Dr. Issei was delighted and smiling to finally see Yukino in good health. She had gotten more sleep since their last meeting a couple of weeks ago, and the improvement was almost miraculous. Her mind was extra sharp, her eyes weren't shutting every few words and for once Issei was seeing her sitting upright and not about to slide off the couch. She was even more cheerful.
Well, relatively speaking. His patient's usual scowl had softened into more of an attentive frown.
Issei was pleased anyway and clapped his hands exclaiming, “You look great today Yukino. Have you been getting better in your sleeping habits?”
It was still weird how natural her grin looked.
“Yeah! It took a while, but now I'm able to go to sleep around ten and wake up at six.”
Issei leaned forward to meet her at eye level.
“That is an improvement.”
“Yeah, but the only reason I don't get up at ten or eleven or anything is because of my alarm clock.”
He nodded. One could not expect to recover from so much sleep deprivation quickly, but every little bit helped.
“How has life been at school so far?”
Yukino waved her hand from side-to-side and her face scrunched a little.
“It's been getting a little better,” she started, “but my mom keeps pressuring me to join the Drama Club. To be honest though, I really don't want to.”
“Oh,” Dr. Issei hid his feelings well, “Have you told her this?”
“No, I didn't want to hurt her feelings or anything, but sometimes I get the idea that she wants me to join just so I can live out some dream of hers or something.”
Issei pretended to ponder that statement. “I'm sure the best way to find out her intentions is to talk to her. I know that you live with her and I don't, but based on our conversations she really does want what's best for you.”
Yukino squinted and tilted her head slightly, then slowly began to nod. “I think that can work out,” she grunted, “sometimes it never crosses my mind to do those kind of things.”
Getting her out of her shell and taking measures to improve her relationship with her mother. The progress was invaluable.
“Might I ask if you tried out anyway?”
“Yeah,” her eyebrows tilted up a little, like she made a mistake, “Well, kind of.”
“What I mean to say is that I visited their school room when they were handing out applications. I filled one out, but I'm not really sure if I'm going to go to the meetings or not.” She shrugged. “I mainly just did it because I promised my mom I would 'try out the club'.”
A girl of her word. That was a good sign.
She was also a girl of her literal word. Issei wouldn't be giving her promises with loopholes anytime soon.
“But,” she sighed, “I don't know if I can do it. I'm not really used to performing for people.”
Issei personally thought she would be good at giving any kind of performance. Right now he was kind of hoping that this lack of confidence was one of them. He played along as usual.
“Is there any way that you can cope with performing for people?”
She shook her head. “Not that I can tell.”
Dr. Issei reconsidered the line of questioning.
He forced himself not to grin.
“Do you really not like the idea of acting, or are you just nervous?” he asked, crossing his arms.
Yukino looked less shocked than expected at the accusation. Mental maturity finally settling in? She lowered her head in thought for a few moments.
“I don't know,” she almost whispered. Issei felt a small pang. It was certainly a cruel irony that behind the walls she constructed was still a very shy girl. Yukino had grown to handle negative attention a lot more fluently than positive. Dr. Issei mentally rolled up his sleeves and saw if he couldn't give that problem a little sorting out.
“Let me ask in another way: Have you ever performed and liked it?”
Yukino raised her head and shifted her eyes around somewhat in memory. “I think so, yeah.”
Time to strike.
“What gave you confidence when you performed those times? What finally put away your hangups and let you do the show?”
Everything was still as Issei let Yukino think on the answer. The stillness was good. Yukino was forgetting to put up a front. Ironic that they were talking about acting of all things.
“Just so that you know, anything you say will stay here between us,” he reassured her.
The comfort did its work, and she reluctantly, but finally, spoke.
“I like the idea that I'm fooling people. It makes things more fun.” She looked bashful at admitting that. Issei was kind of surprised that she didn't notice how badly she hid that part of herself.
“Can you use that against the audience in some way or manner?” he leaned in.
Yukino thought again but with less pause. “I guess, if I really wanted to, I could take on a role that's not like me and convince others that I'm more like that person.”
“I'm sorry?” Issei was genuinely a little confused.
“Sorry,” she frowned as she searched for a correction, “What I meant to say is that...you know those actors who are, like, funny a lot of times but amaze people when they play a serious role?”
“I want to do something like that. I want to see if I can fool the audience into thinking I'm a person I'm not,” she shrugged, still unsure of how she was coming across, “then I can surprise them later?”
“Aren't you afraid of getting typecast?” That was a legitimate concern from Issei.
