Sakura stared at the shrine's entrance and the priestess in front.
It Maimo Valley--that she was certain of but not much else. Had she not just died? She remembered passing Key the rest of her geist . . .
"It's not your time," the priestess answered.
"He took most of my life," Sakura replied, resigned.
"Who? Ajo?" the Priestess scoffed. "Perhaps if you had stayed in Tokyo . . . but that religious Prince of something brought you back."
She motioned at the scenery around them.
"I have domain here," she said. "At least for now. Tokiko is awakening slowly but surely."
"Sakura," the priestess commanded, "Ajo may have desecrated my grave but he could never erase the residue clinging to our home."
"I won't get better . . ." Sakura said, ". . . quick enough to get back. Key needs me."
The priestess' eyes went soft.
But before the woman could speak, everything began to break away into whiteness.
"Key is not your sister," was the last thing Sakura heard.
She awoke to the sound of cicadas and a low chant. It took a massive effort to speak.
"Wh--who?" she rasped.
The chanting stopped immediately.
"Thank the deities that be!"
Key was calling for her. But, Sakura could not reach her. One moment she was there, the next she was not. Key was flickering in and out. In and out.
She awoke at the hospital in the closest city to their village. A nurse who had been checking her vitals, ran out to tell the doctor.
A woman in a white lab coat ran in.
Unexpectedly, the doctor fell onto her knees.
"Awake!" the doctor exclaimed. "To think . . ."
A nurse rushed in.
"Dr. Fujimori!" the nurse cried out.
She helped the doctor up. Sakura could only peek at them, still too weak to do more.
Her coma lasted last three--nearly four--months. She was constntly at the precipice of death and life, teetering.
All Sakura could think about were the hospital bills. How silly, she thought, she was worrying about money at a time like this.
Alive. What did it mean to be alive? Was the price pain?
Did Key turn human? she wondered. Was it worth the burden?
"You'll need physical therapy," Dr. Fujimori said. "We had trouble pinpointing shat exactly occured to your body . . . but what we know is that you went through intense trauma."
Sakura wetted her chapped lips, trying to prep them to talk.
". . . money?" she rasped.
Dr. Fujimori looked at her through her large glasses that sat just before the end of her jagged nose. She frowned.
". . . you . . . you have no one--do you not? We couldn't find any next of kin." she asked softly. "The debt would . . . no, we've decided--my team and I--that we would absorb the cost."
"Why?" Sakura asked.
Dr. Fujimori smiled.
"It sounds odd," she muttered, "but sometimes . . . it's more about the life than the money."
"Tokyo," Sakura said as the nurse pushed her wheelchair, "I need to . . . go to . . ."
The nurse, Ms. Hayashi, patted her on the shoulder.
"One day," she affirmed.
Sakura wondered when that would be. Six more months? A year? Would Key remember her? Or did she . . .
"You have visitors," Ms. Hayashi said.
Sakura looked up from her book.
No, it was that . . . old bald coot. He had an eyepatch over his eye like some pirate. The one who tried forcing Key into a cult. With him was a small, pale boy.
"You're alive!" the old man cried happily. "Ah, well I knew you would be . . . but maybe not as well!"
The two unfamiliar males walked in. The young boy was holding yellow tulips. For a brief moment, she imagined Key holding red roses.
"I remember you," the little boy said, shyly. "Key-nee was crying, holding your hand."
Sakura perked up.
"Key--she's alive?" she asked.
She didn't notice the tears until they dripped onto her hospital gown. The old man came closer and sat on the largely unused guest seat. The little boy sat beside him--but first, he gave her the flowers to hold.
"Do you want to see her?" the old man asked, voice serious and severe.
The words of the priestess rang in her head: 'Key is not your sister.' So, what was she? What was Key to her? A child to take care of?
Maybe it was better if she didn't her. Maybe this meant they needed to live seperate lives. After all, Key couldn't depend on her anymore. Not when Sakura was this useless.
"Key wants to see you," it was the young boy.
"Kobo--" the old man protested.
The young boy took Sakura's shaking hand.
"Key said everyone she loves leaves her," the boy said.
The tears turned into pouring rain. Sakura sobbed a sob she had never heard before. It was guttural. Raw. Who was she crying for?
Her or Key?
