Ok, well, I'm fucked. I don't know if yahoo froze my account or deleted it but I'm absolutely up shit creep minus 1 paddle. I haven't been able to get into my email account, every time I type in my user name and password it won't let me in, basically this is what its saying 'this user name is available, would you like 2 register it?' NO I DON'T WANT 2 FUCKING REGISTER IT, IT'S MY USERNAME U ASS! I don't kno wut I'm going 2 do because I've had that email for almost four years now, it has all my stuff in it, saved emails from and to my financial advisor for my college, saved emails from other ppl, and just stuff I need.

Is this happening to anyone else? Or does anyone know what to do? I'm prolly going to have to use my Internet explorer email (which I HATE so very completely because I have no idea what so ever how to use or work it!) and email yahoo to see what the deal is. Ya know, we seriously have to stop trusting the Internet. I mean look at live journal for instance, I've seen journals that have had like 6 years worth of entries, could u imagine if their systems crashed or whatever and all that got erased!

I would just like to say, I am so glad Y2K didn't happen because we, myself totally included, rely on the Internet way too much. Ya kno, I have no idea why other countries r bombing our trade towers, and pentagon and whatever. Personally, I had no idea wut the hell the trade towers even did until like a year after 9/11, I'm being serious. If I wanted 2 cripple America the first thing I'd go for would be the Internet. Its kind of like the 'who would survive a nuclear war' thing. I don't think most of the poorer countries harp on the Internet as much as we do so I'm pretty sure if we ever lost it they'd go to supreme power so fast it'd blow our minds.

Yeah, and watch this actually happen in the next ten years and the CIA, coincidently, somehow finds this author's note.

P.S. I would like to thank Jenny for sending me the Abandon song I've been looking 4. She is fucking awesome and I kiss her feet.

SPOILER WARNING: THIS CHAPTER CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE "SC" ENDING.

The Deni Pie

--------------------------------------------

T h e E l e c t r a C o m p l e x

--------------------------------------------

You make me satisfied
You only want to ride
But that's alright by me
We happen to be free
For what tomorrow brings
No peace and broken wings
It may have been so good
But now it's understood
'Twas just a night

If I could tear my heart
And keep it miles apart
From love of beast or man
And never give a damn
If I could learn to lie
And never show my pride
I'd be just like the rest
Be someone I detest

I'm always looking for the sun
I'm always looking for the sun to shine

Love...
Destroys the best of us
Then leaves the rest of us
Thinking perhaps we'll die
Yet still we stay alive
Lost in a hollow frame
With lonely tears remain
Not knowing our life's worth
Dragging around the earth
How false the light

You make me satisfied
You only want to ride
But that's alright by me
We happen to be free
And if we fall from grace
At least we had a taste
Of something more than this
Unresolved black abyss

I'm always looking for the sun
I'm always looking for the sun
I'm always looking for the sun
I'm only looking for the sun to shine

'Fall from Grace' – Gentle Waves

--------------------------------------------

That morning she woke up feeling positively horrid, and Mugen's ridicule and childish 'I told you so's about her being up all night did nothing to help. It was hard to keep up with them as they trudged down the road since she wasn't sure whether she wanted to scarf down anything remotely edible or throw her guts up right there in front of them. Through the trip, the men seemed torn between slowing their pace for her and their urgency to get to their destination that much quicker. Even Mugen managed to restrain himself from badgering her about how slow she was, she supposed that was his way of cutting her a break.

"Slow down you guys, wait a minute." Fuu puffed, leaning down to support herself on her knees.

"We're almost there." Mugen said gruffly, but there was no cruelty in his tone and it sounded almost encouraging. Almost.

"We are here."

"What?" Mugen glanced at Jin who was looking down a ridge a little ways from them.

"What? What'd he say? I didn't hear." Fuu coughed still trying to catch her breath.

"Maybe if you weren't wheezing so hard." He grumbled, walking over to Jin.

"What! If you have something to say about me, then say it to me, you little creep!" Fuu snapped.

Staring over the ridge, he ignored her raving, more intent on seeing what the samurai was talking about. "What do you mean 'we're here'? What the hell is this? This isn't Nagasaki!" Mugen gawked. "I swear, if you got us fucking lost again…." He warned.

"We have already passed Nagasaki." Jin explained calmly.

"WHAT!" Fuu shouted.

"You didn't seem to have a hard time hearing that!" Mugen hollered back to her from their point on the ledge.

"Our destination is Ikitsuki Island. It is just a little north of Nagasaki." Jin informed.

"So then we have to take another ferry?" Fuu asked, coming to stand next to them.

Jin adjusted his spectacles against the bridge of his nose where they'd slipped. "Yes, I believe we do have the money for it."

Nodding her concurrence, Fuu agreed, cautiously starting down the rocky crest.

"Hey!" Mugen snapped, snatching the back of her kimono.

"Perhaps we should find a path or road down instead." Jin suggested.

"This way will get us there quicker." She protested. "And the faster we get down, the more time we'll have to grab some lunch."

After a little hesitation, Jin conceded, glimpsing at Mugen who still had Fuu tethered firmly to the peak. "Fine." The pirate relented, stepping down the decline, now grasping the girl's upper arm as they carefully descended the ridge.

Fuu stepped and twisted clumsily, watching where she put her foot and trying not to slip. Though when she did, Mugen had a tight hold on her and she only came out with a sore arm instead of a broken body. "See, this isn't so bad." She rationalized. "And I-Aah!" She squealed, slipping on a patch of damp moss and tumbling headfirst.

Luckily Mugen's grip didn't waver and he was able to dig the heel of his geta into the ground to secure himself in time to steady her. A few small stones continued plunging down the bone shattering path her body might have taken, leaving her trembling and staring after them, picturing her head following them in their plummet. "Ok, I lied." She squeaked, her eyes wide and frightened.

"Idiot." Mugen muttered, now hanging onto her with both hands, one clutching the back of her kimono and the other still seizing her arm.

Her little dodge with fate had her too paranoid to put up much of a fight against his insults so she simply nodded and let him lead her along down the edge. If she had been cautious before, she was absolutely skittish now, keeping her eyes on her feet and scanning every patch of ground for hazards before stepping on it. She jumped when she felt Mugen unexpectedly poke at her back.

"Stop staring at the ground, you're going to get dizzy and fall on your ass again." He chided.

Her ass would have been the last thing she would've landed on but the constant shifting in the grass was making her a little lightheaded, not that she would admit it to him. Rather, she casually lifted her head, trying to make it look as if she'd done it of her own accord.

Jin was the first to reach the bottom, patiently waiting for the others to join him minutes later. Fuu attempted hopping down on her own but was more or less lowered to the floor by Mugen when he refused to release his hold on her robes until her feet touched the road. He jumped off shortly after her and she gave him an annoyed look, having to right her kimono after he'd pulled the folds out of place.

"Ok, we're down, lets eat." He declared.

The little group traveled down the streets, staring around the city, observing the clusters of people going in and out of shops and homes. "Wow, this place is big." Fuu breathed in awe. She had only lived in a small village that was nothing compared to this. "Oh look! A bakery! I bet they have this really good sponge cake there, Castillo." She all but drooled, spying the goods within as they passed

Neither of her companions seemed too impressed with the sights, though their travels had probably led them to dozens of cities just like this. "Hey, there's a place." Mugen pointed to what looked like a small restaurant ahead to their right. "Lets go there." He demanded.

Fuu wanted to look around a bit more but Jin didn't protest so she assumed both men wanted to eat now. Following Mugen, they entered the traditional looking bistro, sitting down at the nearest table. It wasn't so crowded and a waiter was with them shortly after they'd seated themselves.

"Can I take your order?" He asked as they began scanning their menus with a bit of confusion.

Peeking at him with a sideways glance, Fuu noticed Mugen's eyes running over the lists, reflecting in them little recognition or comprehension. She supposed reading was still not one of his stronger points. "What do you recommend?" She inquired.

"There seems to be many foreign items on your menu." Jin remarked.

"Hai, we get a lot of foreigners coming through here. I believe you would enjoy the Shabushabu." He offered.

"I know that dish! I think they'd like that." Fuu perked up. Proud to have some personal insight into such a big city.

The server bowed respectably and wrote down their order. "It will be right with you."

"Excuse me," Jin paused the waiter as he turned to leave, "would you happen to know the whereabouts of the nearest ferry?"

"Of course, its not far from here. When you leave, take a right and keep going straight until you reach a vegetable stand, take a left and soon after you'll reach the pier. A ferryman should be somewhere along there." He instructed.

"Thank you." He replied, absorbing the information.

Fuu let her eyes roam about the restaurant. There weren't many decorations on the wall but the simplicity of it all gave it a certain air of hominess. Her attention settled on a decent sized painting hanging near the entrance. It was of a new bride standing before a temple. It was beautiful and she liked to imagine that was what her mother looked like at her own wedding; dressed all in white, a long trailing veil with precious head ornaments adorning it, face painted porcelain and lips smeared a rosy cherry red.

