, at least, not so completely. His nomadic lifestyle had never left much room for women. Though covered in bandages, her body was still beautiful, with a flat stomach and strong legs. He tried not to look at her breasts, staring up at the ceiling as he helped her into the robe. He heard a small laugh tinkle in his ears.
"Thank you for being such a gentleman, Ryu," Chun smiled.
"You are welcome," was all he could think to say. He felt his face turning red. Her skin was soft and very warm. He continued to look upwards until he finished tying the robe.
Chun watched him walk over to the phone. "Room service?" She smiled again. She liked how he talked. It sounded more like "Loom subeesoh?" He said a few sentences in Japanese and hung up the receiver. A knock came from the door and Ken peeked into the room.
"Holy crap, Ryu, what happened?" He saw Chun Li lying in the bed and ran over to her. "Are you okay?"
"I'll be fine thanks," she said cheerfully.
"Who did this?"
"A man named Bega," Ryu replied.
"You mean Vega? Blonde Spanish pansy boy who's always checking himself out?"
"He was blonde, yes."
"Well, I guess dinner's a bust then," Ken mused, shoving his hands into his pockets. "Right, well you hold down the fort. Eliza and I'll come by later to check up on you. As he walked out, Ken nudged Ryu in the ribs and waggled his eyebrows. "Hey, no playing doctor while you two are alone, okay?"
"Why would I play a doctor?" Ryu asked, looking confused.
Ryu turned on the light in the bathroom and noticed how bloody his shirt was. Pulling it off, he rinsed off some of the blood and dried himself with a towel. A knock came from the door. "Room service," a cheerful voice announced.
Opening the door, Ryu thanked the busboy and wheeled the cart inside. Chun tried to sit up. "What's this?"
Ryu lifted the cover of the tray to reveal a medium rare steak. "You lost much blood," he said matter of factly, pouring her a glass of red wine. "Here, drink. It will help you feel stronger." He began cutting the meat into small bites.
Chun Li felt like the whole experience was all too surreal. Arguably the most talented martial artist in the world was sitting shirtless in front of her trying to feed her. It was endearing how everything he did appeared to require his full concentration. He was completely focused on the steak. Sensing her gaze, he looked up. "What is it?" He asked.
"Nothing. I'm just grateful for your help," she replied as he held out a forkful of steak to her. She was rewarded with a genuine smile.
After Ken and Eliza had left, Chun had fallen asleep. Ryu sat on the floor samurai style, attempting to meditate. Typically this had never been a problem for him, but his thoughts kept straying to the events of the day. Behind him, he heard her murmuring indistinctly in Mandarin. Talking in her sleep, she must be dreaming, he thought. All of a sudden, she screamed and her eyes flew open. Jumping to his feet, he ran to the bedside. "Are you okay?" Chun Li grabbed his arm, her eyes still staring blindly in front of her, breathing rapidly. Tears streamed from her eyes. "What's wrong? What is it?"
"No, no, please, no…" she kept muttering over and over again. Not knowing what to do, Ryu cradled her to him and stroked her hair softly. In a few minutes, she had fallen back asleep. The rhythmic sound of her soft breathing began to make him drowsy and he slipped into a deep sleep.
Ryu awoke confused. This wasn't his room. And there was someone with him in the bed. Looking down, he saw Chun Li snoring softly, her head nestled against his bare chest, her arms wrapped around his waist. Remembering the events of the night before, he felt a twinge of embarrassment sharing the same bed with her and he attempted to gently extricate himself from her grasp.
"Uh?" Chun Li's eyes fluttered open and she saw Ryu with one foot on the floor, trying to get out of bed. "Oh…"
"Ah, my most sincere apologies!" Ryu stammered. "You had a bad dream last night and…I…that is…"
Chun smiled and yawned, then winced. "It's okay, Ryu, I believe you." She almost laughed when she heard him let out an audible sigh of relief. He was actually quite handsome when embarrassed. "Are you fighting today?"
"No," he shook his head. "I will be fighting later in the week-"
He was interrupted by Guile's head as it poked through the door. "Chun, how are you fee-." Guile stopped mid sentence as he registered that Ryu was half in bed with Chun Li and not wearing a shirt. He shot him a suspicious look from beneath lowered brows.
"Not what you think, Guile," Chun Li reassured him.
"Seems to be a lot of that going around, lately," Guile muttered dryly. "As long as he's not being fresh."
"Did you find out anything?" She was eager for news.
