Souta lands hard in the dirt of the bottom of the well. He groans and curls into a ball, his body throbbing with the fall and his hangover.
He had done it. He had gone back in time and he had stopped Kagome from going down the well. But had it worked?
Souta cracks open his eyes and looks up the dark shaft of the well. Excitement stirs in his gut. Quickly he got to his feet and began to climb the rungs of the ladder upwards.
Kagome would be here, grown up and beautiful and taking care of the shrine. And Mama would be here too, unmarried and faithful to him, wrinkled and old and happy. And Grandpa would be alive, older and more senile than ever, full of weird stories that didn't make any sense and empty threats. They would be standing around in the kitchen making dinner, waiting for him, wondering where he was, worried about him, and they would all be so happy and relieved to see him and then they'd all be together again like they were supposed to be and-
Souta reaches the lip of the well and rises above it. In his merriment he almost falls over it and he laughs. He looks up. The smile dies on his face.
The doors of the well house hang ajar. On the handle, the lock gleams. Beyond them the house stands, empty and silent and dark.
Slowly, Souta pulls himself out of the well and gets to his feet.
Kouga is sitting on the steps leading out of the shrine. He looks at Souta. "Didn't work, did it?" he asks.
Silently, Souta shakes his head.
"Mmm," Kouga grunts. He pulls out a cigarette and lights it.
Souta walks heavily towards him and sits down beside him. He stares at the darkness around them. "I think," he says after a long moment, "that I would like a cigarette now."
Kouga chuckles. He hands him one and lights it for him. Souta chokes on it.
"Go easy on it," Kouga tells him. "It takes a while to get used to."
"I don't know. Not too long though."
Souta grins at him and chokes some more. For several minutes they sit in silence, watching the moon and listening to the wind rustle the leaves of the Goshinbokou.
"I uhhh...have a theory, you know" Kouga breaks the silence at last, "that the shard creates a world just like this one, but...changed so to say. Where the people are the same but the circumstances are different."
"You mean like a parallel universe?"
"Yeah like that. So maybe somewhere out there there's a Kouga that never met Kagome and doesn't love her…And maybe there's a Souta out there that never lost his sister and still has a family."
Kouga turns to look at him. Souta stares at the Goshinbokou, the smoke from his cigarette curling around his face. He doesn't look back at him.
"But that doesn't really make you feel any better does it?"
"Yeah," Kouga agrees, "me neither."
They part for the night. Souta is tired and still hung over and wants only to sleep. He goes inside without waiting for Kouga to leave. If he had looked, he would have seen Kouga linger before finally departing.
Every act supposedly has a consequence. The question is whether that consequence produces a negative or positive impact.
Souta hadn't had to deal with consequences in a long time because he had only been focusing on one and avoiding all the others. Because of this, he had lost control of his life. He hadn't chosen to live it so others had given him one. That was why he had been spoon-fed everything.
This was the first consequence he had faced in years. This time there is no one around to spoon feed him anything.
The first step of having a life is to live it.
It is weeks before they see each other again. Souta is drastically late. Kouga is waiting for him, leaning against his car. Souta nearly hits his with his own.
"Sorry," he says, climbing out. "I was on the phone."
Even though it is their first greeting in a long time, Kouga is scowling. It is getting close to winter and Kouga is wearing a brown jacket that fits in all the right places. He still wears sunglasses. A lit cigarette is gripped between his teeth.
"You didn't have to hang up on me, you know," he growls.
Souta blinks in surprise. "You don't like being hung up on?"
"Ah," says Souta. "Good point."
"Where have you been the last few weeks?" Kouga throws his cigarette away and reaches for another one, even though the one he has thrown away is only half done. He doesn't seem to notice. "I keep calling and calling you and you hardly answer-"
"Sorry," Souta apologizes again. "I've been busy."
"I hate your new voicemail too. It's stupid and I'm sick of listening to it. And-" He stops, noticing something. "Did you drive here?"
"Whose car is that?"
"You bought a car?"
"How'd you afford that?"
"I got a job."
"At the video game store."
"Who's watching the shrine then?"
