Disclaimer: I do hereby disclaim all rights and responsibilities for the characters in this small tale... especially for the one whose courage won the heart of a dragon. A grateful bow is made to Hayao Miyazaki for his many wonderful films, especially Spirited Away.

Chapter 30: Heart and Home

Haku carried Chihiro to a whimsical cottage tucked amidst the ferns. In the gloaming, she spied a walk paved with river stones, and lantern-light glowed a welcome from each window. "It's beautiful!"

Gladness suffused his handsome face. "It's for you."

She tilted her head, and the tiny bells in her hair ornament tinkled. "Don't you mean for us?"

"For you," he repeated gravely, setting her on her feet and taking her hands into his own. "It's traditional."

This wasn't the first time Haku had spoken of tradition; it seemed that dragons lived by lore she'd never learned. Gathering her courage, she asked, "Why would you leave me alone here?"

Haku solemnly explained, "Though a maiden may agree to take her rightful place as a dragon's bride, she may not be ready to fully accept her husband. She is afforded a haven, and the dragon must woo his heart back. My sire spent seven months to court my mother."

Chihiro blinked. "That's extremely considerate... and sweet."

Haku gently released her hands and stepped back. "If there's anything you need..."

Before he could retreat any further, Chihiro caught his trailing sleeve. "Humans have traditions, too," she announced with a stubborn glint in her eyes.

"What do you wish?" he asked, all consternation.

"A kiss."

Shaking his head in wonderment, Haku murmured, "Always so brave."

One kiss lingered, then multiplied, for Chihiro had no intention of letting her husband leave. Resting her hand against his chest, she whispered, "I thought you'd know your heart better than this. Do you really want to leave?"

"Not at all," he admitted huskily.

"Then stay," she sweetly offered.

Haku was only too glad to allow Chihiro to draw him across the threshold to their home, for he was a dragon, and a dragon always follows his heart.

And all the land experienced the fullness of his joy.

End Note: This chapter was written for the Live Journal community fanfic(underscore)bakeoff and their Secret Ingredient for October 2010—Extreme. Posted on October 3, 2010. 300 words.