"Oh yeah. Get this. Apparently Shadowlaw is here to find someone among the fighters. Not sure who though at this point, but apparently he's big news."
Her eyes flashed with anger. "Is he here?"
"Dunno," Guile said. "But I'll keep an eye peeled for you."
"Thanks," she said, blowing him a kiss. "You're the best."
"Don't you forget it," Guile waved, walking out the door, but not before he had glowered at Ryu warningly once more and growled, "If I catch you taking liberties with her…"
Ryu put up both his hands in a conciliatory gesture. "I meant no disrespect."
"Damn right." And with that, he was gone.
Chun Li patted comforter beside her. "You'll have to excuse him. He can be a bit overprotective at times." Ryu shifted his weight from one foot to the other uncomfortably. "It's okay, Ryu, I don't bite."
Walking slowly over to her, he perched on the edge of the bed, wishing he didn't feel quite so silly. "Who is 'he'?"
A dark shadow flitted across her pretty face. "A murderer named Bison. The heartless bastard killed my father." Her voiced trembled with barely contained rage.
"I am sorry to hear it," Ryu said sympathetically.
"What about you Ryu?" She drew her knees up to her chest and hugged them to her with her arms. "Do you have family here? Where in Japan do you call home?"
"I have no home."
"You're homeless?" The thought made Chun Li suddenly sad.
"No, no. I just never stay in the same place for very long." He gave a rueful smile.
"But what of your family?"
He was quiet for a moment before answering. "I have no family."
How sad, she thought. "What happened to them?" When he didn't answer, she chastised herself for being so nosey. He was Japanese after all, and likely not used to talking about such personal things with strangers. "I apologize, Ryu. Forget I asked."
Ryu looked at her sitting up in her bandaged state, hugging her knees, with a sad smile on her face and realized that she looked sad for him. It stirred a feeling in him that he had never known before. "No, you did nothing wrong." He looked down at his fists. "I never knew my parents. The earliest memory I have is training in the mountains with my sensei. I met Ken when he came to train with him. They are the only family I have ever known."
There was something very vulnerable about him when he said this. Suddenly, the warrior sitting next to her vanished and she saw a small boy with no one in the world and it made her heart ache for him. "I'm sorry, Ryu."
"That's okay," he said, waving his hand dismissively. "Since I have no family, I am free to go where I wish."
"And where do you wish to go?"
"Wherever there is an opponent who can help me become a stronger fighter," he replied.
She rested her chin on her knees. "Don't you ever get lonely?"
Her question struck him as odd. What was even stranger was that he had never felt lonely in his life, that he could remember, but here, sitting in her presence, he realized that was the unfamiliar feeling that he was experiencing. "No, never."
Chun Li tilted her head to one side as she searched his face. "What gives you meaning in life, then?"
Another strange question. "Fighting, training. Trying to become the best fighter there is, to be strong." The answer had always come easily to him, but for some reason, when she asked him the question, his answer felt somewhat empty to him.
She closed her eyes and sighed. "I would be so lonely, wandering the world like that. I miss my father so much. He was the one who taught me to fight. Now I feel that I can't move forward in my life until I make Bison pay for what he did to him."
Ryu noticed a small stain appearing along the side of her white terrycloth bathrobe. "You are bleeding."
She looked at her side. "The dressing probably needs to be changed. Would you mind helping me?"
"Hai." He went into the other room and returned with fresh gauze. Chun Li untied the knot of her robe and laid on her side, facing away from him. He gently slid the robe off her hip, trying not to look at the curves of her backside, but this was difficult to do considering the wound was on her lower back. Peeling off the old dressing, he attempted to professionally apply a fresh one. He was surprised to see goose bumps rise where he touched her, and a light pink flush colored her skin. For an instant, he caught himself contemplating touching her skin, but he forced himself to clear his head. Baga! he berated himself. He had always prided himself on his self-control but he was unsettled to find his mind wandering so.
He had just finished tying her robe shut when Ken burst into the room. "Hey, buddy. Thought you needed some fresh duds so I got you this." With a grin, he brandished a black T-shirt that read Long Live Imperial Japan. "Hope it's your size!"
Ryu held the shirt awkwardly in his hand. "Ken, I cannot wear this," he mumbled.
Ken flapped his hand in a pooh-pooh gesture. "Don't be ridiculous! Nothing wrong with a little Japanese pride." As Ryu reluctantly pulled the shirt on, Ken announced, "Well, I can't stand around chatting all day. Got a fight in fifteen minutes. I think it's Dan, so it should be a good laugh, especially since I loosened one of the stitches in his pants. See ya!"
