Beautiful

It had been a wretched week. The weather was drippy and soppy enough to be more than annoying. Kagome loved the rain,but this…This is not rain. This is…bleh. She wracked her brain for a more appropriate word, but none came. Nope, I think 'bleh' pretty much covers it.

The group had trudged through the mud, the wet, slapping leaves and branches, and slept without a fire for the past three nights due to lack of dry kindling. The absence of a fire also meant an absence of hot food.

All in all, the entire group was on edge. Sango snapped more than usual. Inuyasha…well, Inuyasha always snapped at everyone… only, now he seemed to anger twice as easily as before, and was three times as loud and obnoxious about it. Shippou was sullen and whiney, and even Kirara seemed disgruntled as she cleaned the mud from her fur each night. Miroku was the only one who didn't seem ill-tempered, but he was much more quiet and withdrawn than usual.

And Kagome - sweet, compassionate, always-full-of-sunshine Kagome - was ready to cause some serious damage to anything that crossed her path. Of the entire lousy week, that day was particularly-for lack of a better word-a bitch.

She sent one last scathing glance at her current source of frustration, before uttering a word that shut him up and sent him into the ground. Osuwari.

Without a second glance at the hanyou-shaped crater in the forest floor, she stalked from the campsite and huffily situated herself on a fallen log next to the stream that ran gently along side it, a thick layer of bushes and growth separating her from the camp and her friends.

I can't handle this anymore. I love them…each of them. But sometimes, oh, sometimes I just want to scream! To strangle! To…to…eat a lot of chocolate!

She sat on the damp log, clenching her fingers into the thick green moss that grew on its surface, and ground her teeth, thinking of all the reasons she wished she were home at that very moment, and how she just longed for a hot bath, and warm oden, and foot massages, and snuggly blankets, and is that really so much to ask!

The grinding of her teeth blocked the gentle rustle of leaves and robes that approached her, so when she realized that Miroku was seated next to her she started in surprise.

She turned and opened her mouth to tell him she just wanted to be alone, but the words died on her lips.

He looks so at peace, and yet…. She looked at his eyes, and could sense a longing in them that she had seen before, but only glimpses of, as he'd always quickly wipe it away with a smirk, or playful grin. He looks so melancholy at the same time.

Kagome sat there, smelling the mossy dampness that was soaking into her skirt, and gazed at him.

Miroku, for his part, never looked away from his focal point, which seemed to be in some far-off place that no one else could escape to. Kagome realized rather wistfully that he was often there, and that he usually looked content.

Wish he'd take me there too….

He looked out ahead of them, beyond the quiet brook, beyond the towers of trees that surrounded them. Beyond the undergrowth, beyond the browns and greens and grays and blacks. Just…beyond.

Kagome couldn't tear her eyes from his face. She watched his deep, dark eyes that reflected the violet of his robes, and was amazed at the wisdom behind them. He was, after all, a young man. How did he seem to hold so much growth and knowledge behind those young, young eyes?

It's not fair. He always knows everything.

Her selfish internal grumbling stopped when he moved. It wasn't much, but just a parting of his lips. He had soft lips, most often favoring a smile, or a smirk, or a gentle twist of thought. But now they were set in a relaxed state, and when they parted a small, almost inaudible sigh passed through them.

The sigh fluttered from his mouth and onto the breeze, and danced with the sounds of the creek, and the swaying of the trees and the rustling of the leaves, and floated its way onward, on a journey of its own.

He seemed to watch it dance on its way for a moment, before he turned to her, warmth glowing gently in his gaze. "Beautiful view?"

She started, before blushing and staring furiously at her lap. Oh no… he caught me staring at him. She cringed and inwardly groaned. Now he's never gonna let me live it down, stupid perverted jerk...

"The forest."

Kagome looked back at him so quickly she nearly gave herself whiplash. "What?" She rubbed at the back of her neck, scowling.

"The forest…it's beautiful."

Oh! The forest! I thought he meant him…. She blushed again before answering, her embarrassment rapidly changing back to sullenness. "Yeah. Sure."

He turned away from her and let his gaze slide gently over their surroundings. She watched him take his time appreciating the view before she spoke again.

"It's muddy, Miroku. It's…soggy. The sun won't shine, we can't make a fire to keep warm or cook food, the mud is sticking to everything…."

She trailed off with a defeated sigh, letting her shoulders sag under the weight of the day. "We don't know in what direction to go next. I haven't felt jewel shards for over five days. We haven't had a decent night's rest in a week, and on top of that, I think I'm getting a cold." She sniffed loudly.

Miroku grinned lightly, his pearly white teeth peeking from behind his perfect soft lips, and handed her a cloth from his sleeve.

He allowed her time to blow her nose on it before replying, and Kagome found herself being slowly soothed by the gentle depth of his voice. Smooth and warm...

"But it's beautiful. Everything." He shifted so his body was angled toward her slightly, his leg crooked over the edge of the log, his ever-present staff leaning against the wood behind him.

He nodded in the direction of the stream. "Do you hear that? The way it always moves on? It doesn't really have a destination either, nor does it know where it's going but… it moves because it has to. That is what a stream does. What water does. It flows. And every time it hits a rock or an obstacle, it makes that beautiful trickling noise, and catches the light so that it sparkles, before it moves on. And when it falls over a cliff…" He trailed off and closed his eyes with a deep sigh. "Oh, Kagome, have you ever seen anything more beautiful than a waterfall?"

