Disclaimer: I do hereby disclaim all rights and responsibilities for the characters in this indulgent little tale… especially for the tricky little kit whose mischief has inspired yet another reason for that monk to fluster that miko. ׃׃wink׃׃ A nod of acknowledgement is bent towards Rumiko Takahashi for her creative prowess.

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The Monk's Prank

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"Kagome-sama?" Miroku called softly as he moved through the trees towards the hot springs. Under normal circumstances, he would have preferred slipping up on the young woman unawares and snatching a quick peek, but the monk was intentionally making enough noise to alert her to his approach, staff jangling rhythmically with each step.

He and Inuyasha really needed her to help curb Shippo's latest spate of mischief, and the hanyou had finally allowed concern for Kagome's safety to outweigh what might be considered common sense. He'd just sent Miroku to see what was keeping Kagome at the hot springs.

As the smell of mineral-heavy steam reached him, the monk quickened his pace slightly. It really has been far too long since she left to bathe. He'd traveled with their little group long enough to get a feel for the girl's usual routine. Something might be amiss, and Miroku felt a measure of responsibility for Kagome's safety despite Inuyasha's insistence that he was all the protection she needed.

"Kagome-sama?" he called again, then ducked as a shampoo bottle came whizzing through the air, narrowly missing him.

"Keep back, you hentai!" came an indignant and unmistakable voice. Miroku breathed a sigh of relief. Well, at least she's all right.

As the monk moved around the last bush, he caught sight of Kagome. She was crouched so far down in the water, her nose barely skimmed the surface. Unfortunately, this hid all her soft skin and tempting curves from view. Miroku sighed regretfully at the lost opportunity, and leaned casually against his shakujou. The miko glared dangerously at him, then lifted her chin far enough out of the water to speak. "Go away," she ordered.

"Relax, Kagome-sama. I'm only here to make sure you're safe," soothed the monk, letting his eyes trail across the uncooperatively milky surface of the water. "You appear to be unharmed."

The young woman ducked lower in the water, hunching defensively and blowing a few indignant bubbles. Eyes snapping, she thrust her chin forward, "Go away!" she repeated.

Ignoring her order, Miroku gestured in the direction of their camp. "We're in a bit of a fix with that kitsune of yours. Inuyasha actually sent me to fetch you, so if you'll come out of the water, I'll accompany you back."

"Oh," Kagome frowned. "Well, I'm not getting out with you standing there, Miroku-sama."

"I can avert my eyes," offered the monk piously.

"No," Kagome insisted, then admitted, embarrassed, "I can't get out."

"Why not?" Miroku asked, puzzled.

"My clothes are gone," Kagome explained, gesturing to a rock shelf off to one side of the springs, "And my towel."

Miroku's eyebrows disappeared into his hairline, and he plunked himself down by the edge of the spring. "Shippo?"

"Probably," she conceded.

"Right now he's got Inuyasha pinned under a stone with that kitsune youjutsu of his back at the camp. We were hoping you could talk some sense into him, but we hadn't realized you'd fallen victim as well. Not that I mind," added the monk with a pleased smile.

"Figures," grumbled Kagome as she raised a trembling hand to her forehead.

"How long have you been in here, Kagome-sama," Miroku asked a little sharply, noting the tremor and eyeing her flushed face. "It's not good to stay too long in the spring, you know."

"I know that," she said, tears of frustration threatening to spill over, "but what was I supposed to do?"

"If you stay in there much longer, you'll make yourself ill," Miroku said with concern. Her eyes look a little glassy. "How are you feeling right now, Kagome-sama," he asked insistently.

"Too warm, and a little dizzy maybe," the miko admitted quietly.

"Come, now, Kagome-sama, you need to get out of there," Miroku insisted, extending a hand towards her.

"No," Kagome replied stubbornly.

Miroku propped his chin on a fist and calmly announced, "Either you're coming out, or I'm coming in after you."

Kagome's eyes widened, and she backed away from Miroku's perch.

The monk used his most reasonable voice. "Kagome-sama, if you faint in the spring, you'll drown. Surely death is not preferable to my offer of assistance."

"What assistance?" she scoffed suspiciously.

"I'm only trying to help!" Miroku declared, hand over his heart.

"How are you helping?" Kagome demanded.

