InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Songs of Faith and Devotion ❯ Shake the Disease ( Chapter 1 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Disclaimer: The characters in this work of fiction belong to Rumiko Takahashi and VIZ. All song lyrics are property of Depeche Mode and Martin L. Gore or Dave Gahan. No monies are being made from this work of fiction. It is only for the author's amusement. Please do not sue.
 
Shake the Disease
 
Scampering in the branches above, a squirrel chattered angrily. Sesshomaru narrowed his eyes, glaring up at it in mild irritation for disturbing the quiet surroundings. He leaned his head back against the tree's rough bark, closed his eyes, and sighed. The Demon Lord had spent the morning relaxing in the cool shade, waiting for the return of his servant and ward from their latest trip to replenish supplies. As he had no pressing business to attend to, Sesshomaru had welcomed the opportunity to appreciate some time in peaceful solitude.
 
A mustiness, the scent he associated with the toad, infiltrated the warm spring breeze. Underlying that was the clean, sweet smell of lilies. Sesshomaru took a deep breath, drinking in the latter. Its pleasing aroma caressed his senses and a gentle warmth filled him. The Lord of the Western Lands indulged in its calming effect, relishing in it. This particular scent always soothed Sesshomaru, and he would enjoy it in peace while he still could. Before too long, he knew that this fleeting moment would pass and it would be awhile before he could allow himself to savor it like this again.
 
Nearby, Ah-Un, the two headed dragon, grunted and stood, preparing to greet the pair that possessed the scents wafting towards them. Sesshomaru lazily opened an eye, watching the beast lumber in their direction. Its tail swished from side to side, and the Demon Lord suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. A dragon wagging its tail was ridiculous at best and embarrassing at its worst. Ah-Un's twin heads produced a soft rumble, calling out to Jaken and Rin.
 
Sesshomaru spotted them walking across the open meadow. He still had yet to get used to how Rin looked in her new kimono. She had asked for it a couple months ago, for her seventeenth birthday, and the Demon Lord had granted that request. It was a deep, rich cerulean blue, the sleeves and collar trimmed with delicate, silver flowers. Rin's obi was also silver, with lilies decorating it. The rich silk accentuated Rin's petite figure, and flowed around her, her hips swaying while she walked. Sesshomaru found her selection satisfactory and had been pleased by how well it suited her. He could not have chosen a better one.
 
The young woman had begun to wear her chestnut mane loose and untamed, the side pony-tail left behind. It flowed down past her waist, thick and vibrant. Rin tucked a few strands behind an ear, her eyes cast down towards the small bundle in her hand. She waved Jaken away, unwilling to let the toad take it from her. Her once exuberant voice had softened through the years, and she quietly scolded, “No, Jaken-sama. Rin wants to hold it for now.”
 
The toad harrumphed, stomping away from her. “Insolent girl!”
 
Rin shook her head. She rubbed one of Ah-Un's noses. The two-headed dragon snorted, leaning into her touch. She greeted, “Hello, Ah-Un. Did you have a good time keeping Sesshomaru-sama company?”
 
Jaken joined Rin, slinging the pack from his back onto the ground. He shook his head and grumbled, “We would have been back much sooner if you hadn't dawdled with that foolish, stupid boy, Rin.”
 
“Itachi-sama helped us, just like he has in every village we've stopped in the last month.” Rin sighed, helping the toad demon tether his bag to Ah-Un. She clutched the small bundle in the crook of her elbow, against her chest, as she secured a tie.“He barters for much better prices than Rin ever could.”
 
Sesshomaru silently pushed himself to stand. He frowned slightly at the mention of this boy, this Itachi. Thus far, neither one had even acknowledged him directly, odd for either of his traveling companions. He edged closer, not wanting to interrupt if there was something more he should know about this young man. Rin had become increasingly distant this past month especially. Was this Itachi the reason why?
 
Jaken glared at the young woman before turning his back to continue readying his packs. He muttered under his breath, “That Itachi, he's only able to barter so well because he's too charming for his own good. He was named right. He's a weasel, that's for sure. Rin'll run off with him before too long if he keeps it up.” The toad shook his head in disgust. He said, his voice much louder, “He's much too familiar with Rin, not even having the respect to use any honorifics. Shameful behavior, all around.”
 
Sesshomaru's frown increased, his alarm rising. Just what was this Itachi up to, and more importantly, what did the young man mean to Rin? Was this boy the real reason behind their frequent stops to villages lately, all under the guise to stock supplies? It would explain Rin's recent aloof behavior, especially if she had willingly let this Itachi court her. It hadn't escaped the Demon Lord's observation that the young woman certainly would be the proper age to attract suitors. Sesshomaru had believed, however, that her loyalty to him would keep Rin at his side. Opting to listen further, rather than interfering by asking questions, the Demon Lord hoped to discern what was going on.
 
