Author: Mjus PM
Modern AU. Sanji is a kid in a rebellious age. Then suddenly he meets Ruby and Sanji gets the chance to change the way he lives his life. Fem!Luffy Rated for violence, some language and bullyingRated: Fiction T - English - Friendship - Sanji & Luffy - Words: 5,725 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 16 - Follows: 6 - Published: 10-10-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8598192
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
This is yet another short story I've had laying in my com for about a year and a half. Any of you read "First day of school"? That story was supposed to be longer than that and this story was supposed to be part of it. But alas, I edited the text a little and voilà; a One piece one-shot. There are only a few locations that is recogniceable from "first day". But I like this story a whole too much lot.
I do have one more one-shot like this one. Maybe, perhaps, I'll update that one too in the future. (though I really should finish the Star first...)
Disclaimer; One piece (c) Eiichiro Oda
Summary; Modern AU. Sanji is a kid in a rebellious age. Then suddenly he meets Ruby and Sanji gets the chance to change the way he lives his life.
It was the middle of fall, October 14th. The weather was unstable, promising rain as the colourless clouds hung low and heavy over the town, but during the whole day there had been no rain. I had heard about a new student at Sendai Junior High, my school, but since it was said it was a boy I gave it no further thought. There were other things that needed my attention, like the weaklings of all the surrounding schools. They all needed a lesson in obedience and fear. I was a fourteen-year-old Yankee, a slender one, but certainly not weak. In the gang I had grouped up with was members from both junior high and high school, and while I was smallest, no one tried anything on me. However, I would never lay a finger on a lady. Women make this world go around, and if I have to I will die to protect one.
That day, like many others before, I and my "friends" ditched school and hung around the edge of the football area of Merry Junior High where we had a good view over the building exit and the school gate. The teachers didn't dare to approach us when we were together, especially not when Don, our leader from Oda high, was with us. Don had already shown them what happened if anyone tried to interfere with us, and the police couldn't do much against underage students but tell their parents and ask them to do something. At the end of school the students poured out like blood from a wound. Small and big mixed together, hurrying to their cosy little homes and loving parents that would welcome and hug them. The thought disgusted me to the point I was swallowing the bile.
Last in the line, leisurely walking and chatting with some guy in a straw hat, was Cryglasses, a boy who was about five centimetres below average height, wore round blue glasses and the most pathetically weak personality ever. We all moved towards the school gate to block their way, me to get money from Cryglasses and the rest to entertain themselves with the new guy. I was up for that too. But there was something strange with Cryglasses that day. He stared at the straw hat boy with dazed admiration. I had a stray thought that he might be into other guys and shivered, promising myself to never come in skin touch with Cryglasses again.
"Oi! Cryglasses!" I said as he was about to pass me.
He looked up and noticed us, me mostly and I felt goosebumps rise on my arms. He stopped mid step and started trembling.
It came out like choked whisper and pearls of sweat appeared on his forehead, disgusting me further.
"You borrowed money from me months ago. When are you going to pay me back?"
"Th… but that…"
Some guy from my gang spoke up.
"Huh? What's this, Sanji? When did you give money to Cryglasses?"
"Yeah," said another. "Are you keeping a little secret from us, Sanji-kun?"
I threw them a glare, but they were out of my reach, had probably known they were and therefore spoken up, and going after them would give Cryglasses a chance to escape. So I settled with a comment.
"Shut your shitty traps."
Turning back to Cryglasses he had begun to back away from me. The new kid stood still though, his wide, brown eyes looking at each one of us with a very dumb look in the face, like he had no idea of what was going on. I concentrated on Cryglasses though.
"So? When are you going to pay up?"
Cryglasses trembled so that his glasses slipped down his nose and just stammered something incoherently. It made me even angrier. Then suddenly the new guy pointed at me and turned to Cryglasses.
"Hey, Coby. What's up with is this ugly lot?"
Those words hit me so hard my jaw dropped. And not only me. All the guys of my gang took those words equally hard. I think I even remember hearing someone choke. Let me tell you this now that I've always been extra careful with my looks and I myself think I'm very good-looking. I'll let you know I wasn't a virgin either.
"Yeah," the new guy said. "Cowards are ugly to me."
That was a hit straight in the shins. I gritted my teeth to control myself, for just a moment.
