It happened so rapidly it was like the growth of a flower.
Flower? More like a damn weed.
No matter how he mentally cut at the vivacious new growths and blooming buds, they only returned with a barbarous determination, galling him with a mockery that showed how little control he had over it.
And he had thought this time was supposed to be something fragile and delicate. The rose bud had shimmered and changed into a jungle of thorns, powerless for him to stop or detain.
And the damn girl was totally oblivious to it! As if she herself was not even aware of what was happening to her, the subtle changes that were occurring in her both physically and mentally.
Those thorns had lodged themselves into his side, a bothersome dilemma that he was not at all anxious to delve into it. So he handled it the best way he knew how under those circumstances.
He ignored it.
Or tried to, at least.
The change had arisen in what seemed like a blink of an eye, a mere twitch of the eyelid. One moment she was out gathering flowers and making mud pies; the next she was composing sonnets and poetry, marshaling the truly academic points that existed around her, the abstruse beauty of metaphor and two face. No longer was the world two dimensional but a helix of feelings, thoughts, emotions, strife, plague, corruption, and innocence.
It was starting to bother him, making him narrow his eye as she skipped past with that whimsical face and twinkling spark that existed in her dark eyes. It reminded him of how fragile her life span was, how short a time it took for humans to mature. One minute she was a child, and now...
He heaved a heavy sigh, allowing his usual impartial face to break into a frown. The last thing he needed was a half-grown pup wandering around disturbing things. The damn girl did a good enough job interrupting his life as a kid. Raging hormones was not something he looked forward to.
Yes, it would be better to pretend this problem didn't exist for a while, appear to be as clueless as the girl and not know a thing. When she came to realize it, she would likely come to him, begging for answers like she always did. Only then would he worry about it.
Eyes the color of earth peered into the grass, watching the ants march in a fine line to the apple core and swarming over it like a little black cloud. The corners of her vision widened as one ant accomplished the task of pulling out a chunk three times his size, holding it aloft in his wide powerful jaws as he swerved drunkenly back into the line, unbalanced by the piece. It simply amazed her that something so small could perform such an action. It could make full blooded demons envious. She briefly wondered if ant youkai did exist.
Lying flat on her stomach on the grass, her elbows on the dirt with her chin cupped in the palms of her hands, she absently kicked her feet in the air, her attention captured completely by the ants. She absently hummed a tune to herself, picking up a stick to poke at the insects and watch them run around in a panic at the disturbance.
It was a most gorgeous day outside, and she could find no better way to spend it than out here in the sun with nature. The large field around her held so many things to discover, flowers and bugs abundant, with birds skimming overhead and the soft grass under her. Fluffy white clouds moved placidly through the sky, and there was a slight breeze that prevented it from growing too hot.
She should be inside studying, she knew that, but she couldn't help it. Why waste such a perfect afternoon in the stuffy halls and damp awnings?
Still humming her song, she flipped over onto her back to watch the clouds, bored with the ants. Allowing the wind to ruffle her bangs and caress the exposed portions of her flesh, she placed her hands atop her stomach and lay there, the sun sparkling on her coal colored hair. She had pulled the strands back into a tight ponytail to keep it from becoming dirty, but that precaution was lost as her head was being placed into the dirt right as this very moment. That didn't bother her, though. She would just bathe when she was forced to go back inside.
Yawning widely, her eyelids fluttered shut, her alert mind slipping into a more relaxed state.
She had been here for six years, six years since the evil man called Naraku had been destroyed, six years since the Shikon no Tama had been completed. It seemed far away from her now, a distant, hazy memory she could barely recall. She did remember how her lord had come striding out of the mist back to her and the servant he had left with her, informing them that it was over and they were going home.
He had taken them far into the Western lands, to his castle, the one he had left to pursue his half brother for the Tetsusaiga and, later, to pursue Naraku. He had not been there in many years, and it was the first time she had seen it.
It had been frightening, such a large place filled with strange people she did not know. The first few weeks had been a most troubling time as she refused to leave her lord's side, causing him a great deal of frustration and impatience. He had things to take care of, and looking after a scared human girl who was in no danger at all was preposterous.
Over time, that fear had subsided, and she gladly embraced this place as home, the first home where she truly felt she belonged.
There had been some that had frowned upon her for being human, but she had gradually won their acceptance; her carefree personality and compassionate manner stole them no matter how they tried to resist. There was just something about the skipping human girl. A smile never hesitated to cross her pretty face, and she was always eager for conversation, sometimes talking so much the palace workers avoided her lest she talk their ears off. That was the girl's biggest flaw. She never knew when to be quiet.
Hearing a strange noise, the girl sat up, leaning her weight back on her hands and turning to look to her right.
In the distance, a figure that looked remarkably human was sitting on a large boulder, arms crossed over their chest and head pointed slightly downward, not moving in the slightest. A large scaly double headed dragon was rubbing itself vigorously against a tree near the sitting figure, causing the tree to bend and shake, leaves falling all around like snow. It was snorting and bleeping in ecstasy, creating quite a ruckus as it enjoyed the scratching.
She smiled hugely as she determined the source of the noise then jumped to her feet and smoothed down the front of her kimono, hoping that the human figure would not notice the dirt stains it had gathered. Granted, this wasn't one of her more expensive outfits, but Keikai was very nitpicky when it came to keeping ones clothing unscathed and presentable.
