In the end, what it took was months of paying attention to things she said, and discovering who she was as a grown-up woman. Months of finding out what he truly respected about her, and what she genuinely liked about him as an individual human being. Time, effort and care put into doing the things that delighted her, and learning in the process that what made her happy also made him a better person. And not least, a very male fascination with her feminine beauty tempered by his desire to respect her human boundaries.
It took all that and more for Kohaku to bring Rin to the moment where she looked at him once again out of eyes that shone with admiration as well as affection, and personal interest as well as the general love she gave to all her friends.
Rin recognised the moment she began to fall in love with Kohaku again instead of just loving him. She had always loved him. But then she had also always loved Kaede, her Sesshomaru-sama, Jaken, Ah-Un, Shippo, Inuyasha, Kagome, Sango, Miroku, their three children and Kirara from the second she had come to know each of them in turn. Being in love with Kohaku all over again, however, felt entirely different from the affectionate love she had had for him ever since she had made up her mind not to think of him as a husband-to-be any longer, and even quite different from the young romantic love she had previously harboured for him.
The moment came when she was in Kaede's hut pounding herbs to make into a poultice for the fishkeeper's wife, whose knee was inflamed after having twisted it in a fall. Kohaku entered the hut, seeking her company, and without their saying a word to each other, he very naturally sat on the floor on the other side of the heavy stone bowl in which her pestle was grinding up the herbal mixture, and fed in the leaves, grain and vegetable pulp bit by bit, adjusting his timing and quantities in response to the tiniest nods or shakes of her head.
That was the moment. It wasn't gifts, or flowery words of love, or grand gestures, but just a sudden dawning on her then that this was a man she could truly live and work beside for the rest of her days, someone who was in tune with the daily rhythms of her life, and who enjoyed being with her in the course of an ordinary existence.
Still, something held her back. Something that tugged at the part of her that was anything but ordinary, and which made her want to howl at the moon.
Kohaku sensed it and knew her wild side, but he had caused her so much disappointment before that he had no intention of suppressing that facet of her nature, or of backing away timidly as he might have done a little over a year ago. Through the long, wistful months of autumn, when everything in nature looked and sounded and smelt of sadness, loss and parting, he remained by her side and held her close when she would let him, and gave her all his heart to do with as she would.
And still, she held back, until one day the aura and scent of wolf demon announced itself in the village, and Koga appeared for a visit, escorted into their community by Inuyasha.
"Rin," Koga said the moment she came into view, and he was by her side in a moment, taking her hands in his.
"Koga," she smiled, delighted to see him, her wild nature responding to every cell of his being, but her heart knowing in a moment – as swift as the suddenness of that moment during which she knew she was in love with Kohaku again – that she loved this demon with the love she gave her friends, and that the wildness within her resonated at the sight of him in the same way that it thrilled to her adoptive father's presence, or to Inuyasha's untameable spirit.
Kohaku nodded to him, and Koga nodded back. Neither male was particularly happy that the other had a claim on Rin, but in another one of those curious moments of life, each accepted that he – and all other living beings – could know and grasp and blend with another living being only so far before the other's individuality must push out all who would invade it, as an act of self-preservation and self-respect.
Rin looked at Kohaku for a second before turning towards the forest with Koga, where she had consented to go for a walk with him. There was a hint of a smile in her eyes – a gentle, kind smile – and Kohaku alternated between perceiving it as a smile of parting, and a smile of reassurance. She would leave him forever… no, she would not… he would never see her again… she would come right back… she loved the wolf after all… no, her heart was with him…
In the end, he could only trust in the goodness of her heart to know what was right for them all, and in the currents of fate that had entwined the threads of their lives in one way or another, to bring her back to his side.
"When are you going to put him out of his misery?" Koga asked the girl beside him once they were in the forest. Although winter was on its way, the day was bright and clear, and the forest had a lively air about it, with birds chirping and squabbling in the foliage high above them. Sesshomaru was somewhere nearby too, although he was out of sight at present along another path, talking to Inuyasha.
"What do you mean?" she asked, although she had an inkling.
"The young man – you've decided to spend your life with him, haven't you?"
