Sesshomaru had nearly lost Rin.
That fact reverberated through him. If he had, it'd be his fault and his fault alone. Sesshomaru would never forgive himself for what she had endured tonight. He had left Rin vulnerable, and it had nearly cost him everything.
The Demon Lord buried his nose into Rin's silky hair. The soothing scent of lilies wafted over Sesshomaru, salving his frayed nerves. The floral scent allowed him to center himself. It made it real. He enveloped Rin safely in the crook of his arm, no longer threatened by the Apostate, Zedar. Nothing else mattered.
Sesshomaru filtered out all other sounds, zeroing in on her heartbeat. It thrummed steadily, her life rhythm as strong as ever. The Demon Lord timed his breaths to it, allowing his own racing heart to sync slowly with hers. As long as he could hear this, as long as he could focus in on the very sound of her life, Sesshomaru knew that everything would be alright.
The Demon Lord held the little girl close, her petite frame solid against his. Her head rested on his shoulder and her arms wrapped around him in a tight embrace. Her hands made gentle circles on his back. Rin tried to comfort him. After her ordeal, after he had left her to protect herself, and after Zedar had used her worst nightmare against her, Rin comforted him.
Nothing had ever humbled Sesshomaru as much as this.
Sesshomaru gently kissed her temple, smoothing her hair down. He whispered, “This Sesshomaru does not deserve your pardon.”
Rin lifted her head, her dark eyes meeting his. A new confidence and power resided there. Behind her gentle love, a steely resolve flared to life. She gently brushed her fingertips over his cheek stripes. “No, Sesshomaru-sama. It's not your fault. It's not Belrin's. It's his. He did this, and he is the only one to blame. Belrin's safe now. That's all that matters.”
Belrin. The little girl's new name still sounded foreign to his mind---and yet it fit the little girl perfectly.
Sesshomaru cupped her hand, holding it to his cheek. He nodded his acquiescence. “Thank you, Rin.”
A wide smile crossed her face, and her dimples indented at the corners of her mouth. Its warmth loosened the icy fear around his heart. The gentle purity of her expression lightened Sesshomaru's burden. Joy beamed from her, Rin's eyes softening. “You're welcome, Sesshomaru-sama.”
A throat cleared, shattering the illusion of their private bubble. “I don't mean to intrude, but I think it's time we returned to camp.”
Rin yawned and laid her head back down onto Sesshomaru's shoulder. “Okay, Belgarath-sama. Belrin is awfully tired.”
That name---he had to admit that it had a musical fluidity as it rolled off the little girl's tongue.
Slowly, they stood, the Demon Lord keeping a firm grip on her waist. Rin's head rested on his shoulder, and her arms wrapped loosely around him. She tucked her face into his haori, hiding another yawn.
“One last thing before we leave,” the old man said. “Belrin, come here and take out your amulet.”
Rin nodded. She smiled up at Sesshomaru and kissed his cheek. The little girl slipped from his grasp and joined the old sorcerer. Her silver amulet rested in her palm. “Now what, Belgarath-sama?”
“Give me your hand.” The old man drew his amulet out. On its surface, Sesshomaru saw a majestic wolf etched in life-like detail. The great silver wolf appeared ready to lope away---or primed for the kill. The old man intertwined his fingers with Rin's and closed his eyes. “Close your eyes, Belrin. We want to make sure nothing of Zedar's tampering lingers.”
The wolf-woman joined them, her hand on Rin's shoulder. She said softly, “Just open your mind, Belrin.”
Rin closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. The longer they held their amulets and hands, the happier Rin's expression became. She looked radiant, a beaming smile crossing her face. All the negative emotions that had permeated the little girl's aura washed away. Briefly, a blue nimbus flickered around the trio. Once it faded, the old man let Rin's hand go.
“There. Everything should be cleared out now,” Belgarath said softly. “Poledra, you sense anything lingering?”
“No. Any of the Apostate's tampering seems to be gone.” The wolf-woman cupped Rin's face in her hands. “Belrin, dear, do you sense anything Zedar may have done?”
