There was a circle drawn in the dirt. A stick rested at the long-haired dirty blond's feet.
Kirino stood with her arms folded, a dark look on her face. The part-time fashion model held the eyes of those who nervously stood on the fringes of the main attraction.
Manami, taking her place a few paces away from Kirino, did not command the same attention. Her stance was typical, arms at her side, back straight. She held an inquiring expression on her face.
Kirino had asked to meet her there, a park not far from the middle school, without explanation. The early evening hour had called the children who could be found there during the day home for supper, so the seven attendees would have relative privacy.
Saori, Kuroneko, Ayase and Kanako had received similar telephone calls the night before. Kirino had informed them all that she had something important to say and, as they were all her friends, they had come to listen without a second thought; she would have done the same for them.
Kyousuke hadn't been previously informed of the meeting. He'd been taken by the upper arm and dragged halfway across town by his little sister without any kind of warning to stand witness to this, the final showdown.
The sounds of traffic seemed to fade as the street lights came on and Kirino opened her mouth to begin.
"You're probably wondering why I called you here, Manami. I bet everyone else is too. Well, the truth is I have something to tell you all, but Tamura is the one who needs to here it the most. I warn you now, neighbor girl, that though we've come to an understanding, and though we've been able to get along better than in the past, there is something that I will never, ever be able to forgive you for."
"And what is that Kirino-chan?" the plain girl asked with her usual soft voice.
"It is something that you will never, and I repeat never, be able to apologize for. It is something that I hope you will regret for the rest of your inevitably boring life," her eyes sought Kyousuke. He seemed confused, as he usually did. "Aniki, this concerns you too, so pay attention!" Assured that her order would be followed when he came a step closer to the group she continued, "You have done something to harm the person you think you care about the most, Tamura-san." Her voice held a mocking tone. "You said you wanted to make us normal, to make Kyousuke normal. You want everything to be normal because normal is best. I'm going to tell you that you are wrong. Normal is not only not best, it doesn't even exist. You told me that the onii-chan I once idolized wasn't real, and maybe you were right, but the Kyousuke you want is fictional too!
"You should have known when he began to show signs of his previous self. You should have backed off and left it him alone, but you didn't. Instead you tried, again, to tell him who he was and what he should do. You held him back. If he isn't great right now, if he's your definition of normal, then it's only because you have made him that way, not because there was no other way for him to be."
Manami's eyes widened in surprise. She had expected Kirino to offer a confession to Kyousuke, maybe declare that her feelings would never change, but not a personal attack. She hadn't come prepared for this, but still felt that her view was right.
"What you say might be true, Kirino-chan, but I only ever want what is best for Kyousuke. He is my childhood friend and," a blush, "and I really, really like him."
Kyousuke nearly face planted.
Manami, she didn't really... She couldn't! Like him? Since when? Why didn't know about it? With all of her Granny ways he'd expected her to remain untouched by feelings like that for eternity!
"That is why what you have done is unforgivable!"
"I don't understand your reasoning," Manami confessed. "Doing what is best for the one you care about, don't you agree that's true love?"
Kirino nodded. "It is, but you haven't been doing whats best for him, you've been molding him to fit what you want. You're the one who thinks normal is best, that to stand back a little and let things be is better than giving it your all, not Aniki. He's never been that way and never will be! Your fantasy was doomed from the start because he will always be himself. No matter what you do Kyousuke will be Kyousuke. No matter how many times you force him to hold his peace he will always revert to his original disposition. He'll always try to help everyone all the time, regardless of how ridiculous the situation may be. He won't ever be able to stand aside when someone needs help, even if that someone doesn't want his help.
"You think normal should be everything. That most humans are better off acting like each other, remaining a bit aloof and not caring too much about anything, never reaching too high. You think that only a select few can be great. What you don't understand is that no human is like another. You and I aren't the same. Ayase and I are not the same. Kuroneko and I are not the same and Ayase and Kuroneko are on other sides of the spectrum. Haven't you ever wondered how I can be friends with such different people? It's because I don't let stupid ideas of what is 'normal' dictate how I live. If I thought that way, if I lived that way, I wouldn't be me. I wouldn't be a tack team star, I wouldn't get the best grades in school or be a fashion model."
"But Kirino-chan, can't you see how it would be better for Kyousuke to be normal? He isn't like you, who can handle all of that, he only gets himself hurt when he tries to-"
"You still don't get it!" She interrupted. "You still don't understand! I'm saying that normal isn't real! It's something you made up, something you decided on, and it is an unachievable goal for anyone but you! You are the only one who can live up to your definition of normal, Manami! Kyousuke won't ever be the way you want him to be and you, who tried to make him a different person, have no right to say that you love him the most! He isn't like me, you are right, but that's because we're different people. He could still be great because greatness isn't something that only a few can achieve. The people who become great keep trying. They don't give up just because someone said 'it can't be done'. He already has that quality! Kyousuke could be greater than you ever imagined!"
