A/N: Written for the random! AU competition on the AMF, with doppleganger! AU. I figured the two Ushio's qualified, since I'd signed up for Clannad. :D
There was no snow in this world. The sun instead shone, bright and true, in the sky. Its light bounced off steel posts and well varnished benches and the metal finishes of passing cars. The world sparkled – sparkled in a way her world never had.
Its people sparkled as well; she could barely look at them for their brightness. It was like the little balls of light that rose up from the ground, flickering weakly like distant stars in the night sky even as she reached for them.
Sometimes, she could even catch them with the snowflakes that constantly fell. She could grip them in her hands and remember springs from long ago – springs that had shrunk, smaller and smaller, as the scene of winter grew, until those fresh yellow daffodils and sweetly fragmented winds were buried in the perpetual blanket of snow.
She thought that spring had been a brief dream she'd lost, the sun had been a part of the other world, the world they could never reach. It had been those little rising orbs that gave her world light; those little orbs that vanished into the grey sky. People, others apart from her, were apart of the past and that other world as well; she'd been alone for too long in her world – except for the robot friend she'd made.
He was inanimate in her hands now; once he had walked with her through the snow, brought her things. Now she carried him, lost. Through the other world they had somehow passed into.
Did we make it? To that other world?
The Two Bays
Ushio blinked lazily at the sun smirking through the trees. As usual, it managed to wake her up in the middle of a barely remembered dream – the same dream she always had, she thought, except she could never recall any details. Just something white and brown and what looked like her favourite toy – the toy that was now nestled in the crook of her arm: the first toy she remembered her father giving her.
She didn't know why he'd chosen to give her such a boyish toy, or how he'd known she'd love it. But he had – and her mother had laughed for years afterward, pointing out hundreds of similar robots in the station store. But Ushio didn't care that it was a cheap toy, or a boy one – she had plenty other cheap plastic toys but not one of them was as valuable as this one.
The only one that matched it was the Dango doll her mother had given her – one from her own three-part collection. Both of them shared her bed at night; the Dango cushioned under her chin and the robot nestled at her side. In the woods though, it was only her dear little robot that accompanied her. Dango was fabric; it would get wet in the spring dew. The robot was alright though; it was plastic, and she could easily dry it. Or the sun would, just like it woke her from her pleasant naps.
Though she had to confess the sun had good timing – or her parents did. She could hear them calling her from their veranda. Her father's low gruff voice. Her mother's light sweet one. Calling her name. She yelled back, sending a few crows squawking amidst the laughter of the native birds. They were used to her after all; she'd lived there most of her life. They knew her.
She laughed too as she sat up, waving as the native birds chirped at each other and to her, their brown tail feathers glistening in the rays of the afternoon sun as they danced on their self-proclaimed branches. She set the robot up as well, moving its plastic arms to wave at the birds too. They ruffled their wings at the pair, then took flight, scaring the crows into squawking once again.
It was amusing, a treat Ushio didn't often get to see, and she was still giggling as she took her robot in both arms and ran to her parents.
They were waiting for her, Nagisa on the veranda still, softly humming Dango daikozuku to the wind. Tomoya was by the door though, wrapped in his overalls and holding his arms out to her.
Ushio squealed and ran into his arms.
'You're getting too old to be carried around,' Tomoya laughed, letting her transfer her robot to one hand and wrap her other hand around his head. 'What were you dreaming about when your old man was at work?'
'Nothing.' Ushio grinned into her father's hair. 'Or I can't remember anyway. I think Robot was there though.' She gripped her robot tighter. 'And something white. My blanket?'
'Or the snow.' Nagisa, smiling, appeared on the staircase. 'Sometimes, I almost feel sorry it's spring.'
'Because you're getting older all the time?' Tomoya teased, carrying Ushio over before setting her down at the foot of the stairs. Nagisa walked down as well, and for a moment the three of them collected at the base like the happy family they were. 'Unfortunately, your Daddy has to go back to work after lunch, so we'd better get eating.'
Ushio giggled again at the pout her father struck. He always came home for lunch, and he was always pouting at the thought of going back to work, but Ushio and Nagisa both knew how much Tomoya loved his job. And how grateful he was for it as well: for all it had done for him. 'Lunch,' she squealed instead, clasping her hands. 'What did you make, Mama?'
Nagisa had made salmon and a light garden salad, and the family of three enjoyed their lunch before Tomoya left with a goodbye and a kiss to each girl's forehead. Ushio reached on her tiptoes to put her plate into the sink and wash her hands, her robot staring at her from her chair.
'So what are your afternoon plans?' Nagisa asked, packing the leftover salmon and salad away. 'Visiting your friend Fuuko again?'
'Nuh-uh.' Ushio grabbed her robot off the chair. 'Fuuko has to have a checkup today. She said she can't play.'
'That's too bad.' Nagisa put the tupperware containing the leftovers into the fridge. 'Though isn't it great that Fuuko's feeling better now?'
'Yep.' Ushio grinned, showing all of her teeth. 'She said we'll be able to play every day soon.'
'I'm afraid not, sweetie.' Though Nagisa was smiling too as she closed the fridge. 'Fuuko will have to go to school.'
Ushio mirrored her father's famous pout. 'When will I get to go there?'
'Hmm…let's see…' Nagisa counted thoughtfully. 'At least another nine years. Fuuko will have graduated by then.'
'Aww…' Ushio pouted again. 'I guess it'll be just me and Robot.' She looked up at her mother. 'Do you think I could take Dango to school?'
'School will just be like kindergarden,' Nagisa explained, squatting down. 'You'll eat outside or have sports and Dango might get wet or dirty.'
'But Robot will be fine?'
Nagisa smiled at the tender concern in her daughter's eyes. 'Robot will be fine,' she confirmed. 'But if he's not planning on doing anything, he's getting a shower.'
'No.' Ushio hugged her robot close to her. 'Robot and I are playing more in the wood first.'
'Okay, okay.' Nagisa chuckled, petting her daughter's hair before setting the hat atop her head. 'There you go. Remember not to go too far from the house.'
'I won't,' Ushio replied, slipping into her shoes and running off again. 'Bye Mama!'
Nagisa stood at the door and waved her off, and Ushio kept glancing behind her until she'd shrunk. Then the birds came again, quarrelling amongst themselves for the remains of their lunch, and Ushio remembered she forgot to ask for some bread to bring them.
'We didn't bring anything,' she called, accounting for both herself and the robot.
The birds barely glanced at her, busy as they were with themselves. Ushio giggled a bit – they reminded her of her parents playfully fighting for the last spaghetti – and moved on.
She came back to the tree: her favourite tree, that seemed to rise taller than all the other trees in the wood. It could be seen from the veranda of their quaint double-storey home, or from the upper levels of the hospital as well. Maybe Fuuko could see it too, she thought. Maybe Fuuko was thinking of Ushio underneath the tree.
Except there was another girl under the tree: not Ushio, nor her parents who came in the weekends with her, or Fuuko who came when she was free. Her hair was the same colour as Ushio's though, and her dress looked like Nagisa's summer dress: sleeveless, white and plain. She was sleeping like Ushio liked to as well, with something curled up at her side that Ushio couldn't see, bathed in the shadows as it was.
But what Ushio noticed most of all was how the sun trickling in through the trees seemed to just wash off the other girl. Not like the trees and the leaves or even her robot that took a little light and gave their own shine. It was like the girl didn't absorb any light at all.