Disclaimer: Shaman King and all its concepts and characters do not belong to me, and I'm just borrowing them so don't sue! I'm not rich anyway, so it ain't worth your time.

Author's Notes: Well, this is my first foray into Shaman King. Rather interesting series if I do say so myself. Haven't seen any manga to it but I've seen the anime (or at least all of the first "season" or whatever, up to "The End" episode). So that's what I'm going on, as usual. I beg everyone's pardon if I don't have all my facts straight. Please enjoy, no flames if I'm too terribly OOC, I'm trying my hardest with my first crack at "directing" the Shaman King cast.

(This little piece takes place sometime during the group's initial stay at Patch Village, soon after they arrive and settle in. Not too many battles, if any at all, have taken place.)

The Story of You and I
by Becky Tailweaver

Asakura Yoh could not sleep.

The night was quiet, save for Manta's soft mumbling and Horohoro's light snores. Yoh could also make out the resting forms of the spirits, arranged comfortably around the room--dim shapes that glowed as only a Shaman could see, light that cast no rays or shadows. All was peaceful and still, no different from any other nights spent in the company of his best friends.

No...it was nothing but his own mind that kept him awake. His thoughts were too heavy; so much weighed on him now, so many burdens he'd never had to carry before. Never wanted to carry. But they were here, and they were his problems now, as unused to that as he was.

Hurtful memories, and the dreams they evoked, left him awake and agitated in a way he'd seldom been in his life. It made it very hard to sleep.

As he stirred, sighing quietly to sit up on the bed, Amidamaru phased into full visibility beside him.

"Gonna go out for a bit," he whispered to his longtime friend and partner, not wanting to alert his sleeping companions as he pulled on some clothes.

"Yoh-dono--?" the ancient samurai spirit said softly.

"Alone," Yoh replied, already knowing what Amidamaru was going to ask. "Gotta think. Don't worry, I won't go too far. Keep an eye on things here for me, will you?"

"Hai, Yoh-dono..." Amidamaru looked distinctly unhappy about allowing his Shaman to wander out alone in such a place as this, but offered no protest upon seeing the look on the young teen's face. The samurai ghost drifted back into near-invisibility and hovered silently over the bed, as Yoh scooped up his sandals and tiptoed out the door.

Outside, he strolled along the silent cobblestone walk, hands jammed in his pockets and his eyes dully tracing the ground in front of him. But even the breezy streets and cool buildings of Patch Village proved too stifling for his tastes tonight, so his steps began to trace toward the passage upward--the narrow blue-lit cave that Anna and the others had followed to arrive in the village.

This route seemed much shorter than the one he had taken on the way in.

Finally, as he reached the surface, he could see the glimmer of stars in the night sky, between the ruins and above the canyon walls. He was pulled irresistably toward the short, rocky path that led to the rim of the canyon and the expanse of desert above.

Here, at last, it was only him and the sky. Earth underfoot, stars overhead, shining so brightly it was almost as if he could reach out and touch them. He could almost touch them, and feel their warmth, let it flow through him and help him forget his problems--problems he wished he could just let go of, let them work themselves out the way he knew they really wouldn't...

He had never wanted problems in his life. Problems always hurt, and he had had enough in his lifetime of hurting silently in places no one could see. Problems either hurt him, or hurt others, but whenever he got involved it always got worse for him.

With a hefty sigh, he sat back against a rock, sliding to the ground to clutch his knees up to his chin and stare dully at the rocky sand.

It had always been better to do nothing, to say nothing, to think nothing...just let it blow over and go by. Standing against the wind only got him hurt, and he just wanted to be happy, and wanted everyone else to be happy with him.

But this wasn't like a gang of teasing classmates, or the cruel whispers of neighbors back home, or a piece of undone homework, or a day wasted on staring at the clouds and listening to music...this wasn't the kind of thing he could laugh off.

He might tell his friends it would all work out, would all be okay. They all worried so much, they seemed like they needed to hear it. Even if it wasn't always what he really thought.

They all seemed to look to him for everything. "Leader," they called him. When he was the one who didn't really want to do anything...but if he stopped smiling and laughing and saying "It'll all work out!" then everyone else would start to break down.

He'd seen it before, for a few moments, if he ever let it slip. His friends would begin to crumble. As if he were somehow at their center.

