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 9. This story follows 'Kinaesthesia'.
It's also part 3 of the four-part conclusion to this series.
Eight weeks have passed since the accident.
I'm sitting up on the bed, doing my range-of-motion exercises. I can do that now. I can struggle up to a sitting position without help. I can move my legs, jerkily, if I try hard enough. My hands are still useless, though. My arms are weak far weaker than my legs but at least they move.
I brace my left arm against the inside of my left knee. I barely feel the pressure, but I can see what I'm doing. Gently, I push my thigh outwards with my wrist, keeping the knee bent. I hold it there for a count of ten.
I can't move my joints voluntarily, but I have to keep them working or they'll stiffen up. My therapist taught me these stretches. I do them five times a day. More, if I'm bored or restless, which seems to happen a lot these days.
Kana's watching me with a loving smile. At my call, she comes around to the left side of the bed and slips her hand under my knee, helping me to draw it up to my chest. She holds it there and starts to count.
"One... two... three..."
My arms are still too weak to hold my leg in place, but Kana doesn't seem to mind helping me. If anything, she seems to enjoy it.
"Ten," Kana says. She lowers my knee a little bit, keeping her hand where it is. I wish I could feel her touch, but there still isn't much sensation in my legs. "Ready for the second one?"
Kana lifts my knee again. She holds it in place. She looks into my eyes, smiling, and counts to ten. Morning exercises are always so much better with Kana here.
She went back to work a few weeks ago, but she's changed her hours in order to see as much of me as possible. She spends an hour here in the mornings, and closes the bookstore early to be back here before evening. She says the Kobayashis don't mind. I'm not sure she's telling me the truth.
"Nine... ten. Three more to go," Kana says.
"Autumn's here already," I say, as I gaze out the window.
"Four... five... It's pretty, isn't it, Taka? Eight... nine..."
"I wonder if I'll still be here when winter comes."
"You can't rush things," she reprimands me, gently, as she lets my knee back down. "Your recovery will take exactly as long as you need. That's the way it works."
I sigh. "I wish..." A stray thought flits into my head. I'm not even sure where it came from. "I wish I had a mirror, Kana. A mirror... that shows the future."
She looks at me, startled. "What?"
"Sorry. It's a strange thing to say, I know. But the idea just popped into my head for some reason."
"Number four," she says, lifting my knee. "Count for me."
"One," I say. "Two. Three..."
She'll have to leave soon, to go back to work. It's best to get these exercises out of the way while she's here to help. We finish the five sets for my left knee. She moves to the other side of the bed, and we begin again with the right.
I count the seconds. Kana holds my knee, looking out the window. She looks more thoughtful than usual.
Nine weeks have passed since the accident.
Sitting up is almost easy now. They've installed a bar hanging from a chain above my head that I can hook my elbow over, to pull myself up. My fingers move now, but they won't grip. I can actually feel the warmth of Kana's hand when she holds mine now. She cried the first time I told her that.
My legs keep getting stronger. They're talking about starting me on ambulation training soon. In a swimming pool, to start off with. Baby steps. As Kana says, it will take as long as I need.
It's late in the afternoon. The days are still bright and warm, but they've been gradually getting shorter. I know this because Kana always comes back at about this time. Over the past week or two, the colour of the light on her face when she walks in has been growing deeper and richer.
Kana arrives with her usual smile. She's carrying a small notebook. She kisses my cheek, then fusses around my bed, fluffing up my pillow and asking if there's anything I need. She pours a glass of water for me and holds it to my lips. She's always very gentle with me.
"What's with the notebook?" I ask. My voice is stronger, too, but I find myself reluctant to use it now. Sometimes Kana and I will sit in silence for minutes or hours at a time. She'll hold my hand. I guess we don't really need words...
"Here." Sitting down next to me on the bed, she flicks on the overhead light and opens up the book. Its pages are filled with her neat handwriting. She flips through them until she finds the one she's looking for, and points to a particular section with her finger. "This bit here. Read it."
I read it out loud. "I wish I knew the future. I wish... I wish I had a mirror that shows the future. I'd look into it with all my heart... Kana?"
She blushes. "This is my diary. I was... Sometimes I'd write in it, while you were unconscious. And since what I was writing and what I wanted to say to you were the same thing... Sometimes I'd read it to you. I'd tell you the things that were in my heart. I wanted you to know how much I wanted you back."
"I... I don't remember hearing it, but I must have," I say, touched by her trust. Kana's diary. Her most intimate thoughts and feelings. "Thank you, Kana."
