Part 139: Forwards, With Gusto!Update 126: Forwards, With Gusto! (Act 4, Scenes 11-13)
Katawa Shoujo OST ~ Passing of Time
What's... going on...?
As I slowly open my eyes, a bright, white light assaults my retinas. For minutes I just lay where I am, mindlessly staring ahead while my scattered thoughts coalesce in my slowly waking mind. Slowly but surely, the white begins to come into focus as a bare expanse begins to be drawn across my field of vision.
It's only when the light fixture comes into view that my mind clicks that this is the ceiling above me.
Slowly levering myself up, I silently absorb through all my senses the details of the room I'm in. The smell and taste of strong bleach hang in the air, lending the impression of a place just slightly too clean to be natural. Inoffensive pale peach-colored walls, all perfectly painted without a crack, stain or imperfection. A single framed painting hangs on the wall, perfectly straightened. Like the walls, it's as boring and inoffensive as can be. My attention's grabbed by the translucent curtain waving across my vision, my eyes following it to the open window it covers.
When I move my right arm to try to lift myself up and look through it, I feel the catheter dig in uncomfortably. It's only now, too, that I notice the cannula tubes winding around my cheeks and into my nose. After some fidgeting, I settle for just looking around the corner of the window.
Beyond the thick leaves of several large trees, I can see the greenery below, backing out onto a field. A customary island of green on the outskirts of the city. Judging by the sun outside, it's noon. Of which day, though, I'm not sure. So... I'm in a hospital once again. I let out a long, tired breath as I try to collect my scattered thoughts, my mind seemingly cast in a dozen directions all at once with as many emotions running through me. After slowly lying back down, I decide to start at the beginning; why I'm here. I cast my mind back, but I can't work out a smooth recollection of what happened. The events of last night... or whichever night it was... come back more as a series of snapshots than any cohesive memory.
The next several images are covered in brown, shifting static. :eng101
Lying on my bed looking at the origami bird.
Talking to Hideaki outside the Hakamichi residence.
Running down the street, passing pedestrians and bumping into more and more of them. Falling.
Looking up at the searingly bright airport entrance, seeing Lilly's back as I lay on the ground...
The silence of the private room suddenly feels overwhelming.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Caged Heart
So that's it. I had my chance to correct my mistake, and I blew it. Whether I was at fault for neglecting my medication and disregarding to pace myself, or my body was for giving out so soon, it doesn't matter now. All that matters is that, once again, I'm alone. The pastel blue pillow yields with little resistance as I let myself fall back onto the bed, its starchy case, along with the starchy sheets, providing little comfort. Compared to the darkness of last night's events, the bright light of the room around me is striking. All it does, though, is emphasize how otherworldly places like this are.
A strange word. A foreign, alien one. One that you don't want to be in the same room with.
A rare condition. It causes the heart to act erratically and occasionally beat way too fast. It can be fatal.
It was a miracle that you were able to go on so long without anything happening, they said.
And then, it did. My condition had taken away everything; my old school was of no importance any more. My home was reduced to a faraway place. Both my friends and my first love simply stopped visiting after a length of time. I became cynical and embittered. Distant and subdued. In my defense, no person could avoid that after such a thing happening to them, but nonetheless I left the hospital as a very definitely changed person.
Things changed. I made new friends in Hanako, Shizune and Misha. I found a new sense of home in my dormitory, a new interest in science and the world around me, and I found a direction to my life that I had never felt before. But I'd also discovered other things. The sense of isolation in Yamaku and its surrounds was not entirely unwelcome, the quiet giving a peace of mind I might not have found elsewhere, but it gave the area a feeling of being pushed out of the way, of being kept out of sight. People in the streets would sometimes glance awkwardly, or quickly turn their heads as they realized they were staring. Even if my condition wasn't visible, my uniform was. Even if it weren't, I was still different. I took seventeen pills a day, morning, midday and night. My scar, though hidden behind clothing, was still a permanent mark of my condition. And most of all, there was the very real possibility of death. A bad fall. An absentminded hard hit on the back. A simple sprint taken too far. Anything could have set my heart off, and several times I teetered on the edge of the abyss even with all the care I took of myself.
But that was fine. I could have lived with all that. Because there was one final thing I'd found, or rather refound, after entering Yamaku. Which was once again snatched away before my eyes.
It's only now that I realize just how delicate my newfound sense of happiness was. Everything depended on her, the linchpin of my life since I first entered Yamaku as a sullen, confused and aimless transfer student. Lilly Satou was the one person I could depend upon above all others, and who reciprocated the love that I felt for her. But I failed her, and only realized it all too late. I thought that I could just set my life up and continue that way forever, but the real world doesn't work like that. I finally realized the meaning of those words, only to be struck down as I confronted my failure to do so in time.
