BEFORE WE BEGIN: This chapter will contain several scenes from the final two episodes of Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito, with dialogue adapted (and in most cases copied wholesale) from the Miyuki Fansubs translation. Many thanks for their impressive work.
Part 4: Eve
Snow had returned to Astraea Hill, leading the core members of the Mystery Club to escape the chill in one of their favorite unused classrooms. Chikaru looked up from her sketchbook to gaze fondly at her friends: Remon and Kizuna were entangled in a best thirty-three of sixty-five thumb-wrestle tournament while Kagome was quietly reading something to Percival (from this distance, it appeared to be Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time -- in English -- held upside-down). Content with their happiness, she turned suddenly pensive eyes on the picture she'd just finished: that of a tall figure standing before a door, hand raised to knock, trapped in the moment of indecision before making her presence known.
"What are you working on, Chikaru-sama?" Kizuna suddenly asked, as she and Remon, having given up on their game, appeared to either side of their class president.
"New costumes?" Remon asked, peering over Chikaru's shoulder.
Before the older girl could answer, Kizuna let out a gasp of recognition. "That's the girl we met! The one with the sword! What was her name?"
"Azuma-sama," Kagome offered, before returning to her quiet narration.
"Hazuki, yes," Chikaru nodded, turning back a few pages. "I've been thinking about her a lot lately. Even... dreaming about her."
"And drawing her, it looks like," Remon agreed.
"Wait, what's that one?" Kizuna asked, holding out one hand to keep the next page from turning.
It was an image that had troubled Chikaru even as it took shape under her pencil well before dawn, with the vividness of the dream fading as she'd fumbled for her sketchbook and bedside lamp. Hazuki was kneeling on what could only be called a garden path in the middle of the cosmos, desperately embracing the fair-haired woman before her.
At long last, in this empty place between worlds, Hazuki had Hatsumi in her arms. "Let's go," she whispered, tears falling on her beloved's shoulder. "Let's go back home." Hatsumi held her close, and for the first time since the journey had begun, Hazuki could finally feel joy.
It was not to last, though, as Hatsumi's next words chilled her to the core. "I'm sorry..."
"Hatsumi?" she gasped.
"I'm sorry," Hatsumi repeated, rising to her feet and taking a step back. From nowhere, a wind ruffled her golden hair, and before Hazuki's eyes, the familiar school uniform vanished, leaving Hatsumi standing before her as a being of pure light.
"This is the real me," Hatsumi's voice echoed through the emptiness. "Although the Hatsumi inside me did not disappear when I reached sixteen, I can no longer go back to being Hatsumi."
Hazuki struggled to her feet. "Hatsumi is Hatsumi!" she cried, stepping forward to take the glowing girl in her arms. Before she could touch her, though, a wave of brilliant green light slammed into her, throwing her back several steps. It was the same Souma that had warmed and guided her throughout her travels, but this was the first time it had ever been a barrier.
"I am no longer Hatsumi," the brilliant girl whispered. "My name is Eve. I've been through many different lives until now, but the time for me to return to my true self has come."
"No!" Hazuki shouted. "I refuse to believe something like that!" Again, she reached forward, and again, she was thrown back, this time landing on her back.
"Hatsumi is Hatsumi!" she repeated, leaping to her feet and lunging toward the light. Each time she approached, the push of the Souma struck her more and more violently, but through the blinding pain, she continued trying.
"Please, Hazuki-chan!" Eve cried as Hazuki was again thrown into a crumpled heap. "Please stop!"
Gasping for breath, her body afire with agony, Hazuki slowly rose to her feet and turned to face the one who had been her sister. "Hatsumi," she begged, reaching out one hand, "let's go home together."
Eve gazed at her, shame and pity in her glowing eyes. "Hazuki-chan... I wonder if there's anyone who has loved me this deeply before?"
Hazuki took a step forward as Eve continued. "I want to go back with you too... but that's a dream that can never come true..."
Remon extended one finger toward the image of the other woman, the one with the bows in her light-colored hair, then pulled it back, gasping. "Chikaru-sama," she whispered, "isn't that... your sister?"
Chikaru gave her friend a sad smile. "Yes, it is. Hazuki and she were... very close."
"Ooh!" Kizuna grinned. "Were they just friend-friends, or were they kissing friends?"
"Hazuki loved Naoko very much," Chikaru sighed, "but I don't know that she ever got to tell her so, at least not in the way she wished. But maybe they can still have their chance..."
