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Coming of Age

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Summary: Rin, warrior wild-child and Sesshoumaru's ward, has always wanted to see the future. With a little help from a Key, she'll get a lot more than a look. This is the beginning of her adventures.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Anime > InuyashaDoubleKrossFR13117,298049315 Feb 115 Feb 11Yes
Title: Coming of Age
Series: #1 in A Life with Sunflowers
Author: Doublekross
Disclaimer:Neither Inuyasha nor Buffy the Vampire Slayer belong to me. No money is being made off of this story.
Author's Notes: This first story in the series is mostly about Rin and the majority of it takes place in Edo.
Summary: Rin is growing up.



Chapter One

Edo, Japan, the Feudal Era



There was a battle raging outside the village--what would grow up to be Tokyo--that had begun at least half an hour ago, and would continue for hours more.

The sun was low already, sinking slowly towards the horizon, following the lazy path of a long summer’s evening. Beneath the ambling star, two brothers faced each other across an open field; a recently decimated portion of woodland felled by two powerful, mildly disagreeable demons. The younger of the two snorted, twitched and shrugged, a slow grin spreading across his face. The elder glanced down and sighed, the only testament that he was not taking this dispute entirely seriously. Nevertheless, he raised his sword, pointing it at his half-brother. “I am not going to go easy on you,” he promised. “Feh!” was the response. “Like I’d ever ask you to!”

There was a pause when the very grass seemed to hold it’s a breath, followed by an explosion of power; raw energy transformed into a beautiful dance that was at times little more than flashing blades to mortal eyes---such as belonged to the fourteen-year-old who watched her Lord in rapture. Her eyes were a little faster, a little keener than even the more advanced humans, but even if she had only been able to see blades flashing in the air, she would be have been entranced.

She cut a remarkable figure of a vassal; just edging away from the brief awkwardness of her latest growth spurt, she had crept from “cute” and was obviously running headlong into “beauty”. Slim, almost willowy, she held herself with a grace that could only have come from following and constantly imitating a noble demon lord. It was not only her grace and beauty that caught the eye: she had been dressed in a manner befitting the companion of a lord as well. Her red travel yukata was printed and embroidered with colorful flowers, a design fitting for her youth, save for the crisp string of white flowers, each enclosed in a hexagon, and embroidered over her left shoulder, right up to the collar, visible when her hair swung away. Her hair had been chopped into the perfect right angles of a noble lady and left to flow down her back in imitation of her lord’s. She wore shoes now, leather-bottomed sandals with silk thongs, but those had been hastily pulled on a few ri from the village, a thin veneer of nobility over the wild warrior that Sessshoumaru had raised. Contrasting her genteel, some would even say noble appearance, stark against the expensive leathers and embroidered silk, was the wakizashi strapped to her back and the kodachi at her hip. Both scabbards and handles were red with colorful flowers to match her yukata.


Still not enough leverage to wield a katana well. Kagome let a smile tug at the corner of her lips and rustled her hakama, letting the rough red fabric warn the young girl of her arrival before she spoke. “Hello, Rin.” As anticipated, Rin turned without hesitation or alarm. “Nee-san!” Her face lit up and she threw herself into the arms of the twenty-five-year-old woman she considered an older sister. Kagome gave the girl a tight squeeze.

“It’s been too long this time,” she said. “You’ve grown too much!” “I outgrew three kimonos last year,” Rin confided proudly. “Yes, I can believe it,” Kagome laughed, smoothing Rin’s hime-cut bangs away from her face. “Come on, I know you’re hungry. I bet Sesshoumaru still doesn’t often remember that you have to eat.” “He remembers more often!” Rin defended starchly. “He asked us twice last month if we should stop for food!” “You’re right,” Kagome relented. “He is getting better. Kohaku, are you coming along?”


For a long pause, there was no change in the surroundings. Kagome frowned and opened her mouth to speak again, but a shadow seemed to detach itself from a nearby tree and move into the light. A young man dressed in black hakama and haori coalesced from blurry object to sharp reality. Like Rin, his clothes were finely made, and he bore the signature white flowers and hexagons at his left shoulder and collar; they were stark against the black of his outfit. His hair was longer as well, and like his master, he left it loose. The sickle-blade of the kusarigama was not out in the open, but the heavy chain, twice as long as the one he had used in his youth, was draped twice over his shoulder. His katana rested in the usual place, and Kagome could not help but notice that it was new---definitely different from the one he had used in his youth.

What had happened to the old one?

She opened her mouth to ask, but Kohaku gave a curt nod, and Rin, who had already known that Kohaku would be coming, was tugging on her hand in an effort to hurry her along to the village. “Master Jaken, Kohaku and I are going with Kagome!” Rin yelled to the clearing. The dragon-headed beast Ah-Un looked up with interest, but the little imp bobbed up from his seat in the high grass far away from the beast of burden, waving his double-headed staff in fury. “There’s no need to yell, Rin,” he berated. “It’s more ladylike to come and tell me in a soft voice.”

“But I couldn’t see you, Master Jaken,” Rin protested. “I didn’t know where you were.” Jaken sighed, flopping back down in the tall grass to watch the fight of his lord and his lord’s brother, his voice floating over the field. “Go on with you, girl.”

Poor girl, it’s probably been forever since she had someone to talk to besides Sesshoumaru, Kohaku and Jaken. I bet she hasn’t spoken to another woman since the last time she saw me! Horrified that this might be the case, Kagome began questioning Rin on her upbringing in Sesshoumaru’s palace. Rin, happy to have another human female to talk to, delighted in expounding on every adventure with her lord.

Fortunately, it was a short trip---Rin would have plenty of stories left to fill the next few weeks of her stay with her sisters and friends—Edo came into view within a half hour.

As they crested the last hill, Rin gasped with delight. It had transformed since she had last been here, and she had only read about it’s updating in the letters that she traded with Kagome and Sango. The bone-eater's well had once had a shrine nearby, but by the time Kagome had come through the well, it had already been in a grievous state of disrepair, almost completely overrun by plant growth. Kagome and Miroku had 'rediscovered' it one day when looking for Inuyasha, and had taken it upon themselves to at least push back the suffocating overgrowth surrounding it.


Starting as a ramshackle shrine, Rin had last seen it as a small, plain temple where Kagome, Miroku and Kaede had taken on a few students to train in the ways of miko and houshi. Since then, it had grown and thrived. With the protection of powerful mikos and the village's hanyou, the nearby village of Edo had quickly gained a reputation as being more "safe" from youkai and bandits than other places. People had come and had built homes and brought families. The temple had quickly grown with the thriving village, and built a small school that accepted noble and commoner child alike; the hoards of young children were taught and protected by the growing number of monks and mikos that lived and trained in the temple. And now the whole of the village was turned out of their houses to set up for the fortnight-long festival of spring; a riot of colors and banners, and so many humans.

“Rin?”

Rin jerked away from her studied fascination of the many human bustling about the village square to glance up at Kagome with a questioning expression. “The house is this way.” Kagome steered the two teenagers towards the largest house in the village, where a young, black-haired woman was hanging a long rope tied with brightly covered scarves over the front of the house, with the assistance of a young fox-demon who was currently blown up like a balloon. The young woman turned to secure the rope to a hook and it was clear that she was swollen with child. Nevertheless, when she caught sight of Kohaku, she was down the step, across the front garden and had her arms thrown around his neck before the rope had time to drift to the ground.

“Sango,” Kohaku murmured, embracing her gently, aware of her rounded belly. “It’s good to see you.”

“Oh, you,” she chastised, pulling away. “It’s been too long! Couldn’t you come see us, just once, when Mizu was born?”

“I’m sorry,” he apologized, but did not bother to explain. They both knew that he would have come if Sesshoumaru had accompanied him.

“Nevermind,” Sango said, embracing Rin with just as much enthusiasm. “Come inside, both of you! You have to come see Mizu!” She turned, dragging Kohaku behind her as Rin and Kagome watched, amused.



“Nee-san, this is your house?” Rin said. It was nowhere near the size of the palace of the West, but it was at least twice as large as a human noble’s house—surprising for a priestess and a demon with nothing but a noble name. “Well, mine and Sango’s,” Kagome smiled as she showed Rin inside. “Originally Sango and I wanted our houses near each other, but when Inuyasha and Miroku began to build our houses, they became quite competitive..." Kagome trailed off with a blush. "And anyway, Sango and I made them work together to build both of the houses, which began to encroach on each other because those stupid men built them too close together and too big, because they were trying to outdo each other and not paying attention to the boundaries." She rolled her eyes. "We added a connecting hallway between them to visit more easily and then later consolidated the kitchens because they were so close together anyway. It's also much easier for us to split the cooking duties.” Kagome shook her head slightly. “You can see, there are two doors--” She pointed them out. "Most of the house is sectioned off, but it is nice to be so near Sango..."

“Will you have children soon, like Sango?” Rin glanced curiously at Kagome’s flat stomach. Kagome laughed. “Oh, not too soon, I think,” Kagome demurred. “Inuyasha and I haven’t even made our mating official yet…”

“Because that’s next week, at the end of the festival.”

“Yes,” Kagome confirmed. “After which, we will travel through the well to my family home and have a traditional marriage ceremony in the future.”

“I would like to go and see the future,” Rin said wistfully.

“Inuyasha hates it,” Kagome smiled, reaching out to run her hand through Rin’s hair. “I think you might not like it either.”

“I might!” Rin protested---a little too loudly, despite the fact that it was silly to protest. Kagome and Inuyasha were the only ones with the ability to travel through the well. Rin made a meek face. “Sorry nee-san.” Kagome waved it off.

“Come on, let’s go see Mizu.”


+

The first day of the celebration, there was no particular program, just a large feast, a lot of music and extended merrymaking. Adults liberally poured alcohol for themselves and handed out sweets to children underfoot. Children ran amok, unsupervised, playing with streamers, balls and other toys. The only people working were those that had guard duty on the outskirts of the village, and even they had only short shifts and were brought food from the feast. By the time the sun set, the festival of Spring was in full swing.

However, the moon and it’s brilliant entourage of stars had made a full appearance by the time Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru slipped into the village. Used to the comings and goings of the village’s hanyou, nobody paid the two much mind, although Sesshoumaru garnered some extended stares. The two brothers hung back from the celebration, content to watch their humans intermingle while pointedly not nursing wounds.

Sango was sitting on a long bench, one arm around Kohaku, keeping him from escaping, and whatever she was saying was making him turn pink. In her other arm was a wiggly girl-child, probably not much more than two or three, dressed in a tiny, colorful kimono. She had grabbed onto a lock of her uncle Kohaku’s long hair and Kohaku was struggling to get it back while appearing to pay attention to his sister. Sesshoumaru noted that Kohaku wore a more formal outfit, white hakama and shirt with red dye splatters like blood and white flowers up the left side.

