Prelude to Halcyon

Beginning is easy; continuing, hard.

- Japanese Proverb

...

His first thought is that she is ugly.

Her forehead is too wide, her eyes too small, and he has a premonition that she will bald when older. He wonders why she wears lipstick at such a young age.

"Hello," she says as he walks by. Jaken mutters something incoherent, but he has an idea.

Rin is the only one who replies, waving and smiling from her place on Ah-Un's back. He wonders if it's because they are almost the same age. Perhaps he should let them play together, or do whatever it is that children do.

But it's only a fleeting thought, for soon they are at the bend in the road, almost out of sight. He glances back out of the corner of his eye and sees her standing where they passed her; she is staring at him, but he doesn't really notice, since he's looking at the spear she's holding, a tingle in his thoughts alerting him that he is almost curious.

As they round the corner, he can still picture her.

...

When they meet again, Sesshoumaru is actually surprised.

He finds her ugly as ever, but her lips are still as red as he remembers, and he has to contemplate how she manages the upkeep of makeup while always on the road. Perhaps her life is as dull as his.

At the moment, he's standing on a hill and watching the sun go down, for lack of other things to do. It seems that, as of late, he's had fewer and fewer things to do, with time or with himself. Killing doesn't seem to be on the list anymore, which has made for a drastic decline in his regular doings. At this rate, he figures that fairly soon he'll have to settle down, or set a destination for settling down. Maybe in a hundred years or so.

With so few youkai around, there's almost nothing for him to do, no one but the stupid toad and Rin to make him feel superior. The only pesky youkai he's come across in a long time is her, who is walking up the hill as he thinks it. He doesn't move.

"Hello," she says when she finally reaches him, and he thinks she might be overusing this word.

He glances at her spear, and then looks back at the setting sun. She's interrupting, he thinks, and feels aggravated.

"You look familiar," she says, and he wonders what she thinks she's getting out of this. "I think," she goes on, "I think I know who you are."

That strikes Sesshoumaru as being funny, and he smiles behind his lips. He's looking at her out of the corner of his eye now, and she notices.

"You're the brother of Inuyasha, aren't you?"

That, to Sesshoumaru, is, of course, not funny.

He raises one eyebrow deliberately, but the imp ignores it and keeps talking.

"I knew him – your brother, see – and I've been looking for him, for these past few months," she explains, beginning to use her hands as she talks. "Ever since…" she trails off, but a moment later strikes up again. "After I heard he – and his friends – defeated Naraku, I've been looking for them. I was wondering if he could help me find someone – but now that I've found you, then maybe you can help me find him, and…" The meaning falls from her words, and he hears nothing but noise.

He stares at her dully, angered and annoyed, and barely listening, thinking she must have a very boring agenda if she spends her time looking for his brother. Already he's subconsciously noting the similarities between them, though he won't ever admit it.

"He's dead," he lies eventually, effectively cutting off her endless babble.

"Oh," she says. Satisfied, he turns back to the task at hand, watching the day sink behind the hills, another one come and gone in the blink of an eye.

But then, after a very long time, he hears her say, "Dead?" as if she can taste the lie in the air, a bitter sensation on her tongue. But her timing is perfect; the sun has retired from the sky and painted the clouds pink, the last lingering reminder of the day. He does not leave immediately, waiting a moment to look at her almost fully, before going.

When she follows him, he does not look back. The darkness of the forest settles on him like a warm cloak, and he wishes he could pull it tighter about himself, so that this irritating girl might leave him alone.

"Wait!" she calls, but he doesn't. Sesshoumaru doesn't wait for anyone, and he would have thought everyone knew that.

"Wait," she says again, but this time softer, as she catches up at his side and looks at him for an answer. Unfortunately, he has no answers to give.

Unexpectedly, she grabs his arm, digging in her fingers and shaking it, but he simply flings her off, and she lands in a heap, her spear next to her.

"Hey!" she yells, eyes flashing. Grabbing her spear she scrambles to her feet. The air crackles.

Sesshoumaru stands calmly, staring at her, giving her his full attention for the first time – perhaps the last.

"Go home child," he says. "Go home."

And he leaves her standing there, alone, just like before.

...

The next time they meet, Sesshoumaru isn't surprised, but he is annoyed.

It is only a few days after her last interruption, which is the word he has come to associate with her. All this breaking in upon his life is making it almost interesting, and it bothers him.

This time she tries to kill him, but she's not very good at it. Extremely bad, in fact, but it gives him the excuse to teach her a lesson, which he sensed she's been needing right from the start.

The whip makes a neat slash on her left cheek, and she cries out, falling to the ground, spear clattering at her side.

It will be a long time before she ever masters that, he knows.

Once again, he leaves her behind, Jaken muttering all about her at his heels.

...

