Ushio was all smiles as she ran through the fields, young and excited: as carefree as the day they'd first come here. Tomoya smiled. That was how things should have gone in the first world. Before fate had decided to be cruel to him again.

He didn't know how long they were there. He just watched Ushio, young and pure again, run around in the sunflowers, occasionally disappearing under them searching, he was sure, for the Garbage Doll, before getting up to run again.

And, eventually, she gave a cry of triumph and held up the little plastic robot he'd brought for her on a whim so long ago. 'I found it!' she cried, rushing up to him, pollen and grass clinging to her clothes.

He didn't know where the winter had gone, but he didn't care. Spring was a far kinder season to them. Spring made the sunflowers yellow and shimmering with dew. Spring had taken away the snow and the approaching death, and allowed the sun to beam upon them.

But he hadn't forgotten about that other world, and neither had she.

She came to him, and offered the Garbage Doll. He took it, and it became a yellow orb of light in his hands. 'This..?' He stared at it in awe.

It was one of those lights from that world of endless winter, that they'd chased endlessly, knowing it was all the happiness in the world.

The one he held…that was Ushio's happiness.

'Take that,' she said to him. 'And go back to the world of your wish.' She beamed: happy, her eyes shining. 'And I'm off now. Goodbye.'

His lips moved before his brain. 'Goodbye…Ushio.'

'Goodbye, Daddy.'

The Two Bays
Chapter 8

'Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!'

Tomoya blinked blurrily at the ceiling, yellow still clinging to his eyes. Ushio was next to him, pulling excitingly.

'Come on, Daddy!' she whined, easing up on the tug as she saw him open his eyes. 'You can't sleep in on your anniversary!'

'Oh, that's right,' he mumbled. But he made no move to get up. His body was exhausted, but more than that his mind… 'Ushio?'

'Yes?' She blinked innocently at him.

'Did you check on your new friend?'

She blinked, confused. 'What new friend?' she asked. 'Fuuko?'

So she doesn't remember. Tomoya felt for the edge of the blankets, slowly peeling them off before sitting up. 'Never mind,' he said. Fuuko was an old friend anyway. Too old, really. She still managed to get on his nerves, no matter how endearing or important to Ushio she was. 'Where's Mummy?'

'In the kitchen,' Ushio replied happily. 'She's making pancakes.'

'Right.' He put a smile on his face. 'Why don't you go help and let your Daddy freshen up?'

'Okay.' She skipped away, looking so much like the Ushio he'd said goodbye to at the sunflower field.

Was that all a dream then, he wondered? Or something else? A small pocket in time that allowed her wish to come true?

Tomoya made a mental note to ask Kotomi the next chance he got. And, while he was at it, he would tell her of the other world as well. And Nagisa before that. He had to stop hiding those things, pretending they didn't exist.

It was too easy to forget other, more important things.

He went to the guest bedroom first, once Ushio was gone. It was the same as it always was when there was no guest there. As if the other Ushio hadn't slept there at all.

But, for a frightening moment, it had been this happy world of his that had vanished. But the other Ushio had given it back to him, with her orb of happiness. Nagisa, taking the last of the pancakes off the stove as he finally arrived in the kitchen, kissing her on the cheek. Little healthy Ushio without the burden of her mother's death or a father that had abandoned her, running to him, begging to be picked up.

He picked her up, setting her down in her chair before taking another himself.

'Honey?' Nagisa smiles at him. 'And strawberry jam for Ushio?'

'Yeah!' Ushio cheers. 'Strawberry jam. For Daddy too!'

Nagisa raises an eyebrow. Tomoya shrugs, then nods. Why not? It made Ushio happy after all, and it didn't matter all that much what he had on his own pancakes. Such little favourite things were more important to a child.

But he was a child at heart too. Somewhere deep down, he hadn't quite grown up. Because his own mother had died so young? Because he'd been so distant with his father? Because he'd married so young? Lost his wife so young? Been reborn before he could quite learn all of life's lessons?

Who knew? Tomoya put a forkful of pancake in his mouth. 'Delicious.'

The rest of the breakfast passed like that: smiles and happiness and all the things that could put his heart at ease.

But it couldn't be like that forever. He knew that; he couldn't be so naïve as to hold on to that forever.

'What were you thinking about?' Nagisa asked, quietly, as they washed the dishes afterwards, Ushio off to play in the woods again. This time, at least, Tomoya knew he wouldn't be meeting a girl in a white dress with skin like the snow. 'You had such a serious look on your face.'

'The same as usual?' Tomoya asked her.

'Well…no,' Nagisa decided, after thinking a moment. 'I think you looked a little relieved, actually. Like a great weight had fallen from your shoulders.'

'That it has,' Tomoya confessed. 'And it's a long, unbelievable story, if you want to hear?'

Nagisa rinsed the last dish and dried it. 'I do,' she said. 'About that shadow that's finally gone from you.'