Notes and Disclaimers: Here's the deal. Koi Shimai was originally a series of short stories based on the characters on the covers of Sun Publishing's Yuri Shimai, designed by Hibiki Reine (the artist for the Maria-sama ga Miteru novels) . The stories were expanded into two Drama CDs, (the second of which was great! Touko's voice was done by Romi Park, the voice of Maki in Air Master, and oh my GOD was she sexy as Touko). Then Koi Shimai was turned into a manga that ran in Yuri Shimai's last two issues. Now the short stories and the continuation of the manga are running in Ichijinsha's new all-yuri anthology Yuri Hime, as Hatsukoi Shimai. AND now there's a brand new Drama CD also called Hatsukoi Shimai. So the story below is a conglomeration of things that happened in the short stories, the manga and the first two Drama CDs. And my imagination.
As a result of all of this, I cannot begin to credit everyone who deserves credit - there are simply too many writers and artists and voice actresses to credit. But I owe them all for the inspiration for this story. If you want to enjoy the short stories and the manga (and those fantastic Drama CDs!) you can find both Yuri Shimai and Yuri Hime and all three Drama CDs on the Yuricon Shop, along with other fine yuri anime, manga and gifts. :-) But since this fanfic is being put up in honor of the first issue of Yuri Hime, let me at least thank the fine people at Ichijinsha and wish them the best of luck!
"Worldshaking" Fanfic is a major support of Yuricon and of their October yuri-friendly event, Onna! a three-day festival of women's roles in animation and comics.
If you enjoy this story, please email me and let me know. It's nice that you read and enjoy - but it's even better when you tell *me*. :-)
(By the way - for those of you who care about things like this - Akiho and Touko are the characters on the cover of the 2nd issue of Yuri Shimai.)
A Kiss and A Promise
Akiho threw her jacket on the bed with an audible sigh. She knew that she was being as moony as a teenaged girl could be, and she resented it deeply. Even as she raged against the stereotype, she pulled another summer dress from its hangar in the closet and held it up to herself, eyeing her reflection. She sighed again and tossed the dress onto her bed, along with most of the rest of her wardrobe for that season.
A gentle knock on her bedroom door was followed by an equally gentle voice asking after her.
"Come in," Akiho huffed, scooping up an armful of clothes and sorting them quickly.
Akiho's sister Haruna entered, looking a little embarrassed. "I'm sorry to bother you," she said, her cheeks pink.
"Onee-chan," Akiho said breathlessly from just inside the door of her closet. "Can you hand me those pants?"
Haruna looked around her, noticing the disorder for the first time. "It would be my pleasure," she answered, her formal manner not slipping for even a moment. "These?" She handed over a pair of fashionable slacks. "They're nice."
"Thanks," Akiho held them up. "I bought them for..." she seemed to think better of it and stopped herself mid-sentence.
"They'll look nice on you," Haruna continued, as if she hadn't noticed the slip - and knowing her older sister as she did, Akiho was sure she had, but simply preferred to let the awkwardness slide.
Akiho held the pants against her legs. The brushed two-toned brown that had seemed so warm and inviting in the store just looked dirty now.
"You really think so?"
"Yes, they make the gold in your hair stand out." Haruna stood over the bed and slowly perused the items of clothing piled in front of her. She carefully lifted a blouse, considered it for a moment, then tweaked it until it lay neatly on a hangar. She walked to the closet and hung the blouse up with care, then returned to the bed. Three more blouses were neatened then hung in this way, but Haruna made no comment, nor did she ask why her little sister was suddenly so concerned about her wardrobe.
Akiho watched her older sister throughout this ritual. Although she was already in college, Haruna still suffered from that form of acute embarrassment that manifested itself as polite aloofness. Her language was slightly stiff and overly formal, as was the way she carried herself. Only one person had ever managed to make it past this fašade. Akiho grinned at the thought. To everyone else that knew her, Haruna was a model of propriety and hard work - a perfect student. Only Akiho and her best friend had ever seen another side of her.
