DISCLAIMER THE FIRST: I own neither Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito nor Strawberry Panic. I just think Hazuki and Chikaru are Awesome.

DISCLAIMER THE SECOND: This is a direct sequel to the rather unfortunately titled Red Bows In Her Hair. I can't promise it will make a lot of sense without having read that story first.

Hand Me Downs
by Suzume CA


So give me hope, give me hope
That emptiness brings fullness
And loss of love brings wholeness
To us all...

-Indigo Girls


Part 1: Spica


Hazuki hated the uniform.

The cream-colored coat was classy enough looking, even if it was uncomfortably binding across the chest and would probably attract stains with ridiculous ease, but the skirt! She turned away from the mirror and looked over her shoulder to check her reflection. From this angle, she couldn't quite see her own underwear, but it was a close call. Were she to take her hair out of its braid, it would doubtless hang lower than the hemline.

If only Hatsumi, while bringing the collective students of Astraea to greater self-awareness, had managed to convince someone to let the skirts down a little in the process.

She knew, of course, that she should be thankful for the opportunity to wear this uniform at all. Of Astraea's three schools, only Spica had even offered an entrance interview. Miator had flat-out ignored her inquiries, and Lulim, even with its student council president giving a personal recommendation, had been overall unimpressed with her grades and reputation. Even things with Spica had looked dicey until they'd gotten wind of her sudden and inexplicable prowess in athletics, and once the academic interview had segued into a demonstration of her skills with a kendo sword, it had simply been a matter of paperwork.

Shame about the uniform, though. She'd even prefer one of those Miator monstrosities (how did you breathe in those things?) to this.

Frowning, Hazuki took one last look at her reflection's several kilometers of exposed leg, then checked her bedside clock. Still thirty minutes until her first dinner as a student of St. Spica's, and she was finding herself at loose ends. She was already finished unpacking (not that it had taken long to fill this dormitory single with the few belongings she'd brought with her), and she didn't feel much like mingling until she absolutely had to. Chikaru had warned her that transfer students were rare at any of the academies, so she would likely be the center of attention at the start.

Instead, she turned her attention once more to the three reminders of the life she'd left behind. Two of these, an ornate antique comb and a polished letter-opener, lay upon her desk. She ran her fingers over them, once again reminding herself that they were real. Here was the last tangible proof that Hatsumi had been a part of her life.

The third, her new sword, was still wrapped up on her bed: she did not know the rules yet on decorating the walls of her room in the Strawberry dorm, and she didn't want to get in trouble on her first day for putting nails into the plaster.

Idly, she unwrapped the hilt of the sheathed weapon, allowing herself a tiny smile as she studied the intricate work. It had been a present from her parents (or at least, they had paid for it) upon her acceptance at St. Spica, and from the crescent-moon pommel to the ornate four-pointed crosspiece, it was a perfect replica of the one she had taken on her journey to find Hatsumi. Chikaru's incredible visual memory and artistic skills had been a great help here, as she had been able to provide the swordsmith with detailed sketches of the custom work to be done.

Of course, Hazuki knew, she had a lot more than merely this for which to thank Chikaru.

Leaving the sword where it was for now, Hazuki again checked her appearance in the mirror (This was the winter uniform? Didn't it get... drafty?), then with a long sigh, decided that now would be as good a time as any to make her first appearance in her new home.

After all, she had fought ninjas, samurai, demon beasts and gun-toting spies in her travels. How bad could a room full of students be?

"Good evening, Hazuki-senpai!"

Having arrived comparatively early, Hazuki had taken what she hoped would be an out-of-the-way seat in the dining hall and tried her best to blend in with the surroundings. As the hall began to fill with students, though, she found herself flanked on either side by two familiar girls wearing the pink checkered uniform of St. Lulim.

"Good evening, Kizuna-san, Remon-san," she nodded to each of them in turn, giving the most friendly smile she could manage.

"It's so nice to see you again," Kizuna went on. "Chikaru-sama has been so happy today knowing that you'd be arriving. The happiest we've seen her in a long time, in fact."

"Which is sort of what we wanted to talk to you about, but not quite," Remon nodded.

Hazuki's smile faded into a puzzled frown. "Oh?"

The two girls nodded together, then Kizuna explained. "We think it's wonderful about you and Chikaru-sama."

"Very wonderful. Our onee-sama's happiness is very important to us."

"And we understand that now that you're here, we'll no doubt see a little less of her, and we just wanted you to know that we're okay with that."

"More than okay with that."

"Very much more than okay with that. We're so happy that she finally has someone... you know... special."

