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The doors to the inn clattered open, and Jin wasn't surprised, on raising his head, to find Mugen swaggering through them. Neither did he find it remarkable that Mugen was studiously failing to look in his direction.

This had been happening for several weeks now, on and off, and Jin had gone through intrigued and irritated and settled on amused. Well, sometimes the irritated came back. But mostly.

He'd known from the start what Mugen would be like, after all.

So Jin ignored Mugen, and any feelings he may or may not have aroused, and went back to his soup. It was a particularly good miso, served with little soft rolls that were warm and fluffy, and all but melted in the mouth. Jin kept his eyes on his dinner, and closed his ears to the inevitable ruckus that Mugen was causing in the opposite corner.

Even when a chair flew across the room to shatter just a few feet from where Jin was eating, he did no more than push his spectacles back up his nose with a little sigh. Eventually things went quiet. Mugen had apparently concussed enough people for now and, a sneaky sideways glance informed Jin, was sitting at the bar nursing a bottle of sake. Food would have been a lot better for him, but Jin wasn't Mugen's mother.

He wondered briefly who Mugen's mother had been, and how she had coped with him. Perhaps she hadn't. It would explain a few things.

Jin finished his soup, patted his mouth neatly with his napkin, and sat back in his chair to drink his tea. He watched the fire as he sipped at the fragrant brew, flames and soot like shadow puppets dancing in the hearth. He considered how long it would take Mugen to admit defeat and join him. And whether he'd bring the sake with him, because Jin was warm and full of dinner, and nice though the tea was, getting mildly drunk always seemed to help on these occasions. Only a saint could deal with Mugen stone-cold-sober.

Well, either a saint or Fuu.

Jin let a trickle of melancholy run through him.

"Didn't see you there."

Mugen plonked himself down on the stool opposite Jin, and plonked the sake down on the table. A fresh bottle, too. With two glasses.


Mugen shrugged.

Jin helped himself to the wine. It was warm and had a satisfying mule-kick to it. He caught Mugen's eye for the first time since they'd parted company two days and a town ago.

"Well?" Jin said.

"You can fuck off if you're gonna give me attitude."

"What would you like me to give you?" Jin barely kept the smirk off his face.

"Oh, ha ha. I see you haven't found a sense of humour yet."

"It might take more than forty-eight hours."

"I thought you were going the other way, anyway."

"No, I said quite clearly that I was heading in this direction. Just as clearly as you said you were going in the opposite direction." Again.

"Changed my mind. There was this farmhouse. Didn't like the look of it."

The excuses were getting weaker and weaker. First time they'd bumped into each other, it might have been genuine. No reason to think otherwise. Second time, there was a drinking contest advertised: made sense they'd both head for that. Third time, the village Mugen had been trying to reach was cut off because of plague (allegedly). Last time, some girl Mugen had met told him to meet her in a bar - the exact same bar, as it happened, that Jin was getting quietly drunk in. And now there was some kind of menacing agricultural building.

Tomorrow, he wouldn't tell Mugen which way he was going. That should put an end to all this nonsense.

But for now...

"You got a room?" said Mugen.

"Yes." Jin drained his glass.


Jin took a deep breath and got to his feet.

"Bring the sake," he said.


Jin began to remove his clothes as soon as Mugen had closed and locked the door behind them. He folded everything very carefully, laying them in a neat pile beside his sword. Once naked he took off his glasses and released his hair from its binding to cascade over his shoulders. He knew Mugen was watching him, and for a moment he got to enjoy Mugen's gormless expression before he realised he was staring and feigned nonchalance. Mugen found Jin incredibly attractive, and it frightened the life out of him. Jin enjoyed this a good deal.

"You might find it helpful to take your trousers off, at least," Jin suggested.

Mugen made a growling noise, and started to tear his clothes off.

