Chapter Nine – Headstrong
I have never been one to sleep hard, easily awakening by the slightest sound or disturbance. Nevertheless. I did not move when our door opened, and a dark shadow crept in. Nor did I realize something was wrong until I was roughly grabbed and shoved off to the side, my injured shoulder scraping against the floor. The wound reopened, and, already, I felt the blood beginning to flow. I looked up in a daze to see a figure standing over Mugen, and though I couldn’t see who it was, I recognized the threatening way it was staring down at him. It couldn’t be mistaken for anything else.
I scrambled to my feet and scanned the room to find my daisho, but the assailant had known exactly what to do and had moved them across the room. Thankfully the sound of my movement had awakened Mugen. His eyes snapped open.
“Kenji,” he said simply, in a voice of whispered anger. My body automatically stiffened. Kenji? The Iyatokan? My emotions changed from surprise to intense rage. Someone we had trusted had turned against us, again. It was like Sara all over again.
“Traitor…” I couldn’t help but growl threateningly.
I saw Mugen tense his body, as if he were planning to attack, and I knew that I had to distract the blond massive man.
I dashed across the room for my daisho and grabbed them, shoving them into the light tie around my waist and not wasting any time as I spun around and made to attack Kenji. He heard me coming, the bastard, and easily blocked my blow. He moved remarkably fast for someone of his bulk. And due to our friendship, knew all of my injuries. He kicked me, hard in the thigh, striking the deep gash that had just healed.
I went down, gasping as the pain shot through my leg, and my knee went weak.
Kenji kicked again, throwing my slight body towards the far wall. I slammed into a table, and it crushed beneath the force of my body crashing into it. I slid down to the floor limply, my mind reeling and my head spinning from the contact. My swords clattered from my hands, and I struggled to maintain consciousness and focus my eyesight.
I was barely able to make out Kenji reaching down and grabbing Mugen, who tried to kick at him. It didn’t have much of an impact, after all, my lover was barefoot, and Kenji seemed to be made of solid muscle. The blue-eyed man had his arms wrapped around Mugen’s throat, and he clung to the offending arm with one hand while trying to scratch out those blue eyes with the other.
“I knew if I followed that brat, I would run into you some how. You should have died the first time I killed you,” hissed Kenji as he looked at Mugen with an intent glare.
“It was you,” Mugen managed to gasp out. “Fucking bastard! You’re the reason I can’t remember anything!”
Kenji tightened his grip, and Mugen choked, scratching his fingernails across the skin of the Iyatokan’s hand. He drew blood, but Kenji was relentless.
I was still seeing double of the scene and gasping for breath. It felt as if Kenji had broken one of my ribs, not to mention the blood dripping down my shoulder and my back. I think that wound had reopened, as well.
“I coud’ve killed you and your faggot lover while you were in the hot springs. But I thought it would be better if you died painfully with that memory on your mind as your blood mixed on the floor of this inn,” Kenji said in a voice cold with anger.
“You son of a bitch!” choked out Mugen. “I will kill you.”
Suddenly, my vision started to focus again, and the swirling in my mind began to calm down. I patted around the floor until I managed to get my hands on my sword. I tested getting to my feet and stumbled a bit, my legs feeling very unsteady.
“Let him go!” I demanded in a hoarse voice.
Kenji turned and looked at me, a smile on his face as he squeezed Mugen’s throat, and the Ryu-Kyuian gasped. “You are no threat to me!”
I glared and growled at him, anger fueling the flame and making it easier to stand. “It will be your blood staining this floor.”
It was then that Mugen tried to kick the Iyatokan. We had both underestimated him as quickly as Kenji caught the tattooed foot and shoved it away from his unprotected leg. The blond shook Mugen, as if he were nothing more than a doll, his head snapping back and forth, eyes fluttering. Kenji grinned feral in the next instant as he simply dropped my tattooed lover with no further encouragement. He fell hard and hit even harder, his head spinning from the shaking and the fall.
“This is going to be easier than I thought.” Kenji turned to face me, eyes laughing as he cracked his knuckles. “Don’t think I don’t recognize your face either, Urahara.”
I couldn’t help the cold feeling of trepidation that raced through my body. My hands unconsciously tightened in their grip of my sword as I glared at him. “You know nothing about me.”