Rin sighed, shaking her head. Ah-Un laid down onto its belly so she could climb on. She whispered, rubbing their noses, “Thank-you, Ah-Un.” Clutching her package to her chest, Rin hoisted herself to sit sideways on the dragon's back. She glanced over her shoulder at Jaken. “Jaken-sama, you know we couldn't have gotten what we did without Itachi-sama. He's been a big help, and Rin is grateful.”
 
Jaken snorted, turning his nose up in the air. He turned his back and crossed his arms, grumbling, “And that very same boy has been bragging to a few other despicable boys that he'll get you to rut with him within the next month because of that help.” The toad said it so softly that even Sesshomaru had almost missed it. Rin certainly had not heard it.
 
I'm not going down on my knees
Begging you to adore me
 
The Demon Lord turned his back, his brows knitting together. He was furious that some filthy human boy would take advantage of Rin's innocence. Now he knew this worthless Itachi's intentions. The way she had defended him meant one of two things: either she didn't know he was planning this, or she did and welcomed it. Sesshomaru wouldn't ask, and he wouldn't get involved.
 
Sesshomaru felt it beneath him to demand her attention. The Lord of the Western Lands would not beg her to remain with him if the young woman did not desire to do so. He was above yearning for adoration. He had never had to do so in the past, and he would not start now. Sesshomaru had long ago given the choice to Rin if she should stay by or leave his side. The Demon Lord squared his shoulders, ignoring the twinge of pain at the thought that Rin might depart.
 
Sesshomaru said, his deep voice clipped, “Let us go.”
 
Jaken scrambled towards him, bowing at his feet. “Forgive your humble servant, master, for not paying the due respects you deserve.”
 
The Demon Lord glared down at the prostrate toad. He lifted him up by the chest with his boot, and sneered before kicking Jaken aside. He whispered, his voice deathly quiet, “See that it does not happen again.”
 
“Yes, yes, Sesshomaru-sama.” Jaken rushed to his feet, bowing. “It will never happen again, my lord.”
 
Can't you see it's misery
And torture for me
When I'm misunderstood
 
Sesshomaru scorned his servant's supplications and began walking. He heard Rin's gasp as the two-headed dragon stood, following him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Rin staring down at her lap, her hair falling into her face. She fingered the small tie on her bundle, all her attention focused upon it. Sesshomaru mused that the young woman was afraid she'd also get rebuffed for not giving him recognition upon her return. He would not take direct notice of Rin, leaving it in her hands to speak first.
 
The Demon Lord sighed and continued on, leading his companions through the small wood. Instead of their idle chatter interrupting the silence, all that remained were the heavy footsteps of Ah-Un and Jaken's soft grumbling as he stumbled along. As much as Sesshomaru enjoyed the quiet, he found this one to be deafening. He admonished himself for succumbing to his anger. His outburst had been uncalled for, and while Jaken hadn't properly greeted him, it was not the toad's fault that some young man had perverted intentions towards Rin.
 
Sesshomaru knew that displaying emotions, other than anger or irritation, had never been his strong suit. He had always found them to be nothing more than a nuisance, something that got in the way of accomplishing his goals. Those governed by the frivolous nature of their feelings made foolish mistakes and became distracted in the heat of battle. That, however, did not mean the Demon Lord lacked feelings. Sesshomaru had spent years learning to suppress his expression, to be precise and not vulnerable when fighting. That same philosophy carried over into the other aspects of his life, and as the Lord of the Western Lands, it was to be expected.
 
Glancing nonchalantly behind him, the Demon Lord saw that Rin's head remained down. Sesshomaru clenched and unclenched his fist at his side and stalked further ahead. The young woman still hadn't spoken to him. She hadn't looked at him, either. Frustration made him clench his teeth, and Sesshomaru attempted to reign in his unruly emotions. He had hoped Rin would know by now when he was displeased with her and when he was not. The Demon Lord's anger was targeted towards this Itachi, not her. He hoped she would understand that.
 
Try as hard as you can
 
In the past, Sesshomaru had taken for granted Rin's ability to understand him. There had never been a need to explain or repeat himself. No matter how little he said or how little his body language revealed, somehow the young human always knew how to fulfill his wishes. In fact, it often seemed that Rin knew before he had fully communicated what he was trying to say. Sometimes she had insight about what he wanted, even when he himself did not. With others, Sesshomaru often found himself frustrated by their lack of comprehension. Because of this, it bothered the Demon Lord that Rin had misunderstood his angry outburst.
 