There was a sort of artistry in seeing the blood and flowers on Kohaku, Sesshoumaru thought, considering how the boy had grown from a dangerous child to an even more dangerous young man. There was a flash of light from the bonfire, Kohaku turned his head, and Sesshoumaru could see that Kohaku sported a thin line of red makeup applied directly abutting his eyelashes, in clear imitation of Sesshoumaru’s own demon colorings. Sesshoumaru’s eyes rested on that intricate detail for a long while. It was not insulting to him—after all, the boy wore his markings---but it was surprising that Kohaku would be so bold. His eyes flicked to Rin.

Not far from Kohaku, Miroku was teaching Rin the steps of the local village dance. She twirled, facing Sesshoumaru’s direction, and he made a tiny noise, like a sigh of a sigh. Inuyasha’s ear flickered, and he traced Sesshoumaru’s line of sight to Rin. Her hair, normally long and loose, had been piled on top of her head in an elaborate coif and decorated with small white flowers. Face paint had been carefully applied; her cheeks were rosy and her dark eyes had been first lined with kohl, and then the same red stripes as Kohaku. She wore a dressier kimono too, longer than her travel kimono and white as well. Instead of blood spatters, there was a pattern of large red hexagons, with small white hexagons and enclosed flowers trailing from left neckline all the way to the hem. Sesshoumaru didn’t think it was his imagination that her lips were plumper or pinker or more… sparkly? No, that was definitely artificial. Sesshoumaru glanced at the future-born miko. She was dancing with Shippo and smiling widely. Her lips were just as…sparkly. She was, therefore, the most likely source of his ward’s transformation.

“Che, it’s a little creepy, seeing them dressed up like you.”

Sesshoumaru considered his brother’s words. He liked that his wards wore his flower crest; visible symbols that they belonged to him, and woe to anyone, human or demon, that dared touch them. The imitation demon markings were new, but he liked them, wanted them to stay. “I cannot help but note that your mate wears your colors, of late,” he returned, noting Kagome’s change to the red-and-white of a traditional miko, and coincidentally, a match to Inuyasha’s signature clothing. “That’s her choice,” Inuyasha returned grumpily. “I ain’t forcin’ her.”

“Neither do I force them to wear my crest,” Sesshoumaru returned breezily. “They asked.” Rin had asked, as boldly as she asked everything else, after it seemed that that she would finally be able to wear a kimono for more than a month without outgrowing it. Kohaku would not—could not--ask for anything. But his eyes lingered on the white flowers at Rin’s neck so often that Sesshoumaru was forced to have another outfit made for Kohaku, lest the boy became so distracted that he did himself harm. That was, at least, what Sesshoumaru told himself. Kohaku had accepted the gift with the quiet gratitude that Sesshoumaru had come to know and understand, and every future article of clothing for the two had been similarly decorated.


Some of his subordinates didn't like it of course. Not that they would ever say anything to his face or even in his hearing, but what sort of Lord would he be if he were not aware of the whispers and murmurs of his court? They thought the little humans nothing but pets who rose above their station, wearing the noble crest of the House of the West. But the noble white flowers suited those two; they carried themselves and their markings with a demon’s grace. They brought as much pride to the palace of the West as was possible for humans. Sesshoumaru tilted his head just slightly, watching as Rin rescued Kohaku from his sister and taught him the dance steps she had just learned. No, he hadn’t made a mistake with those two. “Kagome and Sango are really glad you came,” Inuyasha acknowledged finally. “We weren’t sure.” And by extension, they were unsure if Rin and Kohaku would be able to come. Sesshoumaru pointedly did not shrug. “I had no pressing obligations for the moment.”

“Yeah, thought so,” Inuyasha grunted. “You couldn’t have found your way clear of “pressing obligations” when Sango’s baby was born?” There was a tiny pause. “No,” Sesshoumaru said without explanation. Inuyasha had no need to know of his elder brother's political obligations--and he wouldn't care, either. “I was unable to accompany them to your village—although I would have sent Jaken.”

“You knew they wouldn’t come without you.” Inuyasha glanced at his older brother, but there was nothing particularly malicious in his eyes. He was older now, and if he didn’t exactly know his older brother, he was more aware of what to expect in regards to his behavior--just like he knew that Sesshoumaru wouldn't bother to continue this conversation. He stood up, flicked back his hair, muttered, “I’ll see you tomorrow," and left.


Sesshoumaru took a seat at an empty table, watched Inuyasha amble away, watched him dance with his mate, watched Rin and Kohaku and Kagome and Inuyasha all dance and eat and enjoy each other’s company. He watched as Sango and Miroku’s little human escaped her parents and tumbled gleefully through the crowd. She was picked up several times, cooed over, tickled, teased, fed small bits of cake and sweet rice. She escaped each time, though, wiggling away until she found someone new to dote upon her. Sango and Miroku were not lax, however much freedom Mizu thought she was enjoying. They lurked behind her, able to snatch her up in an instant if she looked as though she were in danger.

More than once, he felt Rin and Kohaku’s eyes on him, but they knew better than to ask him to dance in something so undignified as a village celebration—he hardly even danced at the noble functions he was required to attend. He watched them and he watched the little human---she had quite a lot of spirit and power for one so young—and he watched the villagers. He was not really very surprised when the little human managed to dodge her parents and make her way to him. As expected, she approached self-assured and full of curiosity. His hand flexed towards his sword just once, but he stilled it in his lap and let the little human approach. She was tiny, black-haired and had a look of defiant self-reliance. This, he thought, was what Rin must have looked like when she was small, smaller than he had ever seen her.

“I have nothing for you,” he told the little human.

She gave him a wide-eyed look and stuck her fingers in her mouth, staring at him. Sesshoumaru stared back. After a long moment, she teetered forward a few steps and fell. Sesshoumaru expected her to wail or cry, but she giggled, rolled and righted herself again. She teetered forward again, managing to stay upright, and toddled to his leg, grabbing a handful of his hakama to keep his balance. She looked up at him, unafraid. “You are standing in the way,” he told her. If he had to stand suddenly, avoiding this pup would slow him down. Infinitesimally, to be sure, but Sesshoumaru never placed himself in a position of inconvenience, if he could help it. Slowly, she raised her arms and waited, expectantly. Sesshoumaru had seen her do this to other humans. Those humans had picked her up, coddled her. “You will get no coddling from me,” he warned her, but she presented to him a determined face, so like Rin’s when she decided she was going to do something.

So he picked her up, one handed, and tucked her into the crook of his arm, where he could easily draw his sword, if necessary. She wiggled curiously, squirming and grasping onto his clothing with curiosity. “Do not wiggle,” he told her severely. “If you will sit with this Sesshoumaru, you must be well-mannered.” She stopped, giving him an innocent look.

“I didn’t expect you to be good with children.”

Sesshoumaru’s eyes slid over to his brother’s mate, who was taking a seat next to him. “This Sesshoumaru is not good with pups... human, or otherwise.”

Kagome leaned forward, peering at the child in his arm who was examining the flower print on his kimono with rapt fascination. “I think Mizu says otherwise.” His eyes slid down to the tiny human---Mizu. “She has yet to say anything.”

Kagome struggled to keep the smile from her face. “Yes, she’s a quiet one, but children have a language of their own.”

That didn’t seem to need a response, so Sesshoumaru did not provide one, looking away from Mizu and back to the village crowd. Kagome sat quietly, presumably resting. It did not escape Sesshoumaru’s notice that Kagome was angled to make herself less noticeable. Nevertheless, a few young girls dressed in the garments of trainee mikos managed to find her. They each spent a few moments chattering before Kagome was able to kindly turn them away, promising that she would see them tomorrow.

Mizu eagerly waved at each of them as they drifted away and Sesshoumaru watched as Kagome relaxed a little. “Your students?”

“Yes,” Kagome responded. “I teach archery for both the school and the temple.” Mizu clapped her hands and made a gesture that could have been an imitation of archery or it could have been “I’m itchy and want to play in mud”.

“I think she wants to get down,” Kagome observed, squashing Sesshoumaru’s hypothesis. He looked down at Mizu’s waving arms and pursed lips, then carefully lowered her to the cool grass. She spun around, giggled, and toddled in the direction of her mother.

Miko and daiyokai watched until the tot was safely in her mother’s arms again. Wordlessly, Kagome stood, smiled at Sesshoumaru and went back to the celebration.

Sesshoumaru watched as the festivities continued late into the night, until the villagers slowly grow tired and drift away to their huts. Eventually, he endured a goodnight hug from Rin and returned a stoic goodnight from Kohaku (away from witnesses, of course).


The celebration over, his obligations to his wards complete for the evening, Sesshoumaru retreated to the far outskirts of the village where the air was cleaner, clearer, less polluted with human smell. Jaken followed silently, flopped down several yards away from his lord, and fell asleep almost instantly. Sesshoumaru did not sleep, and thus, did not dream, but on these long nights when all of his travel companions were forced to rest themselves, he often fell into a sort of trance, reliving the past with the lucidity of a demon’s memory. With a slow, deep breath, he sunk himself into the memories of Rin and Kohaku when they were small---so much smaller than they were now—and almost unbearably foolish. Somehow, their foolery did not annoy and even, on occasion, managed to be charming…the memory of their adventures caused the edges of his lips to quirk into what some others might have called a smile. He remembered saving Rin---numerous times---because she had gone and done something incredibly brave and foolish. Like the time she had gone and gotten herself kidnapped by that vile reincarnated human…

Rin turned over in her sleep, unaware that she was dreaming of the same event that her master was now recalling.

She had been with Sesshoumaru for only a short time then, only on her second kimono, ‘acquired’ from a local village, and she had been just on the small side of eight; hardly an object of lust to any normal human male. Nevertheless, on one of her routine foraging hunts, unsupervised by Jaken, she had been snatched by a man. He was a giant to her, hard where she was clasped against hard muscle, harder where she was pressed against armor, squeezed against his metal-clad torso. He had clasped his meaty paw, almost the size of her head, over her mouth before she had time to scream for her lord, and had spirited her away before she had a chance to struggle.

Somewhere along the way, she had been bound and gagged and tossed over the shoulder of her mammoth kidnapper as though she were a sack of rice. The shack she was brought to was ramshackle, dirty, and the floor was covered in a thin layer of blood and gore. In the corner, there was a pile of things...human body parts—female torsos, Rin realized after a moment. Some were fully mature, but many were young, slim bodies of girls like herself. Seeing that, she struggled harder to get away, to work the gag from her mouth so that she could scream, but to no avail.

“Pretty, pretty, pretty,” the kidnapper murmured, dropping her to the gore splattered floor without a thought to her comfort. Whimpering, Rin tried to roll away but only succeeded in soaking her kimono in old blood and quickly became caught in the spindly legs of a table. “Here, pretty, pretty, pretty.” The man bent down, loomed over her blood soaked form, one hand flashing with blades….


