Chapter 23: The Start of Something New (Epilogue)

I'm sorry for the terrible wait…

Anyways, here's the final chapter..

FINAL DISCLAIMER: I own the fanfic not the movie. :P

Sotsugyou omedetou: Congratulations on graduating

"So you're really going to move to Hokkaido?" asked Akiyo. I nodded with a twinge of regret. To be honest, I didn't want to leave, but I knew the time would come anyway. It would be a waste to spend a fortune on college if I was going to end up in the Spirit World anyway. There was no way for Haku to permanently stay in the Human World. Zeniba told us there wasn't enough magic in the air to support him for an extended period of time. A small sakura flower floated down towards me. The pale pink stood out against the sapphire sky. Out of nowhere, a hand swiftly grabbed the flower and gently tucked it in my dark auburn hair.

"Sotsugyou omedetou," Haku said with a smile his arm sneaking its way around my waist. I couldn't help blushing slightly.

"I recognize you," said Hitomi, Chihiro's other close friend. "You're Chihiro's boyfriend right? The one who lives out of town?"

"Yes," he replied with a curt nod. "And you are Chihiro's friend, Hitomi, right?" Akiyo laughed at Hitomi's sudden shyness.

I smiled. Haku finally opened up after some time. I remembered the first few months when we were together in the Human World. Everything was new to Haku and I had to explain everything. It was difficult traveling between the two worlds without disappearing completely, but we made it through somehow. For that, we have never been so grateful.

At the very entrance of the Spirit World, I smiled triumphantly. We made it through. These woods were the ones that surrounded my parents' car. I recalled my father looking into the car with dismay after seeing how dusty it was. Haku gave me a tender kiss. My stomach would never get used to the flips they received when he kissed me. He pulled away and smiled. Holding hands, we walked down the dirt path that lay ahead of them.

I was busy finishing my math homework during my dinner break. The FamilyMart was not too busy at this time of day. The back door opened and my close friend, Hitomi, came in looking all frazzled.

"I nearly missed my shift because I overslept," she gasped. It was obvious she ran from the train station. I chuckled at her and finished the last question before sighing. I was forced to acknowledge that I would have to study late into the night.

It was so frustrated. Gritting my teeth at the all-nighter that was to come, I packed my notebooks and pencils away. I finished my shift. Because I was living alone, my manager let me go home with some ramen and onigiris from the shop. Haku always picked me up at the back door and I always looked forward to walking through the neighborhood with him. The FamilyMart I worked for had a part of it turned into a cafe. Half my time was spent at the register and managing the inventory while the other half was being a hostess. My manager wanted me to be a waitress, but I said I didn't trust myself to carry orders. Drinks I could do, but not food.

I learned that the hard way a few weeks prior to when my manager asked me. Yubaba practically chewed my ear out for a dropping such delicate chinaware onto the floor and ruining prized entrees. The spirits I served had a good laugh at my expense.

"As expected of a human." I remember one male spirit sneered. I thought that by working hard most spirits wouldn't be too harsh on me, but I guess not. After that, Haku hovered by me as I worked. That is, until I told him to bug off because I couldn't concentrate properly. He knew he wouldn't be able to win the fight and backed off with a laugh. I remember blushing like crazy when he pulled my hand and kissed it.

The first few weeks of going in between worlds were difficult and exhausting. Haku had to get used to the atmosphere in the Human World, which limited his sorcery greatly. It was impossible for him to turn into a dragon much to his dismay. I had to get used to working at night on the weekends. Haku gave me a few of his onigiris though, which helped, but still...

The exhaustion settled in my bones eventually and I got terribly sick. I could barely get up to go to the bathroom and I got even more delayed in my schoolwork. Haku had to "express tutor" me whatever he could. Yubaba got upset because she temporarily lost a worker. Rin was mad because Haku couldn't help her co-manage the bathhouse. It was a long, painful two weeks.

I remember Aunt Kaede, Haku, Hitomi, and Akiyo looked after me and kept me up to date.

When I first came back to the Human World with Haku, I went straight home. I stood by the doorway and found Aunt Kaede completely distraught. The guilt pierced my heart like lightning. She didn't deserve this at all. I wondered why I didn't trust her more.

"Um, Aunt Kaede?" I asked hesitantly. She turned around. Her eyes flashed anger, hatred, and grief. They say that by looking into a person's eyes you could see their soul. I knew now that Aunt Kaede was emotionally exhausted. I just stared at her.

"Chi...hiro?" she replied. I nodded solemnly not wanting to meet her raging eyes. Haku shifted behind me and I realized that this may be the first time he's ever felt intimidated. I couldn't blame him. Not only was my aunt giving him death glares, but he was also in a world he didn't understand.

