Causality

He came back into her life much as he had the first time, broke and bedraggled and begging for food. He didn’t recognize her, not at first, though she knew him the moment he stepped into the restaurant. His hair was recently cut, but aside from that he looked exactly as he had five years prior. The light played across the bright blue bands tattooed on his arms, and Fuu closed her eyes.

It wasn’t permanent, this restaurant job, just something to scrape together enough money to go somewhere else. It was one of the few jobs anyone would give her that didn’t involve taking off her clothes, and so she welcomed it. She met a lot of interesting travelers, sometimes went away with them if they were interesting enough and she had money enough to manage it, but more often she would write down their stories in her diary and sleep in the corner of an empty building or untended shrine, much as she had before. Sometimes she would do this for months, other times only for a week or two, before the road inevitably called her again, to search for something half-forgotten.

When Mugen finally recognized her, about halfway through the rice bowl she knew he couldn’t pay for, he narrowed his eyes in that expression of dumb disbelief that had become so familiar to her. He made a crude remark about her breasts, to which she twisted his ear until he squawked like a chicken. Fuu had to bite back a smile.

“You living here then?” Mugen asked, as she sat cross-legged legged beside him and sipped at a cup of green tea. “You some prettyboy’s woman these days or what?”

Fuu shook her head. “I’m nobody’s anything,” she said.

“Yeah,” said Mugen, “Me either.”

It was an abandoned shack on the edge of town that Fuu called home for the moment, and it was there she lead the road-weary Mugen in the dark, and it was there he slipped her kimono off her shoulder and placed his palm against her bare skin, waiting. “Yes,” she told him, and pressed her mouth to his, as perhaps she should have all those years ago. Her fingertips traced the scars across his stomach, some from his own stupidity, too many from hers. His skin tasted like salt.

Fuu woke up shivering, and she knew he had left. For a moment she was angry, but this soon faded away. Coincidence had brought him to this town, and she had brought him to this cold, drafty shack; he had no reason to stay. She shivered again, and picked her kimono up off the floor, beating the dirt out of it with the flat of her palm.

As Fuu pounded at the dust, a paper caught in the fold of her sleeve fluttered to the ground. Curious, she draped the kimono across her shoulders, letting it hang open in the front, and bent to pick up the paper. It was a map, scrawled over in messy red ink. Several towns were circled and then violently crossed out. Fuu’s heart pounded. She knew those towns, she knew the path they traced along the map, the same one she had slowly traced with her feet these past years. This town was the last, circled but not crossed out. Fuu held the map close to her heart, and felt her eyes fill up with tears.

The restaurant owner begged Fuu to stay. She had been there several months, and the owner had grown attached to her. He offered her a small raise, and a room in his family’s house, but she smiled sadly and refused. “There’s a certain person I need to find,” she said firmly, and despite protests she gathered up her few belongings and set out, with a surer step than she had known in a long while. She headed south, in search of a samurai who smelled of the sea.

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