"But I--" Hazuki tried to say, but Remon barreled on ahead.

"Even though it's maybe a little weird, seeing as you loved her sister and all."

"But we're not here to pass judgment."

"Not at all. We're sure our onee-sama has good taste, after all."

"And good sense. But that's not what we wanted to talk to you about either."

Bewildered, Hazuki looked from one third-year to the other. "Then what do you want to talk to me about?"

"Well," Kizuna said carefully, "we certainly wouldn't want to sound like we were, you know, trying to scare you or anything."

"Especially since you could probably cut the both of us up into tiny little pieces. Rumor has it you fought the kendo sensei to a standstill."

"Yeah, so there's no question in our minds that you could, you know, destroy us with a thought. But we still want you to know something important."

"Something very important."

"Some good advice for the new girl."

Here, they both leaned in conspiratorially close. Regarding Hazuki from above the rim of her rectangular glasses, Remon whispered "Chikaru-sama is very beloved to all Astraea. But especially to us."

"So if something were to happen to her, like getting her heart broken?"

"It would upset a lot of people."

"Starting with us."

"And while, once again, you're no doubt very mighty..."

"...you may want to think twice before you ever do anything to hurt our onee-sama."

That said, both girls leaned in, gave a flummoxed Hazuki a kiss on each cheek, said "Welcome to Astraea!" in unison, then scampered off to join Kagome at another table.

"I see you're making friends quickly," another voice came, and Hazuki looked over to see two other girls seating themselves opposite her. The one who had spoken had long, straight black hair and a quirky smile, while the other, younger girl (whose hair actually appeared to be pink) looked Hazuki over warily. Both wore the uniforms of St. Spica, though the younger of the two had opted for the standard sweater rather than the coat.

"I've actually met both of them before," Hazuki shrugged. "They seem nice enough."

"If a little overprotective," the dark-haired girl grinned. "I'm Yaya, by the way, and this is Tsubomi. Since I don't recognize you, and you look far too old to be a first-year, I'm guessing you're our mysterious kendo-goddess transfer student?"

"Well, I'm your transfer student, at any rate. Azuma Hazuki."

"Glad to meet you," Yaya grinned, though Tsubomi simply nodded, obviously sizing Hazuki up. It didn't take much to see that this girl was very protective of Yaya.

"Likewise," Hazuki replied, "though it seems you all have me at a disadvantage. I'm not used to having a reputation, much less having it precede me."

"Oh, it's only good things," Yaya said with a dismissive wave of the hand. "You know, embarrassing the sensei during your kendo tryouts, making all of Chikaru's fangirls jealous. Congratulations on that, by the way!" Here, the other girl actually winked.

Hazuki tried to say something about there being nothing for which to congratulate her, much less to make anyone jealous, but Yaya was already waving two passing Miator students over. "Nagisa! Tamao! Come meet the new girl!"

"Actually, I believe we've already met," the darker-haired of the two Miator girls smiled, taking the chair to Hazuki's right. "Azuma-san, right?"

"Nice to see you again, Suzumi-san," Hazuki nodded.

"Oh, you can call me Tamao. And you remember Nagisa-chan, of course?"

"Of course," Hazuki smiled, looking to her left to see that the young lady in question had taken the neighboring seat. "You made... quite an impression."

"She does that," Tamao smirked.

"Hush, Tamao-chan," Nagisa retorted, giving Hazuki a weak smile. Hazuki could tell right away that something was wrong, as Nagisa looked nothing like the happy, bubbly girl she'd met during her first trip to Astraea Hill.

It was then that Hazuki noted the absence of Shizuma, Nagisa's silver-haired love. She wondered briefly if something had happened between the two, but then she remembered that Shizuma had been a sixth-year, and would thus have graduated at the end of the previous term. Suddenly the pensive expression on the normally perky redhead's face made a lot more sense.

"So, tell us," Yaya went on, leaning across the table and grinning. "How badly did you spank the sensei? Talk about someone who had it coming."

"It was... a good match," Hazuki shrugged. "We sparred for a few minutes, that's all."

If anything, Yaya's grin deepened. "That's not the way I hear it. I hear you had her breaking out every trick she had just to keep up with you."

Hazuki shook her head, but before she could say anything, a hand appeared on her shoulder, and a smooth voice came from behind. "Well, what have we here? You must be the new girl."

The reaction from her companions was instantaneous: Yaya's face darkened, and she gazed up at the newcomer with just short of open hostility. Tsubomi looked nervous and uncomfortable, but her focus seemed to be on Yaya: she looked ready to restrain the dark-haired girl at a moment's notice. Tamao and Nagisa quickly exchanged glances, then turned worried eyes on Yaya as well.