"I hired somebody," says Souta. "Some old man named Hachi. He's nice, very cooperative. He likes the shrine a lot. Says it reminds him of a good friend of his. Weird, huh?"
Kouga is silent for a long moment, staring at him. "Right," he says. "Okay." He blows air out from between his teeth, seeming to deflate himself. "So what are we doing here anyway?"
Souta ducks down and reaches inside his car. He pulls out two boutiques of flowers. "Something I should have done a long time ago."
"What's that mean?"
"Follow me," he says and offers no further explanation.
Kouga snorts and mutters something that sounds like, "I don't know why I put up with this shit." Despite his grumblings, he follows Souta.
As they walk, Kouga questions him. "Were you really busy all this time with your job?"
"You're not lying?"
"No. Why would I lie about that?"
"I don't know," says Kouga. He takes a long, tense drag on his cigarette. "It's just you never called and only returned my calls about one-third of the time. You always use to call and lately you're always too busy to even give me five minutes of your time-"
"Does it really bother you that much?"
"No!" Kouga barks too quickly.
Souta stops. He turns to look at Kouga directly in the eyes or really looks him directly in the sunglasses.
Kouga's eyebrows lower. "What?" he demands.
Souta stares at him a moment longer. "Oh nothing," he says at last and returns to walking.
"Whatever," Kouga growls and flicks his cigarette onto the grass. He stuffs his hands into his pockets.
"Here we are." Souta stops at the entryway.
Kouga looks up at the sign. "A graveyard," he says blankly. "I hate graveyards."
Kouga simply shakes his head. Since meeting him, Souta can see Kouga has been acting tenser than usual. Usually he is so smug and peppy in his laid back way that Souta believes nothing can bother him.
Souta walks in. Kouga trails him. He glances at the rows they pass.
"I recognize a lot of names here," he remarks softly.
"Is that why graveyards bother you?"
Souta looks at him over his shoulder. Kouga's mouth is set in a firm line. "We're almost there," he says reassuringly.
Finally, they reach the row. Souta walks down it and stops at one stone surrounded by others. He kneels down.
From behind him, Kouga asks, "Who's this?"
"Oh," says Kouga simply. "Whatever happened to him anyway?"
"He died from a heart attack," Souta answers. "We all knew it was because of Kagome though. He spent weeks trying all sorts of mumbo jumbo to bring her back. One night we found him curled up at the bottom of the well. After that he stopped trying. He just gave up, both on bringing her back and living himself. He became weaker and weaker. I think he felt useless. Or defeated. When my father died my grandfather promised he'd take care of us. Then Kagome died and he couldn't do anything about it. I suppose he felt he had failed to keep his promise to my dad."
"That's dumb," says Kouga in his unflowery, impolite way. "Why would he give up if you were still around?"
Souta places the boutique on the grass in front of the tombstone. "He lost me that day too," he murmurs. He rubs the tombstone. "Miss you, old man."
Silently Souta is grateful Kouga asks no questions and allows him to ramble. It felt good to lay it all out on the table at last without being questioned. It felt good to finally let himself accept that past was past and that he couldn't do anything about it.
He stands and rubs at his eyes. Kouga is lighting a cigarette. Wordlessly, he holds one out to Souta.
Kouga lights it for him and Souta has to bend in close so the wind doesn't kill the flame. This time, he does not cough on it. "I never came out here," he comments. "Not even when mother asked me to go. I avoided this place. I thought I would be too scared of what I had lost. It's about time I honored the dead. I didn't get to honor them when they were alive. I was so wrapped up in failing. Like grandfather was."
"Is that all you came here for?"
Souta shakes his head. "There's one more I have to visit."
Souta takes a puff on his cigarette. "Kagome's," he says.
Kagome's grave is on the outskirts of the graveyard. Buried under a tree in her own special private spot away from everyone else.
"You have a grave for her?" Kouga asks as they walk up.
"My mother did it," Souta answers. "There was no body to put in it but my mother had this made right before she left for America. After Kagome died in the past, we pretended that she had been kidnapped here. This grave was my mother's way of leaving everything behind. She wasn't going to pretend anymore. At last the world could accept that Kagome was not going to come back. I think so anyway. I don't know what my mother was thinking. Maybe it was just a way for her to say good-bye."