"You've got some nerve there, punk," I said, but it came out as a hiss.
"You're the new kid, huh?" another spoke up.
The new kid turned to the one who spoke, and grinned. Widely.
"Yup. I started today. Nice to meet ya."
My brain had troubles processing the words and taking in the guy's face at the same time. The guy looked girly, but I refused to think of him as cute, even if he was.
"Nice… to… meet…" someone to my right repeated slowly. "Are you picking a fight, scrawny?!"
Cryglasses reached out a trembling hand and waved to the new kid.
"R-Ruby-san. P-p-please ap-po-po-pologize."
My thoughts halted. The guys around me stilled. All of us stared at Cryglasses and the new kid.
"Ruby?" I heard a voice repeat.
"Yup, that's my name," the new guy, now known under the name of Ruby, said with a grin.
That's when my, and most of the other's dam broke and started laughing. I laughed so hard I almost couldn't breathe and my whole middle part hurt so that I had to bend forwards, almost falling over myself.
"Ruby!" someone roared in between laugher. "Your name is Ruby!?"
"You should be awarded; The-Girliest-Name-On-A-Guy award!"
"Your mommy must have wanted a girl instead of you!"
"Let's call Cryglasses Ms. Emerald from now on! They're a gem collection!"
"Is that your real name? Ha-ha! Were you red when you popped out?!"
Tears were starting to form in the corners of my eyes, and as I whipped them away I looked up. In the middle of the circle we had formed stood Cryglasses, head down and hands tightly gripping the hem of his shirt, and the new kid, who seemed very confused and looking around at us all. Then he turned to Cryglasses.
"Coby, what are they laughing about? Are they stupid?"
That's when I stopped laughing, choked on it actually.
"Stupid?" I repeated and stepped up to the new kid.
I may not have been very tall, but I was taller than Ruby. To my irritation though, Ruby didn't waver under my glare.
"Yes. Laughing at an introduction is really strange, and stupid."
I felt a muscle in my eyebrow twitch.
"You shouldn't throw stones like that, punk," I all but growled out, actually trying to not bring my leg up and give the guy a concussion. He blinked stupidly at me.
"I wasn't throwing stones. I just said that you're stupid."
There was a choked sound beside us, and from the corner of my eye I saw Cryglasses gap at us with a very pale face. At least he knew what was about to come, but he wouldn't do something about it. He was too much of a coward, and too weak.
"You wanna die? I can do the job right here and now if you'd like."
"I can't be killed by the likes of you."
That was the last straw. My foot came up, aiming for Ruby's temple, and missed. It wasn't because I had aimed too high. Ruby had dodged my attack! No one was as surprised as I.
"Sanji missed," I heard someone whisper with shock clinging to the voice.
"There's actually someone who can dodge Sanji's kicks?"
"Don't worry. That was just luck," Don, the leader, said confidently.
But it wasn't luck. I could see it in Ruby's eyes. A strong, straightforward gaze I couldn't hide from.
"Was that luck?" I asked lowly.
Ruby smirked. "Instinct."
Not the answer I had expected. And it was said with such a confident face it made my blood boil. I attacked again, a chain of attacks. Ruby dodged, and dodged, and then he caught me. My last kick, aiming for my opponent's chest, was pushed upwards. I'm very flexible, so there wasn't any strain. Ruby was very flexible too, because he stood with his legs in a 180 degrees angle with my wrist resting on top of his foot. Around us it was very quiet.
"Told ya so," Ruby said sneering at me. "You're no match for me."
For a second I saw red. I brought up my left leg and hit the side of Ruby's face, sending him flying.
"Ha! That's what you get for mocking Sanji!" someone yelled, before Ruby bent, kicked into the ground to flip over and land safely on both feet.
"That really hurt! Meanie!" Ruby accused.
"Don't call me mean when you're the one who picked a fight in the first place, shitty bastard!"
"I wasn't picking a fight! You just attacked me when I said I can't be killed by you!"
"That's called provocation, asshole!"
"Cool down, Sanji."
I turned to see that Don had moved forward. Usually he just stayed in the background, enjoying the show of harassment. It was very rare that he stepped forward at all.
"I'm still here, so keep your cool and finish that kid off."
