I deeply apologize for the long wait. Sigh… I know that no amount of explanation would be sufficient. What can I say? I was overwhelmed by obligations that come with the real world. But what do you know? I did manage to finish this last chapter and in the short run, I don't I'll be writing anymore.
So, thank you so much… all you sweet sweet people who supported this and all my fics for the past years. Your reviews are worth a thousand times more than any monies that the real author in the world get.
So, all the best, everyone….
Warning of lemon in this chapter.
Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha and characters…
The sounds of crashing and residing waves coupled by that unique scent of salt in the breeze indicated to the Taiyoukai that he was near his desired destination. He was aware that he not only needed time with the girl now lying peacefully asleep in his arms, he also needed not to be disturbed. When deciding upon where to bring Rin, several locations had run through his mind but in the end, he had chosen this particular one, his personal summer fortress, where it was as far west as it could be. These ancestral grounds which the ancient fortress was set upon were exclusively for the reigning lords of the western lands. Anyone who violated that sacred code of law would not see the next light of day. That would rule out the possibility of his mother coming after them, even if she really had knowledge of where they were.
He remembered the previous time he was here…. with Chichiue. That was a tragic night, an event he still did not know if he could ever come to terms with. That night… he had both gained and lost. He had gained a half brother, and he had lost the one and only idol in his life, his almighty father.
But that was a long time ago… Things were different then… He… was different. But most importantly, at that time, he was not the owner of this fortress. Now that he had taken ownership of the place, it would be a ground of solace for the girl, for them.
"Mmm…." The girl stirred slightly as she snuggled into the only fluffed warmth she could find.
The demon lord observed in silent adoration as Rin exhaled a soft sound before she returned to deep slumber. He was right before the iron gates of the quiet castle and he could pick up a set of faint scurried footsteps behind them. He stood there, waiting, enjoying a passing breeze as it stirred the ends of his silver hair. The corner of his eyes moved towards the direction of where the sea should be, just that at this moment, the darkness of the night had discolored the ocean's usual sparkling blue.
The over rusted hinges of the metallic door screeched open and there stood within the fortress grounds an aged demon, a relative breed of the dogs bearing similar facial markings, but wrinkled, and silver mane tied up in a low pony tail.
"Good evening lord Sesshoumaru. This… is a most unusual visit. We were not aware of your arrival… Could we have missed…."
"No, Sato. It is my choice to come unannounced." Sesshoumaru marched passed the gates and the demon butler gave way as he bowed respectfully. The night had turned too chilly and the demon lord knew that Rin needed a warm place to rest and recover.
"My Lord, your usual chamber is ready for use. Please proceed."
Sesshoumaru's brows lifted in pleasant surprise.
"When I scented your approach, I had the maids get everything ready, my lord." A small polite smile was offered by the demon-in-chief of this fortress. It had been a long time since he last saw this young heir of the late Inu-no-Taisho and as a ex-general who had battled aside his deceased master for so many hundreds of years, he was actually quite pleased how Sesshoumaru had turned out. The pup had used to be full of himself, arrogant, cold like his mother and vicious.
But he had somewhat… changed. Sesshoumaru… was now… felt now… very much like the late Taisho…. surprisingly.
In cautious silence, Sato's eyes fell upon the one his lord was carrying in his arms.
"I see." The demon lord nodded in pleased approval. The service crew of demons in this seemingly deserted fortress wasn't exactly in a state of retirement. They were alert, vigilant… worthy… and indeed as he remembered Chichiue mentioning that some were even past war heroes of the western lands. Now, this summer fortress was their resting ground… no more politics… no more bloodshed.
Well deserved… Sesshoumaru thought briefly to himself as he continued toward the direction of his private chambers.
He paused yet for another moment.
"The girl…. is human?"
"Yes, she is." This time, the Taiyoukai frowned. Was there to be hostility toward the girl here? Even here? "Is there a problem?" His question sounded more like a snarl this time, his tone, curt.
The demon butler shook his head immediately. "No, no, my lord. I will make preparations for the meals to suit her palette."
"She will need a change of clothes."
"Yes, my lord. I will make sure she has no short of necessities."
Sufficiently appeased by that last remark, the demon lord decided to let it go and he continued toward the bed chamber.