“All I need to,” he replied smugly, licking his lips. “It’s a sad thing, especially in high families, when there is a black card out there against you.”
I knew what he meant. My family had issued what was basically a death warrant for my name. For as long as I lived, I would have assassins after my head, hoping to take it back and claim the reward. And knowing Shuu, the amount was high. What Kenji didn’t realize, was that it was a much sadder thing when a family didn’t even know the real truth of the matter. That bastard had to die. I would never sleep calmly until his blood was dripping on my sword… macabre, I know. However, I had had enough of Kenji.
I growled angrily and rushed at him, determined to wipe the superior smirk off of the bastard’s face. Except this time I had a plan. I was resolute that he would not defeat me as easily as the last time.
He prepared for my attack. I made as if to attack from the left when I suddenly changed course and swung at his right. He twisted his body to avoid my swing, easily seeing through my feint and reminded me very much of the way Mugen fought. I was swinging again at him before I even turned around, quick slashes that forced him backwards, blue eyes calmly watching each movement as if he were learning me.
What arrogance the man exuded! It was as if he didn’t even fear the sharp edge that I consistently kept on my blade. I vaguely heard Mugen moan and the shifting of the bed, but tried to block out the distracting sounds. I began to lose myself in the roar of battle.
Suddenly Kenji stopped backing up, his arm whipping out as I was in mid-swing. He didn’t even flinch as he stopped my sword with his hand, catching the sharp edge of the weapon on his palm. I pressed down with all my strength and tried to rip the sword from his hand, but it was as if it had been thrust into wood or something.
I smelled copper on the air, both from my blood and now his that was trailing down his arm from his arm in small rivulets. The bitter tang was on my tongue was one that I had come to hate over the years. The blade had sliced into the skin of his palm but the Iyatokan looked as if he was experiencing no pain at all.
It made me wonder just what kind of man had been sent after Mugen. What had he done to be chased after in such a way? Which only made me think about the secrets that I had, as well. We both had secrets hidden deep within our hearts that we were concealing from each other and slowly circumstance was drawing them out whether we wanted them to or not. The both of us were wanted men, destined to spend the rest of our lives fighting off assassin one right after the other. Yet, we still feared telling each other certain secrets. Ironic.
Kenji squeezed hard when he felt me give another tug and smiled condescendingly as he twisted his wrist and easily snapped the metal of my weapon. For the moment, I was in shock at the display of brute strength. Then reality struck, and I scrambled to reach for my other sword.
Kenji’s speed astounded me again as I had hardly placed my hand on the hilt when he darted forward and struck me in the face, massive fist catching me in the cheek and eyes. It would be black and purple tomorrow, provided that we both lived through this assassination attempt. I stumbled backwards, finding my footing vastly unsteady.
The reality that I, as well as Mugen, might die that night struck me with a vengeance. Not that I feared death, but now that I had met him, I felt like I wasn’t quite ready to give in.
I heard the sound of footsteps and looked up through teared eyes to see Mugen attempting to take out the brute. He executed one of his tricky maneuvers that I never in my life would be able to imitate and swept the feet out from under Kenji, getting a hard blow to the shoulder in the process.
My legs had stopped their violent trembling, and I raised my second and last sword to the fallen Kenji in the same moment that my tattooed lover stood over the blond with an angry and vengeful look on his face. I recognized the calm and decisive aura that had taken over him. It was the bitter realities of yet another betrayal.
It was then that the door opened and a head poked in, fear and worry shining in brown eyes. Fuu had come to see what all the commotion was about. She gasped, and the door flew wide as she stood there with her hands in front of her mouth.
”What is going on?” she demanded, her eyes darting from me and my bleeding wounds, to Mugen standing over Kenji with his reclaimed sword – I don’t even remember how he had gotten to it – and the Iyatokan on the floor, gazing up at the both of us murderous men.
“That fucking bastard is trying to kill us,” Mugen snarled, lowering his sword until it was aimed at the blond man, point headed for the artery in the neck.
Her eyes trailed towards me and found that same intent look of murder in my eyes as well before she looked down at her supposed body guard on the floor. His hand was twitching slightly and that motion both distracted and worried me.
