Disclaimer: I do hereby disclaim all rights and responsibilities for the characters in this diversion... especially for the one who's being demanding. A nod of recognition is bent towards Rumiko Takahashi for her creative prowess.
This oneshot was originally posted to Live Journal on July 25, 2010.
Miroku was unhappy. It wasn't the lack of amenities; he was used to roughing it. Indeed, he could hardly complain of homesickness since he had no home. For that matter, Rin's chatter made it impossible for loneliness to be a factor. In truth, I would welcome a bit of privacy, he ruefully admitted to himself. The night before, thoughts of Sango had led to a very pleasant dream, which in turn led to a very disgruntled youkai and a very dissatisfied monk. I am only human, after all... and a man at that.
He was truly grateful to Sesshoumaru for all he was doing, but after a handful of days, Miroku had to admit that his normally easy-going temperament was feeling the strain. Sesshoumaru's demanding manner was beginning to rub him the wrong way. As the monk went through the motions of his early morning meditation, he unearthed the seeds of bitterness, hoping to deal with them rationally before they could take root. It was unreasonable to feel put-upon since he was the inconvenience.
I need... conversation, and not the one-sided variety. The taiyoukai's wandering attention and vague hums did not contribute to meaningful dialogue. I need... relaxation, and not the kind that involves being tangled up in a demon's coils. To be fair, the tail-winding was a practical necessity, but there was such a thing as too much closeness. I need... an outlet. Too much idleness led to too much thinking, and there were too many things Miroku had no desire to contemplate. I need entertainment, diversion, action. Yes, he definitely needed some action. Either that, or he needed to get drunk.
Stifling a groan, the monk firmly set aside his ruminations and rose to his feet. Stripping to the waist, he took up his shakujou and vented his lingering frustrations by training. Mind and body, he battled his helplessness. With unusual ferocity, he narrowed his focus until nothing was left but burning muscles, dripping sweat, and the beating of his heart.
When it was enough, Miroku leaned heavily on his staff. He trembled on the edge of physical exhaustion, but a pleasant hum left him feeling repaid for his exertion. Only after a few steadying breaths did he become aware of his audience. Turning just enough to glance over his shoulder, he encountered hooded golden eyes.
Ah... I am a fool. Body heat undoubtedly amplifies the effects of the plant. Miroku swallowed hard and lowered his gaze. "I needed..." he began huskily, but with a wave of his hand, he gave up trying to explain. Fill in the blanks yourself, for once.
"There is food," Sesshoumaru smoothly announced, leaving the monk to wearily pull himself together.
"We're leaving today," Sesshoumaru announced to no one in particular.
Miroku assumed that the general proclamation included him and gamely responded, "Can I help in any..."
"No," Sesshoumaru's flat refusal cut across the monk's offer. "You must prepare."
"Prepare," he echoed, not liking the inflection the taiyoukai had assigned to the word. Setting aside the remains of his breakfast, he cautiously inquired, "What did you have in mind, Sesshoumaru-sama?"
"Jaken, Rin... pack. We will return." Turning on his heel, the taiyoukai strode slowly down the hill towards the creek. "Come, monk," he ordered, not even bothering to turn his head.
Stifling a sigh, Miroku reached for his shakujou and hurried after his protector. The monk had an inkling of what awaited, but that didn't stop him from hoping he was wrong. He caught up to Sesshoumaru at the base of the hill and followed him along the small stream to its bend. Once they were hidden from the camp by a meager thicket of scrubby bushes, Miroku inquired, "Have the effects of the plant diminished?"
"Enough that I can move about safely, now?"
"Ah." The monk grimaced and reluctantly asked, "More mud?"
"I see," he sighed resignedly. Slipping a foot from his sandal, he gave the soil at the edge of the water an experimental poke. This is going to be most unpleasant. He could almost feel Sesshoumaru's impatience and glanced at the youkai. A slender brow arched meaningfully, and Miroku blinked. "Now?"
Wonderful! This is going to be unpleasant... and awkward. He didn't voice any of the protests that suggested themselves; he simply turned his back and began to disrobe. As efficiently as possible, he folded up his outer clothing, knotting the resulting bundle through the finial of his staff. That just leaves the 'fun' part. Crouching down on the brink, Miroku investigated the soil that was available to him. There's not as much clay in it. "This will work, but it will crumble more quickly than the last lot. Do we have far to go?"
