NB: this story contains spoilers regarding the first, 'best' ending of Kana: Little Sister. Please don't proceed unless you've completed this ending to the game.
'Blinding White', part 2. This story follows 'First Falls'.
It's dark by the time I get home, though the summer evening is still warm and sultry. Why do I feel like it should be cold? Why... why are we here again?
The mailbox is empty. Rika-chan must have collected the mail this afternoon, as usual. I hope she and Sara-chan are okay. I haven't been home very much over the past couple of days. I know that Rika's a remarkably responsible girl for her age, but still, I'm their father, for crying out loud. I can't help but worry about them.
I take the elevator up to the fourth floor in dead silence.
Rika-chan is sitting at the dining table, hunched over her books and frowning at them quizzically. But she looks up at me as I step into the room, and she smiles.
"Otousan!" The smile only lights her face momentarily, but it was worth it. I feel some of the tension seeping out of my shoulders. Rika seems to have everything under control.
"Hi, Ri-chan. Everything okay?"
She blinks at me, her eyes narrowing for a second. She looks almost... hurt. But then she just shakes her head and beams up at me again.
"Yes. I went and got dinner for me and Sara-chan, then I ran a bath for her. She's in there right now." Rika pushes the chair back and climbs to her feet, digging in her skirt pocket. "I have the change for you, Otou"
"Keep it." I hold my hand up to stop her. "You're a big girl now. Consider it a bit of extra pocket money for looking after Sara-chan so well."
Rika smiles uncertainly, but just smooths her skirt down and takes her seat again. "I'll use it for Sara-chan," she says, not looking at me.
"That's a good idea." I sit down opposite her and lean back, allowing myself to relax for a moment. Rika said that Sara-chan's in the bath. I should probably go check on her... in a minute or two. When was the last time I had a quiet moment at home like this?
I can sense Rika sneaking glances up at me as she pretends to do her homework. Her eyes are deep violet, and they remind me of her okaasan's. There's a lot about Rika that reminds me of Kana, in fact. Rika's taller and more outgoing than Kana was at that age, of course. But I can look at old photos of Kana in junior high and compare them to Rika... and they could be sisters. The same slender build, the same slightly troubled eyes, the same glossy hair. Of course, Rika keeps her hair cropped almost viciously short, but
"Otousan?" Rika asks, out of the blue.
"What is it, Ri-chan?"
"You're not saying much," she says, quietly. "How... how's Okaasan?"
I look up at her, trying not to let my worry show. "She still isn't fully conscious, Ri-chan. But she's more stable now, and they've taken her out of intensive care. They're running tests to find out what's wrong with h"
"She works too hard!" Rika snaps. "That's all there is to it! She worked too hard and she gave herself a heart attack!"
"That's not all there is to it." I remonstrate with her gently. "You know your okaasan's had health problems ever since she was a young girl. Just like Sara-chan."
"I... I know," Rika mutters. "But that doesn't mean"
"You saved her life, you know."
Rika breaks off, biting her lower lip. "I... I just did what they taught me. You were the one who made me take first aid and CPR, Otousan. It wasn't me... It was you."
I sigh softly. Rika-chan. Her relationship with Kana has been changing over the past year or so. It used to be that Rika was openly affectionate with both of us me and Kana. She'd greet both of us with hugs, and crawl into bed between us on cold winter mornings. But now, sometimes, it seems that Rika feels almost adversarial towards Kana. And the rest of the time, she's cool and distant to her.
It hurts Kana; I know it does. But kids start growing up eventually. That's what they do. They can't stay children forever.
"You can try to teach anyone anything, Ri-chan," I tell her, "but if they don't want to learn it, then it goes right in one ear and out the other. You knew how important it was for Okaasan, and for Sara-chan and so you made sure you learned it right. It... it makes me very proud, Ri-chan."
Rika's cheeks flush faintly pink. "You asked me to, Otousan," she whispers. "You asked me to do my best for them. If anyone else had"
Sara's high-pitched squeal splits the air as she comes running into the dining area, wearing only a towel. Her hair is still damp, hanging in long thick strands down her back. As I turn around in my chair, she throws herself at me, hugging me tight.
"Otousan, Otousan!" Sara's voice is muffled by my shirt as she buries her face against my chest. "You're back!"
"Yes, Sara-chan, I'm back." I have to keep a tight hold on the towel to keep it from falling off her. She wraps her thin arms around my waist and clings to me happily.
"You can have the bath now, Oneechan," she says, her words still indistinct.
"Thanks, Sara-chan." Rika closes her books and stacks them to one side. "Just stay with Otousan for a while, then I'll come back and put you to bed."
"No!" Sara looks up and pokes her tongue out at her sister. "Otousan's here! He can put me to bed!"
There's another faint tinge of hurt in Rika's expression as she looks at Sara-chan. Has it always been there, and I just never noticed it? Or are things changing?