The surroundings I'm in now are all too familiar. It's as if Yamaku was but a dream, and I'm still recovering from my first major heart attack. Maybe that's why I feel so tired. It feels almost as if I've lived the entire last few months of my life in the space of minutes. The weight of my eyelids closes my eyes, my physical and mental exhaustion letting me offer no resistance.
Unintelligible mumbling from ahead of the bed stirs me out of my sleep. With my eyes still closed, I can focus and make out someone, presumably a nurse, bidding farewell to a doctor. As I open my eyes, I notice the door closing in my peripheral vision. The doctor stands reading some notes off a clipboard held in his hand, carefully looking over the pages. After consulting his obviously very important documents, he looks up and notices my gaze. It's now that I notice something slightly odd about his expression and general disposition, but I can't quite put my finger on it.
DOCTOR: "Ah, I see you're awake... Mr. Nakai."
His quick glance to my bed end, to verify my name, shows that his documents obviously didn't have it written on them.
DOCTOR: "I must admit this is a bit unfortunate; your parents visited just earlier while you were asleep. I could notify them you're awake now, if you'd like."
HISAO: "Um... thanks. That would be good."
I give a somewhat dazed reply, most likely the one he'd expect, before really thinking about what I'm saying.
DOCTOR: "Not a problem. If you have any questions you'd like to ask, I'll be happy to answer them. That is, unless you'd prefer to rest; the anaesthetic's still going to be affecting you a bit, I'm afraid."
The anaesthetic... of course. That'd be why I felt so strange the first time I woke up. I slowly shake my head, not wanting to dislodge any pipes or cause myself any more discomfort than necessary. The doctor politely puts down his clipboard in response.
HISAO: "I guess my main question is... what exactly happened?"
DOCTOR: "To put it simply, you've unfortunately had another heart attack. While not as severe as your first, you were very lucky it occurred so close to a hospital. After being stabilized, you were taken to the operating room. What followed was keyhole surgery in order to insert a temporary pacemaker. All in all, the incident happened two days ago, with emergency treatment being carried out very soon afterward. Since then, we've kept you under close observation while you were asleep."
HISAO: "Will I be all right? Are there any lasting problems?"
DOCTOR: "Compared to the procedure carried out for your first heart attack, this was relatively minor. While you will have to undergo surgery once more in a few days' time to remove the pacemaker, assuming there are no complications, there should be no lasting implications."
He continues talking, the subject shifting to a repetition of facts about arrhythmia and my medications that I already know for the most part. I start to nod and feign interest, while my mind drifts. I begin to think about how perfectly hung the inoffensive painting hanging on the wall behind his shoulder is, and how neat and sterile the surroundings are, even including the doctor himself.
DOCTOR: "If my mumbling bores you, you are quite welcome to say so, Mr. Nakai. Lord knows, I lose track of myself sometimes."
He gives a short chuckle at his self-deprecating joke as I grimace awkwardly, having been rather badly caught out. The doctor's chuckle sounds different from that of the nurse at Yamaku though, come to think of it.
As I ponder why, I realize why the man in front of me feels just that little bit off. His smile is neat and sterile. He delivers his little joke perfectly, with a customary inoffensive chuckle. It is like, rather than talking to the man whose name is neatly printed on the nametag pinned to his lab coat, I'm merely interacting with an actor reading off a prerehearsed script, every action having been choreographed beforehand. I suppose he has to be this way though, being a doctor. He has to keep his neat and sterile smile when chatting to the girl with cancer slowly spreading through her body, when reassuring the woman who'll surely die from childbirth, and with every other terminally and critically ill patient. That little bit of distance. That little bit of aloofness. It makes me wonder if I've been too harsh, especially considering it's a disposition far from being adopted only by people in his profession. After all, the one I loved kept that same distance from others herself.
Looking up to the doctor again, I realize I've been in thought with my head bowed for some time.
DOCTOR: "I understand you must still be tired. You've been through a lot, and as I mentioned before, the anaesthetic would still be affecting you. If you don't mind, I'll let you get some rest and tell your parents you've woken up for you."
HISAO: "I think... that would be good. Thank you."
He gives a curt nod before picking up his clipboard and making his way to the large white door in the corner of the room, closing it behind him with a thud. In the end, I'm alone again. Lilly's gone. Akira's gone. Hanako would be traveling, and even my parents have already left the hospital. Four pale peach walls, one white ceiling, and a single open window to look out towards the world outside. It's hard to think of the future when the past is crowded around you, claustrophobic in its neat, sterile, starchy, bleach-smelling grip.
