“Wake child,” a great booming voice called to her, and Chihiro’s eyes snapped open. An enormous woman stood before her, taller than Boh and wrapped in a cloak of impenetrable darkness. She bent to peer closer at Chihiro, who immediately bowed and touched her forehead to the floor.
“You show respect, though you do not know me,” the woman said, her voice so loud she could feel it shaking the ground.
“I know you, great Goddess,” Chihiro said quietly, not lifting her head. “You are Izanami, the Goddess of Creation…and Death.”
“Hmm, you learned well in your studies,” Izanami chuckled, straightening. “Arise, child. I wish to speak to you.”
Chihiro stood and found herself falling backwards into a chair that had appeared from nowhere. The Goddess sat as well, her cloak forming itself into a great armchair beneath her.
“I will not be keeping you,” the Goddess said, much to Chihiro’s shock. “A price was paid by one who truly loves you. I am merely keeping you long enough to make him sweat.” The Goddess laughed and Chihiro resisted the urge to cover her ears at the volume. “You will return whole and healthy, unlike how you left. I will not see you again, my child. Use this gift well. Now I must send you back, before the twin witches settle their differences and come down to retrieve you themselves.” Chihiro saw the Goddess shudder and wondered how powerful Zeneba and Yubaba really were. Before she could question Izanami, the Goddess waved farewell and Chihiro felt the blackness close around her again.
“How much longer will Mother Izanami be keeping her?” Yubaba’s voice cut through the black and pulled Chihiro forward towards the light. “Zeneba, get your coat. I am through playing games.”
“Mother?!” she heard Lin sputter.
“Yes, but that is not a secret you should go blabbing,” Zeneba told her sternly. “In fact, that information shall never leave this room.” Chihiro heard a sound like crackling electricity and a small shriek from Lin. “Understood?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Lin replied, sounding very small and cowed.
“Kohaku, what do you think you are doing?” Yubaba yelled. “You are not going with us. You are no longer useful in any way. Stay here and watch her.”
“I cannot sit and do nothing!”
“I don’t care.”
“No Face, you are not coming either,” Zeneba said in a no nonsense tone.
“Oh!” Zeneba exclaimed and Chihiro heard many footsteps. “I think she’s coming back!”
Chihiro forced her eyes open, her eyelids feeling heavy as boulders. The faces of her loved ones swam into focus and as one broke into wide grins.
“Thank you, Goddess!” Lin crowed, collapsing to her knees and bursting into sobs. Boh patted her back awkwardly, trying not to knock her over with his strength. Little Yubaba fluttered above her head, whistling as loud as its little lungs could. No Face was weaving back and forth in some sort of odd dance. Zeneba sat in her rocking chair, a satisfied smile on her face, her sister standing beside her seemingly torn between happiness and annoyance.
One person stood apart from the rest. He was taller than she remembered, with broader shoulders and lean muscles, with hair that brushed the top of his hips. He stood awkwardly in the corner, watching her with eyes full of relief, sadness, and a tiny gleam of hope.
“Would someone please explain what happened?” she asked desperately, still staring at Kohaku.
It was Lin who answered. “Dragon boy traded his magic and his god-hood to Izanami in exchange for your life. You now share his immortality and won’t ever sicken and die again.”
“That was what he was doing when he left,” Boh continued softly. “Kamaji found the answer and sent Kohaku to the Underworld to make a deal with the Goddess. He wasn’t abandoning you after all.”
“All right, all of you outside now,” Yubaba ordered. “A conversation needs to happen and it won’t with you all hovering about like a pack of nitwits. Chihiro will still be here when they’re done. Now scoot!” She herded them all outside and slammed the door behind her, leaving Chihiro and Kohaku alone.
“Why?” was all Chihiro could get out, her throat choked with tears that threatened to spill over.
Kohaku remained in his corner, arms crossed over his bare chest. He wouldn’t look her in the eyes, staring at his boots instead.
“You have touched too many people’s lives in this world to be lost so easily,” was all he replied.
Chihiro felt her heart sink. “Oh,” she said. The silence grew thick between them and Chihiro felt the tears stream down her cheeks. She turned her face away so he wouldn’t see them. She cleared her throat, needing to get the words out before he left.
