When Souta was younger, he used to think that one could easily change the world. It was only a matter of trying and wishing and desiring. He thought that changing the world was as easy as slipping down an old well.
It was only until Inuyasha came back with Kagome's backpack slung over his shoulder rather than hers that Souta questioned himself. For a while, Souta tried to fix things, because he still believed he could change them. He borrowed grandpa's shovel and tried to dig a tunnel to the then from the now. When his mother took it away from him, he used a plastic one, until that one broke and his mother refused to buy him a new one.
"She's gone," said mama, ever patiently, smoothing the wrinkles under her tired eyes. "Please learn to accept it."
At the time, Souta thought that his mother was being cruel. But then he learned that he was the one being cruel to her by trying to keep hope alive.
Souta stops trying to conquer the well. Souta stops trying to change the world.
When Kagome died, all of Souta's beliefs died with her.
Souta lives in the shrine by himself. He spends his days cleaning it; sweeping here, sweeping there, polishing this, polishing that, washing the altar, and scrubbing floorboards.
Occasionally some foreigners will stop by and Souta will give them a tour. Once in a while they'll buy something from the gift shop, which puts a little extra money in Souta's pocket. It's a hardy living as a shrine owner, lots to do with little pay.
He has no reason to leave. He had grown up there and now that he's the only one capable of taking care of it. He was spoon fed the job. Its been his responsibility for years now.
The only change is there is a big lock around the doors leading to the well.
Another day, another sweeping, and another customer appears. Tall and muscular, dressed in khakis and a white button T-shirt. He wears sunglasses and his long dark hair is pulled back into a messy ponytail. His skin is a darker shade, almost earthy.
Souta lays aside his broom and approaches the man. "Hello, welcome to the shrine," he says in a monotone, having done this routine more times than he can count. "Would you like a tour?"
The man turns to him, almost surprised at being addressed. He grins and Souta likens him to a predator. "Why not?" says the man. "I haven't been here in so long I might as well refresh my memory."
Souta pays the strange comment no mind. With little exuberance he does the tour, pointing out the key points of the shrine. The tour takes longer than usual. The man stops and stares at certain things, as though gazing through them and past them, picking through them to elicit something else that isn't visible to Souta. After a moment of silent staring, he will shake himself and resume following Souta.
At the end of the tour, Souta finishes. "Well, that's the tour. I hope you've enjoyed yourself. There's a gift shop right around the corner and the exit is right beyond that."
The stranger doesn't say anything. He glances around himself.
Souta waits impatiently, studying his shoes and pondering what he should use to take the dirt off them.
"Hmmm," hums the man. "Is there no well?"
Souta blinks in surprise. No one had asked about that in years. "How do you know about that?"
"Kagome," says the man, "mentioned it quite a few times."
"Oh," says Souta, comprehension dawning on him. "You're a friend of Kagome's?"
The man shrugs. "I guess you could say that."
"You're the first to come around in a long time," Souta replies, dully. "They all stopped coming by a couple years ago. What did you say your name was?"
"I didn't say." He lowers his glasses. His eyes are sky blue, brilliant and captivating. "You can call me Kouga though."
Souta lets him come into the house, gives him tea and cookies, offers him a seat. He's obliged to. Being Kagome's friend, Souta has to go the extra mile.
"You'll be sorry to know," says Souta, "that Kagome died a couple years ago."
He can say it callously now. It's a cold hard fact. He can't change it so doesn't bend the truth with flowery words.
"I know," says Kouga, just as unflowery. There is no following words of remorse or comfort like Souta expected.
"Kagome never did mention a Kouga," he muses.
Kouga nibbles on a cookie, avoiding the chocolate chips. "We weren't entirely too close."
Souta grunts, wondering why Kouga would bother coming all the way here for someone he wasn't close to.
"You're a relation of Kagome's?" Kouga asks out of no where.
Souta nods. He turns to the sink to clean out the dirty teapot. "I'm her brother."
"Younger I'm assuming."
Kouga stretches out, makes himself comfortable. "So you're the only one here then?"
"Pity. I thought there were more of you."
Souta doesn't know why that would be considered a pity. "My grandfather passed away about two years ago. My mother got remarried. She's living in America now."
"Yes. He was the last one that asked about the well in fact. Came by here for a tour and that's how he met my mother."
