A/N: This is not a crossover between Kannazuki no Miko and Maria-sama ga Miteru. Rather, it's the beginning of an open-ended series of stories in which I wanted to combine the leads of KnM with the idea of having an ensemble drama. In essence, Chikane and Himeko would be the "Red Roses" of the series, the central and most important part of the cast, but not the only one, with the supporting cast of OCs and canon immigrants also having central roles in occasional stories.
This story is also not an AU. The idea of "Chikane and Himeko's Ordinary School Life" as an AU concept has been taken up by a variety of writers already, and I don't want to re-travel ground already taken. Besides, to me the central drama of their resurrection, their fights, and their tragic history overcome at last is what makes the Kannazuki leads different from other schoolgirl yuri pairings. Without it, they're Sachiko and Yumi, Shizuma and Nagisa, Natsuki (no, not that Natsuki) and Fuyuka...whomever. Don't expect any actual Orochi to show up to be fought here, since that's completely not the point...but these are, in fact, the same Himeko and Chikane as are in the initial story (the manga, not the anime, incidentally; I like that version of Chikane better, and I also like the fact that in the manga, I know what rules future lives play by instead of having to apply a set of rules of my own to the anime ending's intentional ambiguity), so they're not going to be starting from the same place as they originally did. You'll see!
Technically, this story is actually a sequel to my Kannazuki no Shimai story...it's the lifetime after that one. You don't need to know anything about that story other than what's actually mentioned here, though.
On honorifics: Unlike my previous Kannazuki no Miko fic efforts, I have actually attempted to leave in the honorifics, since these are Japanese characters living in Japan and, presumably, talking Japanese which is only represented in English here due to the fact that the author is an American. The hair-pulling started almost immediately, since I didn't like the idea of having Himeko say, "Chikane-chan!" while everybody else was calling people by what they'd call them in normal English. So I have attempted to have everybody use Japanese forms of address in all the dialogue. I'm utterly sure that I screwed something up somewhere...the kendo club in Chapter 2, for example. I invite any native speakers of Japanese to point fingers and laugh (and correct me) when they see me foul things up.
So, imagine that, perhaps, Ame no Murakumo has kindly given the miko a vacation lifetime where they can live out their days normally, and return to the peaceful fairytale of Mahoroba once more...
~ X X X ~
The burgundy-and-white school uniform, with its over-elaborate string tie, leg-o-mutton sleeves, black tights, and double row of gold buttons, gave her a warm, nostalgic feeling as she walked through the halls of Ototachibana Academy. She was only half-listening to the teacher who was guiding her, instead caught up in the flood of memories brought back by these so familiar halls that she'd never walked.
"And this will be your homeroom," he concluded, stopping in front of a door. She only belatedly realized that he had stopped and almost crashed into him on account of it, then nearly slipped and fell when she halted just in time, but regained her balance by bracing her hand against the wall.
"I'm sorry, Fujieda-sensei."
He shook his head.
"It's all right to be a bit nervous, but don't worry. I'm sure that you'll enjoy your time here at Ototachibana Academy."
"Yes, thank you, sensei."
He knocked on the door, then stepped inside, where he spoke briefly to the teacher who was already present and provided her with some paperwork. He then turned back to the girl, smiled, and said, "Good luck!"
Her homeroom teacher, a slim woman with glasses and dark hair in a pageboy cut, let her into the room. At her request the girl wrote her name on the blackboard, forming the characters in a slightly childish hand.
"Class," the teacher announced, "we are joined by a new transfer student starting today. I hope that you will make her feel welcome." She turned to the girl, who introduced herself.
"Good morning," she said a little nervously as she faced the class full of her fellow second-years. "My name is Kurusugawa Himeko. It's nice to meet you, and I—" She stopped, her heart in her throat, suddenly paralyzed by the sight of two robin's-egg-blue eyes. "Ch-Chikane-chan?"
Smoothly, the owner of those eyes rose from her seat, imparting the simple movement with an elegant grace. Long blue-black hair was held off her face by a headband and fell to the back of her knees. Her skin was porcelain-pale, her features fine-boned and beautiful, her figure sleek and womanly, every bit of her exactly as Himeko had carried in her memory for the past sixteen years. Himeko's legs shook a little; the longing that welled up in her was nearly overwhelming and it was all she could do to keep from rushing across the room and seizing the beauty in her arms and sobbing out her joy at seeing her again. Indeed, only the knowledge of the embarrassment it would cause Chikane kept her from doing exactly that.
