Special Disclaimer: This particular Shard contains some discussion of Christian beliefs, though whether these beliefs are correct or incorrect or what have you is left rather open-ended. I am well aware that there are more disparate interpretations and practices of Christianity than one can shake a stick at, and as such those few individual beliefs alluded to in the narrative and by the characters are not meant to be taken as absolutes of either the overall faith or of my own thoughts on the matter.
In short: this is still fanfiction, and therefore fiction overall. I tried to make sure that everything faith-ical is open to interpretation. Please don't blow a gasket if you notice I'm not presenting the stuff you think is most correct, or if you feel I've simplified the mechanics of a belief system through the dialogue and POV of a child or teenaged character.
It was a Sunday afternoon, crisp with autumn and a faultless blue sky, and Rin was six years old when he nearly broke his neck.
The quality of the day forbade any young boy to sit, stifled, indoors, and so the moment that morning's sermon had finished and the congregation cleared the church Fujimoto found himself beset by two pairs of pleading eyes, two sets of tugging little hands, two high voices clamoring for the park.
Rin knew their father couldn't resist, even if he wanted to. Their morning had been devoted to talk of death, of Heaven and Hell and sin and justice, and all three felt a keen desire to spend some time in life, on Earth, full of sunlight and laughter and the contentment of a father and his sons in play.
Rin, in particular, near-desperately wanted to fly. It was no surprise to any of them that he cut an immediate beeline to the swings, crying out demands to be pushed – "higher!" – until he managed to keep his own momentum going and Fujimoto could turn his attention to Yukio and his quiet construction of a tower of pebbles at the edge of the grass.
Not five minutes later, Rin, tiring of the swing and beginning to feel a slight tinge of nausea, did something he had seen bigger kids do, something reckless and, judging by their laughter, hysterically fun.
At the apex of the swing, the highest he had ever gone, Rin whooped, uncurled his fingers from the chains, shifted his weight forward on the seat...
And abruptly realized just how far away the ground really was.
He tried to lean back again, to reclaim the security of the wooden swing and his solid grip – too late.
His cheer morphed into a yell of terror, the world tilted around him, and the swing dropped away as the asphalt plummeted towards the top of his head...
A concussion, the doctor called it when he woke bleary-eyed in a sterile white hospital room. A damn-near miracle, he heard the man confide quietly to a worried Fujimoto, that it wasn't something worse.
That he wasn't dead.
For the wages of sin is death echoed a corner of his fuzzy mind, chanting a memory, a verse, a dark snatch of sermon from...was it really only that morning?
Death, death, rang the words. The wages of sin...
Demon-child. Monster. Wrong. Bad.
His head throbbed and his throat burned, and he sobbed, wishing he had the strength to turn over into the hospital pillow, to muffle his tears.
He didn't want to die.
He especially didn't want to die with words of condemnation, of sin, of hell echoing in his mind.
His minders tried to soothe him, assumed it was the pain of his skull and not fear for his life and soul, and he didn't correct them. Not until the hospital released him and he went home – still on the mend, but well out of danger – did he confide in anyone.
Naturally it was his brother who noticed his mood, and his brother who drew the truth from Rin as they lay awake one night.
"You're not a monster, Rin," Yukio admonished after the initial flood of fears had abated. "You don't look a bit like a demon."
Rin twisted the corner of the sheets in his fingers and brushed it against his chin, resisting the urge of an old baby-habit to put the fabric in his mouth and suck on it.
"Yukio? What d'you think..."
He faltered, took a deep breath, and drove onward before his nerve gave out completely.
"What d'you think'd happen if I...if I did..."
"You didn't," Yukio immediately countered, "so it doesn't matter, does it?"
Silence pressed the darkness around them like a blanket, stifling.
"No. I guess it doesn't," Rin finally agreed, curling himself deeper into his bed. He was just falling asleep when Yukio's whisper reached him from the other side of the room.
"If you did...well...there's heaven. They'd keep you safe there. Because you're good, Rin. I know you are."
It was a Sunday morning, muggy with summer heat trapped beneath a lightly overcast sky, and Rin was eighteen years old when a self-righteous assassin's bullet tore through his left shoulder.
They were being awarded, he and his brother and their friends, for their acts of service in what had become a full-scale war against Gehenna and Satan. Rin in particular received special commendations for what the Vatican glossed over with the term "heroic actions in the face of mortal peril" and what those dear to him tended to call, with varying measures of exasperation and wide differences in wording, "a defective self-preservation instinct" or "no working brain to speak of."
Still, his closest friends stood proudly beside him as he tried to bring his alarmingly wide grin under control, not one of them caring about the curling, twitching tail or the sharp canines or the pointed ears. They knew him, and they knew that Okumura Rin was far more than a son of Satan.
Very little of the audience truly understood that.
Some refused to even try.
It was chance that saved him. Chance and nerves, for as Rin shakily mounted the steps to receive a shiny medal and several handshakes and the public words of praise and acceptance he had always longed for, one of his feet caught on the stone. He stumbled.
A gun cracked.
