One step at a time

Chapter 10

Over the next hour, Ken was once again subjected to every line of question pertaining to his vision and the area's surrounding it. He was poked and prodded to the point of exhaustion – but never once did he close his eyes for more than the time it took to blink. He wouldn't allow himself to.

Despite his present calm, his fear lingered at the simple thought of closing his eyes for one second too long. As if the darkness would return, as if it were only a second behind, on his heels in pursuit.

Ken continued to travel the expanse of the room with his eyes, taking in its every detail – despite the doctors sighs and prods to keep still as he examined him. The continuous onslaught of light the man relentlessly directed into his eyes helped him in no way.

Several times Manx broke her silence, though her voice laced with relief was begging for him to sit still, if only for a moment longer. Her hands continued to squeeze his shoulder every so often, as if she were afraid to let him go.

While the good doctor with his infinite patients was too beginning to wear thin, he continued his examination while the others were made to sit and wait within the hall. After the worst of it, the doctor turned in his little metal chair and moved to jot down a few notes upon his ever present clipboard. He continued to converse with Manx though, a dialogue flowing between the two that he paid little attention to. He knew if it was important Manx would repeat it, with a reprimand he was sure of, at a later time. For the time being his wandering was permitted.

After several minutes, the doctor's face appeared before him, one again startling him. The man smiled and laughed as Ken stared wide eyed at him. From the sound of his voice, the image of the man that came to mind while Ken was blindfolded was far from how the man actually looked. His voice was too deep, unfitting of the person inches from his face; The one once again pointing bright little lights into his eyes. Ken didn't understand why his voice sounded so old and worn, and while despite the growing worry lines that creased his face, he looked so young.

"I have to say, I much prefer that reaction to your earlier one. You very nearly gave me a heart attack, kid," He said. He laughed and the lines around his eyes became more prominent.

Ken didn't bother with a reply, but acknowledged the doctor with a soft slur of sound faintly resembling a grunt of disapproval. He was too busy watching the doctors hands as they came near his eyes for another round of poke and prod at his expense.

Ken leaned back away from him with a frown and finally spoke for the first time to the man. "Are we done yet?" He asked, and his voice was completely devoid of emotion. He only stared back at the man.

The doctor laughed politely, his face still inches from Ken's, his fingers giving one final check to the skin around his eyes before nodding, "Yes, it looks like we are."

Though he should have known, Ken couldn't help but hope it actually was. However, the good doctor, remembering at last, after flipping through the stack of papers spilling from his clipboard on him, the pulled stitches upon his torso and shoulder. With the final session of poke prod and re-stitch over and done with, the doctor gave him a once over before declaring him good as new.

"Well, almost new. On the mend really," He said, and he was once again at his clipboard, scrawling something across the page, repeating the process twice more before handing the notes to Manx.

After several marked instructions, more so directed towards Manx than himself for he was once again not paying attention, the good doctor finally declared him fit to leave – after so many more prescriptions and the scheduling of a final follow up appointment. At some point before this little meetings end, Ken took the opportunity to leave.

When Manx stepped out of the examination room several minutes later, she held several prescriptions in hand. Shutting the door to close behind her, she realized the brunet was no where to be seen. She could plainly see Youji on the other hand. The overly ambitious flirt that he was had situated himself to drape over the receptionists counter. All his attention focused upon the bubbly blonde receptionist.

She cleared her throat in a soft and impatient interruption as she came to stand behind him, her heels taping against the floor. She watched as a tremor shot down his spin and he froze, slowly pulling himself from the counter and straightening himself with a forced laugh.

"We're not here for social calls, Kudo."

At that Youji managed to turn, rather sheepishly, as Ran himself joined their group. His quiet entrance from the opposite hall did not go unnoticed, nor did the small paper cup filled with stale coffee.

"Where's Hidaka?" She asked.

"I thought he was with you."

"He slipped out a few minutes ago. I presumed him to be with the three of you." Manx said, and with a softer voice, no less stern, she turned to the youngest member, "Omi?"

Finally flipping his phone to a close, Omi stood from the row of chairs, "No, sorry, I didn't see him leave."

Youji tensed at the brief pause and the small forced smile that crept along her cherry lips. Her next words were cold enough to freeze hell over.

"You're telling me," she paused again, "that amongst the three of you, not a one of you saw him walk out that door?" Her tone spoke volumes and though it never rose, the meaning was quite clear. With one last glance, Manx turned to Ran, incredulously, with question.

It was despite the cold waves rolling off Manx that Ran managed to nonchalantly raise his cup of bitter vending machine coffee and take a swallow without so much as the slightest reaction. "Coffee," he said and took a sip.

Youji couldn't believe it when, in that same little movement, the redheaded bastard turned to him with raised eyes. "Kudo?" He asked, before turning to walk down the opposite hall.

Taking in the vast skyline, Ken stared out across the city. He let his eyes roll over its many buildings and narrowed in on the hidden patch of green that was just barely visible from where he stood. He held to it, keeping it within his site at all times.

He leaned forward, letting his elbows rest against the railing and clasping his hands before him; just watching. He let the sharp breeze from the rooftop whip across his skin, pushing and pulling his hair from under his cap, without so much as flinching.

