[TF] One Wish 01

Part One

Sunstreaker scraped the last sweep of the skyline and sat back to give his newest piece a critical gaze. It wasn’t done, not by a mile, but it wasn’t a blank sheet of canvas either. It occupied that interesting in-between state where he didn’t loathe it, but he didn’t love it.

That could be fixed.

He cycled a ventilation and put the scraper down, only to realize that his break timer was blinking urgently in the corner of his HUD. And, apparently, had been doing so for the past hour.

Oops.

No wonder his arm ached, and his backstrut twinged. Sideswipe was going to yell again. Sunstreaker was supposed to take regular breaks, refuel on time, and walk around so his joints don’t lock up.

Again.

Sunstreaker rolled his neck to ease the strain in his cables and pushed to his feet, throwing a protective sheet over the canvas. He would come back to it after a break and, no doubt, a lecture.

Sunstreaker checked his finish in the full-length mirror by the entry, but all spatter and random dirt had been confined to his hands and lower arms. These blemishes were easily handled by a cloth pulled from subspace.

Sunstreaker stepped out of his studio and into the main room of the Energon house he and Sideswipe owned. Well, Sideswipe managed and operated, Sunstreaker mostly used it as a studio and art gallery. Not that there many art-hunters to be found here on the edge of Uraya. Mostly, Sunstreaker sold a few over the intra-net and shipped them out of province.

“There you are!” Sideswipe called out to him from behind the bar. He was currently wiping it down as they had few patrons this time of the cycle. “You’re–”

“Late, I know.” Sunstreaker hoped to cut off the lecture. “Do you have my–”

Sideswipe plunked a cube of magnesium-spiced mid-grade on the bar, interrupting Sunstreaker before he could ask for it. “It’s not fresh,” he said as he tossed the rag into the collection basket and leaned against the bar. “It would have been, if you’d listened to your break alarm.”

“I know.” Sunstreaker climbed onto a stool and grabbed the cube, taking a sip of it. He grimaced. All of the magnesium had sunk to the bottom. “It won’t happen again.”

“Sure it won’t.” Sideswipe’s field nudged at his. Though his tone was irritated, the rest of it was concern. “I just worry about my little brother.”

Sunstreaker rolled his optics. “We’re twins, dumbaft.” He swirled the cube, stirring it, and changed the subject. “Besides, I didn’t miss anything, did I?”

Sideswipe’s lips curved into a grin. He tilted his chin as though pointing behind Sunstreaker. “Just your pet.”

Sunstreaker swiveled in his stool to see the black and white Empura sitting in the small booth nearest the door. Calling Dent white was probably stretching it, however. He was so filthy that he appeared brown. His three digit clawed hands – pincers really – fiddled with the drink pouch on the table in front of him.

At least Sideswipe had fed him. Sometimes, he wouldn’t no matter how much Sunstreaker fussed at him.

“He’s not my pet,” Sunstreaker muttered, sliding off the stool.

Sideswipe pushed off the bar. “So you say. Just hurry up and get it in back before it scares off any potentials.”

Sunstreaker frowned at his twin, but saved that particular argument for another time. Dent looked up as though hearing their conversation, his single yellow optic eerie as it focused on them.

Sunstreaker had gotten used to it, but Sideswipe still shivered theatrically. There were a lot of Empuras around here. The edge of Uraya was home to the slums; the residents had given it the name “Wastes” because that was all that was left.

Fitting.

Sunstreaker approached the table as Dent scrambled to get out from the booth, moving awkwardly. There was something in the stubs of what could have been wings or sensory panels on his back that left him clumsy. How could Sideswipe look at Dent and not feel pity?

Maybe Sunstreaker had gotten all the compassion in their shared spark.

“I apologize,” Dent said, the edges of his words wreathed in static. “Do I need to leave?”

Sunstreaker cycled a ventilation. “The dining room, yes. The building, no. Come on. You look in need of a wash.”

“Oh, but I–”

“That wasn’t a suggestion.” Sunstreaker snagged Dent’s refueling pouch off the table, noting it was still half-full. “Ignore my stupid brother. He’s overprotective.”

“Perhaps with good reason?”

Sunstreaker rolled his shoulders in a shrug. “The world may never know.” He tossed Sideswipe a glare, but his twin ignored him, attention fully on two customers entering the building.

Dent’s pincers clicked together, a sign of anxiety. “I would hate to be a bother.”

“You say that every time.” Sunstreaker hooked an arm through Dent’s, trying not to cringe as grime flaked down. Well, he’d take care of that soon enough. “If you were a bother, I’d have tossed you on your aft already.”

Dent made a noise, a blat of static, but didn’t argue. His optic dimmed as he let Sunstreaker steer him to the back of the store, which doubled as his and Sideswipe’s living quarters. It wasn’t much, but they had a small washrack all their own, and a berth for each of them, when they didn’t share.

“Washracks first,” Sunstreaker said as he steered Dent toward it, careful to avoid the furniture and making a mental note of the dust Dent left in his wake. “You’re filthy.”

Dent ducked his head. “I apologize.”

“Well, it can’t be helped, I guess. Where the frag are you recharging?”

Dent’s armor drew tight, his field nonexistent. A topic he preferred not to discuss then. Sunstreaker wouldn’t push. He knew how much he hated to be pushed when he didn’t want to talk. Sideswipe was awful about that, pushing and pushing until Sunstreaker had to stomp away just to get some peace.

“Okay then.” Sunstreaker urged Dent into the washracks ahead of him, and gestured the Empura to the only stool they had. “Sit. I’ll give you a hand.”

Dent startled. “Oh, but I can–”

“Nope. My rack, my rules.” Sunstreaker managed a small grin and pointed to the stool again. “Sit.”

Dent cycled a ventilation and obeyed, though stiff and uncoordinated. “You are a kind mech, Sunstreaker.”

He snorted as he turned on the solvent, setting it to a comfortable temperature which Sideswipe told him barely counted as lukewarm. Pfft. What did he know?

“Not many would agree with you there.” Sunstreaker grabbed his bucket of supplies, including a scrub brush, and directed the stream at Dent.

The solvent sluiced over dingy brown plating, washing away the first coating of filth. It was going to take a lot more than a little rinsing to get him clean. He had grime in his gears!

Sunstreaker shuddered. He looked down at his arm, and it was dusted in filth, too. How could a mech function like this?

“I’ve been told I’m damn hard to live with.” Sunstreaker took up position behind Dent and started to scrub, though he was careful to avoid the two ridges on his backplate. They looked raw, as though the excision had been done improperly. “But enough about me. I haven’t seen you in weeks. Where’ve you been?”

Dent ducked his head, his pincers fiddling together. “I have been hiding.”

“Hiding?” Why would an Empura need to hide in the Wastes? It’s not like regular mechs wandered down there. No one came to the Wastes except…

Oh.

Sunstreaker felt like an idiot.

“From the Regent’s Cleaners,” he guessed.

Dent’s shoulders hunched. The little antenna on top of his head twitched. “The Wastes are much emptier as of late.”

“Me and Sides noticed that bots are going missing. But we didn’t realize it was that bad.” Sunstreaker blew air through his vents and started scrubbing at Dent’s shoulders. White and black started showing clean, sending a pang of longing through his spark.

White and black. Good colors. Classic. Clean. Familiar. Pretty common in retrospect. A dozen mechs passed by the cafe with such plain color schemes every day.

None of them were the mech Sunstreaker waited for.

“I guess you could say that the Regent’s doing his job,” Sunstreaker muttered with a shrug. Not that they paid him or anything.

The Regent had been here as long as Sideswipe and Sunstreaker, maybe longer. He was the unofficial leader of the Wastes, and their corner of Uraya. He had a talon in every energon storage down here, not to mention what little they had for an economy. No one contested him. No one had the bearings to do it.

Dent made a noncommittal noise. His head bobbed.

“You should stay here,” Sunstreaker suggested as he took Dent’s arm in hand, gently scrubbing around the joint and the raw area around his wrist. Whoever had done the surgery on him had done a slag-poor job of it. “I mean, instead of hiding. I’ll clear it with Sides.”

Dent shook his head, easing his arm from Sunstreaker’s grip. “No. It is not safe.”

“Pfft. We can take care of ourselves.” Sunstreaker reached for Dent’s arm again.

Dent’s optic seemed to gleam at him, his field reduced to a shivery, thin layer. “No,” he repeated, and his pincer trembled. “It is not safe.”

“You let me be the judge of that,” Sunstreaker insisted as he shifted to Dent’s other arm. Beneath the grime and the Empurata, Dent might have been a handsome mech once upon a time.

Sunstreaker sometimes wondered what Dent had done to incur the wrath of the council and earn this punishment? To have his frame disfigured and to be dumped like so much trash into Uraya’s Wastes. Dent wasn’t like most of the others. He didn’t seem one-step removed from violence and madness.

He was quiet. Calm. Contemplative.

Lost.

He couldn’t remember anything, he claimed. Now maybe that was true, maybe it wasn’t. Empuras usually didn’t forget their pasts, but some of the welding on Dent’s frame looked substandard. Maybe the Empurata procedure was rushed. Maybe he did something bad enough to earn Shadowplay, too.

Who knew?

But he wasn’t dangerous. Sunstreaker was sure of that.

“You know we sometimes go to Kaon to take a few bouts in the Arena, right? For extra creds?” That and the Regent occasionally asked them to fight on his behalf, and he would serve as their sponsor.

Sunstreaker hated it when Sideswipe agreed to do it. Then again, they’d already learned that you just didn’t say no to the Regent.

The nubs on Dent’s back twitched. “That is dangerous.”

“So’s living.” Sunstreaker shrugged and flicked a finger. “Up. Gotta get your legs.”

Dent’s field shied away from his. He reached out with his right hand. “I can do it myself.”

“Properly?” Sunstreaker arched an orbital ridge. “Without breaking my scrubber? Cause I’ll be very put out if you do.”

Dent’s optic dimmed. “I am… growing more proficient,” he said with a cycle of his ventilations, gusting a burst of steam into the air. “And I need the practice.”

Sunstreaker squinted at him. Dent held fast.

What the slag, eh? It was pretty cheap. He could always get another one. Besides, there was something desperate in the quiet request. A desire to be able to do something for himself perhaps.

Sunstreaker could understand that.

He handed over the scrubber and let Dent work on his legs while he grabbed the sprayer off the wall and aimed it at Dent. The floor beneath them was grey and brown from filth. Sideswipe was going to flip.

Sunstreaker kept one optic on his own actions, and the other on Dent, but the Empura was manipulating the brush pretty well. He hadn’t been exaggerating when he said he’d improved. He no longer fumbled with the pincers, though the care he used might have been exaggerated.

“When you’re clean, I’m going to give you a wax,” Sunstreaker said as pitted and dented armor came into view. Hmm. He’d probably pull out the dent-puller, too.

Dent stiffened and turned toward Sunstreaker, which resulted in him nearly getting sprayed in the face. “You do not have to spoil me so,” he said, twisting to avoid the solvent spray. “I could not ask you to–”

“See. That’s the thing.” Sunstreaker plucked the scrubber from Dent’s pincer and aimed the spray at the Empura’s legs. “You didn’t ask. I offered. And I’m told that when someone offers something, it comes without strings.”

Pincers twisted together, scraping noisily. Sunstreaker shut off the spray and reached out, gently laying his hand where Dent’s claws had tangled. What was it about this Empura that tugged at his spark? Honestly. Sometimes, Sunstreaker couldn’t explain it either.

“I mean it,” he said, and squeezed Dent’s pincers, hoping he could at least feel the pressure of the grip.

Of course, that was the moment Sunstreaker’s private comm buzzed loudly. –Stop playing with your pet and get out here,– Sideswipe demanded without so much as a segue.

Sunstreaker’s engine growled as his mood instantly plummeted downward. –He’s not my pet, Sides! Primus!–

–Whatever. Starscream’s here, so stick it in a closet or something and get out here before he thinks we need an inspection or some slag,– Sideswipe retorted, and abruptly shut down the comm.

Well, if the Regent was here, then Sunstreaker supposed he could excuse Sideswipe’s rudeness.

This time.

They were still going to have words about the way Sideswipe treated Dent and the other Empuras however.

“Sunstreaker?”

He shook his head, shutting off the spray and snagging two fluffy cloths from the rack. He tossed both at Dent.

“I’d stay to help, but the Regent just showed up.”

Dent went stiff all over. His armor clamped tight, optic brightening. His field wildly flared, before he reeled it in to nothing.

“Relax,” Sunstreaker said as he backed toward the door. “I’m not goin’ to turn you in and Sideswipe won’t either. Just stay in here and don’t come out until I come get you, okay?”

Dent nodded, half-buried beneath the fluffy towels. “Yes, sir.”

Sunstreaker paused in the doorway. His tank clenched. “Please don’t call me that,” he murmured, and left, closing the door behind him.

He doubted the Regent would come into their personal quarters, but sometimes, Starscream did conduct raids if he thought anyone in his jurisdiction was hiding something of importance. Sunstreaker and his brother worked for Starscream, which offered them some protection.

But then Scoop had worked for Starscream, too, and no one had seen him in months.

Sunstreaker glanced down at himself, frowning when he found a few spatters of solvent. He absently wiped at them as he eased out of his and Sides’ apartment, locking the door behind him. Starscream didn’t usually take much notice of him since he found Sideswipe far more charming, but Sunstreaker didn’t want to gather the Regent’s attention either. He didn’t know how to play the word games that Sideswipe did.

“There you are!” Sideswipe said brightly, the tone at odds with the anxiety rippling across their bond.

Sunstreaker’s gaze skittered to their visitors, Regent Starscream and the armed guard he never went without, though today there was only the one. A small grounder with a blue visor – went by the name Ricochet. He was a smart aft and a half, which meant he got on well with Sideswipe.

Sunstreaker couldn’t stand him.

“I was washing up,” Sunstreaker said crossly as he ducked behind the bar, giving Starscream and his guard a wide berth.

Sideswipe scowled at him. “Polish later. Work now.”

“Since when are you the boss of me?”

“Since always.”

“Sparklings,” Starscream interrupted with a drawl, one orbital ridge raised. “As entertaining as I find your brotherly spats, I do have business to attend.”

Sunstreaker shot his brother a dirty look, but Sideswipe was already easing out from behind the bar.

“Good point. Cause we’re all in the business of creds, am I right?” Sideswipe said, flashing one of his most charming grins. “Follow me, gentlemechs. My office is this way.”

“Yes, I remember,” Starscream said, his tone cool, as he flicked his wings backward. He moved ahead of Sideswipe, every inch the commanding Regent, and Sideswipe just shrugged and followed after him.

Ricochet trailed them both at a leisurely pace and took up a position just outside the door as Sideswipe and Starscream vanished inside. He folded his arms over his chestplate and managed to look just menacing enough to scare off half of their customers.

Great. Sideswipe was going to blame Sunstreaker for that, he just knew it.

“How are you supposed to guard him from outside the door?” Sunstreaker asked as he picked up the glasses Sideswipe had been cleaning and started wiping them dry.

Ricochet tilted his head, visor gleaming. “Are you telling me your twin is a threat to my employer?”

“…No.”

Ricochet smirked and rolled his shoulders. “Then I’m exactly where I need to be. I’m here to kick aft, not pay attention to numbers.”

Sunstreaker blinked. “Whatever,” he said, turning his attention to two mechs who’d just walked in the door. Sideswipe would fuss if he drove away business again.

He tried not to think about Dent hiding in the washracks. He hoped Dent didn’t try to sneak out the back and take off. Sunstreaker was serious about offering him a place to stay. He didn’t want Dent to disappear like the others.

Luckily, Ricochet was content to sip on his engex and leave Sunstreaker be. Which meant Sunstreaker could fret over Dent in silence, and glance at the office door, silently urging Sideswipe to hurry.

~

“So.” Sideswipe dropped into the squeaky chair behind his desk. “What brings you to my humble place of business?”

Starscream rolled his optics. “Spare me your games, Sideswipe.” He lowered himself into a chair with more grace than Sideswipe had shown. “I don’t intend to be here all afternoon.”

“Fair enough.” Sideswipe grinned and folded his arms across his belly. “What, when, and how much?”

Starscream produced a datapad and set it on the desk. One taloned finger pushed it closer, shoving aside a cup of styluses in the process.

“Standard procurement fee,” Starscream said. “And as for when, the answer is the same as always.”

Sideswipe dragged the datapad closer before he picked it up. “As soon as possible then.” He flicked it on, only glancing at it to be sure it had a requisition on it. “Think someday you’ll tell me why you need this stuff?”

“No.” Starscream’s optics narrowed. “Your job is not to ask questions, remember?”

Sideswipe flashed a grin. “Can’t help being curious.”

“I don’t need your charm either.”

“Right.” As unfriendly as always. That was Starscream.

Sideswipe sighed and skimmed the contents of the datapad. Half of these items he had no idea what they were, but the identifying glyphs were clear as day – medical equipment. Rare medical equipment.

“This is grey cargo,” Sideswipe observed.

“Your point?”

Sideswipe wiggled the datapad. “It won’t be easy to get.”

Starscream’s right wing twitched. It was always the first to go. “Are you saying you can’t?”

“No.” Sideswipe lowered the datapad back to the desktop. “But it won’t be cheap.”

“Fine.” Starscream tossed a cred chip onto the desk. “This should be more than adequate.”

Sideswipe pulled out his reader and inserted the chip, his orbital ridges rising at the amount on it. Starscream only gave him this high of a budget when it was something he had a desperate need to acquire.

“I’m guessin’ this means you want the best,” he said as his spark throbbed harder in his chassis. Starscream wasn’t playing games. “That or you gave me a nice bonus.”

Starscream stared at him, his optics flat and unamused. “I want the highest quality you can find,” he said. “Now. Can you do it?”

“Sure thing.” Sideswipe grinned and stowed both reader and datapad in his subspace. He rose to his feet. “Have I ever failed you before?”

“No. And if you wish to maintain functioning, you won’t now or in the future.” Starscream rose more languidly, his wings high and rigid.

Sideswipe worked his intake, offering an uneasy smile. “Nothing like a little idle threat to grease a business deal,” he said as he eased around the desk, preceding Starscream to the door. “That’s what I love about you, Regent. You’re nothing if not blunt.”

Starscream gave him a sideways look. “So you say,” he said crisply and moved past Sideswipe, back into the business proper.

Primus.

A shudder raced down Sideswipe’s spinal strut. He allowed himself a second to regain his composure before he followed Starscream out.

The Seeker was already almost to the exit. Not one for lingering to socialize, that one. All of Sideswipe’s other clients tended to take advantage of his engex, but not Starscream. Business, like everything else, was perfunctory.

Any other time, Sideswipe could appreciate that. But he thought about the datapad and the chip in his subspace, and his tanks lurched.

Starscream was dangerous. He began to wonder if he might even be in over his head, except it was too late to back out now.

Sighing, Sideswipe planted a smile on his lips and locked his office behind him. Time to get to work. Poor Sunstreaker looked harried and here came Huffer. Mech was might particular about his engex, and Sunny always mixed it wrong.

Sideswipe would worry about Starscream and what the Regent wanted later.

~

Starscream left.

Ricochet, however, didn’t, which prompted Sunstreaker to linger as well. He couldn’t seem too eager to take off otherwise Ricochet might think he was hiding something.

“Uh, shouldn’t you be watching your boss’s aft?”

