Disclaimer: I do hereby disclaim all rights and responsibilities for the characters in this quiet interlude… especially for the monk who's still young enough to enjoy the distinct pleasures and unique perspectives which can be gained whilst sitting amongst the spreading limbs of a good climbing tree. A nod of acknowledgement is bent towards Rumiko Takahashi for her creative prowess.
Author's Note: Warm thanks and a flourish of sakura petals are showered upon Licentia Poetica and Fenikkusuken for their insightful comments and sweet compliments during the creation of this pretty little scene.
The Monk in the Cherry Tree
This is spring, Kagome sighed happily to herself as she meandered slowly through the cherry trees. Blossoms had reached their peak, and the air was filled with the heady sweetness of sakura and the lazy drone of honeybees. This was the village's unofficial orchard, a sprawling stand of fruit trees less than a mile from Kaede's. When the elder miko had brought Kagome here last summer for cherry picking, she'd promised herself to come back for a look in springtime. It was worth the walk. Several generations of trees created billowing layers of pink froth. Some of the more venerable specimens towered overhead, while the youngest of saplings proudly waved their blossoms right under the miko's nose. The overall effect was enchanting.
Kagome moved in amongst the trees until she was completely surrounded, then slowly turned to take it all in. Just a whisper of a breeze caressed her face, soft with sunshine as it teased random petals free from the bower overhead. Like silken confetti, motes of fragile pink spiraled to the ground in lazy little drifts. One particularly mischievous puff of wind sent a fresh shower of cherry blossoms towards the young woman, and she lifted her face into the sweet cascade, smiling at the feathery touches against her skin. The beauty surrounding her was breathtaking, and her heart ached at the sheer loveliness—a fleeting moment of spring's perfection. I'm so glad I came.
The miko continued her quiet stroll, trying to fix the scene into her heart so she could revisit it in her dreams. Closing her eyes, she savored the warm fragrance that perfumed the air. It was then she caught the faintest music, like a wind chime, coming from somewhere nearby. Curious, Kagome stilled, straining for another note. She was soon rewarded by a second quiet tinkle. This way, I think. The young woman wove her way amidst the cherry trees, pausing every so often to listen. Finally, the quiet consonance sounded just to the left of where she stood—left, and… overhead. Turning expectant eyes up into the branches of a vast, old tree, Kagome realized that she wasn't as alone as she'd thought.
Miroku was perched in the low-spreading branches of a gnarled granddaddy of a cherry tree. Back against the trunk and one leg propped up on the limb where he was seated, the monk was gazing contemplatively up into the overhead branches, completely lost in his thoughts. Miroku's shakujou was close by his side, cradled in a bracket formed by two branches. Even as Kagome watched, a tiny gust of wind coaxed another soft ching from the rings on the monk's staff.
"Hello, up there," called the miko softly.
Miroku turned startled eyes downward, but quickly relaxed into a warm smile of welcome. "Greetings, Kagome-sama."
The monk dropped his legs down and leaned forward on the branch, propping his elbows against the bark as he considered the young woman below. "Out for a walk?" he asked politely.
Kagome nodded, covering a smile. She'd never seen Miroku in such an undignified position. His robes were bunched up untidily around his hips. His long legs, clad in the black leggings he always wore, dangled in an ungainly fashion. He was barefoot, having shed his sandals to scale the tree, and there were flower petals in his rumpled hair. To Kagome's way of thinking, the monk looked more like an overgrown youth than a holy man. When Miroku grinned and began swinging his legs carelessly, she couldn't suppress a giggle at the boyish picture he made.
"Does something amuse you, Kagome-sama?" inquired the monk knowingly.
With twinkling eyes, she pointed out the obvious. "You're sitting in a tree, Miroku-sama."
"Is sitting in trees so unusual?" he countered.
Come to think of it, Inuyasha was always up a tree. The hanyou's careless sprawls across high limbs were a familiar enough sight, but he belonged there. Seeing Miroku in a similar position was just so… incongruous. Kagome shook her head, but contradicted the gesture, "It is for you, Miroku-sama. What are you doing up there?"
"Enjoying the view," returned the monk with a shrug, as if it should be obvious.
Kagome gazed around at the trees surrounding them, and wondered what it would be like to sit right up amongst the flowers as Miroku was doing. I'll bet the view is amazing. "Have you been here long?" she asked curiously.
Miroku leaned back, eyeing the position of the sun in the sky. "Yes, I guess I've been here for a few hours now," he admitted.
"Isn't that seat a bit… uncomfortable after so long?" wondered Kagome aloud.
The monk smiled and shifted slightly on the branch. "It's not so bad," he assured her. "Besides," he said, sobering, "I wanted to enjoy this spring, just in case…."
Taking his meaning, Kagome frowned at the pensive cast to Miroku's normally cheerful countenance. "I'm sure we'll be back next spring, to see the cherry blossoms again. We all will," she pronounced firmly.
Violet eyes warming at the girl's insistent optimism, Miroku leaned down a bit and extended his hand towards her. "Join me?" he invited.