Miroku laid his staff aside and stood, beginning to undo the knots that held his outer robes in place. Kagome squeaked and ducked her head, shutting her eyes tightly.

"Settle down, Kagome-sama. I'm still within the bounds of modesty," Miroku chuckled.

Kagome opened one eye, then the other. Miroku was still clothed in the black kosode and snug pants that he wore underneath his flowing kesu, and he was shaking the length of deep purple fabric out, smoothing some of the wrinkles away. He extended the outer robes in her direction enticingly. "Here, you can wrap yourself in this," he offered. "Out you come," he coaxed softly.

"Oh no," Kagome shook her head firmly. "You set that down and go into the woods."

"As you wish," Miroku acquiesced a little too easily. Far too easily.

"Wait!" There was an edge of panic to Kagome's voice, which stopped the monk in his tracks. "On second thought, I want you where I can keep an eye on you so you can't peep. Umm… Stand facing that tree there, and don't move," the young woman directed, pointing.

"As you wish, Kagome-sama," Miroku agreed in injured tones, though Kagome thought there was disappointment in his voice as well.

The monk stood still and listened to the slosh of water and the quiet pad of bare feet on stone. The temptation to turn was kept in check by the certain knowledge that the miko was watching him like a hawk.

"Okay, I guess," she called out after a minute.

Miroku turned and fought to control his amusement. Kagome had hastily wound the length of fabric around her small frame with more thought given to concealment than to movement. I'll bet she won't be able to take a step. Eyeing the cumbersome arrangement, he placed one hand on his chin, as much to cover his smile as to look contemplative. "I am most curious, Kagome-sama," he asked politely, "Can you walk?"

Kagome huffed and started towards him only to be checked as a band of purple fabric pulled tight across her knees. She tottered for a moment, then collapsed into an untidy heap on the ground. Cheeks darkening in humiliation, she clutched at the uncooperative fabric. "How can this be considered clothes," she groused.

Miroku decided wisely not to embarrass her further. "It took me several years to learn to tie it on my own. Mushin taught me when I was a boy. Here, let me help."

Without giving her time to object, Miroku's hands circled her waist as he lifted her easily back onto her feet. Kneeling down in front of her, he began unwinding the tail end of his robes from around her calves. Kagome tried to shuffle backwards, but Miroku had a firm grip on the cloth. "Hold still," he ordered in a business-like tone.

Kagome froze, clutching the fabric at her chest. "What are you doing," she inquired nervously.

"Apparently, I'm giving you your first lesson in tying a kesu," he replied in a tone laced with amusement.

Kagome stilled cooperatively until she felt a palm caress her thigh, at which point she directed a swift kick in his general direction. Miroku decided to distract her from the liberties he was taking by getting her talking. "What possessed you to tell Shippo about April Fool's Day, Kagome-sama. Surely you knew that as a kitsune, a trickster, he would not be able to resist the temptation to participate in such a holiday."

"I guess I didn't realize," she murmured apologetically.

"Here, let this fold drop," Miroku instructed as he got back to his feet and moved behind Kagome. "What did you expect him to do with the information," he asked curiously.

"I just thought he'd find it interesting. It was something to talk about along the way," Kagome shrugged.

Meanwhile, Miroku brought an end around Kagome's hip and up to her opposite shoulder. "You don't happen to know where the other end of this cloth is, do you?" he inquired politely.

Kagome was brought back to the delicacy of her position with a start and glared up at Miroku. "You're nearly done," he pointed out with a wave of his hand.

The young woman looked down and had to agree the minor rearrangement was an improvement. Kagome shifted her hand slightly to show that the other end was firmly clasped in her hands, which were crossed over her chest.

"Ah," Miroku said, understanding. "It may be best if you do this last bit yourself then." He explained how to pull the end over her shoulder and secure it with a knot, then turned his back. After a few minute's struggle, Kagome was dressed after a fashion. At least both her hands were free and she could move her legs to walk.

"Thank you, Miroku-sama," she said meekly.

"It was my pleasure," Miroku assured her with sparkling eyes.

Kagome stood thoughtfully, delaying their return to the camp sight. "I really wish I could find a way to nip this in the bud. I mean, what if Shippo decides these pranks are too enjoyable to give up? He needs to learn that being the victim of a practical joke isn't all that much fun."