“I do that all the time. It’s a fine aft,” Ricochet said with a flash of his visor. He pulled out a stool and sat at the counter. “But he’s with Airrazor where I can’t follow so I figure, I have me a sit down and taste what I’m told is the finest engex in all of Uraya.”

Sideswipe smirked and leaned against the counter. “The finest, huh?” Across the bond, Sunstreaker could tell he was flattered, though it wasn’t like it was the first time someone had complimented him. “Who told you that?”

“Mmm. Everybody.” Ricochet folded his arms on the bartop and leaned forward. “So why don’t you give me what you think is your best mix, and I’ll tell you what I think.”

Sideswipe chuckled. “Deal.”

–You can go, bro. I can handle this.–

Sunstreaker shifted. –You sure?– He didn’t trust Ricochet any further than he could throw the soldier. Frankly, Sunstreaker didn’t trust anyone who hung around with Starscream.

–Positive. He ain’t nothing but a flirt. All talk. No action,– Sideswipe replied as he spun around from the bartop and started mixing up his specialty.

“You want it sweet or spicy, mech?” Sideswipe called over his shoulder.

Ricochet braced an elbow on the counter, propping his bumper against the edge. “Whatever you think I like, hot stuff.”

Ugh. Yeah. It sounded like Sideswipe had this well in hand.

“I’m going in the back,” Sunstreaker muttered, failing to hide the disgust in his tone. Sides would take anything to berth, wouldn’t he?

Sunstreaker spun on a heelstrut and headed toward the door, only to be drawn up short as Sideswipe rushed to catch him, one hand on his elbow.

“Come back out later, okay?” Sideswipe murmured, locking optics with him. “I gotta call Swin and you know he’s really weird about when he’s available.”

Sunstreaker frowned. “Can’t you call Smokescreen instead? Swindle is a cheat.” Not that Smokescreen was much better, but at least they got what they paid for with Smokescreen, unlike Swindle, who always tried to pass off substandard materials with a high markup.

“Would if I could, but Screen don’t have what Starscream needs.” Sideswipe squeezed his arm in a show of affection. “Besides, Screen is still mad at me.”

Sunstreaker sighed, pinching the bridge of his nasal ridge. “Maybe if you didn’t frag him and run–”

“This and that are two different things,” Sideswipe interrupted loudly, with an askance look at Ricochet, who was watching both of them with evident amusement. “Just get you-know-who settled and come back out later. Please?”

He never could resist when Sideswipe did that. When he pleaded with large, bright optics and an earnest smile on his lips. It was that charm that got him out of so many scrapes and into so many berths.

“Fine,” Sunstreaker muttered and lowered his hand. “But you’re calling Smokescreen and apologizing to him tomorrow.”

“Deal.” Sideswipe winked at him and let go of Sunstreaker’s arm. “Now, shoo.” He spun around, all but strutting back to the counter where Ricochet waited. “One Special Swerve coming right up!”

Sunstreaker bit back another sigh and turned around, refusing to let anything else stop him from slipping into the back. He hoped Dent hadn’t gone yet.

His and Sides’ apartment was dim and quiet. All Sunstreaker could hear was the quiet ticking of the wall chrono, the numbers gleaming brightly at him. The door to the washrack was still closed.

Sunstreaker palmed the door open and the tension whooshed out of him, tension he hadn’t realized he carried.

Dent was still there. He sat on the small bench tucked against the far wall, the towel lying in his lap, though it was wound around his pincers. His head snapped up as the door opened, and though his single optic couldn’t convey emotion as much as a face, there was something fearful in the brightness of it.

Fear that whisked away into relief as Dent sagged.

“It’s just me,” Sunstreaker said, trying for a smile. “Don’t worry. The Regent’s gone.” He gestured to the Empura. “Come on. Let’s get you polished.” He’d have to take a damp cloth to Dent’s frame, too. Some of the solvent had dried in ugly streaks.

Dent pushed to his feet, wobbling a little. His optic dimmed, as though he’d been running himself ragged with worry. “Is polish not a little excessive?” he asked as he inched out of the washracks, his armor still clamped tight.

“Not to me. Polish is necessary. Especially if you’re going to stay here.” Sunstreaker fished around his subspace, producing the half-consumed pouch Dent had been working on earlier. “Here. Finish this.” He plucked the towel from Dent’s pincers, replacing it with the pouch.

“You are kind,” Dent murmured, his field reaching out for Sunstreaker’s, though it was jagged around the edges. Empuras always felt like that, as though whatever punished them this way made their entire existence one of pain.

“You say that often enough, I might actually believe it.” Sunstreaker grinned, though it was crooked.

“It is the truth.”

Sunstreaker made a non-committal noise and led Dent to his own room. He and Sides could double up for a night until they got their spare berth from storage. Unless Sideswipe offered Ricochet more than a special drink.

Gross.

Sunstreaker sat Dent down on a stool and retrieved his spare polishing supplies from the cabinet, spreading them out on the berth. Dent, at least, had finally relaxed a bit more. He sipped on the energon pouch, his armor easing away from his protoform. Fully relaxed, Sunstreaker could see past the plating to the scars on Dent’s protoform.

Sometimes, the sight of them made Sunstreaker angry. Dent seemed genuinely nice and respectful. What could he have done to deserve this?

“You really don’t remember anything?” Sunstreaker asked, though he hesitated to break the comfortable quiet.

It was rare to find a mech who didn’t loathe silence. Sideswipe could never stand for it. He insisted on filling quiet with noise, with chatter or music or some vid on the screen. Whereas Sunstreaker liked companionable silence. Dent’s lack of fidgeting seemed to indicate he liked it, too.

“Shadows,” Dent answered, his vocals soft. His head dipped a little, pincers squeezing the pouch. “Echoes. I feel as though the memories are there, but I cannot access them. I do not know if I am being prevented from doing so, or if I lack the hardware.”

Sunstreaker inclined his head. “I can’t imagine what that’s like,” he said as the wax worked its way into Dent’s plating, adding a thin shine that seemed almost ridiculous over the faded paint.

“Lonely,” Dent answered quietly, and the plating across his upper back shuffled, twitching the stumps of whatever had been on his back. “But I am finding it less so as of late.”

“Why?”

“Because,” Dent half-turned, the glow of his optic now visible to Sunstreaker, “you are kind.”

Sunstreaker’s face flushed with heat. “I’m really not,” he murmured and ducked his head, trying to focus on the last stubborn smudges of wax.

Dent made a noise of disagreement, but said nothing further. They fell back into the comfortable silence. The tension was gone from his frame, however, and that was the greatest gift of all.

~

Sideswipe balanced the till; Sunstreaker straightened and cleaned. They’d been closing Color and Conversation like this together for decades. It was a process that worked. Sunstreaker had exacting standards; Sideswipe had the processor for numbers.

Sometimes, they talked. Sometimes, they didn’t.

Today was one of the former. Only Sunstreaker should have anticipated this topic.

“So how long is your pet going to stay with us?”

Sunstreaker turned a chair upside down and sat it on top of the table with a little more force than was necessary. He glared at his twin.

Sideswipe held up his hands. “Fine, fine. He’s not your pet. Even though he totally is.” He gave Sunstreaker a crooked grin. “Just answer the question.”

“I don’t know,” Sunstreaker replied honestly and moved on to the next table, wiping it down. Honestly, that damn rust flavoring got everywhere. Why did Sideswipe insist on dusting everything with it? “I need you to help me get out the spare berth.”

“The spare?” Sideswipe’s engine revved. “Sunny, that doesn’t sound like temporary arrangements. That sounds like ya want to keep him.”

Sideswipe’s stare prickled between his shoulders. “It’s not like he has anywhere else to go, Sides.”

“Neither do the dozens of other Empuras out there, but I don’t see you opening our doors to them.” Sideswipe flung a hand out at him. “And don’t you dare start either. We’re doing good, but not that good. We can’t feed every stray that comes begging at the doors. We’re one emergency away from bedding out there with the Empties.”

Sunstreaker focused intently on stacking chairs. “I know that.”

“I don’t really think ya do sometimes.” Sideswipe muttered something, numbers perhaps, and scribbled onto the scratched datapad he insisted on using for accounting purposes. “And how do ya know he’s not going to kill us in our recharge? I like my spark where it is, bro.”

“He won’t.”

“How do you know?”

“Cause he’s not dangerous!” Sunstreaker huffed and cast his brother a glare, but Sideswipe was doing a good job of not looking at him, pretending he was double-checking the receipts.

Sideswipe snorted. “You don’t know that. Someone did that to him for a reason, Sunny. Mechs don’t get taken apart unless they did something terrible.”

“Or maybe he didn’t do anything,” Sunstreaker snapped, ex-venting a loud burst. “Sometimes, mechs are just inconvenient or in the way or in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Sideswipe planted his hands on the counter and stared at him. “Or they deserve what they get. Maybe even worse.”

Sunstreaker’s ventilations were uneven. He folded his arms over his chestplate. “Did we?”

Sideswipe blinked, physically recoiling. “Sunny…”

“We were abandoned like they were,” Sunstreaker said, his shoulders hunching. It hurt his spark to talk about this, but ignoring the truth didn’t make it any less true. “We were left for scrap, left to starve. Did we deserve that?”

Sideswipe vaulted over the counter, his field reaching for Sunstreaker even before he did. “Of course we didn’t. That’s different.”

“It’s not at all.” Sunstreaker shifted away from his brother. “We don’t know enough about him to say anything, Sides. So stop judging him by the way he looks.”

“Okay. Fine. I will.” Sideswipe held up his hands, only to tilt his head and peer at him. “Why do you care so much?”

Sunstreaker frowned, his orbital ridge drawing down. “I just do.”

Sideswipe tilted his head, optics narrowing. He stared at Sunstreaker for a long moment, his field probing at Sunstreaker’s.

“You don’t ‘just’ anything,” he said, and stepped close enough to touch, his frown deepening. “I can’t believe it. You’re falling for that Empura, aren’t you?”

“I’m not! I’m just…” His engine screeched, ventilations stuttered.

Sideswipe stepped close enough that their armor brushed. “Hey,” he murmured, resting his hand on Sunstreaker’s arm. “Prowl’s not coming back, all right? You got to face that. I get why you’re doing this with the Empura, I do, but don’t let it be anything more than a distraction, okay? There’s no future with it.”

Sunstreaker eased away from his brother and snagged the broom, focusing on sweeping up a clump of dust. “I don’t need you to tell me that,” he muttered.

Sideswipe sighed and scrubbed a hand down his face. “If you say so.” He waved a hand of dismissal and went back behind the bar. “Dent can stay,” he added as he picked up his datapad. “For a little while anyway.”

Sunstreaker made a noncommittal noise. He didn’t want to discuss this any further and neither did Sideswipe apparently.

They finished the rest of their closing duties in relative quiet, with the only the clatter and clank of Sunstreaker cleaning to break the silence.

“I’ll help you get the spare berth tomorrow,” Sideswipe said as he met Sunstreaker at the door to their shared apartment. He handed over the financial datapad. “I’m not going to be home most of the night anyway.”

“What? Why not?” Sunstreaker took the datapad, but couldn’t hide the surprise in his tone. Or the worry.

Had he made Sideswipe angry?

“Got a date.” Sideswipe grinned, crooked and handsome. “So don’t wait up.”

The tension released from Sunstreaker’s frame. “Oh.” He rolled his optics. “You keep on like this, you’re going to wind up with a virus the clinic can’t cure.”

Sideswipe patted him gently on the cheek. “You’re so sweet to worry about me, Sunny.” He winked and spun on a heelstrut. “You can go on into the apartment. I’ll lock up.”

Sunstreaker twisted his jaw. “You’re going to be careful, right?”

“Have you ever known me not to be?”

Yes. More frequently than Sunstreaker would like. He cycled a ventilation and tossed the cleaning cloth into the bin with the rest of the dirty ones.

“Don’t wait up either,” Sideswipe called to him just as Sunstreaker reached the door.

Sunstreaker rolled his optics. “I never do,” he said, and slipped inside, closing the door behind him. He’d learned his lesson ages ago though that didn’t stop him from worrying.

Sideswipe could take care of himself. They both could. You didn’t grow up on the streets without learning a trick or two. But still…

He was the only brother, the only family Sunstreaker had. Worry was part of the package.

Sunstreaker scraped a hand down his face, only to frown when he realized his fingers were still damp from cleaning fluid. He hated the chemical smell of it. Time for a quick rinse then.

As he passed the two berthrooms, however, he noticed that the door to his own was open. It hadn’t been when he left, and the dim glow of an optic from within was the reason why.

Sunstreaker’s frown deepened and he paused. “Did I wake you?” he asked.

The berth creaked as Dent rose and approached the door, though he hovered in the shadows of it. “No. I was not yet recharging.” He lingered there in the small opening, pincers twisting together. “All is well?”

“Why wouldn’t it be?”

“Because I am causing disruption,” Dent said and his gaze dropped, optic focused on the floor. “I should leave.”

Sunstreaker blinked. “No, you’re not. Why would you think…” He paused and squinted. “Wait, were you listening to us?”

Dent ducked his head, until Sunstreaker could only see the top of it. “I apologize. It was not my intent to eavesdrop, only your voices carry.”

“Yeah, Sideswipe can be loud.” Sunstreaker cycled a vent. “No, you don’t have to leave. We got it sorted. Sides and me, we’re brothers. We fight. It happens.”

“Brothers….” Dent’s ventilations rattled a gust as a shiver raced over his plating. “I think… I believe I understand something of brothers.”

Sunstreaker’s lips quirked. “You have one?”

Dent drifted backward a step, as though taking solace in the dark. “I think, perhaps I do.” He lifted his gaze back to Sunstreaker, his optic brightening by degrees. “Though I do not recall. I feel he was vexing.”

“Like Sideswipe.” Sunstreaker chuckled. “I’m not surprised.” He braced a hand on the doorway, leaning against it. “He can be an aft, especially when he thinks he’s right or he thinks he’s protecting me or some such slag.”

Dent laughed, though it was more of a rattling wheeze. “Yes. That does indeed sound familiar.”

Sunstreaker stared.

Dent had never laughed before. It barely counted as a laugh, but Sunstreaker was going to note it anyway. There was something familiar in the laugh, the tone of it, but that familiarity was there and gone again.

How could Sideswipe think he was dangerous?

“Anyway, go back to recharge. I’m just going to rinse off and then climb into Sideswipe’s berth since he won’t be here tonight,” Sunstreaker said, backing away from the door. “I’ll be that way if you need me.” He pointed.

Dent bobbed his head. “Good recharge, Sunstreaker.”

“And to you.” Sunstreaker smiled to himself and left Dent to recharge. He needed to rinse, and then lie alone in his berth and worry about Sideswipe.

~

Sunstreaker must never know.

Honestly, Sideswipe shouldn’t even be thinking about his brother at a time like this, but given his berthmate, the subject came up. Because this wasn’t a random encounter. This was a repeated visitor to the same berth. One Sideswipe could have never expected.

“Mmm.” Ricochet purred, stretching his arms above his head as his plating shivered from the last vestiges of overload. “You always know how to do me right.”

Sideswipe grinned as Ricochet resettled, blanketing Sideswipe’s lower half with his weight. “You’re not so bad yourself.”

Ricochet chuckled, his visor a deep violet. His engine purred, vibrating through Sideswipe’s legs. “Practice makes perfect.”

No.

Sunstreaker wouldn’t understand this. He was wary of Starscream, he loathed the Regent’s guards, and he definitely didn’t like Ricochet. He wouldn’t understand why Sideswipe had been sneaking around with Ricochet for months.

Sideswipe listened to the arrhythmic tics as Ricochet’s plating cooled down, his vents cycling slower and slower. “I should leave soon,” he murmured, though Ricochet tracing odd patterns on the inside of his thigh armor was good incentive to stay.

“What? Sunstreaker can’t tuck himself in at night?” Ricochet chuckled and curled his arm tighter around Sideswipe’s left leg. “He’s a full-grown mech, ain’t he?”

“He is. He’s just…” Sideswipe ex-vented, his right hand dropping to rest on Ricochet’s head. He teased the mech’s sensory horns with a thumb. “I don’t know. He’s got this weird obsession with one of the Empuras hanging around the cafe, and I don’t want him getting hurt again.”

There were lots of Empuras in the Wastes. Luckily, it wasn’t a crime to associate with one. The Regent didn’t much care what you did with an Empura, but the fact that they were disappearing was concerning. Sideswipe trusted that Ricochet wouldn’t bring it up to his boss, however. Ricochet had rules about keeping business and personal separate.

Though that didn’t explain what he was doing here and now. Sideswipe was pretty much a clash of the two.

Ricochet rubbed his cheek on Sideswipe’s thigh. “Again?”

“It’s a long story.”

One of Ricochet’s clawed fingers slid into a seam, scraping over the cables beneath. Sideswipe shivered, trying to fight off the rising arousal.

“If it’ll keep ya here, then I got time,” Ricochet purred and slid his free hand down Sideswipe’s leg.

Sideswipe grinned. “Well, with an offer like that, how can I say no?”

Ricochet pinched one of his inner thigh cables. “Oy. I’m not hearin’ any story down here.”

Sideswipe peered at him, honestly confused. “You really want to hear about my brother’s broken spark?”

“I could always use a good berth-time tale.” Ricochet rapped his fingers over Sideswipe’s knee. “Besides, I like me a good drama.”

Sideswipe chuckled. “Okay then. Well, awhile back there was this mech hanging around, the kind you could tell didn’t belong here. He was smart, scary smart, and clean and polite.”

“That says a lot ’bout your customers if he didn’t belong.”

“Says a lot ’bout Uraya,” Sideswipe corrected. He shifted to get comfortable, finding that he didn’t mind Ricochet’s weight on his legs. “Plus, he was obviously from Praxus. He had those shoulder things, fake wings.”

“Mmmm.” Ricochet purred and wriggled against Sideswipe’s leg. “Sensory flats. Fun to play with.”

Sideswipe laughed. “Yeah, those. Anyway, he kept coming around, and he and Sunstreaker hit it off. Love at first sight or some scrap.”

“You don’t believe in it?”

“I think it’s a cute story for sparklings.” Sideswipe shrugged and stroked the nearest of Ricochet’s sensory horns. “Why? Do you?”

Ricochet tickled behind his knee, making Sideswipe shiver. “I think yer gettin’ distracted from my story, Sides.”

“Okay, okay.” Sideswipe cycled a ventilation. “Anyway, they got close. Real close, and Sunstreaker fell hard. I’ve never seen him that happy.”

Frag, before Prowl, Sideswipe wasn’t sure he’d ever seen his brother cheerful. He’d smiled often with Prowl. He would light up like a supernova.

He had, of all things, dared to hope in a city like Uraya where mecha came to suffer or die, sometimes both.

“I’m sensin’ a but.”

Sideswipe shook himself out of the memory. “Yeah. One orn, Prowl up and vanished. His comm went dead. He was nowhere to be found, and believe me, I looked.”

Ricochet’s field went weird and wonky. “You think foul play?”

“I think he got bored and went to find someone else to play with. Prowl was Elite, if you ask me, and came here to slum it.”

Ricochet made a noncommittal noise. “I’m sensin’ some hostility.”

“Prowl better hope he don’t come back.” Sideswipe’s engine revved, his distaste for the flaky Praxian filling his field. “There’s nothing that frags me off more than hurting my brother.”

Ricochet shivered, his field rising to meet Sideswipe’s with an edge of heat. “Nnn. See, when ya talk like that, it makes me want ya more.”

