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.
'My Sister, My Strength', part 3. This story follows 'Eyes of the Heart'.
It started out innocently enough.
"Bro!" She sounds happy to hear my voice. "I was just thinking of you."
"Yeah. Me too."
If I know Kana, there's a deep pink blush to her cheeks right about now. "Is it stupid for me to say that I miss you?" she asks. "We just saw each other on Monday..."
"No. No, it's not stupid at all."
"I'm glad." If I close my eyes, I can picture her warm smile. She's at the bookstore right now, and I'm at the university on one of the pay phones. I wish she wasn't so far away, though.
"What are you doing Saturday night?" I ask.
"Well..." she says, musingly. "I was planning on taking inventory, but that can keep. Why? What did you have in mind?"
"The summer festival's on at the shrine, silly. I thought you might like to go."
"Oh, yes, that's right," she says. Kana's never been terribly good with dates and holidays. While she was growing up, her days all tended to blur together. "I'd love to go. I don't have a yukata, though."
"I'll bring you one of Mom's," I tell her. "I'm sure she won't mind."
"They're not going?" she asks, sounding somewhat anxious.
"Nope. You know Mom and Dad always work, work, work. Non-stop."
"Yeah," she says, softly. "I know Mom and Dad."
"What time do you close shop on Saturday? I'll come pick you up."
"Um... around five would be good. That'll give us plenty of time to change and head out."
"I'll see you at five then, Kana."
Her voice lowers, just slightly, with a husky undertone to it. "I love you, Taka."
"I love you too."
And now, here we are at the festival. Kana looks gorgeous in a pink and white yukata with cherry blossom designs on it. Her obi is darker pink, almost rose-coloured. Her sandaled feet peek out daintily from beneath the folds of the yukata.
I'm wearing a far more understated yukata in dark blue, with a wide, dark gold sash. Dragonfly patterns dot my shoulders and back. It's an adult's yukata, one Mom and Dad bought for me when I turned seventeen. I remember Kana's eyes shone the first time she saw me wearing it. Of course, I didn't know what it meant at the time. Not really.
There are people everywhere enjoying the lively atmosphere. Parents with their kids, noisy teenagers, elderly grandparents, young couples... All just here to enjoy themselves and have a good time.
I slide my arm through Kana's and link hands with her as we finish climbing the steps to the shrine. She smiles, ducking her head, as if she wishes she could disappear into the neckline of her yukata. But we're really not that well-known here. Kana spent so much time in the hospital as she grew up that she hardly made acquaintances, let alone friends. And as for me... I've never been one to draw attention to myself. We're just another anonymous couple here.
"I love you, Kana," I murmur, to give her courage.
She smiles up at me, squeezing my hand. "I know, Bro."
We take a step forward.
"Taka? Taka Todo? Is that you?"
Kana reflexively tries to shake her fingers free from mine, but I just hold on tighter, refusing to let go. We turn in tandem to see the person who called my name. She's about my height a little taller, embarrassingly enough and wearing an elaborate yukata in vibrant green, trimmed with white. Her hair is elegantly caught up above her head and fastened in place with what look like two lacquered chopsticks.
"Arisa-chan!" I greet her. We embrace briefly, though it's made awkward by the fact that I still have to cling to Kana's hand. I can practically feel her squirming to get away. "It's been a while, hasn't it?"
"Too long, Taka-kun." She smiles. Then her gaze drifts idly to Kana, who's hanging back behind me, at arms' length. "And who is this?"
"Oh, I'm sorry," I say, pulling Kana forward with difficulty. "This is Kana-chan. My date."
Kana loses any semblance of a neck she might have had, and turns bright red. "Plpleased to meet you," she says, meekly, holding out her free hand.
Arisa just arches one eyebrow at me, as if to say, Slumming it a little, aren't you, Taka-kun? But she takes Kana's hand pleasantly enough, clasping it briefly. "Pleased to meet you too, Kana-san," she says. "How long have you and Taka-kun been going out?"
"Ooh..." Kana stammers, pulling her hand back as soon as Arisa releases it. "A... a while now. Seems like forever, in fact..."
