Chapter 9 / Revelation

As usual, Jin was the first to wake in the morning.

Squinting up at the light filtering in through the stained shoji, he noted with some regret that, despite the early hour, he had still slept in later than he had intended. He gradually rose to a sitting position on his futon and rubbed the drowsiness from his eyes. Rising with the sun was something reinforced by his master at his old dojo, though considering what had transpired the night before, it wasn't completely surprising that this old habit had been partially compromised.

The events of the previous evening drifted back into his sleep fogged mind and the man sighed. What sort of trouble were they getting into now? With the reappearance of Koza, their problems seemed to compound themselves. An uncountable number of questions flowed into his mind: Why was Koza alive? Why would she be willing to help them in exchange for something (Jin considered) so inconsequential? How did she even know more about their situation than did? And, what else did she know?

The thought that she of all people held the advantage of knowledge over them was more than a little frightening to Jin. The last time this had happened, he had been tricked into killing a man for her. She had held all the pieces of the puzzle in her hands, skillfully manipulating all their group as if they were merely pawns on a game board while leaving them scrambling to put the whole picture together.

Jin wouldn't be fooled a second time.

He reached over for his glasses, which had been carefully set to the side of his futon to prevent them getting crushed by any wayward limbs, and placed them back on his face. He blinked as his eyes refocused before turning to wake his companions, who were still sleeping soundly.

The stoic man blinked again as he noticed their proximity to each other. Fuu seemed to have burrowed herself against Mugen during the course of the night, softly pressing her forehead against his side while one of her small hands was resting on the scratchy gauze covering his torso. The swordsman was sleeping soundly on his back, one arm resting at his side and the other outstretched just above the girl's head.

Jin studied them for a moment longer before averting his eyes back to the closed windows in thought. He had been awake when Fuu had returned last night, and had heard her mumble her words of thanks as she thought him oblivious. While he considered Fuu to be a friend and therefore did not expect any verbal sort of thanks on her part, he appreciated it all the same. He supposed that was partially why he was still traveling with her to begin with. She was one of the few genuine people he had met in his lifetime, and he found her honesty rather refreshing in the world of careful facades that he had grown accustomed to when he had been at his master's dojo.

It was out of this friendly affection for her that he found himself worried about her obvious feelings for their companion. Mugen was also known for his honesty, or rather bluntness, and he could trample easily all over Fuu's feelings if he wanted to. Of course, Jin knew that Mugen also harbored some sort of minor feelings for the girl at least to the same degree he did, as he was not the type to hang around charity cases. Their duel had long been settled on the ruined shoreline of Ikitsuki Island, and Jin could no longer sense any real aggressive intention in the pirate when they argued. So, it was only logical to think that he was still here because of some other reason.

The bespectacled man was almost willing to bet it was out of some attachment Fuu, but did Mugen himself know that? Jin wouldn't be surprised if he did. Mugen might be thick when it came to most things that involved common sense or numbers, but one thing he did know all too well was himself. Most swordsmen had to in order to get as far as they had.

That left one question in Jin's mind: What did he intend to do about it?

Jin had been picking up on Fuu's feelings for a while now, which meant that it was likely that Mugen had as well. It wasn't like the other man to be too outwardly affectionate… in fact, if he didn't know him any better, he'd say that he hated anything to do with the idea of love or attachment to another human being. But that just brought him back to his earlier thought that Mugen wouldn't still be here if not for his attachment to their ragtag group.

Mugen wasn't a man known for his touching display of emotions, which made Jin wonder how this would end if he were forced to confront the younger girl's feelings for him. If he was honest with himself, he was rather worried. However, it also wasn't his place to step in.

If Fuu cared that deeply for Mugen, then that was her own issue to come to terms with.

...that's what he told himself, anyway. Regardless, he just didn't want to see her get hurt if (when?) Mugen couldn't handle it.

Jin sighed. He hoped it would work out for the best, if something did happen. Who knew? All he was sure of was that he wasn't sure at all, which was a strange feeling for him, if not a bit unsettling. But with these two…. They were like oil and water. No, Jin corrected himself mentally, more like oil and fire. A dangerous combination if left unchecked, but an invaluable source of heat and light if taken care of properly.

Pushing those thoughts aside, he rose to his feet, spreading his arms in a short stretch. He grabbed his typical haori and hakama and moved behind the screen set up in the corner of the room to step into his clothes. Once dressed, he approached his futon again and bent to grab his swords, which had also been neatly placed next to where he had slept, the sheathes clacking together as he grasped them loosely. The sound caused the still sleeping Fuu to stir, shifting to move closer to the man lying next to her while Mugen remained still, seemingly undisturbed. Jin narrowed his eyes in suspicion. Almost too still…

The slender swordsman tucked his swords away carefully at his side and straightened, facing the door.

"If you were trying to feign sleep, you're doing a terrible job of it. It would be more realistic if you were snoring obnoxiously loud."

"I don't snore," came an indignant voice from below him. "It's called breathing,

and people do it when they sleep, you know."

"I'm quite positive that most people do it all the time, actually," Jin replied easily, "though that would settle a few of my suspicions about you not being normal."

"Normal is boring, and come to think of it, aren't you kinda sorta normal?" Was the sharp retort. Quick as ever.

Ignoring the slight, Jin walked to the doorway of the room, resting a pale hand on the frame. "As we discussed last night, we must leave this town soon or risk being discovered. If your old... 'companion' could find us, this doesn't bode well for our travels."

"It's the ass crack of dawn. I doubt even the best of those swordsman is out looking for us yet."

"All the better for us." Jin sent a fleeting look over his shoulder back at Mugen, whose eyes were now open and staring up at the ceiling. "I'll be waiting downstairs."

Mugen grunted in affirmation, remaining where he was, and Jin silently moved down the hall and away from the room. As he descended the stairs, he couldn't help but hope his comrades could quickly sort themselves out so they could get out of town. Dealing with problems amongst themselves was one thing that they could deal with later; a problem threatening all of their lives was something that could not.

With another sigh, he slid under a low table that somehow already had today's paper placed on it. He picked it up and scanned over the front page quickly, immersing himself in the headlines and pushing his concerns to the back of his mind.

Even after Jin had left the room, Mugen remained in the same position for several minutes. A dull ache radiated through his side just from the expanding and contracting of his ribs with every breath, but that wasn't the only thing that kept him from rising and getting on with the day.

And a strange day it would be indeed, due in part to the news that Koza was still slinking around, and also partially due to the teen who had weaseled her way up against him at some point in the night and was now dozing peacefully beside him.

This was going to be a problem, he knew, and he hated dealing with problems that couldn't be solved with a flick of his sword.

In hindsight, he should have known it was only a matter of time. Fuu had been acting strange now for a while—well, more strange than usual, since she had definitely never been a typical girl. (Typical girls didn't run off with two sword-wielding criminals, for a start.) On numerous occasions he had caught her staring off into space or getting into weird moods with him, not to mention when she had gotten overly upset with him the night before… or when she had muttered to him about her feelings as she fell asleep.

The prone man drew a hand up place over his face, closing his eyes and wondering how he would deal with something as delicate as "feelings." He wasn't a man of emotion, or at least not in the sense that most people were. Despite being familiar with things like anger, anticipation, and annoyance, he wasn't what he considered a man with normal sentiments whatsoever. Doubtless, this was due to the shithole his childhood had been, though he truthfully revelled in his lack of particular emotions. It was that lacking that had saved his life countless times, as well as lead to the deaths of more than a few of his opponents. He shifted a hand under his head and closed his eyes, memories clouding his mind.