Rin awoke with a start, her hand going to her stomach. The pain was so sharp and intense that she had a hard time forcing herself out a fetal position. Her legs and thighs felt a familiar form of sticky and wet and the smell of blood was in the air. Fumbling for the candle one handed, she lit it quickly, and stared down at herself in horror. Her pale yellow yukata was stained crimson from hip to thigh. “Oh.” She had somehow been wounded. Had she been stabbed? She reached for her kodachi, unsheathed it, but there was nothing to defend against—the dark corners held no secrets. The room was empty. What had happened? She was dying, she knew this with suddenly clarity, and she opened her mouth to scream.

Sesshoumaru-sama!

Her terrified scream bounced off the walls of the shared home, waking it’s occupants, but none arrived more swiftly to her than Sesshoumaru, who knelt and stared at her bloody form in horror: his Rin, with her shield-sword unsheathed, wounded. The scent of her blood was overwhelmingly strong to him—there was too much for a small household accident. “Rin.”

“I don’t want to die, Sesshoumaru-sama,” Rin cried. “Help me, please!”

“You won’t die,” Kagome interrupted. Despite it being the middle of the night, she was alert and all business, hurrying into the room, quiver on her shoulder and bow in her hand. She knelt by Rin, setting her bow aside and placing a gentle hand to the girl’s belly. “Settle down and stop moving. What happened?”

“I had a strange dream. I woke up covered in blood. My stomach hurts,” Rin sniffled, her words and thoughts disjointed. “Nee-san, can you save me?”

“You’ll be fine,” Kagome assured, coaxing her into laying down again. “Sango, bring the light.” Kagome turned towards the crowd at the door. “The rest of you---go away and shut the door behind you.” Her eyes flickered to Sesshoumaru before returning to Rin’s stomach where she was quickly but gently probing through the girl’s shift, trying to find the tear in the cloth. “You too.”

“No!” Rin’s panic was palpable as she dropped her kodachi and scrabbled for Sesshoumaru’s hand.

“Rin, we need to unclothe you,” Sango explained, holding up the lamp. Her eyebrows furrowed as Kagome failed to find any rents in the cloth.

“There is nothing my lord has not seen before,” Rin argued stubbornly. “If I am to die, I want to be with my lord!”

“She’s a bit loud to be dying,” Sango remarked dryly, having an inkling of what Rin's problem was. “But we should still examine her.” Kagome ignored her, unbelting Rin's yukata.

Sango glared at Sesshoumaru. “You could at least turn your head.” Disdainfully, as though insulted by the very idea that he might be interested in his ward’s nethers, Sesshoumaru turned his head so that his gaze was fully on Rin’s face. Nudging him out of the way, Sango pulled up Rin’s bloodied white shift to bare her thighs and stomach.

“There's no cuts in the cloth," Kagome said, "And I don’t see a wound, just a lot of blood,” Kagome said, moving the lamp closer and inspecting any shadowy places that might be a wound, probing gently.

There was so much blood.

The smell of it filled Sesshoumaru's nose and his hand flexed slightly over his sword. After the miko assisted Rin, he would find whoever did this and rend them into small... no, tiny pieces. Itty, bitty, tiny pieces of unrecognizable flesh and blood. There would be no piece larger than Myoga.

Hah.

“Um, I think it’s just her period.” Kagome's gaze flickered over the assembled Feudal-era residents. "Her monthlies."

Sesshoumaru sighed--no foe to find and rend after all--as Kagome smoothed the bloodied shift over Rin’s thighs, and he managed to look faintly annoyed. It wasn't difficult when his imaginary prey had been snatched from him. “Rin. You have been taught of these matters.”

“I didn’t think there would be so much blood,” Rin sniffled, embarrassed. “And my stomach hurts so much.” She winced as another cramp twisted her innards into knots, her grip on Sesshoumaru’s hand tightening so much that he actually glanced down at their joined palms for a moment.

“It is more than usual,” Kagome noted. “A lot more.”

“But her flow has arrived much later than normal,” Sango argued. “She’s fifteen, today.” She hesitated. "But you're the healer, Kagome," she relented, referring to Kagome's graduation from medical school.

Kagome sighed. “You’re right. I doubt it’s anything dire, but later I'll give her a full examination. It still seems like too much blood to me."

Sango stood. "Should I fetch your books?"

"No, we need to get Rin cleaned up. Rin, can you let go of Sesshoumaru and come with us now?”

“Yes,” Rin responded in a small voice, feeling like a foolish child. “I’m so sorry Sesshoumaru-sama. I should have known better.”

Sesshoumaru did not respond to her, instead turning to Kagome. “Have you medicine to help her pain?”

“Yes,” Kagome confirmed. “We’ll take good care of her, Sesshoumaru.” Sesshoumaru let go of Rin’s hand and rose gracefully to his feet. She wondered if it was her imagination that she felt an extra squeeze before he let go. At the door, he paused. “Rin.”

Rin responded meekly, expecting a chastisement. “Yes, Sesshoumaru-sama?”

“This Sesshoumaru is much pleased that his Rin is not dying.” Kagome and Sango traded amused glances, and Rin’s face lit up like a lantern, despite her pain. “Me too, Sesshoumaru-sama!”

-

Inuyasha, Miroku, and Shippo were waiting, clustered against the wall outside of the room. They were all dressed in various types of sleep-shifts and yukata and all held weapons grabbed in haste. Kohaku stood apart from them, still dressed in his sleep-clothes and obviously worried. His kusarigama-chain was draped over one shoulder, the sickle held in his hand. “My lord.” Sesshoumaru dipped his head, acknowledging his ward’s implied question. “Rin is fine. She had a fright.”

“A fright?”

“These are women’s problems, Kohaku. Leave them be.”

“Yes, my lord.”


At the words “women’s problems”, the others traded looks and ambled away and Inuyasha mumbled "Feh." He tapped his nose. "Losing your sense of smell in your old age?" he taunted his older brother. Sesshoumaru raised one pale eyebrow. "'Women's problems always have a weird edge to 'em," Inuyasha said with a little sniff. "It's not clean, fresh blood." Sesshoumaru frowned. "I am not in the habit of associating with human females enough to distinguish," he said dryly. "Che, be thankful," Inuyasha said, rubbing his nose. "I know more about it than I want to." He grinned suddenly and barked a laugh. "But you'll learn soon enough!" With another barking laugh, he turned and retreated to his bedchambers.

Sesshoumaru continued down the hall, headed outside. He wasn’t sure what made him glance behind, but Kohaku was still standing there, looking at Rin’s door and appearing rather lost.

“Kohaku.”

“My lord?”

Sesshoumaru shifted in such a way so that one of his arms was not so close to his body. To a bystander, it looked like it might be slightly more open and relaxed than normal. To Kohaku and Rin, it was a clear invitation. Kohaku darted to his master, feeling reassured when that arm closed around him, pressing him against his lord’s side.

-

“I’m so embarrassed,” Rin moaned as Kagome and Sango came in to check on her in the bath. She had scrubbed the blood from her body before she got in, but the cramps were still horrible, and Kagome had promised that a hot bath would help. “It’s fine,” Kagome assured her, dumping some medicinal herbs into the bathwater. “We cleaned up the blood in your room and replaced the bedding. You must have been awfully frightened---it looked like someone splashed a whole bucket of blood in there---there wasn’t nearly so much blood for my first time—in fact I’m not sure I’ve ever had so much blood.” “Me either,” Sango said, “I’m sure I would have fainted dead away at that sight. You’re quite brave, Rin!”

“I don’t feel brave,” Rin mumbled, sinking into the bath until her mouth was only just above the steaming water. “I feel so foolish. My first day of being fifteen years old, and I woke the whole house because I got scared of my own monthly flow and I told Sesshoumaru-sama that I was dying.”

“Rin…” Sango glanced towards Kagome. “There is something else we want to talk to you about.”

Rin looked back and forth between the two older women that she considered sisters. “Yes?”

“In the room, you said that Sesshoumaru had… seen you…um…” Kagome trailed off. “Seen you naked,” Sango interrupted. “Is that true?”

“Yes,” Rin responded puzzled. “We take baths together, sometimes. Me and Kohaku and sometimes Sesshoumaru-sama. Sesshoumaru-sama has baths in his palace that are as big as ponds!”

“Oh,” Kagome responded faintly. “He doesn’t… touch you, does he?”

Sango made a strange noise in the back of her throat.

“Touch me?” Rin repeated. “Well, sometimes, when I hug him, if I hold on long enough, he’ll hug me back."

There was a small silence while the two women digested this. "He... will...?" Kagome said, clearly trying to pictures Sesshoumaru hugging someone.

"Uh-huh," Rin said, batting at the water. "But sometimes he gets impatient and takes me by the back of the obi---" She stood partially and mimed a hand grabbing her non-existent obi. "--and just sort of pulls me away." She dropped back into the bath with a shrug.

"Is that all?"

"All?" Rin echoed, wondering what they were looking for. "Umm, well, sometimes, if I do good at my lessons or in my training, he’ll pat me on the head.” She decided not to tell them that very rarely Sesshoumaru would actually initiate a hug, or even hold her close when she had a bad dream---she didn’t think they would believe it. “Why?”

Sango made a noise like an aborted giggle, and Kagome’s face turned red. “Well, Rin, you aren’t a little girl anymore... It’s considered to be um…”

“Indecent,” Sango supplied.

“Indecent,” Kagome parroted. “To take baths with men… uhm… when you’re looking. I mean, ah, sometimes you might take a bath in the same place but you shouldn’t be looking or touching…you should turn your back… or have them turn theirs…” Kagome left off, frustrated. “Does that make sense?”

“No,” Rin said shortly.

“She's trying to say that you need to be more modest,” Sango put in bluntly. “You’re not a little girl anymore. Men should not see you naked.”

“I don’t let men see me naked!” Rin protested. “Just Kohaku and Sesshoumaru-sama!”

Sango sighed.

“They’re men too,” Kagome pointed out gently.

Rin made a disbelieving face. “Sesshoumaru-sama is a daiyokai! And Kohaku… he’s just Kohaku… not a man.”

Sango and Kagome traded sighs and exasperated looks. “Kohaku is almost twenty years old, Rin,” Kagome began. Sango interrupted. “Rin, you should only be seen naked by other women or your husband.”

“But I don’t have a husband.”

“Exactly.”



+



After providing her with a new, clean shift, some towels, and for Kagome’s part, a brief lesson in how to ‘catch’ her flow with some cloths specially sewn for the purpose, Rin’s nee-sans let her alone to think on their advice. Had she truly been immodest by being unashamedly naked around Kohaku and Sesshoumaru-sama? Wouldn’t Jaken, her caretaker, have told her? He was quick to criticize if her clothes were not straightened or in good repair, or if her hair was out of order… even on the road, he would quickly let her know if she needed a bath. He was strict about her ‘ladylike’ behaviors, and had trained her in etiquette. Why wouldn’t he say anything about this?

