More than anything else in the world- more than bandits, more than wolves- Rin hated to be still.
Kaede had only managed to instruct her on how to slow down, but there was nothing to be done about her constant movement. If her feet weren’t slapping against the dirt roads between one errand or the next, then her hands were moving through tedious and repetitive tasks or else weaving flowers into crowns. Rumors flew about the feral child, besotted with demons and left to grow wild like a weed, but Kohaku silenced them, and if not him, then Kagome. Rin was thriving and her particular eccentricities and vices, even from a young girl well within an age to unlearn bad habits, were permitted within reason. Slowing down was for Kaede’s old bones more than it was for decorum. Rin could do as she pleased.
She’d grown accustomed to village life, but it wasn’t until she, sixteen at the time, implored Sesshoumaru to take her back with him and he realized she wouldn’t be refused that it had been stifling her. She’d taken off like a powder blast the second it was only her and the open air and Sesshoumaru and Jaken and Ah-Un and let the wind tear through her hair until it was tangled and the mud stain her bare feet up to the ankles. Jaken had yelled at her, complaining of her getting grass stains on her beautiful kimono that Sesshoumaru had bought her, but he had been silenced.
Sesshoumaru let her run free, uninhibited and untamed, and she swore she caught his eyes on her more than once as she twirled in the soft grasses until she got dizzy and collapsed in a heap and let the sun warm her like a soft blanket as she napped.
And now two years gone from that, Rin found herself in uncomfortable layers, kneeling in front of parchment with ink and brush, her wrist aching from the teacher across from her’s brutal corrections of her form- everything but free to do as she pleased.
“You’re sloppy, girl,” the teacher sniffed. He was an old demon of some sort. Beady eyed and bearded and scowling with a face and personality much like a rat. “Honestly, the fact that Lord Sesshoumaru is keeping such an unseemly human as part of his retinue is disgraceful. I can’t believe his mother is humoring him.”
Rin’s hand shook in quiet, simmering rage. The only thing stopping her from throwing the brush at him and stomping out as hard as her tabi-clad feet would allow her to was that Lord Sesshoumaru would see that she was miserable here and send her back to the village.
Two months ago, his mother had bid him come home and informed him he was of age enough to take the Western Lands his father once claimed as his own. As such, he was expected to learn to navigate the political structure of the West, rather than roaming senselessly. Rin hadn’t been present for the argument that ensued, but Jaken had told her that Sesshoumaru had been terrifying in his objections, but, well, mother knows best, he supposed.
However it played out, the end result was that Sesshoumaru was all but chained to the sky palace for now and that Jaken and Rin could either leave or endure their own training to be a part of his court, properly. Neither were willing to leave him, and, at the time, Rin assumed the training would just be something akin to what she had at Kaede’s. She would make a fine medicine woman. She had even tried to go to Sesshoumaru’s mother’s on the day she was to start training, only to be caught by this absolute rat of a demon who had been pushing her into the role of a demure lady with every one of his torturous lessons while Rin stubbornly refused to bend at every turn.
It was getting harder- this was a battle of wills and Rat-Face (she had never bothered to learn his name) had years on her. She hadn’t even managed to get him to explain to her why she was expected to be able to do calligraphy or sit still or play an instrument. (She could sing at least- those lessons came easy and proved she wasn’t a “hopeless case.”) Sesshoumaru wouldn’t care about those things.
“You’re a peasant girl,” he’d snapped. “You should be honored you even have a place in his house.”
The ink was dripping on the parchment from her shaking hands, ruining the shakily imitated lines she’d already done. Rat-Face made a sputtering incoherent sound and Rin bit her tongue until she tasted blood. At least with the damage done, she could lower her arm.
“Stupid girl,” he spat. “You’re going to embarrass your lord? Do you want that?”
She grit her teeth, but the words pushed out between them anyway. “Lord Sesshoumaru is not easily embarrassed. He likes me fine as I am.”
Rat-Face opened and closed his mouth like a fish drowning on dry land. He couldn’t argue with her- the only reason these lessons continued was because she refused to tell Sesshoumaru she was miserable and she made it clear that if she were to tell Sesshoumaru he was bullying her, the result wouldn’t be pretty. They were at an impasse, eternally. He couldn’t push her to breaking and she wouldn’t dare risk being sent back to the village. Being without him again would be worse than this hell- at least she could steal moments here and there with him in the sky palace. At least she saw him walking along the paths between buildings, stiff and uncomfortable, and imagined him coming home to her and collapsing onto the futon and holding her while she kissed the stress of the day away.
