The bath house was absolutely fantastic. The hundreds of different varieties of spirits not to mention the staff, the great tubs of hot and cold water all scented and infused with a variety of herbs and minerals to the guests' various tastes (the Doctor pined to go and look at the elaborate boiler system that must be delivering the water: was it magic as well? But he didn't want to lose track of Jack); the huge platters of food being carried along; the sound of raucous diners behind closed doors.
The staff tended to stare, but the spirits apparently accepted the Time Lord as one of their own; he had to find a polite way to reject several offers to dine, soak, scrub, descale, and otherwise relax.
But while he mingled, a part of his mind was not on his current surroundings, or even mulling over Rose's fate: instead it was wondering what might be happening far over his head.
* * *
The upper floor of the bathhouse was silent.
Three green and rather lumpish animated heads were still as three stones, positioned in an irregular line as though listening. Their dark eyes rolled as they looked at each other and away, and sometimes one of them would purse its lips as though about to whistle, but would not quite dare.
The shrill harpy that accompanied Yubaba on her travels, and shared some of her wickedness along with her face, sat on her perch, claws flexing against the wood, eyes wide and perplexed.
Everything was silent.
* * *
The Doctor was having a remarkably interesting conversation with a large white radish spirit about the locomotive habits of the common Krynoid when he heard the sound of Yubaba's heels at his back. But this time they did not tap-tap-tap in a rattle of fury; they moved more leisurely. Sauntering, even. There was another set of footsteps beside them, bare feet padding softly on wood and carpet.
He was expecting a wave of gossiping chatter to follow the sounds of the footsteps, but instead the bath house was falling more and more silent. Almost as though by magic, as the footsteps drew closer, the sounds of laughter and talking were stilled.
He glanced up at the radish spirit, which blinked extremely small eyes at him and pressed one long rootlike arm over what might be its lower face, and then brushed the Doctor's mouth in turn. Now the Doctor could feel it: a weight on his breath, an impulse to not speak, which seemed to radiate downwards along with the approach of the footsteps.
Yubaba finally appeared, her great face rosy and her long white hair disarrayed as though she had taken it down and then put it back up in a hurry. Beside her was Jack, his collar askew and his face lit with the delight of someone who has discovered a new realm and explored it with deep and passionate thoroughness.
"You," Yubaba paused and caught her breath. "You will go now. Your companion will meet you at your blue box. Go now, and do not return."
Jack looked up at her with his most melting glance, and she stared back with eyes like daggers - or considering her size, more like two-handed broadswords. "Do not return!" she repeated. Then she leaned forward, and whispered to Jack. "But if you must come back – come alone." She flicked her eyes at the Doctor, and winked.
Jack winked back and deftly raised Yubaba's hand to his lips, kissing it with aplomb; she withdrew her hand and looked away with an aggrieved expression. He walked past the Doctor and headed towards the entrance, and the Doctor was forced to trail after him, wondering with every step.
They reclaimed their shoes, exchanged bows with the frog attendant, and walked out past the wide-eyed expressions of the round women. The bridge was nearly deserted; most of the guests had apparently already arrived. There was a shadow about midway across the bridge that might have had a face atop it, but it vanished as they approached and then passed it.
"Are you all right?" the Doctor murmured under his breath, as soon as he could speak again - the impulse to be silent, or spell if you wanted to call it that, had apparently broken outside of the bath house.
"Absolutely," Jack murmured back throatily. "Let's get out of here."
They were almost at the far end of the bridge when the Doctor recalled something of importance.
"Jack, there's something you should bear in mind when dealin' with the spirit world."
"And that is?" Jack walked with his shoulders back and his feet light, the very image of a man who has done a good job and knows it.
"They're very tricky, and they're very possessive. I mean, look at Rose: they turned her into a pig, just for eating some food! So if anyone was to, say, filch something from the owner of a spirit world bath house, and then leave the premises. Well."
"Well." Jack paused, and looked at the Doctor with an innocent expression. "Well, what?"
"Consequences, Jack. Dire consequences."
Jack winced, the corner of his mouth turning up in what was not quite a smile. The colour rose to his cheeks as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring practically large enough to be a bracelet, set with a yellow gem filled with lights that seemed to undulate under their gaze.
"Doctor, she had piles of these rings. I mean literally, heaps of them all over. She'll never miss-"
"No, Jack. Drop it."
Jack looked at the ring, moved as though to put it on the edge of the bridge - and was stopped by a stranger's hand.
The hand belonged to a boy, or maybe a young man - it was hard to tell. He was small, with straight-cut hair the colour of wet slate, and sharp green eyes. He was wearing the same sort of tunic and shorts that the frogs had been wearing at the bath house. With ill grace Jack looked at the ring, then kissed it sadly goodbye and put it into the boy's hand.
"Good choice, Jack," the Doctor said approvingly.
The boy said nothing; he only inclined his head, hair sweeping forward and then back like two precise wings, and then walked past them, back to the bath house with an even tread.
* * *
"Hey, hi!" Rose was standing in the middle of the street when they arrived back at the TARDIS, moving from one foot to the other. She looked perfectly normal, and the strings of lanterns overhead showed her impatient expression. "Where have you been?"
The Doctor beamed at her, and Jack actually swept her into a hug and then put her down. She laughed at them both. "What was that all about?"
"I'm just happy to see you again, Rose," the Doctor said; a bit of Yubaba's spell seemed to be stuck in his throat, and his words were a little hoarse. "That's all."
"Well, look, I haven't got any money, and I can't talk to any of these people, or whatever." She indicated the moving shadows that were trailing around them, glowing eyes staring at the travellers. "Because, um, I went in one of these stalls and sorta served myself? 'Cause I thought you were right there, and I could borrow some money from you? And I overdid it, I really made a pi-"
"Never mind, Rose, let's go," the Doctor said, taking her arm and steering her towards the familiar blue TARDIS, sitting beside a dusty blue shop whose front was a fantasy of edible sea life: stuffed fish, mounds of lobster, soup bowls swimming with squid ink.
"But I ate a lot, Doctor. I can't remember gettin' a bill, but I owe them-"
"Don't worry about it. Jack paid for you."
"You paid?" Rose glanced up at Jack, and her eyes narrowed at his self-satisfied expression. Then she laughed again.
"You're not telling me something," she teased.
"No, Rose, you're all squared away. Paid in full," Jack said. The Doctor had the TARDIS doors open, and he and Rose stepped inside; Jack paused and threw a little salute to the red lantern just visible at the top of the street, before closing the TARDIS doors behind him.
With a groaning rumble, the TARDIS faded away.
THE ENDNOTES ON THE TALE:
This may or may not take place during the events in 'Spirited Away'; Haku is present, and it seems No-Face is on the bridge, but we do not see if Chihiro is present or not.
The orange-flavoured baby aspirin food is a striking hostile gesture on the TARDIS' part, and I'm not entirely sure why she did it. Maybe Rose kicked her in an outlet by mistake, or something.
I wonder if the Doctor made the mistake of setting the destination as "the most magical place on Earth'? That would explain how they ended up at Yubaba's bath house, rather than Disneyland.
The choice of who is transformed by eating the spirit's food is not intended as character bashing.
"a giant bipedal cat, trailed by a line of black bouncing balls" - a Totoro, of course.
The carnivorous land clams of Skaro are seen in the Fourth Doctor story "Genesis of the Daleks."
The Krynoid is an aggressive alien plant in the Fourth Doctor story "Seeds of Doom."