Part X: Understanding

"Home is not where you live, but where they understand you."

- Christian Morganstern

"What does it mean?" she asked softly, cradled against his warm body to try and stave off some of the biting, cold air. He made no move to comfort her -- his hand remained in its customary position around her waist, pinning her firmly to him and digging painfully into her ribs. Still, there was something oddly intimate about the position. It was likely that she was the first human ever to have been this close to a demon – an unsettling thought – and it was deeply odd to think that she found the warmth of his body comforting.

"Hn?" he questioned indiscriminately.

"You said I was a miko. What does it mean?"

"You live in a shrine, do you not?" he replied caustically.

"That's not –" She sighed in frustration. "I meant, what does it mean to you? Does the fact that I'm a miko have something to do with why you're protecting me?"

After all – if his interest in her had been marked by even the demon community, surely his part in all this was considered just as odd as her own? It didn't make any sense. What possible interest could he have in her?

She couldn't help wondering what he thought of her. After all, the oddity of their relationship went both ways. It was obvious that he was showing her an unusual degree of kindness and protection by taking her with him to his home. Demons didn't associate with humans any more than humans associated with demons. It was an unwritten, but firmly abided rule.

She'd never really considered it before, but he was likely as ostracised as she was, in his own way. What he was doing was no less odd, and it was clear from the wolf demon's attack that it had been noticed. So why had he remained? Why was he taking her away now?

Something the wolf demon said tugged at her memory.

I had wondered what it was about you that he was interested in… I had no idea that the dog had found himself a miko.

She shivered as she recalled the way he'd towered over her, claws glinting in the sunlight. But why would her supposed miko abilities have made any sort of difference? He'd seemed surprised that she'd reacted on instinct when the wolf demon had attacked. He too, seemed utterly convinced that she was a miko.

Well, he's right — you do live in a shrine, her mind supplied. She shook her head to clear the thoughts from her mind. But there hasn't been a real miko for centuries, she thought. I can't be one.

But how did that explain her ability to fend off the wolf demon? And Sesshoumaru's interest in her?

What did she mean to him? Why was he bothering? She wanted badly to ask, but she couldn't quite bring herself to.

"That's what the wolf demon said," she added suddenly, babbling nervously. "I couldn't figure out what he meant by it. He said that's what made you interested in me."

"Your abilities are curious," he stated vaguely, much to Kagome's frustration.

"And?" she prompted angrily. "I think I deserve some answers. Obviously this affects me too."

"As I recall," he said acidly, "it was not my decision to continue this… association."

The way he said it made it sound like they were engaging in something sordid. She scowled furiously. Why was he always so insufferable to deal with? To think, she'd once deemed him so distant and powerful that she was almost too afraid to speak to him at all — now he was merely an abrasive nuisance. The power she'd feared was still there, and she hadn't forgotten, but there was an undeniable shift in their relationship. She was running off to go live with him, after all.

That thought made her freeze, the events of the previous couple days catching up to her in one horrible swell. What have I done? she thought frantically, her stomach churning.

"But it was you that nearly get me and Souta killed," she said without thinking. "It was you that took me away from my home and my family. It's because of you that I might not see them again!"

The dam on her pent-up emotions finally gave, and her eyes welled with tears. She was dimly aware of Sesshoumaru shifting away from her slightly, his muscles tense.

"You lied," he said flatly from somewhere up above her head.

"You bastard!" she spat, surprising even herself. She briefly noted that his eyes had widened slightly in shock, likely the biggest reaction she had ever elicited from him, but she carried on angrily anyway. She wasn't really sure where all the anger had come from, but the combined shock of being attacked and being separated from her family for the first time seemed to have finally caught up with her, and this seemed to be the way it was determined to come out.

"How dare you?" she demanded furiously. "I have never lied to you! I've been completely honest with you all along. I trusted you. But I'm not stupid enough to think that you didn't know that the wolf might come after me. You never told me that I was in danger. That my family was in danger! I had a right to know!"

Her chest was heaving with the exertion of her tirade, and the tears in her eyes had begun to overflow, running down her cheeks and tracing burning paths along her skin.

"You said you would not cry in front of this Sesshoumaru," he clarified belatedly.

She stared at him blankly for a moment before giving a choked laugh and wiping her tears away with the back of her hand. "Sorry," she muttered, suddenly feeling rather stupid for having yelled at him in the first place.

"I had assumed that I would deal with any complications that might arise from our association before they could affect you." He was pointedly avoiding her gaze, looking instead at the tops of trees that stretched seemingly infinitely before them. "Obviously," he added flatly, "I underestimated the extensiveness of the problem."

She almost snorted. "Why didn't you tell me?" she asked softly, her anger dissipating as quickly as it had come.

"It is my responsibility," he stated gruffly.

"I had a right to know," she replied firmly. "This effects both of us, and as you can clearly see you can't always deal with things on your own."

He scowled impressively, but she cut him off before he could speak. "My family was at risk, and if I'd known — if you'd told me, I might have acted differently."

"They are important to you?" he asked in a tone that sounded casual, but to Kagome's ear was filled with hidden implications.

"Of course," she replied swiftly. "They're my family. I love them very much."

"Hn," he replied enigmatically, if a tad unsatisfactorily.