Troubled by those thoughts, she stepped out of the bath and dried off. She spent a good fifteen minutes figuring out how to position the little cloths Kagome had given her for her flow, and then she carefully pulled the shift over her head. The shift was thin, but there was a blue yukata to go over it; Rin pulled that on as well and padded back to her room. She had only rested her hand on the door when the door across from her own slid open.

“Rin.”

“Sesshoumaru-sama?”

Sesshoumaru sniffed delicately. The scent of blood was weak now, now like a small wound---he had expected a stronger smell, but… this was bearable, no worse than a training scratch. He had been afraid that he would be faced with the alarming prospect of putting up with the smell of copious amounts of blood… Rin’s blood. He had been unsure if he would be able to bear the thought of her smelling as though she’d been slaughtered for a week of every month. He had the niggling sensation that it would shortly drive him mad.

“Are you well, Rin?”

“I am. Thank you, Sesshoumaru-sama.” She looked past him, seeing Kohaku’s slumped form in the room behind him. “Are you staying inside tonight?”

“Yes.” If he was bothered for the thought, he did not show it.

With Kohaku? She wanted to ask, but didn’t.

It was perhaps, a record that would never be recorded, but twice that day, Sesshoumaru opened his stance, wordlessly invited one of his flock into an embrace. Rin threw herself into it without hesitation.

“You need sleep.”

Rin let him guide her into the darkened room, let him hold her, let her tired head against his chest and the close press of Kohaku against her back soothe her lingering worry. She could not disagree.


Chapter Two



Rin woke up alone, which was slightly disappointing, but not completely unexpected. “Rin, where are you?!” Master Jaken’s weedy voice carried through the walls. That must have woken me up. “In here, Master Jaken,” she called, sitting up. A moment later, a bundle of large white flowers slid open the door and staggered in. It stumbled over to Rin’s side, and the toad-like face of Jaken appeared as he plopped the elaborate bouquet in her lap. “Happy Birthday, Rin,” the little imp huffed. “You certainly slept half of it away.”

Rin blushed. “I’m sorry, Master Jaken,” she apologized. “Why didn’t anyone wake me?” Jaken glared. “Because Lord Sesshoumaru told us not to, of course! Do you think I would let you be so lazy without reason?!”

Rin covered her mouth, hiding a smile. “Of course not, Master Jaken,” she agreed. “But thank you for the flowers.”

“They’re not from me, you silly girl!”

Rin’s eyebrows knit in confusion as she studied the white blooms, liberally splashed with bright red pollen---obviously some sort of exotic demon bloom. “Who are they from?”

“Don’t ask such stupid questions, girl! Who do you think they are from?”

“Could they… are they from Sesshoumaru-sama?”

“Of course they are!” Jaken huffed and puffed, waving his two-headed staff irately. “Now get up, you lazy girl, and go wash! Make sure you comb that bird’s nest you call hair, and do something about the smell of your blood!”

“Yes, Master Jaken!”

Rin scrambled up, her face burning red, hurrying first to the privy, and then the bathing-room to freshen herself, changing out of her cloths and underwear so that the strong smell of blood wouldn't linger and then deciding to bathe quickly for good measure. She returned to her room damp beneath her yukata and flushed from the hurrying, but Jaken was already gone and so were the flowers. The bedding was neatly folded and stored in the corner. Puzzled, Rin wondered why Jaken would have taken the flowers with him, and why he’d cleaned up the room---normally, he would have made her do her own chores.

“Oh, Rin, there you are.”

Kagome appeared, neat and tidy and well-awake. She was dressed in a soft blue kimono decorated with pink and yellow flowers, and tied with a navy blue obi. Her hair was tied up according to the rules of future-kimono-fashion and held with a beaded net. She wore light makeup; her lips, cheeks and eyes accented in pink. As Rin admired, Kagome pulled the door to Rin’s room wide open, revealing a tidied room with Rin’s flowers in a short, fat bowl. “I just finished cleaning up that extra room, and I moved the flowers to your room. They are your flowers, aren’t they?”

“Yes, they’re from Sesshoumaru-sama,” Rin said proudly, scuttling into the room to admire the demon blooms more closely. After a few more admiring moments, she wandered to her box of clothing. “Nee-san, what should I wear today?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Kagome demurred, hiding a smile. “What about that one?” She pointed to the far corner of the room, where a furisode, previously concealed by a hanging cloth, hung on a bar.

“Nee-san!” Rin squealed in awe. The kimono was pink, a color Rin had never worn before and depicted a red, orange and purple sunset over the House of the West. It was detailed in silver and gold thread and Sesshoumaru’s white hexagon-flowers were lined with a thin thread of silver embroidery to make the flowers stand out and shine.

“Master Jaken brought it in while you were in the bath,” Kagome explained. “I guess it’s a birthday present.”

Rin frowned. “But the flowers…”

“Are from this Sesshoumaru.”

Rin whirled so fast, Kagome was sure the rush of displaced air came a few seconds after Rin blurted, “My lord!”

Sesshoumaru stood in the doorway, flawlessly dressed and as composed as ever. “The kimono is from my mother,” he elaborated. There was a softness around the edges of his mouth that signified a vague amusement. “I am reasonably certain that she now understands this Sesshoumaru has no intention of eating his Rin.”

Rin squeaked a little at the memory of Sesshoumaru’s aloof demon mother. “She…she sent this?”

“She made it,” Sesshoumaru corrected. “A while ago, I instructed her to make something special for your----.” The word he rattled off in the traditional demon tongue was like a string of consonants, practically impossible to pronounce. Rin bandied the sounds around in her head, slowly translating—she was not fluent in the noble demon tongue, not having the muscular agility to speak it, but she could usually understand when she was being spoken to, given enough time. Kagome made a face as Rin mentally translated—she hadn’t spent a quarter of the time that Rin had in demon society, and her grasp of the formal demon languages was almost non-existent--Rin's was at least rudimentary. Finally, Rin came up with, “Event of Woman Becoming” which was certainly vague, but after a quick reordering, she thought she had a vague grasp of the meaning.

“A Becoming-Woman Event?” she questioned in Japanese, unable to reproduce the sounds necessary to speak in the demon tongue.

“A time when a female demon is able to reproduce,” Sesshoumaru explained succinctly. “When she becomes what humans would call ‘adult’.”

”Oh!” Kagome broke in. “Like a coming-of-age.” Sesshoumaru inclined his head carefully, indicating that she was correct. “Is there a special ceremony?” Kagome asked curiously. “We were planning to have a small celebration for Rin’s birthday… should we change our plans?”

“There is no need to change your plans. When we return to the Palace of the West, Rin will be introduced into demon society as fully matured.” He glanced at Rin again and there was another imperceptible softening around his mouth as he stepped back into the doorway. “I will return when you are dressed.”

Rin blinked in surprise and blurted out, “You’re not staying?” Sesshoumaru had never bothered to give her privacy when she dressed, nor had she ever thought to give him privacy in the same manner. Sesshoumaru twitched his nose ever-so-lightly. “You are an adult human now, Rin,” he said. “You must, therefore, protect your modesty.” He glanced slightly at Kagome, who blushed pink—had Sesshoumaru heard Sango and her grilling Rin last night? But he only backed gracefully out of the room, leaving behind a slightly disappointed Rin. Modesty, she thought, was very annoying!

"Oh, nee-san," she sighed, "I don't think I like being an adult."

"Ohhhhh," Kagome pulled her into a long hug, rubbing her back in soothing circles. "I know. I remember when I was your age, sometimes it just felt so awful--your feelings get away from you, and your bleeding starts, and it seems like a thousand things start happening all at once."

Rin sniffed her agreement. "I got blood on my shift last night," she admitted.

"I know, sweetie," Kagome said soothingly. "I was there, remember?"

"Noooo," Rin whined her voice pitched low and tinged with embarrassment. "After. Even with the cloths and everything, there was still some blood."

"A lot?" Kagome asked worriedly. Rin shook her head. "Just a few little spots. But..." her eyes darted to the magnificent furisode. "What if I stain it?" she asked in a whisper. "I'll never be able to appear before Sesshoumaru's mother!"

"Well..." Kagome sighed "There is a way to catch your flow other than cloths... but I didn't give it to you because it can be tricky and sometimes uncomfortable, and..." she sighed and let out a little laugh. "And it's a little embarrassing as well," she finished.

"Please, nee-san! I don't care, I'll do anything!"

"Okay, okay," Kagome laughed, although her face was still tinged pink. "Wait here."

Rin sank to her knees and waited, but when she looked up at the slide of the shoji, it was Kohaku in the doorway. "Rin," he said. "Why aren't you dressing? Our Lord wishes to see you in your present."

"Um, I'm waiting for Kagome," Rin said.

Kohaku tilted his head slightly. "Do you need help dressing? I will assist you."

"We have some women's problems to deal with before Rin can get dressed," Kagome cut in, reappearing in the doorway. "And Kohaku, Rin is a young lady now. We've told her, and now we'll tell you, it's not appropriate for you two to be in these... situations."

Kohaku's face was clearly puzzled as he mouthed the word 'situations', and then his eyes widened and he glanced at Rin and suddenly blushed. "I... forgive me, Rin." He bowed and hastily backed away. Rin frowned slightly as Kagome came in and shut the shoji behind her. In her hands, Kagome held a small box and a book. "Okay, Rin," Kagome said with forced cheer. "It's time for a little... sex education."

"Sex... education...." Rin repeated, and then frowned. "But I know about sex!"

"Ehhh?!" Kagome squealed. "What do you know about it?!"

"Um, well, when an inuyoukai is ready to continue his noble line, he selects a worthy mate! And then, they consummate the mating--that's where they have sex--and then they have pups! And sometimes, they'll do the sex for fun. Or if they're angry. Or if they're bored!" Rin beamed. "Right, nee-san?"

Kagome buried her face in her hands and shook her head. "Let me guess... Sesshoumaru explained this to you."

"Yes!"

Kagome shook her head again and looked up. "Alright. Um. Anyway, let's ah... let's get back to the topic at hand..." She looked down at the box and then stood suddenly looking like she wanted to flee, then gave herself a shake and sat back down. "Right! Okay. So.. this thing is going to go... inside of you..." She paused, clearly unsure how to continue.

"What is it?" Rin asked, taking the little box in her own hands. It was closed with some sort of clear seals, and Rin wondered what sort of spells they could be. What sort of powerful magic could the box contain? The front was covered with the strange kana that Kagome called English. When Rin was younger and Sesshoumaru's land in much more turmoil, she had spent long stretches of time with Kagome, who had often been busy studying for 'exams' so Rin had learned many things alongside her. Her 'English' wasn't very good, but she could read the letters. "Dee-ba Cup," she sounded out. She glanced up at Kagome. "Can I open it?"

