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 5. This story follows 'Guarded Moments'.
"Thank you for your business! Please come again!"
It's Thursday afternoon in the Kobayashi bookstore, and Kana's glowing as she stands behind the counter, handing over her latest customer's purchase. She's especially proud because it's a second-hand book that the woman Tanaka-san, if I heard correctly hadn't been able to find anywhere else. It's not so much that Kana's store has a huge range of second-hand books; rather, it's that the selection in stock reflects Kana's taste and discretion more than anything else.
Tanaka-san, a pleasant middle-aged woman, smiles at Kana before turning to leave the store. Kana shoots a triumphant glance at me where I'm standing, supposedly sorting out the small selection of travel guides. I smile back, but Kana's already busy answering another customer's question, so I turn back to my work.
It's the university's summer break right now, so I'm filling time by helping out at the store. I don't know whether it's the fact that it's a relatively mild day today, or if Thursdays are always like this, but it's been fairly busy in here for the past couple of hours. I suppose it helps that the store's located in a popular shopping district.
Kana certainly isn't complaining.
"Over there, the second shelf on the right," she's saying, pointing the section out. "If we don't have what you're looking for, please come back and I'll see if I can order it in for you."
"Thanks." The young man wanders over in my direction, distractedly muttering something to himself. Kana finally gets a chance to take a breath, and she smiles across at me, resting her hands on the cash register.
A shadow blocks the afternoon sunlight momentarily as a woman enters the store, a young girl clutching her hand. Presumably they're mother and daughter; there's certainly something of the woman's face in the girl's childish features. The woman drags the child towards Kana at the counter.
"Excuse me, miss," she says, sounding harried. "Do you stock picture books in your store?"
"Oh." Kana ducks her head, embarrassed. "I'm afraid not. There's a Sanseido outlet just a little way down the str"
"Yes, yes, I've been there," the woman says. "They were sold out."
"I'm sorry," Kana says, politely. "In that case, why don't you try"
"Okaasan!" the girl wails, tugging at her mother's sleeve. "I'm hungry!"
"In a minute, Asuka-chan," the woman says. "Thank you for your time, miss." She stoops and picks the girl up, holding her slung awkwardly with one arm as she fishes in her purse. Asuka regards Kana with intense curiosity. Taken aback, Kana just smiles vaguely in return.
"You're strange," Asuka says, after a moment. "Okaasan, look how small she is! She looks funny!"
Kana rocks back as if the words were physical blows. Asuka's mother hasn't noticed she's still digging in her purse for something or other. But the effect on Kana is devastating.
When she was growing up, Kana was always self-conscious about her appearance. If she went too long without dialysis, her face would start to swell up, especially around the eyes. Ugly yellow discolorations would mar her complexion. At times like those, she'd do her best not to let anyone see her. She'd cover her head with the bed sheet when I visited her, or hide in her room if she were at home.
I didn't let Kana's symptoms bother me, because I didn't want them to bother her. I'd tease her gently and make her realise that she was still Kana still my little sister, funny-faced or not. Over the years, she slowly got better about letting me see her when she was like that, though it was a rather different story with other people.
But the one thing Kana couldn't hide beneath a bed sheet the one thing she couldn't cover with makeup or lock away in the privacy of her room was her lack of growth. Kidneys are important that way.
I remember Kana's doctor saying something to our parents once, something about her kidneys and Vitamin D and 'missed growth potential'. The longer Kana languished in hospital, even with the dialysis machines and the regular blood tests and the controlled diet, the more of her potential she wasted.
She's not tall, even now. She's twenty years old and she looks about fifteen. Her shoulders are narrow, and her arms and legs are slender. She's not strong, outside. Inside, she's strong I know. She's stronger than I am.
As long as people don't point at her and call her strange.
I want to scream at them both, the mother and her child. Get out! Get out of this store! You... you hurt my sister!
I don't say anything. I just stare at Kana helplessly as she shrinks back against the bookcase behind her, hands feebly bracing herself against the books arranged on the shelves there. She looks trapped. She looks... shattered.
"What was that, Asuka-chan?" the woman asks, absently. "Ah, here they are." She pulls a set of car keys from her purse. "Let's go now, dear."
"I'm hungry," Asuka reminds her mother, plaintively. Her mother just hoists her higher against her shoulder and turns to leave. Asuka's face peeks over her mother's shoulder at me as she's carried out of the store. Her mother's face, in miniature. Her short limbs a smaller, more compact version of an adult's frame. She has years to grow.
She has all the luck in the world.
