Note for this site: This is only a teaser! I will not be archiving the entire story here because of its content. Please check my Livejournal for the complete version. Click on my name at the top of the page to see my profile and find a link to get there.
The characters and universe of Blade of the Immortal/Mugen no Junin are copyrighted by Hiroaki Samura and do not belong to me. Not one sen will come into my hands in consequence of this story. No, I don't wish I owned Manji in the usual ficcer's fashion. But I like the rough-edged S.O.B. anyway just for knowing where his priorities ought to lie.
This is set during the month or more between the return from Kaga and Giichi's visit. SPOILERS through English issue #98 and collection #14, "Last Blood". Rin and Manji are living in his hut on the outskirts of Edo; Rin has been training during this quiet spell in their existence. Manji doesn't have enough to do, so he's getting restless. After realizing she has surpassed her previous mediocre standard of swordwork, Rin kisses Manji on the mouth while he is sleeping. But at the same time, she tells herself that she "can't go back there", because "someday I'll have to leave this man behind."
So what was that all about? Here's a speculation.
Author's note: If you are not a regular reader of Blade of the Immortal/Mugen no Junin, the manga's unusual contrast of period setting and semi-modern sensibilities may strike you as strange. Much of the manga's dialog is written in 21st-century street-smart Tokyo dialect, and the English-translated version released by Dark Horse renders that in American slang to keep a similar flavor. So the numerous anachronistic expressions in this story should be taken as intended in the spirit of the original. The culture of feudal-era Japan is a particular interest of mine, and I've tried to give a sense of the historical setting. But I hope I know better as a fan fiction writer than to pedantically "correct" anything that Samura-sensei has introduced in a world of his own creation.
I adore feedback. All kinds! Please consider posting a review, or email me at the address in my profile. I pay close and grateful attention to comments and crit; IMO, that's the only way to improve as a writer. I'll include a few notes on historical trivia as needed, but this ain't exactly a research paper! ;-) Have fun…
Squick warnings: Sex in various forms, including quasi-incestuous themes and a 16-year-old female paired with an adult male. Violence will eventually rear its head as well; hey, you have to separate at least one body part from its owner in any BotI story.
by Madame Manga
Manji was asleep now and snoring in long penetrating rattles, the way he always did when he'd drunk a reasonable amount of saké. Rin sighed and turned over with a rustle of the straw pile that served her for a mattress. The close air in the hut felt sultry, even sticky. Although they were sword-training so hard during this quiet spell of their existence that she ached with tiredness every night, the combination of Manji's snoring and the too-warm temperature made sleep elusive.
After kicking off the quilt, she folded back the collar of her light cotton yūkata and stroked the sweaty skin between her breasts. She wished she could pull back the blanket that covered the door to catch any breeze there might be, but the mosquitoes would eat her alive, so she didn't stir. Manji grumbled and snorted in his sleep.
Rin slowly shifted and rotated until she could look at him. A glow of moonlight seeped through the paper-screened window, bright enough to make out objects across the single room and pick out the expression on a face. Manji lay on his left side with his arm flung out and his mouth wide open, looking abandoned though not quite vulnerable. The shoulders of his yūkata were pulled down to the waist, exposing his scarred arms and chest, and his quilt covered him only to the thighs; probably he was feeling too hot as well. But he was definitely asleep. Sometimes she envied him his ability to nap anywhere at any time of day and ignore all distractions and discomforts. His face twitched and worked; what was he dreaming about?
A brief frown creased his brows and then his expression smoothed. Was he fighting someone in the dream? He didn't look confident of victory, but he was resigned to his fate. An almost-familiar look: once he had lain on his side in a pool of his own blood and gazed up at a woman that way. At Otonotachibana Makie.
In some ways Makie-san was everything Rin wanted to be. All grown up, a beautiful woman any man would admire. And a fighter like no one she had ever imagined: even Anotsu Kagehisa bowed down before her ability. By the shore of a mountain lake she had watched Anotsu watch Makie destroy eight men in his defense, and ever since then she had wanted to put that same look on his face some day. Just before she struck off his head…
Manji was still dreaming, and the subject of the dream was a little clearer; he raised his brows, smiled lasciviously and rolled over on his back. Under the thin concealment of the yūkata Rin detected an increasing outcropping of his groin.
She stared at it for a few moments and then turned away with her face burning. She had noticed something stirring there on a few occasions and she knew a little about what it signified, though she had never seen Manji entirely naked, nor indeed any man. Usually he took some pains to avoid offending her modesty, though it wasn't easy in this small hut. She had twice caught him in nothing but a fundoshi loincloth, and both times he had instantly put something over it and yelled at her for creeping around as quietly as a mouse.
She wondered not for the first time how Manji was able to live with her, sleep in the same room, wash from the same basin, and still treat her almost as chastely as if she really had been his little sister. Almost…
One day after a stiff fencing practice she had washed in the shelter of the porch, Manji sitting well around the corner of the hut to give her privacy. The lapses in their conversation grew so long that the silence spoke more and more loudly. Rin was sure Manji was listening to the soft splashing noises as she dipped her hands and sluiced the dust and sweat from her arms and breasts. Perhaps he imagined the shapes the water took, flowing over her body and filming her skin. Like the path his hands would take if they traced the same curves...
A chill doused her that had nothing to do with the unheated water. Her own fantasy? Or an answered echo from his mind, picked from the unseen yet articulate air between them. Who could say where such thoughts came from? A drop fell from one crinkled nipple and plinked in the basin; she heard Manji's back shift against the wall of the hut: and a small, tight, liquid sound as if he had swallowed hard against an obstruction.
Almost immediately after that he had gotten up with a muttered oath and left to buy something for their evening meal, and he had stayed away for a long while.
