Sanada Kyoudai *

"I'm definitely becoming you, Kazehaya, the next time I'm reincarnated."

'Because if I become you I will always be friends with Ryu.'

~* Past * ~

Falling in love with an elder brother of your best friend is only natural.

It's not at all hard to fall in love when you are nine and you live nearby. In childhood the distance doesn't matter; especially when your legs are strong, and there are Ryu, videogames and the greatest ramen in the world waiting for you – and each of them can brighten your mood up if you don't get to see Tooru.

It isn't hard to fall in love when you are met with a dazzling smile and the always cheerful "Chi-i!" with a friendly warm gaze in tow.

It isn't hard to fall in love when Tooru buys you hot buns, two at once – and exactly the ones you craved for, one with meat and one with sweet bean paste. And then he cuts them into halves, thus solving the most difficult dilemma the little you could never solve.

And when you eat those halves together with Tooru, they taste unusually good.

And it isn't hard to fall in love when the already strong and mature arms – because he is in the high school by now! – embrace and console you. At such moments it doesn't hurt too bad that Ryu has defeated you again.

Though, usually it hurts badly, for real.

You were always the strongest. Ran the fastest! You were the tallest! Not to mention all those boys you beat in fair fights! No one at school could stand against you.

But Ryu.

For some reason he is the only one you cannot win against. That always self-restrained, unruffled, silent and sturdy boy you grew with side by side.

And it doesn't change as time passes.

But every year you scribble down the only wish of yours on a wooden plaque, and every year it is the same.

~* Present * ~

She loves Tooru.

And this evening is special.

They share a heap of vivid varicolored memories, which is enough to recreate a whole life. And Tooru's gaze is just as friendly and warm as she remembers it from her childhood.

He understands everything and, it seems, can see through her. She finds it's natural - he's older, after all.

But every little thing that was meant to bring them closer – each of these years and things they shared – with every word they say, however kind it is, separates them more and more, quickly and irreversibly.

Walking together with Tooru and reminiscing is so sweet she wants to relish it with her eyes shut tight. And the feeling it is their farewell walk is so painful she finds it hardly bearable.

All these years Chizuru had waited for the moment she becomes grown up and mature; she believed sincerely that, when it happens, Tooru would notice her for sure. Okay, she is grown up now. And he acknowledged it.

But it did not change a thing because to him she became dear long time ago. Nothing could bring them closer for she was already like a sister to him.

A sister, she, who hoped to become his lover. His fiancée. His wife.

She must be a silly child, indeed. Otherwise she would have understood it right away. Falling in love with the elder brother of the best friend… Hopelessly. Foolishly.

Even Ryu, being so much of a slowpoke, had realized it long ago.

When she confesses to Tooru, Chizuru knows that in reply to her "I love you" she will certainly hear "Me too, Chi".

But the treacherous stinging behind her eyelids gives her away completely. And the thing that hurts her the most is that his "Me too" Tooru says absolutely honestly.

'I love you too, Chi, my dear little sister'.

There simply was no need to say aloud something so obvious.

But of course he realized her confession was real. She knows that too.

She isn't so much of a blockhead after all.

Now only one thing alleviates her unbearable longing – Tooru will always love her and take care of her. All his life. Just because for him she will always remain a little sister.

And this thought gives her strength. Chiziru smiles and shouts aloud, "Tooru, congratulations on your engagement! I wish you happiness!"

But both of them know…

"Goodbye, Tooru."

~*Future * ~

And then comes the spring, and days fly by like swift birds. Occupied with the progress in Sawako and Shota's relations, Chiziru forgets about her loss little by little.

Until once – out of the blue – she hears from Ryu, "By the way, Chizuru, I love you."

She stays petrified only for a moment. Then she comes to her senses and rushes after Ryu to slap him on the back. "Of course I know that!"

But at that tiny moment of her bewilderment Chizuru realizes too clearly that Ryu's confession was real.

And it is frightening. Unfamiliar. Unexpected. But the worst thing is that she doesn't know how to handle it now.

So Chizuru pretends she took Ryu's confession as one of a brother, and he pretends she is right.