Kana. I turn away from the door. It's only a handful of steps across the store to the counter; I'm there in three seconds.
She doesn't look at me. Slumped backwards against the shelf, she stares dully at the floor. Her arms are still braced weakly behind her. Her expression is lifeless.
"Kana." I take her hands, rubbing her fingers gently. They're limp and non-responsive. Letting one hand go, I reach up to lift her chin. Her head raises without resistance, but her eyes won't meet mine. She won't look at me. My... My Kana won't
I feel hot tears welling in my eyes. A surge of tightness starts forming a knot in my chest. Kana. Isn't there anything I can do for you? Am I really that useless?
"Um, excuse me?" A hesitant voice intrudes into the silence between us. There's a customer waiting there, with a couple of books on the counter in front of him.
Kana takes a deep breath, struggling to collect herself. "Of... of course," she says, with an effort. "Sorry to make you wait."
I give her a concerned glance as she teeters to her feet, but she's studiously ignoring me, it seems. She tugs at her blouse as if readying herself for battle.
"I'll... I'll be fine, Bro," she mumbles, under her breath. "Just... just don't worry about me for now. Okay?"
"If you say so," I agree, dubiously. Kana summons a smile from somewhere as she brushes past me to attend to the customer. It's not much of a smile, though. I've seen better.
I've seen much better.
We don't get a chance to talk about it for the rest of the afternoon. Shortly after the incident, students from the local cram school start wandering in, most of them gravitating towards the manga section at the back, while others drift around the second-hand shelves, hoping for something to catch their eye. Kana has contacts with a lot of other book buyers, so she usually knows where to look to keep her used book section stocked.
Kana starts seeming more like her usual self as the afternoon wears on, smiling and chatting with the customers, many of whom are regulars. She fills out some order forms, answers a few questions, talks about manga at length with one particularly good-looking student, and generally acts as an efficient and helpful store manager should.
But when she closes the shop up early that night, as the shadows lengthen on the street outside, she slumps forward with a sigh against the door, letting her head hang forward. And I know that what I've been thinking all afternoon is true. She's still hurting.
"Bro," she says, quietly, as I come up behind her, wrapping my arms around her shoulders and holding her tight. "I don't think I'm up to cooking tonight. Could you... could you go get us something, please?"
"Sure." I bend my head forward, rubbing my temple against hers. "What do you want?"
She sighs again. "I don't know. Anything. Here." She holds her hand up, and I take the keys from her loose grip. "I'll be upstairs. I'll be..." She trails off, as if it's not worth finishing the thought. She loosens my hold on her and stumbles past me, heading for the staircase. I turn and watch her go. My heart is as heavy as her lead-footed tread.
It's dark when I get back, but the apartment lights aren't on. Cautiously, I make my way up the stairs in the gloom, able to see the vague outline of each step, but not much else. I wonder what Kana's doing. The TV isn't on, and she certainly can't be reading. I wonder...
She's curled up against the far wall, legs pulled up to her chest, sobbing weakly. She looks small and alone tucked away there. She needs me. Why did she send me away?
"Kana." I hastily wedge my shoes off and step onto the tatami, letting the bag of food fall to the floor. I crouch at her side, trying to get a look at her face in the semi-darkness.
"Am I...?" she whispers, brokenly, so softly that I can barely hear her.
"Are you what?" I ask, leaning closer.
She sniffs. "Am I really... strange, Bro? Am I..." Her shoulders heave, and she sobs harder. "Am I a freak?"
"No," I say, gently. I start to pull her arms away from her knees, but she resists. When I let go of her right arm to tug at the left, her right arm goes straight back where it was. She locks her legs in place. She's rigid and unyielding.
She's hiding herself away.
"Kana, no," I say, more urgently. I dig my hands under her chin, forcing her to raise her head. Forcing her to look at me. "She didn't mean anything by it." I do my best to sound reassuring, but it's not penetrating Kana's shell. She's shrinking into herself, locking herself away from the world again. After she's worked so hard to be able to walk in the sun, to hold her head up high...
I won't let it happen. I won't!
I kiss her hard, pushing her down to the floor. Her hands come up to bat at me, weakly.
"Bro..." It's not a voice of protest. From her weak frightened tone, I can tell what she needs. I hear her scared heart crying out to me for comfort. For reassurance.
Kana's heart. Unbuttoning her blouse, I place my lips against the soft skin of her breast, feeling her heart throbbing. It's racing. I unhook her bra and kiss her nipple lightly, and it's as if a shock runs straight through her body. Her hips arch against me. She moans quietly. There are tears in her eyes.