She leans across and kisses the corner of my mouth. When she draws back, I can feel moisture on my cheek. Kana's tears. She smiles at me, her cheeks damp. "I'm... I'm glad you heard me."
"Kana. Kana, I lo" I pause. Somehow, this doesn't feel like the right time or place to be saying things like that. But...
"I know." Her hand fumbles out and takes mine. She sits there, looking at me fondly. The light deepens.
"You... you called me back." I curl my hand weakly in her grasp. "You're the only one who could."
"Taka." Her fingers tighten around mine. I can feel them. I can feel her warmth.
Three months have passed since the accident.
Kana's staring at me, biting her lip. My arms are trembly and shaking, and I want to let them relax, but I can't. Not yet.
I'm on an intensive program of physical rehabilitation now. My legs, though still weak, can support my weight for brief periods of time. I can grip large objects, clumsily. Most of the numb patches on my arms and legs have faded.
I'm in the physical therapy room, using the parallel bars to aid my walking. My arms are locked at my sides, keeping me braced upright. My legs feel wobbly. The need to shift my weight is terrifying me. I'm afraid to leave this safe, balanced position in case I fall over. I'm maybe two-thirds of the way along the railings. Each inch has required a superhuman effort. I don't know if I can make it any further.
Kana's at the other end, though. She's watching me and holding her breath. Yamada-san, the therapist, has scolded her for calling out to me before, though, so she's not saying anything. She just keeps her eyes locked to me, urging me on silently.
Kana. For you.
With a sharp, almost sobbing breath, I jerk my left wrist forward. The equilibrium of my body shifts. I start tipping over. Desperately, I heave my right shoulder. My groping right hand lurches forward to come level with the left one. My arms strain to hold me up as I drag my left foot forward, then the right. My arms lock again. I have balance. Another few inches. My brow is covered with sweat. I'm sure my palms must be clammy too.
Why does it have to be so hard?
I won't think about it. I'll think about Kana. My left hand stutters forward again. Right wrist pulls level. I shuffle my feet. My legs can support me. I just have to keep my centre of balance. I just need to stay focused.
Kana. She had her hair trimmed last week. The fringe is feathery and soft. She always looks so pretty.
Business is good at the store. It's not doing too badly, even considering the reduction in business hours. She's happy with the way things are going.
I sacrifice my balance again. It's all a part of walking. You can't be afraid, Taka. Kana is waiting for you. Don't be afraid. Now, catch yourself. Quickly... No!
My right elbow gives way, and I slip sideways, crumpling against the railing. Vaguely, out of the corner of my eye, I see Kana start forward desperately, but Yamada-san holds out his arm to keep her back.
"Come on, Taka," he says, evenly. "Push with your arms. Get your balance back. There's not far to go."
Push? Push? My arms won't work, you bastard! How can... how can you stand there, strong and healthy, and casually tell me to push? Have you ever been through this? Have you ever felt what it's like to be this... this weak and helpless?
I can't do it. I can't. I'm hanging there limply. My arm is twisted and bent. Completely out of my control.
"Taka." Kana looks at Yamada-san, slightly daunted, but says it again. "Taka, please. Keep trying."
Kana? You too? What do you kn Kana? What do you...
But she does. She knows exactly what it's like to be this weak. The irrational fit of rage passes over and through me. Kana. Did you ever resent me when I told you that you had to be strong?
It hurts. It's almost impossible. But I push my arm. I force my quivering legs to move. I strain with everything I have. And... my arm straightens out. The elbow locks into place.
I'm upright again.
My breathing is shallow. Shuddering. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. I wish I could just let go, but I can't. Not now. There's a long way to go yet.
Kana. I'm coming.
It's now more than four months since the accident.
I'm mobile now. I can push myself around in a wheelchair, on level ground. I don't have enough strength in my hands to tackle inclines, though. My fingers can't grip the wheels firmly enough. I can stand, for decent lengths of time. I'm getting better at walking, though the effort still exhausts me. Progress seems to be coming slower now. It's too slow for my liking.
Kana is wheeling me around the hospital grounds. I'm dressed warmly in a robe and scarf, with a blanket over my legs. Winter is here. The trees have lost all their leaves, and the ground is covered in frost. Who knows? In a few more weeks, it might snow.
"The white season's here, Taka," Kana says, her voice subdued. It's clear and still out here in the cold winter morning so clear that our voices seem like they could carry forever through the crisp air and never fade.
