Soo... this is my entry into the fanfic contest that is going on at a moonlight-flower .com. The theme is spring, which I obviously have never explored before. XD That made this rather difficult to write, seeing as how I had felt as though I had covered everything I possibly could on that topic.

Anyway, so I would like to post this here in the chapters I had originally intended, but over on moonlight-flower, I did post the story as one mohonkin thing. Just incase somebody was dying to know what happens for some reason... or if somebody was interested in voting.

Ehem, regardless, I hope that I managed to do something a little different, and that those who read it enjoy it!

Rin's hand stilled as she moved to touch the branch before her. She paused briefly before drawing her hand back within the warmth of her sleeves and turning to look at her lord. "And I am allowed to come as well?"

Lord Sesshoumaru held her glance just long enough for her to read the affirmation in his eyes. Instantly, she felt a smile tug at her lips, and she returned to the center of their camp. She had been more interested in the buds growing on the plum trees than the one-sided conversation Jaken had been holding with Lord Sesshoumaru. As soon as she had heard that Lord Sesshoumaru had business to see to with one of his allies, she had not paid any special attention to what was being said; in the past, whenever he had to accomplish such matters, Rin had always found herself deposited at the palace until these things were completed. It wasn't until she had realized that, due to the date he was supposed to arrive and their present location, it would be next to impossible to take the time to go to the palace first.

She had never visited the palace of another demon before and could not help but wonder what was different about this situation. Of course, she was not about to pry into the matter for fear that Lord Sesshoumaru might change his mind. Although it was not something that happened with much frequency, there had been enough occurrences over the years to make her wary of pushing her luck.

When she moved to sit by the small fire that had been going since dinner, Lord Sesshoumaru spoke without looking at her. "You should rest now; we will leave before dawn."

For a moment she considered him, his back to the camp as he looked off into the woods, before she walked over to where Ah-Un was laying. The dragon had always been accommodating, and as soon as she drew near he uncurled his tail slightly, allowing a small gap for her to lie in. Lately the weather had started to become milder as spring approached, but there was a chill in the air that hinted to a cold night.

Rin continued to watch Lord Sesshoumaru over the scales of Ah-Un's tail. The firelight threw strange shadows against his white figure as he stood motionless, only the faint breeze moving his pelt and hair faintly. Shivering, Rin turned her face away from the touch of the wind, but Lord Sesshoumaru's image still lingered in her mind.

In the ten odd years she had been following him, she realized that she had learned next to nothing about him. There were some general things she knew about his ambitions, and she had grown to become fairly confident with her ability to detect his mood. Things near the surface, his actions and mannerisms, had become so familiar to her that they were as recognizable as her own. When it came to those things close to him – his history, his true emotions, his thoughts – she knew nothing.

Distantly, in the shadow-laden memories of her life as daughter to simple peasants, she remembered her mother saying that people often acted in manners like the seasons; Rin was like the spring, she said, displaying everything openly and without reserve, a celebration of all things joyful and beautiful.

She turned this thought over in her head, considering the truth of its application. If she was spring, she figured that Lord Sesshoumaru could be nothing else but winter, even though it was true that his manner in regards to her had always differed from how he dealt with everybody else. To most, he displayed either cool apathy or icy disdain; he was someone to be avoided, his outward calm often deceptively lethal.

But never to her. In the past few years, it had been something that had grown to weigh heavily on her thoughts as she realized she would never be able to understand why she was different from all others. She was some strange exception to all of those beliefs and principles he otherwise followed unfailingly.

Or, at least, she was the exception to most. For a moment Rin frowned, wishing that she could hold onto her initial frustration at this thought – it felt so much more powerful than the sadness that it eventually dwindled into. But she knew she could not hold onto it, and she quickly succumbed to the emotion that had lingered at the edges of her thoughts for the past few years.

She longed for the simple happiness of her youth, when her thoughts had held nothing but the joy of living. She had been filled with happiness until it had spilled and overflowed into every action and word. How could she have not felt such elation when she enjoyed the beauty of meadows and woods, the songs of birds and brooks, the touch of sun and wind?

And at the center of it all had been Lord Sesshoumaru, for he had been the one who had repeatedly provided her with the chance to experience all these things. She might have been dear to him, but he was everything to her. Protector and provider, teacher and companion, in some manner he had managed to accommodate every unfilled role in her life.

For years, she had been more than content with this until she had convinced herself that nothing would ever change. Perhaps it was because of this that she had taken so long to realize her own heart and the hole that had slowly grown there. Even when she had finally admitted that she felt an empty ache that seemed impossible to placate, it had still been seasons until she realized what it meant.

There was another role that needed to be filled.

It had been shocking when she realized that what she wanted was a lover, somebody who would care for her and love her in some way she could not put words to. And even more shocking was the fact that she wished it would be Lord Sesshoumaru.

But that was where she had forced herself to stop. While it was clear that he did care for her, she could not expect such things from him. She might have been raised above all others in his eyes, but she was still far below him. Beneath the lavish uchikakes and carefully tutored manners, she was still the human daughter of peasants; he would never stoop to her level, and she could never ask him to do so.

