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.

Edited: 1/7/013

The Path of Water

By Arlia'Devi

LII: Homes

Chihiro awoke to the morning with a heavy heart. Don't want to get out of this bed, she murmured. Don't want to wake up, she chanted, feeling the heavy weight against her back, signalling her mate-to-be was currently spooning her. A hand was around her middle protectively and his nose was nestled into the crook of her neck. She couldn't possibly move without waking him and so decided to stay where she was, at least until her dragon woke up.

Today was the day she was supposed to leave the spirit world. It had been the day she'd been dreading the most since Sar'onga's death. Two months had passed in almost an instant and the room looked bare. All things had been packed up and moved, including most of Chihiro's belongings – to their quarters in the Imperial Palace. Everything except bathhouse furniture remained – their bed was the only thing that looked normal.

It reminds me of my old house before we moved, Chihiro swallowed thickly. When they'd moved to the country, their old house had been gutted completely of their furniture. Chihiro remembered the echo of her voice in the lounge room, bouncing off the walls. She wondered if this floor, just like the one above, would remain untouched.

Will we ever come back here again?

Haku's groan signalled his arrival back to the land of the conscious and he stretched his legs against Chihiro's, spreading his toes wide as he let out a large yawn.

"Hey," he murmured, kissing the side of her neck as he began to wake up.

"Hi," she smiled, but didn't move as he rolled away from her to rest on his back and look up at the ceiling.

Haku knew she was nervous and sad, the scent radiated off her. It had been what woke him up, but he knew there was nothing he could do about it.

"We won't be apart for very long," he promised, thinking he should say something even though he didn't know exactly what. "I promise."

"How long?" she whispered.

"A month, maybe," he said although the vagueness of his voice gave away that he wasn't so sure. "I promise it won't be long."

"I'm not scared about that," she murmured. "I know you'll come back for me. If you don't, I swear winter solstice I'm coming through myself and demanding you marry me," this made Haku laugh. "I'm worried," Chihiro admitted. "That something's going to happen to you while I'm not here."

"While you're not here to protect me," he chuckled a little.

Chihiro rolled over and gave Haku a dead pan look. "Ha-ha," she said sarcastically before swinging herself out of bed and grabbing clothes to get dressed. "You know I didn't mean it like that."

"I know," Haku replied, coming to stand behind Chihiro to nuzzle her neck. "Remember when you last went home?"

"Mmm," Chihiro replied, feeling Haku begin to kiss up the side of her neck. She felt his hand slither around her hip and touch the skin of her lower stomach, his fingers spidering out to cover her navel. "I do…"

"Remember that goodbye you gave me…," he whispered gently into her ear before biting down on the lobe.

"Vaguely," she teased him gently. He rocked his hips forward. Chihiro felt his hardness rub against her back.

"Do you think we could top it?" he grinned, wrapping Chihiro's long hair around his fist and using it to make her head tilt to the side. "You are going away for a month – can we make it four times better than last time you went away for a week."

"That's eight orgasms," she laughed as Haku released her hair. "I don't know if you can handle it Haku – do you have enough stamina?"

The dragon grinned and scooped up his little mate, dropping her on the bed. Chihiro's eyes flashed with excitement as she reached for the fastenings to his pants.

"We'll soon find out," he grinned.

The two missed breakfast, but neither cared.

"Hello you two," Chase huffed when Chihiro and Haku turned up downstairs. Chihiro looked flushed in the face, with two bright red cheeks and a glowing complexion. Her hair was in slight disarray. Haku was holding her luggage and looked equally as spectacular, despite his dishevelled appearance. It was easy to guess what the two had been up to and Chase grinned towards the two, who gave sheepish expressions.

"There you are!" Rin frowned as she stalked up to the two. "It's almost midday – what in the world have you been doing all morning? I thought we'd see you at breakfast."

Chihiro grinned. "Packing took a little longer than expected," she gave a sultry glare to Chase who laughed.

Rin rolled her eyes. "Whatever," she said. "Come on, let's get going."