(Her cheeks were already flush from anger, otherwise they might have flushed from something else.)
There was a commotion outside the room that broke their standstill and shifted their focus- servants were suddenly rushing down the hall, whisper-shouting about someone named “Lady Inuki.”
Rat-Face’s lips curled in a cruel smile as he shifted his gaze back to her. “Come, girl. I want you to see what Lord Sesshoumaru’s meant to have at his side.” He reached to grab her wrist and then stopped short, realizing what a mistake that would be. He gave another derisive sniff and threw open the screen to join the other servants in the hall.
He would not force Rin to go- couldn’t if he wanted to- but curiosity was another of her vices. She tossed the calligraphy brush down onto the ruined parchment and watched the ink splatter and make a bigger mess of things with a smug sort of satisfaction and turned to follow. Her desire to run and be the first to see what all the fuss was about was inhibited by the kimono she was forced to wear that kept her from moving at anything faster than a ladylike stroll.
Rat-Face gave her scathing look as she tried to barrel out of the room, tripped over all the fabric she was draped in, and caught herself on the screen partition. She shot him an equally withering look and then stuck her tongue out at his retreating back.
Resigning herself to being slower than the servants in their less constricting garb and their enhanced demonic abilities, Rin walked as quickly and as indelicately as her kimono allowed her, only to end up in the back of the crowd as they spilled out onto the grounds. She managed to find a space that she could peer through, but she was jostled out of it as quickly as she reached it.
In that brief moment she could see the steps leading up to the Lady’s manor lined with a small army heading upwards, and at the head of the pack was a beautiful female demon with silver-gray hair.
Rin stepped back from the crowds, puzzling over the new arrival, only to nearly run right into Rat-Face. “Well? Did you get a good look at her?”
“I did. She’s very beautiful.” And that was the truth, but Rin saw no reason to compare herself to such a demon.
At least she didn’t before Rat-Face leaned forwards, his hot, rank breath on her face, “Yes, she is. She’s everything you’re not, which is why she is to be Lord Sesshoumaru’s betrothed.”
Rin could barely eat her dinner, tucked into a private space in the hopes that Jaken would come find her and she wouldn’t have to eat alone. The sky palace was isolating and she was the only human and were she less stubborn and determined to assert herself as belonging by Sesshoumaru’s side, it might have bothered her. These demons didn’t understand. They saw her as… what?
Well. Whatever it was, it wasn’t what she wanted to be for Sesshoumaru. He didn’t need a lady in a fancy kimono who could sit prim and proper right at his side. He needed someone to remind him of how big his heart really was, who loved him for all that he was and everything he could be.
Lady Inuki, whoever she was, couldn’t do that. Surely not. Rin saw her a few more times throughout the day and found her to be just a copy of his mother, right down to the unsettling manner in which she discussed dire matters- nonchalant and dismissive. There were floral patterns on her kimono, but she was no delicate flower.
Why am I expected to be one, then? Do they think I’m a toy? She shuddered and put aside her rice at the thought and took to wandering through the grounds, rather than finish her meal. Up here in the sky, it was always cold and, for once, Rin was grateful of her layers. The guards all eyed her as she passed but made no move to stop her.
She kept walking until she reached the edge of the floating palace. It was colder here, but the air was crisper and she breathed in deeply, intoxicated by it. Her fingers itched for something to do and idly she reached out to see if she could touch a passing cloud.
She had leaned out just a bit farther than would perhaps be safe when someone grabbed her wrist. She froze, suddenly breathless, and tilted her head back.
“Rin.” Sesshoumaru. His face was impassive as always, but he gripped her wrist so tightly it almost hurt, which told her everything his outward appearance wouldn’t show. “You should be more careful.”
He didn’t pull her back, even allowed her to tip gracelessly over the side as far as she could go, knowing that she would go nowhere with his iron grip on her arm. She smiled, lazily, up at him. “I’m not worried about falling. Lord Sesshoumaru will always catch me.”
She fell back onto her feet and solid ground on her own and very slowly his fingers released her wrist, one by one. “That’s no reason to be careless.”
She hummed to herself, the ghost of his hand on her wrist, lingering. He hadn’t moved and she dared to take advantage of this moment. “Would Lord Sesshoumaru care to walk with me?”
She could scarcely breathe in the silence that stretched between them while he considered his answer. One day she would understand his mind the way Jaken did and she would be able to read between the lines of his pauses, his distant stares. For now, she could only pray in the space between words that he would agree. “I will.”