Once, when he was 10 or so, he had come across a fisherman and his wife bringing their catch in for the day. At the time, he was still living in the lowest circle of hell in Ryukyu and fighting tooth and nail to survive. All he had were the clothes on his back and the jagged-edged dagger stuffed deep in his pocket, and he had been surviving on so little food for so long that he could have easily counted his own ribs if he wanted to.

Upon seeing the catch of fish, as small as it was, he unconsciously stepped out from the cover of the trees and into the sun-heated sand, approaching the couple. They had docked their measly vessel at the lone wooden structure jutting out unsteadily from the shoreline, loading their prized fish into baskets on the small dock. They paid no mind to the scrawny child stalking toward them, probably thinking him no harm. It wasn't until his bare foot touched the weather-worn wood and he drew his cracked dagger that they visibly noticed him. Even then, they only studied him with something akin to what he now could identify as pity. It wasn't unusual to spot starving orphans scrounging for anything they could get their hands on. Those same orphans often fought each other tooth and nail for anything edible.

Though Mugen no longer remembered exactly what he said to the couple, he knew that the man had refused to give him any of their sorry catch. He could recall the suspicious look in the man's weary eyes, and his threat of 'gutting him like a fish' if he did anything stupid. His boy self had ignored the warning, unable to stand the hunger clawing at his gut any longer.

It was obvious the moment that he took his first step toward the man that he was too slow, too weak. He teetered to one side for a split second, running on little more than desperation as he stumbled toward the fisherman. He clenched the dirty blade tightly in his small hands and pointed it in front of him threateningly, hoping to scare the man back, at least.

No such luck.

The fisherman saw him coming from a long way off and oriented himself toward Mugen, reaching for the short fishing knife strapped to his hip. The closer he got, the more the man prepared himself to strike, his knees bent and arms tautly held in a defensive stance. Boy Mugen continued his charge even though he knew it was a likely a futile attempt against a man twice his size and weight, who had the strength that came from both hard labor and regular meals. He recalled not caring. A single thought drove him: Who knew when he would get his next chance to eat?

He was an arm's length from death when the fisherman's wife had called out in alarm.

"Stop! He's just a boy!"

Ah, yes, he could remember those words well. Those had been the last words her husband ever heard.

In the man's moment of hesitation, Mugen had darted underneath his raised arms with one last burst of energy and thrust the rusted blade up into the man's chest as hard as he could.

Blood sprayed. Someone screamed.

The man toppled over onto him, bathing him in a dark veil of crimson. Mugen feebly pushed his opponent away with a shove of his arms and let him fall heavily at his feet, where the mortally wounded man curled in on himself. He was nearly silent in his suffering, minus the wheezing and sputtering as his lungs filled with blood from his wound. A final groan escaped his lips before all tension left his body and he unfolded himself to rest on his back. Before long, the only movements that remained to be seen were the nearly black rivulets of blood running down his chin from his slightly ajar mouth. His eyes gazed up blankly at the sky, and all signs off life quickly faded from his countenance. The wife's own face was nearly as white as her newly deceased husband's as Mugen straightened, lifting a filthy hand to wipe away the red lines of liquid dribbling down his forehead and into his eyes. He leveled his weapon at her.

"I'm just a boy, but now he's just dead," he had said matter-of-factly, feeling no guilt as the woman's face crumpled. "And unless you give me your fish, so are you."

That was merely the first of numerous occurrences where this had happened. It was a brutal world out there, and not just in Ryukyu. Hadn't that monstrous oaf that had captured Fuu early on in their journey die because he had paused at the sound of her cry? Just another example of how emotions like doubt and guilt were sure fire ways to an early grave.

Yeah, Mugen would prefer it if those words remained out of his emotional spectrum. He had a better chance of surviving that way.

Exhaling softly, the swordsman sat up on his futon, moving slowly to avoid jostling his sore side-as well as the sleeping girl-too much. He raised his arm to take a look at the bandaging covering the wound, silently pleased when saw that it hadn't bled through in the time he had been slumbering. That meant it was shallow enough that it would heal over quickly and he would be back at full strength in no time. As he took in the state of his side, his eyes involuntarily traveled to Fuu's sleeping face. What was he going to do? Her foolish little crush on him couldn't go on. He should set her straight.

But even as these thoughts cascaded through his mind, a weight that he couldn't identify settled deep in the recesses of his chest. He tried his best to ignore it as he brought his other hand up to his face as well, rubbing his eyes in an effort to concentrate. He would have to do something about this, whether it was pleasant or not, he decided, roughly bringing down both his hands to rest in his lap. Fuu stirred beside him at the motion, brushing some dark strands of hair out of her face before settling back into a deeper sleep.

He let his gaze rest on her for another moment, this time focusing on her hands, which were now resting up near her face. Appearances were deceiving, Mugen knew, but so many of her features screamed innocence and girlishness to him: rounded cheeks, long eyelashes, high-pitched voice, her petite and uncallused fingers… Fuu wasn't the same squealing idiot of a broad he had met over a year ago anymore, though. Somewhere along the way she had begun morphing into someone who was more capable of taking care of herself, who was more in control of herself, who was still paranoid yet able to face challenges more willingly than she had before.

But still, she managed to retain a certain sort of purity that most people were robbed of by her age. Maybe that was why he stuck around; he was trying to protect one of the only good people he had ever known. He had seen what happened to people like her too many times to count-they had all died for one reason or another. And something about the thought of her dying didn't sit right with him at all. No, thinking about it brought out a whole other emotion that tightened his chest and seeped coldly into his veins. It was neither a pleasant feeling, nor something he felt often.

Mugen scratched his disheveled hair briefly, trying not to think about it. Instead, he focused the soft curve of her hands, pale and clean as they were. He shifted to study his own, which were tanned and callused from years of swinging a sword and whatever else he could get his hands on. Closer observation revealed something dark lodged under his fingernails, and he couldn't determine whether it was dirt or old blood. That in particular didn't bother him all that much, but…

Fuu let out a loud sigh and stirred from her position behind him, emerging from her deep sleep. Suppressing a curse, Mugen slouched forward, pursing his mouth in thought. He supposed he would just have to deal with this on the fly, which he knew was how he usually dealt with things anyway, but why was a thin layer of anxiety beginning to fall over him? He was a warrior with nerves of steel, so why the thought of this girl being upset when he didn't tell her what she wanted to hear affecting him this way?

Anger unexpectedly burned in his chest, and Mugen had to let out a long breath to ease the heat of it. This was why he couldn't get mixed up with this girl, or anyone for that matter. Throwing another person into the equation was an utterly stupid thing to do when it was smarter to keep to himself. It was way easier on his own than with someone else to look after.

(He conveniently ignored the fact that he had spent the majority of his time the last year or so traveling with two people he probably considered to be the closest thing to friends he'd ever get.)

His lanky form leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees and resting his chin on his hands. He had to deal with this, but perhaps it might be a better idea if he could drop hints to get her to lay off. It wasn't difficult to imagine Fuu going overboard and running off on her own only to get into trouble, if last night was any indicator. With that sneaky bitch from his past creeping around in the shadows, it wouldn't be surprising to find out that she sought Fuu out the minute she was on her own and tried to make some other stupid deal with her… and that was something he couldn't accept. Koza could go off and live her cowardly life deceiving some other idiot all she wanted, but a part of him couldn't stand the thought of them running into each other again, especially if he wasn't there to make sure she wouldn't pull a fast one on the other girl. There wasn't a doubt in his mind that she would try.

