I dedicate this oneshot to the newest member of the We Adore Horo/Tamao Society…Takari-san. Wo ai ni, tomodachi! H/T forever!

This is the side story of Horo and Tamao in the Anna and the King fic. I was going to release it earlier, but juggling fics and sites at the same time with school is horribly killing me.

Enjoy!

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Horo Horo, already a shaman trainee at age five, didn't fully comprehend yet why he had to move to the Asakura House, away from his family and his little sister, Pirika. All in his mind was his father's reminder for him to serve the future shaman king to the best of his abilities.

Upon arrival in the grand house, he was immediately acquainted with the supposedly future shaman king, Asakura Yoh. He immediately liked the boy, especially when Yoh asked if he could play hide-and-seek with him after every practice. However, his first night in the Asakura House was still a sad one, especially when he was alone in his room and everything had quieted down already. It was only he and his thoughts that were up.

He stood up and left the bedroom. He looked up at the moonless night sky, suddenly wanting to cry. He clenched his fists. Boys do not cry.

"Dakedo…I miss them so…"he whispered.

He heard a sob. Did it come from him? Impossible! He touched his cheek just to make sure. No, it was still dry. He wasn't crying. Then who…?

Another sob. He stood up, alert. It could be a spirit who was mourning for her untimely death. At his age, he had already accepted the fact that not only living people inhabit this world.

But to his surprise, he found a young little girl with plentiful pink hair sitting by the steps of the house, face buried on her tucked knees. She looked very much alive to him, so he decided to take a step towards her.

She looked up, alert too. Upon seeing the slightly tall, awkward blue-haired boy peering at her curiously, she bravely wiped her tears away with her small, delicate hands.

"You're crying?" he asked at last.

"O-Of course not!" she said, rubbing her eyes again. "S-Something just got stuck in my eye."

He sat down beside her. "Lemme take a look at it. Maybe I can help take it off."

She looked at him with wide eyes, all flushed. "Iie…"

At his young age, he still didn't understand what he said meant, but she was a bit more mature than her, and knew that boys weren't suppose to be this intimately close to girls. It was wrong, simply because it was improper.

He looked at her again, puzzled. "But it must be hurting already…"

"I was lying," she said softly. "A-Actually…I'm scared."

"Why? Ghosts are friends," he said.

"Iie. I'm scared of…tomorrow," she confided at last. "I hope the sun never rises anymore."

"But why? You won't be able to watch Ultraman anymore," he reminded her, remembering his super cool hero he sees whenever he comes to the city with his father to buy supplies for the tribe every Sunday.

"I don't care," she said softly. "I want to go back to Okaa-san already. I miss her already."

"You're going to stay here too?" he asked excitedly.

:H-Hai…" She played with the hem of her skirt. "I was sent here to train as a maid in the Asakura House. Okaa-san tells me that I must be proud if I do get to work with this family."

"Yes! They're very kind," he agreed. "And very strong. I often hear my father tell me about the adventures of the Asakuras…really exciting." He rubbed his cheek, thinking of things that could cheer the girl up. "Oh, and have you met Master Yoh already?"

She shook her head slowly.

He grinned. "You will like him, I'm sure of that. He is really kind. Do you know that he is going to be the shaman king someday?"

"H-Hontou?" she asked softly.

"You better go back to sleep. You have to wake up early- we have to be with Master Yoh to keep him company." He stood up and held his hand out to her. "Here."

She nodded and took his hand trustingly.

"My name is Horo Horo. What's yours?"

"Tamao. Tamao Tamamura."

"OK," he grinned. "Tamao."

When the girl smiled at him, his young heart began to race.

Someday, I'll introduce her to my father.

Two years later…

"I want to go see those fireflies!" sighed six-year-old Tamao as she twisted in her pretty pink and white kimono.

"I told you already, Master Yoh is busy. B-U-S-Y!" snapped Horo Horo, who was talking with the girl as he sat on the windowpane of the girl's bedroom. "I already offered to go with you but…"

"You're just going to make fun of me again," she groaned. "I know how you're secretly laughing at my kimono now."

It was the Girls' Festival, and Tamao was hoping that she could walk with her Master Yoh even for just some minutes to go see the fireflies – long enough to show him proudly her kimono that she stitched herself.

"Not true!" said Horo defensively, unable to keep the smile off his face. At his tender age, he already knew how to admire cute and pretty things, like his friend here clad in a cherryblossom motif kimono. However, he couldn't just tell her that – he had no idea how to start telling her that.

"You're smiling again!" she complained, stomping her feet on the ground. This made him grin even more. Irritated, she threw him her pouch bag. "You're laughing at me again! Good night!"

He stopped grinning. He wanted to run after her and tell her how untrue her accusations were. He wanted to tell her how prettier she looked tonight…dakedo…

His fists clenched. He knew that she wanted such words to come from her dear Master Yoh.

He remembered Tamao and his Master Yoh's first meeting. The way her eyes lit up, especially when he became friendly to her. Ah, but who wouldn't like kind and laidback Master Yoh?

