The Path of Water

By Arlia'Devi

Disclaimer: I do not own Spirited Away in any respect; all rights go to Hayao Miyazaki and associates. I make no money from this.

This chapter has been edited and altered: 16/10/12.

The Path of Water

By Arlia'Devi

I: On an Occasion

"Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it"

~ Lao Tzu

Chihiro didn't remember what had transpired; all she knew was that she was warm in her bed. Perhaps it had all been a horrible nightmare. Yes, it had.

It had been some sick and twisted dream she'd had, like all those before. The smell of his body was all to familiar, yet distant in some unexplainable way. The man was taller, more defined and… handsome. She, herself, wasn't bad either, he'd chuckled and they'd danced – like so many dreams before. When they're lips touched for the briefest, sweetest kiss she'd never had, Chihiro bolted awake.

It had all been a dream. She had a lecture to attend to at nine – she was going to be late. Again.

It was all a dream.

For that was all her life was like now – beautiful unsatisfying dreams only to awake and go through the tortures of the social complexities of day-to-day life. She was a design student who created works through combining the traditional garments and the modern styles in rich silk colours of navy blues, emerald green and scarlet red. Chihiro was good at that, and her marks proved it. She was a good designer.

Her social life on the other hand was a complete disaster. Her journey to the spirit realm hadn't left her mentally scared – only longing for the friends that this world couldn't give her. Yuuko sometimes joked that her soul was only half here, the other half drifted somewhere afar and awaiting Chihiro to find it. As Chihiro grew older and the stark differences of her world and Chihiro became more apparent, she couldn't help but mull over how true this was.

The human world was unfulfilling – people disliked her, hurt her, called her names. The dream had been her reflection of that: running, panting… where had Haku at the ball gone? Someone was chasing her, calling her name. Chihiro, her heart beating in her ears, kept running.

A dream.

It was all a dream.

At least, Chihiro Ogino thought that until, with eyes still shut, she smelt the scent of mahogany and rich perfumes of distinctly musky and earthy and masculine – not her room. Her eyes snapped open, jumbling trying to take in everything at once: the top of a large bed with chiffon curtains in russet, polished wooden floors, a large desk and a half-burnt candle by the bedside… There was an old scroll with its paper yellow and burnt in some places beside the candle.

Outside, people talked softly. What they were saying, Chihiro couldn't make out.

Her dress – she was still in her dress, or at least, what was left of it. The tattered peacock blue gown brought back memories: the cruelness of humanity, the way she'd ran for her life, the coldness in his emerald eyes.


Her legs couldn't move, as if they were stuck to the ground. A lip quivered.

Haku was pacing back and forth in the study, while Rin sat on a chair, her back straight and her hands folded in her lap. She watched the dragon that had become a man pace back and forth with agitation.

"For god sakes, Haku, sit down," she hissed when she couldn't take his walking any longer. Haku shot her a steely look. "She's going to be fine."

Haku sat, falling into his large desk chair. "She's changed so much. I couldn't believe it was her for a moment." His lips kicked up into a small smile before it disappeared again, as quick as it had come, and was replaced by a worrying look.

Rin smiled softly. Indeed, Sen had changed.


She'd come back by mistake: it had never been that easy before. The ugly little statues, the clearing in the middle of the enchanted forest, all those tell-tale signs she was approaching the portal of her magical adventure in her youth evaded her in a blur of screams and sobs.

"You're awake," Rin spoke, a little in shock of the human who was carefully padding around Master Haku's chambers. "I didn't think you would be…"

Chihiro didn't seem to register the young woman at first, her bathhouse attire: the salmon robe and white ties, the way her chocolate hair was tied back and her angular face. Rin, in turn, did not quite recognise Sen, although Master Haku had assured her it really was the girl they both once knew. Sen had grown into a mature young woman, almost the same age she looked. Sen had curves, large breasts, long shining hair and a beautiful, heart-shaped face. It was a shame to see, Rin noticed, the blotchiness of her creamy skin and the worry that flashed over her russet eyes.

"It's me, Rin," the girl moved to touch Chihiro's arm. "Sen, it's me."

"Rin?" Chihiro frowned. "So it's not all one horrible dream?"

"Not anymore," smiled the woman softly and took the woman into a soft embrace. "Wow. You gave us quite a scare there. We were all worried about you. You should have seen Haku," she laughed, as if no time had passed between them. "He was an absolute wreck."


Maybe that was why her legs couldn't move: she'd ran so fast and so hard they simply refused to move anymore. She'd ran them out, the muscles pumping harder with every step she took, her bare feet smacking against the cold ground. Distantly, she could hear them.