He loves her very much, after all. His love is reliable and long-lived. Silent, deprived of tinsel romantic rubbish and very-very caring.

For Ryu, she had always been Chizuru. Not a little sister, Chi. Not a girl who lives nearby. Not a glutton who runs in to grab a boil of hot ramen every now and then. His sole reason for loving her so is that she is Chizuru, the only one of a kind. It is that simple.

And she knows it too. She isn't so much of a blockhead after all.

Chizuru doesn't want to admit it but her feelings for Ryu change somewhere along the road. She stops barging into his room – even though she willingly drops in to eat ramen and exchange a few words with "oji-chan". She finds excuses, telling Ryu she doesn't want to distract him from the club stuff. She avoids meeting his eyes.

The reason behind her action is plain and simple. Chizu starts noticing she feels different, somewhat special when she is with Ryu. She had never felt like this before.

Chizuru is scared. Scared that their old relationship has come to an end. Most of all she's scared to lose Ryu as well. She knows she cannot be without him. She only doesn't realize yet, why.

Ryu knows for sure when Chizuru is upset, and he comes to comfort her. He is good at that, Chizu has to hand it to him.

'Want me to comfort you?'

He always happens to be found around just on time. During his daily training he jogs past her house, patiently and silently listens to her mumble something incoherent.

'Want me to comfort you?'

Ryu does not and never will have such a dazzling smile as Tooru's. Even if he calls her "Chi-i" – which never happens, of course, because that stubborn boy refuses point-blankly to call her like that.

But his own smile – so rare, subtle and unexpected – always brings her warmth.

And eating the hot buns with Ryu feels great as well. Especially if they are cut into halves beforehand – one with meat and one with sweet bean paste. Although, she admits, with Ryu everything tastes way better.

He runs fast. And he is much stronger than her. And his embrace, when she, sobbing, leans into it – "Comfort me, Ryu" – feels especially cozy.

And as Chizuru is busy with going wild and crazy and mad at Ryu – because he confessed, because she understands everything, and because everything is going to change now… she only thinks about him. Not about Tooru, or ramen, or that her victorious train of 99 rounds she won in succession has come to its end – and, most likely, for good. It's ridiculous – Ryu always defeats her. Without even trying hard – he does, and it drives her crazy.

She thinks about him. All day long. And one more day. And another one. And it of itself, that she cannot stop thinking about that taciturn impenetrable Ryu, drives her crazy as well.

Chizuru cannot come up with an answer for him yet. These days she doesn't even dare look him in the eyes. And for the life of her she cannot take Ryu as her brother anymore.

This is what drives her totally insane.

"Chizuru, do you know what my strongest point is?"

"Huh? What are you talking about?"

"Remember the survey we had to fill in the high school?"

"Ah, that. And what is it? That you think positively?"

"Not that."

"Hmm. That you never lie?"

"No."

"That you are kind? Sincere? That your feelings run deep?"

She cannot see that he looks at her with a smile. An amiable, a tiny bit condescending smile.

"…I can wait long."

Chizu is not surprised that she can speak about Sanada Ryu for hours straight or that she knows his habits and preferences so well.

Ryu is always near and for her it is as natural as the sun rise in the mornings.

Chizuru thinks she could probably do without the sun, though – after all, she goes without it pretty well when it rains outside. But to do without Ryu…

Something clicks inside, and everything falls into place. The very idea itself seems preposterous. How can it ever be that there is no Ryu in her life?

As opposed to Ayane, Chizuru knows very little about love relations. She is always too slow in understanding such things. But now she finally realizes…

And for the first time after all these days when she was mad, avoiding, doubting, and thinking she feels the smile tugging at her lips. Her cheeks grow very warm, and something hot and timid nestles down in her chest.

She picks the wristlet and silently hopes that her present at the gift exchange reaches Ryu. Only him.

So far this is the only way she can express her new feelings. She doesn't know the other ways yet.

But if Ryu knows her as well as she knows him, he will understand. For sure.

~ * ~ o ~ * ~

* - 'Kyoudai' stands for 'siblings' in Japanese. I liked the sound of the word better and that is why it is in the title :)