Kagome grinned and kicked off her shoes. "I would like to see everything from up there," she said eagerly as she searched for likely handholds on the trunk. "How do I get up?"
Miroku directed Kagome's ascent, pointing out the best toeholds until she was close enough to grasp his hands. With one firm tug, he lifted her lightly so she could swing her leg over his branch. As soon as she was astride, it occurred to Kagome that she'd not given much thought to this little venture. She was sitting directly in front of Miroku, facing outwards. The panorama was impressive, but their branch was angled in such a way that the young woman was forced to lean back into Miroku's arms.
For a moment, Kagome scrabbled, trying to scoot forward and put some distance between herself and the famously lecherous monk. The incline of the branch didn't cooperate with her efforts, and so the miko ended up leaning forward, clinging to the limb like a desperate monkey. Miroku was completely confused by her antics. "I apologize, Kagome-sama. Are you afraid of heights?"
Kagome laughed uncomfortably. "Ah, no. Not exactly," she hedged, peeping over her shoulder at Miroku.
The light of understanding dawned on the monk's face, and he couldn't keep the amusement from his tone. "Are you trying to get away from me, Kagome-sama?"
"Maybe," she mumbled, feeling foolish.
Miroku's hands gently gripped her arms, disentangling her grapple-hold on the branch. Kagome reluctantly allowed herself to be eased back until she could feel a chuckle reverberate through the broad chest she came to rest against. "Relax, Kagome-sama. I didn't invite you up here to take advantage of you. I'll behave."
The young woman twisted around to give Miroku a hard stare, but when the monk met her skeptical look with guileless innocence, she merely huffed turned to face forward again. Kagome shifted a little against the rough bark, trying to get comfortable with her sudden proximity to the man behind her. True to his word, Miroku's wandering hands kept to themselves, and Kagome began to relax. Leaning her head back against the monk's shoulder, she looked up at the patterns of pink flowers against blue skies above them. After several minutes of quiet, she finally ventured to speak. "Miroku-sama?"
"Mm-hmm?" came a lazy response.
"Why does seeing something this beautiful make me feel both full and empty?"
The monk took a moment to gather his thoughts before answering. "When we are in the presence of loveliness, it nourishes the soul. The fullness you feel comes from recognizing real beauty and allowing it to touch you." At this, the monk paused in consideration. "The emptiness probably comes from knowing that beauty is fleeting in this world. We cannot hang onto it, and so we are always longing for more."
"Oh," the miko said softly, as she followed a dance of petals that fluttered by. "I wish we could hang onto this just a little longer," she said, motioning towards the sea of flowers that lay before them.
"Perhaps if you could keep it longer, you'd take it for granted?" suggested Miroku.
"You mean it wouldn't be so precious if it weren't so rare?" asked Kagome.
"Exactly," affirmed the monk.
Kagome sighed. "I try to remember times like this. I have memories of beautiful things, but they sort of fade after a while."
"True," agreed Miroku. "At least with something like the sakura blossoms, we have the hope of seeing them again next year. Some beauty is more elusive."
Puzzled, Kagome asked, "What are you talking about, Miroku-sama?"
Miroku shifted slightly behind her and she felt his fingers brush the top of her head. Looking over her shoulder at him, he smiled apologetically. "You have flowers in your hair, Kagome-sama." Making a silent 'o' she settled back again, waiting for the monk to continue. Miroku took his time about answering, busying himself by plucking petals gently from Kagome's dark tresses. Finally, he resumed. "Sometime we cross paths with something uniquely beautiful just once in our lifetime. We are most fortunate if we recognize it at the time and appreciate just how special it is. When we are given something so precious to hold, even if it is just for a little while, we must cherish every moment it's in our grasp." Miroku's hands had settled onto Kagome's shoulders, and he gave them a gentle squeeze.
"What if we don't realize something is 'uniquely beautiful' until it is already gone?" she asked, sifting through some of her favorite memories.
"That is the way it often is, Kagome-sama," Miroku said softly. "We don't appreciate what we have until it has been taken away."
Kagome pondered that for a little while before speaking again. "Miroku-sama? Wouldn't it be better to know something is precious, and keep it close for always?"
"If I was given the opportunity to do so, I certainly would," replied Miroku seriously.
After a moment Kagome looked back up into the monk's calm face. "You really are wise under all that philandering, aren't you?"
Miroku's smile had a wry twist to it. "Perhaps my situation prevents me from taking anything for granted, Kagome-sama."
"Is that why you're here today, then? To catch and hold something beautiful?"
The monk sighed, then cautiously brought his arms around Kagome's shoulders, pulling her close and tucking her under his chin. "I'll hold on to this for as long as I can," he said with quiet conviction.
Something in Miroku's tone caused a blush to rise in Kagome's cheeks, and she was glad he couldn't see her face. "Are we still talking about cherry blossoms, Miroku-sama?" she asked hesitantly.
Miroku hummed gently into her hair before answering with his usual lightness, "Of course, Kagome-sama. Of what else would I be speaking?"
"It just seemed… I don't know. Never mind, Miroku-sama," trailed off Kagome uncertainly. She lapsed into a thoughtful silence, but eventually she peeped up at Miroku again. "Have you had your share of beautiful things?"