Yeah, Koza could live (and the farther away, the better), but she would have to leave Fuu, or even Jin for that matter, alone. Considering that, he consciously decided on a less brash course of action concerning Fuu's misplaced feelings. Even though he had to admit that subtlety wasn't his strongest skill by far, he concluded that it would have to do for now.

With that in mind, he reached down to the stirring bundle of fabric beside him and gave it a rough shove. It gave a strangled cry as it rolled straight off the other side of the futon, and ending up sprawled out on the tatami with limbs comically stuck out in every direction.

"W-what?" Fuu gave a surprised exclamation as she struggled to reclaim her thoughts from sleep fast enough to figure out what had flung her from her futon. The sound of amused chuckling met her ears and she whipped her head in Mugen's direction wildly, rolling over onto her stomach.

"Hey!" She pushed herself up onto her elbows before pointing a finger at him accusingly. "What was that for?"

"Don't get pissy with me," her offender retorted, rising smoothly to his feet. "I was just defending myself from some sexual assault."

At his words, she squinted up at him in confusion, not quite understanding. Mugen rolled his eyes dramatically. And she thinks I'm thick…

"Don't give me that innocent look girly, I know when someone's trying to cop a feel." Fuu's face exploded in color at the sudden realization of what he was implying of her. She shifted uncomfortably under what he was insinuating for a moment, wracking her brain for a proper excuse, when he burst into a fit of laughter that made her go another shade darker.

"What? What's so funny?"

"Nothin'," the swordsman grunted, briefly curbing his amusement. "The face you made was just too good…" Another small chuckle escaped him before he could contain it, and Fuu picked up the pillow that had been tangled in her blankets at his head.

"You're such a liar, Mugen! I don't know how I believe anything that comes out of that big mouth of yours!" He blocked the flying projectile with a flick of his wrist, still unable to conceal his smirk.

"What can I say? You're too easy to mess with." Mugen lifted his shoulders in a weak shrug and shook his head dismissively. "But you have me an' Four Eyes waitin' on you, so hurry up an' get your shit around so we can get a move on."

Fuu snorted as he moved toward the doorway, eyeing his attire suspiciously.

"Says the one who's still half naked…"

"Hey, watch it. I'm not the one flashin' leg, here." Another splash of color rose to Fuu's cheeks as she rushed to close the bottom of her yukata. Mugen's smirk grew at the teen's mortified expression, and lifted up his hands harmlessly. "Nothin' to worry about. We both know I'm not one for scrawny legs."

He left the room with his arms still raised, trying to ignore the look that had briefly crossed Fuu's face.

Subtlety, huh….

The group made surprisingly good time with getting out of town, Fuu noted with some disdain. She had an inkling that they were leaving behind their best shot at discovering and possibly resolving the cause of their situation, and it left a bad taste in her mouth. The question that had haunted her in the onsen the night before was still ever present in her mind, standing out starkly against the backdrop of her numerous worries.

What were they going to do now?

With such a daunting thought clouding her mind, she didn't feel up for the usual smalltalk she partook in with her companions whenever they were on the road, and they fell into silence. Out of the corner of her eye, she could spot Jin stealing glances at her every now and then. It wasn't difficult to sense that he was worrying over her, but she didn't have the energy to tell him to cut it out. There had been dozens of occasions in which she had scolded him for being such a worry wart, and that if he didn't stop, he would be grey by the ripe age of 25. It didn't seem to discourage him any then, and she lacked the energy to remind him of it now.

Mugen, on the other hand, seemed completely fine. His hands were shoved in his pockets as he followed behind them, enjoying the slight breeze whistling past them as they traveled. The day was mercifully overcast, giving them a break from the oppressive heat that the area was famous for, and Mugen was enjoying it to the fullest extent. Fuu had to admit that it wasn't often that they had good weather that wasn't too hot or too cold during their journey. Internally, she was both extremely grateful and a bit annoyed. While she wasn't sure she could've dealt with another day of unpleasantly warm or rainy weather without cursing every god in existence, bad weather would've had a chance in delaying her journey, which in turn would've given her more time to consider her situation…

Fuu bit her lip and forced herself to stop thinking about it. Brooding over it wouldn't relieve the heavy feeling in her chest or change Mugen and Jin's minds, so there was no use in it. Even though she told herself this, the dark mood had settled in comfortably around her and it didn't seem to want to let up anytime soon. She continued on in silence.

It took them until sundown to reach Joetsu, the sizable city that Jin had mentioned the night before. The path through the mountains had been beautiful, but rocky and winding, and Fuu wanted nothing more than to spend her evening anywhere but on her feet. Had it been any other day, the sight of a city on the sea so teeming with life would have reenergized her and had her running around nearly crying over all the new foods for her to try.

The sun had completely sunk beneath the line of the horizon by the time they managed to acquire affordable lodging. Their room lay at the end of the hall of the second floor, with a view overlooking the vast ocean. It was the smallest room the place offered, but was still spacious enough for the three of them to sleep in comfortably. Upon arriving, Jin and Fuu took their places at the low table in the center of the room and Mugen sat at the window, legs folded underneath him. He crossed his arms loosely and gazed out the window, admiring something in the distance.

"Are you alright?" The most softspoken of the trio was the first to chase away the quiet that had been plaguing them all day. His question was directed at the teen across from him, and she lifted her eyes from the steaming cup of tea grasped in her hands to shoot him a brief smile.

"I'm fine, Jin." Fuu slouched, a curtain of guilt falling over her. "I'm just worried."

The bespectacled man nodded his head, not having to guess at what was troubling her thoughts.

"Understandable, but I wouldn't be too concerned. I believe we can find a way without Koza's help." Reluctantly, Fuu echoed his nod, breathing in deeply as if to inhale some of his confidence. He tilted his head inquiringly at Mugen, raising his voice. "I am slightly curious, though. How is it that she's still alive? I'd have thought you'd have killed her after what happened."

Mugen casually shrugged his shoulders, masking the anger that the thought of his childhood friend brought.

"That bitch ain't worth the wear and tear on my sword. I figured she'd die easily enough without my help. Unfortunately, she's found some other bastard to leech the life out of."

"Yeah," Fuu interjected, sipping her tea thoughtfully, "she did say that she was on the verge of death when her master found her. Apparently, she almost mistook him for a god of death."

"A 'god of death'?"

"The crow men," Mugen answered from across the room, his eyes never leaving the view outside the window, though his jaw tensed at the unpleasant memories swimming to the surface of his thoughts. "It's a Ryukyuan legend that the crow men are the ones that deliver you to the underworld, so if you see them, there's a good chance you're about to bite the dust."

"Ryukyuan culture is so different from Shintoism and Buddhism," Fuu mused aloud, fascinated at the thought of being escorted by such terrifying sounding gods. Koza had described her master appearing before her as a shadowed men carrying a spear, and she wondered if that was at all similar to what Mugen was talking about.

"Don't get 'different' confused with 'good'," the pirate scoffed, drumming his fingers against the window sill in agitation. "I'd rather see nothin' before I die. I don't need anybody showin' me where to go."

A giggle bubbled up in Fuu's throat, and Mugen finally tore his attention away from the window to narrow his eyes at her. She attempted to hide her smile behind a hand, but it did nothing to ease the irritation winding its way through his veins.

