"Mugen… why, dammit? Why?"

But of course Mugen can't hear. He's too busy being unconscious all over Fuu's floor.

- - - - -

For a few brief months after that fateful day at the crossroads in the Ikitski islands, Mugen felt something akin to peace. Sure, he still beat people up when he was feeling too lazy to do some real work, but that wasn't to say he didn't ever take up a real job once in a great, great while.

It really irked him, to know that they were the ones who had done this to him. And now there was suddenly this annoyingly feminine voice in the back of his head going, "Those people have families and even if they did just steal that money are you any better for stealing it back from them and you really should go take a bath you smell like booze and that whore from the last town back probably had some terrible disease that will make you shrivel up and die within a week." And then a nasal male one "Hn"-ing in agreement.

He tried his best to ignore it. Didn't always work.

But for some unexplainable reason Mugen found peace, wandering among sleepy villages and meandering dirt roads, hands in his pockets and gaze trained defiantly at the sun. Perhaps it wasn't so much the being alone and completely lost at the moment, as knowing that he at least had somewhere safe to run to if need be, with people he knew wouldn't murder him in his sleep (providing he didn't snore too loudly).

That he had friends. People he could trust. Somewhere.

And yet, he couldn't bring himself to take the broken sword from his back. And as memories came with the muffled sounds of geta between the dusty ruts of wheels, the peace gradually deserted him for the newly realized want of something he would never have.

- - - - -

A whispered conversation from the next room, coming in frayed patches to muffled ears. He was suddenly acutely aware of just how soft the futon was beneath his cheek. Finely woven threads, so tight that even this close (although his vision is still disturbingly blurry) he can't see where one stops and another begins. How the hell could Fuu ever afford cloth this nice? He was not sure why this of all things caught his attention. That last asshole must have really gotten him good, for Mugen to wake up this disoriented.

Silhouettes through the shoji, familiar outlines, recalling evenings spent around a campfire and drifting down roads with more footsteps sounding through the stillness than his own.

"Why does he keep doing this to himself? Doesn't he know he can come to us?!" It's sobbed into another man's chest besides his own, a shuddering breath drawn. A small part of him wishes to go over and comfort her, to make the crying stop. It's quickly stifled however. It doesn't go away though. It never does.

The other man knows why. He has the tact to not say it, however.

Some days Jin really damns that dojo, knowing how much easier it could be if he could just come out and say something. He wonders what's more painful- the other man's desperate spiral into the abyss, his self-destruction, carried out in the same outrageous manner ever other aspect of his life- or having to bear silent witness to it, knowing that he himself is the cause.

- - - - -

Somewhere in the fog, Mugen feels Fuu enter the room. Even in such a state, Mugen would have still leapt to his feet when he detected some foreign, something off, relying once again on instinct alone to save his hide. But he doesn't. Her presence, her manner, the inflection in her voice is something that has lurked just under his subconscious for years now, carefully cataloged and stored like something precious. She's muttering, like usual, things about jackasses and disappearing salve and how her mom always said that chicken broth was good for things like this.

Mugen feels her approach his recumbent form, powerless to do little other than barely crack an eye. Something stirs, to feel her here, with him, even if it can only be under circumstances like these. She doesn't notice, too busy pulling down his covers and inspecting his many wounds with an almost business-like efficiency. Her fingers linger, ghosting over the most prominent, a shallow slash running from his shoulder clear to the opposite hip, the skin roughly torn by a dull blade.

He gasps, at the familiar, longed for feeling (quiet, solemn afternoons in a shack by the sea, so much pain, fish face's quiet breathing across the room, soft sobs outside the door) of her fingers on his skin, but it's more a broken inhalation of ragged breath. The air catches in his throat, his chest, suffocating a broken man. But a small part of him still manages to carefully store the sensation away.

Fuu eyes him sideways, and he manages a quiet "Bitch, that hurt." But there is a certain quality to the comment that makes him uneasy, and he wishes he had not spoken at all.

"Well, then, maybe I should have just left you there to bleed to death. We just keep having to drag your sorry, bleeding ass back here- can't you refrain from beating on innocent assassins for any length of time? I mean, this last one wasn't even after your skin." It's a breezy comeback, conditioned from his long abuse, and Fuu shrugs her small bit of suspicion off, eased by the routine. She gives him a gentle slap on one of the few patches of undamaged skin before continuing to change the bloodied dressings.

Mugen restrains himself from flinching and further comments, and instead watches Fuu go about her work. Her hands are elegant, somehow, sure in their movements like they never were before, but they've changed. Callused and scarred and tan from hard work in fields outside her house, just like the rest of her. Even fish face managed to gain some color. But not enough that Mugen's going to need to find a new nickname for him.

Eventually Mugen notices that Fuu is talking again, rattling on in her annoying way. "The cabbage is coming along very nicely, and we are finally starting to get some eggs from the chickens. Did you see them? I named them after those two idiot painters Jin used to look after, since their always arguing. If everything goes well, we'll have enough that we can start selling the extra food, and Jin can finally open up a store. Then we would really be making some money, and he promised he would buy me all the mochi I could eat then… Mugen? Is something wrong?"