Mugen had once asked her if she wanted to get married. It was a few months after they found out about her pregnancy. They were passing through a town and Fuu had noticed a matchmaking in the process. The go-between was introducing one mother to the other and Fuu couldn't help but become slightly nostalgic. Mugen obviously caught onto what she was staring at and roughly asked her if she wanted to get married too as long as they were there. Scoffing at the idea, Fuu commented that she was already giving him a kid, why was he asking her to do more? Glaring at her, Mugen spat that he was only asking so she couldn't whine later that he never did; but if she wanted to stay a whore that was just fine with him.

He never brought the subject up again but did however make nasty jabs at her the next few days after. She didn't need Mugen doing her any favors. The idea of marrying him held the same merit as slitting her own throat. To her, the two might as well be one and the same. Bearing his offspring and marrying him were two totally different things. She wanted to legitimize this whole thing about as much as she wanted to legitimize her funeral. Standing next to him in a temple would be signing away everything she held dear. She wasn't' ready to give up her freedom, to give up her dreams, her choice, her way out. She wasn't ready to sign that all away.

The sickness in her stomach returned. She would soon be going to her father's home. There was a bit of curiosity over what it would look like, or who would be there. If he was wed to another woman and the father of other children she didn't think she would be able to stop at just punching him when she saw him. Would he know her when he saw her? Would she even know him?

"So what's Shabushabu?" Mugen asked, nudging Fuu to get her attention.

"Huh? Oh, it's a dish where you get some uncooked beef and vegetables and a bowl of really hot broth. You dip the meat in the soup, and then you dip the vegetable in after. That's how it goes." She explained.

"Is it expensive?" Jin questioned doubtfully, eyeing some of the other prices that certainly weren't the cheapest he'd ever seen.

"I don't know. I guess its different everywhere." She said now noticing the prices too. Maybe her choice had been a mistake…

A low rumble echoed around their table and Mugen rubbed his stomach in annoyance. "So damn hungry…" He grumbled.

Fighting the urge to laugh, Fuu merely smiled to herself. She wondered if Jin's stomach ever growled like that. It was a hard image to picture, the ever stoic and genteel samurai, the poster boy of propriety and protocol with a rumbling stomach in a public place. Raising a hand to her mouth she couldn't help but giggle a little as the picture came unbidden to her mind. It was too bad she never got the chance to see such a scene in person.

And now it appeared that she never would. Fuu sighed, feeling all the humor fade away. He'd asked her what her plans were after she found the Sunflower Samurai. She was curious if he had any plans himself. What was he going to do once this was all over? It would be at least another two years before he could go search for his bordello woman. It was a rapidly approaching future and she felt like she was the only one caught off guard by it.

"Here you are!"

The group looked up at the announcement as the waiter returned with a large trey. Setting it down he passed around the three bowls and the rest of the dishes. "I hope you enjoy." He said cheerfully.

Fuu and Jin nodded their thanks while Mugen simply dug in, shoveling bite after bite like it was disappearing off the face of the earth.

Unlike the other too, Fuu just stared at her meal before her. It was quite possibly the first time any food of any sort didn't appear very appetizing to her. Twining her chopsticks through her fingers, she played with the stew a bit before becoming bored and returning to looking around the room and other faces in it.

"What's with you?"

She glimpsed up to find both Jin and Mugen staring at her expectantly. "What?"

"Are you eating or what?" Mugen asked, slurping down another bite of soup soaked meat.

Shaking her head negatively she set her utensils down and sighed. "No, I'm not feeling too well today. You guys can have it." She offered, pushing her bowl between them.

Apparently 'you guys' translated to 'Mugen only' in the pirate's head and before Fuu's hand even left the pottery he possessively snatched it up, gaining a scathing frown from the samurai across from him. "Since when do you not eat?" He slurred, pouring some of the stew into his mouth straight from the container.

"Since you called me a cow." Fuu glowered at him.

"Basukyou said it was not healthy for you to abstain from eating." Jin reminded, picking up a piece of vegetable.

"Well Basukyou's not here so-Mugen would you stop eating all the meat!" She snapped.

"What?" He pulled his bowl closer to him, chewing another slice of beef and picking at the rest.

"That's not how you're supposed to eat Shabushabu!" She griped. "First the meat, then the vegetable, meat, vegetable, meat, vegetable." She instructed, pointing at the respective food groups.

"What're you, the soup police?" Mugen jeered. "Quiet. You said you weren't eating."

"I guess I don't really have a choice now." She groused, watching him finish the rest of her meal with gusto.

Fuu rolled her eyes and watched the men polish off their plates. It didn't matter; she wasn't lying when she said she'd lost her appetite. She just hoped it didn't come back later and she forever regretted the day she passed her bowl over to Mugen. Her fingers slid around her unusually still abdomen, the thumping inside her had been strangely absent all day, not that she was complaining mind you.

Pouring the last bits of stew and food into his bowl, Mugen emptied the remains down his throat, licking the juice off his bottom lip and swiping his hand across him mouth when he finished. He sighed pleasurably at his satisfied stomach. "Ok, lets go." He declared, rising to his feet.

Jin seemed to be done as well and left some money on the table before following the others out the door.

As they walked down the road, following the directions the waiter had given them, there was something in the air that day. Hope? Anticipation maybe? Fuu wasn't quite positive what it was but it was as if it surrounded her, being everywhere at once but never touching her. Mugen walked beside her, arms slung lazily behind his head, and a slothful contentment about him. Even Jin appeared some how, lighter, like the feeling one has after completing a hundred mile marathon.

But there was no lightness in her. No satisfaction about her. If anything she felt as though a boulder had been rudely thrown on her back. The vegetable stand came into view and they took the appropriate left. Turning around the last building, the wide ocean spread and spilled into sight. Her eyes wandered along the edge, scanning and settling on a second dock where sure enough a ferryman stood on his boat waiting for paying passengers. "Present!" Fuu yelped, jumping in surprise.

Both men stooped and abruptly turned, giving her an odd look.

"I almost forgot to buy a present!" She explained, hurriedly fishing out her change purse before either companion could question her. "I want the Castillo at the bakery. Both of you go get it!" She ordered, shoving the pouch at Mugen and pushing them both along. "Go, I'll haggle with the ferry fee."

Mugen glanced sourly at the pink, girly handbag she'd tossed at him. "What the hell's her problem?" He griped, thrusting the little purse at Jin. "Here."

Fuu watched them go and smiled, her attention diverting to her stomach as she placed her hand on it once more, the smile fading from her face.

--------------------------------------------

They only got lost once, and bantered only once about asking directions, with Mugen refusing and Jin calling him a spineless idiot and on it went. But finally they reached and recognized the bakery that'd caught Fuu's attention and ambled in, searching around for anything that looked like the cake she'd described. Well, Jin did most of the searching, Mugen more or less waited impatiently in the middle of the room scratching his chin uninterestedly.

"Is this Castillo?" Jin inquired, pointing to a square, fluffy looking yellow pastry.

The shopkeeper came over to him and beamed brightly at the prospect of a sale. "It is." He nodded.

Jin knelt and examined the price. "These are very expensive." He mumbled underneath his breath.

"How much is in the purse?"

The samurai's gaze flickered to his right where Mugen was kneeling beside him, apparently choosing to actually do something beside laze about for once. "I am not sure." He replied, opening the pouch only to pull out a small pebble. "Hn?"

"What's that? Where's the money?" Mugen questioned, looking over Jin's shoulder as he continued to paw around the pebbles that appeared to be crushing something.

"It's a letter." He remarked, his normally calm voice tinged with surprise. Pulling it out his eyes skimmed over the contents before remembering to read aloud, knowing the pirate's literacy was not the best.

'Farewell is going to be painful, so I'm going alone. When we talked in front of the fire Jin, you asked me where these past events fit into my plan for everything. I'm answering you now: I don't know. I didn't think much past our journey. I thought I would have all the time in the world, like this could last forever. I wished that it would continue forever.

But all of the sudden at that moment, when I started thinking about it, I got scared. I began feeling that I might have depended too much on Mugen and Jin. I'd always thought I would be fine by myself after the journey ends, but then I wondered and started doubting myself. I thought about it a lot. That's why I'm going alone. I can't have you guys with me forever. I need to go on alone for my own quest to end. At last, you guys were saying that the battle would be postponed until the end of the journey. I really don't want both of you to fight. The Castillo is my farewell gift. Please think carefully while you're eating them.

Till we meet again someday'

Jin had barely finished the letter before it was snatched from him and vengefully shredded to pieces.

"STUPID BITCH!" Mugen roared, leaping to his feet and making a mad dash into the streets.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid bitch! He should have known she'd pull something like this! Why the hell wasn't he paying attention, why didn't he see it coming sooner! Mugen raced wildly through the streets, he could vaguely hear Jin some way behind him, but there was such a furious ringing in his ears he could focus on little else other than the winding road in front of him. Idiot, he was going to drag her back by her hair if he had to! He knew where she was going, she couldn't be that hard to find. She was heading to a fucking island for Gods' sake.

