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 7. This story follows 'Thank You'.
Okaasan. It's cold.
I wake up, shivering, and peer at the alarm clock. It's one in the morning. Has it... has it really been three days since... since Okaasan...
Have I slept since then?
I climb out from under the covers and pull my school jumper on over my pyjamas. Cold air courses around my bare feet, but I can't be bothered finding my slippers. I just want to get the heater from the living room, that's all. I'll drag it in here and turn it on, and maybe then I'll feel warmer. Maybe then, things will start getting better.
I can't see, but I know my way around in the dark. Three steps take me to the bedroom door. I turn the handle and step out into the corridor. Turning left, it'll be another five steps to
No wonder it's so cold in here. The apartment door is wide open, letting the bitter night air inside. Otousan is standing there at the open door, peering out into the hallway. For a moment, I let myself hope. Maybe he just heard a noise. It wouldn't be the first time we've had prowlers around here. Maybe Watanabe-san is coming home late. Maybe... maybe...
Otousan hasn't been sleeping much. I hear him wandering around the apartment at all hours of the night. In the morning, when I've made breakfast for him, he just sits there, his eyes empty and lost. He always looks so tired, so haunted. He hasn't been to work, and I haven't been to school. We both drift around the apartment, searching for something to fill the empty spaces.
We've both been here, but I've been so alone.
Quietly, I pad down the corridor towards Otousan. Silhouetted by the moonlight, he stands there in his pyjamas, anxiously looking up and down the corridor. He's mumbling quietly to himself.
"Otousan?" I ask, hesitantly. "Is there someone out there?"
He turns to me, his eyes shadowed and dark. "Kana?" he asks, hopefully.
I'm not going to cry. I am not going to cry this time. Biting my lip hard, I step forward and take his hand. "No, Otousan. It's me, Rika. Remember?"
His expression gives no sign that he remembers anyone called Rika. "She's cold out there," he says, turning back to look down the corridor as I cling helplessly to his hand. "Why isn't she coming home? She... she knows where I am. She has to know I miss her... Why isn't she coming home?"
"Otousan, please," I whisper, tugging at his arm. "Please... it's cold, and you need to sleep." Maybe then... maybe then you'll come back to me. Otousan, please. I... need you. I... I can't do this alone. I'm not holding things together either, Otousan! I... I want her back too!
Okaasan. Despite my best efforts, I'm crying again. The tears run down my face and fall onto my outstretched arm. My hand holding Otousan's. And he doesn't feel me.
He just wants Okaasan to come home.
I don't remember how or when we got home. I do remember that it was raining. Otousan stumbled down the corridor in the grey morning light, heading for his room. I stood there at the front door, looking inside. Everything felt different. The air was still and cold. There was no familiarity, no welcome. It felt like someone else lived here.
I slept for a few hours, crying myself into restless dreams. I didn't feel any better when I woke up; I was all hollow inside, and my body felt like it was detached from my head. I could make it move, but it wasn't a part of me. It was almost eerie watching Rika's hands making breakfast, feeling Rika's feet walking on the tatami. It was like watching through someone else's eyes.
But I managed to make breakfast. It's early afternoon now, so I'm heading down the corridor to wake up Otousan. He's lying there all tangled up in the bedclothes; he hasn't even bothered to take off his shoes. But he doesn't look peaceful lying there. He looks worried and restless.
I smile at him, remembering what I promised Okaasan. I'll take care of them for you, Okaasan. I'll love them both as much as I can.
I promised her.
I crouch down by Otousan's side, reaching out to touch his shoulder. "Otousan?" I ask, gently. "Otousan, do you want to eat something? I made breakfast..."
He opens his eyes almost right at once; he hadn't been sleeping very deeply. For a moment, he looks at me in bemusement, and then a smile spreads across his face.
I smile back, feeling relief surging through me. It's going to be okay. We're all going to be okay. That smile. Otousan's smile. I just want him to hug me.
"There you are," he says, sounding relieved.
"I didn't go anywhere," I reply, happily.
He just reaches out and draws me close to him, wrapping his arms around me. I close my eyes blissfully, feeling his warmth and strength protecting me. Otousan. I love you.
I feel his arms loosen around me, and he draws back a bit. "Otousan?" I ask, opening my eyes again. "Do you want to mmph!"
His... his lips. They're against... mine. He's kissing me! What... Otousan...?
