Disclaimer: I do not own the Inuyasha series or any of the characters.

Summary: In the course of her travels, Kikyou comes across Rin waiting alongside the road. She only intends to stop to check on the child, but soon finds herself being drawn into conversation by this captivating little girl. One Shot.

Translations and A/N at bottom, as usual.


Common Ground

Kikyou was in the middle of nowhere when she came across the young girl sitting on a flat stone by the side of the road. They were miles from any village, so how the child got there in the first place was something of a mystery. How the child had remained there safely was an even greater puzzle, as the area had its fair share of hostile youkai. The girl noticed her immediately, and watched her with a curious air.

"Are you lost, child?" Kikyou asked when she drew near enough to speak comfortably.

"No, miko-sama," the girl replied. "Jaken-sama's the one who got lost. Rin knows where Rin is."

"I see," Kikyou replied, although she did not.

The girl was still looking at her thoughtfully. Then her expression brightened. "Rin remembers miko-sama! Miko-sama is the one who saved me from that Suikotsu man. Does miko-sama remember me?"

Kikyou recognized the girl now as well. "You are the child who travels with Sesshoumaru-sama," she stated.

The girl gave a brilliant smile. "What is miko-sama's name?" she asked.

"I am called Kikyou," she replied, studying the child. Rin had one leg drawn up to her chest, and she was rubbing her ankle as she talked. "Did you hurt yourself?"

Rin's happy expression wavered. "Rin's ankle got hurt a little when Rin was looking for Jaken-sama," she said. Then she put on a brave face again. "But Sesshoumaru-sama will find Rin soon, and he'll know how to make it better. He knows everything."

Kikyou was intrigued by this girl. She'd always had a soft spot for children. She recalled a time when she used to play with the village children when she ought to have been gathering herbs. Those had always been some of her most treasured stolen hours.

"Would it be alright if I share your rock for a while?" Kikyou asked. "I've walked a long distance."

Rin's smile brightened a little more at the prospect of company. "Yes! Kikyou-sama can sit with Rin."

Kikyou settled herself on the stone, glad that her shinidama-chuu were elsewhere at the moment. Their presence would probably frighten the child, which would not make it easier to assist her. For her part, Rin continued to watch Kikyou with a smile, apparently content with the situation despite her injury. She seemed to be an uncommonly good-natured child. Still, there was a hint of watchfulness lurking below her sunny disposition that made Kikyou wonder just who had betrayed the girl's trust in the past.

"Have you travelled with Sesshoumaru-sama for very long, Rin-chan?" Kikyou asked. The girl seemed quite enthusiastic about the youkai lord, so perhaps it would be a good topic to use to assure her of Kikyou's good intentions.

"Oh yes!" the child exclaimed. "Rin has followed Sesshoumaru-sama in the spring and all summer now. That is a very long time."

"Does he take good care of you?" Kikyou inquired, growing genuinely curious. It was something of a mystery that Sesshoumaru permitted the human girl to follow him at all.

This was clearly a subject that Rin favoured. "Sesshoumaru-sama makes sure that Rin is always safe, and waits for Rin to find food, and gives Rin warm clothes and makes Jaken-sama wash them whenever Rin has a bath. And Sesshoumaru-sama lets Rin ride on Ah-Un, and listens when Rin talks, and lets Rin pick flowers when we stop, and always comes back for Rin when he has to go away."

"And evidently, he knows everything," Kikyou commented, referring to the girl's earlier words.

Rin smiled and nodded in agreement.

"I certainly don't know everything, but I have some skill with healing," Kikyou spoke. "Would you allow me to tend your ankle, Rin-chan?"

Rin eyed her carefully, as though assessing the likelihood of the truth in her words. "Alright," she said finally, almost as though granting a favour rather than accepting one. She presented her grubby foot for Kikyou's inspection.

Here was a study in contradiction — this tough, calloused little foot, its sole blackened with earth, sticking out from the hem of a fine kosode suitable as the play clothes or travelling garb of a young daughter of a noble house. Ironically, the girl probably neither knew nor cared that her everyday clothing was woven of omeshi silk, or that the quality of the dyes announced to all who saw them that she was no peasant's child.

Kikyou examined the skinny ankle for bruises or swelling, but the injury was slight. In a day or two Rin would forget that it had ever pained her, but for now, it wouldn't hurt to bind it. Kikyou drew a spare length of bandage from inside her sleeve and started wrapping the limb.

"Why did Kikyou-sama decide to be a miko?" Rin asked abruptly, watching with interest as Kikyou worked.