Shit, how long had she been planning this? He wasn't joking this time, he was going to put her on a leash when he found her. Women simply couldn't be trusted, end of story. His legs pumped harder, driving him feverishly down the road, not caring who he bumped into or threw off in the process. Where the hell was that vegetable stand! The edges of his vision smeared in one fast blur, his mind too angry to concentrate.

---flashback---

"Do you plan to stay with Mugen?" He inquired.

"Forever!" Fuu squawked incredulously.

"You do not mean to stay with him then?"

"I don't know. Forever is a really long time. I'd never planned to stay with him at all." She admitted.

---end flashback---

Mugen dashed down the path faster, shoving past anyone who got in his way.

---flashback---

"They're going to keep sending stronger assassins. What happens when they finally send one that's too strong?" She pressed, looking up at him.

---end flashback---

Manipulative whore. Acting as if she was concerned about him. She stopped that long ago, he was an idiot to think different. There! There was the vegetable stand! Almost skidding into said produce hut, he barely managed to make a hairpin turn at the last minute. Darting wildly down the ocean edge, his eyes scanning for any signs of a boat on the horizon. Bitch, she was nothing but a conniving, fickle little wench!

---flashback---

"Fuu-chan must be happy."

"Her?"

"……she gets to be with you."

---end flashback---

He snorted bitterly. She was never fucking happy. She was…she was….she was still here… Mugen's mad sprint came to a light jog as he spotted the same pier they were given directions to. She was still there, her back facing him, staring out into the ocean where the ferry was rowing off without her. He hesitated suspiciously before walking over to her, surprised and curious to find her standing in the same spot they'd left her in. Her profile gradually came into sight and he stopped when he stood beside her. Her face looked impossibly tense, as if she were trying desperately to hold off tears, and her fingers flexed awkwardly over her swollen stomach.

Slowly she turned her head to look at him, her eyes wet and glossy with sorrow, her lip quivered as she tried to speak. "I can't see him like this." She whimpered as the damn broke and she could beat down her tears no longer. Lowering her chin, she wept against her chest, her shoulders trembling with each heart-wrenching sob.

No, she was never happy. Mugen rubbed his knotted shoulder uncomfortably, again feeling out of place and inadequate when she cried. He looked over to see Jin standing a few yards away from them, clearly surprised as well to see her still there. The samurai could obviously tell she was crying and Mugen waited, watching, seeing what he would do. Waiting for him to do whatever it was that apparently every male besides him knew to do when females started bawling. He waited. A few minutes passed, and then multiplied into more, and gradually became too long of a wait.

He didn't know if the bastard was waiting for him to do something or if he knew just as little as he did about the situation. Either way, Jin simply stayed where he was, observing them from a small distance. Mugen snorted cynically. "Useless asshole." He muttered under his breath. Maybe there just wasn't anything a man could do when women were like this. Maybe it was like a storm and there was nothing to do but wait it out. Still, he felt he should say something to her, something that she would like to hear right about now. Unfortunately, when the only even remotely affectionate things said to you were either "I beg of you, spare me, I'll do anything!" or "May the Gods show mercy to your soul" you were bound to be a little inapt at the art of consoling.

"Hope derives from despair, but it's difficult for people to live without hope, so the only choice is to live with despair."

That didn't exactly sound like something that was supposed to make somebody feel better. Mugen glanced at the solemn voice to see a man at his side staring out into the ocean. He appeared to be about middle aged, with a dark, thin beard lining his lips and chin. He was clothed in samurai garb though the material looked bland and cheap with its plain pattern and dun coloring. "Who the hell are you?" Mugen groused.

It was as if he hadn't even spoken at all and the newcomer disregarded him, looking right through him at the girl hovering behind. "You are Kasumi's daughter." It wasn't really a question.

Mugen tensed at this, now beginning to take this stranger seriously. Jin had come closer with the man's arrival and stood next to Fuu, regarding the new arrival carefully. Fuu tried to move Mugen out of her way, wanting to get a better look at the strange man but he easily shirked her hand away, refusing to budge. "Do you know Kasumi Seizou?" Jin inquired.

"He is a criminal whose heart was stolen by a foreign religion and abandoned his country." He replied coldly. "I have heard that he escaped here to Kyushu and was involved in the Shimabara rebellion." He said glimpsing at the little island. Fuu's gasp caught his attention once again and he turned, his eyes settling detachedly onto her. "He's the man the Shogunate most wants to erase. We've known from the beginning about the daughter who was seeking him, and we let her travel freely because we wanted to find him. I am Guard Commander Kariya Kagetoki, I have orders to kill Seizou-san's entire family and followers once he is dead."

Fuu's fingers clenched into Mugen's back, her eyes going wide and frightened. Mugen glowered fiercely, readying himself and unsheathing his sword. Jin's gaze narrowed but he remained as he was and simply studied the assassin.

"But," Kariya continued, "It would appear his following has abandoned him and I already have the last of his family within my grasp. Therefore, if you're the daughter of a samurai, you should face your death bravely." He said calmly drawing his blade.

"You can shove your orders up your ass!" Mugen snarled lunging for him.

The man evaded the attack with Godlike ease and Mugen quickly leapt into a flip to keep from being taken off balance. Diving in again his flurry of kicks and swipes seemed to pass right through him with no affect. Back springing onto his hands he kicked off his geta, bounding onto his feet and slinging them at the stranger's head. Using the given distraction Mugen dove behind a load of shipment beans, yanking them up end first as the other male was dodging the flying geta. Throwing the whole shipment into the air it came raining down on his opponent like thick hale, providing a temporary screen for him to lunge in again.

Fuu watched the battle, her mouth open in horror. Mugen was loosing! He was actually loosing! Her heart pounded in her chest and her hands were shaking against her.

Jin observed the adversaries, taking note on techniques and styles through narrowed eyed. "Run." He breathed almost inaudibly.

Startled by the samurai's sudden command, she couldn't quite make out what he said. "What?"

"Run!" He whispered harshly, eyes still on the combatants.

She jolted in surprise but nodded an affirmation and took off down the dirt road leading into the forest.

Once he was sure she was at least a safe distance away, Jin mentally braced himself to face this new powerful threat. His eyes followed Mugen's swings and ducks and the other man's evasions. The assassin didn't even seem interested in the fight himself.

Unbeknownst to them, a head of pale blond hair poked itself out of its hiding place between more produce shipments, his own dotted irises heatedly tracing the battle.

--------------------------------------------

Fuu dashed through the pines and the foliage, nearly tripping over up-grown roots and stray limps. She wanted to think about what the man had told her. But her mind simply wouldn't allow it. The only think her brain was pumping through her now was 'faster', 'faster!' 'FASTER!' Swallowing some saliva down to her quickly drying throat she fought against the pain in her side coming to play with her terrified dashing.

Her mind in such a panicked clutter she stumbled, almost running straight into another person. She started back, panting to regain lost breath. The man before her sat calmly in a wooden chair on wheels, staring at her through glassy, inhuman eyes. "Hello," she breathed, her arm coming up to hug the pang in her ribcage, "could you help me? I need a place to hide." She pleaded.

"How very sad."

Her brow furrowed at the statement, though the odd man's lips never moved.

"You've come such a long way. And for what?"

The voice was coming from behind her and she looked over her shoulder to see another man. This one tall and tan with a missing eye, leaning against a nearby tree, lazily examining what looked like a scythe in his hand. "What do you mean?" She rotated to face him.

"All this work, all this time for nothing." He continued. "Are you too frightened, or just too ashamed to complete your journey? Oh I know a lot about that." He twirled the butt of the blade through nimble fingers, his tone carrying something akin to mock-sympathy.

Fuu stepped back fearfully, carefully avoiding the other stranger behind her. "Who are you? How do you know about my journey?" She demanded.

The man smiled deviously at her, his lips turning up into a vicious grin. "Why shouldn't I know all about it? I will be the one to end it."

Staggering away from him when he began to advance, she cringed as her back hit another tree behind her. "You can't." She beseeched. "I'm going to have a baby." Fuu's lip trembled as he crept nearer, now observing her with a flicker of amusement, his eyes running up and down her transformed physique. Her lids clenched shut tightly, feeling his blade trail idly down her stomach when he came close enough to touch. 'You can't hurt a pregnant girl! You can't hurt a pregnant girl! You can't hurt a pregnant girl!' She chanted in her head. 'Everybody knows that! Especially a young pregnant girl! You can't hurt a pregnant girl!'

She could now feel his breath blowing hotly in her ear. "This is his, isn't it?" He whispered, prodding her belly with the rapier.

"What?" She tried to suck in her abdomen, not comfortable with the way the edge of the scythe was resting on it.

"The ryuukyuu-jin. Your Mugen." His words were filled with a false sweetness.

Fuu shook her head furiously. "No! It's Jin's. The other man's, if you know so much about me." She denied.

The man chuckled nastily, pressing the blade further against her skin making her gasp at the coldness digging through the material of her yukata. "Little liar." He chided affectionately.

His fingers skimmed alongside her cheek, and she winced at the pseudo warmth in the gesture.

