Welcome to the revised version of chapter one, cleaned up and better than ever!

For those of you who never saw the original chapter one - count yourselves lucky. This chapter was a disgrace to the rest of the story (as is chapter two, but that's a whole other issue.) so I tried to fix it up as best I could, and hopefully it shows a little.

And just in case this is your first time with my fic (Actually. it probably is. Who would reread this chapter, anyway?) I decided to write this story in a moment of brilliance right after first seeing Spirited Away in theatres - a moment of brilliance that I have to admit has come and gone. Currently this story is in the middle of writer's block. Anyway, I loved the movie to death and wanted nothing more than to write a story that takes place in the near future where Chihiro is old enough to carry on a relationship with Kohaku, and decided that, while I was at it, I might as well give the fic a good plot as well. Thus - Spirited Back was born! There's going to be a lot of action and mystery, and a little bit of WAFF here and there because no story is complete without some good ol' mushy scenes.

I don't own Spirited Away, and enjoy! *

Spirited Back

Rio Grande

Chapter One: The Lonesome Summer.

Chihiro smiled hesitantly when Makato promised to keep in touch with her over the summer. She nodded when she promised to write her while she traveled to exotic and posh Paris, shopped like a maniac and saw the Eiffel Tower... and Chihiro was left to mope around the house and possibly get a job all summer. But... if there was one thing Chihiro had learned in the past four years... it was that promises were something even the best of people tended to forget about.

"I'll write you, I really will, okay? So you write me too!" Makato gushed; gripping her best friend's hand almost painfully, as if the harder she squeezed the more Chihiro letters she could get out of the girl. Chihiro winced and shook her head.

"Jeez Makato, I'll write, I'll write! Don't get so emotional, it's only two months!" she said, grinning anyway. Makato frowned and placed her hands on her hips at this declaration.

"Two and a half." she corrected archly.

"Whatever. Though, I guess I should be more worried than you about exactly how long the summer vacation is. Not that I'm not thrilled about it or anything, but..." Chihiro groaned, rubbing her head. "What am I gonna DO around here for nearly three months?"

Traditionally, as was the norm for the past roughly four years, Chihiro and her family went on various little vacations all summer around Japan in their trusty little car, and Makato was always around at some point in the summer to hang out with when Chihiro came back. However, this year, the summer of eighth grade, things had taken a change for the worse in Chihiro's eyes, and her usually fun filled summer days suddenly looked bleak and far too lengthy for her liking.

Her father, the lawyer, had just gotten a monumental case, and had assured his family that he would be busy for most of the summer in other parts of the country, attending court and working vigorously with his client. It was his first big break in years, and if he won this one, well, it was something to tell the grandkids about ... Chihiro wasn't sure of the details surrounding her father's new job, but the case was definitely a homicide of sorts. And Chihiro had been assured that it would do much to help with her college funding - an aspect to the situation that Chihiro had to admit she liked.

In addition, Chihiro's aunt was encroaching upon her ninth month of pregnancy that season, and currently resembled a pale watermelon. To this, her lousy excuse for a husband was doing little to help with things around the house, which was simply horrendous considering the couple already had three little boys to watch over. So, naturally, Chihiro's mother volunteered to help her sister get around and function for the next month or so, playing part supportive sibling, part nanny, and agreeing to stay with her most days until the new baby was born, and possible a little bit longer after that.

This, of course, meant there would be little to no vacationing for the Oginos.

"Oh, I'm sure it won't be as bad as you're making it out to be. Maybe you'll get a job with Mr. Takana." Makato said, referring to the local ice- cream shoppe owner, and shrugging helplessly. Chihiro sighed and folded her arms. It was all so easy for her to say - after all, it wasn't Makato's problem.

"I guess, but I don't want it to ruin my love for ice cream. I heard you can get pretty sick of it once you start working with it every day for around seven hours," Chihiro pointed out, brown eyes flashing as other possibilities for summer jobs danced through her head. She figured if she was going to be stuck at home for two and half months, why not make some money? It wasn't as if she wanted, or terribly needed cash at that point in time, but it was always a good idea to save up.

