I can't remember a time when I didn't love Rika.

Intellectually, of course, I know that isn't true. I met her my
first year teaching, meaning I have twenty-four year's worth of Rika-
less memories, opinions, values. I know there are private jokes of mine
she wouldn't understand, anecdotes she wouldn't remember - most of
them about things that happened when she was in pre-school, some
before she was even born.

It takes effort to reconcile myself to that. Life has changed so
dramatically since then; I can divide my memory into neat sections:
Before Rika and After Rika. But the two have interwoven, the second
superimposed upon the first, until I can remember the pride in her eyes
at my college graduation, her gentle, worried clucks of disapproval at
the series of black-eyes I came home with in elementary school. My
past is shaded with what her reactions would of been if she'd been
there, what she would have thought about my old friends, my old
study habits, my old nicotine addiction. I no longer have a real sense
of myself; there's simply an intrinsic *us*.

Three years. Has it only been that long? But what terrifies me,
what wakes me up in the middle of the night feeling the grim, cold
sword of justice lancing my gut, is how three years is an *eternity* to
a child. Sometimes when I try to reminisce with Rika she can't even
remember what I'm talking about, or she ducks her head with shame
for her old, immature behavior. It makes me feel bloated with
depravity, disgusted with myself for taking advantage of her naivety,
destroying her childhood.

But the truth of it is, she's never been immature or naive or
even childish. To think so would be an underestimation her.

I tried to underestimate her as hard as I could those first few
wonderful-awful times.

"Why did you do that?" I asked her the first time she kissed
me, wincing at how husky my voice had become. Her tiny, delicate
hand was still covering mine, our fingers winding together
unconsciously. I still could her taste in my mouth, although the kiss
itself had been closed lipped if not particularly chaste.

They had spoken a little in school about this sort of thing. How
girls - young girls - sometimes developed crushes on young teacher.
Hero-worship, Electra complex, whatever you want to call it. It was
transient, they had assured, just point as gently as possible out how her
feelings were essentially misguided and encourage her to focus her
attention on her schoolwork or boys her own age. Part of me - maybe
most of me - wanted to pat her hand in a fatherly way and give her
that speech and not have to face the huge, frightening unsteadiness
that welled up inside me every time I looked at her. I wanted to end
this neatly, continue living my life according to my old plans.

But despite how insane it was, how desperately I tried to deny
it, I knew this wasn't a schoolgirl's case of puppy love. Rika was too
self-aware and thoughtful to be mistaken like that. Besides, *my* own
heart was pounding so fast and loud it made me dizzy, and I could still
feel her mouth against mine, tasting like everything sweet and tart but
never cloying...

The fingers of my free hand brushed against my lower lip
without my permission, remembering, savoring. "Why?"

She watched my reaction, dark brown eyes sparkling and clear
and deep as an magic well in a fairy tale.

"Because you're lonely," she said. "But you don't deserve to
be."

Then she gathered up her books, smiled and left the library.

I didn't get a wink of sleep that night. Staring at the empty
ceiling with Ryoko pillowed on my chest, I tried to catalogue
everything I had going for me, which was not an modest list. I was
young, not all that bad looking if I did say so myself, well-educated,
had a good, steady job which payed enough to live on, a supportive
family, friends, a nice girlfriend exactly four months older than myself.
(Ironic, now, that Ryoko used to tease me about that, saying I found
the allure of older women irresistible.) I wasn't unhappy. I certainly
wasn't lonely. Rika had just said and done childish things she didn't
mean.

She was just a *child*. She couldn't possibly understand... she
certainly wasn't ready for... It was unthinkable. Disgusting!

Looking back, I'm sort of dryly amused that I didn't
understand why I was arguing with myself so fiercely, why all my
excuses piled on top of each other still felt so flat.

There was one terribly important thing I didn't list because I
barely acknowledged its presence like I'm never truly thankful I can
breath. I used to have freedom born of having nothing to hide. I didn't
have to skulk around in dark restaurants, double check every excuse I
made for being late to a meeting or turning a women down. I wasn't
constantly fringed by terror that I was living on borrowed time, that
*this* was the day someone would find out. I'd be fired, that Rika
would be sent away to be miserable at a boarding school that would
slowly but surely drain her of everything that made her precious. Our
secret and my guilt sinks into me like a stone through a swamp.

Although she hasn't spoken about it much, I know Rika
recognizes that sacrifice having made it herself. She feels horribly
ashamed that she's responsible for mine.

But I'm much more to blame. I'm the one who set the terms
and conditions - the one who said yes.

Besides, it was a trade. One terribly important thing in
exchange for another, ne?

I broke up with Ryoko two weeks after that sleepless night.
My excuse was our lives were moving in different directions, that she
was too good for me.