“No, Poledra-sama.” Rin's hand slipped from her amulet, letting it fall back to rest around her throat. She hugged the old sorcerer fiercely---and a twinge of jealousy sliced through Sesshomaru's heart. She said softly, “Thank you, big brother.”
A gentle expression crossed the old man's face, softening it. Belgarath embraced her, kissing Rin's temple. His blue eyes shimmered with a multitude of emotions---a profound love igniting in them. He whispered, “You're welcome, little sister.”
Rin lifted her head, kissing Belgarath's cheek. “It's been a long time since Belrin has had a big brother.”
“Is that so?” Belgarath tucked some of her hair behind her ear. “Well, to be fair, I've never had a sister before. So, if I make a mistake, you'll let me know, right? Just be gentle about it.”
Rin giggled. “Belrin will. You're funny, Belgarath-sama.”
Belgarath winked. “One does one's best.”
A knowing smile crossed Poledra's face. “One thinks Belrin may keep you on your toes, Old Wolf.”
Belgarath laughed softly. “She wouldn't be my sister if she didn't, Poledra.”
Rin joined Sesshomaru, her hand gently squeezing his. She interlaced their fingers. The little girl glanced up and said, “Let's go back to camp, Sesshomaru-sama. It's been an awfully long night.”
The Demon Lord stated down at her, awed. In the aftermath of her ordeal, something had bloomed inside Rin. She stood taller, a warm and open expression softened her face, and her aura exuded confidence. Whatever hold Zedar had over her heart had been undeniably shattered. None of the submissiveness of the past few weeks lingered---and relief sprouted inside Sesshomaru.
Rin was finally her true self again.
Sesshomaru kissed her temple. “As you wish, Rin.”
The quartet made their way down the staircase. Sesshomaru quirked an eyebrow when he observed Belgarath deliberately skipping a step---as if he omitted it by memory. He noted that Rin did the same, her action far more cautious. Sesshomaru found the step a bit loose, but not worth skipping. He shook his head, shrugging it off.
Outside, the squat tower, mid-morning greeted them. The soft, warm sunshine made the harrowing night seem surreal. The azure sky promised a beautiful day ahead, puffy white clouds dotting it. Birds trilled joyfully.
Out of the corner of his eye, the Demon Lord saw Rin glance in their direction, her expression jubilant. Clearly, they had come to greet the little girl with song. A few spiraled above them, their ecstatic melody soaring. The little girl nodded, waving in response.
Belgarath whispered something to the wolf-woman. Looking towards Sesshomaru and Rin, he said, “Go back to camp with Poledra. I'm going to take care of something.”
The hardness in his eyes masked nothing. The Demon Lord realized that the old sorcerer meant to chase after Zedar and punish him. Sesshomaru nodded his approval. While Rin may be free of the Apostate's control, he didn't want a repeat of last night. He wanted this sorcerer's threat removed---permanently. If he couldn't avenge her himself, he'd accept the old man doing it instead. After all, the history between them extended even beyond Sesshomaru's grasp. In the end, he wanted Zedar dead---no matter how it happened.
“One hopes you'll be careful and not too long,” Poledra said. “We'll be at camp, waiting.”
Belgarath kissed his wife on the cheek before shimmering into the great silver wolf. His harsh gold eyes met Sesshomaru's and he nodded slightly. He loped away into the thicket, disappearing from view.
“Come. We should make haste,” Poledra said.
The trio stepped into the small thicket, leading towards camp. The wolf-woman nodded towards Sesshomaru before she too transformed into the she-wolf. She bounded ahead, blending into the trees.
Sesshomaru gripped Rin around the waist. The little girl slipped her arms around his torso. The Demon Lord cradled her close, preparing to sprint.
“Sesshomaru-sama,” Rin's thought brushed across his mind. “Belrin would like to fly. You said it was freeing. May we?”
Sesshomaru looked into her earnest eyes. How could he deny such a simple request? Nodding once, he replied, “If that would please you, Rin.”
