Disclaimer: Don't own anything.
Author's Note: Just a thought that struck me. And you guys called me out on my mistake in Of Summers and Grandmothers where the disclaimer said that I didn't own Naruto. Clearly, it is a sign that I've been writing Naruto for too long.
Been in a rather romantic mood today. It might have something to do with the fact that I've been rereading the Songs of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce and my two favorite characters finally got together.
Absence diminishes small loves and increases great ones, as the wind blows out the candle and fans the bonfire.
~François Duc de La Rochefoucauld
Kamajii isn't sure what it is that everyone seems to like about his boiler room. It's hot, it's dusty and it smells. It doesn't smell bad, per say. It's just that some herbs aren't meant to mix with others. And he was the only one that would voluntarily be in the boiler room until the new boy.
The new boy was a lovely thing. With the coal black, straight hair, smooth pale skin and wide eyes the color of summer leaves, he reminded Kamajii of a porcelain doll. But he isn't delicate, despite his slender build. He's got an odd steel in his backbone that got him a job as Yubaba's apprentice. And Kamajii's never heard of anyone staying good underneath Yubaba, but the new boy is different.
He visits with lunch. Two bowls of rice and a newt that will be just a little too crispy, but Kamajii appreciates the gesture. At first, he doesn't speak much, content to eat and watch the coal workers and feeding them grains of his rice. Finally, Kamajii's curiosity gets the best of him.
"What's your name, boy?"
The wide eyes look up at him. They don't look quite like any spirit's Kamajii's ever seen, flickering like they are, though he chalks it up to the boiler flames. "…Haku."
They both know it's not his real name, but it is all he has to give. Sometimes, Haku will go missing for weeks and weeks and other times will be there every day. Kamajii becomes accustomed to it.
"You should just give up working here." Kamajii tells him one day when Haku is curled up with a scroll. "Just go home."
A strange look came into those jade eyes. "I can't." Haku said. "I don't have a home to go to."
Kamajii isn't quite sure what to say to that. It isn't an uncommon thing, really. Many in the bathhouse were here because they had no better place to go, but he'd hoped that the quiet, intelligent boy had a mother and father waiting for him, perhaps as sibling. Someone who would miss him while he was gone.
It is months after Haku first arrives that a serving girl gets lost. She has very bright chestnut eyes and her hair is cut boyishly short.
Both he and Haku blink at the newcomer as she says, "Sorry! Got lost and I can't find the stupid kitchens because the stupid foreman can't give directions. I hate frogs."
Kamajii is startled when he hears a sound that sounds like liquid silver. He's even more surprised when he learns that it's Haku laughing. "Frogs aren't known for their directions." He says knowingly and it's the start of a friendship that could only be described as odd.
Rin, as she introduces herself, likes sugar stars, something that Haku had never eaten. When Rin hears this, she proclaims it as blasphemy and shares a basket with him, Kamajii and, of course, the coal workers who quickly learn to love it.
Haku shrugs when he tastes it and says that he while he likes it, he prefers natural sweets. Like fruits. After he says that, Rin has to roll her eyes every time she catches him eating a peach or a plum. They argue on every subject—from frogs' sense of direction and lack thereof to the price of sake in a place that's seven train stations away.
But Rin can never stay for long. Her work is hard and demanding, as is Kamajii's, and they both love their sleep. But, Kamajii's noticed, Haku still comes down to the boiler room and just sit leaning against the wall that smells of a thousand and one herbs.
Kamajii is never sure why Haku continues to come down here. The boiler room doesn't suit him. It's too full of fire and ash and dust and the boy has much water in him. He would not have such eyes otherwise.
Sometimes, Haku will bring a book or a scroll and curl up to read. He will occasionally read out a paragraph, but those times are the quieter ones and usually end with Kamajii having to pull a blanket over the sleeping lad when the night ends because even the boiler room got chilly during the day.
Rin doesn't know how to read when they meet her and Haku is shocked. He sits her down and teaches her to read and write.