The demon servant only dared to peer from his deep bow at his present master as his tall shadow disappeared down the corridor. Even in this far end of the western lands, they were never short of the latest happenings in the main fortress.
Wasn't there a function going on this night? One with great significance…. was the message being passed down. Indeed, there were rumors that the great lord Sesshoumaru might finally be taking a mate… a new lady.
So… why was he here then?
And with this…. this human girl…who was barely a teenager?
Of course he had heard that Sesshoumaru had arrived at the fortress in the company of a little human. That had shocked almost every demon but as wise as they possibly could, no one dared utter a comment.
And Sato himself had never met this human… till now.
Why did Sesshoumaru bring the girl here?
At that, the old demon decided not to think beyond where a servant should. He hurried off, knowing that he had lots to prepare before dawn.
As he placed the girl down into the huge sunken bed carved into the wooden floor, the demon lord could sense the rising of Rin's pulse. The effect of Jinenji's medication was fading and she was rousing.
Just in time… He mused casually, allowing himself to rest next to her, leaning his back against the wall behind them.
Rin made a small yawning sound before she blinked her eyes at the unfamiliar ceiling she was staring at. She briefly surveyed her surroundings to the place where her lord was resting and it needed no confirmation that she was neither in her own room nor Sesshoumaru's.
"You're awake, Rin." Gazing down at her, Sesshoumaru said coolly with a victory hinted grin. "Are you feeling better?"
"W-Where are we, Sesshoumaru?" Still too disorientated, that was all she could manage.
"…where we would not be disturbed, Rin." With that, he turned till his glowing golden eyes locked with her hazel ones. "…where decisions will be made."
Decisions? The girl's brows furrowed as more and more memories of the day's happening refreshed in her mind. "S-Sessho…"
Her lips were gently sealed with one of his clawed fingers. "Not now….not yet." He knew what she would say and he did not wish to let Rin further indulge herself in such negative thoughts.
Then, as if his prayers were answered, there was a knock on their door and upon his command, the screen slid open, entering two chamber maids, apparently bringing supper.
Sato was indeed thorough in his service.
"Are you hungry?" He helped her up to a sitting position seeing her nod in response. But of course she was famished, judging from the fact that she was out the entire afternoon. "Come, Rin." He pulled her out of the bed and up to her feet, ushering her to the dining table. "Let's eat."
Rin nodded again, her eyes blinked gleefully at the sumptuous spread. It was as if her worries were thrown to the farthest ends of the earth and the only thing she could think of was how hungry she was. Swiftly, she sat down and started on her meal.
The demon lord was glad the girl had the appetite but the speed she had chosen… "Slowly, Rin…and drink this. It's the second dosage of your medication." From the depths of his sleeves, he retrieved an ornamented bottle, opening and placing it on the table.
Obediently, Rin took the bottle, then taking a small sip, her eyes blew wide open as though she was in shock. "T-This… This is…"
Sesshoumaru was taken aback by her string reactions only for a moment before he realized why. "Yes, it is."
"B-But… it's… it's my present for you." She bit her lips, wanting to turn her face away from him but he stopped her instantly.
"Jinenji said that the dew has good effects to the medication he was preparing for you. Thus I let him have it." He lifted her chin with his finger so that she was looking up at him. "Rin, you know… your welfare is my priority."
The girl frowned. "It's not that I do not know that, but…" In her heart, she was still disappointed. This was not a usual gift. It was one which she had collected based only on her own strength. It had contained her pride… her feeble little human feminine pride.
"Nothing is more important than you. Do you not understand that by now, girl?"
"It won't change anything to bring me here, Sesshoumaru." She intoned in a whisper. "It won't change the fact that I'm still human."
"I do not dispute that Rin." The demon lord spoke sternly as he passed her a bowl of hot soup. "It was not my intention to change you."
She received it with both hands, letting off a muted sigh. It was never that she had doubted him. She was only doubting herself.
The rest of supper went about without much conversation between the two and Sesshoumaru made sure the girl finished her medicine before she left the table, heading toward the porch that overlooked seemingly a garden. It was way past midnight by now and all that could be heard was a serene symphony of crickets and pond frogs.
Rin let off a sigh and she traced the dimly lit lanterns that lit the garden path.
The demon lord made his way to her side, his hand swiftly swooping up a fur cloak halfway there. He wrapped it over her shoulders then turned her enough to see her so he could fasten it. He noted that as if done on purpose, Rin was looking at an angle away, shunning him.