"I love you, Kana," I whisper. "I love you and I want you. Here. Now. Is it... is it okay?"
She looks up at me, her eyes filled with wordless emotion. So full she can't even speak. She just nods, mutely, and raises her arms to embrace me, lacing her hands behind my neck. Pulling me down to kiss her. It's gentle and beautiful. She is beautiful. I tell her so, and she just shakes her head, closing her eyes so the tears trail silently down her cheeks.
Tenderly, I kiss them.
"You are," I tell her again. "You're the most beautiful person in the world to me, Kana. Inside and out."
"No..." She denies it in a croaking voice, swallowing her tears unwillingly. She trembles as I unfasten and open her skirt, revealing her slim thighs and pale blue panties. "Taka, please... don't say things like that. Don't say things" She chokes, letting her arms fall limply at her sides. "Don't say things that aren't true."
"I love you," I murmur, as I tug her skirt out from under her. She lies underneath me, shaking her head and not looking at me. All she's wearing now are her panties and the bra that covers her right breast. I pull my shirt over my head and toss it aside.
"What do you see?" she whimpers, as I lower myself over her, our bare skin touching. "Look at me, Taka... What am I? What's there to see?"
"I see someone beautiful," I say. She doesn't protest as I pull the bra's straps down off her shoulders and cast it away. Naked and vulnerable, and yet, at the same time, utterly trusting. We're safe with each other.
I move up beside her and kiss her wet salty lips, gathering her close against me. Hesitantly, her arms steal around me. Her breasts press up against my chest. I cradle her head against my shoulder.
My Kana. I love her so much it hurts. Why can't she see how beautiful she is?
She's not shaking as much now. The shared warmth of our bodies is comfortingly intimate. Her fingers trace loose, aimless patterns on my back. I bend down and kiss her hair.
"Can you hold me like this forever?" she asks, in a small voice.
"Whenever I can. And for as long as I can."
Her arms quiver. "I always loved you, Bro. I always admired how strong and healthy you were. I was... I was nothing like you. I couldn't even climb up a flight of stairs without getting winded. But when you held my hand, when you'd come into my room and tell me about your day about the world outside; about the sports you played and the people you'd met I felt stronger. As if... as if you were passing some of that sunlight and fresh air into me, just through your touch. As if you were willingly giving part of your strength to me, to help me live."
Kana's words are truer than she knows.
She wriggles higher until our noses are almost touching, then she impulsively closes the gap and presses her lips against mine. She kisses me as if she's found something she's always longed for and never wants to let go.
My hands are behind her, resting on the blue cotton of her panties, gently stroking the fabric. Kana draws back, her violet eyes clear now, and smiles wanly.
"Take them off," she says. "I want you to love me now. I want to share myself with you. I... Maybe I can give something back..."
I hook my fingers into the waistband of her panties and tug them down. She twists her body slightly, reaching down to guide them off her legs. I unfasten my jeans and wriggle them off, followed by my underwear.
"I love you, Kana," I tell her again, as we stretch out next to each other, touching from head to toe. "And, as much strength as you think you've drawn from me, I've probably taken twice as much from you. Your courage, your will..."
"We share," she whispers. "The good times and the bad, for both of us. As long as we're together, they balance out."
"Yes." I trail my hands up the side of her body, tracing the slender musculature of her thighs, the flare of her hips, the slight inward curve of her narrow waist. Her breathing quickens. Harshens. Desire swims deep in her eyes as we look at each other. We start finding each other. Her tears well up again as we touch, as her hands explore my body, as our tongues meet and our souls tangle with each other.
I touch her naked skin. I walk my fingers up her belly and lay my palm flat against the side of her stomach. She brings her hands down to cover mine.
"Yes, Bro," she murmurs, through the tears. "You're always a part of me. You've always given me the strength to live. The courage to keep fighting."
Her face blurs in my vision. I lean forward and kiss her desperately. Kana, you're real. You're alive. We can't waste a minute. Every day you're with me is a blessing.
She moans softly as our bodies connect. We move together for what seems like hours, but it's actually all too short a time. Far too transitory. She catches her breath in short gasps as our rhythm picks up, and we strain towards a single moment of unity.
"Taka..." she groans, her arms tightening around my neck. "Taka."
And afterwards, as we lie together on the floor amidst our scattered clothing, she snuggles close to me and smiles.
"Stronger," she murmurs, sleepily. "Every day I'm with you, I get stronger."
Me too, Kana. I look down at her fondly; at my little sister, nestled comfortably at my side.
Love can't make everyone happy. Things change in Imouto and Oniisan.