"You have a demon growing inside you. Did you know?" His hand cupped the side of her belly, trying to feel the life there. "I can't help but think," he added, "that if someone had just done something about that screaming bitch of a mother he came wailing out of, none of this would be happening." He sighed, his breath tickling her face. "My brothers and I would be still be in the Satsuma-han, happily bettering ourselves through the ranks. And you," His hand went from her stomach to finger her chin "where would you be? The respectable wife of another man? Working peacefully in a little shop somewhere? Or perhaps it would be the other man's child in here as you said." He smirked "Instead of this hell spawn residing in your womb now." Fuu cried out when the scythe rubbed harshly against her stomach. "Well, lets not make the same mistake twice." He whispered.

Fuu's eyes followed the blade as his arms swung up, bringing the weapon high above his head. Her panicked fingers clawed at the bark behind her as through trying to dig her way through it somehow. She gasped, mouth opening in an earsplitting scream as he brought the scythe down on her head.

--------------------------------------------

The bastard was mocking him! Mugen growled frustratedly, not being able to land a single hit on him. The other man wasn't even trying to attack, simply toying with him with his evasive maneuvers and defensive swings. Mugen flipped, rolled, and keeled down, attempting to lash the feet right out from underneath his opponent. But it was no use; the man was lightning quick and leapt out of the way like child's play.

Gritting his teeth, Mugen rose back up, his mind working quick to think up another plan.

"Your moves are skilled and unpredictable. But the reliance on instinct and reflexes has its limits in the art of war. It requires more intelligence." Kariya said calmly as if speaking to an impatient child.

Mugen snarled heatedly at his brush off. "Stop bragging and fight!" He barked, rushing the assassin.

Neither got the chance to blink as Kariya waited until the last minute to pivot out of the way, Mugen's momentum sending him stumbling past him with the unexpected lack of resistance. Before the pirate could regain his footing, the other man was on him, barreling him off the cobblestone ledge and into the sea.

Jin watched as Mugen came up sputtering, his fingers searching the rocky edge for a hold. Kariya then coolly sat down, crossing his feet and patiently waiting for Mugen to crawl back up the side. An unhinged laughter exploded into the air, catching all three opponents' attention.

Heaving himself back onto the dirt ground, Mugen glowered at the stocky blond man currently heckling them from his perch on a shipment bin. He noticed the metal claw-like contraption that took up the better portion of his right hand. "What the hell're you?" He growled out, his hair and clothes plastered to his skin.

The misshapen thing's disturbed giggling died down and he gave him a toothy smile. "Loosing your wife and your life all in the same day." He sing-songed, rocking side to side.

"What're you talking about!" He rejoined irritatedly at being taken from combat.

The shorter man gave a merry laugh, his fingers, both metal and skin digging into the wooden side of the crate. "We've got your little woman, Mugen." He taunted. "Better find her," He mocked, "before she's torn to tiny pieces." He giggled.

Mugen's fists clenched furiously, wanting to fling his sword through the ridiculing creature's head. He had never run from a fight before! What the hell was he supposed to do? He had to go to Fuu but he couldn't leave this asshole here!

Frowning as the blond man leapt away, Jin came composedly forward. He eyed Kariya who was now rising to his feet. "Go." He instructed, never taking his attention away from the other samurai.

Mugen balked. "You go!" He snapped. He wasn't letting the son of a bitch get a one up on him.

"Go get Fuu, Mugen." Jin said more firmly.

"Stop wasting my time." Kariya commanded. "Who is to be my opponent?"

The little bastard's warning still resounded in his head. He snorted exasperatedly. There wasn't a chance he would be able to concentrate on the battle now anyway. "You better not fucking die." Mugen rebuked, darting down the road Fuu had taken.

--------------------------------------------

Barely managing to duck the scythe speeding down onto her, Fuu bobbed underneath his arm, the blade going straight through the trunk itself. Jumping as the large pine tumbled into the earth with a resounding crash, she dashed to her left, hoping she was taking the right turn that would lead her directly into town if she kept going.

Fuu zigged and zagged, the blade coming at her from all angles, clearing away whole bushes and trees. She urged herself on faster, she had to get to the city, if luck was with her she would be able to loose herself in a crowd somewhere. A sudden odd twinge ripped through her lower abdomen and it felt as though a damn in her had broken and a flood burst down her legs. The fluid puddled onto the grass, making it wet and slimy and she cried out when her foot slipped on the trail, sending her face first into the ground. She landed with a grunt and a groan, hurriedly regaining her bearings and clambering to her feet only to be knocked back down when the weapon sliced the air above her head.

Scrambling onto her back she frantically tried to crab-walk away as he approached. Her lungs raped the area of its oxygen, attempting to keep up with the adrenaline her brain was shooting through her system. Everything in her was screaming to get up and run but she was too afraid to turn her back on him again. The wetness between her thighs seeped through the crotch of her robes, adding confusion and more fear to her terror. What was going on! Had she wet herself? It definitely wouldn't surprise her right about now.

He continued forward, his pace relaxed and cool. "Come now, you're doing the world a favor. This is for the greater good, don't you see?" His voice dripped with vicious kindness, making her feel filthy and horrified at the same time.

Her hands were still covered in the odd liquid now staining the grass, making the heel of her palm slide behind her and her body fall backwards. She yelped, quickly yanking her sore wrist out from under her, when a new pain seared up her back and through her stomach. Fuu curled over herself, holding her abdomen. What was happening to her? Opening her eyes, a pair of covered feet stepped in her line of vision. Jerking her head up, she saw the weapon being raised over his head again. This time she had no way out.

"Close your eyes, and it will all be over." He lilted.

Knotting her lids shut, her arms crossed over her face in a futile attempt to block the blow.

'CLANK!'

But it never came. She peeked out from over her arms in time to see Mugen's sword knock the scythe away from her. The pirate didn't hesitate and instantly went on the offensive, lunging in with a slash, catching the other man's chest in a bloody swipe. The one eyed attacker sprung back, evading the hit just enough to turn a fatal wound into a bleeding scratch.

Mugen inched his feet apart in front of Fuu, ready to attack again. "Get out of here!" He commanded roughly.

Fuu cringed, clutching her stomach as another sharp pang shot through her, worse than the first. "I can't!" She cried.

"Yes, let her stay, Mugen." The man agreed.

"Who are you guys?" He asked, blocking the other male's path to Fuu.

"Don't be stupid!" He snapped. "Even if you've forgotten us, my brothers and I will go to our graves with your memory." He hissed. "We were Satsuhma-han on that sugar ship you and your band of demons raided! We could've been officers if it weren't for you. Instead we were held responsible for your mess and driven out."

Mugen snorted frivolously. "I've raided a lot of sugar ships." He smirked. "They were never worth much. I could usually spend my half of the loot in a night or so."

"You-!" He bellowed, swinging the scythe at his head.

Easily side stepping the strike, the blade went over him and severed another tree. The bark groaned as it lurched forward, falling straight for Fuu. Mugen leapt down, quickly yanking her away, now noticing, for the first time, the dark stain on the front of her robes.

"I don't know what happened." She said, her voice hoarse from crying and fear.

A low chuckle made him turn, still keeping his stance between him and Fuu.

"After I take your head, I'm going to rip that abomination out of her and show it to your dead carcass." He grinned maniacally, advancing on them again.

"Get out of here!" Mugen snapped.

"I told you I ca-!"

"NOW!" He barked shoving her away.

Fuu stumbled with the force of the push but managed to stay on her feet and keep running. The water dripped down her thighs, feeling sticky and gross caking to her skin. She ran faster, wanting to block out the taunting sounds of the one eyed man calling her back. Wheezing for air, she ignored her spleen's protest of abuse.

She felt worn and heavy, her feet beseeching her for a rest. And this throbbing pain running up and down her spine gave her the distinct ardor to lie flat on her back. The town had to be close, she hadn't gone very far, and the forest circled the city, so pretty much any direction was the right direction to run in. Another hot pain speared her stomach and she groaned agonizingly, knowing she couldn't stop to take care of it. The aching twinges were getting worse with time and she needed to reach help.

Frustrated tears raced down her face. Of all the times for this to happen! It seemed everything was coming at her at once. Two men wanted her dead, the shogunate had used her to find her father, Jin and Mugen's lives were in danger, and now something inside her was damaged and causing her pain and she couldn't risk stopping to see what it was. She sent a silent prayer for her companions' safety. Sniffling and blinking back the wetness in her eyes she focused on getting farther from the danger behind her and reaching the safety of the city.

A light filtered through the dense pine needles and tree limbs, spurring her on. Fuu ran towards it hopefully, brushing back bushes and curious branches. Clearing the last forest barrier she rested herself on her knees, panting to catch her breath, looking desperately around at her new scenery. It looked like the city's market. Food and produce stands lined the roads and people crowded the sidewalks and streets.

The jabbing pain flared up again, and she cried out with the torture of it. Yes, they were most definitely getting worse. "Help me!" She howled.

