Samurai Champloo, 2100 words, PG13.
Fuu tries to cheer Jin up.
Spoilers: follows episode 11, Gamblers and Gallantry
This was my yuletide story. Somehow, I always thought the first Champloo story I wrote would be Fuu/Momo-san. Maybe it's a good thing I was wrong. :)
Pursuit of Happiness
"He's really depressed," Fuu said.
Mugen scratched his nose. "He looks the same as always."
"Look at him," Fuu said. "He's still upset about her."
Jin's back was very straight as he walked. True, it was always straight. And always stiff. But to Fuu, it seemed straight and stiff and sad. The lonely way Jin placed one foot in front of the other, the melancholy way his hair brushed his shoulders -- it made Fuu feel sad too.
"About a woman?" Mugen shrugged. "So why don't you seduce him?"
"Stupid!" Fuu said. "Anyhow, he'll hear you. So shut up."
But maybe she could do something to cheer Jin up. Just...what? He needed to think about something else for a while. To be taken out of himself.
Fuu ran to catch him up. "Jin," she said, "Do you remember those yaki manju we had? They were so delicious."
Jin didn't reply. He kept looking straight ahead, with that stern expression on his face and a sad look in his eyes. Or Fuu thought it was sad. It was hard to tell behind his glasses.
"I can make them too. Or I could make them if we had the ingredients and a place to cook. I'm a pretty good cook. Do you like cooking?"
"No," Jin said.
That wasn't working. Jin was so serious. What would he want to talk about? Serious things. "Do you like philosophy?"
"Yes," Jin said.
Now Fuu had a topic. Only she didn't really know anything about philosophy. "Please tell me some philosophy. I'm really interested in it."
"No," Jin said.
Fuu sighed. This was hard! But she couldn't give up yet. "What about theatre? Do you like theatre?"
"No," Jin said.
"I know some poetry," Mugen said, coming up behind them. "There once was a girl from Kyoto--"
"Shut up, stupid." Fuu turned around and clocked Mugen in the head.
Well, that plan was a failure. Jin looked as miserable as before. And why didn't he want to talk to Fuu anyhow? That wasn't very nice, but she would excuse him today on account of his sadness.
Maybe she should try something that didn't require Jin's participation. Something she could give him. Something he would enjoy.
Food. Everyone enjoyed food. And it was getting close to lunchtime. But where was Fuu going to find food? She looked around her -- the muddy road, the fields beyond, a few trees. Nothing, unless Mugen was hiding food in his pack. Unlikely though. She'd be able to tell.
But there, by the side of the road, there was a bush. And birds on the bush. And birds on a bush meant... She ran over. Berries!
"Hey," Mugen called. "What are you doing?"
"I'll catch up," she said. "Go on ahead." Fuu picked one berry off the bush. It was sort of purple-red. If the birds were eating them, then they couldn't be poison. She put it in her mouth. It was sweet and juicy. Jin would love them.
She picked a few more. They were really tasty. The birds thought so too. They screeched at her and flapped their wings. She picked faster. The berries had a floral scent. Delicate.
Then a bird flew at her. "Wait!" she said. "What are you doing?" Another bird dove at her face. "Keep away!" She waved her arms and backed away. The birds settled back in the bush, glaring at her with their beady eyes.
"You should learn to share," Fuu said. She started back on the road, walking quickly. These berries would be really tasty in mochi, she thought. They had a good texture, not too soft, and only tiny seeds.
There were Jin and Mugen up ahead. They had stopped to wait for her. "Here," she said, when she got close, and held out her hand. There was only one berry left. Had she really eaten that many?
Momo-san ran down out of her sleeve and picked up the berry. Fuu's palm was stained purple. "Selfish," Mugen said. Jin turned around and started walking again.
"I didn't mean to," Fuu said. She sighed. Not again. But it was too hard for her to have food and not eat it. They should know that by now.
She trudged through the mud, lagging at the back. Anyhow, that was hardly enough to eat. When were they going to get to a town or a shelter?
A man came into view, walking towards them. He was carrying a box on a strap around his neck. He spoke to Jin, but Jin just walked past him. "Leave me alone, old man," Mugen said and followed.
"How about you, young lady?" The man opened up the box as he got closer to Fuu. "I'm sure you'd like something pretty."
"Oh!" Fuu said. The box was full of little ornaments -- pins, pendants, charms. A moulded flower to put in her hair, that would be nice. Or that sweet little fish. She picked up a tiny green frog on a chain. "So cute!"
"It's very lucky," the man said. "It will bring you much prosperity."
"Mmm, lucky." An idea flashed into her head. She could buy it for Jin. Everyone could use a lucky charm. "Yes," she said. "I'll buy it."
"Because you're so pretty, I'll give you a special price," the man said. Even at the special price, it seemed expensive to Fuu. But she wanted Jin to be happy, so she paid it.
"I know you will be fortunate now," the man said.
Fuu ran after Mugen and Jin. They were far ahead by now and by the time she caught up, she was tired and sweating. "Look," Mugen said. "There's a shelter."
There was a well and Jin drew water while Mugen went to buy lunch from the food stall. "Jin," Fuu said and held out the frog. "This is for you."
"What is it?" Jin said. His eyebrows went up slightly, so Fuu figured he was surprised.
"It's a lucky charm," Fuu said. "I thought you could hang it on your katana. It will bring you good fortune."