Chun Li laughed and Ryu couldn't help but smile a little. "He's very funny," she said when she had finished.
"Yes," Ryu agreed. "He is like a brother to me." He looked down at the white kanji on his shirt. His tone was embarrassed. "I apologize if this offends you."
Chun actually thought the shirt fit him quite nicely, text aside, but she simply told him that it was fine.
Amidst the sakura trees, a makeshift ring had been set up and spectators crowded and craned their necks to get a better view of the fighters. Wearing his signature red karate uniform, Ken tried to appear bored as he signed autographs.
"Masters, how the hell did you get invited to this thing?"
Ken turned around to see Dan smirking at him, his arms crossed in front of his chest. "Probably because they needed some real talent to even out the losers," he said to his pink-clad friend.
Dan scratched his forehead pointedly with his middle finger. "Imma tear you a new one, Masters."
Beat you to it, Ken thought with a smug smile. Facing off in the ring, the two men knocked their fists together as cordially as their competitive natures would allow and assumed a fighting stance.
"KEEEEEEYAHHHH!" Dan took a running start at Ken and attempted to score a few punches.
Ken easily dodged his fists and scoffed, "Is that all you got? A blind man with his arms tied behind his back would be more of a challenge than you. SHORYUKEN!"
Dan landed flat on his back and after shaking his head to clear it, he jumped on his feet again. "Oh yeah? Take this!" He ran forward and attempted a high kick to Ken's chest. As he raised his leg, a look of surprise suddenly appeared on his face as he heard a distinct ripping noise. Laughter began to grow behind him. "Eh?" Putting his head between his legs, he noticed the rent in his pants that allowed the crowd a plain view of his pink and red striped boxers. "Aw crap!" he wailed, his face turning as pink as his pants.
Ken nearly fell over laughing. "At least you color coordinate, man!" he shouted between guffaws, as Dan tried in vain to hold the hole closed. Suddenly, he felt an odd presence from the crowd. "Huh?" He surveyed the spectators, looking for the source of the strange energy. So intently was he scanning the audience, that he didn't notice Dan behind him until he had kicked his legs out from underneath him.
"Make a fool of me, will ya?" Dan spat, elbowing Ken squarely in the chest. "Now we're even." He stormed off, his rear still visible through the rip in his pants.
Ken sat up and dusted himself off. The foreign presence had gone almost as quickly as it had come. "It can't be…"
Night crept over the Sapporo and slowly the city lights illuminated the streets, forcing back the curtain of darkness. Off in the distance, a pair of red eyes watched the sight and from the dark void came a low growl, "Ryu…"
Ryu sat up suddenly in his bed and looked around the room, wondering why he felt so disturbed inside. Hearing him stir, Chun Li's voice floated sleepily from the bed above, "Are you okay?"
Settling back onto the blanket he had laid at the foot of her bed, he tried to brush off the strange sensation. "I am fine. I am sorry to wake you."
"Okay." She snuggled back into her blanket and was back asleep in an instant.
Troubled, Ryu was unable go back to sleep. Something wasn't right. He stood up quietly from the floor and went over to the window. A full moon hung low in the night sky, casting a clean silver light into the room. He looked over to see Chun Li's sleeping form bathed in a glow of moonlight and again, the feeling of loneliness washed over him, stronger this time. It confused him. There was something so calm and peaceful about being near her. It felt nice but the level of distraction she was causing him was disconcerting. She must have felt him watching her as she opened her eyes to see him staring at her. Ryu felt like he had been caught looking at something he shouldn't have. "Sorry!" he said, averting his eyes.
She smiled drowsily and patted the empty space on the bed next to her. "You don't have to sleep on the floor." Had it been any other woman, Ryu would have balked at the inappropriateness of the situation, but he was surprised to feel his heart beat faster at the offer. Sensing his hesitation, she joked, "Don't make me pull you over here. Guile will be mad if I make my injuries worse." Haltingly he approached her and after what seemed like an eternity he joined her under the covers. She settled herself in the crook of his arm. "See? It's not so bad…" Her voice trailed off as she drifted back to sleep. Feeling her warm body curled up against his, Ryu knew that he would not fall asleep for some time.
The next morning, Chun Li awoke to the sound of running water. "Ryu?"
"Good morning." Ryu emerged from the bathroom holding a large fluffy towel. "Would you like a bath?"
