by Laura Bryannan

This story takes place post-series, and is a sequel to all my others. Much grateful thanks to The Lidless Eye for letting me pinch some of the ideas (and a few sentences) from her wonderful story The Night Before, http://www.fanfiction.net/s/2623816/1/.

I guess I’ve gotta be the stupidest motherfucker in the world. I walked away from them and I let them walk away from me. We all figured we’d turn around and find each other again. I thought it, and I’ll bet they did too. We said our goodbyes with a wink, expecting that life would bring us back together within a few days as it always has. Well, it didn’t happen, did it? I waited a few weeks before I finally gave up.

So, four assholes came after us and we survived it…barely. I ain’t even going there to talk about it. Waking up from that was like waking up from the worst nightmare I ever had. The only good thing about it was that we all made it through.

After being knocked on our asses for a week, me and Jin tried to get our shit back together. It was pretty slow going there for a while, as we both got nailed really bad. Fuu kept herself busy looking after us and doing the things she needed to do to settle her father’s estate. We just tried to get healthy again. As we got more mobile, we found this spot a ways away, under this big ass tree which was prolly the only thing holding the cliff in place. We’d go there every day and sit, watching the ocean and being quiet together.

I felt bad for him cuz it was clear he really did need his glasses after all. Fuu was wrong about them being just for show. He said his eyesight wasn’t really bad, but bad enough that stuff far away looked blurry to him now. I told him he’d prolly be able to find someone in Nagasaki who could make him new ones, but he said that the cost would be beyond his reach at this point.

I gotta say, it was weird to see him without them. I didn’t like it. I mean, I was the only one who got to see him like that before he lost them. He’d take them off when we were fooling around and it was like my private, secret Jin I had all to myself. Now anyone could see him like that, and it made me feel jealous, I think. I didn’t like sharing his face with the rest of the world.

It was funny how obsessed he seemed to be with the slashes on my cheek. He kept touching them, tracing them with his fingers or his lips. Every time we kissed, he’d always kiss them too.

You’re going to be even more exotic-looking when these heal,” he said.

I look exotic to you?” I asked. He never talked about how I appeared to him. He never told me I was good looking or anything, so it was kinda strange to hear.

Yes,” he replied. “You’ve always seemed like some magnificent untamed beast to me, although I’ve never figured out which one…wolf, panther…now you look like a tiger from this side. It’s quite amazing, really.” I didn’t know what to say to that, and I hoped I wasn’t blushing, so I just kissed him and tried to believe it.

So, anyway, we spent the weeks we were knitting back together sitting under our tree hanging out. We didn’t talk much, but we were always touching. We’d trade off who was the pillow, or lean against each other—touching hands, feet, knees—something always touching. We were reaching for each other all the time, prolly cuz we were way too fucked up for sex. That was a drag! But, I’ll admit it was nice just to be with him and have nowhere we had to go. When we got stronger, we’d make out some, but only a bit. Hard-ons are no fun if you can’t do anything about them.

We never talked about the future. We never even talked about splitting up; it just seemed understood we were going to. I figured the main reason the government was after us was cuz of me killing that important old dude, so it didn’t feel right to keep putting them both in danger any more. Plus, as I said, I really thought we’d find each other again, so I didn’t worry about it too much.

Our time together was winding down. Me and Jin could get around again without too much trouble, and I guess we all started feeling antsy and knew it was time to move along. One of the last days we sat under the tree, we were kissing and then I was snuggling into his shoulder, trying to memorize his smell. I decided on a parting shot…something that had been an unspoken no-no between us since we became lovers. I started to suck up a bruise on his neck, where it would show. He didn’t stop me. Hot damn! I made it a big nasty one too, I was proud to see. When I backed away, he was wincing, but looking at me hungrily.

I want to do one on you, too,” he said, rubbing the spot where I put it. “I’ve never done it before though….” I wasn’t surprised to hear that, but it made me feel special anyway. I tilted my head back to offer and he leaned in. I shivered as I felt his lips trail along my neck, trying to find the best place, then…yeowch! He began, and I had to hold my breath to keep from whimpering.

