Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha or anything else relating to the anime/manga. All rights belong to Rumiko Takahashi.
A/N: I know, I KNOW. Pammazola has uploaded this same story now for the THIRD time. How you people must be SICK of me and my nitpicking. I promise not to take it down again. =] I have made some revisions that I am now satisfied with.
Once, Twice Torn
Many things were different, ever since the start of that war. Much had been gained, yet, so much lost. Rin had known that there was no reversing her mistakes of the past, her foolish, stupid mistakes of a seventeen year old girl. She thought back on her decisions, to leave him, the only man, demon, she could ever possibly love. And even after she'd gone, he had followed her, hiding in the shadows, like a wisp of the night, watching over her as the guardian he once used to be. On numerous occasions he saved her life, without her ever knowing it, despite her hurting him time after time. Why had he come, why did he insist on protecting Rin, when she had made herself so clear that she didn't need him anymore? He was out there, fighting for her, and the only purpose that kept the adrenaline pulsing through his veins was his will to keep her alive. But for how much longer, Rin thought. Why did he do this, when it would only bring about his own demise, much too quickly? Yes, maybe they could survive this; maybe they will be able to live to see tomorrow, to wake up in the comfort of each other's arms. She cannot deny him the pleasure he has waited so many years to have, and that rightfully belonged to him.
She had torn herself from him, desperate to severe the connection that held them hopelessly together. Rin realized now that she had been foolish. No matter how far she ran, he would follow her. It was the inexplicable need to be near the one who made their heart beat faster that made this such a difficult decision.
Rin watched the daiyoukai, her lord, her lover, as he continued to fight, slaying adversary after another with his demonic strength alone. A look of calm, silent composure rested upon his features as he destroyed his enemy's army, it was almost convincing. Rin only wished she could hide the fear in her heart as well as he.
Silver light streaked across the dark sky, illuminating the mass grave that encircles the remaining fighters. Her lord looked up curiously at this light - no; it was an arrow - as it hit its target dead on, purifying the long line of opposing youkai. He watched them, bemused, and when finally understanding dawned upon him, he quickly tossed aside the body of another dead foe and turned, slowly, and suddenly saw her.
This was for him, it was best for him. His calm features turned to that of pure rage. Didn't he understand, if Rin died, sacrificing herself for the man she loved, Sesshoumaru would be free.
"My lady?" whispered Rin's maidservant, sliding the screen door to her bedchambers open. She stepped cautiously inside. Puzzled, the young demon woman studied the room, taking in the polished wooden floors, wicker furniture, and the silk futon that she had made that morning. Her lady's prized glass figures, gifts from the Mainland, brilliantly reflected the light that the setting sun shone through the window. At this moment it lay open, letting in the crisp breeze of a summer evening. The thin curtains that hung on each side rustled gently, and the maidservant lowered her eyes to the bottom of the fabric, where two slender feet were just visible. She smiled to herself.
"Rin," she repeated, "I've been sent to inform you that dinner is being served. They are awaiting your presence now. Lady?" She pulled the curtain back that concealed the young girl.
What she had not been expecting was to find Rin dressed in only her undergarments, hair a wild mess of tangles, and both cheeks flushed a soft pink from long sessions of tears. Without looking up at the maid, she buried her face into one hand, trembling.
"Are you alright?" the maid asked, grasping her shoulder, "How may I assist you?"
Rin sniffled from behind her hands.
"There's nothing," she replied quietly, "I'm fine." She started wiping the tears away before giving her a kind smile, "I'm sorry you had to see that, Rai."
"If you don't mind me asking," Rai began, "What troubles you, Lady?"
Rin hesitated a little before answering.
"The – the people," she stammered. The maid cocked her head in puzzlement.
"But… you love the company of others. I have seen you entertain large gatherings with the upmost amount of ease. You are highly lovable as well."
"Lovable," she repeated, turning to stare out the window. The first stars dotted the sky.
The Lord will not be pleased with me, Rai thought to herself. His ward was supposed to have been preparing for this dinner since noon, and yet here she stood, looking absolutely the farthest thing from presentable; the elaborate emerald silk kimono he had requested she wear lied thrown over the windowsill. Rin ran her fingers down the fabric absentmindedly.