"Otousan!" I squeal, tearing myself away from him. "Otousan, please... What..." I can't speak. My heart is pounding so hard. I just stare at him, bewildered.
"Kana?" he asks, looking confused. "What's the matter?"
Something is wrong. Something is very wrong.
"You cut your hair," Otousan says, looking at me disapprovingly. "Why did you do that? It doesn't look good on you when it's that short."
"I, uh..." I stare at him, bringing my hand up to brush at my tousled hair. It's getting longer; I haven't had the chance to visit Aoi-san for a long time now. But it's still shorter than Okaasan's hair, and that's who he seems to think I am.
That's who he wants me to be.
No matter how many times I tell him that I'm Rika, that I'm his daughter, it only skims the surface of his mind. It ripples for a few moments minutes, or sometimes just seconds before he forgets, and I'm Okaasan again.
I've felt so lonely. No Okaasan to hold me. No Sara-chan to talk to. And now... no Otousan either. Just me.
I've been so cold.
"Otousan, let's go back to bed," I murmur, changing the subject. "Let's close the door and sleep. Please." Still holding his hand, I reach out to pull the door closed, locking it securely. "There," I say, looking up at him. "That should keep the cold out. Will you go to bed now, Otousan?"
He's looking at me, hurt. "Why do you keep calling me that? It's not funny, Kana."
"But... but, Otousan..." I stammer.
"Stop it!" His harsh tone makes me flinch. Tears spring to my eyes. "Kana, please, stop it. No more games. I... I don't know why you..." He chokes on a sob. "I've missed you," he whimpers, pathetically. "You haven't been here. I thought you were cold. And now... and now you're back, and you just want to play stupid games... Kana, I..." He's crying now. Otousan is crying. He didn't even cry when Okaasan died. What Otousan, please, don't... I love you. I don't know what What can I...?
I'm just Kana to him, Okaasan said. I'm his Kana. And... and though he doesn't know it... and I'll never tell him... he'll always be...
Okaasan. I'm sorry. But... but if I can help him...
"Bro," I whisper. My voice trembles. But I can do this. "Bro..." I repeat, in a tiny voice. "Don't cry. I'm sorry... I didn't want to..."
"Don't apologise!" he says, fiercely, bending down to fold his arms around me. "Kana, you know we don't need to apologise... I love you. I love you!"
"Bro... Bro..." I squeak, as he holds me close. He's trembling. And so am I.
"You're warm," he says, lovingly. "You're not cold after all. It's... it's all right, Kana. Please don't look so sad. I'm not mad at you. I just... I missed you, that's all."
"I... I understand," I say, hesitantly. He looks so happy now, and his arms are so warm and comforting around me. Maybe this isn't so bad. I can help him. For just a little while. "You have to sleep now," I tell him, pulling back from his embrace and taking his hand. I start to lead him down the hallway, towards their room. If I can get him to lie down and get some sleep, maybe things will be better in the morning.
"Kana." He follows me like a faithful puppy. It's so easy to draw him along.
Their bedroom still carries a mix of their fragrances Otousan's cologne and Okaasan's favourite perfume. The futon isn't made, so I spend a couple of moments straightening out the covers and fluffing up the pillows. "Now," I say, turning down the covers and sitting him down on the bed, "I want you to get some sleep, Bro. I'll be"
"Kana." He reaches out and takes my hand, holding it against his chest. "Please stay."
"I... I can't," I mumble, awkwardly. "It's cold out there, and I"
"Just for a while, Kana. You don't have to go back to your room yet. I just want to hold you a little... I've missed you so much."
I've missed you so much...
I stare at him in the darkness. My bed is cold. If I go back there, I'm just going to cry. We both miss Okaasan. Maybe... maybe it'll be okay. Won't it? Just for a while, if I take Okaasan's place...?
Mutely, I shuffle around to the other side of the bed, and climb in. The sheets are cold; I pull the covers over myself and curl up on my side, facing away from him. I feel the bed move as Otousan slips in behind me. He slides his arms around my waist. He buries his face against the back of my neck. And all I can do is lie there shaking.
Otousan. My heart is pounding and there are butterflies fluttering madly in my stomach. But Otousan's arms are around me. I should feel safe, shouldn't I?
I love you, Otousan. I do.
