Laughing, racing, tumbling, grinning. Gaped teeth, freckles, dirt between toes, teasing brothers, sunbathing, cool creaks, bare feet and squawking kappas. The scatter of petals and grass kicked into the air, the scent of campfires, sunflowers, crispy fish and cooking fungi. Assuring golden eyes keeping vigilance over her sleep, along with the steady rhythmic breathing of a two-headed dragon keeping her warm. These are all the things Rin chose to remember about childhood.
She remembered and kept them close, especially at night, gliding through memories masquerading as dreams.
In the years after travelling with the stoic lord and staying with Kaede at her village, her limbs had changed- becoming gangly, form lean and growing with burgeoning maturity. She'd adapted to her environment, forming strong friendships with her mentor and the Inutachi. However, despite her days being spent in quiet happiness, she couldn't help but notice a few things. A perpetual absence. A certain searching look in Sango's eyes whenever she glanced up from monitoring her three children to stare off into the trees.
Tossing and turning beneath the covers, Rin frowned in her sleep.
One person who remained elusive in both her dreams and the waking world was-
A crooning noise startled her upright, brown eyes flying wide. Stumbling from her futon and hurrying from Kaede's hut, she peered out into the night inquisitively.
From within the forest, she could see a faint orange glow peeking out between the trees. Tightening her sleeping yukata around her, Rin's lips pursed. She then stubbornly sought out the glow, bare feet padding over cool dirt.
She found him, as predicted, watching Sango's hut.
Kohaku stood, a little further along into his maturity than her. Even the dense shadows couldn't quite hide the changes in his height and features. Rin stopped the second he caught notice of her- a telltale wariness gripping him a moment before recognition painted his face.
"Rin," he said with relief, tone soon slipping into a resigned reprimand. "What're you doing out so late? You should be asleep."
"So should you," she smiled easily, rocking on her heels. She gave a wave to Kirara, who hopped onto Kohaku's shoulder after transforming into a small version of herself and mewling. "It's a strange hour for you to come back. Sango won't be able to greet you with a lively smile-" lively chatter broke off the second she noticed the older boy direct his gaze to his feet. "Oh… unless… you don't plan on staying long?" Rin murmured. Again.
For some reason, it was always the same with him. Lord Sesshoumaru's brief visits didn't bother her in the least. He barely had a connection to the village. But Kohaku? He should've been there, stayed there. She knew Sango missed him terribly but he barely made time to visit.
However, she didn't voice any of this. She'd done so before, and Sango's assurances never seemed to help him. Guilt continued to gnaw like an infected wound at her friend.
Rin observed his freckled face in the torch light, seeing the emotions swimming within vibrant brown eyes.
"You know I would if I could. But…" the silence of the forest swallowed up the remainder of what he wanted to say. Rin shifted her bare feet, drawing closer and taking his coarse, demon-slaying hand.
"Let's go somewhere."
"I want to go to the beach," she said decisively, as though he had no say in the matter. Kohaku supposed he didn't when she got like this. "Come on, Kaede says the ocean air is good for you. Hurry, before everyone wakes up," Rin tugged on his hand.
Kohaku smiled slightly, giving in far too easily.
Kirara touched down on sandy shores an hour later, allowing them to slide off her back. Rin stretched and sucked in a long breath of salty sea air.
"Ahh! Now isn't that better?" she grinned.
Kohaku snorted and smiled good-naturedly, looking out at the black sea with a quiet, observing look. "I haven't been to the beach in a long time."
Kohaku wandered out, boots crunching on pebbles until they were cushioned by sand, leaving moonlit footprints. "I want to say I haven't had time, but that's not true," he chuckled. "It just hasn't occurred to me to go. That I'd enjoy it."
At 16, Rin still didn't feel old enough nor wise enough to understand everything. She wasn't a firecracker like Kagome had been around her age, and she didn't see herself as a warrior like Sango. However, there were some things Rin knew how to do.
