Disclaimer: I don't own Inuyasha

FAMILY TIES

Chapter 1: Travels

The life of a traveling monk was hell. Sure, you got to meet lots of people, enjoy fabulous meals, and the sights are never the same….

"Hurry up, Miroku! We don't have all day!" Inuyasha scowled at the monk as if the slow pace were entirely his fault.

"Be nice, Inuyasha," Kagome scolded. She walked sedately beside the young hanyou, both hands on the handlebars of the strange vehicle from her era as she carefully pushed it over the rutted track. Why she insisted on bringing it, Miroku couldn't figure out. She didn't get the chance to ride it much.

Inuyasha harrumphed and folded his hands inside his sleeves. "If we're going to go this slow, we might as well sit back and wait for Naraku to bring the rest of the shards to us. Or don't you care that he's already completed most of it."

Miroku sighed as he listened to the schoolgirl and the hanyou bicker back and forth. However, you also had to deal with obnoxious demon companions, oversensitive women, and being threatened with a grisly death several times a month.

"Don't eat that, Shippou!" Sango plucked a small green fruit out of the kit's hands. "It's not ripe! You'll make yourself sick!"

"But I'm hungry!" Shippou pouted at the under ripe apple being held enticingly out of his reach. "All I had this morning was a granola bar Kagome gave me. Inuyasha was in too much of a hurry to give us time to eat."

"We'll stop soon."

Miroku eyed the apple in the tajiya's hand, his stomach grumbling a sharp complaint. All of them had been on their feet since dawn. Inuyasha wouldn't stop harping on the subject that Kagome had gone home for one of her never-ceasing 'tests' when she could have been here looking for jewel shards. As a result, instead of a nice leisurely breakfast, they wolfed down some of Kagome's pre-packaged rations and started walking.

An angry hiss near his ankles caused him to stumble and look down. Kirara fluffed her fur at him and hissed again. He hadn't noticed her sitting down to scratch behind one ear and, as a result, had nearly stepped on her tails.

"Sorry, Kirara." Miroku bent down to give the two-tailed cat an apologetic scratch.

"Mew." Kirara accepted the caresses before bounding off to catch up with her mistress.

They had been walking for hours down the dusty, rutted road with the sun blazing down on them out of a clear blue sky. Breakfast was a distant memory and the energetic hanyou showed no signs of stopping anytime soon. Miroku heartily wished that they would get to where they were going or that someone would suggest a break. He was sure he must have twisted his ankle when he stumbled in one of the cart tracks. There was a rock in his sandal and the bright sunlight was giving him a headache. In short, he was hot, dusty, and growing more irritable by the second.

Miroku swallowed hard, trying to work up a little saliva to moisten his mouth, and wondering how he could suggest stopping for at least a drink of water without appearing weak in the eyes of his companions. Maybe he could casually stroll up behind Sango and pat her on the ass. The concussion might even be worth the five-minute rest it would take him to regain consciousness and climb to his feet.

"Master! Master!"

A familiar shape barreled through the sky towards them, shouting at the top of his lungs.

"Look, it's Hachi." Kagome pointed at the advancing youkai. She shaded her eyes, squinting into the bright blue sky. "I wonder if something's wrong. He sounds upset."

At the last second, the timid youkai pulled up and poofed into his normal raccoon-like form. An expression of worry twisted his features as he continuously wrung his paw-like hands together.

"What's wrong, Hachi?" Miroku gladly seized on the excuse to stop moving. Hachi often sought him out in times of crisis, though his idea of a crisis and Miroku's usually differed wildly. It could be that he had stepped on a bee, and was now convinced that Naraku was trying to hunt him down.

"There's trouble to the north, Master!" Hachi bounced from one foot to the other, clearly agitated.

"What's wrong now?" Inuyasha stomped towards them, having just become aware that everybody else had stopped. He leveled a ferocious glare at the raccoon-dog. Hachi swallowed hard and took several small steps backwards, away from the annoyed hanyou. "If it doesn't have anything to do with Naraku or the jewel shards, then I don't want to hear about it!"