"Azuma Hazuki, I believe it is? My name is Kenjyo Kaname, Student Council President of St. Spica."

The practiced, silky tones of her voice were enough to set Hazuki's nerves on edge even without taking into account the reactions of the other four. Nevertheless, she pushed back the chair slightly, then stood and turned to face this Kaname. The president turned out to be a very tall, slender woman (almost as tall as Hazuki herself) with short black hair and a wide, thin-lipped smile. The smile flickered for an instant as Hazuki stood to her full height, but soon returned.

"My duty to you, President Kenjyo-sama," Hazuki said, bowing her head slightly.

Looking amused at the choice of words, Kaname took a step back and raked Hazuki up and down with her eyes. "You're out of uniform," she said with an exaggerated frown, indicating Hazuki's bandaged left calf. "And on your first day, no less."

"I have shin splints," Hazuki lied automatically, not wishing to discuss the true reason for the bandages with this woman.

"Hmm, that's too bad. Perhaps you're not as... conditioned an athlete as I've been led to believe?"

"I can hold my own."

Smile widening into a smirk, Kaname brought a hand up to tuck a loose strand of hair behind Hazuki's ear before running a long finger along her clenched jaw. "So. You're the one who finally coaxed Minamoto out of her closet, eh? I thought I'd never see the day."

"With respect," Hazuki replied in a steady, edged voice, "my relationship with Minamoto-sama is none of your concern, and I would ask that President Kenjyo-sama never touch me like that again."

With that, every conversation in the room seemed to go silent at once, and Hazuki was vaguely aware that she had become the center of attention already, just as Chikaru had warned.

While Kaname's smile did not fade, something began to smolder in her eyes. "You're a feisty one. Am I going to have to break you in a little, Azuma?"

Hazuki returned her gaze, fire for fire. "I believe President Kenjyo-sama would deeply regret the attempt."

"That's enough," came a new voice: one which somehow managed to be shaky and firm at the same time. From the corner of her eye (as she would not look away from Kaname), Hazuki noticed another Spican girl, this one a foot shorter than either of them, with long curls of blonde hair and bright blue eyes. There was a sort of nervous authority in the way she held herself, as though she were doing her duty in spite of being frightened to death. "Kenjyo-san, the sister will be here soon. Please come to the head table."

Kaname stared at Hazuki for a few moments more, her smile making it clear that this was far from over, then finally broke eye contact. "Of course, Etoile-sama," she said to the fair-haired girl, her voice and bearing suddenly the very picture of nonchalance. The young Etoile nodded to Hazuki almost apologetically before leading the council president away.

Doing her best to ignore the stares of her new schoolmates, Hazuki once again took her seat. She glanced toward the head table to see that Chikaru had arrived somewhere in the midst of all of this, and was gazing at her with a mix of concern and humor. Hazuki nodded back to her, unable to keep a tiny smile from alighting on her face.

As the murmur of conversation gradually returned to the dining hall, Yaya reached across the table and gripped Hazuki's hand. "So. You and I? We're going to be great friends."

"It seems like everyone in the dormitory thinks you and I are lovers."

"Well, we are in bed together again."

Hazuki gave a single snort of laughter. "With our clothes on."

"True," Chikaru admitted, "but it's close enough for the rumor mill."

Hazuki smiled in spite of herself. For that matter, the two of them were lying close enough for the rumor mill, caught somewhere between cuddling and spooning. Chikaru was hugging her from behind, their joined hands firmly clasped over Hazuki's chest, the Souma flowing lazily through this connection.

"Are you going to be okay with that?" Chikaru asked, an uncharacteristic note of uncertainty in her voice.

"With what?"

"With... not being lovers?"

Hazuki turned to look over her shoulder, finding Chikaru's brown eyes studying her. "Of course I am. We've talked about this. Nothing's changed, I promise."

"I don't want you to get hurt," Chikaru whispered. "I'm an affectionate person by nature, but I don't want this... closeness to feel like I'm leading you on."

"This doesn't hurt me," Hazuki insisted, squeezing their joined hands. "Far from it. I'm not in a place where I need more than this, I promise. And I wouldn't ask that of you anyway. I know better."

Chikaru sighed and snuggled closer. "Sometimes it feels like it would be easier to just give in to destiny and be lovers after all."

"After everything you've done for me, the last thing I'd ever do is ask you to be something you're not."

"I know. But my goodness, considering how the Souma feels when we're just holding hands, I bet the sex would be spectacular..."

There was a long pause, and then Chikaru added "That's not helping, is it?"

