Sanada Kyoudai (*)


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


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

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

...

~* Past * ~

Falling in love with your best friend's older brother is only natural.

It's not at all hard to fall in love when you're nine and you live nearby. In childhood, the distance doesn't matter; especially when your legs are strong, and there are Ryuu, video games and the greatest ramen in the world all waiting for you – and each of them can brighten up your mood 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 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 – just right the ones you've been craving for, one with meat and one with sweet bean paste. And then he breaks 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's hard not to fall in love when he wraps you with his so strong and grown up (he's already in high school by now!) arms and comforts you. In these moments it doesn't hurt so bad that Ryuu has defeated you again.

Though usually, it hurts like hell, frankly.

You've always been the strongest. And the tallest. You've run the fastest. And not to mention all those boys you've beaten in fair fights! No one at school could stand up to you.

But Ryuu.

For an unknown reason, he is the only one you cannot win against. That always reserved, unruffled, quiet and sturdy boy you grew up with side by side.

It doesn't change as years pass by.

But every year you scribble down your only wish on a wooden plaque, and every year it stays the same.

...

~* Present * ~

She loves Tooru.

And this evening is special.

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

He understands everything and probably sees right through her. She finds it natural - he is older, after all.

But every little thing that was supposed to bring them closer – all those years and things they shared – with every spoken word, however gentle, is only bringing them apart, quickly and irreversibly.

Walking together with Tooru and reminiscing is so unbearably sweet she wants to close her eyes tight. Knowing it's their farewell walk is so unbearably painful.

All these years Chizuru has secretly waited to grow up and mature hoping wholeheartedly Tooru would then notice her for sure. Well. She's grown up at last. He noticed.

But it didn't change a thing because he has long held her dear. The closest. As his baby sister.

Her, who yearned to be his love. His fiancée. His wife.

She must be still a silly child indeed or else she would have seen it right away. Falling in love with her best friend's older brother… What a hopeless, foolish idea.

Even Ryuu, slowpoke as he is, has long ago realized that.

Confessing her feelings to Tooru, Chizuru knows that in answer to her "I love you" she will certainly hear "Me too, Chi".

But the stinging behind her eyelids betrays her all the same. And what hurts her most is that Tooru's "Me too" is absolutely sincere.

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

Why say aloud something so obvious it's always implied?

Though of course, he knew her confession was real. That she knows too.

She isn't so dumb after all.

Only one thing alleviates her unbearable longing now – Tooru will always love her and cherish her. All his life. Just because she will always stay his baby sister.

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

But both of them know…

'Goodbye, Tooru.'

...

~*Future * ~

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

Until once – right out of the blue – she hears Ryuu say, "By the way, Chizuru, I love you."

She only freezes in shock for a moment. Then she recovers her wits and plunges after Ryuu to slap him on the back. "Of course I know that!"

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

And it is frightening. Unfamiliar. Unexpected. But the worst thing is that she doesn't even know what to do about it.

So Chizuru pretends she took Ryuu's confession as one of a brother, and he pretends it was.

He loves her very much, after all. His love is reliable and long lasting. Quiet, without silly romantic rubbish, and very, very kind.

For Ryuu, she has always been Chizuru. Not a little sister, Chi. Not a girl who lives nearby. Not a glutton who runs in to grab a bowl 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 dumb after all.

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

But the real reason is plain and simple: Chizuru starts noticing she feels different, somewhat special when she is with Ryuu. She has never felt like this before.

And she is scared. Scared that everything is going to change between them. But most of all she is scared to lose Ryuu too. She knows she cannot do without him. She only hasn't figured out yet, why.

Ryuu knows exactly when Chizuru is upset, and he comes to comfort her. He is good at it; she has to hand it to him.

'Want me to comfort you?'

He always happens to be around just on time. Jogs past her house as a part of his daily training, patiently and silently listens to her mumble something incoherent.

'Want me to comfort you?'

Ryuu does not and never will have such a dazzling smile like Tooru. Even if he called her "Chi-i" – which would never happen of course because the stubborn boy refuses point-blank to call her that.

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

And eating hot buns with Ryuu feels great as well. Especially if you break them into halves first – one with meat and one with sweet bean paste. Though, with Ryuu, everything tastes much better.

And he runs fast. And he is far stronger than she. And his embrace, when she leans into it sobbing – "Comfort me, Ryuu" – feels particularly cozy.

And while Chizuru is busy going wild and crazy and mad at Ryuu – because he confessed, because she understands everything and because everything is going to change now – she only thinks about him. Not about Tooru, not about ramen, not about how her triumphant parade of 99 rounds she won in succession has come to its end, and most likely for good now. It's ridiculous how Ryuu always wins a victory over her. Without even trying hard, he does, and it drives her crazy.

She thinks about him. All day long. And one day more. And another one. And her own inability to stop thinking about that quiet unruffled Ryuu drives her nuts as well.

Chizuru has not decided what to tell him yet. All these days she cannot even bring herself to look him in the eyes. And for the life of her, she cannot take Ryuu simply 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 high school?"

"Ah, that. And what is it? Your positive thinking?"

"No."

"Hmm. That you never lie?"

"No."

"That you are kind? Sincere? Empathic?"

She cannot see that he is watching her with a smile. A gentle, affectionate, and just a tiny bit condescending smile.

"…I can wait patiently for a long time."

It doesn't surprise Chizu that she can speak about Sanada Ryuu for hours on end or that she knows his habits and preferences so well.

Ryuu is just always there and for her, it is as natural as the sunrise in the mornings.

Though she could probably do without the sun, Chizuru thinks – after all, she manages without it rather well when it rains outside. But to do without Ryuu…

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

Unlike Ayane, Chizuru knows very little about love and relationship. She is always too slow on the uptake when it comes to such things. But now she understands at last…

And for the first time after all these days of her being angry, doubtful, avoiding, contemplating she feels the smile tugging at her lips. Her cheeks grow hot, and something warm and timid nestles down in her chest.

She picks the wristlet and silently prays for her present at the gift exchange to reach Ryuu.

So far, this is the only way she can express her new feelings. She doesn't know yet how else to do it.

But if Ryuu knows her as well as she knows him, he will definitely understand.