Startled, he stares up at her, caught in his staring. Anger curls in his stomach, mixing with lust and some unfamiliar fluttering feeling like poison. "Hell no. I'm fine. Just all this… sissy shit. I'm fine. I don't need this." Mugen tries to rise, to pick his nose, anything off-putting enough that she will finally leave him the hell alone and he can get her out of his head.

Fuu glares at him. "Well, if you're fine, then you can get up and leave then." She gestures at the door, an almost cruel smirk gracing her features.

"Bitch," Mugen grumbles vindictively, knowing full well that he can't even stand up, even if he was completely healed. Just rolling over almost makes him black out, the blood loss rearing its ugly head.

"Well then, I'll just bring you by some water just before I go to bed. And if you have any further complaints, feel free to keep them to yourself." She rises and leaves without a backward glances, closing the door with a small snap.

His chest hurts.

- - - - -

Mugen hates himself. He hates everything.


The way his eyes go soft behind his glasses whenever Fuu walks in.

How he casually drapes his arm around her waist, to rest on the gentle swell of her stomach.

The house he built with his own hands, for his wife, the ronin's soul showing in the careful angles of the corners, the precise way the shoji slid in their tracks, the level, methodical floorboards.

How even though there isn't enough money to buy Jin new hakama, he can still manage to find some wood to patch the roof and scrape up some sweet for Fuu to eat and take care of the snake in the garden even if he's so tired his cultured, deliberate feet are dragging and he can't stand snakes himself.

Fuu's smile, and how it was so bright whenever her husband returned home after a day of work in the fields, and his job in town.

Their obvious love for one another.

How Jin hung up his swords for her, how he can be content with another life, live without them, how he can simply leave behind that part of his life and move on.

The moaning (Oh, Jin, Jin, again, please…), in the next room over. Night after night after night, replacing the cries of the dead echoing through Mugen's consciousness with something far more damning.

How they took him in without question, without remorse, without selfishness, without even surprise.

How her eyes got this certain (Sadness? Regret? Pity?) look when eyeing the man sprawled in her guest bedroom, unable to do anything but bitch about her cooking.

Even worse, the apologetic expression that was all Jin seemed to be wearing these days, how he would keep opening his mouth to say something, close it again and sigh. How he would rest his hand on Mugen's shoulder, ignore his swearing and threats, and just look at him with this weariness, this remorse.

Himself, for wanting Fuu, for wanting Jin (his friend, oh how he despises the word) dead, for waiting two years before trying to find her again and being a year and a half too late, unable to even say hello once he spotted them, for ever thinking anything like this about the only two people in the world who ever gave a damn whether he lived or died.

Having to be reliant on someone else.

Fuu. No… he could never hate Fuu. But he hates this fact most of all.

He is a twisted, hateful man, warped by circumstance he was never meant for, and it would be so much easier if he didn't care.

- - - - -

Jin enters an afternoon not long after that, and simply stands by, eyeing the prostrate man with that same cold-eyed unreadable and perfectly apathetic stare that Mugen has grown used to. Enough so, in fact, to read the tenseness in the set of his shoulders (fight in the crisp lines a silhouette against the sunlit door) and the small bit of that emotion Mugen hates so much (why the hell should he feel sorry for me, he married the bitch) in the angles of his elegant brow.

And anger. There is some of that too.

Before thought, before the eye can catch more than just the silver afterthought afterimage, the equally elegant katana is buried in the wood next to Mugen's neck.

The vagrant smiles at that. Finally, a language he can understand. Emotions are an enigma, they make him sweat, make him think, make him regret, complicate things. Fighting is so much simpler, communication defined without thought or compromise in some primal ballet of blood and sweat and death. Death is easy. Very easy. Nothing but a great, inviting void that he loved to taunt, to see how close he could get to touching something greater than himself. Living is difficult.

For just a few moments it can be clear, his opponent simply his opponent instead of this infuriating silent man whom he despises and hates and loves like the brother Mukuro never was or pretended to be. That moment of clarity that comes only when the pain radiates like glorious shivers through his tortured bones, when the tiredness turns into something more like transcendence, when he can feel the adrenalin pulsing through his body and the backs of his hands like pinpricks of the most perfect sort of sinful pleasure he could ever bother to imagine. Total self awareness and reliance and freedom. And if that failed, then he could finally descend into that abattoir with a smile on his face in the knowledge that he went out in a blaze of glory.

And so Jin withdraws his sword and takes a stance, cutting through the shooting anticipation shrouding Mugen's form. The other man rises from the floor like a corpse resurrected, ignoring how his wounds pull at what is left of his shriveled, hateful soul, in flitting pursuit of something like lucidity.

Their swords are poised like opposite idols, and they clash. Metals meets in a bittersweet symphony weaved inexorably into both of the weft of both their fighters souls. The pattern is so familiar, the ebb and flow of their contrasting bodies as they dart around the room like dying stars.