"Lady Rin," she said, almost pleadingly, "Please tell me what troubles you. I don't mean to be disrespectful," she added, "But as the hostess you must be present among your guests. I'm sure Lord Sesshoumaru has informed you of the importance of the men you are to dine with."
"Lord Sesshoumaru." Her fingers paused. "He's down there waiting for me as well, isn't he?"
"Hai," Rai answered helpfully. To herself: and most undoubtedly he is beyond losing his patience. The maid knew her lord would never lay an abusive claw on the human girl for such a small offense, but sadly this did not apply to her as well. The female inuyoukai shuddered.
Rin forcefully opened her mouth, trying to speak without portraying any of her feelings. She failed. "Akihiko," she finally burst out, taking Rai completely by surprise, "Its Akihiko. I'm terrified of him."
Understanding slowly spread across her face, and she gave the girl a knowing smile. "Come here, dear." Rai took her in her arms, walking her to the futon and sat her down. She was no older than the human herself, but well educated in these matters, mostly from experience and what she had been taught by older, wiser youkai. "What is it about Akihiko that troubles you?" she asked softly, "He seems to me quite likeable."
Rin shrugged."My previous meetings with him… have been less than pleasant."
Well, Rai thought, since we're running terribly late, Lord Sesshoumaru's wrath cannot possibly be much worse that it already is at this point. Besides, this girl needs me.
"Tell me what happened," she said.
Jaken was furious.
"Get this damned stuff off me!" he fumed, chasing Rin as fast as his stubby little green legs could carry him. The human laughed at the imp's silly appearance, dashing around the corner of the shiro and into the garden. His face was coated with layer upon layer of makeup, applied by herself, of course. She'd also put him in one of her old kimonos, even one of the nicer ones she had kept. That did not seem to ease his anger.
Oh, he swore once he got his hands on her he'd teach her a lesson! This was an insult to his demonhood!
He shouted more insults at her, but she merely smiled, skipping away from him and having a dear old time until she nearly collided with the sudden appearance of Sesshoumaru. The silver haired dog demon startled Rin and she stopped short. Jaken, who was so blind with rage he did not see his master right away, did crash into the backs of Rin's legs, toppling over his kimono, landing flat on his face.
"Lord Sesshoumaru," he murmured into the dirt. "What a pleasant surprise."
His amber eyes regarded the two with ease. Evidently, he was pretending not to have heard a word of the absurdities that had been spilling from Jaken's mouth just moments before.
"Rin, there are guests you must meet."
The two youkai men who stood behind him gazed at her with curious expressions.
Sesshoumaru continued to inspect her with casual ease as he half turned his head to address them, "My ward, Rin."
Respectfully, she bowed. Both of them were among the most curious looking demons Rin had ever laid eyes upon. One was notably the elder, and his son, devilishly handsome, stared at her with narrow emerald eyes, arched eyebrows, and high cheekbones. They bore black markings of a daiyoukai on both cheeks and wrists, like her lord. The similarities ended there.
Their faces were pale and smooth as porcelain, though the rest of the exposed flesh was composed of millions of small, glittering scales of a silverfish hue. The kimonos they wore were black, decorated with a golden crest on the right breast. Muscular calves could be seen through the skin-tight fabric of their pants, so very unlike the hakamas men usually wore. They bore no claws, but their hands and feet were long with filmy webbed skin between each finger and toe. Rin marveled at their hair - just as long as her lord's, but a dark raven that reflected the shine of the sun in offsets of a million rainbows.
The elder spoke first. He did not have nearly as tall of a build as Sesshoumaru, though he made up for it by the graceful posture in which he stood, like an arrow strung to be release from its bow. "I am Lord Katashi. And my son," he laid a hand on the other's shoulder, "Is Akihiko, the heir to Kyushu."
Sesshoumaru's eyes flashed back and forth between the men and Rin. Though he hid it very well, the daiyoukai still felt a brief moment of unease at the exposure of his ward to the view of these foreign demons. They hardly had a motive to attack her… Sesshoumaru passed this paranoia off as a territorial habit that he had adopted over the many years of protecting her. Still, his instincts told him to end these pleasantries quickly.
"The North and East shall arrive soon as well," he spoke to Katashi then. "We must arrange for certain matters to be discussed, should anything be accomplished this century."