"Point. But, on the other hand, you just MIGHT be busy all summer WRITING me, so you won't have time work, anyway!" Makato teased, flipping a lock of sleek raven hair over her shoulder. Makato was a pale girl, with long black hair and chestnut colored eyes. She was about two inches taller than Chihiro, and her father was a wealthy businessman - she and Chihiro had first met almost directly after Chihiro had entered her new school.

"Oh, right," Chihiro sighed, wrapping her own caramel colored ponytail around her finger slowly. In all the years since she had moved to this small town and become best friends with Makato, her hairstyle and personal style in general, hadn't changed overly much. Makato called it adorable; Chihiro called it a lazy act of blatant immaturity, not bothering to beat around the bush when it came to analyzing herself.

The two school girls finally reached Chihiro's house (First blue one on the left...) and exchanged a brief, if not slightly teary, goodbye, before Makato spun on her heal and dashed on down the road with no further comment, where her parents and two elder sisters would no doubt be waiting impatiently for her arrival. They had places to go after all... France... Gay Pari... the city of romance. it all seemed like another world to Chihiro, suddenly, who realized she was facing many, many weeks of diligently reading TV guide and really getting to know her neighborhood. She sighed as Makato finally made the turn around the road, and was completely out of sight. Only then did Chihiro turn to enter her house, the summer officially on.

"Hey, I'm home!" Chihiro called out as she entered her home and threw her book bag to the ground with a slow sense of finality to her movements. Now, she knew that bag would patiently wait in the same place by the door for the next couple months, until it was needed once more. The ever-present weight off her shoulders brought a small, brief grin to her features.

In addition, Chihiro made a point of not locking the door. If she got robbed this summer, it would probably be the most exiting thing that would happen to her, after all. Not that it would. Her small town was notably safe and non-violent, a wholesome place where everyone knew everyone. The Police in her neighborhood were more likely to see a flying pig than a murder in these parts, and most homicidal detectives within a fifty-mile radius sat around watching the grass grow and the paint chip off their cop cars. Even her father's important new case was a big out of towner.

"Hey sweetie," her dad called from the living room, where he sat, flipping through some legal documents Chihiro felt no need to ever question him about. She had read over some of it once, and found it was dead boring. Best to leave him at it. "How was the last day of school?"

"Oh, you know, fine." she said, shrugging and leaning against the wall with her hands linked behind her back, watching her father quietly.

"Happy summer's finally here?"

"Sure," she commented, now sounding bored and perhaps a little despondent.

"Well, that's good... Hey, would you make dinner tonight? Your Mom's already up at Aunt Ritsuko's today, and I'm sort of flogged..."

"Sure." Over the years- four, to be exact - Chihiro's parents had found that they could suddenly rely on Chihiro to carry out manual and every day tasks, that she used to struggle with. It seemed as though moving away from home had given her a real sense of strength and independence, because ever since they moved to their new town, she had been doing so much on her own, with so much enthusiasm..! Chihiro had never dared to tell anyone why she had had such a transformation after moving. She really doubted anyone would ever believe her if she did, anyway.

Four years... four years was a long time. Long enough for her grow older, more self-sufficient, and less naive... yet stay the same all at the same time. Sure, she was a lot more capable and in control of herself then she had been when she had stumbled upon Yu-Baba's bath house, Aburaya, in that odd spirit world with all of her old friends... but at the same time, four years was definitely not enough time to rid her of her big heart and selfless disposition... not enough time to let her forget and move on... not enough time to disregard broken promises...

'Will I see you often?'

'Of course. It's a promise. Now go, and don't look back!'

Chihiro shook her head and grabbed the pot she had been looking for, mentally dusting her brain off of painful memories, but suddenly finding herself swamped with them anyway.

