Continuing Tales

The Cursed Monk

A InuYasha Story
by forthright

Part 3 of 9

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Long past midnight, Kagome lay awake, gazing up at the stars. Since her vacation was on a shoestring budget, she'd brought what she needed to camp out, but she was no longer accustomed to outdoor living. The ground was hard, and she felt exposed without a roof over her head. Five years feels like five hundred years ago, she thought ruefully. Roughing it sounded like a fun way to recapture the past... which I've managed to do in the strangest of ways. Miroku-sama, here in my time... I can hardly believe it! She turned her head to peer at the tanuki dozing against a nearby tree. And there's the proof that I didn't imagine him.

Hachi had returned to his duties after showing her to this small clearing, which was a stone's throw from the Saint's cave. After dark, he'd slipped away from the temple in order to keep her company. The poor fellow seemed half-afraid that she'd make a run for it before tomorrow, so she wasn't really sure if he was keeping watch... or keeping her under guard. She'd done her best to reassure Hachi that she intended to stay, no matter what. Miroku needs me; I would never abandon him!

With a soft snort and snuffle, the tanuki woke, dark eyes blinking sleepily as he yawned and stretched. "I'm sorry, Kagome-sama," he whispered once he realized she was awake. "If you like, there are more comfortable accommodations nearby."

"Don't you live in the temple?" she asked.

"Part of the time, yes. My job as a novice allows me to keep an eye on Miroku-sama," he replied. "My family runs one of the small souvenir shops on the main street in town; my son and I take turns being Tadao. You see, I promised to watch out for him, and I've done my best."

"You're a good friend, Hachi," Kagome said warmly, amused at the way the demon shied away from the compliment. Silence stretched comfortably for several minutes, but finally, she broached the main issue. "You keep dodging my questions. Why won't you tell me what happened to him?"

"It's complicated," the tanuki hedged, fidgeting under her gaze. "I can tell you that there's a curse involved, but I think it would be better to let Miroku-sama explain the details in his own way."

"Can you at least tell me when it happened?"

"After Naraku was defeated, Miroku-sama returned to the Temple so that Mushin-sama could perform his wedding," Hachi explained.

"To Sango-chan!" Kagome exclaimed happily.

"That's right," the tanuki acknowledged. "It happened while they were here."

"But that means... oh, no!"

Hachi shook his head morosely. "Things did not go as planned."

Kagome lapsed into silence, sad for Miroku and Sango... and for herself. Did no one get what they wanted at the end?

Shortly after sunrise, Hachi coaxed Kagome to walk down to the village with him. "I need to ask Kyuu to take my place at the Temple today, and you can have a nice breakfast. My mate would never forgive me if I didn't offer hospitality. She may still skin me for not bringing you home last night!" To her surprise, the tanuki adopted the form of a young woman and cheerfully beckoned for her to follow. "If you're an acquaintance of my daughter's, it will raise fewer questions."

"Erm... thanks!" Kagome hoisted her pack onto her shoulders and trotted down the slope after Hachi, grateful for his thoughtfulness... and discretion. "Doesn't it get confusing, remembering who you're supposed to be?"

The transformed tanuki giggled softly and replied, "Keeping up appearances is just part of survival, Kagome-sama. We know how to avoid suspicion in order to be accepted."

"Doesn't anyone know you're youkai?"

"Only the other youkai," he shrugged. "Most of our friends and neighbors are human."

In the village, he led her past several small shops, which were still closed at this hour, then down an alley and up a set of stairs to an apartment over a storefront. Hachi's mate Natsume was a brisk, business-like demoness who immediately took charge of their guest. His adult son blushed and stammered when introduced to the pretty young woman, and his nearly-grown daughter was especially intrigued by the rare chance to talk with a human without having to pretend to be one. Surrounded by inquisitive, ring-tailed tanuki, the breakfast hour passed quickly as Kagome tried to keep up with all their questions.

Finally, as she helped Hachi's mate clear the table, she ventured to ask, "Do you think Miroku-sama will be hungry? How long has it been since he ate anything?" She frowned down at the tray of teacups in her hands and added, "Will he be thirsty?"

"Uhh... I'm not sure," Hachi admitted.

"Ach! It's been centuries, and you know it," brusquely declared the demoness. "Kagome-sama is very sensible to think of providing for his needs." She turned to a cupboard and after a quick rummage, produced a set of stacking bento boxes. "I'll help you pack food and a thermos."

"Th-thank you," she murmured. "You're too kind!"

"Nonsense, child. My Hachi has been worried about his good friend for as long as I've known him, so we must all do what we can to give Miroku-sama this chance."

There it is again—a 'chance'. They must be talking about breaking Miroku-sama's curse. I hope this one is simpler than the one Naraku placed on him. People don't go on quests for revenge so much anymore.

Her hostess chuckled to herself as she packed rice into one of the square boxes. "We'll make a nice, big lunch... because it sounds to me as though he'll need his strength!"

Kagome cut a look in Hachi's direction, but the tanuki refused to meet her eyes.