The small group continued on in silence, Sesshomaru several paces ahead. He did not want to have another undignified outburst or lash out without warrant at one of his companions. Glancing over his shoulder, the Demon Lord affected an indifferent air. He frowned as Rin's nervous scent filled his nose, and his eyes narrowed. The young woman bowed her head, smoothing her hand over the package in her lap.
 
Turning back towards the road, Sesshomaru growled softly to himself. Why was Rin so reluctant to meet his gaze or speak to him? Did the cur Itachi have something to do with her behavior? He brooded over the fact that this time his own anger might be the reason behind her silence. He squeezed his hand into a tight fist, the sting of poison seeping into his palm. A thin trickle dribbled between his knuckles, and small droplets hissed as they hit the ground. Exasperated, Sesshomaru sighed, standing firm in his resolve that she would have to speak first.
 
It wasn't Rin's reticence that bothered Sesshomaru the most. Instead, her reaction to his punishment of Jaken troubled the Demon Lord more. She had certainly seen him rebuke the toad often enough by now to not be upset by it. As frustrated as he was with himself, Sesshomaru knew that this morning's display had actually been rather mild. He had disciplined Jaken far more violently in the past, and Rin had not once acted as she was now. What had changed in the past month for the young woman to take his displeasure with the toad to mean he felt the same way towards her? It just did not make sense.
 
Frowning, Sesshomaru gave a slight shake of his head. He was wasting time musing on her behavior. Rin would speak to him eventually; all he would have to do was wait. Thinking about it would only cause him to continue going in circles. The truth was she could be keeping quiet because of this boy or because of his anger towards Jaken. It mattered not which reason.
 
I've tried as hard as I could
To make you see
How important it is for me
 
Behind him, Sesshomaru heard Rin's hushed whisper cut into the oppressive quiet, “Jaken-sama.”
 
“What is it, you annoying girl?” The toad's voice sounded surly.
 
“Not so loud.” She sighed. “You really made Sesshomaru-sama angry. How will we get him to stop for camp later tonight?”
 
The Demon Lord continued onwards, his pace a bit slower. His brows furrowed, and he pursed his lips. Rin still wasn't talking to him, but she was talking to the toad. Perhaps she would say something to clue him in about her behavior. Sesshomaru kept far enough ahead so they would continue their conversation. He hoped that they'd think he was too busy with his own thoughts to bother listening to their chatter. Besides, he wanted to know why Rin was nervous about asking him to stop for camp later that night. She had never had trouble asking before, despite his mood.
 
“I don't really care how. It's your problem, not mine. Why don't you ask him yourself?” Jaken hissed back, his voice quieter. “In this mood, Sesshomaru-sama's more likely to kick me in the head again. You're on your own, girl.”
 
“Jaken-sama, you know why Rin can't ask him herself.”
 
Sesshomaru's eyes narrowed. Why couldn't Rin ask him to stop? It became increasingly obvious that she wasn't talking to him on purpose. The distance that had settled between them seemed to widen further. He chanced a glance over his shoulder, seeing the young woman hugging the small bundle to her chest. She stared down at Jaken, a small frown on her face. Sesshomaru wouldn't make her talk to him, no matter how much he wanted answers.
 
Rin continued on, her whisper softer, “It's your fault he's so angry.”
 
“My fault?” Jaken's hoarse whisper snapped back. “You've still yet to greet him, you brazen girl.”
 
The young woman sighed. She hissed back, “And you know why Rin hasn't, Jaken-sama.”
 
Sesshomaru resisted the urge to turn around and ask what Rin meant. He clenched his teeth together, hoping the toad would give him the answer. After all, his servant had spent far more time with the young girl than he had lately. Maybe Jaken would prove useful for once and reveal what the problem was. He just hoped the answer didn't involve the wretched boy.
 
Jaken sighed. “I never agreed to getting myself kicked in the head in this little plan of yours, you know.”
 
“Rin's sorry. She didn't mean for it to happen.” The young woman paused. “Just remember what to do later, once we get Sesshomaru-sama to let us stop for the night. Please?”
 
“We. When we get Sesshomaru-sama to stop. You mean when I do, right?” Jaken grumbled. “Alright, but you owe me, girl. I'll hold up my end of the plan.”
 
“Thank-you so much, Jaken-sama. Rin will make it up to you with a nice dinner next week---anything you want.”
 
“I'll hold you to that, Rin.”
 
So his companions were planning something and they didn't want him to know what it was. Sesshomaru increased his pace when he heard them fall silent again. Surely his servant wouldn't be involved in a plan to help Rin sneak away to this Itachi. Not with the way the toad spoke of him. Now that Sesshomaru knew of their plan, he wanted to know more, and found the young woman's avoidance of him even more disturbing.
 