“Well, I'll just practice and try out for a different part when I'm ready,” she grinned at her own perceived cleverness. No lack of confidence there, “Maybe I'll even take a role that's completely opposite of my personality.”
“That's great.” He clapped his hands together once again in enthusiasm.
The rest of the session completed itself with no major complications. Before Yukino left, however, Dr. Issei asked the ultimate question:
“Have you reconsidered wearing the ShikaPlus yet?”
Yukino halted in the door frame. It was still again, but this one was the bad kind.
The clock ticked past the point when she was supposed to leave, but Issei let her think. He didn't have any other patients today anyway. It was four minutes after the appointment's end that she finally turned her head slightly. Yukino talked with her back to him.
“Can things change?”
“Can you be more specific?” Issei asked.
Yukino turned around to face him front-to-front.
“Just,” she moved her lips looking for the words, “how do you know nothing bad will happen?”
The appropriate question was granted to Issei's mind immediately.
“How do you know something bad will
Her eyes widened a little. For once she was too stunned for an answer.
What was this all about? He nearly got his mouth open to ask when she almost fitfully began moving her lips and shifting her eyes again. If her speed was any indication Yukino wasn't just thinking but rapidly calculating.
Whatever analysis it was was apparently so deep that she didn't even get phased when he fidgeted in his chair. Movement wasn't enough to catch her attention.
She was slowing down. The frown that crept in got more rigid as she failed to come up with whatever answer she was looking for.
Issei couldn't help but help be stunned himself when she smiled.
That wasn't right. She wasn't just smiling, she looked extremely happy.
“I guess that's possible.”
Yukino was on a happy brisk walk down the hall as she left a very happily confused Issei feeling like he just moved a mountain.
Ms. Nagawa was walking to Yukino's school for her play, grateful that every school her daughter went to was in walking distance. It gave one time to think and take in the fresh air, as well as get a little exercise.
Not that she was fat. Just old.
And not even that old.
Thinking about the tremendous strides Yukino had made gave Ms. Nagawa so much energy she couldn't resist walking faster. Three years of absolute misery for her daughter, possibly turned around in a matter of months!
Crashing into a group of people waiting to cross the street brought her out of her reverie.
Ms. Nagawa settled back into reality with a bunch of bows to the people she bumped into and some extra deep bows for those knocked off the sidewalk in the front. Still, she was so happy for Yukino and her decision to make more friends and try to improve herself.
The mother tensed when everyone could finally cross though. Ms. Nagawa knew that it would be all too easy for her child to settle back into old habits should the times get tough. Right now, the most important thing she could do for her child was support and guide her away from any further rash decisions.
Ms. Nagawa herself could remember a few she avoided herself.
Koona wringed her hands together as she watched Kooyai pace and mutter and shake his head in little jerky fidgets. He had finally asked Koona two months ago if she was interested in coming with him to a retreat in Hokkaido, just the two of them. It was to mark their two year anniversary as a couple and Koona had said she was sick of the entertainment industry. Yet like the parent of a delinquent child she still hadn't reached that point where she would give it up altogether, squeezing whatever hope she could find for things to finally turn around.
Her family signing her on for a Hard Times foot cream commercial without her permission didn't help either. It was humiliating work, but despite every bad thing that's happened to her in her career Koona still desperately wanted another movie role so that she wouldn't be a burden and the film industry was looking everywhere for their next new talent.
“I'm sorry Kooyai, but this is really important,” she bowed and apologized, trying desperately to calm him down.
It wasn't working.
“How important?” he wheeled to scold her straight in the eye, “More important than this?!” he jerked out the two plane tickets to Hokkaido to emphasize the last word. “You had already promised! How could you let your family talk you into this?”
“I'm really, really sorry! I promise it won't happen again!” The next bow was deeper for good measure.
Kooyai just slapped his head in his hand and laughed. “It sure won't happen again. These took a big chunk out of my salary. I'm not sure if we'll even get a second shot at this, all things considered.”
She was really upset at the grief she was causing him, but she couldn't afford to back down from this deal. If she got just one more gig, she would be one step closer to stardom and supporting her husband for the rest of their lives.
She reached out to his hands and mercifully he let her fold them into hers. He just needed to understand that her family wanted what was best for both of them.
“Kooyai, if this eventually leads me to becoming a big time actor, we can come and go as we please to Hokkaido until we get sick of it.”