Chun Li couldn't help but smile at his kind and solicitous gesture. She held her hand out to him and he supported her as she walked to the bathroom. Inside, the tub had been filled with bubble bath. Ryu gestured fraternally to the tub and again staring at the ceiling, he helped her in after she let her robe fall. Now that she was sitting in a pile of foam, it was easier for him to look at her. Tilting her head back he gently ran warm water over her hair. He was shocked to find that it made him smile to hear her sigh contentedly as he gingerly washed her long brown tresses. "You spoil me, " she murmured happily. He couldn't help a smile of his own, and continued to wash her hair in silence. He dried her off as respectfully as he could and helped her into a set of hotel pajamas. Her hair wrapped in a towel, he sat her back on her bed and wheeled over a tray with pieces of toast and coffee. "You'd make a wonderful father," she said warmly. Ryu stopped buttering a piece of toast and seemed lost in thought. "Did I say something wrong?" Chun asked.
"No," he reassured her with a smile. "I just never thought of being a father before." A knock at the door interrupted their conversation. "Hai?"
Guile strode into the room, and seeing Chun Li smiling, his steely gaze softened. Kissing her lightly on her cheek in greeting, he asked, "How are you feeling?"
"Better now," she said, chewing on a piece of toast. "It's nice when you have your very own nurse."
"Well, things seem to have quieted down a bit. I imagine you need some rest, eh Ryu?" Guile observed. Chun Li felt a small wave of disappointment. Ryu cleared his throat and nodded stiffly. "I got babysitting duty today, man," he said jovially. "You go do what you gotta do."
"I thank you," Ryu said bowing. "Goodbye, my friends." Chun Li again felt another twinge of disappointment. He seemed to have no desire to stay longer with her. Her thoughts were not lost on Guile.
"You like this guy," he told her, when Ryu was out of earshot.
Chun Li felt the blood rise in her cheeks. "I do not, I'm just grateful to him for being so kind to me."
"Don't bullshit me, Chun. I saw the look on your face when he left." He smiled at her. "Can't say I'm not a little jealous." She blushed furiously again. His tone became serious for a moment as he admonished, "Just be careful okay? He doesn't strike me as the type to settle down." She said nothing as she finished the remainder of her toast, which suddenly tasted quite dry.
Back in his own room, Ryu was changing into his karate uniform when Ken turned up outside his door. His top half on, he opened the door and Ken rushed inside. "What's wrong, Ken?"
For once, Ken's face displayed not a trace of humor. "Did you feel something strange last night?" Ryu answered with a nod. "Hmm, me too. You know, the last time I felt like this was right before Master Gouken was killed."
Ryu felt a chill run through him and his obi fell from his hand. "Gouki…" he whispered.
Picking up his belt, Ken handed it back to his friend. "I hope not. I hope I'm wrong and it was nothing. Just keep your eyes open, okay?"
Nodding, Ryu knotted his obi around his waist. "I have not practiced in a few days. Come spar with me." Ken patted him on the back and they walked out of the hotel together.
A large man with kabuki paint on his face greeted them outside the main entrance. "Honda-san, how have you been?" Ryu said with a friendly bow.
"Lonely," the large sumo wrestler lamented. "Ah Ryu-kun, how lucky you are to fight. They won't allow me to register because according to them, sumo wrestling isn't a martial art." His face wore a hurt expression.
"Aw don't feel too bad," Ken reasoned. "It's not like there's a cash prize or anything."
"I guess," Honda said with a resigned tone.
"Come on," Ryu suggested. "We are going to practice. Even if you cannot compete, why not come and train with us? The expression on Honda's face brightened a little and he fell in step beside them. As they approached the ring, they caught sight of Guile pushing a wheelchair. Wearing a loose sweatsuit, Chun Li waved at them. "Chun Li," Ryu warned, "You should not be out of bed in your condition." Ryu thought he heard Ken snicker behind him.
"I don't know, she looks fine to me," Honda remarked. "So pretty!"
"I feel much better, Ryu. Don't worry about me."
"Yes, Ryu, don't worry about me," Ken simpered.
Feeling awkward, Ryu bowed and walked some distance away. "Ken! Over here!" Ken grinned at Chun Li and jogged over to where Ryu was standing.
