~ Learning to Let Go ~

Disclaimer: The characters in this fanfiction belong to Studio Ghibli. Copyright infringement is not intended.

Note: Loose references to Spirited Away.

As Fujimoto might have observed (had he not been so distracted the first time), humans who lived on land did not usually go about purifying the ground they walked on with fresh sea water. However, having spent more time in a couple of months out of the sea than in it up till a year ago had eventually underscored this little fact to the wizard currently lurking behind a clump of hydrangeas outside the kindergarten, sans hydrating equipment. This did not endear him any further to the inhabitants of the islands though, as he soon found out.

A bus ferrying genteel old ladies had stopped right in front of his field of vision and entirely foiled his attempt to spot Ponyo among the colourfully dressed huddle of children in the yard. As he lowered his pair of binoculars irately, a couple of old women got off the vehicle and one of them proceeded to whack him on the head with her bag.

"Pervert!" she screeched. "Spying on innocent children at your age? Shame on you!"

Before Fujimoto could utter a word in his own defense however, a younger woman had crossed the narrow lane and was now disarming the old ladies of their makeshift weaponry before sending them on their way.

"Fujimoto-san! How many times must I tell you to wait for Ponyo-chan at home? You're mollycoddling her! She's perfectly safe in the school."

"I wasn't going to do anything," he muttered defensively. Risa nudged the enormous bento box beside him pointedly with a heeled toe. "It's just some oinigiri. She's a growing girl," he protested.

"And these?" The woman stared at the motley collection of strangely coloured potions sticking out of a battered saddlebag. "I don't suppose it's your lunch huh?"

"The green one is a health drink for Ponyo. Those small ones are antibiotics in case she falls ill, the blue one is a vitamin concoction and that one is a lucky charm to guard against the advances of young men."

Risa snorted with laugher. "Pardon me for being blunt, Fujimoto-san. The children are five. Give them a break. I promise you, we at the home and school are both looking out for the children as best as we can. Don't worry." Without another word, she scooped all the items up single-handedly and went back into the nursing home.

Defeated and with his cargo of goods for his daughter confiscated, the wizard wandered out to the sea cove below the home. The tide had gone out and the sand was littered with washed up items brought up by the lapping waves. Ignoring the group of students who were there with their teacher, he went to sit on one of the larger rocks.

Lost in thought, Fujimoto did not even realize when an empty Styrofoam box, brought in by the rising tide, bobbed gently against his foot. In earlier days, he would have shrunk away in horror at having his shoe defiled by the piece of rubbish, but absorbed as he was in thinking about Ponyo, he hardly gave it notice. When at last he did, he only sighed and flicked it aside half-heartedly. That was when he perceived that he was no longer alone on the rock.

A young man had suddenly appeared there, so silently and unobtrusively that Fujimoto could only marvel. Judging from the fey look to his eyes and the strange robes he wore, he was certainly about as much a fish out of water as Fujimoto himself was. None of the children (or their teacher) seemed to have noticed though as they concentrated on their task of beach cleaning.

"What is a river spirit of your rank doing so far from his home?"

The boy turned towards him, the only sign that he was surprised evidenced in the slight widening of his strange green eyes.

"You can see me?" he asked curiously.

Fujimoto nodded slightly. "I'm Fujimoto, resident wizard for the Granmamare."

The spirit inclined his head respectfully. "You could say I'm watching," he said in reply to Fujimoto's previous question as his gaze shifted to the crowd of middle-schoolers.

Fujimoto looked at them knowingly. "So am I," he said, looking back up towards the balustrade. "Or rather, I was," he mumbled under his breath. "They won't let me see her. I mean, it's just lunch. Who knows what they're feeding her at the school? She's never left my side for so long before. Now, it's always Sosuke this and Sosuke that."

The spirit smiled slightly at his crestfallen expression. Encouraged thus, the wizard ranted on. "They put her into a school of their choosing, let her dress in clothes I had no say in, then allow her to wander all over the compound by herself, crawling under bushes and getting dirty."

A mild breeze lifted up and stirred the pile of rubbish that the students had gathered. One of them broke away to catch a stray plastic sheet that had landed near the rocks. As she ran over, Fujimoto quickly lapsed into silence. Appearing to talk to oneself was bound to be viewed strangely by humans.

"Gomen," she said shyly as she snatched up the piece of rubbish.

"Good job," Fujimoto found himself saying.

The girl smiled in pleasure and bowed politely. "Thank you," she said before running back to her friends, her hairband winking in the afternoon light. The river spirit had remained unmoved throughout the encounter but Fujimoto was not fooled. That little gust had to come from somewhere after all. He poked at a barnacle that had adhered precariously to the jutting edge of his rock.

"How long…?"

"For two years."

Fujimoto nodded. He didn't need to look at his companion to know how he felt. In fact he was feeling a little outclassed when in comparison, Brunehilde, no Ponyo would be ending class in a matter of minutes. As he gazed out into the sunlit waters of the bay, Fujimoto wondered what his daughter would be like as a middle schooler and was struck by a vision of wild red hair attached to a shadowy face with a dangerously headstrong tilt to its chin. He shook his head to clear away that thought. Who knows what the future will bring.

"Letting go was the hardest part wasn't it," he said, more to himself than anything else. As they looked over the open sea together, the sound of the children shouting at the back, there was a gentle splash as the barnacle popped from its rock.

They would wait.