Lost for what to do or focus on, I content myself with sleeping the time away as if this were all just another dream like Yamaku had been.
A sterile, clean white for a sterile, clean room.
My eyes open, and I simply stare at the ceiling for some time. It's about as interesting at the television would be, mounted in its metal rack hanging off the ceiling ahead of the bed. Indeed, the television saw its entire use during the time my parents were here. Left on quietly as they waited for me to wake, it was about as banal as it had been the first time I'd ended up in the hospital. Earlier today an attending nurse had offered to turn off the EKG's speakers. I refused simply because the sound is so entirely normal to me now. It's almost comforting, in a way. The metronome-like regularity gives at least some feeling that time is moving, even in a place such as this.
After some time of listening to its beeping while I fully awaken, though, I realize there's another sound in the room.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Sarabande from BWV1010 (Music Box Theme) (Muffled)
Concentrating all my efforts on listening, a task made rather easy by the lack of distractions, a tiny tinny melody can be heard. Light and quiet, the music sounds almost fragile as it's dwarfed by the EKG's pulses. Tilting my head just slightly to the side in an effort to see the source of the melody without dislodging any of the sensors and pipes stuck onto me, I notice a little wooden box sitting on the nightstand next to the bed.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Sarabande from BWV1010 (Music Box Theme)
My mouth opens just slightly while I silently watch the tiny yellow metal drum slowly rotate inside, the little bumps on its surface gradually moving in and out of sight. This music box... it's the one I gave...
The creaking of the door breaks me out of my reverie, my head and heart remaining still as my eyes turn to see who comes through. Long tan skirt... peach off-the-shoulder sweater... pale, almost porcelain skin... blue clouded eyes and long, yellow hair...
All I can do is stare as Lilly slowly walks into the room, her fingers lightly running over the wall for orientation, and my mind comes to a shuddering halt.
HISAO: "L... Lilly...?"
She stops midstride, her entire body tensing.
LILLY: "Hisao? Was that you?"
Her voice is quiet and pensive, echoing her expression.
HISAO: "I thought you were..."
Lilly takes one tentative step forward, then another, as if she were holding herself back. Her control over her composure is for naught though, and she finally rushes over to where I lay as the last of her resistance falls.
I'm slightly taken aback when she grabs hold of me, hunching over as tears begin to fall from her cheeks, since only minutes ago I thought she was on the other side of the world. After a moment of hesitation, I rest my right hand on her soft shoulder.
LILLY: "Hisao! Hisao!"
Lilly's body trembles as her tears blot the dark blue sheets, her emotions flooding through her carefully maintained exterior. With her face now closer, and made easier to see for her pale skin being lit by the sunlight from the window, I notice her cheeks being redder than they should be.
HISAO: "It's okay, Lilly. I'm okay. You don't need to"
She rights herself quickly, her crying forcefully stifled with both sadness and stubbornness remaining in her moistened eyes. Her prideful nature, always having been something to contend with, takes me off guard.
LILLY: "Stop telling me not to worry about you, Hisao! Just this once... let me cry..."
I'm caught speechless. She waits for a response, but her composure breaks again after a handful of seconds. I swallow hard to try and settle my own emotions while she weeps onto my bed, a strange mixture of relief and depression welling up.
Lilly's... here. She's really here. If I couldn't feel her skin under my hand, I'd hardly believe my own eyes. My efforts weren't for nothing; my body's attempt to take away everything that was important to me once again has been foiled. But now... I don't feel as happy about it as I thought I would. Seeing her here, crying like this over me... this is the one thing I'd wanted to avoid since coming to love her, no, even since leaving the hospital.
HISAO: "I'm sorry, Lilly. It's my fault I'm here; I shouldn't have tried to push myself so far."
I give a self-deprecating snort.
HISAO: "After months of keeping myself together so nobody'd worry over me, I went and did something like this. I guess I'm pretty dumb."
With a couple of sniffs and a long breath, Lilly manages to pull herself together and calm down a little. Despite her red cheeks, moist eyes and the lines of her tears still visible, she delicately wears that weak smile she seemed to so often give.
LILLY: "You needn't blame yourself. I heard later that it happened as you were running down the road after me, right?"
She wipes her eyes with the back of her hand, returning more to her old self as the rush of emotions wears off.
LILLY: "Why did you run after me, Hisao?"
I move to respond, but notice her face tightening.
LILLY: "Even after I'd said goodbye, and I'd left Yamaku Academy..."