Ken breathed in deeply, letting his eye's wander from the distant park across the city's skyline. A skyline he could once trace in his sleep. He took it in, trying once more to commit it to memory. And it was with that, for a second longer than he had yet dared, he closed his eyes to the wind, to the city, to the memories – lifting his head and letting the wind fall over him. But only for that second, he dared no longer.

In that brief moment, he listened. He listened as the wind whipped past him, as it howled around corners. He listened to the distant noise of traffic, of honking horns and shouting voices. And he listened to the fear, a fear he never wanted to hear again. For it was suddenly weighing upon his heart, replacing everything he had come to know within the past two weeks.

Everything had changed.

There was no longer the constant darkness with every breath he took.

There was no longer the fear that it brought with it.

There was only the fear of its return, of his demise.

Things had changed, because there was suddenly a new fear, a fear of falling behind. A fear of being left.

But Ken couldn't place the heaviness that weighted within his chest. It was so familiar, yet so distant. Or maybe it was that he didn't want to think of it, for it to brought a new fear. A fear he was not ready to relive, a fear he couldn't handle, not again.

Ken steadied himself, pushing back to straighten his arms and grip the railing before him and breathing in evenly. He chanced a look up to the oncoming storm and the dark clouds rolling in. He watched as they began to cover the horizon and felt the wind continue to grow as it ripped passed him.

And with one harsh gust, his cap was taken from his eyes and pulled back across the roof.

Ran paused at the landing caught between the stairs; torn. Torn between going, torn between staying. Opposite directions were pulling him either which way. His hand fell away from the metal railing as he had prepared for a step up and forward, he now took that step back.

Ran knew the brunet better than he knew himself, at least he thought he had. He knew what to expect, Ran knew when to fall back when Ken moved forward. He knew when to push forward when Ken fell back. When one moved, the other responded; a dance that continued to this day. A dance Ran knew by heart, a dance Ran was suddenly faltering with – the rhythm broken, the beat missing.

Ran could think of only one place the brunet was likely to be, it was only a step away – and yet so far. It took him only a moment to find the emergency exit, only a moment to realize Ken would have gone to see the sky, to watch bellow and it took only a second to hesitate. Something held him back.

Ken let the roof top door swing to shut behind him, loudly cracking as the wind slammed against it. He paid little attention to the echoing sound it created, riveting down the empty stair casing. He heard nothing, for so deep in thought was he, that he did not even notice the sound of his boots against the stairs. Learned habits asserted themselves, the silence ever present; every sound that was as it should be was ignored.

At his side, he clutched the baseball cap, once more in his possession; his fingers tense. It was almost as if he had forgotten himself, he moved without purpose, once again without thought, without mind; he let his body take control. No action was taken other than what was essential.

One step at a time, he kept his eyes to his feet. One step down and a pause – his eyes never leaving the space just before him and down. Curious, confused, angered, relieved and something…. Something he couldn't quite place. Everything fought to assert itself within him, crashing over him and disappearing within the very next moment; it was staggering.

A breath that wasn't his.

His eye's shot up, taking in his every surrounding in a mere moment. His fingers tensed about his cap, the soft fabric folding within his palm.

He stood leaning against the wall near the door, his cup of coffee forgotten and placed upon the floor. Arms folded over his chest, Ran watched him, silently, appraising. Silently evaluating.

Ken couldn't move.

He couldn't speak, he couldn't…

"Welcome back."

And it was suddenly as if everything had come crashing down around him. In one fatal swoop, he felt a weight slam against him, crushing him and he fought not to stagger underneath its pressure; it took his breath away. Everything he had come to know, everything he had come to hope for… He couldn't breathe.

Everything, everything he had wanted to say, Ken knew Ran said within those words; his decision made. In his voice there was a sudden, inexplicable distance, and it burned like fire. There was a coldness Ken did not want to remember, a voice that returned from his past; A voice that held nothing but emptiness.

And Ken suddenly knew the feeling he could not place. Despair flooded him, longing and sorrow pushing past. He too knew emptiness, but of a different kind, for all at once he understood. The pieces suddenly fit together, the days of detachment and cold behavior leading to today. Ran wanted nothing to do with him, he was pushing him away.

He broke.

One step at a time, one foot in front of the other. Somehow Ken managed to remember this; somehow he was able to make this and only this, work. Everything else was broken. His voice left him.

A step passed him.

He made it out the door.

A step forward, and he could see the others just ahead of him, he could hear their mixed emotions, their tones of anger and relief. He could see –

One foot in front of the other.

He unconsciously loosened his grip upon his cap, his strength leaving him; his hand shaking.

Ken could see their expressions start to change in worry and in the back of his mind he wondered briefly what expression he carried. He could see their looks of confusion as he walked forward; and he could feel it become blurry. And yet he didn't stop. He forced the cap in hand from his fingers and over his head, the bill blocking sight of anything above the floor – and for them, his eyes.

One step at a time, he walked passed.

His hand, a small loose fist, shaking. He no longer fought to control it.

One step at a time, the tears fell.


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