"It's Kimiko!" Hachi squeaked.

"Kimiko? Who's Kimiko?" Kagome asked. She glanced at Sango, but got only a blank stare in return. Inuyasha shrugged, already losing interest in a conversation that had nothing to do with him, his enemies, or his quest.

Kimiko? Miroku turned pale. Dropping his staff, he grabbed the front of Hachi's kimono. "What happened to Kimiko? What did you hear?"

"I --I don't-- don't really know," Hachi stammered.

"How could you not know? Tell me what's going on! Now!" Miroku punctuated each word with a harsh shake.

"Please, Master!" Hachi whimpered, trying valiantly to stay upright when Miroku kept jerking him off his feet. "I don't know! I came as soon as I heard!"

"Lord Monk!" Sango's shocked voice snapped him out of his distress and he became aware that he was holding the faithful Hachi in a stranglehold. The poor little youkai gasped weakly, already beginning to turn blue. Miroku dropped him without a smile or apology.

"Give my regards to Naraku if you see him." Miroku picked up his staff, frowning at the dust that coated its surface. "I have urgent business in the north. I'll meet you back at Kaede's in a few weeks." With a brisk nod for his companions, he started walking in his new direction. A clawed hand on the back of his robes jerked him to a stop before he had taken more than a couple of steps.

"What's your hurry, Miroku?" Inuyasha hauled the monk around to face him as easily as if he were a child.

"Business," Miroku muttered, squirming in the hanyou's grip. He winced when he heard the distinct sound of tearing cloth. By now, his robe had so many darns and patches it might be easier just to purchase a new one.

"Who's Kimiko?" Kagome repeated, a tiny frown creasing her forehead. Shippou lounged in her arms, contentedly licking the large lollipop he had no doubt guilted her into giving him. Being small and cute had distinct advantages where women were concerned. "Do you need help?"

Miroku didn't answer.

Shippou jumped from the schoolgirl's arms to land on Miroku's shoulder. He gripped the fabric of the monk's robe in one hand, waving the sugary treat clenched in his other hand to keep his balance. Miroku jerked his head away from the child. A sticky lollipop might be worse than the time he got a wad of Shippou's gum tangled in his hair.

"Let us help you, Miroku! We're your friends!" He released his grip to pat Miroku's face with a small, sticky hand, looking around for confirmation.

"Keh!" Inuyasha released Miroku so suddenly that only quick reflexes kept the monk from falling. Shippou squealed and grabbed a fistful of Miroku's hair, the lollipop colliding painfully with the monk's ear. "I don't care what his problem is! I just don't want to lose a valuable fighter when we could meet up with Naraku at any time."

Kagome elbowed Inuyasha hard, earning her an irritated look from the hanyou. "Why don't you tell us what's wrong? We might be able to help."

Miroku peeled Shippou off of his shoulder, handing the kit to Kagome. He straightened his robe, trying to buy himself some time. Kagome was one of his closest friends, but there were times when he wished she were a little less… helpful. Lying to his friends was plain distasteful, though he had done it from time to time. Still… lying about this particular situation seemed even more wrong than usual.

"This is about a girl, isn't it?" Sango's quiet, direct question made the answer both easier and infinitely more difficult. With her dark eyes fixed on him, Hiraikotsu slung casually across her back, she looked every inch the proud warrior woman. Miroku could only guess at the horrors that made her whimper in fear some nights after she had drifted into a nightmare-ridden sleep. This made him extremely reluctant to be less than honest.

Laughing uneasily, he rubbed the back of his neck with his cursed hand, the smooth press of the beads on his glove soothing the tension that was growing there. "This does concern a girl."

"I knew it!" Sango turned away, but not quickly enough to completely hide the brief flash of hurt in her eyes. "Is she one of your conquests?"

"What? No!" Miroku's genuinely startled reaction seemed to reassure the tajiya. She turned back to face him, a puzzled look in her eyes.

"There isn't much time, Master." Hachi tugged on his sleeve, focusing his attention once again. "We have to hurry!"