"Is somethin' funny?"

"It's just… it's so you to say something like that. I wouldn't even be surprised if you wouldn't let anyone change your diapers for you when you were a baby, mister I-don't-need-anyone's-help."

The corners of Jin's lips turned upward slightly at Fuu's comment, confirming his own agreement much to Mugen's annoyance. He let out an indignant 'hmph' before turning his back to them and returning to staring out the window.

"You guys can laugh all you want," the swordsman ground out. "When they come for you, you'll be wishin' you didn't ever have to see them, either."

The implication that Mugen had had an encounter with these gods of death was enough to sober Fuu. She didn't push him on the subject of crow men any further, instead considering her own family's idea of death.

"Well you know, we always thought that when people die, they are reborn into something else. Even when my mom was dying, she told me not to be sad because it wasn't the end for her*. My dad was different, though," she said in wonder, placing a thoughtful finger to her lips. "Well, whatever happens to people when they die, I just hope both my parents are at peace."

Her two companions stayed quiet at her words, pondering their own beliefs about death and what it entailed. Jin narrowed his eyes, something catching his attention before dismissing the thought for later speculation. Adjusting the glasses on his face, he brought up the real order of business at hand.

"Now that we're settled in here, I think it's best we decide what to do regarding our current predicament."

Fuu visibly stiffened but said nothing. She tried to let go of the regret that welled up at the thought of her being forced to abandon what she had considered their best option. Jin continued.

"We could lie low here for as long as possible and try to gather what information we can-"

"And how exactly will we do that?" Mugen spoke up again. "Are we gonna hunt down some of those guys who are after us?"

"If we must."

"I can't promise I'll leave too many of 'em alive. Just ain't my style."

"I suppose I'll just do that part myself then," Jin countered, equally as unsurprised as he was untroubled by his fellow swordsman's uncooperative attitude. "It will draw less attention that way, anyway."

"You tryin' to say somethin', Four-Eyes?"

"I'm not trying to say anything, simply implying." Without missing a beat, he switched his attention back to the girl sat unusually quiet beside him. "Fuu?"

"Hmm?" Her eyelids fluttered slightly as if coming back to herself from some place deep in her mind and an apologetic smile crossed her face. "Sorry. I was just trying to think of more options."

If either of the men had caught her lie, they didn't mention anything. It wouldn't be good if they found out she was still hung up on something that had already been decided and acted upon. She inwardly steeled herself and tried to think up another way to gain answers. She came up painfully short.

"So what should I do?" Upon the blank stares of her companions, she rephrased her question. "What can I do?"

The inquiry was met with more silence, and Fuu sighed. She had been afraid of this. Without any solid clues to go off of, she was stuck being the useless one. Again. Irritation clawed through her veins and she consciously tried to drive it back by telling herself it was no one's fault, least of all Mugen and Jin's. Growing up wielding weapons was not necessarily something they had chosen. Growing up learning how to mend fabric and serve tea had not been something she had chosen, either. These were the hands that had been dealt to them, and they each had their own separate sets of skills that they brought to the table; hers were just less useful in combat.

"Perhaps it's best if you spend a day or two trying to think of anything we've missed." A calm voice cut off her thoughts, and she acknowledged Jin with a slight nod.

"We haven't had much time to think about it really, have we?"

"No, though I've spent some time considering possible explanations… When I interrogated Furukawa, he knew what we had been charged with, but not specifically why. My first assumption had been that it was because we had killed Captain Kariya, but that isn't the case, of course, as you are charged with the most serious of the crimes, Fuu."

Fuu unconsciously flinched, as if the words were a slap to the face. She would never get used to hearing herself labeled as a criminal, and one wanted for under such heavy charges, as well.

"But I can't get the idea that Kariya might have something to do with this," Jin went on, bringing his hand to his chin and tapping his fingers in thought. "He was of such a high rank in the shogunate that his death was sure to bring harsh consequences down on us all, but that's clearly not the main reason the police looking for us."

Fuu remembered the captain vividly, much to her displeasure. He had been the one who had executed her father, after all. At first glance, he had seemed to be an ordinary swordsman, albeit of a higher caliber than most. He was surrounded by a deceptively calm air, which hid the monster that he actually was. The image of him standing over her father before swiftly swinging his blade downwards on her father's exposed neck was enough to make her insides churn, even after all the time that had passed.

"Are you alright?" The distracted teen jolted in her spot, coming back to reality. Two curious pairs of eyes were trained her rigid form where she sat, and she cursed herself for her inability to keep herself in check. She had never spoken of her father's death in detail to her friends, and they had no idea that she had witnessed such a gruesome end that still haunted her dreams on occasion. All they knew was that Kariya had chased her to the edge of a cliff, intent on killing her, too.

And that was how it would stay.

"I'm fine," she forced herself to reply. "I was just remembering what a horrible man he was."

"Horrible is a bit of an understatement, if you ask me…" Mugen uttered, clearly not fond of thinking of the man either. "Good fuckin' riddance."

"I, too, am glad that we will never face the likes of him again," Jin added. "Though since he is our only real connection to the shogunate, it may be through him that we can figure this out… Fuu, do you still have that diary you wrote?"

"Diary?" Fuu's eyebrows knit together in confusion before her eyes widened in realization. "Ah! You mean the one I wrote in case you guys spied on me!"

Both men rolled their eyes, with Mugen letting out a disgusted sigh, mumbling, "That's an episode of my life I'll never get back…"

"Hey, it isn't my fault I knew you guys would snoop around my stuff eventually." Raising her chin, she placed her hands on her hips in mock anger. "That's when you get when you go through someone's belongings."

"It wasn't me who decided to read it," Jin emphasized, "but that's hardly the point. Do you still have it?"

"Actually, I do." She dug around in the depths of one of her sleeves briefly before switching to the other one. With a cry of success, she procured the tiny book and held it up for Jin to behold.

"Good. That's where you'll start tomorrow."

"Start what?" Fuu's eyebrows knit together in confusion. "You mean, like, start looking into why we're being chased by the government? In my diary?"

"Wait, wait, wait. Why do we need that thing, again? And I don't even know why you'd hang on to it for this long anyway. I woulda thought you'd have thrown it out ages ago."

Fuu clutched the worn book to her chest protectively, offended.

"Shut up! It's a good collection of memories from our journey together."

"And that's the exact reason it's important. It has quite a few entries concerning our travels, and if we look close enough, we may be able to gain a clue or two."

"That sure sounds like a long shot if I've ever heard one," Mugen grumbled to himself, unimpressed with the idea.

"It's all we have to go on right now. Any chance is better than no chance at all."

Fuu nodded in agreement with Jin. "I'll give it a look through tomorrow. It's all I can do, anyway…"

"You didn't by any chance keep writing in it, did you?"

"What? No way! I never knew when you guys were going to go looking through my stuff again."

"Yeah, right. Like we'd do that again after that shit you pulled the first time."

The teen glared, tucking the book safely back in her sleeve. "Funny, I feel like that should be my line."

"Alright," Jin stepped in, trying to stop an argument from breaking out. "Tomorrow, Mugen and I will go out and try to collect what information we can. Fuu, you will stay here and try to find clues in your journal. It might also be wise to write down whatever you remember from the journey until this point in time. We might be able to piece together a bigger picture that way."

"That sounds weak as fuck."