Jin frowned. "I can't hang this on my katana."
Jeez, he was so surly today. "Then hang it around your neck! After I went to all the trouble of getting this for you."
"Hey," Mugen yelled. "Where's the money? We have to pay before we can eat."
"Fuu has it," Jin said.
Fuu clapped her hand over her mouth. The money.
Mugen came over. "What's the matter? Give me the money?"
"Um, I...don't have it," Fuu said.
"I spent it." She tried to close her fingers, but Mugen plucked the frog charm out of her palm.
"On this? You told me I couldn't keep the money because I'd just waste it on something stupid!" Mugen held up the frog and stared at it. "You're the stupid one."
"I'm not stupid!" Fuu tried to grab the frog from Mugen, but he stepped away.
"Yes, you are. We can't eat a lucky charm."
"We could sell it," Jin said.
"Who's going to buy a stupid thing like this?" Mugen said. "Only Fuu."
"Shut up!" Fuu snatched at the frog again and Mugen dodged her. He tripped over a stone and fell against the side of the well. The chain slipped out of his grasp and sparkled in the air before falling down into the darkness.
They all stood around the well, looking down. "Maybe we can get it out," Fuu said.
"Why don't you go down and look?" Mugen said.
Jin filled his water skin. "Don't argue."
Fuu glared at him before she remembered she was being nice to him today. "Let's just leave."
"Sure," Mugen said. "You don't need any lunch after stuffing yourself with berries." Jin was already walking away. "Hey, don't go," Mugen called after him. "Maybe we can kill some guys and take their food."
The air turned chilly as every eye turned to them. "Mugen, come on." Fuu pulled on his arm and got him onto the road. "We can't make a fuss."
"I don't get lunch and now I don't get any fun either? You're really troublesome."
Mugen went on like that for a while, but Fuu stopped listening. Maybe that was what Jin needed: a good fight. Of course, she didn't mean killing a bunch of people having lunch at a rest stop. But if they met some bandits or a monster or something, Jin could kill them and then he'd feel better.
When Mugen was finished grumbling, Fuu pulled him back so they could talk. "I think maybe Jin would be in a better mood if he got to have a fight."
"I could kill him."
"No! I just thought that if we got into a situation that led to fighting, maybe Jin would feel better."
"First you say we can't fight, now you want us to? We could have fought twenty guys back there."
"Don't just fight somebody at random. But if the situation comes up, then leave it to Jin."
Mugen scowled. "Why should he get to and not me?"
"Okay, okay. Jeez, you're a nag."
Now all they needed was someone to fight. They were passing into a forested area, so that was a lot better for bandits and things. Fuu tried to look particularly vulnerable, just in case that helped.
But there were no bandits. After a couple of hours, Fuu thought maybe they didn't look worth robbing. Maybe she should try to flush them out. "What should we spend all our money on?" she said in a loud voice. "It's so much, I can't decide. Plus all the jewels."
"What are you talking about?" Mugen said.
"If only I had someone with me who could fight, then I'd feel much safer," she said.
"Who are you saying can't fight?"
"But it's just me and these two students, who are so weak they can barely carry the sacks of gold."
Now even Jin turned around to look at her. "I'm not crazy," she said. And then a boar ran out of the brush and charged her.
It had long tusks and a wild look in its eyes. Fuu was rooted to the ground, rigid with fear. In half a second, it would gore her.
Then a sword flashed through the air and the boar was dead on the ground.
Fuu's limbs unlocked and she sat down hard. That was so scary! But at least it gave Jin something to kill. She looked up and there was Mugen, big dumb grin on his face and blood dripping from his sword.
"You idiot!" she said. "You were supposed to leave it for Jin!"
"He's too slow," Mugen said and wiped his blade on a handful of leaves.
"Anyway," Jin said, "we can eat it."
That at least was the bright spot in the day. They moved off the road and found a clearing in the brush, close to a stream. They built a fire and roasted the boar and ate until even Fuu was satisfied.
It was dark when they finished. Mugen sprawled out on the ground and started to snore. Jin sat with his back to the fire. Fuu stared into the flames. Jin still seemed so sad, his back still looked so lonely, and she wished she could have thought of something to make him feel better.
She sat down beside him, facing out into the darkness.
"You should sleep," Jin said. "I'll watch."
"Aren't you lonely?" Fuu said. She leaned against his shoulder. It felt solid, reassuring.
"No," Jin said.
"You are," she said. She put her hand on his arm. "I don't want you to be sad."
"I'm not," he said.
"It's all right," she said, more to herself than to Jin. All right to be here together, all right to stay warm in the cold night, to keep company in the darkness. She moved her hand up Jin's arm, over his shoulder and onto his chest.
Jin took her wrist in his hand. "Don't," he said. His fingers were tight, his grip hurt her arm, his voice pierced her like an arrow. She couldn't move.
He dropped her hand. "You should sleep."
She took a deep breath and crept away, curling up on the other side of the fire. She stared through the flames at his back, so still, so straight. It was a long time before she dropped off.
In the morning, Jin was still sitting in the same place. Fuu didn't know how she was going to face him now. But she had to somehow, since they still had to travel together.
Mugen was still sleeping, drooling from the corner of his mouth. Fuu got up and went out to the stream for water. She brought some to Jin. "Here," she said.
He reached out and took it. "Thank you."