"Morishima-sensei, there is an empty seat next to me where Kurusugawa-san could sit. I would be happy to assist her become accustomed to our school."
"Very well, Himemiya-san. Kurusugawa-san, Himemiya Chikane-san is our class president and will be more than capable of introducing you to whatever you need."
"Yes, thank you, sensei."
Himeko wasn't quite sure how she managed to walk between the rows of students, girls in burgundy-and-white and boys in viridian blue. She was faintly aware of the curious looks and low whispers but only distantly, like a painted backdrop on a stage set. She couldn't help but extend a hand, though, and Chikane's fingers curled around hers, cool and soft, a sweetly remembered touch she'd never felt, and her eyes brimmed with tears of joy.
"I missed you, Himeko," was all Chikane said, but her smile nearly made the other girl burst with happiness. Not surprisingly, there were a number of interested or surprised looks, but the girl seated behind Chikane, a ponytailed redhead, was staring at them with an utterly overwhelmed expression.
To say that Himeko's morning passed by in a blur did not describe the half of it. She barely was aware of anything beyond Chikane's presence, the part of her missing since birth finally found. The lunch bell's ringing jolted her out of a haze, and Chikane slipped from her seat and leaned close enough to murmur three words, "The rose garden," before blending with the crowd.
It was still there, just as she remembered it, the shining brass fence and the hedge of multicolored rose bushes. Even the gap between bushes where the trunks were far enough apart to allow a body to pass through was right where it was supposed to be. Himeko crawled through without hesitation. There was the stately English oak at the center of the circular clearing, its branches heavy with the fresh green leaves of spring. And beneath it...
There were no more words; words were superfluous and could certainly wait until later. Himeko scrambled to her feet and flung herself at the taller girl and Chikane caught her, their arms closing tightly around each other and their mouths crushing together fiercely, not the gentle brushing of lips as might be expected of sixteen-year-old maidens but a kiss of passionate longing, a need for intimacy pent-up since before they'd been born. Their hands tightened in cloth, grabbing fistfuls of their uniforms to hold each other as close as possible and murmured endearments every time they paused for breath before leaning in to capture each other's sweetness again.
A rustling in the hedge disturbed their momentary idyll, surprising them and making them drop the kiss. Himeko would have broken the embrace, too, but Chikane kept a firm grip on her waist and if her beloved didn't want to let go then she didn't see a reason why she herself should have to be denied even a moment of holding Chikane. In the next instant the redhead who'd been in the desk behind Chikane squirmed through the gap in the hedge.
"Um, wow, third wheel to the max, huh?" she said, looking at the two of them, then shot an accusing look at Chikane. "You said to give you two fifteen minutes before I came barging in. And you!" She turned to Himeko. "I can't believe you really exist! I mean, there's not some hidden camera crew ready to pounce, right?"
"Miya's famous Himeko! Well, not really famous, since Miya only talks about you to me and sometimes Saya and Arrow, but the principle applies. I mean, seriously, some dream lover out of a past life destined to find her? Not big on the believability scale, y'know. Oh, I'm Alice Ishida." She stuck out a hand, Western-style, while Himeko tentatively shook.
"It's...nice to meet you, Ishida-san?" she said hesitantly.
"Alice is a Canadian of Japanese descent," Chikane explained, having no trouble with the pronunciation of the foreign name.
"We're a branch family, so my great-granddad decided to seek his fortune in foreign lands, but my dad ended up being the heir to the main line so we came back when I was ten."
"She's also been by best friend since she first came here."
The significance of that simple statement took a couple of seconds to sink in, but when it did, combined with the fact that Alice apparently knew something about her, Himeko could feel herself break into a huge smile.
"You've got a real friend, Chikane-chan? I'm so happy!" Her hands slid up from waist to shoulders and she gave Chikane a crushing hug. Chikane laughed, and Alice scratched her head.
"Um...why is that a big deal?"
Himeko didn't want to answer because it was Chikane's private business, but Chikane herself spoke up.