Fuu tried her best to stand up and hobble into the streets, frantically begging for assistance. "Please, I need help!" She wailed, grasping any stranger within reach, only to be rudely brushed off, with the occasional cynical mumble of 'women and their hysterics' from a few passing men.

It was as if she was screaming in a crowd and no one even heard her, literally. Fuu slumped against a wall, sobbing defeatedly. She was in danger, in pain, and alone and no one would help her. Suddenly, hands were gripping her shoulders to balance her and Fuu looked into a pair of alarmed and worried eyes.

"Oh my, you shouldn't be out like this." The older woman supporting her said, noticing the wetness marring Fuu's yukata. "Dear me, your birthing knots have broken, haven't they?"

Wiping the rawness away from her cheeks, Fuu sniffled piteously. "My what?"

Slinging the smaller girl's arm around her shoulders, she gripped her evenly around the middle, guiding her down the sidewalk. "Now you come with me. We can't have you dropping your litter on the side of the street like a stray cat, now can we?"

There was nothing left to do but nod pathetically and let the older woman drag her along. She hadn't understood a good portion of what was going on or what her benefactor was trying to tell her, but she did comprehend the concept of 'come with me.' Which usually involved going to a place better than where she currently was. "Ow!" She cried, her free arm coming to clutch at her side.

"No, no, we mustn't stop." The woman reproached understandingly. "My home isn't very far. My girls and I will get you through this, don't you worry." She added reassuringly.

The idea of walking anywhere wasn't looking as good as it did ten minutes ago. The ache in her lower belly threatened to rip her apart. The sharpness was becoming harder, thicker, more aggressive. "I can't do it!" Fuu sobbed.

The other woman squeezed her hand comfortingly. "Yes you can. Now how about you talk to me? Get your mind off of it." She suggested.

Fuu moaned achingly, wanting badly to lie down.

"There, there. Alright, tell me your name, then. Mine's Nuku." She said, adjusting the young girl in her arm.

"I'm Fuu." She replied, swallowing the thick lump of fear in her throat.

"That's a nice name. Can you tell me how old you are?"

"Fifteen." Fuu tried to regulate her breathing, wanting to find a pattern that helped the pain.

"I see, you must be a newlywed. Congratulations." Nuku praised.

"Please, I want to stop." Fuu wailed, feeling too heavy and hurting too bad to go any further.

"Of course, good thing we're here." Nuku leaned the heaving girl into her, bringing her to a small door and tapping eagerly on it with her free foot. "Kyoko! Yaru!" She commanded. "Open the door quickly!"

Almost instantly the door slid back revealing a girl that looked a few years older than Fuu. "What is it, kaa-san?" Chirped another girl that seemed to be only a year or two younger than her sister.

Nuku hurriedly staggered past them and into the first room. "Get some blankets! Lay one out on the floor, now!"

The daughters didn't question the order and quickly went to work, darting in and out and coming back with a few bundles in each hand. The youngest one unrolled hers and swept it across the floor.

"Good girl, Yaru. Go fill a pale with water and some rags and bring them to me." She said, gently helping Fuu lay back onto the covered ground. "Kyoko, help me get her robes off." She instructed.

The oldest pulled at the obi of Fuu's yukata, while her mother peeled the layers back. Taking the remaining blanket she covered the younger girl's naked body, bunching the bottom end up around Fuu's hips.

"Is she having a baby, Kaa-san?" The oldest, Kyoko, inquired, taking the sloshing pale from Yaru when she came back.

"She will be." Nuku nodded, dipping a rag in the cool water and pressing it to Fuu's sweating forehead.

"I'm having it now?" Fuu's asked weakly.

"Not now, but soon. It usually takes a few hours." The older woman corrected. "My husband and sons should be back from work later, they can go fetch your husband if you like." She offered.

Fuu shook her head tiredly. "I don't know where he is."

"He is on a trip?" Yaru questioned, kneeling beside her next to her sister.

"Kind of." She replied, wiping away water trailing into her eyes.

"What kind of trip?" Kyoko pressed curiously.

"What kind of man would leave his wife alone in your condition?" Yaru huffed, appalled by the notion.

"That's enough you two!" Nuku snapped. "Don't badger her."

Fuu closed her eyes as Kyoko pressed the wet rage tighter against her forehead, and sent a mental thank you to Nuku. "Ah!" She gasped, everywhere below her bellybutton felt like it was curling in on itself, sending throbbing aches jolting up and down her back.

Moving to the foot of the blanket, Nuku kneeled at Fuu's legs, hiking them under her arms and pushing them apart.

"What do you think you're doing!" Fuu exclaimed, blushing furiously at the other woman inspecting the area she knew total strangers weren't supposed to be probing around in.

"You're labor pains are coming closer together. You will need to begin preparing for birthing." She explained, propping Fuu's legs up so they bent at the knees. "Kyoko, get behind her." She said, gesturing to Fuu's head.

Kyoko obediently went to sit behind Fuu, adjusting her until she was spooned against her chest. "I suppose you've already met us." She giggled. "What's your name?"

"Fuu." She sighed, the pain fading temporarily, giving her time to regain her strength. "You have brothers?"

The older girl smiled. "One is twenty three, the other is seventeen, a year younger than I am." She explained. "Don't worry though, Kaa-san won't let the men come in."

Well that was a relief. She didn't think she was ready for three more strangers to see her with her legs spread wide open. "Thank you." She said gratefully. Fuu lay lax in Kyoko's arms, happy to finally feel safe. The adrenalin drained from her body, leaving her tired and wanting to sleep. "Oh Kami-sama!" She shouted, the fierce pain coming back and tangling her spinal cord and organs into little knots.

The lines along Nuku's forehead creased with worry as Fuu's body went taunt. "I think it is time." She announced. "Yaru, go see if you can borrow another blanket from the neighbors if we don't have any."

"What!" Fuu squawked. "No, I'm not ready yet!" She protested.

Nuku smiled a little sadly, her eyes sympathetic and understanding. "You never are."

--------------------------------------------

"How many other bastards have you spawned?" He mocked. "As long as I'm exterminating the Queen I might as well get the rest of the nest."

Mugen sprung away from the chain scythe but couldn't get out of its path fast enough before it wrapped around his elbow, yanking him brutally to the ground. He shouted through gritted teeth at the resounding snap echoing in his arm, his sword dropping in the dirt.

The other man giggled joyously, yanking the links back and jerking it at an angle to land the blade deep in the pirate's shoulder. "I'll make you rot while you're still living!" He cried merrily.

Calloused hands darted up, struggling to tug the scythe from the muscle and tissue it was embedded in. Yet another strong yank and he was careening back into the ground. Mugen was quick to regain footing but was shoved into the grass again as the heel of a foot pinned his head to the floor. The butt of the scythe dug, twisted, and grinded into the open wound in his shoulder, as he howled in pain.

"Do you know how wonderful this is for me? How long I've waited to bring you to your knees? I'll make your life a waste, I'll make it like you made ours." The man sneered.

Breathing through his teeth, Mugen winced as more tissue was torn and gnarled under the pole. "Such a pussy.." He spat, blood seeping down his lip.

"What did you say?" He snarled, the hand on his weapon freezing at the other man's gall.

Mugen chuckled, more rivers of red spattering out of his mouth with the effort. "Its survival of the fittest, you freak. If you don't understand that then don't bitch!" He growled, with the blade no longer pinning him down he abruptly spun onto his back, snatching the butt of the scythe and yanking it away as the one eyed man tumbled to the grass beside him.

Taking the chance now that his opponent was on the ground, Mugen swung the pole towards him, the links following in suit and the blade barreling straight into the other male's side. With him shouting in agony, Mugen rolled for his sword, grasping it from the dirt and twisting back to his feet to face him.

Unfortunately his enemy had now regained control of his weapon and watched Mugen carefully through his one good eye. "Dirty little trick." He grinned. "But I've got dirtier."

Mugen followed the blade as he swung it over his head, round and round and round. The scythe circled through the limbs and trees, all crashing to the ground with Mugen trying to duck and dodge every one of them. Somersaulting to the side he barely managed to avoid a tumbling pine trunk before it crushed him.

The asshole was going to bring the whole damn forest crashing down around them! The entire wood came down on him in a shower, the smaller pieces of bark and branch sinking into his skin while he tried to evade the larger, more fatal trunks and treetops. Mugen skidded, and flipped, scanning, calculating any sort of opening he could exploit. "Persistent little bastard." He grumbled, keeping his right side to him to guard his injured left.

There! Mugen's eyes abruptly tunnel-visioned the heckling man's stomach, now a blaring open target with his arms being used to swing the weapon overhead. Determinedly steeling himself, he feigned to the right, dodging to the left to duck the scythe from clipping his ear, and flung his sword straight into the mark.

--------------------------------------------

"Alright dear, I need you to push!" Nuku urged, readying herself at Fuu's open knees

"Push what!" Fuu shouted, wanting nothing more than to clench her legs shut from this agony tearing through her insides like a ball of knives.

Kyoko kneaded the smaller girl's shoulders encouragingly. "You have to try to push the baby out. Tense your lower muscles, that should help."

