Authors Note: Apparently, I'm writing things for series that make me nostalgic lately! First Escaflowne, now Spirited Away. Not that it's a bad thing. I just find it funny that ideas for both seem to be hitting me in the same year. I guess my writing is just at that level where I feel like I can end things in a satisfactory way now, whereas before I could not.
This story is, for all intents and purposes, a one-shot. I have no plans to extend it beyond a single chapter, and unless more ideas strike me, it will be remaining as is. A simple, non-dramatic, finale to a movie that left me wanting more.
That being said, please enjoy the little bit of magic that I have attempted to bring to you today!
A Spirited Away One-shot
"We'll meet again." Haku had said. He'd promised. And Chihiro believed it with every fibre of her being.
To this day, ten years later, she believed. Twenty years old, a college graduate and far different from the child she'd been, Chihiro believed.
She'd grown into a lovely young woman, brown hair as long as ever and eyes still a curious hazel. The purple hair band Zeniba had given her was never far away, either; whether it was holding her hair up or looped around her wrist, it was always with her. Proof that her adventures were real.
Her parents never mentioned their lost time in the theme park; they didn't remember a thing, after all. Not like her.
Chihiro didn't mind. She kept her thoughts and dreams to herself, knowing it would only worry her parents if she seemed too occupied with thoughts of the spirit world.
Her time there had changed her, but not in a bad way.
She had come home full of life and energy, ready to take on the world. She made a few friends her at her new school, laughed and played like any kid her age, and doodled dragons and soot balls on the edges of all her notes. Chihiro did well in school, and always made sure to only draw on the notes no one else would see, keeping her dreams to herself.
The biggest change, of course, was the kami.
She could see them hovering near the forest and the little stone shrines, poking their heads out cautiously and watching the humans that walked near them. Chihiro would smile and wave, and after a moments surprise that she could see them, they would often wave back.
Once she'd realized this new ability, Chihiro had begun to attend every local festival, even some not so local, if only to socialize with the small kami and spirits that gathered at them.
Some were shy at first, cautious of humans after such a long time of being ignored, but most were friendly, happy to interact with her, surprised by her connection to the spirit world.
A few had even begun to visit her at home, sharing their stories and experiences in return for tales of her own time in the spirit world, and of the friend's she'd made there. She was thrilled to learn that a few of them had even been to the bath house since she'd left, and that it was still running much as usual, though Yubaba was somewhat more subdued then before.
Some mentioned they'd caught glimpses of 'Master Kohaku', as he was now known, though nothing substantial. Either way, it warmed her heart to know that he was using his original name, freed from Yubaba's control.
What she didn't tell the little kami was that she'd been back.
The little back road that had taken them to the theme park in the first place wasn't very far from her house, after all; there wasn't much keeping her from visiting. She would always wave to the tiny kami watching her from the shrines at the opening of the road, striding calmly along the untraveled road.
The grass never overran the path, strangely enough, though she suspected it was because it was so close to the spirit world. She nodded reverently to the statue hidden in the grass halfway down the path, and to the guardian at the entrance to the theme park.
She never, ever went past the dry river, not quite trusting herself to make it back before the sun went down. The first few times, she simply stood amongst the grass outside the gate, breathing in the fresh air and smiling at the familiar feelings the place brought back.
Chihiro always left well before the sun ever had the chance to set, and she never went in the winter, unsure if things would be the same or different in the different weather.
Did it snow in the spirit world? She had no idea. Probably not.
In the spring and summer, when it was warmer, she started bringing a picnic on her days off, enjoying her lunch and then reading in the warm afternoon sunlight. She lingered longer, but never long enough to worry her parents, or past dark.
When she was seventeen, she crossed the dry river, but never made it to the bridge. Something inside told her that it wasn't time for her to go there yet, that her day to see him again wasn't yet there.
Instead, she wandered around the restaurants there, examining things she'd been to terrified to the first time and laughing at some of the signs the spirits liked to post. Almost all of them had a sign that warned 'Not for humans!' if you only stopped to read them!
The restaurant that had originally lured her parents in was never open when she visited, and she wondered if they'd been scolded by Yubaba. Either way, she popped her head in there as well, shouted 'hello!', and wandered away with a laugh when only her own voice echoed back.
When she was nineteen, she dared to approach the bridge, but knew better then to set foot on it. The feeling that it still wasn't time kept her at bay, returning before dark and smiling at her parents over dinner.
