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 4. This story follows 'Festival Night'.
Kana's lying on her futon, giggling to herself now and then as she reads through the romantic manga she bought at the festival. Propped up on her elbows, her legs idly kicking back and forth in the air, she doesn't seem to have a care in the world.
Of course, she's meant to be downstairs doing stocktake that's even what the sign she put in the window says: Closed for stocktake. We will reopen tomorrow morning at the usual time. We apologise for the inconvenience.
It's early Sunday afternoon on a bright, hot summer's day, but even that's not enough to deter people from their need to shop. I'm sure there are shoppers wandering past and peering in at the display, even as we're sitting here.
I'm sitting across from the TV with the Sunday paper held out in front of me. It's too big and floppy; it's impossible to keep open without something to rest it on, and Kana's little dining table isn't nearly big enough. So I'm forced to deal with the fact that the paper keeps falling limp creasing in the exact middle of the article I'm reading, usually. I just shake it out, tug it into shape, and wait for it to collapse again. My neck is starting to hurt from sitting like this.
Kana laughs again, then smiles wistfully with a quiet longing sigh. She loves her comic books. Of course, she pretty much loves any kind of book history, popular novels, pulp romance, philosophy, literature. It sometimes amazes me to think how much information must be stored inside Kana's head. No wonder she's so intelligent.
Of course, she didn't exactly have a choice of entertainment when she was growing up. It wasn't as if she could get up and play sports, or go out with her friends. No, Kana led a sheltered existence, hidden away in her room at the hospital. You might think that would have led to her being small-minded, her possibilities limited by the fact that she knew so little about the real world. Never having lived in it.
But Kana reached out and latched onto the world the only way she could through books. I wasn't the one who started that, though I certainly started influencing her tastes in reading material when we were in primary school. I sure as heck never gave her any romantic manga, though! Maybe Miki's the one to blame for that.
No, it was probably Kana herself. Her mind is inquisitive and acquisitive, always starving for new information, new thoughts to occupy itself with. That's another thing that made Kana's childhood a lot different from anyone else's the amount of time she had alone to herself, to think. She didn't get to spend much time around other people, whether her own age or not.
I guess it's only natural that we love people who care about us, people who are always there. For Kana, the list of those people was almost painfully short. Kana told me a lot of this herself, just the other night. Sometimes I wonder what might have happened if Mom and Dad hadn't adopted Kana. What if Kana had been healthy, somehow, and we'd passed each other on the street? What if we'd been at the same high school together? Would I have even noticed her? Would she have noticed me?
There's no point imagining things, though. What's real is real: she is my little sister, in name if not in blood. And I grew up unaware of the blood part I just knew she was Kana. I wanted to protect her. And she... she just needed to love and be loved. It let her know she was alive.
She loves me back. That's the part that keeps staggering me. Even now, years after we admitted it to each other. After she walked away. After we found each other again. She's Kana, my little sister, and she loves me.
Now I'm the one who's giggling to myself.
Kana looks up at me, closing the manga over one finger. "Bro?" she asks. "What's up?"
"Oh, nothing," I tell her. "Just thinking, that's all."
She smiles impishly. "About what?"
"Ah... about dinner," I improvise. "I know it's still early, but we didn't have lunch."
Bracing herself on the hand that's marking her place, she pushes herself up off the futon. On small, bare feet, she pads over and kneels down in front of me. Reaching out and covering my left hand with her right, she leans forward and kisses me gently.
She draws back and looks at me serenely, her violet eyes searching mine. "I don't believe a word of it," she says, at last. "What's so funny about dinner?"
"You've obviously never seen me trying to cook, then."
She laughs. "You're not that bad, Bro. I've seen worse, anyway." With her slender fingers, she tears a precise strip out of the newspaper and folds it in half before tucking it into her book. "Let's go shopping, then," she says. "We can have a light lunch, and I'll make curry rice for dinner. Just need to buy a few ingredients, that's all."
I take her hand and lace my fingers with hers. She looks at me, curiously, as I turn our hands over, examining them. They're one. For a moment, I can't tell which fingers are hers and which are mine. Her smooth pale skin, or my warm tan. Tangled. Entwined.
"One," I murmur, without really realising what I'm saying.
Her fingers squeeze mine, gently. I look up at her, released from my momentary trance, to find her smiling at me.
"Yes," she says, softly. "I know."
There aren't many people on the street as we make our way through the stifling heat to the local market. Kana's radiant literally in a white summer blouse and pale blue shorts. It almost hurts my eyes to look at her. The surface of the road shimmers like a distant mirage, swimming in heat haze.
