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 9. This story follows 'Growing Older'.
It's also the finale to this series.
Watanabe-san's apartment is smaller than ours. The genkan leads directly into the living area. I'm still wearing my house slippers, but they're dirty now, so I take them off before I step onto the tatami. My legs are trembling.
"Over here, Rika-san," Watanabe-san says gently, leading me over to the couch. "Take a seat while I get things set up."
I sit down on the couch numbly as he goes back to the door and locks it. Then he disappears into the bedroom. I stare down at my socked feet, wondering why my knees won't stop shaking.
The sensei won't let Otousan see him unless his bill has been paid. Otousan can't afford to pay the bill. But he needs to see Morioka-sensei. He needs to get better. So I'll pay for him.
I just have to be strong, that's all.
"Here we go," Watanabe-san says, coming back into the room. He's carrying a digital video camera, which he sets up on the TV stand across from the couch, training the lens on me. There's a digital camera hanging from a strap around his neck; he brings it up to his face and turns to me. "Smile, Rika-san."
I can't I can't even look at him but he takes the photo anyway. I sit there stiffly on the couch with my knees locked together and Okaasan's blouse pulled as tight as possible around me. He saw me. He opened my blouse and looked at me...
Otousan. I wanted it to be you.
"Now, Rika-san," Watanabe-san continues, turning on the overhead light, "my clients have particular needs, you understand. They're willing to pay very well for things that fulfil those needs. Video footage, for example." He indicates the video camera, its blank gaze fixed on me. "And photographs." He holds up the digital camera. "The real money, though, is in private sessions with them in person. No, no relax," he says, soothingly, as I stare at him, starting to panic. "You don't have to do that. I'm just letting you know how things work. We'll do what you're comfortable with for now, Rika-san. You trust me, don't you?"
I nod, silently.
"Good." He reaches over to the video camera and starts it recording. "You'll have to trust me a lot, Rika-san. I can get you the money your otousan needs, but you have to do as I say. No protests, all right? You can cry if you have to. Sometimes they like that. But don't fight me. Okay?"
My head moves up and down on my neck, slowly.
"That's my girl," he says. He takes another photo of me. The flash dazzles my eyes, and for a moment I can't see. "Open the left side of your blouse, Rika. Slowly. Show me your shoulder, but keep your breasts covered for now."
My hand drifts up and takes hold of the blouse's lapel. Gradually, I pull it back, baring my shoulder to the two cameras. The flash goes off again and again.
"Good," he says, encouragingly. "Now open the left side completely, Rika. Yes, that's it. Hold the blouse back with your hand. Show me your breasts..."
"B... both sides?" I ask, in a tiny voice. "Or... just the left still?"
He's breathing harder now. "Both," he whispers, intently. "Yes, show me both of them, Rika. Open the blouse. Hold it open. That's it. Yes."
I can't look at him. I hold my blouse open, letting him stare at my breasts, but I keep my face averted. It hurts. It hurts...
"You're doing... great, Rika-san," he says, raggedly. "Take it off now. No, wait. First slide the blouse down your shoulders and hold it there. Like a shawl. Could you look at the camera, please? Rika, look at the camera. They'll want to see your face."
My face? They want to see me crying? They want to see a sobbing little girl taking off her clothes on a strange man's couch?
I squint up at Watanabe-san, trying to summon a smile. But instead it feels like I'm just going to cry even harder.
"That's good," he says, quietly. He takes a few more shots. "Now, Rika. Take the blouse off."
I nod jerkily, reaching across to slide the blouse's sleeve off my left arm. And then the right. The camera's flash is going off so rapidly now. A non-stop barrage of dazzling light.
Then he stops. He lowers the camera and stares at me as I sit there half-naked on the couch. He stares at me with that loving look in his eyes again. It doesn't feel the same as when Otousan looked at me that way. That was scary, but it was good scary. It made me feel warm and happy inside. But this... This is almost painful.
"I think that's enough photos for now," he says, unsteadily, letting the camera fall to dangle from its strap. He moves across to me and crouches down in front of me, making sure he's not between me and the video camera. Gently, he reaches out and touches my tear-streaked face.
"Pplease..." I stammer, helplessly. "Can we pplease stop now, Wata... Watanabe-san?"
"Soon," he promises. He reaches out and gently strokes my breast with an upward motion of his fingers, brushing lightly against the nipple. His fingers are cold. I close my eyes, sobbing, as his other hand takes the hem of my school skirt and slowly lifts it up.
