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Stories From the Past

Chapter 24

Chapter 24:  Stories From the Past

 

     People in bright orange suits swarmed over the track like ants. Kagome barely noticed as they extracted the unfortunate young racer who had caused the accident. A part of her mind noted with relief that, though he was shaken and bruised, he was not seriously injured. The remaining karts roared around the far turn, already beginning to slow in response to the crash.  As soon as the track was cleared, then the race would continue.  Unfortunately, two of the racers were now out of the running.

 

     "'Gome?" Kagome looked down at the touch of Shiro's hand on her leg. "What happened? Where's Kouga?" She started to reply, but then changed her mind. Just how much could she tell the kid that he would understand? She didn't want to frighten him.

 

     Inuyasha lifted Shiro into his arms. "Don't worry," he reassured both of them. "Kouga's tough. He'll be just fine." His firm confidence eased some of Kagome's own worries.

 

     A triumphant shout brought her attention back to Kouga's overturned kart. The red and yellow form of Kouga crawled out from under the wreckage and stood up. Using one hand he pulled his helmet off and dropped it to the ground. One of the orange suits picked it up and brushed it off. The crowd let out a deafening cheer as he raised his hand in a kind of salute to let everyone know that he was okay. His left arm hung limply by his side, but a broken arm was a small price to pay for what could have been a serious accident.

 

     Kouga walked under his own power despite the obvious protests of the medics who felt that he should be carried on a stretcher. Kagome abandoned her spot at the rail, not even noticing as the race resumed its full-speed dash toward the finish line. Inuyasha followed her, still carrying Shiro. They found Kouga, not too far away, surrounded by a group of reporters and fans who were more interested in finding out if he was okay than in who won the race.

 

     "Are you okay, Kouga?" one reporter asked, shoving a microphone in his face. Kagome stood on tiptoe, trying to see over the heads in front of her. She caught a glimpse of Kouga, his arm in a temporary sling, directing his grin at the young reporter. The reporter blushed, looking flustered to be the focus of his magnetic charm despite having a job that put her in contact with all sorts of famous and good-looking people.

 

     "It's just a busted arm." He spoke loud enough for everyone to hear. "I'll be racing again before you know it."

 

     "How do you feel about losing the race?" This reminded Kagome that Kouga had been taken out before he could finish.

 

     Kouga shrugged with his uninjured shoulder. "I'm disappointed to not be able to finish the race. There's no point in denying it." He paused, his eyes flicking over the expectant crowd hanging on his every word. "But we aren't racing for ourselves. It's the children who are the real winners."

 

     Everyone murmured happily, except for one loud disbelieving snort. Heads turned to try and locate the source of the disturbance. Inuyasha grunted when Kagome dug her elbow into his side.

 

     "Behave, Inuyasha," she hissed, turning red under the curious stares.

 

     "Kagome!" The crowd obediently parted as Kouga beckoned to Kagome to join him. Inuyasha tried to follow, but the path closed off and he couldn't force his way through. Kouga took one of Kagome's hands in his uninjured one.

 

     "Were you worried about me, beautiful?" Kagome blushed at suddenly being the focus of a large group of people. For someone who had just been in a major accident, Kouga’s grip on her hand was strong. She couldn't free her fingers without causing a scene. When she looked around, she was surprised that Inuyasha wasn't next to her. But she could see Shiro's head poking above the crowd. Inuyasha must have lifted him onto his shoulders so that he could see.

 

     "Who's the girl, Kouga?" someone called out before Kagome could respond to the other question. Kouga tugged her close to him, slipping his arm around her waist.

 

     "This is my Kagome," he announced loudly. Kagome frowned. Since when did she become his? She opened her mouth to speak, but was cut off by the excited chatter of the reporters'

 

     "How long have you known each other?"

 

     "Where did you meet?"

 

     To Kagome: "How old are you, miss?"

 

     "When's the wedding?"

 

     Kouga didn't try to answer any of the questions. Cheering from the direction of the track alerted everyone that the race was over. Kouga shooed the reporters away to go interview the winner, the small group of fans reluctantly following.

