As Lovers Go
11.27.06 – 12.21.06
A/N: First of all, apologies are in order. I have absolutely no excuse for this. Can't even pass it off as a piece of semi-creative prose. (::grouses: should stick to Naruto, where I can at least pretend to know what's going on…::) Frankly, this was written purely for my own fangirling, because I needed Fuu/Jin goodness and because Samurai Champloo itself needs such love and because Fuu/Jin is hot samurai love. ::nods:: And because that whole wtf-is-going-on, riverside, moonlit, Jin-without-glasses-and-being-so-bastardly-crypitc-the-hell-is-"If I…"-supposed-to-mean scene has taken over my brain. Quite possibly the least understood scene in the history of anime. (It causes aneurysms, I swear – makes you froth at the mouth and bold random words with no reason whatsoever and rant omgwtfstfubbq Jiiiin-sama…)
That being said, uh…Samurai Champloo is teh awesome. Much love. ::loves::
Summary: There is no perfect love story. But he tells her, whimsical and smiling, they wouldhave what happily-ever-after there exists because this is easy as lovers go. Or something like that. (ficlet, I suppose, because I daren't call this plot-hare-on-steroids a one-shot.)
Standard disclaimers apply – blah de dah, something about not owning Samurai Champloo or Mugen or Fuu or Jin (dammit), lalalala I can't hear you… Crediting, yah: poetry: Exile's Letter, Li Po (translated by Ezra Pound), song: "As Lovers Go" Dashboard Confessional.
And as always, the conclusion of this ridiculously long winded soliloquy that tries to disguise itself as an author's note, but really I just like to hear myself talk – review. It makes me happy.
the first duty of love is to listen
(she said i've got to be honest
you're wasting your time if you're fishing around here)
She thinks it would be easier to love Mugen, if only because Mugen is wild and unpredictable and she will know never to fully trust him with her heart. Mugen won't want it anyway, because he has no use for women's hearts – and Fuu supposes that by "easier," she means "safer" and "less real" and "not going to end in heartbreak because how can Mugen break her heart if she never gives it to him in the first place?"
(she remembers her mother who had been very beautiful and very sad who had still pined for that man year after year after year and who had died more from a broken heart than any illness)
So she tells Jin, who regards her with dark, patient eyes, "Sorry." Sorry, because Mugen, after all, is safer in his danger, predictable in his unpredictability, trustworthy in his untrustworthiness, (and she's not going to end up like her mother). Mugen will never hang up his sword for her, because she will never ask him to, and Jin – Jin is too steady, too patient, too reliable – Jin is someone she can learn to lean on, and that would be very bad.
She thinks he knows all of this, because he accepts her apology with that wise, quiet calm (he accepts everything like that). And when his dark eyes still glimmer affectionately in the moonlight, his skin luminescent and his hair inky – she realizes that Mugen has never really been easier or safer or 'less real' because Mugen has never been a choice at all.
Fuu really hates Jin sometimes, and she thinks he knows that too.
Jin (of course) comes after her just as Mugen (of course) comes after her - but Mugen comes explosive and reckless, a whirlwind of lanky limbs and flashing metal and toothy grins, happily spouting profanities. He tells her to run, so she does, because he'd promised her he wouldn't die.
Jin had never made her such a promise, and she can't remember if Jin has ever made her a promise at all, even regarding the Sunflower Samurai. Still, she's not particularly worried, not when Mugen comes alone, not when that government man appears in her father's doorway, not when the assassin turns to her and tells her that she is next, because Jin is coming. Once upon a time, she had doubted him, had believed his loyalties lay elsewhere, had thought that he really did mean to leave her – her and Mugen and their tentative beginnings. But he didn't, she thinks, back to the cliff, the sun warm on her face – he didn't, and he's coming. Because he's –
- steady and patient and reliable, and Jin had never needed to make a promise. It had been assumed a matter of course that he would come through, that he would never weaken, never wander, never falter, never fail. Jin was the promise – and more than promise, Jin was duty, was obligation, was loyalty, was samurai.
She sees him first a small figure, inky hair whispering stark contrast against the paleness of his skin under the yellow sun. His pace is measured, unhurried, steady – still Jin, still calm and quiet, slow and patient and implacable, because Jin is (water and duty and promise and samurai and home and love) steady and patient and reliable.
He dies that way (no no no), face still impassive and eyes still inscrutable and everything about him just so mild, katana gutting him through the stomach (no no no). Of course Jin would die in the sunlight, would die calmly and quietly and beautifully and almost peaceful (no no no), because Jin was always so composed and accepting and he was samurai and bushido demanded honor and he wasn't supposed to die –
(jin dead with so little fuss and mugen out with a bang a blaze of glory and what stupid moron goes and gets himself blown up mugen mugen mugen mugen – )
In the end, there is a lot of blood.