She takes a moment to steady herself, her emotions almost bubbling up once again.
HISAO: "I just wanted to say that I'm sorry."
HISAO: "For the times when I wasn't there when you needed me. Until now, I thought you just being there would be enough. I only needed you by my side to make any day feel better. Even if my body may be like this, I want to help you, Lilly; to be there when you need someone."
LILLY: "But you always were there, Hisao..."
HISAO: "Why did you want to go to Scotland, Lilly?"
LILLY: "Why...? I told you before: because Akira was going, and because of my family's summons to their home."
HISAO: "Why didn't you say that you wanted to go?"
HISAO: "I'm not stubborn often, but this one time I think I need to be. I want you to stay here, Lilly. I want you to stay where everyone you know lives, and where all your dreams and ambitions were made. If you choose to stay, I'll never leave your side. I won't let you lose another person. When I had my heart attack, I was snatched away from everyone and everywhere I knew. You showed me a new life after I came to Yamaku. I'd lost my past, but you showed me a future. It's true that I haven't always been there for you. I'm unreliable, sometimes I lied, and I thought I'd come to understand you when I hadn't even understood myself. Be that as it may, I want to give you a future as well. I want to be there for you, to share both your burdens and your happiness, just like I promised back in Hokkaido. I want you to trust me. I know I had problems coming to put my trust in you, after losing so many people I'd known after my heart attack, but that's how I know that being unable to trust others can feel awful. That's why I can't watch you just throw everything away like this. I never want you to go through what I did. I would do anything to stop that."
LILLY: "You can be quite steadfast when you want to be, can't you?"
HISAO: "As I said, it isn't often."
My weak smile drops, though, as the IV in my arm digs in a little. It's a harsh reminder of my tether to my condition. Lilly's face tenses as I let out a small gasp of pain, immediately making me wish I'd stifled it better. All I can do is sigh in defeat.
HISAO: "I tried to not let anyone worry over me for the entire time since I left the hospital, but I can't even stop the one person I love most from crying over me. Even if I might finally be able to put my feelings into words, I feel pretty useless with a body like this. Every time I tried to reach towards something, it was just snatched away, and even now things only turned out for the better due to luck. I guess that's something else I should apologize for. All I can ever do is make you worry. Even now, there's very little chance I'll live anywhere near a full life."
The feeling of Lilly's warm, soft hand moving over my left cheek makes me lift my head up, her smile gentle and warm as she touches me.
LILLY: "I think that is something very natural for you to say. You were always so sincere and self-conscious. You were also reserved and mild-mannered, and patient to a fault with Hanako, yet curious about everything and everyone. When I said I missed you while I was with my family, I wasn't lying or exaggerating. The thought of you was never far from my mind, and helped me through that time. That's why I was so confused about what to do when my family summoned me. Even after I thought I had made my decision, you tried your hardest to challenge me about it.
LILLY: "I didn't confess to you out of pity or believing you were somehow different from what you are. I confessed because I never want to lose you, and want you to always be a part of my life, no matter what might change.
LILLY: "You are a very beautiful person, Hisao. Your heart changes none of that, so please, don't apologize for yourself any more.
For a long time, silence reigns in the room. I'm not really sure what this newly born feeling inside of me is, but it pales into insignificance as I wordlessly gaze at Lilly's smiling face, warm and gentle as it has always been. It's only as her thumb crosses my cheek, wiping away a single drop of moisture, that I realize this is all I've ever wanted. For what feels like the first time, I give an earnest, wide smile. As Lilly feels it against her palm, she returns the gesture. More time passes before either of us says a word, neither of us needing speech to communicate our feelings to each other.
HISAO: "I know I can't promise you that I'll always be around, or that we'll be together forever."
With some difficulty I slowly lift my hand, placing it on her pale shoulder.
HISAO: "But... I think I can at least take you to next year's Tanabata festival, to make up for making you miss this year's."
Lilly's expression is one of surprise, though I can't say I blame her.
LILLY: "You... remembered that?"
HISAO: "I've got a pretty good memory. Sometimes."
She raises her head a little and takes her hand from my cheek, giving a small, amused giggle. I smile absentmindedly at how earnest it is, almost girlish in its lightness. Still smiling warmly, she collects herself and stands upright with a hand resting on my chest. It feels like I'm seeing her for the first time, the sun from the window glowing behind her just as it did when I first walked into that room where she was drinking tea.
LILLY: "Very well then. Shall we make it a promise between the both of us to go to next year's Tanabata together?"
Even if she can't see me doing so, I nod approvingly.
HISAO: "I promise."
LILLY: "I promise."
