The Sincerest Form

Since the day she'd met him, Sesshomaru had fascinated Rin. He was nothing like the ferocious monsters that prowled the forests and haunted nightmares; Lord Sesshomaru was collected, self-contained. He was also pretty. Most of all, though, Lord Sesshomaru was mysterious. He never spoke much, but as Rin followed him around many of the answers revealed themselves to her. So far, Rin knew he didn't like human food, he was actually born with those colorful markings on his face and wrists, he was dog demon, and the sword he got from his late father could save lives.

For all this information, the little girl still wanted to know more. One of the first questions to enter her mind still went unanswered. Nothing was more curious than the empty left sleeve that flapped at Sesshomaru's side. Jaken had always said the master was born perfect, so how did he come to have this imperfection? Lord Sesshomaru must have been born with two arms like everyone else, right? Otherwise that would make him a three-legged dog and Rin knew that all dogs – demon or not – had four legs.

So, she decided, something must have happened. Like an accident. Rin remembered how her father used to warn not to get too close when he was chopping kindling for the winter. So maybe that was it?

Rin quickly shook her head. Somehow it didn't seem like Sesshomaru had ever done a day's hard labor in his life.

She dug through more memories.

Her parents also used to say not to run with sharp objects. Maybe…no, Sesshomaru didn't look old, but she knew he had to be older than her parents put together and if he had been around that long then he must know better. Lord Sesshomaru was very wise.

But he did get into lots of fights. Perhaps…no, Lord Sesshomaru was strong. He could never be on the losing end. Rin was sure of it.

Well, she was stumped. Hoping off Ah-Un, the child knew there was only one way left to know for sure. Ask.

"Lord Sesshomaru?" she said in her sweetest voice, the kind for soliciting his audience.

"Hn?" he didn't break his stride, but he'd responded. She could ask.

"How'd you lose your left arm?"

Jaken's globular eyes widened. "That question is completely out of line, you little – "

In one smooth motion, an iron-plated boot swept the imp to the side; its owner answered.

"In battle." Sesshomaru felt no inclination to disclose the humiliating circumstances, that his arm had been cut off by his half-breed brother because the runt was bequeathed their father's treasured legacy.

Rin didn't miss the sudden change in atmosphere. Her question had somehow made Lord Sesshomaru uncomfortable. She decided not to pry any further. "Well, I think it's cool."

Sesshomaru flicked his eyes downward. Scowling, he quickly looked away. The little girl was smiling warmly at his disgrace. And she seemed to accept the flaw, almost admired it – by the gods, she thought it was "cool"!

"Huh," he snorted and continued walking.

And Rin genuinely believed that Sesshomaru missing a limb was impressive. The circumstances of the battle must have been spectacular. He definitely must have been up against unfathomable odds. Still the more important question was about how her liege went through his day with only one arm. She really had to figure that one out. She should ask him more about it.

But then Rin remembered the unhappy little frown that had creased Sesshomaru's face with the question. She'd have to find another means of learning.

"What are you looking at, girl?" Jaken snapped.

"Nothin'." Rin looked away, humming distractedly. Master Jaken was grouchy and always had a bad habit of speaking too much in Lord Sesshomaru's presence. He was out.

This left only one final option: personal experience.

As unobtrusively as possible, Rin slowed her pace and slipped to the back of the group, on the other side of Ah-Un. Then, out of sight, she curled her left arm into the rest of her kosode. She crossed her hand over to the opposite side so she'd be a little less tempted to give in so quickly. There, now she could know what it was like to be only right-handed just like Lord Sesshomaru. She smiled proudly, feeling a little more connected to her taciturn guardian.

At first Sesshomaru didn't notice. Rather he felt Rin's scheme before he saw it. Her ebullience glowed like perpetual sunshine beside him, but she wasn't singing or chatting either. That was truly unnerving. What did she have to be so smug about? She was up to something. Should he give in? Or just ignore it and wait for her to go bother Jaken?

The nauseating glee below didn't subside.

His own curiosity winning out, Sesshomaru quickly glanced down.

Trotting merrily alongside him, Rin swung her right arm freely while the left sleeve remained dead at her side. Sesshomaru arched an elegant brow. He made no comment right away. The daiyokai was certain he wasn't the first to notice.

"Disrespectful brat!" Jaken shrieked. "You dare mock Lord Sesshomaru's disability?"

Before Rin could explain, the imp was squashed under the heel of Sesshomaru's advancing boot. She always knew Jaken talked too much.