Hey, less teeth,” I complained; they were fucking sharp. He chuckled, but didn’t change his technique. I wondered if I hurt him that much every time I did it to him. He finally let go and I sighed in relief. “A little payback, huh?” I noted, and he just smiled at me, all smug. He reached out and stroked it, and I grabbed my tanto to see it in the reflection. It looked all warped from the curve of the blade, but I could tell he did a pretty good job. It was so cool!

When we wandered back to the house that evening, Fuu was waiting for us. I haven’t been talking about her much cuz she was basically avoiding us. Every time I tried to sit down with her to snuggle or hang out, she blustered herself away in a few moments. I didn’t feel like I had any right to pester her or ask her what was up, so I didn’t. I mean, she had a lot going on…worrying about us and dealing with seeing her dad get murdered just after she met him again. I thought she’d want to talk about it, but I guess she decided I wasn’t the one to do it with. It felt weird but, hey, it wasn’t like we were officially anything, so I didn’t feel like I had the right to make her deal with me. We walked in the house and she smiled at us. She was looking all blushy and more herself than I’d seen her in a while. She saw our bruises and her eyes went wide.

Don’t tell me you guys….” I grinned and jumped her, pulling her head sideways with her hair. I held on tight and started sucking one up on her neck too, only closer to her shoulder so it wouldn’t show.

OW! Mugen! You jerk!” she screeched, trying to escape. I didn’t let her go until I’d made a nice one. Then I kissed her and she kissed me back, and it was yummy as usual. I didn’t let her go till I felt satisfied. One last time….

I have some gifts I’d like to give you both, before we part,” she said when we finished, her voice kinda shaky. We were already wearing her father’s clothes, so I couldn’t figure out what was up. She opened up this big chest in the corner, pulled out a whole lot of bundles and put them on the floor. The thing was so deep, I thought she was gonna fall in, trying to reach what was at the bottom.

Then she pulled out a long bundle, obviously a sword or maybe even a gun. As she unwrapped it we could see. Holy shit! It was probably her father’s daisho! The sheaths and hilts were fucking beautiful. She took the katana and held it out to Jin. His mouth dropped open and his eyes went wide.

I’m keeping the wakazashi for myself, but I would like you to have this, Jin. Thank you for taking such good care of me on our journey together. I will never forget your kindness,” she said, not looking up at him.

He pulled her into his arms. “Oh Fuu, you’re so very welcome. Thank you for this precious gift. I don’t know what to say….” He kissed the top of her head, and I could tell she was crying.

After a few moments, she pushed away from him, and wiped her eyes with her sleeve. “Oh man, I really wanted to get through this without being such a baby!” She peeked at me for half a second, almost as if it was hard for her to do. “I have two gifts for you, Mugen,” she said, handing me a hunk of red cloth. “I tried to mend your gi, but it was impossible. The cloth was ripped up in too many places, so I made you this.” I shook it out and could see it was the coolest dobuku in the exact color of red I like the best! “I tried to pick off the triangle on the back of your old one, but the silk just unraveled on me. If you like I can make another to put on this one.”

That’s OK, Fuu. It’s great the way it is! Thanks so much.” I immediately stripped off the boring yukata I’d been wearing and put it on. It fit perfect! I reached for her, but she shook her head and turned to the chest again. She pulled out another long bundle and my stomach got fluttery. A sword for me too? Holy shit! She handed it to me, and backed away out of my reach. I unwrapped it and couldn’t believe my eyes. It was the strangest looking sword I’d ever seen, but it was so fucking cool! I immediately fell in love with it.

This sword belonged to my father as well,” she said. “He got it from a trader many years ago, long before I was born. I guess it was owned by a famous European king, and stolen by pirates or something…. I’m not really sure.”

I smiled to myself. The girl can’t lie for shit, but it was OK. I really liked the sword, and I could tell by the scabbard that it was an old one, so maybe her story wasn’t as full of shit as she thought it was. I was blown away by how much it meant—how much it would really help—for her to gift us like that. She still wasn’t looking me in the eye, so I had to get up and go over to her to give her a hug.

