Here we go. With any luck, this will be the final chapter. I have a little left to cover, and this shouldn't be too long. If it is… well, that's just my luck! I can never predict these things right… Enjoy!

Rin halted as she reached the vertical tunnel where faint sunlight was shining down into the cave, telling her that hope had been restored for her. She could see around now. There was no way she'd be climbing up on her own, the same way she climbed down. No hand holds existed within her reach. She would have to wait for a bit of help.

"There you are," InuYasha said, arriving right behind them. "I almost thought you fell down there, the way you got quiet like that. Oi! Kagome! Are you ready?!"
A faint gasp sounded above, and Rin looked back up there as a shadow hovered over the tunnel opening. "InuYasha? Is everyone alright down there?" Kagome's voice echoed down a little louder than she probably intended, and Rin had to cover her ears for a moment.
"Yeah," InuYasha replied, not quite as loudly. "Stand back! I need room to bring 'em up!"

Just like that, the shadow moved away from the top of the tunnel, and InuYasha scooped up Rin and Jaken, getting into position at the very edge of their level ground. "Hang on tight," he said.
"You don't even have to say…" Jaken muttered, fully awake and capable of cowering at the idea of trying to ascend with a very deep fall beneath them.
Rin held tightly to InuYasha's haori as he leapt out, feet digging into the wall as he turned, and rebounded toward the next wall. On they went, just like that, slowly climbing the tunnel, Jaken whimpering the whole way up. Sure enough, though, the sunlight seemed to get close enough to touch as InuYasha made the final jump that brought them out of the dark, dank tunnels to breathe fresh air, and warm up in the sunlight.

They landed on the solid ground with the slightest of thumps, and Rin quickly swung her legs downward, sliding herself out of InuYasha's arms as she ran to greet Kagome with a hug.
Kagome grinned brightly, receiving that hug with joy and relief, happy to see the girl was alright. "Oh, Rin…" she sighed. "You knew, didn't you? That you weren't with the real Sesshoumaru?"
Rin nodded, knowing that Kagome understood her bond with Sesshoumaru the best of anyone, even if she still couldn't quite wrap her head around it.

To Kagome's left, Sango stood, dressed for battle and holding tightly to some rope. Rin's gaze trailed down that rope to spot the object tied up in it, and her spine got cold for a second. Katsura sat at Sango's feet, clothes dirty and a bit ragged, the rope expertly wound around him to secure his ankles to his buttocks, and his arms to his sides, with no room to move his wrists at all.
"You caught him," Rin noted. "Did anyone get hurt?"
Sango grinned, raising her left arm to show the laceration in it. "Didn't exactly tickle, but it wasn't too bad," she said. "His claws are actually kind of blunt. He's not very good at taking care of them."

Rin cast her eyes around the ground, seeking out the blade he'd used earlier. The head of Kutsusangaiha was still tucked into his hand, but the blade rested against his palm and fingers, now. One wrong move and he would be affected by the curse of his own weapon.
Katsura turned a bit to look at her, leering, furious with his situation and still plotting some way out. His eyes began to light with a new thought, and Rin frowned at that, looking away to search for her bell next.

It was in the grass, not too far from Katsura himself. Rin didn't like the way he continued looking at her, even knowing that he was caught now. It was unsettling, the look in his eyes. Her bell almost wasn't worth the step and a half toward him and back as she retrieved it, glad deep inside herself that she hadn't lost the precious gift forever as she'd originally thought.
Kagome kept her hands on Rin's shoulders as she stood, assuring the girl that she was safe. "Ready to go home?" she asked.
Rin nodded, eyes locked on Katsura.

"Is anyone going to even ask if I'm alright? If I want to leave yet?" Jaken asked.
InuYasha released him, letting him fall to the ground, stepping on him as he moved to catch up with Kagome. His answer was clear.
The group began to move, only Sango lingering, waiting on her husband to return and pondering how she would drag Katsura back, and he would be dragged back after all he'd done.
Meanwhile, Katsura stared at Rin, lights ablaze in his eyes, his breathing strengthened. "I won't lose," he whispered. "I won't be known as yet another fool who fell in an attempt to bring down Lord Sesshoumaru! I've come too far, and done too much!"

Rin began to calm with distance put between her and Katsura, and was even able to smile at Kagome. Katsura had seen an empty, colder version of this smile so often on the voyage to this place. Seeing the real thing only brought his rage to a rolling boil. That's right! His Lordship bares a certain affection for this girl! Katsura realized in his mind. An affection deeper than he would let on, if it could drive him to take strike after strike from my Kutsusangaiha… all to avenge her! And she wasn't even dead!