In the beginning, it had been hard. Terrible. Frustrating. Agonizingly painful, to think that Haku, transformed into his original form of Kohaku, had not been sincere in his promise, when he didn't show up to surprise the all too eager Chihiro with his appearance in the human world, those first few months. Though she had kept a consistent look out for her green eyed friend, there had been no sign of him, and, what's more, once SHE started trying to find him, no sign of the wrong path she and her lost family had taken that first day, was to be found, either. The path that led to the spirit world... was gone.

So, after that disturbing little discovery, another wave of uncertainties hit the girl with a vengeance. What if he was hurt? What if Yu-Baba wasn't satisfied with Chihiro's show of heart, had taken her best friend, and was torturing him? Turning him into a pig like she had done her parents, and eating him?! The thought plagued Chihiro many a day, and night, even though she had been so sure that her positive change on the spirit community of the bath house had been permanent... she really didn't know what low levels Yu-Baba would stoop to. Not that Yu-Baba was all evil, Chihiro knew that, it was just... what other reasons for Kohaku's absence could there be?

And then the last part of the terrible feelings came, and Chihiro forced herself to forget. Her social life in the real world was suffering, her academic life couldn't afford any more distraction, and she needed to move on. If he hadn't shown up in a year, well, maybe Kohaku and all of her friends would never be coming to see Chihiro, and she had to accept that, since she could not find them... and not for lack of trying, either.

She had even taken out her maps and looked up where the Kohaku river used to be, found it in a town about two hours away from her current one, went to visit it and - found nothing. No Kohaku, no spirits, no dragons, nothing. And it had hurt. It had hurt so much Chihiro knew right then and there she couldn't go on waiting and yearning to see all of the odd and fascinating people she had once known, ever again. Even her hopeful, confused eleven-year-old self realized that a year was enough, and other priorities had to come first. So, she had blown one last kiss to the filled up and now dead river she had insisted her parents drag her to... and that next day... she bought a new pair of sneakers, her old pink and yellow ones carefully tucked away in a box somewhere in the basement. She hadn't looked at them since.

And here she was now, overcome with a strange feeling of nostalgia for no apparent reason, thinking it a bit funny how desperately she had wanted to get out of Aburaya when she was there, and how much she wanted to go back now that she was 'stuck' in her own world.

"Hey, how does oden* sound to you, Dad?" Chihiro called to her (still slightly over weight) father, who was fastidiously going over seemingly reams of paper spread out around the living room. Chihiro had to give him major brownie points in the area that, well, he really WAS trying to work hard.

"Sound wonderful sweetie. Thanks!" her dad replied, a bit absent- mindedly. Chihiro simply smiled and got to work. She had come to look upon slacking off and whining as silly, childish actions ever since she had worked at the bathhouse, and never complained about the tasks she was given to do. They were all simply so much easier then cleansing a polluted river spirit of its heavy layers of muck, all while trying to pull an entire garbage dump out of its side, after all. In any case, her parents really did appreciate it.


'Day three, and already I'm so bored I think I may die if something the least bit interesting doesn't happen to me right... now!' Chihiro thought to herself, snapping her head to the side, and glancing at the mirror as she desperately pleaded for something to happen. Anything! But her prayers were not answered, and when she looked in her small mirror, sitting innocently on her dresser, she just saw plain old Chihiro. Nothing spectacular there. Just plain. Plain. Chihiro sighed and looked down. She wanted to be something more. Something better.

Following up on Makato's suggestion, Chihiro had taken a job at Mr. Takana's ice cream shoppe... and immediately afterwards found herself regretting it. Ice cream scooping was a not only tedious and nerve-racking job (she had already dropped three scoops, had two cones slip out of her hand, messed up a ridiculous amount of orders, and if she ever saw hot fudge again she MIGHT gag.) but it also required a lot of arm muscles she found her self lacking. Not to mention there was a very difficult technique to achieving the perfectly shaped ice cream scoop, (As the assistant manager, a pimply and obnoxious boy named Akura, had pointed out to her in a haughty tone.) and Chihiro was having a hard time forming it. Most of her cones looked slightly deformed and upsetting, and she knew it.