Honda remained glued to Chun Li's side. "I think I will stay here for a moment." His smile vanished as he noticed Guile's icy glare. "Uh, hello…"
The two men, almost mirror images in their gi's, began practicing their katas in perfect unison. Soon there were more people observing them than the actual exhibition in the ring, but the attention did not faze their concentration. There was an elegant beauty to their precision, and Chun Li watched transfixed as they finished the series of movements. Turning to Ryu, Ken winked and shouted, "Begin!" Cheers erupted on all sides as the two men began sparring.
Guile bent down to Chun Li's ear. "Your boyfriend is pretty good," he teased.
Her cheeks colored. "Guile!"
"What? I didn't say anything."
A sudden hush from the crowd drew her attention. As the spectators parted, she could make out a large man in red. "Bison!" she hissed.
Guile whipped his head around. "Where?"
Ken and Ryu had ceased their sparring and had their fists readied against Bison. "So nice to see you again, Bison," Ken said sarcastically. "Looking for new Shadowlaw recruits?"
Bison smiled condescendingly. "It's no concern of yours. Why, were you interested in working for me again?"
Ken glared at him and retorted, "No, once was enough for ten lifetimes. As I recall, you're a pretty shitty employer."
He turned to see Chun Li staring at him, her eyes filled with daggers. "Ah, Chun Li. How have you been? And your family?"
"You cruel bastard!" She attempted to jump out of the wheelchair but in her weakened stated she fell to the ground.
"Chun!" Guile knelt down to pick her up. Gently sitting her back in the wheelchair, he turned to Bison and growled, "Leave her alone, asshole."
Bison chuckled gamely. "Don't worry, Yank. She's not the one I'm after." He fixed his gaze on Ryu and smirked before walking away.
Ken asked the question that was on everyone's mind. "Why'd he look at you?"
Ryu watched his vanishing figure. "I don't know."
Later that evening, Ryu knocked on the door to Chun Li's room. "Come in!" she shouted. Ryu opened the door to find her curled up next to Guile watching an old Spectre Man rerun. One of Guile's very large arms was casually slung over the sofa back behind her. An unpleasant churning began in the pit of his stomach that he couldn't place. Her face beamed when she saw him enter. "Ryu! Good to see you!"
Guile coughed discreetly and stood up. "This show sucks, I'm going for a walk. Holler if you need me, Princess." He closed the door behind him as he left.
Alone with her again, Ryu felt a multitude of different emotions and was unsure of what to do or say. All he could come up with was, "How are you?"
"Much better!" She showed him how well her wounds were healing. "Thank you so much again for all your help."
"Guile spends a lot of time with you, no?" As soon as the words left his mouth he regretted it.
"Well, since Vega tried to kill me, I sort of need the extra help. It wasn't fair to have you watch me all the time. You don't even know me all that well." She flashed him an apologetic smile.
The lack of certainty he felt with her was maddening. He'd taken severe beatings, fought hundreds of martial artists, faced death on multiple occasions, and yet when it came to this woman, he felt very unsure of himself. "It was no trouble," was his lame reply. He scratched the back of his head awkwardly, searching for something else to say. He was rescued by a beep from Chun Li's cell phone. A concerned look marred her pretty face. "What is it?"
"Guile just sent me a text message. He said that something urgent came up that couldn't wait. He told me to ask you to stay with me until he gets back."
Ryu walked over to her and looked at the screen on her phone. The text message read:
Something came up
that I have to deal
with right now. Give
this message to Ryu.
Keep an eye on her
til I get back. If you
don't and something
happens to her, I'll kick
yer ass into next
Ryu looked into Chun Li's face. "Sorry," she said in a small voice.
He tried to keep his face neutral in spite of the fact that he was grateful for the opportunity. "It is okay."
Chun Li gestured for him to sit next to her and pointed at the TV. "There are no subtitles. Can you translate for me?"
He grinned in spite of himself and sat next to her. "I will do my best," he promised.
The digital clock on the coffee table read 3AM. Chun Li had fallen asleep in his lap and Ryu was not sure when Guile would return. Careful not to disturb her, he carried her to the bed and pulled the covers over her. As he straightened, her hand grabbed his wrist. "Please don't leave me alone," she whispered.
Before, Ryu would have mentioned the obvious, that he would be right over there on the couch, but seeing the plaintive look in her eyes, he simply nodded and laid next to her. Her breathing slowed and she was asleep again. He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and heard her mumble, "…Papa…" It made him incredibly sad to hear her call for her dead father and he held her a little tighter to him.
At about 4 AM, the door silently opened a crack and Guile peeked into the room to see Chun sleeping quietly next to Ryu. Smiling, he noiselessly closed the door and returned to his room.