Mugen is scorched as well, and Jin waterlogged, but they leak blood everywhere and Mugen still has the bullet inside him and that will become troublesome later on but, for now, for now, for now, it at least somewhat staunches the blood and she had to pull the katana out of Jin's stomach, out of his stomach, because there was no way he could have moved otherwise and the blood had spurted spurted spurted everywhere, pooling, pooling and she couldn't stop it and her boys are so stupid no no no –
She realizes in the empty silence of her father's house, sitting by the door and gazing at her two patients, slowly driving herself insane with boredom - she realizes that she hasn't thought of Jin as handsome in a very long time, nor of Mugen as ugly in equally as long.
Still, they look both strange and familiar in that instant (Mugen, because she's never seen his face so relaxed before, and Jin, because she's never seen him with hair unbound before) – so she studies them. Mugen, who is distressingly comparable to a monkey, even down to that odd habit he has of drawing up his upper lip when he snuffles in his sleep – Jin, still so beautiful it hurts, even after all this time, even after she should long have become accustomed.
That moment passes, and they are again her idiosyncratic boys, so dissimilar and so bizarre, but dear nonetheless. It's just Mugen who leers and grouses and perverts, who calls her flat and ugly and un-endowed, but still ruffles her hair sometimes in disgruntled affection. It's just Jin who never smiles but tucks his hands into his sleeves to show that he's happy, who walks sometimes with a peculiar grace and distant eyes, moving in time to some music only he could hear.
She wonders how they see her, wonders what they must see when they look to have followed her this far. She nags so frequently at Mugen and she chatters so much around Jin – and she wonders if it might have been pity.
But then she recalls Mugen's grin when he'd come after those brothers – and she remembers the clear, affectionate gaze in the moonlight –
And she's just Fuu, who eats like a monster and is as annoying as all hell and has a propensity of getting kidnapped and escaping usually unharmed, ready to bite some (mugen's) head off –
Mugen recovers first, because Mugen is psychotic like that – wolfs down food and collapses into slumber and gets up only for more food. That is his healing process and, yes, she's happy that he's recovering, but she wants (so badly) to kill him sometimes. He never talks to her now, because he doesn't have time, too busy shoveling food in his mouth and when the bowls are clean, he burps and falls back unto the floor, an ungainly, awkward pile of splayed limbs. Monkey, she thinks, and then, ingrate.
And then she smiles, because Mugen has a disturbingly cute snore.
"Okaa-san used to braid my hair when I was very young. This was before the dojo and shishou, of course, but she used to say that plaiting calmed people. Does it?"
He speaks without opening his eyes, and his voice is quiet, mellifluous, like water, at once sweet and bland. She's woken him up.
"Eh-? Oh – mm, I suppose yes. I'm sorry for waking you – you have very pretty hair, you know, not that it's unmanly, it's just pretty, which is an unmanly word, but it's – it looks good on you and I like it – "
"Then I am glad." His eyes open and he gazes at her, contemplatively. She makes an effort to halt her nervous babble.
"Do you want to eat something?" He's terribly thin, she notices, helping him sit up – the clothes hide it disgustingly well.
"Mm," he leans against the wall, and regards her a long moment, still with that contemplative air. "Nothing solid yet," he says, at length, gingerly feeling his wound, and then sighs. "Some soup, I think, or broth. Clear. Water, maybe."
Jin has lovely table manner, even propped up against a crumbling shack wall, half-dead and starved for a week. It's not fair, of course, but it's Jin, and Jin does not waver – steady, she thinks but happily this time, steady and patient and reliable.
It's not long before Mugen is up and splashing around in the ocean, cackling wildly. Jin does not recover so fast, but Jin stays awake sometimes, and talks to her, because Fuu cannot go swimming and finds the water too cold anyway. She's grateful that he tries, this silent ronin, even though he never has much to say – grateful, because he looks very tired and she knows he's not one for much talking; grateful, because he's a very good listener. She tells him this, and he smiles in that way he has without actually smiling, and his hands fold themselves together over his stomach (she supposes he'd be wanting clothes again soon with sleeves) – she loves this smile, because though his lips never move, his eyes are bright and clear and very, very pretty.
"Do you miss them?" She touches the bridge of his nose, and he draws back involuntarily – it's subtle, and a very light shift, but it was a Jin-flinch, and she hastily stammers out an apology.
"My glasses?" He asks, brow slightly furrowed. "I am not quite certain what you mean."
"I mean – don't you ever want them back?"
"Hn," he says, and she feels the same old prickling irritation at the word. 'Hn', he says when he's being particularly unreadable. 'Hn,' he says and she never understands. 'Hn,' he says, and he had looked at her (once upon a time) with such dark, lovely, patient eyes. "Perhaps. It does not do to dwell in the past, and I have no shame losing them in a fight. They were affectations." He lapses into silence, face carefully blank but eyes clouding over and she knows.