'Oh well, practice makes perfect!' Chihiro assured herself, a little upset that her big goal for the summer was learning how to scoop ice cream properly.

It was at times like these, times when life looked so astoundingly boring and infinitely normal... that Chihiro wondered if she had in fact ever REALLY been to the spirit bath house... or if she hadn't just dreamed the whole marvelous tale up...and it was at times like THOSE... that she took out her hair elastic.

She wore the sparkly purple accessory nearly every day unless she absolutely couldn't, and found her self pleased with the fact that it was pretty sturdy and had held up famously these past four years. It still glittered happily, never stretching out too much, and every time she looked at it, as Yu-Baba's twin sister, Granny, had said... it reminded her of the friendships she had had back in the Spirit world. After all, it had been her friends love that had made this hair tie... and, in addition, it was proof that the whole adventure hadn't been just some farcical tail she had made up to amuse herself. THAT made her smile.

Releasing her hair from its upright position, and then looking down to stare at the ever present hair tie, laying innocently in her pale hand, Chihiro found herself sighing once more and then turning yet again to look at her reflection in that damned mirror. Hm. That's odd. She looked... almost pretty with her hair down. But, Chihiro wasn't pretty. She was just plain. Plain boring.

'Maybe I should wear it down more often.' she wondered thoughtfully, while pressing down on the almost permanent kink in her hair, formed from wearing her hair in a ponytail too much.

Her mother was staying over at her aunt's that night, and her father was out of town to see some witnesses, so Chihiro found herself all alone in the house that evening, and not really minding it. Her parents were so busy now a day, even when they were at home, it didn't seem like they really cared what she was thinking about, or how she felt. It was SUMMER after all, and if there was no school, her problems couldn't be that bad anyway, was their theory.

Feeling slightly swamped with the heavy heat of the night, Chihiro got up to go open her window, feeling sudden, sweet relief as a cool summer breeze hit her the second the window pane separating her and the outside was taken care of. She cocked her head and stared up at the moon, drinking in the dark forest around her house, her loosed hair drifting peacefully around her face. What a beautiful place. Not particularly INTERESTING, she acknowledged with a small wrinkling of the nose, but lovely nonetheless...

Soon, Chihiro had almost completely lost herself in the beauty and sheer mystery of the large, full moon above her head - its pulsing, pure white light entrancing her. Twirling her elastic around her finger leisurely, she hummed softly to herself and kept her eyes glued to the moon, her peripheral vision nagging at her brain while her eyes began to droop close, telling her something softly. warning her about the snake like form drifting just to the side of the moon. dancing. Wait.

"Dragon!" she nearly shrieked, covering her mouth, eyes as wide as ping- pong balls. Quickly scrubbing at her face to make sure she wasn't just imagining it, Chihiro found herself shaking with delight as she realized she really WAS seeing a white dragon, flying past the moon, spinning through air so smoothly there seemed to be an invisible rode beneath it. And it resembled Kohaku so completely... it was, must, be... him!

"Kohaku!" Chihiro called out, cupping her mouth, and not caring what slumbering neighbors were roused to the sound of her loud voice. "Kohaku! Down here! I'm down here come and get me! Please!" she added, almost pathetically. It was true - part of her was mad at the green eyed boy, but the larger part of her just wanted to have the dragon come down and sweep her off her feet, whisking her to the Aburaya in a flurry of magic. This moment, this situation, was what she had dreamed of for four years. And now. "Kohakuuu!"

She might have just imagined it, though most likely not, but it seemed as though at that moment, Kohaku really DID hear her, as a flash of green met watery brown, and there was a silent, happy connection. All this just before the long, wispy white dragon did a nimble U-turn in mid air, diving down towards the ground at incredibly high speeds, almost as if it were now running from something - almost as if it were scared. He disappeared into the dense, dark forest beneath him, not even making a sound as his sleek body completely disappeared from sight.