"We've known each other for a while," I say, drawing Kana closer to my side and feeling her body trembling. "But we've only been going out together for a few weeks."
Arisa looks from me to Kana, and then back again. Then she shrugs, and laughs. "He's a great guy, Kana-chan," she says, with a smile. "Kind, and very gentle."
"I... know," Kana says, warming to the subject. "I'm very lucky."
"Well, I'll be off," Arisa says. "Have fun tonight, both of you."
"Thanks! You too!" I call, as she drifts off into the crowd again. Then I lower my gaze to look at Kana, who's still standing there beside me, apparently frozen. "Kana?"
"She called you 'Taka-kun'," Kana whispers. "Does that mean... Do you know her from university, or from... from...?"
"Her name's Arisa Hayashi," I tell her. "She and I went out together for a few months, last year."
"I..." Kana slips her arm into mine. "I think I'm already jealous of her."
"Don't be," I say, reassuringly. "We didn't mean that much to each other. It was mostly about the sex, really. The number of times she dragged me to a love hotel..."
Her grip tightens on my arm, and she stares up at me. "Love... love hotel?" she repeats, blankly.
"She wears black underwear. It's her favourite colour," I lie, glibly. "And I should know, considering how many times I"
"Stop it!" Kana squeals, pulling her hands free and covering her ears. "I can't believe you're telling me these th I, I can't..." She pauses. After a long moment, she opens her eyes and looks up at me, somewhat sheepishly. "It's not true, is it?"
"Sorry," I say, "but I couldn't help it. And the look on your face was just so cute..."
"Dirty boy," she grumbles, elbowing me.
"You know I prefer white underwear anyway, don't you, Kana?"
"White... white is boring." She straightens up, casting her gaze around the festival grounds. "Come on," she says, tugging at my arm. "I'm hungry."
We end up in line at a takoyaki stall. The attendants have just made a fresh batch, and Kana and I are among the first customers to get a taste. After paying, we take our container of crisp takoyaki pieces and move away. The aroma rising from the plastic box is positively distracting.
Kana and I find a little alley next to a yakisoba stand, away from the general bustle of foot traffic. Opening the box, we take a piece of takoyaki each, using the toothpicks provided. They're still quite hot, so we eat carefully, blowing on them vigorously before bringing them anywhere near our mouths.
"Delicious!" I say happily, taking another cautious bite from mine.
"Pink," Kana says, looking at me with just the barest glint of mischief in her eye.
I pause, mid-bite. "Mmph?"
"I'm wearing pink underwear tonight," she says, gaily.
As images of Kana in pink underwear flood into my brain, I forget to chew properly. The mouthful of takoyaki tries to go down the wrong way, and I start choking. Kana quickly grabs the container from my hands before my coughing fit spills it all over the ground.
"Now we're even," she says, airily. I give her a wounded glance, still doubled over.
"Does that mean..." I cough, gingerly, hacking up half-chewed morsels of batter. "Does that mean you're not wearing pink, then?"
She finishes her piece of takoyaki and delicately licks the sauce from her fingers. "I'll let you check, if you like."
"And who's calling who dirty?" I demand.
A smile bursts onto her face, and she giggles. "Not now, Bro. But... later. Maybe." She brings the container up and holds it between us again. "For now, let's just finish these before they get cold."
We waste some time at the ring toss we don't win anything. We walk hand in hand through the crowd, eating cotton candy. We browse idly through the second-hand book stalls. Kana restrains herself and only buys five books a historical novel, a collection of poetry, two contemporary novels and a romantic girls' manga.
"I've been wanting to read this one for ages," she says defensively, when I give her a questioning glance about it. "It's out of print."
I laugh and kiss her cheek. "I understand."
Holding hands, we wander away from the festival, looking for a place to watch the fireworks from. The brown paper sack is tucked under Kana's arm. She's happy, and her eyes are alight with the feeling.
It's hard to find a decent vantage point on the hill; most of the good spots are already taken. We eventually find a place at the base of a large tree. Its branches block out some of the sky, but it's shadowy and secluded underneath the foliage. Kana sets her books aside and sits beside me. She wriggles closer, for comfort, and I slip my arm over her shoulders.