"Why, what would everyone think if the ward of the Lord of the Western Lands was running around appearing like something that was dragged off the street?" Keikai would always say.
Giggling at the thought, she ran towards them, waving her hand expansively above her head. She yelled to them, and both creatures looked up, watching the human girl race towards them, hair waving in the wind, her clothing bouncing around her legs, and looking immensely silly waving her arm about like that.
Laughing for the mere joy of it, and not paying any attention at all to the ground, she tripped over her sandals and fell onto her stomach, dirtying her clothing further and knocking the air out of her. She had forgotten these sandals were new, and she had not gotten used to them yet. She would have to remember to be more careful before she totally demolished them without ever even breaking them.
A hand circled her upper arms and pulled her up gently before she even had time to do it herself, and she looked up into the visage of the human figure.
A round face with light brown hair tied tightly back in a bun regarded her worriedly, mud-brown eyes peering into her dark ones. Two slashes of red were visible above the upper lip of Keikai, making it appear as though she had a mustache. There was nothing truly extraordinary about the face, save for the two red marks and her pointed ears, nothing that resembled beauty, nothing appealing or charming whatsoever. It was a school teacher face, a strict stern face that deceived even the most insightful of people.
"Rin-sama are you alright?" inquired Keikai anxiously.
Rin's answer was a bright smile and a hug, having already recovered her breath and not in the least bit worried if she had lost any of her dignity, which surprised Keikai a little. "Thank you, Keikai-sempai!" Rin chirped happily, causing Keikai to grin.
After returning the embrace, the youkai boar stepped backwards to look at the young human in front of her, happy to see her unharmed. A disapproving light entered her eyes as she saw the smudges of earth across the kimono and Rin grimaced.
'Here it comes,' she thought to herself.
"Rin-sama, how many times must I tell you to be careful when running and rolling around in the field? Look what you have done to your clothing!" Keikai clucked like a mother hen to a disobedient chick, shaking her head affectionately. "Why what would everyone think if the ward of the-"
"I will wash them, Keikai-sempai!" Rin hurriedly interrupted before she had time to finish. Anything but that old line.
"Well you had better," responded Keikai with an amused doting smirk, trying to make her voice sound serious. "Otherwise I may just have to inform the Lady of how careless you have become with the clothing she has generously given to you."
She was purely joking with the young woman, who gasped anyway and did a wonderful impression of being horrified.
"No! I will wash them! Three times I will wash them! They will look even better then they did when new!" Rin responded, unable to stop the giggles bubbling up inside her.
Keikai returned the laughter with a chuckle, and Rin skipped over to the large double headed dragon, petting it and fondling over it like it were a newborn puppy. It never seemed to cross her mind that this was a dragon, a double headed one at that, a beast that could kill her without any sort of effort. She was totally at ease in its presence, even seemed to bask in it.
The beast growled happily under the touch of her fingernails, both heads vying to get the most attention. Giggling louder, the young girl scratched both heads vigorously, dividing her attention equally between the two.
Seeing that Rin was being agreeably entertained by the huge beast, Keikai resumed her former position on the boulder, crossing her arms over her chest once again. Her eyes scanned the area, watching for any movement that might be suspicious. While they should be safe inside the castle's fields, Keikai took her job very seriously and tended to always be on guard.
She relaxed a tad when she saw no one and returned to her internal musings, listening intently to Rin, the dragon, and other noises while keeping a mental note of how much time had passed.
"Ohhh, such a good wittle dragon, AhUn! Yes, you are the best dragon in the whole wide world!" Rin cooed to the gigantic beast, causing Keikai to smirk in humor at the young girl referring to the creature as "wittle." The child never ceased to amaze her.
Rin skipped a bit away from the dragon and Keikai, bending over to pick some flowers to bring inside with her. After gathering a handful of the white blossoms, Ah Un nudged her shoulder with his big snout, begging for more attention. She laughed at his entreaty and promptly began setting the flowers in the mane of the dragon. Ah Un obligingly sat down so she could reach, lowering his heads to lay on the grass, his ears flickering as she began stating how beautiful he was and how every female dragon would go head over claws for him now.
She did two more handfuls, covering the dozing dragon in a barrage of white, making him look like he was indeed ready to be wed, when Keikai announced it was time to leave the field and head back inside.
"Why, Keikai-sempai?" Rin asked, a pleading look pasted on her face.
"You have been outside all morning," Keikai answered, avoiding looking at the young woman. If she did, she would crumble, and they'd be out here all day.
A frown marred Rin's smooth brow for a moment, then she brightened and said, "Well ok, Keikai-sempai!"
She leaped down from the dragon's side, gave him a good bye kiss on all four scaly cheeks and a pat on both of his hard heads, and began skipping towards the castle entrance. Her passage caused dozens of small white butterflies and other insects to fly up out of the grass, surrounding her lithe body as she skipped along.
Keikai shook her head, watching fondly as the young girl went straight from whining to happiness. Truly that was what made the girl so special, her inner joy and spirit. No matter what she was always thinking positive, even when made to do something she hated. Keikai couldn't remember a time Rin had been upset or frightened or mad, save for the time she had first arrived there.
Smiling tenderly, Keikai followed in Rin's footsteps, remembering the first time she had seen the young girl. The little girl had been so scared, so frightened that she had refused to come out from behind her Lord's leg until he had pushed her forward. Then she had stood trembling in front of the large woman who was Keikai, her enormous eyes staring unblinking up at the older woman. It was only until Keikai had crouched down level with the girl and had introduced herself, saying that she hoped they could be friends, that Rin had relaxed and stopped being so jittery.