The Demon Lord held the little girl flush against his chest. He called upon his demonic power, allowing them to slowly lift off from the ground. Once above the thicket, Sesshomaru glided towards camp. The wind fanned his hair behind him. He looked up, the blue sky open wide before them. The freedom of flight cleansed them as they coasted above everything.
Rin giggled. “Faster, Sesshomaru-sama! Faster!”
Egged on by her sheer joy, the Demon Lord pushed himself harder. The faraway terrain blurred, and the wind caressed his face. Rin clung to him, displaying her absolute trust in him. Her exuberant laughter tinkled in his ears. Sesshomaru couldn't help the small chuckle that escaped. Flying had always been pleasurable, but with Rin it became blissful. The world narrowed to just him, her, and the sky. Up here, time ceased to matter. The Demon Lord surged faster, earning him a delighted squeal from the little girl.
Firming his hold on Rin, Sesshomaru began to spiral, making dramatic loops in the sky. Ordinarily, such frivolous behavior expended too much-needed energy, but this morning he wanted to make their flight last. With every zig-zag, Rin whooped with exhilaration. Sesshomaru allowed them to rise and fall in waves, and the little girl squeezed him tighter on every sharp turn.
All too soon, however, the disheveled camp came into view. Sesshomaru slowed, descending toward the edge of it. Rin slid to the ground, standing on wobbly legs. She leaned her head on his shoulder, catching her breath.
“Thank you, Sesshomaru-sama. Flying with you is so much fun.” Rin looked up at him, a beaming smile on her face. A yawn overtook her, and she hid it behind a hand. “Sorry. Belrin's just worn out.”
Sesshomaru gently tucked hair behind her ear. “This Sesshomaru should thank you. Come, let us go to our tent. You need your rest.”
Hand in hand, the pair approached their abandoned tent. Inuyasha paced in front of it.
“You have ten more minutes, jackass, and then I'm going to look for you,” the hanyou muttered. His hand rested on his sword hilt, tapping a staccato rhythm. “I don't care what that sorceress says. You and the pup should have been back hours ago.”
Sesshomaru's brows furrowed, stunned that his brother would wait here instead of with his mate.
Before he could ask anything, Rin called, “Inuyasha-sama! We're back!”
The half-demon stopped, looking at them with wide eyes. His ears rose high on his head, twitching. Inuyasha asked softly, “Pup? You okay now?”
Rin nodded, smiling wide. “Belrin's safe now, Inuyasha-sama.”
The half-demon's brows arched as confusion swirled in his eyes. Relief swept over Sesshomaru at not being the only one thrown by the little girl's new name. The only saving grace lay in the fact that she took pride in it---neither denying or apologizing for it. Noticeably, Inuyasha pursed his lips, mulling it over before he shook his head. He wouldn't question it---and for that, the Demon Lord felt grateful.
“I'm glad, pup.” Inuyasha's eyes rose, meeting Sesshomaru's. Relief flickered in their depths before guilt cast a shadow. His ears drooped, and a small pout crossed his lips. Inuyasha looked away, rubbing the back of his neck. “Look, I'll leave you two be. Now that I know you're safe, I best get back to Kagome.”
Sesshomaru frowned. He would not let his brother take on his burden of guilt. The half-breed had no fault in this---and besides, Rin had stated the truth. Zedar was the only one to blame. None of them had done anything wrong. If Rin could forgive him, Sesshomaru would have to work at forgiving himself.
The Demon Lord gently squeezed Rin's hand. “Rin, go into the tent and rest.”
Rin kissed his cheek. “Yes, Sesshomaru-sama.”
After the little girl disappeared into the tent, an awkward silence settled over the brothers. Inuyasha kept his eyes trained on the ground. He said softly, “Look, next time you have to choose between the pup or me---pick her. I'm sorry I got in the way of keeping Rin safe.”
“Inuyasha,” Sesshomaru said, his voice firm. “This Sesshomaru refuses to let you take the blame for what happened. It is not your fault, little brother.”
