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 8. This story follows 'Junctures'.
It's also part 2 of the four-part conclusion to this series.
The haze parts, momentarily, and I start floating to the surface.
Soft white light filters into my eyes, but nothing's in focus. There are lines and shapes in front of me, but they're all blurry. They won't resolve.
Somewhere, muffled-sounding as if she's a long way from me, I can hear Kana's soft voice. But she's not talking to me. It sounds more like she's talking to herself.
"I wish I knew the future," she says. "I wish... I wish I had a mirror that shows the future. I would... I'd look into it with all my heart. I want to know what's going to happen to you. My... I feel like my feelings are flowing out of control. I feel my heart trembling inside my chest. It... it hurts so much when I don't know what's going to happen..."
"Kana," I try to say, but my lips won't move. I try to move my head to look in her direction, useless as my vision is right now, but I can't do that either. There's resistance, and the effort is making my head spin.
"I miss you. I want you to come back to me. Taka? I love you. I know you can't hear me, but I'll keep saying it: I love you. Come back to me. Please..."
I close my eyes again, letting myself drift away to the sound of Kana's voice.
I might have woken up again in the time between then and now; in fact, I'm almost certain that I have. I can't remember, though. The recollections are so vague.
One good thing about waking up this time is that my vision is a bit clearer. I can see the ceiling tiles. They're white, held in place by a latticework of stainless steel. If I strain my eyes upwards, I can see a wall just over my head. It's also white. Various sockets and switches are built into it. I seem to be lying in a hospital bed. I should know I've seen them often enough.
My mouth feels fuzzy and soft. My tongue is swollen, sandpapery. I still can't turn my head.
"Ka... na...?" I call her name, and I'm shocked at the sound of my voice. It's cracked and feeble. Barely a whisper. What's wrong with me? I make a more concerted effort to turn my head. Kana's voice was coming from my right; I remember that much. But I can't look in that direction. It's not just that something is preventing me, I realise. It's that
"Taka." Kana's voice sounds startled, as if she's just woken up. "Oh. Taka! You... Are you awake this time?"
"Kana..." I whisper, thankfully.
Someone takes my right hand. My hand must be wrapped in bandages, because I hardly feel it. But it's comforting nevertheless.
"Taka." She chokes, and her head bobs into view above me. Her violet eyes are creased with concern, but there's a joyful smile on her face. "You are awake. I..." She blinks, hard, and her smile deepens. "Welcome back."
"Where... did I... go?"
She hesitates momentarily. "You're in the hospital, Taka. You were injured, but you're going to get better. That's all I'm allowed to tell you. Your doctors..."
"Kana," I rasp, as she begins to blur again. This is taking more out of me than I realised. "The bandages... Could you... unwrap them? I want... to touch your... hand..."
"Bandages?" She looks confused. I try to wriggle my right hand to let her know what I mean, but my fingers hardly move. They must be wrapped tight.
"My hand... Kana. Hold... my hand..."
"Taka." She stares at me, her expression distraught. Her eyes are suddenly shimmering with tears. She lifts her hand up to her face. She's holding someone's hand. She's holding it against her cheek. She's... she's crying.
"Kana..." I don't understand. That's not my hand. There aren't any bandages. Whose hand is she holding? Why is she holding someone else's hand? I clench my fist as tight as I can. "Kana, please... Hold... my hand..."
And the fingers on her cheek twitch. Just slightly. She holds them there against her wet cheek, her eyes drowning in grief. "I am, Taka," she whispers. "I'm holding your hand."
My... I can't feel her. I can't touch her. This is a dream. This has to be a dream. I'm invisible again. Intangible. That has to be it. This... this can't be real
I'm having trouble breathing. I can hear choking sounds. I don't feel anything...
"Doctor!" Kana screams, dropping the hand from her cheek. "Doctor Omura!" She bolts from my sight. I hear a door slamming. The world dissolves into white again.
"No! Leave me alone!" Kana's voice is high and panicked as I burst into the store, looking for her. "I... I've said all I'm going to say, Hiromi-kun. Please accept it!"