 

     Inuyasha was beside her in an instant. Kagome pulled out of Kouga's hold, intent on soothing her boyfriend. She squeaked when Inuyasha grabbed her roughly, pinning her against his side. He didn't even look at her, but instead fixed an icy glare on Kouga. Kouga met Inuyasha's eyes without flinching, but Kagome thought there was a kind of mocking challenge in his gaze. The tense moment was broken by Shiro.

 

     "Daddy says that you gots a broken arm." Shiro reached up as high as he could to touch the sling. "Does it hurt? Is flying through the air fun? Is your head really made out of rocks? Daddy says that your head is as hard as a rock." He frowned, thinking. "Or was it rocks for brains? I forget. I lost my balloon. The string broke and it floated away. Do you think that it will go all the way up to heaven?"

 

     Kouga smiled and ruffled Shiro's hair. "I bet you never run out of questions. Curious as a bear cub, aren't you? No worries, sport. I'm just fine. I was wearing a helmet." He picked the helmet off of the ground where it had been placed, probably by the person who had picked it up after the wreck. The surface was scratched and slightly dented, but better the helmet than Kouga's head. "It took all of the damage instead of my rock hard head." His gaze slid over to Inuyasha. Kagome's face showed her embarrassment over Inuyasha's words. The young man in question only crossed his arms over his chest and looked defiant.

 

     "Who cares about that?" Inuyasha ground out between clenched teeth. "What gives you the right to claim Kagome as yours?"

 

     Kouga didn't look at all disturbed by the challenge in Inuyasha's voice. "Kagome is a beautiful woman. She must be kind and infinitely patient if she spends any time with you. I could offer her fame and fortune, everything her heart desires. Why shouldn't I claim her as mine? Do you have a problem with that?"

 

     Inuyasha spluttered, nearly incoherent. "Kagome is not yours. She’s mine! Right, Kagome?"

 

     "What would she want with a pathetic loser like you?" Kouga shot back without waiting for Kagome to answer. "You haven't changed a bit since high school. You're still winning girls on the strength of your daddy's connections."

 

     "I've worked hard to get where I am." Inuyasha bristled even more, increasing his resemblance to an angry puffed-up toad. "I'm not some show-off, trying to impress people with insane stunts in the name of the less fortunate!"

 

     "Right," Kouga sneered. "You've always had everything you wanted! From the most beautiful girl in school to a high paying job in daddy's company."

 

     "And you're still sneaking around behind my back." Inuyasha had his hands clenched so tight that the knuckles were turning white. "Trying to seduce my girl! I'm not a naïve little schoolboy anymore. Those tricks won't work!"

 

     It didn't take a genius to sense an imminent fight. Motivated by exasperation with juvenile threats and wishing to avoid exposing Shiro to more violence, Kagome took her life in her hands and stepped between them.

 

     "That's enough you two." She placed her hands on an arm of each of them and tried to push them apart. The muscles under her fingers felt tight, coiled for action. "If you want to fight that badly, do it somewhere else. But I'm not letting you corrupt an impressionable child." Tense muscles relaxed fractionally. Kagome heaved a quiet sigh of relief. She turned to Kouga, ignoring the seething Inuyasha for the moment.

 

     "You're really sweet, Kouga." She raised a hand to prevent his triumphant grin. "But, really, I'm happy being with Inuyasha. I like you, but not in that way. Can we still be friends?"

 

     Kouga grabbed her hand before she could protest and raised it to his lips. He kissed the smooth skin. "Of course, beautiful Kagome." He grinned at her automatic blush. "Let me know when you're ready to leave the idiot behind. I'll be waiting for you, and I'm sure you'll come to your senses soon." He kissed her hand one more time before releasing her. With a jaunty wave and a final barbed comment to Inuyasha, he strolled off in the direction of the racing offices and proper medical treatment.

 

     "Daddy?" Shiro's small voice penetrated Inuyasha's black mood. He cocked his head, waiting for a comment about fighting, or concern that Kagome would leave them. "I want a new balloon. My old one flyed away." Inuyasha blinked. Not the kind of thing he was anticipating, but much easier to deal with.

