Mugen didn't think twice before he entered the dingy noodle shop, ready to begin his tired routine of fighting and stealing food to eat.
He didn't think twice when he sat heavily at a warped table in front of him, uneven from damage and overuse.
The flash of pink in the far corner didn't catch his eye; the sweet smell of dumplings didn't strike a chord.
It was the voice.
Lower than he remembered, but just as forceful and piercing, snapping orders to cooks in the kitchen.
At first, he didn't think anything of it, pushed the revelation out of his mind.
Ah, it's her.
But then he saw her lean over the table next to him, placing dishes in front of her customers, her dark hair framing her eyes like they always did.
He felt a piece of his heart unglue, a small, hardened crust cracking off and threatening to reveal the soft flesh beneath.
Fuu was dressed in a pink kimono decorated with sunflowers, her hair pinned up with two decorative chopsticks. She was grinning with a customer like she'd known him all her life, her brown eyes sparkling as she turned to the next table. They settled on Mugen and blew wide.
The chatter of the restaurant filled the space between them.
"Long time no see," was all he could think to say. His eyes wandered over the changes that five long years had made to the girl he'd once traveled with. Her beanpole frame was almost gone, replaced with softer curves and a solid middle. Her cheeks were flushed with color, but her expressions were unyielding, like she was protecting a part of herself from something.
Ah, shit, he thought, as another bit of shell came off of his hard heart as if it were an egg. Fuu's face held all the questions she wanted to ask. Why are you here? How are you doing?
Why did you leave?
"Don't burn the place down, if you don't mind. I can't afford to lose another teashop."
Mugen's lips quirked up. "The first one wasn't yours. It was almost destiny that it got burned up, anyway."
"That excuse doesn't suit an idiot like you."
"Ha?" Mugen stood. "You sound like the same brat you were five years ago."
Fuu stood toe to toe with him, crossing her arms. They were drawing the attention of the customers. "And you look like the same scruffy bum from five years ago." She had a familiar smug look on her face that made Mugen want to smile.
In the midst of their bickering, a man entered the shop with his sword drawn. A woman screamed and Fuu turned away from her old companion to see the intruder waving the weapon around chaotically.
"He's on something!" someone yelled, panicking, and it was true; the man had a crazed, far-gone look in his eyes and a smile on his face that dripped with saliva.
Mugen went to draw his sword, but Fuu stepped into the blade's path before he could move.
"Idiot, what are you doing?!" he yelled, and his cry was answered with the clang of metal on metal as Fuu pressed a tanto to the blade of the drug addict.
"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to leave," she said calmly, deflecting his sword to the side and elbowing him in the neck. The man let out a strangled sound and his weapon clattered to the floor. He collapsed with it, sliding down the wall of the tea parlor and into unconsciousness.
"I'll go get the police," someone volunteered after a moment of silence settled over the shop. Fuu kicked the sword out of the entrance.
Mugen stood stunned. "Where did you learn to fight?" he asked, brows furrowed.
"A girl has to learn to take care of herself," she said, smug again. "I couldn't keep letting myself get kidnapped forever." She sheathed the tanto and placed it back in her kimono. After a moment, she looked wistfully at the ground. "I'll never be as good as you."
Mugen sat back down roughly at the table. "So what do you got to eat around here?"
"I don't know. Are you going to pay for it?"
"Tch." Mugen's eyes narrowed. Fuu didn't see anything noticeably different about him. The same earrings glinted in dull light and his blue tattoos mirrored the color of a summer sky, circling his wrists and ankles like gauntlets. He wore the same ostentatious red haori and ragged undershirt, a familiar blade at his back.
His eyes were sharp and cold, like he still didn't trust the world. What had Sara said all those years ago? The woman who cut him down?
"Like you've never been loved by anyone in your life."
Fuu was the only one who knew she'd been wrong, that sometimes Mugen's eyes caught beautiful fire.
His chin and upper lip were stubbly and his cheeks looked sallow. There were bags under his eyes.
"I'll get you some dumplings," she finally said.
"A hundred," he urged. His smirk brought a thousand memories back to her at once.
"Hell no." She punched him in the shoulder and walked to the kitchen without looking back.