"Bossy bossy," Haku murmured as Rin swivelled on her heel and walked to the door.

Chase sighed. "Don't even start," she warned the dragon lowly as they began to move out of the bathhouse. She kept her voice low. "I think Rin needs a dose of the medicine you gave Chihiro this morning."

Haku laughed gently. Chase wasn't sure if he was blushing; his cheeks had already been red from the afterglow.

Chihiro walked with Rin, who was snappier than usual.

"Don't be upset, Rin," the human woman tried to sympathise with her friend. "It will be one month, tops."

Rin shook her head. "I'm not even mad," she said, nose in the air. "I have a whole stack of work to do at the bathhouse – those slugs just get on my nerves."

Chihiro smiled gently but dropped the matter. If Rin wanted to be mad, then she should let her be mad.

The four crossed the tried up river bed, then began walking along the windy hills covered in a shin-length layer of grass. The red train station was looming in the distance. Haku slipped his hand into Chihiro's and squeezed it gently.

"Give my love to your parents," he smiled. "I know they may not understand, or they may be sceptic of my motives, but let them think as they will. I will redeem myself."

Chihiro smiled. "They'll understand, Haku. Mama will, anyway, they'll try to understand and accept, I think, even if they don't really know what's going on."

Haku nodded. Suddenly they were at the old train station. Chase shivered visibly.

"This place is super creepy," she said as the wind howled through the tunnel.

"I agree," Rin muttered, staying as close to the spirit entrance as possible. "It feels wrong being here."

"It's being so close to the human world," Haku replied. "I feel the same. Your body is sensing the shift between the two worlds, and warning you not to travel further. Human's call it intuition, but ours is much stronger. The human world repels us."

"You said you thought there was a grey-zone," Chihiro murmured. "That first night you'd found me…"

"A myth for now," Haku replied. "Besides, most spirits go out of their way to avoid the human world."

"Strange," Chihiro said, looking down the tunnel and to the sunny day on the human side. "I don't feel anything. Probably because I'm human."

"It's getting late, dearest," Haku said, handing Chihiro the luggage bags. "You should go."

Chihiro nodded and swallowed thickly. "You're right." She looked to her two best friends, standing beside the entrance to the train station and ran forward to embrace them.

Haku watched as Chihiro cried into her friends' shoulders and felt something clench his heart a little. Rin began to cry, not being able to hold back with her anger any longer. Chase sniffed and batted the tears from her eyes and pulled back.

With a watery laugh she said, "Who knows what Aeala will be up to by the time you get back,' she sniffed. "She's going leaps and bounds these days."

Chihiro laughed and nodded, turning to Rin. "You take care of yourself, alright Rin?" she said, embracing the woman. "And please keep an eye on Haku for me. He's such a dope sometimes."

"You got it," Rin sniffed, closing her eyes tight so the tears didn't leak. She let the human woman go and stood by Chase as Chihiro approached her mate-to-be.

"Be well," she blubbered, her hands smoothing over the shirt over his shoulders. She traced his collar bone with the flat palm of her hand, then up his neck until it rested on his cheeks.

Haku's words wouldn't go through his tight throat. He swallowed thickly. "I will," he murmured and pulled Chihiro in for a passionate kiss.

Chihiro melted into his body as he hugged her tightly.

"I love you so much," he whispered with a harsh hiss into her ear.

"I love you too," she replied.

Regretfully, he released her.

"Go," he sniffed, his back turned on his friends lest they see him cry. Chihiro laughed gently at his pride and rubbed a tear away with her thumb.

"Silly dragon."

"Go," he said a little more firmly. "I'll cast the spells. Your family is waiting for you."

Chihiro nodded and hitched her bags over her shoulder. "Will we see each other again?"

He nodded, a smile playing over his lips. "Of course. I promise. Don't look back."

Chihiro sucked in a breath and with one parting look to her friends across Haku's shoulder, she turned on her heel and began to walk steadily through the tunnel. Don't look back, she chanted to herself, feeling a horrible sense of déjà vu. Don't look back, don't look back…

"Ah!" Haku fell to his knees and Chase and Rin ran to his side, helping him up by the arms. Rin looked into the corridor. It was suddenly empty.

