Nozomi was in school, a real school with other children while Yukino was home preparing a picnic dinner. In a couple hours I would go and drive them here.

An incredibly handsome and muscular man in his fifties grunted as he worked lumber with traditional Japanese tools in a workshed he had made himself. He was building a home in the woods that would overlook a ravine, having stairs that zigzagged down to dock along a river.

"I could carry those." I chose the lesser of two evils and indicated the pile of lumber that had been delivered by the side of the road some two hundred meters away. Hand cutting intricate joints for beams that were to be joined without nails or any other fasteners looked too complex.

"No, Hachiman, it's important to me I do it all myself." These words were not spoken by a loner, but by a man who had always worked with teams, controlled somehow by machinations of his now deceased wife. "This will be my own house, not something chosen for me or made by anyone else. Building it'll be good practice, too, for my new career."

"What will you do, Yukinoshita-san?"

"I'm going to spend my time designing furniture and art, and sometimes actually making them."

I didn't ask if this was to support himself, I had no idea if he was allowed any money from the construction empire the government liquidated.

"Nozomi-chan and Yukino-chan are really happy, there was a short time when Yukino was very little that she and Haruno were happy, and I was happy... " Yukinoshita-san mind was lost in a past time for a few seconds. He examined the edge of the fret saw in his hand. "My wife didn't care about those kinds of feelings, always complained if I got sentimental over the children, or even my friends at work... since she was a young teen, she always was working on her plans, and I was just a useful tool she chose along the way and added to the shed. At least I got to design and build things, useful things, things that will be here for generations, but I'd trade all that for... "

I wasn't sure if I should say anything, but he was looking at me.

"A solid family, that's what I'll try to build. Something that will last. And you'll have time with Yukino, and Nozomi too, Yukinoshita-san."


On a darkly overcast day that was supposed to be without rain, we three took a trip to Yahashira Cemetery. We walked to a certain section of conspicuous opulence. We lay down camellias of a particular rose-purple color, to kneel before a gravestone while feeling gusts that were somewhat too cold for the season.

While Nozomi soon became distracted with butterflies and other bugs and with smelling flowers, Yukino and I reflected before a portrait, of what to us in our thirties looked like a "college girl". A huge grin was on a very young woman without a care or fear in her life, but her lifespan was fated to be soon cut short by a random misfortune that would forever close those powerful eyes that could either mock or be warm or be reptilian on a whim, that calamity conferring to her younger sibling a crushing burden.

"Nee-san said she was doomed to be an actor following an old script. She was so disappointed in me, said I was lucky to have freedom for the taking. She'd challenge me, why only sit in a cage that had the door open. When Nee-san died, I essentially agreed to have that door slammed shut."

Yukino contemplated her compunctions of long ago, of a path not taken.

"You know, Hachiman, Nee-san was the second person after Sensei to think you should be a part of my life in some way. Though responsibilities inherited from her life remain, still you've let me out of that cage." Yukino stood and turned to me, contentment on her visage.

We opened a thermos and dispensed green, not our usual red, tea into cups. We then first poured some tea from our cups into the ground, for Haruno. Then we drank.

"If you ever start dating Yukino-chan for real, let's have tea together."

Five years ago, a slight bulge had shown on her lissome frame. Her morals, reinvigorated after our bizarre trysts, would not let her end that little life, nor leave the marriage she had then, but rather inspired her to make a new path with her own hands, the best possible under heavy constraints. So was the justice of Yukinoshita Yukino.

Now, as was true five years ago in this very place, another little perturbance distended her figure, this time created by physical manifestation of our love for each other.

"Do you want to visit the other graves?" I inquired, it made no difference to me but was a difficult matter to Yukino. She nodded.

We walked a short distance to another grave, bearing a portrait of a very cold and unsmiling middle aged woman possessing the harsh beauty and aura of an empress radiating power and authority.

Yukino did not kneel nor perform any other Japanese custom for the dead, so neither did I. I knew something of the resentment long borne by Yukino, but would never know the entirety of the baggage imparted to her by that imperious woman with the force of will to take her own life rather than be dragged before courts of men or confined by prison.

"A spare part, a redundant tool, that's all I ever was to Mother. She was a malign spider who weaved so many webs she finally entrapped herself. I'll never visit this gravestone again," Yukino pronounced using her voice of ultimate conviction.

A marker without portrait was our final destination here. I looked at the happily preoccupied Nozomi who cared not for hunks of hewn stone. She seemed not to remember her biological father even when first we met. He would never be a part of Nozomi's reminiscing in later life, just a factoid Yukino would one day convey.

Somewhat to my surprise, Yukino washed the stone and knelt down. So then I followed her example, though at first I was merely watching Yukino seeming to be in long prayer. Then I realized an important truth, and gave thanks. She finally stood up and confirmed we were of one mind regarding James Snowden.

"I shall be forever grateful to him for my dear Nozomi, the singular grand achievement of his."

"Yes, I am also and so that's why I gave my thanks too."

"I'll be a mother of love and support."

"You already are, Yukino, and I'll be both a father and your mate of love and support."

"You already are, Hachiman."

We each took one of Nozomi's hands and left that place of the dead and of past regrets, that was even so a foundation of stepping stones toward our future.