Fuu waited on several customers before she circled back to Mugen. He should have expected this; seeing her at some point despite their departure years ago. They were always circling back to each other.
"Dumplings," she announced brusquely before turning her heel. Mugen grabbed her wrist.
His touch was warm, gentler than Fuu thought Mugen could be. He spoke in his low, gravelly voice.
"Oi. Isn't four dumplings a bit stingy?"
"Not when you can't pay for them," she said, turning her nose up. Did her voice waver? Mugen's hand was a distracting pressure.
"Can't even budge for old times' sake?" The man grinned wickedly.
Fuu's eyes cut Mugen down on the spot, unwilling to let him see the effect of his Cheshire smile.
"Fine, fine. I'll eat my dumplings and go, you tough old broad."
"Where are you headed?"
Mugen wolfed down the dumplings like a dog, turning his eyes away and refusing to answer.
Fuu let some dangerous words enter her mind, but she couldn't get rid of them once they'd plagued her. She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose.
"There's a spare room out back if you need it for tonight."
Mugen stopped chewing. "A brat like you wants to share a room with me?"
Fuu hit him over the head with the serving tray she was holding. "It's not my room, perv."
"That's a relief."
"Don't make me change my mind, moron. You look like shit. That's all I'm saying."
"It's going to rain."
Mugen had finished about twenty dumplings and was staring lazily out the window. The sun had set and customers were few; it was almost time for Fuu to close shop.
"You know, the least you could do is help clean up," she mumbled, picking up the remnants of meals from people's tables. "All you've done is sit there and stare out the window for two hours.
"I'm booooored," Mugen said as he spread out on the floor, facing the ceiling.
Fuu kicked him on her way to the kitchen. "Then pick up a rag and get to work."
It wasn't until Fuu threw a wet cloth at his face that he began to scrub the floor. "All you do is bitch bitch bitch," he mouthed, barely a whisper, but the words didn't feel honest coming out of him. The closed-up part of his heart was writhing to get out. Just when he thought he'd forgotten the color pink and that haughty attitude, he was swept up in it again.
He finished the floor just as the sky opened up. It was a soothing sound, listening to a sheet of rain beat against shingles and brick, but melancholy at the same time. Mugen was back at the window when Fuu came to give him a hot cup of tea.
"Generous of you," he said, taking the cup. "You were always a pushover." Mugen took a sip and made a face. "Blech. Don't you have any sake?"
Fuu ignored him. "I set the futon up and there's a lamp back there for you to light."
"Where are you gonna sleep?"
"I can stay at an inn down the road."
"So I am taking your room."
"Mugen, would you shut up and just take it. I let plenty of people stay here when they can't afford lodging." Fuu sat down next to him. "They always remind me of us when we were traveling."
Mugen laughed. "No group of people could possibly be like us."
Fuu let a soft smile slip and it melted more of the amour off of Mugen's heart. He had to look away. "You're right about that," she said.
Despite his complaining, Mugen was sipping the tea. The rain pounded around them, and it felt isolating and chilly; an enormous presence that made the both for them feel small. Only a few of the lamps in the shop were lit, getting low on oil and letting off a somber, orange light. Mugen was making a pensive expression as he stared into the rain, his eyes lidded and his chin in his hands.
"Have you heard from Jin? About Shino?"
"What about them?"
"They're going to have a baby."
The rain made Fuu's voice sound so tender it was almost unbearable.
"I don't care about some snot-nosed brat. Jin's just lucky I never killed him."
"How long are you going to keep saying that? I thought you'd be tired of it by now."
Mugen shrugged. He was tired of hearing about other people's happy endings. To him, the world just didn't work that way.
"I think it's amazing that they found their way back to each other."
"Still too soft for your own good," Mugen sighed.
"Maybe if you were nicer to ladies, you'd have one for yourself," Fuu huffed. She drank her own tea haughtily, on her knees at the window, and Mugen lay back on the floor again. He felt Fuu's words in the pit of his stomach and looked up at her. Her hair was coming loose from the chopsticks and flyaway strands looked like they were tickling the back of her neck. Her shoulders were still slender and here eyes still innocent, even after everything they'd gone through together. He could still remember when she'd thrown her body over his to shield him from Sara's blade, when she'd coaxed him back from death by saying his name on a rocky beach.