Him, Asakura Yoh, who at this point thought he should be the last person they looked to. He was evasive and ignorant and lazy...he had more spirits for friends than living people...he was the younger twin brother of the most dangerous enemy they'd ever come across in all their travels...


Upon first meeting the other boy, a living, breathing mirror image of himself, Yoh had begun to feel the burdens of troubling thoughts. How to deal with this nigh-invincible threat, how to protect his friends, how he could ever, ever make it to Shaman King with an opponent like that...

Then to find out that this new nemesis was far more ancient and deadly than he had imagined, and that the strange, identical boy was out for blood and would stop at nothing...Yoh had begun to realize just how deep his problems ran. So deep he could no longer afford to sit idly by and wait for the title of Shaman King to fall into his hands.

Learning that his worst enemy was truly his own twin had only driven the final blade home, piercing through the last vestiges of self-delusion that had allowed him to shrug it all off before.

Hao. Asakura Hao, if he could be so bold as to honor his brother with that family name. The source of so much of this trouble, above and beyond his training, the spirits, Anna, his friends' problems. And this, even requiring that his father be involved, was far beyond anything he'd ever faced before.

Somehow, he guessed that this might go far beyond even the Shaman King...or even the Great Spirit itself.

And Hao was at the core of it, powerful and dangerous, killing mercilessly, obstructing them and helping them at the same time, leaving Yoh so constantly angry and confused that his facade of lazy carelessness had worn very thin the past few days.

"You couldn't sleep either, hm?"

The soft tones of a voice so similar to his own made him startle badly, his head jerking up as his eyes focussed wildly on the slim figure standing not three meters away from him, cloaked in starlight and dim white fabric, long hair a shadow around his face.


His voice was a rasp of a whisper, something indefinable--not a snarl of hatred, nor a hiss of fear, nor a tone of welcome. It was a sound of uncertainty.

"Good evening, Ototo," said his elder twin brother, his expression just as calm and unreadable as it always was. The black eyes bored into him like dark lasers, freezing him to the spot; he couldn't even move to scramble to his feet--he couldn't even speak, and began to wish earnestly that he hadn't told Amidamaru to stay behind...

"For goodness' sake, don't look at me like that," Hao spoke again, almost startling him. "I'm not going to eat you."

Yoh swallowed hard and finally managed to get his voice to work. "Not yet you mean."

"You miss the point entirely, Ototo," Hao replied almost amusedly, settling himself on the low rock across from the one Yoh sat against. "And even when it comes to that, I most certainly will not 'eat you.' There's much more to it than that."

Yoh only frowned, staying in a tense little ball against his rock.

"You needn't worry," Hao stated, a tiny bit more gently this time. "I'm alone, just as you are. Spirit of Fire is far from here, guarding our camp. You have nothing to fear from me tonight."

I have everything to fear from you! Yoh wanted to shout--but he said nothing, remaining utterly silent.

And that silence remained for a long time, as Yoh stared at the sand by his feet, and Hao watched him with a depthless dark-eyed stare. It almost seemed as thought the night itself had stopped to listen with bated breath.

"I wonder," Hao began again, even more softly, "if we two are awake this night for the same reason."

Not bloody likely. But still, Yoh said nothing.

"Sometimes..." Hao leaned back on his hands on the cool surface of the stone, staring up at the glittering stars. "...I lie awake at night, long after the others have gone to sleep...and I worry about my little brother."

Yoh glanced up, eyes going a bit wide.

"Does that surprise you?" Hao asked with a soft chuckle. "I suppose it would. I am, after all, your cold, heartless, hated enemy. To think that I might have any feelings for you--feh, the very idea!"

There was muted sarcasm in his brother's voice that almost made Yoh's lips twitch into a smile--almost.

"It's true, though," Hao went on, after a moment. "I think about you often--what you're doing, where you're traveling, how strong you've grown, what you've learned..."

"So you can know when it's time to make it all disappear, right?" Yoh interjected suddenly, his voice just as soft as his twin's but somehow more cutting. "Why are you telling me this? What do I matter to you, except as that 'part of you' you said you wanted to take back? You're just waiting until you do whatever you're going to do to me. If I'm nothing to you but a lost shoe you've been looking for--"

"It's nothing so simple as that," his brother stated suddenly, his eyes once again piercing Yoh's and sending him into silence. "There are many factors...too many to explain...suffice to say, if there were another way, I wouldn't do this to you..."