"It is not an occupation that one generally chooses," Kikyou replied, tying off the ends of the bandage. "It was chosen for me. My parents became ill and died when I was not much older than you. My sister and I were lucky enough to be taken in by the miko and priests of the shrine, who trained us. It is an honourable profession, and more than most orphans could expect to aspire to."

It was a question that Kikyou had been asked before, but her normal explanation felt tired and rehearsed for some reason. Rin was frowning slightly.

"Kikyou-sama was lucky," Rin agreed. "After the bandits killed Rin's family, the villagers were not nice to Rin. They said Rin was lucky, but they were lying. Then the wolves came and killed them, and Rin went with Sesshoumaru-sama. Nobody hits Rin anymore."

There was more to the story, Kikyou sensed, but Rin had stopped talking and wasn't likely to reveal any more if pushed. Sympathy welled within Kikyou's breast, where normally only anger and despair managed to overcome the numbness. How cruel her village must have been, if travelling the wilderness with a daiyoukai in search of an evil hanyou seemed so utopian in comparison!

As if driven by some unheard command, Kikyou reached out and clasped the girl's hand between her own, wanting nothing more than to erase the cruelty of the past. Too often, she had heard similar stories. Orphans were not treated well in many villages, regarded as little more than a nuisance, not worth anyone's bother. They were usually tolerated so long as they acted appropriately grateful for whatever scraps of food and clothing they were given, but most villages had little to spare, and when orphans starved or froze to death in the night, no one was likely to be very upset about it. Orphans were scapegoats for every theft, accident, and misfortune that occurred. Kikyou did not find herself surprised by Rin's unsympathetic account of her former village's massacre at the jaws of wild beasts.

"Kikyou-sama's hands are so cold!" Rin exclaimed, putting her free hand over them.

It was easy to forget that this body was only a facsimile of her former appearance, made of clay and ashes rather than flesh and blood. Chagrined, Kikyou made to withdraw her hands from Rin's grasp, but the girl caught at them and chafed them between her own as though to warm them. Rin's small hands felt impossibly warm, but they could not stir any warmth in Kikyou's cold skin. But after a moment, Rin released Kikyou's hands as though satisfied.

"May Rin braid Kikyou-sama's hair?" she asked without warning.

Vaguely, Kikyou recalled Kaede begging the same when she was small, although it seemed so long ago now. She felt unwilling to leave Rin before someone arrived to take her into custody. In the meantime, it would do no harm to indulge the girl, as Kikyou used to indulge her sister.

"If you like," she replied, with a bemused smile.

Looking very pleased, Rin shuffled around on the rock to kneel behind Kikyou, small fingers burying themselves in her hair.

"Kikyou-sama's hair is so pretty," she enthused as she finger-combed the locks. "Like a princess. Rin saw a princess once. Her hair went all the way down to the ground, and it was very smooth and black, like Kikyou-sama's hair. Hime-sama was pretty, but she had a mean look on her face, like she ate something sour. Not like Kikyou-sama, who is pretty and kind." Rin laughed, hopping off the rock to pick a few flowers, which she evidently had plans for. "Rin wishes her hair was so pretty." When her hands were full, Rin hobbled back to the stone to continue her work, humming happily to herself.

"But does Kikyou-sama want to know a secret?" she asked, suddenly popping her head around Kikyou's shoulder to grin at her. "The prettiest hair… that is Sesshoumaru-sama's!"

Kikyou eyed the giggling child, and couldn't help the amused smile that tugged at the corners of her mouth.

"Is that so?"

"Uh huh!" Rin exclaimed, nodding, before she disappeared again behind Kikyou to resume her braiding.

It was strange that this clay body could still feel things the way that her real one had. Kikyou's scalp prickled pleasantly as the child gently tugged and coaxed strands of hair into order. There were worse ways to spend the afternoon than at the mercy of a small girl armed with flowers and a chattering tongue.

"Does Kikyou-sama like being a miko?" Rin asked abruptly, fingers never pausing in their task.

Kikyou gathered her thoughts, choosing her words with care. "It is not an easy role, but helping others is something I find rewarding," she replied diplomatically.

Rin was quiet for a minute, evidently absorbing Kikyou's response.

"Rin thinks now that maybe Kikyou-sama really wasn't so lucky," Rin announced thoughtfully. "Sesshoumaru-sama always says that Rin must do as Rin pleases. Rin chooses every day what to do. Kikyou-sama didn't get to choose to become a miko. Hasn't Kikyou-sama ever wanted to do as she pleases?"