"Rin…" He began quite coolly though in his mind, he had already prepared how he would attack the girl's resistance toward accepting him.
She did not look at him still.
"All these years since you were a child, you had followed me… Was it because I was the Great Lord Sesshoumaru?" His eyes glowed with wry and the question did successfully shock the girl from her presumably far away thoughts.
Rin gasped, her cheeks turned a little pale. "W-What? O-Of course not!" What was he thinking? That she only cared about his titles and his wealth? "I-I had never thought to follow you as so that I could live well."
"Is that so?" Sesshoumaru tested further, hiding the grin at the start of his secret victory. "Then why? Was it because I am strong and you would no longer fear to be bullied?"
"I-I…." The girl was indignant. Well, on one hand, she was proud of her lord being all powerful and that she had deeply appreciated that fact that he was always there to protect her. However, by the manner he had phrased that, somehow, it was pleasing to her ears. She… She didn't follow him because of all that… She had followed him because… because… simply because… "I just want to… just want to…."
"Just want to?" Was he pressing her too hard? Rin was looking so confused and agitated that even the Taiyoukai was getting a little concerned. Still, he had to go on. Their future would depend on his success.
Rin closed her eyes and in a split second, the image of the wounded demon lord appeared before, that warm summer afternoon that they had met in the woods. His clothes were tattered and he smelt of blood, of multiple hidden injuries, of wounded pride. Though the frayed strips on his cheeks and the color of his hair, it was certain he was not human and most fearful of all, he smelt of malice. Till now, she still could not understand how she ever got enough courage to go forward to his side though all he was displaying full defense. All would have already fled for their lives.
Why had she stayed? At that time, Sesshoumaru was not even his usual handsome self. Why? Why had she helped him?
She hadn't the answer still. Perhaps, it was her destiny. He…. was her destiny.
Not long after that, he had recovered to his full potential and became her savior instead and from that moment when she opened her eyes to a renewed life, an extended life, the first thing she saw was him and it gave her comfort like no other.
The time that followed allowed her to slowly get to know him better and better. She had noticed his softness beneath that cold front, his subtle gentleness behind that insane power he possessed and the warmth of his heart within a vicious demon lord.
That was when…. she knew the answer.
"I followed you, Sesshoumaru… because… because you are you."
Her reply instantly drew a slight smile on the Taiyoukai's face. "I am who I am, Rin and I am not a friend of humans. Do you not fear me?"
She frowned, upset. "Why would I? I never believe that you would harm me and neither do I believe that you would harm any humans without reason. Y-You've always been my protector."
With that, he grabbed her, pulling her suddenly to him. "Then why Rin? Why are you afraid of being my mate?"
"I-It's.. I said already. I'm not afraid. I'm .. I'm just not good enough." Rin squeezed her eyes tightly shut. What was he trying to say? She was totally bemused. She kept her eyes shut till she felt him gently stroking her cheeks and she relented reflexively, slowly relaxing and re-opening them. Immediately, she found herself gazing into a pair of mesmerizing golden eyes and she could not look away from them any further.
"Yes, indeed, at what you are now, you are certainly not good enough to be the mate of the Great Lord Sesshoumaru, the lady of the Western Lands." He said sternly, then switched to a slight grin. "But I'm not asking you to be that, Rin." He drew a deepen breath. "I'm merely asking you… to be with me till the end, be by my side, as my mate, the mate of Sesshoumaru… just … Sesshoumaru."
The girl shuddered at that statement, a clear proposal, a well phrased proposal. Not the lady of the West? He just wished me to be … his.
Something in that sent a strange warmth spiraling in her heart and also, it set butterflies in her stomach.
"I-I… don't know what to say, Sesshoumaru."
He knew he shouldn't rush her but he needed to reason with her till he got her to say the magic words, the words which would bind her to him.
"If my lands fall one day and I no longer am the great lord, will you leave me Rin? Will you …abandon your mate?"
She frowned thus again. His questions were getting a little too belittling for comfort. "I would never leave you! You should know better than that."
"Even if I were defeated in single combat with another Taiyoukai, if I were to become weak?"
"Even if you are left with nothing, even if you do not retain even your strength, I'll stay by your side."
