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.
'New Blooms', part 4. This story follows 'Promise Me'.
Dawn's been slowly creeping into the room for a good half hour now, its glow gradually spreading out from behind the curtains touching the walls, haloing Kana's hair as she lies curled up next to me. Her eyes are closed, and her breathing is deep and regular. She reminds me of a rabbit, with her paws... er, her hands tucked up underneath her chin. So soft, so gentle.
It's Kana's birthday today. She's twenty-one years old. I want to call up all the doctors who predicted that Kana wouldn't live past grade school, and laugh in their ears. I want to make her smile; I want to hear her laughter ringing in my ears. I want to let her know how much joy she's brought me, just by being who she is.
Most of all, I want to hold her. But I don't want to wake her up. Not just yet. And so I'm just watching her as she sleeps blissfully beside me.
But, even as I'm thinking this as if she'd heard me she stirs a little, a muscle twitching in her cheek. Her eyelids flutter uncertainly, then open. Her eyes come to rest on me, struggling to focus. And then she smiles.
"Taka," she whispers, her smile deepening with delight, as if it's the first time she's seen me in ages. "G'morning..."
"Good morning," I say, returning the smile. "Happy birthday."
"Birthday." Her eyes widen slightly. "It... it is, isn't it?"
I slide my arms around her, drawing her closer to me. Gently, I kiss her lips. She snuggles up next to me, happily sinking into my embrace.
"You're twenty-one, Kana. Congratulations."
She draws back a bit, grinning at me. "Thank you. So... what did you get me?"
"Straight down to the pressing questions, hmm? The hugs are all very well and good, but it's the presents that really count?"
"Don't try to distract me," she warns, bringing her hand up to slap lightly at my chest. "Where is it? What is it? Come on, Taka..."
"I'll let you know tonight," I tell her, and can't help but laugh at her crestfallen expression. "At the party."
"At the party?" she wails. "That's not for hours! It's my birthday now, Taka! I"
"Mom and Dad are going to give you your present then, as well," I point out. "So it makes more sense to do it all in one go. One celebration, one gift exchange, and no mess to clean up afterwards."
She narrows her eyes at me, looking dubious. "You haven't bought it yet, have you?"
"I have, I have!" I protest, laughing again. "But I haven't picked it up. I was going to do that today, after the hospital."
"So that's why you didn't want me coming along today," she realises, and slaps me again. "You said it was because you wanted me to go out and pamper myself!"
"Well, sure, that too," I admit, reaching out to play with her tousled hair. "Hair salon, beauty treatment. You have to admit that you do need a bit of sprucing up, Kana. You're not exactly birthday girl material at the moment."
"Humpf," she says, turning away from me and throwing the covers back. "That's enough from you, Taka Todo."
"Wait a minute, Kana..." As she swings her legs out from under the covers, I wrap my arms around her waist and pull her back towards me. She slides backwards on the bed, and I lean forward to kiss her again. Time seems to stop for a few moments. It's just her, and me. And no-one else to get in the way. No other thoughts.
When I draw back, she's smiling again. Pulling herself up, she steps lightly over to my desk and rummages in the mixed pile of clothes there, looking for her panties. "I'll forgive you this time," she says, with a wry glance at me. "But your present had better be something exceptional." She grabs a shirt from the pile and starts pulling it on.
"Um, Kana... that's my shirt," I point out.
"I know," she says, buttoning it loosely then turning to look at me, holding her arms out in the hopelessly long sleeves like a model. "How does it look?"
It looks... good, actually. The shirt hangs loosely around her, hiding her figure, but the open neck provides a tantalising glimpse of her white throat and shoulders. Her smooth thighs and slender legs are visible below the hemline. And there are two hard points poking through the thin fabric that covers her breasts.
My expression obviously says everything she needs to know. "I see," she says, with a mischievous grin. "I like it too. It's like... It's like having a part of you next to me. Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to go get ready for my birthday. I have pampering to do." She laughs, unlocks the door, and leaves the room.
Kana. My smile slowly fades as I sink back onto the bed.
How much longer can I keep pretending?
"Happy birthday, Kana!"
Kana winces a little as she takes a sip from her sake. She's not used to alcohol; it's not a good idea for someone with her medical history to overindulge, not that she has much of a taste for it. Still, she's been keeping up with Mom and Dad and me tonight. It's a special occasion, after all.