"I agree," Miroku said seriously. "It may seem harmless, but if we'd been attacked while you were vulnerable or Inuyasha was incapacitated… well, the results could be disastrous."

"It's too bad he can't have a taste of his own medicine," mused Kagome.

"Yes, I… what?" Miroku frowned, trying to puzzle out the meaning of the modern colloquialism.

Kagome smiled, "He needs to have the tables turned."

"I have no idea what you just said," Miroku chuckled.

"It's time to put the shoe on the other foot," Kagome stated with a giggle at Miroku's bemused face. "I need to trick the trickster," Kagome supplied, grinning.

"Indeed," agreed the monk readily.

Kagome was following this train of thought with some excitement, and she gave Miroku a sly glance. "I wish I had the right turn of mind to go up against a tricky kit. It would probably take the talents of someone used to playing a part, someone who thinks in mercenary ways, a regular con artist to get the better of Shippo."

"And where would you find such a schemer, Kagome-sama" inquired Miroku innocently.

"Miroku-sama, will you help me teach Shippo a lesson?" the young woman begged prettily.

"What did you have in mind, Kagome-sama?"

"I don't know exactly, that's why I need help," Kagome admitted. "I just want to cure him of this mischief so we won't have to go through all of this again."

"Hmm," Miroku tipped his head to one side, considering. "What's in it for me, may I ask?"

"What?" the miko said in surprise.

"Well, you did bring up mercenary skills, and it is customary for mercenaries to be paid for their services," the monk pointed out helpfully.

Kagome's face fell. "Oh, well, I don't have any kind of feudal currency. Don't you want to keep him from playing more pranks?"

"As yet, I have not been the victim of any misdeeds," Miroku said calmly. "and no offense, Kagome-sama, but at this moment I should probably be thanking Shippo." He gestured significantly to her current state of dishabille with a slow smile. "So I must ask again, what's in it for me?"

Kagome bit her lip and thought fast, "Well, what would you want?" she ventured. "Something from my time, maybe? How about Pocky?"

"Mm," Miroku hummed skeptically, "I don't think so."

"Pineapple? You liked that dried fruit I brought back last time," Kagome offered hopefully.

"No," Miroku said with a shake of his head and a unsettling light in his eyes. "I believe that if you would like me to bend my talents to your purposes, then I should like… five minutes."

"Five minutes?" the young woman repeated in confusion.

"Yes," confirmed the monk smugly. "Just five minutes of your time."

"What would you do with five minutes of my…" Kagome's eyes widened as understanding dawned. For someone like Miroku, five minutes might as well be an eternity; there was no telling how far the lecherous monk could get in that amount of time. Cheeks reddening, Kagome refused flatly, "No."

"Three minutes," Miroku offered, willing to take what he could get.

Kagome eyed the monk speculatively and again shook her head, "I think not."

Miroku smirked. "I think perhaps… yes, I am flattered, Kagome-sama."

The young woman just shook her head in disbelief.

"One minute then," he wheedled, giving her his most winsome smile.

Kagome thought it over carefully. How far can he get in one minute—surely not very? "If you will help me by successfully curbing Shippo's penchant for pranks, then I'll give you a minute of my time," agreed Kagome reluctantly.

"Done," Miroku beamed.

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"Kagome-sama," whispered Miroku quietly, beckoning to the young woman when she turned her head in his direction. She glanced momentarily at the others in their party, then dropped back to walk beside the monk.

"What is it, Miroku-sama?" she asked in low tones.

"I have an idea, but it requires your cooperation," the monk announced with a gleam in his eyes.

Kagome's eyes brightened and a smile spread across her face, "Is this… something for Shippo?" she asked.

"That's right," Miroku replied serenely.

"My cooperation, huh? Just tell me what to do," agreed the young woman gamely.

The monk smiled down into Kagome's eager face, "I've been working with different spells on my sutras, and I believe I've got just the thing for your little prankster. The only problem is I need to place it on him, preferably in the center of his back where he cannot see it or reach it. I was thinking to do it while he sleeps." Miroku glanced towards the front, making sure he was not overheard. "If you are holding him, perhaps he will not wake when I put the sutra in place?"

Kagome considered the plan. "It won't hurt him will it?" she asked worriedly.

