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 10. This story follows 'Learning'.
It's also the finale to the four-part conclusion, and to this series as a whole.
Four days without Kana.
"Come on, Taka," Yamada-san is saying. I stare at him dully. What am I doing here? What does... what does any of this mean?
I'm braced awkwardly on a set of crutches. Crutches give greater mobility. We've been working up to this for weeks now. My legs are finally strong enough. This is another goal.
Was I... really looking forward to this?
"Crutches, Taka!" I remember how cheerful Kana's voice sounded when Yamada-san told us about them. "How wonderful!"
The ground seems so far away. These... these pieces of wood and metal can't protect me. In fact, if I fall, I could hurt myself on them. I could end up worse than I am now.
Kana. I stare at the floor and it starts to blur.
"Taka!" Yamada-san barks. "What are you, a quitter? Get moving!"
"Can't..." I mutter, slumping forward on the crutches. "I... I can't..."
"Go on, just give it a try. You wanted to do this, remember? You and Kana both told me so!"
Kana. Don't... don't talk about Kana. Please don't say her name.
I won't... I won't be able to do this. I won't be able to walk. It's not going to happen.
"You've been wanting to do this for weeks, Taka! We tried it last week and you couldn't wait to give it another go! So what makes it any different now?"
"Because I'm afraid!" I scream at him.
I'm... afraid. I was never this afraid before. Not while Kana was here. Not with her standing at Yamada-san's side, silently calling to me. And now... here I am, huddled on the floor, shaking.
What... what am I without you?
Eight days without Kana.
The hospital psychiatrist has come to see me. He sits across from me in my room as I sit listlessly in my wheelchair. Pale winter light streams in through the windows.
"I hear your progress has been slipping," he says, gently.
"What... what is progress?" I ask him. "Just a set of arbitrary goals. They don't make any difference. Tomorrow or next month... a year from now... It's all the same."
"Is there any particular reason you're feeling this way?"
"I'm just tired."
He regards me quietly, for a moment. Then... "Why doesn't Kana come to see you anymore?"
"KKana?" I look at him, and my lips start to tremble. My breath rattles in my throat. The longing and the missing well up inside my chest. "I... don't know. She's bbusy," I stammer. "She has things to... to do. And I... I'm just a burd" I burst into tears before I can finish lying to him. My hands clutch weakly at the armrests of my wheelchair. I hang my head.
He touches my shoulder, and he prescribes pills for me. I take them and, for days, I don't feel anything. I'm neither happy nor sad. I can think about Kana and it doesn't hurt. I wonder what I was making such a fuss about. Why did I ever feel the need to cry over her?
My physiotherapy starts up again. I tackle it with mild interest. The crutches make life easier. They're a lot better than the wheelchair. I get to go downstairs in the elevator and buy things from the cafeteria.
The psychiatrist visits me again. Pleased with my improved outlook, he changes my dosage, and the haze starts to lift. I can feel again.
And all I can do is miss her.
I can't ask her to come back. I was the one who told her to go away! It's better this way. Better for both of us. But there are nights when I can't stop crying. My body aches from the intensive rehab, but my heart hurts more.
I struggle on without her. And I think about her all the time.
The days without her stretch into weeks. Three weeks without her. Four. It's good. She's obviously come to the same conclusion that I have. She doesn't need me.
She... she doesn't need me.
Five weeks without Kana.
The end of my hospital stay is finally in sight. The doctors and the physiotherapists are pleased enough with my progress that they're going to let me go home. I'll have to keep coming back in for rehab five days a week, to start off with but still, it's independence, of a sort.
I can hobble my way around with a cane, now. My hands still aren't as strong as they used to be, and my fingers tremble when I try to pick up small objects or perform fiddly tasks. That's never going to change. It's something that'll be with me for the rest of my life.
Two weeks. Two weeks until I'm allowed out of here.
It's a clear, bright winter morning, and I'm up before the nurse arrives to wake me. The TV is on, with the sound turned down low. Out of habit, I'm doing my old range-of-motion exercises. They're not really necessary anymore, but they've become a part of my morning routine in here. They comfort me, in a way.
I'm pulling my right knee up, holding it in place and counting quietly under my breath to myself, when the door opens.
And Kana walks in.
I freeze, staring at her. She edges her way inside and quietly shuts the door behind her, before looking up at me with a nervous smile.
"Hi, Bro," she says. "I'm back."
"Kana." My mind is completely blank. "Um... welcome back."
