Spirited Away One-shot: Author of Dreams
A/N: Hey there! Thanks for clicking on this story! I got inspiration for this all of a sudden in the morning and boom, two nights spent on writing this. Hope you enjoy it and God bless! (:
A large expanse of green stretched towards the distant horizon, overlooking towering hills in the distance. Streaks of thin, wispy clouds were brushed along the rich expanse of blue skies, moving ever so slightly in accordance to the whims of the summer breeze. The wind tickled their skin, gently tousling the hair of two beings standing in its presence, rousing the wild grass by their feet in a soft, melodious rustle.
The little girl and boy stood side by side, hands clutching each other's tightly, in subtle indication of their reluctance to depart from the other's company. They stopped at the edge where the plain started, looking on towards the tunnel that lay ahead, where it all began.
"There's no water here, I can walk across now," the girl breathed with wide eyes, already prepared to take a step out, and run back to the home that she had so longed to return to after going through such a tedious ordeal in this strange world.
"But I can't go any further," the boy replied, "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 through the tunnel."
She glanced back at him, frowning slightly. "What about you? What'll you do?"
"Don't worry," he assured as his lips curved upwards, his eyes gleaming, "I'll go back and have a talk with Yubaba. I'll tell her I'm going to quit being her apprentice. I'm fine, I got my name back."
Staring into his earnest green eyes, she couldn't help but ask, "Will we meet again sometime?" It greatly saddened her that it would perhaps be the last time they would meet. The same thought occurred to the boy, and a certain heaviness tugged at his heart.
"Sure we will," he replied hastily, though not sure himself if it would happen. He was not accustomed to speaking white lies, but he couldn't bear for her to be upset, not when she should be happy right then. Moreover, if she were to stay longer, he had no idea himself if he would be able to bear to see her leave.
"Promise?" Her innocent smile made the corners of his mouth tug up into a smile identical to hers.
"Promise. Now go, and don't look—
"Chihiro! Chihiro, get your nose out of that book for once in your life, would you?" Someone nudged her in the side, at long last catching her attention. Chihiro's head jerked up to meet a pair of raven eyes staring at her with a hint of annoyance and exasperation.
"Sorry, Kurumi. I was just getting to the best part though!" she pouted, gazing reluctantly at the words on the open, worn-out pages. Shooting it another rueful look, she stuck her bookmark in it before closing it and placing it in her bag.
Kurumi shook her head, but shot an amused smile at her goofy friend. It was baffling how a book could captivate one so much so that it could be read more than twenty times over from cover to cover. She loved books, but even she couldn't stand reading the same plot for more than five times. The stories just got old like that.
Picking up her bag and getting up from her spot under the oak tree, Chihiro dusted off her jeans and looked at Kurumi expectantly. "Which lecture is it now?"
She groaned in mild frustration, sending her a vexed look. "It's already evening, girl! We were supposed to get dinner together, remember?"
The brunette's lips parted as her brain attempted to recall her schedule for the day before her eyes lit up in realization. Then a sheepish smile graced her lips as she hooked her arm through her best friend's, chirping, "I wonder where we should go for dinner today… let's go to the usual place!"
Dinner took longer than expected, and by the time it was over, Chihiro was left with only the desire to curl up on her bed finish her book before going to sleep. Standing outside her apartment, the woman shivered and pulled her coat tighter around her as her fingers fumbled around for the keys in her pocket. When they finally located the cold sting of the metal, she hurriedly unlocked the door and stepped in to the warm haven of her rented apartment.
Locking it securely, she dumped her bag by the bed and plopped herself onto it, feeling her body sink into the soft mattress. She then emitted a loud, contented sigh as she picked her book from her bag.
"Spirited Away," it read in proud, elegant font on the black cover page. She grinned and hugged it to her chest tightly, the memory of where she had left off leaving her in tingles. Her friends often teased her for acting this foolish over a mere book, but this book was special. It just was. She had fallen in love with it the first time she picked it up at the age of eleven, and ever since it had never left her side. Despite having reading it from cover to cover repeatedly over the past nine years or so, the story never seemed to bore her. Somehow, somewhere deep within her she could connect to it in an unspeakable manner.
And it was more than the fact that the main character had the exact same name as her.
Each time she opened the book, reading through every meticulous description of the setting by the book's author, known to the public as N.K.N, somehow her mind could conjure up the most vivid images that sometimes made her wonder if they were real.