"No!" Chihiro cried, slapping a hand to her mouth, eyes wide. "No, don't go!" she pleaded, turning on her heal and rushing out of the room, desperate to find her friend. He wouldn't leave her, not again, not this time! She scurried down the stairs, barely giving herself time to slip on her sneakers and socks, before bursting out the front door, unlocked as always, and leaping down the road, keeping in mind the whole while exactly where she had seen the beautiful dragon dive down to. She didn't even mind the fact that she was wearing nothing but a long, white tee shirt that reached her knees, and had a happy picture of a cartoon sun on it. All that mattered was that she found Kohaku... found the spirit world again!

Her breath was coming out in harsh puffs already as she stumbled and tripped her way through the forest, wishing she had been smarter and brought a flash light, while slapping errant tree branches away from her face as her legs pumped as fast as they could, desperately pumping forward.

"I'm coming... don't go... don't leave me... I'll find you... I'm coming..." she chanted under her breath as she continued to run through the forest that had no path and was rarely used. The small teenaged girl was in the depths of the local forest now, a place she could get easily lost in, she knew, and with no one to find her until the following night when her parents returned. But it seemed as though all common sense had been thrown out the window in a moment of sheer and undiluted desperation.

She nearly fell flat on her face as she threw herself across a clear, clean path, continuing to run and keep a sharp eye out for any large, magical looking creatures... when she halted herself and abruptly doubled back to the path she had barely acknowledged first time around. She was panting with her hands on her knees, when she looked up to see just what path she had stumbled upon... jaw nearly crashing to the ground as she realized JUST what path she had stumbled upon!

It was the entrance. It was the shrine! The place her parents had found that first day when her father had been a reckless driver and nearly crashed them into an abandoned amusement park, four years ago!

It was the way to get to the Spirit World. And the Bath House.

Her heart thudded heavily in her chest as she weighed the intelligence of simply hurling herself through the entrance, blessing her good luck, and happily finding all of her old friends, and possibly spending a fun filled summer with them... against maybe going back home, getting a flash light, not wandering around alone at night, and not trying to get herself into a lot of trouble...Hm.

Just barely keeping herself from squealing with delight, Chihiro threw her self into the entrance, past the stone figure of an odd looking spirit she distinctly remembered had scared her the first time around. But no more. Now everything, from the dark hallways, tall stone walls and broken wooden benches scattered about the inside - everything seemed thrilling and wonderfully familiar to her.

'I can't believe this is happening!' Chihiro thought, a large smiled slapped haphazardly on her face. 'I'm really going back! It's unreal!'

And, as she finally reached the other end of the old amusement park entrance, finding herself greeted with the sight of the large river that had occupied the spirit world at night... Chihiro realized that maybe it WAS unreal.

"No! How am I supposed to get across that river!?" she wondered frantically, slapping her hands to her head and feeling her heart plummet into her stomach. She looked up briefly to the sky, hoping to find a pure white dragon soaring helpfully above her, ready to fly her to the bath house - but, much to her despair, there was nothing to be found but a dark sky speckled with stars.

Put out, Chihiro stomped along the shoreline, kicking up rocks from the damp grass below her feet, and determined to get to the bathhouse even if she had to swim there. Last time she had been to this place, there had been no large river there to block her, and she and her parents had simply walked all the way to the Bath House, skipping over rocks... she supposed the river only came out at night... or was only visible to those not still ignorant in the ways of the Spirit World.

'Last time I was here, I ended up FLYING away... but that was with Kohaku... I don't think I can do it anymore, at least not on my own.' she sighed, folding her arms and thinking deeply, gazing out across the shimmering body of water placed before her. In the distance she saw a building with bright lights of all different colors, radiating warmth, and new instinctively it was Aburaya. It was so close! She hadn't been so close to it, or anything remotely like it, in years! Yet... it was still too far away.

"Damn you Kohaku, where are you!?" she called to the sky, having picked up the habit of lightly cursing occasionally from her new friends at school. "... Where are you? Why did you leave me?" she asked in a bit of a more demure tone. Why wasn't he there yet? Was he avoiding her? No... No he couldn't be...