Awkwardly, she drifts forward. "Do you want some help?" Without waiting for a reply, she gently slips her hand under my knee and helps lift it towards my chest. The motion brings her closer to the side of the bed. Closer to me. She starts to count. "One... tw"
And we're kissing desperately before she makes it to three.
Kana's sitting at the window, looking out over the snow-covered landscape. I'm at the foot of the bed, idly swinging my legs back and forth, watching her. I hadn't forgotten how beautiful she is. I don't think I could ever forget that. But I did forget how much joy it brings me to look at her.
"I used to get so sad when winter came," Kana says. "The garden outside my window would just... die. The trees would lose their leaves, the flowers would all wither away, and all that was left was... white. The snow would cover everything. It was so sad to see everything I'd come to love over the spring and summer... Seeing it all fade away. All the colours gone, reduced to white.
"Then, months later, spring would come again. I'd watch the gardeners and the other patients replanting the flower beds. They'd change the arrangement every year so that when everything was in bloom, it all looked completely different. Everything riotous and pretty and new. At least, until winter came again. I hated it every year, Taka. Over and over again, nature took away something that I loved. I couldn't understand why it had to keep happening.
"But then... I realised that what nature was doing was creating a blank canvas. That's what the white season means, Taka. A chance to start all over again. Where you might have had pink last season, this time you can have yellow. Blue instead of white. Purple instead of red. It's an end, but it's also a beginning. We have to leave the old things behind if we want to reach out for the new.
"You can..." She sighs, softly, still staring out the window. "You can colour things in all over again."
I hop down from the bed and hobble over to her side. The floor tiles are cold, even through my socks. I put my hand on her shoulder, and she leans her head sideways a little, resting her cheek against my fingers.
"I... I lost my job, Taka," she says, quietly. "Hiromi-kun must have said something to someone, because word got out... and the Kobayashis had to let me go. They couldn't afford to have that kind of notoriety attached to the store. It would be bad for business."
"I'm sorry, Kana."
"It's... it's all right." She nuzzles my fingers with her cheek, gently moving her head back and forth. "They didn't want to do it. Mrs Kobayashi even cried. And they gave me a very generous final bonus for all the work I've done."
"And... your apartment?"
"I had to move out. I'm back in my old room at home, for the moment. Mom and Dad don't seem to mind..."
The thought washes through me, warming me to my toes. Kana... Kana's home again. And in a couple of weeks, I'll be there too. "So everything's back the way it used to be," I say, smiling.
"Well, no. I haven't bothered to unpack everything." She's not looking at me as she says this. "I'm... not planning on staying very long."
My heart sinks.
"That's why... That's why I knew I had to come and see you. I wanted to respect your wishes; I really did. But I was so lonely without you. There were so many times I reached for the phone, or found myself halfway to the train station to come here... but I had to remember what you'd said. You didn't want me anymore."
"Kana..." I whisper. "I... I didn't mean it. I didn't mean any of it."
She turns her head to look at me, a bright smile shining through the tears. "But then I decided it didn't matter what you wanted. I decided I was going to be selfish and just care about me, for a change. I'm going to keep loving you, because it makes me happy. And that's when I made up my mind to come back. Because... because..." She scrambles to her feet and kisses me impulsively, throwing her arms around me. I stagger backwards, bumping up against the bed. She pulls back a bit and gazes at me happily.
"Because I'm never going to stop loving you, Taka."
"Oh!" She looks at me, eyes wide, and loosens her arms around my neck. "I'm sorry. Here, hop on the bed. I forgot, for a moment..."
Her eyes are warm and tender. She helps me up onto the bed, and scrambles up next to me. She holds my hand. We kiss again, lingeringly, as she kneels there beside me.
"So... so what will you do now?" I ask. She pauses, drawing back, and looks down at our hands. Hers on top of mine, fingers interlinked.
"I... I thought I'd move to Osaka," she says, softly. "It's far enough away to make a fresh start. It's by the ocean I've always wanted to live by the sea. I've been ringing to enquire about apartments, and I found a small one that's relatively cheap and sounds nice. It... it'll be available when spring comes. The third of March, to be exact. That's when I've planned the move. I... I went and bought a ticket a few days ago..."
"I see." I can't look at her. She's leaving me again. And this time she's going even further away... Something's shrinking inside me. It feels like... I think it's my heart. "It sounds good, Kana."
"I'm excited about it, yes," she says. "I'll find a job doing... something. Maybe at another bookstore. Maybe something else completely. Whatever comes along. I wonder if..."