While it stung a bit to obey the orders of a guy like Don, I still charged. The new kid however, took a stance of defence and waited for me. Expecting a blocking, I feinted to the left. I surely hadn't expected a display of speed. In between my feint and real attack Ruby stepped forward and planted his knee in my stomach. Hard. I lost my breath and for a moment everything went black, until something big hit me. The ground I realized when the fog before my eyes lifted. Too shocked and in too much pain I was only vaguely aware of the mumble of voices. The gang and Don were still there. Clutching my stomach I stood up, trying hard to save some dignity. Ruby's face brightened.
"You're though. Maybe I really should have given my all. I usually don't when I fight strangers."
My breath hitched. If all of that guy's strength hadn't been put behind that kick, I wasn't up for fighting anymore. Around me, Don waved the other guys forward, all at once, humiliating me completely. I may not have been up for fighting, but I certainly hadn't asked for their help. But just as they charged, the new kid disappeared. There were people in front of me, so I couldn't see clearly, but it certainly looked like Ruby had vanished into thin air. Then an angry voice yelled behind me.
"What the hell do you think you're up to, Ruffy?!"
When I turned I saw Ruby and the back of a guy in the uniform of Oda High.
"I'm not up to anything, Nii-chan. They attacked me first."
"I'm sure you said something before they attacked. What did you say?"
"I just said I couldn't be killed by someone like," Ruby turned his head and pointed at me "him."
"That's still called provocation!" I yelled, and regretted it when the muscles of my stomach clenched.
There was a silence when the high school guy, Ruby's brother, turned and glared at me with ash grey eyes. For the first time in my life, I got scared enough to shut my mouth tightly. That gaze promised death. Real death when I would actually be killed, and not just beaten up. Not even Don had ever had that kind of look in his eyes, and he was the most ruthless of everyone I knew. Ruby had called us cowards. Maybe he hadn't been so far off the mark as I had thought if he had a brother like this.
"And what was said before that?" the brother asked as he turned back to Ruby.
The question seemed to require some thinking. Then Ruby hit his palm.
"Oh yes. I have a new friend. Coby."
"I know. A little guy with glasses came to my school to find me to come save your ass."
"You met Coby?"
I looked around and noticed that Cryglasses was hiding behind the school gate.
"Briefly," the brother said. "Go on."
"Ah. This lot suddenly surrounded us. The blond over there said Coby owned him money. I didn't understand what was going on so I asked Coby who they were. That's when that blond started threatening me. And then he attacked me."
Don was stepping forward again, towards Ruby's brother's back. He hadn't picked up on the death threat. I still couldn't move. Then the brother suddenly turned towards us, looking a lot like a thunder cloud.
"Don't even think of touching my little sister ever again."
It felt like I was falling. It was a perfectly clear statement, but I couldn't understand it. Then I heard a shrill scream that belonged partly to me and partly to all the other guys around.
Approximately, it was two days later I found myself on the streets after yet another fight with the man calling himself my father. My memories of those days are hazy at best since I was caught up in my own feelings of betrayal and rebellion. Living this close to the ocean, the autumns are rather warm, but that night it was chilly, being in the end of October too. A grey day no different from all the others that had come and would follow. I only remember that day because I met with Ruby for the second time in my life.
Let me start from the beginning. More and more often, beginning two years ago when I was twelve, I would verbally fight with my adoptive father, and he has never hesitated to punish me with kicks either. His policy is to never use the hands for fighting, since it would make his hands less delicate to different kinds of food. He was, still is, violent like a gangster. After yelling that I hated him I would run out to cool down and wonder what the hell I would do next. Those nights always ended with me walking back home as late as possible to sneak inside while the old man was asleep, to keep some dignity at least. This was another of those days. I had been wandering around aimlessly for about an hour and a half when I neared the port. There was a convenience store and I was thirsty, and moneyless. Not that it had been a problem the last few months. I walked up to the door and was about to open it when it instead opened from inside and I stepped back to not be hit in the face.
In front of me stood the kid from the other day, Ruby, with a plastic bag, but now definitely female. She wore her black hair loose, reaching past her shoulders, and the bright red jacket open over her black tank top, showing a slender figure and a pair of rounded breasts, albeit not very big ones. She also wore a pair of shorts reaching her knees, showing off a pair of legs that were definitely the legs of a girl; smooth and slender. She blinked her big, brown eyes at me, and grinned.
