She guesses it was karma that had something to do with it. Karma that had led her into being at the wrong place at the wrong time or just simply being the wrong person in all the wrong places at all the wrong times.

She was young when he kidnaped her. Eight years old, full of scabby knees and curious indulgence, she was easy prey for him to seize.

He descended on them without warning when she was in the river bent over catching fish. Neither of her retainers, the frog or the dragon, stood a chance, and she had no idea what was happening until he lifted her out of the river by the back of her kimono.

And how could anyone have blamed them? How could anyone have known? He was supposed to be dead. And in fact, she reflects, he still was.

Bankotsu allowed her to scream for a little bit after that, then, patience having worn out, he slapped her hard enough to make her lip bleed and she is quiet from then on.

I.

The first few days were the worst. Bankotsu is moody and pissed off. He kicks random objects, sometimes even her, and cusses everything to hell and back again; though mostly his cussing is composed of damning his karma, the hanyou, and those goddamn traitorous bastards Naraku and Renkotsu.

He yells about everything he's lost: his comrades, his sword, his dignity. He's lost everything.

Rin, shivering mutely under a bush, understands this so very, very well. Once upon a time, she had lost everything as well - mother and father and brother, her home, and her own dignity. But there is one big difference between her and Bankotsu.

Rin had lost everything but her life. Bankotsu doesn't even have that.

II.

She learns later, the next day later after he's calmed down, that he survived by a miracle.

Unable to see the tiny little jewels embedded in Bankotsu's flesh, and his attention devoured by Inuyasha and the others, Naraku had overlooked one Shikon shard. When Bankotsu had sunk from sight into Naraku's supposed flesh, he had sunk instead past Naraku's many tentacles, and he slipped away unnoticed after the lone Shikon shard in his neck had healed his mangled body. Not even Kagome had spotted him amid the chaos that followed.

Days after the fall of the mountain, Bankotsu encountered Rin and her retainers, and he recognized them in a heartbeat. So he kidnaped her, because desperate men do desperate things and Bankotsu is a very desperate man. He believes that Rin will be his safety net against Sesshoumaru, who obviously cares about the girl despite his allegations, and Inuyasha, who is too soft and human to allow a child to be harmed, until his karma changes and he gets back on his feet.

Rin thinks Bankotsu's idea is foolish, knows his idea is foolish. She is certain Sesshoumaru will come for her.

The Shikon shard pulses in Bankotsu's throat and she entertains the idea of somehow ripping it out and escaping, though she is extremely reluctant to do so.

Then he ties her hands together and all hope of that is lost.

She cries herself to sleep that night regardless of her thoughts, soft enough so he wouldn't hear, and whispers Sesshoumaru's name into the dirt.

III.

Bankotsu is a man trying to recollect himself. He wants a new sword, new comrades, and damn would he just kill for some ripe sake and a good fuck. And what Bankotsu wants Bankotsu gets. Or takes to be more accurate.

Rin tries not to notice the blood on the ground, nor the bodies, and she's glad when he leaves her tied up outside while he pleasures himself on his last request. The moans leak through the walls and Rin cannot help but wonder if a zombie can feel pleasure like that.

Her stomach empties its contents onto the grass at the horrid images that thought conjures and Bankotsu, thankfully he is in a good mood, only knocks her on the back of the head for the mess she's made when he returns.

She spends hours picking the blood out of her hair.

IV.

Bankotsu is a bandit used to big objects that deal big damage. So when he finds that none of the weapons he collected aren't big objects nor deal big damage, he is less than pleased.

He turns his bad mood on Rin, which he is appt to do Rin has learned quickly, and he growls and stomps around and says mean things to her. He tells her what a dirty rat she is and how he hates children and youkai, and how he especially hates children that travel with youkai. Hell, he hates everything. The whole damn world. Everyone in the whole damn world. Because nothing fucking works out right and he's always fucking left to pick up the pieces.

After a good while, and after he's spent his bad mood, he falls into a sulks and throws the swords to the side, and glares moodily into the fire.

"It's karma," he mutters darkly to noone but himself. "Fucking karma."