"Himeko...isn't used to me having friends, not genuine ones."
"She would always keep people at arm's length," Himeko elaborated, omitting some of the more painful details.
"Oh, yeah, she certainly does that. Total princess material."
Himeko giggled while Chikane just sighed. It was so weird to see Chikane letting someone else slip inside the armor of her reserve, the polished perfection that she used to keep the world at bay, but it was neat, too. It meant that slowly, gradually, the elegant girl was putting her shattered soul back together. And best of all, Chikane understood at once what it was that had so moved Himeko!
"We...should have lunch," Chikane said. She'd already laid out a blanket on the grass so the girls could sit down without getting stains on their skirts, and the three of them sat, Chikane and Himeko with their backs to the tree, their hips touching, and Alice on Chikane's far side but with a little separation between them and turned sideways towards the two. Himeko and Chikane got out their lunch boxes but Alice didn't seem to have one.
"Do you want some of my lunch, Ishida-san?" Himeko offered at once, but Alice waved it off.
"Nah, I scarfed a yakisoba roll while I was waiting for you guys to finish smooching. Nice of you to ask, though. And call me Alice, okay? Half my life here and I still can't get used to all this formality."
"All right, Arisu-chan," Himeko said.
"But really, you're as nice as Miya says you are. I mean, not only have you known me for all of thirty seconds but I'm butting in on your lovey-dovey moment and yet you're still offering to share lunch?"
"Um...if you don't mind, what else did Chikane-chan say about me?"
"Mind? Miss a free shot at embarrassing the living daylights out of the perfect Miya-sama? Himeko, girl, you've handed me a gift on a silver platter!" She laced her fingers together and stretched like an athlete stretching to warm up.
"First off, she described you physically so perfectly that it was like I'd seen a photo of you, which is why I was gaping at you when you came in this morning. Okay, she exaggerated the cuteness a little bit, but she's in love so we can excuse that, while as to details...She says you're sweet and nice to the point of being a little naive and that you're always willing to undergo discomfort for somebody else's sake. On the other hand, you're not always sensitive to what other people are feeling—although you're getting better!—so it's important to be as honest to you as you are to everyone else. And you are honest; even if you try to lie it shows up right on your face for everyone to see. You're a little bit clumsy and easily scared or surprised, but when the going gets tough you'll see things through to the end no matter how hard or painful it gets, and that even when bad things happen you'll brush them aside and move on, and support her too into the bargain." Grinning, Alice added, "She also said that you're a little bit ditzy, not great in school, but that you have an excellent artistic eye, are good at photography, and that we should draft you for the kendo team even though you're generally poor at sports and don't like hitting people."
"You make me sound like some kind of amazing person. I'm not, really," Himeko said, really embarrassed.
"Hey, you captured the heart of the girl whom ninety percent of the boys and half the girls dream of at night. I'd call that amazing. Be prepared for a fair whack of jealousy—though you'll also get a good bit of worship-by-proxy."
Alice turned on Chikane, who was serenely eating her lunch, a little smile on her face.
"And you! Why aren't you even a little embarrassed, after I'm spilling all the gushing-over-the-girlfriend-you-don't-have bits to the girl in question?"
"Himeko knows how I feel about her," she said calmly. There's nothing to surprise her. And she knows the very worst of me, much more than you do."
"Oh, please, like you've ever done a contemptible thing in your life."
"Not in this life, perhaps."
"That is so weird. And then you show up," Alice exclaimed, pointing at Himeko, "and prove her right. It's not normal, I tell you!" She was grinning while she said it, though, making clear that she wasn't in any way angry or annoyed. "On the other hand, Saya now owes me dinner at Maison Blanc et Noir."
"Oh, is that still here?" Himeko asked. She and Chikane had shared a few dates at the French restaurant in their past lives.
That was at the heart of it, of course. In this life Himeko had never before met Chikane or been to Mahoroba, but the two shrine maidens of Ame no Murakumo had been reborn many times whenever the malice of the world would give rise to the dark god Yamata no Orochi. They would fight to seal the darkness away, and then one of them would sacrifice the life of the other to revive the shattered world. That fate had exacted a fearful toll on their minds and souls, but then they'd fallen in love with one another and through that had come to redeem their strange fate. "Bound by chains of destiny" wasn't such a scary phrase if it meant she'd inevitably be drawn together with her beloved, or that between lives they could share what she thought of as their own private corner of Heaven. Himeko didn't think it was a coincidence that it was the two lives before this one she could properly remember while the others were nothing more than misty dreams at best, because it was two lives past they'd found each other's hearts at last.