“Is that so?” Sideswipe looked down with a smirk. “You got a thing for violence?”

Ricochet rolled onto his front, completely blanketing Sideswipe’s lower half. His head rested on Sideswipe’s hip. “I got a thing for you.”

Sideswipe rested his hands behind his head. “Oh? That sounds dangerously close to feelings.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself.” Ricochet pressed a kiss to Sideswipe’s abdominal armor. “So are ya leavin’ or stayin’? Cause now I have plans for ya.”

Sideswipe licked his lips. “Sunny will be okay without me for a night.”

Ricochet rose to hands and knees, crawling up Sideswipe’s frame. “That’s the good news I wanted to hear,” he murmured, their faces inches apart.

Sideswipe’s hands skimmed down Ricochet’s sides, resting around his waist. He grinned.

Besides, Sunstreaker had Dent to look after. He wouldn’t even notice that Sideswipe was gone.

~

Sunstreaker woke up chilled, unexpectedly as he was supposed to be sharing the berth with Sideswipe. It looked like Sideswipe stayed out with his date. That was a first.

Sunstreaker leveraged himself out of the berth and headed for their energon dispensary. He drew himself a cube and filled a pouch for Dent.

That was, hoping Dent had stayed. Sunstreaker wasn’t sure why it mattered to him. It just did.

It was still early. He assumed Sideswipe would be staggering home soon. He’d better. Sunstreaker wasn’t going to open the cafe on his own. That was Sideswipe’s pet project.

Sunstreaker rapped his knuckles on the door before keying it open. He sighed when he saw that Dent wasn’t on the berth. He should have known. He almost turned to leave when he spot the glow of dim biolights in the dark.

Under the berth.

That should have been his first guess. He and Sideswipe had lived on the street once upon a time. It was always a matter of safety over comfort.

Sunstreaker cycled his vocalizer. “Dent?”

The shape under the berth stirred. A single optic lit as Dent unfurled.

“Sunstreaker?” Dent eased out from underneath the berth, his plating clamped tightly to his frame, one that was once again dusty. “I apologize. I did not mean to recharge so late.”

Sunstreaker shook his head. “You have nothing to be sorry for.” He handed over the pouch. “Recharge okay?”

Dent took the pouch, ducking his head. “Better than usual. Thank you. I will leave soon.”

“I meant what I said. You can stay.”

Dent’s pincers tightened on the pouch. “I don’t wish to be a burden.”

Sunstreaker leaned a hip against the doorframe. “Then we’ll find something for you to do. I mean, we can’t pay you, but energon and a berth…? We can do that.”

“Why me?”

Sunstreaker stared at his own energon. “I don’t know,” he answered honestly.

Dent’s field reached for his, tentative and yearning. His optic glowed brighter.

“Sunny? Hello? Bro?”

Sunstreaker cycled a ventilation and turned away, the moment broken. “In here!”

Sideswipe staggered into view with a lazy grin, his paint visibly scratched and marked with lines of black. His field was a happy mess, his optics bright.

“Someone had a good time,” Sunstreaker commented with an arched orbital ridge. “Who was it?”

Sideswipe brushed at a scrape on his chestplate. “None of your business. You have your pets, I got mine.” He tipped his head toward the door. “C’mon. Let’s get that spare before I have to open.”

Sunstreaker squinted at him. His suspiciously good mood and lack of protest was telling.

“That must have been some frag,” Sunstreaker observed.

“No comment,” Sideswipe replied in that sing-song voice Sunstreaker loved to hate. “Now c’mon.”

“What should I do?” Dent asked.

Sunstreaker made a vague gesture to the common area. “Make yourself comfortable. Storage is out back so it shouldn’t take us very long.”

“Yes, sir.”

Sunstreaker flinched, but Sideswipe was bouncing on his heelstruts impatiently. Sunstreaker would address that later.

Sunstreaker joined Sideswipe at the door and followed him out back, to the triple-locked building they used for storage, supplies, and Sideswipe’s questionable business arrangements.

“You need a repaint,” Sunstreaker said as he waited for Sideswipe to input the code.

“So does your pet.”

“Sides,” Sunstreaker growled.

“I know, I know.” The door clattered open and Sideswipe flicked at a scratch in his arm. “These’re badges of pride, not flaws, bro.”

Sunstreaker pushed past him, wrinkling his nasal ridge as he caught a whiff of ozone. “You also stink.”

“Multiple overloads will do that to you. Maybe if you got out sometime, you’d know.”

“No thanks.” He edged past crates of unmarked content to the fold up berth in the back. “I have standards.”

“Ouch. Right in the spark.” Sideswipe slid to the other side of the berth. “You sure you want this? You and Dent could just double up.” He winked.

Sunstreaker groaned. “Just pick up your end.” He hated when Sideswipe was pleasure drunk. It made him ten times more obnoxious.

Sideswipe laughed but, luckily, didn’t push it. Together, they lifted the berth out of the storeroom, narrowly missing a barrel of unknown content. Sunstreaker preferred that he didn’t know, to be honest. Plausible deniability.

They wrestled the spare berth into the small room where Sunstreaker kept his art supplies and the canvasses that disappointed him. It would be cramped, but better than the streets Sunstreaker reasoned.

“Still don’t know why you’re going to all this trouble for an Empura,” Sideswipe grumbled.

Sunstreaker ignored him. Besides, he couldn’t explain it anyway.

They returned to the common room, Sideswipe diverting to grab a cube of energon.

Sunstreaker drew to a surprised halt, cycling his optics in disbelief. Dent had cleaned, neatening up the clutter Sideswipe was prone to throw about, and gathering the trash. Even now, he had a dust rag in pincer and was carefully wiping Sunstreaker’s first and last attempt at sculpting.

“Oh, look,” Sideswipe said as he swaggered in. “We’ve got a housemech.”

Sunstreaker elbowed him in the side, and took great delight in Sideswipe’s grunt of pain. Sideswipe gave him a sour look, but Sunstreaker ignored him. He was being an aft and Sunstreaker wanted him to know it.

“I was trying to help,” Dent said quietly, the nubs on his upper back twitching.

“You’re definitely doing that.” Sunstreaker looked around the room, surprised that not only was it clean, but Dent had alphabetized their collection of datatrax. “You did a good job.”

The Empura ducked his head and tucked his hands back at his side. “I am grateful,” he said, words sounding carefully chosen. “You are kind.”

Sunstreaker shifted his weight. No matter how often Dent said it, Sunstreaker couldn’t quite accept the compliment gracefully.

“I’m not,” he muttered and swept a hand over his head. “So, yeah. You can clean and then you’ll have earned your berth and energon, okay? No more of this talk of leaving.”

Dent nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“And don’t call me that either.” Sunstreaker’s back armor shuffled. “I’m Sunstreaker.”

“Or Sunny if you’re feelin’ brave,” Sideswipe said with a snicker. He draped himself against Sunstreaker’s side, braced on Sunstreaker’s shoulder. “You can call me Sideswipe though.”

Sunstreaker curled his lip and ducked out from under Sideswipe’s weight, taking great enjoyment in his brother’s yelp as he fought to catch his balance.

“Very well,” Dent said, something in the gleam of his optic suggesting a smile. “Thank you for your hospitality.”

Sunstreaker couldn’t help but return his smile. “You’re welcome.”

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[Misc] Secrets of the Heart 07

Chapter Seven – Holding Out for a Hero

I knew that I was being trailed from the very moment I left the relative safety of the festival crowds. I sought solitude and so headed for the surrounding forest. Somehow I should have known better. After all, enough time had passed since Yukimaru had come after me. However, I didn’t expect it to be them. I had assumed it would be someone else.

I was still silently seething over Mugen’s insensitivity. We had traveled together long enough that he knew my ways and how I am. He couldn’t expect me to change… I certainly didn’t ask it of him.

It was, of course, those musings that brought me back to my original line of thought. How different the two of us were… and, yet, thinking of his stubbornness, so much alike. What did I want out of this…? I did not even know what to call it. Tryst, affair, relationship… hardly.

It was the cracking of a twig that made me realize the close proximity of my attackers and just how deep in thought I had been.

I placed my hand on my swords cautiously as I turned slowly to face them, mouth already forming words. “So, you have found me. It seems Shuu has grown impatient.”

I faced the three men, neither shock nor recognition registering on my face despite the fact that both feelings were twisting around my insides.

“Lord Urahara is tired of chasing you, Jin,” the man in the middle spat. He was a squat, balding noble, who I knew to be named Fujisaki. Technically, he was lower in rank than me, but I threw out those privileges long ago.

“And so Shuu sent three,” I noted, hand never leaving my daisho. “He must think highly of me.”

“You killed Ryo, you bastard!” another man cursed at me. He stood to Fujisaki’s right, his shorn hair stirring in the faint breeze. Perhaps Ryo had been more than a friend.

“He tried to kill me first, Nakano,” I responded coldly. “Perhaps he should have possessed some skill before he attempted to become a part of an assassination squad.”

Nakano growled and reached for his sword, but Fujisaki stopped him with just a look. However, the third still intrigued me. He was heavily masked and hadn’t spoken yet.

“What do you hide under that mask?” I urged, “I would know the face of those I defeat.”

A low laugh echoed through the empty forest as a decidedly slim and elegantly fingered hand came out from beneath a set of dark-colored robes and headed for the mask. In one deft fluid motion, the mask was removed, and I could not help but gasp a name in surprise.

“Inoue…”

She smirked at me, eyes still displaying that inner brightness. “It’s been a long time, J-san.”

Fujisaki laughed before I had a chance to respond to Inoue. I cast him a cold glare.

“How does it feel?” Fujisaki sneered.

“Your own brother sends assassins after you, one of which is a former bride-to-be?” Nakano continued, joining in the other man’s taunting.

I narrowed my eyes at them. “You talk far too much.” I would kill Nakano and Fujisaki, but never in my right mind could I hurt Inoue. Shuu was counting on that, I am sure, but I still could not do it.

I drew my sword and leveled it at the three of them. They all mimicked my moves. There was no turning back now.

Nakano attacked first, rushing at me with a vengeance. I easily thwarted his attacks, blocking his clumsy blows and pushing him backwards. Until Fujisaki joined into the fray, coming at me from another side, then things were not so easy.

The two men were skilled in their own rights, though far less than me. Still, it was two to one, and it was all I could do to block their attacks. Fighting back was not much of an option.

Nakano slashed at me from the right, aiming for my mid-section. I pulled my sword to the side, quickly blocking his weapon even as I swung around swiftly and blocked Fujisaki’s downwards swing with a decided clang. Already Nakano was attacking me again. I fluidly moved my body out of the way as I continued to block Fujisaki’s attacks. The two men were relentless; they wanted blood.

Perhaps it was just my time to die… I had lived long enough for my transgressions I suppose. It did not matter that Ichigo deserved it… it did not matter what I thought because my life was on the line. These were the thoughts that went through my mind as I struggled to fight off both Nakano and Fujisaki as my one-time bride-to-be watched on, a tell-tale smirk on her face.

The ripping of fabric, and I finally managed to land a blow on Nakano, slicing up his forearm on his sword hand. He cursed audibly but ignored the pain as he came at me with even more vigor, surprising the hell out of me. I figured – coward that he was – Nakano would back off to nurse his wound. The searing pain in my upper left thigh reminded me of my other opponent as Fujisaki caught me off guard and managed to get in a blow, though non-fatal.

The slice was like fire spreading throughout my entire leg, making it incredibly difficult to walk. I could feel the warm sticky blood dripping down my leg and cold chills raced up and down my spine. Perhaps it really was my time to die…

I did not have any longer to think as both men rushed me again, giving me no time for rest. I blocked Fujisaki’s clumsy swing, though the force behind it sent reverberations up my arm and kicked out with my leg hoping to catch Nakano in the knee. I succeeded, and he went down howling.

I had no time to gloat over my one victory as Fujisaki bore down on me. It was at this point that Inoue decided to take part in the fight. I caught her movements out of the corner of my eye as she lazily reached for her sword and did a few stretches. A small shiver of fear raced through my body. I knew who her father was… I knew which dojo she had grown up in… and I knew that, being his only child, Inoue’s father had demanded that she learn to wield a sword. They were a rather liberal family being as no one else would even tolerate that sort of behavior… and from a female no less.

Nakano struggled to get to his feet, attempting to shift his weight onto his uninjured leg. I had struck his knee pretty hard. I would not be surprised if I had shattered his knee cap.

Fujisaki slashed mercilessly with quick, vicious strokes. I blocked them easily enough, but I was more worried about Inoue now approaching me from my left. Nakano had been pushed far out of my mind. That was a mistake that I should have realized sooner.

“I have been looking forward to this for so long…” purred Inoue in a voice that I well-recognized. Fujisaki pulled away from attacking me and the three of them stared me down. I got a moment’s reprieve and barely noticed the fact that I was breathing heavily. I longed to staunch the wound but did not want to show weakness in front of my assassins.

“To beat the famous Urahara Jin [1]… do you wonder why father never let me face you before?” Inoue asked, cocking her head to the side.

“He didn’t want me to kill you,” I managed to say without gasping or sounding short of breath. All hail the power of stoicisms and pride.

She frowned then snorted in a very unladylike fashion. “Hardly. He didn’t want me to kill his best friend’s favorite student.”

I shrugged, ignoring the blood dripping down my leg and soaking my footwear. I pretended as if I was not in such pain. “Then show me this skill that you boast so highly of… it has yet to be seen.”

She growled angrily and raised her sword. I did the same, prepared to fight to the death. I could hear Nakano gasping as he struggled to rise to his feet and then both Inoue and Fujisaki were attacking me at once.

She came at me with a series of vicious attacks, each one seemingly faster than the first. I had heard that she was quick with a blade, but it appeared she had grown even faster in the time since I had last seen her. I managed to block each one of her blows with grace but I couldn’t move from the barrage of their combined strikes. My leg was beginning to go numb.

Fujisaki had flanked her, going in for an attack when he thought I wasn’t looking or when I seemed too busy with her. He was dishonorable the way he aimed for my neck or stomach with diligent attempts.

Fighting Inoue was like trying to slice leaves as they fall out of the autumn tree. She was quick and flitted as if she danced on the wind. Dueling with Fujisaki was like trying to cut down a tree. His attacks were slow but powerful and more often than not made me take a step back on legs that were growing tired of supporting my weight.

A heavy, hot fire raced through my back, and I realized that in the midst of battle, I had forgotten one of the more important rules. Keep your eyes on your enemy. I had neglected to watch Nakano.

As more blood dripped down my back, and I could feel the wind creeping inside my clothing to blow across the wound, I just managed to push back Inoue and Fujisaki enough to pull out my other sword and slash at the backstabber with my weaker hand as I turned slightly. I caught him viciously across the chest and he went down, eyes rolling to the back of his head and blood pooling around his body. I had cut deep, and I doubted that he would survive.

The crunch of fallen leaves, and I turned just in time to block both Inoue and Fujisaki’s combined attack with my dominant hand. I hurriedly sheathed my sword, no time to clean it, and put all of my rapidly descending strength into pushing them off of me.

It occurred to me that I might not survive this time.

That thought made its presence known at the same time that I pushed back hard against the two and caused them to stumble backwards. I slashed at Fujisaki, catching him in the shoulder, albeit on his non-sword arm, but still it was a hit.

I hurriedly raised my sword to attack Inoue, but she had already regained her balance. She slashed downwards at me, putting much of her strength behind the blow. I brought up my sword to block, and my leg gave out beneath me. I dropped to a kneeling position, still managing to defend against her attack. She shifted her weight to attack again, and I felt the whoosh of air as Fujisaki attacked from the right. I hurriedly brought up my sword to block but looked him in the eye and knew it was over as Inoue angled her weapons downwards toward my defenseless left side. My eyes closed in silent defeat. My last thought was of Mugen… and how I had last seen him… and I was instantly filled with regret.

I felt the jarring strike of blade on blade as I blocked Fujisaki’s attack and waited for the searing pain that would accompany Inoue’s completed lunge. Instead, I heard the rustling of leaves on a bush and the familiar clang of blade meeting blade. I pushed up tiredly at Fujisaki even as I opened my eyes. It hardly registered that I was not yet dead as I slashed violently at the older man’s legs and succeeded in dealing him a deadly gash to his inner right thigh. With any luck I would have managed to slice his femoral artery.

Inoue kicked at me even as she battled her new opponent. I barely registered a bright red coat as her foot made contact with my head and her footwear sliced a gash in my forehead. I slumped forward and used my sword to prop me up as blood filled my vision.

Was that… Mugen? I observed the scene before me with surprise and a tired air.

Nakano still lay in a pile of his own blood, face down on the ground. I would not have to worry about swords to the back from that one any longer. Fujisaki had slumped to the ground and was frantically trying to staunch the continuously flowing blood from the wound in his leg. I was right… I had gotten the artery and he knew it too.

His skin was ashen and his fingers trembling as he continued to wrap the wound, knowing the entire time that it was futile. I looked at him impassively and we exchanged glances. He grinned then, something subtle and mysterious. I frowned at him, but I could not keep it as my world was beginning to go grey. I had wounds that needed to be treated.

Fujisaki stopped binding his wound and dug around in his pockets. In seconds he had pulled out a small pouch, hardly large enough to hold anything of worth, and tossed it to me. I watched through dim vision as the leather pouch landed near me, where my sword was currently buried in the ground to hold me up. I didn’t recognize the pouch nor did I reach to take it. That would have used up what little energy I didn’t have. When I next glanced at the older man… he had slumped completely to the ground, either passed out from blood loss or completely dead. I was not able to get up and check.

I briefly registered the clang of blade on blade yet again and looked through a vision of blood to see Mugen and Inoue still fighting. He was able to hold his own against her… I suppose I should have expected it. After all, the man was nearly a match for me. I could hear muttered curses… but they were going dim too. The battle lust that had kept me going… the rush of adrenaline was fading. I could feel my hands slipping from my sword as I began to slump forward, the blade toppling over without me to hold it up.

“Jin!” I heard him call out my name, but I could not respond.

So much blood… the air was full of it. I could taste it and smell it, that thick warm and coppery essence that ultimately made the bile want to rise up in my throat. It was not as if I hadn’t killed before, but still no matter how many times I had to, the very thought of it was sickening. Human lives were so short… our very existence seemed not to matter. There was a flash of red across my dim vision… I barely registered a voice… and then I knew no more.

* * *

I woke up sometime later; I could not be sure how much. I was lying back in a bed, I assumed back at the inn. I was undressed with my hair unbound and all my wounds were wrapped up tightly. Someone had done a good job on the bandages; they were clean and well done. I tried to move but only groaned with the pain. It felt as if a fire had ripped across my back. Apparently that one attack from Nakano had been worse than I had initially thought.

I turned my head to the side, trying to avoid the bright sunlight streaming in through the window and ignoring the sounds of merriment and happiness that drifted up from the celebrations still going on in the town.

I looked around the room and found that my assumptions were correct. It was our room at the inn. I saw my clothing draped across some sort of drying rack. Someone had been thoughtful enough to fix them for me. My swords and glasses were sitting near to my hands within easy reach on the floor next to me. They knew me well.

There was a red coat lying haphazardly in a chair with a sword slung across the back of it. I recognized the items immediately as belonging to Mugen. So it wasn’t my imagination then… it had been the Ryu-Kyuian that had `saved’ me.