All the same, that could not end the dreams. In her heart, she had always loved him, and her realization had only deepened it, made it even more all encompassing than before. As time had passed, it had become a point of almost bitter humor that she had somehow managed to keep her feelings from him for so long, but perhaps it was difficult for him to detect such an emotion. Regardless of her feelings, Rin often found it hard to imagine Lord Sesshoumaru, so distant and cold, loving anybody the way she loved him.

She squeezed her eyes together, trying to hush the flurry of thoughts and feelings. This train of thought had been explored multiple times before; there was no sense in losing additional sleep over it. Lord Sesshoumaru wished to leave early in the morning. She did not want to make him wait.

- - - -

Very suddenly, there was sun trying to press its way through her eyelids.

Frowning, Rin slowly forced her eyes to open, distantly finding the task to be much harder than it should have been. She slowly rose and blinked at her surroundings, stuck somewhere between shock and wonder.

Sometime in the night, snow had begun to fall and still continued; the landscape that the day before had just begun to breathe the whispers of spring had been silenced, muffled in diamond flakes deep enough to coldly bite her ankles when she tried to move through it. She hugged herself against the brush of the wind and tried to remember the last time she had been away from the palace when it had been this cold.

"Where is Lord Sesshoumaru?" Rin asked Jaken, who had been watching her disapprovingly from the edge of the long dead fire.

"Do you think he would just wait here when you decided to sleep the day away?" Jaken sulked; he was apparently irritated that he had been left behind. "He went on ahead. We are supposed to follow immediately."

"Is it really that late?" Rin frowned up at the sky, but could not see through the snow-laden clouds to judge the height of the sun.

Jaken merely sighed, a sign that he had many fitting replies but did not think it possible to pick the best in a timely manner. "Just hurry up."

This Rin tried to accomplish to the best of her abilities, helping clean up what few things they had for their camp and then following Jaken through the blinding white landscape. As they went, she hoped that he knew where he was going; already, she would have become hopelessly lost.

As the hours stretched on, however, it became harder and harder to think of such things. She wished that they had been able to ride Ah-Un to the palace; Jaken had explained that it would be too easy to miss the palace with every landmark coated in snow. Even though she had woken up only a few hours before, she already felt tired, and her body was starting to ache, although if from the cold or just exertion she could not decide.

This she kept to herself. With Jaken already in a sour mood, she did not want to do anything to tempt him into unleashing any verbal attacks. Usually, she was quite willing to banter with him, but at the moment it felt incredibly distasteful.

Finally they reached the palace, and Rin could not hold back the relieved sigh that escaped her lips. In the scope of things she had gone through before, the day's journey had been nothing. All the same, she felt a deep weariness pressing into her chilled body, and the thought of soon being near a fire filled her mind.

Their presence was clearly anticipated; two servants were waiting to take them to their respective rooms. Rin was too tired to take much notice of the distaste in her guide's face; she was too used to such expressions to be very concerned. All the same, she did try her best to be as polite as possible, aware that her behavior would reflect greatly on Lord Sesshoumaru. He had finally allowed her to come with him to the domain of another lord, and she would prove that she could be responsible with such an honor.

As soon as she had washed up, she was supposed to go to a room at the end of the hall to the left where she would find Lord Sesshoumaru and be introduced to her host. Much of the court was still in their winter lodgings farther south; the lord and a few others had come ahead to prepare the northern palace for the rest of the court to arrive in a few weeks.

With this knowledge, Rin felt that she might be able to guess at a part of Lord Sesshoumaru's reasoning for allowing her to come. She did not mind that it was acceptable because not many would be present; although she was not as adverse to crowds as Lord Sesshoumaru, living apart from people for so long prevented her from feeling truly comfortable around them. She felt a touch of the stress that had pressed into her thoughts lessen.

After she finished being introduced to the lord, she would be shown back to her room by a servant who would aid her during her time at the palace. Nothing formal was planned for the night, so her evening meal would be brought to her once she returned. She thanked the servant, who bowed stiffly and exited the room.

For a moment, Rin tried to take in her surroundings. The room was spacious and elegantly decorated, finely woven tapestries lining the walls between delicately painted screens. The light of the lantern on the low table flickered lazily and she noticed that her belongings had been set next to it; she could not even remember the servant bringing them in.

Trying to turn her attention back to the necessary tasks at hand, she opened her packs to carefully remove the clean kimono and uchikake. When she had been packing to leave two weeks earlier, she had been a bit irritated and confused when Jaken insisted that she bring extra clothes. It required so much care to pack them correctly, and they were so heavy; she hated to think about burdening Ah-Un any more than was necessary. Apparently Jaken had been well aware that she would be with them during this visit, but had just not thought that such information needed to be revealed to her.

On most days, she would have been a little irritated with this, but it didn't seem terribly important at the moment. It was just nice to be able to get out of her clothes, damp from the snow that had clung to the fabric and soaked through every layer, and into something clean and dry.

By the time she had finished retying her obi, some warmth had finally returned to her fingers. For as miserable as she had been starting to feel when they arrived, Rin now thought that she might be able to make it through the afternoon without too much effort. With the new warmth, it even felt like some of the haze in her mind was clearing, so hopefully she would manage to keep her manners in check.