“That's not the point!” he threw his arms out of her grasp, causing Koona to jump in fright. He rarely ever shouted. “I just thought that after all this time, I'd have more weight in your life than those moochers you call your family!”
What did he say? Koona's jaw dropped before she clenched it shut to keep from looking like an idiot.
How could he say such a thing?
She crossed her arms and put on her best glare.
“Say one more word about my family like that” she almost whispered, “and you'll be testing how much weight you really have.”
She could see him clench his throat to gulp down his anger. Koona understood his anger but Kooyai needed to understand that she was not going to be made to choose between family and love. He should have known better anyway.
“I'm really sorry. I mean it, I know how much everyone means to you,” he half gestured pleas from his arms to emphasize how repentant he was, “ I just don't...agree with any of this.” As mad as she was, Koona appreciated that he was putting it as mildly as he could. “It's just that, dammit Koona, what you're doing isn't really going to make you happy.”
She let her arms relax but still kept her distance.
“We can be happy, but first we have to work for it.”
“We already did,” Kooyai argued. She thought he was going to cradle her hands this time, “We found each other. We took chances with each other. We got to know each other. We fell in love with each other. Do you know how hard that is? How lucky we are that we even reached this far?”
Koona didn't know what to say but kept her face stiff so he wouldn't know it. Kooyai could make it so damn hard for her to keep her composure at times.
It turned out she didn't have to say anything.
“Look, I'm sorry I yelled,” he threw the tickets in the trash and put up his arms in defeat. Every muscle in her face wanted to pull out of its stoicness but she still held on, “I really don't agree with your decision, but I don't think this is something worth throwing you away over.” He caught her in a tight but comforting embrace. Koona was glad her face was where he couldn't see it at that moment. “I'll be there to cheer you on. I know how hard it is to work like that and I should've appreciated your commitment.”
“Th-thanks,” she patted him hard on the back to show how much she cared. Kooyai left the room, saying that he was going to get dressed to take her to the set.
Koona fished the tickets out of the trash and turned them over to the destination print out. She really was looking forward to the trip.
Her cell phone rung. The caller was identified as her mother.
“Yes mom?” she greeted.
“Where are you?! The shoot is almost about to start!! A friend of mine pulled a lot of strings to get this part.” No time for pleasantries as always.
“Sorry,” she was saying that a lot today, “I just had to explain to Kooyai that I had to cancel our trip.”
“Good. Now get down here!” Mom hung up.
Wait didn't she hear what she just said about Kooyai?
She understood right?
Normally that would've ended things, and Koona would have just gone to the set, secured herself another rung on the media ladder, then washed, rinsed and repeated.
And Kooyai would have just stood there by her side, doing whatever mother told the both of them to do.
Wasn't it her mother who had encouraged her at first to date Kooyai, saying that the two would be great together? Maybe she also saw a profit in it but ultimately she had everyone's happiness in mind right?
Except now she just threw Kooyai's happiness aside like trash for a quick dime. Somehow his inconvenience was more damaging than anything she had to go through and something inside her physically hurt when her anger finally exploded.
Koona gripped her phone so hard she felt it ready to give, then let out a scream about a decade in coming and threw it out of the open window and into the pool. Kooyai ran in panicked, his shirt still unbuttoned and in his boxers.
“What is it Koona?”
She almost accidentally slapped the tickets in his face when she threw them up in front of it.
“Get dressed! We're going to Hokkaido!”
Was he smiling as he dashed to put his suit back on? Didn't matter.
The first twenty minutes of their drive gave her time to calm down some, but she couldn't get a grip on her facial expressions this time and Kooyai felt what anger was left.
“Is anything wrong sweetie?”
“I was just hoping to break something when I threw the cell phone,” she pouted.
His laugh lifted some of the tensity she had been shouldering.
“Aw come on, I don't want you to be mad.”
“I don't have a lot to be happy about,” she was still kind of grim.
“But you look so beautiful when you smile.”
Koona snapped into a giggling, blushing fit. “Stop, I can't control myself when you say that.”
Kooyai smirked, smug over the fact that he could easily get his girlfriend in a good mood.
Ms. Nagawa hustled herself into the school auditorium. It would not do for her to be late for her daughter's first play.
Yukino was getting ready for bed, setting her alarm to six am. She sensed someone behind her and turned grinning to her mom in the doorway.
“Yes mom?” she asked.
“I'm very proud of you Yukino,” she came over to hug her, and Yukino draped her arms over her shoulders, which somehow became her own version of embracing “and I'm sure that your performance would have made your dad very happy.”