“Is that true?” she questione, and I had to resist the urge to snort. Women and their `everyone deserves a chance’ nature.
But Kenji didn’t bother to answer. His wrist flicked and before I knew it, a dagger was flying towards the air at Fuu. I hadn’t even known that the Iyatokan carried one. Mugen’s eyes widene, and his protective instinct kicked in even as I dove forward.
He stepped towards Fuu, sword outstretched to block the dagger as she moved to get out of the way. Unfortunately for her Kenji had thought of that and had tossed another one just as quickly, grabbing Mugen’s foot in the same moment. My tattooed lover crashed to the floor, and I was too far away to prevent the dagger that implanted itself in our little sunflower’s shoulder. She screamed with the pain and clutched at the little knife, sinking to her knees as she struggled to pull it out.
Kenji and Mugen began to wrestle around on the floor, the blond easily overpowering my slimmer lover. He had drawn a third knife and was viciously slicing at Mugen who now had small cuts on his sides, back, and arms. Despite my wounds, I dove into the fray, knocking the dagger from the blond’s hands.
He growled angrily at me before kicking at Mugen. I heard the sickening sound of bone cracking and the Ryu-Kyuian howled with pain. I didn’t want to look and see what had happened for fear that I would lose my head. I concentrated on Kenji who was now free to deal entirely with me now that Mugen was rolling on the floor in agony.
“Mugen!” I heard Fuu scream as she scrambled up from the floor, bloody dagger in her hand and raced to his side.
I still had my sword and glared down at Kenji, who still seemed sure of his victorious. I darted forward before he had a chance to do anything, angling an attack that for once managed to strike before the blond grabbed my leg and pulled me down.
I had sliced a gash in his face, giving him another scar to add to the one already present. As I struck the ground hard, I managed to keep a hold on my sword. Kenji moved fast, jumping on top of my hips and pinning my slighter legs and figure beneath him. He was heavy.
I swung angrily at him with my sword as his foul blood dripped onto my body. He grabbed it with the uninjured hand and ripped it from my grasp, throwing it across the room where it clattered against the far wall. I was just glad that he didn’t break it like he had the other one.
I spat at him, my face curled into an angry growl. His eyes darkened, blue turning to misty grey as he grabbed my flailing limbs with both his hands. He was extremely heavy, and I didn’t like the feeling of him draped across my hips.
“What’s the matter?” he snarled. “I’m a man, aren’t I? I thought you liked our flavor?”
“Fucking bastard!” I screamed at him, fighting with all I had in me to get free. I’m not the largest or strongest man in the world; it is obvious by looking at me. It seemed inevitable that unless someone saved me, I was not breaking free from his clutches. Both my thin wrists fit into one of his huge hands! I had never hated my size more severely than I did in that one moment, and I felt completely useless.
“Let him go!” It was Fuu, perky little sunflower that never lacked for courage. She slammed her small body against the blond mountain.
He howled as she managed to skim the blade that she had pulled from her shoulder on his neck and bury it in his back. His arm flung outwards and struck her in the belly. All of the breath in her body escaped in one huge gust as she flew backwards into the delicately painted screen and crashed through the thin rice paper. She did not move when she landed.
I growled with anger and struggled to break free of his grasp. He thought this was amusing and looked down at me laughing. His hand had tightened in its hold on my wrists, and I could literally feel my bones grinding together, sending stabbing pains down my arms. I bared my teeth at Kenji, trying to move my legs to do something. But he had managed to sit in the perfect position.
He pulled out a knife and started grinning as he trailed little scratch marks with the blade over my exposed skin, carving letters and such into my chest and arms. I tried not to move not wanting to force the blade any deeper. He ran the tip of the dagger over one of my nipples, nicking the sensitive flesh. I grimaced.
“It’s so much fun to play with my prey before I kill it,” Kenji mocked. “I thought you would like it.” He was a sick bastard.
It was then that I saw it, the shattered pieces of my blade lying within a hands reach of me. If I could break my wrists free from the blond’s grasp then I could twist my body, grab the blade and drive it into his heart before he had a chance to do anything.
Sounded simple enough… but I still had the problem of breaking free from Kenji’s hold.