After running her hands through her hair to make sure that it was lying flat, she stepped out of the room and headed in the direction the servant had indicated. She followed the hall, listening to every small noise she could detect in the stillness as she quickly became overwhelmed by the unfamiliarity of the palace. Even though the directions had been simple, she began to feel nervous that somehow she had misunderstood where to go until she gradually caught the first hum of conversation.

Even though she could not guess at his actual words, just the sound of Lord Sesshoumaru's voice managed to calm her. To her, his voice would always be the sound of safety; there was nothing she should be afraid of when he was close enough to hear.

Slowing as she reached the entrance, Rin carefully looked into the room, unable to remember if she should go in or wait for them to finish their discussion. When both pairs of eyes instantly turned to her, however, she realized her foolish oversight; it was likely that they had been able to hear her shuffling down the hall ages ago.

With a hint of embarrassment, she bowed. "Please forgive me for intruding. If you are busy, I can return later."

She had bowed again and just started to turn to retreat into the hall, but the other voice spoke before she could exit. "So, this is the Rin I have heard so much about."

Raising her head, Rin looked into a pair of vibrant green eyes before instantly lowering her gaze again. She felt a touch of surprise as she considered her impressions from that brief glance; while the scrutiny and curiosity was openly evident, there was something of a softness to his eyes, a sort of interest that went further than the simply rudimentary. It was a quality she had not encountered in the coldness of other demons.

Finally, something in the air relaxed from the tension Rin had not noticed until it was absent. In that moment, she realized that some impression of her had been made, but she could not say exactly what had been decided.

Thankfully, there did not seem to be any requirement for her to fill the growing silence. "You may enter. It feels quite refreshing to meet a younger person who is not entirely boisterous and self-important." At this he turned to Lord Sesshoumaru and smiled. "For a human child with such an unorthodox upbringing, she seems to have managed to learn those manners that are of importance."

Lord Sesshoumaru made no response to this, instead glancing at Rin for a brief moment as she entered the room before he turned his attention away. This, however, had still been more than enough; she had seen the faint pride hidden deep in his eyes, and it was enough to make her almost ecstatic.

She sat on a cushion somewhat removed from them, wishing to allow them as much space to work on their present projects as she could. Scrolls were scattered in the space between them, some spread across the length of the low tables while others were still neatly rolled. While it was clear that there was some sort of order to the arrangement, Rin could not see it. To her, it looked like nothing more than a chaotic mass.

They began to discuss various aspects of empire, most of which Rin either did not understand or could not appreciate. It was interesting to listen to Lord Sesshoumaru's few remarks, however. While she was always aware of his power and prestige, it was not too often that she truly thought of him as a ruler. Whenever he had seen to the running of his lands, he had done so while at the palace, where she was unlikely to see him. She had never thought of him in this function of his position; hearing him speak of things like the state of the major trade roads and the productivity of various rice paddies almost made her choke down a laugh.

Servants came in with tea and then removed the empty cups some time later. Rin felt surprisingly comfortable, at least emotionally; there was nothing threatening or demanding about the situation or those who were present; the Lord Atsuhiko had not even gone through the formalities of a proper introduction, merely offhandedly mentioning his name some time later. While she did not know how long Lord Sesshoumaru intended to remain, she thought that she should be perfectly happy for the duration of their stay.

The soft conversation had fallen almost to an indistinct hum in the warm room when Rin felt a touch upon her shoulder. Although she tried to shake off the lethargy that had fallen on her so gradually that she had not noticed, it took a moment before she fully came back to her surroundings. A female demon knelt next to her, a touch of concern recognizable in her dark eyes. "My name is Aoi. I am to take you to your room now," she said softly.

Rin blinked a few more times, and then nodded. "Thank you," she murmured as she rose slowly. She wished that there had been a wall or pillar of some sort nearby; the room seemed to spin as she tried to stand straight.

The conversation had become silent now, and Rin bowed slowly to the lords. Managing such a simple task suddenly seemed very impressive; the fog that had hovered over her mind earlier had finally fallen. When she straightened, she noticed that Lord Sesshoumaru was frowning slightly, and she wondered if perhaps she had still managed to forget something. Still, she found that she could not dwell on the matter as Aoi beckoned for her to follow her from the room.

The hallway seemed to stretch on forever, the distance growing with each step she took. After a while, she finally turned her eyes to the floor in the hope that perhaps not seeing the distance would make it shorter. Perhaps this helped, because it did not seem to be very long after that when the servant finally opened the screen to her room. After helping her in, Aoi led her to sit on a cushion by the table before sitting next to her and considering her silently.

It did not take long for Rin to become uncomfortable under her stare. "Is everything alright?" she asked quietly.

Frowning slightly, the demoness sighed. "That is what I am trying to decide." In one liquid motion, she rose and had moved half the distance to the screen. "I am going to bring you your dinner; I will not make any decisions until then."

Rin could not understand what she meant, but did not get a chance to ask for clarification. In the next moment, the screen had shut again, and she was left in the silence of the room.