"Not at all. If I place it on his kosode, underneath his vest, he'll probably never even know it's there," assured Miroku.

"So, what will it do?"

A twinkle of mischief danced in Miroku's eyes. "Oh, I think it would be more fun to wait and see if it works," he smirked.

"You're going to keep me in suspense?" Kagome pouted.

"For now," Miroku confirmed with a smug little smile. "I cannot give away all my secrets just because a pretty woman asks for them."

Kagome cuffed the monk's shoulder lightly, "Miroku-sama," she groaned, "Don't tease."

He just smiled again and reiterated his instructions. "This evening then, once things quiet down. I'll have the sutra ready; I just didn't want you to be surprised when I approach you in the night. If you were startled, you might wake him up, and it wouldn't do to be caught."

"All right, Miroku-sama. I'll be waiting," Kagome assured him.

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Kagome watched Miroku with growing curiosity throughout the evening. He'd brought out his writing supplies and spent the evening calmly restocking his arsenal of sacred sutras. She looked on with covert fascination as the ink flowed from his brush, laying beautiful patterns across slips of parchment. It had never occurred to her that there might be a bit of the artist in Miroku.

As darkness fell, Kagome fidgeted in anticipation of Miroku's plan of action. So far, everything had been terribly ordinary—just the usual routine before turning in for the night. If she didn't know any better, she'd say the monk had forgotten all about their little plot. He acted so normally, discussing the next day's route with Inuyasha and patiently showing Shippo how to write his name in kanji. Even now, he was leaning casually against a tree, staff braced against one shoulder and eyes closed in a doze. He's going to sleep? Maybe something went wrong with the sutra and he's going to try again another day?

Confused, Kagome gathered the nodding Shippo up and went through her bedtime preparations. She stretched out in her sleeping bag, the fox kit tucked comfortably against her side, and settled herself to wait. Though she watched Miroku surreptitiously through her lashes, he never stirred from his place just within the circle of firelight. Lulled by the crackling fire and her kit's even breathing, Kagome slipped off to sleep.

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Something brushed softly against Kagome's cheek and she stirred, trying to resist the pull to wakefulness. Surely it's not morning yet. Then, she felt fingers lightly ruffle through her bangs. Now that was odd. Slowly, awareness began to seep into her senses, and Kagome had the strongest impression that she was forgetting something important. I'm supposed to be… waiting for something? The effort of bringing coherent thoughts from a sleep-muzzled brain brought her eyebrows down in confusion. To her surprise, a gentle hand touched her forehead, moving to smooth away the fretful lines. She wrinkled her nose, only to feel a finger run lightly along the bridge and tap its pert tip.

Bleary grey eyes blinked open, but as she took a breath to speak a hand slid over her mouth. Miroku was kneeling beside her, eyes shining with silent laughter. Now I remember. As understanding dawned in Kagome's eyes, the monk drew his hand away slowly, allowing his thumb to sweep softly across her bottom lip as he did so. Motioning for silence, he held up a small square of paper, neatly decorated with kanji lettering, and nodded towards Shippo.

The kit had nuzzled up under Kagome's chin and was breathing steadily despite her slight movements upon waking. The miko looked up questioningly into Miroku's face, and he smiled and winked before catching up one of her hands and guiding it towards Shippo's back. He settled it against the fox youkai's shoulder blades, holding his own hand over Kagome's as he watched the kit stir. Shippo pulled himself closer to Kagome, turning his nose into her neck for a moment to breathe in her scent before rubbing he cheek against her and relaxing back into slumber.

Kagome smiled softly and laid her chin atop the youngster's mop of red hair, glancing up at Miroku to see what came next. His violet eyes crinkled affectionately as he removed his hand from Kagome's, trailing his fingers across the back of her hand just a bit longer than absolutely necessary. Without any fuss or further hesitation, Miroku slid the sutra under the back of Shippo's vest. He chanted softly under his breath for a few moments, then drew back.

Kagome blinked. That's it? she mouthed.

Miroku waggled his eyebrows and leaned down until his lips brushed against the miko's ear. "Go back to sleep, Kagome-sama," he murmured before slipping away to his place against the tree on the other side of the campfire. Kagome looked down at Shippo, his cheeks flushed with sleep, then back across to the monk, who'd resumed his restful pose. I sure hope this works.