"Says the one that's a bag of ideas…"

"Yeah, yeah." Mugen stood with a yawn and a stretch. "Enough of your yappin'. I'm gettin' some sleep."

"I think we all should get some rest. It's been a long day." Jin, too, rose in preparation to move the stout table and unroll their futons.

"Ah, actually, I think I'm going to grab a quick bath first," Fuu said, hopping to her feet. "Leave some room for me, will you?"

"Move your body, lose your futon." Mugen called after her retreating back as she dashed out of the room, a fresh yukata tucked under her arm.

"That's not how that goes…"

Upon reaching the inn's onsen, she found that she had the place to herself. This was both a blessing and a curse, for Fuu enjoyed lengthy dips in the steaming water on her own to sort out her thoughts, but she also missed the company of other women. Had someone else been in the bath, she might have been able to have a harmless chat about normal things, just like any normal woman would, and she could feel… well, normal.

Even though there was no one else there, she set her mind on a lengthy dip anyway, letting her kimono and it's underlayers slide from her shoulders. She folded them neatly and placed them in one of the numerous open cupboards lining the wall before stepping outside with a small towel in hand. The chilled night air drove goosebumps to the surface of Fuu's bare skin as she crossed the stone floor over to the water side to grab a wooden bucket to wash with. She dunked it in the onsen and filled it to the brim with steaming water before kneeling down to rinse out her dusty hair, cringing as she dumped the scalding liquid over the back of her skull.

"Jeez," she breathed between clenched teeth. "They really like it hot here."

Tipping another bucket full over her head, Fuu let her thoughts wander. Memories came and went with each wave of steaming water that came over her, flowing from one to the next. Faces she'd encountered on her journey to Nagasaki, as well as the face of her mother before she'd succumbed to her illness. The thought of her mother served to make her relax a little. As a child, they often went to the onsen together, where they would enjoy taking long soaks in the company of their neighbors. It had been one of the only calm periods of her life; a blissful time before she had learned how her father had abandoned them, and before her mother had begun to show signs of illness.

Fuu scrubbed her skin and hair thoroughly before rinsing herself off one last time. She rose, still dripping, and placed a testing toe in the bath. A hiss escaped through her teeth when the heat of the water made the appendage tingle painfully.

"How do they expect people to get in this thing?!" She asked aloud, disgruntled by the thought of how her skin cooking when she got in.

"If you get in quickly, it's not so bad," a hushed voice answered.

"Ah!" A startled yelp erupted from Fuu's lips before she could stop it. She stumbled back in surprise and held out her onsen towel in front of her in what she hoped was a threatening way, or as threatening as a naked girl with both ends of a small cloth pulled taut between her trembling hands could be.

A shadow detached itself from the darkness in the trees at the back of the bath and stood from a low crouch, though it did not approach. Fuu didn't need to see the person's face to know who it was.

"You followed us?" The teen breathed in disbelief, unsure whether to feel grateful or frightened that her whereabouts had been so easily discovered.

"I had assumed that when you told the others of what I wanted that they would not take well to such an idea," Koza explained, "so I made certain arrangements so that I could keep track of you."

"Wait, so if you know Mugen's answer, why are you here? Isn't the deal off?" Fuu took a step back, suspicious.

"I wasn't lying before, Fuu," Koza said, looking her straight in the eye. "If anyone can get him to agree, it's you."

"I don't understand why you keep saying that! He's one of the most stubborn people I know, and if he's made his stupid mind up, no one can change it!"

"Let me show you what I mean," the girl in black said behind a knowing smile. "Let's meet out front of the inn. Can you do that?"

All of Mugen and Jin's warnings about trusting Koza were screaming for attention in Fuu's mind, trying to drown out the surging desire to see where trusting the girl would lead her. The two options briefly warred against each other, but in the end, she knew which one would win. Self control was not her strongest skill, after all.

After throwing her clothes back on and tying her obi into a sloppy knot at the small of her back, Fuu broke out into a jog toward the main room of the building. She was nearly there when she came to a jerky halt, sense finally filtering back into her brain. Could she really rush into it like this? Should she wake Mugen and Jin? Before the question had even fully formed in her brain, she already knew the answer. They would stop her. She would have to be on her own for this, and that didn't bother her as much as it probably should have. It was time for her to take matters into her own hands and stop relying on the two men in her life to take care of all of the messy situations they got into.

But still…

Fuu shoved a hand inside her left sleeve, relief flooding through her as her hand closed around the battered case of her tanto. If things went south for whatever reason, at least she had a weapon. She hoped she could use it.

Heart pounding in her throat, the teen stepped outside into the crisp night air. No one was immediately visible in the bright moonlight, though Fuu knew Koza was there. It was hard not to feel her eyes on her in that moment, alone in the street and extremely vulnerable. Instinct was telling her to flee back into the safety of the inn, but her heart was heavy enough to anchor her feet securely to the ground. No, she would at least speak with the other girl. Obviously, she still thought there was hope for getting Mugen to agree to meet with her… Fuu wished she was as sure.

A shape emerged from the stillness of the shadows of a nearby alleyway, and Fuu swallowing thickly as her nerves gave a start at the sight. It was unnerving to watch someone appear like that right in front of your eyes, and it did nothing for her already racing pulse.

"Okay," Fuu started in a hushed voice, speaking first to give her some feeling of control over the situation. "So you think you can get Mugen to agree?"

"I never said I could do it," Koza gently pointed out, her eyes never leaving the other girl's. "It's something you'll have to do yourself."

"Yeah, you keep saying I can do it, but I don't see how." Fuu's brow wrinkled, not quite sure what the spy was thinking. She wished she could read her expression, but even the moonlight revealed nothing underneath the mask that concealed the youthful features of her face. If only she would give her some sort of insight as to what she was thinking…

But all Fuu could pick up was the glassiness of her eyes, which were focused solely on her. It made her nervous, especially when she was already pretty unnerved to be out in the dark. And especially when she remained both motionless and silent.

"So…" Fuu tried awkwardly, "how will I do this?"

Koza tilted her head slightly, studying the other girl wordlessly as if she'd never heard her speak. It was difficult to stand still while being watched like that without getting the feeling that she was being sized up. Fuu unconsciously groped for her blade, minor relief flooding her body when her fingers enclosed over its handle. If Koza noticed, she didn't show it.

"Fuu, what do you think Mugen thinks of you?"

Though it seemed to be only a harmless inquiry, Fuu felt the knot in her stomach clench painfully and her cheeks grow warm.

"What? Why does that matter?"

"Let me ask you another question, then. How do you think Jin feels about you?"

"Jin?" Despite her confusion, she found herself answering, "Well, sometimes I wonder whether he sees me as a more of a little sister or as a burden… or maybe both."

"Why is it so easy for you to answer one question but not the other?"

Once again, another question that seemed so simple, and yet words tangled themselves in her throat. Why couldn't she answer her? Was it because she didn't know the answer, or she didn't want to know? Or maybe she thought she already did, and didn't want to acknowledge it…

Goosebumps trailed along the tops of her arms, the hair at the back of her neck standing on end. This was not how she had planned on this conversation going. She was meant to figuring out how to get answers, not being interrogated about her friends.

"What does that have to do with anything?" Fuu questioned, her unsteady nerves driving her to agitation. The solemn spy didn't appear bothered by it. If anything, she seemed almost disinterested, or maybe… distracted? Either way, once again she acted as if Fuu hadn't spoken at all.

"I'm just curious, who came after you on Ikitsuki Island?"