Always. "I am content to fulfill the duties given to me," Kikyou replied, while her thoughts mocked her with visions of motherhood, and husband.

For a while, Rin said nothing more, working diligently to fashion Kikyou's hair into the design of her liking. Just when Kikyou began to lose herself in thought, Rin spoke again.

"Kikyou-sama is dead, isn't she?"

Kikyou stiffened.

"What makes you think that?" she asked carefully, wishing she could see the expression of the child behind her.

"Rin listens when people talk," the girl replied softly. "Rin is good at listening, and Rin is small, so people forget Rin is there sometimes. Rin hears things. Sesshoumaru-sama and Jaken-sama know, but they don't know that Rin knows."

"Does it frighten you, that I am not of the living?" Kikyou inquired, noting that the child's hands had not ceased their braiding.

"No," Rin answered. "Kikyou-sama is not a bad person. It doesn't matter that Kikyou-sama is dead."

As Kikyou was marvelling over this answer, Rin spoke again.

"Rin wonders why Kikyou-sama is here, if she is dead. Is Kikyou-sama looking for something?"

"A witch recalled my spirit to this body," Kikyou replied. "Now I seek the downfall of Naraku, and to see the Shikon no Tama gone from this world."

Rin's fingers stopped moving. "No. Lots of people want that. Rin wonders if Kikyou-sama is looking for something else." She patted Kikyou's hair into place and then moved to sit beside her once more. "Rin is done. Kikyou-sama looks very pretty with flowers in her hair."

Still pondering the things Rin had said in the last few minutes, Kikyou caught at a braided lock and drew it forward, examining the child's work. The braiding was neat, although the flowers were nothing special — common and imperfect. Still, she found herself filled with a subtle sort of pleasure as she brushed her hair back behind her again and gave Rin a small smile.

"Thank you, Rin-chan."

Rin smiled back, a little absently, watching Kikyou closely. Then she turned away and stared out at the road, her smile fading away.

"Rin and Kikyou-sama are the same," she declared.

"What do you mean?"

The girl gnawed her lip for a moment, avoiding Kikyou's gaze. "Rin died once, too."

Kikyou stared at the child, who was clearly alive — flesh and blood, warm, breathing, growing. It wasn't possible that the girl meant what she had just said. Nothing could recall the dead to life. Kikyou, with her accursed half-life, knew this better than most.

"Whatever do you mean by that?" she wondered aloud.

Rin was utterly still, and seemed to be looking at something only she could see. Finally, she spoke again.

"When the wolves came… they were faster than Rin. They chased Rin, and bit Rin, and it hurt so much. And then everything got all cold and dark…"

Kikyou listened with mounting horror to the girl's tale. She had thought that surely the girl had meant something different. To find that the child with such a sunny disposition had experienced such terrible things in her short life was baffling. How did she remain so happy despite her lot in life? And how in the world had she survived?

The answer came as Rin continued to speak.

"But then Sesshoumaru-sama came, and he used his sword to make Rin alive again. And Rin has stayed by Sesshoumaru-sama ever since. Sesshoumaru-sama makes Rin safe."

Rin finally turned her face back towards Kikyou and smiled bravely. But the expression faded quickly.

"But sometimes, Rin still remembers the wolves."

The child was shaking slightly, Kikyou realized. Without thinking, she put her arm around Rin and drew her close along her side. She could not seem to find words to speak, and waited dumbly for the girl's trembling to cease.

Kikyou cursed the fate that had made her the way she was now. She was fond of children. She always had been. But what comfort could she offer when she was condemned to this body of clay, cold and inhuman? How could she offer reassurance when she could not even find her voice? How useless was a miko who could no longer ease the suffering of those around her?

But as Rin leaned against her, the tremors that shook her small form slowly came to a halt. Before long, the girl seemed to relax against her side, apparently comforted despite Kikyou's feelings of inadequacy. In spite of the fact that Rin knew what sort of creature Kikyou was, the girl found her companionship to be sufficient. Kikyou was astonished by the comfort that she herself took from this. To be accepted for what she was… it was startling.

Rin looked up at Kikyou again with a smile.

"Rin wants to stay by Sesshoumaru-sama forever, because he is good, and kind, and wonderful, and makes Rin not feel afraid. And Sesshoumaru-sama needs Rin to be the one who smiles, and laughs, and plays, because Sesshoumaru-sama does not do these things. Rin thinks this is why Sesshoumaru-sama lets Rin stay. So if Rin stays by Sesshoumaru-sama forever, Rin and Sesshoumaru-sama can always be happy! That's what Rin thinks."