"She's gone," Rin said, blinking once.

Haku groaned. "She's on the other side now – probably just coming out."

"Haku you need to sit down," Chase said as the dragon shook off the women's arms and staggered out of the train station. "You've exerted yourself. Give it a moment." She unfastened a water canister from her hip. "Here, sit down and take a drink."

Haku took a swig from the water canister, tasting the water infused with raspberries Chase often carried around with her.

"It's got a spell for lactating women in it, thus the raspberries, but I think it'll be alright for you," she laughed. "It's full of minerals and electrolytes."

Haku made a face but swallowed anyway. "Lord have mercy on you if I start expressing."

Chase laughed and Rin made a watery smile.

"Come on," said the sable spirit. "Let's get you back Haku. When are you leaving for the palace?"

"Tomorrow," replied the dragon, getting to his feet. Albeit he was still a little shaky, he managed to walk properly. Haku noticed that, upon skipping breakfast and casting such a strong spell, he was deathly hungry. "The sooner I leave, the sooner thing are sorted out and the sooner it's safer for Chihiro to come back."

"Is it that dangerous?" Chase asked.

Haku nodded. "When I don't know who to trust, it is. The Imperial Palace is bigger than the bathhouse by a hundred times. I couldn't be with her all day to make sure she is safe. It's easier this way."

"If you say so," Chase murmured. She shivered again. "Hey, can we get outta this place, it's totally creeping me out."

Chihiro staggered out of the Enchanted Forest, tears blurring her eyes and her feet feeling like lead. Up the hill sat her childhood home, a blue weatherboard house that looked down on the small town her parents lived in. What would they say now? They had not expected her back… well, at least for another year. Chihiro trudged up the hall, dropping her bags by the back door in exhaustion as she finally reached the house.

"Mama?" she called, entering the house without knocking. "Mama, are you home?"

"Huh?" she heard Yuuko from upstairs as she entered the kitchen and dining room. "Who's that?"

"Chihiro, Mama," Chihiro called. "I'm the only child you had!"

Yuuko came out of the study with a confused look on her face. Leaning over the railing, she saw her daughter standing beside the dining table and smiled.

"Oh Chihiro!" she cried, running down the staircase and embracing her daughter. "What in the world are you doing here? Oh, is everything alright?"

Chihiro nodded. "Everything's fine."

"But we weren't supposed to see you until later in the year," she protested. "Nothing has happened with you or Haku, has it? Is the wedding off?"

"No," she said. "Just postponed. Haku's taken up a new job, um, it's a little difficult to explain," she bit her lip as her mother waited patiently for an explanation. "The world I live in is separated in half; the Western and Eastern side and they're governed by Lords. The Eastern Lord died and Haku was next in line – so… I suppose he's ascended."

Yuuko regarded her daughter seriously. "So what are you doing back here?"

Chihiro shook her head and took a seat at the dining table. "He wanted me to come back just for a week or two, just until things have settled down. It's very tense, I think, and it would probably get more tense if I was there… a human."

Yuuko nodded and tried to understand. True, it seemed whenever Chihiro did come home she spouted some different story about the other world she lived in that Yuuko found overwhelming. Still, Yuuko sighed and went to make her daughter a cup of tea.

"How have you been?" she asked.

"Well," Chihiro replied with a smile. "Very well."

"You look well, darling," she grinned. "But how about a haircut while you're back? It's gotten so long."

Chihiro ran her hands through her hair – indeed it had gotten long. From resting around her shoulder blades it suddenly touched the small of her back.

"You're probably right…," she murmured, pushing the locks back.

Her mother regarded her seriously. "You're sure nothing is going wrong?" she asked in a deep, not-at-all joking voice. "You can tell me darling."

Chihiro shrugged and scampered out of her mother's harsh eye. "There's nothing to tell. Haku's just a little worried, and he has a right to be. It won't be for very long, just until the place settles down a little."