Manami rarely got angry, and even when she did she retained her quiet demeanor, but this was too much to bear in silence.
"Kirino, you don't know what you're saying!" she cried suddenly, surprising everyone involved, including herself. "I know for a fact that normal is the safe route. Normal is the path that is best for everyone to take! To live a quiet life in a house, to have a stable job and a family is the best. That is what people should aspire to and most people do. If everyone did that there wouldn't be any problems in the world. Everything would be totally perfect, totally understandable, totally predictable. That is the way everyone wants things to be! Everyone wants to know what is coming next, that's why we make plans for our upcoming days. Everyone wants to live in safety and comfort, that's why people live in certain areas and send their children to certain schools. What everyone really wants is for everyone to be normal and I am normal for having the same wish! You are too young to understand, you dream of bigger things because you don't have the right perspective. You can't see how hard it is!"
"Hard doesn't matter!" Kirino shrieked. "Things aren't worth having if they just fall into your lap! That is the real difference between you and me. You want everything to be easy so you can't appreciate the fact that I don't want to take anything for granted like you do. School is special, my friends are special, my eroge collection is special, my work is special and Kyousuke is more special than anything else to me!"
There it was. Kirino's confession. The audience took a collective gasp.
The boy in question was near fainting. Who was in the right here? He was a siscon, it was true, but could Kirino be correct? Did normal not exist? Manami was the personification of the word. Everything she did was... normal. She got okay grades. She got along with everyone and no one held a grudge against her, well, except his little sister, and her life was untroubled. He'd always noted how relaxed he felt around her. She put him at ease.
Kirino did the opposite. She got him riled up. She made him take drastic measures and make a fool of himself, but if not for her he wouldn't have had his first girlfriend. He wouldn't have stood up to his father. He would never have been able to get an 'A' on the mock university entrance exam or handle living on his own.
Kirino had introduced him to so many people, so many things. Manami, though she wasn't exactly against it, would have never done it. It wasn't in her nature.
"I, unlike you, would never try to hold him back. I always push him. Sometimes I make him mad at me, sometimes he thinks that he can't do what I want him to, but I make him do it anyway! I can make Kyousuke a better him. I do it just by being around him. I thrust him forward, you hold him back! I make him stand on his own, you prop him up! You make him feel calm, I make his hair stand on end! I bring out the best in him while you try to suppress it!" Her breathing was labored with the force of her feelings. Hey blue eyes flashed with emotion. "You may be his cherished childhood friend, you may be someone important to him, but you are not going to have him to keep because he would never have you!"
Her attention moved to those in attendance. "All of you, listen up. You mean a lot to me, more than I could ever say. You are all my best friends and that is why I can tell you this without worrying that you'll hate me for it. I won't let any of you have Aniki even though you all love him a lot because none of you can love him as much as I do! I know him better than any of you, I can support him better than any of you and I can make him achieve things you've never even thought of!
"You knew this all along didn't you? Your 'destiny record'. This is in it, isn't it? This was that last picture. Me and Kyousuke should be together, even if it will be hard. That's why you were all there too, to help us. You love him so much that you want the absolute best for him. That makes you better than Tamura."
"D—Don't mock me human! Of course I foresaw these events. In fact, I orchestrated it and everything has gone according to plan."
"Whatever, weirdo," she looked to her fellow models. "Ayase, I know that you hate this the most, that it disgusts you, but you'll let it be if its really what we want, right? And Kanako-chan, you probably don't even get whats going on right now, but just leave Kyousuke to me. Maybe he'll even become your real manager someday. I haven't decided yet."
"She hasn't decided yet," the only male present muttered. "Like its up to her."
"Saori, you've known how I feel since the beginning, even before I could admit it even to myself. I don't know if you can support me..."
"Of course I can, Kiririn-shi! I know that your feelings are genuine and with your headstrong personality they aren't likely to fade. Even if I find it an odd situation, who am I to stand in the way of true love? Maybe fate was putting you to the test, but if that's the case then you certainly passed!"
Her eyes returned to Ayase, who had yet to so much as blink. "Ayase, this is really hard for you right?"
She forced herself to give a quick, stiff nod.
"I'd like to sat I'm sorry, but I can't. I could never be sorry for my feelings or for yours. You did a lot for me, pushing aside your natural tendencies so that we could continue being friends, but I'll understand if this is too much for you."
"...I need to think." The first to leave the circle was Ayase.
Kanako watched her go and followed soon after declaring, "I don't really care either way, people can do what they want, but you two are still weird."
The remaining attendees sweat-dropped.
Saori, tactful as always, found an excuse to drag away Kuroneko, leaving the three with the most to say alone.
Manami was speechless; she'd never felt so betrayed in her life. All of those people had turned from the situation, half of them gave blessings, and she was left to stand for her side alone.
"See that? That's what real love looks like. Even Kuroneko, though she'll probably spend the whole night in tears, knows that what I feel is real and right. Out of everyone her feelings for Kyousuke are closest to my own. You're not even in the top two! You can't even compete!"