"Oh, it's you. The kicking blond. How are ya?"
If I said I had expected something along those lines I would be lying. More than anything I had expected a glare, a snort, an insult or worse; being pointedly ignored. Now however, I was gaping at her grinning face until someone came up behind me.
"Are you gonna stand there blocking the way all night? Move it, you brats!"
Both I and Ruby stepped aside to let the grumpy man inside, and as we did Ruby's hair moved and revealed a dark bruise. Shame and guilt welled up inside me at the sight. I had harmed a lady, marked her skin with the force of my stupidity, something I had vowed to never do in my life because women are the soul of this world, bringing light to each day with their beauty and sweetness.
"Weren't you going in?" Ruby broke through my thoughts and tucked her hair behind her ear to keep the bruise visible for me.
"No, I… I changed my mind."
Those big, brown eyes looked at me and blinked. I couldn't understand how I could ever have mistaken her for a guy, even when wearing the boys' uniform. Her eyes were bigger than anyone I had met and her skin was fair, her slender body was one of a young girl that would grow into a beauty that would mesmerize any man that passed her by. And I had harmed this beautiful body in blind rage.
"I am really, really sorry!" I said, bowing deeply. "I am sorry for attacking you and hurting your beautiful skin, leaving such an ugly mark. I have never once kicked a woman before and I reflect upon my actions. I am truthfully ashamed of myself and I will take…"
I might have continued to apologize like that for an hour if Ruby hadn't burst out laughing.
"You're funny," she laughed wholeheartedly, but surprisingly not in an evil or malicious way. She actually thought I was funny!
I must admit that it stung in my pride. Here I had tried to make amends and apologize and she just shoved it all aside and laughed at me!
"Don't worry about it," she said once she calmed down a bit, but she never stopped grinning. "Your kick was nothing compared to grandpa's fists. And I fight Nii-chan every second day too. If you tried your strength on any of them you would be crushed within a second, so don't try it."
God knows how to answer to something like that. I certainly don't. I couldn't even tell if it was an insult or a warning.
"By the way, I'm Monkey D. Ruby, moved here from Hokkaido last week."
I blinked my eyes at her grinning face and then looked down to her expanded hand. I'm sure I took a long time before I grasped the situation.
"Ah. I'm… Sanji."
"Okay, Sanji. What are you doing out this late?"
I checked my watch briefly and saw it was only past eight o'clock.
"Just… walking," I answered.
Ruby hummed in a "is that so" kind of way.
"Were you about to buy a drink?"
"No, I wasn't. Why?"
That wasn't a lie. I hadn't intended to buy anything.
"Your voice sound raspy and you keep licking your lips."
As she said it, I caught myself doing just that, and immediately I withdrew my tongue. What happened next caught me so off-guard I didn't recover until I was back home; Ruby grabbed my wrist and pulled me along.
"Come on. Let's go home."
"Wha..? Wa… wait! Where are you taking me?"
"Why, home of course," Ruby smiled at me, or grinned. A wide, toothy grin, and for some reason it made me feel a lot better.
Then she took a sharp turn to the left, almost dislocating my shoulder, opened a door and walked out of her shoes so that I stumbled over them.
"Mom! I go the drinks!" she called and waved around with the plastic bag.
"Good girl. But it seems to me like you got more than drinks with you home."
"Yup. This is Sanji," Ruby introduced me.
The one who faced us was the most impressive and intimidating woman I had ever met. Six foot tall or more with a sharp face and even sharper eyes. Orange eyes! Her eyebrows were thin, straight and black. Her mouth had a hard line and it seemed she wore cerise lipstick. Her hair, tied back into a ponytail on the back of her head, was straight, glossy and reached the small of her back. Her shoulders were broader than average and her bare arms were lined with fine muscles. I had a hard time believing this woman was really the mother of the goofily grinning girl still holding my wrist.
"Another stray of yours, huh," she woman sighed. "Your brother is in the basement. Please fetch him for dinner."
"Right away!" Ruby called and bounced out of the kitchen, without me, so I stood alone face to face with the sharp woman.
Ruby's mother however, sighed deeply once Ruby was out of hearing.
"I hope you like paella," she said and turned back to the stove.
"Paella?" I repeated and hated the dumb sound of my voice.
"Spanish dish. Rather spicy."
"I know that. My old man is a cook."
