I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi

Chapter 49

Miroku sat under a tree near his house. In front of him was a low table, covered with stacks of blank and used papers, along with brush and ink. Dipping his brush in the ink, he quickly moved his brush over the paper, his face smooth as he concentrated on his work. InuYasha stretched out on his side, facing the monk, but not really watching him.

"So," the hanyou said, plucking up a piece of grass. He twirled it between his thumb and finger. "How many of those you need?"

"Enough," Miroku said, dipping his brush in ink before carefully writing on a fresh square of paper. "Better too many than not enough."

"Keh." InuYasha tossed the grass away. "I was just wondering."

"Any particular reason why?" Miroku looked at his friend, who had rolled over on his back, clasping his hands behind his head. "Thinking about chopping wood?"

"Maybe. Or something. Watching you write's not the most exciting thing to do." The hanyou's right ear flicked, and sighing, he sat up. "Maybe not quite yet. Sounds like we're about to have company."

Miroku, lifted up his pen and carefully moved the piece of paper aside. "Shippou?"

"Who else?" the hanyou said as the small kitsune came bounding out of the house.

"I could think of several someone elses," Miroku replied. "Most of them are female."

"Keh," InuYasha replied. "Don't think Naoya's old enough to come join us on his own."

"True, true," Miroku said. "So make that all female."

InuYasha snorted.

As foretold, Shippou popped out of the monk's house and scampered over to the two men. He quickly jumped up on Miroku's shoulder, peering at the stacks of paper. "What're you doing?" he asked.

"Making ofuda," Miroku said. "I'm not sure you want to be so close when I charge them up."

The kitsune jumped down. "You could have told me," Shippou said, moving closer to InuYasha.

"I just did." Miroku held the piece of paper between his hands, and it glowed briefly. He picked it up, and put it with the others he had completed. "So my young friend, did you manage to irritate my lovely wife?"

"No," Shippou said, sitting down. "Not exactly."

InuYasha flicked an ear. "That's not what it sounded like to me. Why else was she asking if you were sure that Kaede-babaa told you to stay away?"

Shippou shot a dagger look at the hanyou. "Maybe she just didn't like my story."

"Or how loud it was," InuYasha said. "She'd really have been mad at you if you woke up the twins before their nap was done."

The little kit crossed his arms in front of himself, and gave a quite audible "Feh."

Miroku chuckled. "You've been hanging around InuYasha too long, Shippou-kun," he said, picking up another square of paper. "You need to find better excuses."

"Hey," the hanyou said. "I don't say that as an excuse."

"Anyway," Shippou said, ignoring InuYasha's reaction. "That's only part of why I came out. Sango told me you were going after a bakeneko tomorrow."

"Yeah," InuYasha said, stretching back out on the ground. "That girl at Kaede-babaa's, she reeks of one."

"That made me think of something," Shippou said. "I want to go with you and Miroku tomorrow."

"Why?" InuYasha asked.

"Because," Shippou said. He jumped on the hanyou's head.

InuYasha sat up quickly, reached up and pulled the boy off his head, and dropped Shippou on the ground. "You have to do better than that, brat. Bakeneko are hard enough to deal with without kitsune games."

Shippou got up off the ground and glared at the hanyou while dusting off and fluffing his tail. "Maybe I know something about this cat," Shippou said.

InuYasha bent over and looked him in the eye. "What would you know?"

The kitsune plopped down. "My uncle told me something."

"The guy who's training you?" InuYasha asked, straightening back up. "The old kitsune to the east of here?"

Shippou nodded. "Remember when I was gone for almost a week last month? One of my uncle's grandsons got attacked by a bakeneko. He was living in an old Inari shrine, and the cat beat him up and chased him out."

Miroku, who had been enjoying the bickering the two were doing, stopped his writing and looked up. Putting down his brush, he looked at the kitsune. "You think this might be the same bakeneko?"

"Maybe," the boy said. He bounded back over to Miroku. "Can I go?"

InuYasha crossed his arms and stuffed them in his sleeves, giving the monk a stern look. Miroku ignored him. Shippou jumped up on Miroku's shoulder. "Please?"

"Tell me what happened, why you think it's the same youkai, and why you want to go, and we'll see," he said, picking the boy up and putting him down. "And no exaggeration, all right?"

Shippou nodded. "After my uncle found out about my cousin, we all went to the shrine the next evening and ganged up on the cat. One of my cousins even bit off its front paw. But there weren't enough of us to kill it. It's very old and crafty. The bakeneko fought us and ran off. My uncle, though, has promised a special reward to whoever can bring him the cat's tail."

"Why the tail?" Miroku asked.

"Ojisan says they carry special magic in their tail," Shippou said.

"Feh," InuYasha said. "Bet the old fox got a special plan for that magic. I've heard some of the things he's done."

The kit looked at the hanyou, giving him a dark look. "Don't talk bad about my uncle. Anyway, once you take their tail, my uncle told me they turn back into normal cats."

"You believe that?" InuYasha said.

"That's what Ojisan says." Shippou said. He stared directly at the hanyou. "Ojisan knows more than you."