The first time didn't take very long at all. Mugen threw himself at Jin and Jin let himself fall back to be pinned to the bed. Truth be told, he rather liked the familiar weight of Mugen's body on his, the firm grip of Mugen's fingers around his thin, pale wrists. They didn't kiss, the first time. Mugen rubbed against him a bit, like some humping dog that was too excited to find the mark, until Jin wrapped his legs firmly around Mugen's waist, rolled him over and shimmied around so he could suck on Mugen's cock. Mugen returned the favour. They sucked and licked for a while, and Jin teased Mugen's hole just a little, just to see how far he could go. Mugen was as unpredictable in bed as he was everywhere else; he'd never really come to terms with the implications of sex with men, and what it made him. Jin guessed he worried about it far too much, and in all the wrong ways, but they'd never talked about it. Jin had learned to take nothing for granted, to treat every time at the first. Which, he had to confess, helped to make each time just as exciting as the last.

But still, he wondered, and he was always careful.

On this occasion, it seemed, Mugen was up for just about anything. He came quickly down Jin's throat, and was happy enough to let Jin come down his. But neither of them went completely soft afterwards. Mugen lay on his back, breathing hard, the faintest smile on his lips, and Jin chanced kissing him. Jin enjoyed kissing a great deal, with the right person. And for all his faults, Mugen was a good kisser when he was in the mood. It so happened that this was one of those days, so they spent a long while exploring each others mouths, tongues twisting and sliding together. Mugen's fingers threaded through Jin's hair and cradled his skull; their hips rocked; Jin's cock slipped easily between Mugen's thighs and poked at his hole.

Jin pulled away just long enough to retrieve the vial of oil he'd placed hopefully beside the bed. He was generous with it, and took his time, waiting until Mugen was flushed and his eyes glittered with an edge of desperation before he pulled Mugen back on top of him. He held his cock straight up and watched Mugen's face as he sank down. Inch by inch. Jin was certain there was no pain - he prided himself on it - and the grunt that escaped from Mugen's chest as he filled himself up with Jin's flesh was pure, animal pleasure.

They made love slowly - Mugen would call it fucking, later, but Jin knew the difference - and without saying a single word. Just bodies, grinding together, sweet, slow friction building into little bursts of something better, and better, and better. Mugen leaned down often to kiss Jin's mouth. Once he reached for the sake bottle, took a swig and then let it trickle from his lips to Jin's. Sweet and warm, burning all the way down. All the way.

Jin stroked Mugen's cock slowly, twisting and kneading, keeping a steady rhythm even when it was all he could do to stop himself from giving into the slick heat of Mugen's ass. Only when Mugen's balls crawled up tight and Mugen's eyes slid mostly-closed, and Mugen's breath was short, tight hitches, did Jin allow himself release.

Mugen's arms were wrapped tight around him, and he was swearing softly in Jin's ear, and their bodies convulsed together. Sticky, noisy, male bodies, all lines and angles and lean strength.

They panted together for a while, then Mugen disentangled himself. He sat on the edge of the futon, cleaning himself off with a cloth. Jin watched the muscles of his back shifting effortlessly beneath skin the colour of short-brewed tea. He reached out and touched, unable to resist. Mugen didn't move away. He made a soft, snorting noise, and grinned at Jin over his shoulder. He tossed him the cloth.

"Keeps happening, huh?" said Mugen.

"Yes. It would appear so."

"Shit. What a mess."


There was a pause, while Jin wiped himself down. Then he drew himself to sitting, cross-legged, and took another sip of sake, from the bottle this time.

"I don't know what it means," Mugen said.

"Honestly, neither do I," said Jin.

"I thought I'd be glad to see the back of you, when we were done with the sunflower crap. It's not like you didn't annoy the fuck out of me the whole time we were travelling together."

"I can assure you the feeling was mutual."

"So why does this keep happening?"

Because you're following me was the easy answer. But Jin had to admit, to himself at least, that it wasn't that simple. If Mugen hadn't turned up tonight, or tomorrow, or the day after, Jin would have been disappointed every single time. "I don't know," he said.

"It doesn't feel right."


"I miss you. Sometimes. You bastard."

"Yes. I do too. And I miss...."

They looked at each other for a long moment. Mugen swallowed hard.

"We should go find her."

The tiniest of smiles appeared on Jin's face. At last. "Yes," he said. "Let's do that."

They settled under the covers, naked back-to-back, and slept 'til dawn.

And this time, they left together.


~ Owari ~