"…how would you know anything about that?" That struck a sensitive chord in the already edgy teen. The last thing she wanted was for her to know about what had taken place there.

Koza gave a weak shrug.

"My master knows many things."

"And he seems to share a lot of them with you."

Fuu's entire body jolted as the voice called out lowly from behind her. She spun around, hoping that she had heard wrong. She hadn't.


The name fell from Koza's lips so easily Fuu would have thought she was meeting an old friend for the first time in a long while. For Koza, perhaps that was true. But for Mugen…

The swordsman said nothing, standing statuesque in the doorway of the inn. He had his hands tucked loosely in his pockets and was leaning against the door frame lazily with one bare foot crossed over the other, not looking at Fuu as she fully registered his presence. He might have appeared nonchalant with his wrinkled haori slightly askew on one shoulder and tousled hair framing his scruffy face, but she had known him long enough to be able to read the tension of his jawline all too well.


"Save it," he growled when she tried to speak, and she didn't need to be told twice. It wasn't often that Mugen used that tone, and when he did, it usually wasn't with anyone who lived to see the next day. She decided to save what little luck she had instead of pressing it futilely now. She would need it.

"Well, here I am. Isn't this what you wanted?" Mugen mocked. "Or are you going to throw some other bull shit deal out there so you can hang around a little longer?"

The mild joy that had come over Koza at the sight of her long lost friend was abruptly replaced with a bittersweet smile.

"Mugen…" She bit her lip and looked away, falling back into the shy girl that Fuu had seen back at the safe house the night before. How could she go back and forth so easily between two completely different personas? Disgust filled her, though most of it was directed at herself for being so easily fooled by the helpless girl act.

"Stop saying my name like you know me," Mugen spat. "I'm not here out of choice."

Fuu's face burned with shame.

"Of course," Koza said, her expression cooling into one of neutrality, trying to play off how she felt at Mugen's words. "I'm assuming you know of my request?"

"More or less." He pulled away from the door frame and approached Fuu, stopping a couple meters short. The moonlight highlighted the sharp planes of his face, giving him an almost angelic appearance until he tipped his head forward and his features were concealed in shadow once again. The silhouette of his unkempt hair against the illuminated night sky made him seem like some wild and untamed creature-a creature that was on the verge of attack.

"Thank you," Koza breathed, falling forward into a low bow. "I've been wanting to speak with you for so long-"

"Don't be gettin' any ideas here," Mugen interrupted brazenly. "Just because I'm here don't mean I'm up for some long nostalgic chat or some shit. Tell me what I gotta do and we'll be on our way."

Though she tried to hide it, Fuu could see that the other girl was crestfallen.

"I have conditions," she continued bravely.

"I'll decide if they're worth listenin' to."

The harshness of his voice made Koza flinch, but she didn't give up.

"You have to speak with me-"

"And I'm not now?"

Realizing that there was no beating around the bush with him, she got to the point.

"I want to speak with you alone."

"No way." He didn't even hesitate to turn her down. Obviously not expecting this, Koza stood grasping for words.

"But those are my conditions." She gulped uneasily. "If you don't meet them then-"

"Then we'll find out what we want to know another way," Mugen growled before directing his voice at the silent teen in front of him. "Come on, we'll stick to the plan for tomorrow. It'll be easier than jumpin' through hoops for this shit."

Fuu remained rooted to her spot, unwilling to believe was he was saying. They were here, and they were so close-

"Didja hear? Let's hit the hay, already." Mugen turned on his heel and began walking back into the inn, crossing his arms lazily behind his head.

"Hold on!" Fuu yelled, her hands fisting at her sides. "If you're worried that it'll upset me that you and Koza are alone, then just do it! I don't care!"

Mugen paused with a snort, not bothering to face her.

"Do you ever use that head of yours, girly? How do we know she isn't tryin' to get you by yourself so she can send someone over here to snatch you up and take you to the shogun himself for some stupid amount of money?"

The color drained from Fuu's face, doubt replacing her anger. Could that really be the case?

"Let's get going. We have a long day tomorrow." He started walking again.

"Wait!" Koza's panicked voice called out to his retreating back. He stopped. "Alright, Fuu can accompany us. I'll allow that, just..."

She was trembling now, with her arms held tightly at her sides and chin tucked into her chest dejectedly. Fuu allowed the girl no pity. She wouldn't be fooled by this act any longer.

"Then spit it out." Mugen brought his gaze back to Koza, who shrank back in on herself under the weight of his attention.

"Can we go somewhere else, at least? It's not a good idea for any of us to be caught out here."

Mugen mulled over the suggestion before nodding stiffly.

"Fair enough, though we get to choose the place. The last thing we need are some stupid ninjas ambushing us on some side street…" Koza gave her assent wordlessly, moving to follow the pair.

"Come on," Mugen called Fuu, who shuffled to his side. His hand closed around her wrist and tugged her along behind him, trying to put a healthy amount of distance between them and the girl behind them.

"What about Jin?" Fuu whispered, cautiously testing the waters with him as they lost sight of their accommodations behind them.

"Jin is the least of your problems right now," he snapped back aggressively, reminding Fuu that he was still, understandably, a little angry with her. She swallowed, mentally downing her pride and the usual feelings of annoyance that such behavior caused her.

"But still, what if he wakes up and we're both not there? He'll go out looking for us and he might get into trouble-"

"Listen, do you honestly think either of us was actually sleeping?"


"We knew there was a possibility we'd be tailed here, so we've been keeping tabs on you for a while now."

"Wait," Fuu's face burned red for an instant, her mind immediately coming up with the worst case scenario. "So you guys have been watching me?"

"More or less."

"Even in the bath?!"

"When you were gone for more than ten minutes, yes."

"Ten minutes?!" She shrieked, humiliation and embarrassment burning through her. How dare they? Did they have no sense of respect for her privacy?!

"Can you blame us? Look what shit you've gotten us into now."

Slightly chided, Fuu nibbled at the thumbnail of her free hand. While his point was a valid one, a part of her didn't accept complete blame for the situation. And another part of her was still boiling with rage that they would try to peep on her in the bath.

He's right, I've given them plenty of reason to want to check up on me all the time, but what could an hour of time hurt? If she really just wants to talk, then what's the harm? She shook off the clashing thoughts, knowing there was no point in thinking about it now. What's done was done, but she couldn't stop herself from one last complaint.

"But still, ten minutes? That isn't long enough for me to wash and soak!"

Mugen rolled his eyes.

"The 10 minute thing was Four-Eyes' rule. Said somethin' like, 'That should be enough time for her to get in the water.' I told him it didn't matter, but he was all about preserving your something or other."

Fuu pursed her lips, attempting to hold onto her anger, but a smile escaped despite the unpleasant atmosphere. Only he could bring her so close to laughter in such a serious situation.

"Glad someone's getting a kick out of this," the pirate grumbled bitterly, though the iron grip around her narrow wrist loosened.

They didn't travel too far along the dusty road until Mugen caught sight of what he'd been looking for all along-another winding dirt path that lead up to an old shrine. The bright paint on the lone torii gate was faded and peeling from prolonged exposure to both sun and rain, while the actual shrine lay at the end of a well worn set of stone steps. It's windows were boarded up with uneven pieces of wood that were just as cracked and sun-bleached as the rest of shrine. At the end of the stone steps lay a second set of wooden stairs, leading visitors to what might have once been a spacious room full of beautifully written scrolls and dramatic murals. Now, the front entrance was sealed shut by two sturdy doors that spanned from the ceiling to the floor. The only sign of life came from the chirping of the crickets hiding in the greenery surrounding the place, and was otherwise completely quiet. It had a stillness to it that gave it a distinct air of timelessness.