Inuyasha looked up, a puzzled frown on his face. His ears twitched. “But if I hadn't gotten grabbed by those Grolim fuckers---,”
“Rin would have still been in danger,” Sesshomaru finished.
As much as Inuyasha needed to hear it, the Demon Lord needed to say it. The Apostate had clearly decided to take Rin away during that particular battle. If Sesshomaru had stayed with the little girl, it's possible that he may have ended up just like the fox kit---and Rin would still be in Zedar's clutches with no one the wiser.
Inuyasha shifted on his feet, glancing at the ground. “What happened anyway?”
“Zedar abducted Rin.”
“Zedar?” Confusion crossed the hanyou's face before his eyebrows shot up. “You mean that other sorcerer, the one that fought the old man?”
“It is what this Sesshomaru has said.”
The half-demon whistled softly. “Why? What did he want Rin for?”
“It does not matter. He no longer has her.” Sesshomaru sighed. “Rin is safe. That is all that matters.”
“Is he dead?”
It pained Sesshomaru to admit that this threat to Rin remained alive.
“He abducted Rin and he's not a puddle of goo?” Inuyasha asked, his eyes wide in surprise.
“This conversation is finished, half-breed.” Sesshomaru moved closer to the tent. “This Sesshomaru suggests that you return to your mate.”
The Demon Lord wanted to be with Rin---to truly reassure himself that she was indeed safe and secure. It rattled him to think that Zedar had taken Rin away---and that he, Sesshomaru, had been helpless. Unlike his refusal to slay Kohaku, the Demon Lord understood that there had been no way for him to kill the Apostate. He couldn't have rescued Rin alone. The sorcerers had so much power he still didn't grasp---more importantly, Sesshomaru feared that this could happen again.
“Wait.” Inuyasha gripped his hand. “I just wanted to say---I'm glad that you and Rin are safe. Don't worry about the whelp. I've got him. You just focus on the pup.”
The Demon Lord whispered, “Thank you, little brother.”
Inuyasha nodded and turned, heading towards the center of camp.
Like a ghost, the wolf-woman emerged from the trees. A sober expression crossed her face, her gold eyes somber. Poledra nodded in acknowledgment and joined him by the tent.
“One is glad to see that you and Belrin arrived back to camp safely.”
Rin's new name sounded graceful when spoken in the wolf-woman's alto. The more Sesshomaru heard it, the more it fit the little girl. Even so, it would take more time to truly adjust to it. At every turn, Rin continued to change in some new and surprising way. Sesshomaru needed to absorb her new identity---so tied to this new name. Any resistance to accepting Belgarath as pack had disappeared the moment Rin had accepted her new name from him---and more importantly, recognized him as her big brother.
Sesshomaru turned to face Poledra. “This Sesshomaru had no issues.”
“Good.” She tucked a tawny lock of hair behind her ear. “One would like to talk about what happened---and to apologize.”
“Apologize?” The Demon Lord's brows furrowed. “For?”
“One should have realized what the Apostate had done sooner. Belrin's my student, and I should have detected his tampering.” Poldera sighed, a tired frown crossing her features. “It is not the first time someone's used something like this. It should have been obvious, and for that I am sorry.”
“Apology accepted but not necessary,” Sesshomaru replied. “If not for you and you mate's assistance, this Sesshomaru would not have Rin now.”
“But it is. We knew that Zedar trailed us.” Poledra's eyes hardened. “We didn't quite know what he wanted. This was never about Belrin. She was only his method to hurt the Old Wolf. For that, I am sorry, too.”
“It is still not necessary.” Sesshomaru sighed. “You did nothing wrong. This Apostate takes the blame---and Naraku takes the blame for the Apostate. For what has happened, they shall pay alone.”
The wolf-woman nodded. “One can accept that. May I see Belrin? I don't think anything is lingering, but I want to make certain she is alright after the ordeal she's been through. It shouldn't take long.”
“That is acceptable.”
