Not on bread alone.
He didn't like the way her skin had gone clammy. He didn't like that her breathing didn't make as much noise. He didn't like the sickly dust that got kicked up with every step. He didn't like this city. He didn't like the prickling on the back of his neck. He didn't like the narrow stairway and the crumble-walled room beyond. He didn't like the way the shadows stank of damp and he didn't like this phlegm-headed bastard who wasn't giving him his goddamned answers!
"Why is she sick?" Inuyasha hissed.
"Same reason the rest of us are sick," Noi snapped back. "They turned it loose. He had it turned loose." The boy's pale eyes flashed. "No one says it on the street but we all /know/."
Inuyasha all but hissed as the door slid shut. It was something like a real door this time, made out of wood or something like enough to it. The walls looked the same as the ones from Kagome's house on the far side of the well, except that the paint was flaking away and whatever was underneath didn't look too healthy.
"Know what? Why can't you talk about it?" Inuyasha all but hissed as the doorway skidded shut. "You talk about everything as if we already know."
"You're supposed to already know."
"Does it fucking sound like we know?"
The word. The effect. It wasn't a high girl's chiding, like she used to keep him from kicking Kouga's ass. This was the breathless crunch of gravel in a throat. Inuyasha got quiet.
Kagome didn't continue, didn't explain. One pale hand lifted up in front of her eyes. The fingers flexed.
"Your vision should be getting better," said Noi. "That's about as long as it usually lasts." His pale throat flexed. "At least with you."
"Okay..." Inuyasha held out one claw-touched hand. "Let's start with what's going on with Kagome."
The dusty-headed boy nodded to where Kagome was sitting on the room's only chair, an unvarnished mass of solid wood. "Her eyes are failing. They'll be back in a couple hours."
"It's not-" Inuyasha lowered his voice. "It's not just her eyes."
Noi shook his head.
"She's not acting-"
"That'll come back too," a sad smile on his freckled face. "It always does." He took a deep breath and sat down on the bed - the uncanny rasp of the covers made Inuyasha's ears want to twitch again. "The plague started about fifty years ago. At first, it worked like any other disease, spreading from city to village as people moved back and forth. Those it did not kill it left..." he swallowed hard.
"Resistant?" the unfamiliar word came on half of Kagome's voice.
"No," said Noi. "And that should've been a clue."
"What clue?" Inuyasha frowned. "What's resistant?"
"When a disease attacks a population," Kagome had to stop for a breath. "It kills the people who are most susceptible."
"It kills the old folks and little kids and the strong ones live," shrugged Inuyasha. "So what?"
Kagome shook her head, gingerly, as if it would break. "Not just strong. Strong for fighting that," breath, "one disease. They're the ones who live to have kids." Breath. "And then," breath, "those kids are strong." Inuyasha didn't answer. "So," Kagome went on, chest moving in and out more than it should have needed to, "each time the disease comes," breath, "it finds fewer people that it can kill." Her fingers tightened and released on the edge of the chair. "Also, the disease becomes less dangerous over time. The ones that kill the fastest-" breath "-die in human graves."
"I think I get it..." Inuyasha didn't really get it. "So it doesn't act like a normal disease. Naraku's a bastard. Nothin' I didn't know this morning."
"That's not all of it," Noi went on. "The people who didn't die ended up like..."
The boy's words blurred out. Kagome was lifting one hand in front of her face, eyes switching back and forth like a cat's tail.
"Seeing better?" Inuyasha asked carefully.
"I think so," Kagome answered, meeting his gaze. It still looked too dim. It still looked too much like-
"Like that woman in the street?" Inuyasha asked.
Noi nodded. And then, for Kagome's benefit, "Yes. Like her." He turned toward one of the shelves and started rummaging through stacks of paper. "All of this started about twenty years back," he explained. "Now you won't find a single human alive who hasn't been exposed." Inuyasha watched the back of his ear twitch up. There was a smile in his voice. "That doesn't mean that there aren't any, of course. So about a year after the plague hit, Naraku sends out riders with supplies of the first anti-phage... It turned out he'd been having it made in labs since day one. Or before that, depending on whom you believe. At first-"
"Wait." Kagome's voice sounded stronger but more confused. "Naraku turned a plague loose and then made a bunch of scientists try to cure it? That doesn't make sense."
"When did he ever make sense?" Inuyasha muttered bitterly. "How many humans did he have working for him while he was pretending to be that nobleman's son? Hell, he even got Sango to toe the line. This is probably just another move to keep his followers in step."
Noi shook his head. "No, Kagome's right. The master doesn't need us to love him. He's always been very clear about that."
"But then why try to cure his own disease?" Kagome asked.
The freckled face smiled wanly, "Not cure," he said sadly, "treat."
Inuyasha growled. "What the hell's the difference?"
"Man cannot live on bread alone," Noi explained. "At least, not anymore."
"Control," whispered Kagome. "Cure someone and they're well forever. But if you only treat it, if you never manage to quite purge the body..."
"People are healthy enough to do his work, but not enough to run free." Noi smiled thinly. "Their own blood cells form their chain."
Inuyasha scoffed. "That's stupid. Why would Naraku need a bunch of humans alive at all? He'd always just killed them before."
"From what I've been able to tell, the master was more brutal in his early days," Noi allowed, looking off to one side, "or at least, more direct."
"All right, so let's say Naraku really is behind this plague thing," Inuyasha answered, folding his arms. "What the hell has it got to do with me or you or Kagome?"
Noi pulled a closed book off the shelf and shoved it into Inuyasha's arms. "Because there is a cure for Naraku," he explained. "And you're both quite key to it."
Inuyasha felt his mouth tighten, "For the second time," he said, "that's nothing I didn't know this morning."