Two words and they might as well have been an epic poem. She entwined her fingers with his and when he looked down with brows knit, she blushed and ducked her head, but would not bow to shame or embarrassment. For one, she felt no shame in it. For another, the embarrassment was only at how he made her feel when she was so far beneath him and would never be able to rise to his grand station. Rat-Face hadn’t been wrong about that.
It didn’t matter. She was here and she would steal as much of his time as she could. She walked slowly, clinging to his hand as they made a circuit around the edge of the grounds.“It has been so long since I last saw you, my Lord. We’re here in the same place and yet you are so far away.”
“Mother demands my full attention.” Sesshoumaru’s lips curled in disgust and then slipped back into neutrality again. Once more, she wanted to see into his mind, to find the truth there that he wouldn’t speak aloud. In fact, to prevent her curiosity from probing it, he moved on. “Are your lessons going well?”
She choked down a contemptuous sound. “They’re going fine, my Lord.”
“Rin.” She froze, wincing, knowing what was coming. “You needn’t lie to me. If you are unhappy, you should tell me.”
“I-” she bit her lip and worried it between her teeth. “I am happy to be with Lord Sesshoumaru and Master Jaken. I just don’t understand why I have to wear these.” She gestured to the kimono. “Or learn how to play an instrument or do calligraphy or-or any of it!”
Once said, they could not be unsaid, and they tumbled out of her like a stream moving far too quickly. Now the shame came readily, threatening to overwhelm her. “I would be happier with the medicine woman. Could you please tell your mother this?”
Sesshoumaru blinked once. Twice. She could not place his confusion and when he slipped his hand from hers, she thought she had lost him. A small sound escaped her as she hesitantly reached for it, but aborted the gesture halfway.
“I see. So it’s like that, is it?” His eyes darkened, shadows forming in the corners of the honeyed gold that she longed to stare into for the sake of understanding him deeper, but he was focusing above her head towards the great staircase to his mother’s throne. “My mother has a poor sense of humor, Rin. I am sorry she’s made you endure this.”
Rin blinked now. She worried the sleeve of her ornate kimono since biting her lip was going to draw blood eventually, and she had bled too much for her frustrations today. “I don’t understand.”
He looked momentarily pained before he said, softly, and with great restraint that belied the tension he was now carrying. “She believes I am to take you as a concubine.”
Rin’s entire face turned red and she staggered backwards. “O-oh. Lord Sesshoumaru, I-”
“I have no intention of doing such a thing.” The quickness of his response startled her heart into beating like a butterfly against her chest. The idea of being a pretty doll-like concubine to her lord, kept to the side to sit still and obey was an awful fate and she was delighted to know he had no such intent, but the speed in which he dismissed it was what hurt. She was a peasant girl of no significant status and Sesshoumaru was betrothed to a high-born lady of his own breed, set to rule by her side in a way he could never do with a human. Being his concubine was the only way she would be permitted to stay by his side.
In a cruel way, the Lady Mother was likely trying to facilitate her by making her useful to whatever system demon lords obeyed, but that didn’t make it right or fair.
And clearly Sesshoumaru did not think of her that way.
Try as she might, she could not make the heat that worked its way across her face recede. She dropped her gaze so he wouldn’t see it. “Of course, Lord Sesshoumaru. I’m only a human girl, after all.”
The tip of a claw pressed into her chin and tipped her head upwards until she was looking into his eyes again. “You are not only anything, Rin. Never forget that.”
Her face was determined to betray her- first the red-hot embarrassment and now the tears in her eyes. “Thank you, my Lord.”
His finger trailed across her cheek, catching a tear as it fell. Puzzled, he stared at it, but did not ask after its provenance. “I will take care of the matter immediately.” He paused, turning to head up the steps. With one foot on the first of many, he stopped and turned slightly. “Rin?”
She’d been trying to wipe her eyes on her overly large sleeves when he glanced her way and she jumped, conditioned by Rat-Face to stand demurely and at attention when someone of higher standing spoke to her. Damn him. “Yes, my Lord?”
“We will walk again tomorrow. I will insist on there being time for it.”
Once more, her heart fluttered in her chest and this time she thought it might break free from the cage of her ribs and go soaring about the palace. “Thank you, Lord Sesshoumaru. I would like that very much.”
With that, he began the long walk towards the top of the palace grounds, and Rin, careful to stand downwind, began to seek an alternate route.
If Lord Sesshoumaru was going to make demands of his mother about her, she wanted to see them for herself.