Author's note: So I said after Double-edged Sword I wouldn't be writing another SAO fic, but then I watched episode 22. My soul was destroyed but this fic was born.
You are in love with your brother.
It's taken a long time for you to admit this – not to him – but to yourself, in somewhere other than that secret corner of your heart that you've always pretended has never existed. It's a thought that you fear, if spoken aloud, will tear apart the fabric of your very being. Because this, whatever it is, it's precious to you, and you can never let it go.
Of course, he's not actually your brother, but he may as well be. You grew up together. You ate the same meals, you played together in the same yard, you even had baths together. Your early childhood is sprinkled with memories of him in every corner. You are certain that if he had never existed, you would be a different person now.
So, you love him.
It's not as simple as that, though, never was. But it's enough, you think, and that thought satisfies you for a long time, until one day you realise that it never actually did.
It's not like you're always down in the dumps about this, mind you. You're smart, you get good grades in school, and you know that moaning about love all the time is kind of obnoxious, so you keep it to yourself. Besides, your brother is a dork and you wonder how you can be in love with him sometimes. He's absent-minded and you know when he's been to the toilet because he leaves the seat up. He also plays too many games and talks in several different dialects of Geek Speak, none of the varieties of which you understand. As soon as he starts talking about computers, he's lost you.
Not that he actually does talk about computers in front of you. Maybe he's being nice, trying not to obfuscate you, but you call it being a jerk. He's shutting you out, after all the years you spent together.
You don't tell this to him, but sometimes you want to do something stupid like stuff earwigs under his mouse pad, just to wallow in his reaction. You would do this, if you were actually siblings.
See, the thing is: you know the bickering and the bullying part of having an older brother? You never got to experience that. Your brother is too nice. When you were kids, he always did stuff for you whenever he could. Kendo didn't count. So, looking back, you never actually did have a normal sibling relationship, but that was okay. In a lot of ways, it was a lot sweeter.
That's why it hurt, when you drifted from him.
But now he's back and he's changed a bit, grown a bit more backbone, become sombre and somewhat broody. The look in his eyes is what's changed the most. He used to look apologetic or dreamy all the time, like he was always living in some fantasy world. Now his eyes look straight ahead and he meets your eyes when he's talking to you. He's good-looking too. Well, he was always easy on the eyes, but um, yeah. You don't know how to explain it, but he's cute…?
His cheeks are squishy, okay!
But when you think about it, the appeal in him lies in how long you've known him. He has that kind of face that grows on you. You've watched him for so long you've long since come to overlook the imperfections in his features. Even as his body wasted away in hospital for two years, his beauty was never lost on you.
You never once lost hope that your precious older brother would come back to you during those dark days.
You got into this game called ALfheim Online, just so you could understand the kind of world your brother lives in, if only a little.
It's a fun game, though tricky to play. Flying is especially hard to get the hang of at first. You're completely new to video games, but you're surprised by how quickly you pick up the mechanics of fighting. Looks like your kendo training came in handy after all!
ALO is like this whole new world. It seems gimmicky at first, but gradually you stop thinking about how the scenery is like something photoshopped and cel-shaded out of a National Geographic magazine and you spread your wings and you fly. You soar. Sometimes, you crash, but you always pick yourself up again. And if it ever hurts, you can just log out and press the reset button. The beauty, you find, comes in the unrestrained freedom.
This is the kind of world that your brother lives in, you think, as you stretch your hand in flight and try to catch the sky in your fingertips. You reach out, and it's like your hearts connect. All of a sudden, you feel a sharp pang in your chest, a heavy weight, and it takes all of your effort to stay afloat. You think: I wish I could press the reset button on our relationship.
You'd tell him all you know now, and maybe, just maybe, things would have turned out differently.
When your brother woke up for the first time in two years, he wasn't in his bed. The hospital staff rang your house and told your mother that he willfully crawled out of his bed for some reason. He was looking for someone, they explained. At the time, you didn't understand what would make him do that, but now you know.
It's true love, like something out of the movies.
He doesn't love this girl like you love him. It's not some deep, dark secret, a love he refuses to flower in fear of what it could become. His feelings hang out in full bloom and it is only lessened by the fact that this girl is not at his side. Then, you are certain, they could have been a fairytale.
You will be blunt about this: it hurts. Even comatose, this Asuna girl is far prettier than you'll ever be. When he sits by her bedside and gently holds her hand, your brother's look of love is complete. This is not something you can ever hope to compete with.
