Chapter Five: The Promise
Inhale . . . exhale . . . inhale . . . exhale . . .
Rin chanted this mantra in her mind over and over, willing herself to breathe, to hold onto life long enough for his arrival.
He'd sent the flower to her. He hadn't forgotten her. He was going to join her. It was all Rin needed to battle within herself for control. Her mind was strong and alert, but her body was weak and failing. She could barely move her limbs now. It took all of her concentration to keep her lungs in motion. She gripped firmly at the flower in her hand as though it were life itself.
Rin was so focused on the chant in her mind, on the inner war her body was fighting, her eyes staring blankly at the flower in her grasp, that she almost didn't notice the gentle noise.
Something had entered her home. Rin blinked several times as though awakening from a trance, and averted her gaze from the flower to the doorway. Standing there was a tall figure, a shadowy silhouette, its outline illuminated by the sun's last feeble rays.
The figure started walking toward her, and Rin's tired eyes toiled to adjust to the new light flowing into her home. Now the shadow knelt down next to her, and Rin squinted up at it. Suddenly, her eyes came into focus and she beheld the face before her.
Rin let out a cry.
It was Sesshomaru. And he didn't look as though a day had gone by since they'd parted.
Rin clutched the flower desperately as her mind raced. How could that be? How could Sesshomaru remain as the man who lived in her memory? Surely after all this time, he would show some sign of change?
There could only be one explanation, Rin realized with fear. She must have died during her trancelike struggle to breathe. This must be the afterlife. The Sesshomaru before her was a figment of the otherworld.
Rin trembled, and strained to reach her hand out to touch him. So ethereal and beautiful he looked as the sunset's golden light washed over him. He couldn't possibly be real. Rin's hand, so fragile and delicate, hovered slightly above her body, her fingers outstretched toward Sesshomaru. She tried to make them go further, to reach out and pass through the apparition of Sesshomaru's form, but her strength failed. Her hand could move no further.
The Sesshomaru spirit regarded her heavily, as though contemplating deeply. He wore a solemn face, but his eyes were sparkling. He noticed Rin's hand reaching out to him, and with one graceful motion, so swift that Rin didn't realize what he was doing until it was over, instinctively Sesshomaru had taken Rin's hand in his own and held it against his fair cheek.
"Oh!" Rin cried, her fingers brushing against his skin. His cheek. It was solid. And warm.
"Sesshomaru?" Rin heard her voice say tentatively. Rin could hardly believe it was truly he. It wasn't an apparition. She was still alive.
"Rin," he whispered, his voice sounding as though for once it had been overcome with emotion. "My dear Rin." He clasped her hand firmly with his own against his cheek so that Rin was holding his face. To feel him like that after a lifetime apart, to be able to hold him even though her body was too weak to do it on its own, was the greatest gift Rin had ever received.
Rin didn't realize she was crying until she heard one delicate tear fall to the floor with a soft clink. Then she noticed that her breath was rasping faintly as her heart beat faster.
Rin and Sesshomaru stayed there together like that, fully content to bask silently in the other's presence while the sun lowered its head ever closer to the earth.
Sesshomaru could hardly believe the sight that met his eyes.
He had entered the home blindly, not knowing what to expect. He could only imagine that Rin would look like the old women he had seen occasionally on his travels, grouchy hags with sharp features and waxy skin.
But when Sesshomaru walked into Rin's home, he beheld an angel laying on the floor, a slender woman with shrunken but graceful limbs. Snowy hair crowned her face, which, though lined, had a rosy glow. The woman's body appeared weak, as though it had spent all its energy, but her eyes radiated vibrantly.
Sesshomaru knelt down by her side. He heard the cry of recognition escape her lips. He saw the tenderness in her eyes. And when her hand reached towards him, he knew that it was Rin—older, perhaps, frail and wrinkled, perhaps—but it was Rin. His Rin. He held her hand against his face then, and when she spoke his name, he could not contain himself any longer. His throat cried out her name, and he watched serenely as tears slid down her delicate face.
They stayed silent for a while, until suddenly a flush came to Rin's cheeks and she whispered, "I'm so ashamed. Here you are, after all this time, and you look exactly as I remember you. And here I am, such an old woman. To you I must look—"
"Beautiful," Sesshomaru murmured. "You look beautiful."
Rin gazed into his eyes, her mouth slightly agape. She saw his earnestness, and flushed once again.
Then, without warning, Rin went into a coughing fit. It racked her body for a few terrifying moments, and then subsided into a disquieting wheeze.
Sesshomaru narrowed his eyes. He saw Rin struggling for breath. "You're dying," he stated in a monotone. Then, he stood up with resolve. "I wondered why you sent for me, after so many years. Now I understand."