Thanks for everything, you yummy bitch,” I whispered in her hair. She just cried on my shoulder for a while and that was cool by me. It felt good to hold her again. I was missing it. She tried to push away from me, but I wouldn’t let her until she had calmed down again. She blew her nose in her hanky and heaved a big sigh.

Well, just one more day….” she sighed, looking kinda pitiful. We all eyed each other and nodded. “Let’s have some dinner, OK?” she suggested. “I need something to take my mind off things.”

We ate, but it was a quiet meal, and we went to bed early, even me. We were all hiding in our own heads and it was too hard to try and make conversation.

I woke up the next morning, made myself some tea, and then headed out to our spot. Before I got there I heard a strange kind of banging going on, so I wondered what was happening. As I got nearer, I saw Jin sitting there, pounding some charred firewood on a rock for some damn reason. He didn’t even look up until I sat down next to him.

Mugen, I have a favor to ask you,” he said.

Ask away.” He was looking kinda strange, so I got a bit worried.

I want you to mark me before we part,” he stated.

I was confused. “But you’ve got a bigass mark of mine on you already,” I smiled. “I don’t get it.”

No, a permanent mark. I want you to cut your name…here on my arm.” He pulled his sleeve back and showed me where, on his left inner forearm, just below his elbow. I got chills up my back, and felt all woogy in my stomach.

M-My name?” I stammered.

Well, your sign for your name. The interconnected loops…you know, don’t you?”

I knew what he meant, but I was still freaked out by the request. “You really want me to do that?” I had to be sure. He nodded solemnly, and I decided, what the hell? The idea made me hot, for some reason, and I was so blown away by it, I wondered if he’d do the same for me.

Let me practice a bit first. What are we gonna do it with?” I asked. He handed me his tanto and whetstone. I started trying to draw it in the dirt with the point of his knife. “How big do you want it?”

As big as you need to make it so you can do it cleanly. Scars spread as they age. If it’s too small it will turn into a blob. So, perhaps a few inches long.”

I practiced a bit more while he ran his fingers through the pile of charcoal dust he had made. My curiosity got the better of me. “What’s that for?”

I’ll use it to pour into the wound. It will stain it. Skin like mine doesn’t scar easily, so it will need to be irritated if I don’t want it to fade away eventually. The wood ash is caustic, so it will help make the scar permanent.”

I shuddered. “How do you know so much about this?”

He smiled at me but shook his head. “Do it first, before I lose my nerve, and then I’ll tell you if you wish,” he said.

I got the tip of his tanto all honed up, wiped my hands on my pants and took a deep breath. “I can do it in two strokes, K?”

He nodded and held his arm out, bracing it on his leg. It’s weird how I can cut someone down without a second thought, but this felt like something totally different. I knew I had to move fast or my hands were gonna be shaking too much to do it right, so I just held my breath and did it. I swear, it felt like sex, it made me so horny to cut him like that! We both heaved a sigh of relief when it was done, and he immediately covered it with the black ash. I helped him wrap it up, and then he gave me this look that made my heart flip over inside my chest.

Thank you, Mugen. I’m very grateful you were willing to do this for me,” he said, and then he kissed me in that seme way he does sometimes. Made me even hornier, the bastard!

When he backed away, I caught his lower lip in my teeth, and he opened his eyes. “Do me, now!” I demanded.

His eyes widened and he looked concerned. “Oh, Mugen. I don’t expect you to do this simply because I wanted it.”

No, I want you to. Your name means something good, right? Kind…giving…something like that, right?” He made a wry face, as if he thought the words didn’t describe him, but they did, at least to me. “Come on, I want your name in the same place. Will you do it?” I asked.