"Right." Miroku nodded once in agreement before turning back to face his companions. "Don't worry. I'll see you in three weeks."

"Oh, no you won't." Inuyasha crossed his arms over his chest and glared at the monk. "We're coming with you."

"We are?" Kagome and Sango exchanged startled glances.

"You are?" The dismay in his own reply was lost on the small group.

"Mew." Miroku looked down into the knowing red eyes of Kirara. He smiled weakly at her, but she didn't look convinced.

"What about the shard?" Kagome asked. It was just like the girl to try and make everybody happy. But then, she was usually the one who had to put up with Inuyasha's sulks and listen to him complain for days.

"Feh. It was just a stupid rumor." Inuyasha waved one arm dismissively. "We'll find another one." He twitched an ear in annoyance at the skepticism on all four faces (five if you counted Kirara). Don't look at me like that! You don't think I'd let the monk go walking into who knows what kind of danger alone, do you?"

Miroku sighed. Can't you just feel the love? Well, nobody said the life of a traveling monk with a cursed hand was going to be boring.

Inuyasha growled at their lack of confidence in his motives, and pushed past Miroku to head in a vaguely northerly direction. "What are you waiting for? You said north, right? Let's get this over with so we can get back to shard hunting!"

Miroku suppressed his irritation at Inuyasha's attitude, knowing that he was offering to help in his own rough and unpolished way. The tough, uncaring hanyou did often leap in to help others even when he had nothing to gain. Kagome mounted her pink bicycle, plopping Shippou in the basket, and pedaled after him. Her shouts to wait for the rest of them caused Inuyasha to shorten his strides only slightly.

Hachi, still tired from pushing himself to reach them, was in no condition to transform and carry all of them. Until the youkai had time to recover, it would be faster to walk. From time to time, Hachi glanced at Miroku with worry etched clearly in his eyes.

Lost in his own thoughts, Miroku barely acknowledged Sango when she came to walk beside him. What could have happened to Kimiko? Were they attacked by youkai? Was she ill? Dying? Various scenarios kept running through his mind, each one worse than the last. By the time Sango spoke, he was wound so tight that he visibly jumped.

"Who's Kimiko?" Sango reached back to adjust the weight of Hiraikotsu on her back, carefully not looking directly at him.

"Someone," Miroku answered vaguely, eyes fixed on the horizon as if that would make the miles pass faster.

Sango glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, obviously perplexed by the shortness of his replies. "Is she a geisha? Or maybe some poor village girl you seduced years ago?"

Miroku snorted to hide his growing unease. Could things be that bad? Could she have been forced to… He shook his head to rid it of the disturbing images. "Not unless things are a lot worse than I hope."

"A friend, then?" she pressed. Focusing on the group, Miroku noticed that Inuyasha had one ear trained on their conversation. Kagome was pushing her bike again and talking to Hachi, who was giving distracted replies and kept glancing at him with worried eyes. "We always have time to help the friends of our friends."

Rubbing his hand against his neck, he squinted upwards to check the position of the sun. "I wouldn't say that. We've never actually met."

"We're going to help a girl you've never met?" Disbelief colored Sango's tone. Miroku nodded absently. Normally, he was quite interested in anything the lovely Sango had to say and always hyper-aware of her position and moods. With other worries on his mind, he didn't notice that she was growing irritated with him until her hand on his collar jerked him to a stop.

"What's going on, Lord Monk?" Sango released him in order to place both hands on her hips. "This isn't some romantic entanglement you've gotten yourself into. She's not a friend because you've never met before. Who is she? Some sort of distant relative?"

Miroku looked slowly at the circle of curious faces that now surrounded him. Hachi was the only one steadfastly refusing to meet his gaze. But that was understandable. He had extracted a solemn promise from the youkai to never reveal his connection to this particular girl, or he would live long enough to regret it.

"Actually," Miroku rubbed the back of his neck and tried to laugh, but the sound fell flat, "she's my sister."


As always, comments are welcome.

Food for thought:

A bus is a vehicle that runs twice as fast when you are after it as when you are in it.