Sesshoumaru arrived at Rin’s hut to find her with a squalling half-demon in her arms and another dangling off her shoulder, and somehow she still looked as bright as ten sunrises, albeit if sunrises had skewed kimonos and messy hair.
The dark-haired girl in her arms didn’t stop crying and Rin gently laid her on the floor and extricated herself from the white-haired child so she could step over the threshold and envelope her husband in her arms. “We missed you.”
He returned the embrace, but he eyed the sniffling Setsuna over Rin’s delicate shoulders. “What is wrong with her?”
Having never been coddled or cosseted in his entire life, he was realizing he was vastly underprepared for how often children cry. Luckily, Rin was brutally efficient with her kindness and patience. She knew how to handle them without infringing upon their father’s insistence on self-reliance, so if Setsuna was being allowed to cry, it was either not worth her tears and thus not worthy of Rin’s utmost attention or it was serious enough that she was waiting for him to solve it.
Rin followed his gaze. “Her fangs are growing in. Towa’s older, but she’s getting her baby teeth in faster.” As if to prove this, Towa stuck the entirety of her fist in her gummy mouth and blinked at her sister, who took one look at the ridiculousness of the scene and stopped her crying to laugh. “But Towa’s such a good big sister!” Rin collected both in her arms again and Towa reached the same chubby hand she’d just stuck in her mouth out for her father, eventually getting a hold of his pelt, which she promptly used to yank herself into his arms. He winced visibly as she threatened to leave him with a bald patch and force him to test his reflexes on a falling baby at the same time, but eventually she settled and husband and wife were permitted to retire with a babe in each hand.
And all the while, Setsuna only stopped crying in pain and frustration when she saw her sister smile back at her.
Rin had a title and prestige as a great demon’s wife, but even life in the village and the expectations of being a lady couldn’t tame her feral ways. If Sesshoumaru took the girls out on excursions and they came back with dead lizards and proud looks on their faces, she would congratulate them and roast their catches. She lived life as if she were always moments away from being spirited back into the nomadic life, and taught the girls how to be both human and demon. Sesshoumaru could be entrusted with their ability to defend themselves and their blossoming powers, but only Rin had the experience of balancing between two worlds.
Now, she stood in the deep end of the stream, kimono rolled up to her knees while her daughters stood in the shallows with mesmerized eyes, hanging on their mother’s every instruction.
“All right, I’m going to send them your way. Get ready.”
The girls put their hands in the water and stared down with the consternation of vicious predators in the form of two four-year-old girls. Rin began kicking and splashing and sending frightened fish their way and the girls scrambled to grab a hold of them. Towa snatched one mid-jump, her magenta-colored eyes wide in delight as she held it aloft to show her mother. A moment later, Setsuna had one in her grip, but it wiggled so much that it startled her and she ended up on her butt in the stream, the fish flipping away from her.
It was here Rin learned that of the pair, Setsuna had inherited her father’s pride and had yet to reach the maturity of how to cope with it gracefully. She was mortified by her failure and looked on the verge of tears, but Towa was right there, offering the fish she’d caught.
“Here, sis. You can have this one.”
And it didn’t matter that wasn’t the principle of the thing- Setsuna was just grateful to have someone soften the blow.
Despite knowing that things like arguing over birthrights and sibling squabbles that turn into death matches to prove superiority are circumstantial and not hereditary, Rin found herself worrying every time one twin pulled ahead of the other, as if expecting the exact moment when affection turned to resentment.
Some things couldn’t be helped.
Towa took her job as “big sister” seriously. She was better at hunting, fishing, and climbing, and everything Setsuna brought home from their excursions in the woods had a high chance of being caught or picked by her and shared so neither would look bad- she didn’t know where they picked up the urge to be impressive for their parents from. Neither she nor Sesshoumaru judged the girls by their success, because Sesshoumaru knew all too well what a danger it was, and yet here Rin was, wondering if it would happen anyway. That fate would tear two siblings apart once more.
Her fears would fade as the girls grew, and then something else would happen. Setsuna developed powers first, and she was certain this was the moment when Towa would turn. After all, she’d been Setsuna’s protector and provider for so long that Setsuna suddenly being able to take care of herself a lot better could be a harsh blow, but Towa was Setsuna’s biggest support. Every poison swallow her sister summoned had her jumping up and down and clapping, and her practice sessions with her father always left her exhausted but thrilled, because where their father was often difficult to read, even for them, Towa was vocal. It didn’t matter that Towa, herself, wasn’t manifesting any powers- her sister was and she was proud of her.