"Go ahead," Kagome said. She was paging through the book, avoiding Rin's eyes. Rin carefully peeled away the clear seals and opened the little box. Inside was a little pamphlet, a cloth bag, and a tiny cup. She took out the cup which was soft and a little squishy, but bounced back into shape under the gentle pressure of her fingers. "This is going inside of me?"

"Yes," said Kagome. "Here, look at this." She showed Rin a drawing of an outline of a woman, but the middle parts were full of strange shapes. "Nee-san, what's that?"

"This is what your body looks like inside," Kagome said patiently. Rin frowned. She remembered Kagome's biology lessons perfectly well. "Isn't that where my intestines and liver are supposed to be?" she asked in confusion, tracing the shapes of the well-known organs where they were supposed to go. Here were other, strangely shaped organs that she had no knowledge of.

"They're there too," Kagome said. "I was a little hesitant to explain all of this to you at first, but, anyway, these are organs that only females have. They are to help you make a baby. I'll only explain a little bit, now, for what you need to use the cup."

"Okay," Rin said, eager to learn.


+


Rin put her head between her knees and sobbed. She had been trying for twenty minutes to get the cup "inside" using all of the methods, tricks and tips Kagome had left her with but it wasn't working. It was frustrating and irritating and embarrassing and messy, and it wasn't working. Kagome had warned her that she might not be able to do it right, and Rin had known that it was a risk, but still---

"Rin."

Rin looked up, sniffling. The shoji hadn't moved, but she'd ensconced herself behind the changing screen in case someone came in suddenly.

"My lord?" she called out weakly.

"This is not a day for tears, is it Rin?" Sesshoumaru's voice sounded softer, gentler through the shoji--or perhaps it was just Rin's imagination.

"I'm sorry, my lord," she responded, sniffling.

"May I come in?"

Rin stared, dumbfounded, at the changing screen, as though she could see through it and the shoji as well. Sesshoumaru-sama was asking?

"W-whatever you wish, Sesshoumaru-sama," she said.

There was a displacement of air that could have been a very, very tiny sigh, if Sesshoumaru was not Sesshoumaru. But he was, so that must have been... something else. "Rin," Sesshoumaru said, and then stopped. The slide of the shoji sighed instead, and he closed it behind him. He made noise for her sake, she knew, rustling his hakama as he walked across the tatami and stood near the changing screen.

"What is the matter, Rin?"

Rin looked down at the little cup, the basin of water and the damp cloths on the floor and sighed and all of a sudden, it came tumbling out of her; her anxiousness over the blood, Kagome's lesson, the little cup that wouldn't work, why being an adult was so frustrating.

"Rin," Sesshoumaru said calmly. "There is no need to wear my mother's kimono today." It was a bit much for a small village celebration anyway, but he didn't say that. "Wear anything that pleases you."

Rin sniffled. "My lord will not be offended?"

"No," Sesshoumaru said. "This Sesshoumaru approves of his Rin being... a good steward of what he has given her." He paused. "Rin has many red kimonos," he said after a moment. "If she is much concerned about blood, perhaps it would be wise to wear one of them."

"Yes, my lord," Rin answered, relieved. She felt as though a weight had been lifted off of her chest.

"I shall instruct the miko to help you dress." Rin covered her mouth to stifle any giggles that might escape at the thought of Sesshoumaru ordering Kagome around like a servant and the ensuing argument that was sure to take place. She swallowed the giggles and replied.

"Thank you, Sesshoumaru-sama."



Chapter Three



"Well here's the birthday girl!" Kagome called, escorting a freshly-dressed Rin to her picnic party in the meadow. Around a number of blankets sat Kohaku, Sesshoumaru, Jaken, Sango, Miroku, Mizu (who was leaning against Sesshoumaru's knee and staring at him in rapt fascination again) and Inuyasha.

Taking Sesshoumaru's advice, Rin had dressed in one of her nicer (but not too nice) kimonos--a dark red color decorated with wistful pink sakura and Sesshoumaru's crest in pink and white at her neck and shoulder. Kagome had noted with some surprise (and no little envy) that Rin's kodachi and wakizashi sheaths had changed to match the color scheme of her kimono.

"Finally," Inuyasha snorted. "What were you doing in there, sewing that kimono yourself?" Rin flushed. "Please forgive me for taking so long, Inuyasha-sama!" She bowed.

"Do not be concerned," Sesshoumaru said coolly as Kagome hissed "Osuwari!" and smashed Inuyasha into the soft ground. Sango gestured towards the blankets. "Come on, sit down."

Rin sat in the space cleared for her and Sango clapped her hands. "Yay! Okay, let's get this party started!"

They ate first--Sango and Kagome, along with some of the village women, had cooked up a veritable feast, and the group spent much of the early afternoon snacking. Afterward they rolled around with full stomachs in a state of sleepy bliss--except for the two inu-youkai who amused themselves making snarky comments--for a few hours until Kagome and Sango rounded them all up (except for Sesshoumaru and Inuyasha, who couldn't be bothered to quit their snarking) to play some games that involved a lot of running and tagging and tackling.

Half the time, Rin wasn't quite sure what she was doing, but she was having fun anyway.

Suddenly, in the middle of a game of tag (Rin thought it was tag, anyway), Kagome stopped with a peculiar look on her face. "Nee-san?"

Kagome shook her head as the others slowed as well. "I feel something impure," Kagome said. "Not too big, but it's headed this way."

Rin and Kohaku darted for the mess of blankets, where Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru were coming to attention, sniffing delicately. "Spider... I think," Inuyasha rubbed his nose. "Somethin' fishy about it."

Sesshoumaru nodded in agreement. "Rin."

"Yes, my lord!" Rin grabbed her swords and bowed, taking his utterance for the specific order that it was. She hitched and tucked her kimono until it hung only knee-length, a bit shorter than the way she wore her yukata on travels, and slipped her swords into their proper places in her obi. "Rin, wait, there's no reason to go alone--" Kagome began.

"Rin can handle it," Sesshoumaru said--there was no emotion or pride in his voice, but the implicit compliment had Rin beaming from ear to ear. "Yes, of course, Sesshoumaru-sama!" she said, and took off towards the feeling of threatening youki.

"Kohaku," Sesshoumaru said. Kohaku turned.

"Go and watch her back."

Kohaku bowed, and left silently, moving as quickly through the tall grass as Rin had. "Sesshoumaru," Kagome began immediately. "We're all capable of helping them, they don't have to go a---"

"They have been well-trained," Sesshoumaru cut in. "Their education does not lack. This small demon will pose no challenge for Rin."

Inuyasha shrugged. "No skin off my nose," he grumbled, but he stood alert, carefully tracking Rin and Kohaku to the edge of the forest.


The cool grass beneath her feet and the wind in her hair was exactly what Rin needed. Despite the pleasures of the day; the wildly beautiful demon blooms, the magnificent furisode, the picnic party with the many "favors" from the future like the strange "party hats" and beautiful and wonderful "balloons", she had felt a trickling irritation, a boiling in her blood that wanted to lash out--to rend and kill and maim. She had often overheard Sango and Kagome talk in wry tones of the irritation they felt when their flow occurred--was this what it meant to change from girl to woman?

Her thoughts more on womanhood and less on the menacing youki, she dodged more by instinct than anything else. A hail of speeding needles struck the ground where she had been. Rin turned her full attention to the edge of the woods. Only a little sunlight managed to pierce the gloom; a perfect hiding spot. Behind her, she felt Kohaku moving. He didn't take up a stance beside her, however--therefore, she could assume he was only there to cover her in case the youkai had friends. Good. She wanted this kill to be hers. She threw caution to the wind and called "Come out, I know you're in there!"

Another hail of needles rained down on her and she dodged. "Too afraid to face one little human in the open?!" she taunted. The spider demon appeared for the barest second, and she caught a glimpse of hundreds of legs all over its huge and bloated body. "Come and get me," it hissed, and withdrew. "You'll be good food."

Rin was young, but she wasn't stupid. The spider would have the entrance to those woods draped with more silk than the concubines' chambers in the Southern Palace. She glanced over her shoulder, but could only tell Kohaku was somewhere in the grass by the pulse from Oushikon-ani, Kohaku's katana. The answering pulse of Oushikon-imoto, her wakizashi, would tell him where she was, even if he couldn't see her. Behind the open grass, on a hill that was not too close and not too far were her older sisters and Sesshoumaru-sama, who was waiting for her to do well. She turned back to the forest. She was a lady of the House of the West--no little spider demon was going to get the better of her! She unsheathed Kokorotoku, her kodachi, and held it downwards, so that the blade covered the length of her arm, ducked low into the tall grass and zigzagged with incredible speed towards the woods.


"When did Rin get so fast?" Kagome gasped as they watched. It was against her nature to just watch and not fight, but perhaps Sesshoumaru was right--Rin certainly didn't seem to need any help. Speed like that, Kagome thought, had to be a little more than human. "Rin is a very good student," Jaken responded, when Sesshoumaru said nothing. "My most gracious and generous Lord Sesshoumaru blesses both human children with his finest generals for their tutelage in weapons and combat; although Kohaku is much stronger, Rin is the faster."

Inuyasha frowned, sniffing delicately and flicking his ears towards Rin. "Too fast," he muttered to himself.


"Well, I hope she's been learning other things," Kagome said. "A girl needs to know more than just how to swing a sword."

"She's quite proficient with many other weapons," Sesshoumaru said.

"Kagome means that we hope you're giving Rin a proper education, not just teaching her how to fight," Sango said peevishly.

Jaken jumped to his feet with a scowl. "Are you questioning my Lord?!" he squawked in outrage.

"Calm yourself, Jaken," Sesshoumaru said absently, his eyes on Rin's dashing form. He propped his chin on one hand as Rin leapt into the copse of trees kodachi-first.

"Too high," Inuyasha muttered and took a long sniff. "Your blood!" he exclaimed suddenly in the language of inu-youkai. "It's not on them, it's in them!"


The almost-invisible shreds of spider silk parted smoothly before Kokorotoku's edge. She would be bringing back a head soon enough.


Sesshoumaru twitched and responded in the barks and growls of the inu-youkai language. "It is none of your concern," he told Inuyasha severely. Inuyasha's eyes widened. Sesshoumaru actually admitted to feeding them his blood?! "Do they know?" he hissed.

Sesshoumaru shrugged. "I have not hid it from them, nor have I explained it," he said. "That is all that this Sesshoumaru will say on the matter."

There was a brief pause as the humans of the group digested the two inu-youkai barking and growling at each other, then Miroku cleared his throat and steered the conversation back to the previous topic."I believe the ladies are concerned because Rin needs a proper education--and a dowry wouldn't hurt--if she's ever going to be able to settle down and get married."

"Bah!" Mizu agreed with a happy smile.

Sesshoumaru perked up slightly in surprise. "Married?" he repeated, mystified. "Why would Rin get married?"

The former jewel-shard hunters glanced at each other. Finally, Inuyasha spoke. "Che, because that's what women do? They find a nice guy--"

"--or sometimes a complete jerk," Kagome muttered.

