Description: And on this day, Terry realises the great lengths that Rock has gone to, all to avoid troubling or burdening him. That maybe the kid is anything but okay, and he was just trying to convince himself otherwise.
They always begin the same way.
An executive office that subscribes to no idea in particular, it's as though a throne room, a nature scene, and a temple all had their designs married without thought to consistency and coherency. Aspects of each are present, from the ornate chair to the inlaid pond. Elaborate golden sentinels line the red carpet, some highly religious, and Japanese and American flags are raised in reverence.
Here there is a central figure, standing amidst the destruction they have wrought -- a young man, upon closer inspection, no older than seventeen. Drenched with blood, impassive eyes of scarlet survey the fresh bodies of schoolmates and coworkers, Sugiwara, Kim Jae Hoon...
Left to the last, Terry Bogard meekly looks up. The crimson angel descends on him with a burst of resplendent amethyst chi. Hands wrap around his neck as the Legendary Wild Wolf struggles against it, acutely aware that his windpipe will be crushed. Grinning madly, the teen laughs in the face of soundless begging and a final plea.
He is Rock Howard.
Brutally twisting the head in his grip, a sickening crack fills the silence that was previously disturbed only by retching gasps. Terry's limp form slips from his twitching digits, blue orbs bulging and staring vacantly. The corpse splashes into a puddle, and Rock coldly steps back, narrowly avoiding the spray of droplets as they fall just short of his hakama. He clicks his tongue.
Geese approves, the disembodied voice floating somewhere nearby. His speech that follows never deviates from the vision of old. Perhaps the Maw of Taishokan burned every utterance into Rock's very soul, for his imagination would not be able to conceive such a notion as to what it might take to earn acceptance, but we will never know. Emerging from a full-length mirror, his father offers a choice...
Beyond this point, it's a new nightmare. One unpredictable, and different.
More often than not, Rock embraces power.
Refusal to do so leads to a short fight, where dear old dad joins the dead.
Less explored is his own demise, and hoisted by his stained gi, Rock is brought over the railing. This will be his fate. He dangles helplessly with nothing but a long drop and busy street below. Arms extending, the child's flails are meant to tear apart anything that he can reach.
"Pathetic." Geese sneers at him.
A sudden rush of wind...
Rock bolts upright, and immediately regrets it. Thickly swallowing an exclamation of pain, he lets his body shriek in quiet agony, like his bruised back and smarting arms. The handsome high school senior can feel a band-aid under his right eye, which leads to a line of internal questioning: Who treated him? And where...?
That man... brought him home?
Or was he found unconscious in the vacant lot?
Surely the latter, he would suspect.
I need to apologise to Terry, Rock decides. Gingerly, he throws his legs over the side of the bed.
Still wearing the same clothes from his brawl, dirt-smeared and now soaked with sweat, dressing himself is the worst. There's a bit of banging about before Rock steps into the hall, in sweats and a t-shirt, and significantly less bedhead. Some patches of dried blood still cling to that blonde hair. He pads barefoot to the living room, where his guardian is generally found, hoping...
Lingering awkwardly in the foyer, the front door beside him and kitchen behind, Rock clears his throat to speak. It's so dry, he whispers, "...rry?" If the television is loud enough, it's lost entirely, going unheard and potentially unnoticed. How long was he out? And his phone? He didn't see it...
Of course, maybe Terry isn't around, and Rock just addressed empty space. In that case, he searches elsewhere.
There's no immediate sign of the Hungry Wolf. He would find his mouth is not excessively dry; with a mostly-empty bottle of water nearby. Given that Rock certainly wasn't parching his own thirst, that can only mean that he's been looked after... by someone who seemed confident that nothing inflicted would require professional medical treatment. Although, with a lifetime of fighting past the point of recklessness, he's surprisingly adept at first aide. Terry's not spoken much of how he trained himself, seemingly not proud of it or wanting it emulated, but it's not hard for a curious young Rock to know it involved solo training until he could barely move, then fighting the toughest people in Southtown, back to back, sometimes multiple on ones; so even when he would easily win at full strength, he was constantly pressured to the edge of defeat...