She sighed, not quite emboldened enough to push the topic. But she couldn't help wondering what had prompted that particular line of questioning. He'd almost acted as if the concept of family was foreign to him.

That was something she'd never given thought to. Presumably he had parents somewhere… but did he have siblings? Family reunions? Upteen uncles and aunts and distant relations?

The very idea seemed bizarre — yet it was possible. But even if he did, from the way he'd just acted she sincerely doubted that he had a close relationship with any of them.

She felt a sudden flash of pity for him as the implications of that hit her. He was alone.

Despite everything, Kagome had never truly been alone before. She'd felt lonely, certainly, and misunderstood, but she'd always known that her family loved her, and never felt that they would truly turn her away.

Of course, in a way it was pity that had got her into this whole mess in the first place. She'd been unable to turn away from anyone who was injured, not even a demon.

"I want to help you," she said decisively. "I'm not entirely incapable of defending myself, and we're in this together, so I think we should work together."

Though his expression barely altered she got the feeling that he was incredulous. "I was unaware that you knew how to wield a sword," he said drily.

"I can't," she admitted. "But I am, apparently, a miko so I'll just use my miko powers on anything that tries to hurt us."

He huffed in amusement. "That will not be necessary."

"You never know!" she argued. "That wolf might come looking for us."

At the mention of the wolf demon, Sesshoumaru's brows drew together in a dark scowl. "Should he be foolish enough to return," he said quietly, his tone promising a painful death to the one about which it spoke, "he will regret it."

His warning reminded Kagome exactly who she was dealing with, and she dropped the argumentative tone. Despite the fact that she knew him better than any human alive, it was probably best not to provoke him.

How easy it was becoming to forget that he could kill her in an instant. It was odd; when she spoke to him it felt just like speaking to anyone else — provided that they were generally unhelpful and the personified antonym to loquacity. Even so, everything she'd ever been taught to believe about demons had told her that they had no common ground.

So why then did she find a single conversation with him far more effortless than dealing with her friends from school?

Thinking about Eri, Ayumi and Yuka made her uncomfortable. They were always trying to include her in things, and were so kind to her, and she had absolutely no interest. She couldn't even really remember how they'd become friends in the first place. Nevertheless, she hated subjecting them to her apathy; it made her feel guilty.

"How much further is it?" she asked, breaking the lull in the conversation and suppressing a sudden snigger at the mental image of herself asking 'are we there yet?' over and over again to Sesshoumaru's increasing annoyance. As much fun as it would be, it would probably be best not to irritate him.

"We have arrived," he said, landing gently on the ground and releasing his hold on her. She blinked, still standing close by his side as she looked up at the house before her.

'House' was too small a word for the expansive building she now stood in front of. It was almost ludicrous in that it stood alone amidst the vast expanse of the surrounding forest. He lived in a mansion. A mansion in the middle of nowhere.

He was so eccentric.

"You live… here?" she asked in stupefaction.

He brushed passed her wordlessly, heading towards the entrance to the expansive home, without turning to make sure she was following. Slowly she willed her feet to move, following him up to the front entrance, and passing through the open doorway.

It was old-fashioned, and sparsely decorated. It also seemed unused. The hallway was covered in dust, and it muffled the sound and thickened the air.

"It's… nice," she said hesitantly, looking around the dark, almost gloomy room in surprise.

"It is not often used," he remarked drily, moving to turn on the lamps. The light illuminated the dust particles he'd stirred, and she watched them dance wildly through the air.

"I hadn't noticed," she said mildly, holding back the urge to sneeze.

"It will suit our purposes," he said flatly, striding confidently through a door on the left hand side, turning on lights and lighting lamps as he went.

She followed silently, her eyes beginning to itch from the high concentration of dust in the air. She rubbed them, an action that only served to make her eyes even more itchy. She blinked, her dry eyes already growing sore, and the dust making the air thick and difficult to breathe.

"Sesshoumaru?" she began, but broke off with a cough.

He slid open a doorway, revealing a dusty, but organised guest room behind. "You may stay here," he said tonelessly, striding through the room and opening the window. "Regrettably, you will probably have to clean. You may join me for dinner in three hours." Without any further comment he strode from the room.

She glared at his retreating back, fighting back the urge to stick her tongue out childishly. It was just so typically male of him to have dumped her here and expect her to clean it. She scowled, sneezing furiously.

"Jerk," she muttered under her breath, as she went about removing sheets from the bed to be aired out, and beginning the long hunt for cleaning supplies.

She felt a sudden wash of homesickness, and a longing for her mother's almost hospital-standard cleanliness, and all the comfort it provided.

As the day grew long, and the exhaustion from travelling began to finally set in, all Kagome could think was what have I done?

Author's Note: In all honestly, I hate this chapter so much. That's a large contributing factor to why it's taken me so long to get this blasted thing out. I don't know what it was about this, but it fought me tooth and nail all the way. So, I apologise both for the delay and the unsatisfactory nature of the content herein - I sincerely hope the next chapter co-operates.

That said, any feedback you might have about this chapter (why it was crap, and anything you think could be improved), would be much appreciated. I value your responses deeply, and any constructive criticism helps me improve as an author.

Sincere thanks to everyone who has reviewed so far — and thanks for your patience to anyone who's still reading.