Jin decided to take up residence in the Danborushi for awhile, with ultimate designs to build or purchase a cottage. Whichever option was more opportune. I asked him what he left behind, since surely there must have been something. "Nothing I can't find again," he said.
Mugen was considerate enough to stage his coup near a coastal town, and Jin felt it was in everyone's best interest to stick around for awhile. Make sure things have really cooled down the way he was promised it would.
And for their part, it seemed things did. He later told me a story where one day he noticed a cop trolling the bodegas for protection money. He was foolish enough to approach Jin's fish stand, not realizing at first who he was. All Jin had to do was raise an eyebrow, and he hurried himself along. Jin noticed many people raising their eyebrows to such behavior these days. Though no one spoke of Mugen, it seemed he wasn't entirely forgotten.
I decided to go back to the tea house. Gengi was thrilled to see me. The replacement waitress wasn't nearly as cute, he said, and he was losing customers. He offered me the old apartment, and the old job. But I didn't have the heart to oust the new girl. I told him I'd find my own place.
Jin gave me a cut of Mugen's bounty, anyway. He said I earned it. I tended to agree. And since we now had a surplus of staff, I suggested that Gengi take a couple of days off. He warmed to the idea, and soon, I was a part time tea house manager.
Which suited me just fine, as it allowed me to also be a part time fisherman. About twice a month I'd journey back to Jin's place, and help him fish for the weekend. And more importantly, sell his fish, which he wasn't terribly good at. He's not the most charismatic soul. He'd stand straight and stock still over his catch, as if he was daring the populace to buy from him. The townies soon learned that was just the way he stood. I think he appreciated my help with the weekend crowd.
And I learned fishing suited me in some ways too. I liked the squishy-ness of it. The worms and the dirt and the fish themselves as they tried to wriggle free. It was wet and gross and it made me feel like I was seven years old again. Strange to think this is an adult profession.
I'd occasionally run into members of the Mugang. We never said much to each other, just sort of gave each other an awkward nod. Like someone you got drunk with at a party the night before, or just dreamed about last night. Some of them left town. Others settled down with families. The kid who confronted Mugen and I in the woods, I learned his name was Naoko, eventually got a position within the shogunate.
I thought that was odd, but when I asked Jin about it, he only said, "Sometimes it's better to flow with the water."
I think I know what he means. I did notice a serious drop in the cost of big game hunting permits.
Three Years Later
"Are you sure you want to use that knife?"
I placed the knife in question down on the counter and glared at Gengi. "The knife I've used every single day for the past two years? Yes. I'm sure."
"I just think it's...common. For such a fish."
"You want I should use Jin's sword?" I huffed.
"Do you think she could?" Gengi turned to the ronin in question.
"While useful for many things, this particular sword is not the best instrument to prepare sushi," he said. His words were measured, but his tone said, bitch, please. "Fuu has more than enough skill to handle her own knife."
"Thank you," I said, kneeling back down to inspect my prey at eye level. Sushi, it turns out, specifically the making of it, was the perfect balance of the squishy and the beautiful. And that suited me perfectly. Our little tea shop had garnered quite the reputation.
Eyes squinted, tongue out, I prepared to make my incision. "Fuu!"
"Oh my God!" I shrieked. "You almost made me slit my wrist. What is wrong with you?!"
"We only have one shot at this!" Gengi barked, and he was right.
The particular fish Jin brought us today was rare, and an oddity in this region. It was sheer dumb luck that one wandered into his net. And it was kismet that it happened just as there were rumors that there was some diplomat of France, or some such nonsense, in the area.
Gengi was determined to be internationally renowned. But right now, he was just cramping my style. "Back off," I growled, and then restarted my work.
If I sliced it at just the right angle, this fish was supposed to be God's gift to taste buds. But if I went even slightly against the grain, you might as well be eating sandpaper. This was the sort of thing I liked about sushi. The agony and the ecstasy of life, all rolled up in sticky rice.
My knife blade was just about in its flesh when Jin put his hand on top of my head. I knew it was him without looking up, and I had to wonder why he was tempting fate in this way. Disrupting me in that moment is an excellent way to lose a finger. "Not now," I grumbled.
He responded by wagging my head back and forth with his palm, and I honestly considered he might have a death wish. "Seriously," I hissed.
"I'm always serious," he said. And with that, I looked up.
Inside, I did a thousand cartwheels and enough backflips to make a Chinese acrobat dizzy. Inside I had a thousand questions, treading along the lines of where he's been, whether he could possibly be a French diplomat, and how he had received the latest batch of scars.
But outside, I said what I will always say, every time, now and forever.
Author's Note: So that's it. It was weirdly comforting for me to write this. I don't know why, really. It was just a nice place to visit once and awhile. I hope it was nice for you reading as well. I adore those three, and I tried to do them justice. Thanks for the feedback, everyone! It's nice to hear from you!