"I don't want you gone," Hazuki wept, falling to her knees before her Hatsumi, as Eve once again took the image of the fair schoolgirl. Heart torn, strength all but gone, she flung herself forward, burying her face in her beloved's lap. "Hatsumi, please come back with me! Please!"
Eve stroked Hazuki's hair gently. "You know, Hazuki-chan?" she smiled gently, "let's believe in us meeting again, as long as we're still alive. No matter how far away we're separated, our hearts are always one. We can always hear each other's heartbeat, no matter where we are." She then gently grasped Hazuki's shoulders and pushed her back to a sitting position. "I love you," she whispered. "No matter where I am, I won't forget you."
With that declaration, Eve leaned forward and kissed Hazuki's cheek, then once again rose to her feet and took a step back.
With a burst of green radiance, Eve changed before Hazuki's eyes, the hat formerly worn by Lilith appearing on her head, and her clothing shifting to match that of her fellow keeper. For the second time, Hazuki found herself bathed in the Souma, and with horror, she realized that she was truly going to lose Hatsumi all over again.
"This is what I'm really like," Eve's voice echoed. "Look at me carefully, and... please, don't forget me."
Just as it had that horrible night, the brilliance reached toward the heavens, and Eve vanished into the light. Hazuki screamed heavenward, feeling as though her soul were being torn from her. "Hatsumi!"
"I won't say goodbye," Eve's voice came from the emptiness, "because I will surely return to your side. Someday... I will become your child."
"Onee-chan," Hazuki whispered, her voice cracked and raw.
The voice swirled around her one last time before leaving her in silence. "Someday... I will become your child."
How long she stayed there on that bridge across the stars, she could not tell. At last, she reached numbly to retrieve her sword from where it had fallen, then rose and staggered a few steps down the path. She would have to finish her journey alone, now, though her shattered mind and aching body could barely place one foot in front of the other, much less find her way home.
A few steps more, and her strength left her completely. She pitched to one side and tumbled off the garden path, plummeting into emptiness.
"But Chikaru-sama," Remon asked, "I thought... I mean... Naoko died... didn't she?"
The next page held another troubling image: Hazuki falling through space, her eyes glassy and lifeless.
"Do you still miss your sister, Chikaru-sama?"
Chikaru gave Kizuna a wan smile. "Every day..."
The reunion with Lilith had been tempestuous, to say the very least (with Eve's attempt to make her sister hotcakes and tea proving less than sufficient to make up for her lengthy absence), but at last some measure of peace had returned to the Library.
Eve walked the endless stacks, re-familiarizing herself with the neatly organized worlds. She smiled softly as she brushed her fingers over the spines of the books, recognizing some of the ones she'd lived within.
Eventually, though, her wanderings brought her to the world of the sister she'd left behind. "Hazuki-chan," she whispered, taking this volume down from its shelf and turning it to a marked page. Unaware that Lilith was watching her carefully from a distance, Eve placed one hand on the open page, closing her eyes in concentration. "I wonder what she's doing now?"
In her mind's eye, she saw the empty home she'd once shared with Hazuki. She looked up and down through the darkened house, but there was no sign of the woman who had been her little sister. "Hazuki-chan..." she whispered, but touched only emptiness. "She's not here..?"
"Are you looking in the wrong book?" came Lilith's voice from her shoulder, startling her out of her contemplation.
"There's no way I can be mistaken," Eve replied, shaking her head. "I grew up with Hazuki-chan in this book!"
Lilith considered this. "Then that means... Hazuki didn't go back to her own world."
"That... seems so," Eve agreed, knowing full well that Hazuki should have been pulled back to her home after leaving the Universe Garden.
Frowning, Lilith went to check the nearby shelves. "The books that are in the same series should be around... here."
"You know a lot," Eve smiled.
"Well, I did look after this place for a long time," Lilith shrugged nonchalantly.
Eve's happy smile deepened, and Lilith scowled. "I was being sarcastic."
"Oh... sorry, onee-chan."
Leaving it be for now, Lilith scanned the nearest shelf, then her pretty face took on a puzzled expression. She reached for a familiar tome, flipped it open, placed one hand over it, then looked back at her sister. "Eve?"
"Did you find her?" Eve asked, excitedly.
Lilith passed her the book, her face still creased with confusion. "But... how did she wind up here?"
It was with great reluctance that Hazuki opened her eyes, finding herself curled in her familiar bed. In a very real sense, she'd hoped to fall through the universe forever, but in the end, she'd felt the pull of the Souma within her, guiding her home.