Rin agrees with him and thinks he deserves. Then she thinks about her own karma and wishes she could stop herself from thinking at all.

She feels a prickling feeling on the back of her skull and she looks up to find Bankotsu staring at her. She freezes, waiting for the worst, but there is no malice or anger in his stare, only an open honesty that she hasn't seen before.

It's not befitting of him and she swallows.

"Do you know," he says, slowly, carefully, his penetrating stare remaining on her all the while, "what it's like to pretend all the time?"

Rin doesn't. She shakes her head.

"I didn't think you would." He is silent a moment, goes back to glaring at the fire with the hate of two lives that haven't amounted to much in the end. "Where's your fucking king now, huh?" he demands.

He's angry again. Rin is used to it but this time she recognizes it as a different sort of angry, a deep unsettling rage that's pooled in his gut with all that's he lost and his inability to regain his not-life that's wasn't a gift at all but only a pretty faced lie. "Where is your big hero now, huh?"

She says nothing. He isn't looking for an answer so she has no reason to give one.

He throws her some meat for dinner, like an owner feeding his lowly dog, and says nothing else. He ignores her for the rest of the night.

VI.

Rin doesn't know what it's like to pretend. But she understands nonetheless.

Bankotsu is a zombie trying to act alive. He is a walking, talking zombie without an ounce of blood in his veins. By every right he should be buried six feet under but luckily (or unluckily depending on how you look at it) he is alive. Or at least aware if not alive.

Rin doesn't like zombies. Truth be told, she was scared witless for a little while that she might be one. She too had felt the cold, icy fingers of death around her and she had risen from it to return to the living. She had been given a second chance at life, same as Bankotsu had. They are almost the same, she and he.

If he were alive, she thinks maybe she could understand him. But she is alive and he is not, and that's the tricky part. Because she knows what it's like to be dead and she'd like to tell him so, but she don't think he'll understand or even want to hear it. He doesn't like it when she talks too much and she tries her best to hold her tongue most of the time, though she slips occasionally. He's always yelling for her to shut up or stop making noise orif you touch that thing one more goddamn time I swear I'll kill you.

His shadow towers over her and she withdraws her hand from the bowl, staring timidly up at him.

"Where is your demon king now, huh?" Bankotsu demands nastily of her once again. He is in a surly mood this morning and hasn't had enough sake yet. "Where is your big hero now, huh?"

He laughs and aims to kick her, misses, rambles off muttering.

Rin feels no anger, only sadness. A strange pity for the man who isn't a man and a zombie who isn't a zombie but tries to be both anyway.

Later, she finds him playing in the dark with a hair pin. She doesn't ask about it.

VV.

Bankotsu is caught somewhere between life and death. He is a zombie with human feelings (Rin concludes that those feelings consist of anger, rage, irritation, and smugness but that part isn't important) and a human unable to feel the things he wants to feel.

So when Sesshoumaru shoves his sword through Bankotsu's chest, Rin feels oddly relieved for him rather than herself.

He doesn't die of course, for the shard still pulses an everlasting life into a body that isn't meant to be a body at all. But he's crippled and down for the count and Sesshoumaru's already advancing.

"Wait," says Rin before Sesshoumaru can strike a blow, and surprisingly the demon king stops at her intervention.

Rin is eight years old. She's already died once and has almost died countless times. She's a not-zombie with a second chance at life. She's a girl too old for her own skin and she knows way too much and understands way too many things for her own good.

Bankotsu doesn't protest when she kneels next to him. That open, honest stare is back and he keeps it pinned on her. Bankotsu's given up for the first time in his life and Rin feels a sudden hollow ache in her chest as though something's gone missing.

Without a word passing between them, she can apprehend what he is trying to say. But, isn't that always how it's been?

She removes the Shikon shard gently from the unprotesting Bankotsu's neck. Her hands curl around it. It pulses softly against her palms.

She doesn't cry, but the hollow feelings still there and it hurts. It will hurt for eternity.

Bankotsu skin crumbles away. It deteriorates and leaves behind exactly what karma had turned him into.

Nothing.