"Hu!?" Chihiro gasped, startled out of her deep thoughts by a sudden noise to her left. "Oh my God, where did that come from!?" she croaked, staring at the large ferry now a mere twenty feet away from her, its red bulk shining proudly in the moon light, as it gave off another blow of its fog horn. Chihiro had seen this boat before, it had come to the Bath House the first night she had been stuck in the Spirit World, and she knew for a fact that it transported the Bath House customers to it.

It was perfect.

"This is great, I'll just get a ride to the Bath House on this thing!" Chihiro squealed happily, jogging towards the ferry, not giving a thought as to how it appeared in front of her, and watching as a variety of odd looking, shadowy and marshmellow-esque beings lumbered onto the gently rocking boat. Seeing their odd faces, and feeling their strange auras, brought an almost overwhelming surge of nostalgia through her. She contained her nervousness with a broad smile, skipping up the ramp. She was almost there!

Her cheery disposition was stunted a bit when she saw the spirits were handing the ferryman money, and realized with wide eyes that she had nothing of value on her that would constitute as enough to get her a ride. Nearly slapping her head with frustration, unable to believe that yet another obstacle had been presented before her, she approached the ferryman cautiously as her turn came around.

"That'll be one gold piece," a rather nasal, young sounding voice blew out, its actual body compiled of a large, baggy ferry-man jacket, some gloves, and a pair of slacks that drifted casually, a few centimeters off the ground. He had no face to speak of. Chihiro winced. Uh-oh.

"Well... see I don't actually have any money on me," Chihiro started cautiously.

"No money, no ride," the spirit staff member of the haunted ferryboat, pointed out helpfully.

"Yes, I know, but you see..." Chihiro said, fumbling with her words and getting desperate. "I work for Yu-Baba at the bath-house, and she sent me on an errand... and told me to be back as soon as possible! But I have to money to get back now, and If I don't get these supplies to her she will be furious! The whole night could be ruined for these customers you are trying to get across the river!" Chihiro finished, fists clenched in front of her, and silently marveling at her own lying skills. Since when had she gotten so good? Well, it was either get to the Aburaya or be tortured to death by an agonizingly dull summer, so maybe it was her survival skills coming into play. The ferryman looked at Chihiro silently, running what she had said over in his mind. Toughy.

"...What supplies? I don't see anything on you," he said, suspiciously. Chihiro gulped, mind cranking at alarming speeds as she tried to come up with an answer for that one. "Besides, doesn't she have oni for that sort of job? You're just a human." The ferryman added, spitting out 'human' as though it were a sort of disease.

'Oni?' thought Chihiro, frowning. Yu-Baba definitely didn't hire demons to be her henchmen, last time she checked... but, maybe things had changed? "Um, well, see, I'm a special human worker for Yu-Baba... I go to the human world and fetch things for her." she said, firmly.

"But what kind of things? I don't see anything on you!" the ferry-man insisted, even though the other passengers who wanted to get on the boat were starting to protest from behind Chihiro. The fourteen year old mentally groaned at the ferryman's abundant curiosity, but complied anyway.

"Oh ... you know... just the normal stuff... radios, micro chips, cell phones, online connections..." Chihiro said, struck with a sudden inspiration, and ticking of the list of supplies for Yu-Baba on her hand. "Just the normal stuff every bath-house needs from the human world! Everyone knows that! But, you can't SEE these things on me, because they're ... imprinted in the ... memory chip... in my brain... naturally!" Chihiro said, trying to sound as honest as possible, while smothering a smile. The ferryman looked, as hoped, quite baffled, and maybe a little awkward. Was she a sly one, or what?

"Naturally!" he agreed quickly, everything Chihiro had just said having gone way over his head. "I mean. of course, I knew that. Just wanted to make sure, you know. The security is tight these days for the Bathhouse, in any case. Now... um... go along, and we'll charge this ride to Yu-Baba." he said, shooing her along quickly so he could attend to the other customers, obviously glad to be rid of her.