"Yes," he agreed, not taking his eyes from Rin, "Certain matters, indeed."
He disliked her scent. It was much too floral for his taste. He wondered what her age to be, she seemed very fertile. He wondered…
Instead, he asked a different question. "Tell me, Lord Sesshoumaru," he said, motioning to Jaken, who still sat on his rump on the ground, skirts fanned out around him, "Is this the general attire in which all of your servants wear?" The imp's face would have deepened to a darker green had it not been for all of the white powder Rin had loaded on his skin.
"Father, do you refer to the fact she is human?" Akihiko studied Rin instead. "Hn. My, such a flattering figure, and a pretty face," His expression changed from amused to thoughtful, "If only you were born a demoness…"
As icy fear gripped Rin, Sesshoumaru swiftly moved to block her from their view, eyes narrowed dangerously.
"The way you study my ward, Young Lord, makes me wary."
Undisguised tension hung in the air, and the next several seconds seemed like hours. Finally, Katashi opened his mouth to speak, but Akihiko cut him off with a snort, the noise sounding very strange coming from his smooth lips.
"Lord Sesshoumaru, do not take the heir to the Southern Lands for a fool. I was simply pondering out loud. It was just some wishful thinking on my part." He tilted his head to catch a glimpse of Rin behind her protector, and he gave her a predatory glare. Sesshoumaru's hand twitched toward Bakusaiga. The movement did not escape the notice of Katashi.
"Tell me," he said in an even voice, pointedly looking at the sword, "What exactly is the relationship between you and this human?"
"Hai," his son agreed, "I was just about to ask that same question myself."
Rin looked at her lord's face, which had been turning steadily colder. Jaken had risen and crawled through the blossoms to stand behind the giant oak trees, curious as to what might happen next. Sesshoumaru's voice sharpened to a point.
"Rin is my ward. That is all."
The Southerners exchanged a look.
"Really?" Katashi continued, "Your actions loudly speak otherwise. What happened to you, Inuyoukai?" Disappointment colored his voice, "Where has the hatred for the lesser races gone?"
"I don't know what you mean," he said quietly.
Katashi smiled grimly. "You are Toga Inu No Taisho all over again."
But he took a step back when he saw amber flash red.
"Be careful," Sesshoumaru warned in a deep voice, "You might just wear out your welcome."
The mysterious demon's back stiffened."Come, Akihiko," he said curtly, "I think it is time we retired to our chambers."
"Yes," Sesshoumaru agreed, and then turned slightly."Jaken."
"My Lord?" The imp came stumbling over his skirts. Rin had to stifle a laugh.
"Escort our guests back to their chambers."
"Yes! Right away!" he bowed grandly.
Katashi followed begrudgingly, a sneer warping his handsome face. Akihiko, however, gave Rin another glance - something Sesshoumaru did not overlook - and gracefully turned on his heel, black hair weaving around him, following his father. Rin was amazed at how precise their motions were, and could not help but stare at their backs with a look of wonder.
"What are they, My Lord?" Her eyes were still transfixed on them.
He looked up at her, two fingers pinching the bridge of his nose.
"Sakana," was the answer. "They are demon fish," he hissed the final word.
"Do you not like them?" Rin sat down in the crushed blossoms that Jaken had landed on.
Sesshoumaru sighed."What I like and dislike matters little now. They are here and will be here for a week. As long as my relationship remains peaceful, you have nothing to fear from them."
"Fear? Should I fear them, my Lord?"
The wind ruffled his silver hair.
"As long as my heart beats, you will fear nothing."
Warmth spread throughout her limbs at his words. She gave him a wide smile, one that was returned by a softened look in his eyes.
"Come, Rin," he said, picking her up in his arms, and sat her on her feet. "I believe a luncheon has been prepared for you and me."
Rin sat cross legged on the front steps of the shiro. In one hand she held a small canvas, in the other, a paint brush. An assortment of color dye liquids sat in tiny pots around her.
When she had found the blank canvas in one of the many storage closets, it had given her some inspiration. She tickled her chin with the tip of the brush. What a lovely present it would make, she thought, if she could create her lord a painting. A portrait of him, she knew, would be futile. First of all, he would never pose; it had always been something he despised since the earliest days of his childhood, in any form. Second, she would never be able to get in every detail without losing focus on him to one of his body parts or another; for even she would admit that he was exquisitely handsome, and being his ward did not make her immune to his very masculine aspects.