Fuu didn't like it the moment she laid eyes on it, as the place was decidedly creepy and likely haunted, but Mugen urged her on up the steps. Not once did he check to see if Koza was still following. Fuu supposed he didn't really need to. She peeked over her shoulder experimentally, and sure enough she was still there, wisely keeping her distance from them.

As they made it the to abandoned shrine, Mugen finally released Fuu's arm and plopped down casually at the top of the wooden set of stairs. The girl next to him followed suit, though not nearly as graceful in her hastily thrown on kimono. Koza brought up the rear of the group, stopping at the top of the stone steps and giving them a healthy amount of room.

"So," Mugen drawled, leaning back on his elbows, "what could a broad like you have to say to someone like me?"

She opened her mouth to speak, but hesitated before shutting it again. Her eyes flicked to Fuu nervously, running her tongue over her dry lips before biting the lower one.

"If you would prefer to stand there and say nothin' at all, I'm cool with that, too."

"N-no," Koza started quickly. "I just… I just needed to talk to you."

"Apparently, or isn't that why we're here?"

"I… I have to know," Koza said slowly, pulling at the bottom of her mask to reveal her youthful face. "Why didn't you kill me after the-" Her eyes shot to Fuu again. "-the disaster with Mukuro? You just walked right on by me without even a word…"

"I did?" Mugen antagonized, scratching the sparse scruff along his jaw.

The girl standing across from him sunk her teeth into her lip again, but otherwise gave no indication that his words had an effect on her.

"I remember some joke of a samurai who was lookin' for a fight…"

Fuu stayed glued to Koza's face as the swordsman continued on, noting that she kept her emotions carefully guarded from those around her.

"He was lookin' for a fight. I tried to give him one, but he didn't even last ten seconds."

Still, Koza's face remained locked in an iron mask.

"But you're tellin' me you were there too?" Mugen continued to mock her mercilessly. "I guess you were just so far below me that I couldn't see you."

With that, the steel of Koza's emotional control finally began to bend under his verbal assault, and her lips parted to let out a shaky breath. She fixed her gaze on Mugen, eyes as round as the glowing moon in the sky. She tried to draw another breath and speak, but her voice failed her and she dropped her head sadly. Mugen remained sat on the steps rubbing his chin disinterestedly, not sending any sympathy her way, and Fuu followed suit. Hearing the general circumstances surrounding Koza's life being spared for a second time was rather telling of her behavior the previous night. If Mugen had strode right past her like she didn't exist, she too would be fairly desperate to get some closure, as well as feel crushed when the person giving the closure was quick to mock you in the process…

But this wasn't her, and she never planned on doing something as horrible to Mugen—or anyone—as Koza had. She had manipulated them all, it was clear; from Mukuro to Mugen, to Jin and herself. They had all fallen into such a cleverly laid trap designed to leave them pointing the fingers at each other that none of them had figured it out until Mugen's body had washed up corpselike on the shore and Mukuro was dead by Jin's hand.

This harsh treatment was exactly what she deserved, if not a worse punishment than that.

"Was there anything else?"

"I just," Koza started, "I just wanted… to say I was sorry."

Those few words took a monumental about of effort out of her, and her shoulders slumped the moment they left her. Her face softened as relief flowed through her, but Mugen cut through it easily. He threw back his head in a bout of laughter, slapping his knees as if he had just heard the funniest joke in the world. Both girls jumped at the abrupt noise.

"'Sorry'?" The pirate howled before regaining his senses. "You think you can just say 'sorry' and that somehow will make this shit better?"

Though Koza had seemed to be just as surprised at Mugen's disturbing laughter as Fuu, the way she stood so still at his cold words showed that she had been expecting him to say something of that nature. However, that didn't stop the harsh sentiment of the words from affecting her.

"I would gladly give my life for forgiveness."

"Sorry to break it to you, but there ain't forgiveness for a bitch like you."

Not one to miss a beat, the retort came easily to the hardened swordsman.

"I know," Koza acquiesced, her clenched fists the only visible sign of her anguish.

"Then why even bring it up?" Mugen was no longer laughing, and the atmosphere seemed to dive into foul territory. Ignoring the dirt caking the floorboards, he slid onto his side and stretched out his lean body like a tiger basking lazily in the sun.

"I… I wanted to see you."

"Ah, there it is. I'm surprised your master lets his dogs wander around unleashed like this. Does he know you're off stickin' your nose in other people's shit?"

"He knows," Koza affirmed with a confident shake of her head.

"Huh. And he doesn't care?"

"He was the one who told me you guys were in trouble with the government."

This piqued Mugen's interest. The wheels were turning in his brain, trying to connect dots and draw conclusions. Beside him, Fuu beat him to punch, echoing his own suspicions.

"How would he know that sort of information?"

"I told you before," the dark-eyed girl replied. "I work for a network of spies now. It's essentially our job to know all sorts of information, especially that of the secret variety."

"Surprise, surprise. It suits you. Did you tell them what you did to the last poor bastards you worked with? How you got you got some gullible idiot to help you steal money out from under your brother's nose, getting someone to kill him for you in the process? Oh, and let's not forget, then end up getting that same idiot also killed in the end? You're a real prize to have, aren'cha? You can weasel your way out of just about anything."

The biting comment tore through more of the iron wall around Koza's emotions, and the spy dropped her chin back to her chest. She stumbled back from the pair that were sat on the steps of the shrine, bringing her shaking arms around herself as if trying to physically hold it together.

"Mugen," Fuu hissed, elbowing him roughly. "Cut it out. If you keep being such an asshole she won't tell us anything and this whole thing will be pointless."

"She'll fucking deal with it," he growled in response to her concern. The wound that Koza had dealt him was still fairly raw, and Fuu couldn't fault him for his rage. She had robbed him of his revenge on Mukuro after all, by having him murdered by an ally.

"Mugen," she tried again gently, placing a light hand on the bare skin of his forearm. His wild eyes were burning with anger and passion, electrifying Fuu when she looked into them and making her head spin. She tried to reel herself back in, knowing she had to calm him or they might lose their chance to get what they wanted from her.

"I know this is hard. I don't like working with her anymore than you do. She was part of something that almost got you killed… I can't easily forgive that, or really forgive it at all." The girl spoke so quietly that Mugen had to lean forward to strain to catch her whispered voice over the blood rushing furiously in his ears. "But we have to play nice for the time being. The faster we figure this out, the faster we find a solution. The faster we find a solution, the better chance we have of…"

Her voice trailed off. It went without saying that they were in danger. Truthfully, they had been in danger most of the time they'd been traveling as a group, so it wasn't a particularly new revelation that there was a chance they wouldn't make it… but she still hesitated to say it out loud. She got the feeling that hearing it from her own mouth might give the words more power and make them a reality.

Not that this wasn't already real enough.

Mugen kept his eyes locked on hers for a long moment, unmoving, and the raging fire of his anger began to recede and his pulse began to calm. As much as he hated it, she was right. Koza had just continually rubbed him the wrong way, and he was far from a master at controlling his temper, especially where people like her were concerned. Despite that, he tried to piece all the fragments of his patience back together if just to get through this experience long enough to get what they came for and then get the fuck out and never look back.

