Chihiro sat at the windowsill of her new home, gazing into the night sky. A gentle gust of wind blew into her room, causing her undone hair to swirl around her bare shoulders. She was only wearing a singlet and a pair of white boxer shorts, her usual sleeping attire. The material billowed slightly as the air went through it. Chihiro didn’t mind. After her recent experiences, she had decided that she liked the wind. It had always acted as a friend to her. On the many nights she had spent on the balcony, red-cheeked from the steam-filled and overheated bathhouse she had been more or less forced to work at, the wind had always been there to carress her face with its cool and welcoming touch. It had been one of the few comforting things to keep her company when the feelings of hopelessness had threatened to overwhelm here. Sure, Lin had been there too, but her brisk and worldly nature had stung on more than one occasion.
Chihiro ran her fingers along the wood of the windowsill. Though she liked her new home well enough, she kind of missed the balconies and rice paper walls of the bath house at night. Even though it was by no means an experience she wanted to repeat, Chihiro had to admit that there had been some moments of… well… magic during her time at the bath house. There was nothing quite like sitting on a dizzyingly high balcony late at night, feet dangling over the edge, hair whipping in the wind. Chihiro had spent many times doing just that, watching the stars go out one by one and the sky slowly turn pink, until the deep orange disc of the sun appeared over the horizon. She had watched the sun rise almost every morning during that time, the gift of the river spirit warm in her hand.
A smile appeared on Chihiro’s face at the thought of the river spirit. He had been beautiful, once he had been freed from the stubborn layer of sludge which had covered him. Chihiro had been the only one to get a really good look at him, as she had been the one appointed to clean up the suspected “stink spirit”. It had been worth it. Just seeing the river spirit’s true form had been more than enough of a reward for wading through ankle-deep sludge and having to put up with his smell. Although it had apparently had some properties not unlike those of about a litre of chloroform. Still, seemingly unaware of his stunning beauty, the river spirit had rewarded her with a small dark green ball of a regenerating medicine. It had come in useful on more than one occasion. Though she couldn’t be sure, Chihiro suspected that the small bite of the medicine she had given to her dying friend Haku had been the thing which had tipped the balance between life and death. Sure, the boiler man had said it had been due to “pure love”, but in Chihiro’s opinion, there was only so much pure love as a force could do. Then again, maybe what Kamaji had really meant was that Chihiro had given part of her precious medicine to Haku, though she had meant to save it for her enchanted parents. In a way, she supposed, that might have been seen as a sign of pure love. So maybe such a force could be held in inanimate objects?
Chihiro slipped her glittery purple hairtie off her wrist, and examined it thoughtfully. It blinked innocently in the moonlight. The thread it was made of had been spun by her friends: the anonymous monster No-face, the over-sized baby of Yubaba, and the strange crow-like creature which had served as one of Yubaba’s henchmen. Yubaba’s twin sister Zeniba, who had turned out to be downright sweet, had said that the hairtie would protect Chihiro, because it had been made by her friends. Chihiro looked up at the stars again, wondering. She had never really thought about it that way. But even then, it didn’t quite make sense. Zeniba had said that the deadly enchantment she had placed on Haku in a fit of anger could only be broken by love. With a small sigh of resignation, Chihiro slipped the hairtie onto her wrist once more. She couldn’t help but wonder what her friends were doing now. Well, No-face wasn’t hard to guess. He (she?) was probably still at Zeniba’s, cheerfully helping her in the vegetable garden, in the kitchen, and with her various sorts of threadwork. Yubaba’s baby was probably making a terror of his stubborn self, now that he could walk. And Yubaba’s crow-shaped henchman was probably still in his tiny buzzing form, possibly swiping dumplings from the kitchen and dropping out of the air from the sheer weight of his spoils.
Lin was a little harder to guess. She had always been going on about how she would leave the bath house someday and ride off into the sunset on the train which passed by every day. But for some reason, Chihiro got the feeling that Lin didn’t really mind her job that much. She had always spoken about leaving so lightheartedly. Not to mention she seemed perfectly adapted to her surroundings. Chihiro suspected that Lin kind of enjoyed messing with the minds of her somewhat thick colleagues.