It is many years later when he comes across her again, and the first thing he notices is that she has breasts.

It's an odd development he noticed in Rin twenty – or was it thirty? – years ago, but looking between Rin and this one, there is a distinct difference. Perhaps it is because Rin has bare feet and crooked teeth, and wrinkles.

She smiles when she sees him, and it is a rather irking smile, as if she holds a secret that he is too stupid to know.

He rests his hand on Toukijin, but only because it is more comfortable there.

The silence between them hangs, dangling on threads of fate that karma keeps pulling. A flock of birds burst from a grove near the road, squawking as they fly into the sky.

She makes the first move, typically, the invisible threads wrapping round her finger, her spear held pointing slightly downwards.

"You lied," is the first thing she says, even though he was half-expecting her to say hello.

She's much faster and stronger than the last time, but he still finds her as clumsy and bothersome as she was those forgotten decades ago.

They leave her behind them, on the side of the road, as they've been making a habit of doing, but this time he does not tell her to go home.

He feels a presence at his side, and looks down to see Rin, whose head reaches just above his elbow. He pats her on the head and turns away, comparing her gap-toothed smile to the one he remembers her having years and years ago.

Sesshoumaru looks to the setting sun in the west, and watches the day fade into dusk.

...

As he expected, she follows them, and now Jaken is even grumpier and less intelligible than usual.

He does not let Rin walk with him today; she is too slow now and gets tired too easily. She sits atop Ah-Un and stares at the slight figure silhouetted by the sun at their backs.

When night falls, she camps close enough that they can see her fire from where they sit, its smoke climbing into the sky like a vine.

Sesshoumaru feels an invisible presence wrapping around his heart, and he quickly gets up and walks away, intending to watch the stars.

...

Every night her fire burns a little closer, and soon they are staring at each other over the tips of the flames. He can read the challenge written in her eyes quite easily, but it serves him better as an amusement than a worry.

Jaken no longer says anything that has written meaning, but grumbles and snorts, scowling back at her from their camp at night. During the day he marches at Sesshoumaru's side, his staff clutched preciously in his arms, constantly glaring over his shoulder at her.

Rin says nothing at all, but sits wrapped in her thoughts, tracing the wrinkled lines on her palm, over and over and over.

...

Two months have gone by, and he finds her walking beside him one morning, her large head just brushing his shoulder in height.

Sesshoumaru walks faster.

...

A year sits behind them, covered in the dust they've kicked up with their feet, and Sesshoumaru decides that he doesn't mind conversing with her. Too much.

"What happened?" she asks when they are sitting by the fire, the smoke passing between them like a curtain.

It is a question she asks him much too often, with an answer he keeps tucked in the corner and almost out of sight. He once thought to hide it there, but her constant tugging has managed to pull it thus far, so that now he cannot turn his head without staring it full in the face.

"What happened?"

The answer stays in his throat, the words swallowed forever.

...

Souten, she's always telling him, it's Souten, as if he's forgotten. She never realizes that names are only a courtesy, but when she's standing this close, he doesn't seem to mind.

...

Rin says less and less, and now she is as silent as the past.

Sesshoumaru watches her, half-wondering why her hair is turning grey.

...

The sea rolls in like an army of horses, charging into the beach time and time again, as if each wave plans to break the line of sand.

Sesshoumaru sits motionless, half-mesmerized by the surf, letting it drown out Souten's voice that is buzzing in his ear like an impatient insect. He has long forgotten what it is she's talking about; listening is something he's never liked to do, but he's grown so used to the sound of her, that he pretends to, just to please her.

The fire has burned so low that the embers are but dying fireflies, the smoke carrying up a whisk of sparks into the air every now and again.

Sesshoumaru stands abruptly, and Souten's chatter dies. He steps away from their crude circle and strolls away and out along the sea, the water just licking his boots.

"Rin," he says, and she tries to scramble from her position, nearly falling. Steadying herself, she dusts the sand from her kimono and walks over to him, smiling broadly up at him, her eyes disappearing into creases.

He says nothing, for with Rin words have never been needed, not like Souten. She follows him, without ever asking when or where or how.

The beach goes on and on, endless white beneath the moon that hangs in the sky, full and round. When he stops, he can hear her breathing, loud and difficult, setting off the steady throb of the ocean. She stands, just slightly behind him, as he stares out across the water, as if he's looking for its end. After a long while, he looks back at her, and turns up the corners of his mouth, just a little.

Rin's smile is as obvious as his is not, and it takes the entire length of their walk back to the camp for it to fade.

...

A week later Rin begins to cough, and cough and cough and cough.

She keels over on Ah-Un's back, her hacking soon the sound of a retching animal.

They stop for the afternoon, and in an hour Rin seems better, her coughing more irregular, lasting only for a few minutes at a time. She appears tired but otherwise looks her usual self, smiling and silent. But Sesshoumaru watches her closely, a strange emotion pooling in his gut.

