DISCLAIMER: Samurai Champloo is the domain of its creators. I mean no offense by this harmless work of fanfiction.

ADDITIONAL DISCLAIMER: Spoilers up to episode twelve. (This story takes place around that area of the timeline.) Mild nudity, language.

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Temptation Kunishige

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Jin wasn't looking. Mugen -was- looking. In fact, Mugen was staring while also rooting around in his ear with his pinky finger. He'd been staring for the last ten minutes, looking away only to re-position the extraordinarily ugly beetle he was training for kabuto sumo.

But Jin, Jin wasn't looking. He knew he couldn't pointedly just -not- look, because that would be just as obvious as looking. And, he couldn't look at Mugen because that barbarian... Well, who wanted to look at Mugen? So, in the end, Jin had taken out his wakizashi and begun to disassemble it for inspection. The wakizashi was a wonderful Kunishige, and Jin could definitely spend the entire evening marveling at the workmanship of the blade.

Yes. If he had to, he could definitely spend all night looking at the wakizashi.

Now, what to do about Mugen? Jin couldn't tell Mugen to stop looking, because that would mean he -knew- what Mugen was looking at, and frankly, Jin just didn't want to get into a conversation about it. On the other hand, if he didn't say anything, Mugen would probably... Well, it was impossible to say what Mugen would do. At the very least, Mugen's actions were improper, though Jin couldn't exactly remember where in codes of bushido it said that one shouldn't look at the small, but perfectly curved, breast of a sleeping fifteen year old girl.

But, it had to be in there -somewhere-.

Fuu talked in her sleep. She always talked in her sleep. At least, she talked in her sleep when she wasn't moaning. Thankfully, the moaning usually included mumbled words about how good the meal had been. Tonight was no different. Fuu sighed deeply and asked for more soba.

Jin wished she'd turn over. Who taught her to tie her yukata, anyway? That it should just come open whilst she slept was truly unacceptable.

Come to think of it, they did have soba for dinner. Soba and eel. Eel tended to make Jin think of Shino, and that rainy evening they spent together cooking. Or rather, Shino had been cooking, and Jin had been burning everything. He couldn't even catch the eel. What sort of useless man can't catch an eel? Perplexing. It was as if the eel was some sort of deep metaphor for this whole odd quest. There was something slippery, something Jin just wasn't able to catch, something that felt as if it would wriggle from his grasp at any moment.

But, further contemplation of such matters should be saved for deep meditation.

Jin wondered if Fuu might someday end up in Shino's situation. Married to a complete loser... Ending up in a low class brothel to pay off debts... It did not seem as if Fuu had any relevant family to which she might return when their journey ended. Without family, without a guardian, it would be unlikely that Fu could ever arrange for a decent marriage. Besides, orphans weren't exactly sought-after as wives.

Well, Jin decided that it was not really his business. He had his own problems to resolve. It wasn't as if he had a great number of friends that might take Fu in on his recommendation, anyway.

Still, the juxtaposition of thoughts of Fuu and Shino made Jin more uncomfortable in his own skin than usual. He put down the wakizashi blade and raised his hand to adjust his glasses.

"I know you see it, fish face," Mugen finally said. He was re-attaching the string and rock to the beetle. "So stop acting like you don't."

Jin's left eyebrow twitched so slightly that almost no one in the world but Mugen or Fu might notice it. "Hm."

"You can't really even tell she has any when she's dressed. And I've spent a lot of time looking at things like that. A girl's value goes up, you know, with the size of her chest, the creaminess of her neck, and the taste of her..."

Jin cleared his throat and decided that this Kunishige had a most excellent hamachi. It didn't ever seem to dull or flake. This was good, because you could only reshape the breast so very few times before the wakizashi would become unpredictable. Breast? Did he just think "breast"? No, no, he meant "nakago", the metal handle of the wakizashi.

Right? Right.

"C'mon, Jin. I can see the wheels turning. You're thinking about it." Mugen chuckled a little and turned over on his other side. "Good to know you aren't a fag. Or like, castrated or something."

"Spend much time thinking about me, do you?"

Now it was Mugen's turn to grunt. Then he proceeded to make a crude gesture with his right hand before using it to scratch his ass. Jin often wondered if, even in Ryu-kyuu, Mugen was considered perverted, rude, and reckless. Maybe that was why he didn't live there anymore. Maybe they kicked Mugen out. But, more likely, Mugen was a criminal on the run. It wouldn't really surprise Jin much, either way.

But, now that Mugen was turned away, Jin could steal a glance at... Not that he wanted to look, of course. He had no interest in Fuu. And yet, if she were truly inconsequential, why did he continue to travel with her? A promise. Of course. Of course, it was the promise and nothing else. A warrior must remain unaffected by the world, unbiased and tempered. One's path was walked as straight as the blade, and one's heart moved around obstacles like a sparkling springtime stream.

Right? Right.

But, there it was, a dollop of plump flesh as sweet-looking as fresh onigiri. Even the way her sleeping yukata had fallen open proved aesthetically infuriating. Little ripples in the bunched cotton begged to be smoothed out. With just one or two tugs, he could set things straight and proper again, but his hand would be so close... No, too close. Too close to that youthfully pliant skin. Would his hand tremble? No. His hands were always steady. So, there would be no excuse if his fingers slipped, no excuse if his thumb grazed against the underside of Fuu's breast. No excuse if he ended up tracing a line with his fingernail down the valley between the exposed one, and the one still hidden by Fuu's yukata.