Yuuko sighed and folded her arms. "I wish I knew about spirit politics like you, dear. It all seems complicated and I'm annoyed I don't understand it."

Chihiro nodded. "I wish I knew more about spirit politics, as well. I always skipped over those parts in the books to get to more interesting things like customs and ceremonies." Chihiro sighed. "I wish I paid more attention."

Yuuko went to make her daughter a cup of tea. "We should tell your father you're home," she said. "How is Haku, by the way?"

Chihiro nodded. "Good, I think. By all accounts. The wedding has been postponed."

"Oh no!" Yuuko pouted. "I was so looking forward to it, Chihiro – when do you think you'll find the time."

"Soon," she said, though she didn't think she sounded so confident. "Hopefully soon."

"What are you leaving here?" Rin asked as she watched Haku run about the apartment. It was early afternoon, but the dragon had already done over two days' worth of packing since after breakfast. He was moving in super-speed, using his magic to sort and pack items into large boxes and chests.

"Most things," he replied. "The Palace is already equipped with furniture. Linen, supplies, books."

He entered the study where he began sorting through a vast collection of leather back tomes – many of which Chihiro had already read. The books were filed alphabetically, as they had been organised on the bookshelf and packed accordingly. The last however, and the books that made Haku falter for a moment in his stride, were shiny paper covers, one depicting a young boy sitting by a river. The boy, Haku recognised him as Huckleberry, looked happy. There was a fish beside him, gutted and ready to eat, and the river looked vast and healthy.

"What's that?" Rin asked, gawking over Haku's shoulder.

"Chihiro gave me this book when she first came here," he smiled gently and flicked the pages through his fingers. "It's one of my favourites. I've read a lot of human literature, but nothing ever like this."

Rin's lips pursed. "Come on, make sure you pack it."

Haku sighed and placed the book into the box.

"There's not too much left to pack," he murmured.

"All of Chihiro's things?" Rin asked.

Haku shook his head. "She packed everything before she left."

Rin sighed. "When are you leaving then?"

"Tomorrow morning," Haku replied. "Is everything organised here? You do not need me for anything?"

Rin huffed. "Nothing."

Haku nodded solemnly.

"Does that feel strange for you?" Rin asked, grinning. "Tell you what – the one thing you can do is keep that pesky thunder god away from the bathhouse."

Haku's ears perked up and he remembered a conversation he'd had with Chihiro not a few weeks ago.

"Why's that?"

Rin huffed. "He's insufferable."

"A customer is a customer," reminded Haku wisely. "No matter how irritating he is."

"Finally," Rin laughed. "Someone understands."

Haku sighed and bent down to close a box.

"Come on," Rin said, tugging on his arm. "Let's go get some dinner – a farewell feast, if you well. It'll be better than wallowing up here all night, won't it? All alone."

"Alone," he muttered, shaking his head. "Don't remind me."

The morning was growing close, and the sun was rising to the top of the sky. Haku sighed and trudged up the golden steps towards the beautiful, gleaming palace. By the gate stood a tall woman with a long fish-tail braid hanging over her shoulder and who bowed and smiled graciously.

"My lord," Ayne said. "Welcome to your new home."

Haku looked up to the large golden spires, reaching into the sky and sighed heavily.

New home?

This completes Volume One of the Path of Water.

For anyone interested, the pronouncation of some names within this story are as follows:

Ismene – Is-MEAN-ee.

Ayne – Anne.

Aeala – Aye-AH-la.

Senekular – Sen-ek-KUL-ah

Raijin – Ray-gin.

The next volume of this story is on my author's profile with the same name, only in the summary, it states, "Volume two." I realise I said before I would add chapter 53, but decided it was nice to cut it short here at 52 chapters. Please head over to Volume Two to read the next chapter "Desperado". Sorry for the confusion for anyone who is still waiting for the upload. I did not want to make an author's note and add it as a new chapter since author's on here work had on their stories/updates and I did not want to take away the top updated spot from someone who churned out a few thousand words just for this short message. I hope you understand.

Thanks everyone.

~ Arlia'Devi