Dr. Fujimori was rightfully suspicious of the old man.
"He seems like a pervert," the usually no-nonsense doctor muttered. "But he didn't try to discharge you or anything . . ."
Dr. Fujimori gave a frustrated yell.
"A man like that--did you see his eye-patch? The deep lines of his face?--screams Yakuza!" she exclaimed.
Sakura laughed. It hurt to laugh but . . .
she felt alive.
It was another month before the old man showed up again. This time, he wore a rather smart, freshly ironed blue suit. She could swear that he even polished his head.
He pulled in--
A flash of russet hair was all she could see. A young, slender woman began to sob on the white tile floor.
"Key!" the old man cried. "Do--don't--you might mess with the machines!"
The young woman continued to sob.
Where was the flaxen-haired Key she knew?
"Sakura! Sakura!" came Key's high-pitched screams.
A nurse rushed in.
"Kuriyagawa!" the woman cried out. "Is she--"
The woman stopped at the scene before her.
"Oh," she said. "I-I'll come back to check on you."
She left immediately.
"K-Key?" whispered Sakura. "A-Are you human?"
The sobs slowly faded, second by second. Key crawled to Sakura's bed and sat up on her knees. She reached out and took Sakura's hand. She rubbed her cheek against it.
"Your geist . . ." she whispered, ". . . I thought . . . why couldn't I feel it?"
Sakura didn't know why.
"I heard you . . . singing," was all she could muster in response. "I-I heard you calling."
"I . . . I only sang for you," Key whispered. "I'm g-glad you heard."
"Are you human?" Sakura repeated.
Key finally looked up at her. Dark purple eyes drank her in. Sakura felt like she was falling endlessly in them. Was this really Key?
"Sakura," she said with unexpected grit. "You don't need to take care of me anymore."
Sakura's world felt like it was crashing.
"Ke--" she rasped.
"I'll take care of you," Key said. "For the rest of your life. I won't leave--e-even if it hurts. Even if you grow to hate me. M-Maybe it's selfish and wrong and maybe I'm ruining your life . . . but I can't lose you again and again and again and--"
Sakura's heartbeat thundered in her ears. Was this what being alive was?
"Really?" was all she could reply.
Key didn't blink.
If Key had the choice, Sakura doubted she'd have left her bedside.
Dr. Fujimori and Ms. Hayashi were relieved that Sakura had Key. They were still suspicious of the old 'Prince' but seeing Key allayed some of their worst fears.
Sakura was surprised that only Key came--usually for the entire weekends--and wondered why Shuichi didn't come. He had to be alive--he had to. A part of her wondered if it was because . . .
No, Key would have told her if they were romantically linked. Besides, Key never indicated any attraction to the admittedly much older man. Men seemed to gravitate to Key but she never . . .
Sakura didn't think herself and Shuichi would end up together. It was a fruitless dream like those of finding her parents.
And it was . . . Sakura had been deluding herself, she realized. Latch on to any person who showed her a bit of attention even if . . .
"Can women love women?" Sakura asked Ms. Hayashi.
Ms. Hayashi stopped rubbing her skin. Sakura still needed help washing.
"What do you mean?" Ms. Hayasha questioned.
"Like . . . romantically," Sakura mumbled, embarrassed.
"Ah," replied the nurse, "love is . . . open. Love does not think. It's indiscriminate."
Indiscriminate. Like geist? Like the essence of their very souls? Could someone make love appear like geist?
"Sakura," Key said. "Will you return to Maimo Valley with me?"
Sakura nearly dropped her plastic cup of water.
"Huh?" she asked.
Key smiled. Sakura felt her whole body tingle at the sight. She smiled so much now. Long gone were the vacant stares.
"Miho," Key began, "is far more suited to the idol life. Shuichi is managing her."
This was the first time she brought him up. It only dawned on her a moment later that she had brought up Miho of all people. Sakura couldn't help but be impressed of the singer's resilience.
"You don't need . . . but your powers--" Sakura whispered.
"Sakura," Key interrupted, "when the goddess danced, she did so to cheer others up. She did it give hope, to inspire others to live. She was no messiah. I'm not either. I do not believe she bestowed this power to save lives. That's too . . ."
Key looked at the heart monitor.