"Yes, although the food isn't quite as good," Chikane told her. "As for you, Alice, you have a bet with Saya-chan over Himeko's existence?" She arched one dark eyebrow at the redhead.
"Yep! You'll note, of course, that I was on your side as to whether she'd show up."
Chikane sighed, shaking her head, while Himeko giggled.
"Saya's my girlfriend, by the way," Alice explained. "We'll have to introduce you to her and to Arrow."
"Another friend. That's a nickname, by the way, but we all call her that, even Miya."
"Oh. All right."
"What, not even curious as to where the nickname came from?"
In truth, she was, just because it was kind of unusual—something to do with archery, since she was one of Chikane's friends?—but Himeko hadn't thought it was her place to ask since she'd only just met Alice and hadn't yet met Arrow at all.
Besides which, anything other than her reunion with Chikane was a distant second place. She'd spent over sixteen years of her life dealing with things that were not Chikane, and she felt she had given them enough of her time.
Himeko caught up a tiny sausage in her chopsticks and extended it to Chikane, who immediately returned the favor with a piece of sweet omelet, their gazes meeting as they fed each other.
"Aw, how cute," Alice teased them shamelessly.
"Do you absolutely have to do that?" Chikane wondered.
"You know as well as I do that I'm not here for the introductions so much as to keep you two from ending up rolling around in the grass."
Himeko felt herself blush bright red at Alice's frankness, and even Chikane's cheeks were graced by a light pink flush. The red-haired girl had a point, too, because the girls were long-time lovers—two lifetimes' worth, and two intervals between life as well, in the timeless, dream-like idylls spent between rebirths in the Shrine of the Moon—and sixteen years was a long time to do without! Himeko decided that she was very glad that Alice had a girlfriend, too.
She then sighed and leaned her head up against Chikane's shoulders, just savoring the other girl's closeness. What was the point, after all, of denying something that was so obviously true?
"Wow, you're the really honest type, aren't you?" Alice marveled. "Chikane was totally right about you; your emotions show up on your face the instant you feel them."
Chikane tipped her head, resting her cheek against Himeko's hair.
"Yes, she's always been like that."
"Okay, I'd better tell you right away, then. Saya and I are...well, we're pretty much in the closet about our relationship, except with Miya and Arrow and now you. Her family's pretty traditional and while we're still in school they've got a lot of power to break us up, so she wants to just wait until we're at least in college to reveal our relationship, since she won't be dependent on them then."
"That's sad," Himeko said. In their past life she and Chikane had had to hide their feelings, too, although that had been because they were sisters as opposed to just lesbians. She hadn't liked essentially having to lie, though it was Chikane who had been most bothered by it, probably because she'd spent so much of the lifetime prior to that having to stifle expressing her feelings for Himeko. "I won't say anything, then. Um...is your family, too...?"
Alice shook her head.
"Nah. Honestly, my dad'd shrug and go 'whatever,' and my mom would probably throw me a coming-out party. Mom was always a liberal but since we moved to Japan she'd been steadily moving even farther to the left, I guess as a reaction to the country being pretty conservative."
Alice shot her a grin.
"Nah, you don't, but you will when you get to meet her. Anyway, the point's just to, y'know, keep it low-key about us when there's other people around."
"I will. But...um, I'm really not a very good liar..."
"So if you get asked directly the truth will be written all over your face?" Alice shrugged. "You do what you can."
Himeko sighed with relief.
"Thank you, Arisu-chan."
"Ah, no sweat. You gave Miya more real smiles this morning than I've seen out of her this past couple of months, so I owe you."
"Am I truly so difficult, Alice?" Chikane asked, her serene ojousama smile firmly in place, making the blonde and the redhead both laugh—before Himeko and Alice looked at one another, grinned, and broke into laughter again.
"Okay, that's scary," Alice wheezed. "There's someone else who can tell when you're making a joke, Chikane!"
"It took her a while to learn, but yes."