The door to the room opened, and I looked up to see Mugen entering, Fuu and Kenji on his heels. The girl was carrying a small tray and the bodyguard had an armful of bandages. Mugen stopped in his tracks when he realized that I had awakened, causing both to nearly slam into his back.

I was quite amused by this. I instantly remembered the last conversation we had and felt just a bit of shame. We had argued… I had nearly died on a bad note such as that. I never thought that when I died there would be regret. However, to be honest, if I had died on that day… I would have regretted ending on such a sour note.

I shifted restlessly on the bed and looked up at him, opening my mouth to speak. My throat felt hoarse and dry but I still managed to croak something out. I had originally intended to say something witty and perhaps sarcastic, but that was not what came out.

“Arigato.“

He heaved a big sigh of relief and continued on entering the room, his early moment of hesitation forgotten. He plopped down near the bed and reached for my shoulder. I had not even realized that I had gotten hurt there. Most of the fight was a blur that I would have gladly forgotten.

“Baka,” he said softly as he unwrapped the wound. I winced slightly as the bandages pulled away from it. Fuu appeared at his side with the tray. I noticed it had a bowl of water I could only assume was warm, some type of washing cloth, and a bottle of salve. Kenji moved to his other side and laid the bandages down.

“You knew about them, didn’t you?”

I shook my head. “Not until after I had left you three. Yet, how did YOU get there so fast?”

“I told him about three men that I had noticed were asking about you,” Fuu said quietly. She set down the tray and stood back up. She and Kenji exchanged glances and the two left the room. They appeared to be wanting to give us privacy.

I followed their movements with my eyes. Mugen caught this.

“Yeah, they know. Kenji apparently was the one to figure it out.”

He began to clean my wound yet again, applying the salve and recovering it with bandages. Whatever he was using managed to not only dull the pain, but it seemed to be helping me to heal faster.

It was a subdued and abnormally quiet Mugen, who was tending to my wounds. He reached to pull the blanket down to get at a few other wounds, but I grabbed his arm. He had yet to really look at me and this forced his eyes to meet mine. I recognized the look that I saw there. I made my decision and gave him a yank, forcing him down on me. A look of surprise registered moments before our lips met, and I was hungrily devouring that mouth.

With only the slightest wince of pain, I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him closer. He shifted his weight so that he could rest more comfortably and returned the passion, holding most of his bulk up with one hand laid flat on the floor and burying the other in my hair.

I slipped my tongue into his mouth, reveling in his familiar taste and proving to myself that I was still alive, and he was still here with me.

For a moment in that battle, I had believed myself dead… and the last thought on my mind had been him. I had underestimated his importance to me… I truly loved the arrogant baka.

He nipped at my bottom lip playfully as he ran his hands through my hair and teased the back of my neck with a finger. I was never happier to be alive. Until him, I was plodding through life, just living for the sake of not wanting to end it.

With a need for breath and to tell him, I broke from the kiss and looked him in the eyes. “I am sorry, Mugen.”

He grinned, that lopsided cocky grin that I had fallen in love with. “Took you long enough.” He gave me another quick kiss before pulling back and returning to his ministrations on my leg. That wound wasn’t very deep, but it was long and shallow, stinging more than hurting.

We didn’t speak as he redressed and rewrapped the wound. I was content to be near him, and I was glad that we were no longer fighting. Once he finished with the leg, we worked together so that I was lying on my stomach and he addressed the wound that was worse on my back.

Finally, Mugen spoke. I suppose he couldn’t stand the silence.

“They were more assassins, from your master’s dojo?” he questioned quietly.

I thought about how to answer that. It was true and yet it wasn’t. Inoue was, of course, as was Nakano, but Fujisaki… He was of my brother’s guard, a samurai in his own rights, but from a lesser family with a larger brood of children.

“You could say that,” I answered vaguely. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to completely explain to him my past.

“And… she was?”

Ah, now he came to the true question he wanted to ask. I propped myself up on my elbows and looked over my shoulders at him as he smoothed the salve over the wound. It was comforting and made me feel sleepy again.

“No one of importance,” I answered, looking him in the eye.

His jaw set firmly, unhappy with the answer I had given him. He wanted more… he wanted explanations, and well, I was not ready to speak of them just yet. He did not say anything else as he continued to wrap the wound, but I noticed his movements were just a bit jerky and coarse.

“Thank you for attending to my wounds,” I said quietly, easing into a more comfortable position as he tied the last knot in the bandages.

“I can’t have you dying on me just yet.” He smirked, a bit of that old fire beginning to creep in. “Only I get to kill you, remember?”

I huffed slightly and settled down, suddenly feeling very drowsy. He moved as if to get up from the floor, but I reached out quickly and snatched him back down. I pulled him towards me. I received a look of confusion in return.

“You can stay in here… with me,” I said softly, moving over just enough to give him some room to curl up in front of me.

He eyed me cautiously, noticing the state of my wounds and debating whether or not it would be alright. I sighed and gave him another pull. He took me up on my offer and lay down in front of me. I wrapped an arm around his waist and pulled him close, using his fire to warm my cooling body.

“I will tell you, Mugen, just… not yet,” I spoke quietly in his ear as I settled into sleep, feeling comfortable and satisfied. It felt like I was where I belonged, despite the bandages.

“Hmph,” I heard him respond as he settled himself more comfortably, worming around a bit before he found the exact perfect position. A hand clasped over mine, the one I had wrapped around his waist, and I smiled as I drifted off into slumber.

ve known better. After all, enough time had passed since Yukimaru had come after me. However, I didn’t expect it to be them. I had assumed it would be someone else.

I was still silently seething over Mugen’s insensitivity. We had traveled together long enough that he knew my ways and how I am. He couldn’t expect me to change… I certainly didn’t ask it of him.
It was, of course, those musings that brought me back to my original line of thought. How different the two of us were… and, yet, thinking of his stubbornness, so much alike. What did I want out of this…? I did not even know what to call it. Tryst, affair, relationship… hardly.
It was the cracking of a twig that made me realize the close proximity of my attackers and just how deep in thought I had been.
I placed my hand on my swords cautiously as I turned slowly to face them, mouth already forming words. “So, you have found me. It seems Shuu has grown impatient.”
I faced the three men, neither shock nor recognition registering on my face despite the fact that both feelings were twisting around my insides.
“Lord Urahara is tired of chasing you, Jin,” the man in the middle spat. He was a squat, balding noble, who I knew to be named Fujisaki. Technically, he was lower in rank than me, but I threw out those privileges long ago.
“And so Shuu sent three,” I noted, hand never leaving my daisho. “He must think highly of me.”
“You killed Ryo, you bastard!” another man cursed at me. He stood to Fujisaki’s right, his shorn hair stirring in the faint breeze. Perhaps Ryo had been more than a friend.
“He tried to kill me first, Nakano,” I responded coldly. “Perhaps he should have possessed some skill before he attempted to become a part of an assassination squad.”
Nakano growled and reached for his sword, but Fujisaki stopped him with just a look. However, the third still intrigued me. He was heavily masked and hadn’t spoken yet.
“What do you hide under that mask?” I urged, “I would know the face of those I defeat.”
A low laugh echoed through the empty forest as a decidedly slim and elegantly fingered hand came out from beneath a set of dark-colored robes and headed for the mask. In one deft fluid motion, the mask was removed, and I could not help but gasp a name in surprise.
“Inoue…”
She smirked at me, eyes still displaying that inner brightness. “It’s been a long time, J-san.”
Fujisaki laughed before I had a chance to respond to Inoue. I cast him a cold glare.
“How does it feel?” Fujisaki sneered.
“Your own brother sends assassins after you, one of which is a former bride-to-be?” Nakano continued, joining in the other man’s taunting.
I narrowed my eyes at them. “You talk far too much.” I would kill Nakano and Fujisaki, but never in my right mind could I hurt Inoue. Shuu was counting on that, I am sure, but I still could not do it.
I drew my sword and leveled it at the three of them. They all mimicked my moves. There was no turning back now.
Nakano attacked first, rushing at me with a vengeance. I easily thwarted his attacks, blocking his clumsy blows and pushing him backwards. Until Fujisaki joined into the fray, coming at me from another side, then things were not so easy.
The two men were skilled in their own rights, though far less than me. Still, it was two to one, and it was all I could do to block their attacks. Fighting back was not much of an option.
Nakano slashed at me from the right, aiming for my mid-section. I pulled my sword to the side, quickly blocking his weapon even as I swung around swiftly and blocked Fujisaki’s downwards swing with a decided clang. Already Nakano was attacking me again. I fluidly moved my body out of the way as I continued to block Fujisaki’s attacks. The two men were relentless; they wanted blood.
Perhaps it was just my time to die… I had lived long enough for my transgressions I suppose. It did not matter that Ichigo deserved it… it did not matter what I thought because my life was on the line. These were the thoughts that went through my mind as I struggled to fight off both Nakano and Fujisaki as my one-time bride-to-be watched on, a tell-tale smirk on her face.
The ripping of fabric, and I finally managed to land a blow on Nakano, slicing up his forearm on his sword hand. He cursed audibly but ignored the pain as he came at me with even more vigor, surprising the hell out of me. I figured – coward that he was – Nakano would back off to nurse his wound. The searing pain in my upper left thigh reminded me of my other opponent as Fujisaki caught me off guard and managed to get in a blow, though non-fatal.
The slice was like fire spreading throughout my entire leg, making it incredibly difficult to walk. I could feel the warm sticky blood dripping down my leg and cold chills raced up and down my spine. Perhaps it really was my time to die…
I did not have any longer to think as both men rushed me again, giving me no time for rest. I blocked Fujisaki’s clumsy swing, though the force behind it sent reverberations up my arm and kicked out with my leg hoping to catch Nakano in the knee. I succeeded, and he went down howling.
I had no time to gloat over my one victory as Fujisaki bore down on me. It was at this point that Inoue decided to take part in the fight. I caught her movements out of the corner of my eye as she lazily reached for her sword and did a few stretches. A small shiver of fear raced through my body. I knew who her father was… I knew which dojo she had grown up in… and I knew that, being his only child, Inoue’s father had demanded that she learn to wield a sword. They were a rather liberal family being as no one else would even tolerate that sort of behavior… and from a female no less.
Nakano struggled to get to his feet, attempting to shift his weight onto his uninjured leg. I had struck his knee pretty hard. I would not be surprised if I had shattered his knee cap.
Fujisaki slashed mercilessly with quick, vicious strokes. I blocked them easily enough, but I was more worried about Inoue now approaching me from my left. Nakano had been pushed far out of my mind. That was a mistake that I should have realized sooner.
“I have been looking forward to this for so long…” purred Inoue in a voice that I well-recognized. Fujisaki pulled away from attacking me and the three of them stared me down. I got a moment’s reprieve and barely noticed the fact that I was breathing heavily. I longed to staunch the wound but did not want to show weakness in front of my assassins.
“To beat the famous Urahara Jin [1]… do you wonder why father never let me face you before?” Inoue asked, cocking her head to the side.
“He didn’t want me to kill you,” I managed to say without gasping or sounding short of breath. All hail the power of stoicisms and pride.
She frowned then snorted in a very unladylike fashion. “Hardly. He didn’t want me to kill his best friend’s favorite student.”
I shrugged, ignoring the blood dripping down my leg and soaking my footwear. I pretended as if I was not in such pain. “Then show me this skill that you boast so highly of… it has yet to be seen.”
She growled angrily and raised her sword. I did the same, prepared to fight to the death. I could hear Nakano gasping as he struggled to rise to his feet and then both Inoue and Fujisaki were attacking me at once.
She came at me with a series of vicious attacks, each one seemingly faster than the first. I had heard that she was quick with a blade, but it appeared she had grown even faster in the time since I had last seen her. I managed to block each one of her blows with grace but I couldn’t move from the barrage of their combined strikes. My leg was beginning to go numb.
Fujisaki had flanked her, going in for an attack when he thought I wasn’t looking or when I seemed too busy with her. He was dishonorable the way he aimed for my neck or stomach with diligent attempts.
Fighting Inoue was like trying to slice leaves as they fall out of the autumn tree. She was quick and flitted as if she danced on the wind. Dueling with Fujisaki was like trying to cut down a tree. His attacks were slow but powerful and more often than not made me take a step back on legs that were growing tired of supporting my weight.
A heavy, hot fire raced through my back, and I realized that in the midst of battle, I had forgotten one of the more important rules. Keep your eyes on your enemy. I had neglected to watch Nakano.
As more blood dripped down my back, and I could feel the wind creeping inside my clothing to blow across the wound, I just managed to push back Inoue and Fujisaki enough to pull out my other sword and slash at the backstabber with my weaker hand as I turned slightly. I caught him viciously across the chest and he went down, eyes rolling to the back of his head and blood pooling around his body. I had cut deep, and I doubted that he would survive.
The crunch of fallen leaves, and I turned just in time to block both Inoue and Fujisaki’s combined attack with my dominant hand. I hurriedly sheathed my sword, no time to clean it, and put all of my rapidly descending strength into pushing them off of me.
It occurred to me that I might not survive this time.
That thought made its presence known at the same time that I pushed back hard against the two and caused them to stumble backwards. I slashed at Fujisaki, catching him in the shoulder, albeit on his non-sword arm, but still it was a hit.
I hurriedly raised my sword to attack Inoue, but she had already regained her balance. She slashed downwards at me, putting much of her strength behind the blow. I brought up my sword to block, and my leg gave out beneath me. I dropped to a kneeling position, still managing to defend against her attack. She shifted her weight to attack again, and I felt the whoosh of air as Fujisaki attacked from the right. I hurriedly brought up my sword to block but looked him in the eye and knew it was over as Inoue angled her weapons downwards toward my defenseless left side. My eyes closed in silent defeat. My last thought was of Mugen… and how I had last seen him… and I was instantly filled with regret.
I felt the jarring strike of blade on blade as I blocked Fujisaki’s attack and waited for the searing pain that would accompany Inoue’s completed lunge. Instead, I heard the rustling of leaves on a bush and the familiar clang of blade meeting blade. I pushed up tiredly at Fujisaki even as I opened my eyes. It hardly registered that I was not yet dead as I slashed violently at the older man’s legs and succeeded in dealing him a deadly gash to his inner right thigh. With any luck I would have managed to slice his femoral artery.
Inoue kicked at me even as she battled her new opponent. I barely registered a bright red coat as her foot made contact with my head and her footwear sliced a gash in my forehead. I slumped forward and used my sword to prop me up as blood filled my vision.
Was that… Mugen? I observed the scene before me with surprise and a tired air.
Nakano still lay in a pile of his own blood, face down on the ground. I would not have to worry about swords to the back from that one any longer. Fujisaki had slumped to the ground and was frantically trying to staunch the continuously flowing blood from the wound in his leg. I was right… I had gotten the artery and he knew it too.
His skin was ashen and his fingers trembling as he continued to wrap the wound, knowing the entire time that it was futile. I looked at him impassively and we exchanged glances. He grinned then, something subtle and mysterious. I frowned at him, but I could not keep it as my world was beginning to go grey. I had wounds that needed to be treated.
Fujisaki stopped binding his wound and dug around in his pockets. In seconds he had pulled out a small pouch, hardly large enough to hold anything of worth, and tossed it to me. I watched through dim vision as the leather pouch landed near me, where my sword was currently buried in the ground to hold me up. I didn’t recognize the pouch nor did I reach to take it. That would have used up what little energy I didn’t have. When I next glanced at the older man… he had slumped completely to the ground, either passed out from blood loss or completely dead. I was not able to get up and check.
I briefly registered the clang of blade on blade yet again and looked through a vision of blood to see Mugen and Inoue still fighting. He was able to hold his own against her… I suppose I should have expected it. After all, the man was nearly a match for me. I could hear muttered curses… but they were going dim too. The battle lust that had kept me going… the rush of adrenaline was fading. I could feel my hands slipping from my sword as I began to slump forward, the blade toppling over without me to hold it up.
“Jin!” I heard him call out my name, but I could not respond.
So much blood… the air was full of it. I could taste it and smell it, that thick warm and coppery essence that ultimately made the bile want to rise up in my throat. It was not as if I hadn’t killed before, but still no matter how many times I had to, the very thought of it was sickening. Human lives were so short… our very existence seemed not to matter. There was a flash of red across my dim vision… I barely registered a voice… and then I knew no more.
* * *
I woke up sometime later; I could not be sure how much. I was lying back in a bed, I assumed back at the inn. I was undressed with my hair unbound and all my wounds were wrapped up tightly. Someone had done a good job on the bandages; they were clean and well done. I tried to move but only groaned with the pain. It felt as if a fire had ripped across my back. Apparently that one attack from Nakano had been worse than I had initially thought.
I turned my head to the side, trying to avoid the bright sunlight streaming in through the window and ignoring the sounds of merriment and happiness that drifted up from the celebrations still going on in the town.
I looked around the room and found that my assumptions were correct. It was our room at the inn. I saw my clothing draped across some sort of drying rack. Someone had been thoughtful enough to fix them for me. My swords and glasses were sitting near to my hands within easy reach on the floor next to me. They knew me well.
There was a red coat lying haphazardly in a chair with a sword slung across the back of it. I recognized the items immediately as belonging to Mugen. So it wasn’t my imagination then… it had been the Ryu-Kyuian that had `saved’ me.
The door to the room opened, and I looked up to see Mugen entering, Fuu and Kenji on his heels. The girl was carrying a small tray and the bodyguard had an armful of bandages. Mugen stopped in his tracks when he realized that I had awakened, causing both to nearly slam into his back.
I was quite amused by this. I instantly remembered the last conversation we had and felt just a bit of shame. We had argued… I had nearly died on a bad note such as that. I never thought that when I died there would be regret. However, to be honest, if I had died on that day… I would have regretted ending on such a sour note.
I shifted restlessly on the bed and looked up at him, opening my mouth to speak. My throat felt hoarse and dry but I still managed to croak something out. I had originally intended to say something witty and perhaps sarcastic, but that was not what came out.
“Arigato.“
He heaved a big sigh of relief and continued on entering the room, his early moment of hesitation forgotten. He plopped down near the bed and reached for my shoulder. I had not even realized that I had gotten hurt there. Most of the fight was a blur that I would have gladly forgotten.
“Baka,” he said softly as he unwrapped the wound. I winced slightly as the bandages pulled away from it. Fuu appeared at his side with the tray. I noticed it had a bowl of water I could only assume was warm, some type of washing cloth, and a bottle of salve. Kenji moved to his other side and laid the bandages down.
“You knew about them, didn’t you?”
I shook my head. “Not until after I had left you three. Yet, how did YOU get there so fast?”
“I told him about three men that I had noticed were asking about you,” Fuu said quietly. She set down the tray and stood back up. She and Kenji exchanged glances and the two left the room. They appeared to be wanting to give us privacy.
I followed their movements with my eyes. Mugen caught this.
“Yeah, they know. Kenji apparently was the one to figure it out.”
He began to clean my wound yet again, applying the salve and recovering it with bandages. Whatever he was using managed to not only dull the pain, but it seemed to be helping me to heal faster.
It was a subdued and abnormally quiet Mugen, who was tending to my wounds. He reached to pull the blanket down to get at a few other wounds, but I grabbed his arm. He had yet to really look at me and this forced his eyes to meet mine. I recognized the look that I saw there. I made my decision and gave him a yank, forcing him down on me. A look of surprise registered moments before our lips met, and I was hungrily devouring that mouth.
With only the slightest wince of pain, I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him closer. He shifted his weight so that he could rest more comfortably and returned the passion, holding most of his bulk up with one hand laid flat on the floor and burying the other in my hair.
I slipped my tongue into his mouth, reveling in his familiar taste and proving to myself that I was still alive, and he was still here with me.
For a moment in that battle, I had believed myself dead… and the last thought on my mind had been him. I had underestimated his importance to me… I truly loved the arrogant baka.
He nipped at my bottom lip playfully as he ran his hands through my hair and teased the back of my neck with a finger. I was never happier to be alive. Until him, I was plodding through life, just living for the sake of not wanting to end it.
With a need for breath and to tell him, I broke from the kiss and looked him in the eyes. “I am sorry, Mugen.”
He grinned, that lopsided cocky grin that I had fallen in love with. “Took you long enough.” He gave me another quick kiss before pulling back and returning to his ministrations on my leg. That wound wasn’t very deep, but it was long and shallow, stinging more than hurting.
We didn’t speak as he redressed and rewrapped the wound. I was content to be near him, and I was glad that we were no longer fighting. Once he finished with the leg, we worked together so that I was lying on my stomach and he addressed the wound that was worse on my back.
Finally, Mugen spoke. I suppose he couldn’t stand the silence.
“They were more assassins, from your master’s dojo?” he questioned quietly.
I thought about how to answer that. It was true and yet it wasn’t. Inoue was, of course, as was Nakano, but Fujisaki… He was of my brother’s guard, a samurai in his own rights, but from a lesser family with a larger brood of children.
“You could say that,” I answered vaguely. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to completely explain to him my past.
“And… she was?”
Ah, now he came to the true question he wanted to ask. I propped myself up on my elbows and looked over my shoulders at him as he smoothed the salve over the wound. It was comforting and made me feel sleepy again.
“No one of importance,” I answered, looking him in the eye.
His jaw set firmly, unhappy with the answer I had given him. He wanted more… he wanted explanations, and well, I was not ready to speak of them just yet. He did not say anything else as he continued to wrap the wound, but I noticed his movements were just a bit jerky and coarse.
“Thank you for attending to my wounds,” I said quietly, easing into a more comfortable position as he tied the last knot in the bandages.
“I can’t have you dying on me just yet.” He smirked, a bit of that old fire beginning to creep in. “Only I get to kill you, remember?”
I huffed slightly and settled down, suddenly feeling very drowsy. He moved as if to get up from the floor, but I reached out quickly and snatched him back down. I pulled him towards me. I received a look of confusion in return.
“You can stay in here… with me,” I said softly, moving over just enough to give him some room to curl up in front of me.
He eyed me cautiously, noticing the state of my wounds and debating whether or not it would be alright. I sighed and gave him another pull. He took me up on my offer and lay down in front of me. I wrapped an arm around his waist and pulled him close, using his fire to warm my cooling body.
“I will tell you, Mugen, just… not yet,” I spoke quietly in his ear as I settled into sleep, feeling comfortable and satisfied. It felt like I was where I belonged, despite the bandages.
“Hmph,” I heard him respond as he settled himself more comfortably, worming around a bit before he found the exact perfect position. A hand clasped over mine, the one I had wrapped around his waist, and I smiled as I drifted off into slumber.