Her body was developing a thick sheen of sweat shining off her skin. Her hands shook and balled up in fear and stress. She didn't want to do this, it was too hard, her spine already felt like it was being jabbed at by a thousand needles, what more did they want from her? Taking a deep breath, her fingers clutched the fabric of the blanket beneath her and she tried her best to tighten her inner-walls and push against whatever they said she was supposed to push. "Aah! Kami-sama!" She screamed, feeling something from within her move and tear at her.

"Do not stop! You must push!" Nuku compelled, gripping the writhing girl's knees to keep them separated.

"You push!" Fuu snapped back. "It hurts!"

The older woman fixed her with a stern stare. "This child is coming into the world whether you want it to or not. You do not have a choice. You can either suffer a few hours of helping this baby out of you, or you can lay there and make this the most agonizing and seemingly limitless time imaginable."

Fuu's lip quivered and her chest shook with sobs. It hurt! What part of that didn't they get? It was slow, inevitable, and uncontrollable! It felt like she was watching someone gradually skewer her through with a sword, watching the tip slowly slide into her skin, going deeper and deeper and she was helpless to do anything but lie there and take it.

"Here, bite down on this." Kyoko offered, holding a piece of twisted cloth in front of her face.

Still sniffling back the mucus now dripping down her upper lip, Fuu opened her mouth and let the other girl lift it over her bottom teeth. Another wave of torture took over and Fuu's jaw snapped shut, almost taking off two of Kyoko's fingers. She yowled in agony, her back going fixed and rigid as she fought to contract her muscles like they told her.

"Good, Fuu, good." Nuku prompted.

She was burning from the inside! Everything in her was being pulled and ripped apart like wet paper! It was unbearable and unstoppable and she could do nothing but grind her teeth against the cloth and endure. The excruciating ache began to taper down and Fuu was left weeping and breathless. She bawled uncontrollably as Kyoko shushed and soothed her, gently petting her hair back.

"It will be alright." She hushed. "Soon this will be over and you'll be able to hold your baby in your arms and that will take all the pain away." She softly comforted.

Nothing could make this horror go away, Fuu's mind rebelled. She had never felt agony like this in her entire life and at that moment she was willing to bargain with the Gods and simply be pregnant for the rest of her days if it only meant that she would never have to suffer like this again. She cried out and tossed her head back as her body surged with incomparable pain, making her toes curl and her eyelids smash shut.

Nuku wiped her brow, her mouth working in concentration. "Her hips are so small." She fretted worriedly.

"Perhaps you should have waited for your body to develop more until you had a baby." Kyoko advised, her own heart tensing in concern.

What a wonderful idea. Well, she would certainly take her suggestion and shove this thing back into her stomach and simply wait a few more years to let it out. Despite her hospitality, Fuu would have given anything to bash Kyoko's head against the floor until she wasn't angry or suffering anymore.

"This will be difficult." Nuku muttered, gnawing at her bottom lip.

Her insides rocked with torture undeniably worse than the last bout. She bawled and shrieked at the horrendous ripping and burning sensations brought on by the terrible convulsing within her.

Kyoko held Fuu tight, not sure what else could be done to comfort her through such an excruciating experience. "Kaa-san, is she alright?"

The older woman held the sobbing girl's knees tight as blood began to flow from between her legs and stain the white blankets beneath her. "Push girl, push!" She pressed.

Fuu whipped her head from side to side, her feverish thrashing becoming harder and harder for the other women to keep restrained. She could feel more wetness flush down the apex of her thighs with every burning spasm in her back and belly. Her spine throbbed with ache as she bawled and she longed for someone to sooth it away. Another searing contraction tore through her body almost making her jerk right out of Kyoko's arms.

"I see it! It is coming!" Nuku announced. "Hurry Fuu, hurry, you are almost there!"

There were no more short periods to rest between the immense labor pains, now everything was coming at her all at once and she couldn't handle it nor could she make it slow down or stop. Fuu wailed with Nuku's urging encouragements and Kyoko's shushing comforts. There was something slipping out of her and tearing the skin all around it and she screeched as she desperately fought to push it out.

A small bloodied head peeked its way into Nuku's view and her hands urgently went down to help it the rest of the way. "We have it! One more push, Fuu, you are very close!" She exclaimed.

The burning pain didn't seem to be subsiding; rather it only increased and made her feel as though she were being cleaved in two. Writhing against the blankets, Fuu panted and shrieked with the effort to shove it out of her body.

Nuku laughed happily as she was finally able to tug the now screaming baby out of its even louder mother. "Welcome, little one!" She declared.

But no one else even so much as glanced at the new life and Kyoko gasped in horror at the small girl still wailing against her. "Kaa-san!" She screamed.

--------------------------------------------

The scythe was abruptly let go, the chained blade sent hurling into another tree as the sword tore through his stomach and vital organs.

Mugen smirked confidently, watching his eyes go wide and blood gush down his lip as he tumbled convulsingly to the floor. He breathed a weary sigh when his enemy lay unmoving on the ground, wanting to drop to the floor right there; instead he hobbled tiredly over to the fallen man to yank the rapier from his intestines. More wine colored drops spattered onto his face and haori as he crudely ripped the blade out of its sheath of dead muscle and skin.

The weight of his arm made his shattered bones ache and he was desperate to make a sling for it. Shrugging off the dirty red shirt he took it between his teeth ready to tear himself a new hammock for his injured limb, only to hear an unhinged screeching come barreling at him with the sudden weight pouncing on him from behind.

"You will take no more from me!" A high-pitched whine howled in his ear.

A burning sensation ripped through his shoulder as his new attacker's weapon shredded through his collarbone. He shouted with the shining metal now plunging out of his tattered muscle. "Get the hell off me you little freak!" He roared, swinging his sword over his head and into whatever had leapt onto him. Sickening gurgles and grunts accompanied a red liquid spilling onto his already leaking shoulder.

Mugen growled and brought the rapier back down, slinging the stocky body across the forest to slam against a nearby tree. It was the same blond, gargoyle of a man from before. He slid down the trunk leaving a crimson trail in his wake before landing on the grass with a muffled 'thud'. Glaring at the unmoving form, Mugen stepped closer, feeling spiteful towards the cowardly sneak attack. Snorting in disgust he raised his sword ready to take out what was left of his vengeful grudge on the immobile carcass.

The tip of his steel never even touched the cooling skin, a sudden explosion of pain ripping through his side. His fingers clenched around the hilt of his sword to keep from dropping it again. Looking down, Mugen watched as a large spot of red grew and seeped through his shirt, creating a morbid almost heart-shaped pattern. He skimmed his hand over the stain, bringing up more of the burgundy liquid. Twisting around he spied a legless man, grinning sickly at him from his wooden chair on wheels, the arm of his chair lifted to reveal the smoking barrel of a gun.

His good arm, still clinging to his sword, wrapped protectively around the new wound as he limped over to the culprit. "Fucking psycho.." he growled, lashing a kick out to the chair, sending it crashing to the floor.

The wood splintered into pieces, a stack of sparking dynamite littering out of a small compartment in the bottom, killing any satisfaction he should have gotten with the act. Mugen's eyes widened and the crippled man sniggered madly.

"Damnit." He swore, having no time to get away before the chair blew apart in a grand explosion of flames, fire and wood.

--------------------------------------------

Everything was gray, white, and black. He couldn't feel his body, he couldn't move, his eyelids were too heavy to open. 'This is it, this is the end for me….' He thought. It was a pretty shitty ending, but he couldn't help being a little relieved. He was just so damn tired.

"get up…."

Her voice was whispering to him, he could practically feel her breath on his face. Mugen groaned and strained to lift his lids and see. There was no color around him; the world was bleak and monotone. The recognizable faceless forms of men in rags and pelts crowded around him. "You again." He muttered. This was really it.

"get up, Mugen….."

And there she was, the bright pink of her robes standing out in all the bland, colorless hues of gray and white. "You…."

Her honey colored orbs seemed to be laughing at him. "get up, Mugen, get up…"

Fuu, how did she get here? Jin damn well better have beaten that Kariya bastard.

"Get up." She ordered more sternly, her eyes no longer amused.

He wanted to tell her he couldn't. He wanted to tell her to get away, get her ass to a safer place, he didn't know who was still out there. She glanced down sadly, her little hand going to her belly where a wet ring of blood was spreading through her kimono, some of it trickling red over her fingers.

"Get up, you idiot." She commanded, her voice becoming deeper, more masculine, yet still oddly familiar.

And he could breath again. Mugen's eyes shot open, his mouth contorting into hacking coughs, fueling the searing pain already shooting through various parts of his body. Wiping a trail of crimson off his mouth he looked up to see a weary and battered Jin frowning down at him.

"It is about time, you imbecile." He mumbled disgruntledly.

The samurai looked positively ragged. His clothes were torn almost completely off his body, his hair was down and unkempt, and he was bleeding from multiple wounds scattered all over him. Mugen imagined he didn't look much better.

"Get up, we must leave quickly."