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The next day, Kagome watched and waited, but Shippo seemed his usual self—in spades.

The kit was definitely up to mischief again, despite the prankster's holiday being a thing of the past. As they'd prepared to leave camp for the morning, Miroku's shakujou had turned up missing, delaying the group's departure while they searched for the staff.

Kagome finally persuaded the kit to reveal its location by turning the hunt into a game, plying him with pleas for hints. "Am I getting warmer?" and "No, you're getting colder!" rang out through the clearing until the missing item was discovered in a bramble thicket several paces into the woods. Miroku seemed to take the morning's setback in stride, but Inuyasha was fuming. The hanyou took off after the kitsune in the general direction of the road they'd planned to follow today, leaving the rest to follow.

As Kagome fell in step with Miroku, she glanced up at the faintly smiling monk. "So, if you won't tell me what's going to happen, will you at least tell me when, Miroku-sama?"

"Mmm," the monk hummed thoughtfully, "That's hard to say, really. It depends on Shippo, actually."

"So the sutra will be triggered by something he does?" guessed the miko.

Miroku nodded, pleased by Kagome's quick assessment of the situation, "Very good, Kagome-sama," he praised her. "We shall just have to watch and wait."

After a few minute's walking, Kagome asked for one tidbit of reassurance. "Will I be able to tell when it happens?"

"Oh, yes," smiled Miroku deviously.

"You think it'll cure him of his prankishness?" she asked hopefully.

"It should give him pause," the monk said vaguely.

"It's not something… cruel, is it?" Kagome said with concern.

"No, I don't think so," Miroku said with a shake of his head. "Just something… memorable."

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"Memorable indeed," murmured Kagome in sympathy as she fastened a string snugly through the straps of her backpack.

Shortly after lunch, Shippo had wreaked minor havoc by getting between Inuyasha and his ramen. The vexing little kit actually had the audacity to flood the hanyou's bowl with dozens of wailing mushrooms. Chaos erupted. Inuyasha, determined to put a stop to this nonsense once and for all, didn't hold back one bit in chasing Shippo down. Looking on, Kagome simply shook her head in dismay, for in her opinion the kit was asking for every lump he earned. The powerful hanyou quickly cornered the youngster, prepared to administer a memorable reprimand, but in a last ditch effort to escape, the kitsune transformed into his pink sphere form and drifted up until he was just out of reach.

For a while, Shippo made faces and taunted Inuyasha from above, but before long, the kit's tune changed drastically. Apparently, he was having trouble changing back. To put it bluntly, he couldn't change back. Kagome's eyes widened in realization, and she darted a surreptitious glance towards the monk. Miroku merely raised an amused eyebrow, before turning his attention back to Shippo, all puzzlement and concern.

He's as devious as Shippo, Kagome realized, just more subtle about it. The panicking kitsune had to be coaxed to let Inuyasha catch him and bring him back down, where he was turned over to Kagome, jiggling and wailing. She soothed him as best she could, and when the time came to move on, Kagome used a length of string to secure Shippo to her backpack. He made a rather dismal balloon. With his periodic sniffles coming from just overhead, Kagome couldn't shake the feeling that she was being trailed by her own little cloud of gloom.

When they finally stopped for the day, Kagome tried to console Shippo, "I'm sure we'll find a way to change you back, Shippo-kun."

"When?" wailed the kit piteously.

"Perhaps Miroku-sama will have some ideas," Kagome offered with a shrug, looking questioningly towards the monk.

Miroku strode over calmly, and took his time pondering the kitsune's buoyant form. "So how do you feel, Shippo?" asked the monk, hand cupping his chin thoughtfully.

"Okay, I guess," the kit admitted, "but I'm stuck."

"Mm-hmm, I see," Miroku nodded sagely. "Would you say this is an unexpected development… not the sort of thing that happens to kitsune regularly?"

Shippo goggled at the monk, "I don't think so," he said uncertainly.

"Ah. Well, would you say you've been using your kitsune magic more than usual?" inquired Miroku evenly.

"Err, yeah, sorta," admitted the bobbing pink youkai.

"Just leave him that way," opined Inuyasha. "The runt deserves it."

Kagome, who had a hand firmly clamped over her mouth in an effort to contain her giggles, shot the hanyou a warning look. Miroku's 'bedside manner' was laughable, considering he was at the root of Shippo's current difficulties.