So, you quietly tell yourself, you should give up. Just put those feelings away for a bit. Maybe they'll die away on their own accord.
Your brother did not grow up and mature beyond his years because of you. He did not spend the two most harrowing years of his life with you. You were not with him when he needed you the most, ergo, you are not his soulmate.
Get with the program, you conclude to yourself. The world does not need your disgusting incestuous feelings polluting the place. Just who are you kidding, thinking your brother is going to fall in love with you just because he's being nice and trying to repair your distant relationship after two years? Anyone would do that, you little fool. Look! Look at that girl he's in love with! Bet she's not the same jealous, insecure little girl you are. Your brother wouldn't fall for someone that idiotic. Not that you've ever known about any crushes he's had, but the boy had to have some taste. Seriously, stop thinking about him like this!
Argh, you are a very frustrating person, you know that?
Why can't you stop being so stubborn?
You actually, genuinely, try to take your own advice.
Really, you do.
You meet this guy in ALO. He's nice, a bit stupid and cocky in your opinion, but really brave and loyal where it counts. He's a Spriggan, so his magic sucks, and his giant lame-ass sword is something only a grade schooler could appreciate. He should really have a cheesy online name like Dark Flame Master, not something plain like Kirito. You help him out, at first because you're impressed by what he can actually do, but gradually, you start to be drawn in a little by him. There's a mysterious aura around him, but at the same time he's dorky and approachable. He's like your brother in a lot of ways, but you can talk easier to this guy, maybe because you're not in love with him. Not yet, at least.
You've never actually met your online friends offline. A part of you still doesn't think they're real in a way. It's Kirito who actually convinces you that these online friendships can mean just as much – maybe more – than what they mean in real life. He protects you and swears never to let you die. It's stupid because death doesn't actually mean death in ALO, but you're touched anyway. When he's done trying to climb the World Tree, you decide you'll ask to meet him. That seems about right.
When your brother finishes breaking your heart in a thousand tiny different ways, it's Kirito who you confide in. He doesn't do anything, just sits there and listens to you sob endlessly. He doesn't put your heart back together, but at least he's kind enough to assemble the pieces and lay them out for you.
Fragile, aching, weeping, you lean against him and don't realise what you've let him done for you. Fixing your heart means he can just as easily break it again, and that would be just so easy, wouldn't it? Just look at the cracks. You're holding yourself together with duct tape and super glue at this point. One little nudge, one soft comment, one offhand mention of Asuna from his lips and-
-Oh look. Your world is breaking.
You shouldn't have let yourself think that you actually had a chance with this guy.
You know how it's common knowledge in ALO that half the Cait Sith population are actually men? Well, Spriggans could be estranged brothers, too, you just never know.
Your life is so thoroughly tied to your brother you just can't get away from him. Later on, you'll see the humour in this a little bit, but it will take a while. The revelation turns you inside out and leaves you raw for all the world to see.
You even snap at your brother, who you love so much. And then there's you.
You can fix this, can't you?
Your feelings are messy, but they'll work out in the end, won't they?
There's got to be an easy solution somewhere, right?
Your fingers reach out for a reset button that doesn't exist.
You are no longer flying. You've crashed, and your wings aren't clipped, they're utterly broken.
"I'm sorry," is all your brother can say to you. He stands awkwardly outside your bedroom and the way he looks at you is so numb and apologetic, it's like he's fourteen all over again.
That's when you tell him how you feel. You open your door and scream your feelings at him. Some dim part of you knows that you're being unreasonable here, but there is nothing you can do to stave off the torrent of emotion flooding off your chest.
Your brother is so dense. His kindness to you is his greatest cruelty. Seeing the confusion and hurt spread across his face as you lash out viciously at him – something about this scene makes you think that it's not just your heart that's been broken today.
Your sibling relationship – that thing you treasured since you were small – is now in tatters.
How do you feel?
You find you are unable to express yourself. An exhaustion sweeps over you and all the energy seeps out and meanwhile, your brother just can't meet your eyes.
So you slam the door in his face and tell him to leave you alone. You curl up in your bed and you let out a choked sob against your pillow. You know he's still there. You can hear him breathing.
That's right. Your brother is by your side, just how you've always wanted, right from the beginning.
But right now, you've never felt so alone.