And Haku? Chihiro let out a sigh at the thought of him. Though she had really only seen him a handful of times, she had learned to care for the steely-eyed boy very much. Lin may have let herself be fooled by the cold exterior he had maintained, but Haku had proven his true nature to Chihiro from the very beginning. She wasn’t sure how many times he had saved her. Chihiro hoped sincerely that Haku had managed to pursue whatever dreams he may have had. Whatever dreams a river spirit might have. She supposed that Haku had a whole new world to explore, since he didn’t exactly have a home to return to. The Kohaku River, which had been his home and namesake, had been filled in several years ago. Maybe Haku was just flying through the sky, letting himself be buoyed up by the wind, just drifting. Maybe he was even looking for some new river to make his home. If he did, Chihiro hoped that the river would be near by. And that she would find it. Hakku had promised that they would see each other again, and Chihiro wanted to make sure that he kept that promise.
With her chin in her hand, Chihiro looked out at the stars again. During the nights at the bath house, she had sometimes tried to count them, ignoring the futility of the exercise. But she didn’t feel like it tonight. She had learned that just when you had finished counting the stars in one section of the sky, new ones would suddenly appear in it.
Suddenly, a streak of white flashed across the sky. Chihiro looked up in surprise. It hadn’t looked quite right to be a shooting star. She had seen her share of them at the bath house, and wished on each and every one of them that she would succeed in rescuing her parents. Chihiro focused hard on the part of the sky where she had seen the streak of white. There it was again, a little lower, and going into the other direction in a graceful S-shaped arc. Definitely not a shooting star. She waited for a little while, sitting in rapt attention. For a long time, nothing happened. Chihiro almost gave up, but another streak of white flashed by in the corner of her eye, much closer this time. She gripped the windowsill in anticipation, waiting for it to appear again.
She wasn’t disappointed. A long, winding shape which flashed in the moonlight flew another graceful arc in front of her window, and landed in the grass below. Chihiro recognised him immediately.
“Haku!” she cried out happily, and clattered down the stairs of her home and out of the front door. It was a good thing that mum and dad slept so soundly. A large white dragon stood on the front lawn to greet her, its two long whiskers swaying in the breeze, and its slit-pupil green eyes focused on her.
“Haku!” she cried again, and flung herself at the dragon, hugging him around his long muzzle. His head was half as long as she was tall, and his teeth were easily as long as one of her fingers. Warm breath stirred against her stomach, and large yellow eyes closed just above her upper arms.
Chihiro knew that there were tears trickling out of her eyes, but she didn’t care. She felt like she could cling to the dragon’s head for eternity, quietly crying her tears of joy.
The dragon shifted his head slightly, and something soft and rubbery slapped against Chihiro’s stomach. With a start, she let go of the dragon’s head, and saw something small and pink grasped in its teeth. Chihiro dropped to her knees, and the dragon let the object fall into her hands. It was a small sand shoe, the kind which would fit a toddler. Chihiro looked up at the dragon, who nodded his head once.
Chihiro hugged the small shoe, trying to hide the tears which were now streaming down her face. The dragon butted her gently with his head, an anxious look in his green eyes.
“Thank you so much,” she whispered and hugged the dragon around the muzzle again.
The dragon let out a long breath and briefly closed his eyes again before gently pulling his muzzle free from Chihiro’s grip. He took one step back, and his body began to glow a steady white before it started to shrink. When the white light faded, a boy with slanted gray-green eyes and chin-length dark brown hair which gently stirred in the breeze stood in the dragon’s place. He was dressed much in the same way Chihiro had last seen him, with bare feet and pale trousers tied up at his knees, and shirt sleeves tied up at his elbows. He offered Chihiro his hand. Chihiro took it, and was pulled up from her sitting position. The shoe stayed in the grass.
Haku levitated a little off the ground, still holding Chihiro’s hand in his own, an unspoken request in his eyes. Chihiro smiled at him. At that moment, she felt like she could have followed him anywhere, as long as they would be flying hand in hand, riding the wind.