Antagonists

Shay Sheridan

Fandom: Samurai Champloo.
Five linked drabbles written for the Stages of Love Challenge, exploring the five stages -- attraction, romance, passion, intimacy and commitment -- on the road to a relationship.
Of course, with Mugen and Jin, the journey is anything but smooth.
Thanks to PRZed for beta.


I. BEHOLDER

Everything about Mugen is ugly.

Jin watches Mugen yawn, stretch and scratch at his privates, and concludes there is nothing about him that is not unattractive. From sharp chin to bony elbows to scrawny ribcage to skinny, hairy legs, Mugen is a collection of diverse parts at war with one another. His personality itself is in conflict, his expression either blatant lust or narrow-eyed fury. Even his matted hair stands up and shouts angrily at the universe.

Jin is used to finding beauty in grace and harmony, in the serenity of balance and proportion. The kata he practices are based on patterns that complement each other, as profound as meditation and as simple as breath. For Jin, beauty may be found in an artfully placed orchid or symmetrical ripples in a silver stream, but it may as easily reside in the wrinkled face of an elderly woman. Beauty can grace the gnarled hands of a cripple or shine from the eyes of a blind beggar. As long as their natures are at peace with the world, they are beautiful to Jin.

By these criteria, Mugen is the antithesis of beauty. He is a creature of anger, of volatile emotions and sharp responses, of violence and lust. There is no peace in Mugen; he has no higher purpose, no goal but existence. The same may be said of the lowliest beast that rages in feral instinct.

All of these things make Mugen ugly in Jin's eyes.

And yet…when Mugen has a sword in his hand, even as he flails with strange, disjointed movements, spinning in haphazard patterns that defy logic and tradition, suddenly all the disparate parts and edges and bones and fury and lust combine and make sense in a way Jin cannot explain. In those moments Mugen is transformed into a creature of impossible strength and fire and energy. And Jin finds his breath torn from his lungs at the incredible beauty before him, and the desire that rises in his loins.

~*~

Mugen is attracted to shiny things: coins, bottles, gems. The glitter of eyes half-opened in lust. The sun reflecting on the sea as your boat rises and falls.

The first thing he noticed about Jin was the glint of light in his glasses.

Mugen thinks Jin is too pretty, almost pretty enough to be a girl. The glasses help, though. They make Jin a little weird looking, a little dorky. You don't notice so much how dark Jin's eyes are, or how white his skin, because the glasses distract you.

Those glasses prevent Mugen from panicking too much, because they're pretty much all that keeps him from wanting Jin. Which could be a problem, because Mugen really, really hates Jin. A whole lot. He's wanted to kill him from the moment they met.

Mugen yawns and scratches himself. Jin is frowning at him, dark eyes hidden behind his glasses.

His shiny, glittering glasses...

Mugen thinks, before I kill you, maybe I'll fuck you first.






II. WOOING

On their first day in Edo, Jin gave Fuu flowers.

He didn't pick them, but actually bartered for them. Mugen watched with disgust as Jin bowed to the ancient woman behind the flower cart and offered to fix her wheel in exchange for a small bunch of "irises," long purple flowers with yellow streaks in them. Mugen had always just called them "long purple things with yellow streaks" if he talked about them at all -- not that he thought about flowers on a daily basis. Anyway, Fuu seemed surprised and pleased, and blushed as she bowed to Jin and said arigato.

Mugen thought it was stupid, and said so. Fuu told him to shut up. Jin said nothing.

On their second evening in Edo, walking through the marketplace, Jin bought Fuu a honey-covered sweet. Fuu squealed with delight as she sucked at the delicacy and threw her arms around Jin, hugging him tightly before becoming embarrassed and stepping back. For the rest of the evening she kept up a running commentary on how wonderful and thoughtful Jin was, how Jin was such a gentleman (and, conversely, how rude, vulgar and thoughtless Mugen was).

Mugen thought it was a waste of money, and told Jin so. Jin ignored him. Mugen narrowed his eyes and tried to provoke a fight. Jin still ignored him.

On their third day in Edo, Mugen watched, dumbfounded, as Jin peered at the rainy sky, opened his red umbrella and pulled Fuu close to his side so the umbrella would cover them both. Fuu snuggled closer to Jin, to Jin, the man who never wanted to be touched! They strolled along, Mugen bringing up the rear, incredulous at the sight of Jin nodding at Fuu's inane chatter. Once Jin actually almost smiled.