"--And they settle down," Inuyasha finished, scowling at his soon-to-be mate, who gave him an innocent smile.

Married. The word echoed in Sesshoumaru's head. He had never given it much thought before. In the beginning, Rin had been something like an experiment, and later, something curious, and vaguely amusing. It had morphed into something else... something that Sesshoumaru could call care, at least inside of his own head. After that, when Kohaku came and Rin began learning to fight, she had become his wild child, sun-tanned and bright eyed and dangerous with the feral edge that Kohaku had possessed--she had been able to walk at a steady pace when she was only six or seven, and by nine she could run across Japan all day long. When he had taken them to the House of the West for long stretches, he had thrown a great many youkai tutors and servants and courtiers at the two human children, and eventually they had been able to hide their rough and wild natures beneath veneers of elegance and nobility, much like himself.

And now, it appeared, it was not enough that Rin had graduated from the familiar comfort of "child" by dint of her menses appearing, but apparently he must immediately begin to think of marrying her away.

No, he decided. Rin was his. He did not want her to go away, and so she would not. The matter was settled, because Sesshoumaru, Lord of the West, said it was. There. Unless... what if she wanted to go away? He could keep her anyway, but... but, he could never deny his Rin anything that she asked for. She might... she might cry. Sesshoumaru shuddered inwardly at the thought.

Just then, Rin came bursting out of the forest, still fairly neat and without any bloody spatters, so he could assume the fight had been fairly easy. She held the head of a large spider demon away from her body so it didn't drip, but waved it enough that the group easily caught sight of it. "Oh, yay!" Kagome clapped excitedly. "Good job, Rin!" she called.

Sesshoumaru, who would never engage in such unseemly displays, merely nodded at his ward and stood. He needed some time alone.



Chapter Four



"Sesshoumaru-sama!"

Sesshoumaru paused. Rin was far away, and but the light of the moon let him see her every feature as though it were full daylight. He turned, then thought better of it and let Rin sprint her way over the hill. She stopped a few lengths from him and approached him at a sedate walking pace and then bowed low.

"Sesshoumaru-sama."

He quirked a brow. "What reason does Sesshoumaru's Rin have to be so formal?" Rin paused. She had looked hesitant as she first approached, but Sesshoumaru's possessive had assured her a little. "My lord has been... distant, these last two weeks," she offered quietly. Sesshoumaru turned away. What Rin meant, and did not accuse, was that Sesshoumaru had been all but absent since her birthday celebration, no more than a fleeting ghost on the edge of the village or a watchful presence on a rooftop.

"I have many thoughts." It was not a lie. And yet... he had missed Rin and Kohaku even as he deprived himself of their presence. So he angled his body slightly, and Rin knew enough to see it for the invitation that it was. She moved to his side, and they walked together, under the full light of the moon.

"Did you see the ceremony?" Rin asked. Sesshoumaru nodded.

"It was very beautiful," Rin said. "Kagome and Inuyasha-sama are much in love."

"Yes," Sesshoumaru said. "You have spent much time with your... sisters." Much more so than on visits passed, where Rin had often spent as much time with Jaken or Sesshoumaru as she had with Kagome or Sango.

"Umm, well," Rin looked down, blushing. "They have been teaching me what I need... to be a woman... a human woman."

"I see."

"Sango speaks often of marriage," Rin began, and then stopped.

"Yes," Sesshoumaru said, and something inside of him twisted. "You are of that age."

There was a long silence between them, the only sounds being the whisper of silk and the slide of grasses as they walked.

"Does... does my Lord wish for Rin to be married?" Rin asked very softly. "Miroku-san said that--that perhaps my Lord might wish to marry Rin to someone... perhaps a courtier..."

The monk was too smart for his own good. It would be the wise option, to marry Rin away and get something political from her marriage. But...

"What does Sesshoumaru's Rin request?" he asked at last. "Does Rin wish to be married?"

"Umm..." Rin looked away. Her cheeks were pinked.

Sesshoumaru stopped, turning to face his Rin, and looked down at her, and his heart clenched. It couldn't be. Had Rin... fallen in love? Did she desire to settle down with someone? Did she want to leave? "What is it? What do you want?"

"Rin wants..." Rin swallowed, and then looked up, defiant. "I want... to stay with you forever, Sesshoumaru-sama."

The clench in his heart eased, and Sesshoumaru would swear to his dying day that nothing happened, but his heart skipped a beat at her words. Then he did something he rarely did--he smiled. "You don't want to be married?"

Rin shook her head feverishly. "No! Not unless--I mean, no." Something further twisted inside Sesshoumaru, something that was very near to grief. "My Rin... you know that this Sesshoumaru must be married one day, do you not?"

"Yes, Sesshoumaru-sama," she answered, matter-of-factly. "You must marry a very talented and powerful youkai, so that you may have an heir." Her brows furrowed. "When my Lord is married... will... will... Rin be replaced?"

Sesshoumaru thought of the wife that he would mostly likely have; a high ranking Lady or a Princess who would manage his house and bear his sons. She would not follow him on long patrols, skipping at his side or riding the dragon-beast Ah-Un, she would not make up silly road songs or sing to the moon, she would not bring him to little human village festivals, she would not look his way with a bright and infectious grin when she won a match against his youkai soldiers, she would not.... she would not be Rin.

"No," he said. "Rin will not... cannot be replaced. Rin is irreplaceable."

Rin sniffled, and as Sesshoumaru watched in alarm, tears began to form in her eyes, but she was smiling. Sesshoumaru had come a long way from being paralyzed with fear and uncertainty at the sight of a young girl's tears; at least, as long as they were clearly happy tears; and it was only a little movement to move his arms away from his body, and Rin took the opportunity immediately to graft herself onto Sesshoumaru, her face wetting his haori with tears.

"Thank you, Sesshoumaru-sama," she sobbed. "Thank you."


+


The next morning, Rin, dressed once again in a shorter length traveling yukata, said tearful goodbyes to her 'sisters' and their husbands, and little Mizu, who was clinging to Sesshoumaru with a stubborn face, as if she knew that he would soon be leaving her. Sango clung to Kohaku until the very last moment, peppering his face with kisses and finally making him promise that Sesshoumaru or no, he would return when her second child was born. Ah-Un waited patiently as he was loaded with the little boxes containing Rin and Kohaku's clothes (mostly Rin's), Rin's birthday presents and flowers (which would bloom for several years, if not completely crushed) and finally Jaken, who took his seat on Ah-Un's back, the reins in his hands.

Goodbyes having never been Sesshoumaru's forte, he spared what he thought to be a reasonable amount of time for his charges to hug and kiss and make unreasonable promises, and then he hastened them away; Jaken to the air, Kohaku and Rin on foot.


"A handful of sweets to whichever of you makes it to the next village first," Sesshoumaru said, well aware of his wards' (badly hidden, on Kohaku's part) affinity for sweets.

"Whoop!" Rin laughed. She leaned down, ground her right foot into the dirt and darted to the woods. "It's mine, Kohaku!" Kohaku let out a startled noise, checked the security of his chain, and raced after her. Sesshoumaru watched them with a tiny hint of satisfaction on his face and jumped; he'd be waiting close to the village, but it wouldn't be a long wait. They were getting faster and faster these days, his little humans.

They reached the wood in only a few minutes. Rin darted through the trees, Kohaku hot on her heels. She leapt towards a tree, used it as a springboard and propelled herself further into the deep forest. Kohaku used the same trick, but his legs were stronger, so he got more height and more distance; he landed one step in front of Rin. She didn't stop or slow down, she whipped her sheathed kodachi out of her obi and swung at his head. Kohaku caught her downswing in his chain and body-checked her. She used the momentum to propel herself into another tree and get a half-jump in front of him, laughing. Kohaku grinned and made an aborted pounce towards her, which she evaded.

They had played this game many times before, but it never ceased to be amusing to either of them. Rin was faster in an open lane, but by dint of strength, Kohaku's jumps were stronger and more powerful. Rin was lighter, more graceful, sneakier, and she could climb trees like a monkey, but Kohaku had reach with his chain and had Oushikon-ani to tell him when Oushikon-imoto was hiding in the foliage, planning an ambush.

Rin still had an advantage on the ground; when she hit a run of open ground, she could speed further than Kohaku could jump. The trick was, of course, getting to open ground in a crowded wood. Kohaku wasn't going to make it easier for her to reach the paths and game trails winding through the forest.

Oushikon-ani warned Kohaku suddenly that Oushikon-imoto had veered away. Kohaku glanced from side to side. Where'd she go? he asked Oushikon-ani.

Oushikon-ani answered not in words, but impressions. Vague. Confusion.

Kohaku frowned. Oushikon-ani should always know where the other half of its daisho pairing was.

Above! Oushikon-ani trilled suddenly, pulsing at Kohaku's back.

Kohaku didn't even have time to look before Rin's leather-bound feet came hurtling down to rocket his shoulders down, planting his face into the dirt. With a laugh, she bounced off, darting towards a track likely made by deer as Kohaku pushed himself up.

I'm not giving up those sweets! The kusarigama slithered off his back like it had a mind of its own (forged by Totasai, it probably did), and it was in his hand and then flying, blunt end first (no edged weapons in this game) through the air.

Rin took a step into the air, took two steps onto a nearby tree, and bounced off. The kusarigama chain flicked up, wrapped around her ankle and pulled. Rin bounced off another tree, and jumped up, grabbing onto a branch. Kohaku tugged on the chain wrapped around her ankle. It should have brought Rin down, easy enough for her to break her own fall, but the branch that she clung to broke under her grasp, sending her careening at an odd angle. She twisted in the air, trying to get her feet under her, but she got wrapped up in the kusarigama.

Kohaku didn't have time to gasp, or think, he just moved, ricocheting off two trees to break her fall, catching her in his arms. "Rin," he gasped, his heart thumping triple time at the thought of what would have happened if she had landed on her neck or back. She looked just as scared, Oushikon-imoto double-thumping her panic to Oushikon-ani. "Th-thanks," she stuttered.

"Sorry," Kohaku gasped. "I miscalculated--"

"No, the branch broke, it's not your fault--"

They were silent for a moment.

"Thank you, Kohaku," Rin said, after a while. Being held by Kohaku was nothing new, but there was a new feeling to go with it today. Aside from the usual rushes of affection and love and pale flushes of warmth, there was a hot, curling feeling in her belly, like a hot baby kraken had suddenly decided to stretch its tentacles inside of her. She felt flushed, suddenly and realized with startling clarity what her sisters had been trying to explain about men and women and what those pale flushes of warmth actually meant.

She wanted to kiss him.