[Misc] Secrets of the Heart 06

Chapter Six – Pushing Me Away

I can always tell when Jin is thinking about something. He disappears inside himself, and his eyes get this faraway look to `em, like he is seeing something that isn’t there. Not that it was hard to figure it out; he thinks more than I eat.

But that is beside the point… even amid the fun of the festival, the food and music, he has managed to be all locked up and gloomy.

I wondered what is thinking about. There were times when I wished that I could just open up his head and take a peek inside.

Annoyed by the gloomy atmosphere that had gathered around his head, I sidled up next to him and bumped him with my shoulder. He cast a look at me but didn’t say anything.

Frowning, I glanced quickly at Fuu and Kenji who were deep in conversation. Well, more like Fuu was babbling on and on, and Kenji was merely smiling and nodding. They weren’t looking.

So, I reached up and licked his ear. I could feel the shiver that ran through his entire body. “Mugen…”

“We are supposed to be having fun, but you’re acting like a stick in the mud,” I told him, punching him lightly on the arm.

“Hm.”

“Don’t `hm’ me! I hate it when you do that!”

“I wouldn’t have to if you didn’t bother me, while I was thinking.”

“You are always thinking,” I argued in return. See here I was hoping that we could spend some time together and not fight. I wanted to see if there was something more than sex and anger between us. Seems like he didn’t care either way.

“Hm,” was his only answer.

”Dammit!” I growled, moving to stand in front of him and planting my feet solidly. He looked at me, an unamused expression on his face. Well… as expressive as a block of ice could be anyways. “You’re just a big fake, Jin!”

He looked at me through those glasses that he doesn’t even need. “Please explain to me exactly what you mean by that.”

I moved in closer, poking at his shoulder with one finger, lowering my voice just enough that Fuu can’t hear what I am saying being as I just noticed her and Kenji turning around and beginning to look. “You act all soft and nice after you’ve had a chance to fuck me, but outside in the real world you still treat me like a piece of dirt on the bottom of your high `n mighty feet!” A pretty good speech if I do say so myself.

He sighed. “You want to discuss that here?” Raising an eyebrow, he glanced around at Fuu and Kenji who were staring and a few strangers who had grown interested by my earlier angered `Dammit’!

“Are you two fighting again?” Fuu questioned, coming up to his and resting her hands on her hips.

“I think perhaps we should let them talk, Miss Fuu,” added in Kenji, grabbing her arm to attempt and pull her away. “Lover’s quarrel, you know.”

“What?” I exclaimed, as if he had just told the biggest secret in the world. Well, I thought so anyway.

“You would do well to hide your secrets better,” the Iyatokan muttered, trying to pull a now completely baffled Fuu away. But she seemed to be frozen to the ground.

I heard Jin sigh and returned my attentions to him. “What the hell you annoyed by now? We making too much noise and interruptin’ your `thinking’ time?”

I was angry. I couldn’t help it. He made my blood boil in so many ways. I wondered if there was anyway we would ever get along. I loved the cold bastard dammit, but was that enough?

“I am not in the mood to deal with your childish tantrums today, Mugen,” he said simply before starting to walk off into the crowd.

“L… lovers?” I dimly heard Fuu’s stammered question but promptly ignored her. I had to catch the ice princess.

I moved forward and grabbed his sleeve. He turned only slightly to look at me. “Where the hell do you think you’re going?”

“Somewhere away from you for now. I need to think.”

“Tch.” I let go of his arm and let him walk away without another word. I wasn’t some crying bitch. I wasn’t going to fight and whine and beg him to stay. Let the cold bastard walk away if he wanted to, he’ll see what happens when he comes back.

“Lovers?” Fuu repeated again. She was beginning to sound like a broken record.

I turned to glare at her and crossed my arms over my chest. “You got a problem with that?”

“No,” she answered stubbornly, shaking her head to clear her confusion. “I am just surprised is all.”

“Tch.”

She giggled. “You have been spending too much time together. Giving me one word answers like that, sound just like him.”

“Tch,” I responded then turned my glare onto Kenji, the bastard who revealed our secret. “How in hell did you know?”

The Iyatokan shrugged. “Came back a little too early, heard some things I’d rather not hear again.”

“What were you guys arguing about?” Fuu questioned. She seemed worried or somethin’. I don’t know why though… it’s not like it was her boyfriend or anything.

“Nothing important,” I muttered. I moved past her and grabbed her arm as I walked. In turn she grabbed Kenji’s. “Come on, I’m hungry.”

“O… Okay,” she stammered as she struggled to keep along with me. I dragged the two of them with me through the freakishly happy festival, in the complete opposite direction where that ice block had gone.

“Nothing important, hmm?” questioned Kenji. “Then why did he walk off all alone?”

“He needed to think!” I answered through gritted teeth suddenly grounding to a halt. We were far enough. Fuu crashed into my back but Kenji pulled away, actually quite fluid in his movements.

“Fine,” the girl said, shooting Kenji a look. “We won’t talk about Jin.” Disentangling herself from my clothes, she walked over to the nearest fried dumpling vendor and bought us all some, carefully counting her money. Handing each of us one, we munched as we quietly walked through the festival, trying to avoid the entertainers.

I was fuming inside. Jin really was two-faced. How he could go from being an understanding sort of caring guy to a block of ice capable of chilling Nagasaki I don’t know. I can’t understand that type of guy. Not that I am the most fuzzy guy in the world but hey, at least I communicate.

“Mugen?” questioned Fuu, interrupting my thoughts.

“Eh?” I responded, munching on the food. I cast her sidelong glance.

“I really missed hanging out with you guys,” she answered, taking the supposedly happy atmosphere down another notch or two. “You, especially.”

“Uh, I think that I am really craving some rice balls!” Kenji exclaimed suddenly. He bowed slightly to Fuu. “I will return in a moment, Miss Fuu.” Without another word, he dashed off leaving me and the annoying girl alone. Ah, hell.

I concentrated solely on my food. If she wanted to have a heart to heart cry and talk session I was going to take off running faster than a lecherous monk chased by a furious father.

She began to talk then, hesitantly at first, but then gaining in strength. And the bad thing about her was, once she got started, it was kinda hard to get her to stop.

“You know,” she said. “I always thought that I would end up with one of you guys. Though I never could figure out whom I loved more. I think it was in the end that I finally understood. It wasn’t that I couldn’t chose, but more like I wouldn’t. Jin was kind in his own quiet and respective way… but you… you were mysterious and surprising. And I think that was what attracted me the most.”

I sighed heavily and put more effort into staring down my food. Hate to break it to her, but I’d been in love with Jin a lot longer than any of them knew. She never had a chance.

“Eh…” I wasn’t sure what to say. God knows I didn’t want to deal with tears… I hate seeing females cry… turns me to jelly you know? Especially since I have no clue how to handle that type of thing.

“You don’t have to say anything, Mugen,” she said, noting the confused expression on my face. “I just wanted you to know.”

“Why?” I asked. That was the best I could come up with. It didn’t make half a bit of sense to me. Why the hell would I WANT to know?

She giggled. “You guys are so cute together. It’s just funny that the two men I couldn’t decide between ended up making the choice for me.”

I shook my head. Girls were far beyond my comprehension. “Whatever.”

“So… did Jin ever tell what he was doing in the last month?” she asked, changing the subject.

“I thought we weren’t going to talk about him,” I pointed out. I was still miffed over his coldness.

She just continued to smile. “Well, did he?”

“No. Just that… well, never mind.” The only thing Jin had told me was that he was looking for me, but I certainly wasn’t going to tell her that.

“Oh,” she said. She appeared to be thinking deeply about something.

“Why?” I asked, suspicion rising in my mind.

“Oh, nothing,” she said, waving her hand to dissuade me. “There were some people looking for him this morning. I overheard them talking to the innkeeper. But you must have paid him good because he kept his mouth shut!”

“What kind of people?” I asked, now very interested.

“There were three of them, all males, and come to think of it, they were dressed a lot like Jin you know, all proper and such.”

“Did they carry daisho?” I asked, palms beginning to sweat. I remembered the times that samurai from Jin’s old dojo had come after him, and I wondered if this was the case now. If that was so, then Jin was in serious trouble. He was skilled sure enough, bout the only one who could beat me, but against three from his own dojo and training, he would fight and maybe kill one or the other, but he would die trying.

She put a finger to her chin as if that would help her think better, and closed one eye, squinting. “I know for sure two of them did, but I couldn’t really see the other. He had a mask on his face and wore a big heavy cloak.”

“Miss Fuu, I am sorry that took so long,” came Kenji’s voice suddenly rejoining the two of us.

“Fuck!” I exclaimed, pushing what was left of my food at Fuu, and sprinting off into the festival grounds.

“Where are you going?” she called out to me. I ignored her as I had to find Jin. He needed my help I was sure of it!

But where had he gone? My mind tumbled around these questions as I raced through the streets, eyes scanning the crowds. He was unusually tall and with those glasses, he should be rather easy to spot. I pushed people out of my way, even knocked down a few. I didn’t care. He was far more important than their pride.

Where the hell had he gone? The hotel? No. It wouldn’t give him what he wanted. Jin wanted silence… quiet… somewhere to be alone and think…

Damn, getting into his head was harder than I had originally thought.

…Away from the crowds and the music and the strangers… where I might never think to come chasing after him. Did he ever disappear back in the old days…?

That’s it! There was that one time after we split, and then I met Okura and he fought with that samurai dude, the one he recognized.

I jumped over three children playing an odd game in the middle of the street and dashed through a group of men making strange sounds with their mouths and attempting to match words along with the beat.

There were protests but I ignored them. For all I knew… Jin was already lying in a pool of his own blood.

Fucking no way!! Only I could kill him… only me.

I raced with determination, metal shod footwear clomping noisily down the crowded streets heading towards the one place I knew I would find him.

Alone… in the forest.

 

[Misc] Secrets of the Heart 05

Chapter Five – No Giving Up

“Mugen! Jin! Stop that!” It was a voice that I well recognized, having spent weeks traveling in her company. It was her voice that made me stop in mid-swing and look up the road, shock etched into my face. Even more astounding was that Mugen did the same, pulling back on his sword to glare at the intruder.

“Fuu!?!” I exclaimed, surprised that she would show up here of all places and times, especially since Mugen and I had only just recently found each other again.

“I can’t believe this,” she continued in answer, striding up to where the two of us stood in shocked disbelief. “We have only parted ways for one month, and already you two are fighting again!” Her eyes searched our faces even as she gave us her sternest look that never could do anything but make us laugh before.

“It is a bad habit…” I remarked slowly, wiping off my blade, and sheathing my sword.

“Tch, what the hell ever,” muttered Mugen, even as he put up his own weapon in the sheath across his back. He folded his arms and glared at her, face already forming a half-frown, half-smile that he was famous for.

There was a decidedly loud grunt of laughter behind her, and it was then that I noticed the man that she had been traveling with. I leaned only slightly to the side to see this newcomer.

He was a rather big man, not so much fat, but brawny. His arms were probably about as big around as my head, definitely more muscle than I held in my entire body. He was between eighteen to twenty-two, I had never been really good at guessing people’s ages. He had brown hair shorn so close to his head he may as well have been bald and bright cold blue eyes… hmm… so he wasn’t Japanese. He wore an odd assortment of clothes, well, considering Mugen perhaps not that strange. And he had a scar running from the bridge of his nose down at an angle to his right mid-jaw. Well, I would wait for Fuu to introduce him since he wasn’t doing it himself.

“Gods, it is so great to see you two!” continued the girl, emitting that high-pitched squeal that it seems all young females are fond of, as she wrapped me up in a big hug before I could even protest. I opened my mouth to speak, but just as quickly as she had attacked, she retreated and attacked Mugen, wrapping her arms around his neck. He reluctantly returned her hug.

“It has not been that long,” he griped, putting her down and pushing her away only slightly. She did not seem at all concerned by that.

“Oh, come off it,” she disagreed. “So, how did you guys meet up then? You will have to tell me all about it. Geez, I miss the old days so much you know?”

“Fuu,” I began patiently, interrupting her constant stream of questions. “Your companion?”

“Oh!” she exclaimed, eyes widening in surprise even as her hand flew up to cover her mouth. “I almost forgot.” Fuu turned around and reached for the man who had been standing silently behind her. Dragging him forward she planted him in front of us as if we were supposed to be checking him out or something.

The three of us glared at each other while Fuu continued to talk, ignoring the male pissing contest that was going on right before her.

“This is Kenji. Since you guys left I still needed a bodyguard, bad habit of getting kidnapped you know. Lucky for me, I found Kenji in the next town I stumbled into. He doesn’t even need a sword,” she squealed.

“Kenji, was it?” I said, not taking my eyes off the big man. There was something about the look in his eyes that made me shudder deep inside. He was cold, more frozen than even I, though it seemed a strange fire burned deep within the ice. An icy flame…

“I do believe that is what Miss Fuu told you, no?” answered the man, his voice deep and resonant. I could feel Mugen stirring beside me and I removed my gaze from the big man only once to glance at him.

It nearly bowled me over when I saw the look on his face. It was that of thinly disguised recognition, and not the good kind either. It was not a happy memory that I was sure of. His face had paled slightly, easily noticeable to someone like me who has spent many a day studying and trying to understand him. But to anyone else, he looked much the same.

My eyes flickered back and forth between Kenji and Mugen, wondering how the two knew each other. Prison maybe? No, Kenji had no tattoos. Before perhaps? Then Mugen spoke.

“Mugen,” he stuck out his hand in a gesture to shake the man’s hand. “You’ve got a helluva job on your hands.”

Odd. Now Mugen was acting as if he had never seen the man before in his life. I would have to get to the bottom of this, later, not now when Fuu could see. But soon… I wanted to see what could make the normally unshakable Mugen seem so… frightened.

“Jin,” I said simply, not elaborating anymore than necessary nor offering my hand out for greeting. Kenji looked like the type to get into a muscle contest at just a handshake. By the size of those muscles, there was no way I was about to greet him in such a matter.

“Great!” exclaimed Fuu, clapping her hands in excitement. “Now that we all know each other, how about we get something to eat? For old times sake?”

Mugen and I exchanged glances at the same moment that his stomach growled rather loudly. Now that I think about it… did we even have any money? Mugen had covered the expenses at the inn and the food in that town. I had absolutely nothing at all, not a single ryo.

Kenji laughed, his deep baritone startling me. “Bottomless stomach…” he muttered under his breath, shaking his head.

Fuu pouted. “Hey, we ate like two hours ago. Of course, I am hungry again.”

I changed the subject. “Where were you headed?”

The girl waved her hands vaguely. “Nowhere in particular. Just once I started wandering, I couldn’t stop.” She giggled at that. “You guys rubbed off on me.”

“Well then, Miss Fuu, which way should we go? Our group seems to have met in the middle from opposite directions?” questioned Kenji. He was remarkably well spoken, surprising me.

“I’ve had enough of that backwards ass town!” Mugen suggested. He folded his arms behind his head and started walking in the direction we had originally been heading. “I’m on to bigger and better things.”

“That farming town isn’t much better, you know,” Fuu commented, falling into step beside him.

I and the bodyguard, Kenji, moved to walk behind our traveling companions, the decision seemingly made for us.

Mugen shrugged at her comment, watching the sky above. Yes, just like old times. “So long as it serves food and sake, I’m there.”

“Jin ignored my question earlier.”

“Big shocker there,” I heard Mugen utter under his breath. Fuu didn’t seem to notice as she kept on talking.

“So, how did you guys meet up?” she asked again.

“By complete chance,” I answered from behind. I wasn’t sure if the two of us were going to tell her about our new relationship or not. Fuu was our friend, sure enough, but I didn’t know how she would react. Friends were something I had little of; I didn’t want to lose her as well.

“Yeah.” Mugen nodded. “Jin was broke as usual and I took pity on him.”

“Then you have money?” Fuu asked, getting excited.

Hmm. Apparently, her and Kenji have the same money problems as the three of us back in the old days.

Mugen shrugged again. Man of few words today. I wonder why. “Enough.”

“Where are you from, Kenji?” I asked the bodyguard, wanting to change the subject. There was something about this man that made me suspicious. I suppose it might have had something to do with that fleeting look I thought I caught on Mugen’s face; I cannot really be too sure.