He looked at me, but I could tell he was inside himself and not really seeing me, so I waited for him. He finally spoke after a minute or so. “Jin is not my real name. Oh, it’s what everyone has called me since I was a child—no one has called me anything else—but it isn’t my name. I want you to be aware of that,” he said. I didn’t know it. I asked him what it was, and he sighed. “It’s a horrible name. My father’s last insult to me, I imagine. It was found in the estate documents sent to me after he died when I was ten. Master was kind, and suggested that perhaps it was given me as a warding—an awful name to keep the gods from being jealous—but he knew my father, and I could see that he didn’t really believe it either.

I feel you should know what you’re asking me to mark you with—that it isn’t my official name. But since you know nothing about the history of this country or my family, it will be meaningless to you, so I honestly have no idea why I’m even saying this.” He sighed, and looked at me like he was hoping I’d tell him to forget it, but I wasn’t going to. I sat there waiting, but he still seemed hesitant to say it. I raised my eyebrows and poked him with my toe. “Oh, all right.” He sighed again. “It’s Katsuyori.”

Nope, I couldn’t imagine calling him that name in a million years, and it was meaningless to me. I shrugged my shoulders and he looked relieved…really, really relieved. His reaction seemed strange, but I didn’t want to bother with it just then. I held my arm out. “Do it,” I ordered again.

He took the tanto and did some practicing in the dirt too. Then he honed the tip once again, and looked at me. “My name will take four strokes. Can you deal with that?” I nodded. He came over, knelt between my legs and cut me, quick as lightening. It didn’t hurt that much, really, I was kinda surprised. Before I knew it, he had dumped the charcoal into it, tied it up, and it was done. It made me feel so close to him, I wanted to fuck his brains out. Too bad our bodies wouldn’t let us. Life can really suck sometimes.

So tell me about all this. How do you know so much?” I was getting more and more curious. There was obviously some energy around it for him, I could tell.

He smiled kinda wistfully. “There was a practice at the dojo to assign older boys to mentor the younger ones. When I arrived there at age seven the boy who looked after me was twelve. His name was Harumasa, and he was my official big brother until he left the dojo shortly before he turned eighteen. He was very kind to me and I adored him. When I got older, I had a romantic crush on him as well, although I kept it to myself. He was in love with another boy a year younger than him for the last three years he was at the dojo. I took vicarious pleasure in witnessing that relationship, and he shared many of his experiences and feelings about it with me.

Anyway, it was a secret practice among the students at the dojo to do these kinds of claimings, especially when two lovers were parting to return to their families and adult life. When Haru was leaving, he and Taiji decided to exchange markings, and allowed me to watch. I thought it was so moving and wonderful, the gesture stayed with me all this time. I couldn’t help but want you to do this for me. And…I’ll admit I’m pleased you wished me to mark you as well.” He actually blushed a bit when he said it, so that pretty much blew me away.

The lore of how to do it was well known among the older boys,” he continued. “The various ways to keep the skin irritated and force the scar to raise and become more prominent. I won’t disgust you with all the methods employed, but it was Haru’s opinion that using charcoal was the best. I never saw Haru’s mark, but Taiji’s turned out very well, as he proudly kept me appraised of it’s progress after Haru left. I thought he was so lucky to have it.” He sighed, and shook his head.

I’m rambling again. What I meant to say was, even though your skin appears to scar easily, if you want this mark to take you’ll need to keep worrying it and not let it heal for a while. Pull the scab and continue to add wood ash, until it’s looking the way you want.”

Got it…nii-san,” I said.

He gasped and blushed again, looking at me with the greatest I-can’t-believe-you-just-said-that-but-I-love-it expression. “Oto-chan,” he whispered, reaching for me. We did some serious making out then, til it became too painful to continue. It was a real drag that we were going to go our separate ways the next day without being able to fuck, but there was nothing to be done about that.

I’ve noticed that when my body experiences a certain amount of pain—not enough to knock me on my ass, but a certain amount—I get kinda stupid and giggly after. It’s almost like I’m drunk or something. I noticed Jin was pretty not-himself too, so I guess he was affected the same way. So we were both stupid and giggly as we walked back to Fuu’s house and it was great. It took us twice the time it usually takes to walk back because we kept stopping to make out along the way. Just two stupidasses, moaning from the kisses, groping and grinding, but yelping when one of us grabbed the other too tight or moved the wrong way too quickly. Gut wounds are a fucking drag!