I keep my eyes down on the pavement as much as possible. Thankfully, it's not a long way to the store; after about ten minutes of staggering down the scorching sidewalk, the air-conditioned interior of the market is a welcome relief. I stand just inside the automatic doors as they trundle shut behind us, blinking hard in an effort to get the spots out of my vision.
Kana has grabbed a shopping basket and is already heading deeper. I stumble after her, feeling the cool air wafting against my shirt and seeping into my sleeves. We should live here, Kana. Your apartment doesn't even have a fan!
"Nice in here, isn't it?" Kana remarks as I catch up to her in the produce section. She picks up a pre-packaged tray of potatoes and eyes them carefully before slipping them into her basket.
"It's certainly better than out there," I agree. "I can't understand why you don't have an air conditioner for your apartment."
"Well, the Kobayashis took it with them when they left the store," Kana says, drifting along to the next aisle, "and I didn't see the need to buy a new one. The summers have been quite mild lately, anyway."
"And you couldn't afford one?" I prompt her.
She turns to me and flashes me a smile. "And I couldn't afford one. Red peppers... red peppers..." She wanders down the aisle, looking this way and that. Again, I hasten after her, feeling a bit like an overeager lap dog. While she's not looking, I reach out and grab her free hand.
She comes to a halt and blushes furiously. "Bro...!" she squeaks, under her breath. "Not here!"
I don't let go. I just step closer, still holding her hand. Her shoulders seem to arch up a little as her eyes dart around the store nervously.
"Bro..." she protests, weakly.
"No," I remind her. "Not 'Bro' Taka. Remember?" I poke her gently in the chest. "Kana Todo. Not my imouto-chan. Kana. My love."
"But... but here?" she mutters, helplessly. "There are... there are people here, Taka!"
"There's people everywhere," I say, nonchalantly. "If we let that stop us, then we're back where we started, aren't we?"
"Um, I... I suppose so..." She doesn't sound particularly convinced. It's more as if she's agreeing just to avoid an argument. But she shuffles closer to me nevertheless. The sweet fragrance of her shampoo wafts past me as she goes up on her toes to kiss my cheek. She sinks back down, looking a little exhilarated. "That was... that was kind of"
The shopping basket falls from Kana's elbow and tumbles to the floor. The tray of potatoes skids across the tiles, coming to rest under a nearby fruit display. Kana's trembling, eyes wide. Someone's seen us. Someone who knows her name.
Slowly, we both turn around.
For a moment, I don't recognise her. It's difficult. Even if you used to see someone nearly every day for eight or nine years, if you take them out of context and put different clothes on them like a sky blue t-shirt and pink shorts they can be almost completely
"Miki!" Kana gasps, a strange mix of relief, apprehension and sheer joy in her voice.
It is. Miki Kondo, Kana's nurse for so long. She looks smaller without her nurse's cap on. I know it's absurd, but it's also true.
"I thought it was you!" Miki smiles as she walks towards us. Kana surprises her by hurrying forward and hugging her tightly. There's a somewhat bittersweet smile on Miki's face as she closes her eyes and returns Kana's embrace.
"What are you doing here?" Kana asks, as the two of them draw apart, looking each other up and down for any changes that might have taken place over the past few years.
"I was just out shopping, and thought I'd buy my groceries here before I went home," Miki says. Her eyes move to me, flickering up and down, taking me in. "It's great to see you again, Taka," she says. "You're looking well."
"You too," I say. And she does she hardly seems to have aged at all. What's her secret? "How are things at the hospital?"
"Oh, the same as ever," she says, dismissively. "It's not the same since Kana left, of course, but I don't think any of us really misses the old days so much that we'd want them back!"
"No, of course not!" Kana agrees.
"So, what are you doing with yourself these days, Kana?" Miki asks. "The last I heard, you were working at a bookshop somewhere around here."
"I'm still there," Kana says, "though the owners retired about a year ago. I've been running it for them ever since."
"My, my," Miki says, admiringly. "My little Kana's all grown up now."
Kana blushes. "Not... not at all! You... you should come by the store one day, if you're in the area. I'd love to see you."
"Maybe some day," Miki says, eyeing me again. "So what are the two of you doing here this Sunday afternoon?"
"Just, um... shopping for dinner," Kana says, too quickly. "Taka dropped by and we thought we'd"
"So it's 'Taka' now, is it?" Miki asks, slyly. Kana looks horrified. "Oh, don't mind me, Kana. After all, you couldn't stay Taka's little sister forever."
"No..." Kana says, taken aback. "No, of course not. Bro and I... ththat is, Taka and I were going to..."
"I'm happy for you," Miki says, quietly.