'Oh, Yu-Baba's gonna love THAT! She'll probably make me work it off!' Chihiro thought sadly, but smiled politely at the ferryman's invisible face anyway, even though he chose not to acknowledge mortal scum like her. The spirits had a thing about humans. But hey, who didn't?

Relieved that the small ordeal was over, Chihiro chose a place on the deck to sit down and stare out into the distance and eye the Aburaya's blinking lights that created a mist of pink light over it, instead of taking shelter inside the ferry's indoor cafe and bed cars. They were hardly going far, anyway. They would be there within fifteen minutes, for sure! The mere thought brought shivers down Chihiro's spine, though it might just have been the wind, since the ferry was now steadily chugging across the river. Chihiro's eyes stayed locked on the Bath House the whole while.

'I wonder how everyone's doing? Is Kamajii okay? Still whining about being stuck in the boiler room, no doubt. I'm sure he'll be eager to hear from his granddaughter, though!' Chihiro giggled to herself, thinking of spider spirit, who also happened to fuel the heated water for all of the baths

'And what about Rin? She said she had wanted to get away from the Bath House, back then, but maybe with the transformation in everyone, she decided to stay... I hope so; I really want to see her again. Oh! And I have to see No-Face and Granny too! Maybe they'll make me another hair tie if I take a train out to visit them!' she wondered happily, reminding herself not to be greedy. Hair ties made of your friends love wasn't something easily come-upon, anyway.

Glancing down at her hands suddenly, Chihiro bit her lip. 'Not to mention... I have to see Kohaku! I want to know why he just disappeared tonight... and... And why he hasn't visited me!' she added, realizing she was possibly still a little bit angry with her mysterious friend for leaving her in the lurch all of these years... even with all of the excitement at the thought of just getting to SEE everybody again - that boy had some answering to do!

So wrapped up in her thoughts, and ideas of what she would do first, who she was to see first, (Was the baby still taking the form of a mouse from time to time?) if she would work again, (OH! And what about the soot spirits? The Susuwatari? Still working hard?) and then wondering with a little bit of worry if anyone would remember her at all!- she didn't have time to see what collided with the boat, head on, until she was already thrown onto her back, gasping as the wind was knocked out of her.

All around the stunned Chihiro, suddenly, frantic spirits were dashing about the boat, screaming and flailing their hands, worried as any common human would be. Their cries reminded Chihiro she had to get up, and, rubbing her sore back, she did - just in time to hear whatever had hit the boat begin to roar with anger from underneath her. The sound was powerful and reverberated from all around her, shaking the boat a bit more as it swayed to and fro, and splashing large amounts of water onto the deck.

Whatever had collided with them was inside, below, and making its way to the main deck from beneath them!

Leaping to her feet, and trying to make her way around the masses of spirits all charging towards the lifeboats, while crewmembers desperately tried to keep the peace, Chihiro wondered just what would want to attack a spirit ferry. They didn't have anything valuable with them, did they?

"Excuse me, excuse me, sorry! Excuse me-OUCH! Hey! Uhn! Please, let me through, what's going on, what hit us?" Chihiro asked, elbowing her way through the crowd, which was going the exact opposite direction Chihiro wanted to go... away from the source of the noise and panic. It never once occurred to Chihiro that she might want to avoid the danger, as well.

"Hey, what's going on here!?" Chihiro demanded of a crewmember, a sturdier looking one than her old, nasal friend. His crisp jacket turned quickly to her, speaking in harsh, clipped tones.

"What are you doing here? You should be getting to a lifeboat, miss. We have a dangerous, wild creature on our hands here. Don't worry, we'll handle it, just go!" he said, pushing her along her way.

'Dangerous creature?' she repeated in her head, turning to look at what the man was referring to, even as he continued to shove her down the deck. The answer was revealed to her as the 'creature' made its way to the surface of the deck, splintering the wood and batting off a few ferrymen with a violent whipping of its radiant head, clawing its way up.