All around us, the izakaya is humming with conversation and the clink of glasses. Waiters bustle around serving drinks and snacks, cleaning vacated tables and ushering in new customers. It's busy here in the city, even on a weeknight.
There's a heightened pink blush to Kana's cheeks, and she's laughing a lot more easily than normal. It's nice to see her this way for a change. She's usually so serious.
"It's time for presents now!" she demands, sitting back in her chair. "I've waited long enough!"
Mom went out with Kana today while I was at the hospital, and they spent hours shopping together. They had lunch at a fancy restaurant; Kana had her hair trimmed and styled; and then they wandered around the shopping district looking for (and finding) clothes to buy. Mom and Dad paid for everything; that was part of their gift to her. Kana's bed at home is stacked high with boxes and bags.
But now Dad produces a sealed envelope from inside his jacket, which he hands to Kana solemnly. "Happy birthday," he says again. "It's not much, but your mother and I wanted to do what we could to help."
"Thank you, Dad," Kana says, bowing her head respectfully. She slides her finger under the seal and tugs the envelope open. She peers inside, and her eyes widen. "Um..."
"Use it well, Kana," Mom says, gently.
Kana looks at her, with a slightly embarrassed smile on her face. "Um, Mom... thank you. Both of you... You've both done so much for me. My entire life..."
"We love you," Mom says, her eyes misting over a little. "We'll always be here for you. Don't forget about us."
"I won't..." Kana's smile wavers, and her shoulders tremble a little. "I love both of you. You're the best parents I could have ever wanted."
"Now, now," Dad says, gruffly, "enough speech making. Taka still hasn't given you his present."
"Yes. Yes, of course." Kana blinks quickly, forcing a smile back to her face. "Taka. It's finally your turn. What did you"
"Excuse me." One of the waiters approaches our table, looking at each of us in turn. "Is there a 'Kana' here?"
"Um, yes?" Kana says. "What is it?"
"There's a person at the bar who'd like to speak with you for a moment."
"A person?" Kana repeats, mystified. "Asking for me?"
"You are Kana Ichida, aren't you?"
"Ichida?" Kana looks even more puzzled now, and I feel the same way. Who could possibly be asking for Kana under her new name? She's barely had it for two weeks!
"Yes, Kana Ichida. That is you, I take it?"
"Go on, Kana," I suggest. "The present can wait until you get back."
"Okay..." Kana says, reluctantly. "I... I won't be long."
She heads off to the bar, following the waiter. Dad pours some more sake for me and Mom. I take one of the sticks of yakitori and nibble at it absently.
"Kana's twenty-one..." Mom says, quietly. She always gets sentimental when she drinks.
"You'll have to take good care of her, Taka," Dad admonishes me. "She may be an adult now, but she's still not very worldly."
"We'll take care of each other," I promise them, distractedly, looking at my watch. It's almost nine, and I have another promise to keep.
"Do you think they'll be all right?" Mom asks Dad, her tone high and anxious. "Osaka's so far away. What if Taka has another accident? What if Kana's health worsens? I know Kashima-sensei says she's fine now, but..."
"Let go," Dad says, bluntly.
"But... but we almost lost Kana. And then the same with Taka. I don't know if I could handle it if... if..."
"You won't lose either of us," I tell her, looking up. "Kana and I just need our own space. Our own lives. We're not going to forget about either of you."
"I know." Mom sniffs and takes a long gulp from her drink. "And that's why your father and I decided to accept your... situation. As strange and as difficult as it is. We didn't want to lose you as well, Taka. When you were injured, and Kana was there every day to look after you and watch you... Well, that's when we realised..."
"We realised we could reject both of you, or accept both of you," Dad says, as Mom hunches over her cup, pretending that she's not crying. "Kana was more determined than we'd ever seen her before. When she moved back home, she sat us down and she laid it all out for us."
"It... it made sense," Mom says, her voice subdued. "You told us how much you love her. What we didn't understand was how much she loved you. But when she sat there at the table, speaking to us so calmly, with such serenity... such love in her voice... We knew. We love both of you, Taka. Come back whenever you want. We don't want to lose you..."
"You won't!" I insist. "That's not why we're moving. We"
"We understand, Taka," Dad breaks in, gently. "Mom's just a bit talkative at the moment."
I settle back in my chair. I pour some more sake for both of them. I sip at my cup and look at my watch.
"Here she comes," Dad says, after a few minutes.
