Force of Nature
A fanfiction by Velkyn Karma
Summary: The sea is a dangerous adversary. Unfortunately for them, only one of their number truly understands that--and Mugen isn't the sort you listen to easily. Looks like another rescue mission is in order form the former pirate.
Note: This fic takes place before the Misguided Miscreants episodes (13 and 14 respectively), since neither Jin nor Fuu are aware of Mugen's history of piracy. However it is also inspired by a lot of things that go on in these episodes, such as Mugen's ability to use boats and a very unique skill to sense/predict weather (which in my opinion is a fascinating quality of his that doesn't get used ever again).
There is also a slight hint of MugenXFuu if you look closely...but it could be viewed any way you like, I suppose.
Disclaimer: I do not own, or pretend to own, the Samurai Champloo series or any of its subsequent characters, plots or other ideas. That right belongs solely to Shinichiro Watanabe. The only thing that belongs to me here is the concept for the story.
It began by the sea.
The three of them had been traveling for days without any incident. That had to be some indication that something was going to go wrong, Fuu later thought in retrospect. After all, the three of them attracted trouble as often as they repelled money; that was to say, all too frequently for her taste.
But it hadn't seemed like a problem, not at first. Their travels in search of the Sunflower Samurai had turned up a lead, of sorts. They certainly knew where they were heading. The problem was, there was a mountain region in their way. It was well-nigh impenetrable, both for its steep, dangerous slopes and great height. Fuu could see its tips topped with fluffy white snow--the sort that looked pretty from far away, but had to be exceptionally cold, especially since it was still summer.
Still, that wasn't too much of a problem. The mountains were impassable, but there was a sea route that people often took. It skirted around the land, with its steep cliffs and mountainous regions just barely in sight, and over the deep seawater, a journey of roughly a day.
The journey over such deep water was a scary thought to Fuu--who enjoyed having her feet firmly on dry land, thank you very much--but it would put them days upon days ahead of where they would be if they took the land route that circled the mountain region. That in and of itself was plenty reason to take the route. Especially since it was relatively cheap, and for once in their lives they could afford it.
Fuu was excited at the prospect of of gaining so much time. She happily related the news to her two bodyguards, who had been lounging in an old shack just outside of the small port town. Jin had been indifferent, and Mugen had mocked her--both as usual--which she decided to interpret as "Great idea! Let's do it! Lead on, you cute thing, you!"
Which was why she had woken them at dawn to catch the boat leaving for the mountain-circling route. Since it was a full-day trip, they would have to leave when the sun rose, in order to reach the other port at night. Jin was again indifferent to the early rising, and Mugen complained foully--again usual. So far, so good.
They reached the port town easily, and the docks not too long after. There was a fairly large ship moored at the docks--not large enough for deep-ocean voyages, but certainly sturdy enough to survive sea travel relatively close to land. Fuu trotted into line, eyes glittering with excitement, and managed to claim the last three spaces on the boat for herself and her bodyguards.
There the problem began. Ironically enough, it was not (for once) a matter of money, or rather lack thereof. They had enough for the fare, with a little leftover for a small dinner when they reached the other port.
The problem was Mugen, who obstinately refused to board the ship.
"Like hell you'll get me on that thing," he scowled, arms crossed resolutely.
"Oh, come on!" Fuu said in exasperation. "It's totally safe. The captain said he's been doing this for years."
"I'm not getting on that thing!" Mugen repeated hotly. He fixed her with a murderous look, normally reserved for the opponents he'd be killing shortly. "And nothin' you say is gonna change my mind, girlie."
Fuu flinched slightly at his glare, but recovered quickly; one did not spend their time traveling with a foul-mouthed vagabond like Mugen without becoming immune to some of his...'charms.' Instead, she glanced over her shoulder at the ship--people were boarding, and it would be leaving soon--and then, abruptly, it came to her.
She started giggling.
"What the hell is your problem?" Mugen scowled at her. "What's so funny?"
"You're...you're scared of sailing, aren't you?" she asked, still giggling, though she did her best to hide it behind the sleeve of her kimono.
"What? No freakin' way! I'm not scared of anything!" He looked half angry, and half deeply offended. The statement had affected him more than Fuu had planned on; his arms had even uncrossed, and one fist was clenched angrily.
"Rein your temper," Jin said sharply, his voice cool. He was still standing impassively by Fuu's side, but narrowed his eyes slightly at his unwilling companion's show of anger.
"There's got to be a reason you don't want to ride the boat," Fuu said, still smiling slightly, although Mugen's reaction had calmed her somewhat. "The only thing I can think of is that you're scared of it. It's completely safe."
"Safe, my ass," Mugen scowled. He glared over her shoulder. Funny, his gaze looked like it was raised higher than the ship itself, even its sails, as if he was looking at the sky...And then he said, with uncharacteristic seriousness to his tone, "No idiot would put to sea with a gale like that on its way."