"Together again," she murmurs, resting her head against me.
"I've enjoyed our date so far."
"Me too. I never knew it could be so easy."
"To lose yourself in a crowd," she says, lifting her head and turning to look at me, a blissful expression on her face. "To forget who I am and whose arm I'm holding... to stop being Kana Todo and just be... me. Me, walking with the person I love. Not my oniichan or even... or even 'Taka'. Just you."
The first firework of the night explodes overhead, the distant rumble heralding a glittering shower of blue and yellow sparks that drift slowly towards the ground.
"You sound happy, Kana."
The glare of the fireworks is reflected in her eyes as she gazes skyward. A double burst sends brilliant shards of blue and red streaming into the night. "They're so beautiful, Bro. I... I want to do this again, next year. And the year after. Can we do that? Can we come back here, and sit under this tree, and hold each other this way, again and again?"
"I don't see why not," I say. "In fact, why don't we promise?"
"No," she says, still looking up at the sky. A pinwheel of green and gold casts its shimmering radiance onto her cheeks.
"No?" I ask, puzzled.
"A promise is something you have to keep, even if you don't want to," Kana says. "I never want it to be that way between us, Taka. Both of us should always be happy doing what we want to do."
I laugh, bringing my hand up to tousle her hair. "You've got a lot to learn about the real world, it seems."
"It should never be a burden," she insists, turning to look at me. Behind her, a trio of explosions streaks the sky with purple, gold and white. There's a faint sound of cheering from the hillside below and around us. "It should never be forced."
"But I... But I want to come back here with you," I tell her, wondering why it hurts so much to say it. "Again and again. The two of us. I... I love you. I want to spend my life with you. I want to die knowing that I've spent more days with you than without you... and that I'll never be alone, even when you're not there. Knowing that your heart will always be with me..."
Her eyes are shimmering, and not just from the fireworks anymore. She bends closer to me, her lips drifting closer to mine. "You do understand..." she whispers, as the gap continues to close. "Taka." She kisses me. Her lips are warm and sweet. I wrap my arms around her and we fall back to the grassy earth.
And above us, the fireworks continue, unnoticed.
It's late when we finally get back to the bookstore, but we're both happy. Kana locks the door behind us and follows me up the stairs to her apartment. I kick off my sandals and stagger onto the tatami, sinking against the far wall and letting my head slip back.
Kana, meanwhile, has taken her own sandals off and is wrestling open the closet where she keeps her futon. I watch her, idly, as she drags the mattress out and unfolds it, laying it neatly out on the floor. Her yukata hugs her figure a little less tightly now, blurring the outline of her body.
She snaps off the light, and the room is suddenly plunged into darkness. The faint glow from the streetlight outside is the only illumination.
I sense her crawling closer to me in the gloom.
"I only have one futon," she says, quietly. "Do you mind... if we share it?" I can vaguely see her moving as my eyes adjust to the dimness. She's unravelling her obi, loosening it and letting it slide over her hips. With the obi gone, her yukata slips open, hanging down in loose folds as she crawls nearer.
She kisses me blindly. Passionately. I kiss her back, hard, sliding my hands into the folds of her yukata, pulling the fabric back to bare her left shoulder. Tugging the strap of her bra down, I dot kisses on her soft warm skin. She sighs lingeringly as I kiss her neck.
Slowly, we sink back onto the tatami. My hands wander lower, caressing the velvet skin of her waist and the slender curve of her hips. She moans quietly into my mouth as we kiss again.
I pause, hovering over her as she lies half-dressed beneath me. Pulling her left arm free of the yukata, she reaches up to tug at my sash, pulling it loose. Our eyes meet in the half-light, and she suddenly smiles.
"I love you," she says.
"I love you," I whisper, in reply. Sliding my arms under her, I unsnap her bra. With our faces so close, the urge to kiss again is irresistible. Her tongue slides teasingly into my mouth. I lift up her bra and lightly squeeze her breasts. She laughs. She gasps. We love each other.
It turns out that she is wearing pink underwear. But it doesn't matter for very long.
After a while, it doesn't matter at all.
It's just another Sunday afternoon (supposedly), in Guarded Moments.