Kouga looks at the tombstone. Souta wonders what he feels seeing the 'burial' site of the girl he had loved for so long. Anger, sadness, pity, or frustration at failing time and time again? But Kouga reacts in no way except to remove the cigarette from his mouth.
"I miss her very much," says Souta to Kouga's silence. He lowers himself to his knees in front of the tombstone. "In the short time she was alive she lived an extraordinary life. Many people loved her, perhaps loved her too much."
"Hmm," says Kouga.
"I've never been out here," Souta continues. "It's funny really when you think about it. I never wanted to talk about her or acknowledge her at all except for one day out of the year and in doing so I was never able to get over losing her. I couldn't move forward." He glances around the area. "It's pretty. I think it suits her to be away from everyone else. She always did stand out. She always was special."
Next to him, Kouga is grinding out his cigarette. "Do you know how she died?" he asks him.
"She made a wish."
"On the Shikon."
"What'd she wish?"
"She wished to be with Inuyasha," Kouga smiles at him, an unfriendly, ironic, rueful smile. "But because they were from two different times the only way they could be together was in death. She died for love."
"Inuyasha," Souta breathes the name. He hadn't thought of him singularly in years. It had always been Inuyasha and Kagome, not just Inuyasha. It had been so long since Souta had thought of him as a different entity that was independent of Kagome.
"You knew him?"
"I did," says Souta. "He was my hero when I was a boy."
"Was," Souta confirms. "Did you know him?"
"I knew him very well. He was my competition." Against his thigh, Kouga's hands ball themselves into fists. "He was my friend too. I hated him for having Kagome's love and I hated him even more when Kagome died. But he was my friend in some weird crazy way. Maybe more like a comrade in arms. Gods I hated him." He is silent for a long moment. "I hated myself too," he continues quietly. "For loving her so much and letting her die. That's partly why I wanted so badly to save her, to go back in time and stop it from happening. I hated myself for so long. I was so angry at myself."
"Did your therapist tell you that?"
Kouga snorts. "I don't need a therapist to tell me that."
"How do you feel now then?"
Kouga shrugs. "I don't know. I haven't thought about it. What's the point?" He relaxes at last, scratches the side of his face. "But I suppose if I do think about it," he says, and in his tone Souta detects a peace that has been lacking since Souta met him out front, "I'm okay with saying good-bye now."
Souta smiles at him. He reaches out a hand and Kouga pulls him up. Souta presses the flowers against his chest.
"Let's say good-bye together then."
On their way out of the graveyard, Souta asks, "Do you ever wonder why the shard didn't work?"
"I told you my theory." Kouga kicks at the rocks on the ground. "Other than that all I can say is perhaps time is like a river. No matter what you change, it will only flow around it and correct itself later on."
"That's an interesting theory. Poetic too."
Kouga grunts in an amused way. "I've had a long time to think about it. What about you? Why do you think it didn't work?"
"We were playing a game with gods," says Souta simply. "We were destined to lose."
Kouga laughs. "Nice theory."
The familiar sound relaxes Souta. He smiles secretly.
"You can't change the world, right?" says Kouga out of nowhere, bringing up the same question he had asked Souta at the bar and the same question Souta had been asking himself for years.
After all this time, Souta has finally realized the answer.
"You're right," says Souta. "We can't change the world but I do think we can change ourselves. And that's a game we can win."
When they leave, Kouga doesn't tell Souta to give him a ring-ring. He tells him he'll call him later tonight.
"You'd better pick up," Kouga warns him.
"I will," says Souta.
Kouga makes him promise and Souta almost has to physically force Kouga away just to get into his car.
It is late at night by the time Kouga arrives. Souta has been cooking. He is customarily a good cook but he is nervous and burns several things. It has taken him nearly hours to get everything right.
"My, my," says Kouga when he enters the front door, "are you expecting someone special?"
"Yes," says Souta and blushes. Quickly he thinks up something sarcastic to say. "He should be arriving any moment now."
Kouga scoffs. "Give me a break." He looks around the house. He wipes the dust off the counter.
"Sorry," says Souta. "I kind of let the place go. I haven't been home much."