Kamajii swore that his heart stopped for an entire three minutes the first time it happens. Haku seizes and shakes like a leaf and his skin is going paler and shinier and he's getting longer. A leg will kick his drawers, a tail nearly whipping him in the face. Kamajii has Rin pressed close up to the wall for safety until there's no more thrashing, until the silvery dragon that is lying where Haku had been sitting not moments ago is still.
Rin nears it, fearless as ever. The dragon lifts itself up onto the two front paws and Kamajii shivers because he knows the dragon's eyes and he doesn't. The color is familiar. The color of jade and of summer leaves, but the leaves have frozen over. There's no recognition in them as a snarl bares an impressive looking set of teeth. She freezes, and the dragon begins seizing once more, growls and roars accompanying it.
When Haku wakes up, disoriented and with a massive headache, he doesn't remember what happened.
After that incident, the Haku they knew was altered. It was a barely perceptible change, but they knew him so well that it was glaring them in the face. He was a little colder, a little more formal. He walked with more purpose and the grace with which he had moved before was no longer there. Not to say he wasn't graceful, but it wasn't the same. The old grace had been like he'd had muscles in places normal spirits didn't. The new grace was purely reptilian, a wintry counterpart to the other.
He speaks curtly and doesn't visit for months on end. Rin snarls and grumbles about this when she comes at mealtimes. The whispers are going around that say that Haku had become Yubaba's best henchman. Kamjii wants to believe they're wrong, but there isn't any evidence to suggest otherwise.
The next time Haku comes to the boiler room, Kamajii nearly doesn't recognize him at first. His skin is sickly pale and he has to lean on the wall to stay standing. When Rin sees him, Kamajii expected her to yell and glare, but she crosses the room and slips his arm over her shoulders, her arm supporting him around the waist.
Neither of them are healers by a long shot, but Kamajii could still remember some of what his mother used to do. Covered the boy with a blanket, a washcloth on his forehead to be changed whenever it got too warm. Kamajii also mixed a basic herbal tea that was good for fevers, though it was difficult to get the boy to swallow.
Neither of them heard anything before they turned and saw that Haku wasn't there. Or rather, he wasn't there as the boy they recognized. The slender dragon doesn't snap and doesn't growl and neither of them is quite sure how one goes about caring for a sick dragon. But they put the blanket over him once more and, rather than a washcloth, they need an entire towel.
The dragon slumbers almost entirely peacefully until early afternoon and Kamajii never sees him change back. He knows it happens, but it's rather like a flower blooming. You never see it, but when you turn back around, there's less tail and the eyes are smaller and the snout is shorter and looking much more human.
Rin visits with dinner and looks at Haku, who's eyes, normally so bright, were dull and unfocused. "Morning, Sleeping Beauty."
His eyes rove wildly in her direction and when he speaks, his voice is rough and hoarse and it sounds to Kamajii like broken glass. "…Wha' goin' on?"
"We were hoping you could tell us." Rin says as she tips some water to his lips. It's still a struggle to swallow, but he manages a little.
"'M I dead?"
"Don't think so."
"Good." Haku muttered beneath his breath, pushing himself to lean up against the cabinets. "No one that's dead should have this headache."
She shoves a bowl of rice at him. Clearly, she still hadn't quite forgiven him. "Try and keep this down. Who knows when the last time you ate was."
Haku manages a weak, grateful smile. He's known her long enough that her rough manner is just how she communicates with people. At first, his fingers don't quite wish to work and it takes him a while to eat the half that he can stomach.
"You want to explain to us why you go all lizard-boy on us?" Rin finally asks. The question has been bugging her and there's only so long she can stand to be without answers.
Haku stiffens. "Not a lizard."
"We're aware of that. Why?"
Haku lifts his shoulders in a shrug that is only a ghost of his natural grace. "Just the way I am."
"We never saw you change before, boy." Kamajii reminds him.
A frown furrows the skin of Haku's forehead. "I…think it was something that Yubaba did. I can't remember a whole lot, but I think that's what it was."
Kamajii and Rin exchange looks. They'd heard rumors of that too, that Yubaba used her errand-boy to test her magic on, but they had never given much thought to those rumors.