She shook her head dumbly, staring at him in wonder, but his gaze was off in his own universe again, seeing things she saw only for milliseconds at a time, when she was on the brink between beautiful dreams, and a glorious awakening. Those moments were too short, and too few, but he seemed to dwell in them, and Kagome wondered how.

"And the water crashes over the cliff and lands on the rocks below. And it should be beaten, and it should feel abused, but it doesn't. It rises in a lovely mist so that when the sun does decide to shine, a rainbow can form." He swallowed thickly.

Kagome's mouth opened in a gasp. "Miroku…."

He interrupted her and sped on. "And look at the trees. They bend and sway in the wind and make their own beauty and music as well. And the rain! It waters the trees, and feeds the stream, and creates all these wonderful smells, and when it stops, when the rain stops, and the sun comes out, it will sparkle on every drop of water, and shine off of the brook, and filter down through the trees and create beautiful patterns all over the forest floor."

He grabbed her hand suddenly from the log between them and Kagome jumped. "And the moss! Look how green it is, and how soft and beautiful it made this old, gray log. A dead tree…and now look at it. It's beautiful with life."

Kagome looked down at the moss before looking back at his eyes and her heart clenched at the shininess of them. She didn't know what to say. "Miroku…."

He hurried on, almost frantically, and she could see that he was desperate that he make her understand, make someone understand, and Kagome felt her heart break knowing that he had chosen her to share his beautiful secrets with.

"You always bring back sweets for Shippou and he nearly explodes with excitement and gobbles it up as quickly as possible." Kagome nodded her head, smiling slightly. She felt tears sting the edge of her eyelids.

"And…and when he reaches his last piece he always hides it away. Always. I've watched him. He sneaks off on his own, and takes his time eating it. Because…because he knows it's his last one, and that makes it all the more special, and all the more wonderful. And he wants to savor it."

He swallowed hard, and blinked fiercely before continuing quickly. "And Inuyasha...just before the night of a new moon he always pushes - moves faster, fights harder - because he knows…he knows he doesn't have much time left before he turns human, and he wants to use his power till the very end…until he loses it to the night."

He was leaning in to her now, his face only inches from hers, begging for her to understand. Kagome ached to brush away the tears that began to leak from his wide, searching eyes, but her hands were now both locked in his, and he was looking at her desperately, and she was instantly and horribly and wretchedly ashamed of all her selfish complaints and grumblings.

"And you…I know why you take so long in your time before returning. You're taking time to savor your family…enjoying your home, and your comfort. You're doing your best to enjoy your time there with them and being happy, because you know those will be the last moments you spend there for a while, before you come back here."

And Miroku - smooth-talking, always calm, always collected Miroku - began to stumble and trip over the words that rushed from his graceful lips.

"And Sango…she always gets so sad when she thinks of her family." His breath hitched and Kagome felt her chest tighten painfully as well. "But when she thinks about her brother and how much they loved each other, and how wonderful their lives used to be, she smiles. She smiles when she remembers how happy they were. And…those memories she has of them, of her family and her village, she treasures them the most…because they were her last."

Oh god. No, please don't….

The tears were flowing freely down his cheeks as he opened his mouth to speak again.

"And I…" his voice caught in his throat, and he squeezed her hands more tightly.

Kagome felt the precise moment when full realization hit her…when she understood exactly what he had been trying to tell her all this time. And she knew, then, where it was that Miroku stared to…where he secretly longed to go all those times when he seemed off in his own universe.

She swallowed back the bitter taste of bile that rose in her throat, and as she looked at him she knew her heart was breaking fiercely, and determinedly. I know where he was. Her head spun with the injustice of it all. He was imagining a world…where he wasn't dying. Oh God. The thought blindsided her and she felt its blow as distinctly as if it had been a physical one. He's dying. Oh, God, how could I have been so self-centered?

"And I…I look at it all…everything. I look at everything around me and I savor every last bit of it because…because…"

No, no, no, no, no, NO! Please don't say it!

"Because I don't know which moments will be my last. I want to enjoy every second of life I have left, because it could pass at any time…and I don't want it to end. I want to see Shippou get older, I want to see the jewel completed…." He was sobbing as he spoke, and his hands over hers were shaking uncontrollably.

"And I want to see Sango get her brother back…to see Inuyasha finally be at peace with himself…I want to see us be happy again."

Kagome grabbed him and pulled his face into her shoulder as she sobbed silently into his hair, and he cried quietly into her neck, his tears running down her shoulder. She could still hear him rambling through his tears and the heaving of his shoulders.

"It's all so beautiful, Kagome, and I don't want it to stop…it's so beautiful…living is beautiful and so help me, I can't bear the thought of its end."

She held him closely to her, rubbing soothing circles on his back and praying to anyone who would listen that the wise, old, young, living and dying man-child in her arms receive every chance at life that he so very much deserved.

They slowly slid together off the mossy log and onto the ground next to it, leaning into it for support, the living depending upon the dead for strength.

Eventually, their tears trickled dry, and they sat in companionable silence and looked and listened.

And the water still moved and sang, and the trees still swayed and danced, and the darkness settled like a blanket on them both.

Miroku's eyes left again for his distant land and this time he took Kagome with him.

And they sat. Two friends sat together and gazed into a place where everything was beautiful all the time, and it never had to end. It was a place where Miroku wasn't dying, and Sango wasn't longing for the past, and Shippou could savor his childhood, and Inuyasha was content with the wonderful person he was, and Kagome never had to choose between the two worlds that she loved so very much.

And both wondered if such a place existed.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?"

Kagome swallowed and nodded. "Yeah," she rasped. "Yeah, it really is."