Life went on in this routine, until something changed. Not long after she had turned twenty, the feeling subsided, just a little. Not enough to send her running, but enough that she went to bed extra early, faking ill, in order to wake up at the break of dawn the next morning.
Armed with water and plenty of time before the sun could even think of setting, Chihiro had set off, reaching the gate in record time and crossing through without a second thought.
It wasn't him. The feeling wasn't strong enough for that. But somehow, she knew that she had to cross the bridge for something this time, and she wasn't about to ignore that!
Pausing only to take a deep breath at the foot of the bridge, she crossed it as quickly as she possibly could, following the route Haku had taken her on that day so long, long ago.
She ducked under the shoji screens and snuck through the little back garden where she'd met No Face, approaching the stairs she'd practically fallen down in her youth. Unsurprisingly, the step that had broken on her first visit remained unfixed. No one used these stairs, after all, except for smart little human girls who knew how to sneak around.
Carefully but steadily descending to the bottom, Chihiro paused at the door to the boiler room, took another deep breath, and then pushed it open, stepping inside as quietly as she could.
She moved through the steamy room towards the main area, ears straining at the sound of quiet voices, both very familiar. She could see Kamaji up on his usual platform, turned to face a woman who could only be Lin, hands on her hips as usual.
Chihiro didn't have time to say anything, though; the soot balls noticed her first and promptly freaked out.
Startled by the sudden commotion, Lin whirled with an angry snarl only to break out in a wide grin, yelling "Sen!" before practically tackling the younger woman in a crushing hug.
Kamaji followed at a much calmer pace, though his hug was no less crushing.
Keeping careful track of the time all the while Chihiro spent a couple of hours just catching up with the two, talking about everything from her school life and ability to see kami to Lin being promoted to Head of the Baths and Yubaba settling down quite a bit.
Haku, Lin explained, though she corrected herself afterwards, Kohaku, was practically in charge of the bathhouse now, since he'd really been the one giving orders in the first place.
He was free, and had left for a couple of years to check in on what had happened to his river before returning, content where he was. He had grown, Lin teased, grinning widely, into quite the handsome young man. She prophesized that he would be sweeping Chihiro off her feet the second he saw her, making the brunette flush red and smack her laughing friend on the arm.
When Chihiro enquired where he was, Lin explained that he was taking care of some business at his river, and would be gone for at least another week.
With this in mind, they began to plan.
Two days before Haku's scheduled return, Lin snuck a bit of safe spirit world food to Chihiro for her to take home with her, so that she could make sure she didn't forget in all the excitement and disappear.
Chihiro had come home the night before the big day to find her parents sitting at the kitchen table, looking calm and somewhat solemn.
Her mother looked up at her with a bit of a sad smile, eyes full of knowing, "Will you be back?"
"Then go ahead. We'll be right here, whenever you need us."
They hadn't forgotten after all. Or rather, they knew she had changed. They knew where she belonged.
Chihiro hugged them both tighter and longer then she could remember ever having done since she was a child, trying not to cry. She would visit, frequently; she didn't expect to live continuously in the spirit realm. She would find a way.
She didn't leave until roughly two hours before sunset the next day, spending time with her parents before getting ready. She made sure to wear the purple hair band and dressed nicely, taking a deep breath before heading for the theme park.
Chihiro headed through the gate without a moment's hesitation, making her way through the grassy plain as the sun began its descent. She made it to the stairs just as water appeared behind her, filling the river and ushering her into the spirit world.
Curious spirits poked their heads out of their shops to watch her as she strode past, a few of the little kami she had met in the human world waving excitedly or whispering in speculation.
Focussed solely on her goal, Chihiro continued forwards, heart thumping loudly in her chest. Because the tight feeling that had been keeping her back was gone completely, leaving only a singing, bell like chime leading her forwards.
She made it to the foot of the bridge and then stopped cold, breath hitching in her throat and heart thumping all the louder.
Because Haku stood at the other end of the bridge.
He was the same and different all at once, taller and more mature but still the same boy she'd met so long ago.
He paused only a second before striding forwards, her own feet moving at almost the same time. His arms opened and she fell into them, her own wrapping around his middle and squeezing just as his clung to her.
She could vaguely hear the cheering that went up around them, feel the tears running down her cheeks, notice that Haku was a good foot taller than her. The details could wait till later.
All Chihiro cared about was that she was home.