Flowers In The Snow

Chapter 1: Flame Of The Night

The girl bent over the river bank, her hand stretching out towards a large, yellow, flower blooming amidst the muddy water by the river's edge. Lost in intense concentration, she did not notice a short figure waddle up behind her and raise a large staff as if to strike her.

"RIIIIN!" shrieked the little figure, whacking her with the staff as he called out... "WE ARE GOING! Don't waste...AWAAA!"

The little green figure squawked with horror as the girl overbalanced and fell into the shallow water at the river's edge. As she fell, she gave a little scream.

Rin found herself sitting in about two feet of muddy water, the yellow flower clutched in her hand. After recovering from the shock of overbalancing, she fixed a death-glare on the little green toad who had been the cause of her accident.

"Jaken no bakaaaaa!" she screamed, picking up a rock to fling at his head.

"You shouldn't be doing such dangerous things....AWAAA!" Jaken squawked as the rock hit him square on his head. Her aim was every bit as good as his master's.

"Rin no bakaaaa! Temeera...."

"Jaken."

The little green toad was silenced by the deep voice of his master.

"Sesshoumaru-sama! Jaken pushed Rin into the river!" the girl grinned as she picked her way out of the water and crawled up the river bank. She was disgustingly muddy. It was not a very clean part of the river. Jaken wrinkled his nose. He could tell the girl was trying gain his master's sympathy because she had reverted to the childish way of referring to herself in the third-person. She only did this in moments when she forgot herself or wanted to deliberately appear cute.

Sesshoumaru's face was inscrutable, as usual. He merely raised an eyebrow.

"We are going."

"Hai, Sesshoumaru-sama!" Rin scrambled up the river bank and skipped happily behind her master. "Jaken! Hayaku! Didn't you hear? We are going!"

"Awaaa...." Jaken's eyes grew wide as he sputtered in anger, "That's what I was sent here to tell you in the first place!" He struck his staff-of-heads on the ground in petulant anger. The figure of his master and the girl disappeared into the woods and he realized he was all alone. "Wait up! Waaaaiiit up! Sesshoumaru-sama..... Rin.....Seshoumaru-samaaaa......Riiiiiin!"

Rin hummed as she stuck the yellow flower into her hair. Perhaps it was worth it to have fallen into the river after all, had the toad not pushed her, she would probably not have been able to reach this lovely flower.

"Sesshoumar-sama....does Rin look nice?" She skipped ahead of her master and twirled around.

Sesshoumaru made a non-committal sound and Rin smiled. She was used to his silences.

"You'd better clean that kimono!" Jaken scolded Rin. How could that girl not even seem to notice she was filthy with mud from head to foot? "That kimono cost Sesshoumaru-sama fifty pieces of silver and we only bought it last week! Now you've gone and ruined it, you naughty girl!"

Rin looked down at her once-cream, now-grey kimono in mortification. It was true. She was filthy!

"That was your fault, toad!"

"Was not!"

"Was too."

"Was not."

"Was too."

"Was not."

"Was too."

Rin wrung out the hem of her kimono as hard as she could and watched a trickle of dismal muddy water form a pool at her feet.

Her beautiful new kimono...ruined! And Sesshoumaru-sama had just bought it last week! She looked at the pretty lilac flowers and green leaf pattern that trailed over the expensive, cream silk and felt tears come to her eyes. She had really loved the design! Why could she never seem to look after her kimonos properly? Stupid Rin. Stupid Jaken. Stupid Rin. She scolded herself.

"Sesshoumaru-sama, I always said it was ridiculous to provide this filthy human girl with such nice kimonos. Silk is much too good for her, she ruins them rolling in the grass and mud! I don't know why you insist on wasting such good money on her..."

A rock to the head silenced him.

"Jaken."

"Hai, Sesshoumaru-sama." The little toad fell to his knees before his master as Sesshoumaru turned to glare at him.

"Shut up."

"Hai, Seshsoumaru-sama."