Sara-chan looks small and pale in the white hospital bed. The light in her eyes has dimmed over the past few days. She knows what happened, of course. She's young, but Okaasan made sure that she's smart. And Sara reads so much. She's probably read twice as many books as I have.
Poor Sara-chan. The first time I visited her after she said goodbye to Okaasan, all she could do was cry. She wailed and she screamed and she writhed as I held her tight against me, cuddling her frail body close to mine and stroking her head. Trying to ignore the tears that fell from my eyes into her glossy black hair.
She'd been awake all night, staring out the window at the clouds, looking for the moon. But she couldn't find it. It wasn't there; it couldn't be seen. And she knew, somehow, that Okaasan was gone too.
She only needed to look at my face the next morning, when I walked into her room. She knew the truth.
It's taken its toll on her. There's no spark to her right now, no joy. She doesn't talk about spring anymore; doesn't talk about how much she wants to go back to school. She stares out the window at the rain, and I know I've seen this scene before. Same girl, same white pyjamas it's only their ages that are different.
There's a small pile of games and books on Sara-chan's nightstand. By now, we should be playing a game of some sort, or talking about one of the books she's read. It's almost unheard of for one of my visits to have gone this long in silence. But Sara-chan is quiet. She sits there in her bed, not looking at me. I hold her hand, caressing it reassuringly every now and then.
All I can do is sit with her. Supporting her. Loving her. I can do that for you, Sara-chan. Just like Okaasan. Just like I did for Otou
No. No I told myself I wouldn't think about that. I'll go home after this and find that Otousan is fine. He'll be eating the breakfast I left out for him, and he'll look up at me and say, "Good morning, Ri-chan! I feel much better now." And... and last night will be...
I look up at the sound of Sara-chan's voice. It's low and dull, but at least she's looking at me. Her head hangs almost limply as she tries valiantly to smile. It's not much only a slight upward twitch of her lips but it sends a warm surge through my heart.
"What is it, Sara-chan?" I ask, gently.
"You look... feverish." Sara gestures weakly at my face. "Your cheeks are all red. What... what were you thinking about?"
"I was... I was thinking how much I love you and Otousan," I tell her, smiling. "About all the things I want to be able to do for you. How much I want to see you smile."
"Good," Sara-chan murmurs. "Then you're... you're not sick. I wouldn't want that, Oneechan. I wouldn't want you to be sick too."
"But if I was, then I could come stay at the hospital with you," I point out. "Wouldn't that be fun, Sara-chan? We could have pretend sleepovers and"
"I don't want pretend anything," Sara-chan says, quietly. "I just want realness. I want our room, Oneechan. I don't like sleeping alone! And it's so lonely here. I..." She bends forward, her small face wrinkling up. Tears stream down her cheeks, and her shoulders tremble. She's so small and fragile like a tiny crippled bird.
"Sara-chan." I climb up onto the bed and hold her close to me. I let her cry against my shoulder. I lower my face to her hair, staring hard at the blank white wall across from me. Holding everything inside. Holding it together.
"Is... is she sad, Oneechan?" Sara-chan sobs, her hands tugging hard at my sweater. "Is she... is she lonely?"
"I... I don't know," I say, honestly. "I'd like to think she's happy... I hope she is..."
"Why wouldn't she let me go with her?" Sara begs, brokenly. "I... I wanted to go with her..."
"Sara-chan!" I snap, making my voice sharp and hard. She jumps, startled.
"We love you too, Sara-chan," I tell her, as she looks up at me, her violet eyes clouded. "Me and Otousan. Okaasan's waiting for us, but she's patient. She wants the three of us together for as long as possible. That will make her happy."
"It won't be long." The finality in Sara-chan's tone scares me.
"It won't be long before I see Okaasan again," Sara says, pulling herself upright. "I'm not well. The doctors all say so. They do tests on me, then they go off and talk to each other in little circles. They don't do that if you're healthy. They only do it if it's 'negative prognosis'. I'll see Okaasan soon!" And now she smiles, but it's not a little girl's smile. It's hard-edged and painfully bitter. "You won't stop me, will you, Oneechan? You won't mind?"
"I do mind!" I scream at her. Sara-chan's eyes go wide, and she starts crying again. "Sara-chan, you're not going to die! I won't let you die! Do you hear me? I'm not going to let you die!"