"What was his name?"
"He has a really weird name," Souta admits. "His name's Shippo."
Kouga threw back his head and started to laugh. Big bellows as though he had just heard the funniest joke.
"What's so funny?" demands Souta.
"Nothing, nothing, nothing at all." Kouga rises, still chuckling, and digs into his pocket. He pulls out a small rectangular piece of paper and hands it to Souta. "Here. That's my card. Give me a call sometime. We'll catch a beer or something."
Souta wants to say no thank you but he's been raised polite. "Alright."
Kouga takes a step towards the door then stops and turns back around. "By the way," he says, "are there any other of Kagome's friends around here? Close friends."
Souta is distracted by the card. "One," he says. "Hojo about ten miles from here. He may have moved though. I wouldn't know since he hasn't been here in a while. Like I said before none of Kagome's friends have, until you that is."
Kouga grins, amused and looking like a predator again. "Gave up did they?"
Souta frowns. "I wouldn't say that exactly. I think they just moved on with their lives."
Souta has no intention of calling Kouga. The only thing they would have to talk about is Kagome and Souta doesn't want to talk about her.
Souta puts Kouga's card inside a drawer and forgets about it.
"You could try to be a little more sensitive, you know."
Souta stops eating his toast and, in the process of turning, drops it into his coffee. "What?" he says, far too busy trying to excavate his toast to really pay attention.
Hitomi sighs and daintily removes the toast with one pristine nailed finger. "We've been together for ten years now." She pauses for a moment to scowl as Souta eats the coffee soaked toast. "All my girlfriends are getting married and they were only dating their husbands for a year or so. Don't you think its time that we got married?"
They have had this conversation before. Hitomi has been pushing for marriage ever since they were fifteen.
Souta doesn't see the point in getting married. What difference did a ring make? Did it really change a relationship that much? He didn't think so.
"Souta," Hitomi whines.
She huffs, getting angry. "You weren't even listening to me." She stands and grabs her purse. "Honestly Souta what do you expect from me? I haven't dated anybody else but you and I've been more than patient. We've been together since we were kids. I can't waste anymore of my life on you."
"Sorry," says Souta, meaning it.
Hitomi leaves. Souta doesn't go after her. He just sits and finishes eating his toast.
Hitomi doesn't call him for a couple days after that. When she finally does, it is only to tell him it was over.
Souta doesn't protest or beg for her to reconsider. Honestly he had stopped paying attention to Hitomi about five years ago. Why she stuck around he couldn't say, other than she was very stubborn.
It takes a week to set in and Souta is raking the leaves when he realizes he misses her. He keeps glancing at the entrance, expecting her to walk up, dressed splendidly and demanding he take her somewhere. She would whine to him about her job and tell him about all the clients she had seen and the bad things they wore.
Feeling a little queasy, Souta goes inside. He watches TV and eats more toast and feels even more depressed. It is really pathetic.
He isn't sure why he pulls open the drawer and takes out the number, other than he was very lonely. He stands there calmly and dials the number, wondering all the while why the hell he was doing this.
They meet at the bar five miles from Souta's house. Kouga drives his car, Souta walks. Souta ends up waiting for Kouga regardless, who is late.
"Hey buddy!" Kouga greets Souta with a wolfish grin and a pat on the back. He acts and talks like they are old friends. It is night but he is still wearing sunglasses.
Souta feels awkward. He strains a smile. "Hello."
They move inside the bar, where Kouga shoulders his way into two seats. The bar's lighting is dim but Kouga doesn't take off his sunglasses. He rolls up his sleeves, orders two beers, and wiggles his eyebrows at the barmaid.
It's loud in there. Men are shouting and cat calling and jostling each other. Souta stares listlessly into the liquid inside his glass.
"I don't usually do this," he mutters to no one but himself.
Kouga hears and turns his attention to him. "Don't usually do what?"
"Call people I barely know and go to bars with them."
Kouga laughs and splashes some of his beer onto the counter top. "Why'd you do it this time then?" There is a mischievous smirk on his face.
Souta looks at his beer again. "My girlfriend left me."
"Ohhhh," crows Kouga. "Left you for another man, huh? Or was she was just using you the entire time and was really in love with someone else, eh? I know how that feels."