But he was everything Tamao wanted for a prince. She herself said so. That she wanted to be his wife someday.

His eyes saddened. After that, it was only Master Yoh that Tamao kept on talking about. It was irritating him certainly, and there was a time when he was five that he felt angry at his master for taking Tamao's attention away. His anger didn't last long; Yoh offered his hand in apology even if it was he who was at fault. He realized then how impossible his situation was. He couldn't find it in his heart to get mad at Yoh for taking Tamao's affection for himself, because he didn't ask for it. The girl gave it to him willingly.

And he, the one who was really longing for her affection, could only satisfy himself at times when she would shift her attention to him when a) Yoh is not around and; b) He was teasing her deliberately. The former doesn't happen often, so he would resort to doing the latter.

He succeeded; he got her attention. But at the same time, he felt like he was pushing her even farther from him…

…because in Tamao's eyes, Yoh was the hero and he was the villain.

And all he had done was to cherish her secretly from afar…

"Get down from there!" screamed six year old Tamao to the seven year old Horo Horo, who was swinging on the branches of the old tree that night. "I'll tell Master Yohmei that you're killing his tree!"

"Hah! Tattletale!" he yelled. "You just don't know how to climb this, that's why you're acting like that!"

"Maybe so, but at least I'm not doing something wrong!" She crossed her arms thoughtfully. "How does Master Yoh stand your attitude anyway?"

"You wouldn't understand," he said knowingly. "It's a boy thing."

"Is that so?" She stomped her feet on the ground. "I'm telling Master Yohmei that you're the one who's murdering his plants! T-Then you'll get spanked, and you'll-"

"Try doing that and I'll run you over!" he threatened back, showing her his skateboard proudly.

Her eyes welled up with fresh tears. "Y-You are so mean…why can't you be like Master Yoh? He's so kind…"

"Master Yoh, Master Yoh, Master Yoh. Is that all what you know to say?" he snapped. I'm sick and tired of hearing his name from you over and over!"

"That's because he's not mean like you."

"I'm not mean! You are!" he burst out before running away. He then paused and returned, handing Tamao a bottle. "Here."

She looked down at the jar with glowing fireflies inside. Her eyes widened in delight, then returned to him, puzzled.

"These are pretty to look at when you put them someplace really dark," he said not looking at her. "They only come out at night near big trees, so I needed to go here to get them."

"I-It's not my birthday, right?" she said slowly.

"I never said it was," he barked, glad that it was dark, and enough to hide his blush. "If you don't like them, I'll set them free."

"No, I do want them!" she cried.

"Take it then." Horo turned his back on her and continued to run away.

Six years have passed…

"Wahahhahahahhahah!!!! What the hell is this?!!!" laughed thirteen-year-old Horo Horo as Tamao shyly showed him a scarf. "A rag?!!"

"Shut up!" she cried, cheeks flushed.

"I don't think Master Yoh would need this though. He's got lots of rags," he said. He started to fold the blue cloth. "As for me, I really need this so…"

"Don't you dare take it!" she said, swapping it away from his hands. "This is for Master Yoh exclusively."

"But he won't appreciate it," he protested weakly. Well, at least not as much as I would.

"I made this with Master Yoh in mind," she said, putting the cloth back into the bag. She wrapped it lovingly with a pink yarn and handed it to him. "Here. Give this to Master Yoh. Don't tell him that it came from me."

"I don't get it," he said, rubbing his cheek. "You shower Master Yoh with gifts you made yourself yet you don't want him to acknowledge your efforts."

Her cheeks flushed. "B-Because…I don't want him to know. B-Because…he might change his attitude towards me if he knows that I…that I…"

He held his hand up. "I know that part already. You don't need to say it." His heart was battered enough already. He looked at the gift pensively – the product of Tamao's countless sleepless night just to sew it. Lucky Master Yoh. He himself would die a happy man if Tamao gives him at least a string of this scarf.

He looked at her again, a forced grin on his face. "I'll give it."

Her face lit up. "Thanks, Horo Horo!"

He held his hand out to her. "For a fee."

She tipped her chin and looked up at the ceiling, deliberating what to give him in exchange for his courier service. Horo seized the chance to gaze at her sweet, angelic face.

God made angels in heaven blond, in earth, pink.

She looked at him again, clapping her hands. "Apple pie?"

He grinned. "Call!" He headed for the field where Yoh was training again with Master Yohmei.

When she wasn't looking anymore, his face saddened.

She showers Master Yoh with so much affection and he isn't even aware of it, while here I am, practically begging for at least just a second glance from her, but…

He now knew how right the person who said how unfair life was.

"Master Yoh, do you know that Tamao has a crush on you?" he found himself asking his master.

Yoh put his arms behind his head. "Does she know that you have a crush on her?"

He averted his gaze. "She wouldn't be too happy when she learns that."

"Why?" he asked earnestly.

"Because," he said simply, as if that single word was the source of reason for existence itself.

Yoh looked amused. "People are happy when loved."