Hazuki laboriously turned herself over to face Chikaru, then scooted in so that their foreheads were touching. "I'm very happy with what we have."

"Me, too. Whatever it is."

"Whatever it is, yes. It almost feels like having a sister again, only without the wracking guilt."

"And without the forbidden attraction?"

"I wouldn't go that far," Hazuki smirked, rolling her eyes. "I seem to be cursed with ridiculously beautiful pseudo-sisters who are off-limits for one reason or another. But it's not the same this time, I promise."

Chikaru gave a small lopsided smile at this. "It would break my heart if you came all the way back to this world just to go through what you did with Hatsumi all over again."

"I hope I've learned a thing or two since then, like enjoying what you have for what it is. I only wonder what I did to deserve having someone like you in my life."

"Something terrible, no doubt," Chikaru grinned.

"And anyway, it's your reputation being affected by the time we spend together."

"I think I can handle that," Chikaru giggled. "And I'm not the only one with a reputation, O sword goddess who coaxed the most notoriously single girl on the hill out of her closet."

Hazuki rolled onto her back, letting out a sigh. "Ah, yes. Heard that, did you?"

"Mmm hmm."

"So that's my student council president, eh?"

"I'm afraid so."

"What's her story?"

Chikaru settled onto her back to mirror Hazuki. "The stereotypical Alpha Female making the best of what she no doubt considers an untenable situation. She wanted to be Etoile, but had to settle for council president, and let me assure you that she'll use her rank for every advantage, even if it's not the rank she wanted. Admired by many for her athleticism and striking good looks. Now along comes a willful transfer student possessing the same qualities -- not to mention an annoying refusal to roll over at her command -- and her position is immediately threatened."

"I don't want her position," Hazuki scowled.

"Irrelevant, I'm afraid. Intimidation is part of her game, and you just showed her up in front of the entire population of the dormitory. This isn't like standing up to a bully and making her back down, Hazuki-chan. She's going to keep trying to goad you into something."

"Fine. If she touches me like that again, I'll break her fingers."

"At which point you'll be out of this school faster than you can blink, and her position as Alpha will be secure. She'll use anything she can to get rid of a potential rival, and you mustn't allow it."

Hazuki let out a noisy breath. "You're right."

"There's... more that you should know," Chikaru went on, again sounding uncharacteristically hesitant. "I almost don't want to tell you this, because I know how protective you are, but I think it's better you hear it from me."

"What is it?" Hazuki asked.

"You asked me once if Naoko -- I mean, Hatsumi --"

"You can call her Naoko to me," Hazuki interrupted. "I know we're talking about the same person."

Chikaru smiled. "Of course. But you asked me once if she had... suitors?"

Hazuki narrowed her eyes, then widened them as the light dawned. "Kenjyo?"

"Wanted her, yes," Chikaru nodded. "But it was different with her. Everyone was drawn to Naoko: how could you not be? But Kaname-san was... clear in her intentions. To her, Naoko would have been the ultimate prize. She would have put our angel in a cage if she'd had her way."

"Don't forget," Hazuki sighed, huskily, "I wanted Hatsumi all to myself as well."

"Mmm, different. I think you needed her full attention to help you come to terms with yourself. There's no doubt in my heart that you loved her." Here, Chikaru gripped Hazuki's hand, sending a surge of energy. "You don't feel anything like Kaname-san, believe me, particularly since you came back. You find strength in love, and she finds it in conquest. She's a hunter, and she's very comfortable being that."

"How did Naoko react to her?"

Chikaru shifted uncomfortably. "Naoko was nothing but kindness, like always, but she rejected Kaname's advances as much as she did anyone's. Eventually, just a few weeks before Naoko left us, Kaname... forced a kiss from her, right in the dining hall before breakfast. But then, the strangest thing happened. She backed away in tears, and fled from the room. No one saw her for two days afterward, and when she did show her face, she was very quiet and reserved."

"What happened to her?"

"Naoko wouldn't tell me, but... privately, I think Kaname got a glimpse of what she was becoming, and it terrified her. Unfortunately, it didn't last. In a few weeks, Naoko was gone, and she began reverting to her hunter's ways... starting with me."

Hazuki took a sharp breath, her free hand reaching for a sword that wasn't there. "What did she do to you?"

"There, you see? This is why I was hesitant," Chikaru laughed. "I don't want to rile up my samurai protector any more than I have to."

"Did she hurt you?"

"Not in any way," Chikaru assured her. "If anything, I frustrated the fire right out of her. She wanted to be the one to drag me out of that closet, and for some inexplicable reason, her advances had no effect on me. And now she thinks that you're the one to have succeeded where she failed."