Yoh's brows drew down into a scowl, almost a hurt expression.

"I'm not lying, Ototo," Hao said, in reply to that look. His face was set in utter seriousness. "This may come as a shock to you, but you...mean something to me, probably more than anyone else I've ever known. Considering my life...my lives...that's saying a lot. I've had allies, companions...a few I've even called 'friends'...but no one like you--even if it may seem to you as though we've only recently met." Hao's expression softened slightly. "I know what you think of me. I also know what you think I think of you. I know your feelings better than you realize."

Yoh looked down, arms tightening about his knees, suddenly feeling as though his brother could read his mind through his depthless black gaze. "If you care, you have a strange way of showing it," he murmured, almost inaudible.

"I suppose you're right," Hao replied, his features morphing back to their usual faint, condescending amusement. "Would you believe I don't think of you as some shard of myself to reclaim? That I don't see you as a tool or a battery or a 'lost shoe?' You're not, you know."

Yoh glanced at him, just for an instant.

"You're not just my lost other half," Hao clarified. "You're my brother, and that means something to me. Would you believe that?"

Yoh's shoulders hunched in something that was half shrug, half defensive curl. He did not respond, his eyes still pinned to the rocky sand at his feet.

"Well...then..." Hao sat back on his rock, gazing up at the stars as he spoke softly. "Will you let me tell you a story?"

Yoh glanced up at him through dark strands of hair, and the elder twin took his silence as acquiescence and continued.

"Once upon a time..." Hao chuckled shortly as he began, then shook his head. "No, that's silly. This story actually begins almost fourteen years ago. One night, back then, the seed of a man and a woman came together and created life..."

Hao felt his younger brother watching him now, so he let his gaze fall from the heavens to meet the two black stars staring back at him. "Even you should know what happens then. Even as the seed and energy of the man and woman combine to form what will become a body, that same energy calls out to the Great Spirit to be filled with a soul. Each life has a voice, and the Asakura family sings a particularly strident song."

Yoh was so silent, it seemed as if he'd turned to stone. The only hint of life from him was the faintest sound of his breathing.

For some reason, Hao found that he could no longer meet his little brother's eyes. So he stared out across the empty desert, fixing his gaze on nothing. "Hearing this beckoning melody, the Great Spirit sent a soul to the new life. But another soul...an old soul...was also following the call of the new life. It arrived in the woman's womb too late, and found that the other soul had gotten there first."

There was still no reply from Yoh, so Hao continued, his tone as soft as ever.

"The old soul was not surprised. It had expected this, so it was already prepared to push the other soul aside, just as it had done before, to cut the new soul's ties with life and send it into Death before it had even drawn first breath. Before its body had even had the chance to grow from one cell into two."

Hao took a deep breath and went on, unable to find the will to glance in Yoh's direction. "The old soul was going to sever that other soul...a new soul, a very new soul...so new and innocent, it bore no taint from the cycles of earthly life...so freshly birthed from the Great Spirit that it glowed with vibrance...and the old soul intended to destroy it, but..." He paused, just barely. "That newborn soul fought back."

At long last, there was a short intake of breath from Yoh, almost inaudible. Hao pressed on.

"With all the innocent fury of a tiger cub resisting death, the new soul resisted the old soul's attack, and somehow even pushed back against it. The old soul was surprised that something so small could turn it back. The new soul fought so fiercely and burned so bright that although the old soul was able to force its way in...it couldn't push the newborn soul out." Hao's mouth quirked, just a little. "It was the first time--the very first time--that the old soul had lost a spirit-battle on its own terms."

Yoh's eyes were on him now, he could feel it. And his younger brother's head was raised, fully facing him.

"Losing that fight...risked the old soul's existence," Hao went on, a little more slowly. "The body did not belong to it, and it would eventually run out of power and be forced out, into oblivion. Even the new soul might have died. But...somehow...the new soul pushed differently. Not away, but simply...apart. And the force of the battle...and the new soul's will...caused the body to break instead of the souls. Over the course of the fight, the embryo finally managed to divide into two cells. And since it was unable to contain the power of the conflict, that's when it split--no longer one body, but two. Identical twins."