Kenji laughed again as he took the point of the dagger and pressed it into the wound on my shoulder, twisting it around. I gritted my teeth and groaned as fiery pain raced through my arm. The Iyatokan squeezed my wrists and twisted my arms. I could feel my shoulder threatening to pop.
Then the glint of metal caught my eye moments before the metal shod shoe flew through the air and struck Kenji on the forehead, slicing it open. Blood splashed down on me and I had to fight back the revulsion.
Kenji’s hand reflexively went to the wound on his head as blood fell into his eyes, clouding his vision. A body barreled into him from the side. A body that I recognized to be Mugen. He had fought past the pain of the broken bone to throw himself at Kenji.
The Iyatokan blocked the clumsy and obvious blow, pushing Mugen to the side. My tattooed lover landed hard and screamed in agony. But it was all the distraction I needed. In his pain, Kenji had released my hands. I didn’t even stop to think as I twisted my body and grasped the end of my broken blade. I ignored the pain in my hands as it sliced my palm and slashed at Kenji’s neck, no hesitation at all. He gurgled, coughed out blood bubbles, and began to slowly tip over, his body collapsing to the ground.
I was breathing heavily now, both from adrenaline and anger. The broken bit of sword clattered to the ground, stained with both my blood and that of Kenji’s. I heaved and pushed the body of the heavier man off of me. I scrambled out from beneath him and rushed to Mugen. He was conscious and breathing but his eyes were clouded with pain. It was then that I saw his arm, his sword arm at that, was swollen and bent at an odd angle that made my stomach churn.
“C-Check on Fuu first,” he mumbled to me as I turned him over. I left bloody handprints on his body but it was still me that felt dirty. I had Kenji’s betrayer blood on me, and I longed to wash it off.
“Don’t move,” I commanded softly. He nodded as his eyelids fluttered. Perhaps his arm was finally going numb. I moved from his side to where Fuu had crashed through the rice paper screen. She was just starting to move.
I heard her groan and hurried to pull the remains of the destroyed screen off of her. She rubbed her head and winced when she used the shoulder that had been stabbed.
“Dammit! I wanted to kill him!” Fuu declared fiercely when her eyes spotted Kenji’s dead body. “Betraying me like that…” she trailed off.
“How’s your head?” I asked her, concerned that she might have a concussion or something of the like.
She waved her hand at me. “Don’t worry about me,” Fuu muttered as she knocked gently on her skull. “It’s as hard as a rock. But I don’t think Mugen’s looking too good.”
I had to agree with her on that one. Looking over her once more and finding that she was probably the least injured of the three of us, I returned to Mugen’s side. I managed to kneel next to him when I sudden dizzy spell hit me, and I slumped. Perhaps the loss of blood had been too much to handle.
But, we were alive. That was all that mattered. We had survived one more day, the three of us, just like then. Narrowly scraping by, willing to give our lives to save the other, best friends the three of us.
Then an arm grabbed mine and pulled me downwards until I was mouth to mouth with Mugen, and he was kissing me as if he were hungry and I was the tastiest fried dumpling. His mouth devoured mine as his tongue delved into my mouth and swirled around.
Despite my pain, I couldn’t help but feel aroused at his touch. It was then that I understood his sudden desire to touch me and kiss me. It was to reaffirm that we lived. With that realization, I returned his passion with equal vigor, fighting past the dizziness and pain to grasp his face with my hands nip at his lips, swallowing his flavor and memorizing the feel of him pressed to me.
There was a clearing of throats at the doorway, and I broke away from the kiss to look. Ichi, the inn keeper, was standing in the doorway. There was a small crowd of other patrons gathered behind him.
I tried to imagine what it was they were seeing: a blond heavy man with his throat slashed, a girl picking herself up from the remains of a paper screen, blood everywhere, a shattered sword, and two guys kissing as if they world were about to end.
“I’m sorry, Ichi,” Mugen croaked out. “But he wouldn’t take no for an answer.” With that said, my lover promptly passed out.
The inn keeper looked at us, horrified. I didn’t blame him.
A wave of nausea struck me as my limbs suddenly started to tremble. It became incredibly difficult to even sit upwards. Then the world went dark.