Souta shakes his head. "Nothing like that. She just left. Ran out of patience I guess. She wanted to get married. We've been together since we were kids. She was my first girlfriend."
"Mmmm," Kouga hums, drinking his beer.
"She was really going somewhere," Souta continues, spilling his guts. "A clothes designer. She was excellent at it, was already receiving recognition from movie stars and hadn't even finished college yet. I don't know why she stayed with me so long. It was such a glamorous job. She meets these beautiful people everyday."
Souta then wondered which pretty face she would fall for first and he didn't feel so good. He stopped talking.
Kouga is nodding sympathetically with a cigarette in his mouth. He offers one to Souta. "Cigarette?"
"I don't smoke."
Kouga smiles cunningly. "You will."
Souta glowers. "All cigarettes do is kill you."
"That they do," Kouga blows smoke into the air. "I had a therapist a couple years ago who liked to tell me that smoking was my own little way of committing suicide. My own little way of knocking myself off. Of course she said it in a lot more technical terms." He looks thoughtful for a moment. "I wonder if she said that to all her clients who smoked."
"Did you agree with her?" asks Souta.
Kouga shrugs. "Never really thought about it. I always thought of it as more of a stress reliever. Took it up a long time ago when somethin' didn't work out for me. You know how the story goes."
"What did your therapist say to that?"
Kouga shrugs again and grins. "We never got around to talking about that. I had an affair with her. Or she with me. She was the one who was married. Cute little thing she was. Didn't work out too well though. She kept trying to evaluate me. Even in bed! Tried to tell me that I was running away from something. Load of garbage that was."
"Are you running away from something?"
Kouga takes another long drag on his cigarette before answering. "More like running toward it."
They stay long until the night. When they finally depart, Kouga says, "Next time tomorrow night, eh?"
Souta thinks about all the cleaning he doesn't have to do but will do anyway. "Maybe."
"Well just give me a little ring-ring then. I'll be around."
Souta would have seen him wink, if Kouga hadn't still had his sunglasses on. He hops into his car and drives off with a smart wave. He had failed to offer Souta a ride home.
For the next three nights they meet. At the same bar, at the same time. Kouga is always late. Souta begins to learn to go by Kouga time and leaves the shrine later.
Souta isn't sure why he goes out with Kouga, except the number is sitting there on the counter looking him boldly in the face, as though inviting him in. And maybe Souta was a little lonely.
The next morning, Souta for once gets a call.
"Wanna get a cup of coffee?" Kouga asks on the other line.
Souta blinks. He is silent for a long moment as Kouga breaths on the other end. "Alright," he says.
Souta takes a bus to the coffee shop. Kouga is already there, arguing with some man over a doughnut. It is the first time Kouga has been anywhere before Souta.
"I don't like chocolate sprinkles," Kouga says conversationally to Souta when he walks up to him. "Gives me a terrible stomachache. Not that anyone cares!" He shouted the last bit to the man across the counter, who gave him a rude gesture back.
Kouga snorts at the man and takes a seat near the window, where he can blow smoke discreetly without anyone noticing. Souta sits across from him, feeling stunned.
"Don't you work?" he asks flabbergasted, and it sounds more like a demand.
"Course I work," Kouga replies airily. "Who doesn't work? Even kids work these days, they just don't know it yet. Give it colorful names like responsibility and anyone falls for it. Kids especially."
"How are you off now then if you work?"
Kouga leans back, spreading out and making himself comfortable. "I make my own hours. People like me get to live comfortably. We like it that way."
"People like you, huh?"
"And who exactly are people like you?"
Kouga grins. "Wouldn't you like to know." He starts talking again before Souta can ask another question. "I've had lots of jobs. Uncountable amount of jobs. Right now I'm working at a meat plant. Every steak that it produces, I help to determine what grade it is, what it's suitable for. That sort of stuff."
"How'd you get into that?"
Kouga laughs. "Let's just say I'm good with the meats."
They didn't talk about Kagome at all. After all their trips to the bar and the coffee shop, Kouga hadn't brought her up once. He had brought up other women's names, lovers from his past, but never Kagome. Souta figured that was because Kagome hadn't been his lover.