"Forever…." She bit her lips, her eyes locked determinedly with his.
"As my mate, will you follow me through the vast years in life without dread or complaint?"
"I will follow you in life… as well as in death."
That was what he was waiting for, those last words.
That alone… was enough.
Instantly, the demon lord had let his powers flare surrounding them in gentle swirls of multi-colored lights. With a triumph grin, he brought her closer and closer till their lips touched and he kissed her firmly, holding her to him. As if in a trance, the girl kissed him back instinctively and as their kiss deepen, she didn't even know that her feet had left the ground.
This was the first time Sesshoumaru had ever bestowed anyone with an empowering engagement kiss. He could feel his powers traveling to the girl; As if in curiosity and awe, it was exploring her, testing her body resistance with a tinge of mischief, moving through and out of her till it was one with her pulse, her blood. Then he felt part of his powers left him, going into Rin.
Will she be alright? He pondered worriedly.
However, it was all too late now and it was also … a necessary step in order for them to become life mates.
He enabled their descent and broke the kiss when he felt her slip into a daze. As their feet touched the ground, he cradled her in his arms. "Rin…Are you…" He whispered, finding the answer to his question before he even finished it. She was unconscious... No… Rin… She was merely in deep sleep.
The powers needed some time to settle within her… That was what he concluded as he carried her back into bed, laying her head on the pillow. He strolled then to a corner of the chamber leading to the bath. He rummaged through the shelves there, pulling out a light green sleeping yukata and swiftly removing his richly embroided gown then slipping into the more comfortable silk. From the corner of his eyes, he surveyed the room, letting his gaze end where the girl lay. It felt truly relaxing to be back here and he was seriously considering a prolonged stay. This break would be refreshing, exhilarating for both. In his muse, he found himself back at his bed, settling at his side. He plodded himself up with one elbow admiring his… well… soon-to-be mate. He let his clawed fingers moved to rearrange her hair, sweeping her fringe backward, being most careful at the same time not to accidentally hurt her.
At the centre of the girl's temple now bore a faint marking of his crescent… his symbol…. Rin was now carrying his symbol.
The marking would become permanent when they were consummated but for this night, enough had taken place and all in all, the Taiyoukai was pretty damn pleased with himself. Regardless of what had happened before, he had accomplished what he had set out to do. He embraced her, letting her head rest upon his chest as he let his eyes drift close.
In the dimly lit chamber, the demon lord awoke from his short nap. He watched silently the girl slumbering in his arms, her every breath so subtle and steady. He let his finger lightly played with the faint symbol of the crescent at her temple…. His symbol.
He grinned, triumphant.
The change had started. Rin, be it her pulse, the very flow of blood in her veins… and even her scent, she was already beginning to scent of him. Her body was showing obvious signs of adaptation. She was beginning to become part of him. By the way things were, he was certain the girl would awake anytime soon.
There was only one thing he felt disturbing. She had still the scent of a maiden, a virgin. He would have that little bit altered soon enough, to the best of both their pleasures.
"Mmm…." Her lips muttered a breath and in the next moment, her lids twitched and peeled open. "Sesshoumaru?" She said in a bleary whisper.
"What….Why?" As Rin's memories returned, she sat up shaking her head to clear her thoughts. Placing her hand on her own chest, she felt her heartbeat for a while and then her cheeks. She had obviously felt the difference too. "What… is happening?"
"We are now engaged, Rin. You are experiencing changes indicating that." Coolly, he passed her the smooth shiny metal at the table, angling it so that she was able to see her own reflection in it.
She gasped, her hand swiftly moved up to touch the new symbol on her forehead.
Suddenly, she realized what had happened. Rika had told her about such proceedings before. She was now Sesshoumaru's mate-to-be. All the worries of her inadequacies had not disappeared due to this change, but somehow, she felt peace. A part of her lord was now in her and she could feel his peace. His ever composed stance was influencing her thoughts, her behavior.
And he waited, watching her every shift in emotions, expressions. He was aware she needed time but that did not mean he was still patient.
"Rin, if you truly do not wish to be mine, I will not blame you for forsaking this engagement."
The girl choked. For once, his words were near harsh and she could sense clearly his disappointment and displeasure. He was losing faith in her and something within just snapped. She would never wish Sesshoumaru to feel this way about her. She would never forsake him, not when he was at his weakness and certainly not now.
