"Promise me."

            "I promise."

            "Now be quiet.  They're coming."  After that, she said no more.

            The silence was soon destroyed, along with everything else.

            Afterwards, when it was over, when they were gone - all of them - she was alone.

A New Kimono for Rin

            "You stink."  Sesshoumaru wrinkled his nose.  The stench of death and blood and suffering still clung to her.  She looked up at him, awed.  It was the first thing he had said to her in the hours that she had followed in his wake, through the dreamtime of summer grasses and fireflies.  His long silvery hair gleamed in the moonlight as he tilted his head ever so slightly, as if to study her tattered form.

Her only response was a crooked little smile.  It seemed that he had filled her world, ever since she woke up.  Ever since…

            Sesshoumaru pointed to the steaming waters of the natural hot spring.  "Go wash.  Can you do this by yourself?" 

            She paused for a moment, before nodding shyly.

            "Good."  He turned to walk away, Jyaken scrambling at his heels.

            Neatly, she began taking off the ragged kimono.

*****

            "Sesshoumaru-sama!  Sesshoumaru-sama!  Is it really a good idea to bring this human along?  Won't she be a burden?  After all, Sesshoumaru-sama would not want to be inconvenienced by some little human brat, would he?  Just the yearly feeding costs alone would make it too much trouble.  And what if she needs to go?  Who will take her out at night?"  Jyaken ran himself around in little circles, working himself into a state.

            Sesshoumaru lapsed out of his quiet contemplation momentarily, his expression unchanging.  "Are you trying to tell this Sesshoumaru what to do?" 

            "N-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-no…" Jyaken quivered.

            "Good.  Now shut up."  Sesshoumaru casually brushed Jyaken aside, knocking him into a nearby tree.  That should hold him for a while, he thought.

            Sesshoumaru heard her coming, of course.  Just the pat and drip of water against the sun-baked earth would have given her away, much less the slap of her bare feet against the ground as she ran back.

            She smiled brightly, before plopping herself down next to him.  For a moment, he was almost surprised by her actions, though he didn't let it show. 

            At least, now she didn't smell too bad, especially now that she had washed off the dried and caked blood.  It was just the clothes.  But in due time, everything would be settled

            Sesshoumaru let her lean against him; a little damp and slightly smelly from the old clothing she wore.  A minute or two later, she fell asleep, exhausted.  Underneath the layers of grime and dirt, she was surprisingly pretty.  Sesshoumaru studied her, momentarily fascinated by the thought of her fragile mortality, as ephemeral as the brilliant colors of summer wildflowers.  He fingered the rent that went through his clothing at his shoulder from Tetsusaiga, before returning to his thoughts.

*****

            "You don't need to say anything if you don't want to."

            It had been the most reasonable thing she had heard in what felt like an eternity.  She smiled in her sleep, content.  Everything would be all right from now on.

*****

            They trod along the ancient forest paths that wound their way through the ancient forests, long forgotten by man.  Thousands of years ago, bear-skinned hunters had skittered along these tracks, in the shadow of the primeval forest, chasing the mythic beasts that haunted these lands with their sharpened stone weapons, calling to each other through the darkness.  Today, however, the forest was empty, but for the lilting dance of birdsong along the canopy, and the ripple of dappled sunlight through the undergrowth.

            Sesshoumaru had sent Jyaken ahead of them, to announce to the Weaver their intent, so that preparations could be made before he arrived.  Meanwhile, he led the child through the deep forest, occasionally stopping to rest when she was thirsty or tired.  She never complained of anything, but he could always tell, and stopped when it was appropriate.

            Abruptly, the path before them became widened and worn, a large shallow furrow through the ground.  Sesshoumaru's eyes hardened minutely.  Flattened brush lined the path that suddenly became easier to walk on, indicating that something else used this as a regular path.  The cloying scent of decay filled the air.

            Suddenly, it seemed as if the sky darkened, and the forest grew cold.  Birds and small animals stopped their regular activities, as if collectively holding their breaths against the abrupt twilight.  Soon, there was nothing but silence.