"Onee-chan, how's Chika-san?" She knew the answer to this, of course. Akiho's classmate had been spending a few days of summer vacation in Tokyo with Haruna. They had only returned that morning, and Akiho had yet to hear from Chika. It was just a way to change the subject - and to tease her sister a little.
Haruna's faced grew red at the question. "She's very well, thank you for asking."
But now Akiho was having fun and she wasn't about to let it drop at that. "When she starts university this spring, are you two going to move in together?"
Haruna ducked her head and mumbled something incoherent. Akiho stood, grinning at her older sister, her own worries momentarily forgotten. Ingenuously placing a finger on her lower lip, Akiho began to muse aloud.
"Hmm, Chika-san's not going to apply to your school, but maybe you can both find an apartment in between campuses. Or, hey," she lifted her finger from her mouth and held it up triumphantly, "Maybe she and I could room together and I'll just come home to visit Mom and Dad when you want to stay over!"
"That's enough, Akiho-chan." Haruna's face was redder than ever. "We haven't discussed what we're going to do next year, but I think it would be best if you and Chika-san stayed focused on your studies, rather than worrying about who was going to live where."
Akiho laughed at her older sister's prissiness. "I'm just teasing," she chuckled. Akiho turned back to her bed and the problem at hand. "I'm really very glad that the two of you are happy." She sighed, a little wistfully.
"May I ask what this is all about?" Haruna waved at the jumbled clothing and removed another blouse from the pile. "This would look very nice with those pants," she commented absently.
Akiho reached over and took the blouse into her hand, then held the two together. "Hmm, not bad. I could wear them with the brown leather jacket...." She held the pants and blouse to her body and turned towards her older sister. "You don't think it looks like I'm trying too hard?"
Haruna frowned slightly. "Trying too hard to do what?" She gestured again. There was a momentary pause, and Haruna colored once again at having asked something so bluntly.
Now it was Akiho's turn to blush. She scowled to cover her embarrassment. "No reason really. I was just choosing something to wear tomorrow night."
"Are you going out for your birthday?" Haruna's gaze slid away from her sister's, as if she didn't want to be seen as too perceptive.
"Mmm," Akiho's answer was noncommittal. Haruna seemed not to notice the evasion, but, again, Akiho knew that her sister was oversensitive to questions that might pry too closely, so they both let the subject drop.
"So," Akiho began straightening the remaining items of clothing and returning them to their proper places. "Was there something you needed?"
Haruna tucked in and began folding slacks with a pleased smile. "Not really. I just wanted to have a talk with my favorite little sister."
Almost an hour had passed when Haruna finally left, but Akiho had felt no rush to have her go. Haruna rarely made it home anymore, busy as she was with classes. Akiho was glad for the time together to chat about nothing in particular.
But, as Haruna closed the door behind her, Akiho was filled with anxiety that rushed in to fill the gap left by her sister's absence. Staring across the room, Akiho swallowed hard at the clothing now draped over the chair at her desk. Tomorrow was indeed her birthday and yes, she was going out with a friend - she hoped.
Tomorrow she would fulfill a promise that she had made two years ago. Or would she? Akiho paced the room nervously, asking unanswerable questions of herself and the universe. Two years was a very long time, she cautioned herself - enough time to forget someone, to forget a promise made to a silly teenager; enough time to move on and fall in love and not look back. And though she had filled every day of those two years with school and activities; keeping busy, going out with friends, even joining clubs, just to have something to do...even then, every day of those two years had been a reminder of that fateful day.
As she paced back and forth in her room, the question kept returning to her mind over and over again - would Touko remember her and the promise they had made?
By the time their mother called Akiho and Haruna to breakfast, Akiho already knew that today would be one of the most difficult days of her young life. As she sat at the table, her stomach churning at the sight of freshly made pancakes, she had decided to skip the meal altogether. The sickly, rich smell of the butter melting over the hotcakes made her feel queasy.