He had a terrible taste in women.
"So how'd you end up in another teashop?" Mugen asked. He nudged his empty cup onto the table above him.
"At first I was traveling like we always did, with no destination in mind. But it was hard. I mean, I was so hungry and broke!" Fuu paused, like she was listening to the rain, like it were replying.
"Before I came to this town, at the edge of this forest, I was attacked by bandits. I tried to defend myself, but…"
Fuu's voice wavered and Mugen felt a cold snake writhe in his stomach.
"They beat me senseless," she said simply, "and took my money." Her next words were a raw whisper: "They took something else, too."
Mugen froze. The hands behind his head gripped his hair as ice coiled in his belly.
"When I finally made it to town, an older gentleman saw my state and took me in. He taught me how to fight." Fuu laughed, back to her old self. "I felt like Jin, funny enough, winding up at a dojo. But since I came here, I haven't been able to up and leave. I don't know if I want to." I'm scared, she thought, but couldn't admit it out loud.
Mugen's anger kept him still.
"I'll kill them," he said. His voice was so hoarse that Fuu turned to him. His face was screwed up in an ugly, tormented expression.
"Mugen," she sighed. "I doubt they're around anymore."
"I'll kill them all."
Fuu touched Mugen's leg, a brief graze of her fingers, lingering gently. "Thanks for the sentiment, but I'm alright."
Mugen tried to catch her eye because he had no words. He hoped his eyes could show that in his anger, he was sorry. For leaving his attachments to Fuu and Jin behind, hoping to harden his heart again and cut the ties before he could get hurt. For leaving when he didn't want to, because he could never be honest with himself.
Fuu got to her feet. "Alright, well that's enough catch-up for one night." She put on her shoes and opened the door.
"It's pouring out."
She gave Mugen one last look before darting into the heavy rain.
Mugen finally found it in him to move again. The silence of the shop only made his thoughts more aggressive. Blowing out the lamps in the dining room, he went to the back room to crash on the futon.
It was pitch black, and he had to feel around for the lamp and the light. When it was finally lit, it still only gave the room a murky haze for him to go by.
The futon had fucking sunflowers on it, and Mugen's gut wrenched. He stared at it for a long while.
They took something else, too.
He punched a beam in the wall with all his strength. His flesh gave way to soft drops of blood, and wood scraped bone. He punched again for good measure, wincing and holding his knuckle, falling onto the futon. He kicked off his geta and wriggled out of his shirt, then stared at the ceiling, listening to the rhythm of the rain.
I'll kill them, he thought. That's all I'm good for, anyway.
It was all too much for him; the sunflowers and her story, running into her five years later to see that she'd become the woman he feared she would. His heart was unraveling, cracking, piece by piece, the armor that he'd tried to build in those years crumbling in a laughable amount of time. He'd have to resort to being mean, he'd have to make her hate him, if he wanted these feelings to disappear.
She'd see right through that, he thought wryly.
His legs were restless, moving from side to side, thinking about all this.
Mugen heard the front door slide back open.
He sat up suddenly, grabbing for his sword. His injured hand made him curse, but he pulled the hilt towards him and unsheathed it just as Fuu flung his door open.
"What the hell?" Mugen asked. He slipped his sword back in the scabbard and set it beside him.
Fuu caught sight of his knuckle and her eyes widened. "What the fuck happened to your hand?!" she yelled.
Mugen didn't have time to reply because she was already out the door, rummaging around in the dark for who knows what. She came back with a jar of salve in one hand and gauze in another. She was soaked from head to toe—the chopsticks in her hair threatened to escape with every move she made, and her kimono dripped tiny mirrors onto the floor that reflected the dull light of the lamp. She knelt next to Mugen and a bit of her hair fell forward, brushing his cheek. She took his hand roughly in hers. He made a hissing noise and she glared at him.
"I was gone for five minutes and you managed to have a brawl with something." Fuu put the ointment on his hand and it stung.
"I thought you were going to an inn," he said through gritted teeth.
