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Winning or Losing

Chapter 26

Chapter 26: Winning or Losing

 

     Kagome pushed the French fry around her plate, dragging it through the smeared puddle of ketchup until it was reduced to soggy pulp. Sango watched with concern as her friend toyed with the uneaten food on her plate. She took a generous bite of her own hamburger, hoping to lead by example. Kagome had been seriously out of sorts ever since her last fight with Inuyasha. In an effort to cheer her up, Sango suggested a day of shopping and eating junk food. After consuming enough fat and sugar to fell a horse and walking until her feet ached, Sango had only succeeded in making herself slightly sick to her stomach. Her eyes dropped to Kagome’s plate, following the hypnotic movement of the fry back and forth, back and forth, back--

 

     Sango’s hand shot out and grabbed Kagome’s wrist. “Kagome! Leave that poor defenseless potato alone! We need to talk!”

 

     Kagome started and raised her head to blink at Sango. “Huh? Were you saying something?”

 

     With a sigh composed partly of exasperation and partly of pity, Sango pushed their plates out of the way. “Listen, Kagome, I know how you feel.”

 

     “You have no idea how I feel!” Kagome’s temper flared for a brief instant. In the next breath, she seemed to collapse in on herself. “I’m sorry, Sango. I shouldn’t snap. I guess I’m being silly.”

 

     Reaching across the table, Sango patted her friend’s shoulder soothingly. “You had a fight, that’s all. Every couple has fights. And making up can be so much fun.” She smiled, a dreamy look coming into her eyes. Abruptly, she shook her head to clear it and focus instead on Kagome’s problems. “You two just need to talk.”

 

     “It’s been over a week,” Kagome whispered in a broken voice. “After the way I acted, I’m not surprised that he wants nothing to do with me.” She buried her head in her arms.

 

     “Oh, Kagome--“

 

     “I messed up, Sango.” Her words were muffled. “I had to be nosy and pretend that I knew best. Inuyasha didn’t want to talk about it. Why did I have to keep pushing?”

 

     “Didn’t he say anything when he came to pick Shiro up?” Sango asked.

 

     Kagome raised her head at the question, fresh tear tracks visible on her cheeks. “I was still kind of mad at him,” she admitted. “I hid in my room with a pillow over my head. And Mama didn’t tell me if he said anything.” She scrubbed at the tearstains with one hand, a guilty flush on her cheeks.

 

     “And he hasn’t called or anything?”

 

     Kagome shook her head. “No.” She started banging her forehead against the table. “I am such an idiot!”

 

     Sango balled up her fist and thumped Kagome hard on the back of the head. Kagome yelped and glared at her friend with a hurt look on her face. “Stop wallowing in self-pity! Find Inuyasha and talk to him! Tell him that you were an idiot, beg for his forgiveness, offer to baby-sit Shiro for free for the next month, but do something! This moping around isn’t getting you anywhere and it’s driving me crazy!”

 

     Kagome’s eyes widened. When did Sango become so forceful? It wasn’t all her fault! Was it? Inuyasha had been acting like a spoiled little boy ever since Kouga started coming around. It was his fault for acting like a jerk! She flushed, remembering how she had gushed over Kouga’s charm and charitable contributions. No wonder Inuyasha felt so insecure.

 

     “You’re right, Sango!” She nodded her head sharply. “I’m going to have to show Inuyasha just how much he and Shiro mean to me.” Standing up, she reached for her purse and looped the strap over her shoulder. “Thanks for everything!”

 

     A blast of cold air hit Sango as Kagome dashed out the door. Absently, she smiled at the waitress who came to collect their plates. She picked up the receipt and scowled at the door and her vanished friend.

 

     “Thanks a lot, Kagome! Leave me with the bill!”

 

^**^

 

     Feeling strangely energized, Kagome walked briskly. Her mind churned in circles, making and discarding plans to find Inuyasha and convince him of how sorry she was. She automatically moved to one side to allow a young couple pushing a stroller to pass. The bright-eyed little girl in the stroller waved her chubby fists in the air, babbling nonstop in baby language. Kagome smiled, her thoughts turning to Shiro. The smile faded when she thought of his daddy. Would Inuyasha ever want to talk to her again? With a determined tilt to her chin, Kagome continued her march down the sidewalk.

 

     Spying a large crack in the sidewalk, she stepped to the side to avoid tripping over it. With her eyes on her feet, she forgot to watch out for other pedestrians.

 

     “Oof!” Kagome grunted as she collided with another person. She looked up, an apology on her lips. The words died when she got a look at who she had run into.

 

     “Are you okay, beautiful?” Kouga asked, his hands coming up to grip her arms and steady her. His eyes took on a teasing glint. “I do believe that this is the second time that you’ve run into me. Maybe I should buy more collision insurance? Or is this just your way of getting my attention?”