N.K.N was a master with his words, using them to create a world completely foreign yet strangely familiar to her all at once. Each sentence was strung deliberately, flowing smoothly and naturally like a river taking its course. His stories gave her life, gave her peace and an indescribable longing for more. It was no wonder he was her favorite author of all time.
Just as she was about to open the book and continue from where she had left off earlier, her cell phone rang. The melodious tune of her ringtone filled the silent apartment and she checked the caller ID: Mom.
"Hey, Mom," she greeted brightly.
"Hello, dear. Just calling in to check on you. How're you doing over there?"
"I'm doing fine, Mom. You just called yesterday to check on me; what can go wrong in one day?"
She heard her mother chuckle over the phone, "I just miss you very much, darling," then corrected, "We miss you very much," at her father's cough in the background.
Chihiro grinned, "I miss you too. I think I can make it back in a couple more weeks. Just a little while more and I'll be back home!"
She could just imagine the anticipating looks on her parents' faces. "That's good, honey. Now the weather's getting cold so please—"
"Wear more clothes out, drink more water, don't eat too much instant food, sleep early and don't stay up too late. Yeah, I know Mom. You remind me like, every single day," Chihiro cut in, shaking her head.
"You know I'm just worried for you."
"I know, Mom. But I'm a big girl already and I can take care of myself. Don't worry."
"Okay, but you'll always be our little baby."
They could be so cheesy sometimes, but Chihiro still missed them dearly. "I know."
It was a couple minutes more of sharing how their day had gone by, until Chihiro realized that it was getting quite late. "You should go to sleep now," she reminded, "you and Dad still have to go to work tomorrow, right?"
"Oh, look at the time," her mother exclaimed, "I didn't even realize it was this late already. I didn't intend for this call to be so long... Anyway, sleep early too, alright? Remember to turn on the heater if you're cold—"
"Alright, Mom! Enough nagging for one night! Now go to sleep!" Chihiro laughed, shaking her head. Her mother never seemed to run out of things to say.
"Okay, dear," she finally conceded. "Good night."
"Good night, Mom. Love you." Then she hung up, smiling to herself.
And now for some reading, she thought gleefully, only to be interrupted by a text message. Her phone screen flashed with bright excitement, announcing mail with its cheerful ringtone. Groaning inwardly, she checked to see that it was from Kurumi.
Chihiro! I just got this from Kita! Guess what? Your favorite author's coming over to the university to hold a seminar!
Her heart skipped a beat, if that was possible. Slowly, her shocked emotions stirred into a flurry of flying colors and exuberance. She felt giddy with anticipation and thrill, and had to read it through a couple more times before the news sunk in. N.K.N was going to the university? That was basically a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet him!
She gave a loud whoop in uncontained excitement, before covering her mouth sheepishly. It was already eleven at night; hopefully none of her neighbors had heard that.
Then, she went back to finish reading the text message, eager to find out the details of the event.
He'll even be having a fan sign event, so yes, you can bring that book of yours and get it signed by him! So anyway, the seminar and fan sign event thing is actually tomorrow in the main auditorium—thank goodness Kita told me in time—from 7pm to 9pm. Hurry over once your shift ends okay? (:
In her head, the woman began sorting out her schedule. Her shift was at 12pm all the way till 6:30pm, so there should be sufficient time for her to drive to the university after work.
Perfect. She broke into a wide grin, already unable to wait to meet her idol. Never in her life did she dream of ever meeting him. It seemed so surreal, she was afraid that this was a hidden camera prank that Kurumi was pulling on her, or that it was a dream and that she'd be waking up any second.
So she pinched herself. Hard.
The relieving sensation of pain filled her right cheek and she winced, but proving that without a doubt, it was all real. Her smile grew even broader, if that was even possible.
And so that night, unable to sleep, she decided to read her book again while passing the time.
The sound of vibration by Chihiro's ear made her stir. Her hand swatted at her alarm clock by her head, but no matter how many times she hit it, the sound did not stop. Lazily, she opened one tired eye and took in her surroundings.
Bright light streamed in from the window. The dust swirled sluggishly about, spinning with slow motes in the rays of sun. Her head ached slightly, probably because she had ended up staying up till the wee hours of the night. She hadn't realized at all when she fell asleep. Then the vibrating sounds came again. This time she realized it was her phone ringing.
Nao, her co-worker, was calling her. "Hello?" Her voice was still ragged from sleep.
"Chihiro! Where in the heavens are you? You know how the boss is about punctuality!"
"Huh? What are you talking about? Isn't it still—" Chihiro's eyes came to a rest at her digital alarm clock that read: 12:07. Her eyes grew to the size of a fish's, alarm instantly springing up in her, waking her up quite effectively.