Katawa Shoujo OST - Romance in Andante
And so, the credits roll one last time. Just as always, 4 Leaf Studios names and handles scroll by as we see glimpses of Lillys (in this case) concept art.
And with the final title card, we end the route.
Except, not quite.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Concord (Lillys Theme) (Nature Sounds)
Akira, Lilly and I silently sit on the grassy embankment high above the local town, the breeze gently blowing through the cloudless sky. We may be just a few minutes' walk from town, on a hill just outside its limits, but the view is entirely unexpected.
Lilly sits beside me, her eyes closed, as the gentle breeze flows through her hair.
LILLY: "This is a nice area."
HISAO: "Yeah. I never knew a place like this was anywhere near Yamaku."
AKIRA: "And I had to be the one to find it, of course."
Akira's grin is genuine, but her tone is slightly different from her usual carefree nature.
AKIRA: "It's good that you're outta the hospital though, Hisao."
HISAO: "Nobody's more glad than I am. I can't stand hospitals."
AKIRA: "So, you two going back to the school tomorrow?"
Akira chuckles in amusement before looking back out to the town below, the trees between the buildings swaying in the wind.
HISAO: "Pity we couldn't go up north for the summer holidays, or get to Tanabata."
LILLY: "I wouldn't worry, there's always next time."
AKIRA: "You'll be graduating before the next summer vacation, won't ya?"
HISAO: "Yeah. There'll still be college after that, mind."
AKIRA: "Going to the same one?"
LILLY: "Likely. We both have high enough scores to meet the entry requirements."
HISAO: "You sound so sure..."
LILLY: "Don't worry, you're better than I in most subjects."
HISAO: "I guess we'll work it out in due time."
AKIRA: "That's the way. Just enjoy yourselves in Yamaku while you're there."
Lilly gives a sad sigh at the distinction made between Akira and the two of us.
LILLY: "Do you really need to go back to Scotland?"
AKIRA: "Yeah. The folks are already out for my blood as it is."
HISAO: "You weren't meant to stay this long?"
She gives her trademark wide grin.
AKIRA: "Setting my boyfriend up with a passport took some time."
HISAO: "You're taking him with you?"
AKIRA: "Just for a while at first. He's a surprisingly worldly guy, so I think he'll do just fine."
Akira gives an amused snort.
AKIRA: "If our father had his way, I'd have gone a long while ago. I just couldn't pass up an excuse to stay with my favorite little sister a little while longer though."
She leans right and gives Lilly a tight playful hug, cheering her up considerably.
LILLY: "It's nice to be with you one last time, though."
HISAO: "For what it's worth, I'm in the same boat."
AKIRA: "Heh, thanks you two. I'll try and come back sometime, don't worry."
LILLY: "It's a shame that the business keeps you so busy."
AKIRA: "The place won't run itself, I'm afraid, and I think it's going to be just the same over there. Considering that, I'd better get going."
HISAO: "Have fun over there, Akira."
AKIRA: "Haha, will do."
With a slight grunt, she lifts herself with her hands and stands up, dusting herself off as she does so.
AKIRA: "Well, I'd better be off. The plane won't wait for me, after all."
She has a certain unusual wistfulness in the tone of her voice, her eyes firmly planted on her sister.
LILLY: "I'll be okay, Akira."
AKIRA: "Yeah, I know."
LILLY: "Come now, it isn't that bad. You'll be able to see us again soon."
It is strange to have Lilly reassuring a doubting Akira for once. She really has changed.
LILLY: "Goodbye, Akira."
For a second, the dark-clad figure looks down at the both of us, smiling widely. Perhaps more widely than I've ever seen her do before. She lets out a long, slightly wavering breath to steady herself before leaving, but eventually slips her hand in her pocket and turns on her heel. And with that she walks away, one hand held in the air as she goes.
AKIRA: "Seeya later, you two!"
"A jazz tune with no beat, melody or direction to the very end. After a few moments of sitting silently, Lilly and I pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off. Turning towards her with a broad smile, I hold out my hand.
HISAO: "Shall we be off, then?"
She takes my hand in hers, with a gentle nod and a smile as beautiful and warm as ever.
LILLY: "Indeed we shall, Hisao."
As we set off towards the school, that wonderful smile engraves itself onto my memory. That wonderful smile that we both share. Our pasts may be scattered and at times overshadowed by sadness, but they're also an irrevocable part of our lives and personalities. Even if I could change a single thing, I wouldn't, because my past was what led me here. That's why, even with all that's happened to us before, and all that may well befall us... together, we'll keep walking forwards. Forwards...
towards the future.