"I was hoping I wouldn't be here to see it," I say, quietly. Kana's hand floats down from behind me and squeezes my shoulder.
"It'll happen, Taka," she says, as she always does. "The doctors are always telling me how well you're doing. Another month; two at the most, and"
"I just want to walk again."
Kana draws the wheelchair to a halt. She reaches down and engages the handbrake. Coming around to crouch before me, she places her hand over mine, underneath the blanket. "I want you to as well, Taka," she says. "And you will. You just have to"
"'give it time'!" My voice rises, high and harsh. "Everything takes time! If you wait long enough, miracles are bound to happen, aren't they? Because that's the way the world works! Everything works out for the best, doesn't it? Doesn't it?"
She recoils from me, her violet eyes reflecting the leaden grey of the clouds. Behind her, there's an empty flowerbed, barren and frosted over. Behind that, a tree's leafless branches claw starkly at the sky above us.
"Taka," she tries, after a moment. "I can't promise you anything. You know I can't. But I can tell you that"
"Shut up!" I snarl.
She flinches. "Taka, I was just..."
"I know what you were going to say. And I'm sick of it. There are no guarantees, Kana! Who says I won't be stuck in this chair for the rest of my life? The doctors tell me the same things they tell you. They tell us the chance for 'recovery'. But what about the people who never recover? What if... what if this is the best I can ever expect?"
"Taka, you can't think that way," she says, desperately. "You can't let yourself think about anything but a full recovery."
It's so easy for her to say it. Kana, crouching there with her perfect balance and her working legs. Her body hasn't betrayed her. She's not the one who can't even hold a spoon. She's not the one who can barely control her bowel movements. No, no she's Kana, the angel of mercy. She's Kana, giving up her time and energy for her poor brother, the invalid!
Suddenly I can't stand it. I can't stand looking at her. For the first time in my life, I look at Kana... and I despise her.
When I speak, none of this comes through in my voice. It's tightly controlled and flat. Emotionless. "I'm tired of being a burden to you, Kana. I don't want to put you through this anymore."
"Taka." She digs her hand under the blanket and pulls my hand out, stroking it anxiously. "Taka, what's wrong with you? You know that I'd never consider you a burden, no matter how much you inconvenience m"
I inconvenience her. I inconvenience her. The words bubble and sear at my brain. She's still talking; her lips are moving, but I can't hear her words. Kana, is that what I'm doing to you? Then... then why don't I make this easy for you?
"You can stop coming."
She breaks off, staring at me. All the expression drains away from her face. Her eyes are wide and glassy.
"No," she whispers. "Please, no. Taka, don't"
"I don't need you anymore, Kana." I bite the words out from between clenched teeth. "I don't want you anymore. Don't come back. Don't ever come back."
She reels back as if I had just kicked her.
"Go back to your store. Go back to your precious life. I'll live my life. And you... you can live yours." I stare at her coldly. I don't let the hurt in her eyes get to me. No, Kana, this is for the best.
"Taka." Her voice, the expression in her eyes: they're heartbroken. Shattered. "Taka, don't... Don't tell me to go... Please..." And now tears spill from her eyes. Her beautiful violet eyes. Her breath mists and billows in front of her as she frantically stares at me, still clinging to my hand. Trembling, she brings it up to her lips.
I wrench it from her grasp.
"Leave me alone, Kana!" I scream at her. "Go away and leave me alone!"
"Taka, no." She's not breathing. Her heart's not beating. She's as cold and still as the winter morning, and the only colour in her face is the bruised violet of her irises. "I... I ccan't..."
"I don't need you! I don't want you! Don't come back! Never come back!" I lash her with my words. I pound her with them, relentlessly. "I don't need you anymore, Kana! I never needed you as much as you needed me! Never! How pathetic do you think I am? How sad and useless do you think I am?" And then I pause, struggling for breath.
Sorry, Kana. I have to do this. It's for the best.
My voice is low and venomous.
"I don't love you anymore, Kana."
"No!" Kana's cry is filled with agony. She crumples forward on the path, her shoulders heaving with sobs. Her small hands claw weakly at the frozen earth. She whimpers quietly, like a wounded animal. "No, Taka..."
But I'm already reaching down. I'm pulling at the handbrake, releasing it. I turn the wheelchair around. And I roll away from Kana. I leave her there, crying, under the cold grey sky.
Kana chooses a new path, in My Sister, My Strength.