Humans could be so narrow-minded, Sesshomaru observed not for the first time.
Their murmuring mingling with the white noise of buzzing insects, villagers still cast slanted glances at the young woman who came into town every so often to pick up her supplies and then eventually trotted back to a reclusive nobleman waiting on the outskirts. Surely he must be bedding her; demonic lords had become more liberal in the past generations and contaminated the human race with half-breed curs. Such a fine, pretty lass too! Such a pity that she'd be the target of perverse lust.
At this Sesshomaru nearly rolled his eyes if umbrage hadn't clouded them first. He would have given up the habit long ago and let Rin ride Ah-Un off by herself – she was certainly old enough – but the twin-headed beast proved cumbersome in a tiny village where the gods knew what foul-minded man may approach a blossoming lady. One swift punt would have put Jaken down and the demon-slayer was currently spending a season with his sister, so at the ready Sesshomaru stayed.
"Why can't you let me go in alone?" she questioned routinely as they made their way across a meadow. The dark blue kimono with its embroidered crimson petals and matching sash flapped in her mock sulk.
"We've been through this before, brazen child," Jaken squawked.
"I am not a child anymore!"
"Very well…brazen whelp."
Without flicking his eyes down, Sesshomaru could see she feigned indignation, held her head high, and strode with a haughty swagger. The demon mused where he'd seen that before.
"So, when are we gonna bed down tonight?" Rin piped.
"Save the slang for the other humans!" snapped Jaken, touchous as ever. "Rrr! These adolescent years! Lord Sesshomaru's ears deserve your respect!"
"Fine!" The girl beamed up at her liege. "At what hour of the sun shall we find a moment's respite" – she spun around to glare at Jaken – "Lord Sesshomaru?"
The Western Lord never once broke his stride, but a silent grimace fixed on the setting sun for a stretch of time. Rin practically forgot her initial question when Sesshomaru abruptly droned, "Soon."
She cocked her head. Why had it taken Lord Sesshomaru so long to reply? What was his deal? Was it something she said?
Rin was still awake long after evening had settled her navy, star-splattered gown across the sky. Jaken snored deeply somewhere close and the solitude was bearable. The grass rustled, Sesshomaru noted Tsuki Yomi's half-opened and single eye glinted well overhead.
"It's late." Rin didn't budge at the implied orders. "You ought to be" – Sesshomaru paused – "asleep."
She finally turned not at the command but rather how he seemed to fumble for his words. Granted Sesshomaru had never been the conversationalist – unlike herself – but now, especially after her sixteenth summer, he'd grown down right taciturn. As if he might misspeak, as if his words might imply something obscene.
Rin tightened her lip and squared her jaw. She wasn't moving without an explanation.
Stubbornness ebbing, Sesshomaru gracefully seated himself beside Rin, never once meeting her quizzical stare – to do so was venom. When her eyes returned to the stars, he risked a glance. She wasn't unattractive as far as humans were concerned. Although short and gangly – he often speculated whether that came from her itinerant upbringing or family or both – Rin's face still kept its baby roundness and charm. If the occasional blemish marred her forehead or cheek it soon faded. Her bright, brown eyes glittered with a sparkling hope Sesshomaru had forgotten until recent.
Abruptly, she whirled around and caught his gaze. Sesshomaru coolly turned his head to readjust his line of vision. Rin thought he looked almost wistful.
"Something is troubling you, my lord." Keen as any blade, the statement stabbed a point.
Sesshomaru did not reply. He didn't question facts. Instead, he cat-stepped the sword. "Suppose if you were to marry a human…?"
"I'm not ready for that yet!" she interjected.
"You are not out of the running either. Plenty young girls are already corralled into matrimony."
She looked pensive then. "You are trying to evade my inquiries, Lord Sesshomaru."
A pointed ear twitched. From where did she pick up these nagging logistics? "You haven't inquired anything yet."
"Very well. I observed your expression grows strained every time we go to a village or town. It is not so much the species that bother you but what they whisper. Since when do you care what anyone else thinks?"
"I may simply hold distain for large congregations of humans."
"Three days ago, you killed a forest sprite, my lord. As I recall, you passed him and would have kept walking had he not been heckling. I believe he said – "
"I already know."
"'Like father like son. Sesshomaru picked a fine – '"
She stopped, but her point had been made – sharp and cutting. Silence crept in, unease at its heels.
He sat quiet for so long Rin thought if she hadn't been staring at Sesshomaru he wouldn't have been there. Finally, a low growl trickled shattering the stillness. "How could they think that?" The air grew charged with yoki. "Truly, it never ceases to…to stupefy me how those" – he remembered his audience – "other people draw such egregious conclusions!"
Rin blinked. Never had she heard him speak with such ardor. "It's 'cause you're too pretty, Lord Sesshomaru."
At the attempted humor, he smirked mirthlessly. "But you are nearly grown…it seems it's no longer supposed to be the same."
She shook her head as if he were being childish. "I don't see why anything should change. Does the sun not rise after spring is over?" Eyes fell on Tenseiga. "Does a child forget who gave her life and guarded it tenaciously?"
Sesshomaru looked up just in time to see the most beautiful smile bloom across her face. It was the same toothy grin that snared a rusted heart nearly a decade ago.
He swallowed. "You've matured splendidly."
"Only because of you." Rin spoke softly then, "I think that the rest of the world needs to grow up." In one swift movement, the young woman plopped into Sesshomaru's unexpectant lap.
Stunned, he sat stock-still. On one side, she was fluffing his mane like a pillow while on the other scrawny legs dangled as if preparing for sleep. Eventually, Rin curled up, eyes closed.
Pushing the intruder off didn't even flit across his mind. Sesshomaru did something even more visceral. Carefully, tentatively, he scooped up the silk-clad form as if he'd never seen it survive a thousand scrapes or brush death more than once. He'd never let that happen, and cradled her close. Head hanging over, legs crouched in front, his entire posture was one protective citadel – just like when they first met. Finally after such a span since, he didn't care how the world perceived the gesture. He knew what it meant, what transcended words and time and change. Everyone else could all grow up.
A/N: It's a fine line to walk when writing Sesshomaru and "older Rin" orientated fics. Why everyone thinks slapping ten years on the kid will alter the paternal relationship Sesshomaru holds toward her defies my reasoning. Reviews, critique, opinions are all accepted.