Story:The First Step
The First Step
Written by TriangleDelta
Devon was impressed when he finally pulled up to the Mountain Spring Rehabilitation Clinic. Hidden away in the mountains of California's Trinity County, the clinic was a private and exclusive location for the particularly wealthy. It sat in the valley between two mountains, just next to the stream that ran between the two peaks. It was the sort of perfect location that Devon only ever expected to see in paintings, and never actually before his eyes.
The clinic itself was a midsized building with beautifully maintained grounds surrounding it. The building was all done in pale cedar, and looked like some sort of a cross between a log cabin and a posh, modern estate.
Devon parked his car in the small lot, and then walked quickly over to the doors. The early evening air was brisk, and he hadn't worn a thick enough jacket for the chill. He'd assumed that the weather would be similar to San Jose's, but it seemed that the mountains around him were cooling the air further. The cacomistle was almost thankful for the cold, though. It was forcing him to not dawdle and put off the inevitable.
He stepped through the front doors, and into the quite large and well-decorated lobby. The cacomistle glanced around briefly before his eyes fell on the reception desk. A very pretty young salamander sat there, looking very surprised to see him. Devon walked over quickly, standing up straight and trying to look like he belonged there.
"I'm here to visit Shane Rufus."
The salamander blinked once, looking even more confused. Once she'd regained her wits, she stammered out, "Er, I'm sorry, but we don't really..."
"It's alright, I'm a friend."
"No, you don't understand. We have very specific instructions that Mr Rufus isn't to have any visitors."
Devon swallowed, and decided to gamble. "Call one of his emergency contacts for me, please. Tell them that Devon Kellendyne is here to visit Shane."
Her eyes flickered slightly as he mentioned his name. Good. She recognized it. She hesitated a moment longer, and then sighed, going to a computer behind the reception desk. She typed for a bit, and then picked up a phone, dialling a number. Devon kept his face straight while she sat there, waiting for somebody to pick up. If she'd called Anjij Qimmiq, he was done for. So long as she just called--
"Yes, Mr Kabat?" Devon's body flushed with relief. "A Mr Kellendyne is here to visit Mr Rufus." She paused, listening. "Alright, thank you very much, Mr Kabat." She hung up, and then looked back up at Devon, assuming a practiced smile. "Very sorry about the misunderstanding, Mr Kellendyne. We weren't expecting any guests."
"Not at all, and please, Devon is fine."
"Of course. Mr Rufus is in his room. One of the nurses will bring you to visit him."
Shortly after, Devon was following a buck through the hallways of the clinic. Devon kept dodging glances into the open doors as they walked. He was impressed by everything he saw. There was a kitchen and dining area that most high class restaurants would have envied, and a small gymnasium area that rivalled the one at Rabbit Valley Pavilion II.
He was doing everything he could to forget about what he was about to do. He remembered getting the call from Dimi the morning after New Year's Day, explaining that Shane was being sent to rehab. It was odd. At first, he hadn't been surprised. He'd greeted the news with cool indifference, his rational mind telling him that it was what was best for the red wolf. After attending the team meeting where the decision was announced and the practices that followed, though, the weight of what had happened started to settle on Devon. He'd gone to the first game with Shane absent. Watching from the sidelines, Devon could see that his team was playing well. That said, they had lacked the fire and the energy that normally carried them. All of their actions had been mechanical and soulless.
That was when Devon had decided to ask Dimi where Shane was.
"Mr Rufus?" Devon shook his head, coming out of his reflections. The buck had stopped outside of a room. He was standing in front of the door, looking in. "Mr Rufus, you have a visitor."
The nurse stepped aside and glanced to Devon. Devon took a deep breath, and then stepped into the room.
Shane was lying on a simple, comfortable-looking bed. The room was nice, if a bit bare. There was a desk with a chair, and a door that probably led to an attached bathroom. Shane was looking out the window, which faced out onto the picturesque river.
For just a moment, the wolf's face was interested as he turned away from the view to glance at the doorway. It darkened almost immediately, though, and he growled out, "Oh you've got to be shitting me."
"I just want to talk, Shane."
The nurse tensed, and glanced between Devon and Shane. "Is everything alright?"
Devon held his breath while Shane eyed him. The cacomistle didn't breathe until the red wolf shrugged. "Yeah. You can go. Everything's fine."
The nurse hesitated for a moment, then turned and walked away. Devon finally stepped fully into the room, intending to take the chair by the desk, but Shane drew him up short when he spoke.
"Don't bother. You aren't staying long."
"Like I said, I just came here to talk."