He definitely doesn't do THAT any more.
The television is indeed on, and a racing game paused in the midst of the action. But a quick examination proves Terry appears to be briefly out for the moment... luckily, he wrote a note and stuck it to the board the pair use to communicate, given they might not cross paths often all the time.
How useful. But it's only five minutes before the door rattles and slides open. And there's Terry Bogard, a large brown grocery bag under an arm filled with items. He seemed to have something else, but with a weird rustle he shifts it out of sight behind him.
"Rock!! ARE YOU OKAY?! Sorry, couldn't resist. Really though, get on the couch... you probably shouldn't move around too much, yet!" His demeanor is fairly carefree. There's no sign of rage or simmering hatred... does that mean he's not sure what happened, or might Rock misunderstand how his mentor might act after an incident with his father?
Shifting inwards, he drops the bag on a nearby table, but once his arm is free, he'll go to begin push-push-pushing at Rock if he's not keen on quickly obeying the order to sprawl out once more on the indicated couch. "Been awhile since you got your clock rung like this, huh...? How long, you think?" The pair's spars never ended anywhere near this, after all, despite the dozens, maybe hundreds, of times they've fought over the years...
Ah, nuts to him, I guess. Rock is about to turn away, confused by the blatant waste of electricity, but he spots the board and the small note that comes attached. Short and succinct, it communicates the point that if the kid is dead-set on having a chat with his mentor, he's forced to wait.
Thinking that he'll finish the water bottle that had been left on his bedside table, Rock almost reaches his door when the front swings open. In walks the very man of the hour, as if coincidentally. Thin lips pursed together, the teen is immediately broody and sullen. Trying not to bristle over friendly orders to sit down, he returns when directed and perches like a bird about to take flight.
Rock hunches, which probably isn't the best for his blackened back, his arms crossed and dropped atop his knees. It's fairly difficult to get in a word edgewise, but the focused stare of those crimson eyes means the Wild Wolf has the entirety of his attention, for as long as Terry wants to command it. He's expectant, with baited breath, predicting that at any moment he'll be asked...
But Terry chooses another topic, much to Rock's surprise.
Indeed, light brown brows lift, disappearing into the mess of his blonde fringe. "Not long enough..." Rock speaks softly, his tenor still not quite at a volume that can be heard with ease, "Not since the King of Fighters..."
Man, that was a disappointing match, and entirely unrelated to the current discussion. The memory is shoved aside as the Howard scion rises on reflex, to do the honourable sort of thing and apologise while he stands. No doubt, if the Hungry Wolf was willing to physically escort Rock to a seat, his guardian is gonna be after him in a heartbeat. "Hey, Terry, I wanted to say sorry... for inconveniencing you, especially if you had to pick me up."
"And sorry, that you needed to look after me."
His hands, forming fists at his sides, barely tremble with a rage that he seems to hold for himself, and the cause of this problem. Really, kudos to Rock for not hiding behind excuses, but he's internalizing to a degree that it's unhealthy. Does the young wolf not trust his teacher, or is it because he thinks his problems are a burden meant for him alone?
"I always tell you, can't only fight me. You'll lose your fangs. Your edge." Terry continues to talk as if the incident is nothing particularly special, in and of itself. Indeed, when Rock tries to get back up, there's just more push-push-pushing done to try and get him to sit back down. "Inconvenience... the heck makes you think this is an inconvenience? Kudos to you, for fighting a strong opponent! Here, I even got you a surprise..."
Terry finally draws the item hidden behind his back. It's a bunch of flowers, in a tight bouquet. A tag on the front says 'GET BETTER SOON'. "Since you keep refusing to get a girlfriend like I suggest, I figured this'll do." He then makes to toss it atop Rock's lap. A playful teasing, yes... that seems to imply further and further that...
