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New Age

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His first through fifth birthdays are hardly memorable; they arrive like vague pieces, slight and in sporadic moments throughout the years to never return.

Trying to remember brings nothing but frustration. His father's face blacks out all too often.  But in the clear memories that take little effort to remember, Sakon recalls sitting on his father's lap, basking in his protective warmth as he opened his present and stole the strawberries from his father's slice of shortcake. Then come the memories of his mother laughing and dancing with him, taking him to the yearly Christmas lights because of his winter birth, despite the fact they were devoutly traditional and distinctly not christian. The memories are few, but they're the only thing left of his father. 

After that, perhaps because of active remembrance due to age, his birthdays past that are somewhat to very recollectable. Homemade cakes, simple sweets, his mothers arms hung around his shoulders as Sakon blew out sparkling candles -- they're easier to recall, even if he can't exactly distinguish if the time Kaoruko woke him up to poppers was when she dyed his uniform pink or when the days were cancelled via snow in and they lit the candles to the dim blue sky. 

They were good. Peaceful. The next weren't as much. 

His thirteenth was uneventful and spent traveling, a late night bus ride his intro to puberty. His fourteenth was spent pondering a case, but at least Kaoruko and Ukon were there. The duo jumped on the strike of midnight to wish him an early birthday and ruffled his bedhead to high heaven. Then come fifteen, Sakon worked a case, read a receipt in a back alley bookstore for location information, got just as much nothing as the day before, and spent days with the killer before he discovered the culprit. Last year brought mourning his granduncle and chasing absolution. 

Sakon had thought those circumstances were unfortunate, but they have nothing on this. 

His head burns, his eyes sting, and his body is filthy, grimy, wet and coppery and his head pangs -- is that the mud? No. It's too warm. Distantly, Sakon feels the sludge of mud and blood drip down his shoulder. It's strange, a thick feeling. 

Then, his eyes open and sting. 

The world flips. It twirls on its axis, and the trees obfuscate the rocks and the moon, so bright, sends fractures spiraling across his vision and a throb of pain into his temple. After a grueling minute of groaning, it barely fades. The black edging at his vision remains. The moon is shining too brightly; it's pierces his eyes. 

Sakon tries to sit up, but falls back onto the ground with a dull thud. He's tired. Too tired to fight or run away. Too tired to think about anything except sleep. Body unwilling to listen, Sakon stares at the sky, and then at his feet. His heart beats in his chest, but it's not beating fast enough to be audible over the noise of the wind blowing through leaves. It silences his labored breaths. 

You're not dead.

A long, dark line runs along his torso, and Sakon grasps at it with both white-knuckled hands. Hissing, Sakon bites his lip until it's nearly bleeding; if his near killer is there, they would hear him. Sakon has no idea how long he stares at it and holds.

Sakon lifts his hands. Strangely, he remembers a lecture he'd attended at the local police station. Blood thinly films them as a small trickle drops down his arm, but it's not as substantial as he worried. 

Digging his hands into the ground, Sakon props himself on quaking arms.  Sakon heaves as he struggles to silence himself.  He tries to stand, but his knees buckle. 

You're alive.

It takes Sakon a moment to realize what the voice means, but he pulls himself up off the ground and stands slowly. His knees buckle, but he clings to the edge of the ditch, groaning through the pain. And somehow, his weak legs keep him upright. The gusts of winds leave him shivering and nearly topple him, but it overrides the pain and his legs don't fail. 

Slowly, he steps forward, forward, and forward - one foot at a time. There's nothing like learning to walk again. After ascending up the incline, Sakon surveys around, and sees no sign of anyone - only a drying boot print that's four sizes bigger than his own. A small pile of withering leaves lies nearby, and he picks one up and examines it. It's the same color as the dirt around him. They were much brighter. 

Sakon still can't hear well, but he instinctively knows they must've gone elsewhere. He's been there for a while. 

They left him there to die. 

After years of dwelling over maudlin regrets, he doesn't like entertaining the facts he can't change, so Sakon ignores the bitter yet truthful thought as he recollects himself. He was riding along with them, questioning them... and caught on. They -- who? their face is empty -- gripped him in distinctly grizzly hands, buried the knife in his stomach until he was faintly conscious, and threw him into a ditch. Did they throw Ukon? Ukon. Ukon.

He almost wishes they didn't, just so he'd know for sure Ukon's okay.  

Sakon blindly searches, hands gripping at the hardest surfaces. Red and yellow. Hard wood and soft fabric. Ukon must be so dirty and so tired of waiting. 

Eventually, his hand knocks into a hard surface. Impact ringing hollow and the material curving, a tiny echo of hope sparks in his chest. It blossoms into teary-eyed happiness when he tugs Ukon from the dirt. 

"Ukon,"  Sakon whispered, almost a cry. Muffling his face in Ukon's wispy hair, he's almost inaudible. "You're okay... thank goodness." 

Ukon answers with the twinkle of his eye. There's no answer until he brings the puppet to life, and he's very much fine with that; as is, Ukon is plenty loud enough, and it's enough to simply have his partner. His fingers sting as Ukon moves, but that's a price he's willing to pay. 

"Oi, S-Sakon?" A rough, pitchy voice says. 

"Ukon," 

An inhale comes from deep within. 

"Dude, you're bleeding."

"Yes," He peacefully smiles, "I am." 

Ukon wiggles, then settles for patting his back. The puppet sighs, rolling his eyes. 

"I mean, you're bleeding. Let's get help?" Ukon says, voice falling to that familiar irritation. Sakon doesn't know the proper verbiage to describe it; only home. 

The hazy feeling comes back to him, but he's okay. He's alright. He's safe. 

Sakon stands in silence. 

"Do you even remember what happened?"

There is no point in trying to remember the face. Other hints will point to who, and all he should concentrate on is setting sail out the dumpsite. 

"I was stabbed, and we were thrown into the ditch... Er, I don't recall too much." Sakon answers sheepishly. 

The tension has escaped, and it's like a numbness is overtaking his body. That's when he lets go of Ukon and lets the puppet from his chest. 

"You were thrown in a ditch. I was along for the ride."  Ukon says gruffly, then a little softer, "Let's focus on getting help. Call the police yet?"

"R-right! I have that." Sakon smiles and pulls the blocky device from his pocket.

The thick shielding rendered it unbroken. Behind the tiny screen, the lines of the digital clock move, his new device working as it should. It's 3 exactly, but there's no signal -- not even an emergency when he dials. It chimes as he tries it twice more. The off-chance can't be risked. Ukon groans, echoing Sakon's inner sentiments. 

Sakon gently inspects the device. 3:02 A.M. 

The young man smiles to himself, staring down at Ukon more tearfully than he'd like. A new day has dawned. It's tomorrow. It's his birthday, and Sakon's just remembered. 

"Happy birthday, Sakon." Sakon murmurs under his breath, "You're seventeen." 

He turned seventeen in a ditch, stabbed and bleeding, but it's not the worst. He could've died. He'll live. Working a case and mourning his granduncle were the worst, or so he'd naively thought. Things are better and things are worse. 

"Happy birthday, Sakon." Ukon murmurs, ruffling the boy's hair. He lights up under the attention, just like any other boy his age. Sakon, Ukon knows, is innocent. He's kept that wide-eyed trust and youthful naivete, and he shouldn't have anything to do with murder and crime. Fate doesn't seem to share Ukon's plans, so Sakon's survival is the least fate can do. 

"Welcome to adulthood," Ukon smiles, patting his cheek.

"Yeah, welcome." Sakon wryly smiles back and resumes his trek.