"Touma?" He thought he was dreaming the voice. It sounded like Kiv-Chan, but...uneasy and uncertain. She sounded almost childlike. "Touma?? Okiru kudasai..." His shoulder was being shaken, lightly at first, with growing strength. He groaned and opened his eyes. He really didn't like being woken up, and between training, guard duty, and helping Sh'ten with his computer, he was pretty beat.

It WAS Kiv-Chan, kneeling next to his bed. He blinked at her and, as recognition fully hit his brain, he sat up, the sheets and comforter falling. He might've been a bit embarassed by the fact that he wasn't wearing more than pajama pants if it wasn't for how his visitor looked.

"What's the matter, Kiv-Chan?" he asked, still half-groggy. She seemed weary and scared; wearing the oversized men's tunic that she'd acquired to sleep in made her seem even more childlike than the voice he could now only faintly remember hearing while still asleep. If she'd been clutching a teddy bear the image would've been perfect.

"I've been having the most awful dream," she told him. "It keeps waking me up, and it takes so long until I can get back to sleep. And when I finally do, the dream starts all over again. I...I wanted to know if I could sleep in here tonight. I always feel so safe with you..." she added, putting one of her hands over one of his and looking up at him hopefully.

He smiled reassuringly at her and patted her hand with his free one. "Of course you can sleep here. The bed's huge; there's plenty of room." He disengaged his hands from hers as she beamed at him gratefully. He scooted over and turned down the bedclothes for her.

She climbed in and pulled the covers up as he laid down. He wasn't entirely surprised when she snuggled up next to him, and he held her comfortingly as she made herself comfy against him. "Arigato," she said quietly, her breath warm against his neck and shoulder. He kissed her forehead.

"Anytime. I'm not going to complain about the addition of a little bundle of warmth in here." It was the beginning of winter and even with the warm comforter it was rather chilly in the room. Just because he was used to the cold didn't mean he Liked it. He was glad for some extra heat, especially in the form of the girl he loved. After a bit, when she still didn't drift off to sleep, he asked, "You want to talk about it? The dream, I mean?" She paused and tensed a little, then nodded, but her muscles didn't ease much.

"I...I'd been recaptured. By the Temple. And they were going to sacrifice me right away. I was in sacrificial robes and everything..." She clutched him closer to her and she trembled slightly. "Sometimes I couldn't wake up in time and they'd actually....I could see...I could almost feel it..." Her body wasn't the only thing shaking; her voice wavered as well. He stroked her hair and her back and kissed her face again to comfort her.

"We won't let that happen. I won't let that happen. They'll never get you again as long as I'm alive, I swear. I won't let them hurt you," he promised her. His voice was soft, low and quiet as the snow that drifted out of the sky, but his tone had a hard, sharp edge, like an icicle shard.

"The scariest part isn't necessarily my being recaptured and sacrificed...." she told him, most of the waver gone, but not all of it. "Although I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a part of it. I think the worst part is knowing that....I didn't really escape. I ran away, but....even with the beautiful new name you've given me...I'm still the Tenku no Miko. I've changed my name but not What I am."

He wasn't sure what to say to that. He offered her what he could. "You're only the Tenku no Miko in the eyes of the Temple. To everyone who matters, you're Kivrin. You're my Kiv-Chan, and I love you." A small, scared part of him piped up Isn't that enough? He tried to banish the voice and couldn't.

"I know that. And I love you. But none of that matters to them. I don't think they even understand the concept of Love. It's too 'illogical'."

"It doesn't matter what they think."

"Yes, it does."

"Why?!" he tried to keep himself quiet for the sake of the others sleeping in the adjoining rooms. Well, one of the rooms next to his was empty, because its occupant was here. Somehow he didn't think Mason, in the other room, would like being woken up at this hour of the night. He didn't know exactly what time it was, but he was certain it wasn't a "decent" hour to be awake and shouting. If there was ever a decent hour to be shouting.

But her insistence on the Temple's opinion of her over his own stung. Why isn't my love enough for you? What do I have to do differently? What have I screwed up NOW?

"Because if I was recaptured, they'd still see me as the Tenku no Miko. They'd still kill me, regardless of whether I loved you or not."