            Through the growing, obscuring mist (despicable - a minor youkai's work, Sesshoumaru thought, and about as subtle as a slap in the face), a humanoid figure shambled.  His piercing eyes could see through the illusion, to see that it was only the remnants of a rotted corpse wrapped around the tendrils of a hunter-eater, a puppet brightened up with a touch of magic to look real.

            She couldn't tell though.  As the figure drew close, her eyes widened.

            "Mama."  It was the first thing she had said in almost a year, and her voice came out in a tiny rasp.  He looked at her, surprised as he had always thought she was mute.

            "No child.  Stay here."  Sesshoumaru commanded.  But her eyes never left the mist-shrouded figure.

            "My daughter."  The corpse yawned and gaped, its voice edged with the needles and fangs of a youkai's voice.  But before Sesshoumaru could grab a hold of her, she had already started running.

            "Mama!"  She cried as she ran, her throat choking with the sobs that had been hidden away for so long.  "Mama!  Don't leave me!"

            Her arms wrapped around the figure, appearing to her clothed in her mother's favorite blue-dyed kimono, the rough hempen cloth scratching comfortably against her face.  Warmth filled her heart, cleansing the wound that she had held within herself for so long, as she roughly rubbed her tears away.  She could go home now.

            "Mama, I missed you so much."  But even as she said those words, the human form seemed to waver, and the air was immediately filled with the ghastly stench of decay.  The face of her mother suddenly seemed as if it deformed, and an instant later, disappeared in tatters of rotten flesh as the monstrous youkai's patience been stretched to its limits.  In a flash, illusion was shattered and sinuous tendrils wound themselves around her.

            It was that night all over again.  She was too frightened to scream, too frightened to struggle, nothing but the stream of her tears against her throat as she was pulled into the jaws, teeth and fangs and blood and it was too horrible to look but it was her mama and her papa and then they found little Aki who was crying in the other cupboard and he wouldn't stop screaming and then they killed him too and she wouldn't scream or cry, no, because she had promised her mother when she hid, promised her that she'd be quiet, promised her mother…

            In a flash, the youkai was scattered across the forest floor in roughly diced pieces, the steam of its flesh and blood filling the air with an acidic quality before dissipating in a swirl of wind.

            Sesshoumaru caught her in his arm as she fell, the youkai's long tendrils falling away from her like the cut vines of a plant.  She shivered uncontrollably against him, as if it were deep winter and not the hot mugginess of summer.

            Sesshoumaru set her down, kneeling down to her height.  He rested her hand against her shoulder.

            "I…I want my mama."  Sobs tore at her throat, and she crumpled to the ground, crying.

            What he did next surprised her, but it surprised him more.  Sesshoumaru pulled her close against him, letting her cry, her hot tears dampening the white silken cloth.  Her fingers clung at him, as if he were the only thing in the world that she had left to hold on to.  He said nothing, but let his grip tighten on her, letting her know that he was here.

            When it was over, he took her to a nearby stream to clean her face, using a corner of his long flowing sleeves to wipe the cold water from her cheeks.

            They sat at the stream, watching the water swirl over the rocks, tumbling pebbles along its bed.  Sunlight reflected off of the crystalline water, disturbed by an occasional songbird coming to splash in the shallow waters in a flurry of feathers and brilliant droplets.

            Before long, she spoke.

"I'm Rin," she said, simply.  She turned her attention back to the little flowers she had found and braided neatly into a long strand. 

            "Hello Rin."

            Rin finished the strand and tied it off at the ends.  She raised the fragile blossoms to Sesshoumaru, as if in offering.

            He looked at her curiously for a moment, before taking the strand into his hands.

            "It's beautiful."

            He placed the tiny crown of flowers on her head.  Rin smiled.

*****

            They arrived, a few hours late.  The Weaver was a giant spider youkai, though definitely of a higher order than the monstrous beasts that roamed the forests.  Her only vaguely human attribute was her human face, as beautiful and delicate as any well-bred hime-sama, though if she had ever the interest it was easy enough to change into a lithesome humanoid form.  But hands and fingers could not match the speed of her real form, and her silk was prized throughout the youkai world for its protective qualities, though it was said that she was particularly picky about her clientele, refusing and occasionally eating those that she deemed unworthy.