Rin sniffled as she tried to wring the mud out of her kimono. It wasn't going well. The party trailed on in silence. Sesshoumaru, great Dog Youkai Lord of the Western Lands walked ahead followed by Rin, Jaken and Ah-Un the dragon, in that order. In the silence, each became engrossed in their own thoughts.

Sesshoumaru's silver hair trailed in the light breeze and he kept his hand on the two swords by his side. Toukijin and Tenseiga: they were two of the four most famous youkai swords in the land. The other two swords were Souunga and Tessaiga, which belonged to his deceased father and his idiot half-brother Inuyasha respectively. Souunga was sealed away in hell for good, after a furious battle with his father's arch-rival, Takemaru, who had attempted to steal the sword. As for Tessaiga, his idiot half-brother still carried it, chopping away wildly at everything with such poor sword technique... it was really embarrassing they were related.

Right now, Sesshoumaru was thinking neither of his brother or his father. He was hurrying Southward...his sensitive nose had picked up the scent of a massive amount of blood, youkai and human mixed. This battle was going on too near his Western borders to be ignored, he wondered what Nibori-Sama, Serpent Lord of the Western Lands, had allow to happen on his lands...

Rin had given up wringing out her kimono. It was fruitless. She hoped that Sesshoumaru-sama would stop at a hot spring that night so she could wash out the dirt before it set into the fabric. She was the little human girl that ten years ago, Sesshoumaru-sama had brought back to life with Tenseiga, and since that day she had followed him with blind devotion. Over the years, her figure had lengthened and filled out, her wild hair had grown tamer and was now neatly held back with a purple ribbon as it trailed down her back. Years of being on the road had given her ivory skin a healthy flush. Yes, had she but known of the traditional standards of human attractiveness, she would have realized she was rare beauty. As it was, she was completely unspoilt and oblivious, having had little contact with humans for the last ten years.

Jaken grumbled and trailed along with the dragon Ah-Un's reigns held in his hands. The little green toad was Sesshoumaru-sama's faithful retainer, and nursemaid for his human charge too, Jaken thought grumpily. Why didn't Sesshoumaru-sama just buy him an apron and cap? After all, he expected him to baby-sit this, this... overgrown baby of a girl even now! Hmpf...that girl would be the death of him...sure she could be charming at times, good company, fun even...wait, what was he thinking? Hmpf...she was seventeen years old already! Why didn't she just trot off to a human village and get herself married off to some ningen boy? No ningen was good enough for Rin, that's why! Jaken snorted...How dare a human touch their Rin...wait a minute, what was he thinking? Hmpf...

"Ne, Jaken-sama..."

Oh, so she wanted to make peace now did she? Well, he, Jaken, would not be so easily...

"Aak!" Jaken squawked and blushed bright red as Rin picked him up and kissed him on his green snout. "Put me down you, you silly girl! How dare you pick me up! Aaaak!" Rin put the toad demon down and walked beside him.

"Gomenasai...Rin should not have been balancing by the muddy water..."

"That's right you stupid girl!" The little toad tried to sound angry, but he only sounded pleased.

"Jaken-sama... will you show Rin how to clean her kimono later if Sesshoumaru-sama stops at a hot spring?"

So that was what she wanted, the devious little...

Rin swiftly picked him up and kissed him again and Jaken's eyes glazed over and he gave a silly grin. "H-Hai...whatever you say Rin..."

"Arigato Jaken-sama!" Rin grinned widely. "Rin caught this for you when Rin fell in the river." She handed him a small mudskipper, his favourite snack.

"Hmpf" he said, as he popped it into his mouth. Tasty. That girl had her uses, he supposed.

The sun now hung low in the sky. Little pools of steam appeared in front of them and Rin rushed forward. "A hot spring! Just what I needed."

"We will stop here for tonight." Sesshoumaru halted and leaned against a tree. "Jaken, build a fire and gather food for Rin."