Fuu blinked in surprise. Mugen--serious? She'd never seen him like that except when he was fighting. In combat there was always a seriousness to him, a precision and single-minded determination that she had learned to recognize under his wild, flailing style and wide smirks. But she had never seen that precision, that uncanny knowledge of what he was and was not capable of, anywhere else but in battle with another foe. To see it here was...unsettling.
Jin seemed to notice it too, but if he was bothered by it, he said nothing. Instead he turned and eyed the sky before saying cooly, "It is perfectly clear. Not a cloud in sight. There's no indication that a storm is coming."
"There's one coming," Mugen said. He was still scowling, and his voice had that familiar grating tinge of irritation or anger to it, but his eyes seemed very...hard. They recognized something, maybe. "You can bet on that."
Fuu hesitated. He sounded so...knowledgeable. Like he really meant what he said. Maybe he wasn't making it up, but...
The bell started clanging behind her as the captain and crew shouted last warnings before they shoved off. Grimacing, she whipped around and stared Mugen down.
"We've already paid for passage," she said firmly. "Our money is in that ship, and we can't get it back. The sky looks fine. Let's just go already!" And turning, she hurried towards the boat. Jin hesitated for only a moment before following her; she could hear his footsteps behind her.
They were almost at the boarding planks when Fuu heard an unmistakable screech of, "Fine! You damned bitch!" Moments later she heard the clack of geta over stones, and couldn't help but smirk to herself in quiet triumph.
Mugen could be persuaded, after all. One just had to know how to do it.
Hours later, Mugen was broken from his scowling at the afternoon sun by Fuu's arrival at his side. That man wasn't too far behind her, unsurprisingly. Well, at least they didn't look so green now. He had never seen a pair take so badly to the open sea and a ship's deck.
It had been years since he'd been on any sea-worthy vessel, but even so his legs took almost immediately to the familiar sway of the decks on swelling waves. The girl had complained at his ease on the ship, naturally. All she ever did was bitch, usually at him, and often about him. She'd spent the first half of the day-long voyage tottering unsteadily over the deck and hurling over its side. Four-eyes had kept his stomach, but not his composure.
Well, they looked mostly fine now, which was a pity. Their obvious discomfort had been a source of great amusement for the young Ryukyu man. He'd had several opportunities to needle both of them and had used it to his full advantage.
Still, even the chance to take cracks at his two traveling companions hadn't been enough to quell that uneasy feeling in his stomach. He'd been lying--well, sort of--when he told the girl he wasn't afraid. He was. Not of sailing. Hell, he could do that in his sleep. Navigating a ship was easy. But he didn't like the obvious signs on the wind and the horizon. These sailors were idiots, every one of them. They never should have set sail; the entire voyage should have been put on hold. There was a storm coming--a big one--and the first rule of the sea was that you respected and feared the weather. Unlike a human, it couldn't be beaten, and if you tried to fight it, it would kill you. Mercilessly.
So he stood casually, arms resting on the carefully constructed rails on the sides of the ship to keep its sea-fearing passengers safe. And he watched the open horizon with the same tense feeling--a thrill of excitement, with the tiniest edge of uncertainty--that he had when waiting for an unknown opponent to draw his sword. The sailors had tried to chivvy him away from the edge earlier in the day, but after demonstrating his obvious familiarity with the ocean they had finally recognized his skill and left him alone. Which was fine with him.
So, naturally, she had to show up, with him in tow. Perfect.
"What are you waiting for? Your imaginary storm?" Fuu said huffily, arms crossed. With perfect timing, an approaching swell forced the entire ship into a well-timed pitch, knocking the idiot sideways. She stumbled into the railing, half bent over it, and clung to its wooden frame with white-knuckled fingers.
"What's so funny?" Fuu said sharply, glaring daggers at him. "I just...lost my balance is all!"
"Figures. Yer a klutz. More of one on a ship."
But Mugen had already lost interest. His eyes turned back to the horizon, scanning, searching. Another breath of wind flickered across his face, sending his wild hair askew, not that he cared. It was the scent that mattered. That wind wasn't right. There was a storm coming, and a big one, whether or not anybody believed him.
"--and...Are you listening to me?"
"No," he answered automatically, disinterested.
"You big jerk!" she shrieked. Unbidden, her fist came flying out to hit him. Or try to, anyway. Normally when she reacted like this, Mugen let her connect--it was worth it, to see her fly into a rage like that, and her punches never really hurt anyway. She had as much strength in her arms as a brittle toothpick.
But he was in a bad mood today, and not interested in playing along. Something wasn't right here. These two idiots couldn't see it, but they were on his territory, and he wasn't taking crap for it. Spinning aside nimbly, he dodged her fist and flowed easily with the next buck of the deck underneath him, adjusting his balance almost instantly.
