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

Chapter 44

The small group in the miko's house turned their eyes to the hanyou. Kaede looked at the girl resting on her pallet, then back at InuYasha.

"Cat?" the old miko said.

InuYasha nodded. "It's pretty strong on her, too. The yamabushi they brought in must not have been any good. Couldn't tell the difference between cat and fox."

Hiseo looked first from Kaede then to InuYasha and then back to the old miko, frowning. "But we don't have a cat," said Hiseo. "They make my mother sneeze. How can you tell that, anyway? She doesn't smell any different to me."

"InuYasha has an extremely sensitive nose," Miroku said. "It's one of his youkai bloodline gifts. And hearing to match."

Hiseo looked at InuYasha again, and tilted his head to the side, finally getting a good look at the hanyou. InuYasha looked back, solemn faced but not threatening, and flicked an ear. The boy, his face coloring slightly, suddenly decided his own hands were rather interesting.

"Was there any way a cat could have gotten to your sister in the last few days? Maybe one she pets when she goes out to play?" Kagome asked.

The boy shook his head. "She's been home and in bed."

"It's not that type of a cat," InuYasha said.

Kagome touched her husband's hand, and he turned to look at her instead of Hiseo. "A bakeneko?"

InuYasha nodded. "That's what it smells like, youkai and cat."

"A demon cat?" Hiseo said. "But nobody's seen anything like that- just shadows and weird lights."

"You wouldn't necessarily catch them in demon form. They can shift their shapes. A bakeneko could look more like a pet cat or even a kitten when they are trying to blend in," Miroku said. "Or even take a human form."

Kaede looked down at the unconscious girl. "That might explain some things."

"True, true," Miroku said. "Some bakeneko are known for draining people's life energy."

"And others eat people," InuYasha said. "Remember that temple with the nun and the bakeneko we ran into?"

Kagome nodded, rubbing her arm. "I still have the scar from it. That one had been eating people a long time."

Hiseo looked up at the hanyou, his eyes grown huge. "A demon cat in a temple? A cat that eats people? You people have seen some strange things."

"We have indeed, my young friend, some even more troubling, but the bakeneko we dealt with that time was a bad one. It had a lot of tricks." He rubbed the base of his chin. "Still, if it were a spirit kitsune possessing Yume-chan, you might not notice the scent, InuYasha."

"Feh," InuYasha said, folding his arms. "Never heard of a kitsune and a bakeneko working together for something like this."

"True," Miroku said. "That would be an odd combination."

The hanyou nodded. "And yeah, I might not smell a youkai who possessed someone and stayed in hiding," InuYasha said. "Long as that bakeneko at the temple hid in the nun, I didn't catch its scent. But I didn't have any trouble when it showed itself. The smell overwhelmed the human smell. Yume smells like human covered with cat."

Hiseo dropped his head into his hands. "I'm confused. Does . . . does that mean my sister is possessed?"

"No, child," Kaede said, returning to her seat with several packets of herbs. She spread a small cloth on her work table and began measuring some of the herbs out on it. "It merely means that whatever gave her this scent has come in contact with your sister's body. If she were possessed, InuYasha probably wouldn't smell anything at all."

"Keh," the hanyou said. "Kaede-babaa's right." His voice was not unkind. "The fact I can smell it means you did the right thing getting her out of there, away from that youkai. A bakeneko needs to be near its victim to feed. She'll be safer here."

"This is true," Kaede said. She looked up at the younger miko. "Hand me my mortar, please, Kagome-chan. We'll prepare a tea that I know of that's good for people who're fighting off the aftereffects of this type of attack."

"How soon does it work?" the boy asked.

"I believe we should see some real change by morning," Kaede said. "But it may take her a few days to get back up to strength."

As Kagome got up and retrieved the mortar and pestle, Hiseo looked down at Yume and covered his sister's left hand with one of his. "Then I'm glad I walked all that way today, even though it was hard." He gave her hand a small squeeze. The girl took a deep breath, but made no other reaction.

"You'll get better, little sister," he said.

"Yes she will," Kagome said.

After a moment, he let her hand go, and rested it gently on the small girl's chest. A thought struck home and he snapped his head up, looking at the adults around him with panicked eyes. "I want my little sister to get better. But . . . but what about the other people back home? Some of them were almost as bad off as Yume-chan. And what about the rest of my family? Are they safe?"

"Maybe InuYasha-ojisan and Miroku-ojisan can help you," Rin volunteered. "They're very good at taking care of bad youkai."

InuYasha took a deep breath and coughed. Miroku, on the other hand, sat up straighter. "Perhaps we can - "

The monk was interrupted by a knock at the door. Kaede nodded to Rin who went over to open it.

"Is this the miko's house, little one?" an older male voice asked.