"No, Sessho." She turned toward him with courage that she had never felt before. She may not be the best choice for the lady of the western lands. She wished not to be. But one thing was for sure.
She wished to be his.
"I… want this. I want to be with you, to belong to you."
His eyes narrowed, examining her lovely face. "You are not afraid?"
"Afraid?" She was baffled for a moment.
"…of my mother…" The corner of his lips hinted a grin.
Rin thought for a while. "Of course I am." She let off a giggle. "I know she does not see me fit as your mate. Actually, I'm not quite sure I can as well… just that…." She sighed and it disturbed him a little.
"…just that?" He queried with a sense of urgency.
" Just that… I love you, Sesshoumaru." She met his eyes with a determinacy that shook even the great taiyoukai. "I wish to be with you… forever, no matter what anyone thinks of it."
The demon lord smiled, most satisfied with that last bit of proclamation. He lifted her chin and sealed her lips with a kiss. Slowly, the light pecks became firmer and more passionate till he had her pinned securely under him.
This time…. There's no turning back…
He did not even bother to untie the sash at her waist. He merely flicked a claw and the soft fabric was in shreds, scattered to the floor.
Rin felt her gown loosen and she gasped breathlessly, allowing his tongue entry to her mouth. She felt herself being tasted and explored and she returned the gesture, wishing equally to know him. Then, he broke away, allowing her a short rest time to recover her breath. He felt her pants, his lips only mere inches above hers, the corner of his eyes noting how the centre of her gown loosening into a deeper v at every rise and fall of her chest. Her cheeks had turned rosy red and she was simply too attractive to ignore.
"Rin…" He moved to the whisper into her ears.
"I want you…"
She nodded, her cheeks flushing deeper red.
"You're not afraid?" He let the back of his palm caress her cheeks down to neck then to the skin down the split of her thin gown, dragging the opening lower till one side fell over, one of her globes came into full view.
Feeling a shiver up her spine as part of her body bared to him, she swallowed hard, trying to calm herself. All these talk with Rika about the stuff that happened between a male and a female, about mating and here she was… about to experience it for herself.
Was she even up to it?
She bit her lips and then smiled bravely up to him. "No. I'm not afraid."
Her stirring emotions hadn't escape him. "D-Do you… know…" He wasn't sure if she was even educated regarding such… matters and the sort of pain he would be inflicting upon her physically in expression of his love, even he, was still struggling in its complex ironies.
She blushed at the question. "Yes, I do. Rika had once spoken to me about it."
"Rin…" He was surprised she placed a finger to stop his lips.
"You don't have to say anymore. I'm not afraid." She smiled confidently. "As long as its you, I'm not afraid."
With a growl, he flicked his claws again, instantly sending the rest of her gown flying in pieces and she lay there, naked and gulping in slience. A second gust of his swirling powers made her shut her eyes and when she re-opened them the next moment, she saw that he was bare and every inch of his lean muscled body was revealed to her.
He was indeed… the most beautiful and surreal creature she had ever seen.
For only a moment she was cold and the next, his heated skin was upon hers rocking as his mouth caught hers once again, kissing her more deeply and furiously. She felt completely powerless, her hands weakly grabbing the silken sheets beneath her as his hands groped her breasts relentlessly, feelings them, testing their weight and feel in his hands.
Small… tender…. Still room for growth as she aged…
He teased and played with them till they responded and stood and he broke the kiss, attacking one breast, taking it completely with his mouth. He sucked, licked and nibbled while letting his other hand massaged the neglected one. He felt her buck and thrash wildly but he did not stop.
"Sessho…. Sessho…" Her muted chants of his name ignited his every desire to take her. He spread her legs, settling in between, then sprinted up to silence her with a fierce kiss.
Rin kissed him back as eagerly as she wished she could kiss her fears away. She didn't wish him to see her as being the least unsure. The last thing she wished was to be viewed as child. Her heart was hammering so fast as she felt the heat emanating like fire from a particularly strange spot at the pit of her belly. A smooth flowing liquid was wetting the centre of her legs and before she could think more of it, she felt him touching and rubbing her there.