Kana blinks. "Wh... what do you... There's nothing to be 'happy' ab"
"Kana-chan, I was your nurse for a very long time. I felt like a surrogate mother to you. But when I first started being your nurse, I felt so helpless. It was so hard to make you smile. You never laughed, and you hardly cried." And now she looks up at me, her brown eyes warm and soft. "Until the day Taka came to the hospital. I saw you cry then. I heard your voice raised high with joy. And I fell in love with your smile."
"I..." Kana doesn't know what to say. Miki just continues as if Kana hadn't said anything.
"And, from then on, I saw you living, Kana. 'Do you think Bro will come today?' you'd ask me. 'I have to finish reading this book that he brought me.' 'The room has to be tidy for when Bro comes to visit.' 'Why didn't he come today, Miki? Do you... do you think he doesn't like me anymore?'
"Oh, I knew from the very start, Kana," she says, gently, as Kana looks up at her with awestruck eyes. "And I could tell how much he loved you in return. Times when even your parents wouldn't have time to come visit you, but Taka would always be there for visiting hours, and he'd stay right until the last minute. Even when he should have been at university." She shakes her head, slowly.
"I... I didn't mean to... to fall in love with him..." Kana mumbles, hesitantly.
"I know," Miki says. "You just did. I had my concerns. But I could see how your love for each other was making you strong, Kana. I wouldn't be much of a nurse if I only treated your body, and not your heart as well. Would I?"
Kana gives up trying to say anything. She just looks up at Miki, biting her lip.
"And now...?" she asks, finally, after long moments of silence. "What would you say if... if I told you that, even now..."
"I already have," Miki says. "I'm happy for you."
Tears start to well in Kana's eyes, and she blinks hard. She takes a half-step forward, almost staggering, then throws herself into Miki's arms. While Kana sobs bitterly against Miki's shoulder, Miki gently holds her, stroking her hair. Over Kana's shoulder, she looks at me again, her eyes meeting mine.
Take care of her, she mouths.
I nod, gravely. I will.
Kana's quiet all the way back to the bookstore. Her eyes are reddened and slightly puffy from crying. For my part, I just carry the grocery bags and don't presume to interfere with Kana's thinking time. Because she's not brooding; that's never been Kana's approach to life. She's working things out. I can almost hear the thoughts inside her head.
Miki knows now. Miki knows... and she doesn't care. She knew even before I did. She knew even before Taka and I knew we're not actually brother and sister. And yet, she didn't say anything. It was incest, as far as she knew, and she didn't care as long as it made me happy...
She walks with her eyes cast down, nearly closed. Her shoulders are hunched forward and her arms hang loosely at her sides. The sun is behind us, having passed its zenith a few hours ago, and is now beginning its slow arc towards the horizon. Kana's brow is furrowed, one corner of her mouth pursed in concentration.
I walk beside her, watching her. Loving her.
We finally make it back to the store. Kana fumbles in her purse and pulls out the keys. She unlocks the door and pushes it open, holding it ajar so I can enter.
"Thanks," I say, as she closes the door again and locks it behind us.
"Could you put the bags down?" she whispers. It's the first thing she's said since we left the store. Curious, I do as she asks. She's standing behind me, framed by the bright sunlight streaming in through the glass of the front door. It silhouettes her body with a hazy radiance, emphasising the slender lines of her limbs and the delicacy of her figure.
She steps forward, an angel of light in the dimness of the store. She steps forward, bringing her hands up to my face, and she kisses me hard. She presses herself up against me so forcefully that I can't handle her weight, and we stumble back awkwardly until my back runs up against a nearby bookshelf.
"I love you, Taka," she says, abandoning the kiss for a moment.
"I love you too, Kana." I wrap my arms around her and pull her close, bending down to kiss her again. Her hands slide around me and stray across my back. Her kisses are hungry and demanding, her tongue working its way insistently into my mouth. She's pressed up hard against me, her legs rubbing up against mine.
Abandoning my back, she tugs my shirt out of my jeans and slips her hands underneath it, caressing my bare skin. She pauses momentarily, her fingers resting on my chest, and we look at each other, breathing hard. Her eyes are deep purple in the shadows.
"You've become a... lot more assertive, Kana," I remark. I bring my hands up and start unfastening the tiny buttons of her blouse. The cloth parts, exposing her white neck and the soft cups of her bra.
"Life is meant to be lived," she says, withdrawing her hands from my shirt and working at its buttons. "Miki taught me that. While we're alive, while we're here, we do what we can. The two of us, here, living together. Loving together." She smiles up at me, almost shyly, as I slide her blouse down off her shoulders. It floats gently to the floor. "Let's live now, Bro," she says, happily. "Let's see how good it can be."
Next, words cut deep in Haunted.