Sango looked down at him, noticing a glint of light from the ground. His hands were shaking, turning the Kutsusangaiha in his fingers, telling of some of the wicked toiling within his mind. Katsura was not done.
The demon slayer pulled on the rope, reaching for her wakizashi. "Why, you…" she grumbled, getting ready to strike him down, having no further patience for the creature willing to harm a young girl.
Katsura's ears twitched, hearing the metal whining ever so faintly as Sango drew her blade. He could hear the cries of all the beasts that fell to this blade. And he was determined not to join them. Not yet.

As Sango's blade descended upon him, Katsura shifted. In the blink of an eye, he'd maneuvered himself so that Sango nicked the ropes, and missed him entirely. That nick was just enough to weaken the ropes, and Katsura, fueled by desperation, broke the expert demon slayer's weave, dashing off toward his target. "If I can't kill Lord Sesshoumaru," he roared. "I'll end the one person who could break him!"
"No! Kagome, he's-" Sango stopped short, unable to finish the sentence.
Kagome and InuYasha were turning to look, hands just barely touching their weapons. Rin was cold, nearly frozen as she looked over her shoulder to see a desperate fire of hate and desire to kill burning in the eyes of the demon who'd attempted to deceive her.

Even her little bell wouldn't save her now. Katsura would reach her in seconds. There wasn't even enough time to feel fear.
Rin could see the blade coming at her, its aim uncertain. The glint of the metal spoke to her, telling her of her painful past, and how she would feel it all again in moments. She stood petrified, seeking energy to help her decide what to do…

"GET DOWN!"

"MEIDOU ZANGETSUHAAAAA!"

A sphere flew overhead. Gasping in shock, Rin leaned to her right, allowing Katsura to tumble right by her, Kutsusangaiha's blade ringing with rage beside her ear for an instant.
InuYasha looked up, eyes widening as he quickly tackled Kagome to the ground. "Dammit, that idiot!" he snapped, lying protectively over Kagome as wind began to tear at the world around them, pulling what it could toward the source of it.
Sango cried out briefly, as she too was taken to the ground, Miroku lying over her, Jaken caught under both of their legs.

Rin's heart pounded as she saw what was going on. The black hole that opened up ahead did not roar with the wind it utilized, but moaned. All the most hopeless feelings man had ever known came together to create that sound. Katsura cried out as he was being dragged toward the black portal, and he knew it would mean his death if he let it take him.
Rin stumbled, grunting as her footing was getting shaky. She reached down, grabbing hold of the grass, and not feeling any safer for its help in keeping her planted on the ground.

Katsura looked to the struggling girl, glaring with an unknown emotion. One that can only be brought about when a hateful being is fighting to stay alive. She had her eyes closed, focusing entirely on keeping her grip on the grass, and how she might be able to hold on until the hole closed.
Katsura extended his blade hand, still somewhat determined to end her… and stopped short.

Everything was nearly blood red in the sunset light. It was a fearful image… Sesshoumaru approaching, blade drawn, perfect strength in his eyes. Unlike the usual times, though, his powerful stare was not cold. It was burning, this time. It threatened to sear more than just the fool who dared defy him. And yet, there was no anger. Just certainty.
When he knelt down to pick up the girl struggling to keep from being swept away and held her close to his chest like she was his very source of life, it was clear. She was his reason. His will. His strength. His… heart.

Rin accepted her lord's help, knowing he was much stronger than she. She held firmly to him, and he held her in return, assuring her that he would never let her go. With her new-found strength, she looked to the target to see if he'd been taken yet.
Katsura stared at them, unsurprised. "I knew it! I know what's going on between you two!" he yelled over the moaning of the Meidou Zangetsuha. "It will be your undoing, Lord Sesshoumaru! You will fall for this weakness! You will be ridiculed for all of time!"

Sesshoumaru turned his attention to Rin, focusing on protecting her for however long the door to the underworld would have to wait for its victim. The strength of his eyes only grew, but it was no longer for battle. No further combat would commence.
Katsura couldn't wrap his head around how it happened. This demon lord abhorred any and all weakness, rejecting all that would give him such. And, yet, here she was. Sesshoumaru felt deeply for this girl. For no reason. And he would lay his life and reputation down for her.

And, beating deep within her heart, blazing in her eyes, this human girl appreciated it. Understood how valuable this was for a human to bear. How she had something to protect in being something to protect. And she was more than willing to take on that responsibility.
Quietly, Rin closed her eyes, repositioning the bell in her hands while she held onto Sesshoumaru, giving it the best shake she could without letting go.