No, a portrait would never do. She noticed, sitting there, that the magnificent gardens stretched out far before her. There were millions of different blossoms blooming this time of the year, in extraordinary colors against the flushing green grounds. Tall, arching trees draped in moss swayed in the breeze, casting long shadows that danced in the sunshine.
Without her realizing it, the brush began moving itself, streaking across the canvas in gentle strokes. Absorbed in her work, she felt that the motions of the brush brought everything to life: the trees, the blossoms, the fountains that spewed water in rushing arches. Time passed, and still she sat in her trance, adding detail after detail, not satisfied until everything was just right…
"That looks beautiful," said a voice.
Rin looked up, thinking it to be her lord, and was astounded to find the young sakana standing over her, his black hair falling in curtains in front of his face. This was the first time she had seen him since the incident in the gardens two days ago. She had asked her lord why they didn't dine with them in the evenings, but his reply had been vague, only stating that they had their own preparations to attend to until the other lords came. She had not pressed the subject after noticing an annoyed grimace on his face every time she mentioned Akihiko.
But Rin could not help herself. She was both fascinated and horrified by the strange creatures that slept under the same roof as she. They were so different, even for a daiyoukai. Until two days ago, she had been quite certain that no one could match the lithe grace and beauty that was Sesshoumaru, and then she found two that make the inuyoukai seem slightly clumsy in his movements and possibly less exotic than before. She was not quite certain how she felt about making her comparisons.
Now, with the object of her current interest standing directly above her and so close as well, she studied the dark emerald eyes that bore down on her. His bangs had drifted to one side, revealing a trident shaped figure on his forehead, which had somehow escaped her notice under the black hair.
Akihiko frowned, tearing his eyes from her to her canvas. He sighed sadly and pointed.
"Silly girl, you messed it up."
Her head snapped back down, and to her dismay she saw her paintbrush had strayed across the surface, smearing all the colors in its path together. She let out a small cry. The past hours of work were gone. It was ruined.
Rin fought back the tears of both sadness and embarrassment, and did not look back at him for fear of the sakana to see her face. Somehow she thought he would get some sort of pleasure from seeing her cry, and she was not willingly going to give it to him. Besides, it had been his fault for distracting her. He should not sneak up on people when they were trying to focus on something. It was entirely his fault! She gripped the canvas tightly in her hands, not caring that the paint stained them a multitude of colors.
Then he sat down cross legged beside her.
The shock of his actions stunned her into stiffness. Without any resistance, Rin let Akihiko take the painting out of her grasp. He stared at it for a second, and then carefully ran the flat of his right palm across the surface, narrowing his eyes slightly. Seemingly satisfied, he flipped it around to show her his work.
Rin's jaw dropped. The stray streak of paint had disappeared, or rather, had distorted itself to blend into the scenery around it, as if it had never been there. She took back the canvas from him, gaping at it. She quickly looked at his expressionless face, and then to his right hand, which was completely clean and free of paint stains. How…? But more importantly: "Why?"
He only shrugged. "I thought it was pretty. You made a mistake is all, you're only human."
The pun seemed to go directly over her head, making him grin.
"What is your name again? Ren?"
"I see. How old are you, Rin?"
His sudden inquiries sent her heart pounding, and she was certain he could hear it.
"Seventeen, but soon to be eighteen on the Winter Solstice." This seemed to impress him.
"A winter child? You must be strong then, to have survived the harsh bitterness of the cold that easily steals lives well beyond infancy."
"I… suppose," she answered. Her insecurities of him brought another grin across his face. That was another thing about him that was so different from Sesshoumaru. Every time her lord treated her to one of his sacred smiles, the way the muscles in his jaw and cheeks moved together flawlessly in that upward motion to spread smooth lips across his face… the after effect left her bubbly, as if she had suddenly become so light on her feet that she thought she could levitate off ground. If it were possible, she would freeze those moments, just to be able to keep them forever. But Rin liked the way he was reserved as well. It made those memories all the more worth remembering. What entertained her most about her lord's stoniness was the fact he was obviously unaware of how handsome he was. Perhaps it was because he viewed vanity as a weakness, thus never dwindling on any of his own physical features. She wondered if he looked at anyone else's.