Yukino was more than prepared to suppress her tensing. She didn't want her mom to worry.
“Thanks mom,” a moment passed, “I love you.”
This was it. The last trip. She took the steps that led to figuring out how to get to the top. No one had ever tried surpassing the Broken Corridors. Yukino knew because only she would be crazy enough to try it. Victory was guaranteed. Pre-destined!
She squatted down until her imaginary knees refused to bend any further, then jumped to the roof of the opposite broken corridor. She grabbed onto the ledge and climbed on.
Once she already realized the limitations of imagining legs her subconscious already unloaded as much of her unnecessary body parts as possible to lighten the load for the leap. Only the habit of wanting to grab something discouraged her from trying to fail at wishing away her arms and the need for jumping tension required the knees.
It was so disorienting, standing in nothingness where gravity had laws except the ones she made. It was especially nauseating because her illusion of a center of gravity matched the hallways' tilt, making it so that she would never feel like she would fall backwards. It took immense concentration to keep her stomach out of her mind and not get sick.
For twenty dream minutes she bounced and jumped, easy at first but feeling deceptively dangerous when the corridors became smaller and farther apart, and the certainty of her jumps still weren't enough to make her forget that it was a long way down if she missed.
The top was a giant stone platform just above her now. It retook her five minutes to get the guts to make the final, tall leap.
Her feet brushed the edge when she landed and her weight unexpectedly went backwards. She yelped and flapped her arms for balance but nothing had prepared her for this. She was going to fall and wake up and for the rest of her life she would just dream of falling and falling and falling.
Except something unexpected happened again when something slammed around her Not-body, inducing her with mass as whatever it was gripped her. It hurt, but she was lifted away from the edge of the brink and carried up into the air. Using her instincts she felt the object around and nearly screamed when she identified the object as a fist. Above her were two large blue orbs with green dots in the middle the swelled and pulsed and grew into the blackness as she was taken closer to them. The green dots moved towards her when she was finally in front of them.
They were eyes.
“I WARNED THAT THIS IS NOT FOR YOU!!”
Yukino was incinerated with every bad memory, thought and action she had and had not done. Everything turned white from the heat before blackness bleeded into the edges towards her.
Nothingness was swallowing her.
She would have rather fallen.
Yukino jolted up like she'd been shocked. It was still dark.
In her groggy, delirious state she somehow figured she was being attacked in an alien world and screamed and kicked to get away from whatever held her down.
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP
She gasped so hard that Yukino thought she might not have been breathing before. That was her alarm clock. After several deep breaths to steady her shaking and realizing she was likely still asleep, Yukino opened her eyes.
Except she didn't feel them open.
It was still dark and her panic was starting to crush her chest again. There were footsteps on the floor. Mom was walking into the room.
“What is it? What's wrong?” Yukino heard fear in the voice.
Why couldn't she open her eyes? What had happened while she was asleep?
Wasn't her alarm set for seven? It should be bright in here not pitch black.
Yukino tried to keep her trembling under control but gave up when her mother embraced her. She would feel it no matter what.
“What's wrong Yukino?” Mom sounded so scared right now.
Yukino tried blinking a few times.
Her body collapsed into her mother's arms and the sobbing didn't stop for anything, no matter what Mom did to try and console her.
She couldn't feel her eyes open because they weren't closed to begin with.
Issei hoped the Board would forgive him for not being at his best with his final report. The chair was too uncomfortable for him to be sitting straight up anyway and he was too lost in thought to be pretending to try to guess where to look at any of them in the eye.
“Please explain why Nagawa Yukino had missed her appointment for the ShikaPlus, doctor,” ordered Ichi.
He sighed and gripped his knees, then swiveled his neck so that Issei was facing the glass.
“She's gone blind. It was caused by stress. No medicine has worked for her yet.”
The lights flickered as they all whispered.
“When will she be available for another appointment?”
Issei turned his anger into deep breathing to avoid making a scene. If they saw anything wrong with his behavior they didn't mention it.
“She's blind and only a harmless little kid. I think we have nothing to worry about from her.”
There was a pause before the lights flickered again.
“Are you sure?” asked San, “It couldn't hurt to be safe and some mental deficiencies only get harder to treat as the patient gets older. We still don't even know what she has yet.”
“I assure you she is not a danger to anyone,” Issei was enunciating his words to avoid grinding them through clenched teeth.
God damn cowards.
“Very well,” Shi relented, “Until her blindness has finally been cured the case of Nagawa Yukino is once again suspended.”