At long last, Yoh spoke--but it was still soundless, barely a breath, a single molding of his lips around one silent word. "...twins..."

"Twins," Hao replied with the faintest nod. "Two separate bodies, two separate souls. Two people, not one...and the old soul had never planned on this. But by then, the old soul was so exhausted by the battle that it could do nothing but rest for a long time after that." He glanced at Yoh once again--a short glance, just a flick of his eyes. "But even when it could...it always remembered what the new soul had done, and it could not find the desire to harm its...its brother."

Yoh's expression came to life, just a little, changing slightly from the empty, hurt-filled stare it had been.

"There," Hao finished. "Therein is the story of you and I, Ototo. The story of an old soul and a new one, of a body that should have been only one person except that one soul was selfish and the other was too damn stubborn to give up."

There was a sound that might have been a snorted laugh from Yoh, but it was so quiet even Hao wasn't sure. So he sighed. "It may seem like such a small thing to you, just to cause one simple cell to divide. Perhaps it belittles the power of that battle to phrase it that way...but it wasn't a physical contest, not in the way you might think. And the more it was fought, the more I...the more the old soul knew that this would eventually be his greatest nemesis." And now, he snorted himself. "Sharing living space with your worst enemy. Try rooming with me for nine months and see how you feel."

"It might not be so bad...if..."

Yoh's voice actually made him jump, soft as it was--but so unexpected that he caught his breath. Then he smiled faintly. "No, it wasn't so bad," he replied, almost feeling startled at the gentle expression on his younger brother's face. "Do you believe me now, Ototo? You--before you even realized it--had the strength to resist my power and will...even if I was at bad odds, being without a body and ki of my own at the time. But...instead of casting me out, you made it so we could both coexist..."

Hao began to wonder why Yoh was no longer so hollow-looking. "So...perhaps what I'm doing really is theft," he acknowledged, "taking you into myself, along with your half of the power that I would have had...should have had..." Hao looked away again, finding the dark depths of Yoh's eyes somehow too painful to gaze into. "But it has to be done. Otherwise..."

Yoh did not ask what "otherwise" was. He didn't even change his expression. Gone were the shadows; in their place was the Asakura Yoh that everyone knew, quiet and unperturbed, gentle and sweet-natured. And that selfsame nature shone out through his dark eyes with a kind of quiet understanding that Hao had not seen in even the most loyal of his subordinates. As if the minutes-younger boy had come to some realization through Hao's admission...

"But...Ototo, it doesn't have to be like that," Hao spoke up, once again meeting his brother's eyes, his voice almost hurried, even for him. "If we could do it together...if you don't fight me this time...I wouldn't have to push you out. You wouldn't have to be gone..."

Yoh actually smiled, faintly.

Hao looked down again. "I don't really...want to destroy you. I never expected what my actions would lead to...that if I pushed too hard, you would push back and it would happen like that. And even when I did regain the strength to destroy you--you could have been stillborn--I didn't. By then...I didn't want to." The next words he spoke were much softer. "I've never had a brother before. Never...in any life. And then I spent nine months entering this life right beside a brother who was already forgiving me for what I'd almost done..."

...there was never anyone who cared so much...who welcomed me even after what I did...who was only a touch away for so long...who could send such love with only the brush of one mind on another...

And he could feel that same, faintly-familiar forgiveness radiating from Yoh once again...

"I'd rather it not come to that," Hao went on, recovering the strength of his voice after he cleared his throat. "If you don't fight me...it would be me and you. Together. Powerful. Even more so, with two souls in one. We could make the world we both know we want."

Yoh's smile grew a little bit, even as his kind eyes seemed depthless. In that moment, the soul behind those eyes seemed millennia older than Hao's own. "Thanks for the offer," his younger brother replied quietly. "But I don't think we both want the same world. Maybe we do in theory, but we have a lot different ways of getting there. I am who I am...and I think I'd like to stay that way."

The last of his hopes crumbling, Hao gazed at him silently even as the younger twin grinned in his usual way. There was no malice in that smile, nor resentment--only gratitude at Hao's "kind" offer, and faint sadness that it could not be resolved so easily. With a deep breath, he closed his eyes. "You're determined, then."

"'Fraid so."

"You cannot win." Black eyes opened again to stare into the identical pair across from him.

"Can't ever be sure about that." Yoh smiled again. "You just said so yourself, I won the first time."