"Kohaku!!" she cried, slipping out of the tall ferry-man's grasp when he least expected it, and dashing forwards, towards Kohaku who still in his dragon form, quickly throwing all caution to the wind. At the sound of her exited voice, his head whipped to the side, and his large green eyes, mean looking with his current body, caught hers. There was a slight pause in his movement, before he ripped himself from the hard grips of the frightened ferrymen and lunged at her.

For a frightening moment Chihiro thought he was going to eat her as his gigantic mouth snapped open - but as his head swooped just above hers, en route to the sky, and one of his many powerful, clawed arms delicately snatched her up with him, she realized she never had anything to worry about. Kohaku would never harm a hair on her head. They were best friends! Or... at least... they had been.

Within the grips of a strong dragon, zipping through the air away from her sinking ferryboat, going at obviously unreasonably fast speeds, it occurred to Chihiro that perhaps now was a good time to start getting worried about her current situation. Something was incredibly off about this whole situation.

However, even through her dark haze of doubt, Chihiro couldn't help but grin a bit. She had done it! She was back! With him! She let out a soft whoop for joy as the dragon neared the land, heading for, surprisingly, a dense clump of forest that was part of the woods that surrounded the Bath House, instead of just directly into one of Aburaya's windows, as she had seen the dragon do before.

"Kohaku?" she questioned, as he gently placed her down near a dark clump of bushes, and then backed away from her so he could properly look the girl in the eye. His dragon face looked just as fierce as ever with his long face and glimmering fangs, but it didn't scare her.

'I'm standing in front of Kohaku... after four years I'm really doing it.' she thought numbly, chocolate brown eyes wide. They both stood as they were, gaze never straying far from each other, even as they gave one another a once over, in total silence, for at least a minute. Then... forgetting everything she had fretted about, everything she had mulled over, all of her reservations about being not TOO friendly with this boy who had broken his promise!.. Chihiro let out an almost wail of glee, and flung herself at the silver dragon, latching onto his large head and hugging his head so tightly to her she wouldn't have been too surprised if the poor boy had a hard time breathing.

She felt tears of joy prickle her eyes when the soft head nuzzled her back, a low, happy growl forming in the back of his throat. So what if he nearly destroyed her ferry? They were friends, and they were together again. That's what counted.

And, as she held him in her grasp for a while longer, she felt his head begin to shrink, his fur retreat back into his skin, and be replaced by warm, grateful flesh. Suddenly her hands could touch each other again, and she was no longer embracing a large muzzle of a dragon, but the waist of a boy. A very attractive, mysterious, and familiar boy, at that.

"Oh, Kohaku!" she cried into his shirt, overwhelmingly happy. He didn't look as if he'd aged, or changed, a day! But - did River Gods age, in the first place?

"Chihiro," he said, adoration in his tone as his arms went around her shoulders, and he laid his head in the crook of her neck. She felt his silky black hair brush her shoulders, his breath tickle the hairs on her neck, and it only made everything that much more real. "I've missed you so much," he said, his voice so full of emotion and pain it almost gave Chihiro pause. However, she didn't have time to dwell on his upset tone, because, at that moment, he wrenched himself away from her, taking the surprised girl by the shoulders, and staring deeply into her eyes. This pleased her, though she wasn't sure why. "I've missed you so much, you can't even imagine, but... but you can't be here! I don't know why you followed me but you must go back! Now!"

Well, whatever Chihiro had been anticipating just then, it wasn't THAT.

"Excuse me?" she croaked in disbelief. She didn't want to go back! No way! She had just gotten here! She had just FOUGHT to get back here!

"You MUST go back," Kohaku insisted. "Things are not what they seem, and you are no longer safe in the spirit world!"
Author's Notes:

So I didn't do any MAJOR revisions - no plot changes, I didn't cut anything and I didn't really add many paragraphs. but there were quite a few messy sentences and grammatical errors I attended to. It may not be much, but I think rereading this chapter helped me get back into the Spirited Away 'zone' a little - a place I really need to have full access to in order to write chapter seven or six or whichever one's next. Thanks for reading and please review!!

-Rio Grande