Realizing he had zoned out, he came back to himself to find that he was locking gazes with Fuu. In the light of the moon, her dark irises were illuminated like two twin halos, concern etched clearly in the depths of each one. He blinked and then broke the eye contact with her, shifting back into a sitting position. Fuu's hand dropped from his arm, leaving his skin cool without her touch. She moved closer as he moved back, leaning forward and craning her head to attempt to try and get a full view of his face again.

"Mugen," she called softly. "Are you okay?"

"Just dandy," he replied, avoiding her scrutiny by studying the other person they'd almost forgotten about. "Let's just get this shit over with."

Understanding that this was as good of a response as she was going to get from someone like him, she took comfort in his resignation with the situation, grateful that he had managed to calm down somewhat. A bit of guilt bloomed in her stomach then, replacing any sense of comfort. This wasn't Mugen's forte in the slightest, but he was making an effort.

"Right," she said, nodding firmly.

Some meters across from them, now Koza stood with her back to them. Though no longer trembling, her shoulders were hunched defeatedly and her head was hanging low. Her hair hung like thick curtains on either side of her face, concealing it from view and giving no hint as to her emotional state after Mugen's cruel taunting.

"Koza?" Fuu called out cautiously, guessing that she had a better chance at garnering a positive reaction out of her than Mugen did.

At the sound of her name, she slowly turned to look at them over the top of her shoulder. She didn't look particularly happy, but she wasn't crying like Fuu had expected and hadn't taken off on them, so she took that as a good sign.

"Can we continue?"

She nodded, rotating back toward them.

"Yeah. It's just, I knew I deserved that, but…" She shook her head, ridding herself of the negative emotions swirling in her head. "In any case, I'm fine. I don't hold it against you guys."

How can she just say that…? The thought floated to the surface of Fuu's mind unbidden, where it stayed and gathered suspicion. Can she really just let it go just like that?

"Now that that's out of the way… I guess I can tell you what you want to know."

The knot in Fuu's stomach clenched painfully.

"Really? You'll really tell us?"

Koza gave a bitter smile at the other girl's disbelief.

"Of course. Did you think I wouldn't keep my word?"

Sensing the smart ass comment coming from Mugen, Fuu quickly replied.

"No, no! I guess I just thought that I would never know, like it was this unattainable knowledge that would always be dangling just outside of my reach… Almost like with the sunflower samurai."

"Actually, it's interesting that you bring him up." A troubled look crossed the young spy's face. "That man was your father, right?"

"Yes." Fuu didn't bother asking her how she knew-the answer was obvious. Koza looked away briefly.

"Do you know know why your father went into hiding?"

"Kind of..." To be honest, Fuu was still rather unclear on the circumstances of her father's disappearance. The old man-her father's dedicated caretaker-had tried to explain it to her after they had buried him on Ikitsuki Island, saying that he had gone into hiding to separate him from them to protect them… The memory was there, but at the time, she had just witnessed her father's death and had almost lost both of her friends in the same day, so it was difficult to remember all the details...

"Then you know why the assassin was sent after him." It wasn't a question, rather a statement, and Mugen glanced from Fuu to Koza, and back again. The mention of Fuu's father was ringing bells in his head. Someone had this up to him before… was it the guy who Jin had cut down? He had never really paid attention to what his opponents said, instead having more of an interest in their ability to wield a weapon. But still...

"I… I was told that he was being chased for his religion." Fuu swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry. "What are you saying? Does this mean that my father has something to do with this?"

"I'm saying that he has everything to do with this, Fuu. The answer is simple, and right in front of you-your father was a Christian."

"You say that like it means somethin'," Mugen said unhelpfully from his position on the steps. "We already knew that anyway. So what if the dude wanted to believe in some foreign fairy tale?"

Koza remained patient at the swordsman's inability to grasp what she was implying, though she could tell that Fuu was beginning to get it by the dawning look of horror on her face.

"The government was doing a mass execution of all the Christians they found, and Seizo Kasumi wanted to put as much distance between himself and his family. Unfortunately for him-and you-his religious affiliation was discovered, though he managed to remain hidden for some time. But then…" Koza paused, bringing up her eyes to meet Fuu's apologetically. "Then, they found out you were searching for him. Though I have no evidence, I believe they might have thought you were trying to join him, and you became a target."

"But they've only been pursuing us recently…"

Koza shook her head.

"They've had their eye on you for a while Fuu. And when they found out you were close to finding where he was hidden…"

"They held off on killing us." Mugen finished for her, realizing all at once that he had heard this tale before. "And they let us do all the work."

"Yes," Koza affirmed. "You lead them straight to what they wanted."

"Hold on a second. What's this treason bull shit she's been charged with then? Surely just being related to this guy isn't reason enough to warrant being slapped with such an accusation."

"Correct, that is only half of it." Koza answered, continuing on as if she was simply reciting the day's news. "They sent an agent after you by the name of Kariya Kagetoki. He was charged with putting down the Christian movement, and when he was found dead by your hand, the government feared for the worst."


"They think Fuu killed Kariya, and that she did so with the intention to start another Christian rebellion. And they take this very seriously, considering that part of the reason the country has been almost entirely closed from contact with foreign nations is because of the Christians. The government was nervous that this religion would spread to too many people, and they tried to nip it in the bud when they put down the Shimabara Rebellion. Now they think Fuu's trying to do the same thing as the conspirators of the Rebellion, one of which was none other than her father." Koza paused, shrugging. "That's what they're saying, anyway."

"Oh," Fuu said breathlessly, no longer listening. "I think, I think I'm going to be sick…"

Christians? Rebellions? How could they think her capable of such a thing? And not to mention that she had been the one to lead them to her father. If she hadn't sought him out… No, if she'd been more careful...

She rose to her feet too quickly, the room swimming around her. Her arms reached out blindly in front of her as she stumbled forward, trying to go toward the cover of the bushes. She lost her footing, forgetting she was on the steps, but was saved by two hands gripping either side of her shoulders and holding her steady.

"Mugen…" She mumbled the name numbly. "I need to.. I'm gonna…"

She was steered away gently toward the darkness of the trees, but it was too late. The distraught Fuu fell to her knees and emptied the contents of her stomach into the dirt. Vomiting turned to sobbing, and Fuu lost herself.

Hoooo. About 13000 words, this time around. I hope this makes up for my absence. I'm sorry if this was terribly disappointed/obvious to anyone... I kind of meant it to be obvious from the beginning, but the closer I got to writing this scene, the more the idea just sounded so dumb to me, but I had to stick with it. Sorry if this story has become a massive ball of shit.

Anyway, OF COURSE Mugen and Jin were awake during the scene at the end of the last chapter. What kind of swordsmen would they be if that didn't wake them up? Hehe. Once again, I hope Mugen isn't too out of character... writing him IN character can be a thing of nightmares...

Last note, and it's the most important one: THANK YOU TO ALL THOSE THAT REVIEWED! I think I got 15 or so this time around? I appreciate them so much! This time around when I was writing this chapter, I kept thinking that this story wasn't really good enough to continue, or that the plot made no sense and that I should stop writing... but I kept looking at your guys' reviews, and they really kept me going this time around. :3 I don't know when the next chapter will be out, so if you want periodic updates, check out my profile to see the word count for the next chapter as I write it. I'll try to keep it under 10,000 next time...

(Also, do any of you have Instagram or Tumblr? :D)