The bullet was that of an exorcist, treated with potent holy water. It went through Rin's shoulder like a white-hot brand, and even as he fell writhing down the steps he had only moments before mounted, even as the pain drove conscious thought from his mind, Rin knew instinctively that had the bullet struck only inches closer to his heart, the shock of it alone could have killed him.
Again, he woke in a hospital room – blue-grey and white and smelling distinctly of chemicals and antiseptic – but this time he was alone, and his head felt clear. His left shoulder throbbed and itched under tight bandages, his unnaturally fast healing hindered somewhat by the nature of the weapon used to wound him, and a warm, comforting weight rested beside his opposite hip. Rin stretched his fingers down and found soft fur and lithe muscles. The lump stirred at his touch; Kuro's wide-eyed face popped suddenly into view.
"Rin? You're awake!"
"Just my luck" Rin half-joked. The response fell from his mouth without thought; it had become habit amongst his friends halfway through the war, a morbid piece of humor grown from too many close calls, too many uncertain missions and sudden ambushes and risky battle plans.
This wasn't the first time in recent memory that Rin found himself waking up in some manner of hospital or other, bandaged and aching somewhere. Even with the bulk of the war over, chances were it wouldn't be the last, either.
As it was, Rin felt surprised that he had only Kuro for company this time. Not that it would last long. Eventually someone would poke their head in, find him awake, and he would be treated to a brief flood of friends and family as they all assured themselves – some more casually than others – that he would be all right after all.
Another hard-learned habit they all shared when it came to battle wounds and infirmaries.
Their group had been lucky – unbelievably lucky – but they had all seen more than enough death not to take any of it for granted.
Rin idly stroked Kuro's warm, silky fur for several long minutes, lost in old memories as his mind skipped across weeks, months, years, a decade and back again at a time.
"Where do we go?" he murmured, mostly to himself, forgetting for the briefest of instants – even now, even after all these years – that Kuro could indeed understand him and even answer back.
"Who? Go where?"
"Humans like me. Or just humans in general, even. When we die."
Kuro crawled atop his chest, the better to show Rin his most bewildered expression.
"How should I know? I'm not human."
"No, I suppose you're not," Rin replied with a tiny, teasing grin.
"And I thought you had books about it? Shiro had a book. I remember it."
"Yeah. But there's a lot of books, you see, and some of them say different things. I was kinda hoping you'd have a better idea than me, since you're a demon and all."
"Hmm." Kuro lay down flush across him, resting his chin on the blanket. He closed his great green eyes, looking so contemplative that his next words seemed to Rin wholly out of the blue. "Rub my left ear, please?"
A bit bemused by the change in conversation, Rin did as Kuro requested, and for a time the only sound to be heard were the deep, satisfied purrs of a nekomata in bliss.
"When we leave Assiah," Kuro suddenly said, "we go back to where we came from - Gehenna. Maybe you're the same. Wherever you come from before you get here, you go back afterwards."
"I don't know where that is," Rin mused. "Nobody does."
"But you said there were books."
"Rin? What did Shiro's book say?"
The memory echoed, softened by years and questioned by experience, and Rin found no terror in it.
"It says...there are good people, and bad people. It gets more complicated and choosy than that, but...the good people, they go to heaven. It's...I don't know where. Up in the clouds or something. Basically, it's perfect. And the bad ones, they go to Hell, which is supposed to be where demons are from. The wages of sin, it says."
"Gehenna?" Kuro asked, tilting his head in what might have been curiosity, or else was an attempt to put his right ear in range of Rin's fingers.
"Never seen humans in Gehenna. But then, it's a big place."
"Hell, Gehenna...whatever it is, it's supposed to be evil, and painful. A punishment for humans who did the wrong things in life, and for demons...well, for existing I guess."
"Gehenna's not that bad," Kuro protested. "Maybe a little dangerous and sometimes even a bit boring, but not that bad."
"Yeah? Well that's good, I guess. Maybe it won't be so bad if I end up there after all."
"Why would you come to Gehenna? You said that Shiro's book says it's for bad people, and you're the best!"
"Eh, well, 'Shiro's book' also says that heaven doesn't like demons, and that's sort of what I am. It might count against me...if that's really what comes after, anyhow. Can't really know, can I?"
"Guess not. But if you ever do go to Gehenna, I'll go with you," Kuro offered, as easily as one might offer to take a walk with a friend. "I'll show you around, all the safest and best places. Buddies forever, right, Rin?"
"Yeah. Yeah, if that's how it happens, I'd like that. Thanks, Kuro."
Rin rubs his entire hand across the top of Kuro's head, scratching especially between the nekomata's horns and eyes, and he can feel the purrs vibrate through the thin fabric covering his chest, through his skin and muscle and ribcage, and for a moment he fancies he can feel it right down to the core of his heart.
The door opens a crack. Shiemi pokes her head in, and her face lights up like the sun when she sees Rin awake. She's not alone, either; within moments Rin is the center of a storm of reassurances and jokes and laughter and friends and life...and what do the mysteries of death and demons matter in the face of that?