Here is a plea
From my heart to you
 
They emerged from the thicket into another field. Now that they lacked the shade from the trees, sunlight forced Sesshomaru to squint. He changed course to get away from its harsh glare. Ah-Un lowed behind him, slowly maneuvering to follow. Rin's soft, warm giggles reached his ears, a light musical lilt to them. Soon afterwards, Jaken's surprised cry pierced the air, followed by the soft thud of the Staff of Two Heads. Sesshomaru fought the urge to turn around and chastise the obnoxious toad.
 
“It's not funny, you stupid girl!”
 
“Rin's sorry, Jaken-sama.” Rin continued to laugh softly. She sighed, taking a deep breath. “It's not nice of her to laugh. Rin should have warned you that Ah-Un changed direction.”
 
“That stupid dragon ought to watch what it does with its stupid tail,” Jaken grumbled.
 
Rin said, an amused inflection to her soft voice, “Rin will try to remind Ah-Un to be more careful with its tail next time.”
 
Jaken snorted. He snapped, “Foolishness!”
 
Quiet settled over them again, and Sesshomaru sighed. He already missed Rin's light, carefree laughter. The Demon Lord had heard less of it in the past month, so he treasured it when he heard it. Giving the young woman a sideways glance, Sesshomaru saw that Rin's attention was still fixated on her small package. He clenched his teeth, resisting the temptation to ask what was so fascinating about it. He quickened his pace, placing more distance between Rin and himself.
 
Sesshomaru ignored the scent of humans on the breeze. The Demon Lord saw no reason to feel threatened by its insignificance. It was faint as well, and he could tell that a mixture of the elderly and children, both defenseless, combined to form the scent. Sesshomaru realized they were passing through a fallow field. Long forgotten crops laid rotting and weeds choked the rest of it. He could have cared less about the deserted farmland.
 
They crossed a small path intersecting the rugged terrain. It was narrow with small patches of weeds scattered throughout. Sesshomaru speculated that it led to a small village. Sure enough, as they crested a hill, it came into view. There were perhaps no more than twenty huts all together. Most looked like they needed to be repaired. In fact, Sesshomaru wondered if it hadn't been abandoned, considering how poor it appeared. Whether there were any inhabitants or not, the Demon Lord and his followers gave it a wide berth. He had no desire to visit any villages, nor did he want any trouble from humans.
 
The desolate village reminded him of another. That one had been nestled by a grove, one he remembered well. Sesshomaru had spent days recuperating in it, and there his life had irreversibly changed. Glancing back towards Rin, he noticed she had taken up staring at her small bundle. For a moment, he recalled how she had looked when they had first met. She had been so tiny and vulnerable. Her face had been dirty and her clothes torn. He had known when she first approached that she was a resident of the humble village. Then she had set out to care for him.
 
As silent as she was right now, Sesshomaru remembered the time Rin had been unable to speak. He had found it unusual when she had first approached him without saying a word. When he had snarled to drive her away, Sesshomaru had expected the child to cry out and announce to the village that a demon was nearby. Rin hadn't done that. Her odd behavior had mystified him, especially since she hadn't asked questions or babbled nonsense as other humans did. While he hadn't known at that moment she had been mute, her silence had been refreshing. After that first meeting, he had watched her frequent return trips with more interest than he had given any other human.
 
He thought about how his curiosity had grown when he had noticed that she had been beaten. Only after he had asked about it had Sesshomaru realized her inability to talk. He still couldn't explain why it had mattered to him. She had been a little human girl, helpless and not worth his scrutiny. Yet, Sesshomaru had felt an odd, gentle pull when he had seen her smile in joy. He still didn't know why Rin had smiled like that. All he knew was after that moment, she had gone from being a mere nuisance to someone innocently charming.
 
At his waist, Sesshomaru felt Tenseiga's light pulse. He placed his hand onto its hilt to still it. He could feel its vibrations travel up his arm and throughout his body. A mild warmth settled over him, and the Demon Lord looked down at the sword, arching an eyebrow. Tenseiga wasn't asking to be drawn; the fang of his father seemed to be communicating with him for a different reason.
 
“Are you remembering as well, Tenseiga?” Sesshomaru muttered under his breath. In answer, the sword gave a stronger throb. He snorted. “I see.”
 
When Sesshomaru had later found her mauled, lifeless body, he had felt the same pull. Shortly thereafter, Tenseiga had pulsed, just as now, awakened by what the Demon Lord had come to recognize as compassion. It had made a plea to his heart, entreating him to save someone who had amused him for the briefest of moments. In answer, Rin's heart had started to beat again. Afterwards, she had followed him without question. As time went on and she got older, Sesshomaru grew accustomed to her presence, and the peculiar warmth that filled him because of it.
 
