Disclaimer: For the last time: I don't own anything remote to the anime movie Spirited Away. I would gladly sell this story to see it happen on DVD thought...
I hope you will like this! This is the fourth chapter and conclusion of this story. As I said in the first one, Merry Christmas Anne-Marie! This is the final part of your gift! Have fun! Thanks to everybody else who read this and reviewed. You're the best.
Takeru and Tayima met at the bottom of the stairs of her apartment building. Both of them had travelling clothes on. They spotted Chihiro come their way. To say they were surprised was an understatement. She had, in this short time, her hair done. She wore the most beautiful kimono they had ever seen. The wavy blue pattern seemed to glide everywhere on her at every step. If Itsuya-san was to see her right now, he would probably kneel down again and prostrate, mumbling incoherently. Her friends, not being as receptive of her energy, did only a little better. Chihiro stopped a moment in front of them.
Then she was off. The charm, never weakening, opened a way on the streets, and even at the train station, they had a whole compartment for them. The shock eventually wore off and Tayima found her voice back.
"Why are you all dressed up?"
"Me coming back is an occasion it itself. Don't worry, you're perfect like that."
The rest of the trip was made in silence. They got off at the station Chihiro indicated. The sun was quickly going down. They walked at a good pace and climbed up the way to the stone archway. Takeru was, by then, out of breath. Tayima wasn't much better. For the first time of the day, Chihiro hesitated. She turned toward them.
"You still have the chance to go back. I won't hold it on you."
"After all these efforts," wheezed Takeru, "why would we want to go back?"
"Then look at me in the eyes. This is serious. Deathly so."
She had their attention.
"You will be shocked and most probably scared witless. You will HAVE to get a hold on yourself. Do not eat anything in the stands and I mean it! Not a single thing! Be humble and respectful. You will be seen and judged by your own humanity, not by your standing on the society we left behind. Did you hear me?"
Both nodded a little dumbly.
"Good," she sighed. "Follow me."
She passed the archway. She had more difficulty crossing the stepping stone in her kimono since the water was already beginning to flow between them.
They managed to cross before the rocks were covered. They assisted to the birth of the river that took place every night.
"What was that? Did a dam open?" wondered Takeru out loud.
"Come. Never get far from me," said Chihiro, ignoring the question.
"Hey, I can see a boat coming here already, can you believe it? Hey! Wait up! Don't leave me behind!"
Tayima ran up to them. They passed a few buildings enlightened by paper lanterns.
"An old Theme Park! Does Haku-san work here?"
"Yes, in a way. His real name isn't Haku. Only I call him that here."
"Yes. His full name is Kohaku."
"Kohaku? Like the river you saved?" asked Tayima. "Wait. Didn't you say, when you first came to see me, that you did all that to save Ha... Kohaku's life? But it's the... river... you saved... Hey, did you see some kind of mist move ahead?"
They passed the food stands. By now, spirits were appearing left and right, eating the food. Chihiro's friends were scared. The everyday Japanese is superstitious. Now they were surrounded by spirits. Most, if not all of them, had a distinctive form of a sort and were going on their business. Many turned toward them. They quickly realized it was Chihiro they were looking at. She nodded at them, smiling. Some even waved their hand... hands... limbs... at her. Her companions, very slowly, relaxed but they never let go of either of her arms.
"Guys... you're with me. Everybody realized it already. The worst is mostly done."
"Yes. The most difficult one is the owner of that inn we're going to."
"Can't we stay elsewhere?"
"No. I worked there when I wasn't in the human world. Kohaku's working for her too, even if it's on his own terms. She's quite powerful around here. Just be polite, but don't stand down. She'll walk all over you otherwise, even if you're my friends."
That was nothing to calm them, but they figured the owner, at least, would not be as scary then some spirits they crossed. They gradually let go of Chihiro's arms but followed her one step behind. They were her guest after all. She seemed so... at ease. They oddly felt she was where she belonged, but then they thought of something. What was Kohaku like? A chill went up their spines thinking of his nickname: The Blue Dragon.
They got to huge double doors and were greeted by normal-looking woman. They seemed to be taking care of the hot baths.
"Welcome! Welcome to the... Chihiro? Is that really you? You're so pretty! You finally came back! We were expecting you soon but not with company!"
"Ika-san... Thank you for your warm welcome. We'd like to see the owner, please, if you do not mind."
Ika was taken aback a moment by her tone but quickly reacted. She bowed formally and extended a hand toward the entrance.
"Hai! If you could follow me this way please!"
She led them all the way to an elevator. Many gave her enthusiasts greeting but calmed at her polite answer. They knew that there was something going on. Chihiro made her way to the owner office and the employees got back to work.
"Chihiro-chan! I'm so glad you're back!" said Yubaba, enthusiast.
"I'm happy to be back, manager-san. Let me introduce you to Takeru-kun and Tayima-chan. They helped me a lot in the human world and are true friends. They wanted to see for whom they spent almost a year of their life helping me."
The owner was only slightly surprised at her formal tone.