She looked down at her sandal-clad feet deep in the pile of orange-yellow leaves for a moment, then looked up at Koga, and said: "I would like to do that. But I keep thinking that after all you have done for me, it would be wrong to – to be with someone else other than you."
Koga stopped walking and took her hand in his. He made her turn to face him, and looked directly into her eyes. "Obligation, Rin?" he asked. "Now, who was that little girl in that winter past who was so relieved when her mutt-faced uncle snorted and told the taijiya that it would be a horrible idea to marry her out of obligation?"
She blushed and turned her head to look at an imaginary spot on the trunk of the nearest tree. "I didn't tell you that I was relieved when Inuyasha said that," she murmured.
"You didn't have to," Koga laughed. "Even from where I was standing, I could detect the scent of your relief when mutt face spoke up on your behalf. He could scent it, and so could Sesshomaru. We demons know how you felt about the idea of the young man taking you as a wife only because he felt guilty about hurting your feelings. But you're telling me that you would decline him now that he's finally come to his senses, just because you feel obligated to me? You wouldn't insult me that way, would you?"
"I had no intention of insulting you, and you know it," she sighed.
"You owe me nothing," Koga declared. "When you refused me, I decided in my heart and mind that it was only right, because I could never deserve your love after all the pain I caused you. It doesn't matter that I tried to make it up to you or to take some of the sting out of your memories – I still have a long way to go before I could ever reach a point in my life where I would genuinely deserve you. Perhaps I will even have to wait till your next life."
She prodded a leaf with the toes of her right foot, bowed her head, and said awkwardly: "I've already promised my next life to Shippo."
"Shippo? The runt?" Koga echoed in disbelief. "He's in the running for your heart as well?"
"I'm afraid so."
"That precocious little kit!" Koga exclaimed. "I can't believe he's already claimed your next incarnation in advance!"
They looked at each other, one wide-eyed with surprise and the other biting her lip in embarrassment, and the very next moment, they were both laughing hard enough for tears to brighten their eyes. When Rin recovered her breath at last, she let Koga draw her to him in a gentle embrace, and she whispered to him: "At least I know I won't break your heart by dying on you sixty years from now."
"I can wait for your next, next life," he whispered back. "If you're still a human in your second reincarnation from now, then I might just be a really ancient demon by then, and we could end up dying together of old age after all. And if you somehow get reincarnated as a demon, well, you'll be a young one, but I'll try to leave you a rich and powerful widow."
They laughed again at the idea of that, but under it all was the sadness of parting and the shadow of death. She began to shake her head slowly as she looked into his eyes, and said to him: "I would not wish you to have to wait as many years as that. I hope you find your true love long, long before my next lifetime. Maybe you'll fall in love with one of my daughters, or even my granddaughters – who knows?"
"Indeed, who knows what life will bring?" he agreed. "Although if your daughters have any sense, they'll choose someone smarter than me."
"You're smart enough for anyone, Koga-kun," she said. "This may sound really, really strange, but I would actually be delighted to be your mother-in-law one day."
"Ha, Sesshomaru would probably cut off my head long before I ever have the right to call him 'Grandpa'! And your young man would never give me one of his daughters!"
Once more, they chuckled over a future that might never come to pass, but there was more mirth in their laughter now, and less of the sadness of death and parting – although death and parting are the very things that are certain about life.
Koga's visit to the village lasted three days, and when he left, Rin was able to bid him farewell with a lighter heart than she had thought she would.
She and Kohaku walked in the forest on the morning the wolf demon left, and as they strolled over a carpet of fallen leaves that reminded them at every step of the mortality of living things – some with briefer lives than others – they leaned in towards each other until her head was resting against his upper arm.
Somewhere along the path, they came closer to another path along which Sesshomaru and Inuyasha were standing at some distance to their right; and when they glanced over to their left, Kagome was at a distance too, alone, looking at her husband and his brother with a look of calm understanding and full-hearted love which did not change or fade even when Sesshomaru took Inuyasha into his arms, and the half-demon rested his head on his brother's shoulder, their long white hair coming together in a seamless flow.
