Is childhood, then, so all divine?
Or Memory, is the glory thine,
That haloes thus the past?
Not ALL divine; its pangs of grief
(Although, perchance, their stay be brief)
Are bitter while they last.
-Anne Bronte, Memory.
You know how it ends.
Get that smile off your face, Chikane tells herself. Don't think it. Don't know it. Don't let anybody else know.
But all she need do is close her eyes, and Himeko is there, and suddenly, all the blood's left her head and the air's gone out of the room, and Chikane is sore and aching for her.
She wants to do a lot of things to her. But first, she wants to put her arms around her and feel Himeko's fullness under her hands, and she wants to kiss her.
Chikane knows this is disgusting. But the first feeling when she thinks these thoughts is not revulsion. Nature comes a split second before learned behavior, after all. Then the horror, then the misery...
Chikane knows that she is evil.
But she can't bear to think of Himeko as tainted. Himeko is good, Himeko is pure, Himeko is everything she's going to hell for wanting. The onus lies solely upon her own shoulders. Himeko, being pure, cannot feel so much as a tithe of lust for her. She won't let her.
Even in her fantasies, Himeko resists her touch.
So, how does it really end?
Himeko loves Souma forever and ever, and Chikane makes fists until her palms bleed. That's right. Suffer in ignominy, like perverts should. Watch the good be happy.
And then Sister Miyako said, "I'm here to redeem you."
Chikane felt a weight in her stomach as if she'd eaten rocks. No.
"I know what you desire."
What kind of redemption could there be for her? At best, at best, she will watch Himeko with that happy, distant smile, as Souma takes her away with him, kisses her, pene—
Miyako pulls down Chikane's hakama, and gives her clitoris a little nudge. "But it's impossible, isn't it? Because you're a girl."
Chikane knows that her cause is hopeless, her desires perverse and disgusting, her love unsalvageable. But above all, Himeko must never know. Himeko must continue to admire her, look up to her, love her as a friend, as a sister, as anything but—
"The solution to your problem is simple." But even Chikane knew that was a ploy, offering her death. You can die, or you can live out your destiny. There is no middle ground. The sad thing was that, even seeing that lovers' suicide for what it was, she was tempted. Together was together, after all, even for corpses.
She understood Miyako's message clearly. It is either the world that gives, or herself. Her love will not budge an inch; she has tried that already, run too long down that road, and knows it is a dead end. She cannot be good, cannot pretend to be good. And she won't die. There's only one thing left to do.
But Chikane only said, "Give me time."
In that moment, three things happened: Souma felt guilty for an erection; Chikane gave herself over to darkness; and Himeko remembered dying. It was too much for her, too unbearable, and she collapsed crying into Souma's arms, (while he shifted so that she would not feel his erection) and forgot everything but Chikane's eyes and her own sadness. Chikane, watching, said "So that's how it is."
And those three things changed the world.
Well, two of them, anyway.
When Chikane tore the soft lining of Himeko's vagina with a brass flute, she wasn't the only one wondering why. But she did wonder.
Not so much why she was ravaging her beloved Himeko—she knew the answer to that already: because she is bad and Himeko is good and Himeko will never contort her heart into loving her, as it should be—but why it felt familiar. She thought she would remember doing this before.
Then, and only then, did it start to come to her. Himeko, beneath her, crying. But she won't remember until days later when she's in the kitchen and it's too late, it's all done, and Himeko hates her and loves her and has bled for her.
You know how it ends, right?
Chikane does. She breaks Himeko open herself to rob Souma of the pleasure, makes Himeko hate her, hate sex, hate living, hate everything and everyone until all she wants is death but Chikane won't kill her—no. She's making hate, but she's also making love, while the curtains blow in the wind, and she whispers in Himeko's ear that no one will care if she screams here, so she might as well just lie back and enjoy it—but she is thrilled by those screams, vindicated by them, glad and proud that she was the only one sullied. Of course Himeko will never respond to her touch. It's disgusting, isn't it?
Chikane has chased her demons out in the open, embraced and become one with them. It makes perfect sense to her that in order to put her hands on the pure Himeko, she would have to be an Orochi, and it would have to be forced. But of course.
"Why?" Himeko asks.
"I'm an Orochi disciple now. I can do whatever I want."
"But why..." Why want this.