The first thing she saw was Hatsumi's letter-opener, now back to its original shape, clutched in her hand in place of her sword. Another indication that her journey had ended, and had done so in vain.
She flung it away from her, and heard a THUNNG as it stuck into the ceiling.
It took a great deal of time and effort, but at last she pushed herself up out of bed. Moving gingerly, almost mechanically, she emptied the pockets of her skirt, leaving a bejeweled comb, her keys, and a somewhat crumpled red hair-bow on her nightstand, then plugged her long-dead phone into its charger. Once this was done, she staggered for the bathroom, leaving a trail of clothing behind her as she stripped down for her first shower in entirely too long.
She stood numbly under the spray until the water went cold, then dried herself off and pulled on a soft pair of flannel pajamas. Her mind was slowly starting to uncoil, but even as it did, her memories buzzed with conflicting images.
Wandering down the hall to Hatsumi's room, she found it empty and barren: a spare room, showing no sign of her sister's presence. Downstairs, she found pictures of herself and her parents, but none of Hatsumi.
Had she removed herself so completely from the world? Did she only exist now in Hazuki's memories?
But even those memories were at war with one another. There was the Hazuki that had grown up in Hatsumi's loving aura, and there was the Hazuki that had grown up alone, sickly and weak. There was the Hazuki who had journeyed to the primeval world, to ancient Japan, and to the distant future, and there was the Hazuki who had never left this home, except to live through the drudgery of a friendless life at school. There was the Hazuki who had helped the lovely spy Youko and the eternal child Milka, and there was the Hazuki who had spent endless nights home alone while her parents were away on business. There was the Hazuki who had met Chikaru on Astraea Hill, and finally started down the long path of realizing who she was, and what it meant, and there was the Hazuki who lived in fear of her feelings, withdrawing further into herself every year.
Most chillingly of all, though, there was the Hazuki who had fallen back to the world from nothingness, awakening reluctantly in her own bed at the end of her quest, and there was the Hazuki who had collapsed into that same bed hours before, the handful of sleeping pills churning in her stomach, wishing only for oblivion.
She found her way back to her room and sat back on the bed, eyes passing over the physical signs of her travels: the comb, the bow and the knife. It had been real, but to that other Hazuki, it seemed nothing more than a dream.
She reached for her phone and flipped it open, wondering if it had charged enough to show Hatsumi's shining face again, but the picture was gone. Erased, just like every other trace of her.
Hazuki sank into her bed, wondering if she'd ever be able to sleep again.
Eve held the book in one hand, with the other placed pensively over the open page. She took a breath to say something to Lilith, but her sister beat her to it.
"No you don't. I know that look! You can't go in to see her! You know that as well as I do!"
"Just stop it!" Lilith fumed. "You're not leaving me again! You promised! And don't think that I don't know about your little plan!"
"What little plan?" Eve asked in shock.
"You know the one I mean! To come back as Hazuki's daughter! I'll bet you didn't think I knew about that, did you?"
Eve looked down at the book again, unable to meet her sister's eyes. "No, I didn't."
"There, you see? You were going to break your promise to me the first chance you got, even after you forced me to spend ten thousand years alone in this library! I won't let you do it to me again!"
Lilith paused for breath, and Eve sighed. She was right, of course. Eve had promised not to leave her sister alone again, and she had meant it.
"Besides," Lilith huffed. "It's creepy."
"Creepy?" Eve squeaked.
"Coming back as her daughter is nothing but creepy! You're the one who's lived all these lives with humans: haven't you figured it out yet that they aren't like us? Poor Hazuki-chan's tiny brain could barely withstand lusting after you when she thought you were her sister. Do you really want her lusting after her own daughter as well? She'll snap!"
Eve glared at her sister. "Hazuki-chan didn't lust after me," she said in a low voice. "She loved me. More deeply than anyone in any of the worlds I visited."
Lilith blinked her huge, violet eyes. "Again, you're the one who lived so long among humans. You should know that they're fully capable of both at the same time." That said, she crossed her arms and looked away. "Which is, of course, the only way she could have resisted me as long as she did."
After considering this for a long while, Eve closed the book gently, squared her shoulders, and regarded Lilith steadily. "All the more reason I should go to her, then. Let me make amends."
"But you promised!" Lilith pouted, stomping her foot like a child.
"It's been ten thousand years," Eve reminded her. "What's sixty or seventy more?"
