Oh my goodness I am so so so sorry it took me forever to update. But when school came back around it was a struggle. Also, I needed to reestablish the way I was going about writing this. I didn't want to rush into anything, sadly, I think I failed at that (again). But I hope you find some good in it despite that. ^_^


Later that night Jin stared at the sky grimly. The stars above him gave his spinning head no comfort. Ever since he had let Mugen leave there was a wrenching feeling in his stomach, like a lead ball was lodged in his gut. The guilt did not allow him sleep, which is why he was there, staring at the stars bitterly.

'How could I just let him walk off??' Jin cursed, 'And wounded, no less!'

But Jin didn't like to recall that detail. It was strange, for the longest time Jin had thought of Mugen as a rival, one to be dueled to the death. But now, the image of Mugen walking in the forest, hurt and alone, was enough to make Jin feel sick. He grimaced. Every moment of doing nothing was torture, he had to struggle to act normal in front of Fuu, and now that she was asleep, his inner thoughts were driving him mad.

'I didn't know what to do,' he thought, 'when he looked at me so venomously I froze...'

Jin closed his eyes, feeling heavy. Lately he had felt strange around Mugen, occasionally catching him staring at him oddly. Jin had made nothing of it until now, remembering the bitter way Mugen had snapped when being questioned about Fuu. At the time he had assumed Mugen's reaction indicated that he did indeed have feelings for Fuu, but maybe...

'No, thats absurd,' Jin interrupted this line of thought sharply, recalling all of Mugen's past fornication with loose women, 'so it couldn't possibly be that.'

Jin was just realizing, despite the fact that they had traveled together so long, he really knew little to nothing about Mugen. This thought bothered him an odd way, and he suddenly felt sad, sadder than he had felt since he left the dojo.

A sigh escaped his lips as he turned on his side. Pillowing his head on his hands, he drew his legs in to draw off the cold. But the weather wasn't what chilled him.

'How long... How long has it been since my gaze fell on Mugen with more than absent observation? This feeling...'

There was a tight feeling in Jin's chest as images of Mugen passed through his thoughts. Suppression of said thoughts proved to be a difficult task, and Jin rolled over restlessly.

Closing his eyes, he tried to focus only on breathing slowly and deeply. Eventually he drifted into an unsettling sleep.

. . .

Mugen groaned in pain. He had torn one of the sleeves from his red jacket and tied it around his midsection to halt the bleeding. His ripped and stained undershirt had been thrown haphazardly somewhere next to a nearby tree. It had took the rest of his energy to lay himself propped against a tree stump. He stared at the dark sky angrily.

'How the hell did things come to this?' He cursed, 'and how could I have let him beat me?!'

Although he knew the answer to that. He had been so distracted by his own wild thoughts upon Jin's arrival that not only had he rushed angrily into a fight, but had also lost the fight like an idiot, and had limped away not only to lick his wounds, but to wallow in his own pity.

Now he stared at the sky with bitter resentment, as if the stars themselves were out to betray him. The feelings he had for Jin had flared like fire in him, and the only thing he knew what to do with it was vent it through angry actions.

'Heh, it's just like me to act like a punk, even now...'

He laughed bitterly, grimacing at the fresh pain it brought. Closing his eyes, he looked back on everything that had happened in the past couple of days. He was too exhausted to feel anger, all he felt was cold and hollow. And it was then that in the first time since he was a boy, Mugen cried.

. . .

Jin's eyes shot open. In the few hours of sleep he received, he suffered a terrible nightmare. As the panicked feeling ebbed from his mind, he noted that it was still dark, morning being several hours away. He sighed as he sat up, thinking back on the dream he had had. He had been back at the dojo, on the night that Mariya Sensei had attempted his assassination. Only it was different. As Mariya fell, his face changed, and suddenly Jin saw that it was Mugen staring up at him, looking confused and betrayed. Horrified, Jin backed away, frantically trying to rub the blood from his hands.

It was then that he woke, shuttering and covered with a cold sweat.

He sat, not sure what he should do. His mind flashed back to the image of Mugen from his dream, and he was on his feet. Swiftly, heading back towards the forest, he was careful not to wake Fuu. He realized that he would be lucky to find Mugen through the dark, but he had to try. He ran faster and faster in and out of the trees, feeling once again that wrenching feeling of panic. Jin had never before acted on impulse like this. He always fought so hard to stay in control of his actions, his feelings. Now he was feeling the surge of desire, fear, and panic, all wrapped neatly inside his stomach. He rushed headlong deeper into the forest, blindly searching.

In his haste he had not seen the large branch laying on the forest floor, and he promptly fell face-first on the soft earth. He didn't move, catching his breath, he merely glanced up, but in that moment, froze. Three feet in front of his face was Mugen's shirt, balled up near a tree. And when he looked just a few feet farther, he could make out an outline of someone propped on a tree stump.

Jin's chest heaved with relief. Slowly getting to his feet, he made his way to Mugen's sleeping form. Kneeling over, he extended a hand to Mugen's shoulder. He moved, almost as if to cup Mugen's face, but stopped, drawing back hesitatingly.

Mugen's arm flew from his side, grasping Jin's wrist tightly.

Jin gasped in surprise, "Mugen, how did you... Weren't you sleeping?"

"Kinda hard to sleep when you're crashing around the woods like an idiot," Mugen mumbled his reply.

Jin smiled slightly at the tease, "Come on, you have to get back, out of this forest."

Mugen let out a small sigh. Jin was not unaware that he still had a firm grip on his wrist. Without trying to be impolite, he tried shifting his weight, pulling away from Mugen's grasp.

Mugen's hand tightened, while also reaching with his other arm to seize the sleeve of Jin's kimono. Jin blinked, startled.

Weakly, Mugen pulled Jin closer. Jin felt his lack of strength. He could have drawn back, if he wanted to. Instead, he leaned closer ever so slightly.

"You're a real pain in the ass, know that?" Mugen murmured irritably before pulling him into a surprisingly forceful kiss. Jin's breath hitched at the back of his throat as Mugen's lips met with his own. His lips nearly burned, aflame with a passion left to smolder far too long. Jin's mind went numb as he was swamped with feelings he had never known. He grasped Mugen's face, instinctively leaning closer.

"I love you."

Jin's heart thudded in his chest at the sound of those three words. They were not said lightly. Rather, they had almost a feeling of heavy resignation to them. A mere reluctant statement of obvious fact.

Still, Jin's head swirled with the warm happiness spreading through him.

"Say it again..." he breathed.

"What didn't you hear the first time?" Mugen replied gruffly, but gave him another, more tender kiss.

Jin seemed to melt against him. He had never known a feeling like this.

And now that he had it, he would never let it go.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

And thats the end of it. ^_^ I hope it wasn't so bad. And again, I hope the fact that it took ages to update didn't disappoint anyone. I will try to be better with that next time. So, reviews are lovely. ^_^