Disclaimer: I do not own Samurai Champloo. If I did, Jin would have more on-screen time than Mugen, and it would completely ruin the tone of the show. However, Shiniji Obara has a much better eye for what makes this anime work than myself, and I will not take that credit from him. As always, it's a fanfic and I earn nothing from the telling of this tale.

Jin's Epiphany

Jin recognized it for what it was when he heard it, that fateful 'snap.' He knew it had to happen; had actually anticipated it. Much like a Noh performer who understands his soul will become prisoner to the art when he puts on the mask.

He'd known it was going to happen, had watched the precursor to it in slow motion. It was just as he'd always imagined his death, his life flashing before his eyes just before the blade severs the nerves in his neck. Unfortunately, it wasn't his death he'd watched in such excruciating detail. He'd live through this pain, he always did.

Before he could dwell much longer on that sound, the swordsman rushed him again. Yukimaru was out for Jin's head and unfortunately, Jin had suddenly ceased to care. It was the noise that now had his focus, like the sound of a bow-string breaking as the archer most desperately needs the arrow to fly. Watching dispassionately as he instinctively avoided the blade, he decided that Yukimaru no more deserved to die than his dreams.

Stopping on the edge of the cliff, white foam churning below him, he waited for his adversary to catch him. After a brief discussion, which sounded like the garbled noise of a busy market, Jin did the only thing left to him. He let go.

As the rock wall passed in mobius increments, his mind raced. The first time he saw her smile. That instant when he realized that his heart had yet again fallen for an impossible girl. He wasn't sure exactly when it happened, but he realized it the night Mugen died.

The next morning, he'd made a decision. He'd do whatever it took to get even with Mugen's murderer, because that bastard had broken the heart of the woman he loved. At the time it had caused him to pause, that instantaneous knowledge that he'd just thought those words. However, upon further examination, he decided it felt right. Even after learning he'd been tricked into a false murder, he still felt justice for visiting death upon the man who had hurt her.

As the roar of the rapids below him grew, he thought back over the last few months. He'd been in love before. Shino had been easy to love. With her already broken heart and married status, she'd been no threat to him. However, this woman was different. She'd snuck in quietly while he wasn't looking. He chuckled to himself, trying to figure out how she'd been either sneaky or quiet, they weren't her forte.

Hitting the water from that height didn't hurt nearly as bad as hearing her scream just a few short breaths ago. He'd known exactly what it meant, the death of yet another dream. As the scream had changed, he'd realized it was the result of her falling a great distance. The only place around here that would elicit such a reverb would have been the ravine above the river he currently occupied.

Fuu couldn't swim, had confessed that to him weeks ago. Most women couldn't. One night, after the barrel heist, she'd admitted she was more afraid of drowning than of being sold into slavery. After that night, Jin had always been careful to protect her from deep water while shielding her secret fear from the other person in their entourage.

Breaking the surface, panting for breath and water streaming into his mouth, Jin started for shore. He had to live, at least long enough to tell Mugen of Fuu's demise. The same Mugen who supposedly died weeks ago. The Mugen that held the one object that had allowed Jin to fall hopelessly in love with Fuu, her heart.

Once that task was over, he had no more reason to draw breath. Pulling his swords out of their sheaths to dry, he smiled. If he couldn't have who he wanted, than he could give Mugen what he wanted. A man who lived by the sword shouldn't die of a broken heart. Resolve strengthening him, he headed in the direction that he'd last seen the Rooster.

A/N: I am merely filling in a gap left by Episode 16. Since it's a 2-part episode, I'm sure I'm completely off-base; but it's taken in that instant, and is my interpretation of that look in Jin's eyes. If I'm wrong, feel free to flame me, but please do not tell me what actually happens. I'm watching it for the first time as it airs on AS every week, and do not appreciate spoilers, however kind-hearted they are meant.
Thank you. -TK