I do not own Samurai Champloo or any characters associated with it.
"Damn it." Mugen said. "How did they find us again?"
He ducked against the base of a tree to catch his breath, taking care his body was hidden in the shadows. In nearby Fuu crouched behind a bush. The only sound between them was labored breathing. She shifted the weight of her pack to the other shoulder silently. The were too practiced at being hunted. Across a thin patch of moonlight Jin stood behind another tree. He hazarded a scouting glance back where they had come, but nothing moved and he gave his companions a nod.
"Hey fish-face, you're the native here. Which way?"
There were shouts on the road above, breaking their rest. Torchlights flickered as the shogun's men threaded through the forest. They held their breath as walking shadows passed on all sides. The trio thanked their luck when a clump of dense clouds skimmed the sky, obscuring everything below.
Once the lights faded, Fuu tried again. "Where should we go?" There was no answer. "Jin!"
The corners of Jin's lips tilted down for a moment, then returned to a neutral straight line.
"Follow me." He darted up a nearby embankment. Mugen followed easily; Fuu with a little less agility and grace. By the time she scrambled up, Jin's silhouette had all but disappeared on the other side of a grassy meadow. She almost yelled for him to wait up, but fear kept her silent and she sprinted after him. Jin pressed on for an hour without looking back until he came to a wooden footbridge that arched over a small river. Mugen was at his side and soon enough Fuu crashed through the brush after.
"How did you know this was here?" Fuu asked between gasps.
Jin's gaze drifted across the river. He was anxious to keep moving. "Once we cross we will be in the hills that surround my childhood village."
"We're that close?"
Jin hesitated, inching one foot out onto the bridge, then he squared his shoulders and strode across.
Fuu jerked on Mugen's sleeve. "Does Jin still have family?"
"Huh? How should I know? Go ask him yourself if you wanna know." He raced after, the metal of his shoes echoing on the bridge like wood blocks in kabuki theatre.
The trees became dense and what little light fell from the moon could not filter through the thick canopy. Fuu picked her way carefully through the protruding roots and fallen branches, only falling twice. Mugen and Fuu followed Jin until he stopped suddenly once more. He pointed down into the blackness.
"There's a cave here." Then he vanished.
Mugen put out a hand, looking for edges. He pushed away vines and dead leaves. Fuu could hear him grinning. "Whaddaya know, there's a cave here."
Fuu knocked her head on the rock ceiling as she entered. "Ow! Where are you?"
"Keep walking. 'S not very big."
Three steps later Fuu kicked Mugen's shin. "Watch it!"
"Sorry." Afraid to move further, Fuu sat down right where she was on the mossy rocks. "Now what?"
Jin's voice came gently out of the dark. "Now we wait."
"We...wait. You serious? I thought we were regrouping or something. We can take them if we pick them off."
"No, we can't."
"Maybe you can't, skinny, but I've got skills for this kind of thing. Pirate, remember?"
"No, we can't. These are not undisciplined Yakuza. I recall a young ninja named Yatsuha who got the upper hand over you not too long ago."
"I should have never told you that."
"He sent Sara. He sent the Hand of God. We wait."
Mugen shifted, but didn't get up from his nest amongst the rotting leaves. "Coward."
Jin didn't reply. He was already meditating in the hopes that Mugen would stop speaking if not encouraged. The only sound for a long time was Mugen picking at his teeth.
"Jin?" Fuu hazarded.
"How did you know this was here?"
"I- used to play in these woods as a child. The cave seemed much larger then."
"Oh." Fuu tried to imagine Jin as a child, but no matter his age Fuu could not see Jin laughing and playing with other children. The stoic eyes she had come to know so well still hid so many secrets. They seemed as permanent and unshakable as the mountains he came from.
It had been mere days after leaving the island the three separated companions realized the shogun was not the type to let things go. After the Hand of God and the three brothers were dead Seizo's servant hid them well. He was used to it, and knew the island well. Some of the shogun's dogs crawled across the island looking for Fuu. But they eventually decided all three had died in the beach explosion. No one knew that the brothers were there, and so no one could identify the far flung limbs scattered on the shore. They assumed the rest had washed away with the tide. A month later when the companions went their separate ways, they hoped traveling alone would make them invisible. But it was too late. Fuu, Mugen, and Jin were too infamous in too many places. Of course Mugen was the first to be spotted in a brothel by the sea. He held a sword to the brothel owner's throat and claimed only the ugly girls had been brought out for him. The trail of government officials he left bloodied behind him only drew more eyes.
It had been easy for Mugen to find Fuu- he checked every dumpling stand and half-rate tea house on the road back to Edo. Jin had been harder. Mugen found it impossible to "think like Jin." Fuu finally suggested they look for the twins. In the center of Edo, they found Jin- they actually ran into him as he darted through the square chased by four skilled swordsmen clutching his side.
"Jin!" Fuu grabbed his arm and pulled him into a person-width space between two buildings. He blinked at her in surprise, then collected himself.
"Stay behind me." Jin ordered.
Fuu looked from side to side at the walls six inches from her face. "Where else am I gonna go?"
The tight space was the advantage Jin needed. These men were no match for him one at a time. His wounds had not fully healed and he doubted they ever would. The handicap stilted his speed, but his mind remained his sharpest weapon. He cut them down one corpse on top of the other with efficiency using each body as an obstacle for the next challenger. As the last man fell Jin tensed. Another silhouette turned into the alley, sword above his head.
"Aw man, you didn't leave me any. Fuu with you?"
"Right here!" she yelled over his shoulder.
Distant police whistles began to blow.
"Let's go, bitches." Mugen bounded over bodies and they sprinted out the other end of the alley. They ducked behind a cart stacked high with rice flour.
"How did you know to look for me?"
"'Cause I found them first, dumb-ass."
Mugen cracked his knuckles behind his head. "Looks like we aren't as dead as they wanted."
Fuu was biting her lip in silence, which was very un-Fuu-like.
"Is there something you wish to say?" Jin asked as he wiped sweat droplets from his eyes.
"Nothing it's just- I'm sorry for getting you involved in this. If I'd known how dangerous it would be I never would have forced you to come. Maybe I never would have looked for the samurai- for my father."
Jin placed a hand on her shoulder, his brow furrowed.
"And miss all this? No way, girlie. We better get movin' though. I wanna be ready for the next round."