"Is that so?"
The woman mixed the ingredients together in a bowl; rice, chicken, shrimp and crab, and placed it on the table before she rearranged the plates and brought another chair.
"Wait! Are you making place for me too?" I asked, shocked.
Usually you didn't want a stranger sharing your food. Especially not one coming uninvited when dinner was almost done. Less food for themselves.
"Of course. Ruffy won't let you leave with an empty stomach. She's a stubborn one, I warn you."
Ruby chose that moment to re-enter the kitchen, loudly.
"Mom! Look! Ace fixed my hat! It's even better than before!"
The girl bounced around with the straw hat I remember her wearing the other day, smiling like she was the happiest human on earth. Her mother smiled too, an action that softened her sharp features.
"That's great, heart. Thank you, Ace."
"No problem," said a voice behind me and I jumped several feet forward in fright before spinning around. There stood the guy with the grey eyes Ruby called "Nii-chan", eyeing me suspiciously from the corner of his eyes as his face was turned to a still happily bouncing Ruby. In the midst of Ruby I had completely forgotten about her brother.
"Let's eat!" the young girl suddenly shouted and jumped down on a chair, cutlery in her hands.
The mother placed herself face to face with Ruby, and the brother to her left. They all looked to me. The only chair empty was the one face to face with Ace, the brother, and the thought of being in line of his glare didn't appeal to me in the slightest.
"Aren't you gonna sit and eat with us, Sanji?" asked Ruby, attacking me with a pair of clear, wide, brown eyes and a crestfallen face. To this day I only know of one man who could hold his ground against that look; the grandfather.
And Ruby grinned at me.
The food was really good, albeit a little too spicy for my taste, and too mild for Ace-kun. Ruby's mother introduced herself as Monkey D. Jewel, married into the name, but when I asked about her husband she just shrugged her shoulders and said he never was around. Being told that I cast a nervous look at the brother and sister, but they didn't seem downcast about their father's absence. Instead Ruby asked me to eat more. "Eat your fill to your heart's content" she said with the same carefree smile as always. Absolutely no strain in sight. For some reason, the son and daughter's lack of care about an absent father stung something inside me. Ruby was a glutton too, I realized, and Ace-kun was always there to tell her off, just to take the rest for himself and then there was an open war between the two, in which I had a part on Ruby's side, for whatever reason I can't remember how it happened, until Jewel-san stepped in by pulling Ace-kun's and my ears and yelling at Ruby to sit still and eat properly. After that episode it was calm again until the food was eaten to the last scrap. All four of us leaned back in our chairs and patted our stomachs. Ace-kun burped, causing Ruby to giggle hysterically, until she too burped loudly, causing the rest of us to throw our heads back and laugh.
I can't remember exactly how I ended up outside the door, facing the family of three to say goodbye. Ace-kun had a hand around Ruby's shoulder, keeping her in place, or giving me a signal.
"It was a good dinner. Thank you for inviting me, Jewel-san. Ruby-san."
"Of course. Let's have dinner together again soon," Ruby grinned enthusiastically, almost all the way between both ears, showing a lot of teeth.
"Yes. Let's," I said and turned away to head back home. It was later than I had thought, so my old man should be fast asleep by the time I reached the house.
"See you in school, Sanji!" Ruby called after me, and I lifted an arm to wave back without turning around.
When I reached the end of the block a voice sounded behind me.
It was Jewel-san, alone. The door to her house was closed and the lights on the second floor lightened as I watched. Jewel-san had such a serious expression, and with the natural sharpness to her face I was scared shirtless, expecting her to tell me to never approach her daughter ever again. But instead she sighed tiredly, closed her eyes and shook her head. When she met my gaze again her eyes were very soft.
"Ruffy doesn't take just anybody home," she stated and I stared at her. "It isn't the first time she picks up a stray like you and takes them home, and I doubt it is the last. But she would never have taken you home if you were just straying around."
I didn't understand what she meant, or the soft voice she used.
"I say this on Ruffy's behalf; if every other door is closed, ours will be open for you."