The Lord had, of course, scoffed at the remark and formally told Keikai that it was not her place to make such decrees, but Keikai was undaunted. She knew that the young girl, then only eight years old, needed a friend, someone she could trust and lean on, and Keikai thought it best be her since she would be around the girl the most.
They had clicked instantly after that, and Rin had come out of her shell into the animated, colorful child she really was.
And in turn, Rin had learned that Keikai was far from the emotionless log most in the castle thought she was but a woman with a kind disposition. Keikai was Rin's friend and possibly more, almost serving as a surrogate mother to Rin's point of view.
"Keikai-sempai?" Rin called from ahead, stopping in her tracks to turn around and look back at the older woman.
Keikai removed herself quickly from her thoughts, chiding herself on her distraction. "Yes, Rin-sama?"
"Will I be going to the village tomorrow?"
Keikai smiled at her, noting the exited tone in which the question had been expressed. "If you behave."
Rin did a mock pout at the reply, pretending to be ruffled. "I always behave, Keikai-sempai!"
Keikai chuckled and ruffled the girl's hair, making several strands come free of the messy ponytail to frame the girl's face. "If the Lord and Lady say it is okay then, yes, you may go to the village tomorrow."
Rin let out a joyous whoop, jumping into the air and almost causing herself to fall when she landed unevenly on the new sandals. She loved going to the village and seeing the people she had become close to over the years, the same people that been responsible for putting the Shikon no Tama back together again. Besides, it was the only time she was allowed out of the castle.
Flooded with giddiness, Rin walked ahead of Keikai, babbling away about this and that and everything and anything, the older woman nodding as she partially listened to the chatter. Rin was too delighted to notice if Keikai was paying attention or not, not really caring either way, and gabbed away to her hearts content.
They entered the castle through the large arched open doorways, leaving the sun warmed field for the cooler stones of the interior. An open hallway led to other parts of the estate, the fields in the back of the castle, and Keikai closed the doors behind them, blocking out the sunshine and bathing them in slight darkness.
Rin was still talking, and Keikai was about to resume the walk to the young woman's quarters, when a voice that was sharp as glass cut through Rin's jabbering.
The dark haired girl became silent at the sounding of her name, then gushed with elation at seeing who it was approaching them. She ran forward and latched herself onto the tall figure, hugging him, while crying out gaily, "Sesshoumaru-sama!"
Keikai almost couldn't stop the smile from spreading across her thin lips, bowing respectfully to her lord. Rin was one of only two that were allowed to touch the Lord of the Western Lands, and the only one who did it in public. And she did it so trustingly. She was utterly relaxed in his presence, as if he were some favorite stuffed animal of hers rather then the cold stoic youkai that had slain countless humans in the past.
But he had changed; oh, had he changed.
"Lord Sesshoumaru," Keikai greeted in civil tones, pushing away her inner thoughts concerning the aloof apathetic enigma of a youkai standing before her. It was not her place to be judgmental of her lords decisions and actions so she silenced them.
Rin was already rambling about her time in the field and how wonderful it was out there, almost completely disregarding the respect Sesshoumaru was supposed to be granted. At least she still referred to him as Sesshoumaru-sama rather then Sesshoumaru-kun...
The golden eyes of Sesshoumaru glanced over Keikai, then trained on the young woman still holding onto him, his hands laying unmoving at his sides. His cool stare regarded the top of her head for a moment before he said, "Rin."
"Yes, Sesshoumaru-sama?" Rin asked cheerfully, gazing up at him with all the love in the world.
"Why are your clothes dirty?"
The question caused the young woman to release him and chew on a finger nail, looking apologetically up at him, her eyes wide like two dark pools of melted chocolate. To the side, Keikai lowered her head and gave a tiny shake.
Sesshoumaru internally shook his head as well upon seeing the look on his ward's face. 'Never mind, not worth bothering over.'
Changing the subject, he asked, "Have you studied at all today?"
Her eyes became even bigger, her hand falling away from her mouth in stark surprise and regret.
Sesshoumaru had to stop himself from rolling his eyes.
"Sorry, Sesshoumaru-sama! It was just that...that...the field it was just..." she stuttered, her hands waving in the air as she frantically tried to come up with an excuse.
The raising of the youkai's eyebrow caused her to sigh and slump her shoulders.
"Forgive me, Sesshoumaru-sama. I was outside in the field all day instead of studying," she confessed after a moment, lowering her head and gazing at the floor in guilt.
Technically the entire day wasn't out yet, Keikai couldn't help but notice as sunshine still crept from under from under the door. She didn't say anything though, knowing better then to argue with her lord. A small stab of dread punctured her heart when Sesshoumaru regarded her next with that hard stare of his.
'At least he isn't using that death glare on me,' she thought wryly and brought herself to attention before him.
"You permitted her to waste all that time outside?" he questioned, his voice hard.
If Keikai hadn't worked for so many years under the youkai, she would have shuddered at the chilling tone of his voice, a sure sign that he was not pleased. Luckily, Keikai had learned to keep tight rein on her emotions, especially where fear was concerned, and so her voice was indifferent and a bit ashamed when she replied, "My apologizes, my Lord. The girl was so delighted to be in the field that I prolonged our stay. It will not happen again."