The Demon Lord and Poledra entered the tent. Rin dozed in one corner, huddled under the blankets. Sesshomaru gently gripped her shoulder to get her attention. The little girl opened one weary eye and sighed softly.
“Rin,” Sesshomaru said quietly.
Rin sat up, rubbing her eyes. She glanced over his shoulder towards the wolf-woman and back again. “Yes, Sesshomaru-sama?”
“Belrin, this won't be long, I promise you,” Poledra said. She sat down on the other side of the little girl. “One wants to talk about what happened.”
The wolf-woman asked, “How did Zedar lure you away?”
The little girl looked down, fingering the blanket. She said, “He broke through Belrin's barrier and told her that she wasn't safe. He said that there were Grolims after her and that they would take her away if she stayed in the tent. He lied, telling Belrin that he'd let her go back to Sesshomaru-sama once the danger was over.”
Poledra asked, “And how did he convince you that your pack leader was the enemy?” She cupped Rin's chin in her hand. “One only asks, Belrin, dear, so I can see if anything lingers from his compulsion.”
“He told her that Sesshomaru-sama had left Belrin---that his actions spoke louder than his words. Then, he trapped Belrin in her worst nightmare, making it seem so real that Sesshomaru-sama would reject her. He smothered her mind with it, making it easier for him to turn Belrin against her lord.” Rin's eyes hardened, her mouth forming an angry frown. “That was only after he made Belrin tell him the truth about Sesshomaru-sama. He had no right to make her share such private details.”
“One agrees.” Poledra's gold eyes searched Rin's. “When you translocated yourself after hurting your ankle, how did you make fire?”
Rin held up a hand, one finger outstretched. A small flame ignited and yet it did not burn the little girl. She said, “Zedar taught Belrin how to do this---when he was lying and going by the name Makor.”
Poledra glanced towards Sesshomaru. “Any hold Zedar had on Belrin is utterly broken. He'll never be able to do this to her ever again---not because of my protection or instruction. Belrin knows how to recognize what he did.”
Sesshomaru squeezed Rin's other hand, a soft sigh of relief escaping his lips. He said, “This Sesshomaru is pleased to hear it.”
“One last question, Belrin.” Poledra turned towards the little girl. “How did you break Zedar's hold?”
Rin shook her hand, the flame extinguishing. She drew out her amulet. “Belrin touched this, and it snapped his hold. She knows her bond with Sesshomaru-sama did it.”
The silver disc in her hand caught the Demon Lord's attention. His true form etched on its surface called to him. Its majesty restored some of his faith. The dignified and imposing stance reminded Sesshomaru of his strength. It seemed fitting that this would help bring Rin back to him---that somehow the guilt he carried for failing to protect her was redeemed in this object. In a way, it had been him---through this, Sesshomaru saved Rin.
Most of all, pride bloomed in Sesshomaru's chest. Rin had stood up to Zedar. She had turned his mind trick back on him and won. She had bested a sorcerer centuries older than herself---and it mattered not if the methods Zedar employed had been inherently flawed. Rin had used her growing power on the Apostate---all to come back to him.
Poledra leaned forward and kissed the little girl on the forehead. “One is not surprised by that. I'm so proud of you, Belrin. I will leave you now with your pack-leader. Rest. We shall have another lesson soon, little sister.”
A wide smile flickered across Rin's face. She nodded. “Yes, big sister.”
Once the wolf-woman left, a hush fell over the tent. Sesshomaru's eyes met Rin's. He searched hers, finding the quiet devotion illuminated in their depths. The Demon Lord traced her face with his eyes. He sat, his back stiff, afraid to move---as if doing so would break the illusion. Part of him doubted that this was real. Part of him feared that perhaps this was another trick---even if rationally he knew better. Now that Sesshomaru found himself alone with the little girl, it felt surreal. Had all of these terrible things happened?
Needing reassurance, Sesshomaru asked, “Rin?”
Simultaneously, Rin asked, “Sesshomaru-sama?” The little girl laughed, her dimples crinkling around her mouth. Her nose wrinkled in mirth. Rin waved a hand and said, “You first, Sesshomaru-sama.”
