Aoi threw her arms around Kanao, a few tears of relief rolling down her cheeks. She had been so worried. She’d forced herself to be brave. She couldn’t let the little ones know how scared she had been. But now everything was okay. Kanao was here.
Kanao eventually hugged Aoi back, but it was very weak. It was at that moment that Aoi realized she shouldn’t have thrown herself onto her sister in the first place. She was a patient right now, and Aoi hadn’t even checked to see the full extent of her injuries. She could just be making it worse. So once Kanao let go, Aoi pulled herself back and apoligized.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “You’re hurt. I shouldn’t have done that.”
“It’s fine,” Kanao replied. “It’s not that bad.”
Aoi knew it was a lie. She could see the bandages peeking out from under her clothes. She had some on her face as well, and there was something wrong with her right eye. It didn’t look right. She could only imagine how much more damage there was that she couldn’t see. But she didn’t bring it up, because right now all that mattered was she was here. Kanao was alive.
“I’m sorry it took so long to come see you. I’ve been really busy, but I guess I was mostly just scared. I was so scared that I might have lost you.”
“You don’t need to apologize. I haven’t been here too long. They just finished patching me up not that long ago. I knew you would stop by eventually.” Kanao looked so exhausted as she smiled up at Aoi. She would let her rest soon. She’d come back to visit when she was more awake. But first she needed to ask something.
“Where’s Shinobu?” As soon as the words left her mouth she saw Kanao’s smile turn into a frown. The room seemed to go absolutely silent until Kanao spoke up.
“Nobody told you?”
Aoi shook her head. That couldn’t mean what she thought it meant. It just couldn’t.
Aoi took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She clenched her fists at her side. She would be okay. She needed to stay calm. There was too much work to be done for her to be getting so upset over this right now. She just needed to stay calm until all the patients were taken care of.
Once she was sure she had calmed herself enough, she spoke up. “You should get some rest. I need… I need to tell the girls. I’ll be back later. I promise.”
Aoi turned to leave and made her way to the door. As she started to walk out of the room, she heard Yuichiro’s footsteps behind her. “No. I need to go do something. You can just stay here, or find something else to do. Whatever.”
She felt bad. She knew he’d been with her all day because she had been worried about how he was dealing with losing his family. She hadn’t wanted to leave him alone, but right now she couldn’t help it. She didn’t want him to be with her when she told the girls. It could only be her. He had been mostly fine all day, so he should be okay on his own. She’d come back for him.
Aoi left the room, closing the door behind her. First she needed to get all the girls. She started walking towards the entrance, planning on grabbing Naho and Kiyo first. On her way, she ordered two Kakushi to follow her, telling them she needed them to take the girls’ places because they were needed elsewhere.
“Come with me,” Aoi told the two girls once she had reached her destination. Despite how tired they must have been, they were doing so well with the job they’d been given. “I need to talk with you about something.” Both girls moved to follow her, and the two Kakushi took their places.
“Is something wrong?” Kiyo asked, as they were led away from the entrance.
Aoi took a deep breath. She needed to be brave for them. She wouldn't let them see how much she was hurting inside. How scared she was. “Go wait for me in my room,” she told them, making sure her voice wouldn’t give anything away. “I’m going to go get Sumi, and we’ll meet you there.”
The two of them both nodded and headed off in the direction of Aoi’s room. Once they were on their way, Aoi made her way to the kitchen to collect Sumi. When she got there, Sumi wasn’t there, but one of the Demon Slayers who was helping said that she’d be back soon, so Aoi waited.
While it only took ten minutes at most for Sumi to return to the kitchen, it felt like forever to Aoi as she started trying to figure out exactly what she was going to tell them. She didn’t want to have to be the one to tell them, but she also didn’t think anybody else should break the news to the girls. Kanao was the only other possible option, but she was recovering, and she didn’t need to be burdened with the task.
She told Sumi the same thing she had told the other two, and before leaving she made sure somebody would take over her tasks. Then she led Sumi down the hallway to her room. As they got closer, Aoi could only worry more about what she would tell them.
When she and Sumi walked in, they joined Naho and Kiyo who were already seated. They looked a bit nervous. She hoped she hadn’t given anything away, She did her best to keep a neutral expression on her face. She had to be brave.
“I need to tell you all something important.”
“Is it about Shinobu?” Kiyo asked.
“Have you already heard?” She didn’t know who else would have told them already. Nobody had told her anything all day until Kanao, and she’d been dealing with so many people.
Naho shook her head. “We just guessed it was something to do with her because we haven’t seen her yet today. We’ve been waiting at the door, so we would have seen her, but only Kanao came.”
“Is she just going to be late?” Sumi asked, staring up at Aoi with innocent eyes.
You need to be brave.
Aoi took a deep breath. “She won’t be coming back.”
Kiyo started crying first as she started to realize what the words meant, the other two following just after. Watching them cry made it harder for Aoi to hold back her own tears. But she couldn’t cry in front of them. If she started crying too, it would only make everything worse. Instead she pulled all of them into a big hug.
“You should all go to your rooms and get some rest,” she told them, not letting go. “You’ve been doing so much work. You all need a break right now.”
“What about you?” Naho asked. “Don’t you need to rest too?”
“I still have a lot of work I need to do. Don’t worry about me. But you all need rest. If you want, you can all stay in here. I don’t mind. Whatever you think is best, okay? Remember that we still have Kanao. When you wake up you should all go visit her. I’m sure she’d love the company.”
“Is Kanao okay?” asked Sumi.
“She’s been taken care of. She’ll be fine. She’s still with us. And the four of us are all still here. We’ll be okay. We all have each other. But it’s still okay to be sad. So none of you need to try hiding that, okay?” That was her job. She needed to be the one to be brave for the others. She continued to hold them as they cried.
Aoi knew she needed to get back to work soon, but for now she just wanted to stay hugging her sisters. Just for a little while longer. She couldn’t leave just yet.