"Anyway, I found you slumped against the front door, so I figured you didn't quite make it home." Heading into the fridge, Terry digs around within and comes up with a beer. His thumb flicks the cap off as he returns to the main living room, leaning against the wall. "I checked Neo League, thought you might finally be doing that, but... didn't see nothing."
"Who'd you fight, Rock...?"
He seems genuinely curious, adjusting the brim of his hat. And, confirming for sure, he has no idea it was the boy's own biological father. "They musta been tough, to do that to you, rusty or not..."
He's forced to sit, which wasn't unexpected. Relenting with little protests here and there, his ears soon blaze red. Colour floods his pale face, making the band-aid stand out stark in contrast. Wh..what is Rock supposed to say, at the tease regarding girls when he's absolute shite at talking to them?! Tossed the bouquet of flowers and catching it, because of the sentiment behind the gesture, that's all that prevents the young prodigy from depositing the lot on the floor. Rude!
Rock exhales noisily, venting a snort that gently flares his nostrils. It disturbs a few strands of his golden blonde hair. He can see specs of blood-- "You... what?" The kid is thunderstruck.
No, that bastard didn't...
It had to have been someone else. A good samaritan. A friend. Anyone.
Every fibre of his being rejects the notion, to the point where he's off-guard. Rock wouldn't normally be so forthcoming, but the words come tumbling from his mouth and he's powerless to stop them, "/Him/."
Expression contorting, he growls, "I fought /him/."
That Geese is keeping tabs on his wayward son, that his every move is observed with mild curiosity, what fucking for? What is he, a liability? The disowned heir starts hunching, again. His back wants nothing to do with this disregard for its condition, but Rock's got so much to think about that everything else is wiped out.
Good thing his mentor probably doesn't expect much confirmation on the strength of his opponent, by this point. Doubtful Rock could even bring himself to admit it, not when the Legendary Hungry Wolf already knows...
It's a strange situation, in multiple ways. The fact that Rock was brought home -- to the one here, with Terry. That the injuries he sustained were not so grievous, in fact, that the Legendary Wolf even thought they meant anything in specific. And, perhaps on a more tertiary level... that Rock is still alive, whole, and certain to recover of his own accord.
The statement, the venom behind it, brooks no room for confusion. Terry had been in the midst of tipping back the bottle of beer, before slowly lowering it. His expression is... complex. Measured. But he doesn't simply hurl the beer bottle into the wall and kick down the door -- that might be what Rock expects, on some level, but... have they ever discussed this, a single time? Terry offered his hand, Rock took it, and... well. The Wolf never asked. And how likely is it Rock ever wanted to talk? The exception being the blood running through him. The power in it, how it affects him, the risk and reward of accepting it... that solemn, unspoken aspect existing on the fringe with the young man.
"What happened?" It feels like an eternity, perhaps, since Terry finally continued. But he takes another slow drink, staring into a corner of the room. Restrained, but patient. Clearly, he's interested in some context. "You confront him...? He confront you? It's... we knew we'd have to deal with this. Someday. I'm surprised it took so long..."
Although Rock might notice the slow, steady curl of a fist, then the gradual relaxation, repeatedly going through Terry's free hand. He leans against the wall, drawing up his knee and resting the heel bracingly. There might never be an optimal time for certain cans of worms, so he sees no reason to once more suppress and ignore it.
This is weird and uncomfortable.
Able to count on one hand every heart-to-heart since his fifteenth birthday, Rock greatly dislikes troubling Terry, burdening him, or upsetting him...
He always has.
His problems have no value here.
/Rock/ has no value.
Not wanting to lose another place to belong, there is the wedge. The 'respectable distance' Rock maintains. Fear of rejection, his preventive actions, make the Howard scion blind to every reason why Terry is still here. Why he even has a home...
It's never as simple as, 'Rock's a good kid. He works hard, and he's independent. Doesn't bother me for anything.'
Like maybe someone actually cares, good or bad, rain or shine, because he's not an insect. Because Geese Howard is an abusive piece of shit.