In the back of his mind, however, Sesshomaru knew a day would come when Rin would wish to return to her own kind. He looked towards the young woman sitting atop his dragon and realized it might be sooner than later. The frequent stops in villages as of late made him wonder if Rin had been searching for one to call her home. He snorted, ignoring the small twinge in his heart that she would leave. He tried to convince himself that she was that same fleeting amusement she had been before Tenseiga had convinced him to revive her. Sesshomaru sighed, knowing that was easier said than done.
 
Tenseiga pulsated in its sheath again, and Sesshomaru shook his head. He whispered to the blade, “This Sesshomaru takes that as an agreement, Tenseiga.”
 
Before Sesshomaru could look away, Rin's eyes met his. They had the same warmth as always, and the slight ache he felt ebbed. A mysteriousness filled them, and it made the Demon Lord appeal to her with his own to fill him in. The young woman looked away, sighing softly. She hummed quietly to herself, petting one of Ah-Un's heads. Sesshomaru growled softly to himself and increased his pace. It seemed he would just have to be patient awhile longer. Rin would have to talk to him eventually. Sesshomaru caressed Tenseiga's hilt, its gentle thrum soothing his volatile temper.
 
Nobody knows me
As well as you do
 
The Lord of the Western Lands had often mused why he had succumbed to Tenseiga's plea. More so, he sometimes wondered why he had allowed Rin to stay with him. She was just a human, after all. And yet, Sesshomaru knew exactly why he had brought Rin back from the dead---and then had let her follow him. Despite all the reasons he told himself he shouldn't have done so---her mortality, fragility, weaknesses to disease, the mere fact that she was human at all---Sesshomaru had come to accept that Rin intuitively knew him best.
 
They could not have been more opposite of one another. She was open, trusting, and warm. He was aloof, cautious, and cold. She showed others kindness; he showed them brutality. She was patient and understanding. He only understood those searching for power. Yet, this young human saw underneath his emotionless facade. She could tell when he was angry, upset, frustrated, sad, and even happy. Rin just seemed to know what others did not, could not. There was no explaining how she did. It just simply was.
 
It fascinated Sesshomaru that a human had such capacity to perceive his true feelings. Rin's empathy seemed to have no bounds. He had known that from the moment she had splashed him with water back in that grove. Sesshomaru idly wondered, how from the start, she had known exactly what he wanted. No matter what he said aloud, Rin just perceived what he really meant. What amazed him the most, perhaps, was the fact Rin tried to understand him at all.
 
It had taken this distance between them for the Demon Lord to realize how well his ward knew him. Until then, he hadn't really noticed all the ways Rin understood what he wanted. When Sesshomaru craved silence, she knew to take Jaken with her and keep the toad occupied. When he had a dangerous mission to complete, she told him she'd wait, sometimes even before he told her about it. She sensed when he grew restless waiting for them to break camp and travel on. Rin would pack and wake Jaken before he could ask. She recognized when he was troubled and would pick extra flowers, no matter how indifferent he acted about receiving them. Rin did all of these things everyday, and since she started to pull away from him, Sesshomaru found he missed them.
 
Jaken grumbled behind him, “Will we never stop to rest? My legs hurt and I'm so hungry.”
 
“Jaken-sama, don't complain, please. Rin's sure it won't be too much longer.” Even now, Rin knew the last thing he wanted to hear was his servant whining.
 
“Easy for you to say, girl. You've been riding on that dragon all day.” The toad snorted.
 
“Rin will switch with you, if you want.”
 
“No. Don't be foolish, Rin. Your human body would get tired too fast and you'd slow us all down.”
 
“Alright. If you say so, Jaken-sama.”
 
You know how hard it is for me
To shake the disease
That takes hold of my tongue
In situations like these
 
Turning his attention back to the terrain ahead, Sesshomaru observed that the sun had begun to set. He hadn't realized that it had gotten so late, or that they had traveled that far throughout the afternoon. Pale pinks streaked through the clouds and blended into light violets before finally fading into soft blues. The Demon Lord sighed and arrived at the conjecture that Jaken's sniveling had been the toad's method to get him to stop for the night. Sesshomaru spotted a small thicket nearby, and led his group towards it. He surmised that it would provide adequate cover while his companions rested over night.
 
When they reached the tree line, Sesshomaru stopped and turned to face his group. He said, his voice crisp, “We will stop here for the night.”
 
Ah-Un's heavy footsteps stopped, followed by a soft thud as the dragon laid down. Rin laughed softly and said, “Thank-you, Ah-Un. You can rest now.”
 
Sesshomaru watched as Jaken sunk the Staff of Two Heads into the ground, leaning on it. He panted, trying to catch his breath. His servant closed his eyes and whispered, “Finally. I thought we'd never stop.”
 