“A small island you have never heard of, I am sure,” he answered, flashing a tight feral grin.

“Try me.”

“Iyatoko,” he answered simply, his blue eyes shining coldly at me. [1]

He was right. I was unfamiliar with it. However, it did sound Japanese, and he certainly did not look it.

“I know what you are thinking,” he continued before I even responded.

Ahead of us, Mugen snickered. “I highly doubt that.” I heard him mutter beneath his breath.

“You’re thinking,” said Kenji, voice getting louder to enunciate his point. “That I do not look Japanese.”

Well, if that wasn’t obvious.

“Are you?” I asked, neither confirming nor denying whether or not he was correct.

He shook his head. “No. Iyatoko may be near Japan, but it is colonized by westerners.”

Interesting. I stowed that piece of information away for later use, only giving him a ‘hm’ in response. Ever the man of few words, I have to keep up the image. I can’t start letting people confuse me with Fuu, now can I?

“Is that all you have to say?” Kenji questioned, raising one eyebrow. “Hm?”

Mugen and Fuu laughed after exchanging glances. “We’ve known him a lot longer, and we still can’t get him to say more,” the girl commented, casting a mirthful look on her traveling companion.

“Strange,” Kenji murmured, shaking his head.

“No more than you,” I countered. I may be silent and thoughtful, but I am, by no means, strange, odd, or any word that may deem me anything but normal.

“Now, now boys, no fighting ‘kay?” Fuu laughed. “Do I have to toss a coin?”

“You wouldn’t tell us the real results anyway,” Mugen answered for her.

Fuu giggled. “Maybe not. But it was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it? The three of us traveling together? I kinda miss it, you know?”

Mugen scoffed. “Miss what? The hungry grumbling in my belly every time you tried to make me work? A wonderful trio the three of us made, when we weren’t fighting assassins we were trying to scrape up enough ryo to eat.”

“Yep,” Fuu agreed happily. “Those were the days…” She stared off dreamily into the skies, as if she actually missed it.

“Crazy ass female…” muttered Mugen under his breath.

I shook my head. Nothing had changed.

* * *

I frowned, staring at the hustle of activity that had accosted our group as soon as we stepped foot into the ‘backwards farming town’ as Fuu had so wrongly addressed it earlier. There were people absolutely everywhere! Kids, men, women, carrying packages, talking, laughing. It was ridiculous.

“This is your boring farming town?” Mugen questioned incredulously as he watched a group of people hanging up streamers and colorful decorations.

“It wasn’t like this when we left earlier…” Fuu whined out loud.

Kenji groaned aloud, shaking his head in frustration. “I had forgotten about the festival… we are never going to find an open room now…”

“But as long as we are here… we might as well enjoy ourselves, right?” Fuu asked hopefully. “Oooh, think of all the yummy treats that they are selling…”

Mugen rolled his eyes as I watched in silence. How could they have forgotten about something as big as a festival?

“I’ve got connections here,” Mugen mumbled aloud. We all turned to look at him in confusion, no one more surprised than I. “I can get us a room or two.”

“Been a busy month, has it?” Fuu questioned, giving Mugen a strange look that I am sure I would have displayed as well.

Mugen shrugged. “Just a job I pulled off for quick cash. Man owes me one.” He grinned suddenly, turning to look at me. “He might just have another job ready, too. He can hire both of us!”

“I suppose…” I said, not completely my sentence. There was really no need. Mugen took that as an affirmation of my agreement and nodded his head.

“I’ll go see Taka about the rooms,” he said, waving us off as he walked away.

I could only stare after him in wonder. Had it really only been a month? And yet some things were still so different.

Could only that many days really change a person? Am I so immodest to believe that I had something to do with it? And suddenly, more than before, I found myself wanting to know what the look I had caught earlier meant, and I wanted to know more about the mysterious Kenji. Something wasn’t sitting right and I intended to find out. I narrowed my eyes reflexively, not really intending to do so. I was going to ask Mugen tonight, as soon as I got him alone.

“Jin? Hello? Earth to Jin?” Fuu was trying to get my attention, waving her hand in front of my eyes like some deranged monkey.

I snapped back to reality and out of my muses to look down at the younger girl. “Sorry. What was it you were saying?” I asked politely.

She frowned and gave me a strange look, even odder than the one she had directed at Mugen.

“You’ve been acting weird. Has one month changed you that much?” she asked.

I shook my head. “You are imagining things. I think you have forgotten me, that is all.”

“Is that so?” she questioned, turning on her heels to catch up with Kenji who was waiting patiently for her. “We’re going to check out the festival. Are you coming?”

I shrugged my shoulders. Why not? It’s not like I was going to stand around and wait on Mugen. He could find us. Kenji doesn’t exactly blend in. “I suppose,” I answered her.

I moved to walk beside her and the three of us moved to enter the festival in the supposed dead farming town.

“You know,” she mused aloud without looking at either of us two men. “Mugen has been acting strange, too.”

“I see no difference. He is still brash, vulgar, and uncouth.”

Fuu giggled. “You keep saying things like that, but you know you consider him your friend.”

I did not answer. If only she knew that I thought of him as so much more.

We passed by a group of traveling musicians. Two men were making sounds with their mouths to some strange beat while a third was attempting to rhyme words to match the odd pattern of music from the other two. Because of this, neither the music nor the song really made much sense. [2]
”Japan is changing,” I muttered, watching the antics of the three musicians.

“Outlaws and Samurais are a vanishing breed,” responded Kenji. Odd choice of response for a man of his character.

“The values are still there, as well as the ideas.” I pointed out.

Kenji shook his head as Fuu looked between us in confusion. This conversation was well above her head. “Outlaws have values?… Japan is assuredly changing.”

“OH?” Fuu whined. “Why the serious talk, we are supposed to be having fun!”

“Gomen, Fuu,” Kenji said not looking the least bit sorry. “What do you want to do first?”

As if on cue, her stomach rumbled very loudly. Kenji and I exchanged looks. I guess we were going to eat first.

* * *

After Fuu had been fed, Mugen found us. He had gotten us two rooms at the local inn. I had felt my fatigue almost immediately and wanted nothing more than to return to the inn and rest.

Kenji had disappeared somewhere in the town, he had mumbled something about the red light area and some place called Lady Kisaragi. [3] Mugen just clapped him on the back and told him to go have fun. Fuu pouted but disappeared in her room. She had muttered something about a warm bath. This left Mugen and I to enjoy our room alone.

“Say, Jin… Fuu is in another room and Kenji is gone…” Mugen mused aloud.

I knew where this was heading. Mugen was as easy to read as a well-worn book. But I also had questions whose answers only he could provide.

“You recognized him, didn’t you?” I asked, changing the subject.

Mugen frowned from his perch on the bed, looking at me as I sat on the bed, legs curled up into a meditative pose. “Who?” I wasn’t stupid and neither is Mugen, despite all appearances, he knew exactly who I was talking about.

“Kenji, you dolt!! You knew who I meant,” I said with a roll of my eyes.

Mugen shrugged. “Nope. Never seen him before in my life.”

“You are lying.”

Mugen narrowed his eyes, giving me a glare. “I am not!” he hissed.

“Then why did I see that look on your face?”

“There wasn’t a look on my face so quit trying to make me mad!” argued Mugen in return. He folded his arms over his chest and stared at me.

I sighed heavily. “Fine don’t tell me. It’s not like I really wanted to know.” I closed my eyes and began to meditate. He could go do whatever for all I cared. If he didn’t want to explain anything to me that was his choice but that didn’t mean I was going to go pout about it.

I heard him move from his position on the bed but did not bother to open my eyes and see what it was he was doing. I felt arms wrapping around me from behind as he pulled me against his chest.

“Aw, don’t be like that,” he murmured, his deep voice treble in my ear.

“Go away, Mugen… I need to meditate,” I answered.

A warm wetness flicked across my ear sending a shock straight to me nether regions. Dammit! He knows how sensitive I am there! I feel his hand creeping into the folds of my juban and then my kimono, looking for the bare skin underneath my clothing.

“Come on…” he whined in his needy Mugen voice. “You wouldn’t let me earlier, and I’m so horny…” His roaming hand found my nipple and pinched it, rolling the nub between his fingers as he nipped again at my ear.

I moaned softly, nearly melting into his arms at the touch. Despite the cold anger that hovered on the edge of my emotions, I could not deny the desire that he aroused in me with just a single touch.

“How do you do that…” I murmured softly. “With just one touch… I am all yours.”

I heard him chuckle softly before he grabbed my head with his free hand and turned my face towards his, absorbing me in a kiss.

I slipped my tongue inside his mouth, invading the warm cavern. He tasted like he had snuck himself a dumpling while he was supposedly getting our rooms. Our tongues swirled around together for a few moments while he reached down my clothing to grasp my semi-hard cock, quickly stroking it to full capacity.

Suddenly, I pulled away from him and slipped deftly out of his grasp, to stand on the floor next to the bed. He looked at me dumbfounded until I slowly started taking off my clothes.

He grinned wolfishly before sliding off the bed as well, hands reaching for his own clothes. “And here I thought you were playing hard to get.”

I finished removing my under kimono and tackled him before he had a chance to remove the last of his clothes, not even responding to his question. We crashed to the floor, but that didn’t bother me. I landed on him after all.

Mouths met mouths as hands roamed freely over bare skin. I pushed his pants off of him so that I could grasp his straining erection in my hands. He moaned he moment he felt my touch. He reached up and grabbed the tie for my hair, ripping it out and letting it all hang freely. Dammit, now it was going to get tangled.

However, he knew the proper distraction technique. He leaned upwards and latched upon one nipple and all thoughts of tangled hair flew out of my head.

One of his hands groped along the floor and I caught the movement out of the corner of my eye. He seemed to be reaching for his pants. One finger caught the edge of it and he dragged them towards us.

I pulled away from the kiss, one eyebrow raised. “Why do you need your pants?”

He grinned again, before digging around in the one small pocket. He pulled out his prize and held it up for my inspection. “Just a little side trip I made today?”

I plucked the small bottle out of his hand and looked at it. It was a bottle of vanilla oil, usually used for cooking.

Sneaky little Mugen. I grasped the cap of the bottle off of it and pulled, the smell of vanilla wafting through the air. I smiled down at him. “Since I have the oil, I am seme.”

Mugen shrugged. “I don’t really care, just quit stallin’. I’m dying here.”

There he goes exaggerating again. I rolled my eyes and moved away from him, crawling off of his body.

“Where are you going?” he demanded, confusion etched into his face.

I had an idea. “On your knees,” I commanded.

He very well understood and obediently rolled over. I think sex was the only time I could give an order, and the wolfish man would listen to me.

I positioned myself kneeling behind him, pouring some of the vanilla oil out onto my fingertips. He wiggled his butt enticingly at me as he looked back over his shoulder.

I gently eased one finger inside of him, delighting in how much easier the oil made it. He moaned appreciatively, his fingers curling even as he balanced on his hands.

I quickly added the second and the third, the need to enter his body building up rapidly within my body. I had never been this way in my life. There was something about the younger man beneath me that made my sex drive spike up several notches. I wiggled the three fingers around inside of him, finally brushing upon his pleasure center. He keened, practically purring and bucked up, trying to take my fingers in deeper.

I complied by withdrawing them and replacing them with something far larger. I let out a long, slow moan as I entered him, embracing the warmth that that wrapped around my hard and needy cock until I was buried to the hilt.

“Uhn… every time…” I muttered out loud, eyes closed as I enjoyed the situation. He pressed back against me and I knew that he was tired of waiting.

I moved slowly in and out of his tight passage, reveling in the feel of him wrapped around me. He felt so damn good. However, Mugen was not satisfied with the pace.

“Gah! Harder, Jin!” gasped out Mugen, writhing beneath me even as he balanced on his hands and knees. “Fuck me!!” He pushed up his bottom at me trying to meet each thrust with one of his own.

“Shut up!” I huffed, playfully smacking his ass. “I’m in charge!!” He moaned as I did so.

“Ooh. Do it again!”

I readily complied, swinging my open palm against his backside as I increased the tempo of my thrusts. He wiggled his ass at me and moaned again. The sound of my flesh hitting his coupled with his needy sounds just sent more and more waves of arousal to my groans and I found my pace becoming more and more erratic.

I reached around with my free hand and grasped his erection firmly, stroking him with the same vigor as my eager thrusting. My other hand continued to smack and stroke his ass. He was turning into a moaning, bucking wild creature beneath me.

I paused for a moment, giving myself a different angle before I pounded into him again, aiming for that bundle of nerves that made his moans change pitch. He was already covered in sheen of sweat and his body glistened in the low lamp light. Gods, I just wanted to lick him all over.

Just then, he tensed his muscles and squeezed my length inside of him. I groaned loudly with the feeling, already on a sensation high. My thrusts built up into a frenzy as he moaned and uttered intelligible gibberish.

“…J…Jin…” he gasped and that did it. There was not much I could do after he called my name but come in a massive rush inside of him, pleasure coursing through my entire body.

“Gah…” I gasped even as he arched greatly and splattered all over the floor, releasing all of his built up tension in one great stream.

Panting greatly, both of us with shaking limbs we crashed to the floor. I tried to roll off to the side so that I did not crush him.

We lay collapsed on the floor. I was still lying partly on top of him, in my weariness unable to roll all the way over. I felt him shift beneath me even as I panted slightly and tried to move enough for him to be able to get comfortable. He rolled over onto his back and side, turning to face me.

Mugen leaned forward and kissed me softly before pulling away slightly.
”You know I meant what I said, right?” he asked. His words caused me to open my weary eyes. I stared into his somber face. Not exactly look someone should have after just getting fucked thoroughly.

“About what?” I asked, reaching forward to draw him towards me despite the fact that we were lying on a very hard wooden floor, naked for all to see.

“Loving you,” he answered simply.

“Yes, I meant the same.”

“Then listen to me and believe what I say,” he said softly, looking me in the eye. I sighed softly then nodded my head.

“I don’t know Kenji, can’t say I have ever seen him before in my life. But that doesn’t mean I have never met him.”

“That doesn’t make any sense, Mugen.” I sat up slightly, bringing him with me. I wanted to be alert to hear this.

“I know,” he responded, closing his eyes and breathing deeply. “But that’s the truth when you don’t have much memory of your past. In my mind, there are big gaping holes where there should be memories. I hardly know who I am.”

I pulled him close to me, suddenly feeling the need the feel his body against mine. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”

“Didn’t feel like you needed to know. It’s not a big deal.”

“How did you lose your memory?” I asked, not sure if I wanted to hear the answer to that question.

He shrugged noncommittally before yawning greatly. “I don’t really know. I woke up in a hospital somewhere wrapped in bandages unable to remember, but the barest details of who I was.”

Listening to his story, I almost just a bit ashamed of myself. Here I was getting all angry with him and he couldn’t even remember, much less lie to me about who Kenji was. Still, I knew that his subconscious recognized the man even if Mugen himself could not recall.

I pushed these thoughts aside when Mugen yawned again, obviously very tired. “Let’s go, Mugen. Time for bed.”

I got up from the floor and dragged Mugen with me, pushing him towards the bed. He collapsed upon it happily, snuggling down into the blanket. He looked entirely too cute and innocent when he did that.

Smiling despite my attempts not to, I lowered my tiny body down onto the bed next to him, pulling him close to me so that I could share his warmth.

“What about Kenji?” he mumbled sleepily.

“I’m not going to sleep just yet. I’ll get up before he comes in,” I answered him shrugging. I wasn’t sure if he wanted everyone to know or not. As for myself… I still hadn’t decided. Until then, we would have to be careful.

“Whatever…” he said in a sleepy voice as he slowly drifted away.

Whatever, indeed.

[Misc] Secrets of the Heart 04

Chapter Four – Wherever I May Roam

It was just like the old times again, except for the presence of that annoying girl, of course. Don’t get me wrong. Not that I hated her or anything, but there were just times when she was annoying as fuck. Besides, I was more interested in the I-Won’t-Waste-My-Words ronin. Traveling along paths known and not well known, drifting from place to place, with Jin at my side. At that point, we really had no purpose, not like when we were looking for that damn Sunflower Samurai. But there was no other place I would rather be.

I wonder what it was that attracted me to the usually silent Jin. Other than the great sex of course, ooh, imagining the things he would do to me, got me all hot and sweaty and I just wanted to jump him then and there. My cock twitched, it liked that idea.

Down boy.

I just can’t see myself settling down. Although I enjoyed the little vacation that Jin and I took at that hotel while I recovered from the cold that I still insisted was HIS fault.

I don’t know what I actually thought I was going to do when I first started looking for him, a week after we parted. All I knew was that something in me wanted him, in a worst way.

I thought that it would get easier as time passed. Wrong, boy was I wrong.

I thought all I needed was the road, the life of a wanderer. Which I did. I was too young to be saddled down with some brainless wife and antsy kids.

But, I suppose I always knew somewhere that it was him I needed too.

I don’t know why I found myself wandering like I did. Shifting from one place to another, stealing, working only if necessary (if ever), fighting to stay alive. I guess it was because it was the only life I knew. I craved what I already understood, and the road, the road was my home.

We left the tiny farmtown and the inn early that morning. Jin wanted to get a start on the day in case it turned hot. He wouldn’t even let me jump him that morning. Bastard tried to say he was too tired. Served him right for getting me sick! Hah!

We walked in silence most of the way, guess we really didn’t have much to talk about. Either that or Jin was just drawing into himself again. I HATED it when he did that. He would retreat into his mind and just THINK. How could anyone do that? I swore, I went into my mind and it was like unfamiliar territory, I got lost. No lie.

So, in order to get him back to reality, I decided to play with him a little. We were walking side by side, so I slowed my pace just a little. He barely noticed, so engrossed in thought as he was.

It started almost like a game to me. I would sidle up behind him and ghost my fingers up his arm or across the back of his neck, barely touching his skin. I saw goosebumps rise up on his skin before I moved quickly away, walking as if I hadn’t touched him.

He was playing hard to get. He had to the nerve to pretend not to notice what I was doing.

I nudged him just a little. Small pokes in his side or in his back that told him I was still there. I suppose I was also out to get a rise out of him. It had been a while since we had last drawn our swords against each other. Either way, whatever response I got, I was gonna have fun with to the fullest.

I did that a few times until I saw that it was not having as much of an effect as I wanted. I tried a more direct approach, already feeling myself beginning to get hard. He was just too delectable.

I walked up swiftly on his back, pressing my hands over his eyes as I pressed up into him from behind. He stopped moving and huffed silently.

“Guess who?” I asked innocently, changing my voice just a little. Not that I thought that he wouldn’t know who I was or anything.

“Mugen…” he said, his voice a warning of some type.

“Wrong,” I said, grinning as I kept my hands over his eyes. I ground my hardness into his back and hips so that he could feel me against him.

“You are insatiable,” he commented, a breathy sigh on his lips.

“So?” I asked, one eyebrow cocked, “Are you gonna help me out or not?”

He turned around to face me, effectively dislodging my hands. There was a small smile on his face as he gripped my head with his hands and planted a passionate hot kiss on my lips. Gods, I loved it when he was aggressive. And in public too for that matter? My, he was getting bold!

I opened my mouth hungrily, eagerly letting his tongue swipe the inside of my mouth as we exchanged tastes and flavors. Warmth spread from my mouth to cascade through my body until it hit the base of my spine, effectively making me even more aroused than I was before.

I brought my hands up to his hakama, giving them a tug. I was attempting to both untie it and pull him towards the cover of the surrounding forest.