In silence, the boy's sun-kissed head turns away. Unable to meet a gaze for shame of the situation, he finds something else in the living room to focus upon. Their home is a spartan affair, offering little save the coffee table. It sports a stain reinforced through years of beer cans landing in the exact same spot, without fail. Rock moves the bouquet to the worn wood, then cups his elbows, thumbs hovering over the bandages on his arms.
Terry asks him, 'What happened?'
Words hammer nails into Rock's slender frame, like a condemnation that causes his back to stiffen. Certain that his mentor's expression is quite complicated, the American teen chastises himself. Another apology almost breaches the barrier of thin lips.
They've discussed Geese before, but vaguely. Never was it asked what led to Rock being dropped off the top floor of that man's tower, or the confrontation that ensued during the brief period of time the teenage ward spent hospitalised. As details are requested, and Terry seems honestly interested, he's unsure how to proceed.
Frowning faintly, he'll need to face the Legendary Wild Wolf at some point. It's true they both saw it coming...
There is no way for Rock to escape the bond of his blood, not for long.
A sigh of suffering, crimson eyes flick to his teacher. The broody prodigy's tenor is clear, but cold, "He was waiting for me, once my shift at The Bean was over. Said he wanted to test me for the hell of it..." Rock's knuckles are white, lines of tension along his jaw as rows of teeth clench together. "Suggested hurting my friends, Mister Sugiwara, you..."
"I don't know if that bastard wanted to see me lose my job or what, so we went to a vacant lot down the street and fought."
The rest is history.
Although none would call Terry Bogard a genius, he's also not entirely dense and blind. Watching Rock, when he does not have the preparation and inner strength to carefully construct his normal facade, makes many of these insecurities and worries shine through enough for the man to develop a frown. Not so much at the subject of Geese... but that he truly fell for Rock's act, of hook, line, and sinker, that everything was fine. He wanted to believe it. Hoped, even; all along, he's only ever wanted to guide his path and support his decisions... when did he lose sync so much?
He has his own concerns, of course. That a young boy who lost his mother and was abused and manipulated might not want a strong authority figure ever again. All that Terry's sure of is that Rock is a natural at fighting... if a spar every few days can keep his blood under control and provide a distraction, he thought that might be enough. ...Not that they've even done that much, in recent months.
"...hahaha. What?" Terry asks, seeming to genuinely being smirked. "Like... your father, the most powerful crime lord in Southtown, just... lurked nearby until you were done? At the bean?" He can't seem to get rid of this mental image of the powerful man brooding, waiting impatiently for Rock to leave for dramatic effect. "And all of it just for some hot air and a rough spar...?"
Terry exhales with a sigh, adjusting the brim of his hat. "I can't claim I understand that asshole in the slightest. Killing..." For a brief moment there's a fierceness there, a burn in his eyes, that Rock has not seen in person. Like something else was briefly staring through those hard blue eyes. "...killing my dad for a temper tantrum. I don't know if he wanted to force Master Tung to pick him or nobody... but if he truly understand Master Tung, he would have known that was nothing but pointless spite and pride. Pride, pride, pride... that's all I can see, taste, smell when it comes to him. Tch..."
He doesn't like that train of thought. He spent literal years obsessing over Geese, and the feel of his face beneath a clenched, burning fist. The man doesn't deserve more of his mind.
"So... what? Hurt your friends unless you...? Ask the Bean for a raise? Tell me you are leaving and go back to his Tower? Improve your grades? Heh... would that make you feel better? If Big T went and socked him in the stomach for causing you grief?" He seems to find his playfulness of the situation again, if with effort. Taking another long drink of his beer bottle, staring off at the opposite wall.
"...still. Here you are, safe and sound... and he didn't even seriously hurt you, huh? People don't live against that man if he doesn't want it. Guess he was just curious how you're coming along under my wing instead of his. Hope you gave him a few firm reminders about how you're better off, yeah?"
Seems funny, doesn't it? Rock himself had accused Geese of losing his way. Like the big bad asshole probably wound up taking a wrong turn somewhere between Get Lost Avenue and Fuck Off Street. That since he was in the area of Taiyo High, he might as well harass the only teenager he knows. If the man didn't trigger an immediate surge of rage, the youth wouldn't hesitate to join Terry.