Rin shook her head. She still sat atop Ah-Un. “Rin told you we'd stop soon enough, Jaken-sama.” She hugged her little bundle to her chest, leaning her head on one of the dragon's. The young woman said, her voice soft, yet firm, “But you know Rin can't start to prepare supper without a fire.”
 
Jaken snorted, waving a small green hand at her. He snapped, “Alright, alright, I'll go get firewood.” He waddled away from them, his short little legs taking him into the trees. He grumbled loudly, “Does Rin have to walk all day? No. I do. And then when we stop, who gathers the firewood? Who else? Me! Insufferable girl!” His voice started to fade the farther he went. Eventually, his irritating complaints ceased, leaving silence in their wake.
 
Sesshomaru turned his back towards Rin and Ah-Un. He glanced over his shoulder, finding that she had her eyes closed. Rin's expression was peaceful, a soft smile gracing her lips. A few wayward locks of chestnut hair fell over one eye, and her small hand reached up to tuck them behind her ear. Sesshomaru took a breath, preparing to tell the young woman he would go scout the area, but clenched his teeth to stop himself. He would not give in and speak first.
 
No matter how much he wanted to ask her about the bundle or the stops in villages, he wasn't certain what words he'd use anyways. How could he come out and ask about her intentions with the wretch Itachi without sounding desperate? The Demon Lord could command her to tell him, but he wanted her to tell him of her own free will. Sesshomaru knew how to give orders and issue threats to his enemies. He did not know how he would go about asking such questions of Rin. He shook his head and faced the trees.
 
Sesshomaru started to make his way towards the trees, wanting to make sure their camp would be undisturbed for the night. He figured with the way Jaken had announced their presence, any demon that wished to attack knew where they were located by now. Squaring his shoulders, the Demon Lord took a step towards the trees when he heard the soft sound of Rin's feet touching the ground. He stopped, but did not turn to face her. Sesshomaru waited a moment to see if she might finally acknowledge him. His eyes narrowed when she didn't speak.
 
Understand me
 
The Demon Lord began to walk again when he heard a soft whisper. “Sesshomaru-sama.”
 
Sesshomaru stopped, glancing over his shoulder. Rin's head was bowed, her small package clutched to her chest. A light blush crossed her cheeks and she bit her lip, uncertain. He closed his hand into a tight fist, feeling his earlier anger rise again. Sesshomaru had hoped that she would know he wouldn't rebuke her as he had the toad earlier today. He had hoped she would understand that his frustration had other roots. Sesshomaru made his expression as unreadable as possible so not to show any anger. He said, his voice soft, “Rin.”
 
Rin crossed towards him, keeping her head down. She said softly, “Rin's sorry she didn't address you earlier, Sesshomaru-sama, but she had her reasons.”
 
“Rin,” Sesshomaru began. He wanted to tell her that he had no quarrel with her. He wanted her to understand that he only wanted to know why she had been so distant. Sesshomaru tried to grasp the words that would not come, unable to formulate what he wanted into a cohesive question. It was not his nature to express such things.
 
“Rin knows she should have greeted you properly earlier today, Sesshomaru-sama.” Rin sighed. “But Rin had to wait until the right moment to tell you something, and she wouldn't have been able to hold it in if she had said anything earlier.”
 
Sesshomaru felt his fist tighten, his claws digging into his palm. What did she mean she had something she had to tell him? Had he been right all along about her leaving his side for the boy Itachi? Had she found a village she wished to stay in? As hard as it was for him to find the words to tell her he was not angry with her, he found it even harder to ask her what she meant. He said, his voice slightly strained, “Go on, Rin.”
 
Rin nodded. “Rin has been stopping in the villages for something other than just supplies.”
 
Sesshomaru grit his teeth together. Had this boy convinced her to truly leave? He asked, “And that is, Rin?”
 
“Rin had to barter for awhile to get something she wanted. It was very expensive and she's thankful that she had help from Itachi-sama.” The young woman paused. “Rin found something very special and couldn't afford it, but with each item, found a way to get something that would equal its value.”
 
Sesshomaru's brows furrowed. She had mentioned the wretched boy, but it hadn't sounded like she meant to go with him. He frowned. “What item?”
 
Rin rested her small package in her palm. “Rin got it for you, Sesshomaru-sama. She wanted to find something to thank-you for her beautiful kimono, but knew just picking some random flowers wouldn't be enough. So, when we traveled to a village to get some food, she found this.” She pulled the ribbon, letting the cloth fall open. “When Rin saw it, she knew that it would make the perfect gift for you, Sesshomaru-sama.”
 