No excuse for this line of thought.

This wakizashi was quite magnificent. Kunishige had been one of Masamune's students, after all. This particular daisho pair had been in Jin's family for at least three hundred years. Only a truly worthy and exceptional swordsman, Jin knew, could appreciate the worth of such a blade.

Swords... And families...

And, so, maybe he had entertained several brief fantasies regarding Shino meeting him at the door to some pathetic but cozy home. She'd smile, and he'd present her with the swords to be put away for the evening. Shino would treat the swords with respect and grace, intrinsically understanding their worth to Jin. Then, there would be tea, and rice, and as a joke, she'd cook eel sometimes when they could afford it. She wouldn't care that he'd lost his pedigree as a samurai, and he wouldn't care that she'd once worked in a brothel. Together, they would be free. They would live for the sunrise, and for the sunset, and for the sound of the cicadas in summer.

If Fuu could search for the Sunflower Samurai with absolutely no evidence as to where in Japan he might be, Jin could imagine... Jin could hope.

Except, they'd probably never find this Sunflower Samurai. And, settling down meant that he'd have to fight all of sensei's students. Frankly, he wasn't running to get away from their wrath. He was running to give them a chance to rethink their certain deaths before crossing blades with him.

Jin couldn't settle down. And a fantasy was just a passing fantasy.

And so this all had nothing to do with Fuu. Nothing. Nothing and everything. He didn't think of her like that.

But, how did he think of Fuu?

Somewhere along the journey, they'd both put her on some strange pedestal, he realized. Their virgin leader, innocent and full of hope, leading them both away from taint, towards the new tomorrow that only she could find. If they could prove to Fuu that they were men worthy of her quest, then somehow they would feel worthy of themselves again.

Fuu did matter to him. And she mattered to Mugen too, Jin figured.

The ruffian did turn away, after all.

How infuriating that Mugen figured it out before Jin did.

This momentary temptation was merely a self-destructive impulse. Touching Fuu meant ruining his chance at redemption. And the path to redemption was always difficult, besieged with obstacles even water could not flow around, and dotted with the possibility of failure.

Giving up his honor as a warrior by falling to lust meant he could die, instead of die trying. There were moments of weakness when he'd considered it, just for a moment. He had no wish to kill his sensei's other students, and by forfeiting his life, he could save them from their deaths. But, that would be admitting that he was in the wrong. And he had no qualms about the fact that, in sensei's case, he'd done the right thing.

His Kunishige katana had been certain and swift. And still, somehow, the loss of his mentor had affected him like no one before, and no one since. Successive coats of blood upon the renowned blade could not wash away that first one. Only in the execution of his promise to Fuu did it ever feel as if the taint of that first act was slowly being drained away.

"This blows. I'm going to find something to do," Mugen said, the irritation in his voice evident as always.

"Like?"

"Sake. Women. Trouble."

Jin's shrug was almost imperceptible. But, as he watched Mugen stand out of the corner of his eye, he realized that, indeed, something other than the battle between the two of them needed to be settled. Jin picked up the blade of his wakizashi and slid it back into the hilt as he asked, "How much is the price on your head now?"

Mugen's head swiveled towards Jin at an impossible angle, and his hand rested on the hilt of the odd sword strapped to his back. "What the hell does it matter? You'll never see it. I'm going to kill you, remember?"

But, something about the look on Jin's face made Mugen's patent anger diffuse. Something about the way Jin's glance strayed away from Mugen, and was pointedly directed towards the sleeping girl on the other side of the room made Mugen actually answer the question.

It was a ridiculous sum. And the price on Jin's head was similar.

"The winner," came the toneless voice, "Gives the bounty to Fuu."

Mugen's face contorted. He hated being told what to do. Nonetheless, his

hand left the hilt of his sword, and his finger went back to rooting around in his ear. "Can't argue with the last request of a dead man."

Jin felt both relieved and offended. Neither of the two emotions showed on his face, however. "You will be the one to die."

"What? By a prudish dork in glasses? You couldn't take me if there were ten of you!"

"All talk," Jin said coldly, "No action."

With a rather loud grunt, Mugen went for his sword. It ended up pointed at Jin's chin. Unfortunately for Mugen, there was a blade pointed as his stomach in return. A tense moment passed, with unwavering gazes locked, both waiting for even the slightest movement of the other man.

"Mou," came the irritated voice of the girl in the corner, "Stop fighting, I'm trying to sleep here." And, half-asleep, never realizing her partial nudity, Fuu finally turned over onto her stomach, and proceeded to snore.

Millimeter by millimeter, the two blades drew away, until both men were resheathing their swords. Mugen yawned, and plopped back down on the tatami. Jin adjusted his glasses, and returned to putting his wakizashi back together.

"The bounty," Jin reiterated.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Mugen grumbled as he sprawled out on the ground, his previous idea of looking for women, sake, and trouble apparently forgotten.

Jin nodded his response. They had an agreement. Now, when it came time, they could fight unhindered with concerns about Fuu being provided for in their absence. And Jin knew Mugen would uphold his end of the bargain.

If anything else, he knew that much about the man.

He knew it as well as he knew Mugen's strange sword, with the katana blade shoved into the odd spiked hilt. Still, the craftsmanship was remarkable. He'd know it anywhere.

He knew Mugen would keep his promise, because it took a remarkable swordsman to wield a Kunishige blade.

And both men did.

(But, at least Jin could take solace in the fact that Mugen's sword was probably stolen.)

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The End.