Rin was smart and well-educated, in many ways a pride of her youkai tutors. However, at heart, she was still a simple country girl, earthy and unrestrained and without any limits during her developing years. She wanted to kiss Kohaku, so she leaned down, and lightly pressed her lips to his. Kohaku froze beneath her, but she wasn't deterred. She reveled in the tingle, the softness of his lips, his warm pulse beneath her fingers. She pulled back slowly. Kohaku let out his breath in short, sharp gasps, his eyes fixed on hers as though she had transformed into a youkai in his arms. So she kissed him again, and her mouth slipped open a little bit, which was nice. She could pull his lip in between hers, just a little, and taste the barest edge of his mouth. It was altogether nice to kiss him, she thought. It was... sweet.

Sweet! she thought suddenly, her original objective returning to her. She was as ever, greedy and unrestrained in all of her desires. Sweets, they're mine! and kicked out of Kohaku's arms, dashing away. There would be time enough to kiss Kohaku later, if she wanted.

Kohaku stood frozen for a few moments in absolute shock. What had just happened there? Distraction technique? He pulled the kusarigama up and wound it, taking off after Rin. He wasn't going to surrender the sweets that easily.

+

Rin had a long lead on Kohaku. She had hit a small path and had been able to get a lot closer to full speed, rocketing through the woods, ricocheting off trees when the path curved and then rocketing forward again. Heh, she thought. Those sweets are mine. The path curved again, and she took a four-tree ricochet to turn without breaking much stride. The path was wider here, but she didn't remember it. Must be an older one than the one we usually take. It was long though, and headed in the right direction, so she increased her speed until it felt like she was flying. Where is Oushikon-ani? she thought at Oushikon-imoto.

Far, was the imprecise answer. Good enough.

She shot forward, just as a wave of threatening youki swept over her. Above her, where the sun normally pierced the gloom of the deep forest with scattered and diffused rays, it was growing dark. Whatever this massive youki was, she knew she couldn't fight it. She detoured, ricocheting off a few trees near the path, trying to slow down in a hurry, but she was still moving too fast when she slammed into the web. Her speed and inertia shot her straight through the first three or four demon webs, but more sticky silk clung to her as she began to slow down. Youkai spiderwebs, ugh. She whipped out Kokorotoku in a defensive position, and unsheathed Oushikon-imoto as the first wave of thick silk jetted down from above.

A high pitched screaming filled the air as Rin twisted and moved, avoiding the thick ropes of silk and the fox-sized spiders sliding down them. Youkai spider silk, depending on the youkai's wishes, could leave nasty burns and welts.

"Hhhhnnnnnneeeeeeee!!"

One of the spiders screamed and launched itself at her. One full slash from Oushikon-imoto and the spider was in two pieces from head to spinneret. She swung back just in time to jam her wakizashi straight up through a second spider's head and yanked, pulling it straight through the body instead of trying to slide the spider off the end of her sword. Two more dog-sized spiders leapt for her at once, and she held one off with Kokorotoku and beheaded the other with her Oushikon.

More thick ropes of youkai silk came drifting down from the dark foliage, and this time she couldn't avoid all of them. A rope wound around Kokorotoku and pulled and while she wasted time cutting herself free, three more spiders attacked. She batted one away and cut the second, but the third was scrabbling on her chest with pincers that were as long as a chopstick and a handspan wide at the base. She screamed as one sank into her ribs and lashed out, yelling, "Royal Bite!" An energy wave like a fang swept off of Oushikon-imoto, slashing through the spider on her chest, and taking out two more as well.

She leapt away as more spiders came down, the wave so thick of hairy, huge bodies, she thought she would be happy if there were only a hundred. The air filled with their screaming hisses and crackling laughter. Oushikon-imoto was doing the swordly equivalent of screaming for Oushikon-ani and Sesshoumaru, even though he would already know that she had unleashed Royal Bite because the Oushikon daisho was made from his fangs. The problem, she thought, as she hacked her way through a maze of spider silk, with the youkai hot on her trail, was staying alive until they could get here. Going up against one or two low-level youkai spiders was simple enough. They had no youki to speak of, only their webs and claws to work with. With a swarm, they didn't need to have any youki at all--their numbers and size would be overwhelming enough.

Crap! she thought, as a stray length of spider silk brushed her shoulder and burned straight through her yukata. They had started to use the acidic silk. One spider, older and larger than the others, made a leap for her. She ducked at the last minute, but it caught a web of silk and swung around right back at her. "You killed my daddy!" it screeched. "We're gonna eat you for supper, human worm!" She readied Oushikon-imoto for another Royal Bite attack, but there was no need; only a split second later, the spider's head sprouted a long sickle trailing a thick black chain, making a dreadful squelching sound when the chain jerked and the sickle broke free. "About time you got here, slowpoke," Rin panted. She didn't have to look above her to see Kohaku, Oushikon-ani was pulsing his location.

"You're always getting yourself into trouble," Kohaku said thoughtfully. Rin grabbed the chain of the kusarigama and he absently hauled her up to the thick branch he was standing on.

"It's in my nature," Rin returned, looking down at the messy, pulsing mass of spiders rushing towards the tree. "Now what are we going to do about these nuisances?" It was so easy to be flippant and unafraid with Kohaku right beside her, even though the Oushikon was still crying for Sesshoumaru. "Hmmm," Kohaku murmured. He drew Oushikon-ani, who pulsed with an almost maddened intensity--he didn't get drawn very often. "Are you ready?"

Oushikon-imoto pulsed her approval in Rin's hand. "Yeah, we're ready."

"Royal Bite!" they called together, the Oushikon daisho moving in perfect synchronous movement, the fangs of energy detaching from the two matched swords merging as it swooped down, easily taking out a third of the spiders before fizzling out. Rin crouched a little and panted. Royal Bite wasn't easy for her to use, and to do it twice was extremely draining. The spiders below were screaming, but regrouping. "I think we need to do it again," Kohaku said. "Can you handle a third?"

"It'll be my last," Rin said honestly, struggling to her feet.

"Instead of aiming for the middle of the mass, aim for the front line," Kohaku instructed. "We'll try to cut down as many as possible with the bite. As soon as we unleash, we need to be down there, picking off the survivors before they know what's going on. I'll unleash a few more bites on my own to clear the way; watch my back."

"Got it," Rin said, giving herself a mental shake and getting to her feet.

Oushikon-imoto buzzed in her hand, ready. They linked, mentally, for just a moment, as the Oushikon daisho bound them together for the synchronous Royal Bite, and then Rin was jumping down in Kohaku's wake, as he yelled, "Royal Bite! Royal Bite! Royal Bite!" The energy fangs coming off of Oushikon-ani weren't nearly as strong as the synchronized version, but they were stronger than Rin's, cutting through seven or eight at a time. Rin pushed her back against Kohaku's as he moved forward, picking off the stray spiders that escaped the eager fangs of Oushikon-ani.

Screeching and wailing, the few remaining youkai spiders scattered. Kohaku perked up. "What is that sound?" Rin ground her teeth against the ear-shattering wail. It sounded like the stretch of wood in the winter months, except for a thousand times louder; a wordless cry that reverberated through her tiny human bones. Spider silk began to fall again, but this time it was accompanied by leaves, twigs, and then whole branches. She looked up and gaped; the sky was falling. The darkness was literally being pushed down into the forest, crushing it around them. "Time to run!" she yelled, tugging on Kohaku. He didn't need to be convinced--they ran through the woods as the massive presence groaned and shrieked above them, and the forest seemed to cave in around them.

Rin's first thought that maybe the sky wasn't falling was a tree acting strangely, scrabbling back and forth as they ran by. Watching it jump from the corner of her eye, she realized suddenly in the gloom, it wasn't a tree, it was a leg. A spider leg.

Oh, fuck.

Rin didn't realize she had said out loud until Kohaku shot her a sharp look, then looked past her and promptly echoed her sentiments. "Is that what I think it is?" he asked in a strangled voice.

Neither of them had ever seen a spider youkai of this magnitude. Rin didn't think youkai could get that big.

"Sesshoumaru-sama knows we're here," Kohaku said at last. "I think we can assume--"

"--He's fighting the giant spider," Rin finished. "We should get out of here. When he kills it--" There was no 'if' in her statement or thoughts. Sesshoumaru would kill the spider, they just had to worry about themselves.

"Let's head back," Kohaku said. "Near the Bone Eater's well is probably the shortest way out of the woods, and the sooner we've got open sky above us, the better."



Chapter Five
Sunnydale, California, the twenty-first century



"Hey. Kid." Doc grinned and winked at Dawn. "Wanna see a trick?"

Large knives were scary things. They implied blood and injury and pain and death. Doc knew this, logically. Blood and injury could be fierce and traumatic. But it was the pain and death that most people were afraid of. Dawn was afraid of the pain, too. She was surprised when there wasn't nearly as much physical pain as she thought there would be. The cuts were, as Doc sang, shallow cuts. What hurt was the raw power waking up inside of her, running out of her, running wild. There was more power inside of her than she could hold onto. More power than her limited, unnatural form could handle. She could sense so much now.

There was a portal forming below her; she could feel it, leading off to a dimension that she would assume was hellish. But there were other portals opening; places of magic and mysticism that were appearing in her mind like a map lighting up. She was touching them all, bound into all of them and it hurt.

She wasn't sure when her big sister had replaced the creepy-eyed Doc, but she was glad for the change.

"Buffy," she gasped. "It hurts."

"I got it," her big sister soothed. "Come here. You'll be okay."

No, I won't. Her mind was cracking under the strain; Earth had millions of portals and scars of portals going everywhere and Dawn was touching them all, the Key inside of her buzzing with energy. The Ann Arbor Public Library had no less than thirteen portal scars and they were humming, just waiting to be used again. Pieces of Dawn were beginning to break away to become those portals. But Dawn wanted to believe. She wanted so hard to believe that she would be okay if she just limped to her sister's side, willed Buffy to make it right. Buffy had taken care of her, even after she knew that Dawn was nothing but a figment. Buffy would take care of her now.

"It's started," Dawn told her glassily. Somewhere in Egypt there was a small portal that opened to Central Park in New York City. At a touch of the Key's energy, it popped open and a very confused pizza delivery boy fell through onto the soft yellow sand of the Sahara.

Please, please help me.

In Colorado Springs, deep underground, a very large portal suddenly winked into existence, linked to... another galaxy. Dawn gasped as a surge of energy raced into that portal--there was a whole network of portals there to explore and the Key wanted to touch them all.

I can't hold it in. I can't hold it in. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, sorry, sorry. "I'm sorry," Dawn gasped.

In Tokyo, a portal to the past began sparking and fluxuating erratically under the touch of the Key's energy.

I can't hold it in.



+



FOOM.

The ground all around Edo shook with the force of the spider stepping around.

"That," Kagome said faintly. "Is one hell of a spider."

"Uh-huh," Rin agreed, gulping down water from Kagome's water bottle. Kohaku murmured an agreement. The three of them stood near the Bone Eater's well shrine, watching as Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru battled a spider near the size of the forest itself. The temple had been evacuated, the miko and houshi and numerous trainees were all down in the village. Those that could fight had been posted around the village, those that couldn't were holed up in houses.