Rin nodded. Bowing politely, she stepped back to let the visitor in. Kaede stopped preparing her medicine for a moment and looked up. A middle-aged man dressed in crisp blue and brown linen, came inside. He looked like a prosperous villager, and even had a short sword stuck in his obi, but she didn't know who he was.

"May I help you, Dono?" she asked.

"Miko-sama," he said, bowing politely, "I was told that perhaps I might find the houshi here, the one who does exorcisms? He wasn't at the temple or at his home."

"Yes, yes, he's here," Kaede said. "Come in."

The boy, still sitting next to his sister, looked up, surprised. "Ryou-sama?"

The newcomer walked further into the house, and was surprised himself to see the boy sitting on the raised platform. "Hiseo-kun? Didn't expect to find you here. Is that your sister?"

He nodded. "Chichi-ue had me bring her here today."

"Not any better?" the older man asked.

Hiseo shook his head and hung it low "No. She got much worse after you left."

Miroku, who was blocked from view by a large storage jar leaned forward. "Can I help you, Ryou-sama?"

"Ah, Houshi-sama, there you are. I was just . . . "

Ryou caught sight of InuYasha sitting near the two miko, and he froze. The hanyou met his gaze patiently, but said nothing. Ryou looked around the room and seeing that neither Kaede nor the monk was nervous at all, took a deep breath, swallowed, then found his voice again.

He turned to look at the monk, and bowed. "I was just coming to find out when you plan to come to our village, Houshi-sama," the man said, "so that I can tell the elders when to expect you. They will be worried if I don't return tonight."

Miroku gave InuYasha a questioning look. The hanyou glanced at Kagome, the small girl on her pallet, then down at his hands for a moment, then nodded. "We will be leaving in the morning, I believe, if that's all right with my partner over there." He nodded at InuYasha.

Ryou's eyes widened briefly at the word partner. He gave the hanyou a nervous smile and a small nod of his head.

"Keh," InuYasha said, not meeting anybody's eyes. "Tomorrow."

The monk got up. "Before you leave, Ryou-sama, I want to ask you some questions and talk to you about what we'll be doing."

He walked over to the entryway.

Ryou turned to Hiseo. "I'll tell your father you made it to Miko-sama's."

"Thank you," the boy said, bowing. "I'm sure he'll be worried."

"So," Miroku said as they left the building, "just how many people are there in your village?"

"You didn't tell me Miroku had talked to you," Kagome said.

InuYasha shrugged, but didn't meet Kagome's eyes. "He just mentioned that someone was looking for a youkai extermination to me in passing. It was kind of up in the air. I guess he didn't know how bad it was."

Kagome gave him a questioning look."Maybe stopping the bakeneko will help Yume-chan get well faster," she said. "At any rate, it means it'll be safe for her to go back home when you're through."

"Yeah," the hanyou said.

Rin moved closer to the girl's bed. "She looks nice. Rin hopes you can stop whoever's making her sick, InuYasha-ojisan."

InuYasha gave Kagome a glance, but didn't say anything. "We'll do our best, runt."

Kaede put the herbs she prepared into a cup, and poured hot water over them. "Soon as this tea steeps long enough and it's cool, we'll try to get her to drink some. Until then, perhaps I should start lunch. Rin, can you get me the dried kelp?"

As Rin and Kaede began to prepare soup, Hiseo looked up at InuYasha once again. "You're really going to kill the monster?"

"That's what we do," InuYasha said, and stood up. "I need some air." His hands shoved into his sleeves, he walked out of the house.

Kagome, who was putting away the herbs Kaede had used, looked at the older woman, surprised by InuYasha's reactions. "What was all that about?"

"I'm not sure. Perhaps your husband isn't quite ready to leave your side, Kagome-chan," Kaede said. "Why don't you go to him?"

The younger woman nodded, and got up to follow him.

As the door mat closed, Hiseo turned to the older woman. "You have a miko who's married?"

"Yes we do," Kaede said, adding some mushrooms to the soup pot.

"And she's married to . . . a youkai?" He sounded amazed.

"Hanyou, actually," Kaede said, giving the pot a stir. "His brother, though, is the most powerful of youkai, and he is the guardian of Rin-chan here."

"Sesshoumaru-sama comes and visits Rin while she's learning from Kaede-sama," Rin said. "And there's Shippou-kun. He's a kitsune who stays here sometimes."

Hiseo shook his head. "Your village is strange."

"Maybe so, son, maybe so," the miko said, reaching for her mortar. She stood up to put it away. "But it seems to work. After all, we have the people here who can save your village."

"Hn," the boy said, and bent over his sister, and brushed a stray hair out of her face. "If it makes her well, you can be as strange as you want to be."