It was an anticlimactic rape. Chikane, being a girl after all, couldn't achieve orgasm over such a thing, and Himeko couldn't be farther from it. Perhaps, in the end, that was Chikane's saving grace. Himeko never could have forgiven her if she had truly enjoyed that.
The thought permeated her every moment there.
I am evil.
Not only for hurting Himeko, but for wanting not to hurt her, wanting to hold her tenderly.
And, as she stirred the soup, the thought came to her. She was evil. She had always been evil, that was why she had been the one to—
Chikane tasted Himeko's lifeblood in her mouth.
She dropped the spoon in the soup. Silly. Himeko fished it out.
She remembered the god handing her an urn with Himeko's ashes. He asked: Would you like to remember her or forget her?
Chikane had held the urn fiercely to her chest, and said, "Of course I want to remember her. Don't you dare touch my memory, don't you dare!"
The god inclined his head slightly and said: Keep in mind that—
Chikane turned away from him. "My mind is made up. There is nothing in this world that would make me want to forget my Himeko."
And for a lifetime, a lifetime, Chikane had regretted those words. She realized later that she would have done anything to forget the taste of Himeko's blood.
Chikane finally remembered, and nearly died for shame. Because she had forgotten her sin, she had in fact sinned again, and hurt Himeko in her ignorance.
But it was not too late. She had not yet committed the worst sin of all in this life. Her breath caught in her throat. She would never forget the feeling of forcing the flute into Himeko, anymore than she could the sword, but at least killing her had saved the world. What had she saved by raping Himeko?
A slow smile grew on Chikane's face. Perhaps she'd done the right thing after all. Perhaps she could save Himeko this time. And save face for herself as well. It couldn't have been better if she'd done it on purpose.
This was a cruel world, and Chikane aimed to be crueler still. She resolved to leave by morning in yet another turnabout, resolved to make Himeko cry, make Himeko mad, make Himeko fight.
She knew what was coming. That's what the pills were for.
Chikane was a coward to the last, always afraid of pain.
She was a little heavy on her feet when she came to fight Himeko, but that was so much the better. She could give it her all and still lose.
Though it had loosed her tongue a bit as well. Chikane would have been afraid of what she might say, were she not past caring.
Himeko charged with tears in her eyes.
Oh Gods, Himeko, please wait.
For what? she wondered. It didn't matter. Chikane was so terrified to die. But Himeko had stopped in time, hadn't she? It didn't hurt a bit. Only there was blood everywhere, and she was falling down.
So Chikane said, "Please accept my truth," and put a pretty spin on things. It's okay, now. It might as well have happened that way. Maybe it even did, she told herself, maybe she knew somehow.
And Himeko asked about her declarations of love, if that were her truth as well.
Chikane said, "I love you. That's the truth." It was those pills: their delightful numbness, and the freedom of dying.
And Himeko, her hands sticky with Chikane's blood, said, "I love you too."
"Of course you do," Chikane mumbled under her breath. "You're kind. You love all living things. You don't understand. When I say I love you..."
"Who says I don't mean the same thing?" Himeko demanded. "Who says it isn't a love that makes my heart pound!" and she took Chikane's hand in hers, where it was warm and slick with blood, and put it on her chest to feel the racing of her heart.
Oh, you shouldn't do that, Chikane thought, my heart will race as well, and I'll lose what little blood I've left. But wasn't that the whole point anyway? So she went ahead.
"I want to kiss you. And do things to you." She turned her face away in shame. Oh, well. It was a good death scene while it lasted, sisterly love and all. Now she'd have to finish it alone, because she had to go and say something disgusting.
"What kind of things?" Himeko asked.
Do you want to confess your sins? she could hear Sister Miyako say. Sure, why not. "Okay. I want to put my tongue in your mouth."
Himeko smiled. "Okay." And just like that, she brought her lips to hers.
Chikane closed her eyes, and could only think one thing: This is not how it ends.
It can't. It can't end here. Not when she's finally, finally learned that Himeko loves her back, and they could have been happy, not when she's realized that she's not evil after all, but just a sixteen-year-old girl who's made mistakes and been forgiven for them, not when she's seen at last that loving Himeko was never one of those mistakes, that it was the one thing she did right in all her lives.
It can't end here.
She's still so young.