"Actually it's a relief. You were so fixated on cleaning I was afraid you might have OCD." He pulls out his cigarettes. "Can I smoke in here?"
Souta blinks at him. "You never asked before."
"Good point." Kouga lights one. He takes his glasses off. "Is this why you didn't want to go to the bar?"
Souta turns hurriedly away. "I hope you like chicken," he says instead of answering. "I figured you would want meat and not vegetables."
Kouga sits down across from Souta. He has taken his jacket off and his white button up shirt is not completely buttoned. Souta becomes very interested in the bread.
"So," Kouga breaks the silence. He has never been made easily uncomfortable. Souta is the one with that problem. "How's work?"
"It's alright," says Souta. "Fun. I get to play games whenever we don't have customers. All the guys that work there are pretty cool." He stops and looks at the wine in his glass. "I enrolled in school too. At the university."
"Yeah. I've been out of school for so long they aren't going to help me with money at all which sucks. I'll figure something out though."
"I'll give you some money."
"Oh no don't do that." Souta glances sharply at him. "I don't want to take away money you need."
"I don't need it," repudiates Kouga. "I have more money than you think. Besides, when you live as long as I do you learn that money is a very insignificant thing."
"Oh," says Souta, overwhelmed by the offer. "Thank you. I really don't know what else to say."
"Don't say anything else then."
Souta smiles. He is glad for Kouga's roughness. It takes away the seriousness of the situation somehow.
"I spoke to my mother today," Souta says.
"Oh yeah? How's she doing?"
"Good. Happy. I told her about what happened. I mean going to the graves, not about the well. I told her about my job and hiring somebody here. Shippo couldn't stop laughing when I told him Hachi's name. He's weird."
A mischievous grin curls the corner of Kouga's mouth. "He is indeed."
"I told her about going back to school too. She was so happy for me. She cried. She told me she was sorry for everything that had happened, for not being here for me."
"Your mother," says Kouga slowly, "she refused to try and bring Kagome back."
"Did she tell you why?"
Kouga takes a long drag on his cigarette. "She thought Kagome was happiest in the past. She said she would have preferred Kagome have at least a few months of happiness rather than a lifetime of unhappiness."
"So that's why she felt so guilty after Kagome's death," says Souta mostly to himself, "because she refused your offer. She probably regretted it later."
"I'm going to go visit her soon. I haven't decided when but soon."
"That sounds like a good idea."
They chat avidly about different things - meaningless things like movies, tv programs, the beer they like to drink.
Souta finds it funny that he is sitting around and talking about these things. They all seem so miniscule in comparison to what he had been doing before but yet so much more important than everything he had dwelled upon before falling down that well.
Perhaps, Souta thinks, it is all the miniscule things in life that make it worthwhile, and together they make up a whole. Maybe that was the lesson Kagome had tried to teach him when she said the whole world rested in the palm of his hands and how easily one could change it.
It is nearing the AM when they finally finish their meal. They leave the dirty dishes on the table and take a cup of coffee and a cigarette, and stand in the door way to let the cool air filter through the house.
"Why'd you do all this tonight?" Kouga breaks the question without any forewarning. A normal person would have asked that hours ago but Kouga is like a predator. He waits until the most vulnerable moment when the prey is unaware to spring. It made so much sense that he was a wolf youkai.
Souta blows smoke into the night air and watches it float along in a small cloud. "A celebration I suppose."
"A celebration of what?"
Souta nods. He turns to look Kouga in the eyes. "It's true what I said before about when someone dies we get the sharp end of the stick because we're the ones left missing them. But there's different ways to miss somebody. I think my mother got it right when she refused to try and bring Kagome back. She honored Kagome's death by doing that rather than making it cheap by trying to undo it. I feel like I need to honor Kagome too and everything she stood for."
"Does that mean you don't miss her anymore?"
"Of course I miss her," Souta almost scoffs. "But just because you miss somebody doesn't mean they have to be the center of your universe."
Kouga is strangely quiet. He stands there and the smoke from his cigarette curls across his face. His gaze is on the ground. "You're probably right," he says. "No, you are right."
He throws his cigarette almost violently on the ground and goes inside. Souta watches him carefully. Kouga's behavior seems almost angry.