Sara-chan just stares at me, crying. "OOneechan," she whispers. She reaches out with a shaking hand to touch my cheek. "Oneechan, you're... crying."
"You're mine now, Sara-chan," I tell her, fiercely. "Okaasan's gone, but I'm here. I'm going to look after you. So don't... please don't talk that way anymore..."
Sara-chan draws her hand back, turning it around and looking at her wet fingertips. "For... for me?" she says, almost to herself. "Oneechan..."
"Yes, Sara-chan." I reach out and hug her close to me again. "Yes, they're all for you."
"I'm sorry. No, my otousan still isn't well. Yes, I'll be sure to let him know. Thank you. Yes, goodbye."
I put the phone down, feeling completely empty. The people from Otousan's work keep calling to ask where he is. They don't sound happy. But Otousan's in no condition to be working. He doesn't really seem to be aware of what's going on around him.
Otousan is searching through the apartment again as I walk slowly into the living area. The breakfast I left out for him is sitting on the dining table, untouched. He doesn't eat unless I tell him to. He's busy looking for Okaasan. She's all that matters to him.
He needs Okaasan, not me. I mean very little to him.
I sit at the dining table, watching him helplessly as he looks under the couch and behind the TV. It's so senseless. She's not there, Otousan. She's... she's not anywhere.
"Otousan?" I ask, quietly. He doesn't seem to hear my voice, but I go on anyway. "Otousan, you should eat something. O... Otousan? Please..."
He opens a cupboard and peers inside, as if Okaasan might be hiding there. He takes a box off one of the shelves and opens it. She's not in there either. Shrugging, he puts it aside.
I can't stand it anymore.
He blinks, straightening up. "Kana?" he asks, turning towards me. "Kana, you're home already? I... I thought the doctors said you had to stay at the hospital."
"They... they let me out early," I say, dully. "Bro, I wish you'd eat something. It worries me when you don't eat."
"Oh." He laughs, running a hand through his hair. "I didn't even realise how hungry I was! Thanks."
"It's all right," I whisper, as he sits down at the table across from me. He picks up his chopsticks and uncovers the rice bowl.
"I'm glad you're home," he says, shovelling rice into his mouth. "I've got some new books for you to read. And I thought that if you're well enough tomorrow, we could go to the park. That'll be fun, won't it?"
I let my eyes sink closed, remembering the park. Otousan carrying me on his shoulders along one of the footpaths. Leaves falling around us in the bright autumn afternoon. The sound of his laughter, the slight dizziness from being up so high. And I remember thinking that this was what it must feel like to be a grown-up. Being so tall, being so strong. I wouldn't have to be afraid of anything.
I won't cry.
"Yes, Bro," I say, quietly. "Yes, that sounds like fun."
Nothing I say can reach him. When I'm not there, he looks everywhere for Okaasan. He doesn't hear me when I call him 'Otousan'. It's like I don't exist to him he doesn't have a daughter; there's no Rika or Sara-chan in his life. Only Okaasan.
He does what 'Kana' tells him, though. He comes with me to buy groceries, though I'm the one who has to take out his wallet and pay the cashier. He sits with me at the dining table as we eat dinner, and he happily chats about things that happened more than twenty years ago. After he's taken his bath, I stand next to him at the bathroom mirror as he shaves. He's happy with me around. He's happy to have his imouto-chan back.
And I just need him with me.
I send him off to watch TV as I take my own bath. I lie there in the tub, soaking quietly in the hot water, trying not to be afraid. And then I get up and put on my pyjamas.
And afterwards, when it's completely dark and the wind is howling outside the apartment windows, he takes me to bed again. He holds me close, his body pressed up against me. His hands slip higher up my chest, on top of my pyjamas. My face is burning. I can't breathe.
"Good night, Kana," he mumbles, sleepily. As he drifts off to sleep as his breathing turns deep and regular, and his arms tighten around me I lie there wide awake, conscious of every trembling part of my body.
I'm... I'm not Kana. I can't be you, Okaasan. Can I...?
I can feel his hands on my body. He's touching me, he's holding me. I know he loves me, but this... this is just too
No. No, he's not touching me. He's touching Okaasan, through me.
I can do this for him. I have to. But... but
Otousan, please. Come back to me. Don't... it can't stay like this. It can't...
All night long, I lie wide awake in my otousan's arms, crying silently in the dark.
Rika's love starts to overwhelm her, in Growing Older.