Katsura could no longer glare. Panic had all but numbed him. Thunder rumbled, and dark clouds formed overhead, slowly beginning to let little rain drops fall over them. The wind of the Meidou pulled the drops away from the group almost entirely, being pulled into the tunnel, and to splatter against Katsura. The fool that he was, he could not ignore the wet. In an attempt to rub away the rain drops, he let go, and was swiftly pulled away, falling deep into the realm of the dead, never to return, or cause trouble for another being again.

The Meidou closed. Tense muscles relaxed. A bell jingled, and made the clouds blow away as quickly as they'd blown in.
Amber eyes trailed down to rest on the young woman shaking in white and red-clad arms. Her brown eyes blinked open, and swept up toward the amber ones… and they were only smiling.

Two weeks later…

Villagers looked up, and quietly made way, trying not to be too obvious. Animals that thought about crossing the road quickly returned to the side they started at. Several chores and destinations were being abandoned as Sesshoumaru made his way into the village.
Fully recovered from his illness and injuries, he was here to retrieve Jaken and lead him toward their next mission. He would only have one other thing take any of his time… and he would even go looking for it if need be.

After the scuffle a while back, everyone and everything worked their way back into their original plans for the next few days as best they could. Sesshoumaru had not been in the vicinity to know just how well this was going. Particularly for Rin.
Taking a life was nothing for him. He'd lived far too long through far too many wars and battles for even the most violent murder to bother him. Rin however… she was simply too young and delicate. She had proved that she wasn't incapable of doing so when she condemned Katsura to his fate, the first time she'd had a hand in anyone's death. But, knowing that she would spare even the most foul of criminals and sinners just so that she wouldn't have to see another death… Sesshoumaru couldn't imagine what she was going through.

As he continued, two women did not make any attempt to move away from him, as though he was just another human passerby. They turned to look at him, both with uncertain looks on their faces. Kagome and Sango.
Sesshoumaru halted his stride for a moment, looking to them, wondering what they knew.
Kagome looked to Sango. Sango looked to her just long enough to catch the silent request. "Sesshoumaru… she won't talk to us at all," she began slowly. "We haven't seen much of her at all since we brought her home. No one can visit her and expect much to come of it."
"It's true," Kagome agreed, a touch of fear flashing through her eyes. "Can you talk to her? See how she's doing if she'll talk to you?"

Ba-bump!

It was just a little unsettling to hear this, though he'd been expecting something of the sort to be going on. To know that she was still around was a ray of hope. But what would she be like when he got there? There was still observing to be done.
"Don't stop me to tell me of what I already know to expect," he said, flat as ever. "Return to your work and I will bother with what I must."

Kagome had to look away, stung just a bit by his unrelenting stoicism. Sango's face hardened a bit, hands tightening into fists. Neither spoke any further on the matter, however. Kagome had already reasoned that Rin would go to him if she felt he could help her. She doubted he actually could. But no one could affect Rin quite as strongly as Sesshoumaru could.
He was left alone to continue to the house where his steward and dragon steed awaited him.

The house was in fair condition, still clean, in good repair. The garden even appeared to have been tended to, with small crops beginning to sprout from the clumsily tilled soil.
Right away, Jaken came out in a hurry, welcoming his lord with bows that nearly turned the imp over, they were so low. Ah-Un even peered out from within the house, curious, but in no hurry.
Sesshoumaru watched with an unwavering gaze as the dragon remained still mostly-hidden within the house. Was he in there for Rin?

There was a long moment, made silent when Sesshoumaru finally stepped on Jaken, approaching the house to see what had become of its primary inhabitant.
Ker-creak. Errr…
Un turned to look inside the house. The sound was that of someone standing up on loose floor boards. Sesshoumaru paused, just a foot from the door. Footsteps approached from within, and, slowly but surely, Rin emerged into the sunlight, Ah-Un taking a couple of steps to follow her.

The young woman's eyes were wide, not taking any time adjusting to the light as she looked up at Sesshoumaru. Despite having the wide eyes of a child, she seemed… aged, suddenly. Like she'd grown wiser and more experienced while Sesshoumaru had been absent.
There was a long quiet moment of her just standing there, studying him. She was still taking in details, finding out how her lord was feeling, considering how to greet him. She blinked very slowly, as though she was waking up from a vivid dream. And, in a moment, her eyes brightened. Her lips pulled apart in a smile as bright as ever she'd smiled. "Welcome back, m'lord!" she spoke calmly, happiness lacing her tone. "I'm so glad you're looking well! How was your journey?"

It was such a sudden change. Much too sudden. She was bothered deeper than she wanted anyone to know. And Sesshoumaru wouldn't be the one to push her for an answer. Determined to find something, though, he knelt down to better level his eyes with her.
He could see how tall she'd gotten, now. She'd once been level with his eyes when he'd kneel before her years ago, but, now she was looking down slightly at him, having grown noticeably since last he knelt before her.