Akiho glanced at the clock. She had had every intention last night of going to bed early and sleeping well, but her good intentions had been for naught. Tossing and turning all night long, every time she neared sleep, a nervous thought or passing concern would wrench her painfully back to wakefulness. Akiho pressed her juice glass to her forehead, trying to relieve the pounding behind her eyes.
"Akiho-chan, are you feeling well?" Haruna and her mother spoke simultaneously. Akiho smiled at them both and pushed her plate away.
"I'm fine, I didn't sleep well, that's all."
"Maybe you should go back to bed?" her mother suggested, laying a hand across Akiho's forehead.
"I would, but I have some things I have to do." Akiho stood up. "I won't be home for dinner," she announced, then prevaricated, "I think." She turned around and faced her family with a bright smile. "Anyway, I'll be out for a while. Later!" With a cheerful wave, Akiho forced herself to appear energetic as she walked back to her room. Only when the door closed on her did she allow herself to sag to the floor and curl up in a little ball.
"What am I thinking?" she wondered out loud. She closed her eyes tightly and hugged her knees into her body. She was sure she was setting herself up for disappointment, but she couldn't stop herself. Every time she thought of Hiiragi Touko, her mischievous brown eyes, her warm embrace, Akiho's heart would leap. It might be a tragedy after all, but she had to know how this play would turn out.
In the middle of these thoughts, Akiho fell asleep on her floor, curled up into a tight, protective ball.
Akiho was in a panic. Yes, she had needed the rest, yes, she had nothing that she needed to do to prepare for this evening, having obsessively left all her clothes, accessories and makeup out for days beforehand. But still! She had slept for nearly two hours and now it was almost noon. She only had five hours to get ready!
Rushing around her room, Akiho found and lost her hair clips no less than three times, her cell phone twice and was, in the end, never able to settle upon which bracelets she would wear, her previous evening's choices deemed unworthy as soon as she donned them.
At last Akiho was able to pull herself together to dress, to finish brushing and styling her hair (Using the term, "styling" was being kind as the curls allowed for little flexibility in style. But "wresting under some semblance of control" sounded so...unglamorous.) At last the clock ticked its tedious way around to three in the afternoon and Akiho was, as far as she could make herself, ready.
Haruna's soft knock sounded at the door. Akiho welcomed the distraction of her older sister's company. Perhaps she might, if she talked with Haruna now, have nails left on her fingers by this evening.
"Akiho-chan?" Haruna opened the door with a worried question, but stopped as she caught sight of her younger sister, dressed with obvious care and attention to even the smallest detail. Haruna entered the room, sliding the door closed behind her. "I wanted to see how you were feeling. I..." her speech faltered, as it so often did when approaching anything even remotely personal. For all Haruna's many strengths, speaking candidly was not and never would be, one of them.
"I'm feeling much better," Akiho responded. "I took a nap, I guess, when I came back to the room."
"Akiho-chan...?" Haruna's face was a picture of confusion and curiosity. She was obviously dying to know why Akiho was so dressed up, but would not, could not, come right out and ask. Akiho had to laugh.
"Why don't you just ask, onee-chan? You know you want to." It was Akiho's life-long endeavor to force her sister to speak frankly, and she enjoyed her private crusade quite a bit. And, really, just being with Haruna always made her happy. But, deep within her, there was a kernel of reluctance to talk about today. She would answer if directly asked, but she wouldn't offer.
Haruna's cheek reddened, but she took a deep breath as if preparing for a difficult speech. "Akiho-chan, why are you all dressed up?" Exhaling with relief after this simple question, Haruna smiled to take any force out of her words.
"Onee-chan?" Akiho said, shocked that her sister had actually been so straightforward. Her hands pressed to her mouth, Akiho started to laugh, trying not to embarrass her sister. "Do I look that bad?" she asked, finally, giving up entirely on hiding her laughter.