Her face turned red in frustration. "Kirino you are such a loud mouthed child. You think that everything will stay the way it is forever, you think that if you give it your all everything will work out, but you're wrong! Your parents will be against you. The law is against you. The media is against you. Otaku's are frowned upon by society, how much worse would it be for you? I don't want that for you, especially not for Kyousuke and he can't want that for you either! You've forgotten whose in charge here, little girl. Neither you nor I have the final say."
He took a step back as the girls looked to him. He wasn't ready yet. Even though he knew what he must say, what was right... Could he make that choice?
Manami was safe. She kept him steady and made it a point to keep him out of trouble. With her he could live a peaceful life. They would go to university together, she could be a teacher or a nurse. Maybe they would take over the family shop. Either way he was assured a normal future.
Kirino was unpredictable. She tossed him this way and that way, her demands were outrageous and she would live a life full of light. Someday she'd likely want to leave again, to go overseas. She might take the modeling job she'd been offered. He'd have to go with her. He would never have a stress free life.
A pained smile came to his face. He was going to hurt someone badly, someone he'd never wanted to see damaged, but he couldn't accept both of them.
"Kyou-chan, you know the best answer already. You know it would be easier to be with me. We've always gotten along. You even said once, that you thought we'd always be together."
That was true. He'd thought that way before.
"Aniki, you can't disappoint me. Just because it would be easy, just because there would be fewer bumps in the road, you would never do that. We've been through too much for that."
She said he couldn't disappoint her, admonished him not to take the safe route.
I've always been a siscon, he thought with trepidation. And she's such a brocon. Manami is my granny-like friend.
"Manami, when I think about it, you've always shown how much you like me, while Kirino has trouble expressing her feelings when it comes to me. Despite that I never understood your feelings, Manami, yet I knew about Kirino, even when she refused to say it. I always called you a granny, because that's how you seem to me..." he fixed his eyes on the ground. "I've never thought of you as someone to take out on date before, I never looked at you as a girl. When I said that we'd always be together I meant it, but not in a romantic way. I'm sorry, so very, very sorry but what I'm trying to say is-"
His head shot up when he heard the sound of a slap. Manami stood with her hand raised, Kirino's face sported a red print.
"You- You've poisoned his mind! How could he think that way? It's because of you! You, who are obsessed with those imouto games, who pushed them on him!" She prepared to strike again, but her arm was caught mid swing.
"No." Kyousuke was firm. "No, Manami. Kirino isn't at fault here. I am. I'm the one whose messed up in the head. How could it be her fault? She does nothing but order me around, yell at me, get annoyed with the way I do things and tell me to shut up. She doesn't act like she cares about me, but ever since I started to understand her better I could see it. I know how she feels, she didn't have to say it."
"Kyou-chan, you can't mean-!"
"The reason I couldn't discern your obvious feelings, the reason I could see Kirino's, is that I share them with her, but not you. Sorry, Manami. Sorry."
She kneed him in the groin. "Why couldn't you be normal?" she cried. "Why couldn't you be normal siblings!" She fled the scene.
Kirino offered no comfort as Kyousuke lay in the fetal position, shaking in pain.
"Baka. You should have dodged."
"You didn't," he groaned.
"I didn't think she'd slap me!"
"Yeah? Well, I didn't think she'd do this either so you're no better than me."
"Are you calling me an idiot?"
"Your words, not mine."
She placed her foot on top of his head.
"Ack! Get off me!"
"Not until you take it back!"
"I didn't say anything!"
"You called me an ignorant fool!"
"What?! I didn't!"
"You might as well have. Baka, Aniki. You should think about how I feel. I might have just lost my oldest friend! I don't know if Ayase can take this."
"I really did lose my oldest friend, you insensitive brat. Where's your compassion?"
"Fu, you didn't need her anyway. She only held you back. Thank me, without my intervention you would have never met your full potential."
"I still haven't."
"But you will," she said with determination. "I would never accept less."
He sighed, relaxed his position and looked up, only to regret it instantly.
His eyes closed automatically. "Be more conscientious would you!"
"Huh?" She considered the scene. "ACK! You pervert! Super siscon! How dare you look at a young girl's underwear!" Her face was rapidly gaining color; her cheeks burned.
"Well," he reasoned. "At least they weren't stupid kiddie things. Those were lacy, were'd you buy those anyway? Does Mom know you have them?"
"GAH!" she kicked him clear across the playground. Her hands gripped the edges of her skirt. "DEGENERATE!"
A/N: To clear any confusion please PM me or review! I've never written for this fandom before, so let me know what you think I got wrong. On Manami's "normal" attitude, this is Kirino's view of it, not necessarily what Manami means to portray. I've watched the anime, read the Light Novels (and a summary of LN 12), though I skipped the manga because its really unfinished (after being put on hold for the spin-off), so I think I kept everyone pretty well in character.