By the time the girls were ten, and Towa’s powers had yet to be fully defined, and the girls were still as close as they had been since the moment of their birth, Rin had to finally discuss the matter that had plagued her for ten years, and yet she still had no way to truly voice it, and struggled with bringing it up.
It was a late evening in early spring, while she and Sesshoumaru lounged on the floor next to their sleeping daughters, that she tried to parse it out in her own way.
“Do you think you and Inuyasha would be like this if you were raised together?” Rin stroked Setsuna’s hair as she snuggled closer to her sister, drawing warmth from the proximity.
Sesshoumaru could tell her the truth and admit that he was too old to have had any interest in Inuyasha’s existence by the time of his birth, but he told her the other, rather difficult truth, instead. “No.”
Rin’s expression faltered and she felt Sesshoumaru bump his nose against her hair, inhaling in her scent. “You’re troubled.”
She blushed. “Lord Sesshoumaru, there isn’t anything I can hide from you, and it isn’t fair.”
He kept his face in her hair, nuzzling like a dog. “You don’t have to hide anything from me.”
“This is silly,” she admitted. “I’m worried the girls will hate each other the way you and Inuyasha do one day.”
Sesshoumaru stilled. Even his breathing seemed to have stopped and she regretted the use of his brother’s name in the privacy and intimacy of their home, but she was not chastised, nor did Sesshoumaru decide to make a quick exit to escape a disliked situation.
“Inuyasha and I are different from Setsuna and Towa.”
“I know that.” She looked down at the twins sleeping peacefully. “I want them to be like this forever- so close. Even if one of them gets stronger… I don’t want the other to get left behind.”
Again, her husband was silent and still. She went on, “Setsuna is so much like you. She’s going to be powerful and prideful some day when she’s older, and Towa is so much like me. She just loves so strongly and sees the good in everything… But what if Setsuna thinks that will hold her back?”
She turned so she could meet his eyes, the unspoken truth in her words, hanging between them. Would he feel held back by a weaker, softer sibling clinging to his side? It was a horrible thought for a mother to have- Towa wasn’t weak. She had a heart as strong as her own and a bravery to match it. She was skilled in so many ways that had nothing to do with a demon’s power. But would Setsuna always feel that way? Would it be enough for Towa?
After a moment, Sesshoumaru spoke, “Do you feel you’re holding me back?”
Rin blushed. “N-no, my Lord!” Though many others did- many, many others- she had always felt she had brought out the truth of Sesshoumaru’s power, that he had never been stronger than when he was protecting her or their children.
From there, it clicked, like two pieces snapping together, and, instantly, she felt foolish for holding onto this concern for so long.
“I see…” she said. “Well now, I truly am embarrassed.”
“Your fears aren’t unjustified, Rin.” As she looked away to hide her embarrassment, Sesshoumaru tilted her chin up, the tips of his deadly sharp claws pressed against her skin and yet never breaking it, a testament to his phenomenal control. “What our father left Inuyasha and I with resulted in a rift that will never truly heal.”
He was right. They could tolerate each other now, but they didn’t like each other. No one really expected otherwise, though it would make certain things easier. At least they didn’t fight anymore- not physically. (Not usually physically.)
“I’ve made sure Setsuna and Towa never experience that. They’ll stand on their own, outside of my shadow, just as I’ve moved out of my father’s, but who’s to say where their paths will take them someday- together or separately.”
So there was no real way of knowing for certain. Rin knew her time was short. She had died twice before she’d even experienced womanhood, and her will was strong, but the body was fragile. All that could please her in knowing that was that her daughters would never be alone, and such a thing couldn’t be guaranteed. She looked at her husband plaintively.
“Just promise me you’ll do your best to keep them together, if you can.” She rarely mentioned death and its looming presence over their small family. He didn’t like to hear about it and she didn’t like to be reminded of it either, even when the thoughts crept in like spiders under the door. She looked down at the girls, curled together, locked in the bliss of innocence.
And being unable to deny her anything, including that which he had no power over, he said, his lips brushing hers, “I promise.”
She knew he couldn’t truly promise that, just as he did, but oh, she’d believe the tiny kernel of truth those words held- that he wouldn’t repeat his father’s mistakes, that if Setsuna and Towa were ripped apart, it was not because he showed favor to one over the other. Setsuna was growing into his shadow, but Towa was his light, and neither would ever want for his favor. Poor tempers and silver hair and good noses and better hearts were all hereditary, not sibling rivalry. That circle could be broken and kept from being forged anew.
She was sure of it now.