"How long were they in your family?" She's not talking about the glasses.
"Generations," his voice is still tranquil, but she thinks he sounds as if he had somehow lost his soul. Which, she supposes, he had.
She collects the bowls and tells him to get some sleep, before heading outside to wash the dishes. The well water is cold, but the autumn sun is warm, and she ponders as she dries the bowls. She'll need to find a katana for Jin, of course, because Jin lives, breathes, eats, sleeps samurai – and one for Mugen too, because the idiot can't function if he can't fight, and without a sword he can't fight the trouble he goes looking for.
She dries her hands, sighs because she does not advocate violence really, and goes to save her boys from their own form of constipation.
It rains sometimes and the roof leaks and she thinks about her father living here. Jin, if he's awake, takes out some rag and begins polishing his wakizashi, and in his low, quiet voice, speaks. Sometimes he chides her gently for her gloomy face, sometimes he pithily observes something very pitying and very insulting about Mugen – it doesn't matter, because Mugen, who notices far more than he lets on, never fails to "bah", and be scornful, ready with a plethora of verbal barrage, and Fuu has to smile and chime in because her two boys do care.
She's happy like this, arguing with Mugen over the comparative merits of red and white rice, as Jin looks on, eyes hooded, heavy-lidded – amused and affectionate and aggravatingly adult.
Mugen, because he is happy and recovered and glad to bask in the sun and water and sand and fresh air – Mugen, because he is fire and irrepressible and brazen and brash and a monkey – Mugen, because he is Mugen, reverts back to his habit of calling her 'bitch' when what he really means is 'sweetheart.' She knows this and supposes that she oughtn't mind – after all, this is the way things have been, will continue to be, and if it means that Mugen is healing and recovering and normal and happy – well, she can live with being called 'bitch' when what he really means is 'sweetheart,' can't she?
She thinks, no.
She doesn't know why, but, nevertheless, feels inexplicably grateful when Jin frowns from his half reclined position against the wall, eyes half-closed, and tells Mugen to go wash his mouth, if you please.
No, I don't please, Mugen retorts, wrinkling his nose, and, "'sides, Fuu doesn't mind, does she? Fuu?"
Fuu is silent, because, yes, yes, she does mind, though she would never say so. She's not finicky like that. She's Fuu, and she's open-minded and not some dainty, delicate flower fearful of sullying her ears. She's Fuu, and surely, surely Fuu would not be so sensitive about what Mugen calls her, because, after all, what he really means is 'sweetheart.'
He says 'bitch' because he doesn't quite know how to say 'sweetheart.'
"Hell, girl," says Mugen, grinning, though his eyes are confused, and thoughtful, and not smiling, "didn't know it bothered you that much. It's all right – che, girls. Whatever."
That leaves her disturbed, because she doesn't quite like him clumping her with all the other girls of his acquaintance. Girls, to Mugen after all, are pretty and looked at and never loved (hadn't that been what the drunk woman said?) and Kohza was 'girl' and Fuu doesn't want to be like Kohza.
Later, Jin slips and calls her "Fuu-san," as if all their months together had meant nothing, and she glowers and he apologizes with all his maddening civility. She hates this. This is Mugen, who treats her with such familiarity, almost vulgarity, taunting about her chest (or lack thereof), taunting about her quest, her Sunflower Samurai. This is Mugen, who never fails to make her laugh (after driving her insane with anger). This is Jin, who is always courteous, always aristocratically genteel, always quietly respectful. This is Jin, who greets her with distantly polite pleasantries and who is content to remain, for hours on end, silent.
This is Fuu, feeling insulted by Mugen, mocked by Jin, never quite accustomed either way.
She hates this, because she really does wish they would just agree on how to address her.
She can't do anything about Mugen – Mugen is Mugen is Mugen, but she asks Jin, one morning over breakfast, as he thanks her with his ever-present formality, "Why are you so polite?"
"I beg your pardon?" He glances up, and the response is so very, very Jin. I beg you pardon?
"I - why are you so, I don't know – so formal? I don't really know how to reply sometimes, I –" She shrugs, helplessly, because his silences are sometimes unnerving, and his eyes are too clear, too sharp, too vivid, and he's looking at her.
"Formal?" He echoes, brows crinkling slightly, and she remembers that he does, sometimes, call her "Fuu-chan."
"You – I mean, you're polite to everyone, Kami knows how you do it –" (probably take out your rage when you kill people has to be a great stress reliever though i'm not sure it work out at all for mugen man's got issues) –" And you – I – courtesies, you know? Like – like I'm someone important. Or something." She wrinkles her nose at this, because it's funny – it's funny and she's Fuu-chan.