Rin vibrated warmth and safety, and soon the girl didn't feel as scared, munching on a bowl of steaming rice pudding which she was sure hadn't been on the large working desk when she'd awoken. The bath-cleaner ran her fingers softly over Chihiro's smooth hair which fell in poker-straight sheets over her face.

"Feel better?" hummed the woman and brushed Chihiro's sticky cheek. "We'll run you a nice bath and then…"

"Is this his room?" Chihiro asked gently, cutting the woman off. "Haku's, I mean."

"Yeah, it is," she replied with a chuckle. "What gave it off? All the expensive stuff he likes to hoard?"

Chihiro laughed and shook her head. "Everything is a shade of green." For a moment she paused. "I saw him," Chihiro spoke. "By the portal when I first came, he was there. I want to speak to him, where is he?"

Rin shrugged a little. "I'm sure he'll come and see you soon. The bathhouse is very busy at the moment. He owns it now, don't you know?" Rin checked the temperature of the water. "I dunno how he managed to overthrow that witch, he disappeared for a few years and then came back, but he did and we're all glad for it."

"Yubaba?" Chihiro questioned.

"Yeah," Rin nodded.

"Everything feels so hazy, like a dream," she sighed. "I'm still not sure if I'm here again, or if I'm just waiting to wake up."

Or maybe she couldn't move because of he, who stood five metres in front of her, rigid and cold. His body had grown in the ten years apart; he was a man and one of inconceivable power – as if it vibrated off his very being, Chihiro suppressed a shiver.

Rin left Chihiro then, and she was lulled to sleep again. Why was she lying here, in Haku's room, in Haku's bed? Wouldn't he be back soon? She was taking up half the bed…

And then a thought crossed Chihiro's mind only heightened by the chambers and the possessor of the furniture she was lying in… It all came down to how much Chihiro trusted the man she didn't know anymore. Not much, she decided, heaving herself up at what was almost dawn and finding a fresh pair of bed clothes in exchange for her tattered dress.

Her dress. Oh, how long she'd searched for that dress and the efforts made – the alterations made and the sequins which had been so painstakingly sewn in place, all in vain! All ruined – all ruined on a whim. Such a beautiful dress tainted with disgusting memories.

Leaving the tress in tatters on the shiny wooden floor, Chihiro donned the clothes and went out in search for Rin, knowing better than to trust the dragon. A yunna, a geisha-looking woman showing a little too much flesh and with poor makeup applied was strolling by, and Chihiro tugged on her sleeve.

"Human!" seethed the yunna, but suddenly regained her composure upon being asked where Haku was. "Down in bath fifty-three."

"Where's that?" Chihiro asked, looking down the hundreds of stories below her. The yunna huffed and continued on her way.

There was a thick piece of glass separating the three floors below her from the rest of the bathhouse, which flooded down in a myriad of colours, forms and festivities at least seventy stories below. Chihiro rationalised that these stories, where the noise of below did not penetrate, were the private chambers of individuals of importance, like Haku. True, in the midst of the festivities happening below, Chihiro could not have even possessed the slightest clue on where bath fifty-three was, but she did know, as she spied the symbols etched into small gold squares corresponding floors on the elevator lift, whom resided in the basement of the bathhouse. The old boiler, Kamaji.

Chihiro pulled down the lever, eager to slink away from Haku before he found her. The elevator filled with colours and noises from the festivities in the lower stories, stopping every now and then to let people on and off. A few spirits looked at her, but she stayed to the back of the elevator, trying not to draw attention to herself.

A few yunnas got on, and they grumbled softly to themselves and shot harsh looks to Chihiro and pinched their noses in teasing, before getting off on the very next floor. Chihiro continued down, ignoring the disapproval. Luckily, no one of importance, or guests, rode on the elevator with her and eventually it landed at the base of its wire, opening to the sweltering boiler room.

Kamaji shot up from his place at the herb grinder. He sniffed the air, a long arm winding around to pick out herbs high in the room and add it to the broth.

"Human," he grumbled lowly, turning around to search for the offender.

"It's me," Chihiro stepped out of the shadows. "It's Sen."

"Sen?" Kamaji grumbled and turned from his spot by the boiler. The soot monsters hid in their holes. "Is that really you?

"Kamaji. It's really me."

"You remember?" rumbled the old boiler man in a squint. She had once regarded the old coot like a grandfather – old, kind and wise, and perhaps a bit rough around the edges, and those warm feelings came bubbling back. "So, you're the human around here, eh? We've heard a lot about you, you know. Haku said there was a human staying with us."