Souta goes after him. "Is something wrong?"
Kouga's back is to him. He straightens rigidly at the words. "Yes," he says. "There is."
"What?" asks Souta, bewildered.
Kouga turns to him. Souta is surprised to see no anger on his face. Just an almost frightening calm.
"You're right." There is a primal edge to Kouga's words. "I can't live for Kagome anymore."
Souta stares at him.
"You're totally right," Kouga continues. "I have to move forward. And that's exactly what I plan to do."
He takes several steps towards him. Souta doesn't move at the intrusion of personal space.
Kouga kisses him.
This was what Souta had been waiting for all night, why he had set everything up and done what he did. He had promised to set them both free and the fall down that old, dirty well had freed him from his own internal prison. Souta thanks Kouga for that, for Kouga had provided the means for Souta to release himself. It only makes sense that Souta fulfill his own self-made promise and return the favor.
To Souta's unsurprise, he kisses back.
When they break the kiss, Kouga says, "I'm not going to say I'm sorry for that."
It's such a Kouga thing to do. "I didn't think you would," says Souta.
"I'm not gay."
"I know," says Souta. He reaches for him. "Neither am I."
He kisses him again. And again and again and again.
This morning is not as awkward as the other morning Souta woke up with Kouga in his bed. For one, he remembers everything. And second, he's okay with it.
Souta rubs his eyes. He sits up. At the movement, Kouga slits open an eye and looks at him.
"Good morning," says Souta. The words seem inept and lame after what they had shared. Souta doesn't know what to do.
Kouga closes his eyes. He grunts in a non-committal way. "You must not have done this before."
Souta feels the blush on his face. "No," he admits. "I haven't." He pauses. "Have you?"
"Really? How many people have you been with?"
"As in so many you don't remember the number?"
Kouga opens his eyes. The blue of his eye matches the sky burning brightly outside. "I'm over 500 years old, Souta," he remarks. "Of course I don't remember."
"Ah," says Souta. Surprisingly he is not bothered by this. Somehow all the other people in Kouga's past don't matter whatsoever. Not even Kagome, but that is partly because Souta had loved her too. Not in the same way but was love really so different that it had to be categorized?
"I've only been with one other person," he states matter-of-factly.
"I know." Kouga is quiet for a long moment. "You are the only man I have been with," he confesses softly to the ceiling.
Souta thinks in that one sentence alone something new has started. Something different than normal but not bad. Something neither of them expected. Somehow that works for him.
"Oh," gasps Souta. "I almost forgot."
He climbs out of bed and promptly stumbles on the covers wrapped around his legs. Behind him, he can feel Kouga's eyes following him. It makes his hair stand on end. Not from fear but from something exciting.
He picks his pants off the floor where they had been thrown. From inside the pocket, he pulls out the Shikon shard.
"Here." He holds it out towards Kouga. "Sorry I forgot to return it."
Kouga doesn't reach for it. "Keep it," he says with a yawn. "I don't need it anymore."
"Oh..." Souta's stares at him. Slowly his hand curls around the tiny jewel. "Alright then." He puts it back in his pocket and imagines putting it away in a glass jar somewhere as a memento. A way to remember Kagome but with fondness rather than guilt. Souta thinks he can live with that
He climbs back into bed. Kouga makes no indication of getting up. Neither does Souta.
"So," says Souta. "What do we do now?"
Kouga shrugs. "I have to work tomorrow."
"And then what?"
Kouga shrugs again. "I don't know."
"Are you going to leave?"
"I think I might stay around here, actually," says Kouga. "If that's okay with you, I mean."
Souta looks at him and he thinks about going to the bar with him every night, of going to the doughnut shop and smoking cigarettes, and waking up next to him every morning. He thinks he would like to get used to that.
"Sounds like a plan," he says.
Kouga's hand is resting on his own. He isn't sure how it got there but Souta doesn't mind it being there.
There is another few minutes of comfortable silence. It is Kouga who breaks it this time.
"What now?" he asks.
Souta smiles. He squeezes Kouga's hand and Kouga squeezes back. "I think," he says, "that life goes on."
- Fin -