Sesshomaru's signature stare of utter disinterest wandered lazily over Rin. She fidgeted slightly under what was his surest scrutiny. The Western Lord finally reached a verdict. "Don't tarry, now." Then he moved on.

For the rest of the day, Sesshomaru let the antic go. Rin was a child, she'd tire of the game soon enough. The little mortal also seemed to forget that she would have human needs, none of which could be attended to without succumbing to use two hands. Sesshomaru was a long-lived demon, he could wait out a child.

But when the behavior persisted into a second morning, already the daiyokai became testy. Why the hell hadn't she given up yet?

Rin was slowing them down. It took twice as long to gather food, extra minutes to climb up on Ah-Un's back, and more time than ever for her to return from doing her "human business" in the bushes. To say nothing that where Jaken's squawking had been tolerable, it was nigh unbearable now. It seemed whenever the moment presented itself, or even when it didn't, the imp went out his way to scold Rin for mimicking Sesshomaru's…missing limb.

Missing limb, absent arm, weakness, handicap – the daiyokai's talons clicked a tattoo at his side. If Rin kept this act up, Sesshomaru knew he was going to find himself short one green retainer.

This had to stop.

But then he heard Rin's laughter, saw her glowing smile, and somehow the fearless dog-demon couldn't find it in himself to be harsh with such a small child. Then again…

One more day. That was all he could stand. One more day for Rin to cut it out.

Sesshomaru never got past one more hour.

It was late morning and Rin was tired from walking since sunup. She pulled gently on Ah-Un's reins, a quiet request to board. Almost immediately, the good-natured dragon knelt for his passenger. Nearby, Sesshomaru came to a perfect standstill and Jaken tapped his foot impatiently. For the umpteenth time Rin was having trouble hoisting herself up using just her right arm.

Before the imp could make any scathing remark, Sesshomaru issued a command. "Jaken, help her."

Cursing internally, the daiyokai's lackey shuffled over to give his charge a boost. Rin stepped on his head and her leg was almost over when her grip slipped and she came tumbling back, landing on Jaken.

The throbbing vein in his forehead popping, Jaken was past infuriated. He was done. "You and this damnable prank!"

Prank? Her experiment to understand Sesshomaru? Rin took umbrage. "It's not a prank, stupid!"

"How's that, you insufferable twerp?"

"I said stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid!"

"I'm stupid? I haven't reduced myself to a cripple! Look at yourself! Tucking your arm in as if you were a sideshow freak! It's sadly pathe—"

"Enough!" Sesshomaru roared, his aura flaring to infernal proportions. Jaken gagged at the choking rush of raw power. Rin ducked behind a quaking Ah-Un. Now Jaken had done it.

The silence that exploded was charged with the great demon's yoki. Sesshomaru had to remember that he wasn't in battle, he was trying to get a simple matter shelved. That was all. He blinked the fire out of his eyes before turning his gaze on Rin.

"Sleeve your left arm right now."

The little girl's first impulse was to obey; the daiyokai didn't look so pleased. But she hesitated too long and default nature kicked in. "Why?"

Thwarted by such an unexpected question, Sesshomaru's anger instantly evaporated. What did she mean why? Didn't she see how annoying it was? "Why?" he parroted dumbly.

Rin tilted her head, not quite understanding. Had her lord just asked why she was imitating him?

"Because if you, Lord Sesshomaru, can manage with one arm then so can I."

Just then, a smirk flitted across Sesshomaru's face. This little girl-child admired him that much? She would imitate him to that extent? She did say the missing arm was cool. How…flattering.

"Rin," he spoke deliberately and knelt to meet her eye level. "You have two perfectly useful arms." He tugged at her sleeve. "Stop it."

"But Lord Sessho—"

He silenced her with a long stare. "If you are unable to complete regular activities when you have the capabilities, it is inconvenient to me."

Sudden understanding flickered through Rin's eyes. "Oh."

Sesshomaru waited patiently until five perfect little left fingers spilled into his palm. He tugged on each for good measure. Yes, they were all there.

Rin laughed.

Sesshomaru's face disappeared from view as he pivoted on heel. "Let's go."

From that day on, Rin didn't try to copy Sesshomaru. Not when he was around, anyway.

"It is childish of this Rin to do so," she proudly told a glowering Jaken in private. After all, from the missing arm to his self-stylized speech, that's sort of what made Lord Sesshomaru special.