The youki coming off of the spider was enormous and malevolent and the daiyoukai and his hanyou half-brother buzzing around it looked something like insects compared to the massive demon spider. Rin, so accustomed to sensing Sesshoumaru's presence from even a few ri away, couldn't feel him at all under the smothering presence.

"Where did it come from?" Kagome wondered aloud. "We didn't sense it approach--Inuyasha didn't smell it, and I assume Sesshoumaru didn't sense it either..."

Rin shook her head. "I don't know. We were running through the forest and it just... hit me, all of a sudden. It was like a wall."

"How could we not sense it coming?!" Kohaku bit out. "This thing is gigantic. It should be impossible to not notice."

"Perhaps it was transported..." Kagome said. "That sort of thing is out of the range of the standard miko arsenal, but from my understanding, it could possibly be done."

"By what?" Rin asked in small voice.

"By something very, very powerful," Kagome said. "Very powerful."


FOOM.


The spider, clearly harried by Sesshoumaru and Inuyasha, turned in a tight circle and let out a high pitched scream. "Eugh," Rin said, as the spider exposed a spinneret the size of Kagome's house. It was leaking unspun web fluid. "That's disgusting!" Kagome groaned. "Can't they hurry up and kill that thing?"

"Can't you purify it?" Kohaku asked impatiently. "Not from this distance," Kagome admitted. "I couldn't charge up enough arrows to take down that thing. I'd have to get close enough to do it directly."

"Directly?" Rin asked.

"Hands on," Kagome said. "I'd have to actually touch the thing and push my power into it."

"Why aren't you doing that?" Kohaku asked.

"Inuuyasha-sama," Rin responded shrewdly.

Kagome nodded. "We have no way of knowing if it would even work on such a massive presence," Kagome admitted. "I've never tried to purify something so big. Inuyasha thought it would be too much of a risk."


FOOM.


The spider was moving again.

"Um, what is that?" Rin said, her eyes pinned to the spider's spinneret, which was now gushing web fluid and round, dark things the size of horse carts.

"Eggs," Kagome said with a shudder. "We fought a spider youkai a few years ago... nowhere near this big, but it kept laying eggs the whole time and hatching baby spiders..." she shuddered again. "I hope I've got enough arrows." Kohaku glanced down at the three bucket of arrows they had hauled out of the temple school. "Should we go get the rest?"

"Yeah," Kagome said, watching the eggs gush out of the spider. "I think we're gonna need all of the arrows we've got."

"I'll fetch them," Rin said. "But these were all of the ones in the training ground..."

"There're more in the back of the shrine, and we keep another stockpile in the front room of the temple," Kagome said absently. "I'm going to move up closer to the woods with these three buckets. If the spiders swarm out, I want to be close with room to move back."


Rin nodded and ran for the temple.

"Good idea," Kohaku said, grabbing two of the buckets. "I'll help you set up the intervals."

"No, could you fetch Shiori-san?" Kagome asked. "She's the most proficient archer in the temple and she can put a real punch in her purification. I could use another archer here."

"On it," Kohaku said, and sprinted away.

Rin reappeared moments later, her hands full of buckets of arrows. She made another trip back into the temple, and got the last four buckets. Depositing them where Kagome instructed, she noted that Kohaku and Shiori were racing up the road from the village. Shiori was clutching her bow, and she looked pale, but determined.


FOOM.


Shiori stumbled, but Kohaku caught her elbow and urged her up. "Hurry up!" Kagome yelled. Rin turned back; the edge of the woods was moving. No, it was teeming with dark spiders as big as horses. Kagome was calmly drawing and firing; she didn't have to aim in particular, there were so many that every arrow hit a target, and the purifying power neutralized it. Shiori sprinted past Rin, arrow already on the string and firing past Kagome.

"I think we need more miko archers," Kohaku said doubtfully. "Those two can't hold them all back." He turned and sprinted back to the village.

Better fetch the rest of those arrows, Rin thought and hurried toward the shrine.

She was so intent on the arrows that on her first pass through the shrine, she didn't even see. When she came back, her arms full of buckets of arrows, she couldn't help but notice: the well was glowing bright green.

"Um," Rin said eloquently, dropping her buckets and drawing her swords. Glowing wells were probably not good. She backed away, her first urge to get as far from the glowing well as possible. But then a little voice that sounded like Tamaki, one of Sesshoumaru's under-generals and her tactics instructor, told her that it was a really bad idea to have an unknown enemy at her back. Crap, she thought, but cautiously approached the well anyway. Maybe she could just take care of the threat and the well would stop glowing and everything would be fine.


FOOM.


The ground shook again, and Rin braced herself at the edge of the well. She hoped that Sesshoumaru-sama was going to be done soon. Waiting until the tremor had passed, she cautiously peered into the well, but couldn't see anything but green.

"Huh," she breathed, then levered herself up onto the edge of the well to get a better look. Still green. "Come out already!" she yelled down into the green. "I don't have all day!"

Nothing. Damnit! Rin shifted, trying to maintain some balance while also trying to get a better vantage point.


FOOM.


Why am I so stupid? Rin thought as the tremor knocked her over and she was tipped into the glowing well. I hope I never have to tell Sesshoumaru-sama how dumb I was just now. I mean, seriously. How dumb could I be--oof!

She hit the bottom of the well with a thump, but she'd thankfully gotten her feet under her. The well was still filled with green light, but there was nothing down here. Well, that was good news. Now she definitely didn't have to tell Sesshoumaru-sama about her stupidity. Not unless he asked. And what were the odds of that? Rin tried to envision such a scenario.

"Rin," said the imaginary Sesshoumaru in Rin's head. "Did you happen to behave foolishly while I was killing a giant spider and fall in a well that could have been filled with an unknown enemy?"

Rin shook her head. Clearly, that would never happen. Sesshoumaru would just look at her with a critical eye and sniff a little bit to make sure she wasn't bleeding and then he'd tilt his head and she and Kohaku would fall in line and... yeah.

The green light made it impossible to see, but Rin groped around for the ladder that she knew Inuyasha-sama had built for Kagome. She felt it under her fingers and with a few stumbling steps, managed to start climbing.



+



"Dawn, listen to me, listen."

No, no, no, no, no.

"I love you. I will always love you." Dawn reached for her sister. No, please no.

"This is the work I have to do." No you don't! Dawn screamed mentally. This is my fault! This is all my fault! Buffy continued, unheeded. "Tell Giles ... tell him I figured it out. And, I'm okay." She pulled Dawn's face close and kissed her softly on the temple. "And give my love to my friends."

The energy of the Key rolled inside of Dawn. A portal opened in space and time and she could feel it, but she couldn't even put words into where it was. She was coming apart.

Buffy's voice sounded far away now. "Be brave. Live. For me."



+



Rin pulled herself up over the lip of the well.


FOOM.


The well shuddered, and the green glow slowly faded away. She lost her balance in the tremors, but managed to grab hold of the ladder before she could fall. Crap. She pulled herself up again and stared, expecting to see the spilled buckets of arrows on the floor and the rolling fields around Edo through the open doors, but... this was... she gasped. It must be the future!

But... how had she gotten here? The well only allowed Kagome and Inuyasha-sama to travel through time. But she was here! In the future! Her first impulse was to jump out of the well and start exploring immediately, but she squashed it ruthlessly. She had to get back--Kagome and Shiori and Kohaku would need help with those spiders.

She sighed regretfully and slid back down the ladder, hopping off and expecting---something. Green light or a weird feeling, but there was nothing. She climbed the ladder again--still the future. She hopped off the ladder from the top this time--she'd seen Kagome jump fearlessly into the well many times, so maybe that was the trick. But when she hit dirt and hauled herself back up, she was still in the future. This was not good, she decided as she levered herself out of the well. Maybe Kagome's future family could help her; surely there was some aspect of well-travel that she was simply missing.

As she brushed by a low-hanging wind chime, she thought suddenly, Oh no. Sesshoumaru-sama is going to find out how stupid I was! She cringed. It wasn't that Sesshoumaru was ever harsh with her. He was simply occasionally... disappointed. She hated it when he got that look on his face. Rin had no need of spankings or punishments; ensuring Sesshoumaru's complete and utter satisfaction in her was the only motivation that she needed. And now he'll definitely give me that look, and maybe even tell me that I need to exercise more caution or thought, and Kohaku will give me that look like how-could-you-ever-do-something-so-foolish-? And sweets! There'll be no sweets for Rin.

"Kagome!" a voice called from one of the buildings. "I heard the chime! Is that you? Or Inuyasha? I'm glad you're back, I can't plan this whole wedding by myself." The voice was the pleasant, rich alto of an older woman, laced with amusement. Rin cleared her throat.

"Um," she started, then called, "It's not either of them."

A face appeared in one of the open windows of the building not far from the shrine. The woman was older, but handsome--she had been very pretty in her youth. Rin could see that she was quite surprised, and then the woman moved away from the window. A few moments later, she appeared in the doorway. Rin went to meet her. The older woman took in Rin's slightly battered and web-covered yukata, her swords, her leather sandals and the dust she was hastily trying to brush away.

"Who are you?" the older woman inquired with wary, but polite, curiosity. Surely this was Kagome's mother, Rin suddenly realized, and felt embarrassed for intruding without the proper introductions. "My name is Rin," she replied. The woman's eyes widened. "Oh my! Sesshoumaru's Rin?"

Rin blinked, then smiled. "Yes ma'am, I'm Sesshoumaru's."

"Oh, Kagome speaks of you so much, I feel as if I know you. Come in dear," the woman smiled. "I'm Higurashi Midori, but please call me Mama. I'm Kagome's mother." Mama glanced over Rin's head. "Kagome didn't come with you? Or Inuyasha?"

"No, I fell into the Bone Eater's well by accident," Rin explained. "I'm not exactly sure how I managed to get here... to the future, I mean. And I can't get back."

"Can't get back?" Mama echoed, gently leading Rin inside. "Whatever do you mean?"

Rin had always expected that Higurashi-san would be a lot like Kagome; a little bit loud, somewhat sarcastic, and unreasonably brave. But Mama Higurashi was soothing, sweet, and gentle (she might still be hiding her unreasonable bravery under her soft facade, though). She sat Rin down at a table that was high up off the floor with a cup of warm tea and some sweet things and gently pulled the story out of Rin beginning with the giant spider and ending with trying the well with no success.

When she was finished, Mama sat staring down at her own tea for a long time. "I see," she said finally.

Rin fidgeted with her teacup. "I don't know what to do," she finally admitted.

Mama gave her a comforting smile that was strained around the edges. "Don't worry, dear. We'll figure it out."


End Coming of Age.



Next in the series: Rin hears a voice asking her if she's ready to be strong.

The End

You have reached the end of "Coming of Age". This story is complete.

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