"Hello? Are you still there?" came the impatient voice of Nao. In a flash, Chihiro was on her feet, grabbing her uniform from the laundry basket. Her heart sank. Being late was the one thing her boss could not tolerate. He expected "professionalism" from all of his colleagues and employees, down to the little details like the perfectionist he was. While he was a very responsible and disciplined person, he could be quite a pain in the neck to put up with when he was angry.
The last time someone had been fifteen minutes late for work, the poor soul had been subject to a night of lecturing after closing hours.
And boy, was she in for an angry boss later, considering that it was a forty-five minute drive to where her workplace was. She shuddered at the thought of her impending punishment.
Chihiro muttered a hasty "Uh… I'll be there soon!" before hanging up, throwing her clothes onto the bed, changing into her uniform and grabbing her bag for the day, but of course, without forgetting her precious treasure.
After ten minutes of speedily getting ready, a breathless Chihiro headed downstairs to where her white bug was parked. In she went, dumping her bag in the seat next to her and starting the car. It would be a mad race to get to her workplace as quickly as possible.
"Miss Ogino, it's already 13:02 on my watch," said the manager a little too calmly. Chihiro managed a rueful smile, but averted her gaze nervously.
"I'm terribly sorry for my tardiness, sir. I overslept because last night I—"
"I do not wish to hear your excuses, Miss Ogino. There is no reason for a professional worker in the service sector to be tardy, even if you're just a part-time employee here. Our service here is of high quality because everyone single one you see here," he gestured to everyone else working in the restaurant, "are putting in their best for this restaurant. I do not wish to see you, a very hardworking employee in nature to work shoddily and disgrace all of us. We are a team, everyone here, the chefs, the cleaners, waiters and waitresses alike, and we have to work together for the betterment of this place. While I do understand that people make mistakes and that it is human nature to err, with mistakes come punishments."
He paused to eye Chihiro who gulped in response, awaiting her sentence. "You will have to stay back and work for the one hour that you skipped earlier and work for another two hours with no extra pay. Is that clear?"
She opened her mouth to protest, but at the sight of his sharp, livid eyes that were practically screaming for her murder, her voice died down in her throat. She had no choice but to skip the seminar and fan sign event then.
Sadness washed over the girl, but she responded firmly, "Yes, sir. I apologize again. There won't be a next time."
"I do hope so. Very well, get to work now."
Holding back the tears that were beginning to cloud her vision, Chihiro's feet shuffled to the counter where Nao waited expectantly with her brow cocked. "So what was the ruling?"
She pouted ruefully, still depressed at not being able to make it for the seminar. "I have to stay back for an extra two hours for my tardiness…"
Nao could not hide the surprise that fleeted across her freckled face. "Really? I don't believe this! He practically lectured the life out of Hino and you managed to get away with a twenty minute lecture and unpaid extra time for two hours?"
"Technically, that's on top of the one hour I lost…"
"But you got off considerably lightly, so what's with the sad face you've got on there?"
Chihiro looked up at Nao and sighed deeply, sniffling as liquid starting flowing in her nose. "N.K.N's coming to our university to hold a seminar, but it starts at seven, so now I can't go…"
"Bummer, you've been all over that guy for a long time, haven't you?" At the sight of Chihiro's near crying face, she was taken aback. Not knowing what else to do to comfort her, she threw her a big hug. "Don't cry, dear! Maybe there'll be a next time!"
Yeah, the chances of that are about a billion to one, Chihiro thought sourly, but nevertheless blinked her tears back and muttered, "Maybe," before getting back to work.
Her parents had asked her why she wouldn't quit her job under that horrid boss of hers, but she needed the money for the apartment as well as her university fees. Her family was not exactly wealthy to begin with, so getting into university had already placed quite the financial burden on them. At least the job paid well, so it was alright.
But having to miss the seminar stirred an unpleasant anger in her. Why hadn't she set her alarm the night before? If only she wouldn't be so absent-minded all the time! Anger boiled within her, angry at herself for being so forgetful.
Her mood for the entire day had been ruined, making it quite difficult to serve the customers in the restaurant with the bright smile she usually had on her pretty face.
Time moved slowly, and as the clock in the restaurant showed 19:00, Chihiro couldn't help but feel bitter on the inside and sunk her teeth into her bottom lip to prevent herself from crying. So instead, she took it out on the tables that she wiped and cleared. Her notepads for taking down orders had rough indentations on the pages that had not been scribbled on with illegible handwriting from the coarse strength she used on them.