But instead of receiving a satisfied moan of approval, I found him pulling away from the kiss and placing his hands over mine. There was a big smile on his face and that brooding lost look was gone from his eyes. Finally!!

“We haven’t the time for that now,” he said teasingly.

“Ah, come on,” I began, getting a little irritated. After all, I may have started it but he seemed intent on continuing it. “I am so fucking horny right now.” I reached for him again.

He shook his head and rolled his eyes, an odd movement from him if I ever saw one, “Mugen, you are ALWAYS horny.”

”Yeah? Well, you are ALWAYS brooding,” I pointed out in response, huffing softly as I crossed my arms, glaring at him.

He gave me a look and I am not really sure how to describe what I saw in his eyes. Pain? Anger? I don’t know. I could read movements and battle tactics at the drop of a hat, but reading people’s emotions… not my thing.

Then he turned back around and started continuing forward in the road.

I stood rooted to my spot for a minute, pondering on the events before I hurried to catch up with him. Not that he had gotten far.

We walked silently, the only sound being that of our feet scraping the dusty grit of the rather poor looking road. I decided to speak first, mostly because there were many questions that were nagging at my mind.

“Where do you go?”

“Hm?” he questioned, not looking at me but acknowledging my question nonetheless.

“When you go all distant like that, where do you go? Sometimes it is like you are not even here…”

He looked thoughtful for a moment and I knew he was concentrating on trying to find the right words to answer my question without really answering it. He had a habit of making everything he said vague and mysterious, especially questions about himself.

“Sometimes the past has influences on the present in ways that can never be understood,” he answered quietly. I knew it. How the hell was I supposed to know what the fuck that meant?

I stared at him for a moment. I was determined to get through to him somehow. If there was any way that we were going to make this work… whoa… was that just me who had that thought of monogamy?

Then again, I had told him that I loved him, and I had told myself that I wanted him to stay. Is that what I truly desired then? To be with Jin in some type of relationship? Is that what love was?

Then I found myself brooding, wondering when exactly it was my thoughts on that matter had changed. It was a ridiculous revelation in my mind when I finally admitted to myself that I loved the cold bastard all those weeks ago. Even crazier was for me to admit it aloud. Now I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him? Hmmm. . .

I dared a glance in his direction as I thought. He hadn’t said anything else since that enigmatic answer. I pondered on his words as I wondered on my own thoughts. I meant it when I spouted those words of love and I feel I believed that I wanted him to stay, but what does all of this really mean in all?

If I stayed with him, then he would have to know everything about me eventually, lest we happen to run into something out of my past and he finds out the hard way. But I was not sure if I was ready to tell him everything. I mean, I knew that he had assumed much about me, given the tattoos and such but really, he knew absolutely nothing.

In fact, there were times that not even I knew who I was. The blanks spots in my memory still hadn’t made themselves known. Some of the events that occurred on our search for the Sunflower Samurai were revealing, but still, it didn’t account for everything. I still didn’t know what the hell it was that caused me to lose most of my memory.

How exactly would I tell him that? Um, listen Jin, I think I am a murderer and most definitely a thief, and probably worse things but I really don’t know because I can’t remember it, oh, and what was it you wanted for dinner? Yeah, right. That kind of shit was not gonna work.

When had this become so fucking complicated?

I sighed audibly. That time, Jin noticed.

“Mugen?” he asked quizzically, giving me a strange look.

“Yeah?”

“What is wrong with you?” he asked. He peered at me interested. There must have been a weird look to my face or something.

Right, like I was gonna tell him the truth. I played it off as a joke until I could get my thoughts together. “I’m plotting how much strength it would take to force you off the road and into the bushes.” I gave him one of my seductive grins.

It didn’t work.

He narrowed his eyes at me, seemingly irritated. “You are lying.”

“What so you can go hiding off in your mind but the minute I want to think about something, I have to spill my fuckin’ guts?” I spat.

He did not answer me. Instead, he returned his attentions to the road in front of us, turning his back to me again.

That was really starting to get on my nerves. “Hey! I’m talking to you here!”

“And I am ignoring your trivial words,” he responded.

Like I knew what the hell that meant!! I growled and reached for my sword. “Whose words are trivial?” I asked, as I pulled the sword from the sheath on my back.

He turned around and saw the look on my face and the sword in his hand. Raising an eyebrow in question, he put his hand on his sword.

“I do not feel like dealing with your temper tantrums today, Mugen,” he said, narrowing his eyes behind the thin frame of his glasses.

Well, that was enough of an insult for me. I rushed him, raising my sword to attack.

He moved fast, dodging me easily as he smoothly drew his sword. It seemed like it had been awhile since we had fought like this. In the past, Fuu wouldn’t let us fight, having us make some obscure promise. Then that last chance we had, we didn’t get to finish. After that, our tiny group separated and went different ways.

It felt good to be testing myself against him again. I knew that he was one of the few swordsmen on the planet that was a match for me. Was kind of nice to be challenged for once. I had missed it…

Jin was the ultimate samurai… at least in my mind. Cold and calculating, each move precise and well practiced, he conserved his strikes, choosing to move only when necessary and planning out each action.

Compared to me and my ragtag skills picked up here and there, you would think there isn’t much competition. Yet, neither he nor I had ever intended to kill the other.

It was a strange fight, though short it was. He did not want to hurt me and I really did not want to hurt him. I assumed that I only wanted to get his mind off of what was wrong with me. Not to mention I had wanted to fight with him since we had reunited. I wanted to see if he was still the same fighter I had always known him as.

I saw that nothing had changed.

“Had enough?” I spat, after dodging a particularly sneaky little attack of his. I bounced on my feet and did a tricky aerobatic roll that only I was capable of, in an attempt to get behind him.

But Jin knew my moves by that point and easily sidestepped me.

He did not answer my taunts. I do not think he ever would have. Talking during battle wasn’t his style of attack, not like me. We were so different… how did I ever think we would get along? Was love enough? Was desire enough to keep it going?

We danced around each other, breathing hard with the exertion. Occasionally our swords would clang as they met but always they were drawn back, ready for the next strike. There wasn’t any anger behind our attacks, no intensity. Yet, no matter how reluctant we were, no stops were pulled.

I got in a lucky shot, slicing his arm open at the sleeve at the same moment that he broke through my defenses and nicked my legs. And still we did not stop. It was odd, like a blood lust had taken over and was driving our actions. We still had control and then, we didn’t either.

I can’t explain it and I won’t even try. Perhaps that type of passion was another aspect of our relationship that I never even thought to consider. Maybe it was a good thing, maybe not.

We were still fighting, still attacking each other with quick moves and careful precision.

But when we heard that voice, we could only freeze in our tracks, blood dripping from many minor cuts and slashes.

After all, even then, she was the only one who could make us stop…

 

[Misc] Secrets of the Heart 03

Chapter Three – I Could Not Ask For More

I don’t really know what it was that woke me up this time either. I guess I was just lightly sleeping, the slightest irregularity causing me to awaken. But despite the fact that my mind had slipped out of the dream world, I wanted to return to sleep. Mugen hadn’t moved in his position at all, seemingly dead to the world.

I shivered when a cool breeze came out of nowhere, brushing across my exposed shoulder. So cold… I pulled closer to Mugen, trying to steal some of his warmth. It was not fair. He was always so hot, so much like a tempting fire that I fear I might somehow burn myself. I was usually cold, like something within me had died and now the rest of me was slowly turning to ice.

It was then that I realized the sound that must have woken me. It had begun to rain, albeit softly, but gentle falling drops of water nonetheless. The sky that had been brilliantly colored and shiny gold of sunlight so promising that morning, had turned dismal and grey with the covering of the thunderclouds. The rain only made me want to go back to sleep more, nostalgia creeping in at the sound of it.

*flashback*

…The rain fell with a vengeance, nearly blinding my vision as I stood beside her on the bridge. She seemed so alone. I did not know what possessed me to speak to her, but I followed my instincts.

I knew that she took my words to heart, even though it appeared that she wasn’t listening. That was evident after I walked away, never expecting to see her again, until another fateful moment.

Her tale of woe… I didn’t know why it struck me so deeply. There was just something about the pain in her eyes, it was familiar…

*end flashback*

I sighed, recalling that particular memory and snuggled closer to him, burying my face in his chest. It was the rain that caused us to meet then, and the rain that eventually drove us away from each other.

Mugen must not have been as deep into sleep as I thought he was. He made a small noise in the back of his throat that caused me to look up at him. He opened his eyes slowly, looking at me bleary and unfocused.

“Why are you awake?” he asked, his voice thick and raspy with sleep. “Not thinking again?”

“No, just listening to the rain.” Little white lies never hurt anyone.

“Oy? Is it raining?” He craned his neck to look out the window.

“Hai. Go back to sleep,” I answered, smiling at him.

He yawned sleepily at that, returning my smile. He wrapped his arms around me tighter, which I was grateful for. More warmth to soothe my cold exterior. He closed his eyes and began to drift off into sleep.

He never did have any trouble sleeping, no matter where or when we were back then. He would just flop down on the ground, in the oddest of positions I might add, and promptly start snoring. At the time I thought him the laziest cur in Japan. Smiling, I realized that now, I found that quality endearing. It added to his sense of non-discipline, his defiant nature that suited him well.

His breathing evened and I knew he was asleep.

When did I get so lucky? I never knew I would be worthy of one day enjoying this happiness. Lying here with him, being held close by someone, knowing that I was cared for, it was so unknown to me, so foreign. I accepted it willingly and gladly. If I ever needed a reason for living, I knew now where to look. I had finally found someone to bring back a spark a joy to my rapidly declining heart.

I always thought that because of my past, because of my training and where I come from, who I am, that no one would ever want me. Even now I still find it hard to believe. Sure he has committed crimes too, but it is different to me. It means something more or less than it does for him. After becoming a ronin, I did not think that I would ever find anything ever again. I was ultimately waiting for someone to show me a path even as I wandered aimlessly. What other reason did I have for existing? I loved Mugen that much I was sure of. He had returned the gesture, something I never thought possible.

We were so different he and I. It would be a miracle if we can make things work. Then again, I thought it would take one just to ever feel again, rather than stay locked up in my cocoon of paralyzed life. I was like ice and he was the fire that set me free. I was of old Japan, in rigidity, in structure, raised with pampering and money, though you wouldn’t guess by looking at me now. As for he, guessing by what he has let slip, he had never really had a family, a home, no formal training.

In fact, despite our unique chemistry in the bedroom, we had nothing at all in common. What would sustain us, I wondered, when our lives increased in age and we became older? Then again, who ever said anything about commitment? I wasn’t even sure if we had decided we were spending the rest of our lives together.

All I know was that when he touched me, I could think of nothing but him and the feel of him on me, in me, around me. It sent a fire coursing through my veins and it was like I was no longer me, but someone better, someone more whole, whose life had never been touched by pain or neglect. What more did I need than that satisfaction, than that perfect completion? Who cared if it only lasted so long?

I made my decision when I did not walk out the door. I thought perhaps, that I already knew then but was just foolishly ignoring myself. It was better to have felt, to have lived for a short while, even if it ended in pain, then to have never cared at all.

We finally got up somewhere around mid afternoon, having slept ourselves out. We dressed slowly, hardly able to keep our hands off each other as we intermittently kissed. If it hadn’t been for his growling stomach, I was positive that continuously horny Mugen would have pushed me back onto the bed. For him, it was a choice between two carnal desires. For me, I was just happy to be able to look at him, he was all I needed. Though I suppose he would argue in turn that food was necessary too. Same old Mugen.

Despite the fact that it was pouring ridiculously outside, we headed out to find some sort of meal. The inn he had chosen did not house a bar or a restaurant so we were on our own.

I stepped outside of the inn first, shivering in the chilled air, the rain splashing on my face and glasses, obscuring my vision. The sky was indeed dismal, a flat unfriendly looking dark grey. I felt no desire to go on the road today. Not at all.

“You know what?” started Mugen as he stepped out behind me.

“Hm?”

“As much as I love to travel, I really hate the rain,” he complained as he stretched and glared at the sky. Trust Mugen to blame his misfortune on something as uncontrollable as the weather.

“I would have to agree.” I nodded my head and started down the road, mud splashing up onto my clothes. Great. I would have to wash them later, right after I took my own bath of course. I felt so dirty, not because of Mugen, just because it had been so long. Not like it would bother him or anything.

“So, here’s to saying we stay until the storm passes?” asked Mugen holding up an umbrella over my head that he had hidden behind his back.

I took it gratefully, trying to hold it over both our heads. “Where did you get this?”

“People really should learn not to leave their umbrella’s by the door.” He smirked, eyes flashing with his humor. I shook my head, understanding his meaning. “Is that an agreement then?”

“Yes. I don’t want to go wading through mud and rain either.”

We walked through the mostly empty streets, everyone staying inside due to the rain. I did not blame them. If it hadn’t been for my growling stomach, I would have stayed indoors too.

I watched Mugen as we walked, though not so much that he would notice it. I did not want him to see just how much I was in love with him just yet. He had skipped out from under the umbrella almost immediately after he gave it to me, like he did not care about getting wet despite his grumbling.

He looked so right standing out there, underneath the rain. I don’t know why I thought that, but I did. Like being out in the open, unrestrained, was the only way he would ever be. The man was like the wind, free, never ceasing, unable to be caught and trapped.

Mugen walked nonchalantly, whistling with his hands behind his head, stretching out his broad but lean shoulders, as if it were not raining. I clutched the umbrella tighter, and yet, here I was hiding beneath a covering, as if afraid of stepping out of my boundaries. Such an unlikely pair…

We found one shop that was open, despite the weather. It was small and warm. But Mugen was ready to eat as soon as possible and return to the inn.

Munching on the rolls of rice and meat thoughtfully, we headed back to our room.

If all I needed in this world, was right here in front of me, then I was satisfied.

It appeared that Mugen had much the same thoughts as mine when he suddenly attacked me the moment we got into the room. I had just walked in, turning to lean the sodden umbrella against the door jamb, when he leapt on me, soaking me with his own wet clothes. We went crashing to the ground, him on top of me. He kicked the door shut from prying eyes.

“Mugen!” I exclaimed, more out of surprise than anything. He grinned cheekily and gave me a hot and heavy kiss which I returned with equal vigor, overcoming my initial shock.

“Come on Jin, it’s been so long,” he whined and rubbed his groin into mine. I felt his hardness even through my clothes.

“Long! It was just a few hours ago!” I said, just to be teasing. I had to bite back a groan when he ground into me again, arousing me into wakefulness.

“Exactly,” he said, as if that explained everything. He leaned down and kissed me hungrily, water dripping onto my face from his wet hair. As much as I loved this man, he looked like a drowned rat with his hair plastered to his head.

I let him kiss me for a minute, not that it was difficult for me to do. I loved feeling his hot mouth on me, constantly seeking dominance even in something as simple as that. Then I pushed up at him.

“Mugen, you’re soaking wet,” I complained. I already felt the wetness from his clothes seeping into my own.

Not that I minded him sitting on me and pressing his body against mine. It felt so good to be able to do this, like I did not have to hide anything from him. How we went from being enemies to comfortable friends I will never know, but I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

“If somebody had shared their umbrella, I wouldn’t be in this situation.”

“I tried.” I sighed, but more out of habit than any real irritation. If I spent the rest of my life, in playful erotic moments like this, then I suppose I would live a happy man, despite the secrets of the past…

“Not hard enough. So, what am I to do about this?” He leaned back on his heels, straddling me as I lay on the floor. I sat up, placing my weight on my elbows. He put his hand on his chin as if thinking deeply. I took his moment of distraction and used it to my advantage.

I lurched forward and wrapped my arms around his midsection, throwing my weight in such a way that I tipped us over. He fell in surprise, when I quickly disentangled myself and switched positions. Now I was the one in control.

I reached down lazily with one finger, pushing up his shirt to reveal bare chest. His skin was slightly cold from wearing the wet clothes. I traced circles around his nipple while he moaned slightly.

“And here I thought you were going to turn me down,” he moaned.

I smiled softly at that before I reached down to push off his red coat. It wouldn’t do for him to be dressed like this.

It was funny but who would have ever thought that one day I would find myself rolling around on the floor of an inn with a man the complete opposite of me. I was enjoying what was happening, finding that I was able to smile, and even being the aggressor in terms of hot and heavy sex. It was an utterly amazing fact to me. I wondered if I had died somewhere along the way and that I was merely living some dream in a type of heaven… but murderers like me don’t go to heaven.

Mugen groaned and gathered my attention. I realized that I had stopped moving and was staring off into space.

“Hullo? Stop disappearing into your mind on me,” he said playfully, reaching up to undo the ties on my clothes.

“Only for you,” I answered softly, leaning down to give him a kiss. But before I could get there, he sneezed suddenly and abruptly, causing me to pull back in surprise.

”Sorry,” he said, reaching back up to pull me back down. Then he sneezed again, groaning as he did so.

I couldn’t help but laugh even as he sneezed for yet a third time.

“This isn’t funny!” he argued, trying to cover his face with his hands as he sneezed again, this time accompanied by a dry and rasping cough. He started to shiver a little beneath me.

I frowned and looked at him worriedly. He did seem a little pale… I reached down and placed my hand on his face, pulling back in shock when I realized how cold he was. Odd for a man who nearly always burned with inner warmth.

It was then that I realized my stupidity. He had been out in the rain all day and now wore wet clothes. He was getting sick!

He sneezed again and groaned, coughing softly.

“Come on,” I said abruptly, getting off of him and reaching down to pull him up. “We need to get you out of those clothes and into bed.”

“This is all your fault you know,” He said, eyeing me. “Making me get out of bed and go out into the rain. Now I am sick and I’m going die!” His proclamation of death was accompanied by another resounding sneeze.

I shook my head and helped him remove his clothes. “You are not going to die you idiot. It is just a small set of the chills. It should pass once you get warm.”

“It’s your entire fault, bastard,” moaned Mugen, teeth beginning to chatter. It was quite amusing actually.

“Blame me if you will,” I responded with a smile as I brought him over to the bed, tucking the blankets around him tightly. “I don’t mind.” He closed his eyes tiredly as if he was going to go right to sleep.

I started to get up from the bed but his hand shot out and grabbed my wrist. I looked down at him in confusion.

”Where do you think you’re going?”

“I am going to remove my clothes because now they are wet. And that, Mugen, is entirely your fault,” I answered, smirking.

“Oh,” he said, releasing my wrist. “I thought you weren’t going to lie down with me. You owe me, remember?”

I removed my clothes as he talked, folding them neatly. They would need a good washing eventually. Damn if Mugen wasn’t rubbing off on me already. Going to sleep instead of washing out my clothes, I never thought that would happen.

“Only so that you can be warm,” I said, as I climbed beneath the covers. He immediately turned towards me, snuggling up against me. It felt wonderful to have his skin pressed against mine. Then, he sneezed again. Gross. How romantic was that?”

“Sorry,” he said tiredly.

I forgave him.

I wrapped my arms around him and held him tighter, hoping to convey some type of warmth. Usually it was me that looked to him for warmth. Odd that our positions should be so reversed.

He sighed softly as his breathing evened. Mugen coughed a few times and that made me feel bad. I suppose he is right, it is slightly my fault but he is just as much to blame, stubborn swordsman!

“Jin?” He spoke to me and here I was thinking he was asleep.

“Hm?” I asked, closing my eyes as I enjoyed the sensation of him breathing on my neck.