Haruna shook her head, but her expression was relieved. "You look scared, but you look very nice. I was right, that blouse and those pants do compliment your hair."
"Thank you," Akiho said, rising from where she sat and spinning in place. "Thank you," she repeated taking her sister's hands in her own and smiling into Haruna's eyes. "Since you asked so plainly, I guess I should tell you, but..." Akiho let go of Haruna's hands and walked over to the bed. "I don't want to...upset you."
"Akiho-chan..." Haruna took a few steps closer to her sister.
Akiho spun around, her arms clasped in front of her, her face red. "You were right, last night. I am going out, for my birthday. I'm hoping to meet someone very special tonight. We...made a promise to meet tonight, but I'm not sure if, well, if it will happen."
"Someone special?" Haruna repeated. "But that's wonderful!" She took Akiho's shoulders in her hands and held her sister tightly. "Why didn't you tell me? I thought we shared everything."
Akiho's smile slipped a little at that. "I wanted to, onee-chan, it's just that...."
"It's what?" Haruna's tone sharpened. She was obviously concerned about her younger sister. Her thoughts were painfully obvious what kind of person could Akiho be meeting that she couldnt tell her older sister about?
Akiho rushed to reassure Haruna. "Really! It's nothing bad, it's just that..." and like her older sister had a moment before, Akiho took an audibly deep breath, then said, "It's Hiiragi...sensei."
For a long moment Haruna was frozen, her eyes wide with disbelief. At last her hands unclenched and let go of Akiho's shoulders. Taking a step backwards, she repeated, "Hiiragi-sensei?"
Akiho glanced at her cell phone in alarm. Her talk with Haruna had taken far longer than she anticipated, and now she was running late. She danced in place, willing the bus to arrive soon. It wasn't like she expected Haruna to freak out, really, but she had been very reticent about mentioning the former student teacher from their school. It had all been so...complicated... when they had met two years ago.
Had it really only been two years? It seemed like such an incredibly long time ago.
Akiho had been a first-year student in high school. She had met Matsusato Chika on the first day of school and they had become best friends right off. Shortly after that, she had learned that Chika had, bizarrely, incredibly, fallen in love with her older sister. Getting them together had been rather painful, even when it had been obvious that Haruna returned Chika's feelings.
But they had managed, somehow, to work it out. And although her sister's embarrassment and shyness had threatened to keep their relationship at a very basic level, Akiho had been able to see that they were both happy. That was what had been important, that her best friend and her beloved older sister were happy. Sure, she had been a little jealous...but they had been happy together, and the three of them were happy as friends, and it had all been going very well.
Then, towards the end of their first term, Hiiragi Touko had roared up on her motorcycle with her boyish looks and sexy voice, and blown it all to hell.
Hiiragi-sensei had come to their school as a student teacher, only three years older than Akiho and Chika, but a world apart. While all the girls in the school had vied to gain her attention, Hiiragi-sensei had somehow focused on Chika.
Chika, who was sweet, kind and gentle it had been hard watching her overwhelmed by Hiiragi Touko-sensei's strong personality and charm. Akiho could remember well how she would shudder when Hiiragi-sensei had spoken to Chika, her already deep voice lowered and inviting. It had given her a thrill, but had also made her uncomfortable especially when she could see how much it made her sister suffer to see Chika and Hiiragi-sensei together.
Unlike her older sister, however, Akiho was no shrinking violet. She had confronted Hiiragi-sensei, only to be met with the triple walls of unconcern, derision and truth. For Hiiragi-sensei had put her finger squarely upon Akiho's weak point her jealousy. In one fell stroke, she had taken the wind out of Akiho's arguments and reduced them to mere jealousy of Chika; jealousy of her relationship with her sister and of her relationship with Hiiragi-sensei. Nonetheless, Akiho has remained firm and asked Hiiragi-sensei to leave her friend alone.