As the seconds ticked by tauntingly and the dinner crowd lessened significantly, finally it was time for her to get off work. Chihiro was exhausted and in the lounge, she collapsed on a chair, eyelids perilously close to drooping all the way. The chair wasn't that uncomfortable, and it would make a rather decent place to sleep.
Well, it was obviously out of the question though—sadly—since she didn't want to get locked up in the restaurant or get lectured by her boss again.
Dragging herself off the chair and onto her aching legs, she picked up her bag and changed out of her uniform into a pair of black skinny jeans and a white tank. After pulling her favorite navy blue jacket on, she picked her bag up and headed out to her car that was parked just across the road.
Hugging the book close to her chest, Chihiro exhaled heavily, still not over her loss. She had been looking forward to it all night, the raw excitement depriving her of her sleep, and look where that had gotten her.
Just then, her phone vibrated in her back pocket, announcing a new text message. She checked it to see that she had gotten a message from Kurumi.
So how was it? Did you get his autograph? How did he look like? Did you shake hands with him? What did he say to you? Tell me everything! I know you're just dying to!
Bitterly, she clicked the 'unlock' button on her car keys. With two cute beeps, the car signaled for her to get in. She opened the door and plopped her butt onto the comfortable leather seats before slamming it close a little too hard.
I couldn't make it.
After sending it, Chihiro began to mindlessly drive to nowhere in particular, wanting desperately to get things off of her mind. The enormous weight on her chest was deathly suffocating, and all she wanted to do was go somewhere far away to cry and whine like a spoiled brat again.
Her phone vibrated restlessly on the seat beside her, but she ignored it, knowing it would just probably be Kurumi trying to comfort her. Thinking about it wasn't going to do any good, but at every attempt she made to shift her mind somewhere else, it stubbornly drifted back involuntarily back to her lost opportunity. She could have met him, and yet her own carelessness had cost her what could be a golden opportunity never to present itself to her ever again.
The sudden angry honk of a car snapped the woman out of her thoughts and jerking her head up, she realized she was about to hit a car and swerved sharply to her left, coming to a stop by the road.
Her heart hammered against her ribcage from the momentary fright she had gotten, and she looked up to see the driver already speeding off. Chihiro glanced around, wondering where she was.
On her left, stood a tall building, with the words "Kaikyo University" imprinted on the walls in large, proud font. The front gate was open and several lights were lit on the interior, dimly illuminating the campus that was draped in shadows of the night.
Confusion dusted over her features. She hadn't been driving to anywhere in particular, and of all places she had to drive herself here.
As if her wound wasn't deep enough already.
Well, she supposed since she had nothing else to do anyway, she may as well take a look at the remains of what she had missed out, just to add salt to the wound and make herself even more upset. Chihiro turned off the engine and got out of the car, stepping into the university. Normally at this time there would still be people up and about the campus, but that night there was hardly anyone around.
It felt as if her legs had taken on a life of their own, and they were now walking further up straight down the hall leading to the auditorium, where the event had been held.
It seemed rather quiet, save for the occasional sound of squeaking chairs against the floorboards and sweeping of brooms. It seemed the cleaners were still cleaning up after the event.
As her eyes stared blankly into space, her mind filled with questions as to what she was doing here, banners and scattered brochures and pieces of paper on the floor came into view.
A lone table stood in front of the doors of the auditorium, abandoned by its companions from the earlier event. Random flyers for books that N.K.N had on sale lay scattered on the ground with some shoeprint marks on them. Other than that, it was silent, and for a while Chihiro stood there, trying to imagine how it would have been like if she had been there.
She imagined N.K.N signing her most prized possession, shaking her hand and flashing her a wide smile. If only...
"I had a feeling there was someone I needed to wait for."
Chihiro jumped back, shocked to hear a husky voice spring out of nowhere. Some color filled her cheeks at her embarrassing reaction. Hopefully her face was hidden enough by the lack of light in the space. Her eyes came to rest on a man who looked at her with a warm gaze.
His smile brightened his beautiful features, and even in the dark she could see his chiseled jaw and toned muscles beneath his button-up shirt. He wore a pair of trousers to go with it, looking very smart and effortlessly handsome.
Somehow that face seemed very familiar, as if she'd seen him somewhere before, yet she could not recall meeting him in real life.
Then realization dawned on her.
He was N.K.N. The author whom she'd longed to meet for the longest time, whose stories she absolutely adored.