 

     "Any color you want, Shiro." He took the little boy by the hand. Kagome watched them walk away and got mad all over again. Why did Inuyasha have to pick a fight with every guy who tried to talk to her? It was ruining her social life.

 

     "Wait, Inuyasha," she called, hurrying to catch up. "Whatever happened between you and Kouga was a long time ago.  How long are you going to hold a silly grudge? He seems to be very nice." Inuyasha pretended that he didn't hear her.

 

     "Why do you have to get so jealous?" She grabbed his arm and dug in her heels to make him stop walking and talk to her. Inuyasha did stop. He turned to look at her and the expression in his eyes made her take an involuntary step back. She didn't know what it was, but he had never looked like that before.

 

     "This has nothing to do with jealousy," he said quite calmly, as if they were discussing the weather. He started walking again, without waiting to see if she would follow.

 

     "Then what is the problem?" Kagome demanded, following him out the gate and toward the parking lot.  The balloon man was still hanging around the entrance.  He was all out of red balloons, but offered Shiro a green one and a yellow one instead.  Two balloons instead of just one made the little boy happy enough that he didn’t object to getting a different color.

 

     "I don't want to talk about it, so back off!" Kagome ground her teeth together to prevent herself from saying something she would later regret. If that was the way he was going to be, then fine, she didn't want to know about it anyway.

 

^**^

 

     Kagome's stomach rumbled. Shifting her package-laden arms, she managed to get a look at her watch. Almost one o'clock! No wonder she was starved. Luckily, there was a small café right across the street. She reached the crosswalk just as the light changed and was able to cross the street with the other pedestrians.

 

     A large puddle of water overflowed the gutter on the other side. There had been a lot of rain off and on over the past several days. Many people proclaimed that this meant that winter was over. Some trees and flowers seemed to think so, too. But Kagome's mom had said just that morning that the same thing happened every year. The weather would warm up, encouraging all sorts of new growth, and then a final freeze would come and kill everything off. It was still too early for a real spring.

 

     Balancing her packages, Kagome hopped over the puddle. Her right foot slipped off the sidewalk to splash into the muddy water. She grimaced as cold water soaked her sock and shoe. Fortunately, there was a brand new pair of socks among the bags and packages she was carrying. At least her skirt stayed dry.

 

     The inside of the café was dim after the strong sunlight outside. She blinked to adjust her vision, scanning the interior for a place to sit.

 

     "Kagome! Over here!" She looked around to see Miroku waving his arm in the air to attract her attention. He helped to unburden her as she sank onto the chair across from him.

 

     "I didn't expect to see you today, Miroku," Kagome said by way of greeting. "Where's Sango?"

 

     "Sango and Kohaku are having some brother/sister bonding time," Miroku explained, pouting in mock hurt. "And she said I couldn't come." Then he brightened and smiled at Kagome. "What about you? I don't see either of your shadows around."

 

     Kagome's cheerful look faded as she thought about why Inuyasha and Shiro weren't with her. "Today is the day that Inuyasha takes Shiro to visit with Kikyo. I'd just be in the way." Her face darkened a little. "But I'm sure that Naraku will be there. He'll probably demand that Inuyasha give him that old sword of his."

 

     "Well, I'm sure that Inuyasha--" His reply was cut off by the arrival of a waitress come to take their orders.

 

     "I don't know how you can eat all that junk," Kagome commented after the waitress left with her order of a salad and a diet coke, and Miroku's order of a double cheeseburger, large French fry, and chocolate shake. "And you're so skinny. If I ate like that, I'd look like a blimp."

 

     "I have to keep up my strength. It takes a lot of energy to avoid my lovely Sango's delicate hands. She seems to take offense at something I do or say at least once a week." He sighed with a long-suffering look on his face. "There's so much that still needs to be appreciated. And we're going to be married; you'd think she would be a little more lenient."

 

     Kagome snorted, sounding a lot like Inuyasha. "It's your continued appreciation for the female form that keeps getting you in trouble."