"But these--these machines around us. They saved you," she mused. "The PPORs were created go take life by exploiting it to its core. But they, themselves did not choose such an intent. The geists even less so. If their creator had different intents . . . perhaps they could have helped people instead. I think . . . I think robots can do that--maybe not right now but in the future WITHOUT geist. And when it happens, I want to be there--making sure others don't exploit them for harm. "
When did Key become so eloquent? So sure of herself?
"I'm going to become a scientist. Mr. Wakagi has agreed to help me," she said. "It'll be a long road of studying and hard work but I . . . if you're there with me--I think I can do anything."
Sakura was speechless.
"Y-you're not . . . doing it to right others' sins?" she beesched her.
Key shook her head.
"This is for me," she replied.
She stood up and leaned over Sakura. Sakura's heart pounded against her ribs, threatening to ooze out like geist.
"B-but . . . I . . . I can't . . ."
Key placed her forehead on hers.
"I love you," Key whispered. "I-I can't fulfil your dream . . . about your parents but I-I want to be . . ."
Sakura kissed her.
Present day, 2021
"Tokoyo!" Sakura yelled, trying to catch the child. "You can't go into Key's lab!"
The eight-year-old frowned. Her long dark brown hair up in high ponytail and in her priestess dress. She looked remarkably like the priestess Sakura once saw in her dreams and a little like herself.
Even if she had no blood relation to either her or Key.
"I'm bored!" Tokoyo stated. "The auto--automo . . . um . . ."
Key slid the door open. Her hair a mess. Sakura could see a few lines of flaxen hair within the russet. She supposed it made sense she was going prematurely grey.
But she liked it--it made her look distinguished.
Key crouched down.
"You aren't bothering Sakura, are you?" she asked softly, voice still high after all these years.
"Sakura said I can't go into Key's lab," Tokoyo stated.
"Of course not! You could get hurt," she stated, ruffling her hair.
"Ah," Key suddenly said, "I was just talking to your mama. She asked if you liked her new video."
Tokoyo's face lit up.
"I loved it!" she exclaimed. "It had androids and stuff!"
"You know Key helped with those, right?" she asked.
Tokoyo's eyes went large.
"Really Key?" the child wondered.
Tokoyo was fast asleep in her room but Sakura and Key were in the kitchen. Key was drinking Sakura's hand-pressed, dark roast coffee.
"Tokoyo's birthday is soon, huh?" Sakura wondered, washing dishes. "Miho and Shuichi are still coming, right?"
Key was looking over her lab reports on her laptop. She had spilled far too much coffee over printed copies to do that again.
"Of course--they would never miss their daughter's birthday," Key stated.
"Ah, but I wonder if it's okay . . . living like this. Tokoyo must miss them," Sakura muttered.
She shook her hands to dry them. Then, she turned to sit with Key. Her own cup was still steaming and wafting its enticing smell.
Key looked up at her and shook her head.
"Tokoyo . . . isn't at the age that she'd care about such matters," she claimed. "Maybe when she's older--but then it's her own choice to live here or with them."
"Maybe we can ship her off to Tokyo at 17 and let her strike it out on her own."
Key kicked her under the table, getting a tongue stuck out in return. She could hardly believe they both were in their early forties--Sakura didn't lose her youthful exuberance.
"Do you think she'll want to become an idol?" Sakura pondered.
Key rolled her eyes.
". . . she can try," she muttered. "She might have an easier time--without needing to meet any creeps."
Sakura nodded in agreement.
"She might meet someone like you though," Key added, "willing to put their life on the line for her seemingly intangible dreams."
"Or worse," Key continued, "someone like Shuichi."
In the moment, Key wondered why she got to live so happily. Here, with Sakura in this room that smelled of petals and coffee. In the room she once sat with her grandfather and oftentimes Tomoyo.
Where the residue of her female ancestors continued to fester and protect. Perhaps, Key would never have a daughter of her own blood but she was sure this power would never lift. It had a life of its own.
The Valley was full of life and love she had once imagined of. Yearned for. Needed.
Most important, however, was Sakura. She had been right that fateful night Key had believed her dead--the cherry blossoms did flower the next year. And the next. And the next.
But, Sakura, well, she was always blossoming. Key didn't need to see the cherry blossoms every year--all she needed was this quiet bloom shared between them.