Completely unprepared, a light pink dusted the flustered girl's cheeks as her lips parted into a coy smile, barely able to contain her surprise and excitement all of a sudden.
"What is your name?" he asked gently.
"Ogino Chihiro. And you must be Mr N.K.N," she replied.
His smile grew wider and he nodded. "Yes I am. So you have the same name as the character in my book? What a pleasant coincidence."
"It happens to be my favorite book as well. It's really an honor to meet you, you have no idea how much I love your books. They're all brilliant." Chihiro's dark brown orbs sparkled with an ignited passion that didn't go unnoticed.
He chuckled and bowed his head in thanks. "You flatter me, Miss Ogino. If I may ask, which of my books is your favorite?"
Without a second's hesitation, she answered, "Spirited Away."
He grinned broadly, "Really? It's my favorite as well."
"Really?" Chihiro's cheeks puffed up with excitement as she continued, "I don't know why, but somehow whenever I read it, no matter how many times I've gone through it, the story seems to come alive. I can just imagine myself in the Spirit Realm, and somehow picture the characters from the way you've described them so beautifully. It's simply amazing."
The man watched her with keen interest, emitting short breaths of laughter every now and then as she rambled on and on about the story and how much she loved it.
And then, she stopped abruptly, shyly covering her mouth. "I'm sorry, I got carried away."
"No, no. It's rather interesting to listen to you."
She blushed, hoping she did not sound too foolish to him.
Without shifting his eyes from her, he inquired out of the blue, "I have a rather odd question for you, if you don't mind. Do you believe in the Spirit Realm?"
Chihiro was taken by surprise. The Spirit Realm? She'd read about it so many times from the multiple times she'd re-read the book, but did she believe in it?
When she was a child and proclaimed how exciting that realm would be if she went there to her parents and friends, they merely dismissed it with a flick of their hands, saying that it was nothing more than a fairytale and reminding her good-naturedly not to get carried away.
But deep down, her heart knew that it existed despite not ever seeing it before. There was something special about how instinctively the images of the characters in the book came to life and how sometimes it felt as if she were in the Spirit Realm itself, watching the various events unfold before her very eyes.
"Yes," was her answer, to his unmasked delight.
"I believe it exists too," he breathed, "finally there's someone who believes I'm not crazy."
She laughed at that, both relieved and pleasantly surprised. As her eyes took in his features again however, she realized that there was something slightly different about the man.
His hair was not black, but it was in actual fact a dark green, though not as obvious in the dark night. It had been cut stylishly to suit his handsome, muscular features. And the closer she stared, she realized that she was gazing into emerald green orbs instead of dark ones.
Time seemed to reel around her in slow motion all of a sudden as her heart hammered against her rib cage. How was it that he looked exactly the same as Haku in the story? Could it be..?
No, that was insane. It was simply impossible.
Is it really?
Something told her there was more to him than he let on. It was then that her mouth and tongue moved, and the silent question escaped her lips, "Who are you?"
Unfazed, his eyes took on a mischievous glint as he took a step closer to her. "N.K.N."
"What's your real name?"
The corners of his lips turned up into a playful smirk. "I think you already know the answer, so let's hear it."
Her lips quivered as she swallowed the lump that had begun to form in her throat. "It… it wouldn't happen to be… Nigi… hayami… Kohaku Nushi, would it?"
Before she realized it, she was pulled into an embrace, crushed against the man's chest. He held her tightly, yet careful not to break her, as if she were a fragile little thing in his big, strong arms.
"I knew you'd remember," he murmured tenderly. Chihiro unexpectedly found herself hugging him back, her hands exploring the broad, muscular back of his while he buried his face in her hair that was probably not very nice-smelling at the moment, seeing as she hadn't had the time to bathe. His arms snaked themselves around her waist and her cheeks heated up from the intimacy of their contact.
As scenes from the book re-entered her mind, she began to realize that they were not just images conjured from her imagination alone; they were memories. Memories lost and retrieved again.
They remained like that for a while, enjoying each other's company and taking time to be sure of each other, as if afraid it was all a dream, ready to go up in smoke and vanish before their eyes without knowing.
Then he broke the silence and asked, "Do you remember how the story ends?" His breath tickled her neck, sending shivers down her spine.
Chihiro nodded. "Haku made a promise to meet Chihiro again." Now she was holding back tears.
He chuckled, his warm breath feeling comfortably nice. She felt his chest reverberate with each chuckle as he pressed her ever closer to him.
"He's finally kept that promise."
A/N: Finally edited the heck out of this lol. :D Hope you enjoyed!