Jyaken had worked himself up into a tiny whirlwind of worry over Sesshoumaru's lateness, irritating the Weaver to no end.  The Weaver had given into her annoyance, and had tied Jyaken up, hanging him upside-down in a silky cocoon so that she could get to work on spinning the measure of cloth that had been ordered, and dying it to exacting specifications.  But he kept on and on, rattling off on this and that and the other, until finally she had gagged him too.

            As Sesshoumaru entered the Weaver's nest, ducking underneath the low-hanging doorway, Rin followed shyly behind him, half-obscured by his long flowing sleeve. 

            "Oh how splendid!  A human child."  The Weaver clattered up to Sesshoumaru in a flurry of movement, her long, slender black legs clicking about her.

            "Don't be afraid, Rin."

            Screwing up her courage, Rin stepped out to meet the Weaver.  She had never seen a talking spider that big.  Then again, she had never seen a talking spider.  Rin's eyes grew wider.

            The Weaver gently touched Rin's cheek, caressing the soft skin with a long claw. So delicate was her touch that it felt almost like the brush of a spiderweb against her face.

            "How lovely she is!  I had been wondering, Sesshoumaru-dono, about why you would want such a fine length of cloth made in such colors.  I thought maybe you had gotten yourself a little daughter.  But here, such a precious little human pet.  I never thought you'd have the same tastes as your father before you."

            Sesshoumaru's eyes narrowed.  The Weaver took a tiny step back.

            "Oh, no!  I don't mean any disrespect to the son of the great youkai.  Please come with me.  The dye's nearly done and we'll need to measure after that - that is as long as it meets your approval, my lord.  Oh! And I must fix that tear…" The Weaver prattled as she turned around in a flurry of movement, her many legs opening and closing a dozen little containers, catching up sewing implements as she walked.

*****

            A few hours later, Sesshoumaru's clothing had been mended, done so neatly that any hint of damage had completely disappeared as if the cloth had magically healed itself.  Rin's new kimono was also finished, and she danced around in the clearing outside the Weaver's nest in the dusky evening, as the fireflies blinked their tender signals of love to one another in the tall grasses along the banks of the stream.  It felt like she was wearing the skies and stars, the old and tattered kimono long consigned to the flames.  She felt as light as a feather, and reveled as she spun, arms outstretched, the checked orange and cream hem of the kimono spinning merrily with her.

            "It's time to go, Rin."  Sesshoumaru said as he stepped out of the Weaver's nest, Jyaken at his heels.  Jyaken was still sticky with spider silk, little tufts of it clinging helter-skelter to his head like the hair of an unkempt old man.  Jyaken muttered something unintelligible to himself as he tried to unstick his three fingers from the staff he always carried.

            "Hai!

*****

            As they walked in the darkening evening, following the gurgle of the stream, the sky glistened with stars, and the nearly full moon hung so low that it seemed as if it could be touched.  Rin stopped to pick night-blooming flowers, and for a moment, glanced into the shimmering water.  In the bright moonlight, she could see herself reflected in it, clean and smiling, in her new kimono.  Behind her, the moving reflection of Sesshoumaru glinted against the water, beautiful and ethereal.

            She ran after him as he walked further into the forest, clutching handfuls of fragrant blossoms in the deep summer night.

Disclaimer:  Characters belong to Rumiko Takahashi, as well as to their respective creators.

Author's notes:

- This takes place in the anime continuity.  The version I have seen does not mention who or what killed Rin's parents, only that she had seen them die.  This story follows the assumption that though Tensaiga can heal the body, it cannot heal the heart. 

- Spelling conventions for names may be inconsistent with the various translations that exist; I'm using what I've seen in fansubs.

- Technically speaking, Rin is probably wearing a yakuta, which is basically summer clothing.  Apparently the term 'kimono' didn't really exist until around the 18th or 19th century.  I use the term because it's probably more familiar to most readers (as well as the writer!).

Special thanks goes out to Incantrix for pre-reading and for his extremely helpful suggestions.

C&C can be sent to cori_ohki@hotmail.com Thank you for reading.  ^_^