"See that it doesn't," Sesshoumaru responded tightly.
Keikai bowed her head once again to show she understood then stood at attention, waiting for him to dismiss them.
Rin, having regained her airy attitude already, made to grab one of his hands before deciding against it. He really wasn't in the right mood for that sort of behavior.
"Sesshoumaru-sama, it is ok for me to go to the village tomorrow?" she asked, making a valiant attempt to keep her tone more polite then buoyant.
His golden eyes flickered back onto her face, watching the sparkling of her eyes and their pleading look. He wondered, faintly, if he was a glutton for punishment. He must have been to adopt a human girl with eyes that conveyed every little emotion with such depth it even left a youkai such as himself touched. Not that he would ever tell anyone that, except for one person, and she already knew.
Sighing in defeat, he said, "Very well. But first you must clean those clothes, and I do not want you leaving your rooms until I send for you. You have already wasted the day, do not waste the night with such nonsense as watching grass grow."
Rin made a half-bounce in glee and did not hesitate to hug him this time to show how thankful she really was. "Thank you! Thank you!" she chimed against his chest.
The youkai lord was faintly aware of how small and fragile she was compared to him, her head barely reaching the center of his chest. As he absently ran his clawed fingers through the thick silkiness of her hair, his mind turned to other things, such as the problem he had been fretting over earlier. Pushing the matter back to the corner of his mind, he delicately slid out of the girl's embrace, running his hand through her hair once more.
He would usually be embarrassed and appalled at performing such an action in public, but the only one there was Keikai, and she had already seen the small gestures of affection he bestowed upon Rin, having watched the girl for so many years.
When Sesshoumaru had brought Rin to his stronghold, he had known that she would need someone to take care of her, her being so young and he unable to look after her all the time, due to the duties of Lordship. Instead, he had assigned two of the most trusted soldiers he knew to her; Keikai the boar youkai and Mamoru the cougar youkai.
Both of them were female; Sesshoumaru had the foresight to know that once Rin entered the stage he was now pondering over, she could trigger...odd behavior out of the guards, had they been male.
He trusted Keikai over Mamoru, at least as much trust as Sesshoumaru could permit to those that worked for him, which was why Keikai had the day shift, usually ending when Rin went to sleep. The lord youkai trusted them to the extent that he knew they would watch Rin and keep her out of trouble, and protect her should anything threaten her. In a way, they were the girls nannies.
He waved a hand, dismissing the two of them, and they walked down the hall leading to Rin's rooms, the young woman already spouting off a monologue with her guard/nanny about some nonsense.
Shaking his head, he turned and went the opposite way, back to his office of sorts, his long hair weaving around his body at the smooth about-face as he pondered over his internal musings.
Kami, why me?
Afternoon turned into twilight, twilight into night, and Sesshoumaru set himself within his library. After spending hours inside his office occupied with paperwork that was capital to his lordship over the western lands, he was ready for some relaxation and peace.
Situating himself in a straight backed wooden chair worn smooth by years of use, with a fire blazing in the fireplace nearby to shed light, he comfortably amused himself reading about war strategies and the steady increase in the use of guns, the pounding fading as his muscles unclenched and allowed his mind to distance itself from politics, treaties, and regulations.
The youkai did not know much about guns, having never seen or held one before; his only knowledge came from the texts lining the shelves around him. It was a most disagreeable subject for him, making him the tiniest bit edgy at the thought of a weapon that could kill both human and youkai easily from such far distances. Not to mention how cowardly the weapon was. What sort of honor was there in killing someone from a distance that almost equaled his entire estate? A bow and arrow he could understand, or a sickle. You still had to get rather close to your victim after all, and that at least required some strategy and skill. With a gun, all you had to do was pull that little metal part, and your enemy was dead.
At the thought, Sesshoumaru's brow furrowed. Maybe it'd be best to lap up the initiative rather then let the humans take care of it. There is no honor in dying to a human after all.
Disregarding that train of thinking, Sesshoumaru turned his amber eyes to the door, bathed in steep shadow, barely out of the reach of the fires blaze. Idly tapping a claw on the chair's arm, he decided it was time to find out what his ward was up too, and he called out in his usual hard, cultured tones, "Jaken."
Predictably the toad youkai came racing into the room on his stout short legs a bare second after his Lord's summon and situated himself at the dog demon's feet, bowing properly. "Yes, Lord Sesshoumaru?" he said ingratiatingly.
"Have Rin brought to me," Sesshoumaru commanded shortly, and Jaken rose to his feet, a dark frown creasing his ugly beak before he turned and left the room to get the girl.
Sesshoumaru settled himself more leisurely in the chair as he waited for his charge, his golden gaze wandering, eventually staying on the dancing flames of the fire.
He had to admit to himself that he knew as little about human courtship and mating as he did about guns. Before, he had never been interested enough in the weak creatures to bother learning about their disgusting social habits and course of maturity.
Now that lack of attention was coming back to haunt him in the form of a young woman with long black hair and chocolate eyes.
'A lack of planning. I wonder how I could have missed something so vital,' the youkai thought ironically to himself.
Well, it did not matter. She would remain in the castle except for the time she went to the village, and all the human males there were too old and married to be concerned about. The only problem that could possibly arise was one of Sesshoumaru's own men taking interest in the girl, and he highly doubted that. No youkai here would lower themselves to mate with a human.