As the summer break approached, Haruna and Chika had reunited, to Akiho's great relief. And, finally, summer vacation came, not at all too soon to Akiho's way of thinking.
Except for one small thing that nagged at Akiho.
Akiho got on the bus, took her seat and allowed her thoughts to drift.
The problem had been, simply, that she had fallen in love with Hiiragi-sensei.
It had been the night of their overnight orienteering trip. Everyone had been in a panic - Chika had gotten lost trying to find the hairclip Haruna had given her, Haruna had run after her and they had both been found after some time, down a little slope off the path. While they were together they had, apparently, made up, for which Akiho had been very thankful. She had watched them walk off, hand in hand, and had turned to Hiiragi-sensei ready to confront her once again. But Hiiragi-sensei had just smiled happily, expressing satisfaction that they were reunited. Akiho, confused and annoyed, had demanded an explanation.
The one she got had not at all been what she had expected.
When she had been in high school, Hiiragi-sensei had explained cheerfully, she had fallen in love with another student, another girl. But she had never told her, thinking that being near her was enough. Ultimately, Hiiragi-sensei had lost her, the girl she loved, because she had not had the courage to confess. When she came to this school, (she had confided to Akiho, who had just sat stunned at the older woman's frankness,) she had seen the same thing between Chika and Haruna - and had not wanted the same thing to happen.
Akiho had been...well...derisive. She had thought that Hiiragi-sensei was a jerk and had told her so in no uncertain terms - at which the older woman had just laughed.
"You remind me of her, the girl I loved," Hiiragi-sensei had said, her voice slipping into that too-intimate tone that always sent a thrill down Akiho's spine. "She was very forthright, too."
Then Hiiragi-sensei had drawn Akiho down to sit next to her, and asked, right out, if she could spend time with her. And Akiho, mortified, but excited too, had said yes. Just like that.
Akiho stared sightlessly out the window of the bus, watching familiar landmarks slip by without recognizing them. Her mind was filled with memories of that summer.
She had taken to studying in the library after school, forcing Chika and Haruna to spend time alone together. Akiho had always liked the library, the way the sun slanted through the windows in the evening, casting a golden glow onto the books. It felt warm no matter what the temperature outside.
Hiiragi-sensei had found her there, lost in thought one slow afternoon. Akiho's attention had wandered from the book she had been reading, off on dreamy, half-remembered paths. She had been very aware of a presence behind her, then a hand cupping hers gently. The hair on her neck had stood on end, as Hiiragi-sensei's hand had moved gently across it, to bury itself in her hair, loosening the braids she wore, and combing her hair out.
It had been late. Akiho and Touko had been alone in the library. Akiho, her heart just about pounding its way out of her chest, slowly, agonizingly, had let her head settle onto Touko's arm, then be pulled into the slightest embrace.
They had stayed like that for an eternity, their hearts beating loudly enough to be heard by anyone, their breath coming in short gasps. And the sun had moved down the window, and begun to set when they finally moved.
Before Touko could leave, Akiho had whispered, "Tomorrow, I'll be here too - in the library."
And so, they had met there, every day. Akiho had joined the library club just to have a reason to be in that library as long as possible. She had volunteered to clean up, to shelve books, to do whatever it took to be the last person to leave. When everyone else had gone, she would sit in her place by the window, dreaming in the warm sunlight, until Touko would join her. Then they had sat there, in silence, arm in arm, hand in hand, while Touko had lazily run her fingers through Akiho's wavy hair.
Akiho rubbed her eyes and checked her watch. She would be there any minute. Gathering her bag into her lap, she watched the stop for her school pass by and the one after that, then stood, making her way to the front of the bus. The doors slid open, and she stepped out to the pavement, looking around her before she moved away from the bus stop.
It was a short walk, no more than ten minutes. Akiho found the lone bench by the side of the road, once again looking around for any sign of life. Finding none, she sat and fell back into deep thought.