Such as it is, his face remains stony, unaffected but not offended.
His mentor leads their discussion to the events surrounding Jeff Bogard's murder, and Rock suddenly, visibly finches. In all that the Wild Wolf is starting to understand regarding the carefully constructed act entirely for his benefit...
Rock feels a measure of responsibility in place of the elder Howard, for all Geese has done that harms those the teen cares about.
The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.
A touch exasperated, but not with his teacher, the disowned heir grips his elbows so tightly, were they not the hardest part of his body, he'd be at risk of breaking them. "Man, Terry, c'mon..." Rock doesn't need his battles fought for him, and though he inwardly berates himself for rising to the bait... Imagine if Geese was serious? There's a noise of frustration, "I don't ever know what he wants..."
Thin shoulders quiver gently. Curling further, this does his back absolutely no good. "After throwing me off a tower, the next step is pretty obvious. I shouldn't even be alive." But as Terry says, Rock continues to persist. Crimson orbs direct their glare elsewhere, not wanting to level it on a recipient unintended for its wrath. "Maybe that bastard was worried, since I haven't been fighting, that I could be used against him." The laugh rings hollow, in disbelief.
Because it suggests Geese gives a shit, and everything Rock is... VIOLENTLY REJECTS the notion.
"Makes no damn sense." The handsome prodigy slowly shakes his fair head, his cheek smarting from the cut, "Can say for sure he doesn't think you've done me any favours, though." Without a doubt, that he has married the two distinct fighting styles together as it suits him is a source of great irritation for the Southtown Syndicate crime lord. Whether Geese is a purist, or because it's Terry, Rock is pleased as punch to continue to rebel.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. It's not gonna solve anything. Especially... not through force. I wouldn't say I truly settled things with Geese... not by a long shot... but when I kicked him off his tower, the rage in my own blood went with it." Terry finishes the rest of his beer, in slow and careful sips, looking thoughtful.
"I realized violence was never the answer, I guess. I'm... despite what he did, I'm not a murderer. I regretted it... heh. Can you believe that? Over a decade of training for that moment, of obsession, and I actually succeeded. Actually gave Geese the boot and genuinely thought I killed him... and the first thing I felt was horror, not satisfaction. I'm glad, y'know... glad I'm not really that kind of person... who knows what kinda path I'd have headed down afterwards? But Geese never sought out revenge on me, and I never really tried to 'finish the job' again, so... Hell if I know what you'd call that kinda cold war."
He reaches out, to apply a single pat to the top of Rock's tossled head. "And you're not that way either." Terry says, a bit more softly. "Not a killer. But I always saw it in your eyes... when we sparred. When you got into it on television or in the stands. You're happiest when you fight, aren't you? I'm the same way... like a duck in water. You can't deny your blood, really..."
"But you don't gotta let it control you." Terry says this part, more firmly. "You've the gift of a prodigy. Above me at your age, for sure. You shouldn't be afraid or ashamed of the power inside you... it'll always be there, until the day you die. Gotta embrace it. Bare it's fangs. Rejecting it, just because of who it might be from... that's just gonna make you hate it. And hate yourself."
He does a lazy flip of the beer bottle, and catches it by the neck. "It's been awhile, but... I think it's time I trained you proper, again. Hakkyokuseiken is all about releasing your power to the utmost limit for a split second... but it's time we resolved your chi imbalance, yeah? Think you're finally ready for that?"
A bit of a glance follows. "I can tell when you manage it right... your own spin on Raging Storm... you touch the deepest parts of your chi. And don't seem to like it; it hurts, right? Forget Geese... that's your current opponent, Rookie. Yourself. You'll resolve things with your dad when you finally bring him down to his knees before you, and you MAKE him acknowledge your path. And that starts with using the gifts he gave you for *yourself.*"
Much of what Terry has to say are like pills varying in size, but all of them incredibly difficult to swallow. Rock is only aware of the man's vendetta, where it had begun, and that justice was served. The experiences, emotions... Each floats as an idea, a theory, lacking in expression until now. He shifts uncomfortably in his seat.