He tried to keep the bitterness out of his voice, and wasn't certain how well he succeeded. "Well how do you go about proving you're not the Tenku no Miko anymore? Hand in your Miko License?"

She hesitated. "What's wrong?" Apparently she had heard the strain in his tone.

"Nothing," clipped and quick.

She pulled out of the tight embrace some so that she could look him better in the eye. "Did I say something wrong?"

"No," as his mind wondered If I burn the Temple down and kill everyone associated with it, will you finally stop thinking about it?

"I'm sorry. Whatever I said or didn't say...I'm sorry," she whispered, cuddling against him again. His anger at the Temple faded and was replaced with anger at himself. She came here because she was scared. You're supposed to be making her feel better not WORSE.

"It's not your fault. I just....I can't understand why you give a damn what the Temple thinks of you. They hurt you. Not as badly as the Rekka Temple hurt Dakota, but they didn't....they don't care about you there. Not the way I do." He paused and then added, in a low and slightly choked voice, "No one could ever care for you the way I do."

She was quiet for a long time in their mutual embrace. Finally her voice came. It was also soft, due to the need for quiet so as not to disturb the others. But it also carried a whisper of an edge, a fleeting glimpse of the concealed blade. "Touma, the only reason I'm concerned about all of that is because I want to be free. I still feel....chained to them, because I am what I am. Tenku no Miko is part of the Temple. The Temple and the god Tenku are all she's ever known. But I know YOU. I know the other girls, and the guys, and all the people in the Rebellion now. I couldn't care less about the Temple. If it burned to the ground, I'd rejoice."

The edge intensified, now sharp and bright and revealed and poised to strike. "I do not want to be the Tenku no Miko anymore. Not in any way, no matter how slight." A strain of self-revulsion aimed the edge at her own flesh. "I Will Not Be Her Again. I want that part of my life completely GONE; I want to start my OWN life, completely unconnected to the Tenku Temple." And like that, the edge was gone, vanished like a snowflake on a fingertip, melted in the warmth they shared with each other.

He knew what it was like to dislike who you were; to feel the need to start over. It was part of the reason he liked video games: if you screwed up, you could restart, no problem. Go back to the beginning and get it right this time. He nuzzled her hair as he asked quietly, "But how do you go about not being the Tenku no Miko beyond saying you aren't? Do they want a signed affidavit or something? Do you have to 'divorce' the Temple?"

She shook her head as best she could, laying next to him. "Well....the word 'miko', like many other words, has so many...layers of meanings. The Temple embraces all of the layers of the word. If one of those layers no longer applied to me, neither would the word 'miko'."

"So you're...what? Going to disqualify yourself for the job?"

She nodded. "Yes. And to do that I need your help. It's not as simple as just saying, 'I'm not the Tenku no Miko anymore'. If it was, I wouldn't have to worry about it."

He nodded. "What do you need me to do?"

She paused, took a deep breath, pulled away enough to look at him again and said, quite straightforwardly, despite the blush already making its way to her cheeks, "Make love to me."


Blink. That had to be some sort of weird testosterone-induced audio hallucination. "Umm....come again?"

She frowned, still blushing. "Do I need to explain the concept of making love to you? I hope not, because I haven't really read much about it...they didn't really have those sort of books at the Temple, you know, and I don't really have much...well, ANY personal experience in this arena, which is sort of the whole point...."

Touma sat up, disengaging from her. "You want me to...sleep with you?" She also sat up and nodded earnestly, turning to sit cross-legged facing him. "And this will somehow make you no longer Tenku no Miko....HOW?"

"Well, remember what I said about layers?"

"Layers?" His mind was frantically trying to reassemble itself; no part of him had been prepared for this.

"Of meaning. In words."

"Oh, right, right, yes, layers, got it, right."

"Well....part of the idea represented by the word 'miko' is 'virgin, virginal, pure, chaste, untouched'...I'll stop now; I'm turning into a thesaurus."

"You really think that if you're not a virgin, you won't be killed?" If this had been anyone else, the idea would've been ludicrous.