Following, Rin took his hand in passing, tugging to ensure he'd stumble after her. She walked right up to the shoreline, drinking in the dark, hushed atmosphere only broken by the sound of waves crashing against rocks.
"Take off your boots."
Kohaku blinked, raising a brow. His lips quirked, "you sure are bossy today."
Giggling, she wriggled bare toes into the sand- squealing when the cool tide rushed in and splashed about her ankles before drawing back. "You used to walk around barefoot all the time, just like me."
"When I was a kid," he reminded her.
"Are you implying something?" Rin huffed. "I'll tell Uncle Inuyasha you said that."
"No, I wasn't trying to say-" his hasty words cut off, noting her mischievous expression. Kohaku smiled and leaned down as though to take off his boots- suddenly thrusting his hands into the surf and splashing her.
Shrieking and gasping, Rin gaped with surprise- soon grinning viciously wide and leaping towards him. Kohaku quickly dodged. He began running, hotly pursued by the petite young woman. An unexpected noise rang out into the night. Boyish, happy laughter.
Earthy brown eyes widened and even as Rin sprinted, panting, she drank in the sound of Kohaku laughing. How strange, rare and wonderful it was.
Running fast and putting all her energy into her legs, Rin leapt at his back. Catching him around the middle, she collided hard against him.
With an undignified yelp from a demon slayer, Kohaku lost his footing, toppling gracelessly to the ground, kicking up sand. Giggling breathlessly, Rin spat some from her mouth and lifted her head.
"You went down easy. Are you sure you slay demons?" she teased, nestling against the warmth of his back.
Kohaku shifted, shaking sand from his ponytail and adjusting their positions so that they were facing each other, laying on their sides. He wiped his face, expression clearly trying to remain unaffected and firm- but breaking into a tender smile.
"You always do this," he mused quietly.
"Hm? I don't think I've ever tackled you into the sand before," Rin felt fairly confident about that.
"That's not what I mean, it's just that you always make me feel... something different. Something good."
"But we had that argument about how best to stew nettles the other day," she pointed out.
A chuckle escaped him, soulful gaze sober. "Even that felt good to me."
Tilting her head against the dry, soft dune, both fell silent. Despite being a chatter-box, Rin also knew when to be quiet and let him talk. Her hand inched out naturally for his, and Kohaku accepted it, grasping her palm in a way that made her feel secure and safe. They'd known each other for many years so some things came as easy as breathing. Other things, like talking about it, came slowly, painfully.
"Why won't they go away?" Kohaku murmured in a hushed tone for only her to hear. "The nightmares. The memories," his gaze shook. "I just want to stop seeing it every time I look at Sango, but its there, in the back of my mind. I don't... feel right being around my nieces and nephew."
"You're still scared you'll hurt them?" there was no judgment in her tone. Assuring him that Naraku was dead and gone didn't help. Kohaku was perfectly aware of that.
The young man ducked his head, lips thin. His larger, rougher hand in hers trembled. "What if it's still there?" he whispered. "The compulsion to hurt people. I could be living my life- I could marry-" his eyes avoided hers. "Have children, but then one day I hear his voice again and the memory is too strong to resist. I could do something awful."
Dark brows pulled together, heart-squeezing in her ribcage. She wanted to help so badly. However, there was nothing she could do but keep trying to assure him and listen. "Even if you hear him, I believe in you, Kohaku," Rin stroked a thumb over his scarred knuckles. "You'd fight it. You're getting stronger all the time."
He looked exhausted, running a hand through his hair and sighing. "I'm so tired of being scared," he mumbled, glancing wearily at her. "You're still scared too, aren't you?"
Her face lost its girlish innocence, becoming firm as she sat up. "I've told you before- I'm not afraid of you, Kohaku!" she insisted hotly. "I haven't been since I was 8!"