"This is worrisome, Shippo. Tell me, can you eat in this form?" the monk continued, ignoring the gruff interjection as he circled the kitsune.

"I… I'm not sure," Shippo mumbled, downcast.

"Can you sleep like this?" Miroku inquired.

The kitsune cast a longing look at Kagome. "I don't think I'd fit in Kagome's sleeping bag anymore," he said miserably.

"Your movements do seem much more limited in this form," Miroku observed. "I wonder… Shippo, if someone were to attack right now, would you be able to help defend Kagome?"

For a few moments, silence hung heavily in the clearing. "No," Shippo finally whispered.

"Do you see now?" Miroku said gently. "Do you see what a problem these kinds of pranks can become?"

"P-pranks?" The kitsune looked from one face to the other, relief warring with indignation in his bulging eyes. "You guys did this? This is just a prank?"

"Shippo-kun," Kagome stepped forward, "I know you're only trying to have some fun, but I'm afraid your mischief might lead to real trouble."

Inuyasha grunted his agreement, stalking up to the helpless kit until he was nose to nose with him. "How am I supposed to keep you guys safe if I'm stuck under a fucking rock—you think of that?" Shippo winced and whimpered at the hanyou's growling tones. "If you wanna be a part of this pack, I won't have you endangering it with these stupid tricks. We can't always be watching our backs because of you."

The kit was trembling, and Kagome turned him to face her again, "Will you be good, Shippo-kun? For me?"

"I will," Shippo choked out. "Can you fix it… please," he begged.

Miroku slipped quietly behind the distraught youkai, and placing his hand lightly against Shippo's back, murmured softly. With a pop, one very subdued kitsune fell to the ground. He got shakily to his feet, then launched himself into Kagome's arms, clinging tightly and rubbing his head under her chin. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he chanted pleadingly.

"There, now," assured Kagome as she petted and fussed, "There's no harm done."

Inuyasha exchanged a glance with Miroku and muttered something about "better than he deserves," and being "too fucking soft-hearted," before turning on his heel to see to the business of setting up camp.

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Miroku had the strangest sense of déjà vu as he walked cautiously towards the hot springs. "Kagome-sama?" he called softly as he picked his way through the underbrush. When he rounded the last, low outcropping of rocks, a pool of steaming water came into view, along with the young woman beside it.

Kagome had already finished up her bath and was dressed in her sleeping attire, hair hanging damply about her shoulders. The monk suppressed the twinge of disappointment that he hadn't caught her in a more compromising state of dress. She looked up in surprise at Miroku's arrival, as did the kit in her lap. Kagome was in the process of combing through Shippo's freshly washed hair, gathering it back up into a tidy topknot.

"What are you doing here, Miroku?" asked Shippo, eyes narrowed. "You're not supposed to come near Kagome during bath time; Inuyasha said so."

"I simply needed a word with Kagome-sama," the monk stated reasonably.

"Funny time to come looking for it," challenged the kit shrewdly.

Miroku chuckled uncomfortably, running a hand through his hair uneasily. Kagome finished tying Shippo's bow with a deft tug, then patted him on the head. "It's all right, Shippo-kun. We were done anyhow."

The kitsune helped Kagome gather up her supplies, returning them to their places in her capacious backpack, all the while casting curious glances at Miroku. When everything was in readiness, Shippo moved to lead the way back to camp, but Kagome hesitated. "You go on, Shippo-kun. I do need to talk to Miroku-sama."

The fox youkai darted a glance between the two humans, uncertain. "You sure, Kagome?"

"Yes, go ahead, Shippo-kun," Kagome sighed. "I'll only be a minute," she added, giving her last words a slight emphasis.

The kitsune shrugged and scampered off through the trees, leaving Kagome to face the monk alone. "Have you come to collect, Miroku-sama?" she asked calmly.

Miroku nodded, "That's right."

Kagome shifted uncertainly and talked to cover her nervousness. "I really do appreciate your help, Miroku-sama. I cannot think of a more effective demonstration than the one you made. Shippo-kun understands what it feels like to be helpless and unable to move. It was very memorable, just as you promised. He's really learned his lesson, thanks to your plan."

