Author's Note: Chizu and Ryu this time.

Warning: Spoilers up to chapter 71.

Christmas Eve: Always

Walking home with Ryu used to be as ordinary an event as washing one's face in the morning, or eating a sandwich for lunch. It was something that just naturally happened most days through sheer happenstance. It was how things were, and if someone had walked up to Chizu a few months ago and asked her how many times she and Ryu had walked home together from some place or another, she would have laughed and declared that she may as well count the number of bowls of ramen that she'd consumed in her lifetime.

Now, she was wondering exactly that. Chizu hadn't walked anywhere with Ryu since the class trip, and now that they were on their way home together—a supposedly perfectly ordinary occurrence—all she could think about was how not routine this was. That led to her wondering how many times they had done this before, considering it routine. Which led her to wondering how many times of that Ryu had considered not routine.

And then she thought of the rose, still clutched at her side as though it might disappear if she didn't hold on.

All those years, Chizu thought dazedly. All those years of wanting Tohru to see her as more than just a little girl. All those years thinking that if anyone saw her as a woman, it would have to be Tohru. All those years thinking that the last person in the world to see her as a girl would be Ryu, because she was his brother for crying out loud. All those years of being wrong, wrong, wrong.

Chizu had, however reluctantly, believed that she understood what Ryu meant when he had told her that he liked her. She had even believed she understood when he told her that he wanted to end what they had and start something new.

The rose told her that she had been wrong. She hadn't understood at all.

Chizu had wondered when Ryu stopped seeing her as a brother. But maybe he'd never seen her as a brother—because the rose told her that above all else, he saw her as a girl. Chizu was suddenly almost certain that at the very least, Ryu had never seen her as a boy. Maybe he'd never even seen her as a sister.

She couldn't ask.

She thought of her own pain as the years went by and Tohru never, ever looked her way. But Ryu had always been there for her, giving her strength and a shoulder to lean on. Where had Ryu gone when Chizuru's feelings for his brother became too much to handle?

But she already knew the answer: nowhere. Ryu would have sat there and endured it through and through, just waiting—waiting for a time when it seemed right to tell Chizu. Waiting for years.

Patience was his best quality, Ryu had told her once. She'd known he was capable of patience—but not to this extent. Chizu wondered briefly if Tohru knew—but the thought gave her a headache, so she pushed it away.

"...Oh."

Chizu looked up. Ryu was looking longingly across the river at a couple holding hands. There was yearning in his face that Chizu didn't even need to try to read, and she felt as though she might die of embarrassment. Then she noticed the leash—they were walking a dog.

Of course Ryu was looking at the dog, Chizu realized with a touch of irritation. Where there was a dog, Ryu saw nothing else. What had she been thinking, anyway? That he was jealous of the couple? That he wished they could be holding hands? Ryu would never be jealous of something so-

Everything stopped and the world turned on its axis.

If there was one thing Chizu knew for sure about Ryu, it was that he didn't even know what jealousy felt like.

Chizu had been wondering how much of Ryu she didn't know if he could hide something this big from her—but that had been wrong. It was something small—so very small. Because Ryu had always cared about her: he'd been there when she needed someone, never making a big deal but always there.

"We're not finding a bridge and chasing them just so you can pet the dog," Chizu said, keeping her voice carefully ordinary. Ryu sent her a petulant look. "No," she insisted firmly, and pulled him along the path by the sleeve, as if nothing had happened between them at all.

Chizu wondered if, having to choose between Ryu and Tohru, she would have ever chosen Tohru. Certainly she had been in love with him—but Ryu had always been nearby. Even when she fantasized about marrying Tohru, the fact that she would be forever near Ryu as his sister had been appealing. She had never stopped to wonder whether that was strictly sisterly. Half the reason she had been so angry at Ryu was because in telling her he loved her, he had virtually separated them. It had never occurred to her to wonder if this desire to be by Ryu's side might be potential.

"Are you going to drag me all the way?" Ryu asked from behind her, and Chizu suddenly realized that she had been dragging him down the path by the sleeve while virtually speed walking.

"...Sorry." She dropped his sleeve and slowed down.

She looked at Ryu out of the corner of her eye. He was looking ahead with the hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth.

"You can take your time." Ryu's words made Chizu jump and she stared at him like a small animal caught in headlights. His hint of a smile widened ever so slightly. "I'm patient."

Chizu looked away, and hoped her cheeks weren't red. "You don't have to tell me that."

He didn't reply in words, but she could feel his smile.