"Yes," he whispers. I can feel his eyes on me as he lifts my skirt up around my waist, tucking it back. "You're a good girl, Rika-san. Doing this for your otousan. Now..."
I jump as his fingers touch my thigh. "WaWatanabe-san!" I squeak, flustered. "You said they, they... You said they wouldn't touch me...!"
"Just relax," he says, not taking his fingers away. They're sliding higher up my leg. No.
"Plplease..." I close my eyes, feeling the tears rolling down my face. "No, please don't... Don't touch me there"
"There's good money in this, too," he tells me, keeping his eyes locked to mine, as one fingertip touches my white panties. He tugs at the waistband and slips his fingers inside. He's touching me. He's stroking me. I gasp, sobbing. No. No, I don't want this...
I sit bolt upright as Watanabe-san pulls back, shocked.
"Otousan!" I scream. "Otousan!"
Before Watanabe-san can stop me, I'm on my feet, staggering on trembling legs to the front door. I unlock it and shove it open. Otousan is there. Otousan lifts me into his arms and holds me tight. The touch of his body is warm and comforting against my bare skin.
"Ri-chan," he murmurs, hugging me close. "I found you..."
"Otousan." I bury my face against his shoulder, sobbing. "Otousan, I'm sorry! He... He... I..."
"She... she came to me!" Watanabe-san protests, as Otousan looks up at him, somewhat hazily.
"My Ka My Ri-chan," Otousan snarls, shaking his head. He drops me to my feet, and I scramble around behind him, clinging to his sleeve. "You bastard! I told you to keep away!"
"She... she needed money, she said," Watanabe-san continues, desperately. "Do you... do you need money, Todo-san? I can... I'll..."
"No!" Otousan roars. He surges forward, throwing me off-balance, and drives his clenched fist hard into Watanabe-san's stomach. Watanabe-san doubles over, gasping, and flops to the floor. Otousan reaches down and snatches the digital camera from around his neck, pulling the strap over Watanabe-san's head.
"That's... mine..." Watanabe-san says, feebly, bringing his hand up weakly. "You don't have... any right to"
Otousan just kicks him savagely in the ribs. Watanabe-san gasps, wheezing, and curls up in agony.
"Ri-chan, get your blouse," Otousan says, looking down at Watanabe-san contemptuously.
I scurry across to the couch, keeping a wary eye on Watanabe-san, and hastily pull Okaasan's blouse back on.
"Leave my daughters alone, Shiro," Otousan says, his voice deadly. "Come on, Ri-chan."
"Otousan," I squeak, hesitantly, slipping over to hide behind him again. "The video camera..."
"Bring it," he says. "I'm sure the police will"
"Police?" Watanabe-san surges to his feet, alarmed. "No! You"
Otousan whirls and slams his fist straight into Watanabe-san's face. There's a loud crunching sound, and Watanabe-san groans, sinking back to the floor. His nose is bleeding. The sight sends a gleeful shiver through me.
"Otousan..." I murmur, as warmth spreads through my entire body. He turns to me and lifts me up again. I cling to him, wrapping my arms and legs around him tightly. My otousan. I love him so much.
We leave Watanabe-san's apartment without another word.
We're sitting on my futon now. Otousan brought me in here, locking the apartment door behind us. I still haven't let him go. I don't want to let him go.
His eyes are a bit vague still; it was hard for him to stay that focused, and the strain is beginning to tell.
But I don't let him go. I cling to him as we sit there in my room, and I dot kisses on his face.
"Otousan..." I mumble. Kiss. "Otousan." Kiss.
"I... I'm sorry, Ri-chan," he says, sounding dazed. "I... Kana. When I saw you wearing her pendant, I... Something cracked. Then I couldn't find you, or Kana. I... I didn't know where you were..."
"I'm here, with you," I tell him, kissing his forehead and his cheeks lovingly. "You're my otousan, and I love you."
"Ri-chan..." he says, hazily. Then he blinks. "No. Rika. I shouldn't be calling you Ri-chan"
"No," I whisper, as I bend down and kiss the corner of his mouth. "No, Otousan. I'm your Ri-chan. Please, Otousan, let me be your Ri-chan again."
He just looks at me, confused. My heart starts swelling again, so much that I think it's going to burst. Otousan. I... I love
I move my lips across, just a little bit. I place them against his. And I kiss him softly. I'm his Ri-chan.
I always will be.