Or at least he hoped so.
The smell of her body's ripening was still faint for now, though it would grow stronger as she developed further. Soon she would begin leaking human mating scents, those faint traces that existed around all young females whether they were ready mentally or emotionally to handle the raising of a child. The scent was purely meant that the female's body alone was ready for conception.
Human males, of course, could not detect it due to their weak sense of smell, but a youkai, and especially youkai able to smell as good as he, could pick it up easily.
It was a rather disagreeable scent to most youkai, a scent that was either brushed aside or loathed. There was so many damn humans running around that the majority of wandering youkai had grown used to smelling the disgusting odor. Other youkai didn't sojourn enough by human settlements to recognize it for what it was and tended to brush it off as not worth investigating.
Sesshoumaru was pretty certain that the youkai residing under him would not take any interest in the human girl. They were raised to scorn the human race, with Rin being the only exception. And in the beginning, that was simply due to Sesshoumaru's orders that the girl was to remain unharmed and untouched by them. It had been Rin's own doing that had turned the soldiers 'affections' to her favor, causing them to actually accept and even delight in her company when she wasn't talking their ears off.
Despite their credence, the odds were in favor of the youkai soldiers rejecting the passing mating scent. True, they would grow curious and perhaps even go so far as to investigate just what exactly it was, since many of them would not know it, but it would go no further then that. Once they discovered its actual source, their interest and analysis would end there. And if it didn't...
One of the youkai's hands curled into a fist, his claws digging into the flesh of his palm.
If any of them even had so much as a passing thought regarding touching, harming, or mating with his ward, Kami so help him he would not be responsible for the consequences.
Not to mention what a pin prick on his pride and dignity it would be if Rin should happen to have a hanyou child. After all the years of Sesshoumaru's ethic concerning the mixture of youkai and human blood in a being, it would make a lie of everything he had said to his bastard half brother if his own ward created such a ghastly creature. He would lose a great deal of respect in the eyes of the other lords. And Kami forbid the rumors that would spark and spread like wildfire.
A shadow covering the floor by the door quieted his mind, and he raised his golden eyes to regard the young woman standing there. Amazingly, she had not come running in but rather was waiting for his permission to enter.
'Miracles apparently do happen every day,' Sesshoumaru thought with a brush of amusement. 'Or maybe she is just growing up faster then I care to admit...'
"Come in Rin," he addressed her, keeping his voice controlled to mask the inner turmoil and battle of his conscience over the girl's inevitable growth.
She walked carefully into the firelight to stand before her guardian, her steps measured and precise, unlike her usual bouncy gait. Her expression was submissive and subdued, yet there was regality in the way she held her head, a prestigious glimmer in her dark eyes. The upward tilt of her chin spoke of a silent commanding pride and her hair had been washed and brushed to lay like a black river down her back, her bangs glistening just above her eyebrows.
She was wearing a deep violet kimono with outlines of white flowers sketched across the silk fabric; a sky blue obi belt circling her waist tightly, displaying to the youkai before her the fullness of her hips. Her small feet were clad in the new sandals, also washed and scrubbed of the dirt that had been on them earlier. Her shoulders were held back just a bit, her hands clasped one over the other on top of her stomach rather then fidgeting in her clothes, an action Sesshoumaru found annoying but had become accustomed to.
All these things put together created vividly in the mind's eye of the youkai a picture of a woman, a mature woman, not the beastly little thing that had clung so tightly to him with dirt smudged clothes, wild hair, and a sparking joy that mirrored her usual child like behavior.
She seemed taller, older, more mature, as she stood in front of him now, her large eyes patient and watchful as they bored into his own.
It was enough to almost make him command her to go change, roll on the ground, and come back to him with dirty features and a more childish disposition. This radical change was becoming quite too much for him to handle, the way she held herself so poised and attentive.
Instead, he waved for her to sit down, and she did, crossing her lithe legs to sit modestly with her weight resting on one hip.
Silence descended and the young woman made no move, only stared expectantly up at him, waiting for him to begin...begin what? A conversation? A command?
Sesshoumaru was becoming slightly irritated, a strange nervousness creeping up his spine at the dramatic alteration in the girl he had taken under his wing. His nails dug into the arms of the chair, leaving grooves in the ancient wood before he noticed he had done the action.
Forcing himself to relax, he stopped abusing the chair and met the calm gaze of the girl.
Rin held hard on her cool exterior, doing her best to maintain tight control on her manners though on the inside she was writhing to slouch rather then sit straight and grab onto the dog demon. She fought against her inner urging to be her normal garrulous self, forcibly reminding herself as to what Keikai had told her before she had left her chambers to answer her lord's summons.
After her and her guard had gone to her private quarters from the field and conversation with Sesshoumaru, Rin had immediately set to the task of disposing of her dirty clothes, washing them three times as she had promised. The rest of the afternoon she had done as her lord ordered and remained in her rooms, studying the material he wished for her to learn until she was bored out of her teeth.
It was with some relief that Jaken had finally showed up rather late at night, snapping out that Lord Sesshoumaru acquired her presence.
Rin had jumped up to obey, thinking only of seeing Sesshoumaru-sama and getting out of these stuffy rooms, but Keikai had halted her before she could reach for her clothing. She looked confusedly up at the large youkai, who said, "Rin-sama, if I may make a suggestion, perhaps you should wear something that will be appropriate for the occasion."
