From Edo, With Love
Disclaimer: I don't own Samurai Champloo.
A/N: Having planned the whole story I spared no time for the title and sat down just as the James Bond movie marathon was kicking off on HBO...
My bad, beloved reader. My bad.
"Mugen, look at me." Fuu's bright, crystallized brown eyes stared him in the face. "I love you."
A bright light (to match her eyes because that is love) lit up in his heart and he held his arms away from his chest and slowly tipped back, ready to topple out of the window frame to the street below where a dog could piss on him and he'd still die a happy man.
Fuu called out "Jerk!" and grabbed his shirt to prevent this rather tragicomic climax to an unborn romance. Mugen grinned at her, a lewd expression sapping his eyes of their meagre intelligence. She went a pretty pink that displaced lewd with awed. He held out his hand to her, and she took it.
"Kinda over the top, but that's a good reaction." She smiled hesitantly. "You think Jin might react the same way?"
A crisp, nodding darkness marched over his heart and put that bright light right out; I mean holy shit fire hazard. He took his hand back.
She who had been lacing her fingers through his in what she genuinely believed to be the clinching proof of their family-friendship looked askance at his face as if he were feigning idiocy. "Jin. When I tell him that...you know," the pretty pink returned with a vengeance and Mugen fought damn hard to not be awed...no! and failed. "Well, you looked happy. Cute girl like me, hard not to be..." but she lacked conviction, and he lacked the good sportsmanship to give her up without a fight.
"He fell in love with that whore, though. The one he put on a boat."
Fuu stayed quiet a while, and Mugen found that love overrode his dastardly heart. If she didn't want him he could at least give her what she did want. He could at least not rip himself to pieces for putting that look on her face. Love was in the air. God damn pollution.
"Well, that was a long time ago. And hey, he slept with her. Men cool down on women once they've had their way with them."
A twist of annoyance enlivened her features, scowling and snapping, "That's you, you womanizing jerk. Jin doesn't act that way!" So what was the point in her confessing deep abiding attraction to him? "I...I just have to get it off my chest. And I guess...ha-ha, I guess I have some hope tucked away that he'll like me after all." A hand scratched the back of her head, boyish and girlish all at once. Breaking Mugen's heart.
"Yeah, go get 'em honey. Knock 'em dead."
She raised her eyebrows and he looked aside, over his shoulder, towards the burgeoning half-moon so pregnant with magic. He wished he had a pipe to hide behind, and then remembered smoke choked him half to death. Fuu said:
And he didn't want to hear so he cut in with, "You never know; that hope of yours might be for real. I mean even without that Moronobu Hishikawa guy painting 'em on you've got a pretty neat set of hooters."
"...Mugen!" He said he didn't fucking want to hear! "That's the nicest thing you've ever said to me! Wow, you really want me to be happy with Jin, doncha?" Not really. He wanted you to be happy with him. But hey, who's nit picking. Fuu hugged him warmly. He smelt girl sweat, sweet spices, and heaven in her embrace. Then she let him go to traipse after that rat bastard with the ponytail.
Mugen could grow a fucking ponytail. With more volume and bounce. Perhaps not the shine or silky smoothness, but pffft only pretty boys needed that shit.
Only pretty boys piqued Fuu's interest.
Fuu traipsed, and what went on in his mind behind her back, the poor dear would never know.
The evening was an adolescent slut, playing footsie with the setting sun as it stroked the rising moon and eyeing the hot piece of ass making his way over the bridge. Two swords click-clacked at his side; a straw hat shielded his finer features from other humans' roving eyes. The rough blue cotton of his yukata made a swish to keep time with the tap of his shoes. Understated and unnoticed, Jin ducked into red light district, browsing the stores' selections.
Thinking of Shino?
Following him as warily as she knew how, Fuu had to wonder. Women were not allowed in the red light district so she squatted outside, tracing patterns on the road with a morose finger and summoning courage. They were broke again, so she knew he couldn't actually buy a woman. But he would probably walk around until he found someone reminescent of her and be swept away by memories until the bouncers got to him. Fuu snorted. Men.
Her name on his lips was sweetly, unassumingly spoken. And she loved that about him. Claiming her as his without ever displaying a sign of ownership was something he could do so well, it wowed her. She cracked her neck, it shot up so fast to look at him. Jin simply stood until she followed suit, and then he led the way.
They walked along the street until there was no more road, and then they waded into the shallows of the river and left the town's hullaballoo behind. Jin seemed content to just be all cool and silent, but Fuu was practically busting a gasket trying to spit out what she wanted to say. A confession wasn't easy to deliver. It stuck to her insides like a superchunky from hell. The river water was chilling her legs, creeping up her kimono to dampen the skin between her clenched thighs.
"Is there something you wish to speak to me about?"
She stumbled on nothing in particular and choked on everything her heart wanted to puke out. "W-what gave you that idea?"
The ronin cast a casual glance her way. Well. I should actually know better than to call it that. Jin never did anything casually. "You were following me, were you not?"
Fuu's silence was ashamed.
"Or did you think I was leaving...?"
Like that time with Shino? Yeah, she remembered. He really had intended to duck out of his promise (sunflower samurai be damned; how many days did fate deliver a beautiful woman to Jin's lap?) up until Mugen and Fuu had caught him in the street, throwing him his swords. Then he'd realized if it could be ducked out of it wouldn't be called a promise and if they could be left behind they wouldn't be his companions. Beautiful women would come along his path rather more often than a pair of buddies this magnificently crocked. Jin had chosen to stay behind. But he would accept as punishment for his moment of weakness a test of loyalty, if Fuu wished to set him one. His for-show glasses were creamed by the moonlight, just like his sanguine face.
"It's nothing. I just wanted to spend some time with you."