I was glad our time together that evening was the opposite of the night before. Me and Jin were still feeling silly and I guess it was contagious, cuz Fuu got giggly too, and we all had fun talking at dinner and after. It was kinda like our time after Okuru and in Aki, so it was really good. I think by that point we were ready to throw ourselves to the four winds and see what happened next. We all shared smooches before we went to bed and it felt right. Complete somehow.

Walking away from each other the next day almost felt like a game. I headed off to get something to eat and then went back to our tree. It seemed like the most obvious place to hang if I wanted to find him again but, man, he never showed up! I couldn’t believe it. I waited for over a week, then realized he’d be there by now if he had wanted to find me. I was getting pretty bummed out, I’ll admit.

The only thing that kept me sane was the fact that I found his juban. He’d thrown it out, and I found it in a pile of other stuff before it got to the midden. Many times mended, bloodstained and missing one arm but, ohhhhh, it smelled of him! I don’t know what happened to his kimono—maybe he kept it himself—but his juban became my most precious possession. I was so glad I found it! I really wanted to sleep with it, but I was afraid it would end up smelling more like me than him eventually, so I only let myself smell it and not hold it.

And then I found something at the bottom of my sack of stuff—something wrapped in a bit of silk. I knew I didn’t put it there, so I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on. I pulled it out, heard a clink and my breath caught. I opened it up and there was five ryu! Hot damn! There was a note, written simply enough that I could read it. Use wisely. Thank you for everything. Love Fuu. I could see why she did it that way, cuz I would never have taken any money from her if she had tried to give it to me face to face. But, man, it sure would come in handy! My body was still too fucked up to do the get-money-from-being-mugged game I’d been playing lately. I wasn’t all that confident I could kick anyone’s ass just then, so it was really cool. It made it easier to deal with my life at that point, no doubt about it.

So I sat moping for a week then decided I was gonna go back to Ryukyu. And once the idea came into my head it felt like the exact right thing to do. But something wanted me to go back to the place where the whole shebang started before I left, for some reason. It was weird, but I decided to do it.

I paid for a ride back to the big island and spent the day sitting on the breakwater where we first bumped into Mister Hand of God…whoever the fuck he was. I was feeling all jittery and strange, and couldn’t figure out what was up with me. I kept pacing up and down the rocks, and then something pulled me to the little pier that was jutting out there. I climbed down to it and walked to the end. I stood there for a while and stared out at the water, but the feeling was still bugging me. I turned and started to walk back when something caught my eye at the bottom—something shiny. I knelt down and tried to see. If it was money, I could always use more, so it was worth checking out.

Then, oh my fucking god! It was his glasses! I couldn’t believe it! The day was cool, but I didn’t give a shit. I dropped my sword and my stuff, stripped to my pants, and carefully lowered myself in the water, keeping an eye on where they were. It wasn’t super deep, so I was able to dive down and get them. I practically started crying when I pulled myself out with them in my hand. It made me so damn happy, I was hoping it was a sign or something—that I’d find him again and be able to give them to him. But, in the meantime, they became another treasure of his I got to keep. And the jittery feelings were gone too. What a fucking relief!

I took some of the money Fuu gave me and bought passage on this trading ship that was heading south, and would stop at Ryukyu. The weather was getting colder. I figured it was time to get the hell out of Japan and head home again. Something was really calling me to do it. They said it was gonna take a day or so longer than usual, because they were putting to port at just about every island on the way. No big deal, and the fare wasn’t bad.

I spent the first night below decks, just resting. It was too damn cold to hang topside, and I didn’t have any warm clothes. I found myself continually stroking the scar on my arm. It was becoming a habit—very comforting to have there to touch. I’d been bothering and messing with it like I was supposed to, and it was turning out really good. Sometimes I’d just sit there and stare at it, thinking about him, but mostly I would run my fingers along it every so often. It made me feel less alone, in a strange way.