Kohaku shifted his muscular body, and it was times like those she noticed how much larger and different he'd become. She blushed slightly but kept her expression serious.
"I wasn't talking about that," he chuckled, gaze becoming gentle. Careful fingers minded some dark hair from her face. "Your nightmares. You still have nightmares about your childhood too, right?"
Rin blinked, feeling cold and releasing his hand to wrap both arms around herself. The brush of cool night air gliding over her skin suddenly felt a little too chilly.
A soft croon rumbled out seconds before Kirara's large form settled down behind them. Lustrous buttercup coloured fur bumped against Rin's back, and she nestled against the nekomata's side gratefully.
"We don't have to discuss it if you don't want to," Kohaku said with concern, leaning back against the demon as well.
Forcing a cheery smile, Rin shook her head. "I'm fine- I've actually come up with something that helps me sleep most nights now, and I thought it might help you too."
"What is it?"
Tilting her head back to gaze at the stars above, she smiled a little more naturally. "I think of all the good things in my childhood. Laughing, racing, tumbling, grinning. Gaped teeth, freckles, dirt between toes, teasing brothers, sunbathing, cool creaks, bare feet and squawking kappas. The scatter of petals and grass kicked into the air, the scent of campfires, sunflowers, crispy fish and cooking fungi. Assuring golden eyes keeping vigilance over my sleep, along with the steady rhythmic breathing of a two-headed dragon keeping me warm."
Kohaku stared at her with no short amount of amazement. He swallowed and looked down at the sand.
"You're strong," he breathed. "To be able to separate all the good things from the bad."
"You can do it too," grabbing his hand again, Rin inched closer with an encouraging nod. "Tell me some things you remember. Happy things."
Kohaku blushed a little at her proximity and cleared his throat, thinking. "Sango. She was always there for me."
His eyes seemed to haze slightly, "Father…"
"Push through it, Kohaku," she murmured. "There was a time before all the bad stuff. Was he kind?"
Kohaku blinked, firm fingers squeezing hers as he came back to himself, exhaling. He chuckled shyly, "he was a little strict, but he meant well."
Rin shifted closer, resting beside him shoulder to shoulder, knee bumping his. Kohaku rested his head back against Kirara's soft fur and began recounting things long since buried. Things he hadn't thought he could remember or appreciate anymore. The guilt was there, it always would be, but it felt further away, replaced with a bitter-sweet tang.
"Practicing, running, training, laughing, chasing yellow nekomatas," he scratched Kirara's ear. "Butterflies, bare-feet, hunting- freeing rabbits from traps because I didn't want to see them get killed. Father yelling. Father's hand gently resting on my h-head," the words stumbled. "Playing, flower gathering, flying on Kirara. The smell of the blacksmiths. Sweat. Forging weapons. Sango snoring."
Rin gasped and giggled, watching as his fingers slid through the gaps between her own.
"Warming my hands on the brazier. Talking. Listening. Stories around the campfire. Demon slayers, family," Kohaku murmured, voice thick with memories. He closed his eyes, falling silent.
"You did really well," cuddling against him, Rin pecked his cheek.
Kohaku glanced down at her, "I haven't talked about that stuff out loud before. I didn't think I could anymore."
Grinning, she put her nose in the air, imitating Jaken. "Humph well, I am rather good at talking. Getting other people to talk is my speciality ~"
Chuckling, he nudged his free hand against her forehead gently, brown eyes incredibly warm. "Can we do this again sometime? There's probably more we can remember."
Blinking, Rin gentled and squeezed his fingers, "of course we can. Anytime, Kohaku. But you know… Sango might want to hear some of this too- when you're ready," she added quickly.
His face became a touch more guarded, which broke her heart. He was so afraid of hurting Sango again. For a demon slayer, the young man was heavily weighed down by empathy.
Rin touched his freckled cheek, "Kohaku?"
He shook his head slightly and gave a smile to show he was alright. "Never mind that. How'd you get to be so brave talking about this stuff?"
