Shortly after her fifteenth birthday, Rin bids farewell to Kaede and the gang. They’ve done their part to raise her as a proper human girl. Gotten her to the point where she can decide what to do with her life.
She knows what it’s like to hide in the hay with the boys and embroider with the girls. She knows the elation of holding a newborn baby in her arms, and the soft sound of joyful tears when she lays the babe against its mother’s breast. She knows what it’s like to be unafraid of human company, to lay beneath the stars with her friends or the boy from down the road.
And she knows one thing more than anything else.
Her place is with her Lord Sesshomaru.
. . .
She’s positively giddy all through her journey home. She’s been planning and dreaming about it for months. Ever since the day she worked up the nerve to kiss that boy, Hiro, only to find the experience as underwhelming and unpleasant as she’d always feared it would be. All awkward teeth and bumping noses. The stench of his nervousness in her nostrils.
But now she’s leaving all that behind, to finally, finally, go back home.
She used to say it often as a child, twirling through the wildflower fields on bare feet. I want to be with Lord Sesshomaru foreeeeeever! And she means it as much now as she did then, though she doesn’t say the words out loud.
She can’t wait to get back into the fine silks that her Lord Sesshomaru has given her. The ones that are far too nice to be wearing around Kaede’s village. She can’t wait to sit down on a plush cushion and feel the rhythmic strokes of a comb through her long silky hair as a servant braids and twists and pins the midnight locks into elegant designs befitting a lady of Lord Sesshoumaru’s house.
She can’t wait to be back with her Lord Sesshoumaru, who smells of ginger and lemongrass and the forest after rain.
She just can’t wait.
. . .
A-Un is as thrilled to see her as always. They trot over to her as soon as they catch sight of her at the edge of the palace grounds and soon it’s nothing but nuzzles and kisses and the sound of her delighted laughter.
Master Jaken’s his grumpy old self. All Hmph, how unladylike. And, Ha! Only a sentimental fool would say such things!
But underneath it all she knows he’s pleased to see her, and she sees the faint red tinge in his leathery green cheeks when she bends down to plant a kiss on his wrinkled forehead.
Still, something’s off about the imp. He’s a little stiffer than usual, his beak a little more pinched.
She catches sight of Lord Sesshomaru from the corner of her eye. His moonlight hair and white robes are as immaculate as always, and she feels her heart skip a beat as she watches him walk toward her.
“Rin, welcome home,” he says.
She wants to throw herself into his arms. Yes, I’m home. This is my home, and I’m here to stay. With you.
“I was about to come visit you, so this is very well timed. There’s someone I’d like you to meet. Her name is Lady Fumiko, a hime of the northern lands.”
And Rin feels her grin crumple and her heart sink into the dirt beneath her feet, as distantly, she hears the words inu, betrothal, and mate fall from his lips.
. . .
Lady Fumiko is a vision, with snow white hair, eyes like honey, and a red crescent moon proudly displayed on the middle of her forehead. She's perfect, and perfect for Lord Sesshomaru, and she makes Rin feel like crabgrass next to a water lily. Lady Fumiko dances and writes poetry in flawless calligraphy and her claws are like diamond-sharpened blades.
She will bear a strong new generation of inuyoukai and she will be a ferociously protective mother.
Rin smiles through the pain in her chest, and hides her tears behind forced laughter. She feasts with the rest of the court and tries to drown the ache in wine.
The worst part is this – when Lady Fumiko has a moment to speak with Rin privately, away from the festive crowd, she says, “Lord Sesshomaru has told me so much about you. He says your kindness saved his soul, and that he learned to surpass his father because you taught him the power of love. I am so grateful for you, Rin, and I’m really looking forward to getting to know you.”
There isn’t a hint of falsity in her voice or in her bright, golden eyes.
Rin can’t even hate this woman.
The smile Rin gives Lady Fumiko in return for her kind words is watery and sad. She says nothing, just nods her head slightly and looks down at her satin-clad feet.
. . .
Two years. The engagement period is for two years. Time enough for the two great houses to negotiate whatever it was that noblemen negotiated.
Two years for Rin to figure out what to do. To stop this if she can. To grow up into a woman that a taiyoukai could love, as a man.
She packs her bags carefully and decides to go east to the city. She’s heard whispers of famous geisha who can turn men into puddles with only a glance from behind their paper fans. She’ll learn their ways and when she comes back, she will make Lord Sesshomaru hers. After all, she was the one who taught him to love. And she loves him with every last bit of her soul.
When she returns a woman, not a girl, how could he say no?
She leaves the palace, with A-Un as her faithful stead, and she can see the shimmer of unshed tears in Master Jaken’s eyes and the fretful way he bounces from one foot to the other. Lord Sesshomaru’s face is impassive as always. But she imagines, all the same, that she sees the slight downturn of his mouth, a tension in his strong fingers that peek out beneath the cuffs of his robe.
“Don’t worry,” she calls out with a backward glance, as A-Un rises into the air, “I promise I’ll be back before the wedding.”