Smoke was everywhere, killing any oxygen left in the area. Mugen began hacking again, trying to sit up. What was left or still standing of the forest was on fire, every tree, bush, and blade of grass set aflame. He moaned and grunted, finally making it up. Feeling somewhat out of place and naked he noticed that his sword was indeed missing and doubted it would even be worth finding now.

Jin stood, using his own blade as a crutch, as he waited patiently for the other man to stand on his own. "Where is Fuu?" He asked.

Mugen clutched his gunshot wound and started walking, a limp handicapping his step. "She ran this way, other than that I have no idea."

Nodding, Jin chose to focus on both of them getting out of there alive, staying away from the larger flames and the falling limbs and trees. "The town is near, she must have gone there."

The vision of her terrified form quivering on the ground came to mind and Mugen felt his stomach clench at the image of the stain on the front of her kimono. "I think something was wrong with her."

Jin's lips set in a grim line. He doubted this kind of stress could be good for a girl in her condition. "We will find her."

A low roar of voices could be heard as they drew closer; obviously they weren't the only ones that had taken notice of the enflamed woodland. Several able bodies darted past them carrying full buckets of water, hardly noticing the two injured men wobbling through the fire-encased forest. Both were too worn to care.

Finally making it over the last foliage boundary separating the city from the woods, they limped into the streets, a crowd already lined around it to see the horrible flames engulf their trees. Jin was the first to attempt getting one of the onlooker's attention. "Excuse me, we are looking for someone-"

"Not now! Can't you see what's happening!" The stranger snapped, pointing to the blazing forest before turning back and pointedly ignoring the two.

There was no time for this shit. Snapping his good hand out, Mugen snatched up the man's collar, yanking him to his face. "We're looking for a girl, young, short, pregnant-"

"Are you talking about Fuu?"

Whipping his head to the side, Jin spied a young girl observing them curiously, a small bundle of blankets cradled in her arms. "Do you know her?" He asked.

The girl nodded affirmatively, adjusting her burden in her hold. "She's with us. Kaa-san found her on the street having her baby so she took her in. I've been trying all day to find some sheets for her." She explained.

Mugen abruptly dropped the man from his grip and moved over to the young girl. "Well where the hell is she! Lets go!" He ordered harshly.

She said a quick confirmation and began to jog in the direction she had been going before stopping to question them. "Follow me!"

Running hurt like hell but thankfully the adrenaline started to spur through him and dull the pain. She was having the kid. She was having the kid and she was alone. Shit. He sprinted faster, trying his best not to jostle the useless arm too much.

"It's just down this way! C'mon!" She urged, waving to them.

They took a quick a left and saw what appeared to be three men waiting idly by a door a few yards in front of them.

"Tou-san!" She called, rushing up to the oldest looking man. "You're back! What happened?"

The man that was obviously her father shrugged. "Your sister told us what happened and your mother said no men were allowed in for now." He replied.

"The hell we aren't." Mugen growled barreling into the door.

The other men quickly took hold of him and tried unsuccessfully to restrain him but he easily shoved them back and burst through the door, leaving Jin to keep the three away.

She was the first and only thing he saw going in, and it felt like every organ in his body dropped to his feet. He couldn't breath, couldn't make air go into his lungs and chest. She lay lifelessly in a pool of scarlet, tangled in sheets that he could only guess had once been white. But now they were nothing but drowned rags of burgundy and bright red. The swell of her stomach was gone and a blanket had been haphazardly thrown over her naked and bleeding body. She was a sickly pale, sweat plastered locks of hair to her face and the rest was more knotted in her chopsticks than held up by them.

He only made it a few steps before collapsing to his knees beside her. "Get up." He muttered, though it was so low he wasn't even sure he had said it at all.

There was no more pain, not in his arm, not in his shoulder or side, nothing. He was numb, totally and completely numb. The only thing he could feel was the bile rising in his stomach. "Get up." He commanded again, taking hold of her cold, naked shoulders.

Blood was everywhere. It stained everything. Blood, blood, blood, blood. "I said get up!" He ordered, giving her a hard shake.

"Who are you? What are you doing here? Who let you in?"

He could hear an elderly voice jabbering behind him but couldn't make out what she was saying. It was all drowned out by a deafening roar of silence in his ears. Her head only fell limply back as he shook her, loose tendrils of hair falling away from her placid face.

"Stop that! What do you think you're doing!"

This time, worn, feminine hands grasped at his arm, trying to tug him away from her, but he barely felt it. Mugen gritted his teeth, his muscles tensing as he drew his hand back and brought it slamming across her face. "I SAID GET THE FUCK UP!" He roared, Fuu's head snapping to the side with the force of the slap.

"OW! What!"

Mugen froze, his hand still in midair as her bloodshot eyes jerked open to glare furiously at him.

She had been put through total physical and mental hell, and when she finally gets to rest of course he would ruin it. Her cheek stung and reddened from his abuse and at the moment she wished she were strong enough to retaliate appropriately. Fuu wanted to berate him and get him away from her, but stopped when her attention settled on him at last. His own eyes were wide with the pupils constricted wildly, his hands and knuckles were trembling, though it didn't look like he even knew it. His mouth opened and closed and it seemed, for the first time, he was speechless.

Her anger started to subside and she let the sting in her face gradually fade. "I'm alright. I made it." She weakly announced, her voice high and scratchy from screaming.

Mugen began to relax, his hand coming down but he couldn't tear his gaze away from her. All this blood. There was so fucking much. And she was okay. "Shut up." He grumbled, moving behind her into the same position Kyoko had been with her.

"Fuu, do you know this man?"

Tenderly turning her head, she saw Nuku scowling disapprovingly at the man behind her. "He's the father." She murmured, wanting desperately to go back to sleep.

"Knock it off." Mugen growled, pinching her when she went to close her eyes again.

Fuu sent him a grudging glare but did as he said. She was in no condition to defend herself if he didn't want her to do something.

"I see." The older woman said, still frowning condemningly at Mugen. "Would you like to see your sons, then?"

"My what?" Mugen asked glancing up at that.

Another young woman came up beside what he could only guess was her mother, holding two small bundles in her arms. She knelt next to him and Fuu and presented them with two identical faces staring up at them.

"You are very lucky." She said, smiling impishly.

Twins. He had twins. HA! He bet Jin could never do that! He grinned proudly down at the two as they gazed up him. The two women had obviously cleaned them up, and now two full heads of tousled black hair could be seen, as well and two pairs of stone colored eyes.

"You were out almost instantly after we took the second one." She informed Fuu. "It was a bit of a surprise. Though I think they're very hungry after such a journey, we will give you some privacy for feeding." She said handing them over and standing up with her mother to usher the four arguing men away from the door.

Her arms were weak and Mugen had to help her support the two. The blanket concealing her fell away as she adjusted them against her and they needed no encouragement to eat. Fuu cringed as they practically hooked themselves onto each breast and suckled ravenously. After a few minutes she became used to the queer feeling and looked down at the two newborns. She waited for her 'whole body to go numb and her whole world to center on the little bundles snuggled against her', or for 'all the pain to go away' now that she was holding her babies. She waited for a flood of warmth and sunshine and puppies and whatever else it was every other mother said she would feel on this day.

But nothing. None of it came. There was no river of maternal devotion and instant unconditional love flowing through her like she had never felt before. There was nothing that everyone described. She still hurt, she was still in pain, she was still battered, torn and bloody. The babies hadn't taken any of that away.

She sighed disappointedly and leaned back against him. Maybe Mugen was right. Maybe she was a defective female. "Do you have to watch?" She inquired a little annoyed with his intent peering down at her breasts.

"Damn right I do." He mumbled absentmindedly, his eyes never leaving the sight below him.

Rolling her eyes she grumbled irritatedly under her breath and decided to let him be and instead study what exactly it was that nine months of pure torture had produced. She scanned them over, thick mops of unruly black hair peppering their scalp, dark gray eyes half lidded with sleep, fat little fingers eagerly grasping and clutching their respective meal ticket. She tried but could see next to none of herself in them. Though both identical faces were pudgy and bloated now, she could practically see the facial features that would one day become angular and harsh like their father's. No, they would definitely be no majestic, masculine beauties in their adulthood.

The disappointment in her heart deepened. Nothing of her lineage appeared to have passed on. One of them let go and yawned, taking his attention away from his first breakfast to look up at her. He seemed to be studying her face much like she was studying his own.

Their skin wasn't dark. That was possibly the only thing their bloodline rejected from their paternal side. It was pale, like hers, like her mother's had been. She wondered if it would darken later on in life. If it didn't, it may give them the chance to be average looking at best.

"Got any names picked out?"

It was funny that she actually did. Not that she had ever planned names; they just sort of instantly came to her when he asked. "Jin." She said. "And Shinsuke."

Mugen glowered at the top of her head. "Any other names?" He rumbled unpleasantly.

Fuu turned her nose up arrogantly. "When you can push two living human beings out of your womb, then you can name them anything you want." She rebuked.

Frowning, Mugen gazed down at them, one still suckled hungrily but the other was now sleeping against her breast, thump popped pleasingly in his mouth. Obviously this was going to be a family that played favorites. Well he had already picked his.