The result was just as expected. The momentum of her full-body swing blended with the pitching of the deck, and carried her forward with considerably more force than the previous swell had. She stumbled wildly towards the railing, tripped, and began to fall forward over its other side, towards the water.
A scream of terror ripped from her throat as she started to fall downward. Undaunted, Mugen flowed forward, again in perfect sync with the ship's bucking movements, and snatched the back of her kimono almost lazily with one hand. Her fall came to an abrupt halt, as did her scream, and he pulled her back easily onto the ship; her sandals clacked to the wooden deck as she regained her balance.
"Watch it, you idiot," he said, a tinge of genuine irritation in his voice. "This isn't your kind of place at all."
Fuu was still gasping for breath, and stared at him with a mix of fear and awe. The expression quickly turned to anger, however. "What'd you do that for, you jerk?" she yelped. "That was completely uncalled for!"
"Better you learn now than later," Mugen snarled back. "What if you tried that crap when I wasn't around, huh? You can barely walk on deck, let alone pretend to fight."
"I can walk! And I don't prete--"
"Riiiiiight," Mugen scowled. "So you didn't just almost throw yourself overboard. You even know how to swim?"
Her mouth snapped shut so suddenly there was an audible click of teeth. Then, "Um...not...exactly..."
"Thought so," he answered, rolling his eyes. "Do us all a favor and stay away from the side, 'cause I'm not saving a little bitch like you if you manage to get yourself thrown overboard from being an idiot."
She watched him reproachfully, but seemed intelligent enough to at least not press the issue further. Which was good, because he really wasn't in the mood to deal with her today, all kidding aside.
Jin, too, was watching him, his expression observant. Abruptly, the samurai said, "You've worked on ships before, haven't you?"
Mugen eyed him critically. He didn't like the guy, and he certainly didn't like him digging into a past that wasn't his business! "You could say that," he answered shortly. Not much point in mentioning whether that work was legal or not. It didn't matter to him much anyway; even if he had cared, that was in the past.
"Wait....Jin, how do you know that?" The girl asked, surprised.
"He moves too easily," the samurai answered flatly. "As if he is a part of the structure. And he acts familiar with the work of the sailors here."
Observant bastard. Well, couldn't help it now, so he'd just ignore them. With a last glare, he turned his eyes back to the horizon, squinting past the late afternoon sunbeams to the sky beyond.
And saw the wide black speck that seemed to float almost serenely on the boundary between water and air.
"Knew it," he said, his rough voice unusually grim. "Figures." Pushing himself easily off the ship's railing, and ignoring Fuu's indignant demands to know what was happening, he rolled easily with the deck's tipping movements and shouted to the nearest of the sailors. "Hey! You! Are you blind, or what?"
The man's eyes narrowed in anger. Funny, Mugen thought vaguely. He wasn't even trying to pick a fight this time, just get the man's attention. Ignoring the sailor's growling response, Mugen pointed almost casually in the direction of the rapidly growing black speck on the horizion. "Well? What're you gonna do about that, huh?"
The man seemed afraid to follow his finger at first, afraid it was some sort of trick. At Mugen's insistent pointing—and a well-growled threat to pay attention before he started breaking something—the man's head turned and spotted the growing specks. His face paled, and almost immediately he had spun, shouting loudly for the captain's attention.
"What's going on?" Fuu yelled loudly. Mugen realized rather suddenly that it was probably the tenth time she had done so. Even Jin, beside her, looked wary. Rolling his eyes, Mugen whipped a hand out, slapped it on top of her skull, and spun her head casually to face the growing black blot on the horizon.
"That's a storm," he said over her angry protests, his voice oddly flat, devoid of excitement. "A really, really big one. If we get caught in it, we're dead for sure."
"That little thing? But it's so far away!"
"It ain't little," he said, irritation once more evident in its voice. "And storms move fast. Best thing you can do now is get below and get out of the way."
"But I don't want to go—"
"Get moving!" Mugen roared in her face. "You keep calling me your damn bodyguard. Well now I'm guarding your body, so get out of the damn way!"
She squeaked in surprise, eyes wide, and then went. Jin, with only the slightest hint of an arched brow, followed her.
Free of them for the moment, Mugen eyed the sailors. They were already rapidly springing to work, directing the ship towards the barely visible land mass in the distance. It would be dangerous—most of the land still consisted of steep cliffs, with large, scattered rocks not too far under the water that would make navigating towards the mainland treacherous. It was why they were so far out to sea for this route to begin with, after all. But they were almost at the end of the journey to begin with, and the mainland was rapidly smoothing itself out. In the distance, just barely visible, were the vaguest hints of a dock town. It would be a race, then. How close could they get to the safeland, before the storm hit them?