 

     They spent some time exchanging witty banter until the waitress arrived with their food. Miroku stoically ignored Kagome's ribbing about his eating habits and pretended not to notice when she filched fries off of his plate.

 

     "Hey, Miroku." Miroku looked up at the uncertain, slightly sad tone in Kagome's voice. She had her eyes down, stirring her soda with her straw and watching the ice float around the glass. She said nothing else for so long that he thought that she had changed her mind.

 

     "What do you know about Kouga?" she asked in a rush, risking a glance at his face. "I mean, you went to the same school as him and… well… Inuyasha won't talk about anything having to do with him."

 

     Miroku leaned back in his chair, a thoughtful look in his eyes. "Ah, yes. I've known Kouga for years, almost as long as I've known Inuyasha. And as long as I've known them, they have been rivals."

 

     Settling forward in his chair, Miroku locked eyes with Kagome. "It's been a long time since I've seen Kouga, and I'm glad that he's done so well for himself. But to really understand, I'll have to tell you about the Kouga I knew." Miroku stopped to clear his throat.

 

     "You know that Inuyasha went to work at his father's company, right?" He waited for Kagome's nod before going on. "Inuyasha was always considered well off. And he knew that he had a good job lined up as soon as he graduated. Girls considered him handsome, in a prickly, brooding sort of way. He never lacked for friends who were willing to put up with his sour personality for the sake of his father's money. Now, Inuyasha isn't as dumb as he acts. I think that's what made him so jaded so young. There were only a couple of people he could count on as real friends."

 

     Miroku took a sip of Kagome's soda to moisten his throat. She let him, eager to hear the other side of the story. "Kouga was at the exact opposite end from Inuyasha. To put it frankly, his family was dirt poor. Actually, they probably considered dirt a luxury. Kouga won friends on the strength of his personality and good looks. He was more fun to be around than Inuyasha. It seemed like Kouga was always pulling some crazy stunt to win the admiration of the students.

 

     "It shouldn't surprise you that they decided to be rivals instead of friends. Kouga thought that Inuyasha was using his father's money and connections to win friends. Inuyasha thought that Kouga was a show-off and beneath his notice. They competed in everything: sports, academics, and girls. Girls who fell for Inuyasha were often lured away by Kouga's charm. There was one exception."

 

     Miroku took a large sip from Kagome's glass. He frowned upon discovering that the soda was gone. Kagome tapped her foot impatiently while he flagged down the waitress for a refill. For the sake of her barely contained curiosity, the waitress returned quickly.

 

     "Where was I?" Miroku closed his eyes in thought for a moment. He opened them again and the look he directed at Kagome was serious as well as sad. "The only girl who never deserted Inuyasha for Kouga was Kikyo. She managed to convince Inuyasha that she liked him for who he was, and not for his money. My belief is that Kikyo stayed loyal to Inuyasha because she was looking forward to a life of luxury. She didn't know about Sesshoumaru because Inuyasha never talked about him. And Sesshoumaru, as the eldest, got the lion's share of their father's inheritance.

 

     "But you already know most of that story. When Inuyasha and Kikyo were having their marital disagreements after Shiro was born, she declared that she would have been better off marrying Kouga. I know that Inuyasha never forgave her for that. Inuyasha and Kouga are both so proud and stubborn that they will probably be rivals until the day they die."

 

     "Poor Inuyasha," Kagome murmured mostly to herself. "No wonder he gets jealous so easily."

 

     "Never mention this conversation to Inuyasha," Miroku admonished. "If he finds out that I said anything, then I am history. Do you understand me, Kagome?"

 

     Kagome nodded. "I promise, Miroku. This will be just between you and me. Still, I'm glad you told me."

 

     Miroku regarded her steadily for a moment before turning the conversation in less dangerous directions. Why did he have the feeling that he had just made the biggest mistake of his life?

 

^**^

 

Food for thought (courtesy of Aithril the Elf-Maiden):

 

Don't take life too seriously-it's not like you're getting out alive

copyright: The Literary Dragon 2004