...

Rin's cough does not go away, and after two weeks, when Sesshoumaru lifts her into the saddle on Ah-Un, he can feel her ribs through the fabric of her kimono, delicate like a bird.

A sudden sensation travels up his spine, and he steps away from the dragon, the image of a porcelain human shattering on the ground reverberating through his mind like an echo in a canyon.

...

A month has gone by, and in the morning Sesshoumaru does not order Jaken to break camp, instead sitting by Rin and watching her sleep, the sound of her breathing reminding him of the ocean surf.

Souten walks over and sits beside him, for once saying nothing. When she rests her hand on his knee, he does not remove it.

...

It has been a day and Rin has broken out in fever, her usually parchment-dry skin covered with a sheen of sweat.

On one side, Souten is kneeling, wiping her brow with a wet cloth, their camp placed strategically near a little stream that sings and gurgles softly. Sesshoumaru tries to ignore it, listening to Rin's breathing. The stream reminds him too much of her, when she was a child, and barely came past his knee.

He sits and watches, gripping Tenseiga and feeling useless.

...

In less than two days Rin's fever breaks, and she sits up and eats a simple broth Souten made early in the morning. Sesshoumaru wouldn't have known how.

...

For the next six months their travel is broken by long, intermittent rests, during which Rin grows weaker and weaker.

Every time she coughs, Sesshoumaru fears her tiny frame will shatter, each cough like a knock against glass. He is almost afraid to touch her, the vision of her porcelain figure hovering on the edges of his vision like a wraith.

She carries a white cloth around with her that is covered with the rusty stains of dried blood, which she is forever trying to wash out, but over the months the stains have become darker, like the taint of death Sesshoumaru can smell growing on her.

...

Rin is lying with her head resting in Sesshoumaru's lap, her bangs sticking to her forehead, covered in sweat.

She has been in this position for the past hour, her eyes opening and closing irregularly, her face pallid and sunken, a living ghost in his arms.

Souten is sitting on the other side of the fire pit, shifting about relentlessly, her eyes flicking to and fro, resembling a bird uncertain about taking flight. Jaken is sitting nearer to Sesshoumaru, grumbling to himself, though suffering brief periods of silence.

But for Jaken's garbled noise, the atmosphere around them is only broken by the forest birds' singing and the sound of leaves in the wind. Summer has rolled over into autumn, and the leaves are now the colours of the earth, the grass brittle and dead. It is almost fitting.

It is Souten who finally removes Rin from his arms. He almost refuses, his grip tightening about her, as if hiding her from the fate that's already taken her.

Souten lights the fire and tends it, silent as Rin's corpse. Sesshoumaru wonders if all women are like this; if all their words fade and die within them before even they themselves do. Souten used to be so bright and full of pointless chatter – just like Rin, but now they are both as silent as he is.

Sesshoumaru clutches Tenseiga in his lap, the blade hidden within the sheath.

...

Without the sound of Rin's coughing, their travel seems even quieter than usual. Deathly quiet.

Sesshoumaru has not yet decided whether to bury or revive her, so she stays in his arms, trapped between the two. At times, he can almost feel the demons dragging her soul away.

...

For the first time in a long time, Sesshoumaru speaks.

"What is this?" he says, staring out at the village sprawled out below them. It has been not yet a week, and Souten has led them here.

She stands beside him, her eyes fixed somewhere in the village. "You'll see," is all she tells him.

The house they come to is modest and small, but immaculately clean. An old woman emerges onto the porch, her posture remarkably good for her age, yet to be bent by hard work or time.

By the look on her face, she recognizes all of them, though it takes her some time before she realizes who it is he holds in his arms.

"Sesshoumaru," she finally says, a hint of awe in her voice. He only faintly remembers her, but she is triggering a realization in the back of his mind, as well as a growing discomfort.

Her obvious lack of what to say causes Souten to step forward, bowing and greeting her politely, even though the woman is only a human.

Despite everyone's arguments, Rin does not leave his embrace.

...

Inside the house, Sesshoumaru finds himself sipping tea and trying not to tremble from shock and humiliation.

Beside him, Inuyasha is drooling, the left side of his face having an odd, downward slant look to it. When he speaks, it is a mumble, and his words simple, childlike. An old scar runs from his left temple to his jaw. Sesshoumaru does not even know how old he is, though guessing by their host, he must be past sixty.

He is touching Sesshoumaru's arm, mumbling something that is, to Sesshoumaru, utterly incomprehensible, the very presence of his brother so unexpected and agonizing that he can barely form coherency in his thoughts. He ignores him, instead staring at his tea, his reflection trapped in the cup.