Golden eyes that had been studiously peering off in another direction slanted his way, but no answer was forthcoming.
"I'll just get started, then," Miroku said, his voice edged with the sharp sweetness of sarcasm. What's the use of hiding emotions your companion can smell? The monk had barely slept the night before, and the prospect of spending the day in an itching, crumbling encasement of scent-muffling mud was hardly mood-enhancing.
Beginning with his ankles, he repeated the process he'd been forced to undergo on the day Sesshoumaru had come to his rescue. "Is this absolutely necessary?" he inquired conversationally, more to distract himself from the cold, sticky feel of mud-caked fabric as he coated the knee-length hakama he wore under his robes than because he expected the taiyoukai to answer. "If not, I shall suspect you of harboring a perverse sense of humor." To himself he added, Or a nice, wide malicious streak... or a truly baffling kink.
Sesshoumaru huffed quietly, and Miroku glanced over, trying to read the slight reaction. "Which way will we be going?" he tried again. The taiyoukai nodded towards the west, and the monk hummed as he smeared muck over his stomach. "Is there any particular destination in view?" This time, a little half-shrug was offered, and since the conversation was moving along so well, he dared to press. "In that case, may I make some requests? Three, actually."
The taiyoukai gave him a long look, which Miroku chose to interpret as permission to petition. "I was wondering if we could stop in a village or town along the way... for supplies."
"In that state?" Sesshoumaru inquired.
Miroku ignored the small dig, instead saying, "Which brings me to my second request. Would it be possible take our ease near warmer water tonight? I will need a bath, but I do not relish another cold one."
The taiyoukai still held his gaze, so the monk forged ahead. "Lastly... I was wondering if you would consider using my name. I notice that you refer to both Jaken-sama and Rin-chan by name, and I would be greatly honored if you would show me the same courtesy." Sesshoumaru merely stared... in a pointed way that reminded Miroku that he was slacking off. "I'll just let you think it over," Miroku offered magnanimously, scooping muck up onto his shoulders.
Miroku was regretting following the impulse to push himself so far during his morning exercises. His efforts may have been cleansing to the soul, but wobbling knees did little for his flagging confidence. The man had been stripped of all save his stubborn pride, and that was the only thing keeping him upright. One foot in front of the other, he trudged in the taiyoukai's wake. For as much attention as he paid his surroundings, if a sheer drop had lay before him, Miroku probably would have stepped right over it. As it was, he nearly ran into Sesshoumaru when he stopped.
"They have baths here," the taiyoukai announced.
"Ah... oh," Miroku replied unintelligently. Their seemingly aimless journey had carried them to the very doorstep of a fair-sized settlement, which lay just to the south of the road that cut across their path. Judging by the sights, sounds, and smells drifting towards them, it was a prosperous enough settlement to boast an inn... and all the other kinds of comforts a traveler could want. "Baths," he echoed numbly.
"You've been here before?"
"I can smell them."
"Ah... good." Rousing somewhat at the prospect of a hot soak, Miroku straightened, sending a cascade of crumbling mud chunks around his feet. Looking down, he added with chagrin, "Or it would be... if they will let me through their doors."
Sesshoumaru quirked a brow, then held out his hand. Miroku stared dumbly for a moment, then realized the taiyoukai expected him to extend his own. When he did, he was rewarded by the soft clatter and cool weight of gold coins dropping onto his palm. It was more than enough to buy his way into the town's good graces. "This is most generous," he mumbled.
"Camp will be this way," Sesshoumaru stated, pointing towards the forest that lay beyond the road. "Return by sunrise."
Miroku wanted nothing more than to make his escape, but he hesitated. His very presence could bring trouble to an unsuspecting village. "I do not wish to put these people in danger," he ventured. "Will it be safe?"
Closing his fingers around the gold, Miroku executed a small—and crumbly—bow, and Sesshoumaru turned his back and walked on, leaving him by the side of the road.