Regardless of the reason, it was nice being able to talk about something else, anything else. When all of Kagome's other friends had come by years before, they had all wanted to talk about her. They questioned Souta a million things about what happened and how it happened and oh poor Kagome if only we could save her. If only we had done this or this or this, she would have been saved.
Kouga was the only one who didn't want to know. He was the only one who didn't try bending himself out of shape thinking of things he could have done to save her. He was the only one out of Kagome's friends who seemed to have stopped trying to change the world.
Being with Kouga was refreshing. It was a change of scenery from the old shrine and all the half-shattered things there. Kouga didn't spend time thinking about what if's or consequences. He did what he liked and didn't listen to anyone else. Souta couldn't help but find that a little enticing.
"Why do you keep the well locked?"
Another night at the bar and the question catches Souta off guard. He had just been telling Kouga about how lucky he was having not been spoon fed a job and a life, and being able to decide everything himself without disappointing anyone. Souta stops glaring moodily at the burning cigarette to turn to Kouga.
"The well," Kouga repeats. "Why do you keep it locked?"
"How do you know about that?"
"I saw it while I was walking out that time I went to the shrine."
"Oh..." Souta blinks, thinking about the layout of the shrine. "You went looking for it, didn't you?"
Kouga's sunglasses reflect the lamplight as he tilts his head. "Heh, you caught me. I was curious about it. Heard so much about it and never really got to see it before. You didn't appear to want to have anything to do with it so I didn't ask you. You don't even include it on your tour!"
Souta didn't reply. He was glaring at the cigarette again.
"So," says Kouga. "Why do you keep it locked?"
"Why do you want to know?"
Kouga shrugs. "I'm just curious. You trying to keep something out of there?"
Souta recalls their conversation the first time they went to the bar, where he had asked if Kouga was running away from something. He takes Kouga's answer and turns it into his own.
"More like trying to keep something in."
Outside the bar, Kouga grinds out his cigarette and asks, "Would you like a ride home?"
Souta is stunned. Kouga has never offered to give him a ride anywhere before. "I guess," he says slowly.
Kouga jingles the keys, grinning, and hops into the car. Souta walks to the other side and actually uses the door to slide in.
"You don't drive like a maniac do you?" he asks.
"Who do you think I am?" Kouga replies, sounding affronted. He jams the key into the ignition and revs the engine. "Of course I do."
The ride was exhilarating to put it lightly. Souta is amazed he survived it. "You are the worse driver ever," he informs Kouga when they screech to a jerking halt in front of the shrine. "You were speeding that entire time!"
"Sorry," says Kouga, not sounding sorry at all. "I like to go fast. When I was younger I used to be able to go really fast. Now I gotta rely on the ol' car to get me up to that speed again."
"Right." Then it occurs to him. "How old are you anyway?"
Kouga lights a cigarette. "How old do you think I am?"
Souta takes a wild stab at it. "25?"
"That's how old I am then."
Souta glares at him. "You're a horrible liar."
"And you're a horrible guesser."
Souta stomps out of the car, slamming the door behind him with a little more force than was necessary. He stomps to the front door, taking his anger out on the rocks under his feet.
"Hey Souta," Kouga calls and Souta turns around to look at him.
Kouga takes his sunglasses off and Souta can tell that what he is about to say is serious. "Do you ever miss Kagome?"
Any other person would have stuttered on the question, thinking it may be rude or too personal, but Kouga says it without restraint. He is always like that.
Souta stares at him and though it is dark, he can still see the brilliant blue of Kouga's eyes. "No."
Kouga appears taken aback. He stares at Souta in the darkness and it is the first time Souta has seen him so unsure and hesitant.
"Why?" Souta asks when Kouga says nothing. "Do you miss her?"
Kouga licks his lips. He turns back to the front of his vehicle, where the slope of the hill reveals the city below. "No," he says and revs the engine. He drives away, speeding across the pavement.
Souta watches him go and wonders why he feels cheated.
Souta struggles not to call Kouga the next day. He feels restless and worried, as though he needs to talk to Kouga about something important, as though they have had an argument and he needs to smooth things over, even though they hadn't had a row. It is very silly and stupid. Kouga isn't Hitomi.
Souta digs into his work with an unusual vigor, trying to keep himself busy and his mind off the telephone.