"Appropriate?" Rin questioned, not understanding. She was just going to go see Sesshoumaru...
Keikai nodded and walked to the girl's wardrobe, opening it to scan over the items in there. Rin waited behind her, peering at the dark confines of her furniture over the youkai's shoulder, wondering what she was up to. Keikai made an "Ah-ha" sound a second later and pulled out one of Rin's more expensive kimonos, another that the Lady of the house had bought for her.
Turning briskly back to her charge, Keikai helped her to dress. As she slid the silk fabric over the girl's dark head she said, "Try to be courteous to Lord Sesshoumaru, Rin-sama. You are growing up now and he will expect you to act accordingly. It would not be fit for his ward to speak to him with anything less then respect. He has raised you better then that."
Rin nodded her head, not really paying attention to any of Keikai's rambling.
"You are turning into a lady," Keikai continued, tying the obi belt deftly around Rin's hips. "And a lady of the highest order-"
"Keikai-sempai, I am not of the highest order," Rin laughed, causing Keikai to give her a chiding look. "I am not one of the fancy ladies that Sesshoumaru-sama sometimes has come here. I am far from the royalties of that order."
"The Lord and Lady regard you as such, young Rin," Keikai said, dropping her usual term of respect to speak more friendly to the girl. "Even if you do not, they do. Otherwise they would not of taken you in. And they do not wish you to grow into some ragamuffin but a cultured woman with a good head on her shoulders and an elite bearing."
Rin frowned as she digested what the boar youkai was saying. "What is it you want me to do, Keikai-sempai?" she asked curiously.
Keikai smiled at her, glad to see the girl was taking her advice seriously. "Do not run around so much like a crazed hare. Carry yourself with dignity. Act patient, calm, and cool. Hold yourself royally. Do not fidget as if you have ants crawling up your arms. And most of all remember to speak clearly and respectively."
Rin was not too attracted to the idea, and Keikai saw it easily enough in her face. Her charge didn't say anything, her eyebrows lowering as she found displeasure over the instructions.
"Besides," Keikai added as an afterthought that was sure to sway the girl to adhere to her counsel. "You want to go to the village tomorrow don't you?"
"Oh yes!" Rin exclaimed, her eyes growing slightly wide.
"Well then you must not displease the Lord Sesshoumaru otherwise he may just forbid you to go. Especially after earlier today."
There was an eager nod from the girl. "Ok, Keikai-sempai I will do as you say."
Keikai smiled in gratification and ran her fingers through Rin's hair so it flowed over the young woman's shoulders and down her back, framing her face and making her look older. The girl really was turning into a beauty and Keikai felt a strong surge of motherly protection and pride flow over her.
Patting the girl's shoulder once, she shooed her to the front of the door.
"Now go, Rin-sama, and do not forget what I have told you," she said and Rin looked anxiously at her.
"Will you be here when I am done, Keikai-sempai?" she asked, a hint of nervousness in her tone.
"It is doubtful, Rin-sama. I have a long day ahead of me with taking you to the village and I need my rest. Mamoru will be waiting when the Lord dismisses you."
Rin chewed on her bottom lip but said nothing in protest. While she did like Mamoru, it was not as deep an emotion as she held for the boar youkai.
She turned to leave, a resounding cluck behind her letting her know not to slouch but raise her head high. Obeying the command, Rin straightened her spine and squared her shoulders, lifting her chin a bit, and walked out of her quarters into the hall.
Jaken was waiting for her by the entryway and he made a sound of irritation at finally seeing her.
"About time, girl. Now come with me. You have dawdled long enough," he snapped and began marching purposely down the hallway, his Staff of Heads held high in the air.
He expected for the girl to squeal and pounce on him, or at least giggle and do something to annoy him but nothing came.
'Must be that she is planning something extremely bothersome to place on this Jaken,' he thought gratingly and continued walking down the hall, waiting rigidly for the girl to spring her trap on him.
Seconds ticked away, turning into minutes, and still nothing. Suspicious that the girl must be up to something totally diabolical, the toad youkai shot a dubious glance over his shoulder with his huge bulbous eyes.
The girl was walking placidly, her eyes misted over in faraway thought, not seeming to be paying attention to where she was going but allowing her feet to guide her instead.
He narrowed his eye at her, but she did nothing and he turned away, overjoyed to see she wasn't going to drive him crazy for once.
'Perhaps the girl is finally growing up,' he thought in exultation.
They reached the entrance to the library Sesshoumaru currently inhabited, and Jaken stopped, motioning with his staff for the girl to present herself.
Rin snapped out of her reverie at the movement, seeing that she was in front of the library. That surprised her for a moment. She had expected for Sesshoumaru to be in his officer or private chambers at this late hour. Not that the youkai lord needed much sleep.
Shrugging it away, she took a deep breath to steady herself, and straightened her shoulders once again.
Funny...She had never been nervous when confronting her guardian before.
'Must be Keikai-sempai's little speech.'
Stilling her jittering heart, Rin stepped into the doorway, her shadow covering the lightened floor and alerting the youkai within. Like she expected, his eyes snapped upwards immediately, settling over her. And like she expected, his cold voice summoned her into the room, and she entered, keeping her mind centered around being graceful yet courteous. What she didn't expect was the pause of the dog demon, his golden gaze locked on her as she stepped into the firelight, and she was suddenly filled with an inner calm as she saw the sudden flash of appreciation and speculation cross his orbs before they became their classical icy appearance.