"Well, are you ready for this?"
"Okonomiyaki!" Sara-chan squeals, clapping loudly.
The lights are bright, and it's warm in here. I carefully step into the dining area, bumping the door open with my hip. Sara-chan and Otousan are sitting there. Sara-chan looks happy and expectant; Otousan looks somewhat resigned. But that's hardly surprising.
"Here we go, Sara-chan!" I say, placing a plate in front of her with a flourish. "Okonomiyaki and yakisoba for my imouto-chan!"
"Yay!" Sara-chan enthuses.
It's good to have her home. It's so good to have her back here with us. But what's best is to see her smiling again.
"Itadakimasu!" Sara-chan says, when we're all seated and ready to eat.
"Itadakimasu," Otousan repeats, sounding slightly less enthused.
I just look at both of them, sitting there across the table from me. My otousan and my imouto-chan. Two of the three most precious people to me in the entire world.
"Itadakimasu," I murmur, with a little smile, and dig into the okonomiyaki. I found the recipe in one of Okaasan's cookbooks, but I don't think it was the one Okaasan used. It tastes different. It's... well, it's gluggy, and the surface isn't crisp enough. But if I cook it any longer, it starts to burn.
I have a lot left to learn, Okaasan.
"So... how is it, Sara-chan?" Otousan asks, eating some of his yakisoba.
"It's... nice, Oneechan," Sara says, bravely. "It's different."
"She's getting better at it," Otousan says, with a snort. "You should have been here for some of her earlier attempts. They weren't exactly tasty, but they made great paperweights..."
Sara-chan laughs, and I smile. The three of us, sitting here, eating dinner... it almost feels like family again.
Otousan's back at work now. He sees Morioka-sensei for grief counselling every week, after making arrangements to pay his account in instalments. He works a lot of overtime to try to pay it back. It doesn't help that he has to pay my therapist too... but we both know it's necessary. We're moving on with our lives, but we need a bit of help on our way.
My therapist, Sasaki-sensei, keeps telling me that it's not wrong to ask for help. She wants me to understand that it's not bad to be a child. And some days, I even agree with her.
"I'm afraid I'll be working late again tomorrow," Otousan says, apologetically.
"That's okay," I say, brightly. "Sara-chan and I have soccer club, anyway."
Sara looks up from her plate, brightening. "I'll get to see Muzai-kun!"
Sara-chan is a regular at the soccer club meetings now. The team has adopted her as their mascot. It's funny to watch the boys, who normally try to act so cool, running up to Sara after they kick a goal, shouting, "That's one for Sara-chan!" It's cute, actually. Muzai-kun does it too. Sara likes him.
"Muzai-kun says I'll be a good goalie one day," Sara-chan says. "It... it'll have to be soon." She smiles, wistfully. That's a new side to Sara-chan a side that's emerged in the months since Okaasan left us. She has quiet moments now, where she pauses and I can see the little girl who clung desperately to her okaasan in a white hospital room. She smiles, but it's not the same. It's something she shouldn't have to know. No child her age should know she can die.
But she surprises me, all the same. When she first got back from the hospital, weeks ago, Otousan and I were still struggling to come to terms with reality. But Sara-chan seemed to be a lot better than us. And that first night, as Sara lay snuggled up next to me in my futon, I found out why.
"I cried a lot when she went away," Sara said, quietly, as I gently stroked her hair. "I wanted to go with her. I felt sad all the time. It hurt. But then I remembered what she told me."
"What?" I asked. "What did she tell you?"
Sara-chan cuddled up closer against me. "She said, 'Remember that Okaasan loves you'." She smiled, serenely, and I looked at her, amazed. I'd seen that smile before. But not on Sara-chan. Sara looked into my eyes earnestly. "So I remember. Even at night, even when I'm lonely, even when I'm by myself at the hospital and I want to cry, I remember. Okaasan loves me."
She does. She loves all of us. I don't need to take Okaasan's place. She's gone, and I can't be her.
I can only be me.
"Has she gone to bed?" Otousan asks, as I sink down next to him on the couch.
"Yes." I nod, tiredly, leaning my head on his shoulder. He wraps an arm around me, drawing me closer to his side, then leans across and kisses my temple.
"Your hair's getting longer, Ri-chan," he notes. He reaches up to brush at my hair, which almost reaches my shoulders now. I smile, closing my eyes blissfully at his touch.
"I was thinking about getting it cut," I say, softly.