"So... you finally grew up in a woman, Chihiro-chan. Always remember who are your superiors, my girl, and you'll never have any problems here."
"Of course," bowed Chihiro, but she straightened back up and looked her dead in the eyes with a steel face.
"Oooh... oh... Ha ha ha! I like you my girl. I'm charmed to meet you, Chihiro's friends. Let's talk later. For now, he is waiting for you. You know the way, I believe."
Chihiro bowed again as did her friends, and turned back. In the corridors, Takeru let out a deep breath he was holding since they crossed that door.
"That went well. Never been so stressed on vacation thought."
"Me neither," agreed Tayima.
"I'm sorry for the inconvenience."
"Don't worry, Chihiro. We choose to come here, and you warned us. Kind of. Even if we would have liked to know beforehand… "
"Would you have believed me?"
"Hummm… Probably not."
Chihiro opened a door that let them reached the outside. The view was, to say the least, unusual. They were directly on the roof. They had to be careful not to leave the path made on the centre tiles of the roof since the fall, on each side, seemed awfully long. At the end of the path, on the edge of the roof, stood what look like a traditional mansion. It gave them a better idea of how big this place was! The house on the roof looked so small compared to the whole building! It would have been stranger, if they had not already met spirits, seen a giant baby waving from behind a curtain, a big-headed matron and other unnamed individuals.
"That guy must not be afraid of heights," said Tayima.
"That's for sure," agreed Takeru.
Chihiro stopped before the door and, with a shaky hand, opened it. Kohaku was dressed very formally and was just walking in the living room. He stopped dead in his track, seeing her on his doorstep.
"I'm home," she said, smiling shyly.
Next thing she knew, she was in his arm, her feet leaving the ground.
"I know it's stupid, since it's you who saved me, but I was so worried…"
"You saved me."
"You look so beautiful. I love you so much…"
"Will you marry me?"
He kissed her desperately, gripping her close to him. He never wanted to let her go, ever again. He felt both their tears blend together before falling off their cheeks. When he put enough space between them, he looked at her face. She was crying, smiling, and never looked so happy.
Tayima gripped Takeru's arm and put her head on his shoulder, sighing softly. She never saw something so true and beautiful than those two in her life. Then, she realized where she was resting her head. She felt Takeru's arm on her shoulders. She looked up to him and he surprised her with a kiss of his own. Maybe coming here wasn't such a bad thing after all…
The marriage was celebrated at the Inn since no other building around could welcome that many guests. A huge room in the basement, rarely used, was cleaned and decorated. On the high ceiling were hung hundreds of paper lanterns. In a more private space was the room where the ceremony itself was held, but as soon as they finished their quiet exchange of vows, the cheering was deafening. The place shook with energy and Takeru was afraid that the roof would not hold when they shared their first public, married kiss. Tayima was doing her share of cheering and catcalls.
The reception was grandiose. The food, decorations, the performances of the singers and dancers was a pure enchantment. At some point, Takeru managed to get a hold of the crowd of various entities' attention.
"Hi! As one of the only human guests from Chihiro's original world, I'd like to say a few words," he said, rising from his seat.
Kohaku and Chihiro turned toward him.
"I was privileged to be one of her friends in High School, and still is after all this. She would always seem to be touched by the spirits. Still, I guess nobody back home would have expected her to marry one."
There was polite laughing at that. Takeru was smiling inwardly.
"She would have been considered weird and strange if she would have told her tale about the Spirit World. I can't understand the loneliness she must have felt, having this wonderful secret that she couldn't tell. She joked about it a few times. Even then, she would not do it too often as not to raise suspicion in our conservative world. I dated her, for a short period of time, at the end of which she broke up with me. She was honest enough to tell me she liked another man. All of it because I looked like him after I lost a bet! I had my hair dyed in the same colour as yours!"
There was another laughing row. That human was funny!
Kohaku was surprised. He didn't know about that. It was amusing! He turned toward his wife to see her frowning. Why so? He wasn't angry or jealous she dated another.
"But then I asked her: who are you leaving me for?"
Chihiro was nervous. She remembered that conversation. -He wouldn't…-
"Her answer surprised me!"
"She told me she loved a shoe fetishist!"
There was silence, right before a full gale of laughter erupted in the place! In the chaos, they could hear the booming voice of Chihiro.
"TAAAAKEEERUUUUUUU! I'm going to rip your head off with my teeth!"
This just sent more laughs. It started to die down after a while. Chihiro had her head in her hands while Takeru had a victory smile.
-This can't get any more embarrassing…-
"Hum… Yes? Haku-chan?"
"What's a shoe fetishist?"
Any observer, from either world, that would have seen this scene, would have drowned in insanity. The room was full of humans and spirits, arms in arms, laughing their head off. Some of them were rolling on the ground. A blobby spirit was laughing so much you could not even guess what his original form was. Most humanlike life forms were holding their stomach, trying to ease the pain from so much laughter.
Even Chihiro could not stop herself. She eventually bent to whisper something in the ear of her husband. When she was finished, he looked at her incredulously.
"What? That makes me a shoe fetishist?"
There would be a lot of abdominal cramps that evening.