Chikane knew at last how it was supposed to end. She and Himeko end up together, and the past is put behind them. They stay in her mansion, and Himeko brings her joy every day. She becomes a better person for Himeko. Himeko's album fills with pictures, and she buys another one to fill with all their years together. Himeko's hair turns a bright white, and hers a luminous silver, and they hold hands together as they grow old. That's the end.
But there was her blood, staining Himeko's hakama a new shade of red. Chikane stared at it, her blood ebbing from the brilliant ending she was finally wise enough to see, and she slipped away with Himeko's howl chasing her into the ether.
Chikane then wanted to be a ghost, wanted to linger by Himeko's side and watch her eternally, but a great wind came, and left only Himeko behind.
The god handed Himeko an urn of ashes.
"What should I do with them?"
Keep them, or throw them away, the god said.
"I want to keep them. My only memory of Chikane."
The god gave her a strange look, then. Do you really want to remember?
Himeko looked up at him uncertainly. "What are you saying? Forget my Chikane?"
Unfortunately, it is your sacred duty to kill your fellow priestess for the sake of the world. But the gods are not without mercy. We would not force you to suffer.
"Suffer," Himeko repeated.
She hurt you so badly, and you killed her. You, who were destined for nothing but love, driven to the highest peaks of hate.
Himeko started to cry again. "Chikane-chan," she whispered into the urn. "What should I do?"
The god looked at her sadly. I see now why people are driven to protect you. Why people would do anything so as not to see you saddened. Let me protect you one last time, in her stead.
"Protect me...for Chikane-chan." Himeko nodded her assent, ever so slightly.
I will send you back, the god said. Spread the ashes, and you will forget.
"Not just me," Himeko pleaded. "I couldn't stand that. If I forget, then so does everyone else!"
It shall be done. Spread the ashes.
The earth shimmered and faded, and Himeko stood in Chikane's courtyard.
For ten days, Himeko shut herself in Chikane's room, with the little urn that held all that was left of her happiness. The roses she had picked for her the day she returned from the moon had withered and dried hard.
For ten days, Himeko abandoned herself to simply crying, until all the mourning was wrung out of her, and she felt she could never cry another tear until she did, and the sobs actually hurt.
For ten days, Himeko contemplated happiness.
Because Chikane would have wanted it.
Would she be happier with Chikane loved well and dead, or Chikane never having existed? They were both so awful. Sometimes she did nothing but wish Chikane had not stopped her when she pulled the sword to her own throat, still slippery with Chikane's blood, and tried to kill herself. She remembered the feel of her neck beneath the blade. So fragile, pulsing with life.
Outside the mansion, cold winds blew, winds Himeko's mother used to call the winds of change, when the sky is big and the clouds are big and move fast, and you can feel summer breaking, along with twigs and green leaves torn off the trees. She would open the window, which stuck a little, and feel that wind stir something in her heart. An impatience grew in her, as well as a sense of emptiness.
Himeko knew at last that her old life was dead, and it was time to become someone else. It gave her some comfort. In a sense, she would die with Chikane. And in another, she would live for her.
She took the urn and the roses, and set out on Chikane's boat into the middle of the crystal-clear lake.
The sky was blue and the lake was bluer, more intense and deep even than the sky, and the clouds sent racing shadows over the hills. Himeko touched the water, sending cerulean ripples out across the surface of the still lake, and gently laid the open urn on the surface of the water. It bobbed there, and began to slowly sink, ashes spilling out of it and swirling, waterlogged, into the depths. Himeko then took the dried roses and crushed them in her hands, letting the petals fall the the water's surface like flakes of rust.
Even then, her memory was starting to fade. She remembered sitting with Chikane under a tree in their last moments, instead of elbow-deep and slick in Chikane's blood on the desolation of the moon. She remembered a wind taking her away instead of the horror of seeing blood bubble at Chikane's mouth, and then the bubbles moving no more. And then her memories became more fanciful: riding double on a camel's back; meeting in a crowded crossroads; playing a children's game—until finally, they weren't memories of Chikane at all.
Himeko, still somewhere in between remembering and forgetting, reached down for the urn, plunged it down so that the ashes escaped in a plume, and then drew it up again, breaching the surface, and at last to her mouth, where, not knowing why, she drank.
In one of her fancies, she shouted: I'll find you again! No matter the form or appearance!
And she forgot the way Chikane's blood tasted when she kissed her, but was always haunted by a flavor she couldn't place, the taste of old roses and ashes.