So she had impressed him or at least shown she could behave and even create awe when she wanted to. She almost smiled in pleasure but stopped herself just in time, holding onto her composed outward appearance.
A wave of his hand indicated for her to sit down and she did, maintaining her quietness.
But as the silent seconds ticked by, and Rin grew more relaxed in his company, her inner struggle began as she fought to bridle her bubbly temperament. It seemed rather unfair to her that she was not allowed to hug and fond over him like she had all her life. Was there anything wrong with displaying love and affection? She couldn't be that annoying could she?
'This is just so he knows I did what he told me to and allow me to go to the village,' she thought firmly to herself, and that allowed her to ease a little.
Sesshoumaru watched intently the dark depths of the girls eyes, seeing something that looked like relish flicker there, replaced by calm, then inner conflict, finally transforming into what seemed to be a resolution to whatever debate she had within herself.
There was one good thing about the sprite, her eyes never let her conceal anything.
"What did you study today, Rin? I am assuming by your change in appearance that you did as I asked," he said smoothly, initiating the conversation to assuage his insecurity.
"Hai, Sesshoumaru-sama," Rin answered. "I washed the dirtied kimono three times and my sandals!"
She stuck out her leg to show him, and he was glad to see the eager cheerfulness was not gone from her voice.
'That rules out the possibility of being possessed by some ghost youkai,' Sesshoumaru thought.
"Did you stay in your rooms and study?"
She nodded. "Hai, Sesshoumaru-sama. I did not leave once."
"What did you learn today?"
"All about the tea ceremony."
He raised his eyebrow in inquiry, a sign for her to continue.
Rin took a deep breath and began reciting everything she had learned. "The tea ceremony is called sado and the tea that is served is called matcha. The host must first enter carrying a chawan (bowl) that holds the chasen (tea whisk), chakin (tea cloth), and chashaku (tea scoop). He places the chawan besides the water jar then must retrieve with the kensui (waste water bowl), hishaku (bamboo water ladle), and a futaoki (fine silk cloth). The host must purify the chawan and chashaku with a fukusa. He must then fill the chawan with hot water and rinse chasen. The bowl is then emptied and the chawan wiped clean with a chakin. The host serves three scopes of matcha per guest into the chawan. Enough hot water is placed into the chawan to create a thin paste. More water is added until the paste is as thick as cream soup. The host then passes the chawan to the main guest, who passes it on to the next guest. When all the guests have tasted the tea, the bowl is returned to the host who must rinse it and clean the chashaku along with the tea container."
A frown marred her face as she concentrated, trying to remember if she was missing anything. The content nodding of her guardian dispelled that thought and she smiled happily.
"Very good," Sesshoumaru muttered. "I don't suppose you could perform it?"
She stilled, the smile fading. She had not thought he would ask that. She had never even considered performing such a ceremony.
"Have Keikai teach you later. What else did you learn?" the youkai said, dropping the issue.
"I read more from Ogura Hyakunin Isshu," she replied.
"Yes. Dainagon Kinto."
He grunted. "Recite it."
"Though the waterfall
Ceased its flowing long ago
And its sound is stilled,
Yet, in name it ever flows,
And in fame may yet be heard," she recited perfectly.
"And what do you make out of all that?"
That frown returned once more as she considered the wording of the poem and the meaning behind the words.
While Sesshoumaru did judge poetry as an useless waste of time, Rin enjoyed it and it was a good measuring unit for the youkai concerning her rising maturity. She was becoming more insightful, able to see beyond the literal words and into the deeper meaning, the hidden truth and emotions the poems portrayed. The fact that she could discover such things had amazed the dog demon the first time he had witnessed it and continued to do so, just not as much.
"I think it means that even if the waterfall has ceased flowing and has dried up, it still flows within people's minds and mouths. It lives on through its fame and name. The literal sound of the waterfall may have been stilled, but in a way it continues on through its name. It lives on in history and remembrance," Rin surmised and Sesshoumaru gave a curt nod.
He tended to just go along with her explanation, which was usually right. He did have the intelligence to easily achieve breaking up the poem and finding all those stupid hidden mysteries but found it a fruitless achievement so didn't bother with it.
She recited and analyzed three more poems for him, then gave him details of the surrounding lands and who ruled them. He had her provide a brief history of the youkai royalties in each direction, a stray thought tugging at his mind wondering if he should have her learn human lords as well. It didn't seem essential, for Sesshoumaru could not see her living with humans in her life time. But then when she fell into full mating season...
The Westen Lord admonished himself for that ridiculous concept. Humans didn't literally fall into mating season, although they did reach a point where they would begin to notice and appreciate the opposite sex. He would just keep Rin away from any available bachelors until she grew old and the passion left her. That amount of time would be a blink of an eye to the youkai.
Which also reminded him of her frail human life span...
Disgusted with himself, Sesshoumaru applied himself to listening more aptly to his charge, ignoring the fact of her expeditious growth that would only continue. Once again, he imagined himself mentally cutting those damn buds, but the girl before him killed that idea by processing another poem that most adults would have trouble understanding.
'Maybe I should force her to live in the woods like a wild animal. She's done it before, and it would save me the agitation of dealing with this catastrophe. Of course, then she might attempt to mate with a damn fox, or dog, or something...'