"I don't? Master Haku?" Chihiro frowned. "What did he say about me?"

"No one knew it was you, even Rin. He just said that there was a human staying in the bathhouse periodically, and not to worry as the smell would not leave his quarters and that you would be gone in a matter of days."

Chihiro frowned – so he'd been trying to keep her in there, had he? He hadn't done a very good job, the doors weren't even locked.

"I tried to find Rin, she spoke to me before… S-She said Haku isn't the same person I used to know. Not really. Is that true Kamaji?"

The old man shrugged the first set of shoulders and went back to making broths. "Can't say – don't talk to him much. Rin is Haku's right hand man –er... woman. Apparently, they're very close business partners. But then, you can't expect people to stay the same, can you?" Kamaji then adjusted his glasses and turned back to the human woman. "Have you at least had something to eat, Chihiro? You know what happens if you don't…"

"No," Chihiro distinctly remembered disappearing. "I have; Rin gave it to me. Thanks, Kamaji."

The old man smiled then, the expression stretching over his old wrinkled face. "Give me a hug, Sen," he extended all six arms in a freakish and yet loving gesture.

Chihiro ran forward and embraced the boiler maker, at long last getting the welcome back she'd truly desired from the people she'd met in her adventure here. "One thing," Kamaji muttered when Chihiro pulled back. "How did you return, my child?"

"I don't know," she muttered, her thumb wiping away the few tears that fell. "All I know is that I was running - I was in danger, and suddenly I was there, and Haku… It doesn't make sense; all the other times I tried it was all just an empty field – what gives?"

Kamaji shrugged a little. "No one can say really. Sometimes people just come through. I think it has to do with the seasonal change – its coming winter, the sun changes, and the moon." The old spider then looked over Chihiro's shoulder and his expression grew anxious.

He stood there, his hands in his baggy pant pockets and a hard, cold look spread across his pixie-like features. "Some people are lucky enough to come through once, people hardly ever return for a second visit."

"Master Haku!" Kamaji greeted the man curtly, bowing slightly and climbing back atop his grinder. "It's nice to see you again."

"Likewise," replied the dragon, although he never waved his hard emerald eyes from Chihiro. "I am safe to assume that once you were finished your warm greetings, you were to alert me of Chihiro's presence down here?"

"Of course," replied the boiler with a cackle that told Chihiro that the old man was intent of disobeying the dragon's orders.

"I'll take your word for it," muttered Haku and no sooner had he stopped speaking than his hand grasped Chihiro's arm.

"Chihiro," he growled against the shell of her ear.

"Haku," she gave it back as good as she got it.

"Chihiro – why did you leave my quarters? You were explicitly told to stay there until my returns."

"Was I?" she murmured weakly. "No one told me that."

"Yes." They were in the elevator now and Kamaji was smiling and waving goodbye humourously. Chihiro gave a small wave in reply, dropping her hand when she heard a deep growl gurgle in Haku's chest, signalling how unimpressed he was with her 'antics' as he had called them. Antics! He spoke as if she was a young child! On the way up, he denied anyone access to the elevator.

"Why did you disobey my orders?" demanded the man when the elevator began to climb up slowly. "Chihiro?"

"I didn't know I had to stay!" she replied heatedly. "No one told me anything! All I know is that I woke up here, and I talked to Rin and then Kamaji, okay Haku, and then you come in like you do!" daringly she pressed a finger to his chest, conscious of his rigidness and his ever-cold eyes. "I feel like I'm in some sort of sick dream and no one has the heart to explain anything to me!"

"You can't remember anything?" his voice suddenly cracked and became softer. Chihiro thought perhaps that was what his voice did sound like when he was relaxed, not the gruff barks and snaps he spoke in usually. He had a voice that flowed like water. "Nothing about last night?"

"I remember a dance. I remember running. That's it."

"Liar," he growled. "What's wrong, Chihiro. I know you're lying, I can smell it in your scent." His hand grasped tighter at her arm. "Don't you want to remember?"

Suddenly, they were at the doors to his quarters again and he opened it swiftly.

"I'll be back at sunrise." He said. "Sleep. Eat. Bathe. Burn all of my documents, I don't care, just stay in my room and wait for me."

Chihiro willed herself to say something, anything, but the words fell from her lips as Haku closed the door.

What's wrong Chihiro? His sing-song voice, although gruff and taunting, coaxed her to remember. Don't you want to remember?

The truth of the matter was that she did remember, and remember too well. The cold breeze that mingled with her scent, the mud between her toes as she ran, the heaving of her chest in a dress loosened from sharp tugs. She remembered…

Her legs couldn't move, as if they were stuck to the ground. A lip quivered.