The monk's first bath put him in a fit state to dine at one of the local restaurants, where he traded gossip with the locals and flirted shamelessly with the serving girls. His sumptuous meal revived him enough to seek out the privacy that had been sorely lacking in his recent misadventure. Renting a room at the town's onsen, Miroku rid himself of the last of his lingering frustrations.
Afterwards, he returned to the baths and took greater care with his libations. Scrubbing until mud was naught but a distant memory, he placed an order for sake and slipped into the large pool where a handful of other guests relaxed. Sipping and soaking, the monk let his mind drift with the rising steam, luxuriating in a soft buzz of contentment.
He was on his third bottle when a couple of locals came in, talking excitedly about a pale portent of doom. Opening one eye, Miroku listened intently to one man's wild tale of a monstrous demon, shining like the moon as it sailed up in the air over the forest beyond town. As the nervous chattering spread, the monk sighed softly and rose from the water. With a serene smile on his face, he took his time dressing, settled up with the innkeeper, and took his leave.
Out under he stars, Miroku filled his lungs with clear, cool air, and nodding to the few passers-by he encountered, he strode purposefully down the road out of the city. An elderly man with a lantern stopped him as he was leaving and querulously warned, "It's not a fit night for any man to be traveling! There's a demon hereabouts! You'd best wait for daybreak, houshi-sama!"
With a gracious inclination of his head, Miroku replied, "Thank you for your concern, good sir, but my safety has been assured."
"Suit yourself," the old-timer muttered as he hastened for home.
With the soft jangle of the rings on his shakujou for company, Miroku strolled along the road, then turned into the woods. Guided as much by the gently rippling youki that flowed over the entire town as by brief glimpses of a silvered form, he picked his way through the shadows. When he rounded the last of the screening greenery, Miroku drew to a halt and gazed in awe at the enormous beast that all but filled the clearing. Nose raised, ears pricked, it fully looked the part of a guard dog.
"Which way to camp, Sesshoumaru-sama?" Miroku inquired pleasantly.
As the massive head turned his way, he peered with interest at the crescent moon marking the big dog's brow. Hmm... blue fur. Curiously, the monk let his gaze wander to see if there were magenta stripes in interesting places, but before he could complete a survey, an upsurge of youki signaled the taiyoukai's transformation.
Sesshoumaru waited for Miroku to close the distance between them before remarking, "You are early."
"I was ready," he replied amiably. The taiyoukai turned in the direction of camp, and the monk fell in step at his side. Lifting the jug of sake he'd purchased on his way out, Miroku genially inquired, "Would you like to share the last bottle? It is their finest."
"Keep it," Sesshoumaru replied in a clipped voice.
The rebuff stung a little, but he tried valiantly not to take the taiyoukai's rejection personally. Maybe demons do not imbibe?
His companion huffed and pointedly said, "Perhaps another time."
Oh. Miroku's only thought had been to share some of the evening's pleasures with the one whose gold had made them possible. In my current predicament, lowering Sesshoumaru-sama's inhibitions is by far the stupidest thing I could have suggested. With much chagrin, he murmured, "You are right, of course."
To Miroku's surprise, the taiyoukai's camp was established within view of a natural hot spring. In the light of their small campfire, Jaken dozed fitfully against Ah-Un's side, and Rin was curled between the dragon's forelegs. Her pink cheeks had that fresh-scrubbed look. Gazing at the water that steamed in the fringes of the firelight, the monk quietly exclaimed, "I could have bathed here! The expense... I don't understand."
Sesshoumaru didn't answer, but perhaps no answer was needed. He settled against the broad trunk of a tree and gazed expectantly at Miroku.
"You... need to reapply your scent?" he inquired.
Miroku laid aside his staff and sake and took his place at the taiyoukai's side; the inu-youkai's tail wound around him—at once protective and possessive. Too relaxed to be bothered, the monk made himself comfortable. If we were friends, I would say that today, we had a falling out, he decided. We fought without words, and we made up without words. Smiling sleepily, he relaxed against Sesshoumaru's solid presence. He may not count me as a friend, but I think that after today, we are on friendlier terms. Miroku's last thought as sleep claimed him was that all things considered, two out of three wasn't bad.
End Note: This oneshot was written for the Live Journal community iyfic(underscore)contest and their prompt for Week #219—Up in the Air. 2,386 words.