"I can't!" It's a young man's voice, edgy with frustration and anger. "You... you tell me that you're in love with your brother and you expect me to just... to just accept it? I can't! I won't! Kana-chan"
"Hiromi-kun, please... I know it's difficult to accept." The store is empty. Kana's voice is muffled and distant; she must be upstairs. Upstairs with Hiromi, her ex-boyfriend... "But you have to understand that it's how I feel..."
"Kana-chan, you have to see sense. I'll... I'll make you see sense, if I have to!"
"No. Hiromi-ku" Kana's words break off into a pained cry as a sharp slapping sound cracks the air.
"Kana!" I race up the stairs, three at a time.
I've never met Hiromi before, but that has to be him. He and Kana are standing against the far wall. His hands are clutching her shoulders, and he's staring into her face, wildly. She's not looking at him. Her face is averted, and her long hair is falling down around her eyes. Her cheek is bright red with the mark of his hand.
Rage fills my heart.
"Let her go!" I scream.
Hiromi turns to me, blinking in surprise. His expression seems to clear momentarily.
"Who... who are you?" he asks, confused.
I answer him with my fist.
He reels backwards as my punch connects with his jaw, sending him crashing against the wall. Kana scurries back, hands pulled tight to her chest.
"Taka, no!" she gasps. "Don't hurt him!"
Hiromi twists his face around, his expression darkening. His eyes narrow. "Taka. So you're Taka. You're the one!" He throws himself at me, tackling me hard around the midsection. I stumble backwards, and he takes the opportunity to pull back, slamming his fist into my chin. My jaw snaps hard against my skull. I stagger. "Bastard!" Hiromi screams, pummelling me with a relentless barrage of kicks and punches. "You... disgraced... Kana-chan!"
My right hand clenches. Suddenly I can't feel the blows. He can say what he likes about me. But nobody talks that way about my Kana. Nobody.
I straighten up. I take it to him.
"Taka, no... Taka, please..." Kana pleads with me, but I'm not listening. Blood flies from Hiromi's face as my fist crushes his nose. His lower lip is cut and bleeding. I keep punching his face. I can't stop.
Weakly, Hiromi tries to get out of the way. He circles around, his back to the staircase. His steps are uncertain. A few more blows should finish it.
"Hiromi-kun!" Changing tack, Kana grabs Hiromi's elbow, tugging at it desperately. "Please stop. Please just stop it. Taka doesn't want to fight you..."
"Stay back, Kana-chan!" he snarls, and shoves her out of his way. She stumbles over a join in the tatami. She falls against the dining table. Her head glances off the sharp corner, and she tumbles to the floor. I spare a quick glance at her as she moans, softly.
"Kana!" I launch myself at Hiromi with consuming hatred. My left fist connects with his temple. He staggers backwards, and trips over. I... I can't pull myself back in time. My foot snags on his outstretched ankle. I... I'm flying into the stairwell. I'm falling forever. My body twists in mid-air.
Impact. My shoulders take the brunt of it. My head snaps sideways. My head... snaps...
"...central cord syndrome," Kana says gently, looking down at me. She's holding my hand again. This time I'm even able to accept that it's my hand, on some level. It won't move, and I can barely feel it, but Kana holds it to her chest like it's something precious. "Your spinal cord has been damaged, in the neck area. The damage makes it difficult for signals to pass from your brain to your body, and the other way around. It will get better. The doctors tell me that there's even a good chance you'll make a full recovery."
"What's a... 'good chance'?" I ask, with an effort.
She won't look at me. She strokes the unresponsive fingers of my hand, cradling them to her breast. "The damage was relatively minor, Taka. As soon as the paramedics got you here, the doctors started you on methylprednisolone. It improves your chances of recovery. Damage to the corticospinal tract"
"Kana," I interrupt, feebly. "Stop... with all the... long words. Where... did you... learn them... anyway?"
Her eyes are haunted. "I asked the doctors to give me all the literature they could on your condition. I wanted to know exactly what they were doing for you. Exactly what your injury means for you. For us. And, well... I've had days here to think about it."
I was unconscious for eleven days. I don't know if that's normal for spinal injury patients. Kana doesn't either. What she does know is that the doctors are happy with my progress. The damage won't heal, but it's not getting any worse. 'Apoptosis' is another big word Kana throws around when talking about my injury. It means when cells commit suicide in an attempt to minimise the spread of damage. Fortunately, that hasn't happened either. Because nerve cells don't grow back.