She'd come back by mistake: it had never been that easy before. The ugly little statues, the clearing in the middle of the enchanted forest, all those tell-tale signs she was approaching the portal of her magical adventure in her youth evaded her in a blur of screams and sobs.

Maybe that was why her legs couldn't move: she'd ran so fast and so hard they simply refused to move anymore. She'd ran them out, the muscles pumping harder with every step she took, her bare feet smacking against the cold ground. Distantly, she could hear them.

Or maybe she couldn't move because of him, a guardian of the portal who stood not five metres in front of her, rigid and cold. His body had grown in the ten years apart; he was a man and one of inconceivable power – as if it vibrated off his very being, Chihiro suppressed a shiver.

And yet, he would not speak to her, making Chihiro sure she was really dead and that this Haku was some kind of illusion… She had to make sure, and when Chihiro did speak to the man before her, the words came out harsh and cracked as if she indeed had not spoken in one hundred years.

"Am I dead?"

He replied coldly yet his voice slipped between his lips smoothly. "No."

His emerald eyes darted over her shoulder then and Haku growled primal, stalking forward. "You've brought friends?!" he barked at her and Chihiro blubbered 'no'. These weren't her friends.

Chihiro turned to the people, her attackers finally closing in on the kill – three males who snickered when they saw her tired in a clearing. Her chest was heaving; her legs and feet dirty from the chase in the forest. Her dress, which had once clung to her beautiful curvaceous body, was torn and loose. The way her dress once made her look so curvaceous was one of the reasons she'd been targeted. Chihiro was beautiful, she was alone – no one would notice if she went missing overnight, only for her to wake up in a dumpster somewhere in the middle of Tokyo.

"Chihiro," one stepped forward, his Stanley knife slipping back into its sheath and into his pocket. Chihiro wouldn't make a fuss now – they'd tired her out. Somewhere in the chase she'd disregarded her heels, on a muddy trail somewhere far behind. "You knew you couldn't get away, wench."

The man's arousal was heavy in the air, and it burnt Haku's nostrils. How anyone could have found such pleasure from torturing a woman was beyond him – it sickened him to his stomach and made his blood boil. He was already on edge from the business during the solstice, the stray dogs that wandered through the portal lost and directed to this world from the weakening barriers, but to have this man… here. Haku almost lost it, and if he had, the man's heart would have had its last beat in the palm of his hand. He'd suck the blood out of it, using the aorta like a straw.

She said something then, to someone, perhaps God, and mouthed "save me, please." Nothing was gonna save her now. The man descended.

… Just as a tight hand descended onto his throat and brute strength lifted the human high into the air. The man looked down his nose into the cold, emotionless eyes of… something; he wasn't sure – a man, snarling like a beast, possessing power like a god and the strength of a human man one hundred times over. "You've upset my good friend," he growled and suddenly the man's back hit a tree, splitting ribs and bruising his spine. A dribble of blood was wiped away from the human's mouth.

"I'm going to ignore what transcended here today," spoke the green man, who loomed ferociously over Chihiro's crumpled form at his feet. "If I was in any right mind, I would have ripped your throats out – but the solstice has drained me and I cannot find it in me to deplete my energy on scum such as you. Be lucky you left with your life."

The three men scattered off without another word – fuck, they didn't want her that much. Chihiro blubbered sobs at Haku's feet and the man dipped his head, kneeling beside her crumpled body.

"You're safe now," he whispered softly and smoothed over Chihiro's soft hair. "It's over, Chihiro, you're safe now."

The woman blubbered and nodded. "T-Thank you, Haku."

He smiled softly, a whisper of a smile passing his wearied face. "Perhaps I had hoped our meeting would have been a more pleasurable one, but I don't regret you crossing the border – I would have hated to know what those men would have done to you…"

Chihiro flung her arms around his neck and cried into what she knew to probably be an expensive tunic. There, late in the night and under the cover of the temple that connected the two worlds; Haku crumbled and embraced the human girl-turned-woman from the past running his hands down her hair and back soothingly while whispering soft words in her ear. In an instant, a needy look from a watery eye had broken the barriers and penetrated through his tough, dragon exterior – Haku had given in, allowing the one moment of weakness to embrace the only woman who had been able to break pass him, to touch the Kohaku that was once stolen inside.

This is a project I am working on at the moment so please stay tuned for more updates. If you enjoyed this chapter, please let me know. I do so love hearing from readers, so post a short (or long!) message when you hit 'review'!

~ Arlia'Devi