She nodded. "My virginity is my death knell. Ironic but...there it is. The Temples worked hard to keep us away from other people as much as possible; if we had been raped or if we had fallen in love and given ourselves to another, we would be useless."

He shook his head, startled not only by the topic but by how frankly she could discuss it. "They told you this?"

"Of course not. But I am certain of it. That is my deduction based on the facts."


"No? Look, let me demonstrate by telling you of the time I...."

"No, that's not what I'm saying 'No' to," he clarified. That took her a minute to sort out and her face fell.

"Why? Don't you love me?"

"Of course I do."

"And you want to help me, don't you?"

"More than anything."

She considered things. "You...want to, don't you?"

This made him pause. The answer to this question, as to the previous two, was affirmative, but then she wouldn't understand why he'd refused. "Not because of this." She was confused now. "I don't want you to do this just to escape the Temple. I don't want you to come here out of fear, because this is the lesser of two evils."

"I'm not. Oh, I might not be here Now if it were otherwise, but....I do love you. I...," the blush, which had faded some, returned with determination, "...I do want to. I'm just sort of...nervous."

"You don't have to be, because I'm not doing anything."

"Touma....." if her voice had been pitched higher, it would've been a whine. As it was it was a sign of frustration. "I'm just nervous, not afraid. Like a baby bird just learning how to fly. I know it's a necessary part of my life, and I know it'll be wonderful...but that doesn't make taking that first step out of the nest any easier."

He laughed a little, keeping his voice quiet for the sake of the others. "You really are a writer, Kiv-Chan. Everything is metaphor with you." She was quietly pleased with the compliment; he knew she was still having trouble accepting that it was okay for her to write whatever she wanted.

"So will you...."

He paused. "Only if you're sure about this. I can follow the logic and it's a good point. But....I don't want this to be something that's done simply because we think it's a good idea. That it helps you escape the Temple is a VERY good thing....but I don't want it to be the primary reason. Do you understand?"

She nodded and moved to the edge of the bed. She swung her legs over the side but did not stand or move in any way at all.

"I'll leave then. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."

"I never said you had to leave."

"You didn't have to." She wasn't cold, but she was....hurt. As though he had turned her back into the cold. And he supposed he had. Because without this way out that she had planned for herself, she had nothing but the nightmares to go back to.

"You DO understand don't you?" he begged, crawling over behind her and hugging her back to him. "I just...something like this shouldn't be done just because it's a good reason."

"It's not 'just'."

"Are you really ready for this?" Am I, for that matter?

"Are you?" She echoed his thoughts, and made him seriously think about it.

"I'm not really sure. I know I'd like to, with you, someday, but I'm..."

"Just not sure if that day is here yet," she finished for him. God, when HAD she penetrated his mind? He thought only Dakota and Mason could pick up on his mental wavelengths, as it were.

"Yeah," he agreed weakly, resting his head atop hers and hugging her tighter. "And hey, you never answered me."

She shrugged within his grasp, resting back against him, and closing her eyes. "I thought I could make myself be ready. And I want this last connection to the Temple severed SO badly..."

He nodded. "It amazed me you were about it. It STILL amazes me."

"Yeah well, I've always been a 'do what needs to be done' type of girl. It wasn't easy though...I's not something I'm used to discussing or even really thinking about. Well....not often anyway," she admitted with a blush.

"Oh really?" he asked, eyebrow quirking. She laughed a little and then rolled her head over to look back at him.

"CAN I stay here tonight? I mean...without...I just...I really DO feel safe here. That was why I liked this plan: if I could make myself do this, then that's great, that's exactly what I...thought I...wanted. And if not, I could still sleep snuggled up next to you, and that would most likely make me feel better too. It was a win-win situation for both of us, I thought."

"Of course. Hey, like I said before, I'm not going to complain about having you near me." He closed the gap between them in a soft goodnight kiss and let go of her. He moved back over and laid down and she crawled over next to him. She resituated herself so that they were as they had been before, in their warm, mutual embrace.

"Oyasumi Kiv-Chan. Don't worry, I'll keep the nightmares away," he vowed.

"I knew you would," she replied with a sleepy sigh.