It is only until late at night that he allows himself to call. He doesn't bother to look at the card. He has already memorized the number.
Kouga picks up on the fifth ring, which was odd. He had always picked up on the second before. "Hello?" he says.
"Kouga," says Souta. The name had always felt funny on his tongue. "Are we going to the bar tonight?"
"No can do," says Kouga. "I have some important business I have to attend to. Maybe in a couple days."
"Oh..." Souta glances around his pristine kitchen, wondering what to say. Kouga has never turned down an opportunity to see him. "Guess I'll see you later then."
Kouga grunts noncommittally. He hangs up without another word.
Souta doesn't call for the next two days. After that, he began to get really worried. In the evenings he made sure to sit near the phone just in case it rang, and he often paused during his work to check he hadn't missed any calls.
On the third day, he calls Kouga. There is no answer and there is no voicemail. Souta hangs up.
For the fourth and fifth day he continues to call, sometimes up to three times. Still there is no answer.
On the sixth day and seventh day, he calls five times. Nothing.
Souta feels guilty. He tries to tell himself he has nothing to feel guilty about it but he feels it anyway. It's a sick, sick feeling that he'd rather not have.
When he flips the month on the calendar over, he sees the day with the red circle around it and feels even sicker. He spends a lot of time sitting at the kitchen table just staring at the red mark after that.
By the eighth and ninth day, Souta gives up on Kouga.
On the eleventh day, Souta gets a call. He is mopping the floor so he is lucky enough to hear the phone when it rings.
"Hey." It is Kouga.
Souta nearly drops the phone and mop. "Kouga."
"Sorry I haven't called you," says Kouga. He sounds tired and worn out, nearly depressed. "I've been busy."
"It's alright," says Souta. It isn't but Souta is just glad to hear from him. "Busy with what?"
"Just some personal stuff that won't work out for me. Don't worry about it. Do you want to go to the bar tonight?"
Souta glances at the calendar. The red mark gleams at him. "Today is alright."
"Alright. Meet me there at nine."
That was 10:30 Kouga time. Souta remembers that much at least.
Kouga is standing waiting by his car when Souta arrives. Souta had purposely left later than Kouga time. It was only justified that he make Kouga wait fifteen minutes for him after he had waited over a week for Kouga's call.
Kouga looks up at him. His sunglasses are missing and Souta can see his blue eyes. In the lamplight he looks gaunt. And defeated.
"What happened to your sunglasses?" Souta asks.
"They broke." Kouga sighs. "Pity. I liked those glasses too. Was my favorite pair."
"I'll buy you a new pair," Souta offers.
"No, no. Don't worry about it. Let's go in."
They move into the bar. It is less crowded today and they find seats easily.
Once they have received their beers and Kouga has lit up his cigarette, Souta can't help but ask him, "Where did you go?"
Kouga puffs on his cigarette. He gazes at the glass bottles lining the shelf across from them. "I was trying something different."
Kouga shakes his head. He doesn't answer Souta's question. Instead he says, "Ever notice that when you want something, really want something, it never works out for you? No matter how hard you try or how many years you spend on it, it never changes. That no matter how much you beg or plead or pray, or how many tears and blood you shed, it doesn't change."
Souta thinks of Hitomi, who tried to get him to marry her for years on end. And he thinks about himself years ago, trying to dig through the old well.
Kouga turns to look at him and Souta discovers he preferred Kouga wearing sunglasses. Those eyes were just too penetrating. They made him feel tingly.
"You can't change the world, huh?" says Kouga, rhetorically.
Souta swallows to loosen high tight throat. He thinks about the red mark on the calendar. "Yeah..."
When they leave the bar, Kouga is in better spirits. He's still a little subdued and melancholy, but better. He offers Souta a ride, which Souta refuses. He'd rather walk than risk his life.
Before Kouga jumps into his car, Souta tells him, "It's my anniversary tomorrow."
Kouga pauses to look at him. "I thought you said you weren't married."
"How can you have an anniversary if you're not married?"
"It's a different kind of anniversary."
"What kind of anniversary then?"
Souta gives him a little smile. It tugs painfully at his heart. "The day Kagome died."
Souta thinks there is a fine line between winning and losing. A lot of the times it's hard to tell them apart.