"I'm so-…" my words were cut off sharply as my head suddenly whipped to the side. My left cheek burned. Thankfully, I lowered my head and my bangs covered whatever morbid expression I had. Haku stood there in shock. I should have expected this from my aunt, who is very nice, but extremely strict. I'm surprised she's even here in front of me. Something in me felt relieved that I was slapped across the face. At least, I took the blame for what happened, but I felt a burning anger sink into the pit of my gut. It burned and burned and I felt like I was going to vomit.

"It's fine," I said. "Don't worry about my luggage. Move on, go to America, get out of here." I wanted to scream at my aunt, but she pulled me into a hug instead. My arms stayed at my sides and I gave a sideways glance at Haku. He had a calm mask once again, but I could see the pain flicker like shadows in his eyes.

It was hard catching up with schoolwork when home had such a tense atmosphere. Aunt Kaede and I barely talked to each other at all. Only the occasional "hello" and "how was your day?" were spoken. Haku found some of my dad's old clothes that he could use for the time being while he settled in. Secretly, he slept in one of the empty rooms by mine.

Eventually, my aunt and I apologized to each other and with my encouragement; she decided to pursue her career in America. A kind, young family bought my house and I moved into an apartment in the same building as Akiyo's family. It was definitely hard work maintaining my own place, but Haku helped me out and somehow convinced a small shop to hire him. I was so surprised when he came back one day with his hair in a small ponytail and a cap on telling me he got a job to help me. That night we celebrated and made plans for how we were supposed to share the apartment comfortably.

I remember laughing when he said that he would be fine just sleeping in the closet. He quirked an eyebrow at my response. Of course, it was a little nerve-wracking to be living with him. He would always crack the closet door open just enough to stare at me with one jade green eye. I screamed the first time he did it because I thought there was a criminal in my apartment. We ended up sitting next to my bed chatting the night away.

And so, the years passed with the same routine inevitably resulting in where I am today. The hardships and fights were necessary. I knew that, even if I hated the pain of that one night when Haku left because of an argument we had. I don't even remember what we argued about. Sometimes, I wish I did. After some tearful parting words with my closest friends and teachers, I walked with Haku towards the shrine where my parents were. I haven't been there since last year.

We knelt down on the cool granite and I left some incense. There was a little awning overhead where there was a family picture of us. That picture provoked a tearful smile. Haku gave me a hug.

To my parents, he said, "Thank you." He said it with such gratitude, but there were glimpses of an apology.

"Hey Mom and Dad. Thanks for everything. I miss you everyday. I can't believe how much I've been through without either of you by my side. I still have a lot of growing up to do, but still… I hope you watch over me."

Haku put his cap on my head and wrapped an arm around my shoulders.

"Let's go home," I said tearfully. He took my hand and led me back to our apartment.

When we got to the building, it seemed like Akiyo-chan was out celebrating with her family after the graduation ceremony. I sighed somewhat relieved, but it didn't stay for long. I had to pack whatever was left in my apartment. A few weeks ago, I slowly got rid of things I didn't need whether it was selling it, donating it, or even putting it in storage. I ended my job at the FamilyMart as well. Haku got rid of his job and moved some of our things to the Spirit World. I was excited, but sad at the same time. I knew I could come back if I wanted to, but I wouldn't know how busy my life would be there.

After finishing packing, I quickly cleaned the apartment and took one look around for the final time.

We headed through the trees. Once we got to the hill that led to the path, I said, "Last one there is a NIWATORI-SAMA!" Using the gravity to my advantage, I ran towards the tunnel. Haku actually tried this time and beat me to the entrance of the tunnel with a light smile.

"Looks like you're the Niwatori this time," he teased bumping his fist at the top of my head. I grabbed his hand and we walked through the tunnel completely confident in our relationship. I wondered how many more times I would walk through the tunnel, across the river of boulders, and up the stone steps again.

A large sienna brown wolf lazily sat at the top of the steps. Its eyes were a distinct blue-gray. I gasped knowing those eyes anywhere. Haku shrugged before turning into his dragon form. It's his first time transformation in two weeks. He gave a low growl at the wolf who howled back at him. Yup, that's definitely her. A shadow passed over us, but it was too quick to be a cloud. A large, gray dragon circled overhead. Haku leaned his head on my shoulder. I rubbed his mane and left a kiss on his nose. His whiskers wrinkled and tickled my cheek. I laughed and he flew towards the other dragon.

Standing on all four paws, the wolf stood up to my chest. I held out my hand for her to sniff, but she didn't acknowledge it. Instead, she jumped up onto my shoulders and tilted her head as if she wanted to play. It was like she was a pet dog.

"Hey Asahi, I didn't know this was your other form."

She happily barked in my face and I heard a bit of that echoing, floating laughter in it.

Thank you all for sticking with me until the end and sending in your lovely reviews. I am so sorry for the increased lengths of time between my last few chapters. I really hope you like the ending. It took me forever to get it down properly.

Lots of love!