Kagome had matured, Rin thought as she looked at the miko, and maturity took her another step, another day, another year closer to death, but she had plainly made up her mind not to waste her short human life in the throes of jealousy or anger as she had when she was still fifteen and a child from the future, a time when life had seemed endless.
The sight brought tears to Rin's eyes, and she steered Kohaku and herself away from the others, back down the path they had come along.
"I'm glad I will not live much longer or much less than you will, Kohaku," she told him. "Even if one of us should die an early death, human lives aren't that long. We won't have forever to wait until they end."
"I'm glad for that too," he said in response, with a sincerity that touched her heart. "I don't want to live too long without you."
"Do you still really mean that, when you know that you are not the first man to have touched me, or known my innermost soul and fears and thoughts?" she asked, knowing that she could very well lose him as she said those words.
But he replied steadily: "I know. I know how the demon world works, and I know what it meant for Koga to court you."
Another girl might have been relieved and grateful for that answer, but Rin was not settling for any less than complete acceptance of her past and every facet of her nature. So she said to her young man seriously, and firmly: "Koga may not have known me fully in the flesh, Kohaku, but I can tell you here and now that in every other way – when his pack took my life – to me, it meant that he was the first to pierce my flesh, the first to make me bleed, the first to devour my body. And when he saved my life last winter, and then helped me by trying to heal my memories and my pain, to me it meant that he was the first to lay claim to me. Do you understand?"
"I understand. And I still love you, and I still adore you, and I still want you to be my wife as long as we both live. Will you live your life with me?"
She nodded, and she shed tears for his acceptance of all that she was, and he wiped them away with the cleanest part of his sleeve he could find.
"Come on," he said, taking her hand. "Let's go back to the village and wait there for Sesshomaru-sama and Inuyasha. We can tell your father that his determination to find out which suitor was deserving of you has come to a conclusion at last, and we can tell them all that we have a wedding to plan."
"A human wedding," she said.
"Perhaps with a few demon elements, as we owe our demon family and friends so much," he added.
"And when we're gone, we know they'll look out for our children and grandchildren."
"Maybe one of our descendants will mate with one of their offspring," Kohaku mused.
Rin glanced in the direction in which Koga had left that morning, and smiled as she turned to her husband-to-be, saying: "Speaking of that…"
- END -
Author's note (updated on 19 May 2011):
Thank you to everyone who has been following this tale, and who has left reviews and comments, and sent me PMs.
I initially chose the pairing of Koga and Rin in the summary of this story, because most of the growth Rin would have to make would involve Koga, even though ultimately, she ends up with Kohaku. The end of the story also suggests that Koga continues to play an important role in her life afterwards. And at least in this story, Koga comes only second to Sesshomaru in how much he shapes her existence. If I could have chosen more than one pairing in my first summary, I would have, because this tale has really been about Rin developing her relationship with two potential partners – Koga and Kohaku, and about how she finds strength within herself. Unfortunately, the system only allows you to reflect one pairing, and I did get several complaints from readers who expected Rin to end up with Koga. So I've removed the other characters from the system pairing, and left only Rin.
I'll admit that I also used this story to express in some detail my philosophies about differences in values between cultures, societies and eras, and my thoughts about gender equality, individual freedom, and conventional expectations about love, romance and marriage, as well as ideas about life and death. Sorry if I got quite technical and rambly about all those themes sometimes and if those bits got boring!
For anyone who might be wondering about the lines of poetry (or semi-poetic scribblings, rather) in Chapters 11 and 12, they are my own. With regard to the kanji details described in relation to Rin's poem, the references are to the mainland Chinese word for wave ("lang" [fourth tone]), which has the same right-hand-side component as the Chinese and Japanese symbol for "wolf" ("lang" [second tone] in Chinese, and "ookami" in Japanese). The left-hand-side components are of course different, being "water" and "animal" respectively. But in Japanese, as far as I know, the usual kanji for wave is "nami", a character pronounced "bo" [first tone] in Chinese, and which has no component in common with "wolf". Therefore, one of the key points of those passages is that Rin uses an unusual symbol for "wave" that would normally not be used by a Japanese writer – and would draw the reader's attention to what else it might be pointing to.