"This and that are different." Hao looked away. "Now I have a body of my own, and Chakra of my own. And you were the one to see to that."

"I was, wasn't I?" Yoh looked faintly curious himself, as well as a bit chagrined. "Can't say I begrudge you half of my cell, though..."

Hao gazed at him a bit incredulously, one brow raised. "You don't? If I hadn't come, the power bequeathed by the Asakura family would not have been divided in two. You would be one of the most powerful Shamans alive right now--if not the most powerful."

"I don't know if I'd really want that," Yoh responded. "I'm strong enough now, I think. Strong enough to protect my friends." His pleasant look faltered a bit, revealing the faintest of shadows beneath. "Being too strong...makes people afraid of you. It drives them away. When you're strong enough not to need friends...to me, that's too strong, and I don't want that."

Like me, you mean... "I've never depended on anyone," Hao whispered. "There's too much risk. I have to be strong enough for myself." There's no one I could trust, anyway. They all have the same look in their eyes; either hatred, or fear--nothing else. Except Yoh...

Yoh smiled again, deeper this time. "I like having friends to lean on, who need me too. We help each other, not because we're weak, but because we're stronger than we would be alone."

"Are you still so weak you have to rely on so many others?" Hao snorted. "Yet you still resist my offer, when you and I would be stronger as one?"

"It's not the same," Yoh replied, brow furrowing in thoughtful concentration. "That isn't me helping you. That's you taking me and making me help you. That's not friendship...it's slavery."

Or murder, Hao's heart echoed at him, at the thought of how he'd have to extinguish his little brother's brilliant soul.

"Y'know...it's true, part of what you said. It doesn't have to be this way," Yoh offered thoughtfully, leaning forward a bit. "You don't have to take me and we don't have to fight. I didn't even know I had a brother until just recently, and...I-I sort of wanted to find out what it's like."

Hao glanced at him, memories evoked strongly by the sense of his brother's kindness. He could feel Yoh reaching out, hesitant and earnest--reaching for something that had been there between them only once, long ago, before they had taken first breath and opened their eyes to a world already prepared to destroy them both. All because of me, he remembered.

"Perhaps we would have been...happy," he admitted. "Maybe if I'd gone about things the conventional way and entered this cycle without my memories intact. Or even if our family had not set themselves to kill us on the very eve of our birth."

Yoh's expression quieted a little, losing some of its animation.

"I have always wanted to remake the world, Ototo," Hao explained quietly. "A world of Shamans, a world of peace and strength. And ever since I first became your brother, my motives weren't entirely selfish--I wanted to make that world for you, too. A gentle soul like yours...doesn't deserve what this cruel, current world has already put you through. The way those humans treated you..."

"Only because they don't understand," Yoh said softly. "If they knew, they wouldn't be so afraid. And...it's people like you, making them more afraid..." He met Hao's eyes at last, deep and piercing and openly curious. "And if you wanted to make a new world for me, why do I have to die to create it?"

Hao nearly opened his mouth, then shut it again and looked down. For a while, he said nothing, his teeth clenched. "There are things...too many things...too much to explain. I must have the power to control the Great Spirit...one way or another..."

"I want to see a world like that, too," Yoh told his brother calmly, drawing a surprised glance. "A world that's full of peace, where everybody understands everybody else, and there's no fighting or hate or selfishness. But...I can't do that by destroying a whole world full of people who are living their lives right now. That'd make me just as hateful and selfish as they are."

Hao's breath caught inaudibly.

"And besides, not all of them are bad people," Yoh went on. "Like Manta--you've met Manta. He's not a Shaman, and he's nice. And some of his friends at school--they think I'm a bit weird," he admitted with a laugh, "but they're nice too, and sometimes they have lunch with us."

"You're so simple-minded," Hao stated, but his tone was without rancor and his mouth was almost quirked into the faintest of smiles.

"It gives me a headache to think about things too much," Yoh said with another short chuckle. "That's part of why I was awake tonight." He sobered then, his hand dropping from behind his head. "I think maybe I was a little worried about you, too. I found out you're my brother, and I keep thinking that...somehow you and I might...well..."

Hao felt sudden, unfamiliar guilt yet again--to cause his younger twin to be so angry and terrified of him, yet to know that Yoh was for some reason still trying to reach out to him... "If there was any other way, Ototo," he whispered, "I wouldn't harm you."