My head and shoulders are held in position with a brace, to prevent further trauma to my spinal cord. The critical period is nearly over, though. The doctors will probably let me out of it in another few days. For the moment, however, all I can do is stare at the white ceiling. There are small holes punched in the tiles, I've noticed. In my more desperate moments, I try to count them.
Kana hasn't left my side. She says that Mom and Dad have been to see me a couple of times, but that they're not entirely comfortable with the situation. Or with Kana herself, for that matter. I might still be a bit hazy on that afternoon when I broke in on Kana and Hiromi-san, but I do remember what I'd said to Mom before leaving the house that day:
I love her as a woman. I love Kana. My life is hers.
It can't be easy for Mom and Dad to face Kana now. They took her into their lives when they didn't have to. They watched as their son devoted himself to his 'little sister', sometimes to the detriment of his own interests. Instead of studying, I would visit Kana. Instead of playing with my friends, I would visit Kana. Years of afternoons spent in a hospital room, spending time with my little sister. Falling in love with her. And her with me.
And now, this. This accident would never have happened if I hadn't gone to Kana's store that afternoon. Do they... do they blame her?
"What was he... doing there?"
"Who?" she asks, looking puzzled.
"Oh." She bites her lip. "He just... showed up at the store that afternoon. Out of the blue. I think he missed me. He wanted to know if we could... if we could try again. But I had to tell him no."
"What did you... say to him?"
"I didn't tell him about us, not at the start. I just said that I was seeing someone else. But he kept pressing me to tell him who it was... and he wouldn't let me avoid it. And I... I can't keep lying to everyone, Taka." She looks at me, pleadingly. "You understand, don't you? It would be betraying both of us to keep lying. Both you and me."
"He didn't... take it... well."
"No." Kana sighs. "He's a bit... fiery, sometimes. I think... I think that's what attracted me to him. But I wasn't expecting that reaction from him." She takes my hand and wraps both of hers around it. "He was horrified at what happened. I... I don't know when he ran off. I was in shock. I called an ambulance and sat with you until it arrived. I held your hand and cried. I... I kept praying that you'd be all right."
"And... am I?" I ask.
She smiles at me, brushing my fingers against her cheek. "Of course you are. You're going to be fine."
Days pass. Kana's promise doesn't come true.
As expected, the doctors let me out of the spinal brace a few days later. It's a relief to be able to lie flat on the bed, and I find that I can even turn my head a little, though only with a huge effort. Kana's always there to make sure I'm comfortable, though. She helps sit me up when I want to look out the window. She turns on the TV when I'm bored. At meal times, she feeds me the soft, easily-digestible food with gentle patience.
My hands still won't do much more than twitch. My legs are a bit better when the physician comes in to perform sensory tests, I can generally feel the pricks much sooner than when she does the same thing to my arms.
Kana confidently cites studies from the literature that show that the majority of spinal cord injury patients recover substantially within six weeks. I'm doing wonderfully, she assures me. My progress is exactly as expected.
At nights, I can't even roll over. I can't scratch my nose without calling a nurse in to do it for me. And if the call button falls from my hand, I can't even do that. I can't control my bowels or my bladder. The nurses have to clean me up each time.
Kana, what if I don't get better? What if... what if I'm like this for the rest of my life?
The nights are the worst. During the day, at least, Kana's there to support me. She holds my hand and she brings the promise of fresh air into the room. She brings flowers and smiles. She reads to me from the newspaper, or from magazines. She kisses my cheek; I still have feeling above my neck. She never seems to flag or tire.
I wonder who's running the store for her while she's gone. Maybe it's closed. That can't be good for business.
I worry about her during the nights. I worry about what she'll do if I don't get better. How can she live her own life while she's stuck in here every day looking after me?
In the night, I lie in my white hospital pyjamas and stare up at the ceiling, or manage to flop my head sideways to look at the drawn curtains. I know the moon is out there. I know it's shining down on Kana.
I've never felt so helpless. I've never felt so alone. And I miss her so much when she's not here.
The slow road to recovery begins, in Learning.