His master’s voice was steely with displeasure. Jaken whipped the offending item behind his back.
“Perhaps this one, my lord?” Jaken lifted a sunny blue kimono patterned with red and white flowers.
Sesshoumaru barely glanced at it.
“Absolute trash, my lord!”
Beads of sweat began to collect at the imp’s temples as the garment joined the growing mound of rejected offerings behind his back.
“This one?” Jaken tentatively raised a peach sleeve covered in white cranes.
“Jaken,” said Sesshoumaru, far too calmly. He closed his eyes. “You have failed me.”
Jaken sputtered in terror. He threw himself to the ground.
“Forgive my incompetence, my lord! I will return to the human village at once!”
Inwardly, the imp cursed his poor luck. This would be his fourth attempt that day to find a gift for Rin that satisfied Sesshoumaru’s unquestionably elevated but lamentably unarticulated standards.
“Lord Sesshoumaru?” Jaken ventured, with all the diplomacy and deference he could muster, “perhaps if you told me what you were looking for?”
His answer was a boot and swelling lump on the head.
* * *
Sesshoumaru was in a terrible mood these days.
Rin had grown into a proper, cheerful, very attractive young woman. Jaken had noticed it. Sesshoumaru had noticed it. It was obvious that Rin had noticed Sesshoumaru noticing it.
There was an extra brightness in her eyes and her cheeks flushed pink whenever Sesshoumaru solicited her thoughts on an expanding number of subjects.
And as Sesshoumaru’s visits to Rin had increased, so had Jaken’s assignments to find increasingly impressive gifts.
The conclusion seemed obvious to everyone and yet, while Sesshoumaru was inclined to linger longer than ever, well-mannered visits they remained, and the end of each was always the same: Sesshoumaru would stiffly bid farewell and Rin would thank him warmly, trying and failing to hide her confusion and disappointment.
Safely behind his master’s back, Jaken would roll his eyes and wonder how much longer this state of affairs would continue. At this rate, Rin would be an old woman before they got anywhere!
As the months rolled on, Rin had started to become wistful, while Sesshoumaru grew progressively short-tempered, and—to Jaken’s mounting despair—choosier than ever when it came to her presents.
It occurred to Jaken that, although perfect in almost every other respect, his master might be lacking in certain skills.
* * *
That evening, after a fifth failed gift-finding mission had resulted in Sesshoumaru threatening to feed him in pieces to Ah-Un, Jaken saddled the two-headed dragon and flew into the night.
This time he flew for hours, grumbling resentfully under the light of a full moon, hundreds of miles to the outskirts of the humans’ capital.
He grumbled over rivers and forests.
He grumbled over mountains.
He grumbled over villages and rice fields.
He grumbled right up to the storefront of the finest silk merchant in Heian-kyō, brandishing a flaming Nintoujou and waking the terrified proprietor from his sleep.
He paid for his items (a first).
He grumbled hundreds of miles back over villages, fields, mountains, forests and rivers, clutching his bundled purchases tightly against his chest.
He returned to Sesshoumaru just as the sun was rising. Landing and hopping off Ah-Un, still muttering under his breath, he marched right up to where his master stood waiting.
Without a word, he presented Sesshoumaru one quilted outer robe, one exquisite white silk kimono, and one white wedding headdress.
Sesshoumaru’s eyes widened in shock, then narrowed into a glare.
Jaken glared right back.
There was a long silent pause.
Sesshoumaru broke eye contact first.
If he didn’t know better, Jaken would have sworn his master sounded sheepish.
“Yes, my lord?”
“I will visit Rin without you today.” Without meeting Jaken’s eyes, Sesshoumaru swept the garments under his arm.
“Hmph!” Jaken couldn’t contain a final triumphant snort once his master’s back was turned.
Tiny stars and winged kappa-cupids suddenly exploded in circles around his head.
“The course of true love never did run smooth,” Jaken groaned, rubbing his latest lump as Sesshoumaru leapt into the sky.