Satisfied for the moment, Mugen contented himself to crouching in an out of the way corner of the deck, keeping a wary eye on things. It was a bad idea to get in the way of sailors that knew their ship better than he did, but he'd be damned if he'd go below and trust his life completely to them. He'd gotten as far as he had in this world by relying on himself and his own skills, and that certainly wasn't going to change now. Especially when something always went wrong in a situation like this.
The storm was getting dangerously close now. It was no longer a black speck on the horizon; it was now a black wall in the distance, coming steadily closer with no signs of dying out. Mugen cursed—it was bigger than even he had anticipated—and reminded himself to kick that stupid girl into the middle of next week later for blowing their money on a foolhardy voyage and generally being an idiot.
They were close to the land, teasingly close, when the storm finally struck them, roaring down on the tiny vessel in its path like an enraged animal. The wind buffeted with unbearable strength, and the waves, once gentle and friendly, now thrashed and bucked like an angry woman, forcing Mugen to hold on tight to the nearest attached surface or risk being thrown. Darkness blanketed them, so thick that—though it was still day—the late afternoon sun was eaten in the blackness. Water threw itself over the edges of the vessel, and along with the vicious downpour its decks and everyone aboard were soaked within moments. Mugen narrowed his eyes and held on grimly. The sea could be moody and it was best not to try fighting it. But when it brought the fight to him, he'd be damned if he went down without putting every ounce of his skill and determination into combating it.
The sailers appeared to be of similar opinion. They fought tooth and nail to keep the little ship on course, angling it towards the mainland and clawing for every foot of distance they made. They were a determined bunch—Mugen would give them that. Not that it would matter for long.
He was right; something did go wrong, and very soon. The man at the tiller clung to it for dear life, directing its course while using the heavy weight to keep him secured to the deck. But his strength eventually gave out, and with a scream the man was flung overboard, into the raging water. With no direction, the boat tilted wildly and pitched under the merciless buffeting of the angry force of nature.
This was the mistake Mugen had been waiting for, however, and as mistakes went this was one he could do something about. Bracing his strong legs and tilting his body in accordance with the pitching ship, the swordsman managed to stagger forward and throw himself at the tiller, wrenching it back into place with all the strength in his body. The ship gave another almighty lurch, and almost protestingly clawed its way back to its original course, towards the mainland.
Despite the dangers of the situation, Mugen smirked. Damn, but he was good. And now he had some control in the situation, which was even better.
The smirk was jolted off his face abruptly as he heard a familiar voice over he storm's rage, and saw an irritatingly well known flash of pink through the dark haze. "-gen! Mugen! Are you alright?"
She was probably shouting, but over the noise of the storm her voice came across as barely a whisper. Even so, that faint voice was enough to send him into a fit of rage.
"What the hell are you doing up here?" he yelled, still clinging firmly to the tiller, as she stumbled towards him over the bucking ship. Behind her, Jin staggered forwards as well, slightly more balanced than she but certainly no more comfortable. "I told you to stay out of the way! And why the hell did you let her out?" he added, throwing the last in the direction of the samurai.
Jin shrugged, an action that was barely visible in the darkness. "She refused to remain in place," he said. He was shouting, something that sounded very strange compared to his usual soft-spoken monotone.
"Then you shoulda knocked her out and tied her down there, you idiot!" Mugen snapped.
"Hey!" the girl in question shouted. "I'm right here, you jerk! I was worried about you when I felt the ship start moving like this! And you're going to complain about me caring, you crude, obnoxious—"
Whatever other clever insults she had planned to spew at him were lost as the ship gave another ferocious lurch. Mugen grimaced, braced himself against the tiller, and forced it to stay in place, clinging to it at the same time to keep him from being thrown.
But he had forgotten to take the other two into account. Jin lurched, scrabbled with one hand against the tiller, and managed to keep relatively in place. Not so Fuu. She stumbled, tripped on a loose coil of rope tied haphazardly to the tiller, and pitched forward. Jin made a grab for her, but missed, and with a screech the girl plummeted headlong over the edge of the ship.
"Son of a bitch!" Mugen screamed angrily. "I warned her, dammit!"
With a feral grimace, he checked the ship's bearings with a practiced eye. They were still on course for the mainland, and not too far, though it was hard to tell with the darkness as thick as it was. It would have to do. With a sharp hand gesture, he yelled loudly to Jin, "Get over here! Right here!"
Surprisingly, the samurai obeyed immediately. Perhaps, despite their mutual dislike, four-eyes had enough sense to know this was his territory. Or maybe he just knew how much shit they were in. Regardless, he dragged his way up the thick tiller and hung on, obeying rapidly as Mugen snarled, "Hold it like this. Right here. Keep it steady. And don't you damn move it!"