The girl stared at him, noticing the prying look in his eyes, and taking just a moment to think of what he was trying to glean from her. Her eyes brightened, and then hardened a little as her thoughts threatened to show. She knew what he meant, and she refused to let her real feelings show.
"Rin," Sesshoumaru said, low but commanding.
She simply put on a smile, eyes still fighting back whatever was going on inside. "My lord, I'm not broken," she stated, still the slightest hint of happy in her voice. "I don't even really regret what happened. I'm bothered. I won't lie. I haven't slept well, I can't eat as much as before… but, when I think of what might've happened, and what already did, I can't truly regret it. Because… everyone's fine, now. No one is in danger anymore. You're even better than the first time I got to see you… well, when you got healthy again, I mean."

Her wall was shaky. This was perhaps the worst thing she'd ever tried to keep to herself. Through the small holes in the barrier of her eyes, Sesshoumaru could see her working hard to keep everything together inside. Sesshoumaru had seen youkai who couldn't hold themselves together this well with such guilt tearing at them from inside. And yet, here she was, smiling, being happy for his health. She'd suffered horribly from the moment Katsura entered the village, emotionally and physically. She'd braved it all, living on only the desire to find Sesshoumaru. No soul could be braver than she. No one proved stronger than she, in Sesshoumaru's eyes. If she'd been crying then, Sesshoumaru wouldn't have stopped her. Wouldn't have blamed her.

She didn't. Rin held strong, quickly trying to sweep all those nasty memories back into the corner she'd had them in, and smiled on. "I will be alright," she insisted. "Now that you're alright, and he's gone, I can rest easier. Things can only get better, now!"
Sesshoumaru's normally steely eyes softened ever so slightly for the brave warrior standing before him. She was no little girl anymore. She was a young woman. Strong enough to take on the world and remain kind and gentle through everything, if she so desired. And she'd nearly done so just to find him.
She places my worth above her own life… Sesshoumaru realized, eyes hardening once more to hide the slight anger growing within him. Stupid… how do I tell her just how idiotic this is?

Behind them, Jaken sat up with a sigh, deciding to cross his legs and arms and sit there. "Why am I always left out of these things?" he asked, not really expecting any answer.
He was paid no mind, to no surprise of his own. He knew that this interaction was more important than his minor complaints. Interrupting it would mean pain to him.

"Rin," Sesshoumaru said, intending to start a statement, and still considering how to word it.
She smiled on, shrugging her shoulders. She'd already seen what he thought of her actions, and interpreted them for herself. "Come inside for a little while?" she offered. "I have tea brewing. I was just about to pour some, and I have a third cup now. I can fix some for everyone!"
There wouldn't be much arguing with her. She was insisting that she was fine. Sesshoumaru pried just a little more, to be sure. Her eyes brightened. She could see the worry in his eyes, however he tried to hide it. Her heart beat just a little faster, her face turning just a little pink. Fine she would be.

Sesshoumaru rose up once more, turning away. Rin could only grin, knowing even she probably wasn't meant to see that.
"Invite the priestess and the demon slayer," he told her. "They fear for your well being."
Rin gave an in audible sigh, not surprised by his answer. "Of course, my lord," she said.
All at once, Sesshoumaru started toward the sky, leaving Jaken to scramble to grab onto his fur before he got too high up. Rin started a bit, looking back at Ah-Un and taking hold of his reins, leading him out quickly. "Lord Sesshoumaru! You left Ah-Un!" she called up.

He looked back for just a second. The average person would gather nothing from this brief glance. But, as he turned away, Rin breathed a gasp of surprise, turning to look at the two headed dragon. Does this mean… Ah-Un is mine? She thought to herself, reaching up and petting each scaly nose in turn.
It was unclear, even to her. But, as Sesshoumaru refused to turn back for the creature, Rin was left in charge of him. So, until Sesshoumaru came back, she would take care of him.

Far above, Sesshoumaru soared through the sky, soothed to know Rin was alright, and willing to fight to stay that way. Jaken kept looking around uncertainly. "M'lord, what about Ah-Un?" he asked. "It may not be my place to ask, but, don't we need him for the next journey? Are we going to take him back once we're done?"
Sesshoumaru gave no reply. It didn't matter if Jaken knew that Ah-Un was a gift to Rin, now. It didn't matter if he knew that Ah-Un was never really necessary to them to begin with, except to carry Rin… and now, hopefully, he would do so again. It didn't matter if Jaken knew. After all…
Rin knows…

A/N: Man alive and dead, this took SO long to finish! But, yay! This is the first multi-chapter story I've finished in quite some time! I think 'So Alone in Your Heart' was my last one, actually. So, yay! It's been a while, and I think I did quite well! Please, review!