"Hang on." He gets up and heads for his bedroom, coming back a few moments later with his wallet. "Here," he says, sitting down next to me again. He reaches into his wallet and hands me a few bills. "That should be enough, right?"
"Yes." I nod, smiling.
"And..." He pauses, looking at me, as if considering. Then he sets his wallet aside and fumbles in his pocket. "Ri-chan, I've been thinking. About a lot of things. About you, and Sara-chan... and Okaasan. She's gone. I know that. I can accept it now. And so... I think we can move on."
"Yes," I murmur. "It's today."
"So... here." He holds his hand out to me. "I think she would have wanted you to have this."
I blush involuntarily. It's Okaasan's heart pendant.
"You... you don't have to take it, if you don't want it," he says, hesitantly. "It just seemed like such a waste to have it sitting there in the drawer..."
"Thank you, Otousan," I whisper. I shift on the couch, turning my back to him and lifting my hair out of the way. "Would you, please?"
He reaches around me, draping the pendant across my throat. He fastens the catch at the back of my neck. I tremble as I briefly feel his fingers on my skin. I let my hair fall, and I turn around, looking at him almost anxiously.
"It looks good on you," he says, pleased.
I look down at it, blushing furiously. Otousan. Otousan, thank you.
It's Sunday morning, and I wake up alone. Bright sunlight streams against the drawn curtains, filling the room with a hazy glow. I blink slowly, looking across at Sara-chan's bed. She's not there.
Hmmph. Yawning, I climb out of bed and pull my slippers on. I can't hear the TV, and I can't imagine what else Sara-chan might be doing up this early. As I pad quietly out into the hallway, I look both ways. And then I smile.
Sara-chan is curled up in Otousan's bed, cuddled up close to him with a peaceful smile on her sleeping face. Otousan has his usual faintly disgruntled sleeping expression on. I think it's funny. There are lots of cute things about Otousan.
I stand there in the hallway, looking at them both. Sara-chan's still so small, despite all of the treatments and medication. But she looks so happy there with Otousan. I hope she doesn't have to go back to the hospital any time soon. I hope she'll get to live a normal life going to school, playing with her friends, and being with her family for now. And for a long time after that, too.
Wait for me, Sara-chan. I'll be fifteen next year.
It's just like Sara to crawl into bed with Otousan. Something a child would do. Of course, I used to do it all the time too, when I was younger.
And just recently, as well...
I bring my hand up to pat at my hair, self-consciously. Aoi-san was surprised when I sat down in the chair and asked her to neaten it up for me. She was expecting another argument. But she smiled when I told her I was trying to grow it a bit longer. She smiled at me, and she made me pretty. I don't know how she did it, but she did.
And I like it.
"Ri... chan?" Otousan is awake now, squinting up at me as I stand in the doorway. "What... what're you doing?"
I just smile, feeling my heart quicken. I know what I want to do. But I'm not a child anymore. "Morning, Otousan," I say, quietly. "I was just... watching."
He smiles, sleepily. "There's room for three, you know."
"Oh." I can feel the blush rising in my cheeks. "Oh... I couldn't. It'd be too embarrassing..."
"I won't tell anyone, I promise." He shifts across a bit, drawing Sara-chan with him. "Come on. Don't be shy."
"All... all right." Hesitating only briefly, I slip over to the other side of the bed and climb in. It's warm under the covers. I curl up behind Sara-chan's sleeping form, inhaling the sweet scent of her hair. Otousan grins and reaches across us both, his hand resting lightly on my shoulder. I sigh, closing my eyes happily.
"I love you, Otousan," I whisper. He doesn't know just how much I mean when I say that, and I don't think I should tell him. But it doesn't matter. I know.
"I love you too, Ri-chan," he says.
I smile, snuggling down in the bed. Otousan and Sara-chan. They're here with me. And... and if I close my eyes, I can feel Okaasan here too. I can feel the heart pendant against my neck, warm and reassuring.
It's Okaasan's love. The love she gave to each of us. It didn't die with her. It's still here in my heart. And Sara-chan's. And Otousan's.
Her love will keep us strong.
I slip my arms around Sara-chan's waist, holding her close to me. Otousan's fallen asleep again, but his hand is still there on my shoulder. It makes me happy.
I love you, Okaasan. I always will. And Otousan... Sara-chan... I'll do my best for you. I'll love both of you with everything I've got. So... I promise you. I promise you forever.
That's what Okaasan would have wanted.