Akihiko wielded his beauty like a whip. Each flash of his smile sent her stomach fluttering, and he never gave her much of a chance to recover before giving her another. This made it very difficult not to stare at him.
So it humiliated her to no end when he lifted one finger to her chin and snapped her mouth closed for her. She shivered at his cold touch.
"Well, Rin," he said in a velvety voice, "I see you are preoccupied at the moment. I had been hoping to see more of you." He shrugged again, "Perhaps another time." He made to stand.
"Wait," she said, before she could stop herself. His gaze turned back to her.
She felt the tip of her ears turn red. "I have some time."
Akihiko didn't hide his pleasure in hearing this, and eagerly dropped back down to the ground, leaning closer to her than before. She reflexively edged back.
"How long have you been with Lord Sesshoumaru?" he asked her casually. His closeness slowed the brainwaves in her head, preventing any kind of fast calculations. He was patient.
"Ten years… I think? Maybe eleven?" Rin had been with her lord long before the disappearance of the Shikon Jewel, "Probably eleven."
The Sakana nodded."That's interesting. I hadn't heard of you until a couple days ago. He must keep you locked away all the time. Does he ever let you leave the shiro?"
"He and I traveled for about a year, and for three I lived in a village called Edo, near Inuyasha's Forest. He visited me often." She answered his questions more quickly now.
"That name you said!" Akihiko furrowed his eyebrows, "Inuyasha, I have heard it associated with your Sesshoumaru's before."
"Well, of course. They are brothers after all, half-brothers, actually."
"Really?" For some reason this information seemed to thrill him, "I had no idea!" He grinned devilishly, "Now why would that Sesshoumaru go through so much trouble to murder this Inuyasha, and somehow fail to mention that he is also his own brother? Must have slipped his mind, I suppose." Under his breath, he murmured, "This will be quite the scandal."
Rin hadn't thought that Sesshoumaru had wanted to keep his relationship with Inuyasha a private matter. A queasy feeling turned her stomach.
"What else do you know about this Inuyasha?" he asked eagerly, "Is he the offspring of Toga Inu No Taisho and that human he always kept with him?"
She opened her mouth uncertainly. "I don't… really know much… sorry."
The disappointment was plain, but then his eyes brightened as he remembered something else.
"What is it exactly that your lord keeps you with him for? Forgive me, but such reasons to his actions frequently elude me."
Rin did not know how to tell him that she herself could not give him an answer. She had been with her lord for so long that questions like that didn't seem to matter anymore. Rin wanted to say that it had been fate that had brought her stumbling across the inuyoukai lying wounded in the forest that evening so many years ago. But using such words made her innocent relationship with him appear unnecessarily tainted. There was not one specific reason she could explain to Akihiko, not because she could not think of any, but because there were so many. Rin was Sesshoumaru's ward, devoted servant, and loyal follower. But other words could easily take their places, such as companion, friend, maybe even family. She relished the thought of that last word.
Lost in her own world, Rin forgot Akihiko, and he passed the time studying her face. Rin was extraordinarily lovely for a human, with immense womanly beauty and a child-like innocence in those wide brown eyes. He could tell from the glow of her skin and the glossy shine of her hair that she had been well cared for. He remembered back to when he last saw her, leaning against Sesshoumaru while looking at him with terrified curiosity. The Lord of the West had emitted twice the demonic aura when he had been in that territorial state - and the Sakana had noted - just the presence of the girl increased the lord's physical appearance by tenfold. Akihiko admitted even to his father how the Inu's cold, hard exterior seemed tamed by Rin's warm, softhearted nature that radiated from her like her own aura. Katashi had not seemed very interested in his son's theories, and absentmindedly nodded his agreement before returning to the novel he had borrowed from the shiro library.
"Well?" he asked, bringing her back to him. She blinked, as if surprised to find him sitting before her. She blushed in embarrassment. He sighed sadly.
"You know," he began, "I really like the trees here."
"Oh? Why?" Rin asked, looking over at a large oak, thinking the statement quite random.
"Because," he said, "Where I come from, seldom do they grow so large, and never as thick around as the ones in this very garden," Akihiko breathed in deeply, "And the smell! I love the smell of them! Cherry is my favorite," He took a whiff in her direction, "Hn. You have the exact same scent."