"Aren't you?" He asks her, instead, and she gapes. "Are you not samurai?" She gapes again, because, frankly, there's really nothing else to do when Jin goes raving mad –
(my father was samurai once upon a time a good one maybe)
"I –" She squeaks, and blinks, because he's put down his chopsticks, and he's looking at her, gaze too piercing, too perspicacious, too Jin. "I – yes?" She offers, dubious, but he nods, eyes focused again on the meal, and she can continue, "Well, all right. All right – I understand that. I get the whole you're-samurai-I'm-samurai thing. But, you carry my bags for me. And you came after me that time in the mountains. And you let me put daisy wreaths in your hair. And then you get gutted for me, and I – you didn't have to."
"Well, that," he tells her, mild and placid, "has nothing to do with courtesies, I think, or my politeness, or your status. More to do with the fact that you're Fuu-chan."
She doesn't know if he's emphasizing the 'Fuu' or the 'chan'.
"I – but – why?"
There it is. Why had he saved her?
Mugen – Mugen, she can understand. She is grateful, of course, because he had come – Mugen, who owed no one anything, but had still come to face his death. For her. Still – they (freaks all of them and insane bastards) had taken her only to get to him. Had he felt guilt? She wonders about it sometimes, and dismisses it as unimportant. Mugen saved her life, and that is enough.
But she does not understand Jin. Kariya had come for her – not 'for her' as in 'bait' or 'to hurt someone else' – for her. Fuu-chan. And Jin must have come for her, too – not for his promise, because she had seen her father (die), and Jin was no longer bound to her. Jin, who could have left so easily. Jin, who had already once died for her. She cannot understand Jin.
"I suppose," he tells her, tone light and worlds slow, and the sun shines warm on her face as his gaze turns to her again, "I suppose it could have been that my swords had found someone worth serving – and perhaps my heart had tired of ronin-hood. And shishou had been a good teacher. I suppose it could have been a number of things – or nothing at all. Does it matter? It is past."
It is, her heart tells her, so she smiles at him, and they begin anew. Or something like that.
It is past.
She remembers that after they part ways and life becomes normal and difficult and wonderful all at once. She remembers, when she stumbles (like always like forever) waitressing; remembers, when she gets yelled at; remembers, when she curls on her futon at night, cold and lonely and wishing for a vast, starry expanse overhead, wishing for that one companion who snored so loudly, so obnoxiously, wishing for the other, who had slept always with his back to a tree. She remembers their promises to meet again, and he had told her that she was samurai and he had called her 'bitch' when he really meant 'sweetheart' – and the next morning dawns bright and clear and she remembers it is past.
She remembers Mugen and she remembers Jin and she remembers how to be brave.
Mugen comes and visits her first, arms loaded with exotic looking trinkets. "Har," he leers at a hairpin rather proudly, "this one belonged to some princess - pretty, don't you think?"
Fuu snatches it out of his hands and stares at the gold encrusted bauble, then at this monkey, the stupid man. "Princess?"
"Well," he scratches the back of his head thoughtfully, "I was hungry, so I had to rob someone, and I didn't want to pawn that off because I thought you might like it – WOMAN, STOP TRYING TO GOUGE MY EYES OUT WHAT THE FUCK LAST TIME I DO SOMETHING FOR YOU DAMMIT –"
He stays a week and she mends his clothes, and he thanks her (as best as he knows how) at dinner, promises to be back within the decade, sticks the princess's hairpin into her hair and bullies her into leaving it there, deposits his (dangerous terrible if anyone knows she could die the stupid ass) bag of stolen goods even though she'd specifically told him not to –
And leaves by climbing out the kitchen window.
She sighs and smiles and sits, waits for Jin.
She's pretty happy, she supposes – her house is small and her income modest, but at least she doesn't go hungry anymore. Mugen comes to visit again – and again – she suspects he's very enamored with her free food, but she owes him her life, and when he's around, she has someone to bicker and bully, so she opens her doors to him with a smile and hug and place at the dinner table.
She asks, delicately, after Jin sometimes, and he, equally delicate, replies that he doesn't know.
Ronins, she thinks in disgust, and discovers that the week's supply of food has disappeared. Mugen, she thinks in disgust, because he's in a class all by himself.
(and send it a thousand miles, thinking)
He writes her a letter sometime in the second year – short, because Jin has never been talkative, but she admires the pretty calligraphy (pretty like how he's pretty – entirely unfair) and he doesn't talk about the weather or roads, so she supposes that her status has not deteriorated into mere acquaintance. (He, of course, would not write if that were the case.) It's distressingly bland at first, objective and formal – but she rereads it and it's Jin and Jin's humor has always been dry. It begins "Fuu-chan," which is practical and she envies his ability to be so pragmatic with letter writing. (How many letters had she crumpled because she didn't know if to begin with 'Dear' or 'My dear' or 'Honorable' or 'Respected' or 'Dearest' or nothing at all?)