"Bullshit. I thought I wasn't supposed to be allowed any visitors. There an exception for gloating cacomistles?"
"I'm not here to gloat."
"And why not?" Quite suddenly, Shane had gone from lying on his bed to sitting on the edge, leaning forward and glaring. Even sitting down, the wolf's presence was intimidating. His hackles were beginning to rise, and he was showing far more teeth than he needed to whenever he spoke. Shane went on, the low growl never leaving his voice. "You won, kid."
Devon just blinked. "What?"
"Don't know how you managed to get Anjij on your side, but yeah. You won. The team's yours. How are you enjoying being starting point guard without me around, eh?"
Slowly, Devon realized what the wolf was talking about. It took the cacomistle everything he had not to let out an incredulous laugh when he realized it. "You're losing it, you know that, right?"
"Don't test my fucking patience." Shane's voice jumped abruptly into a yell, and Devon took a step back despite himself. "I haven't had a drink in a fucking week. In all honesty, I'm still trying to decide whether or not I'm going to test how strong that desk is with your skull. Do not fucking test me right now, DK."
Shane's chest was heaving as he finished. There was a wild, glassy look in his eyes, and for the first time, Devon noticed that they were bloodshot. It was taking everything the cacomistle had to not back out of the door and then run down the hall and out the doors to his car. He had even taken the first step back towards the door while Shane was yelling. In the silence, though, he took a few very deep breaths, and set his gaze on the wolf.
"You think Anjij and Dimi sent you here so that I could take the starting point guard position back? So that you wouldn't challenge me as captain anymore?" When Shane didn't reply, Devon went on. "Well isn't that convenient. Everybody's out to get poor Fang. It isn't your fault; it's all the big meanies ganging up on you." Devon snorted. Shane twitched forward slightly, and Devon nearly broke for the door again. He forced his false bravado to keep up, though, and muttered, "Please. You're better than that, Shane. At the very least you're smarter than that."
"Better than that? Just try and tell me that Dimi hasn't been favouring you since the start of the season. Try and tell me that he isn't looking for any excuse to put his protégé back on the starting line."
"Dimi took me off the starting line!"
"You can't deny it, though. Things work out pretty damn well for you, don't they? Fang disappears, and suddenly you get to step back forward into the spotlight."
Devon stared at Shane, not even trying to hide his incredulity anymore. Finally, he sighed, and reached down to the hem of his shirt. He turned slightly, and lifted the fabric so that the right side of his torso was showing. The fur there was parted by several long, parallel scratches deep into the skin. The visible flesh was pink and puffy, and the stitches were beginning to come out. Devon held it long enough for Shane to stare at the scratches, and finally let his shirt fall back down.
"I'm still on the disabled list. I can't play for another week. Even if they were out to get you, do you honestly think that Anjij and Dimi are stupid enough to wilfully play the team without its two strongest guards?" Shane's mouth was hanging open slightly, and he was still staring at the spot where Devon's shirt was covering up the scratches. Devon waited a few breaths before speaking. "They didn't put you into rehab because they wanted to get rid of you. They put you into rehab because you have a problem."
"I don't have a--"
"What're the most important things in your life right now, Shane?" Devon gave Shane a moment to think, but didn't allow him the time to speak. "Redawn? Playing? Your fans? Because the only thing you complained about when I came in here was that you haven't had a fucking drink in a week."
That finally set Shane fully back on his heels. He was still looking at Devon, but his vision seemed out of focus. His mouth worked occasionally, but no words came out.
Devon gave the wolf his silence. After a few long seconds, he finally stepped over and took a seat in the chair. If Shane noticed the movement, he didn't show it; he just kept staring forward.
At last, Shane cleared his throat. He didn't turn to look at Devon when he spoke. "Why are you here?"
Devon sighed at that, and rolled his eyes. "You know, Red didn't show up for practice for two days after you came here. The team's holding it together on the court, but it isn't the same. Personally, at this point, I really don't care about what happens to you. The team does, though, and I care about them."
Again, there was quiet for a while. Devon didn't press the wolf; he just sat back and waited. Shane didn't move. He still had that same aggressive glare on his face, but it was cut with thought.
They probably sat there for a good ten minutes, neither one speaking. Then, finally, Devon made a big show of reaching into his pocket and pulling out his phone. He checked the time, and then muttered, "You know, there's a game tonight. Against Alaska. I can stream it on here." He waved the phone about a bit. "Wanna watch?"
Shane hesitated, then growled, "Not really in the mood."
"Redawn's starting point guard tonight."