"It was closed because of the storm. The town must have enforced a curfew. I got there too late," Fuu replied crisply. She wrapped the wound snugly and went to return the supplies.
Mugen tried not to think what that meant for the two of them on this rainy night, in this tiny room. He could still hear the drumming of the droplets on the roof and leaned back onto the futon. He looked at his fist and touched the bandage.
Fuu returned and opened a closet door, looking for spare blankets and pillows. Her kimono clung to her body and she couldn't hide the chatter of her teeth as she pulled anything soft free from the cabinet to use as her own bed.
The blankets Fuu threw to the floor were inches from his own. Mugen was already aware of how close she was. He could smell the rain on her skin.
"I'm going in the kitchen to change," she said. "Don't you dare peek."
Fuu waited for his taunt. "You got nothin' for me to peak at." But it never came.
Mugen tried to use her time away to calm his heart and pretend to fall asleep.
I regret ever walking into this stupid fucking teashop, he fumed, tossing and turning.
Fuu returned in a cotton kimono, looser and less formal than the one before. She tried to arrange the blankets to make a proper bed, but the lamp went out.
"Shit," she muttered, fumbling around for it.
"It's no use. The oil's gone. You're just going to burn your hand."
As if on cue, Fuu's hand found the lamp and the heat caught her skin. She winced, a sound of pain slipping between her teeth.
"Oi, I told you to be careful, idiot." It was pitch black and he couldn't see a damn thing. He sat up and reached out, trying to find where she was.
His hand brushed her knee and Fuu yelped, slipping forward on a pillow and toppling onto Mugen in the dark.
He tried to sit up again and figure out what the hell was going on. He felt weight in his lap and he reached a hand out, feeling nothing but cotton. Fuu's hands were on his bare chest, trying to push herself upright, but a loud bout of lightening cracked over them and she pitched forward again.
Fuu's hair tickled his skin, her cheek pressed to his collar and her hands wrapped around him. His heart was pounding erratically; so much so that she must of heard it.
It was happening. The unraveling.
Fuu tried again to sit up, her fingers spanning Mugen's chest, giving off warmth.
"Mugen, I'm sorry," she said, trying to slide away from him.
His throat was aching. Her weight was such a comfort in the darkness that he reached his hand out and found her shoulder, then slid his hands up to her face.
There was the sound of the rain, and the sound of Mugen's heart coming completely undone as he leaned forward and kissed her.
She froze. In the dark, her mouth was an unmoving oh, caught so much by surprise that she didn't know what to do. She would have pulled away if she thought Mugen was playing games, but the tenderness of his kiss took her breath away. When both his hands slipped into her hair, her chopsticks fell to the floor with a tinkle, and she was kissing him back.
Mugen was desperately lost when Fuu leaned into him with acceptance. Her kisses were small and searching, as if trying to find the best angle to meet his mouth. His hands tightened in her hair and her mouth opened in a sigh—he captured her bottom lip between his teeth and she shuddered, returning the gesture with a deeper kiss. Her hands, remembering that he was shirtless, began tracing his chest with her fingers, finding the dip of his collarbone, the column of his neck, feeling the rises in his skin where he had scars.
Mugen's hands left her hair and wrapped around her sides, reaching around to the small of her back and tracing her spine through the kimono. Fuu let out a sound that made Mugen shiver, and she put her hands in his hair. It was thick and coarse, as wild as it had always been.
Mugen's tongue parted Fuu's lips, and her grip in his hair tensed. He smiled into her mouth at the sensation, and she felt it, felt that he was teasing her. She returned the gesture, licking his lower lip and kissing him over and over, lost in the sound of their sighs and breathing.
The bulky kimono quickly became a nuisance, making it difficult for her to straddle him. Fuu felt the desperate need to be warmer, closer. She untied the fastenings and let it slip from her body, pulling it away and tossing it to the side.
Mugen's hands rested on her bare hips and he inhaled sharply, pausing to realize what she'd done. Fuu took that moment to kiss the face that she'd never been able to admit that she loved. She kissed the eyebrow she knew was scarred, she kissed his stubble and his decorated earlobes. She kissed the eyes harrowed from killing, and his jaw. When she finally made it back to his lips, Mugen had let his hands move carefully in the dark. He pressed his palms to soft, smooth thighs and her knees tightened around his hips. He could feel the slight rivulets of stretch marks at her hips, feel the dip of her spine at her lower back. Fuu sighed, kissing him fiercely. His hot hands, riddled with callouses from holding a sword, were a delicious friction on her skin.