Eventually the words come, between pants of breath and the sharp sounds of grinding metal. "Mugen. It cannot continue like this." The ronin's (no, samurai or man, he wanders no longer) words are composed, resolute. Truth.

"Fuck off, bastard. You don't know nothin' 'bout anything!" Blood is coppery in his mouth and his stomach bleeds anew, the warm feeling spreading. His hands are shaking. But it is the feeling he loves best. (he can be free as long as he has a sword in his hands, who is this bastard to mix up fighting and thought?)

"I know that you pursue fights that you know that you will lose, so that Fuu will care for you. I will not let you continue to kill yourself this way." The statement is punctuated by a rap on his back with the flat of his sword. A taunt (look at you, you pathetic fool, you can't even hold your own anymore).

"Bull shit! You think you know me?" He slashes, parting the air viciously.

Jin isn't falling for it. "You don't know yourself. You don't even know what you're doing, why you're doing it. You won't admit it to yourself. So don't shit me."

The vulgarity out of the composed man almost stops him dead. But without more than a split second jerk Mugen is off again, spinning like a top at the end of it's string, skipping and skimming the floor.

This was a man meant to go out in a blaze of glory, remembered more for his death that his life. And here he is, in this slow, desperate, self-imposed spiral because love has clipped his wings and forced him to make sense of a world that makes no sense- and he previously didn't care about. Destined to finally die in some godforsaken bedroom or back alley, wasting away with something like a whispering sigh by infected wounds inflicted by some fourth-rate thug and his buddies taking advantage of his already broken body.

("Are you at peace with yourself?"

"Hell, every freakin' day I have to ask myself- 'Will this be the last day I lie in the sun?'")

This is a man meant to die on his feet with his head held high, swaggering up to those crow men, a smile on his lips, something like, "Eh, you finally got me, ya' bastards," falling from his lips with supreme disdain, with the sword in his hand like a limb. So he could descend into that abyss with something like relief, knowing he fought it every step of the way and the knowledge that nothing could be worse that this hellhole he has fought through as well, where everyone is no more than a grain of sand.

Mugen knew from his first moments on earth, when his mother looked upon her newborn child with disgust, that this would never be a place that would afford him rest.

And yet here he languishes away, because Fuu and Jin stepped in and gave him direction, morality, emotions. They were not burden meant to be carried by this man. And it has broken him. The pieces are scattered about the floor, evident in how the outlaw gingerly steps around them, hand to his bleeding gut, the pain in his eyes like glass shards the color the sea.

In one swift move Jin has disarmed him, and Mugen is pinned to the ground, a sword at his throat as his dignity expands in a crimson pool around his body. And Jin looks into those eerie, pale, shattered eyes, something like anger bristling in his own cool ones. (Look how the mighty have fallen, if this man has been defeated then what is there to count on?) He feels no joy in his final victory over this damaged man, who lies like rubble all over the floor he spent weeks sanding until it shown, so he could smile at the sound his wife made when he finally let her look at the result of his work. It's almost an act of sacrifice, of charity, to humiliate him like this, his friend. He has no idea how it hurts Jin, to do this- how dare Mugen, to lose like this? To give up hope? He is not a man meant to lose and the thought is like disease, infecting his own image. Jin has little other to fall back on.

The man sheathes his sword and stalks out the room in disgust, without so much as a backward glance, leaving a final statement behind him like a challenge.

"You're not worth killing."

The words slice him deeper if that was even possible. He was laid open, completely defenseless. Yet he still breathes. Why?! Why can't it all end? Couldn't Jin have that much pity, to simply end it?

And suddenly, belatedly, that moment of transcendence comes. Only broken beyond all repair can he rebuild himself.

- - - - -

Mugen disappears that night, as Jin knew he would.

Jin leaves a bottle of sake conveniently out, the extra bandages and salve left where the other man would trip over them, lest he forget.

Mugen takes the sake, takes the supplies, raids the pantry, wadding it all up in his shirt and slinging the makeshift pack over his back, to become little more than a silhouette against the sunrise. The sound of the road is comfort beneath his geta. Maybe he will be back someday, strolling through their front door with his own two feet. Or maybe he won't.

The broken sword sits on the methodical porch, strap carefully folded beneath it as a warrior always should.

A/N: Tee hee. I finally got to use abattoir. Cool, cool word. Kind of depressing, but just so cool. Look it up if you don't know it.

Mugen introspective piece. Because Arabesque05 and 3Jane and whoever wrote Sweet Nothings totally corrupted me for Mufuu, and got me thinking about the sheer impossibility of that relationship ever really working out. And how Mugen would react to that knowledge (he is a smart man, despite it all). Because obviously there was some attraction there he didn't want to feel in the last episode. –shrugs-

Both of their personalities really intrigue me.

And in the wise words of Arabesque05, JinFuu is hot samurai love. –hearts-