10 years later
"Ne, Papa, where are we going?"
Pink boots leave small footprints in the snow with a crisp crunch, trailing behind larger, heavier footprints. With a tilted, curious expression the five-year-old stares at the man who holds her small hand as they climb up a hill of white.
Her father is very tall, but not big and scary like some men. His eyes are blue, or maybe green, or maybe both. His hair almost blends in with the snowy background. Even though he matches well with winter, she knows that he is actually very warm. When he smiles, it is very calm and gentle—like it is right now.
"To visit Mama."
A snowflake falls on her nose and she contemplatively wipes it off with a mitten before brightly saying, "My adoptive Mama?"
Their arms swing softly forward and back while the young girl notices how the ring on her father's left hand gleams against the sky.
They reach the top of the hill, where there is a modest headstone even shorter than her height. Her father lets go of her hand and she tries copying the way he gazes at what looks like just a fancy rock to her. The snow is thick now, and she has to stomp through the white to place the flowers her father let her carry in front of the stone. Closer, she can use her newfound vocabulary she just learned to make out the engraving.
"Hi-na-mo-ri...Mo-mo. Ne, right? Right, Papa?" She looks back eagerly.
Her father isn't himself today. That's because even though he is here and she can touch him, he isn't really here. His eyes are glued on the headstone and he looks like her when she wishes for something she knows she can't have (kind of like a second piece of cake when it's not her birthday), only more serious.
Her father is somewhere far, far away. She imagines him to be in a fairytale; he is the prince and the mother she has never met is the princess. Her father has never explained to her why she doesn't have a mother like all the other children in her class. From what she understands, her mother is in a land they can't reach. That is why her mother never visits and she feels like her father is crying inside sometimes.
"Ne, ne, Papa." She tugs on her father's coat, and looks up at his pensive face, "What was Mama like?"
He looks at the little girl's innocent face. It is a miracle, really. Three years ago he gathered the courage to adopt a child and found her—earth-brown hair as rich as spring with delicate facial features; it is as if she had been reborn in the form of a child. Only her lively eyes are a grayish-turquoise that makes her even more remarkable. It is almost as if she could be his own and her own. Their own.
After the silence she is replied with, the child decides that now is not a good time, even if her father usually is really smart and can answer any of her questions. So she wanders a bit on the hill, noticing how she can almost see the entire city along with the colorful Christmas lights like tiny bugs. She thinks how lonely it must be to stay up here all the time. She can't explain it, but she feels as if it is a pretty sort of lonely, for the snow and the grass and the trees seem to whisper faint echoes of wonderful memories. Waiting for her father, she plays with a slightly worn teddy bear with lopsided arms and gray fur. One time her friend told her it was ugly, but she loves it and feels an inexplicable connection with it.
He is only absent-mindedly keeping an eye on her from the corner of his vision. The rest of his attention is fixated on the gravestone. He wonders if she can see them. Is she happy to see him running a bakery now, that he has gotten a bit better at not burning bread? Does she know how much this girl looks like her, and how much she loves pink like her? He wonders. He wonders so much.
"Ne...Papa, can we go now?"
He really should go now. The girl might get a cold—she doesn't like winter weather much either. But he can't. Oh, he can't. This is why he has never brought her here the years before, for there were days when he would come here and sit for nearly a day. He thought that this time he would be stronger.
But he can't move. When he thinks about how they could've sent the girl to school together, panic about her first lost tooth together, and sit at the table with three bowls of rice together, he doesn't want to leave. His heart wrenches from missing her so much and he loses the desire to keep going. He is scared of walking on and forgetting everything in such a gradual way that he will not even notice. And he knows right now that there must be details from that year he can no longer recall perfectly right now—it frightens him, so much to the point of paralysis.
Life without her is so long. Sometimes takes so much effort and courage just to blink one more time, breathe one more breath. It is so hard. And he feels so empty, even here on top of this hill, where he thought she would be the most present. But no; this stone is nothing but a stone. It is still as cold as it has been since she has left. She has left and left him with nothing.
"Wah! Papa! Look! A butterfly! In the winter!"
It lands on his outstretched hand, feather-light on his finger, its wings a soft peach and beautifully translucent. He closes his eyes.
There is a golden warmth and he can feel it all over again; fireworks in the snow, cherry blossoms in the spring, fireflies in the summer, carnival music in the autumn.
They say that butterflies are souls of the deceased.
Because he knows he will never forget her. Because she, him, and those twelve months are here and they are everywhere. And they are inseparably inside of him, a glow that will never die as he grows old.
It is her presence that gives him the strength to turn away and take the first step.
"Come on, let's go." He says as he starts down the hill.
But the little girl does not move. Now she is the one who lingers, caught in an awe-struck spell by the beautifully brief moment in which her father held the butterfly.
He looks back and chuckles at her wide and wondrous eyes as she stands still next to the grave. Stretching out a hand to the girl with a halcyon smile, he lovingly says:
"I can tell you the story about Mama on the way back, but we have to go or you'll be late to school. So let's go...
A/N: I know I said a would be uploading a chapter a month...but this is my treat to you guys, for being such great readers and wonderful people that you are. It is also in celebration of my midterms being over...but the former statement seems much grander, right?
On the other hand, I'm also doing this right now: :'(
I can't believe it's all over! This is my 2nd finished fiction and I'm so glad I got to complete it! I'm also so glad to have so much support! I started this fiction telling myself: Well, it might not be great, but it makes me happy to write anyway...And then all you readers started giving me all these great reviews and messaging me and all. I must say, it was quite a shock, but it made me incredibly happy that there are people out there reading these modest little stories I write.
Once again, thank you so much for the support! You'll undoubtedly find me writing more in the (most likely very near) future. I might start exploring other anime and characters to write about, but I always seem to gravitate towards Hitsuhina...
So hopefully you will all read some of the new works I'll come up with someday :)