"Could you control it before? The changin' I mean." Kamajii thinks to ask. His mother was the village herbwoman and he can remember her questions, if only vaguely. What was hurting? What had changed recently?
"Of course I could."
"Did you steal something from her?" Rin was fairly certain that Haku had more common sense than to steal from a powerful witch, but Haku had had some addle-headed moments in the past.
Haku shakes his head, but regrets it when the room begins to spin. Rin rolls her eyes and begins to brew the herbal tea that Kamajii had taught them would help with headaches. Both she and Haku got many of them working in the loud bathhouse.
As Haku sips at the tea, Rin tells him of what's been going on in the bathhouse. Shiina, one of the girls who roomed with her, had a crush on him. Rin thought it only fair to warn him since she's almost positive that Haku had glared down various male spirits that had taken an interest in her. Not that she minded. Most of the spirits that were interested in her were the frogs and she hated them.
She complains about the bigger tubs and the onion spirit who had made the poor girls serving him cry the entire time while his ego was convinced they were crying over his beauty. When Haku heard that, he choked on his tea, but there was a grin on his lips. She spoke of one of the frogs being squished beneath a client in the big tub, of the cooks' new recipe for meat pies, which she promised to steal some leftovers from when Haku would be able to keep it down.
Rin talks until it's time for work and she leaves with a stern order for Haku to rest. He smiles and it has some of its old charm. "I would not dream of disobeying."
She chucks the basket of sugar stars at him and Kamajii laughs at the antics that, by now, were the norm.
It wouldn't be the last time that Yubaba decided to experiment on him and every time, Haku stumbles down the ridiculous amount of stairs to the boiler room. And Kamajii and Rin will cover him with the sea-green blanket that is now beginning to look a little threadbare and continue to wonder what kind of spirit Haku had been before Yubaba had gotten her claws into him that he was a dragon.
"You're hair's longer." Haku remarks in that calm way of his, fingers playing with the strands that are down to mid-back now.
"You are certainly a Lord of the Obvious, Master Haku." She teases.
He's good with his hands, she's noticed. For her last birthday, he'd made her a woven bracelet the colors of the ocean. She could never seem to remember to take it off. And his handwriting is closer to calligraphy rather than her scrawl, though he assures her that scrawl is much less legible and that her writing is closer to chicken-scratch. She dunks a bucket of water over his head.
He slips into the women's rooms early one morning to wake her. She hisses at him, but when he offers to cover for her skipping work with him, she agrees. It's not often that he can do this—he's usually too busy with work and so is she. He turns his back out of politeness as she dresses. Modesty has never been a particularly big issue with either of them for the simple fact that there's never been that kind of tension between them.
They go to the very edge of the field, the enormous one that seems as though it would stretch forever on and on and is a sea when the sun sets. Haku shares rice balls with her, the kind that she's not sure where he learned to make them, but they taste better than the cooks'. They talk a little, Rin of her dreams to leave on a train and Haku of the places he's seen when running Yubaba's errands, but it is spent mostly in comfortable silence.
"I think I need an assistant." She says, leaning back on her work-roughened hands.
"What makes you say that?"
"My back is almost always aching now and my arms always feel like lead. The workload's been heavier these past months."
He doesn't say anymore on the subject and they stay there until the waters begin to rise and they have to return to the bathhouse.
The next time that Haku pulls away, that he becomes the figure with the cold, porcelain mask once more, he doesn't return to the boiler room. Rin will see him striding through the corridors and occasionally speaking with a client and she doesn't recognize him. But she doesn't say anything because he will look right at her sometimes and there's not a hint of recognition in the jade eyes.
He goes missing for months once more and Rin will convince herself that she doesn't care about him because clearly she couldn't care about some prickly dragon-boy who didn't even have the courtesy to tell them what was going on with him.
Of course, she heard of some uproar near the bridge and Shiina mentions offhandedly to her as they scrub at the floors that Haku was back. Rin makes a mental note to tell Kamajii when she goes down for lunch.