My hand in hers. Her eyes as she talks, their clear gaze looking out the window, towards the future. And the growing ache in my chest. I can't stand it, but I can't ask her to stay, either. What can I possibly offer her? I still have my rehabilitation to think of. I have a long way to go yet.
Quietly, helplessly, I start to cry.
"I... I've realised my life has never been 'normal', Taka," she's saying. "But, to be honest, I don't think I'd want it that way. I've loved every minute of it. I've lived, Taka. I've lived with you here beside me. The person I love, sharing my pain and my joy. I want to keep living, unafraid."
"I..." I can't say anything or my words will betray me. I don't want her to go. But at the same time, her plans sound so fixed, so settled. She knows the path she wants to take. And who am I... who am I to stand in her way?
"Taka." She lifts my hand, the warmth of her fingers comforting against mine. "Taka, please don't cry."
"I've been making some inquiries," she murmurs, stroking my hand. "You can finish your studies at Osaka University. There are hospitals in Osaka with excellent outpatient rehab programs. I've talked to Mom and Dad, and they're willing to contribute some of the costs..."
I look up at her, barely able to comprehend what she's saying. "You mean...?"
She smiles at me, but it's slightly wavering, tempered with fear. "I... I bought two tickets, Taka..."
I let loose a shuddering breath. Tears spill from my eyes. "Kana..."
"That is... if you want to be with me," she says, hesitantly. "As much as I want to be with you..."
She's in my arms. She's holding me tight. Our faces are pressed together and we're kissing. Our tears run together.
"Yes, Kana. Yes."
"Well? Are you ready?"
It's leaving day, at last. It's still the middle of winter; outside the window, the sun shines weakly on the snow-covered grounds. I've finished packing my things it's surprising how few of my belongings are here at the hospital, considering how long I've been living here. But I won't miss this room. No, I'm going somewhere better. Home first, of course, for a few weeks. But then...
My cane is sitting on the bed. I'm just about to reach for it when Kana comes whirling back inside, her eyes alight with glee.
"Look, Taka!" she squeals, laying two pieces of card on the bed in front of me. "Look!"
They're train tickets to Osaka. The day and time is neatly printed on their glossy surface. One of them has my name on it. Taka Todo. And the other...
"Kana... Ichida?" I look up at Kana, frowning. She smiles, somewhat embarrassed.
"It was my father's name," she says. "And, well... now it's mine, too."
"You... you changed your name?" For a moment, I'm taken aback. I can't believe it. How can a father she doesn't even remember be more important to her than the parents who raised her? The brother who loves her? Why would she want to cut herself off from us this way?
"Yep." She grins. "It's not completely finalised yet, but it'll all be done within the month. Before we leave for Osaka."
"So..." I say, a bit sullenly. "So it's goodbye to 'Kana Todo' forever, then, I guess?"
She takes my hand, holding it loosely in both of hers. She looks up at me, almost shyly. "No. Not forever. One day... I hope... One day, I want to be Kana Todo again."
It takes me a couple of moments to catch onto her meaning, and my eyes open wide with surprise when I do. She giggles and kisses me. She tugs at my hand. "Let's go... Bro."
It's the last time she ever calls me that.
I'm riding down in the elevator with Kana Ichida, my girlfriend. We're holding hands. She's holding my sports bag in her free hand, and I'm resting lightly on my cane with mine.
"Kana Ichida," I say again, testing the sound of it.
"What?" She smiles at me. "Don't tell me you don't like it?"
"I don't know... To me, you've always been Kana imouto-chan."
"Not anymore, Taka," she says, lightly.
"No," I agree. "Not anymore."
My Kana. Not imouto. Not Todo. Not even Ichida.
"You do realise you're turning your back on a normal life?" I ask, wanting to be sure.
The elevator bings, and the doors glide open in front of us. We step out into the hospital's foyer.
"Normal is boring," Kana says, coming to a halt and digging in her purse. "White is boring. I want us to colour our lives in together, Taka. To colour ourselves as we want. Here." She reaches across and tucks the train ticket into my right hand. "Here's the future. Let's walk out and face it together."
"I love you, Kana," I tell her. She looks across at me, at my profile, and smiles.
And we open the doors to the white season with two tickets in our hands. Kana's there beside me. I know she'll always be there. I grab her hand and squeeze it, hard. She squeezes back and laughs, tossing her hair. We walk out into the sunlight the two of us, together.
My sister, my Kana.