Such faith! Kikyou marvelled at Rin's simple view of the world. In Rin's world, good and evil had nothing to do with the circumstances of a person's birth, and everything to do with their actions. Kikyou envied her. How she wished that she had possessed the wisdom of this girl while she had still lived! How different her life might have been!

From somewhere out of sight, noise drew Kikyou's attention. Faint, but growing louder, came the sounds of unhappy muttering, and the heavy tread of some four-legged beast. Rin sprang to her feet atop the rock at the sound.

"That is Jaken-sama, and Ah-Un!" she exclaimed. "Sesshoumaru-sama! Rin is here!"

Rin began waving her arm over her head excitedly as Sesshoumaru strode into view. The daiyoukai was followed closely by the rather bruised-looking imp, who was leading the two-headed dragon behind them. Sesshoumaru's gaze sought out Rin briefly, then locked onto Kikyou, and he narrowed his eyes at her, but did not alter his unhurried pace.

When the youkai lord had drawn somewhat closer, Kikyou nodded her head to him — a cordial sign of recognition, though not a display of deference.

"Sesshoumaru-sama," she greeted him.

Sesshoumaru stopped and considered her coolly. "Hn."

And without further acknowledgement, he turned his attention to the child.

"Are you well, Rin?" he inquired, and despite the lack of emotion in his voice, Kikyou had no doubt that if Rin had some complaint against her, the daiyoukai would not hesitate to remove the threat.

"Rin is well!" the girl replied with a smile. "Rin's ankle got hurt, but Kikyou-sama made it better."

Sesshoumaru's eyes appraised the bandaged ankle that Rin presented for his inspection. Then he turned back in the direction he had come from.

"We're going."

Grinning, Rin scrambled down from the rock and hastened over to the dragon. Sesshoumaru seemed oblivious to her struggles to climb onto the creature's back, but as he passed, he swiftly reached down and hooked the child under her upraised knee, boosting her upward and letting his hand linger until she was steady.

It was done so smoothly that a casual observer might have thought they had imagined it. Kikyou was hard-pressed to hide her sudden and unexpected delight. The great youkai lord might seem cold and callous, but evidently his heart was somewhat softened toward as least one person.

Rin grinned at Kikyou as the two-headed dragon turned itself around to follow the youkai lord.

"Thank you for making Rin's ankle better, Kikyou-sama!"

"You're welcome, Rin-chan," she replied.

"Rin hopes Kikyou-sama finds what she is looking for! Goodbye!"

Kikyou watched as the group walked out of sight, dwelling on Rin's final words to her.

What she was looking for…

How was it that a simple child could turn her whole world on its head? How could Rin's innocence and acceptance make her feel the urge to re-evaluate all her goals, motives, and preconceptions?

But she did not have to luxury right now to spend time pondering such things. Right now, she needed to continue her journey. Such musings were best saved for another time.

Now was the time to be hard and resolute once more.

As Kikyou rose and settled her bow and quiver more securely over her shoulder, one of her decorated braids swung into view. Those would have to go. Such frivolities were inappropriate for one in her position.

She moved to fix her hair, but something stayed her hand.

The braids weren't bound. They would unravel soon enough, and the flowers would fall out. Until then, did it really matter? Was anyone likely to see her? Would anyone care if they did? Did she care that much about what others might think? Was there any point?

Kikyou smiled, noting that she had done so more in the past hour than she had in the past month. She thought suddenly that she understood a little about the magic that Rin worked upon those around her. It was natural for humans (and based on the evidence, youkai as well) to be concerned with what others thought. Rin accepted people as they were. And in doing so, she inspired them to strive to be better, to live up to the faith Rin had in them. The urge to prove her right was irresistible. It felt good to believe that the girl could be correct.

Kikyou thought that maybe she'd been wrong. Maybe now was the perfect time for some introspection. All things happened for a reason. Meeting Rin was not a matter of chance.

Kikyou resumed her journey, but she let the flowers stay.

::Owari::


Translations:
Youkai – demon, spirit
Miko – Shinto priestess/shrine maiden
Shinidama-chuu – Kikyou's soul collectors
Kosode – Rin's clothing
Omeshi – very high class silk with a rough texture
Daiyoukai – very powerful demon
Hime - princess
Hanyou – half demon
Shikon no Tama – Sacred Jewel

A/N: For quite some time, I've wanted to write some interaction between these two characters. The main reason was that both characters, despite such great differences, have something in common — death. I really wanted to play on this idea, as it's not one that is commonly explored.

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