Kana comes back to the table, looking vaguely shell-shocked, but with a bemused smile on her face.
"Well?" I ask, as she sinks into her chair. "Who was it?"
"Yuta," she whispers, staring blankly into the space above the table.
"Yuta?" Mom asks. "You mean that boy who kept showing up at the hospital?"
"He... he said he'd heard I was going to be here tonight... A friend of his told him I was going to be here... and he wanted to wish me well."
"How is he?" I ask, my feelings in slight turmoil. Yuta? Why are you reacting this way to him, Kana? You didn't even like him the last time you spoke to him!
But... but who am I to be saying things like that?
"He's fine..." Kana murmurs, numbly taking her cup of sake and emptying it with a single gulp. "He has a girlfriend now. He's on the national track team; did you know that? He's still at university, of course, but they make allowances for him. He's very good at getting his way..."
"Except with you," I point out, a bit nastily.
"Except with me," Kana agrees. "Anyway, he knew all about Osaka. Said he has friends there, if we ever need anything. And... I told him to look us up, if he's ever in town..."
"That was nice of him," Dad says. "Taka, you keep looking at the time. Are you meeting your friends soon?"
"Oh." Kana sits up, shaking off her preoccupation. "Sorry, Taka! I forgot all about that. Where were we?"
It's hard. It's hard to look at Kana's expectant smile and not let the doubt show. But I do my best. I smile back at her and reach into my pocket. I draw the box out and hand it to her.
"Thank you," she whispers, cupping it in her left hand. She leans across and kisses me, and Mom and Dad don't even avert their eyes. This is progress. Then she settles back, prising the box open and peering inside. She inhales sharply, her eyes shining. Her smile is radiant as she looks up at me. "Thank you, Taka. I love it."
"Very nice," Dad says, dutifully, as Kana shows the pendant to him and Mom. "Why don't we see how it looks on you?"
"Taka?" Kana holds the box out to me, and I take the pendant out, the slender chain trailing behind it. Two small gold hearts, side by side, joined together and overlapping. Two hearts that are also one.
Kana turns away from me, holding her hair out of the way. I fasten the gold chain around her neck. She turns back to me, the two hearts glinting at me, resting on the white skin of her throat. It's perfect.
"I love it," she says again, throwing her arms around my neck and holding me close. "I love you," she whispers in my ear.
"I love you too, Kana," I whisper back. "Happy birthday."
She draws back, looking at me somewhat sadly. "Do you really have to go? Didn't you tell Ikuro and Masa that it's my birthday?"
"I did, but it's hard," I tell her. "Ikuro's busy all the time, and Masa has kids to go home to, so it's hard to find a night when all of us are free. And it's the last time for a while, anyway."
"It's a shame Tomoki couldn't be there too," Mom says, surprising me.
"Yes," Kana says, smiling with an effort. "It's not the Big Four without Tomoki."
"We'll make do," I say, awkwardly. "I won't be late, anyway or I'll try not to be."
"I'll wait up for you," Kana says, with a teasing smile that's for me alone. "I have to thank you properly for the wonderful present."
"So it was worth waiting for?" I ask, smiling back.
"Yes," she assures me, leaning forward to kiss me again. "It really is exceptional. Come home soon."
"I will." I get up from my seat, reaching for my cane. "Just try to keep me away!"
After the noise and bustle of the izakaya, the quiet of the rain-swept streets is almost a relief. I look left and right as I step outside, getting my bearings. The bar isn't far away.
It must have been raining until just recently. The streets are shiny and wet, dimly reflecting the pale streetlights. I start on my way up the street, taking careful steps on the slippery concrete.
And as I walk, my head is full of questions. Is what I'm doing right? Can I really keep hiding things from Kana this way? We're leaving for Osaka in just over a week... Will all this be over by then? Will I have an answer that I can live with?
I was wrong. The silence makes it so much worse. It gives me room to think.
My breath mists in the cold evening air. The drizzle turns to rain: an irregular shower of falling droplets that spatter on my face and hands. I bend forward over my cane and do my best to hurry.
She's waiting for me in front of the bar, looking up and down the street anxiously. Almost furtively. When she sees me on my way towards her, she runs out to meet me, ignoring the increasing severity of the rain. Her steps resound hollowly on the damp pavement.
"Hi, Taka," she says, warmly. She kisses my cheek, and I sigh.
Taka spends a rainy night with Yumi, in Return Your Love.