"You're bleeding." She said.

"What?"

"You're bleeding against my back. I can feel it."

"I'll be fine." He said grudgingly.

Fuu scoffed mockingly. "You're darn right you will. I'm not doing this all on my own."

Before Mugen could stop her she had already cupped a hand to her mouth. "Nuku!" She called hoarsely.

On cue, the old woman came through the door, all other occupants peering in curiously behind her. "Did you need something, dear?"

"My friends need help." She said.

Nuku nodded glancing behind her. "I could see that, Yaru and Kyoko are already bandaging up your dark haired friend out there."

"He's hurt too." Fuu gestured to Mugen behind her.

"Yaru! Kyoko!" Nuku called, the other girls filed in, pushing their father's and brothers' faces out of the way. "Yaru, get some more bandages and help me with this one. Kyoko, you stay with the other one, we will bring him in here shortly."

--------------------------------------------

Finally. They could rest. The girls helped wash up Fuu, though she insisted she could do it herself. Mugen's wounds were tended to, and he even stayed quiet, with the exception of the expected grunting and wincing, when they pulled out the bullet. Jin was brought in and given a place to sleep off his injuries with the rest of them. They even agreed to care for the children while Fuu regained her strength.

"We'll be out by tomorrow. I promise." Fuu said feeling quite guilty as the old woman tucked her in for the night. This was a big family and it was such a small home for three, now five, strangers to be taking up more space in.

Nuku's smiled amusedly at her, her eyes sparking knowingly. "Of course." She agreed, watching the smaller girl as she fell exhaustedly to sleep.

And they did sleep. And sleep. And sleep. And sleep. Almost two weeks past, and the men went to work and the women tended to the children and the wounds as the other three occupants slept on.

On the ninth day, Fuu woke. She yawned and stretched, feeling better than she had in a long time. The sun shined through a small window and reminded her of the insane dream she had. She dreamt she had given birth, to Mugen's children, and twins at that! Fuu laughed and shook her head, scratching her neck and briefly searching her surroundings for any indication given to where she was.

"Good morning!" A feminine voice giggled.

Looking to the side, Fuu saw an older girl walking towards her, two familiar faces peeking eagerly at her from her arms. Oh.

"You've been sleeping quite awhile. Though after all this I would too." She said handing to two writhing little creatures over to her. "I know two boys that have missed you greatly." She laughed. "Don't worry. We've been feeding them, although that's not an easy task to do when the provider is unconscious." She said mischievously. "I don't think they're hungry now though. We also redressed you, with all the men in the house we didn't want you to wake up embarrassed."

Fuu nodded and thanked her gratefully, looking down at the two tiny boys that now seemed intent on a game of chicken, both demanding more room that her small arms simply didn't have.

"We also gave them some of the boys' old baby clothes." Kyoko informed.

"Wow, I missed so much." She said awestruck.

"It hasn't been so long. Your samurai friend is up as well, he only woke a few hours before you. Perhaps you'd like to see him?"

"Hai, I would."

Kyoko gently helped the younger girl to her feet with babies still in hand. "I have to go help Kaa-san stitch some more clothes, but I'll be here if you need me." She said hurriedly going to help her mother.

It wasn't so sore to walk. A fact that surprised her. Though she had slept a good deal and this shouldn't be so shocking. Stepping out, she slid the door shut behind her with her heel, looking around for the familiar ponytailed form.

"I see Mugen's genes are as dominant as the imbecile himself."

Fuu turned around and there he was, gazing at her with that same cool collected stare he always had. He glanced down from her face to the two wrestling boys, their chubby limbs kicking and meshing together. She suddenly felt ashamed, but tried hard to press it down. "I named one Jin." She murmured, not able to look him in the face.

"Which?"

Oh, that's right. Her attention darted between the two for a moment and one of them seemed to sense her internal distress and glimpsed up at her inquiringly, the other using the distraction to get a good kick in. "This one." She announced, lifting the one now reaching for her hair. "I hope you don't mind."

Jin shook his head, moving closer to her. "I do not mind." He said quietly, observing his new namesake. "I am sure he will need all the head start he can get."

Fuu giggled agreeably. Had stoic, stony Jin just made a joke? Well, it was more of a statement of facts. But still.

"And the other?" He questioned, glancing at the other aggressive baby.

"Hm?"

"What have you named the other one?"

"Oh. Shinsuke." She replied.

He was quiet for a little while before speaking. "I take it, you have decided not to carry on your father's name."

She frowned and hiked the children up more comfortably against her. "I don't even know if I have the right anymore." She said.

Accepting her answer he looked back up at her face. "They are good names, nonetheless."

After all they had been through, it was amazing how wonderful a smile he could bring so effortlessly out of her. "I think so too."

This is the way she would always remember him. Smooth, pale, flawless face, dark eyes gleaming into hers, shining raven hair pulled back. He would forever remain unchanging and ageless in her mind. "You're leaving, aren't you." It wasn't really a question.

Jin didn't answer, but rather continued to watch her face unmovingly.

Fuu looked down, not sure she could keep her emotions in check and look at him at the same time. "I understand."

She felt soft, masculine fingers cup her chin turning it up towards him, and her lids slid shut at the feelings he could still evoke within her.

"We each have our own paths we must follow." He all but breathed.

Opening her eyes she marveled at his touch. When had Jin ever willing touched another person in affection? This was what she had always wanted. This look, this moment. Why was he giving her it now of all times?

"I only regret," He started, "that ours were never meant to intertwine."

And for 15 seconds she was lost. She couldn't stop herself from closing her eyes; from reaching on her tiptoes and touching her lips with his. It wasn't a passionate kiss, it wasn't heated and lustful. It wasn't eager and hopeful like their first. This one was soft, sorrowful, and full of images of what might have been. It was a gentle pressing of lips against one another. And those 15 seconds seemed an eternity. An eternity much too short.

Fuu tenderly let him go and lowered back to her feet, her eyes staying closed until her heels touched the ground, not wanting to wake up from the dream she so badly wanted. Their eyes opened together and this time, this time she knew he had closed them too. He looked the same, but his gaze was softer. And she wondered if she would forever remain this way in his thoughts as he would in hers.

So many questions. So many. So many questions of why? Why now? So many she couldn't bring herself to ask. Not when the answers didn't matter anymore.

It was too late. They both knew. Perhaps it had always been too late. Maybe now she was just realizing what he had known long before her. At that moment she felt a little piece of her die. "Will you go to that other woman?" She asked.

Jin still stared emotionless into her face as he answered. "Yes."

She closed her eyes at the admission, but the hurt wasn't as sharp as it would have been months ago. "Will you keep thinking of me?"

"Yes."

Somehow, that stung more than if he had said 'no.' She would have been so happy with him. "Don't forget me." She whispered.

"You are not someone who can be forgotten." He replied. "Tell Mugen it seems we will not be dueling in this lifetime. I will not kill a father in front of his children."

Fuu nodded, not having the courage to speak anymore.

Jin gave her one last look; as if he were searching her form for any feature he had overlooked to commit to memory. Once satisfied that nothing had been missed, he turned to leave.

Watching his back as he walked serenely down the road she couldn't help feel as though she were five again. He was leaving her again. His outline growing smaller and smaller into the horizone. And it appeared, this time too, she could not run after him.

The samurai was out of sight long before she heard the door slide open. Mugen trudged out, his hair even more of a wrangled mop than usual from sleeping on it wrong for so long. His chest was bare and she could see all the bandages they'd wrapped his wounds in. Scratching behind his ear he walked over to her, still not fully awake.

"What're you doing out here? Where's fish-face?" He inquired.

She noticed his arm was finally in the sling it needed. "He left."

"Where the hell'd he go now?" He yawned.

"I don't know. He's not coming back." She said. He wasn't coming back.

"What?" Now he was awake. "That fucking coward!"

Fuu frowned at him. "Would you at least use lighter swears around them? I don't need their first word being the big one."

At that, Mugen took the time to glance down at the twisting burdens in her arms. They were back to kicking and pushing one another much to Fuu's chagrin.

"What do we do now?" She asked looking up at him.

Mugen's arm slung loosely around her shoulders and he held out his good index finger around her for one of the babies's to grab. Though neither of them seemed that interested in breaking up their wrestling match to snatch at a finger.

He wasn't on his own anymore. He now had more than himself to protect and it was a strange feeling of putting someone else before him. She may not like the things he did or his own techniques for survival, but they were the same techniques that would take care of them. And she would see that eventually. Not that he was giving her much of a choice. "Don't worry about it. I'll take care of it."

--------------------------------------------

Okay well that's it kiddies! Was anyone predicting twins? I noticed a lot of people don't use them in stories. What you guys thinking? Boy or girl or what? Just curious. R&R ppl! And if u r one of those guys that just reads a new chap and doesn't review, now would b a good time to finally take the time to do it since this is the end.

P.S. Fuu's farewell note is this fic is almost the exact same one she wrote in the series. I just had to modify it a little so it fit the fic.