Acid roiled in Mugen's gut. He wanted to puke. He wanted to hit something. Preferably Jin. He wanted—

Hell. He didn’t know what he wanted.

On their fourth night in Edo, Jin lay down next to Fuu near the fire and wrapped his arm around her to keep her warm. Mugen spat into the flames and shivered, but his brain was on fire.

On the fifth day, leaving Edo, Fuu chased off after her damn squirrel and Mugen grabbed Jin and threw him bodily up against a tree and screamed, "What the fuck do you think you're doing!"

"Wooing," Jin said mildly. "What's it to you?"

"This!" Mugen growled, and kissed Jin fiercely, his tongue seeking and gaining access, his hands pinning Jin's arms to the rough bark. One muscular thigh shoved forcefully between Jin's; he thrust and rubbed feverishly against Jin's solidity, feeling the arousal rising in his privates, gloating as an answering hardness rose to meet his own.

There were sparkles behind Mugen's eyes from lack of breath when he finally pulled away, glaring furiously at the bespectacled ronin. "Wooing! You were fucking wooing?"

"Hm, yes," said Jin, smiling inscrutably. "Successfully, it would seem."






III. INEVITABLE

This is not the story Jin would have wanted written about himself.

In truth, there are enough rumors about Jin, his supposed crimes and his skills, that his life has become a series of desperate battles for survival. But if he had thought to pray for a different destiny, he might have prayed for one filled with more kindness. Certainly, if this is what was meant to be, it's proof that Fate moves with an inexorable will.

Or perhaps it's just that Fate has a sense of humor.

Jin considers this as he slides into the water. It's warm, a natural hot spring. But though the heat soothes his taut muscles, he feels the tension of the moment coiling up his back. It joins another ache, one of long standing, the ache of waiting for his life to have meaning.

A hand, warm and wet, slides across his belly.

"Been waitin' for you."

Jin shivers as the rough voice caresses his ear. Mugen shakes water from his head like a dog and moves behind him, and Jin must quell the instinct to pull away, to slam the heel of his hand into the unshaven chin, as he's seen Mugen himself do to assailants.

He does not pull away, or strike out. He waits, feeling a shudder in his lower belly as another sinewy arm strokes across his flesh, completing the circle.

"Ain't gonna fight me?"

Jin shakes his head. Wet tendrils of hair slide wetly across his face and stick to his forehead, hiding his eyes. Hiding his shame.

The arms tighten. "Too bad. It'd be fun to fight you for it."

Jin grits his teeth against a brief flare of anger. Mugen is everything he hates. He's never defeated him, but he has never lost to him, either. How can it be that he finds himself here, Mugen close against his back, Mugen's skin warm and wet against his own, Mugen's erection, hotter even than the rest of him, pressing into his buttocks? It's a position Jin has sworn never to allow. He is the fighter; he is the one who takes. Submission is not an option.

And yet, in this perhaps inevitable moment, he finds he cannot summon the will to reject, to fight or even protest. Fate, it would seem, is more than unyielding; it is also unforgiving. Perhaps his crimes are greater than he realized.

Hot fingers slide downward. Jin gasps and flings his head back against Mugen's shoulder.

Everything, Jin thinks, my joys and disappointments, my studies, my battles, my wanderings, my crimes – all of these have brought me to this moment.

This is not the story Jin would have wanted written about himself. But this is the story he, himself, has written.

This is what was meant to be, Jin thinks. This is what I desire.

The ache he has carried for so long fades into nothingness.

Jin turns within the circle of Mugen's arms, and submits.






IV. VIGIL

The night passed slowly.

Mugen cracked his neck with an audible pop and unkinked his back. He felt stiff; he'd been sitting here for hours as darkness crept slowly toward dawn. He turned his head towards Fuu, slumped against the far wall. Good, she'd finally fallen asleep. All that crying was getting on his nerves.

Shit. What was he doing sitting here? He didn't need this. He should just get out while he could, leave the two of them. They were nothing but trouble anyway. Besides, the idiot was as good as--

Don't think that.

There was a rustle from the figure on the floor and Mugen turned. Jin's hair was a dark pool against the tatami mat, his skin a ghostly pallor, almost as if he were already--

"Shut up," Mugen muttered.

The blue of Jin's clothes was brown with drying blood, and the bandages wrapping his chest seeped red as he fretted in uneasy sleep. "Baka," Mugen growled. Why'd I have to be off with that whore when it happened? She wasn't even a good lay, too skinny. It's my fault that--

"Fuu...?"