 

     Kagome blushed, still at a loss for words. Why did Kouga affect her like this? The confident charm he exuded always made her feel slightly uneasy. She much preferred the rough earthiness of Inuyasha. She stepped back, trying to encourage him to let go of her. He released her arms, only to grab her hands instead.

 

     “I don’t see the moron with you.” He stroked the back of her hand with his thumb, ignoring her attempts to free herself. “Does this mean that you’ve dumped him in favor of someone more worthy? How about that cup of coffee I promised you?”

 

     “Wait, Kouga.” Kagome finally found her voice. She twisted her hands free, unconsciously rubbing the spot that he had been massaging. “I didn’t dump Inuyasha.”

 

     “Then he dumped you?” His eyes clouded with concern. “Don’t worry about it, beautiful. I’ll always be here for you.”

 

     “Why do you and Inuyasha hate each other so much?” Kagome blurted, seizing the chance to hear Kouga’s version and distract him from questioning her about Inuyasha--at least until she had sorted out her own feelings for him and discovered if he felt the same.

 

     Kouga grasped her arm right above the elbow, but all he did was urge her out of the way of the other people trying to use the sidewalk. Only now did Kagome become aware of the sour looks directed their way by those who had to squeeze past them. They stood now in the sheltered alcove of an office supply store that had long since gone out of business. Kouga’s face turned unusually serious as he leaned back against the doorjamb.

 

     “I’m not the one who started this silly little war. I’ll admit that Inuyasha was considered the best before I came along. He just couldn’t stand the competition.”

 

     “But--“

 

     Kouga held up a hand, preventing Kagome from saying anything. “Let me finish. I worked hard every night while guys like Inuyasha were off having fun. Between working every odd job I could get my hands on and keeping up with my schoolwork, I didn’t have time for a social life. I wanted to be a doctor more than anything, and that meant good grades. You see, my little brother was dying.”

 

     Kagome gasped. Kouga met her gaze squarely and she flinched from the old pain she read in his eyes. Tentatively, she placed one hand on his arm, trying to convey her sympathy and sorrow. He gave her a lopsided grin and patted her hand.

 

     “Kenji was an engaging little lad,” Kouga continued. “Always following me around and trying to do everything I did. This was before he got sick.” Kouga swallowed thickly. “Kenji contracted a rare form of leukemia. He wasted away to almost nothing in the space of two years. My folks sold everything they could and we moved to the city, hoping that the doctors here could help him. I worked odd jobs trying to raise the money for Kenji’s treatments. In the end, nothing helped. Kenji died before he turned ten.”

 

     “I’m so sorry, Kouga,” Kagome said. “I had no idea... “ Her voice trailed off. She stared unseeing at the happy people passing by, going about their busy lives. She turned back to regard him with curiosity again. “Why did you become a go-kart driver instead of a doctor? I’m sure you would have been the best and helped a lot of sick kids.”

 

     Kouga smiled at her, only a shadow of old sorrow remaining. “You have confidence in me, don’t you, beautiful? Kenji loved cars and had always wanted to go to one of the big races. Mom and Dad promised to take him when he got older, but then he got sick and we couldn’t afford it anymore. As a doctor, I could have helped many people, but only those who could afford to pay. I wanted to donate money to the hospitals, so that the less fortunate could get the best care possible. And by racing, I could give some kids a day that they would remember for the rest of their lives.”

 

     Kagome responded to his smile with a weak one of her own. “I think it’s impressive that you’ve come so far and made so many kids happy.”

 

     “So, you’ll have coffee with me?”

 

     Kagome gave him a look of pure exasperation. “You never give up, do you?”

 

     Reaching out, Kouga touched her face lightly with the backs of his fingers. “Not until I get what I want.”

 

     “Kouga, don’t.” Kagome closed her eyes and turned away. She understood now, more than she had ever wanted to. “I like you... I really do... Maybe if I had met you first things would have been different... “She shook her head and her eyes sought his face again. She knew what she felt for Kouga, and it was nothing compared to what she felt for Inuyasha.

 

     “Inuyasha wins again,” Kouga said softly. “Don’t think that I’ll ever give up, beautiful, ‘cause I won’t. If that idiot doesn’t treat you right, you can always come to me.” He stepped forward, enfolding her small frame in the circle of his arms. Too surprised to react, her hands gripped his shirt to keep from losing her balance. “I’ll always be here for you, beautiful.”

 

^**^

 

     “Listen, Kagome, I--“ Inuyasha stopped and rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. “I’m s-s-sorry for acting like a jerk.” He watched anxiously, trying to gauge his audience’s reaction. When no comments were forthcoming, he continued with more confidence.

 

     “I don’t doubt you, angel. I-I doubt myself.” He stopped and took a deep breath. “What I’m trying to say is-- I’ve been a jerk. Can we start over?” Inuyasha sighed and covered his eyes with his hand. “That was stupid. Let’s try this again.”