"Fuu-chan," it begins and she likes how he writes that. Likes how he writes her name, and likes that she's still "Fuu-chan" to someone (to him). It ends simply "Jin." Not "Yours, Jin" or "Sincerely, Jin" or "I'll see you later, keep your chin up, Jin," which, of course, he would never write
She likes that too. Lone and solitary and bare, but it's "Jin" and it's enough.
He doesn't bring her anything when he shows at her door with a polite bow and a quiet "Fuu-chan." She's happy to see him, of course, and she supposes he's happy to see her as well, but it's Jin, and she never could tell with him.
She invites him in for tea, and he accepts in that quiet, well-bred "thank-you-very-much-I-suppose-I-ought-to" way of his. It's awkward at first, because she hasn't seen him in so long (and he's grown so thin), because she can't just knock him over the head and berate him for not visiting sooner like she can with Mugen. Because it's Jin, who stays silent and sips tea almost happily because Jin really does like tea.
Still, he looks around, and his eyes focus on her. He squints, which catches her by surprise because Jin never squints –
"I've seen your hairpin before," he tells her, tone unassuming, and she knows he knows where he's seen it.
"Yeah, it's stolen," she mumbles sullenly, and then, "Mugen," which is explanation enough.
But it's no longer awkward, because this is familiar, her ranting and complaining, he nodding, patient and calm and accepting. This is familiar, and this is good, and this is his presence in her house as if it had always belonged. This is happy and this is warm and this, Kami-sama, this is falling –
This is Jin and this is enough.
He chops wood for her and makes sure that she has enough for the winter before he climbs onto the roof and fixes the one spot that's always leaked. It's a cool day, clear and crisp, and he tells her (voluntarily) that he's rather fond of autumn. The sun shines warm on her face and the wind breezes lightly through her hair and Jin is fixing her roof.
She makes lunch for him, because Jin can't cook. He thanks her by which he means 'be careful and be brave' and tells her that he'll see her again ("Soon?" "…Aa.") because she doesn't like goodbyes. She waves to him as his figure slowly disappears into the distance, waves because this isn't goodbye.
She turns and sees the piles of wood chopped for winter and she smiles.
Soon, she supposes, means something different to him than her. Soon stretches into months, and then a year, and then another. A third, and she wonders bitterly if he's forgotten her, if he's married that brothel girl (the old ugly one) and if maybe he has children and a nice, cozy home as well. She looks around at her own small, cramped hole-in-the-wall, and hates him.
It's been three years, and it's autumn again – bleak and cold and gray and bare, and she puts his letter away – it's old now, the parchment stiff and cracked.
She lets Mugen kiss her that day.
(Some days, though, she still remembers that she is samurai and she must brave. Some days, she wonders where Jin is and why he's forgotten her – and remembers, "It could be a number of things or nothing at all. Does it matter? It is past."
Yes, she says to herself, past, and learns to ignore the steady no-no-no beating of her heart.)
(it is like the flowers falling at Spring's end
confused, whirled in a tangle)
Mugen is kind, of course; a bit rough around the edges but he means well. He does like her, and if it feels a bit odd to kiss him – well, it's only odd, and not necessarily unpleasant. She supposes that she must like him too – she likes that he's there when she gets home from work and she likes telling him about her day, though Mugen always has some quip that diverts her attention and makes her snap bitingly back. She usually never manages to get past two o'clock in the afternoon, but she supposes that's fine as well.
He listens, and she's content with that, because he's there, even if he must make running commentary. She could do worse, she thinks, and frowns – because, really, she should be thinking that she couldn't do better. And that's true enough, because Mugen is skilled with his sword. And she's (getting old) almost twenty.
She worries, because she can't keep Mugen – she can't, because there's nothing there. She worries that he only stays because he wants to, because she feeds him. She worries, because she thinks she might be going insane – wasn't this, after all, what she wanted? She worries, because Mugen was never easier to love.
She doesn't need Mugen, and that worries her.
Eventually, she lets Mugen go. She really does love him, just not in the way she'd expected.
It's hours after dusk when the woman knocks, a voluptuous, curvaceous woman with dark hair and lovely eyes. She's dressed plainly, but the fabric is expensive; smiling, but her eyes are hard; face beautiful, but the set of the mouth and the slant of the eyes are calculating, and Fuu knows instinctively why this woman has come.
She can smile because somehow she's not surprised, not hurt – she does smile when the woman narrows her eyes and tells Fuu, "I'm Yatsuha, and I've come to marry Mugen."
Fuu thinks, hearing Mugen scream like a sissy girl upon seeing this woman – Fuu thinks maybe she does believe in happily-ever-afters.