An elderly man also sits with them now, talking to Souten as if Sesshoumaru does not even exist, which, for once, he doesn't mind. He appears to be married to the woman they met earlier, who is sitting next to him, drinking her tea almost warily. Sesshoumaru remembers them now from their brief encounters; his brother's comrades, although, he recalls there being two more.

Inuyasha moves closer, and he straightens immediately, alarmed. His brother continues to mumble, patting his sleeve, and he is too uncomfortable – or perhaps afraid? – to remove it or tell him to stop.

"What is he saying?" he finally manages to ask, in a voice cold enough to suit him.

The woman looks at him from where she sits on her cushion. "He is asking why you are so sad."

Like a puppet, Sesshoumaru turns his head, staring down at his hanyou brother who is still running his hand down the material of his empty sleeve.

"Sad? Sad?" The words are suddenly as clear as winter air, so bare and stripped of propriety that Sesshoumaru has to turn away.

"I am not sad," he says.

...

"You always knew, didn't you?" she asks him later, when they are well away from the house that is too full of the past for Sesshoumaru's taste.

"Of course," he says, not breaking stride. Jaken is scurrying behind them, unused to their unusually fast pace, panting and demanding to know what happened, as he was left sitting atop the hill, waiting for them the whole time.

They both ignore him, and walk on until dusk falls over them, almost too soon, it seems.

...

After they stop to set up camp, Sesshoumaru stays with Rin the entire night.

He sits by her lifeless body, trying to remember her as much as possible, so unused to letting go that now he is not sure how. Tenseiga rests in his lap, sheathed. It would be so easy to use, he knows, but something holds him back, something keeps the sword in its scabbard.

This situation is so familiar that the nostalgia is almost overwhelming. The only difference is in her, her human face, wrinkled and slack, lacking almost all the things that he remembers.

...

In the morning, Sesshoumaru buries Rin.

He stands over the freshly turned earth, Tenseiga clasped in his hand. The grave is unmarked, and he intends to leave it that way. As long as he remembers her there will never be a need for anything more.

The tightness in his chest has still not loosened, and he stands over Rin well into the afternoon, waiting, almost expecting it to go away.

...

The following morning, Sesshoumaru walks out to wait with her a few minutes more, blinking as the sun pokes through the leaves, dappling him in sunlight.

Walking away, he can feel an invisible rope attached to his ankle, dragging it from the grave.

...

The years after are filled with long silences and travel, the road ever changing beneath their feet.

There is an itch that tickles their soles if they stop for too long, so they are always moving, the past nipping at their heels.

Around them the times fade, one into the other, like the seasons of the year. Time settles on their shoulders like dust, piling so high that they are almost sagging beneath the weight, their wanderlust waning until, at the end of the day, their feet are tired and sore.

They find solace hidden in the mountains, in a quiet house and the clean alpine air.

Sesshoumaru takes a night stroll down the road, something within himself telling him that he is still waiting.

...

When Jaken dies a few hundred years later, Sesshoumaru spends the morning outside in the garden, doing nothing.

The house feels too large for the two of them now, and so he tells Souten they are going for a walk, not bothering to turn it into a request.

It is late spring and the cherry blossoms carpet the road, and he waits while Souten dances beneath the overhanging branches, pink petals fluttering about her like snow. She picks one late flower and tucks behind her ear, turning towards him and giggling.

"Do you like it?" she asks, oddly happy. He wonders why.

"You do, don't you?" And she laughs, skipping over to him and clasping his hands, pulling him with her as she dances in a circle. Reluctantly, he lets her do it, but allows himself an almost smile. When she trips, he is quick to catch her, and they find themselves in an awkward moment, her face mere inches from his.

Even after so many years, they have never been so close.

...

Supper is a quiet affair; they've never been much for displays of pomp. At one time, Souten might have been, but after living with Sesshoumaru for so long, spectacles seem to have lost their charm.

The funeral is equally matched in splendor, though Jaken would never have anticipated more. As long as his Sesshoumaru-sama laid him to rest, he could never have cared.

...

Months later, when they are eating supper, a strange tension stretches the air between them, a pent up yearning filling the space. For the first time in his life, Sesshoumaru is feeling old, and it drags out all the long, dreary years through his mind, not a single moment among any standing out. After all this time, he is still left feeling empty, unfulfilled.

But in the end, he kisses her, just a spur of the moment thing, but she is so persistent that he relents and pillows with her, her small body pinned beneath him on the futon, secured in his embrace. She's safe there, he thinks.

...

That night, Sesshoumaru lies awake thinking, Souten naked and asleep next to him.

He is still unsure how she went from crawling into his life to crawling into his bed, but he's still making up his mind about whether he minds or not, so she stays.

...

Sitting by the pond in the garden, weeks later, Sesshoumaru watches the fish swimming beneath the surface, darting through the weeds, in and out, their gold backs flashing like the sun.