 

     This time he sank to one knee, fumbling in his pocket for the little box containing the promise ring. “Will you consider being my one and only?” He stopped before saying quickly, “This doesn’t mean that we’ll get married. Just that we’ll see each other exclusively. And maybe someday we might actually consider, um, actually getting married.” He popped the box open. The little ring tumbled out. Inuyasha gave a startled exclamation and scrambled on the floor after the slippery piece of jewelry. A high-pitched giggle reached his ears.

 

     “Daddy’s a jerk!” Shiro clapped his hands and laughed. “You’re funny, Daddy! Do it again!”

 

     Inuyasha carefully restored the ring to its box and shoved the whole thing into his pocket. He swooped down on Shiro and tickled the little boy to hear his delighted laughter. “You think that’s funny, do you?” he mock- growled. “Better watch out or the tickle monster’s going to get you.” He poked Shiro in the stomach, laughing as the little boy struggled to escape the tickle torture.

 

     Shiro’s face was flushed when Inuyasha finally let him up. Inuyasha frowned in concern and touched the back of his hand to Shiro’s forehead. “You feel a little warm, buddy. I hope you’re not catching a cold.”

 

     “I’m okay, Daddy,” Shiro chirped.

 

     “Maybe so,” Inuyasha said, slipping Shiro’s shoe onto his little foot, “but I’m going to tell Miss Taro at the daycare center not to let you outside today.” He looked around and finally spied Shiro’s other shoe poking out from under the sofa. How did it get way over there?

 

     “Why can’t I come?” Shiro twisted his face into a cute little pout. “I miss ‘Gome, and I want to see her.”

 

     Inuyasha pulled a light jacket out of the closet. The weather had warmed considerably as the seasons marched into spring, but if Shiro was getting sick he wanted to keep him as bundled as possible. “Daddy wants to talk to ‘Gome first, Shiro. Maybe we can all have dinner together.”

 

     Shiro nodded reluctantly as he followed his daddy out the door. He perked up when Inuyasha let him pick out some flowers at the florist for ‘Gome. Roses were his favorite, because they smelled good just like she did. He carried the fragrant bundle carefully until they reached the door of the daycare.

 

     Inuyasha dropped a kiss on Shiro’s forehead and waved goodbye before leaving in search of Kagome. There wasn’t school today, but maybe she was at home. Makiko or Sango might know where she was if she wasn’t there. Silently, he went over and over his prepared speech. He had given company presentations in front of hundreds of people and never batted an eye. But the thought of talking to Kagome when she was mad at him made his gut cramp up and his hands turn sweaty.

 

     He walked along the sidewalk, avoiding most people and muttering automatic apologies to those he did bump into. What if she wouldn’t even listen to him? That was why he had bought the flowers. They were a kind of peace offering. He was passing one of the many storefronts lining this part of town, a small business that had been driven under by a larger company, when he caught the sound of a familiar voice.

 

     “I think it’s impressive that you’ve come so far and made so many kids happy.” Kagome’s voice drifted out from the shadowed alcove.

 

     Inuyasha’s fingers tightened, crushing the stems of the roses, when he heard her companion’s voice.  “So you’ll have coffee with me?”

 

     That was Kouga! Kagome’s reply was reduced to an indistinct mumble by the blood rushing in his ears. Inuyasha stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, ignoring the grumbles of the people who were now forced to walk around him. He eased forward until he could see the two of them. The roses dropped from numb fingers, his eyes widening in shock.

 

     She was hugging him! Inuyasha lowered his head, his shoulders slumping in defeat. He had lost again. Kouga had once again managed to steal the girl he cared for. If only he wasn’t so stubborn! If only he had talked to Kagome earlier! Now it was too late. He shoved his hands deep into his pockets, wincing when his fingers came into contact with the little box. All he could hope for was that Kagome would be happy. It didn’t matter that his heart felt like it had been ripped out of his chest. Kagome deserved to be happy.

 

^**^

 

     Kagome pushed out of Kouga’s grip, turning to peer out at the busy sidewalk. A sound, half-heard or maybe half-sensed, grabbed her attention.  Did she actually hear something, or just imagine it? A flash of dark hair among the crowd made her heart beat faster. She rushed out into the open.

 

     “Inuyasha,” She called eagerly, looking left and right. All she could hear was the murmur of strange voices. Something rustled under her feet. Her gaze was drawn down to see a dozen red roses scattered over the sidewalk, the petals fluttering softly in the breeze. She knelt and touched one of the flowers gently. She looked up again, hoping for a glimpse of a familiar face.

 

     “Inuyasha?”

 

^**^

 

Food for thought (courtesy of Yurikkuna):

 

Bacon and Eggs: A day’s work for a chicken, a lifetime commitment for a pig

copyright: The Literary Dragon 2004