Nyoko loved to brush and try to style her big brother's long, silky hair that he had grown out for her. Mostly she tangled it, but he could never actually get angry with her. Even when he had to brush all the knots out and remove the tens of bows and clips, he didn’t really mind too much.
“Maybe it’s better that I don’t have hair,” she decided once. “I couldn’t put it up like I do for you.”
Yuuya turned around, laughed, and told her, “Yeah, and you wouldn’t have to clean it up after either!”
She immediately crossed her arms over her chest and made a silly pouty face. “HMPH!” she grunted. “I’m mad!” she told him, trying very hard to keep her mouth turned downwards. She failed, and they both laughed, as always. “No,” she admitted. “I’m not mad. I’m never mad at Nini. I love you, Niichan!” She smiled beautifully and flung herself at him to hug him.
It always hurt her a little, but she loved to hug him and when he held her.
Every night, he came into her room to sing her to sleep. He’d lie on top of the covers next to her and put his arm under her neck so her head could rest on it. Often, she would turn to him and cuddle up close. Her tiny hand would grip the front of his shirt, and her head would nestle on his shoulder near his jaw. Automatically, his arm would bend and his hand would come up to stroke her head where her hair would have been. He’d tell her stories sometimes, but always, he sung. They made their own lullabies, and he sung her to sleep with them.
Yuuya did not have many friends. Most of his time and life revolved around his sister, keeping his promise to always take care of her. He never spent the night away from home. He had tried it once for a friend’s birthday. When he came home, he immediately noticed the dark rings under his sister’s eyes even as she told him she was fine.
Later, their grandmother had told him how Nyoko had been unable to sleep all night. She had told her grandma thanks anyway, but she could not fall asleep unless Yuuya sung to her. Nyoko didn’t want him to know, though. She wanted Yuuya to have fun with his friends and knew that it must be tiring to be with her for all his free time. If she could could go outside and play, then she would. She was a remarkably unselfish child and did not want her brother to suffer with her.
His first reaction was to go and make it up to her and never leave her again, except for school. In fact, he pondered quitting school or getting his grandmother to home-school him. Nyoko didn’t want that, though, and told him outright. She did not want him to be chained down like she was. She asked him to go out and play for her. She asked him to go have adventures for her too, for them both. In the evenings, he could come back and tell her all about them. She didn’t mind; well, not too much, not really.
While he was out of the house, Nyoko turned to her dolls. She loved to pretend that they were people, that they were alive.
Every night when her brother called out “Tadaima!”, she’d be the first to say, “Okaeri!” and always in a funny high-pitched voice. He’d tell her about his day outside and she’d tell him what she, Tinny, and the dolls had done. The dolls always got to eat doughnuts for every meal. The dolls did very many great and funny things. Nyoko loved to make up stories or relate what she believed they had done. She used silly voices and had just as many silly stories as her brother did.
After she died, Yuuya came to love her dolls too. He didn’t believe they were alive, but he did use the same voice his sister had to greet himself once he came home. After a while, they did seem alive to him. If he really focused on them, his sister’s favorite became her. He saw the little doll come alive and tell him all the things his sister was doing in heaven. This went on for years, but his family never told him not to believe in them. Believe, that had a big thing to Nyoko. He kept his hair long for years after her death too. He wanted her totem to see it and tell her about it.
Once he finally truly believed her dolls weren’t alive, though, he cut his hair. He had no reason to keep it long. Never again would he feel her little hands running through it or styling it. He lost a lot of purpose after his precious little sister left the Earth.
She hadn’t even made it to five years old. He thought of when they’d been drawing when she was newly four. He remembered her telling him that her hands had moved on their own. He wished that he had realized she was getting worse. Maybe he had. He just couldn’t admit it. He had pretended it wasn’t happening, as had his family. They refused to see she was withering before their eyes in her last months. Nyoko had known, though. She had tried to tell him once again just before the end.
“Nini… I… I think I’m dying.” The little girl started to cry. “I’m dying, Yuuya.”
He had tried to brush it off and encourage her to keep going. “You’re not dying,” he’d told her. “You’re just tired today. You’ll be fine tomorrow. Don’t worry, okay? Believe!” he smiled. He felt the lurch, though; she had never used those actual words before. She had also never used just his first name before. If he wasn’t some variation of “Onii-chan,” then he was “Yuu-chan”.
“No,” she’d shaken her head. “I’m really dying. I feel so sick. I’m so tired, dizzy. It hurts, Onii-chan. It really hurts.”
He couldn’t help it when his façade broke. He had never cried in front of her then; he hadn’t wanted to scare her and had wanted her to see that he was strong and that she could always rely on him. Suddenly though, he crumpled. “No,” he whimpered. “Please, baby sister, don’t die. Please!” He scrambled over to her and scooped her up. Crying, he begged her, “Please, please.” He held her tightly without meaning to or realizing it, squeezing her too hard.
She too whimpered. “Too tight! Too tight!” She gasped, “H-hurts...”
He quickly released her, unwrapping his arms from around her. He leaned backwards and put his hands on either side of her face, gently holding it. Then he brought his own face down and kissed her forehead. Around the lump in his throat, he tried to tell her he was sorry. Memories of when she had just been born came back to him instantly. He repeated his first words to her. “I’m sorry, baby sister. Don’t die, please don’t die.” He wrapped his arms around her again, more carefully the second time. “Please, I’m sorry. Okay? I’m really sorry!”
“It’s okay,” she choked out. “It doesn’t hurt so much when it’s you holding me.” She thought for a moment. “Please, hug me again. Hug me really super tight. Please, you never do that. I love you. You can do it, I don’t care if it hurts!” she added when he hesitated. “Please, this… this might be the last time… ever-ever!”
That did it. Yuuya gave her a practically bone-crushing hug. “I love you, I love you, I love you,” he whispered fervently. “I love you more than I love anything and anyone in the whole world,” he continued, loosening his grip a little.
They cried and clung to each other. She cried until she fell asleep in his arms. Not wanting to wake her, Yuuya lay back where he was, turning a little so his head rested on a pillow. He pulled the comforter back over them and he fell asleep holding onto her.
When he woke up in the morning, he was disoriented, waking up in her room and using her comforter as a sleeping bag. Yuuya smiled when he looked down and saw his little sister cuddled up into him. “Bay-bee, wake uh-up,” he called to her sing-song voice. He jiggled them both and laughed when she didn’t respond. “Come on, sleepyhead.” She still didn’t respond; it was then he noticed the chill. “It’s cold, huh? You don’t like that. Here, I’ll warm you up.” He moved his hands from her back to her arms to rub them up and down.
His sister stayed in the same position, not moving at all. Her skin was also cold to the touch.
“Nyoko?” he asked in alarm. His horror grew when he put two and two together. He screamed for the rest of his family.