"Young Lord," Rin bowed her head respectfully, "You flatter me."
The words made his smile twist into a smirk."I despise being called that. Young Lord," he spat, "You say it just the same way he does."
Rin noted his sudden hostility, though he still maintained a degree of charm.
"Do you refer to Lord Sesshoumaru?"
Akihiko raised one eyebrow at her.
"I'll have you know that he and I are roughly the same age. Actually, I believe I am his senior by three years. Not by much," he admitted, "But nonetheless."
"How impressive." He was taken aback by her sarcasm.
"You know, you never answered my question," he pointed out, "About why he keeps you around, though I think I have a pretty good idea."
"And what's that?"
A wicked glint lightened his eyes. "How often does he bed you? Thrice a week?"
There was a painfully long pause between them.
This time he openly laughed."Tell me, Rin, do you make him beg to take you, or does he force you to submit, seeing as he loves his control over everyone?"
Rin could do nothing but stare at him open-mouthed. Something of an angry spark lit inside her.
Akihiko was beyond entertained. Do I dare tease her more? A small movement caught his eye behind her. If she had turned to look, her human eyes would not have been able to see Lord Sesshoumaru's figure leaning against the opposite wall, concealed by the shadows from the setting sun. He had his answer.
Taking her hands in his, he lifted them to his face, pressing them to his lips.
"What are you doing?" she tried to pull away, but his grip was iron tight.
"Please allow me," he murmured against her hands, "To demonstrate to you what pleasure really feels like? Does he even care if you get any at all? I would never be so cruel. I would even let you climax first." He waited for the effect.
"You are DISGUSTING!" she hissed, and he bit back a howl of laughter, "How could you think…? Why would I… WITH YOU?"
"And why not?" he asked, keeping up the fake façade, "Is it because you belong to Sesshoumaru? Do you love him?"
"NO!" Rin said quickly. "Stop insulting me by saying such lies! I may be a human, but I am the lady of this shiro!" She tried to pull her hands from him again, to no avail, "Release your hold! You have no right to desire me!"
"I'll desire anything that belongs to Sesshoumaru," he snarled, finally speaking the truth.
She glared fierce daggers at him. "Release me," she repeated, "Or I will scream for him."
"You are a feisty little fish, aren't you?" he observed, "Like a barracuda. Do you scream for him often?"
Rin filled her lungs in a single gulp.
"Fine," he dropped her hands, and then stood, "He's here anyway."
Whipping her head around, she saw he spoke the truth. The daiyoukai had moved from his place on the wall, becoming increasingly concerned by the distress that was radiating from his ward, but their strained conversation had halted him in his tracks.
"Lord Sesshoumaru!" Rin called, climbing to her feet, relieved to see him. He glared past her to Akihiko.
His words came sharp and clipped."Because you are a lord's son, I will give you five seconds to disappear from my sight, or I will kill you."
The sakana grinned.
"Little fish," he said to Rin, "At least consider my offer. You know where to find me." He began walking away, and disappeared through the sliding doors.
"My Lord," Rin sighed in relief, "Thank you so much! I thought he would never leave me! Er – my Lord?"
Sesshoumaru had already turned away, walking back in the opposite direction.
"My Lord!" she chased after him, "Did you hear me? I said thank you." She grabbed the loose sleeve of his kimono.
Sesshoumaru paused, giving her an undisguised cold look. "Yes, Rin. I heard you. I heard everything." He effortlessly pulled himself away from her, "Go back to whatever it is you were doing. He will not bother you again."
And then he just left her standing there, both of them feeling very confused.
Rai held Rin's hand, stroking it sympathetically. Oh, the young lady was feeling conflicting feelings; that was for sure. She was growing up… and that brought tiny tears to the maid's eyes. What had happened to the clumsy child that used to run down the corridors with flowers in her hair? There was only a ghost of that girl left in this person. And she was hopelessly in love with Lord Sesshoumaru.
A/N: I promise to actually finish this time. =) Please review if you feel like it, even if it's to tell me off. *cough* Ali *cough* I'm currently writing a sequel to The Sakura Dragon but the next chapter for this story will be up swiftly if people are still willing to read it.