"That's not funny!"
"Please, onee-chan," Eve insisted. "You were fond of Hazuki-chan, weren't you?"
This gave Lilith a moment's pause. "Apart from the fact that she was a fool to pass up her every chance with me... yes."
"Then don't do this for me. Do this for Hazuki."
To Eve's shock, rather than continue her angry rant, Lilith instead burst into tears. "No! You can't leave me again! I... I couldn't bear it! Do you have any idea how lonely it is to spend ten thousand years with only a vulgar little bird to keep you company?"
"I... never intended it to be so long," Eve admitted, feeling a blush of shame creep over her face.
"That's what I mean! If I let you go now, you'll just start going through book after book again, and the next thing you know, it'll be another ten thousand years!"
"Please, Lilith," Eve whispered, grasping for a solution. "Just... one night. Even one night. For closure, if nothing else."
The sisters stared at one another for several long moments before Lilith nodded. "Okay, one night. But on one condition."
Lilith frowned, and Eve realized she wasn't going to like what her sister was about to propose. "After your one night, you take the Souma from her. Humans aren't meant to have it anyway."
Eve stared at her sister, thunderstruck. "But... onee-chan, if I take away the Souma, Hazuki won't... remember this. Any of this..."
Nodding slowly, Lilith reached out to take her sister's hands. "And that might be exactly what Hazuki-chan needs," Lilith replied, her tone surprisingly gentle.
The next picture was as hopeless as the last, with Hazuki alone and desolate in a darkened bedroom.
"But you know as well as I do," Chikaru went on, putting on a brave face for her girls, "that even the ones who... leave this world... never truly die. Hopefully Hazuki will have her chance, in this world or the next."
"Or maybe in a dream," Kagome nodded, speaking up for the second time.
"Indeed, Kagome-chan. Maybe in a dream..."
With sleep out of the question, Hazuki switched from pajamas to a soft cotton sport top and shorts and resumed wandering the house, hoping that something would shake the memories back into place.
The living room was the same as it had ever been, except for the picture of only a very young Hazuki on the mantel (where once had been a picture of both sisters). Idly, she picked up a magazine from the couch, then settled onto the cushions to glance through it. It was one she'd seen before: in fact, it was dated the week that she'd left with Ken-chan in the first place. Although months had passed, subjectively, she was right back where she had been.
Setting the magazine aside, she stretched and rose, padding barefoot to the windows to look out at the rain. The world outside was blurred by the water flowing over the glass, just as it had been when she'd left.
Had she ever really gone? Had Hatsumi ever existed at all?
Had it been a dream, brought on by the crushing loneliness of the Hazuki in those other memories?
Even as she considered it, though, two figures approached out of the rain, crouched under an umbrella. Holding it was a young man in an ordinary school uniform, and beside him, smiling as she waved farewell to him, was a golden-haired girl with red bows in her hair.
Hazuki stared numbly as the girl walked up the front path and opened the door. Once inside, she slipped off her wet shoes and headed toward the stairs, shooting Hazuki a brilliant smile as she did.
She didn't dare call out her love's name, fearful that it would somehow make her disappear. Instead, she watched as Hatsumi walked upstairs, the sounds of her steps very real over the noises of the rain outside.
Reality blurred around Hazuki as she turned to look at the picture on the mantel again. Her breath caught in her throat as she saw, once more, the picture of the two of them as children, Hatsumi holding her hand as both of them smiled into the camera.
Images of that last day with Hatsumi flooded her:
...watching Hatsumi as she practiced swimming in the pool at the academy, then waiting outside the dressing room while trying desperately to stop her mind from imagining Hatsumi under the spray of the shower...
...the last dinner Hazuki had made for them, when Hatsumi had left her by signing "goodbye" rather than "goodnight"...
...the love letter and the accidental cut, Hatsumi's blood dripping onto the carpet as Hazuki looked on in horror...
...the deep pit of guilt as Hazuki stayed up into the night watching videos she'd taken of her sister, in which she'd tried in vain to coax her into a sexy pose...
Hazuki started up the stairs, trying to come to grips with memories of shame and regret that now felt almost as alien to her as the images of that sickly, desperate Hazuki who'd never had a sister. She walked down the hallway to Hatsumi's room, but paused at the door.
If I open this door, something terrible will happen. Those had been the words running through her head that night as she wrestled with whether or not to go inside. She had known, even then.