Summer had turned into autumn. Akiho had been spending more and more time with Touko. Not once had the older girl made any move to touch Akiho any more intimately, or kiss her, but Akiho's thoughts had been filled with Touko, day and night. She had begun to ache when she thought of the other woman. Worse, she hadn't been able to confide in either Chika or Haruna, for fear of their reaction. Neither of them had known about Hiiragi-sensei's motivation, nor had either of them allowed themselves to become close to the teacher. It had been an unspoken agreement between the three of them that Hiiragi-sensei's interference in their relationship would simply never be spoken of.
It was on a day late in September, when the leaves had just been beginning to turn and the sun had been setting in red-gold flame, that Akiho had turned into Touko's embrace and kissed her.
Akiho had been defiant in her kiss, her eyes daring Touko to deny her - but almost convulsively, the older girl had drawn her in and held her close. Akiho's first kiss was everything she had fantasized it would be, and more. When the kiss ended, Akiho had broken away and run out of the library. Not because she had been embarrassed, not because she had regretted it. No, Akiho had run so nothing - not a word, not a noise, not a look - could have spoiled that perfect moment.
Akiho checked her cell for the time. It was getting late. The appointed time was nearing, and Touko should be here any moment. Akiho started to shake, her body shivering in the summer heat. She could feel tears threatening and her chest hurt.
What if she didnt come?
What if she did?
Akiho shouldered her bag and headed towards the woods behind the road. She knew these woods so well - how many times had she and Chika and Haruna swum in the river here and wandered these paths? Akiho struck out for the appointed place, dizzy with emotion.
Tears burned in her eyes, reminding her of the last time she had seen Touko.
It had been in the library, of course. Several days had gone by since she had so impulsively kissed the older girl. Akiho had made excuses to not be there; her studies, family obligations, anything to avoid the library...and Touko. She hadnt known why exactly, but she had felt that she couldnt face the other woman.
But she hadn't been able to put it off forever - a day had come when Akiho had been left behind to shelve books. She had promised to turn off the lights and lock the door when she was done, then had turned her attention to her task and prayed that she would finish quickly. She had been alone for almost half an hour when the door had opened and she had been able to hear the sound of footsteps approaching across the tiled floor.
Akiho had stayed where she was, forcing herself to move methodically, shelving one book, then the next, without pause. She had heard the steps grow closer, and had felt the movement of Touko behind her; strong arms had wrapped around her waist and warm breath had blown across her ear. Turning, Akiho had thrown her arms around Touko's neck and clung, as if for dear life.
"I love you," Akiho had breathed, almost inaudibly.
Touko had pulled her face away from Akiho's, an expression of pain crossing it. "Akiho-chan," Touko had said, her had stroking Akiho's cheek, as if she were wiping away tears. Touko had leaned in, her lips brushing Akiho's so lightly, so gently. Akiho had leaned into the kiss, cupping Touko's face in her hands.
The older girl had pulled away at last, her arms clinging to Akiho. "I love you too."
Akiho had stared up into Touko's eyes, her own filling with tears. "You're leaving," she had said, bleakness in every syllable.
"I have to." Touko had let go of Akiho and taken a step back. "I can't stay. I do love you. It's too dangerous - for both of us. If I dont leave..."
Akiho had reached out a hand and dropped it, as the first tears fell. "I want to say I dont understand, but...I do. But, oh god, I dont want to lose you!" In a motion of desperation, she had grabbed Touko's arms.
"I dont want to leave, Akiho-chan. I swear I'll be back for you. When I'm a teacher somewhere...somewhere else. I'll come back." Touko's grip had hurt, but Akiho hadnt wanted her to let go. "I handed in my resignation today."
Akiho had nodded, squeezing her eyes shut against the expression on Touko's face. "Go, but promise me you'll be back. On my birthday. In two years. We'll meet at the place where we talked the night of the overnight."
