Author's Note: Written for the genchallenge community on livejournal. The prompt was "Bonds last a lifetime".
Threads (Red or Otherwise)
Perhaps it's not really possible to leave. Call it coincidence or fate or the whim of the gods, but either way it's going to take more than just walking away. So according to the rules of narrative convention, things take a predictable turn: Fuu finds herself in another roadside teahouse serving tea and dango to a steady stream of unfamiliar customers. The work isn't thrilling, but it is steady and reliable and almost nostalgic, so she stays for a few months, and then a few months more, and during her breaks she enjoys the luxury of being able to eat dango without someone else snatching the last stick away.
It happens kind of like it did the first time, because fate likes to drop hints like that, but not exactly, because fate's not that unsubtle. A busy mid-morning, with the teahouse slowly filling up. Watch:
"Fuu! There's another customer, hurry up."
"I'm coming," Fuu calls out. She hurries forward, grabs a tea-tray en route, gives a smile, says "Welcome--"
And stops short, but manages not to drop the tray in surprise.
The look of comical horror on Mugen's face makes Fuu go straight from heart-in-mouth surprise to affronted indignance. "Yes," she says, "me." He could at least have been happy to see me! she thinks, and debates the merits of smacking a customer with her tea-tray. Probably doesn't have any money with him, either.
"You." Mugen's not great at maths, but-- "A teahouse." --he knows how to put two and two together, or at least to spot patterns, and-- "Me." --he's not liking the answer that's coming up. "Don't tell me," he says, darting a suspicious glance around at the teahouse's clientele, "that that scrawny four-eyed bastard is here too."
"He isn't," Fuu says, but a hopeful little voice in her head adds: yet.
And because there's something at work here, fate or luck or an easily-amused god: a few moments later, he is.
Or maybe narrative convention only goes so far. Coincidences aren't that easy, you know. But red threads aren't the only kind, so even though the years pass in their own separate ways, it doesn't take that long for one of them to decide that sometimes you've got to make your own coincidences. Maybe it's Fuu, who's used to the idea of trying to find someone. Maybe it's Jin, who goes about the task with simple, focused efficiency. Maybe it's Mugen, who doesn't admit that he's looking for them, who maybe doesn't even know he's doing it, but who follows the clues and rumours all the same. Maybe it's all three. But whatever it is, something happens and then there they are, several years on, and the first thing Mugen half-mumbles to himself is: "Ch', still scrawny."
The second thing he says is "Ow, what the fuck--?" when Fuu hits him across the head with her tanto. Neither of them notices, but Jin smiles.
And then they're off on another journey, and some things are the same and some aren't: they bicker in teahouses but can afford to eat a little more, they go fishing and Jin still hasn't improved his skills, they visit gambling houses and Fuu wins whatever Mugen loses, and somewhere along the way they work towards whatever goal it is this time, and the journey goes on. At least until it ends again.
Or maybe: on the island, their three paths circle back and meet at the very next crossroads.
Perhaps none of these things happens. Perhaps their paths lead them further and further from each other, compass-point-apart, and the distances only grow: mountains, rivers, perhaps even seas. In their respective futures, their lives carry on. Fuu finds a village by a crossroads or a river or the coast, and works in an inn there, which is not the same as waiting. Jin walks on, and if he begins each new road with an unspoken perhaps, perhaps, he does not admit to doing so. Mugen goes where the wind takes him: fights for money, fights for pleasure, leaves a trail of debts and arrest warrants in his wake, keeps moving.
And if sometimes Fuu turns a bit too quickly at the uncouth greeting of a new customer, or the flash of a pink kimono catches Jin's eye, or Mugen finds himself idly scanning the belts of passersby for a particular set of swords, well, those are small things, and they don't happen as often as you'd think. They're all content enough. During mealtimes at the inn, Fuu listens to the travellers as they gossip about bandits and rogues and wandering samurai. Sometimes the characters sound almost familiar and sometimes they don't, but Fuu enjoys the stories either way. Jin counts the months, remembering a temple on a distant river, and when the time comes he is there. Maybe he finds a reason to stay, and it is enough; maybe he finds a reason to move on, and that is enough too. And Mugen moves on, as Mugen always does -- infinity's a path that finds itself again, and one journey's end is not the end of all travelling.