"Hai, Sesshoumaru-sama!"

"Rin, go and clean yourself."

"Hai, Sesshoumaru-sama!" Rin did not need to be told. Tearing off her kimono, she plunged into the warm water of the hot spring and began vigourously scrubbing herself with the soft sand at the bottom.

Sesshoumaru-sama felt heat flame in his cheeks as he turned away from her. It was his fault really that the girl felt no shame. She was still as innocent and naïve as a little child. Her nakedness meant nothing to her, perhaps he should have said something about the subject to her...but that was a mother's work. And he had never brought himself to do it.

Jaken huffed and puffed preparing the camp. After he had gathered a small heap of mushrooms, he went off grumbling to Rin. The naked girl waved at him from out of the water.

"Awwwk....don't show me that disgusting human body! You know it pains my eyes!" Jaken turned away.

Jaken was another being with no sense of shame, Sesshoumaru thought. The toad did not feel complex emotions like...like...His thoughts became confused and Sesshoumaru found that he could not finish his sentence. That was unusual for him. He, great Lord of the Western Lands, was never confused.

He watched idly as Jaken cleaned the kimono with soft sand and stones. The toad rubbed in the sap of a nearby willow and added some crushed flowers to make a paste. The mud came out easily enough and the kimono was as good as new. Fifty pieces of silver, Sesshoumaru thought. A small price to pay for his Rin. Money was no object to the Tai-youkai. He had chests of it just rotting around his old castle...the lesser demons and humans on his lands still paid their tithes faithfully, and the hoard of money grew, and grew. Next time, Sesshoumaru thought, he would buy an even finer kimono for her...a hundred silver pieces at least. And two golden combs for that wild hair of his Rin.

As if she knew he was thinking about her, the girl hurried up to him, dressed in her newly cleaned kimono which had been quickly dried by the warm breath of the Ah-Un the dragon. She was sparkly clean again. By the firelight, her cream kimono gleamed as if made of gold, but nothing shone as brightly as the snow-white skin of Rin herself. Her large brown eyes were fixed with adoration on Sesshoumaru as she settled herself by his feet and leaned against him. She had already finished her share of mushrooms and was getting ready for rest.

Jaken snorted as he ate his mushrooms. The girl took such liberties with his master! And his master put up with it! Why look at her now, snuggling into his side...

"Sesshoumaru-sama...I kept this for you." Rin lifted the large yellow bloom to him in offering. "It's still fresh even though I plucked it hours ago, in fact, it's even more beautiful now, don't you think so, Sesshoumaru-sama? What flower is it? I have never seen one as beautiful as this."

Sesshoumaru stopped looking at the stars and accepted the flower from Rin. He looked at it for a moment before putting it by his swords. "Shoujinya" he said quietly, "The flame of the night. You picked it at half bloom in the day, it reaches its full bloom only at night. By tomorrow, it will wither and die."

"Shoujinya..." Rin repeated under her breath. She committed to memory everything Seshsoumaru told her. It was from him that she learned about the world around her, whenever he cared to speak to her about it.

"It is a good flower to have."

Rin smiled as she looked into his deep, golden eyes. She knew that by this sentence, he had forgiven her stupidity at falling into the muddy water and nearly ruining her kimono. She leaned against the soft white silk of his hakama and breathed in his wonderfully comforting scent. He smelled like the fresh sea, like his great palace of the Western Lands by the sea which they occasionally returned to stay in for some time. Since he seemed in the mood for talk, she would try her luck.

"Ne, Sesshoumaru-sama..."

"Nani."

"What are you thinking about?"

"The battle in the Southern Lands."

"Are we going there?"

"Yes."

"What will happen when we get there?"

"You will stay out of harm's way while I look for Nibori-Sama and find out what the disturbance is." Sesshoumaru's mind returned to a day eight years ago when Rin had wandered out onto the battlefield during the show-down with Naraku. Naraku had seized her at once and used her to distract Sesshoumaru in battle. It was only by luck that Kikyou's arrow had severed Naraku's tentacle and caused him to release the child. Since that day, he had forbade Rin from going near any battle field again.