She ducks through the low door into the boiler room, hands filled with rice and sugar stars and freezes when she sees a girl buried to her skinny knees in coal. "A human!" That must have been the uproar she'd heard about earlier, though how the human made it here, of all places, was a mystery.
"She's my granddaughter." Kamajii knows that Rin knows better than that, he's never married after all, but they need a cover story. "She wants to work here. Can you take her to see Yubaba?"
Kamajii doesn't need go bribe her with a roast newt, but it makes the process faster. The human follows Rin with a stumble. "Thank the boiler man," Rin reminds her. "He's really sticking his neck out for you, you know."
The human's voice is high-pitched, but Rin's not sure whether that's out of fear or her natural pitch. "Do you wanna lose your nose?" Rin says a little more testily than she meant. She's a little agitated today and she doesn't like to take it out on the human, but there hasn't been an outlet for her anger recently. Rin sends her up the elevator and hopes that Yubaba doesn't turn her into a piglet. She hadn't been able to eat pork since she found out what the pigs used to be.
"Three days of eating our food and the smell will go away." Rin would recognize his voice anywhere, even if it's not the voice she knows. But it has a calm command to it, demanding silence from the assembled workers. "And if she doesn't work hard, roast her. Boil her. Do whatever you want. Now get back to work." What he says next surprises her.
"Where is Rin?"
"Don't you dump her on me." Rin tells him. He reads her face and knows that he is the source of her anger, the one that is now much easier sparked.
His face is carefully blank. "You said you wanted an assistant." She never thought he'd sink low enough to bring up a personal conversation into their work. It was one of their unspoken rules.
"You owe me one, Haku, you hear me?" She calls, but he doesn't turn.
"A little food and some sleep and you'll be fine." Rin has never thought about the effect that her world would have on a human, but they don't look good. She makes a mental note to get some herbs for tea from Kamajii tomorrow.
"…You know Haku?" It had been the fear making the human's voice so high.
Rin tenses, but says, "What about him?"
"There aren't two of him here, are there?" Her words mirror what Rin and Kamajii had thought the first time that Haku had gone cold and Rin doesn't like the feeling of remembering.
"Two Hakus? I can barely stand one." It wasn't a lie. "He's Yubaba's henchman. Don't trust anything he says." The human is curled in on herself, whimpering and Rin switches the mental note to get the herbs tonight. Shiina wakes and Rin knows that she'll want an explanation tomorrow.
The next morning, the new girl, Sen, isn't there when Rin wakes up, though there is a small packet of Haku's riceballs and a small note in his calligraphic hand. Thank you—H
The moment that Shiina wakes her up early, Rin knows that something big must be going on. Shiina loved her sleep. "There's a new customer and he's giving out gold by the handfuls."
Rin remembers asking Haku to check the price of the train tickets once. He hadn't wanted to tell her, but he had because Haku was honest that way and she'd flinched when she'd heard the price. It was far more than she could afford even if she worked here for twenty years. Rin sees the chance to leave this place in the shine of the customer's hands and jumps at it. Greed is something that the bathhouse had in abundance, but she had never been one to really join in.
"I'm going to go look for Haku!" Sen had said, standing at the top of the stairs. She'd grown up in her almost week here. She carried herself differently and Rin wonders if that kind of change had happened to her.
"Would you quit worrying about Haku?" If he had really needed the help, wouldn't he have come to the boiler room to ask for her and Kamajii's help?
The boiler room sounded much more appealing that their dormitories. Rin needed to get away from the loudness and wanted the threadbare blankets and the constant hum of the boilers.
The instant she steps inside, a coppery smell assaulted her nose and she could only stare at the room. Blood streaked the floor and the cabinets; many of the cabinets were half-falling out and Sen is standing there with a concerned look on her face. "Sen! I've been looking everywhere for you! Yubaba's furious! The loaded customer was actually a monster called No-Face and he says that you let him into the bathhouse."
Rin has to give Sen points for honesty. Kamajii has a little piece of paper clutched in his hands. "Found it!"