Sesshomaru stepped closer to her, pulling the cloth further open. Inside rested a small ivory carving of three roses on a branch. One was in full bloom, the outer petals a soft pink that deepened into a rich red. The other two were small buds, in similar coloring. The branch was light green and it appeared at the end was another small rosebud about to form. To complete the effect, there were small, dark green leaves. The piece must have been extremely expensive.
 
He lifted his eyes to meet hers. Sesshomaru wasn't sure what to make of her gift, and he couldn't find the words to express his gratitude for it. She had gone through so much trouble to acquire it. The Demon Lord hoped he could communicate his thanks with his eyes. He wanted so much for her to understand that her gift was appreciated. Sesshomaru cursed himself for not being good at showing that.
 
He whispered, “Rin.”
 
“You're welcome, Sesshomaru-sama.” Rin blushed, smiling up at him. She leaned up on her toes and gave him a kiss on his cheek. His eyes went wide as he felt her soft lips brush his skin. The young woman stepped back, her head down. “Rin didn't mean to be so bold just now, but she's just so happy that you like it so much, Sesshomaru-sama. She didn't know if you would.”
 
Sesshomaru looked down at the young woman, his eyes still wide in astonishment Somehow, she had understood what he had been unable to say. This young woman would never cease to amaze him. Rin could piece together his expressions and the things he left unsaid and arrive at what he wanted to tell her but couldn't.
 
He said, “It was not necessary.”
 
“Rin knows it wasn't, but she wanted to get it for you anyways, Sesshomaru-sama. It'll last longer than the real flowers.” Rin sighed. She carefully re-wrapped the small carving. “Rin will keep it safe for you, if you want.”
 
Some people have to be
Permanently together
 
Sesshomaru nodded, giving his approval to her proposition. She started to turn to put it in one of Ah-Un's packs, but she stopped when he called out, “Rin.”
 
“Yes, Sesshomaru-sama?” Rin bit her lip, her blush darkening further.
 
“The boy who helped---” Sesshomaru struggled to find the words to complete his question.
 
Rin's nose crinkled and she frowned. “Itachi-sama? He was helpful, but Rin is glad she doesn't have to see him anymore. He was nice to Rin, but he seemed to lack manners. He never called Jaken-sama by name and he never used honorifics with anyone. Rin put up with it since he could get the shopkeepers to accept trades for items of lesser value than the item she was trying to get.”
 
Sesshomaru moved closer to her, his gold eyes searching her brown. “And the villages?”
 
Rin's frown grew. “Rin's very glad she won't have to stop in one for awhile. They don't smell very nice, and Rin thinks they're too crowded.” She smiled, small dimples appearing in her cheeks. “Rin likes it much better out here.”
 
Sesshomaru labored to find the words for his next question. He hated that he never knew the proper phrases for these types of things. He knew how to send biting remarks towards his opponent. It went against everything in him to even think about asking what he wanted to ask now. He pursed his lips, trying to find the best, direct words he could use to express what he wanted. Sesshomaru could only hope that Rin would know what he had tried to say.
 
The Demon Lord began, whispering softly, “Rin---”
 
Rin looked up towards him, her eyes searching his face. A soft smile crossed her lips, and she shook her head. “Rin would rather stay here. She knows that Itachi-sama had hoped that she'd go with him, but she also knows that you wouldn't like that very much. Besides, Rin wants to be wherever you are, Sesshomaru-sama.”
 
Lovers devoted
To each other forever
 
Sesshomaru couldn't contain the soft gasp that escaped his lips. All he had done was say her name. He hadn't been able to ask his question, and she had answered it without even hearing it. His eyes met hers, and he saw her own unasked question in her dark eyes. Sesshomaru saw the uncertainty in them. Rin seemed to know the majority of his thoughts, but sometimes it seemed that she never knew just what he felt about her. Sesshomaru supposed he could only blame himself as he didn't tell her.
 
The young woman looked down, chewing her lip. She whispered, “Rin should start getting her supplies for supper ready.”
 
The Demon Lord stepped closer to Rin, tilting her chin up with his fingers. Sesshomaru studied her heart-shaped face. He could see the devotion that shined in her brown eyes. This was different than when she had been a little girl following him without question. Rin had chosen to stay with him, even though she knew a young man had wanted to be with her. She had turned from a man of her own kind in favor of him. The longer his eyes held hers, the more he could see the quiet love that had replaced the naive adoration of her youth. Rin didn't stay because he had given her a second life all those years ago. She stayed because she wanted to.
 
Sesshomaru took a breath, trying to grasp the words he wanted to use to answer her unasked question. This time he wouldn't let his inability to vocalize his feelings get the best of him. He gently brushed his thumb across her cheek. He said, his voice hushed, “You may do as you please, Rin. This Sesshomaru finds it acceptable.”
 