Again, she opened the door and stepped quietly into Hatsumi's room, finding her asleep atop her covers, protected only by the briefest of nightgowns. Silently, not wishing to awaken her, Hazuki sat beside her on the mattress. Her eyes were drawn to the bandaged wrist, then to the graceful lines and curves of Hatsumi's skin, and finally to the hair that had fallen into her eyes. Gently, Hazuki reached back to brush the errant locks away, and stared longingly at that angelic face.
I think there's no shame at all in falling in love with an angel.
If only she had believed that. If only she hadn't waited until that last night to try to kiss her Hatsumi. How different would their lives have been?
Was she being given a second chance?
"I'm sorry, Hatsumi," she whispered, years of regret filling that simple declaration. Brushing her own hair back nervously, she leaned closer...
Then, just as it had the night her world had ended, the clock struck midnight, and Hatsumi spoke. "Hazuki-chan..."
Hazuki reeled back, her heart screaming as the scene played itself out before her again. This wasn't a second chance. She hadn't returned to her home at all. This was some sort of Hell in which she was going to have to lose Hatsumi again and again, always on the verge of confession and absolution.
But this time there was no blinding flash of green, and Hatsumi did not disappear. She only stared up at Hazuki, sleep and confusion in her enormous eyes.
"Hatsumi?" she whispered. "Did you just... speak?"
Slowly, Hatsumi shook her head, then pushed herself up to a seated position and smiled gently, extending one hand to the other girl.
Unable to reply, Hazuki reached out and took the offered hand, allowing Hatsumi to pull her back to the mattress. Tenderly, Hatsumi brushed several strands of dark hair from Hazuki's face, then gently grasped her shoulder and pulled her close...
"...because in a dream," Chikaru continued, turning to the next page, "anything can happen."
In one voice, Kizuna and Remon made a sound that was part gasp and part squeal, as they saw the two women staring into each other's eyes, their lips barely a finger's-breadth apart.
"Next page! Next page!" Remon cried.
"Sorry, my darlings, that's not for our eyes," Chikaru grinned, her own eyes twinkling with mischief.
"So soft," Hazuki whispered as they broke from the kiss that she had literally crossed worlds for. She looked into the eyes of her angel, then crumpled against her and just let herself be held.
"Can you let me... be like this for a while?" she whispered.
Eve cuddled Hazuki close, her eyes filled with sorrow as she thought of what she must soon do.
She bent to kiss the soft hair of this mortal girl who had loved her more than anyone, and yet had never truly forgiven herself for it. "The thing that you really need," she whispered, "is something you can't catch, even if you chase after it. It's something that you had in yourself since the beginning..."
"No more pictures?" Kizuna pouted.
"No more pictures," Chikaru nodded, closing the cover of her sketchbook.
Remon fixed the older girl with a thoughtful look. "Hey, Chikaru-sama, ever since Hazuki and Lilith came to visit, you've only been wearing one bow in your hair. Why's that?"
"I gave the other to Hazuki."
"Oooo!" the second-years said together, eyes going wide.
"For luck," Chikaru explained, patiently.
"Mmm hmm," they giggled in unison.
Chikaru let out a long-suffering sigh. "You two..."
"Do you think we'll ever see Azuma-sama again?" Kagome asked suddenly.
Chikaru looked around at the three expectant faces, and for once, the Lulim president found herself without an answer for her goslings. "Perhaps, sweetheart. Let's hope so."
Hazuki woke to find herself curled up, fully dressed, on the floor of the spare room. Gingerly, she tried to rise, but a wave of dizziness overtook her, and she could just barely manage to sit up.
"I fell asleep... in the empty room?" she whispered to herself, holding one hand to her head. She had no recollection of how she had arrived here, as her mind was filled with fog. Distantly, she had the oddest feeling that she wasn't supposed to have awakened at all.
Once the dizziness passed, she gradually got to her feet, and to her surprise, it was much easier than it ought to have been. She ached from having slept on the floor, certainly, but her legs had none of their customary shooting pains, and her joints did not threaten to buckle each time she shifted her weight. Dimly, she wondered if she'd be able to walk without the canes today.
A glance at the wall clock showed that she had overslept. At least she was still in her school uniform, though she would only have a few minutes at the most for breakfast if she wanted to get to the train station on time. She hurried into her room to get her phone, and to her surprise, found it sitting on her bedside table along with an antique comb and a red hair bow of the sort she would never be caught dead wearing. Even as she pondered the strange items, she noted a metallic flash above her head, and looked up to see a small paper-knife jammed into her ceiling.