Rin stares at the papers in his hands. "You've got train tickets…?" Why hadn't it come up before, in the years that she and Haku had spent here? They both could have been long gone from this place, just like they'd dreamed. "How'd you get ahold of them?"
"I've been saving them for forty years."
Rin wants to know the story behind that, wants to know why Kamajii hadn't left when he could have. But she knows he won't say anything in front of Sen, no matter how much he may like the human. And Rin figures it's only fair that he tell the story with Haku there too.
She's become accustomed to seeing Haku laying in the futon, pale and sick. She's pretty sure that that isn't a good thing, but there's nothing she can do about it. But as concerned as she is for Haku—who else's blood could it be all over the walls?—Rin can see that Sen is more concerned still.
"What's going on?" It should have been the first question she asked.
Kamajii looks at her and she thinks there's a smile on the old boiler man's lips. "Something you wouldn't recognize. It's called 'love.'"
Kamajii's not wrong. She hadn't recognized it, having no experience with it herself. But Rin had heard of it, has heard Shiina tell her the stories of the princesses who get rescued by their prince and live happily ever after. Every time she heard one of those stories, Rin had had to scoff a little. She wouldn't wait for a man to save her. She could get out of the bathhouse just fine on her own. But it was a nice thought, falling in love.
Haku's stirring a little, even as Rin can hear the crashing sounds upstairs. Rin's leaning against the cabinets and she can hear his slightly too-loud breathing. "Gave her quite a scare, Haku. Sen, I mean."
His eyes don't focus on her immediately, but she didn't expect them to. "Wha—?" His voice is still dry and she's fairly certain that he can still taste some blood.
"Sen's risking her life to save you, I hope you know. No, don't try and get up." She says as he struggles to get his arms under him. "She's already got her mind made up and train tickets too. I need to help her get to the train station. It'll be my second time there, can you believe it? She's going to visit Zeniba. Swamp Bottom, sixth stop. You should meet her there when you can manage flying. I think she'd like that."
Haku doesn't say anything, but the grateful look in his eyes that look much more like the ones she knew was quite enough.
When Haku wakes next, he feels better than he has in a long time. He still aches in places, some of which he hadn't known he could ache in, but he's good to walk. He wakes Kamajii.
"You're alright." Kamajii's voice is relieved because there's no steely look in those eyes, no cold mask in the young lines of the face. It's the first time in a while since he's been able to say that.
"I'm fine." Haku assures him. "Where is Sen? Did she go somewhere? Can you tell me what's going on?" He thinks he vaguely remembers Rin saying something about Swamp Bottom, but he wants to be sure, wants to make sure it wasn't some hallucination.
"I remember being in darkness." Haku tells him and Kamajii can hear the quiet, intelligent lad that he'd first met all those years ago. "Then I remember hearing Sen's voice calling out my name. So I followed her voice and the next thing I knew, I was lying here, feeling better than ever."
"Pure love." Kamajii says and he wants to smile when he sees threads of confusion pass through Haku's eyes. He hadn't expected either of the two boiler room children to recognize it. "It broke Zeniba's spell. She left to return the golden seal. She did it to save you."
"…Swamp Bottom?" Haku wants to double-check.
He's on his feet and across the room before Kamajii knows he's gone, but he's not surprised. While Haku might not have recognized love for what it was, he'd been a good, honest kid who followed his instincts before Yubaba got to him. "Good luck." Kamajii bids as Haku disappears out the back door.
The sea seems endless out here and he skims the water because it's something he's always enjoyed doing. It's a thoughtless thing, flying. The updraft catches him and he's soaring higher and the sun is beginning to sink beneath the horizon, painting the sea in vibrant colors.
He doesn't count the train stations, doesn't watch for the tracks. The wind is whispering in his ear, telling him secrets and the ways to places unknown. But the most important thing it tells him is where the little cottage was, with its welcoming lantern and as he sets down, the wind whirls around him in a brief, but powerful goodbye.
"Look, Granny, Haku's alive!"
He bows his head because he's not quite sure what he should be apologizing for. He knows that he stole her gold seal, but he can't for the life of him remember why or what had pushed him to do it.