Leaving her mouth, Mugen trailed down her neck, the smell of rain still damp on her as he found her breasts. Fuu dug her nails into his back, which only encouraged him—he licked and sucked at the sensitive skin and she groaned, Mugen's hair under her chin tickling her and his mouth and hands making warmth creep into her stomach.
Mugen began using his teeth and tongue on her and she arched her head back, sighing as his hands moved from her sides to her chest to cup her there and squeeze.
Fuu's hands were at his shoulders now and she managed to find his mouth again, working hotly against his lips as his fingers slid everywhere. His nails were clipped short, and the warm feeling of skin sweeping her body with pressure made her hitch forward impulsively.
Mugen looked scrawny with his clothes on—he had wiry limbs and a fluid frame. But touching him like this—his shoulders and back—made her realize how corded with muscle he was, how solidly he was built to fight and defend himself.
Mugen's hands wandered lower to her ass and he squeezed—so Fuu bit his shoulder. Mugen growled, but he continued touching her, welcoming her teeth as he put a hand between her legs.
Fuu felt he heart stop for a moment. This is happening, she thought, but she didn't for a moment consider moving away.
Mugen didn't hesitate. He began rubbing her clit and a moan flew out of her. Fuu bucked into his hand and kissed him wildly. "Mugen," she groaned, the first word spoken since they began touching each other. His fingers were inside her, curling hotly, so she pulled at his hair and strained to him.
"Fuu," he said back to her, his voice impossibly soft at her ear, desperate in its tone.
Mugen saying her name pushed her over the edge. She leaned back on the floor and pulled him on top of her, running her hands up his spine and pushing his shorts off his hips. He wriggled out of them without pause, kissing her breasts again, slowly moving lower to her stomach.
"Say it again," she whispered bravely, wondering if he would, wondering if he'd even meant to the first time.
He came back to her lips. "Fuu," he whispered, and she traced his arms, feeling every scar and muscle, then moved to his abs, the skin softer there than she'd imagined. She fingered the scar of a bullet hole in his abdomen and he sucked in a breath. She felt a coarse path of hair descend below and decided to follow it.
Mugen hissed at her touch, and he was incredibly hard in her hands.
"Fuu," he groaned, letting his knees part her legs.
The rail fell over them as they kept warm in the back of the small teashop, straining together with no control for the first time.
Fuu woke to streaming sun and the smell of skin on her nose. She was nestled into the crook of Mugen's arm, his chest slowly rising and falling, sleeping on his back with her leg tossed over his.
She dared not move, for fear of breaking the spell they'd been under the night before. In the light, she became more aware of her naked body, and of his, sprawled together in morning glow.
He's not going to stay, Fuu thought, taking this time to look at the face she'd secretly missed. His long jaw and pointed chin were slack and the frown he usually wore was gone, replaced with a serene expression.
Fuu knew Mugen too well. He wasn't one to stay anywhere, or with anyone.
So instead, she tried to accept it. She looked at his face and hoped that she could kiss him one more time before he left.
Mugen stirred, his frown returning and his eyes fluttering open. He took in a deep breath and turned to Fuu, his sharp, silver eyes piercing her.
"I'm hungry," he rasped, like this was any other morning they'd had in their travels.
Fuu tried not to let the disappointment show on her face, rising from the nest of pillows and futon they'd made for themselves and pulling a blanket around her. "There's a loaf of bread in the kitchen," she said quietly.
Mugen sat up, placing his hand to Fuu's bare back as he did so, and then got to his feet. Naked and with no sense of decency, he walked to the kitchen.
His brief touch lingered on her. As she thought, the spell was broken. Her carriage had turned back into a pumpkin with the passing of the storm, her one night with Mugen likely to stay just that—one night of passion, of desperate touching…
Fuu buried her face in her knees and her arms tightened around her, remembering his breath, the noises he made, the pleasure as he touched her everywhere.