Alice shook her head.
"Reincarnated lovers...must be nice, particularly when you remember all the old stuff so you don't have to start from scratch."
"It was one of Himeko's best ideas," Chikane agreed.
The lunch bell chose that minute to ring, calling the students back to class. The girls scrambled to pack away half-finished lunches that they'd been distracted by from their talk, and were barely able to make it back to the classroom before Hayashiya-sensei arrived for trigonometry.
The rest of the day passed nearly as quickly as the morning had; if anything Himeko was even more distracted. The anxiety over their meeting, all the questions to be asked, had been replaced by a kind of dreamy hearts-and-flowers-and-rainbows haze that only was broken up when she was called upon. Since Himeko was at best an indifferent student in anything besides art, she wasn't able to cover for herself very well, even moving Chikane to giggles more than once.
Everyone must think I'm a total ditz, Himeko thought, though it did very little to dampen her spirits. There was almost nothing that could have depressed her on Reunion With Chikane Day.
Chikane proved to be as popular as she'd always been; she was all but swarmed after the final bell with people seeking help or talking about student government or one of her various club activities. She handled them with her usual deftness, fending them off with the princess-like manner Himeko knew so well. No more than fifteen minutes had passed before the two of them were walking across the Academy courtyard, past the fountain and towards the towering staircase that led down the face of the hill, passing the lower tiers where the dorms and other buildings were located.
"Are you living in the dorms again?" Chikane asked.
Himeko shook her head.
"Mm-mmn. My family lives in town, so I live at home."
"I'm sorry; I haven't asked you a thing about your life up until now."
"Neither have I!" Himeko protested, to deflect the idea that Chikane had anything to reproach herself over.
"It just seemed so much more important that we're together now that I didn't think of anything else. But...you've been happy?" she asked with a hint of worry.
"Except for not having you," Himeko said. Belatedly she realized that it was a horribly sappy answer, like something out of a romance movie, but it was the truth.
"I think it may have been my fault. I...when I chose this new world at the end of our last lives I wasn't sure how you'd react to me."
"Because you killed me? I thought we'd settled that."
"We did, but that came after. So...I think the separation was because I wasn't sure if being together was the right way."
"I see." Himeko thought it over, then broke into a bright smile. "Well, you'll just have to make it up to me. Do you know any good love hotels?"
The blonde giggled. She'd always been much more comfortable than Chikane with the physical side of their relationship, something that she consciously tried to emphasize. Chikane had carried a lot of guilt and shame over her desires, so Himeko wanted to make sure that Chikane was fully aware that she was completely comfortable with being the object of those desires. And if Chikane was feeling guilty over any responsibility she had for their separation, then it certainly couldn't hurt to give her a sharp reminder that Himeko wasn't holding any grudges.
Then it struck her that there might be another reason for Chikane's shock besides her usual reticence, a much more practical reason. She was, after all, a daughter of the Himemiya family, as close to nobility as the modern world held.
"Should I...not say things like that?" Himeko asked. "Would it make trouble for you if people overhear?" She'd have come out and said, Do you want to keep our relationship a secret? if that wouldn't defeat the entire purpose of asking. Chikane would understand, though.
And it wasn't like Himeko wasn't used to it. In their previous life, they'd been twin sisters, so their romance had to be kept secret since anyone who wasn't aware of their past-life history would have regarded them with disgust or pity. In the life before that, Chikane had even kept their friendship hidden, because...well, actually Himeko didn't really know the reason, though she suspected it had to do with Chikane's role as an Orochi Neck or Chikane's worry over having more-than-friendly feelings for Himeko or both. So if Chikane's circumstances were like those of Alice's girlfriend, that was all right with Himeko.
"Wait," Chikane said, stopping. "Are you asking me—?"
"I'll let you decide, Chikane-chan. I don't know anyone here in Mahoroba yet, so I don't have any concerns."
"You mean, you'll let me decide what I want people to think about the two of us?"
"All right, but if you're going to let me choose you have to promise that you won't have any regrets."
"Of course I won't!" Himeko rarely regretted anything, so it was an easy promise.
And then, as the students of Ototachibana Academy streamed past them, Chikane cupped the back of Himeko's head and lowered her mouth to her lover's in an eager, insistent kiss.