“I waited for you, you know,” she said, and heard him shift against the wall he leaned against. “Not just when I returned here. Every day for ten years I waited. My parents wondered why I never dated and tried to set me up many times. I always said no and devoted myself to my studies instead. When I got sick, I hoped you would finally come. But you never did. Not once. Finally I decided to come to you. Again, you weren’t there. I tried so hard to understand why you wouldn’t come. ‘He’s busy,’ I thought. ‘He’ll come when he can.’ And when you did come…I said terrible things. I am sorry. I didn’t know, I…I’m so sorry,” she said, covering her face with her hands. “Thank you for what you have done. I will do whatever I can to pay you back, though I know nothing will ever make up for your loss. But I hope you will let me try.”
Suddenly warm hands were drawing her own away from her face and she stared into Kohaku’s eyes, her vision blurred with tears.
“I will not let you try,” Kohaku said roughly, sitting down beside her. Chihiro felt as though her despair would overwhelm her and she gasped for air, trying to pull her hands away. His grip only tightened.
“I will not let you try because there is nothing to repay. I would give up anything, even my own life, to save yours. I did not come because I was trying to become strong enough to be worthy of you before meeting you again. You are the most important thing in my meaningless life.”
Chihiro stopped breathing altogether as one of his hands cupped her cheek gently. “Do not ever think for one second that I do not love you,” he whispered softly.
Chihiro gripped the sheets around her legs tightly as his lips ghosted over hers before throwing her arms around him and kissing him with everything she had. One of his hands tangled in her newly regrown hair and the other pulled her into his lap before wrapping around her waist tightly.
It was many minutes before they came up for air and they sat with foreheads touching, panting slightly.
“I love you too,” she whispered and watched his lips form the most beautiful smile she had ever seen.
They would have begun all over again if they hadn’t been interrupted by a loud squeal. Chihiro spun around just in time to see Boh put a hand over Lin’s mouth, though his hand was so large he covered her entire face.
“Have you two been watching through the window this entire time?!” Chihiro yelled at them, and the two had the good sense to look abashed. She felt Kohaku’s chest rumble and looked at him in alarm before realizing he was shaking in silent laughter. She swatted his arm and blushed, crossing her arms.
“I don’t think it’s very funny,” she grumbled. Kohaku, still chuckling, kissed her cheek. Mollified, she wrapped her arms around his waist and buried her face in his chest to hide her blush.
“What will you two do now?” Zeneba asked, busily brewing tea for them all. Kohaku sat against the wall on the bed, Chihiro pulled back against his chest. He had not let her out of his arms for more than a few seconds, and that only to shift the new position. She leaned back and looked at his face.
“I don’t know,” she said and Kohaku shrugged in agreement.
“You can live at the bathhouse,” Yubaba generously offered. “I could use some help running the place until Boh is old enough to take over.”
Chihiro was touched, not knowing the old woman cared so much for her. Lin’s face lit up in excitement at the prospect.
“You could also stay here,” Zeneba added, ignoring her sister’s glare. “There isn’t so much to do, but you two could live in peace in my guest house.” No Face nodded excitedly in agreement.
“Thank you both so much,” Chihiro replied, feeling tears threatening to overwhelm her once again. “I would gladly take you both up on your offers. But first,” she looked at Kohaku and he raised an eyebrow, “I would like to visit my parents and assure them I am all right.” Kohaku smiled and nodded, his grip tightening a little around her waist. She looked back at the sisters. “Then Yubaba, I would gladly help with the bathhouse. And when Boh takes over after you retire, Granny I would love to be your neighbor. Is that acceptable to everyone?”
The room nodded in unison and the sisters each looked pleased. Kohaku buried his face in her hair and she felt a slight pressure as he kissed the top of her head. Chihiro snuggled back against him and sighed.
“So when is the wedding?” Boh asked innocently. Chihiro blinked at him, not knowing how to answer.
“We have all the time in the world to decide when,” Kohaku finally spoke. “Whenever Chihiro wants, is my answer.”
Chihiro smiled, never having felt this happy in her life. She leaned back again and kissed Kohaku softly. “We have all the time in the world,” she whispered.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Alex MilletteWrite a Review