"Haku, I'll forgive you for stealing my precious seal, but in return, you must promise to take care of this girl."
It's an unnecessary promise, one that he was going to make to himself anyways, but this would make it formal and a spirit must always abide by their word. She's a warm weight on his back, a weight that was almost not there and he's careful that he doesn't allow her to fall off. The moon has risen, its silver light sieving through the clouds.
"Haku, listen." She whisper-shouts in his ear over the wind. "I just remembered something from a long time ago. I think it may help you. When I was little, I dropped my shoe in the river. And when I tried to get it back, I fell in. I thought I drowned, but the water carried me to shore. It finally came back to me. The river's name was the Kohaku River. I think that was you and your real name is the Kohaku River!"
It happens before he's aware of it. He's shuddering and his scales are twisting at uncomfortable angles. There's a sound like breaking glass, but he can't be breaking because he must have broken a long time ago and it feels more like little glass pieces of a puzzle are falling into place.
He's falling and they're falling and he can't quite bring himself to be afraid because has he not sailed these skies without wings before? But he doesn't know this person, this Kohaku River. It fits like an ill-fitting shirt, but he knows it's his. Her hand is grasping his and he can't quite believe it.
"You did it, Chihiro!" It's the first time he's said her name, her proper name, and it is similar to honey on the tongue. "I remember now, I was the spirit of the Kohaku River!"
"They filled in that river. It's all apartments now!"
"That must be why I can't find my way home." It's a bittersweet fall because what good is a name when there is no one waiting at home who knows it? "I remember you falling in and I remember your little pink shoe."
Remember was an underestimated word, Haku thinks, because he's not sure he's ever heard a better one.
The sun is rising now, the night having been ushered out with bad memories. They land lightly on the pavement and it's an odd feeling, solid ground beneath his feet after flying for so long.
"Don't forget your promise." Haku reminds her and the knowledge of his name (not his identity because he's still trying to figure that out) has given him some more steel in his backbone. "You must return Chihiro and her parents to the human world."
"I get to give Sen one final test."
There's a roar of protests from the assembled employees. "Hey, Granny! You're right! A deal's a deal!" Chihiro strides across the bridge with a confidence that Haku had known she'd had, but had never seen her display. "I'll take your test." Haku can see Rin and Kamajii on the roof and he's surprised because Kamajii hasn't left the boiler room in forty years. "There must be some mistake. None of these pigs are my mother or father."
There's an eruption of cheers and Haku smiles because Chihiro deserves this, deserves to leave. The spirit world was no place for her. She had a future there, and a family and he can't take her away from her home. Not when she worked so hard to go back.
He takes her hand like it's the most natural thing in the world. They don't fit together perfectly, like some of the stories Rin had related to him that she'd heard from Shiina and the other women, but it's close enough.
"Where are my mom and dad?"
"When you passed the test, your parents woke up on the other side of the river. They're looking for you."
It's the endless plain that Haku had been to dozens of times. As much as he loves the sea, he loves this ocean of grass as well, loves the sensation of prickly blades of green and the clean scent of the earth.
"There's no water here. I can walk across now."
"But I can't go any farther." It's the first lie he's told her. He was perfectly capable of wading through the tall stalks, but he can't bring himself to do it today. Not now when he doesn't know quite who he is and he feels like a stranger in his own skin. He can't follow her out into her world, where he's sure they've forgotten about spirits and bathhouses and seas because she has her own life to live and he can't be a part of it. Not for a while. "Just go back the way you came, you'll be fine. But you have to promise not to look back, not until you've passed into the tunnel."
Because she might want to stay and he doesn't think he can bear to see her waste her life here.
"What about you? What will you do?"
"Don't worry." He reassures her with a smile. "I'm going to go back and have a talk with Yubaba. I'm going to tell her I'm going to quit being her apprentice. I'm fine, I got my name back."
"Will we meet again sometime?" The one question he had been praying she wouldn't ask because he doesn't know the answer.
"I'm sure we will." He lied. He wasn't sure, but he doesn't know what else to say. Hope, right? Wasn't that what people said, that love should end with hope?