She *was* too good for me. She deserves someone better,
someone who can resist temptation. Rika does too.

"But it's not a matter of who deserves who," Rika told me
once, laughing a little. "I *chose* you and your heart chose me. Why
make everything so complicated when we can just love each other and
be happy?"

When she says that sort of thing I'm peaceful in the knowledge
that she is my soul-mate. The span of years that separates us is
inconsequential compared to what we mean to each other.

How did I let her get so close to me in the first place? How did
we pick each other from the sea of bored faces and the string of
droning teachers, respectively? Rika is never one to stand out. Out of
her group of friends Daidouji-san was the only actively beautiful one
at that age, the other's eventual prettiness only hinted at by a slight
definition of the cheekbone or a slender neck. Yanagisawa-san was the
most academic, her pride in her bookishness pulsing around her like an
aura. And Kinomoto-san was the undisputed shining star of their
circle, of the whole class, blooming with an intoxicating joy of life.

But part of me *knew* the moment I saw Rika, really saw her,
calling her name in roll as a matter of fact. Not the extent of what I
felt, which is nothing even compared to the extent of what I have
grown to feel, but that she was someone special. Part of me
recognized a spirit attuned to mine in Rika. A composed, honest,
warm grace that I will never fully understand but always worship.

And as for what drew Rika to me, well...

She scrunched up her brow the one time I asked her that,
struggling to convey sentiments her vocabulary wasn't up to.

"Well, at very first it was because you were handsome. And
then when I knew you a little better it was because you were smart,
but also kind which is hard to find. You wouldn't hurt anybody, and
teacher's hurt a lot of people because they don't know any better or
because they can. And then, when you started tutoring me in English, I
saw how sad and lonely you were, and I wanted to make you feel
better."

She nodded with satisfaction, and rested her head against my
arm. I automatically encircled her waist, then made myself to loosen
my grip and move to her shoulders. I won't touch her - not in *that*
way - until she's at least eighteen or twenty, although lately Rika's
taken to occasionally wiggling against me suggestively while gazing up
at my face from under the veil of her lashes. If I didn't know any
better I'd say she was trying to seduce me.

I think about her explanation occasionally; I think I might ask
her again now that's she's gotten an A in Japanese for three straight
marking periods in seventh grade. She couldn't have really meant sad,
because I was never truly sad, in the sense I usually think of the word.
I was never actually miserable. I didn't despair.

But, by those standards, in that old life where everything was
settling down nicely into a state of self-perpetuating tepidity was I
happy?

I can't remember. The turbulence and the net of unyielding joy
that Rika's wrapped around my life has spread into everything that
made me who I am, even the memories of times before her.

Our reasons don't matter though. Not really. I'm going to
meet Rika later when she sneaks off to the library during her study
hall. We'll talk in whispers and hold hands under the table and maybe
Rika will peck me on the cheek just before she leaves.

Thinking about it objectively, the encounter seems ridiculous,
shameful. But our secret meetings are only a temporary necessity.
Most unimportant things disappear in passing.

And the important ones make all the steps along the way
worthwhile.

The End



Notes:
A review of mine on ff.net once asked why I didn't have
author notes, so I decided to try the idea out. So... hi and welcome to
my author notes. How y'all doin'? ^_^;; Anyway, this is the first piece
I've actually *finished* in a long time, and I'm rather proud of it as of
today. It's also, oddly enough, the only non-yaoi non-escaflowne
fanfiction oneshot I've ever written. Branching out into heterosexual
pedophilia, I am! It's also the first CLAMP fiction I've ever written.
(and possibly not the last, I've been experimenting with a purely-silly
CCS/X crossover which would involve, among other things, Kamui
getting the life-blood glomped out of him by Nakuru.)
Tereda-sensei always seemed like a nice enough guy to me,
and I wanted to explore how exactly he became such a... er...
chickenhead. ^_^;; I've only read the first four volumes of the manga,
so if Rika/Terada is mapped out more fully in later issues, please
excuse my ignorant musings. ^_^;;
This is warmly dedicated to rebecca, as I sat down fully
intending to write that Van/Hitomi lemon she's been (nagging
repeatedly and withholding fanart as blackmail) asking for politely and
this came out instead. ^_^;; I'd also like to give credit to Sakura of
ff.net, whom I've never had any sort of direct contact with, but whose
Terada-sensei and Rika-chan stories made me see the relationship in
another light than, 'Eww! I don't care if they *are* CLAMP
characters, that's just wrong!'
I'm still cranking out R2G and haven't entirely abandoned
Legend, any and/or all fans of the above, so don't dispair that I've
been *completely* converted by CLAMP and its uber-bishounen
I would wuv reviews if you would be so kind. ^_^
Okay, I think this is long enough
Lyn