Mugen entered the room again with the loaf hanging out of his mouth. He began kicking around the blankets and pillows to find his clothes. Fuu couldn't help herself—she peaked at him above her arm and watched his body bend to retrieve shorts, his back curving into a painting of bone and sinew. There were scars everywhere, scars she had touched. The bullet hole in his abdomen looked menacing, still pink in comparison to his beautiful, brown skin. She looked at his swinging earrings, his tattoos. She tried to memorize him.
"What'r you lookin' at?" he mumbled through the mouthful of bread, shrugging his haori on and rooting around for his sword.
"Nothing," she said softly. "Leaving?"
"Hrmph." Mugen shoved the rest of the bread in his mouth. "There's something I gotta do."
Fuu put her head back in her knees.
Without warning, Mugen came up behind her and grabbed her breasts, giving them a playful squeeze.
"Your boobs got bigger," he laughed, kissing her hair and the back of her neck, nipping her ear.
"Mugen!" Fuu yelped, trying to elbow him. He leapt away, tossing a grin her way before heading out the door.
And just like that, he was gone.
Fuu spent the day serving customers in a stupor.
After Mugen left, she took an herb that prevented pregnancy. It would give her an awful stomachache, but that was simply the price she paid for being a woman.
The customers noticed her mood, but she just said that the rain had made it difficult to sleep.
Good riddance, she kept chanting to herself. Good riddance good riddance good riddance.
She knew Mugen didn't like attachment or any sort of intimate display of emotion, but God, he could have given her some closure. Now all she could think about was heavenly magical rainstorm sex and also how she was going to beat him up when she saw him again.
If she saw him again.
That big "if" kept her mind going in circles.
Eventually, she'd be able to put him behind her.
As the sun began to set and customers became few, Fuu heard someone clomping into her shop and she sighed. Her stomach was wrenching painfully from the medicine and she wanted to close early. She called out from the kitchen, "excuse me, but we're about to close!"
"I don't give a damn," she heard a familiar voice say, and hope burst though her chest painfully. She ran from the kitchen, a bit too eagerly, to see Mugen, covered in blood, sit roughly at a table and put his feet up on it, dirty geta and all.
"Mugen!" she said, rushing forward with concern.
"It's not mine," he said impatiently, pushing something into her hand. "I want to exchange this for dumplings."
Fuu looked at her hand. Mugen had handed her a torn insignia from someone's kimono, covered in blood. It belonged to the bandits who had mugged and beaten her.
"Mugen…" she trailed off quietly.
She boxed his ears.
"What the hell was that for?!" Mugen yelled, holding his head. "I told you I was gonna kill them, didn't I?!"
"Be a little more detailed before you disappear! I thought you weren't going to come back!" Fuu retorted, her hands on her hips. By this time, the shop was closed and it was just the two of them, enveloped in dim light.
"I almost didn't," Mugen mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck. "You drive me crazy."
Everything in Fuu told her to make the bloody man in front of her stay put. So she grabbed his face and kissed him.
"See?" he growled into her mouth. "First you were concerned, then you were hitting me, and now you're kissing me." He tugged at Fuu's kimono, pulling her into his lap anyway. "Insane," he muttered, speaking to himself more than anything.
He really had planned on leaving. But his heart had been annihilated.
"Let's go then," Fuu said suddenly, breaking their kisses, her hands playing with Mugen's hair.
"What do you mean?"
"Let's go somewhere. Anywhere." She fingered his earrings gently. "We could go see Jin."
"Why would I want to see that bastard?" he grumbled.
"Because he called you a friend, stupid."
"Last time I traveled with you, I almost got killed." Mugen kissed her collarbone.
"So did I. And admit it, you had fun. Near-death experiences are your forte."
Mugen huffed. After some more kissing and careful consideration, he shoved Fuu off of him.
"Get your stuff. I'm not waiting around for a brat."
He exited the shop. A smile bloomed on Fuu's face. She wrote her boss a note and got a bag together.
When she left the shop, she saw Mugen waiting for her, slouching against a post like an ally cat.
Fuu spoke wistfully as they began to walk into the sunset. "I guess first we need to make some money for lodging…"