"Promise." He's tied to this now. A willing slave to his own words. "Now go. And don't look back."
His hand feels empty when she lets go.
Rin is smiling when he sits beside her, just outside of the back door to the boiler room. "Things are going to be different now." She says and he wonders what her name was, what small corner of the natural human world is gone to have had her here.
"Are you surprised?" He asks. He had picked a single stalk of grass from the plain and was toying with it with his fingers.
"Nope." Rin leans back on her hands. "But maybe I'll start getting some decent pay so I can get out of here."
He glances at her and, seeing her lopsided smile, matches it. "You'll never change, will you?"
He doesn't tell her that he's grateful for that fact and she doesn't comment on it. "Of course not. Who wants to stay in the bathhouse for the rest of their lives?"
"Can't say I want to."
"Exactly my point, dragon-boy." It's a new name for him and he arches an eyebrow at it. She laughs at his expression.
It's another year before he finds Rin out on the balcony near the women's dormitories. "Heard you wanted to talk to me?"
Rin is leaning her forearms on the rail and is playing with something in her hands. "I've done it." He's confused and tells her so. "I finally raised all the money." She shows him the thing she was playing with. Train tickets. To the fourth train stop at Right's Ledge.
"I'm getting out of here, finally."
"Congratulations." He manages. Haku isn't sure how the bathhouse is able to exist without Rin. He was there before she was, yes, but he finds that he can't remember a time before Rin had come into his life.
"…You should go see her." Rin tells him. "Before you waste much more time."
"I don't know if I can." Haku says honestly.
"Of course you can, dragon-boy." She smiles brilliantly at him. "But even if you can't, you'll never know until you try."
He's standing there a long time after she leaves and he watches her board the train.
He doesn't know this city, doesn't know what these enormous metal monoliths that are supposed to be buildings and he doesn't know the streets or the things the humans call cars. And he didn't know that he found flowers so relaxing until he stepped into a flower shop to escape the crowds of people.
"Hey, excuse me, sir!" He turns and sees the girl behind the counter. She is not the one he is looking for. "Are you looking for something specific for a lady friend?"
Haku shakes his head and continues to wander the store. The smell of the flowers is a natural scent, one he's grateful for because some of them smell much like Kamajii's herbs in his multitude of cabinets. But the bright colors are a comfort as well, for the colors in the modern era seem much duller than the colors of back home.
So distracted by the colors he recognizes, he doesn't realize it right away when he bumps into someone.
"Oof! Oh, God, I'm sorry." A hand, slender and gently tanned, is held out. "Here, let me help you up."
He takes the offered hand and is levered up. "I apologize, it is my fault entirely. I was distracted." Haku motions to the flowers whose blossoms are a lovely soft blue that reminds him of the skies that he had soared through back home.
"You have good taste." It's a woman's voice and it's smooth with a lilt, like an accent long-forgotten. "I love those flowers too. They're called forget-me-nots."
He glances at her for the first time and is startled to realize that he knows that face. But he knew it chubbier, rounder and more innocent. It's a little longer now, the cheeks flatter and the eyes not quite as wide, but there is no mistaking the color. Soft hazel and her hairband sparkles in the gentle lighting of the flower store.
Rin had complained about how he'd grown too tall in the past year, shooting up as boys tend to do. But the top of the young woman's head neared his shoulder and there is nothing childish about her gentle curves.
She frowns a little, studying him. "…I feel like I should know you."
"Is your name Chihiro?" He hadn't known how he was to find her, but just being in this world was a start.
She smiles and it is the same. "Yeah. And I'm not good with remembering names, give me a minute here…I want to say that it starts with an H….Haru? No. Hatsu? Doesn't sound right. Haku?"
He grins and she drops the flower she was holding—it was a pale orange tiger lily, Haku notes absently—as she hugs him tight around the waist. He hadn't known there was a time difference, hadn't known that a year in his world was more than ten for humans. But he can't bring himself to care because she's here and he thinks that he can get used to the shiny buildings and the roar of car engines.
He'd do anything for her, after all.