Jin did as he was told, and Mugen released it, hastily slinging his sword-scabbard around the samurai's neck for safekeeping. Where he was going, it would only drag him down, in a very literal sense. Then, scrabbling along the deck, he found the loose coil of rope and tied its end around his thin waist quickly, estimating its length. It should be enough, with luck.
"Do not forget," Jin said sharply, giving him a warning look. "I am the only one allowed to kill you. I will not give up that right, even to the ocean."
"Yeah yeah. Same to you, you asshole," Mugen shouted back, even as he started to claw his way to the broken rails. "I meant what I said—you move that tiller, I'll kick your ass when I see you again." And without waiting for a reply, he launched himself into the boiling sea.
Even drenched to the skin as he was with rain and seawater, being suddenly immersed in the ocean's cold depths was shocking to his core. Mugen was experienced enough to restrain the gasp of surprise, however. There was no use wasting precious air. He wrenched his eyes open—the salt stung them, but again, he was used to it—and gave himself a few moments to adjust to his new setting.
It was oddly surreal. After the chaos of the pitching ship above, the roaring noise and the battering winds, the underside of the sea was eerily quiet and motionless. It was dark, but his eyes adjusted to the gloom rapidly; that wasn't much different from topside. His eyes flickered quickly, and latched onto a trail of bubbles, working their way downwards like strange undersea spiderwebs. It was a trail as good as any, so with powerful strokes of well-accustomed limbs, he forced his way downward.
It was tough going. Mugen was an accomplished swimmer, but he could feel that he was going deeper than he ever had, willingly, before. The farther he went, the darker it became, until he could barely see his own hands parting the water before his face. If that idiot was down here, he wouldn't know it until he ran into her. If he even did.
He felt a momentary pressure at his waist, as if the rope tugged at him, but then it slackened and he continued on. Something in the back of his mind scrabbled at his consciousness frantically, and he recognized the dire warning. No time left. Turn back. It was something anyone well accustomed to the sea would recognize; there was a point of no return, a point when one wouldn't have the air or the strength to reach the surface once more. He had to be near that point. Damn the bitch, and damn her again for getting him into the fucking mess. If she had just listened to him for once in her life—
His hand met something swaying that reminded him vaguely of seaweed. It was too soft for that, though, he knew that immediately. This had to be the jackpot. Fisting his hands in the mysterious object firmly, he dragged it towards him and twisted his own body, forcing his angle upward. Several swift kicks followed, and he began his ascent to the surface. This had to be it. He couldn't see what he'd gotten, but if it wasn't Fuu, she was already dead anyway. Damn bitch, making him actually nervous…
He forced himself upwards through the water further, and his chest began to burn. He was cutting it damn close, and maybe for nothing. But the gloom was starting to part, and though it was still dark, he was starting to be able to see again—
Despite his anger, irritation, and frustration at himself for even bothering to care, Mugen felt a spark of pride, or perhaps satisfaction, course through his body as he glanced down at his catch. His hands were fisted messily in Fuu's hair, undone now; the little sticks that usually held it up had been lost to the ocean forever. A part of Mugen's mind, the part not focused exclusively on survival, noted that she would probably bitch at him for that later. Somehow it would inevitably be his fault that she had lost the damn things. Well, she would just have to deal with it, because he'd already spent more time worrying over her than he had ever cared to before.
So instead he gave a sharp heave, forcing her limp, swaying body upwards in the water, and wrapped an arm more securely under her own arms and across her chest. She fit snugly against his body that way—something he was sure she would also complain about later, along with a hurled insult of 'pervert!' at the present placement of his arm against her rather disappointing bosom—but it wasn't as if he cared. She was easier to carry this way, too, and he was already having enough trouble with her as it was.
With a better adjusted grip, reaching the surface was slightly less difficult. He was free to use one arm as he pleased now, in addition to kicking with his legs, and her weight was better adjusted against his own. His lungs screamed, but Mugen was determined, and this had just turned from a hopeless attempt into a battle against nature. Mugen didn't give up in combat, not until it killed him, and this was no exception.
His head broke the surface, and the roar of the waves and the scream of the winds smashed into his senses with mind-jarring suddenness. His hair was plastered against his face and in his eyes, momentarily blinding him, not that it mattered anyway. It was still damned dark out. He gasped for breath, shook his head, cleared his vision, and looked up just in time to see another wave crashing down on him.
It drove him under once more. He felt his grip on Fuu's limp body weakening, but gritted his teeth in vicious determination and tightened his hold to an almost steel-like level. Mugen played for keeps; he'd be damned if the ocean dragged her under after all the hard work he put into rescuing her!