"I'll go and have my bath, then," Rika says, getting up. "Otousan can put you to bed if you like, Sara-chan."
"I do like!" Sara-chan giggles, snuggling close against me. "I'll see you in our room, Oneechan!"
"Fine." And with that one word, Rika practically stalks out of the room. She's only twelve years old, and subtlety isn't one of her strong points. But it's easy for me to tell what sort of mood she's in; after all, I used to do the same thing when I was around her age.
Kana's right, I realise. She's always telling me how much Rika reminds her of me.
"Now, Sara-chan." I poke at her and tickle her until she squeals again. "What does Okaasan say about running around in only a towel?"
"It's not 'lady-like'," Sara says, elaborately over-pronouncing the last phrase. She must have picked that habit up from Rika-chan. Hmmm. I wonder if I can stop this trend before Sara picks up any more of them.
"And what else?"
"'You're going to catch a cold!'" Sara laughs. "But it's summer!"
"Never mind that," I tell her, hauling her higher on my lap and cuddling her gently. Sara-chan wriggles happily. "Go and get dressed, then come back here. We'll cast a spell."
Sara freezes in my arms momentarily, then sighs. "Yes, Otousan."
Sara hops down from my lap and turns around. I reach out and tug the towel tighter around her, tucking it firmly in place. Then I lean forward and kiss both her cheeks. She grins again, delightedly.
"Won't be long, Otousan!" she promises, and goes flying off to the room that she and Rika share. I watch her go, with a smile on my face. If Rika's like me, then Sara is Kana all over again. Sweet and innocent. Loving. Sara doesn't look much like Kana: her face is slightly narrower; her features not quite as delicate. But she takes after Kana in spirit.
And in other, less positive ways, too.
Sara-chan's needle-less syringe what Kana calls 'the magic wand' - is in its case in one of the kitchen cupboards. We have enough of Sara's medication to last for weeks, and I made up a fresh vial just last night. It's convenient, I suppose. At least Sara-chan doesn't have to go in to the hospital every day...
Abruptly, it all just hits me. My hands start to shake, and I have to put the magic wand down before I drop it. I always get this way when I'm tired or stressed... and right now, I'm both. I lean on the sink, letting my head hang forward.
Kana. Tell me it's going to be all right. Please...
My shoes make a hollow sound on the tiled floor. Hospitals are always the same. They're quiet, generally with the murmur of low, serious-sounding conversations in the background. You don't hear kids laughing in these corridors. You don't hear sounds of joy or delight. No, you just hear empty distant voices and the echo of hard soles on the cold floor.
Hospitals. I've spent so much of my life in places like these. Doesn't it ever end?
Kana's been moved into a medium-sized ward with white privacy curtains set up between the four beds. Everything in here is white and gleaming, and the smell of the place is sterile. Antiseptic. The room doesn't feel like anyone lives here. It's more of a way-station, a halfway house. Patients pass through here on their way from illness back to health. If they're lucky. Others, like Kana, linger here for years at a time, trapped between life and death. And others never leave at all.
I'm tired of hospitals.
The nurse told me that Kana regained consciousness earlier this afternoon, so I'm not surprised to find her propped up in bed, looking out the window at the blue summer sky. She turns her head at the sound of my footsteps, and I'm shocked to see how frail she looks. Her eyes are heavy-lidded, and her movements are slow and feeble.
But her smile is as beautiful as ever.
"Ta-chan," she says, weakly, as I sit down by the bed and take her hand. "What... what happened to me?"
"How much do you remember?" I ask.
Her brow furrows slightly as she strains for recollection. "I remember... leaving work. I was on the train. I... I think I made it home..."
"You did," I tell her, gently stroking her fingers, keeping my tone soft and reassuring. "Then you collapsed. You stopped breathing."
Kana's eyes widen a millimetre or two. "What?"
The doctors say it was a mild cardiac arrest. How anything that involves a person's heart stopping can be considered 'mild' is beyond me.
"Rika-chan gave you CPR. Then she called an ambulance."
"I... see." Kana sighs heavily, letting her head slip back to the pillow. Her eyes slip closed, liberating a tear that traces its way down her cheek. "I... I guess I messed up, right?"
"Not at all," I say, lightly. "I think a good long sleep is just what you needed."
She cringes. "How long?"
"Three days. It's Friday afternoon."
"Sara-chan?" she asks, quietly. "Rika-chan?"
"They can't be fine." Kana opens her eyes again, looking at me with guilt swimming in their violet depths. "I... I let them down. I"
"That's enough." I squeeze her hand. "Your doctor told me to avoid getting you upset or agitated. So you'd better keep calm, or I'll have to go away."
"Oh." Kana seems taken aback, and a bit disappointed.