Gritting his teeth at this qualm of a puberty destined girl, he dissolved it from his mind.
'Ignorance, ignorance, ignorance,' he repeated like a mantra.
"Sesshoumaru-sama?" said a questioning voice and he dragged his gaze to the girl sitting in front of him.
He raised an eyebrow at her, pondering what she wanted.
"I can still go to the village tomorrow?"
What was with her and that damn village? "I said you could, didn't I?"
"There is no further need to discuss it then."
A smile split her face at the prospect, and Sesshoumaru looked to the windows behind him. The moon was high in the sky now, an indication that it was late and he was edgy. He needed some time away from her, by himself so he could push these foolish thoughts out of his head.
He just couldn't understand why it should bother him so much but apparently it was, more then he cared to admit. It was irritating and exasperating. He had more important matters to deal with then a girl and her passing into adult hood.
Pulling himself back to the present, he rose to his impressive height, causing Rin to stop whatever she had been talking about and rise as well.
"That is enough for tonight," he said shortly. "Return to your quarters. I expect you back here by no later then the evening tomorrow."
She hugged him good-night, the youkai patting her mindlessly on the back as his mind was whirling over trying to stop himself from thinking. The action he performed without noticing only further disgruntled the dog demon, and he was grateful when Rin went skipping from the room, displaying her usual zest and merriment.
When she was gone, he let out an enormous sigh he hadn't even realized he had been holding. Not even bothering to diagnose that little occurrence, Sesshoumaru swept out of the library, detecting in the darkened halls Rin skipping away with Mamoru in the girl's wake. He watched her go, making sure she was safe, then stalked down to his own quarters.
All he wanted was some sleep. Maybe then his mind would shut up.
Undeniably, it was the only way of release he was going to get...
It had taken him six years but finally it appeared his journey was over.
In a way it was a disappointment to him for this trek had been an escape for him, a way to run from his painful memories and try to correct them, make up for them.
But even that had been ripped away from him.
Stepping onto the beach, the ocean waves rolling and breaking on the shore before him, he stooped down and clutched a fistful of the sand then released it and watched the wind carry it away.
Six years had passed since he had left, six years of wandering and searching only to find nothing. He had traveled from coast to coast, examined every hidden place and hide out he knew of. There had been no cave unsearched, no rock unturned, no forests unscoured.
It seemed like such a long time and he felt bone weary, tired. It had not been easy for him these past years, treacherous even, but it was a fate he had signed himself to. It was a fate rightfully deserved and he could only hope but to attempt and make amends.
How many had suffered due to him?
Narrowing his eyes from under the shock of unruly spiked bangs, he gazed out over the ocean, remembering.
He had been unable to stay and live a peaceful life when he became aware of what he had done. So he had set out on his own, determined to make sure no trace of Naraku could be found, that the hanyou was indeed dead and gone.
He had altered his clothing, replacing the green and yellow parts of his outfit to be all black, a sign of his deep inner mourning and turmoil.
Then he had traveled, alone, off into the wilderness despite the pleading that had assaulted him when he announced his decision to head off.
They did not understand his inner turmoil, though they tried to. They had always been supportive and sympathetic but they could not cure him, heal him. The scars on his soul and heart were too deep, too engraved. So he had hoped to ease their painful existence by atonement or revenge.
He had found neither.
For six years he had wandered, never stopping to settle in one place longer then it took to heal his physical wounds. He did what he could when he ran into people and villages that needed help, such as slaying pesky youkai and rescuing Damsels in distress. They called him Tandokuno Kishu, the Lone Horseman, and he was rather well known as being a man that talked little and possessed eyes that spoke of unseen horrors and terrible tragedy.
Always he was alone but it was better this way. If he was alone there was no one he could hurt and no one could hurt him. The villages that had known who he truly was feared him and had been revolted at his existence. He had dishonored himself in the most horrible way and the people were not forgiving, even it if were not entirely his fault.
The sense of helplessness he had experienced at the village six years back had only fueled his desire to get away. He could not dishonor the one person in the world he had left, the one person who knew who he really was and still loved him despite the appalling actions he had performed. He had been unable to sit there and let life peacefully take him along for he didn't deserve it. He deserved punishment, he knew that. The hope that he might be able to lessen that punishment was not going to happen.
Rising to his feet, he looked back into the trees where his mount stood patiently waiting.
There was only one place he could go now, the last place he wanted to return to.
But he had to.
He had made her a promise and he planned on fulfilling it.
Stooping down once again, he grabbed another handful of sand and rose to his full height. Opening his fingers, he allowed the sand to be blown fleetingly away, watching his hopes of amends and revenge go with it. He did not move until nothing remained in his palm then he lowered his hand to his side.
A sharp stab of guilt rushed through him and he pushed it down, allowing the dull ache of many miles traveled, unmourned loved ones, loneliness, helplessness, and self-loathing settle over his heart and mind.
Death would have been a release but they had prevented that. When he tried to die again by his own hands, she alone had been the one able to stop him. He had lived for her and would continue to live for her. He would not be the cause of more heartache for her after she had endured so much of it already. Instead he would live out his tortured existence, just so he wouldn't ever have to see another tear fall from her eyes.
His hand curled into a determined fist and he strode over to his mount, his black clothing blending into the night darkened forest.
He didn't want to go back.
But he had to.
He had a promise to fulfill.