The Demon Lord gently clasped one of her hands into his. “This Sesshomaru---,”
He didn't know how to articulate what he wanted to say. The Demon Lord knew the little girl had to be alright. He saw it in her warm and open smiles. Rin carried herself confidently. Her scent lacked all traces of anxiety or fear---as if it had been cleansed. Rin blossomed into her true sunny self---and yet the Demon Lord, so shaken by the night's events, doubted. He needed to truly understand how she was safe. Just what had Belgarath shown her? How much had it helped? How did her new name fit in---and why did she receive it now? Sesshomaru's mind whirled and his emotions churned, never quite settling on any particular one long enough.
“You want to know if Belrin is alright?” Rin gently squeezed his hand back, a patient smile crossing her lips.
Sesshomaru nodded curtly, dumbstruck by her ability to know what he wanted to say but couldn't word right. He laced his fingers with hers and whispered, “Yes.”
A resolute expression crossed her face. Rin's eyes never left his. She said, her voice firm, “Belrin is well. She is safe, Sesshomaru-sama. She meant it when she told you that you would never lose her. Not ever.”
Rin's eyes hardened with determination. Her aura strengthened. While it differed from his own or a spiritual person's, Sesshomaru recognized its power. It radiated from her petite frame, brushing against his subtly. While Zedar had forced her to use its brute force on him, this time felt different. Rin left her power unfettered perhaps for the first time.
In a way, Sesshomaru surmised that it was. Rin no longer feared her new gifts---and more importantly she didn't seem afraid that it would upset him. Instead, she had shown him her power as a means of reassuring him.
Her aura poured warmth into him, causing his own to flare momentarily.
Satisfied by his first inquiry, Sesshomaru gently brushed the back of his hand across her cheek. “This Sesshomaru is curious. What did the old man show you after you threw off Zedar's control?”
Rin shifted closer to him, sitting on her feet. She cupped his face in her hands, her thumbs gently ghosting over his cheek stripes. Rin kissed his crescent moon before resting her forehead against his. Her dark eyes shimmered with a swirl of emotions---love, trust, confidence, joy and belonging. “Let Belrin show you, Sesshomaru-sama. Close your eyes.”
The Demon Lord did as told while her fingers tangled into his hair. He cleared his mind, allowing the little girl to do what she must to share this with him. Something skimmed across the vaults of his mind---fleeting images too hazy to discern floating by. Slowly, they built, revealing a high tower, its warm turret inviting. Fire raged in the fireplace and yet not one log fed its flames. A work table sat in its center, scrolls and books scattered across its surface. An old man sat at its head. His rich midnight blue robes draped over him. A white beard flowed down his chest. Wise blue eyes twinkled with mirth and love---love so deep it frightened Sesshomaru. This was that same God that they had met in the Vale---Aldur himself.
The longer he saw the image, the better he felt. It washed away all the guilt, the horror, and the sorrow. Sesshomaru could bask in this deity's presence forever---as if he could serve Aldur. That thought, too, frightened him. After all, he, Sesshomaru, had no master. How could he ever contemplate accepting anyone's power over his own? How could he ever see himself as inferior to anyone?
A soft contented sigh escaped the Demon Lord. He slowly opened his eyes, connecting with Rin's. Hers held awe and adoration---and a mysterious power.
Rin whispered, “Now do you understand, Sesshomaru-sama? Belrin is fine. There's no reason to be concerned about her.”
The longer the Demon Lord held Rin's gaze with his own, the more he understood her new name. It suited her---the sound pleasant to his ears. Belgarath had said the prefix Bel meant beloved. Sesshomaru knew that Rin's name meant companion. How fitting, then, that her name now meant beloved companion---for that is indeed what she was to Sesshomaru.
“Yes. This Sesshomaru understands.” A small smile ghosted over Sesshomaru's lips. He cupped her face in his hand and kissed her cheek. “But you're wrong about one thing. This Sesshomaru will always be concerned about you, Belrin.”