She lets (makes) Mugen go with a smile and waves the two of them (yatsuha still smiling but eyes softer mugen still shrieking but not so much out of terror as – something else) out the door with many blessings and, inexplicably, she feels happier, lighter. Glad.
It's her alone in her little house again, and she settles down into the steady rhythm of life, because she is samurai and brave – patient and steady and reliable, and it's not so bad, this life.
It's a flurry of commotion when he comes back to her; all the cooks and waitresses and kitchen maids gather at the door, peering and giggling at some customer. She tilts her head to catch a look, because she is curious, as well, about this "so handsome – d'you think he's married? Look at that hair!" customer –
Who, of course, is Jin.
That is how things go, or perhaps Jin is just remarkable like that.
He's thinner, which she had not thought possible – gaunt and wan and sharper looking, wrists almost delicate in their boniness – but still calm and composed and impassive. Still Jin.
"Hello," she says, coming to his table, where he sits, back straight, mismatched daisho by his side.
And he meets her gaze with those clear, dark eyes. "Fuu-chan," he says, and it's not fair because it's enough.
Fuu-chan, he'd said.
Some days, he doesn't speak at all, and some days, his vocabulary seems to be comprised of only "Hn" and "Aa" and the occasional "Fuu-chan." She doesn't like "Hn" much, because she never knows how to take an answer to can mean "yes" or "no" or "shut up, please," except Jin does not say "shut up."
Other days, he smiles that brief, flitting, whimsical smile of his, and tells her stories about Genji and Yoshitsune and what seems to be the entire history of House Takeda. There are days when he teaches her calligraphy and days when he brushes her hair for her, patient even strokes, because she's furious and frustrated and the hair is misbehaving.
"It's not fair, of course," she tells him, chin propped on a hand, as he sits behind her, quiet. She listens to his soft breathing, feels his gentle warmth, and pretends that she can hear the steady thump-thump-thump of his beating heart. "It should be wrong that your hair is prettier than mine. In fact, I think there should some natural law against it."
"Hn," he replies, but sounds amused.
"I mean – you're a man. You're not supposed to do pretty. You're supposed to be all – all tough and rough and 'grr, I'm a man, dammit' stuff. You know?"
"Mugen," he says, placid, "Aa?"
"Yes – no. No, because then you wouldn't be Jin, and I wouldn't wish anyone to be Mugen, because - well, one's enough, isn't it? I just – how come you have such pretty hair? What do you do to it? How many times do you wash it a week? I'd die for hair like that, I really would – it's so thick and shiny and soft and I really, really hate you."
"Hn," he says, deft fingers beginning to braid.
"I wonder sometimes why you keep it so long. Actually, I wonder about a lot of things about you, but that's your own fault, because you never talk – why do you insist in being so damn secretive? But I would have though that long hair would been impractical with all the maintenance required – "
"It is easier," he says, meditatively, "to cut."
"Eh? Yes – yes, I suppose it would be – you'd just tie it back and cut it in one stroke, wouldn't you? Mm – but it's so much funnier, Jin, when it's short. Did you see Mugen hacking at his hair with his sword?"
"Yes," he answers, reaching around her for a hairpin, "he is demonstrative in all his dealings."
"It took such a long time, too – and all the uneven clumps and the chicken-butt – oh, priceless. Ne, I suppose you'd have to tie your hair back since you can't really visit the barbershop, can you?"
"Hn," he says, and is finished putting her hair up. She catches his hand as he gets up, and he pauses a moment, half-standing, looking down at her with questioning eyes. His hand is large and dry and warm in hers, calloused but well-formed, long, slender fingers with clean fingernails. She likes the feel of it.
"Thank you," she says, eyes earnest and large – and something flickers, ghosts over his face (slides snaps tilts falls into place), and then he's smiling that whimsical, faint smile.
"Aa," he says, quiet and kind, and she likes that.
She likes these days best, and even if he doesn't speak much, he's there and he listens, steady and patient and reliable – but mostly, it's because he's there.
(thank you she told him and he said aa)
It's still autumn the first time he kisses her. She thinks he kissed her, but she's not completely sure, because perhaps she had gotten tired of waiting and kissed him first. Or, maybe, he had caught her thinking about kissing him and had anticipated her plans and surprised her, which is entirely possible, because it's Jin. In any case, they kissed, light and brief, but a kiss and a promise nonetheless –
She blinks up at him, and he looks steadily back at her, calm and wholly unflustered. "What was that?"
"A kiss," he says, complacently.
"I see," she says, because it was. She squints up at him, and he's gazing speculatively at the roof – she sighs, before he leaves to chop wood and she to weed the garden.
She kisses him at the well later that day, light and brief. She suspects he might have smiled when she kissed him – but when she draws back, his face is as composed and blank as ever. "What was that?" He asks, but not unkindly.