He fought his way to the surface again, head breaking through to air once more. This time, the ocean seemed more cooperative, and while it splashed him frustratingly with large waves and blinding spray, it no longer dunked him under. He considered it a victory and ignored the fact that the sea would not listen to him, ever.
Instead, he turned his attention to Fuu, and yelled angrily when he realized she was unconscious. Damned bitch couldn't even keep her mind just by getting thrown overboard! She was still crushed almost painfully against his body as he struggled to keep hold of her and keep them both afloat, but her head flopped forward limply, her face lolling under the salty water. Snarling inaudible curses at her, Mugen nevertheless shifted his grip, cupping her chin carefully with the hand under her arm to keep her head above water.
Next came shelter. Mugen knew he was a good swimmer, but he also knew neither of them would stay alive long in the middle of the ocean in the middle of a storm. His eyes moved around frantically, searching for the boat, but in the darkness he could barely see its massive bulk. Still cursing—he didn't think he'd sworn as much as he had in the past fifteen minutes in his life—he reached instead for the rope around his waist, intending to tug them back towards the ship and hopefully to relative safety.
It came up frayed in his hands.
A calm, oddly rational part of his mind observed that this was probably the strange tug he had felt when swimming downward, searching for Fuu. The rest of him told himself to shut the hell up and get lost so that he could work on staying alive.
So they were on their own, then. Well, fine. He'd lived through worse, and no damn storm was going to kill him either, not while he had any say in it. The shore had been fairly close when the storm actually hit them, and they had moved even closer before he'd jumped ship. He could make it. Estimating a direction and vaguely hoping his luck was up, he shifted Fuu against him, the better to hold her up while swimming, and started forward.
It was obvious very quickly that the attempt was futile. The waves buffeted him cruelly, hindering any directional progress, and often forcing him to struggle just to stay above water. There was no way in hell he'd get anywhere in this, not in this mess—
It hit him suddenly. Under! Under the waves it had been calmer, easier to move. He might be able to make a little progress if he went beneath the thrashing waves and swam forward, surfacing only to breathe. It would still take time, but it was better than nothing. Plan of action in mind, Mugen shifted his large hand from underneath Fuu's chin, clamping it down over her nose and mouth so painfully tight it would probably leave bruises later—she'd bitch about that too, him ruining her supposed cuteness or whatever the hell she thought of herself—and then taking his own deep breath, he dove.
He forced his way though the water with power and determination, each stroke of his hand or kick of his foot akin to a swipe of his sword in combat with a very dangerous opponent. Now that he had a plan, and a way to win, a part of himself was almost enjoying it. He still didn't have the upper hand against this enemy, but he did have a tactic now, and that was more than he had bargained for initially. He always loved pulling an underdog. It made him feel…powerful.
So he forced his way forward, bit by bit, struggling through the water just below the surface, breaking through only to refill his burning lungs. He removed his hand from Fuu's nose and mouth and held her head up when he paused to breathe, just in case. He didn't know how much good it would do. If she was unconscious when he found her, it was probably from breathing seawater into her lungs, in which case she might not be breathing at all. He could be struggling as hard as he was for a corpse. But there was always a chance, so he breathed, and let her breathe, and then blocked her lungs and swam forward once more, fighting onward.
He didn't know how long he was at it. Time was an unimportant factor in combat; all that mattered was the fight itself. Mugen devoted every drop of his existence to winning, and the actions themselves were timeless. The victory wasn't, however. The scrape of his geta against rocky sand was the first indication. The fact that he was suddenly no longer swimming, but walking, and that Fuu's body was growing heavier and no longer gliding along behind him, were others.
He'd done it. He'd kicked the goddamn ocean's ass and dragged not one, but two bodies out of its maw and back to the land. He could feel his smirk splaying across his face even as he dragged Fuu's limp body up and out of the water, lifted her with both arms and stumbled through the pounding rain and over wet sand, as far away from the angry waves as possible.
He realized he was tired rather unexpectedly, but refused to give into his fatigue completely. Instead he dropped Fuu unceremoniously to the sand—she flopped like a dead body—and collapsed to his knees next to her, panting. His limbs were actually trembling with exertion. But dammit, he wasn't going to give in yet, not until he was done, and there was still a helluva lot left to do.
So, baring his teeth in determination, Mugen bent over the rag-doll form next to him, rolled her over onto her back, and pressed an ear against her chest.
There was a rhythmic thud that he could both hear and feel beneath his cheek. Heart still beating, then, so not dead. Thankfully. No, he was not relieved to see she was still alive. At least, not in that sense, he told himself firmly; it was more like she had better not die until he had the chance to royally ream her out for sheer idiocy. He'd fucking warned her after all. A lot! Like she had the decency to—
Not breathing, his mind registered suddenly. Probably had water in her lungs. With a snarl, he shouted "Wake up!" directly into her pale face, wet with her hair and salt clinging to it in a completely undignified fashion.