“Thank-you, Sesshomaru-sama.” Rin leaned into his touch, her eyes never leaving his. A tiny smile crossed her lips. It lit up her face as her dimples appeared. “Rin would like to stay with you as long as you'll let her.”
 
The Demon Lord wanted to tell her that he hoped she'd stay with him always, but found that the words just would not come. He just didn't know how to start. He, the Lord of the Western Lands, did not ask, did not make requests. He made demands, gave orders, and commanded those around him. Sesshomaru did not want Rin to feel she had to stay with him out of obligation or duty. He wanted her to stay of her own freewill, and for now, he would have to accept that she presently wanted to stay at his side. The future would take care of itself.
 
Sesshomaru rested his hand onto her cheek. He swallowed, trying to overcome the stiffness he felt in his tongue. He opened his mouth, preparing to express his thanks, but pulled away when he heard his servant's complaints come closer again. He felt his resolve crumble, and the careful words he had selected faded. Sesshomaru's eyes narrowed and he glared in the direction Jaken's voice came from.
 
Jaken stumbled from the trees, a small pile of firewood in his arms. He muttered, “That took way too long.” His complaints continued as if he had forgotten about them, “My feet hurt so bad and I am so hungry.”
 
Rin shook her head, and laughed softly. “You can rest now, Jaken-sama. You'll feel better after dinner, too, although Rin's sorry we won't have any meat tonight.”
 
Jaken nodded, waving a tired hand at her. “If you say so, girl.”
 
Now I've got things to do
 
Sesshomaru arched an eyebrow at Rin. He watched her wrap the bundle with his ivory rose and then place it carefully in a pack on Ah-Un's side. Somehow he suspected they hadn't been able to afford meat when in the village because of her gift. If his tongue wouldn't allow him to say thank-you, he would have to do so through action.
 
Sesshomaru turned his back on the small camp and stated, “This Sesshomaru will return shortly after scouting.”
 
“Alright, Sesshomaru-sama. We'll be waiting,” Rin called after him.
 
Sesshomaru entered the small thicket. He hoped that the toad hadn't frightened off all the game with his obnoxious whining. The Demon Lord didn't want to go far to catch something for Rin. He slowly went towards the side Jaken had not. Luckily, he spotted a rather large buck grazing nearby. It would be more meat than Rin and Jaken could eat in one night, but it would last them awhile. He stalked it, wanting to make a quick kill.
 
The buck didn't take notice as he came closer. It saw him too late and by that time Sesshomaru had reached it and ripped its throat out with his claws. It had been a clean kill. He hefted the heavy weight of the deer onto his shoulder and prepared to return to the small clearing he had left Rin and Jaken. As he neared, he saw that Rin had built a small fire. She was also chopping some vegetables, quietly humming to herself. It seemed he hadn't been the only one to busy himself.
 
And I've said before
That I know you have too
When I'm not there
In spirit I'll be there
 
Before Sesshomaru joined his companions at the fire, he stopped to watch them a little while longer. Jaken moved closer to the fire, stoking it with a stick while Rin continued to prepare ingredients for cooking. The toad said, his voice soft, “So, did he like it, Rin?”
 
Rin stopped chopping the mushrooms in front of her. She smiled at his servant. “Yes, Sesshomaru-sama liked Rin's gift very much.”
 
“So all that trouble was worth it.” Jaken snapped a stick, throwing it into the fire.
 
“Of course it was, Jaken-sama. Rin knew that the ivory carving would be a great gift for Sesshomaru-sama, and she just had to get it.” Rin resumed chopping her mushrooms, her motions quick.
 
“That's good. I'm glad he liked it.” Jaken snorted. “I'm also glad we won't have to set foot in any more of those stupid villages for awhile. I was getting tired of wearing that hood to hide my face all the time.”
 
“Rin's very grateful that you helped her so much with Sesshomaru-sama's gift. She couldn't have done it without you, Jaken-sama.”
 
The whole time Rin had been visiting the villages, all she had thought about was him. It was for him that she had gone to them at all. Sesshomaru sighed, feeling foolish. How could he have ever thought otherwise about her? After he had seen the soft devotion in her eyes tonight, Sesshomaru knew he wouldn't have to worry anytime soon about her running off. Even when he wasn't with her, he wasn't far from her mind.
 
Sesshomaru shifted his deer, and shook his head. It seemed he had picked up one habit from the young woman, for she wasn't far from his mind when she was absent. He snorted, and returned to his group. Sesshomaru tossed the deer carcass to the ground. He said, no emotion in his voice as he addressed Rin, “Take this as thanks for the carving.”
 
Finally, Sesshomaru had shaken the disease that had stilled his tongue whenever he wanted to express his feelings.
 

Chapter -1
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