"A kiss," she replies.
"I see," he inclines his head, and he is smiling this time as he takes the buckets of water to the kitchen. She remembers that soft curve of the lips as she sweeps away the crimson leaves, and feels her own lips curl in response.
"Why?" She asks him again, and he smiles, half-patient and half-resigned. It's the same question, and, frankly, he has no answer.
"I remember answering this five years ago," he says, watching her through half-lidded eyes. She turns around to wrinkle her nose at him, and then resumes trying to catch fireflies in the half-dusk. "I remember saying something –"
"About how it could have been any number of things, or nothing at all. Which, you must admit, Jin, is not an answer in the slightest. Now – " she pauses, peering into her cupped hands, and the firefly emerges. It settles on the tip of her nose, glowing, and she, staring cross-eyed at it, does not see him smiling, fond and whimsical. It suits him, the smile – he is, in the end, still a young man, even if he forgets that sometimes.
"Now, are you going to tell," she returns to sit beside him on the engawa, back against the railing, facing him, "or am I going to have to beat you?"
And then he's grinning, however it is that Jin grins, eyes glimmering brightly in the darkness – and she kicks off her shoes and scampers into the house and emerges with a pillow and launches herself at him, and then they are laughing, hers clear and ringing, his low and resonant – and moments pass, as he falls (lets himself fall) onto the wooden flooring and she falls (cannot stop herself from falling) on top of him.
"Jin," she says, propping herself on her elbows to look him in the eye, "Please."
He's silent a long moment, and then says, "He killed my master. Or would have. Or maybe made me. I don't know. Perhaps it was for vengeance, or for justice, or maybe I hated him. Some things, Fuu-chan, I cannot explain. They just are."
"So," her voice is small and she fiddles with a strand of his hair, "you went after Kariya, in the end?"
"And not for you," he finishes for her. His eyes are piercing and sharp in the darkness, but she's not looking at him. She's waiting for something to snap, to break – waiting for her world to tilt on its axis, waiting for her heart to bleed.
She waits a long time.
"Jin," she says, finally, hushed, and he 'hn's in response. "That – really means nothing to me."
"Hn," he says, but it escapes as a quiet chuckle, half-amused and half-relieved. Maybe.
"Jin," she says, again, a while later, head pillowed on his chest. She listens to his heart thump steadily, and can feel the low rumble as he says, "Aa?"
"How much is gratitude worth?"
"And of which currency are we speaking?"
"It would depend on the circumstances, I suppose. Is gratitude the basis?"
"I think," she says, slowly, "that you saved my life, just like Mugen saved my life. I think that you died for me. I think that is enough, and I think that I am grateful. I think – I think it means absolutely nothing, because I think you love me."
(i think i love you)
"Do you love me?"
"Aa." She doesn't know quite how to take an answer like that, but she's not surprised, because it is not in his nature to be emotive. She doesn't quite know how to take an answer of "Aa," but she recognizes his tone – and he is telling her yes, asking why she would question – she does not question his breathing or his eating or his sleeping –
"How much?" She teases, dimpling at him.
He raises his head slightly to look at her with slightly bemused eyes. "And the grains of sand in the deserts? Shall I count those for you? The depth of the oceans? The strength of the sun? The rice in the fields and the leaves on the trees and the rocks in the river? How am I to number the stars? What is the distance from here –" touching his heart, then hers " – to here?"
She blinks at him, wide-eyed. "I never took you for a romantic."
His head thuds back down onto the wood, and she thinks that maybe, maybe, he's blushing. "Hn," because he's not agreeing with her, Jin does not blush, never, never.
"How much?" It comes a light breath against his collarbone, and he is silent for a very long time. She wonders if maybe he hadn't heard.
In the semi-darkness of flickering fireflies, she feels him smile, and he says, voice quiet and soft, says, a young man in love, says, "Enough."
Enough. She smiles too.
He asks her over lunch one day if she should like to get married. She pauses, chewing thoughtfully on her rice, and answers, "Probably."
His eyes are so clear now, she thinks, without the glasses, and he's quiet for another moment before he says, "Aa."
They are married a few days later, with very little fuss, because Fuu does not care for fusses and Jin, who has always been an advocate of simplicity and efficiency and minimalism – Jin sees no need for them. They go back to her (their) house, and she makes lunch, because that's what wives do, because that's what she's done since forever for Jin. They eat, and, afterwards, he washes the dishes, which is not what husbands do, but what Jin's done since forever for Fuu. She wipes the table, and listens, content, to the low, soothing cadence of his quiet voice as he tells her that he might be a little late coming home today, would she like him to pick anything up at the market for dinner? Yes, she says, a few eggs, please, and then it's her turn to talk; she doesn't see the small smile he doesn't try very hard to hide as she chatters excitedly about how she's been wanting to try her hand at making this new dish.