Miroku reached out, and turned the kitsune around. "I'm sure your uncle does, Shippou-kun. He's a very wise, old kitsune. But tell me, while all this was going on, did you see the bakeneko?"

"Yeah," the boy said, shaking his head affirmatively. "It was a big cat, and scary, and it looked like it could have eaten any of us. Bigger than Kirara. It's white and black and brown." Shippou pointed to his forehead. "There's two big brown and one black splotch right above its eyes."

"So what makes you think it's the same bakeneko?" InuYasha said. "Lots of cats everywhere."

"Uh . . . " Shippou scratched his head. "Cause it happened near here?"

"Where's the shrine?" Miroku said.

"It's on the mountain about half a day's walk from Kagemura," Shippou said. "Isn't Kagemura where you're going?" He chewed on his lip. "I think Kaede's hut smelled a little like it, maybe from that girl, but they didn't let me stay there long enough to be sure."

Miroku glanced up at InuYasha, and the hanyou shrugged. "It's quite possible it's the same bakeneko. It showed up at the village about the same time Shippou's grandfather took it on. If it was wounded, it might not have been strong enough to take on humans yet." He gave Shippou a thoughtful look. "You do realize, Shippou-kun, that if it's the same bakeneko that you and your family chased off, he's going to be particularly unpleasant to any small kitsune he finds before we get rid of him" He scratched the back of his head. "I imagine, being a cat, he could think off all sorts of interesting things to do, since they like to play with their food. Bite off his tail, use him as a ball, play pounce the kitsune . . . "

Shippou took a deep breath, and stood up tall. "I'm not scared."

"I know that, Shippou," Miroku said. He leaned on his table and rested his cheek in his hand, thinking. "I was rather hoping, though . . . "

"Hoping what?" the boy asked.

"I was rather hoping that you would stay here to keep an eye on Sango and Kagome. If something happened, only you could be fast enough to come tell us," Miroku said. He picked up his ink brush. "Or if we were late coming back - you'd be the only one from the village who could find us fast and see if we needed help." He wet his brush in the ink. "Of course if your honor, your obligation to your uncle won't let you help us that way, I'll have to figure something else out. Perhaps I could convince Sango to bring the children."

"Why would you need to bring Sango?" Shippou asked.

Miroku just shook his head, not answering.

InuYasha, with a half-concealed smirk, gave Miroku a knowing look and a slight nod of his head as he went along. "Feh," he said. "I know what Sango'd say to that. Remember what happened the last time you tried to travel with the girls?"

"Don't remind me, InuYasha. I had a headache for a month." Miroku began writing another ofuda. "But there's nothing else but to do that. I hate putting the girls in harm's way, but what else can I do? We might need backup. Sango's still staying in practice, even with the girls." He looked up at InuYasha. "But what can we do? If Shippou has to go, he has to go."

"Uh," the kit said. "But . . . but Sango always . . . "

The monk sighed. "All because of a cat's tail. Something that perhaps we could even bring back." Holding the slip of paper, he took a deep breath, and charged it, before adding it to the others.

InuYasha laid back down, his hands behind his head, looking up at the sky. "Don't know what Kaede-babaa will say. She's not going to be happy if I have to drag Kagome all over the countryside when there's a baby on the way and a sick brat to take care of, but I don't want to leave her like that. If Sango has to go, Kagome has to, too. No way I'd leave her in the village with nobody to keep an eye on her, and Kaede-babaa has her hands full right now."

Shippou turned and looked at both the men, who looked at him with serious faces. "Wait a minute," Shippou said. "Are you two trying to pull something on me?"

"Whatever gave you that idea, my fine young kitsune friend?" Miroku said. "We just wish that you would stay here in case Sango or Kagome needs us, or in case we get delayed. We could even bring you back the trophy that would make your uncle happy. But if you have to go with us . . . "

The kit crossed his arms, and gave them both dark looks. "All right, all right, I'll stay. But if you're not back by breakfast time the day after, I'm coming to see why. I better not need to save you two. And you better not blow up that cat's tail."

He turned himself into his pink balloon form, and drifted over them. "I'm going to see if it's late enough for me to go to Kaede's. She might chase me away, but I know she won't be telling me stupid stories like that." And with that, he was gone.

"That was good," InuYasha said, stretching back out. "I wasn't looking forward to dealing with both cats and foxes."

"I just hope you won't need to use a Kaze no Kizu on the cat," Miroku said.

InuYasha turned on his side and faced Miroku. "Why?"

"If we don't get to get that bakeneko's tail, we'll have one rather irritated kitsune on our hands. No telling what he'll think of to get back at us. Who knows? He might even bring in his relatives. I'd rather not have my house turned into a repeat of the Kitsune Inn."

"Keh," the hanyou said. "I'll remember that. Tameo'd probably kick us out for sure if that happened."

"And Sango would probably help him." Miroku. "And, if it were your fault, I'd probably help her."

"I thought you were my friend," InuYasha said. "Fine way for a friend to act."

"I am, I am," Miroku said, writing another ofuda. "But a houseful of kitsune can strain the best of friendships."

The hanyou lifted his head up and snorted."Sometimes, one is more than enough."

Miroku chuckled and charged the next ofuda. "True, true."