Title: A Picture and a Hairband
Author: Riley Masters (hikaru-no-kite on deviantART)
Rated: K
Category: Spirited Away
Genre: Spiritual / Romance
Warnings: None
Disclaimer: I do not, nor will I ever, own the rights to the above mentioned movie.

Author Note: Cross posted in deviantART. For the ultimate FanFiction Contest: One Shots. I should be working on NaNoWriMo, but I think I might just give up now...

This is for you, dad.

- Riley Masters (11/09/09)

She stood at the gate.

Everyday, for three long years, she went there, trying to return to the world of her dreams. Everyday, she failed to get there.

It tore her apart, to come and never make it. Sometimes, she swore that today would be the last day, that she wouldn't go tomorrow. The next day, though, she would be in the same position again.

During the summer, she would sit at the gate all day, sometimes with her art pad. She would draw humans and spirits, all living in a bathhouse.

It was the world of her dreams, and she somehow knew that she could get there through this gate. But she joust couldn't get through.

She had punched and kicked, threw absolute fits that would do a young child proud, and still she couldn't find her way. It was like there was an invisible barrier keeping them in, keeping her out.

Today, the final day of summer, found her in the same position. Her art pad was resting on her lap, a pencil making one of her memories come to life. Next to her was an old tin, filled with colored pencils.

On the page, she was on the back of a long white dragon. Its – no, his – scales seemed to be exploding off of his body, leaving a human boy in their place.

"Haku," she whispered, naming the boy/dragon. "No, that doesn't sound right. How about Kohaku, like the river that was cemented over all those years ago?"

Quickly, the dragon was finished, and she carefully added the starry night sky. She could almost see Kohaku flying through the clouds, almost feel the wind in her hair.

As if the drawing was a key, hundreds of bells began sounding. She stood, pulling her pad to her chest. Wind behind her pushed her through the gate, inside and past where she was stuck for so long.

It was like walking into a dream. She knew that she had to run through the amusement park-like town, towards the bathhouse in the distance. How, she didn't know. She had never been here before.

She ran up the stone steps, pausing at the bridge. The bathhouse looked the same as the one in her dreams, as if she had once lived there, even for only a few nights. And standing right outside the main gate was the boy from her dreams, the dragon. Kohaku.

She took a step onto the wooden bridge. His head snapped up and focused on her. She could see his eyes widen, his body freeze in shock.

He moved towards her. "Why are you back here?" he whispered, his voice shaking in astonishment that she was actually before him.

"Back here? I've only been here in my dreams," she answered, looking at him curiously.

He spied the purple hairband on her wrist, his mouth slowly forming a small smile. "Zeniba's magic. Of course you would not remember your time here while you have that on," he said, gesturing to the band.

She covered it, yelling at herself for not trying her hair up with it earlier, as then it would be out of sight. "That makes no sense. I bought this the day I moved into my new house..." she trailed off, not sure if that was even true.

He held his hand out, silently asking for it. She pulled it off of her arm, and with a gasp, remembered everything. "It's real?" One hand came to her mouth in shock. Her eyes widened, and she focused on the boy in front of her. "Haku?"

His soft smile seemed to melt her. "Welcome, Chihiro."

She didn't bother with a verbal response, instead giving him a tight hug.

After three years, all it took was a picture and a hairband to make it back to the one she loved.

"I'm glad to be home, Haku."