It wasn't easy for a man to set these things entirely aside in relation to a woman. He'd made jokes about sex at first, probably meaning to mock it in the open rather than leave it to grow under cover; she hadn't realized the wisdom of that course until recently. He knew his own weaknesses, like any good swordsman.
Now he never mentioned that particular failing.
During Rin's solo expedition to Kaga they had been parted for weeks, their first separation since they had met. Manji hadn't said much about his quest to follow and find her, but Rin realized he must have put forth tremendous efforts to overcome the obstacles in his way. Maybe his manner towards her had acquired this little edge of tension since their reunion, his single eye resting on her sometimes with a wary light in it. Then again, her long absence from his side might only have pulled into clearer relief an element that had always been present.
Rin thought she could remember every occasion on which Manji had let the façade slip a little; he would call her his woman or make a remark along similar lines: no one was allowed to harm her on pain of death. Of course he was her yōjimbō—guarding her was his calling. At their first meeting he had said Rin resembled his lost little sister, and he now stood virtually in the place of an elder brother or even of her murdered father. But even in that first hour of their acquaintance Rin had assumed or perhaps divined another undercurrent in Manji's behavior towards her.
Not a tendency that he would ever admit, she knew. He sneered at his own sentiments when he gave any evidence that he had them. Suffering the agony of severed limbs seemed no great effort in comparison to saying anything about the depth or the nature of their unusual attachment. Perhaps he had taken it as an insult when she first tried to offer her body as collateral for his sword arm, but the explosiveness of his refusal might almost have confirmed a fact. That darker element she sensed had nothing to do with the disinterested duties of a guardian, and he probably knew that all too well.
Rin wondered how she felt about the possibility, and what, if anything, she should do. Manji was ten years her senior, hardened and experienced, and she had a dim idea of the mismatch between a man's forceful urges and a girl's tender longings. This wasn't a temporary awkwardness that would pass away, because Manji's body and his desires would never weaken with age. Constantly restored and healed by the strange kessen-chu that circulated in his blood, he would remain youthful and virile forever while Rin left skinny sixteen behind her. One day, perhaps soon, she would be a woman fully arrived at adulthood. The situation could only multiply…
Suddenly Manji stirred and sat up in bed. He yawned, scratched the back of his head and rose, leaving the hut without a glance at her. Obviously he was visiting the latrine. Of course an imperative sensation arose as soon as that occurred to her, and so Rin got up herself, slipped her feet into her wooden geta and waited beside the hut until he came back.
"Huh?" He peered at her when she emerged from the shadows into the moonlight and pulled his yūkata up over his shoulders to cover his chest. "What are you doing out of bed?"
"Same as you…" She brushed past him and went to the little lean-to that Manji had built over the pit toilet. The flies were getting numerous, but at least they weren't as active at night. Rin washed her hands in the pond and returned to the hut.
A smell of tobacco greeted her. Manji sat next to his bed, lighting his pipe with a coal from the remains of their cooking fire. She saw the little glow in the dark, a small ember brightening and waning under the influence of his breathing. Rin settled on her bed again; now feeling chilled from the trip outside and the cold water of the pond, she snuggled the quilt all the way over her body. Manji finished his pipeful, smoked another and tapped out the pellet of ash, but he didn't lie down. She felt his gaze on her, and when he let out a quiet grunt that suggested discontent she rolled over and pushed up on one elbow.
"Manji? Anything wrong?"
"Just thinking." He scowled at her and flung himself on his own pile of straw.
"Thinking about what?"
"Go to sleep."
"But now I'm all curious."
"What?" Now he sounded thoroughly irritated, but she knew that was usually a pose, at least in relation to her.
"How long has it been…since you pillowed with a woman?" She swallowed. "Was it…Makie?"
He didn't answer for a few moments. "No."
"You mean you and she didn't…"
"She wanted to fight, remember? She almost killed me."
"But she was pretending to be a streetwalkerto get you alone. Didn't you even…touch her?"
Manji let out a disgusted snort. "Yeah, I came at her with my long hard weapon. And then she split me in half with hers. Why in hell are you bringing this up?"
"I…don't know. Manji, do you ever think about…"
"Oh, shit." He flung an arm over his head in a self-defensive gesture.
"About touching, um, a woman?" She twisted a handful of her quilt border and watched the folds tighten and relax.
"No." He said it with emphasis.
"Really? But I thought…"
"Hey, you don't like me buying whores, so what's the point of thinking about it?"
"But don't you need to? I mean, doesn't a man get unhealthy if he never…"
"I ain't dead yet." He turned his back on her and grunted in a way that meant the conversation was over.
"I said it was OK if you did. I just didn't want to know about it."
"Then I won't tell you." He responded to no more questions and was soon snoring again.
By the time Rin fell asleep, she had come to a decision. It would have to pass the test of morning light, but she felt sure it was the only alternative that could preserve some peace of mind on both their parts. And so she wept quietly with her head under the quilt, not wanting to betray herself to Manji. On the last night that they would share this little room.
Note on Japanese culture and nudity: In pre-Westernized times, Japan had a blasé attitude to nudity. People often did their daily work in nothing but brief loincloths and walked home from the community bathhouse with their clothes tied in a bundle. Simple nudity had no particular sexual significance. Erotic pictures (shunga) usually show the participants in disarrayed clothing rather than nude.
After Japan was opened to the West in the 1850s and especially during the American occupation after WWII, Western sexual mores had a strongly puritanizing influence on Japanese laws and customs. Mugen nō Jyuunin (Blade of the Immortal) has an air of modern Japanese culture in many respects, and almost never depicts the casual nudity typical of its nominal historical period, the 1780s. Therefore, more in keeping with the manga and the characters than with historical fact, I have surmised that Rin would be rather innocent about the human body.