A part of him would not mourn Geese. It's thrilled at the very prospect of his death, resentful that it has not occurred.
The other part... could very well be angry... at Terry.
Feeling conflicted and bothered, but unsure why... his face darkens.
At that moment, patting that dishevelled mop of blonde hair, Rock starts. The contact is torn between brotherly and parental, but is still supportive. Normally, he would protest. Just a teenager, needing to state that he's no longer a child...
He is robbed of the urge, the more he listens.
When his mentor says he never saw a killer in the boy, the sullen, serious Howard scion barely holds back a snort. Surely, many must've questioned Terry's decision to take Rock under wing. Like Kim Kaphwan. Maybe Andy Bogard asked if his brother was worried, or what if the apple didn't fall far from the tree... With undeniable proof that he is his father's son, it's his boiling blood, the techniques that were beaten into him...
The spoiled urge to demand from the Hungry Wolf, to know how he thinks it's so damn easy, churns unpleasantly in his gut.
Steel leaves his spine, because he does hate this power, and himself. Rock's forehead nearly touches his knees. Arms pressed deep into his middle, it helps relieve some of the discomfort.
Effectively transforming himself into a turtle, the shallow gash is visible by the dried blood around it. Will probably scar, unfortunately. He nods strangely, ready enough in spirit, at least. Rock rises slowly after, but provided he's not push-push-pushed again, he thinks to see if they actually own a vase for flowers. Would be in the kitchen, so his destination has been determined.
Drawing even alongside Terry, there's an inscrutable look, scarlet orbs at their limit. Did the Legendary Wild Wolf realise his birthright actually hurts him? Is Rock in the wrong for focusing on revenge, to make Geese pay for the death of Marie and his suffering? A disconnect exists between logic and emotion, where all the Angel of Taiyo High hears and understands is definitely sound, but trying to convince his heart to accept this curse may be impossible.
Rock forces a faint smile, "I want to believe I can do that, Terry. I'll try my best..."
Carefully, subtly, Terry makes sure to assess Rock's reaction to such things. It might not be the best time; regaining consciousness after an unexpected, unprovoked assault from his father... yet he is sure that obsessing over Geese, his revenge right now -- is precisely what the warlord wants. The dark power within Rock's blood could certainly shift him down a dangerous path, and more then anything that is what Terry has been focused on helping the teen with. That... and trying to stop someone else from heading alone down the path of murderous revenge, when he know how it ends. Either years of life are wasted... or you become something else. Neither result is desired for the young Howard.
Still, while Rock quietly stews on why Terry might be so sure, there's something clear and bright in his features. Faith. Not something he'd have ever gotten from his former life... beyond, perhaps, the warm smile of his mother. He's not one to often say what he thinks is right, merely guide and hope others come to a conclusion. But everyone can head a roadblock, and he certainly wishes he had a mentor, someone to look up to, in moments like this growing up.
"Oh, one last thing." Terry suddenly shifts, aiming to get Rock into a headlock from beind when he moves to head into the kitchen for floral aide. "You're not alone here, y'know. Not you, and not me. My problems are your problems, and your problems are my problems. I've never once regretted reaching out to you and helping you grow up. And I wish you'd tell me about your problems more; I'm not gonna pry, but I do care. And I'll always be here."
Some of this is offset by the entire 'headlock' thing, which Terry does not immediately relent. "C'mon, say it. Say you're not a burden, if you want me to let go." He applies a noogie, but regardless of whether Rock assents lets him loose a few seconds later. "Any problem you got, I'll help you with. Sure, I think we should work on your chi issues first... but after that?"
He throws up a thumb's up. "We'll work on getting you a *girlfriend.*"
Log created on 02:50:12 06/14/2021 by Rock, and last modified on 04:19:05 08/10/2021.