She did not wake up. Lousy bitch. Ignoring him like always.
Growling to himself, he shifted his weight over her and pounded her firmly in the chest, several times. Despite his anger, he was—for once—mindful enough to restrain his strength. He didn't need to go breaking her ribs and killing her, after all. She'd probably bitch at him for making her already flat chest even flatter—as if that were possible!—but he could really not care less by this point.
Mugen paused, waited for a reaction, shouted in her face again. Nothing. He was afraid he was going to have to get drastic and give her some damn mouth to mouth; he'd seen it once back on the islands, to suck water out and breathe air in. He wasn't looking forward to kissing her, however, and he had a feeling that despite his rugged good looks and fascinating charm, she'd feel the same way towards him. So he pounded again, muttering under his breath, the words lost in the torrent of rain.
She coughed rather abruptly, and her entire body spasmed slightly against the sand. Mugen hastily rolled her onto her side, barely in time. She coughed again, and then vomited into the sand, gagging and retching repeatedly for a good two minutes before she finally finished.
"Real pretty," Mugen said acidly.
She panicked, thrashing wildly when she heard his voice. The last thing he needed was for her to break a bone from wild disarray, so he grabbed her wrists in one hand and pinned her shoulders to the ground with his other arm, glaring her right in the eye. "Will you calm the hell down!" he snapped. "It's me, girlie! Stop fighting me!"
Fuu took his words to heart—a little too strongly. Her eyes widened in recognition for one moment, and then rolled backwards as she fainted dead away.
"Pain in the goddamn ass," Mugen muttered in irritation, and set to dragging her to a cleaner, less vomit-covered part of the wet beach.
When Fuu came to her senses, it was to discover the half-moon glowing above with a cool beauty, and a number of stars glittering down at her like diamonds fixed in the black sky.
It was night time? But…hadn't it been day earlier? When they got on the boat?
The boat! Memories flooded back to Fuu in a wild rush, and she remembered fragments of what had happened very clearly. Mugen's condescending tone as he pointed out the approaching storm. The whipping winds and pitching deck beneath her feet as it assaulted them. The unbalanced moment of terror as she was picked up and thrown away from her wide-eyed bodyguards, hurled into the ocean…the shock of cold as it enveloped her…the exhaustion that set over her as she sank….
Why wasn't she dead? She should be dead, shouldn't she? She didn't know how to swim, and there was no way anyone could have reached her in that chaotic mess. But this didn't feel like the afterlife…it felt far too real. She was cold, for one thing, shivering pitifully. Her pink kimono felt bedraggled and damp against her skin, and her whole body was a mass of pain. This couldn't be death—it hurt too much.
Groaning, she sat up slowly, and was surprised to find the feel of wet sand beneath her aching legs. Grimacing, she rubbed her arms and sides feebly in an attempt to massage them, and looked around.
She had to force herself not to yelp in panic. Mugen was on his side, only a few feet from her, with his back to hers. His sword was gone, but he still had his coat and his geta, much to her surprise. At first she thought he was dead, but careful examination revealed his thin side rising and falling in the steady pattern of sleep. How the man could sleep at a time like this was beyond her. She always thought he was crazy. And how the heck had he gotten here, anyway? She had been thrown overboard, of that she was certain, and she had seen Mugen still on the ship with Jin when she went over.
Looking around quickly, she noted with confusion that both Jin and the ship were nowhere in sight. Or, rather…the boat was, so far down the beach it was almost unrecognizable as a ship that had run aground. But that still didn't explain what Mugen was doing here.
Fuu rubbed her arms again to try and work feeling into them, and then paused, squinting further down the beach. There was a figure marching toward them, slowly but steadily over the damp sand. She watched it warily, but her faced brightened in recognition after a few moments. She recognized that gait well.
Jin reached them a few minutes later, looking haggard but otherwise uninjured. His hair was loose, but his glasses had miraculously survived the entire ordeal, as had his swords at his side. Mugen's own weapon was slung across his back as well, and there was a drenched ball of fur sitting on one of his shoulders—a ball that rapidly transformed into Momo at his approach.
"You're alive!" Fuu said delightedly. Momo squealed happily and clambered down the samurai's clothing, across the sand, and up Fuu's arm. Jin's response was more noncommittal; he merely shrugged and said, "I could say the same to you."
"I don't understand it either," Fuu said, bewildered. "I remember getting thrown, but not much else..."
"He went in after you," Jin supplied, nodding towards the still snoring Mugen.
Fuu's jaw dropped in surprise. Mugen...jumped into the stormy sea? After her? She knew she had bullied the two of them into being her bodyguards, but she hadn't honestly expected Mugen to go that far. Fighting bandits and thugs was one thing, but combating nature itself was something else entirely that not even she would have demanded of the two.