She shrieked into his mouth but he continued kissing her, rubbing her where she was most sensitive. And suddenly, he broke away, letting her only a few seconds of breaths before he allowed a digit to slide into her. She frowned at the slight stretch of tight muscles, grabbing his arms in both fear and anticipation. "Mmm… Sessho…"
"Relax…" He hissed as he let a second be inserted. This time, he felt a stronger resistance. "Relax… Rin…" He slid them in and out, scissoring occasionally in preparation for what was to come.
Then he retracted, lurching up to examine her deeply redden face. Quite relieved with that short break, Rin finally opened her eyes and they found themselves gazing at each other for a long moment.
So young…. She is still so young….
"Tell me again, Rin. Why do you wish to be mine?" He hissed, trying to suppress his own laden breaths.
Without a doubt, she answered him. "Because I need you… because I love you."
He flashed a fang as he lowered till he had positioned himself at her entrance. "Look at me, beloved. Don't look away."
He rubbed his cheek against hers, letting his lips lightly brushed against hers with a soft kiss. "I've wanted you, wanted this for so long…."
Rin winched with her eyes tightly shut at the first full thrust, feeling every bit of it. It had hurt at first but his hushed endearments hovering at her ears soothed her and made her recover quickly. There was a certain addictive pleasure in the pain, better than the past brief intimacies she had with him and soon, she found herself enjoying all of this, enjoying him.
"Sessho…" She lay her head down breathing lightly into his steely chest, the tips of her fingers and toes were still feeling the aftermath of her recent climax.
The demon lord dipped his chin down enough to see her dazed smile. He spoke nothing, merely raised a brow in response.
"Can we do all that again?"
He frowned in amusement. "I'd take it you have enjoyed that."
She nodded, smiling brilliantly as ever.
He eyed her questioningly. "Perhaps later, beloved. You are not sore?"
She briefly rubbed her thighs, feeling still the ache. "A little. But Rika said…"
This time, the demon lord got interested. He prodded himself up with a pillow as Rin rolled over on her belly meeting his eyes. "What did she say?"
"Well…" He spotted her slight blush. "She said that on the night of consummation, the male could desire the female for as many times as he deem fit. Is that true, Sessho?"
The corner of his lips twitched as he nodded. "I do recall such… traditions." Then he eyed her with genuine concern. "But it is meant for demons only, not humans. Human females may not be able to ………."
"Take it?" She grinned challengingly. "What made you think that, my lord?"
Sensing her defensive moods, the demon lord was entertained by the idea. "You really think you are up to it, beloved?"
"I know so." She sat up with her legs spreading across his hips. "And that is the first task I wish to fulfill as the mate of a taiyoukai."
"Then my lady…. You shall not be disappointed."
A point of a clawed finger directed his youki toward the window blinds, snapping the cords and letting them gently unroll to shield the chamber from the afternoon sun. Sesshoumaru's gaze returned to the one still in deep sleep. From how tired she looked after their last love making, he didn't think she would wake anytime soon.
He closed his eyes, doing a brief mental calculation.
Yes, it was about ten years since that night he had met the yume-no-youkai, the night that he had uncovered what was in stored for him in the future….now.
Every demon would eventually find their mate…..
That was what Bokuseno had so sarcastically smirked at him.
It had seemed so long ago that he bore the idea of not having a life mate at all. He had even forgotten the reasons why.
Had he really been defeated by this vicious scheme by the old tree demon? Had he really self fulfilled the prophesy? Would he have taken Rin as his mate if he hadn't known? Would he have loved her and craved for her as he did for the past ten years?
He had the answer.
It was not the prophesy that bound her to him or otherwise. From the first moment he met her, he had not one moment wanted to let her go. It was true that he did not wish for a mate but as far as little Rin was concerned, he wanted her companion.
He needed her companion.
He had loved her from the first moment he saw her, first as a protector… and then more.
Though he had pre known she was his, the path had not been easy as he would have expected it. Thus, he was pleased, with himself. Deep within, he knew…. he wanted this prophesy to be fulfilled.
He wanted no one else. That was for sure.
She… was his destiny.
He noticed that the marking of the crescent at her forehead had become more pronounced now that he had claimed her. It still stirred a strange sensation in him to see his symbol engraved on a female, to know that he now had a life mate, one who was willing to share his life and death. Perhaps his enemies could cheer in unison that he now officially had a weakness but he sought to differ.
Rin was never his weakness.
She had always been…. his source of true strength…. forever.