"I'll be there. At six in the evening. I promise." Touko had let go of Akiho and taken a step backwards, moving out of arm's reach. "Don't," she had said, her voice hoarse, "don't write. I wont write you. I can't...I'm not that strong."
Akiho had squared her jaw and nodded. "I'll be waiting for you. Dont forget."
Touko's voice had sounded very distant as she said, "I promise."
The sun was still well over the trees when Akiho found the spot. The small clearing was empty, with only a few long-washed out signs of this year's orienteering trip. Akiho found herself a sunny patch of grass and sat down, leaning back to catch the warm light from above. She laughed at her own conceit, knowing that it was as much to catch the sun in her hair as to enjoy the warmth.
She thought about looking at her phone, but decided against it. She would wait until the sun set, then go home. The anticipation of disappointment filled her, but Akiho was too smart to blame Touko. It was unreasonable to believe that an attractive woman like Hiiragi Touko would remain free for the likes of Kanzaki Akiho, schoolgirl unextraordinaire.
Instead, she thought about her sister - about her reaction to Akiho's sudden admission earlier today. Poor Haruna, Akiho thought. Her sister had been so focused on Chika for the past few years, that she had never even noticed her and Hiiragi-sensei's relationship.
Akiho remembered the shocked look on Haruna's face so clearly, and felt a very small measure of malicious pleasure that it gave her.
Was it really *that* hard to believe? Akiho felt a little thrill of anger run through her. Why *shouldnt* she have fallen in love too? Or did Haruna think that she was the only one? Even as she had these thoughts, Akiho's sensible nature asserted itself. She knew that her sister was a very serious person with a strictly limited imagination. It wasn't that she thought Akiho unworthy - it was simply that Akiho had never mentioned anything, and so Haruna had, just as simply, never conjectured.
Akiho smiled at the memory of a conversation her she had had with Chika, shortly after her friend and Haruna had repaired their relationship.
Another person might have confessed her love, or sworn to stay together forever, or even just kissed their lover. Akiho's lips quirked at the memory of Chika's solemn recounting of Haruna's "confession" that Chika was important to her like a sister, but more than that. Akiho laughed. It was so like Haruna to say something like that, something so unsatisfying, so completely unromantic. And it was so like Chika to have been satisfied, even pleased, that she got that much out of Haruna. Akiho laughed again, silently apologizing to her best friend and sister, at the image of the two of them in bed holding hands, like some kind of bad joke.
"I sometimes wonder," she asked the world at large, "whether they've ever even kissed yet!"
"If you mean your sister and Chika-chan, I think they probably have," the answer came back so suddenly that she jumped to her feet from where she sat.
There, with the last sliver of sunlight through the trees catching her hair and turning it red-gold, sat Touko, her eyes sparkling with humor.
Akiho stood, her hands gripping her arms, paralyzed with surprise, pleasure and fear. Then she noticed the scrape of dirt on Touko's cheek and the rip in her sleeve and she unfroze immediately.
"You're hurt!" Akiho cried, kneeling by the other woman, her fingers passing across her cheek.
Touko took Akiho's hand in hers and kissed it lightly. "I'm fine. I'm sorry I was late. I ran into some difficulties." She laughed a little self-deprecatingly. "And we're going to have to take the bus home. My bike broke down."
All at once, it was too much. Throwing her arms around Touko's neck, Akiho burst into tears. "You came! You came! I didn't think you'd remember..."
Touko laughed, her deep voice throaty in Akiho's ear. "Of course I remembered," she said, laying soft kisses upon Akiho's neck. "I promised, didn't I?"
Akiho pushed the other woman away, her expression displeased. "If you were going to be late, you should have called," she complained.
The older woman looked sheepish at that. "I would have, but" she shrugged, "in my rush to leave the house, I forgot my phone."
Laughing shortly, remembering her own antics earlier in the day, Akiho paused, then said "Then I forgive you," breathily, wrapping Touko in a warm embrace and pulling her back to the grass.
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