For Miroku, there was nothing... and then, he could feel. Hands rested against his chest, the gentle pressure making his heart leap, and he gasped a breath of air and blinked to focus his eyes on an upturned face. A smile of welcome had never been so sweet. In the next instant, he was crushing Kagome's slim frame in an exuberant hug. "You came back," he murmured against her hair.

She giggled and scolded, "Of course I did, Miroku-sama. I did promise."

"So you did," he agreed. Releasing her, the monk turned to the tanuki, who'd caught his shakujou before it could hit the floor. Clapping Hachi's shoulder, Miroku said, "It is good to see you as well, friend."

The tanuki nodded furiously and dabbed at his eyes. "It's been so long. I'd nearly given up hope! But this is perfect... Kagome-sama can certainly..."

"Is it safe to assume that Kagome-sama's presence means that five hundred years have passed?" the monk inquired, cutting across Hachi's words. Miroku shot his friend a meaningful look, and the tanuki's mouth closed with a snap.

"Yes, Miroku-sama, this is my time," she softly replied.

He drifted closer and lightly touched her arm as he asked, "How did you find me? This place is some distance from your home beside the Well."

"It was kind of an accident," she admitted apologetically.

"I think we should call it destiny," argued Hachi.

"Either way, Kagome-sama seems to have a talent for waking those who have been sealed away," Miroku declared warmly. She blinked in surprise, then smiled, and he wanted to keep the smiles coming. It was such a relief to be seen and acknowledged as a person instead of being viewed as a thing.

"Are you hungry?" she asked.

The monk's eyebrows shot up. There was a disquieting sense of imbalance in the pit of his stomach that he'd been trying to ignore. I don't remember. Is this emptiness hunger, or is it simply part of the curse? Slowly, he shook his head and replied, "I'm not sure."

"Well, we brought food," Kagome announced. "Hachi's mate is a good cook!"

"Mate?" Miroku echoed, sending a surprised glance towards the tanuki.

"It's true!" Hachi's chest puffed out slightly, but then his ears drooped. "I'm sorry."

"What for, my friend?"

"For me to have..." began the tanuki, his voice quavering with emotion as he gestured vaguely. "...when you've been..."

"Ah," the monk sighed. With a solemn smile, he urged, "Hachi, never apologize for being happy."

In the meantime, Kagome had spread a square of cloth upon the ground and was laying out a meal. "Picnic by candlelight!" she cheerfully announced.

Miroku's eyes closed as dozens of memories crowded to the forefront of his mind. Though most of the visitors who'd stirred him from his slumber simply came to rut, there were those who made an effort to add the trappings of romance to their rendezvous. The inexperienced, trying to work up their courage to push aside the food and take their pleasure upon the picnic blanket. The sensualists, whose creative use of foodstuffs enlivened foreplay as the lovers feasted on one another. They had all spread themselves before him.

"Miroku-sama?" The monk started from fevered daydreams and blinked vacantly at Kagome, who patted the edge of the blanket. "Would you like to sit down?"

"Indeed. It has been far too long since I took my ease," he replied with a smile.

Gathering his robes he took a seat, then edged closer until his knee brushed Kagome's leg. If she noticed—or minded—she didn't say, and she served him a selection of food from the various boxes she'd brought. Miroku barely remembered how to smell, to taste, to chew, but his stomach had no problem recalling such delights; it rumbled loudly.

"Food first," Kagome pronounced with a soft giggle. "Afterwards, I thought maybe we could go for a walk?"

Miroku picked at his food, and said, "I would enjoy that, but I can't leave the mountain."

"Why not?" she asked as she poured some tea. "And how were you turned into a statue in the first place?"

"Ah. It's somewhat complicated. I angered a tengu—the god of this mountain. He placed the curse."

Her eyes widened. "Does that mean we have to defeat this god in order to set you free?"

"No," he replied quietly. "The circumstances are... complicated."

"Uh-oh," interrupted Hachi. "Oh, this is bad timing! Miroku-sama, someone's coming!"

"One person?" the monk asked sharply.

The tanuki slowly shook his head. "Two."

"Oh, dear," Kagome muttered as she hastily bundled away their picnic. "It's going to be very difficult to explain why you're not a statue anymore. What do you want to do?"

Miroku glanced around, but it was Hachi who answered. "I'll stand in for Miroku-sama. You two stay behind me... in that corner. I should be able to mask your presence, but you'll need to stay quiet."

Kagome nodded and stashed the food in a dark corner, then moved to stand beside Miroku. Hachi extended a paw, and the monk passed along his staff; then, the tanuki produced a green leaf from inside his vest. With a small popping sound, he took on the form of the 'missing' jade statue. Seconds later, a couple entered the cave.

Miroku's stomach lurched as the pair took a turn around the small shrine. The man paced off the space without really looking at anything, but the woman stepped closer to the stone figure who was his match and smiled a greeting. I remember her; she comes often. He spared a glance for her companion. And rarely with the same partner.

He watched with mingled horror and shame as the woman smirked enticingly at the man, who leered and lunged. This wasn't something he wanted to endure... not with Kagome to bear witness. There was a tug on his sleeve, and he looked down into his friends upturned face. She was blushing furiously as she whispered, "Do you get a lot of visitors like this?"