Not that she was ungrateful for the act, she decided. The ocean...she decided that it terrified her, the way it pressed in all around her, enclosing, cold, and dark...
Jin, meanwhile, had unslung the sheathed sword from his back and was now prodding the prone form of Mugen with its tip. "Wake up," he said cooly. "I will not be responsible for your things any further."
Mugen groaned and protested, shoving the sheath of his own sword away. Jin proved remarkably persistent, however, and after more prodding the irritable swordsman finally cracked one eye open and glared upwards.
"What the hell d'you want, four-eyes?" he said slowly. It was probably meant to be intimidating, but his voice was hoarse and cracked badly, making him sound pitiful.
Jin's eye twitched slightly at the title, but he merely dropped the white-sheathed sword on top of the wild swordsman with a scowl. "Your things," he said simply.
"Oh. Right." Mugen seemed disoriented, but after a moment he shook his head and sat up cross-legged on the sand with a groan, a hand running through his messy, damp hair. "You didn't move that damn tiller, did you?"
Fuu had no idea what that was supposed to mean, but apparently the samurai did. "I did not," Jin said, his voice irritated. "However, your directions forced the ship to ride up on land. Most of the crew and passengers survived, but I do not think it will be easily removed from the beach."
"Better grounded than sunk," Mugen muttered. "Damn lucky they had me aboard."
"Wait a minute," Fuu said, raising her hands as though to halt the conversation. They both looked at her, weary but puzzled, and she continued. "What's this? Mugen helped save an entire shipful of people? Willingly? And he saved my life, too?"
"What?" Mugen growled. "You got a problem with that?" He attempted another tough look in her direction, but he looked so pitiful with his hair plastered to his skull, bedraggled appearance, and half-lidded eyes--even one of his earrings was missing--that she couldn't help but feel sorry for him.
"No, it's just that--"
"For the record," he said, almost defensively, "I only saved the ship because I thought I'd be on it later. If you hadn't gotten yourself thrown over the side, you crazy bitch, I wouldn't have had to go in and save you, so I would've been saving my ass on the ship!"
"You did not have to instruct me how to steer the vessel, though," Jin said pointedly, voice dry, at the same time that Fuu said slyly, "I thought you swore you wouldn't go in after me if I went overboard?"
"Oh--shut up and go to hell, both of you!" Mugen yelled, throwing his hands into the air. "I ought to kill you both, you damn bastards!"
"That seems counter-productive, after all the trouble you've gone through to the contrary," Jin observed, again dryly. He seemed to be enjoying his opportunity to needle Mugen when he could.
"Shut the hell up, four-eyes!"
"What?" Clearly angry now, the wild swordsman whipped around to throw his murderous look in Fuu's direction, clearly expecting another jibe.
She flinched backwards slightly, but then took a deep breath and stared him down. "Ah...thanks. For saving me."
"From the ocean!" Fuu said, voice raising slightly. He made it so damn hard to thank him or apologize to him, every time. "It was...um...I didn't...really like it...and I can see why you didn't want to take the trip...so...thanks for saving me. I didn't really expect to live..."
"Oh." He shrugged and finally slung his sword over his shoulders and onto his back. "Eh. Whatever."
His nonchalance surprised her. The ocean had been so terrifying, and he had known it would be. He hadn't even wanted to set foot on the ship, knowing that it would turn into that chaotic mess. How could he be so casual about it? "Weren't you afraid?" she asked, voicing her confusion.
He clambered noisily to his feet, stretching his body out with a groan. When he had finished, he stared down at her and said, "What'd I tell you before, you idiot? I ain't afraid of nothin'." He gave his infamous twisted smirk, and then added in a satisfied tone, "I kicked the damn ocean's ass. I am fuckin' invincible. Hah!" He made a rude gesture at the waves, and then turned and started striding down the beach, towards the dock town that had been their original destination all along.
I ain't afraid of nothin'. The words echoed in Fuu's mind as she let Jin help her to her weary feet. She glanced at the waves again, and remembered the swirling darkness and the pitching waves. There was no way that no one was afraid of that...
But at the moment, watching Mugen stride down the beach with his usual confident, cocky air, Fuu was actually ready to believe it.
And that's a wrap.
I was amazed, while browsing SC fanfics, to discover that almost nobody goes into Mugen's incredibly unique piracy side! I always found the fact that he knows his way around boats fascinating. The same with his ability to predict the weather (only he and Mukuro were able to accurately predict that it was going to pour in episode 13), which I don't think is ever used again. I suspect that growing up by the ocean probably made him an excellent swimmer too, not that this is ever explored either. Ah well, I had fun with it.
If you enjoyed it, have any suggestions or particular favorite parts, feel free to write a review and tell me about it! Constructive criticism is always appreciated.