Anyway, the next day we sailed out of the port we’d been in overnight and a squall came up a few hours later. I was topside, and could see that some stuff wasn’t getting handled. Kinda made me nervous, you know? So I jumped to it, and did what I could see needed to be done—tied things up, lashed stuff down—trying to make sure nothing was gonna get fucked up more by the wind. The storm blew over pretty quickly, which was cool, so I was just standing there when I heard a deep voice call out.

I see you know your way around a ship,” said someone in Ryukyuian, amazingly enough! Heavily accented, but my own language. It had been so long since I heard it spoken, it took me a second to get my brain to figure out a response.

I turned around and saw this…man. I hope my jaw didn’t drop, but I think it might have. Big—taller than Jin, I’ll bet—chest and arms twice the size of my own. He had long brown hair to his shoulders with gray at the temples, and not tied up. Bearded, but trimmed pretty short, and there was gray in his beard too. I’m not good at guessing, and sea life ages folks, but I was thinking he was in his mid-thirties. I realized I was just standing there staring at him, so I cleared my throat.

Grew up on ‘em,” I replied. “Just saw some things that needed doing.”

Yes, I’m grateful. We’re unexpectedly short-handed. Two of my crew got drunk at our last port of call and knifed each other. I left them there. I don’t have any tolerance for that sort of thing. You want a job?” he asked, smiling. Obviously, the tattoos didn’t faze him.

I shook my head and pulled my dobuku up to show him the mess of scars on my belly. “Don’t know how much help I can be. I’m not too strong. Still trying to heal,” I replied.

Ah, so you’re a swordsman as well, eh?” He actually vaulted over the railing and down to the deck I was on. “Let me introduce myself. I’m the owner and captain of this vessel. Manuel Nunes.” He held out his hand and when I did the same he grabbed it and shook it up and down. OoooKaaay.

Mon…well?” I tried to sound it out.

Yes. Very good. And who are you, my helpful friend?” He was still smiling and I was kinda freaking out. The guy was sooo my type, it was scary.

Uh…the name’s Mugen,” I managed to say.

Very happy to meet you, Mugen,” he said. “Well, my offer still stands. The pay is fair and we eat well most of the time. I hope you will consider it. We’ll be in Ryukyu this afternoon, but we’ll only be there long enough to take care of business and then we’ll be off again by mid-morning tomorrow. Think about it, won’t you?”

I’ll think about it,” I answered. Some of his men were shouting for him and he turned and shouted back in a language I didn’t understand. Then, with a brief nod to me, he took off and there I was with a lot on my mind all of a sudden.

The main reason I didn’t pay any attention to Jin at first wasn't just cuz he seemed like a stuck-up, inhibited dork. He was built too much like me, and I’ve never been attracted to guys who were built like me. The guys I’ve always been crazy for are the big ones. Lot’s bigger than me…big bear types. Everything I’m not, I guess. This guy was built like that. And, even though he was kinda old, he was still fucking good looking! I immediately felt guilty, as if I was being unfaithful to Jin. Then I beat myself up for being so stupid. I didn’t want to fuck him and I wasn’t going to fuck him. But it was weird how guilty I felt just cuz he made me hot.

Even though we were docked at Ryukyu, I spent the night on board trying to figure myself out. Something was really pulling me to take the guy up on his offer, but I was torn. I had this other feeling that, if the three of us were ever gonna meet up again, it was gonna be in Ryukyu, so I didn’t know what I should do.

In the end, I decided to go with what my gut was telling me. I went topside and stood there looking at the city from the deck. It felt really strange to be back, not like coming home at all. Then I felt eyes on me and I turned around. It was him, of course.

Well, Mugen, have you decided?” he asked.

Where are you going? How long till you make it back to Ryukyu?”

Down the coastline of the mainland and back. I’d say we’ll return here in four or five months, weather and good fortune willing.”

I cringed inside my head. That was longer than I had figured being gone. It didn’t change how I felt inside though. “OK, I’ll go,” I decided.

to be continued