People would say to Souta that Kagome had lost because she was dead and he had won because he could still breathe and she couldn't. But to Souta it was a loss, because he lost everything but that.
If anything, it was a hollow victory.
The next night and Souta attempts to dial Kouga's number. He knows he has it memorized but has a hard time remembering it. Looking at the card doesn't help much. The numbers move too much for him to read them clearly. That and he keeps pressing the wrong buttons on the phone. After five wrong numbers, Souta finally manages to dial the right one.
An hour later and he approaches Kouga at the bar. There is a bottle of whiskey in his hand and he greets Kouga with a hearty wave that almost knocks him off his feet and the bottle out of his hand.
"Hello, Kouga!" He drawls out the words like its part of a song. He stops to peer hazily at the bottle of whiskey, a confused expression on his face. "What happen to all my whiskey?"
Kouga raises an inquisitive eyebrow at him. "I thought you sounded tipsy. Been drinking already have you?"
"All day," says Souta in a voice like a little boy. He leans heavily against Kouga's car.
"You've been drinking all day?"
"Gerro me!" cries Souta and throws himself away from Kouga's car as though Kouga had reached out to grab his hand. "It's my anniversary today!"
"Right." Kouga shakes himself. "Let's go in then, shall we?"
Souta follows him and trips over several stools before falling ungracefully into one at the bar. He orders hard liquor and lots of it. He downs it fast, as if he needs it to live, and orders more before he has finished it all. Kouga watches him carefully.
"Perhaps you should slow down," he suggests.
Souta scowls. "It's my anniversary," he repeats, as though that justifies everything. He takes another shot and slams the glass down. "Stupid Inuyasha. Stupid Kagome," he begins to seethe. "Always worried about themselves and nobody else! They were so selfish but everybody just loved Kagome! Beautiful, sweet, innocent Kagome. Everyone wants to save her but nobody gives a damn about those left behind. Oh Kagome was the victim, they say! Kagome was too wonderful to die! Kagome should have been saved! But what about those that are still left, huh?!"
He leers at Kouga, who stares at him. Souta waits a moment but Kouga doesn't react. It calms him a little and Souta glares down at the counter, his hands wrapped around his glass.
"No one cares for those that get left behind," he grumbles. "Nobody ever considers them victims so who the hell cares what happens to them? They got to live and she didn't and so who gives a damn about them?" He takes the shot and slumps in his chair.
"They never bother to think that maybe those that got left behind have it worse." He is quieter now, the anger having drained out of him. "That maybe the one's who died were the lucky ones and that those who got left behind got the sharp end of the stick out of the deal. When you're dead how can you miss someone after all? When you're dead, everyone else has to miss you."
He falls silent and proceeds to take a few more shots in quick succession. Kouga is still staring at him, the cigarette burning forgotten between his fingers.
"Are you saying," he asks slowly, "that you miss Kagome?"
Souta hiccups. He lays his head on the counter. "It was my fault."
Kouga can barely hear him. "What?"
"It was my fault," Souta repeats. He raises his head and his eyes are red. "It was my fault she died. If I had gone after the cat myself, she would never have gotten dragged down that well. She would never have gone through that stupid thing or met Inuyasha or fallen in love."
Souta thought he saw Kouga winch but he didn't care. He was too carried up in his emotions.
"She would never have died. I killed Kagome. It was my fault. Because I was too damn afraid to go down into that stupid shed I made Kagome do it and look what happened to her! Boom! There goes Kagome! Down the well again! Off to die with the beasties and it's all Souta's fault and isn't it so damn sad! Fuck I killed the most beautiful person on the planet!"
Souta's voice had risen till he was shouting. Around the bar, people had stopped to stare. Hastily Kouga tries to quiet Souta.
"Perhaps we should go home." He reaches for Souta's wrist but Souta jerks away, almost toppling off the chair while doing so. "You're too drunk," Kouga tells him firmly. "We need to go."
"I killed her!" Souta shouts, delirious and very, very drunk. "Me!" He starts to laugh and cry, insanely, stupidly.
And that's when his world went black.
It really is hard to tell when you win or lose, Souta would have said if he had been sober. Sometimes we do both, or neither, or we think we did one when we actually did the other, or maybe there is no win or lose and it's just constant decisions that lead to no where.
Or maybe we're just destined to be like this.