"Lovely. I don't suppose just... telling people that we're not lovers would convince them?"

"Doubtful. She's going to ride you hard, Hazuki-chan, make no mistake. You're new, you've demonstrated yourself to be defiant, and she thinks that you took one of the prizes she could never have." Chikaru's expression twisted into a teasing grin. "And you have a much nicer body than she does."

"Good to know," Hazuki sighed, rolling her eyes again.

"I'm so sorry I wasn't able to get you into St. Lulim."

"It's not your fault. We can blame my predecessor for that."

After a pause, Chikaru turned her face to Hazuki, a frown crossing her features. "You're doing it again."

"Doing what?"

"Every time that subject comes up, your energy retreats."

Hazuki squeezed Chikaru's hand, willing the Souma to resume its course. "I'm sorry. It's still... not the most comfortable thing to think about." Hazuki was still coming to terms with the idea that she had essentially taken the place of the Hazuki native to this world, and still held the memories of this miserable, lonely girl. Not the least of which being the memory of her death.

"You can tell me anything," Chikaru reminded her.

"And I will," Hazuki nodded. "My head's still pretty crowded right now, but I'll tell you all about it once I know where to start."

"I'll hold you to that, you know."

Again, Hazuki couldn't help but smile. "Please do."

Once finished brushing her teeth, Tamao emerged from the bathroom of their dormitory and padded to her bed. Nagisa had been quiet all evening, so once again Tamao found herself trying to fill the empty space with conversation. "The evening meal was certainly eventful," she said. "Almost as memorable as your first, Nagisa-chan."

Nagisa did not answer. She simply sat on her bed, knees held against her chest, looking forlornly into space.

"Another transfer student making a grand first impression," Tamao went on, pulling back her covers. "Not unlike someone else I know."

Still, Nagisa did not speak, or indeed even acknowledge that she had heard.

Tamao stifled a quiet sigh. "Nagisa-chan, please talk to me."

Whether or not it had been the pleading note in Tamao's voice, Nagisa did finally react, turning tired, sorrowful eyes on her friend. "I'm sorry, Tamao-chan."

"I know it's difficult, being back here without her," Tamao said delicately, "but you'll see her again soon, right?"

"Three weeks," Nagisa nodded.

"Well," Tamao smiled brightly, "it's then my duty, as your best friend, to watch over you very closely and make sure no one tries to tempt you away from her during that time." Tamao was all too aware of the irony of this statement, but she was willing to say anything at this point if it would make her Nagisa-chan smile.

"Tamao-chan?" Nagisa replied, her voice barely more than a whisper.

"Yes, Nagisa-chan?"

Nagisa bit her lower lip for a moment, then the words came in a rush. "Could I sleep with you tonight? I've just gotten used to being near someone when I sleep, and I thought I was ready for how hard this was going to be, but I didn't know it was possible to feel this lonely, and I know I have no right at all to ask you for this, but..."

A great many thoughts flooded Tamao as Nagisa broke off, and to her own disquiet, several of them were quite bitter. Part of her wanted to tell Nagisa that she was all too aware of how loneliness felt, and had years of experience she could share if necessary. Part of her wanted to tell Nagisa that no, she certainly had no right to ask this of her, and that the last thing she wanted to be was a poor substitute for the one Nagisa truly wanted to be with. Part of her wanted to tell Nagisa how torturous it was going to be, by the looks of things, to spend the entire year looking into those sad eyes and knowing that she could do nothing to bring back that smile she loved so much.

But those were parts that Tamao could live with. Instead of giving voice to any of these, she climbed into her bed, scooted toward the wall, and held the covers back for her friend. Wordlessly, Nagisa crossed the room and settled beside her. Tamao reached over her to switch off the bedside lamp, and only when they were both lying in darkness did Nagisa speak. "Thank you, Tamao-chan."

"Anything for my Nagisa-chan," Tamao whispered, forcing a smile.

"You're very good to me," Nagisa mumbled, suddenly on the verge of sleep.

"You deserve it." And really, that was the simple truth of it.

Tamao waited until Nagisa's breathing settled into the heaviness of sleep, then finally closed her eyes. Shizuma-sama, she thought to herself, wherever you are, I hope you never let a day pass without thinking of how lucky you are. The thought brought a more genuine smile to her face. In the months of adjusting to the new dynamic between the three of them, she could now almost think such things without the accompanying feelings of crushing regret.

At that moment, Nagisa stirred and threw one arm across Tamao's middle, snuggling up beside her in the process.


Next: Phoenix