Jewel-san smiled a little and then turned back home. I stared after her until she closed the door around her, and then kept watching until all lights were out. That's when I once again turned to head back home. All the way I had strange thoughts running through my head. I thought about my relationship with my old man, about Ruby's relationship with her family, her act towards her mother, the good feeling around sharing dinner. I thought about Ruby's smiles, about the fact that her and Ace-kun's father whereabouts didn't matter, about her invitation to eat together again. I thought about Ace-kun, about his grey eyes that two days ago had told me to beware because the owner of them wasn't afraid to kill me, and how he and Ruby fought over some food like children, and I wondered how in hell I got involved in the fight. My ear still stung after being pulled by Jewel-san's strong fingers. I thought about sharing a dinner with my dad, adoptive or not, and it hurt. I wanted to go back to Ruby's house and repeat the dinner just to relive the warmth around the ritual of eating together. As long as I could remember, I and that man at home hadn't ever eaten together, because he always ate in between the rush hours in the restaurant at day and ate nothing at night.
Sighing I closed the door behind me, only then realizing I was home. My feet had taken me there without my notice. There was a sudden rush of panic where I wanted to turn around and leave again, but I stood frozen, and then shook my head, just barely avoiding banging it against the wall to emphasis my stupidity. Since it was dark in the house I supposed the old man had been fast a sleep for a long time, and it made me feel hurt; a slight pang in my chest I couldn't name. Ignoring it I took off my jacket and hung it on the hook meant for it, and then placed my sneakers beneath in a sudden uncharacteristic display of tidiness. It was with great surprise I realized it felt good to do it. In my head, Ruby grinned at me, once again grabbing my wrist and dragging me off.
It struck like lightning. I had been kidnapped! For a long time I just stood there with my mouth hanging open, only then feeling the shock that should have hit me the moment I was grabbed and dragged off to somewhere. What if it hadn't been a well-meaning Ruby inviting me home for some food? This night could have ended with me never coming back to hang up my jacket and placing my shoes neatly beneath it. But as it was, at that moment I was standing in the perfectly safe hall of my own home, facing the neatness of mine around a jacket and a pair of sneakers, safe and sound and full, and upstairs waited my sleeping pants and comfy bed to embrace me with the feeling of comfort and sleep. I scratched my neck and went through the hallway towards the staircase by the end of it to head to the second floor where the bedrooms were located. Turning right after climbing the stairs I saw the door of my old man's room slightly ajar, like always. Normal nights I would just pass it without further thought, some nights not even noticing the door due to tiredness. But this night, warm from Ruby's smiles, Jewel-san's hospitality and the dinner I had shared with an open family, I stopped outside the door. My heart raced and for a long time I stood stock still, then I slowly pushed the door open, just enough for me to see the figure of my father lying on the bed. I listened for snoring, but heard none. Thinking about it, I realized the old man didn't snore. For a second I thought he looked tense, and maybe I hoped that he was awake. I felt the urge to ask him if he indeed was, but even before opening my mouth more than a slit I dismissed my thoughts as wistful thinking caused by Ruby, dinner, warmth and sleepiness. I closed the door to its original position and moved towards my own bedroom door, sending a stray thought to the bathroom and my toothbrush, but ignored it for my bed.
Of course I can't tell for sure, since I never notice for myself, but I think that all the other nights of returning home late, I had fallen asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. However, this night my head was full with a short girl with big, brown eyes and a goofy, toothy smile who wasn't angry with me, and not scared of me, even after the first impression. She was happy. She was content with what she had. Jewel-san had said that Ruby doesn't take just anyone with her home. Jewel-san had told me her husband was never around, which made her the only parent of two children. How she made it economically, seeing both her children were gluttons, I couldn't be sure, but it had to be a hard life on her. Still she managed to stay so beautiful. Still she managed to keep her family together, handling two children on her own. So why couldn't my old man handle me? Between him and me things got worse by the day. Was it because he wasn't my real father?
Outside my door, in the hallway, I could suddenly make out the sound of slow steps with a great limp. My father's steps, limping from having a right artificial leg that he said he lost when a house fell over him. The steps stopped outside my door and slowly pushed it open, something I only noticed because of the light falling over me. I had my back to and made a huge effort to breathe evenly. The feeling was unreal. It was just the old fart standing in my door and I was near a complete freak-out. A deep drawn sigh of weariness was heard.
"Welcome back, Sanji. Sleep tight."
My door closed with a soft click and the limping steps returned to the room next to mine.
It's embarrassing, but I spent the rest of the night crying into my pillow.