Chihiro and Kohaku were flying through the sky, a particular lake as a destination. They were not going to visit Granny Tsuki, they were getting her back home! She managed to get to their marriage on her own! Still, she was missing her little place. She assured them the trip was quite an adventure.
"Ha! It's down there that a little water sprite gave me those magical pebbles."
"Those are not magical pebbles, Granny. You've been had."
"Really? It only asked, in exchange, for a hug and a lullaby to get it to sleep. It was all alone at such a young age. So… I've been had you said?"
"You'll never change, Granny. Always taking care of the small ones. I'm sure he'll be alright. Look! We can see your place from over here!"
They flew without any hurry and landed gracefully.
"Thank you. Visit me anytime! It's a good place to relax…"
"We know. Kohaku and I planned to build a house near here."
"Around my lake? That would be so sweet!"
"Not quite. Just down the river path, on the ocean shore. Kohaku loves it. He says he felt a connection to that place. You'll be welcome to visit anytime."
"At the ocean…" she whispered dreamingly. "Yes. That would be perfect I think…"
Chihiro hugged her and went back on her dragon ride. He found a nice breeze and took the direction of the Inn. They had other goodbyes to attend to.
As they arrived, Takeru and Tayima were getting out of the Inn, arms linked. It was around noon. Kohaku changed back as they approach.
"You're back early!" said Tamiya, nervous.
"Were you going back to the human world without saying goodbye? Fleeing like thieves?" said Chihiro, faking anger.
"You're so busy… and…" began Takeru.
"What he's trying to say", interrupted Tayima, "is that he doesn't like teary goodbyes. Maybe even last goodbyes."
"Why would it be the last?"
"Well…" began Takeru, "We've been told that we might not be able to come back by ourselves. That… the river won't appear next time. You've always been special, you know. Always. We would not have crossed without you there."
Chihiro lowered her head, knowing this already.
"One more reason to make decent goodbyes."
She hugged Tayima strongly. Her friend hugged her back with as much force, crying silently.
"I don't know what I would have done without you, Tayima. Thank you so much!"
"You're kidding, right? I don't know how I would have ended up! But that's what friends are for, right? You know that better than anybody."
Tayima let her go and pushed her playfully toward her new boyfriend.
"Don't hug my man too close, I'm watching!"
Chihiro giggled a little in the arms of Takeru. It would have been awkward to hug him too long. She let him go. She turned to them, her wet eyes shining.
"I'll miss you two. If you ever need me for anything, and you've got to see me, get Itsuya-san to come here with you at sunset. I have the feeling he can cross."
"We won't forget that," whispered Tayima.
They parted before it would get too difficult.
Life, after that, started to flow back the way it used to. Chihiro got back to work at the Inn now and then… as a team supervisor. Kohaku was very busy with the home they were building on the ocean's shore. He told her that building something here held a lot more importance than in her original world. It was there to stay.
Chihiro already understood that. She didn't know why, but since her wedding, that world she loved so much, that world she feels to be her own seemed to reveal its inner secrets to her. Its inhabitants, its unwritten rules, its geography and logic. It seems to come to her naturally. She talked to Kohaku about it. He simply smiled at her at first.
"You wed a river spirit. You united yourself to me. It's not only words or feelings."
"So… I'm becoming a spirit?"
"More like… a spiritual being. You share with me the incarnation of the river, without being the river itself since I stay as "Kohaku'".
Chihiro had a thoughtful look on her harmonious face.
"Then that's perfect! Anything that makes me closer to you is welcome."
Her face was breathing honesty. He could not help himself. He kissed her. Again, and again…
A few years after this incredible trip in the spirit world, on the start of spring, Takeru was found walking along the Kohaku River. He knew it by heart now, as many tourists did. A resort opened, with a zealous cleaning crew. It was said that nobody ever had an accident from swimming in those waters. Then, he saw something new. Did the water made a new path? A very small water source was coming out of the ground, only a few yards from the shore, to join the Kohaku River. A small… new source of crystal clear water. Takeru smiled softly.
"Congratulations, Chihiro. You've got a beautiful baby…"
In the Spirit World, Chihiro felt Takeru's blessing, while she was cradling her little Chiata in her arms.
It was said later that the maiden of Kohaku river came to their world, and by the power of her fury, humbled the men responsible for the unclean waters. They said that the maiden, after her battle was won, blessed the river to take care of humans that goes near it as long as they would take care of it.
Some even says that, at a particular spot on the shallow shore, when the night gets really dark, you can hear and see the river maiden bathing and playing with a baby in the river's water. The versions of the stories changed from one to another, as the time passed. From the time in the night to the number of children.
One thing stayed constant. At the end of the vision, the maiden was joined by a young man who took her in his arms. The stories vary, too, about the length of the kiss they shared until they disappeared in the reflexion of the water stream.
There it is. The perfect end to me. They got what they would wish for the strongest. It is hard as an author to end something, or to drive it toward the end. Sometime, you fall in love with the story and never want it to end. Like this, it's an end but it is not. The story ends but they will live for eternity.