"Ah," Miroku sighed, not answering for several moments. "I cannot say for certain, Kagome-sama. It really depends."
"I have experienced many beautiful moments; enough to be content," the monk declared evasively.
Kagome could feel Miroku shrug as he answered plainly, "But, if I knew for certain that my life would not be cut short, this would not be nearly enough."
"You want more?"
"Only if I can keep it," the monk quipped.
Kagome laughed softly. "Is that larceny or lechery talking?" she teased.
"I have never denied my proclivities, Kagome-sama," he replied with smug serenity.
"So… you're holding back?"
Miroku didn't answer immediately, and when he did he seemed surprised by his admission, "I suppose I am."
"You know, in my time, people who know they're going to die soon try to live every day to the fullest because they know each day could be their last." She turned slightly and tilted her head back to catch Miroku's eye. "With you, it's just the opposite. You are holding back from living because you want all or nothing. In a bizarre kind of way, you're not a hedonist; you're a regular ascetic."
Miroku laughter rolled out across the orchard, "That's the first time anyone has ever called me an ascetic. I hardly think I qualify, Kagome-sama."
"Well… ascetic for you," she amended determinedly. "You deserve beautiful things too, Miroku-sama. Just because your future is uncertain doesn't mean you should give up on the things you want from life."
"I haven't given up completely, Kagome-sama."
"Still, you should live without regrets. I mean, none of us knows how long we will live, do we?" Kagome insisted.
"No regrets, hmm?" Miroku murmured close to the young woman's ear.
"That's right," she stated firmly, planting a fist onto her palm for emphasis.
"So… are you granting me permission to indulge my every fancy, Kagome-sama?" inquired the monk with a smile, nuzzling her gently behind one ear.
"Err, what?" The miko tried to lean away, only to have Miroku's arms tighten slightly, holding her still as his lips brushed against her neck.
"You did say I should make the most of the days remaining to me, did you not?" the monk reminded her politely.
"No! Well, I did actually, but this is not…"
The monk leaned around and used a finger to turn Kagome's head so he could meet her gaze. "I thought you didn't want me to hold back?" he grinned, eyes dancing.
"You know I didn't mean…"
"Oh, I know," Miroku nodded happily.
"Miroku-sama!" Kagome scolded with exasperation, "You stop right now; you said you'd behave!"
"Mm-hmm," the monk agreed the monk, giving the end of her nose a playful tweak. "I did at that, though I didn't specify how I would behave."
"Oh, you…" trailed off Kagome with a little huff. "You can't just go around indiscriminately flirting with girls. That's not what I meant by having no regrets."
Miroku chuckled as he ran his hands down the young woman's arms as if to smooth her ruffled feathers. "Perhaps the things I would regret most are different than yours, Kagome-sama," pointed out the monk.
"Well, that's patently obvious," grumbled the miko, crossing her arms.
"If it makes you feel any better, I do not plan to go around indiscriminately flirting with girls," Miroku promised.
Kagome cast him an incredulous look, "It's a little late for that, isn't it?"
"Not at all," assured Miroku. "I intend to heed your advice; I shall henceforth be very discriminating with my attentions."
"Uh-huh," Kagome drawled. "Well, just promise that you won't try that on me again."
"I'm afraid I can't, Kagome-sama," replied Miroku without penitence.
The young woman sighed, "And why not?"
"I would probably regret it later," the monk whispered conspiratorially.
Kagome shifted on the branch, turning to deliver a scathing retort, but her anger evaporated at the look on Miroku's face. The pensiveness which had clouded his eyes upon her arrival under the cherry tree was gone, replaced by the shining light of happiness. He's… enjoying himself; he's actually having fun. It was something of a relief to see the strain around Miroku's eyes and the tension in his posture melt away. Kagome's heart felt lighter at the sight, and she couldn't resist the answering smile that curved across her lips. "I've had just about enough of you," she remarked mildly, before resuming her place.
Miroku lapsed into silence, and Kagome slowly relaxed back against him, allowing the peacefulness of the setting to soak into her soul. She had just managed to recapture some of her wonder over the surrounding beauty when Miroku spoke up.
"I haven't," he declared softly.
Kagome blinked at the seeming randomness of his statement, and tried to recall where their conversation had left off. "Haven't what?" she finally asked.
Confused, Kagome tipped her head to catch Miroku's eye, "Of what?"
"Oh… of this," he replied lightly, turning his eyes back to the sea of sakura blossoms all around them.
"Are we still talking about cherry blossoms, Miroku-sama?" Kagome asked for the second time that day.
Eyes twinkling, Miroku just shook his head.
End Note: This oneshot is part of the growing number of Mir/Kag oneshots in this forthright's repertoire. It all began with The Monk's Trick, which was quickly followed by The Monk and the Mistletoe, The Monk's Valentine, and The Monk and the White Ribbon. More recently, I've added The Monk's Prank and a collection of M/K drabbles and oneshots entitled Incorrigible. If you've enjoyed my teasing monk in his uncertain pursuit of a certain miko, you may wish to chase these stories down.