“I want you,” he purred. Then to enunciate his point, he moved forward slightly, his erection brushing lightly against me.

Instantly, aroused warmth began to spread through my body. I felt it go straight through my spine, lighting the fire in my groins. I groaned slightly and angled my head to get a good look at him. He was already looking up at me, mischievous smile on his face.

“But…you are sick,” I protested slightly.

“So?” he questioned, raising one eyebrow at me. He stretched and kissed me hungrily.

“So… you should rest,” I said, breaking away from him. My fingers trailed down his bare back and he shivered with the feeling.

“I don’t care about that…” he muttered moving his head back down to my chest, his slightly damp hair tickling underneath my chin. He latched onto a nipple and sucked it strongly, drawing out a low moan from me. “I want you in me. Now.”

How could I say no to such a request?

I shrugged my shoulders, reaching down for his erection. “You asked for it.”

I curled my fingers around his length, stroking him gently. He moaned and closed his eyes, arching his back. Precum was already dribbling from his tip. Just knowing that he wanted me that much, made me harder than a rock.

I leaned down and claimed his mouth, tongue pushing past his lips eagerly. I tasted him, part rice and meat, mostly that natural flavor that was Mugen. I hungered after that taste often. He returned the kiss eagerly, nipping at my bottom lip when he got the chance. It was decidedly erotic.

I felt hands on my shoulders as Mugen reached up and pressed me flat on my back. I complied, not really minding if he took control or not. I felt his weight settle over me as he straddled my hips. I looked up into his flushed features as he leaned forward and latched onto my nipples again.

“I thought you wanted…uhn…me on top?” I questioned, groaning with the intense sensations that were spreading throughout my body from his touch.

“Nope,” he answered, sliding down my body until his face rested right over my achingly hard length. I could feel his warm breath on the tip and shuddered. “I’m on top.” I felt his hot wet mouth wrap around me and I nearly screamed with the feeling. He licked and sucked, nipped carefully, until I was writhing ridiculously beneath him.

“God Mugen… your making me crazy…” I muttered, hands clutching the bed sheets beneath us.

He released me from his mouth and sat up suddenly, cocking up one eyebrow. He grinned at me seductively before he straddled my hips again, his entrance poised right above my aching member. My hands instinctively went to his hips, guiding him as he slowly impaled himself on me.

He closed his eyes, half in ecstasy, half in pain, as he sank downwards until he had me completely surrounded. “Damn Jin…so…so…good,” he stuttered.

I moaned right along with him, the feeling indescribable. I felt him all tight around me, squeezing occasionally and it was so erotic. I felt myself pulsating slowly. It would not take me long.

Carefully, slowly, Mugen moved his hips up, then back down again. A sign that he was more than ready for the really good stuff to begin.

I complied, holding tightly to his hips as I began to thrust up and down, sliding in and out slowly of his heat. It felt so good.

I looked up at Mugen. His eyes were closed and his head hung slightly backwards. He was lost in his desire. I relinquished my hold on his hip and gripped his erection with my own right hand. I stroked him to the beat of our thrusts. All that was heard in the room was the slap of flesh on flesh and impassioned moans from us.

I pushed on his hip a little, just to get him to lean back some and rest against my bent legs. He complied and on the very next thrust I touched that sweet spot within him.

“Shit!!” he cursed loudly, his scream turning into a hiss as it settled into a moan.

“You like?” I asked rhetorically.

“Shit yeah!” he exclaimed. “Don’t you dare stop!” As if I would.

I increased the tempo of my thrusts as he clutched the sheets with his hands. Good. This was for him, the uncouth swordsman who had stolen my heart. Not that I wasn’t benefiting as well.

“Uhnnn…” moaned Mugen. I sensed he was nearing his climax as was I. I sped up my thrusts, becoming even wilder and off tempo.

He came first, and loudly at that, screaming something wordless as he spurted his warm sticky cum everywhere, the bed, himself, and especially on me, after all I was on bottom. But from my vantage point I saw everything, and it was far too much for me.

The look of wild abandon on his face, coupled with him climaxing all around me, and I had no choice but to give into my release. White sparks seemed to dance in front of my eyes as I emptied my seed into Mugen.

He collapsed against me tiredly as I struggled to gather enough strength to hold him close. The only sounds were our heavy, labored breathing. I held him close as long as possible, before I pulled out and moved him over to the side. He had more girth than me and he was crushing me.

He did not protest. Instead he snuggled closer and started to go to sleep. I smiled softly and started to sink into oblivion. And then…

Mugen sneezed.

[Misc] Secrets of the Heart 02

Chapter Two : Lose It All

I don’t really know why I woke up. It really was too early for me to even be conscious. But somethin’ in my gut told me that there was somethin’ wrong. That and the feeling of an empty bed beside me. Where’d the warmth go?

I forced my eyes to open although I really didn’t want to, and saw that the bed was in fact empty. I groaned when I realized that Jin had left and sat up searching the room, thinking that he had probably gone to take a piss or something.

That was when I noticed he was standing at the door, hand reaching for the knob, fully dressed. It confused me because it kind of seemed like he was leaving.

“Jin?” I said aloud, scratching my head in confusion even as I yawned. It was still way too early for me to be up. The sun hadn’t even hit noon yet!

He froze when he heard me, fingers still outstretched towards the knob. He did not turn around or anything, just sort of stood there. I was even more confused now.

“Where are you going?” I asked, stretching my arms up above my head, “It’s too early.” I briefly thought about lying back down and going to sleep, but I really did not want to go to sleep alone, especially since my cock was waking up too, all ready to greet the day. Why had he gotten up in the first place? We had nowhere to be, unless… My eyes narrowed even as he answered his question.

“Go back to sleep Mugen,” he said calmly, only a slight movement to his shoulders.

“Nope. I’m awake now,” I said, slipping out of the bed. I was naked but I did not care. Not like we had any secrets from each other in that matter.

I heard him sigh even as he reached for the handle. But I beat him to it. I don’t think he actually expected me to stop him. I dove in between him and the door, pushing him backwards. He stumbled but did not fall, drawing up quickly to look at me impassively.

When I pulled him up here last night, it was not so we could forget and pretend it never happened like last time. Nope. This time I was going to make sure he stayed. I told myself that whatever it took, he would understand how I felt, even if it felt like pulling my teeth to get him to talk.

“Get out of the way,” he said evenly, his face showing no emotion. Damn the bastard! He acted as if it was no big deal for him to just walk out of my life after what had happened between us last night. His hands went to his sword, as if he would actually pull them on me right now, unarmed and unclothed.

“No.” I said just to be contrary. I wanted to make him angry. I wanted to see that pale skin flush with his feelings, to melt the ice around his emotions. “Why are you leaving?”

He looked away then, as if he could not meet my eyes. He knew I would just tell him it was crap, that’s why he would not look at me. “I have to.”

I snorted, “Bullshit!” I crossed my arms and did my best to glare down at him. Though I am sure with no clothes on and not even a sword at my side, I was not the most imposing of creatures. “Don’t lie to me!”

He mumbled something but I did not catch it. He was always like that, barely saying anything. Once he finally did, you either had to strain your damn ears to catch it, or think about it for a long time because it was so damn confusing.

“What was that?” I asked, cocking my head to the side.

“I said, `Move’,” he yelled, raising his voice to me. Whoa! That was new. Apparently something had happened that I was not aware of. And I really did not believe that was what he said either.

“Let me out!” He repeated thought quieter, gritting his teeth as he locked eyes with me. He had hid himself again, no longer the responsive man who had fucked me last night. Ooh, just thinking of that got my blood to tingling.

“Not until you tell me why you are leaving,” I stubbornly shook my head.

He crossed his arms, closing himself off to me. “As if you’d care,” he mumbled in words that I could barely hear. He turned his head away from me again, angling his body so that he was no longer directly facing me. That was his way of saying, `leave me alone’.

Excuse me? Didn’t I just tell the crazy ronin that I loved him last night? This sudden change of heart only made me angry. Damn guy was always trying to act like he never cared about anything.

Well, I would show him. I would show him exactly what I thought of him leaving… and how I wanted him to stay.

I moved so fast that I think I even surprised myself. Before I knew it, I had wrapped my arms around him. We were about the same height so I could look him in the eye evenly. I claimed his mouth with my own, frowning and all. Instantly my cock jumped, loving the contact of his soft lips against mine. He opened himself up to me, letting me explore his mouth, tasting him, battling with his tongue.

I broke for air, nearly gasping as I did so. He seemed dazed, like he did not believe what had just happened. Meanwhile, I was horny as hell. I had to get this solved so we could get down to the good stuff. Shoveling emotional bullshit was just not my idea of a good time.

“You couldn’t possibly want just me,” he whispered, startling me back into the real world.

“What the hell are you talking about?” I demanded, “What the fuck ever gave you that idea?”

He shrugged, “It’s always been that way…”

I decided then to go out on a limb, show a part of myself that I carefully hid, hoping that would break open his stupid little ice. If not well, it was a chance I had to take. “I love you Jin. I thought you knew that,” I narrowed my eyes then, adding for good measure, “Or was I just a common fuck for you?”

His eyes widened and he seemed to get angry. Good. “Never!” He hissed.

“Then what?” I growled, gripping his gi tight between my fingers and jerking his face up close to my own, “Because I am fucking sick of this! I’m not going to pretend anymore! I remembered last time and I sure as hell remember this time! I’m not going anywhere!”

“I can’t change the way I am, Mugen.” He said softly, trying to look away. He did not resist me, as if he had already been beaten on the inside. There was something that I did not understand here… but that would have to wait until later. First, I had to make sure he doesn’t leave.

“I’m not asking you to,” I said softly, releasing my grip just a little. “I just want you to stay.” I added in a smaller tone, barely loud enough for him to hear me. For some reason, I felt exposed. Like I had bared my heart for the world to see, and all that mattered was whether or not it was accepted… or rejected.

He stared at me, confusion, hurt, pain, all of it, etched into his eyes. It felt like he was trying to see through me, to see if I meant what I said. And still I didn’t miss the slight catch in his voice, the barely there tremble to his body.

Being that close to him made me harder than a rock, despite the emotional situation. And I could tell that it was having an effect on him too. He was not only trying to control his physical reaction… but his mental one also.

And so I did the only thing I could think of. I was a man of action not words. I reached up and gently placed my hand on his cheek, his skin feeling cool to the touch. It was so soft, and strikingly pale when compared to my own. He closed his eyes, leaning in slightly to my touch.

Actions speak louder than words… I kissed him again, this time with more force, more passion, grinding my naked hips against his clothed ones, the soft fabric feeling so good against my achingly ready cock. How did he do that? One touch… and I was more than ready for action.

He opened his mouth readily, accepting my tongue with vigor as he pushed his body back against mine. I felt his hardness even through his clothes. He wanted it as much as I did. Groaning with the feelings, nipping and biting at his lips and chin, I moved my hands towards his clothes, trying to remove them. They were in the way. He did not resist me; let me push off his clothes, wanting to feel skin.

We fought for dominance. He brought up his hands, one tweaking an already peaked nipple as the other ran through my hair, trying to control and deepen the kiss. And finally, I got him naked, his clothes pooled around his feet. I ran my hands over his smooth, pale chest, scars nearly nonexistent compared to my own. It appeared not even his enemies could get close enough to touch him…

I groaned. He had abandoned my mouth to trail little bites from my chin onto the sensitive skin of my neck. Sharp little nips that only aroused me more. He reached down and grabbed my already weeping cock with one hand, massaging, stroking. So… he thought he would be in control this time, did he?

“My turn,” I rasped, voice already thick with arousal, as I grabbed his hands. He looked at me, eyes half-lidded. God he was so sexy. I pulled him into another kiss even as I pushed us towards the bed. He kissed like he fought, carefully and smoothly, embracing every sensation, moving so quickly from one action to the next that I almost missed it.

We fell onto the bed, me on top, wriggling against each other. There was urgency here and that wasn’t what I wanted. Struggling to control the desires of my own body, I slowed down, reaching to cup his chin with both my hands, sliding slowly down his body until we lined up almost perfectly. Damn those subtle differences in height. I ground our hips together, one arousal against the other, and could not help but moan with the sensation.

“Gods…Jin…” I groaned. I pulled his glasses off and carefully tossed them onto some clothes. I wanted to see his eyes. Then I reached up into his hair, pulled out that tie and watched as the silky blackness fell free. I ran my hands through those strands, delighting in the feel.

“Fuck me Mugen…” he breathed, only the slightest catch in his voice to show just how lost in the moment he was.

“Nuh uh.” I said, shaking my head, “Not yet anyways…” I added when I saw the angry look in his face. “I want to taste first…”

I kissed, sucked, and licked my way down his body. I could feel him moving beneath me, emitting small moans of pleasure, but so quiet I could barely hear him. No matter, I would make him scream. His erection waited patiently for me, hard with precum glistening at the tip looking oh so tasty.

I teased him at first, taking hesitant licks around the base, up at the side, avoiding the sensitive tip. His hands found their way to my hair, wrapping them in it, nearly pulling it out. I didn’t mind so much, not so long as he kept moving so enticingly beneath me. He tried to guide me to where we he wanted me. I just smiled and kept teasing, stopping once to blow a breath of hot air across the tip of his erection. His back arched with the feeling.

“Unh…stop teasing!” he ordered, half moaning, his fingers curled into my hair. I looked up at him, saw his face flushed with arousal.

I bit back another smile and licked hesitantly at the tip, tasting the pearl of precum that hung there. Mmm, bittersweet.

“Mugen…” he moaned, a strained sound to his voice. Poor thing.

I took pity and stopped the torment. Without any warning, I took him in my mouth, rolling the hard flesh on my tongue, stroking and sucking. That really made him respond. I slipped one hand between his legs, fondling his balls, tugging on them as I sucked, knowing how that only makes it better.

“Dammit Mugen! Fuck me already!” he demanded, casting angry glances down at me through the haze of his flushed face. Aha! The ice man was melting!

I released his cock from my mouth with a satisfied final drawn out suck, causing him to whimper softly. I was just too good. I crawled back up his body, pushing his knees up so that I can settle between his legs. I leaned forward and kissed him. He returned it hungrily, clutching my shoulders with his hands, fingers digging into the skin. I had a brief flashback to last night that only made me hungry for more.

I broke away from the kiss, balancing on one arm as I brought the other hand up between our faces, slipping my fingers in between his lips. He sucked on them with vigor, coating them with his saliva. Good, that was all I needed. His hands let go of my shoulders, reaching down and around to cup my ass, kneading the flesh in his hands. I let him, but only for a minute, before I pulled away, taking my fingers out of his hot, wet mouth and reaching down for that tiny, puckered entrance.

I pushed in one finger slowly. He was so tight, just like last time. God, I couldn’t wait until I could bury myself in him. He took it without a sound, body arching up to meet my fingers. I kissed him, trying to distract him from the pain, as I inserted another finger, stretching him, preparing him for something far larger.

He moaned and writhed underneath me when I finally found that one sweet spot. His reaction sent a flare of heat up and down my spine and I knew, I could not wait any longer. I removed my fingers and he gave a sound of protest. I chuckled at the sound even as I wrapped my fingers around my own straining erection, taking the precum and spreading it over my cock, lubing it up as best as I could.

“Ready?” I whispered questioningly, not sure I could trust myself not to sound needy as I positioned myself at his entrance

He looked down at me. “Just do it already,” he hissed.

I nodded as I slowly, almost painstakingly began to push forwards into him. I had to close my eyes and take a deep breath with the sensation; he was so tight and hot. I went slowly, trying to prevent as much discomfort as possible.

I reached for his cock and began to stroke it slowly, gently, trying to distract him from the slight pain and discomfort until I pushed myself in completely, buried to the hilt.

“Hhn…” I moaned, incapable of true speech. It felt so damn good. I stopped for a moment, letting go of him to put all my weight on my arms as I leaned forward to kiss him, delighting in the feel of him wrapped around me, all around, so hot…

Then I felt his hands on my arms, squeezing me, “Move dammit…” He muttered into my mouth.

“If you insist,” I said, shifting my weight so I could move, pulling all the way out only to push in again, very slowly, dragging it out. I aimed my body so I could hit that sweet spot, the bundle of nerves that would make him scream my name.

“Uhn…” he moaned as I increased the speed of my thrusts, hitting that spot over and over. Gods he felt so good.

He reached down and grasped himself, pumping to the rhythm that he was pressing into my thrusts with. The sight of him stretched out beneath, touching himself, nearly did me in.

“Damn Jin…you are so sexy…” I huffed, feeling that burning tremble building up within me. “So tight…” I moaned.

There just couldn’t be anything better than this. The feel of him pushing down against me as I thrust up into him, tight and hot. The sight of him below me, taking care of himself, pale skin flushed with sweat. How could I walk away?

It was just too much, I couldn’t hold back any longer, the speed of my thrusts quickening, becoming erratic. The sensations of him wrapped around my cock, being sheathe in his slick heat, him moaning, pumping himself up and down…

He moaned, long and low, “Mugen…” before he came, spurting his seed, coating his hand, his fingers, erupting over his stomach and some even spouting onto me.

That did it, him clenching and unclenching on my cock with the force of his release. I came loudly and hotly, filling him with my side. I swore that I forgot to breathe, to think. I screamed something wordless, I don’t really remember, before I collapsed tiredly on top of him, dimly remembering to roll over to the side so that I did not squash him, pulling out in the process.

For a minute, all that could be heard was the sound of our exhausted pants. I laid there, body still tingling from the remnants of my release. I could feel him trembling slightly beneath me.

I moved my head to look at him, a feat in itself considering how suddenly tired I felt. His eyes were closed and he looked so peaceful. Gathering up all my strength, I moved to the side, taking my weight off his body. Before he could protest, I pulled him close, wrapping my arms around his smaller frame.

No words were spoken. I don’t think they were necessary. I just held him close, allowing our breathing to become more even, our heartbeats returning to normal.

I just knew that now he wouldn’t leave. I may not be good with pretty words like him, but I know that my actions made my intentions obvious. I’ll take that risk of showing my emotions, if it meant that I might not spend the rest of my life wandering alone. Only 19 and I already despised my existence. Maybe now, there would be a reason worth living.

Don’t think that I do not know how everyone viewed me. Brash, rude, vulgar even, but none of them know me, they don’t know who I am. That is just a mask, a shield I wear to protect myself from ever feeling pain again. But which pain is worse, loving and getting left, or never having loved at all?

I started feeling a little sleepy, but before I could drift off, I had to know, “If I go to sleep, will you be here when I wake up?” I asked. I kept my eyes shut, my face impassive.

I felt him move, settle further into my arms, his head lying somewhere on my shoulder, angling so that I could feel his hot breath on my neck. Oo, that sent shivers down my spine. And then another part of me started to stir. Damn, how did he do that?

“Yes,” he said softly. I felt his words on the skin of my neck, his breath ghosting over me.

“Good,” I responded, tightening my hold on him even as I barely ground my hips into his.

“Already?” he asked, his voice sounding sleepy.

“I can’t help it.” I almost whined. “You are too damn sexy.”

I felt his body shake and I realized that it was with laughter. “Go to sleep, Mugen.”

I sighed heavily, not really that upset. I was tired too, not that I would have passed it up if he had said yes. He ignored my sighing, probably already asleep. Yawning quietly, I blindly reached down for the abandoned blankets and pulled them over us. Yes, most definitely time for sleep.