He drew his sword, his birthright, the Tenseiga, and stared at Rin below him. Lying there, so weak, so helpless, she brought an image to his mind of a little girl he once found lying dead, surrounded by wolves.
"So," he said, "You called me to your side so that I could revive you once again, Rin."
It was a while before Rin could answer him. She was still trying to catch her breath from the hacking fit. When she was ready, she struggled to speak.
"No," she cried, her words punctuated by desperate gasps for breath, "You mu-mustn't use Tenseiga!"
Sesshomaru's eyes widened but he made no attempt to speak.
"That's not why I called you here," Rin went on, rasping. "My time . . . has come, and I accept that. I have . . . nothing more in this life to give."
For the first time in his long life, Sesshomaru was puzzled. Slowly, he sheathed Tenseiga. "Then why," he started to ask, weighing each word, "Why did you call me here?"
A small smile came to Rin's face. "I wanted to see you . . . one last time," she said. "When humans realize their time is coming to a close, they start to think about the ones who had . . . the biggest impact on their lives. The ones they hold closest to their heart." Rin looked up at Sesshomaru with sorrowful eyes.
Pain racked Sesshomaru's chest. He had never before pondered mortality, a concept so foreign to his demon heart. To live a short life, to die a natural death, such was the fate of all humanity. Stubbornness grew in Sesshomaru then, a selfishness he'd never before known consumed him. "It's unfair," he thought. "To be parted from the ones you love."
But life had already parted him from Rin. Why should death be any different? His mind wandered to that fateful day when Rin left his side forever, when she chose to stay behind in the village.
"Rin," he murmured, staring at her, "Do you ever have . . . any regrets?"
A peaceful look came upon Rin's face, and she said serenely, "No, Sesshomaru. I have no regrets . . . I loved my husband. I only have to look into the faces of my children and grandchildren . . . to know that I made the right decision."
The mention of grandchildren triggered a new thought in Sesshomaru's mind. "I met your granddaughter a short while ago, Rin," he uttered, "She was working in the fields."
Rin's eyes widened. "You did? Hmm, working in the fields this late . . . that must have been Mitara . . . . People say that she looks like I did when I was young," Rin murmured thoughtfully.
"Almost," Sesshomaru answered softly. "She looks almost as beautiful as you."
The two remained quiet then. The sun had almost finished setting, and it bathed them in a soft crimson glow. The only sound that could be heard was the faint wheezing of Rin's breath. Gradually, the wheezing became louder. It was getting harder and harder for Rin to breathe. Sesshomaru couldn't stand seeing Rin struggling for air like that.
Rin was still holding Sesshomaru's white flower in her hand. Rin motioned to it, and said, "Thank you . . . for this. It's what gave me . . . the strength to hold on."
Sesshomaru nodded silently, his throat tightening . . . . Why was his face wet?
"Tell Master Jaken . . . good-bye for me . . ." Rin murmured.
Sesshomaru clasped her hand to his chest then. He clung to it more and more firmly, as though if only he could keep her close, she wouldn't be able to leave him.
"I don't know what awaits me . . . in the next life," Rin managed to say between slow breaths. She gazed deeply into Sesshomaru eyes now, so deeply that she may very well have gazed straight through to his soul. Her own eyes were shining. "This life . . . was not meant for us. But perhaps . . . we can be together . . . someday . . . ."
Rin stopped then. Only a sliver of the sun remained now above the horizon. The last of the day's light was almost gone.
Rin looked at Sesshomaru one last time, her eyes solemn.
"Follow me," she begged.
Sesshomaru could barely get his voice to work.
Rin did something then that Sesshomaru was not prepared for. She smiled. Then, she closed her eyes gently, and saw no more.
The sun finished setting. Sesshomaru sat there alone in the blue twilight.
Sesshomaru and Jaken stood hidden at the edge of the woods while Rin's many children and grandchildren buried her. Sesshomaru could see Mitara standing next to the headstone, sobbing and clutching a younger brother in her arms. Slowly, Rin's relatives started to retreat back to their homes.
Sesshomaru and Jaken waited a long time until the last of them had left. Then they approached Rin's grave. Sesshomaru laid a beautiful white flower upon the newly tilled earth.
"It reminds me of you," he whispered.
Sesshomaru stood there for a long time, contemplating the blossom as it stared back up at him.
It was many, many years later when Sesshomaru followed Rin.
Rin was waiting.
Author's Note: I can't thank you enough for reading this story. Writing it has meant a lot to me. Part of it was based on my own experience losing someone close to my heart.
As always, reviews and constructive criticism are appreciated. If you review, please answer these questions for me:
1) Has the quality of my writing improved at all since my first story, "Rin's Smile and Sesshomaru's Decision"?
2) Which story did you enjoy reading more, "Rin's Smile and Sesshomaru's Decision" or "Rin's Message and Sesshomaru's Promise"?