Shane's eyes finally flicked up, immediately going to the phone. Devon held his breath during the few moments of quiet, and finally Shane replied. "Oh alright."
Devon set the phone up carefully on the desk, and then moved his chair back. Shane stayed on the bed, and they both stared at the tiny screen.
They watched the game in silence, neither moving or looking at each other. It was a good one; the Alaska Arctics were the Thrust's division rivals, so the games were always intense when they played each other. There was some commentary throughout the game devoted to Shane's rehab, and Devon's odd absence. Neither of them reacted to the comments; they just focused on the game.
It was a close one. Redawn performed strongly, but she couldn't bring the same skill that either Devon or Shane provided. On top of that, the Thrust's starting line was a bit unbalanced, with several players having to step into unusual roles. As a result, the Thrust's normally dominating starting lineup had trouble matching up with Alaska. At one point, one of the commentators even acknowledged the lack of leadership on the team without either Shane or Devon on the court.
In the end, the Arctics managed to squeeze out a one point victory. Devon and Shane kept quiet as the post game commentary went on, the commentators talking about the strong and weak parts of both teams' games. Eventually, the stream ended, and Devon finally got up to pick up the phone. He double-checked the time, grimacing. It had gotten dark outside the window while the two of them watched the game, and Devon still had to drive all the way back to San Jose.
"I should probably head out."
"Right, right." Shane was still staring at the spot where Devon had set up the phone for them to watch the game. Abruptly, he muttered, "DK. I fucking hate asking you for anything, but could I borrow your phone for a few minutes. In private?"
Devon nodded, and handed Shane the phone. "Just yell when you're done."
He stepped out of Shane's room, closing the door behind him. He leaned against the wall, and for the first time since he'd walked into the room, he let himself relax. He honestly hadn't known how that was going to go when he'd walked in. He'd been nervous the entire time, and his pulse was still getting back to normal after Shane's threat before the game. For all the tension, though, it seemed to have gone well.
After a few minutes, Shane called Devon back into the room. Shane tossed the phone from the bed, and Devon caught it. He shoved it into his pocket, then shrugged. "Alright. Guess I'll be seeing you."
The cacomistle nodded, then turned to leave. He was halfway out the door when Shane's voice drew him up short.
Devon hesitated, and then said, "Yeah?"
"I would've made a better captain than you." The cacomistle started sighing, but stopped as Shane went on. "You're doing a damn good job, though."
Devon stood in the doorway for a long moment, not looking back at Shane. He couldn't let the wolf see the shock on his face. At length, he cleared his throat, and muttered, "Thanks. Get better. We'll be waiting for you."
The cacomistle started walking away. Once he'd moved far enough down the hallway that he was sure Shane wouldn't hear him, he pulled his phone out again. He flipped through it, tapped on a number, and then held it up to his ear as he walked.
Eventually, Dimi's voice crackled through the other end. "Devon. Can you tell my why the hell Mountain Spring Rehabilitation Clinic called me and told me that you were there?"
"Because I just had a visit with Shane."
Devon could almost see Dimi's eyes widening on the other end. The cacomistle actually had to hold the phone away from his ear as Dimi's voice came through. "A kurva istenit! When you said you wanted to visit Shane, I didn't think you were going to do it during a game! You know you're supposed to be here for every game. Anjij's going to have your pelt."
"Probably." Devon's tail gave a small twitch. He wasn't looking forward to talking to Anjij. He gave a small nod to the receptionist as he walked by the desk, and headed out the doors. "Look, I just wanted to call to thank you for agreeing to start Redawn."
There was a moment of hesitation on the other end. When Dimi's voice came through again, there was a hint of curiosity in it. "Ms Fenwatcher received a call during the team meeting after the game. She seemed distracted when she got back from it. You wouldn't happen to have had anything to do with that, would you?"
Devon got his car door open, and took a seat. "Not sure what you could be talking about. Shane isn't allowed to have a phone in there."
"Of course." Everything was quiet on the other end for a few long moments. Then, Dimi spoke. "I knew I made the right choice at the beginning of the season. You worried me in December, but... I'm proud of what you've done, Devon."
Devon let out a long, deep breath before he replied. "Thanks, Dimi. Tell Anjij I'll come and see her in the morning."
The cacomistle hung up, and then turned off his phone. He tossed it onto the passenger seat, and then leaned back, closing his eyes for a few long seconds.
"You're only two months in, buddy," he muttered to himself. He finally started the car, and pulled out of the parking lot. As he began the long drive back to San Jose, he told himself, "There's still lots of time for more to go wrong." For some reason, though, he couldn't keep the smirk off his face.
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