"How did this get here?" she pondered aloud as she reached up to pull it free. It was very well crafted, with a crescent moon design at the base of the actual blade, but she could not recall ever owning one like it.
Still, it felt good in her hand, and more than a little familiar.
The bow and comb, too, had an odd, comfortable feeling to them as she picked them up with her other hand. She knew right away that they weren't hers, but she still felt like she should know them from somewhere.
Again realizing that she was short of time, she slipped all three into her skirt pocket (maybe they belonged to someone at school), then dashed downstairs.
Only upon reaching the bottom of the staircase did she realize that she had taken the steps two at a time. It felt so natural, but... when had she ever been able to manage the stairs without hanging onto the banister with both hands?
To her relief, a plate of breakfast was waiting for her when she arrived in the dining area, but as she sat and took up knife and fork, she stopped short.
They were still warm, and had been topped with a generous helping of sliced strawberries. Feeling no small amount of uncertainty, Hazuki sliced off a piece and took a bite.
It was, quite possibly, the worst thing she had ever tasted.
Tears slowly filled her eyes, but not from the taste. There was something raw and familiar about this -- something she knew she should remember, but when she tried, all she found was a hollow space inside her. This is... Where did this...?
"Mom, did you make this hotcake?" she called out to the house, but immediately knew better. Her mother wasn't even home, and would not be for several more days.
Turning back to the plate before her, Hazuki picked up one of the strawberries with her fork. It had been cut lengthwise, and for several long minutes she stared at the triangular shape formed by the cut.
"That was your last gift to her?" Lilith gasped, peeking over Eve's shoulder at the open volume. "You left her some of your terrible hotcakes?"
"She always said she loved my cooking," Eve said, defensively.
"People in love say the strangest things," Lilith shrugged. "At least you put strawberries on top this time. Maybe those will help."
Eve smiled to herself as she closed the book and placed it gently back on its shelf. "Yes, maybe they will."
"Hey," Lilith said in a strange tone, and when Eve looked over, there was a fond, playful look in her sister's eyes that she hadn't seen in ten thousand years.
Thirty hours, six trains and very little sleep later, Hazuki stood warily before the dormitory door. For the third time, she reached her hand up to knock, and for the third time, she could not bring herself to do so.
Even if someone were there, what would she say? Hello, you don't know me, but I had strawberries with breakfast yesterday, and somehow I knew that I needed to come here and knock on this door.
She briefly turned away, but then, with a sudden flash of clarity, she realized that she had been hesitating like this all her life, and it was time to act. She raised her hand again, but this time knocked twice, and waited breathlessly for a response.
The door opened, revealing a tall, pretty girl maybe a few months older than herself. She wore a tan and pink checkered school uniform, and her black hair was decorated with a single familiar red bow.
"H-hello," Hazuki stammered, fumbling in her pocket to bring out her own bow. "I'm... I'm not sure why I'm here, but..." She trailed off as she compared her bow to this girl's, and saw that they were identical.
In reply, the other girl simply held out her hand. Hazuki stared mutely at her smiling face for a long moment, then reached to press the bow into the hand she offered.
As soon as they touched, Hazuki gasped as a warmth rushed from this other girl's hand and spread through her own. It roared into the empty places within her, filling her with light and life and a beautiful green. Images flashed before her eyes, and as they tumbled into place, she felt love and loss, regret and forgiveness, yearning and fulfillment, and most incredibly of all, she felt hope.
Because it was at that moment that Hazuki remembered everything.
"Ch- Chikaru?" she whispered, tears springing to her eyes as she felt the Souma echoing between them.
"Welcome back... Hazuki-chan."
AUTHOR'S NOTE: And that's a wrap. Many thanks to everyone for reading what started out as an exercise in self-indulgence (what would happen if these two Awesome characters met) and eventually turned into a story that excited and inspired me more than anything has in quite some time. I'm not sure where, if anywhere, to go from here, but I must admit that the idea of exploring Hazuki at Astraea is intriguing ("Kaname, touch me like that one more time and I'll gut you with this letter-opener"), at the very least with a series of vignettes.
There is also the wild idea of Hazuki, Lilith and Chikaru dimension-hopping through the Yuri catalog collecting a team ("Yuri Force, Go!"), but that may just be the lack of sleep talking.
Thanks again, folks. And particular thanks to Ninemil, for reasons which I hope are obvious.