Humming, she let her fingers linger, dragging down to his jaw. It looked and felt strong beneath her touch. "I probably couldn't talk about it out loud if you weren't here. You make me feel brave."
Before her fingers left his face, her hand was caught. Kohaku pushed it back to rest against his cheek, tilting his face into her palm.
"Likewise," he mumbled.
Cheeks warming, Rin felt her heart stutter and thrum wildly in her chest. It was weird. Kohaku was so incredibly dear to her. She loved being close to him, but lately, butterflies just wouldn't stop fluttering in her stomach.
Seeming to sense her confusion, Kohaku released her slack hand and gently returned it to her. He then turned to his boots and began tugging them off.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm doing as you bossily suggested earlier," standing, he gave a small smile, offering a hand down to her.
Rin accepted it, following as he walked to the shoreline. Stepping onto the wet sand, a noise of surprise and shook escaped the demon slayer as the tide rushed in.
Biting her lip, Rin tried and failed to suppress mirthful laughter. "Did you just squeal?"
"No. You're imagining things," Kohaku grinned.
The ocean lapped around their ankles, slowly receding, before sweeping a fresh wave of cool, dark water against their skin.
Kohaku gradually adjusted, looking out at the endless stretch of ocean brightened by the moon. Rin breathed in a lungful of the fresh air, slowly relaxing with him.
The tired lines beneath Kohaku's kind eyes seemed to soften, not entirely going away, but his face appeared young once more, gaining a healthy glow.
Rin held onto his hand throughout. He was the only one she felt so strangely at peace with. Lord Sesshoumaru and Kaede were protective presences, but neither really knew her, or her secrets. No one understood everything that had happened in her life, though she'd divulged some things.
She'd told Kohaku everything. When the boys at the village whispered among themselves that she was strange, a shape-shifter, a hanyou girl in disguise, Rin would smile. Because they didn't need to know or understand. Kohaku accepted her oddness, an outlier himself. Perhaps they were Hanyou children in a way.
Like Uncle Inuyasha, they didn't quite fit into human society. They were too strange. Too changed, different because of what they'd seen and experienced, never quite meshing despite their best efforts to.
But that was alright.
She'd asked Uncle Inuyasha about it once, Lord Sesshoumaru in their presence. Inuyasha had met Sesshoumaru's gaze, voice gruff.
"Well, there was no place for me, so I had to make one for myself, and then I realized, I had a place, but I was the only one in it."
Lord Sesshoumaru had seemed quiet and considering of his words.
Rin understood. Gazing at Kohaku right then, she felt he would too. The two humans who had died too young. Kohaku was part of her space, and she was in his.
Catching her eye, he smiled. Just as naturally as holding hands, he leaned down and rested their foreheads together. Rin let out a whoosh of hot air, lashes fluttering shut. The press of his head against hers felt intimate and sweet.
Slowly, she opened her eyes and shifted her head, lips inches from his, face burning. Kohaku's eyes cracked open wide, before gazing solemnly at her. He wrestled with something- and she thought he might pull away.
Kohaku then snuffed out the rest of the distance between them, lips pressing against hers in a chaste kiss.
White-hot feeling burst within the young woman like shooting stars. Butterflies turned into hummingbirds. Her lips burned.
They pulled away, both avoided each other's gazes a moment, reeling. They then caught one another's eye and slowly, shyly smiled. Because they were still the same, just a little different from before.
"Let's go back to the village," Kohaku murmured, noticing the first hues of sunlight brightening the horizon. "I think… I'll try talking to Sango."
Rin nodded, smiling with palpable relief.
He glanced at her, expression remaining vulnerable, fragile heart laid bare for her to see. Kohaku trusted her to handle it gently.
He blushed slightly, squeezing her hand. "Let's come back to the beach sometime soon."
Rin's face burst into a wide grin, giggling a little breathlessly.
"I'd love to!"