* * *
I woke up with a heavy weight clinging to my side and no sense of how much time had passed. I shifted slightly, but the weight on my arm did not move. I knew by sense of smell that it was Mugen. He had one arm wrapped around my waist and one leg thrown across both of mine. It was his way of showing that I belonged to him.
We were lying on a bed in a darkened room. I would have guessed that we were still at the inn except for the look that I had seen on Ichi’s face. So in reality, I wasn’t sure where we were. Then the dull ache began to settle. My shoulder, my back, my thigh and my face felt swollen. That fight with Kenji had nearly destroyed my slowly healing body. To make matters worse, my right arm was starting to go numb from where Mugen was lying on top of my right shoulder.
I tried to shift to get in a more comfortable position but he just mumbled something incoherent and gripped tighter, nearly white-knuckled. It was kind of cute the way he did that. I felt a surge of love for this ruffian rise in my heart and an uncharacteristic goofy grin try to break through on my face.
Just then a door opened, letting in a thin sliver of light. I closed my eyes from the bright intrusion and listened as light footsteps padded their way inside. I recognized the gait. It was Fuu.
I cracked open one eye to see that she had closed the door and lit a soft light that wouldn’t hurt my vision. Her shoulder had been wrapped very lightly and her head didn’t even look at all injured. She was bustling about as quietly as possible, I suppose to try and not disturb us.
“Are we at the inn still?” I asked her, my voice slightly hoarse.
She jumped and emitted a small scream when she heard me. Fuu swiveled her head around from where she had been organizing some bandages and looked over at where Mugen and I laid.
“You’re awake,” she stated as she came to kneel at my side.
I nodded, my throat still feeling thick and dry. “How long… have we been asleep?”
Fuu jumped back up to get some water for me to drink as she answered my questions. “We are still at the inn. And you’ve been out for three days.”
Three days. It was hard to believe that it had been only a little less than three weeks since I had first finally found Mugen. Since then we had been laid up in the bed injured for the better half of it. Ha, nothing had changed.
Fuu appeared back at our side with a small bowl of water and helped me to sip the cool liquid. Nothing had tasted sweeter.
“How are your wounds?” I asked when she pulled the bowl away from my lips. Mugen chose that moment to twitch in his sleep and mumble something incoherently. My eyes were instantly drawn to his half-dressed body. That was when I noticed his wrapped arm, the one he had broken. I had nearly forgotten about that. The wolfish one was clinging to me with his broken arm and that didn’t surprise me in the least.
“Oh, I am fine. He didn’t hardly harm me.” She waved her hand in dismissal. “But we have a problem.”
I couldn’t resist the urge to snort. We always had problems. “What?”
“Well, Mugen only paid up until the day after Kenji attacked,” she began to wring her hands together as she continued. “And then we destroyed all that stuff and the clean up from the blood and then another room and all the bandages…”
“We have no money I can only assume?” I sighed. Back to square one. It seemed fate had a hand in all of us renewing our friendship.
“Nope, but I did get a job,” she answered surprisingly cheery. She patted my shoulder lightly, a comforting gesture that I really couldn’t feel given the bandages it was swaddled in. “Go back to sleep. You both need to heal so that we can get out of here and on the open road!”
I chuckled lightly at this, unsurprised by her sudden burst of cheer and energy. Fuu had always been like that, not letting the slightest events wear her down long. She stood up from the bed and humming quietly, snuffed out the low light and left the room. Fuu was insistent that I return to sleep.
I began to feel drowsy again so it didn’t seem like a bad idea. My body could only take so much damage and two battles back to back like that wasn’t really something quickly recovered from. But before I could slip into blissed unconsciousness, I had to rectify my sleeping situation and awaken my deadened shoulder.
I reached down and gently unattached the Ryu-kyuian’s grasp from my waist and shifted his legs off of my own. He was sleeping hard; I almost couldn’t believe it. He snorted and rolled over without further encouragement, and I was free. I sat up and stretched for a moment, working the kinks out of my shoulder before I laid back down and spooned up to his back.
I don’t know why, but I was starting to feel a bit of clinginess. This time it was my turn to wrap my arms around him and not let go as my eyelids began to droop heavily. He felt warm and alive beneath my touch; his scent, though a bit too ripe, was comforting.
I leaned forwards and pressed a gentle kiss to his neck before relaxing and dropping off into sleep.