"We travel together, Fuu. You do nothing but spend time with me."
"I mean alone." Her voice fell to a social whisper. His eyebrows rose to indicate surprise.
"Yes...I suppose one can only take so much of Mugen..." But Jin would take him for the rest of their lives if he could. BFF, god damn it. Best Fucking Friend, ever. There was no one better, there was no one meaner.
Fuu was wise to their weird bond, and refrained from comment. Jin resumed his walk, and she strode by his side, kimono drawn up past her knees but sopping wet at the edges anyway.
"Jin, how come you didn't leave with that Kohana lady?"
A brief moment of quiet separated her question from his answer. "That's not her name, you know. Her name is Shino."
"Oh. Okay. So why didn't you leave with Shino-san? You as good as told me you would."
Jin grabbed her slip of an arm as she stepped into a mudhole, sinking waist deep before he yanked her out and waded out of the river, which had increased its depth and strength of current as they meandered further away from the lights of civilization. They sat on the bank, him tearing the long pieces of grass from their roots to wipe her muddy legs with, her resisting the miserable urge to peel her clingy kimono off her body.
"Sorry. I shouldn't have let you walk on the inside."
"Jin, it's okay. I'm not gonna rot from a little dirt."
He stopped what he was doing, head downcast and tone morose. "Yes...that's correct." Throwing the grass aside, he let her legs be. Fuu missed his touch and sighed from the loss.
"Are you going to answer my question?"
"Is it so important to you that I can't avoid answering?"
"Uh...kinda," she laughed a little because she could. "Is the reason so horrible that you can't tell me?"
"No..." he seemed reflective, even inflective, his gaze firmly on his own toes. "I thought I would leave. She was...she took my breath away." Oh, great. What the hell was wrong with Fuu? Why would she ask to be treated to a soliloquy on Shino's Fine Traits? Well, no backing out now. "A woman like that doesn't come along frequently. When you showed up, though, I...I couldn't decide. You helped me aid her escape even though you knew I was trying to leave you and Mugen. There was no call..."
"We didn't have a choice, Jin," she said quietly, "You were our friend."
He smiled. "Mugen's, too? Back then?"
"He got out of bed for it, didn't he?"
"Exactly. It threw me off. And I wondered if my duty to you was greater than my duty to her...when I put her on the boat and pushed it off, she ran to me." Jin's eyes went slanted with the strain of memory. "Three or four steps, and then she stopped. She'd run out of boat to tread on. But it was only one more step to grab on to me...heaven knows if she'd fallen into the river I would've leapt in after her. Somehow, though. She couldn't take that last step. There were men behind me coming to get her, and throw her back in the brothel...I suppose her fear of working in that place was more than whatever faith she had in me."
"You don't believe she loved you, do you?"
He looked at her, taken aback at the reproach in her tone. It was true: he didn't think Shino loved him. They had had a wonderful, magical time together. Like a fantasy of birds' wings over the horizon. The reality of it was she was scared and needed a hero; he was free to play that role. Jin wanted to rescue her...hadn't the very first thing he'd uttered to her save her life? Getting past the want, to the reality of her, the married woman used as chattel to pay her husband's debt was something he hadn't bothered to do. Love was tough. And many things were mistaken for it.
"I believe she wanted to love me very much."
The reason all of this pissed Fuu off was because he had tested Shino's affections like he tested the tensile strength of his blades every morning. Who was he to do that? The asshole. Giving a woman a dream and then taking it back. He'd tried to do the same thing to Fuu too, hadn't he? Promising to find the samurai who smelled of sunflowers but trying to run off with Shino in the middle of the trip. Were all men such complete dicks?
She stood up quivering like an arrow shot into a tree, glaring down at him. "All this time I was imagining that you'd reached some kind of heartfelt epiphany where we meant the world to you and you couldn't stand abandoning us but...argh!" she actually hopped in anger and spun around. "It wasn't like that at all!"
"Fuu, you must understand that at that moment you were still new to me...and though you meant something, it wasn't the world, not the whole world."
"Yeah! Well, Shino-san was new to you too and you were all ready to spend your life with her!"
He stood too, trying to catch her as she stalked off. "My relationship with her was different. Fuu!"
Fuu shouted, remembering Mugen's pearly words, "Oh yeah, I know how different. I know how men cool down!"
"You're not making any sense. Please slow down."
"No way!" she whirled on him, tears in her eyes. "I can't cool down on you," that wasn't what he'd said but her distressed ears heard what they damn well liked, "You jerk! Don't you get it? If it was me I'd have taken that last step, but just thinking about you not even having the guts to ask me directly if I love you or pity you or what...that makes me mad! So mad I'd take that last step and push you into the god damned river!"
He stared at her, quite dumbstruck.
"I can't believe you're such a wuss, Jin!"
"I'm not a wuss. You sound like Mugen." He approached her, taking her chin in his hand and wiping her lower eyelid so that the tears spilled onto his fingers. "Fuu, I haven't thought of Shino in anything but the passing for a long time now. I know. I don't love her."
It doesn't bloom in a day or two, he wanted to say, but the words flew out his head as Fuu leaned her head on his chest.
"And what about me?"
He shifted his hands; they now rested on her shoulders. "Is it so important to you that I cannot avoid answering?"
She laughed a shaky laugh and gripped his robe. Life sucked ass. But not right now. Jin was holding her, and that was answer enough. They were young enough to be in love with the idea of love, and inexperienced enough to not know what the hell this was. Pity, or need, or infatuation or...whatever. For now, this was enough. This would do.
"I really would have taken that last step, Jin."
His lips found her forehead and rested there for a lifetime.
Dorothy Parker was alluded to. Kubo Tite (whose chapter titles are alone nearly enough to set my heart swaying to his discordeque mix) too.