"So," I continue, keeping my tone serious, "no excitement for you. Understood?"
"No excitement... at all?" she asks, with a wistful glance at me. I just smile and lean forward to kiss her. Her lips are slack and almost cold, but she does her best to kiss me back.
It may be the sweetest kiss we've ever shared. Because there have been times these past three days when I've looked at her and I've wondered if we'd ever kiss again. If my Kana would ever wake up agai
"Hey," Kana says, her voice lightly reproving. "What's this, Ta-chan?"
I just keep crying, burying my face against her shoulder. My tears soak into the white fabric of her hospital pyjamas as her hand comes up to stroke my hair gently.
"I'm... I'm sorry..." My words are broken up by my hiccupping sobs, but I'm starting to feel better. Because she's here. Kana's still with me. Her fingers are in my hair and her chest is rising and falling beneath my cheek. She's warm. She's alive. "I... I just..."
"I don't know... what the doctor told you..." Kana continues, in that same disapproving tone. "But you'd better keep calm, or... or I'll have to send you away."
I just look up at her, startled. Kana's stern look gives way to a weak smile. She giggles, quietly, and I start to giggle as well. Her arms slowly find their way around me, and we hold each other close.
"I love you," I whisper in her ear.
"I love you too, Ta-chan."
I draw back eventually, wiping at my eyes. Kana just sinks back against the pillow and watches me with a weary smile on her face.
"How are the girls?" she asks, softly.
"They're fine. Sara-chan was a little upset by all the goings-on, and she's been asking when you're coming back, but Rika-chan's looking after her."
"She does it well," Kana says, closing her eyes again. "She's... so strong."
"I know," I say, thinking of Rika's smile. Her blush. The loving way she looks after Sara-chan. I am proud of her so proud that no words seem quite adequate to describe it.
"Do you... think we ask... too much of her?" Kana's voice is fading. Her eyes are still closed, but she looks more at peace now. She doesn't look quite as fragile as she did while she was unconscious.
"She has to be able to look after Sara-chan," I point out, reasonably. "She has to be strong."
Kana sighs quietly. "If only I didn't have to work so hard..."
"I don't think you'll be working for a while now, Kana."
"But..." Kana's eyes flicker open, and she struggles to sit up. "But we... we can't afford..."
I reach out and gently push her back down. It's not difficult. It's not difficult at all.
"And I can't afford to lose you," I tell her, holding her gaze with mine. She stares up at me, transfixed. "Neither can the girls. Rika's scared, Kana. She does her best not to show it, but she's worried about you. She loves you."
Kana tries to smile again, but the effort barely registers on her face. "Takes... after her... father," she murmurs. Her eyes close again. Her hand twitches once in mine, then relaxes.
I smile for both of us, looking at her face as she sleeps. "I love you, Kana," I whisper. "Please... don't leave me."
"Your wife's test results have come through, Todo-san."
Nakamura-sensei glances down at his clipboard. He's young he has to be at least ten years younger than me and Kana. When did... when did the world catch up with us, Kana? When did little kids become doctors?
I take a deep breath. "And what did the results tell you, sensei?"
He glances up at me momentarily, then looks back down, talking to the sheet of paper in front of him. "According to your wife's medical history, she's been on immunosuppressants since she had a kidney transplant when she was seventeen years old. I don't know how much you know about immunosuppressive medication, Todo-san, but"
"What did the results tell you?" I grit the words out from between clenched teeth. Kana is not the sum of her medical history, sensei! She's a living, breathing woman. She's a mother, and she's my wife. She's my everything! Look at me when you talk to me about her, damn it!
"She's been on cyclosporin for more than twenty years," Nakamura-sensei says, finally looking up at me. "Cyclosporin has been known to cause various side effects in certain patients; increased blood pressure is one of them. Unfortunately, your wife is among this vulnerable group."
"Then why didn't this happen earlier?" I demand. "It's not as if"
"I'm afraid that high blood pressure wasn't the only factor contributing to your wife's heart attack," Nakamura-sensei continues. "As you probably know, the health of the kidneys is strongly related to that of the heart. If the kidneys should begin to fail..."
"Kidneys?" I repeat, blankly.
"Her kidney functions are tapering off," Nakamura says, his voice cool and level. "We... we believe the transplant is failing."
No. I back away from him a half-step, involuntarily. No! We've been here! We've been through this! Kana...
Nakamura's lips are still moving. It's as if the volume has been turned down. But somehow I can still make out what he's saying.
"Her heart is under immense strain. At this rate, without another transplant, another cardiac arrest is inevitable. And when that happens"
He says other things. He mentions words like 'dialysis' and 'waiting list' and 'potentially fatal'. He says numbers and attaches the words 'weeks' and 'months' to them. But I'm not listening anymore.
Kana. I'm so cold.
Rika learns a harsh truth, in Broken Inside.