"Maybe there is," Yoh retorted, firmly and without malice, "and you just don't know it."

"Do you think I haven't tried to find one?" Hao asked, almost sadly. "And still, you're determined to fight me, to make this as painful as it can be before you finally lose..."

"I am who I am," Yoh replied, resolved. "There's always a better way--everything works out, if you let it. But I can't let you keep hurting people...even if I might be the only one who can stop you. Even if I can't stop you...I'm still going to try. When you're doing things like this you're hurting yourself too, you know!"

Hao's gaze snapped up to his brother's. Again, he saw the flicker of fire and sensed the determination that burned bright within that strong young soul. Again, he knew that soul was resisting him--pushing him back from his dark goals yet again...trying to find an alternative so that they could both live...

"There is a way to make a new world," Yoh went on, sitting up a lot more against his rock. "Without destroying this world, and all the people living happily right now. Just because we haven't found it yet doesn't mean it isn't there." His jaw set itself almost defiantly. "I won't give up. I'm going to keep trying, no matter what."

Hao let out a deep breath. "If you could just..."

"You could come with me," Yoh blurted suddenly, standing up so quickly that even Hao was startled. "I'll help you find a way--what you're looking for, whatever it is, I could help you, and we could do it together without hurting anyone..."

Hao snorted, a brief, soft laugh of appreciation. "You're so simple-minded. But I guess that's just one of the things I like about you, Ototo."


The elder twin rose to his feet as well, facing Yoh over the brief patch of sand between them. "You're sweet and naive, Asakura Yoh. And while I appreciate your notions, I still think they're idealistic--and unrealistic. A kind heart like yours deserves a better world...and I intend to make one." He frowned at the younger boy. "Even as strong as you've become, you're still nothing compared to me because you hobble yourself with pitiful sentimentality. You'll never be able to defeat me. You put too much faith in the hope of others' good nature, and that will be your downfall."

"Am I wrong to hope to have faith in you?" Yoh asked quietly.

"Perhaps..." Hao whispered. His gaze softened, ever so little. "And perhaps, in the end, you may be right. Maybe you can win...and I will be proven wrong. But until then, I will keep doing what I know is right."

"So will I," Yoh replied, with a definite tone of promise.

"I wouldn't have it any other way," Hao responded with a sad but genuine smile. "You wouldn't be my little brother if you didn't." He almost took a step forward, almost reached out. "I will not be defeated, you know. You can't win. My offer still stands...until the end, Ototo."

Yoh smiled gently. "So does mine, Hao-nii."

Hao's breath caught audibly at the name Yoh gave him, and beneath his robes his hands clenched into fists. He swallowed hard, turning away to face the empty desert--preparing to begin his brief trek back to his camp. "Good night, Asakura Yoh."

"G'night," Yoh replied as Hao began to walk away. "And thanks...for the talk."

Yoh caught a hint of a wave in the flick of a hand Hao tossed over his shoulder. Finding himself smiling a little, Yoh tucked his hands in his pockets and turned to make his own way back. It surprised him how much lighter he felt; just a while ago he'd been so depressed he'd been unable to sleep. Now...how did a heart-to-heart with his brother/enemy change that feeling?

He was still angry with Hao, with his cruelty and his methods...but maybe the change in his own feelings had something to do with how a little of his fear had gone away. Or maybe knowing that his brother cared, even a little--or maybe more than a little--had made him feel a bit more worth. Maybe just understanding a little bit more of what went on inside Hao...or maybe just being able to share a little with someone. Someone who seemed to understand. Even if Hao had been the one doing most of the sharing.

Maybe Hao felt a little bit the same way. Maybe Hao had needed that talk too. Old soul or not, everybody gets lonely and scared now and then. Everybody hurts. Everybody needs a smile, a listening ear, a friend.

Hao needed those things just as much as he did. Probably even more, since Hao didn't have any real friends of his own.

As he headed back down the path into Patch Village, Yoh smiled up at the stars above. From now on, facing Hao wasn't going to be as frightening as it had been before. It would still be hard, and even still scary, but now he had even more reason to win. Now he knew why he had to defeat Hao, become the Shaman King, and change the world.

He was doing this to save his brother, too.


* * *