They go back to work, and she doesn't feel particularly different for having been married that morning. It's something to ponder on as she runs in and out the kitchen, the bustling of the pots and the sizzling of oil and the crackling of fire and the heady aromas familiar in her heart. Then Jin is stepping into the shop, like he always does three in the afternoon, asking for a cup of tea, please. She serves it to him, and he brushes her hand when he takes the cup, a feathery contact by the fingertips, intentional, discreet. It's light, and brief, a fleeting touch, but his eyes are warm and clear and she doesn't think anymore about this marriage business and its newness or not newness, because it's Jin and it's enough.
He's still quiet, and sometimes leaves her for a week or two, but he comes back (with jingling gold), still Jin, still steady and patient and reliable.
She thinks she likes being married, though she doesn't know anything has changed except sleeping arrangements. He talks a little more now, though, voice soft and low in the dark, and she can see fireflies flickering outside some nights. She likes that, cocooned in his warmth and gentle voice, watching fireflies through the screens. She likes the feel of his hair on her skin, and the steady rise and fall of his chest – likes the fact that he's always there to warm her perpetually cold toes. (frankly, she likes jin)
In the mornings, he kisses her, under the apple tree and in the dappled autumn sunshine, eyes bright and faintly smiling. She tastes, over his own clear, sweet taste (reminiscent of water) – she tastes the surprise of green apples, not yet ripe, but the taste is shocking and lingers on her tongue and then he's really smiling, boyish and charming and like any other young man in love who's just kissed his sweetheart. (her heart breaks a little, because it's a finite thing and only so big, and she thinks that this feeling jin inspires is infinite and might one day explode in her chest)
Some days, if for no other reason than because the sun shines warm upon her face and the wind breezes lightly and the skies are blue, she kisses him spontaneously. I like you, she means with those, because as much as love, she thinks it's important that she likes him. He knows she loves him, but she wants him to know that she likes him as well.
He returns those kisses over the course of the afternoon and evening, light and brief, because there is still work to be done and it wouldn't do to be distracted (which is disturbingly all too easy with him) – I like you too, he says, silent.
At night, when his low, soft voice falls slow and even and clear on her ears, his breath gently stirring wisps of her hair, when he takes her hand, loose and gentle but, nevertheless, his hand and her hand and together – I love you. When he smiles, eyes bright and clear and beautiful, and when he laughs, an unexpected sound, curiously boyish, like pine-winds whispering over a bamboo flute – I love you. And when he sits beside her, in companionable silence, the both of them sipping tea, and watching fireflies come out, and he lets her rest her head against his shoulder because it's been a hard day – I love you. I love you love you love you love you love you love you love you.
But mostly – mostly, it's how he leaves his daisho on her side of the futon when he goes to bathe. It's how he hands her that daisho to hold while he climbs up a tree to get her shoe (the subject of how it got up there in the first place not open for discussion). It's how he doesn't carry his swords around the house, and though he never physically hangs them on any wall, though he still practices in the early morning with that silent, Jin devotion as he did at his dojo – she understands what he's given up for her – or maybe what he's found in her to which he could dedicate himself . It's how he wraps her hands around the katana, wraps his own arms around her, his large hands encompassing her slender ones, he at her back – he guides her through the katas, slow and precise and graceful, and can smile when she giggles. It's how he lets her have both the wakizashi and katana, let's her "play samurai" and be silly – it's how he lets her play with these "not toys," though she knows how dangerous and ridiculous it is swinging the swords around so erratically. But he kisses her on the forehead (because she's taught him the joy of just being), and repositions her hands (because she's also taught him the joy of silliness), and tells her to be careful (because she should be), and then goes back to trying to learn how to peel eggplants (which will take another few weeks). It's how he offers her his soul – how he trusts her not to break him.
It's how he calls her "Fuu-chan."
(this is wonderful as loving goes)
In the end, there is no passionate declaration, no love letters or terms of endearment. There are no flowers or candy or jewelry, no sake for celebration – there are no fireworks or fanfare or rainbows. In the end, there is no perfect love story.
He brushes her hair for her, though, and she is gentle with his soul, and they sip tea quietly in the evenings. He smiles and she laughs and there are kisses and fireflies aplenty. In the end, there is Jin, and there is Fuu, and it is enough.
(this is easy as lovers go)
what is the use of talking, and there is no end of talking
there is no end of things in the heart
If I were witty, I would come up with something dreadfully pithy and entertaining and...stuff.
But I'm not.
So Mugen, who by the whiskers on his chinny-chin-chin, compells you to review.
Please. Because Yatsuha and Fuu but mostly Jin have manage to instill in him some manners. But he's not above (begging) extortion: review review review.