The monk smiled faintly throughout Kagome's rambling discourse. "So you are satisfied with my workmanship," he surmised.

"Yes, Miroku-sama, and I'll keep my end of the bargain," Kagome declared, drawing herself up with determination. "I owe you one minute."

She looks like a prisoner facing a death sentence, Miroku thought wryly, and shook his head at her grim countenance. "Kagome-sama, what exactly did you expect me to do in one minute's time," he asked curiously.

"Well, I don't know really," she admitted. "I just figured it would be something… well, something I'd expect you to do based on… past experiences and… random observations," she finished uncertainly.

"I see," Miroku smirked. "As tempting as such a prospect may be, you did manage to haggle me down to an impossibly small window of opportunity."

"So you're not going to…" Kagome trailed off, cheeks pink.

"Oh, I could take advantage of this situation if I wanted to," Miroku assured her a little smugly, "However, I think such an attempt would be even more damaging than one of Shippo's pranks."

"Eh?" Kagome asked in wordless confusion.

Miroku stepped closer to Kagome, eyes serious. "As Inuyasha said, we're part of the same pack, Kagome-sama. On a journey like ours, we must be able to trust one another. I wouldn't want you to feel as though you had to watch your back around me."

"Oh, I wouldn't… I don't… That is to say…" Kagome faltered.

The monk looked off into the distance, before adding, "Well, most of the time." A teasing smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.

It was enough to break the tension, and Kagome couldn't help the nervous giggle that escaped her. "No, I don't suppose any girl would be completely safe around you, Miroku-sama," she said with a shy smile. "I still owe you a minute, though," she pointed out.

"Yes, and I shall collect it now so that we will be even." The monk paused, weighing his words carefully, "Kagome-sama, since I will not be exacting payment to the extent you feared, would you be willing to permit a lesser liberty?"

Kagome's eyes widened, "What did you have in mind?"

"Well, I'm quite jealous of that kit of yours, who spends so much time in your embrace. I shall consider myself richly rewarded if I can spend one minute with your arms around me."

"You want… a hug?" Kagome asked dubiously.

"Yes, if you please," Miroku said, holding his arms wide.

The young woman gave the hopeful monk a long look, "Just a hug?"

"My dear Kagome-sama, do not underestimate the raptures that can be found in the arms of a beautiful woman," Miroku scolded. When she didn't budge, he dropped his arms and sighed. "Yes, Kagome-sama, just a simple embrace. You can even count off your minute so I don't overstep my bounds."

Satisfied, Kagome walked into Miroku's waiting arms. The monk's eyes closed in contentment as he pulled her close, encouraging her to rest her head against the familiar purple kesu so he could settle his chin on top of her head. His arms circled her lightly, and he sighed happily, "It has been a pleasure doing business with you, Kagome-sama."

Kagome gave a little squeeze, but didn't reply.

"Kagome-sama?"

"Twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three…"

"Oh, now that's just cruel," pouted Miroku. "You really are counting?"

Kagome giggled softly, "Just kidding, Miroku-sama. I have no idea how long it's been."

"So we have another trickster in our midst, do we?" the monk accused with a smile in his voice.

"Oh, I don't know…" Kagome dissembled.

The monk pulled back to look into Kagome's face, "Kagome-sama," he chastised, "Am I going to have to teach you a lesson next?"

The miko dropped her eyes and bit her lip guiltily, "I'm sure that won't be necessary, Miroku-sama."

The monk chuckled warmly and leaned down to whisper in her ear, "So… how long do you think it will be before Shippo finds out you tied his topknot back with a pink bow?"

Kagome dropped her forehead onto Miroku's chest, hiding her furious blush, which only made Miroku laugh louder. Finally, she hushed him, "Shhhh… don't you dare tell him, Miroku-sama," she ordered.

"Mmm," the monk hummed quietly against her hair, "I think I can manage to hold my tongue, but it might cost you another minute."

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End Note: The Monk's Prank is the latest addition to the ever-growing collection of M/K stories I've written, which now includes The Monk's Trick, The Monk and the Mistletoe, The Monk's Valentine, and The Monk and the White Ribbon. If you enjoy my teasing monk and his uncertain pursuit of sweet Kagome, make sure to also check out Incorrigible, a collection of M/K drabbles and oneshots. –forthright

5,500 words