With haunted eyes, the monk nodded silently. Kagome's mouth formed a perfect little 'o', and Miroku wished he could shelter her from what would undoubtedly follow. Then suddenly, he realized that he could. For the first time in five centuries, he was able to turn his back. Whipping around, he planted his hands against the wall on either side of Kagome; using his greater height and the fullness of his robes, he shielded her from the tawdry scene of seduction. "Don't watch," he murmured.

She went up on tiptoe to peep around his shoulder. "Why? What are they... oh, my!" she gasped, then hid her burning face against his chest. A throaty moan echoed through the cave, and Kagome looked up into Miroku's face. "Could you see?"

Miroku's smile didn't reach his eyes. "I could see it all. Hear it all. Every time."

Kagome's confused expression slowly showed some glimmers of comprehension, and she furiously whispered, "Not any more! You close your eyes and just pretend they're not over there doing... stuff."

The monk laughed weakly and bowed his head until it rested upon Kagome's shoulder. "Thank you, Kagome-sama. You are right; I will try."

Two hands found their way up and pressed over his ears, muffling sound so that all he could hear was his own breathing. Miroku could have wept for the thoughtfulness of her gesture. It was a striking trade-off. All the time he was cursed to watch over the coupling of others, he could see and hear clearly; now, eyes and ears were hidden. But he was not cut off. Touch. Cloth brushed his skin, hair tickled his cheek, fingertips scratched his scalp. Smell. Seeking scent, he turned his head to fit his nose into the crook of Kagome's neck.

It is so much easier to ignore them when I have someone to hold onto. Dropping one arm, he slipped it around a slim waist, splaying his fingers against smooth cloth covering ribs that rose and fell with every short breath Kagome took. Miroku reveled in sensation, brushing his lips back and forth across warm skin until they tingled. It wasn't until she began to hum softly that he realized he was crying... silent tears creating a damp patch upon her shoulder.

Time passed as minutes blended together and occasional noises sifted through—husky groans, throaty calls, gasped encouragement. But Miroku pretended they weren't real, forcing his mind into a narrower world, where only he and Kagome existed. Who would have thought that we could meet again? This is so strange... so rare... so precious. It is infinitely appropriate that she should try to rescue me, but I cannot ask her... yet, I must.

Eventually, Kagome's hands moved from his ears to his shoulders, where they traced soothing circles. "They're gone," she whispered. "It's safe, Miroku-sama."

He slowly raised his head and even more slowly eased away from her, finding himself reluctant to allow too much space to come between them. Even in the half-light of their hideaway, he could tell that Kagome was blushing furiously. "My apologies, Kagome-sama..." he began worriedly.

"No, no, it's not your fault," she mumbled.

He glanced towards the spot where their visitors had been 'occupied' and noticed that the air smelled of candle wax, incense, and sex. "How much did you see?" he inquired.

"More than enough," she replied evasively.

"And you always scolded me for peeping," he murmured.

"That was different," she primly retorted.

"Yes, I suppose it was," he managed, suddenly feeling incredibly weary. As the strength left his legs, Miroku slumped against the cave wall, then slid to the floor.

Kagome quickly knelt before him, her eyes filled with concern. "How often has this kind of thing happened?" she asked.

"I lost count."

"That must have been hard," she sympathized.

"In more ways than one," he quipped.

"Miroku-sama," she groaned, giving his upraised knee a gentle swat.

"Kagome-sama, can I hold onto you for a while?" he blurted. She hesitated, wariness shading her expression. "Please?"

Immediately, her eyes softened, and she wrapped her arms around his shoulders. He pulled her into a clumsy embrace, hauling her closer so that she was practically on his lap. With a huff, she pushed away, but only to rearrange herself into a more comfortable position. She relaxed against him, and after a while, she said, "You were alone for a long time."

"Yes," he admitted, eyes closing. It was nice to be able to close his eyes, and he smiled faintly. What a thing to no longer take for granted.

"That must have been so lonely," she remarked softly.

"Yes, it was," he whispered.

A soft sniffle pulled him from his reverie, and he gazed down at Kagome, whose eyes glistened with tears. "I'm so glad I came," she said earnestly.

"As am I," he replied with a grave smile.

"The time, Miroku-sama," Hachi interrupted apologetically.

"Already?" he asked in disbelief.

"You have some time left, but it's best not to leave it too long," the tanuki advised.

Miroku nodded, then peered into Kagome's face, suddenly nervous. "I need to ask you a question... and I need you to answer 'yes'." He cleared his throat and tightened his hold around her, and he could feel the color draining from his face. "Just… please? Even if you do not mean it, it is essential."

"Yes," she immediately answered, radiating trust.

Hold that thought, he silently urged. His brows dipped into an expression of sincere apology, and he took a deep breath, only to release it in a sigh. This is more difficult than I would have imagined.

"Anything, Miroku. Go ahead and ask."

He nodded gratefully and held her gaze as he gathered his courage. Finally, he managed, "Kagome-sama… w-would you bear my child?"

The Cursed Monk

A InuYasha Story
by forthright

Part 3 of 9

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