He'd thought Jin unconscious and was caught off guard by the thready voice, soft as a sigh. "Nah. Just me."

Jin's eyes glittered with fever. "She..."

"She's fine You killed 'em all." He hovered closer, his hands dark beside Jin's bloodless face. "Just take it easy, okay?"

The crease between Jin's brows deepened. "Mugen. I..."

"What?"

"...give you my weapons. You should have..."

"Your -- What're you talkin' about?"

"After...I die."

"Shut up! You ain't dyin'! Not till I kill you myself."

"Idiot."

What the...the bastard was smiling at him!

"I'm not the idiot here!" Fury etched Mugen's face, but inside he felt something else -- frustration, and something perilously close to despair. "Why'd ya have to fight them without me? I coulda taken them. I wouldn't have let 'em—"

"--kill me?"

"Yeah. No!" Dammit. Dammit to hell! His hands knotted in Jin's haori. "You ain't gonna die! I won't let you! You hear me?"

"I...hear you."

He relaxed his grip and Jin closed his eyes, the lines of distress easing as he relaxed into sleep. His breathing seemed easier, too. How strange it was to see Jin without his glasses; made his face softer, somehow, more open--

Softer? Open? – what the hell? Mugen rolled his eyes. Dammit. He really should get out of here while he could, be on the road alone again, and…

He watched his hand slide across the high brow to tangle briefly in the inky silk of Jin's hair. The strands slipped through his fingers, soft as silk, slick as blood. "I'll take care of everything," he said roughly. "Just don't..."

There was a glimmer of light through the open door, heralding dawn. His hand still entwined, Mugen relaxed his stiff shoulders and leaned against the wall. No hurry. There's always tomorrow, or the day after that. He can always leave then.






V. JOURNEY'S END

Sometimes he hears the familiar voice, the guttural Ryukuan consonants harsh in his ear. But when he turns to look, he realizes it's merely his imagination at work…and perhaps his traitorous heart.

Once he is accosted by a band of thieves, hears their rough accents and thinks for a moment Mugen is among them. After the fight, he keeps one alive, asks if he knows a bushy-haired ruffian by that name. The man shrugs painfully and says no; he would have admitted it, Jin knows, to spare himself further agony.

Jin lets him live.

Two years after they part he finds Fuu again, running an inn with a young husband. Mugen, too, has passed this way, she says. She is fat and happy, and blushes as she whispers, embracing Jin, that she is with child, but not her husband's. Jin quirks an eyebrow at her, but says nothing. He wonders if it is Mugen's, but will not ask; perhaps he fears the answer. When he leaves, Fuu forces food on him and wishes him happiness. He does not turn at the crest of the hill, but imagines her still waving.

For a time he accepts a position; it is good and honest work protecting an honorable family. It becomes clear the old man wants Jin to marry his youngest daughter, who, despite a club foot, is comely and rich enough to be a good match, but he does not feel worthy of the honor. Besides, his heart, unfettered by desire for wealth, is nonetheless not free.

Obligation recalls him to the temple to find Shino, but he finds her gone. So much for Shino's steadfastness of character, Jin reflects with mild disappointment. Still, she has freed him of this bond, at least. He cannot deny his relief.

He travels with but one purpose now.

The wind is colder; he has reached the north. In the ruins of a farmhouse, he takes shelter against the wind. On each harsh gust he hears the echo of that voice again, the familiar arrogance --I'm Mugen, I'm the one who'll kill you-- "Oi!"

Damn this taunting wind. In despair Jin pulls his clothing more tightly about him. He touches the scar across his chest, remembering Mugen's oddly gentle touch binding it. Remembering--

"Oi!"

Jin's eyes fly open.

"Shit, it is you!"

No.

"Wake the fuck up, you four-eyed mother--"

Yes. Yes.

Same voice, same smirk, seemingly same rags. Same insolent grin, mere inches away.

"Ain't ya gonna say hello?"

But Jin, never generous with words, has none now. Hands and arms clutch, limbs tangle, cloth tears; fingers thread through hair. They topple jarringly, and at last skin meets skin, and warmth blossoms, as body battles body in a familiar race to completion. And after, there are no ghostly words left to imagine, only whispers in his ear, looked for you and missed ya and in return, unvoiced, his solemn vow, Mugen and finally and always.


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