Rin was quiet as he answered. She knew she was liability to the youkai Lord. She knew that his honour demanded that he protect her, his ward, his property, at all costs. More than once she had been used in battle against him, though recently she always made it a point to stay out of harm's way. Her back bore long scars where Naraku's evil shouki had burned her in that final battle.

"Then after that, what will you do, Sesshoumaru-sama?"

"Return home."

"Hai, Sesshoumaru-sama." She rested her face in the white silk of his trousers and gave a contented sigh. So they would be returning to the palace after he dealt with the disturbance in the South. She wondered what Nibori-Sama was like, and what the battle was about. During her years with Sesshoumaru-sama, she had only heard his name mentioned once or twice. Nibori-sama was the Serpent Lord of the Southern Lands, but she had no doubt that he was inferior to Sesshoumaru-sama. Her Sesshoumaru-sama was the most powerful demon in the world.

After that, they would return to his palace where she could go her old room, with its soft futon and silk paintings. She could practice her writing brush-strokes in the quiet afternoons and Sesshoumaru-sama would teach her more brush-strokes. There would be walks on the beach, and visits from the lesser demons who served on his lands. If Kyoko-chan was still there, the fox-demon would continue to teach her to play the shamisen! Rin flexed her little fingers, she was already quite good, but not good enough yet to play for her Sesshoumaru-sama. She wanted to play a perfect song for him, she could almost hear his word of praise...so rarely given, and therefore so much more sincere...Well done, Rin.

Sesshoumaru wondered what Rin was thinking. A blissful smile had formed on her sweet face and her eyes were tightly shut. He resisted the urge to rest his clawed hand on her soft hair. She was no longer a child, such demonstrations of affection were no longer appropriate. Of course, she would not know the reason for that, having known no other human society.

Gently, he sat down where she rested and wrapped her in his soft fur stole. Jaken was already fast asleep on the other side of the fire. Rin snuggled deeper into Sesshoumaru's fur...her slender fingers clutched at his haori...and she sighed sleepily. This was the way they often slept after a hard day's travel. Even though Rin had grown up, she still insisted on sleeping next to him. At first, it had troubled Sesshoumaru to think how he would look to anyone who saw him with the child sleeping in his fur, but over the years, he had ceased to let it concern him. Now, she was no longer a child, but a young woman nestled in his arms....that had a whole different meaning...he protectively tightened his stole around Rin and looked up at the moon.

He already knew she would stay with him forever. Itsumo demo...she had cried, when he asked her if she wanted to stay on with him. On just one day every year, for nine years, he had asked her this same question, and always the answer was the same: itsumo demo, forever and always. This year, her answer was different. She had taken his face between her hands and solemnly said, "Why do you waste your breath, Sesshoumaru-sama? My answer will never change, do not ask me again."

So she would stay beside him forever.

Forever. Did she even know what that meant?

Sesshoumaru-sama...will you forget Rin when she dies? A childish voice from the past came back to haunt him. Since the day she had asked that question, a feeling of unease had settled on him. He had watched her grow, the relentless march of time marking his little Rin with extravagant beauty for a human. But he knew it would eventually mark her with the darkness of old age. A soft glow at his side distracted him. The Shoujinya flower glowed brightly golden by his side and Sesshoumaru stroked its petals gently. By tomorrow, this lovely flower would wither and die.

Unbeknownst to Rin, he had travelled and researched for eight years the secret to over-coming Rin's mortality. But the answer eluded him. No spell, or potion, or herb held the answer. He hoped the problem with Nibori-Sama would not take too long to settle, every second was precious to him now, strange indeed for a Youkai to whom the passing of centuries previously meant nothing. At his side, Rin breathed deeply and gently, unaware of the purpose of her Lord's constant journeying, content to simply follow faithfully by his side.