"Not Tamao," he insisted. "She wouldn't want to know that she is loved by me. She doesn't like me at all."

"Why do you bully her so much anyway?" his master wanted to know.

"Because that's the only way I can think of getting her attention from you," he admitted candidly. "That's the only way I can show how much I care for her. And she wouldn't understand, even if I say it now."

"There is always tomorrow," said Yoh encouragingly. "Don't worry, Horo Horo. Things will work out by themselves. You'll eventually have the guts to tell her what you feel someday…and I'm sure that when that time comes, she will finally understand."

"What did you say?!!" exclaimed Tamao, teary-eyed. Horo had to concentrate on his sandwich just so he wouldn't have to see the pain in the face of the girl he loves.

"That's right," he said in his calmest voice. "Madam Kino has engaged Master Yoh already to her student, Anna Kyouyama." He looked up at her absent-mindedly and immediately knew what a mistake it was.

Her face was crumpled, enough to crumple his heart too. She collapsed weakly on to her chair. "H-How…w-why…"

"T-Tamao…" Awhile ago, he was secretly celebrating because of the turn of events. Now he was free to tell Tamao how he feels about her. But as he watched her wipe a tear away from her eye silently, he suddenly berated himself for being the one to break such news to her. He mentally kicked himself for not being careful with his words, and if only his shaman powers could, he would have turned back the hands of time to erase his cruel words.

Since he couldn't, he did the next best thing – try to comfort her. "I'm here."

She blinked, then giggled. "Oh, Horo Horo! How can you even think of cracking a joke at a time like this?"

"But I wasn't-"

She smiled, eyes shining. "Thanks, Horo."

His heart leaped. Tamao, stop looking at me like that. I might faint.

"Sou! And Master Yoh would never fall for a girl whom he just met. I'm sure I have nothing to fear!" She began to hum happily as Horo's face fell.

My Tamao…are you really that clueless?

"But what if…he does fall in love with her?" asked Horo one afternoon as he and Tamao watched Anna extend Yoh's push-up drills ten minutes longer. "Will you still wait for him?"

The maid shrugged. "I don't know. Check on me after five or ten years."

He looked down on the dirt, chest heavy with frustration. "Do I really have to wait that long?" he muttered under his breath.

"Hmm?" she asked distractedly.

He looked at her intently, then back at the ground. Even if I scream to your face right now that I love you, you wouldn't hear anyway. What's the use of telling you this?

But guess what, Tamao? I'll wait, no matter how long it takes. Maybe I'll have my turn in your heart then.

Fate presented him the chance to do it…

"Are you saying that I'm going to lose to him? Me, the proud Ainu tribesboy Horo Horo? Kami-sama's gift to the land to spread giggly happiness among admiring girls…" He looked at her, rubbing his jaw. "Are you one of them?"

"Dream on." She pressed her hands together. "My heart is for Master Yoh only."

"He's got a fiancée."

"I know. Ms. Anna, however, is too strict. Master Yoh will get tired of her sooner or later."

"I doubt it," said Horo seriously. "There are girls everywhere and around Master Yoh, but Kyouyama Anna is all of them, in her own kickass way. Master Yoh would not get tired of her presence."

Tamao looked down, eyes shaking. This made the boy rub his head. "Don't look so down," said Horo slowly. "You'll find your man…someday."

"When is that 'someday'?"

He shrugged. "I don't know…maybe tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow. Or the days that follow. Perhaps next year, or in your next life. We can't say for sure."

"I can't wait that long!" cried Tamao. "I want a boyfriend already!" She surveyed Horo critically. "Think you fit that bill?"

He choked, then doubled over, laughing.

"I'm serious!!!" she wailed before she could think of what she did.

This made Horo laugh harder.

This annoyed Tamao. "Shut up, or I'll make Ponchi call Ms. Anna to get you started on her post-training exercises!" yelled the maid. The Ainu warrior immediately settled down.

"You don't believe me?" She stood up determinedly. "I'll make you fall in love with me before Master Yoh gets back here."

"Ooh, you really think you can pull that off?" asked Horo, grinning at her under his narrowed eyes. "Let me tell you my records on girls before. Ninety nine percent of it is blemish free. They all lust over me, but they can't touch me."

"Then allow me to be the one percent who doesn't like you." She crossed her arms in front of her chest. "But I'm telling you…I'll still make you fall in love with me." She wasn't thinking of the consequences of what she was saying anymore. All she had in mind was to make the boy eat dust. "You won't stop thinking of me, and you'll keep on dreaming of me, and you'll start seeing me everywhere…"

Horo cupped his chin with his one hand, eyeing her indulgently. "OK, call. You have a week to do that."

Tamao looked beggingly at Anna as the latter sipped her green tea delicately.

"A love potion?" Her bored eyes looked at the pink-haired girl inquiringly. "Are you planning to use it on my Yoh?"

The maid looked down. "N-No. T-This is for Horo Horo." Inwardly, she felt jealous of the person before her. Kyouyama Anna, who doesn't have an ounce of feelings for Asakura Yoh, had the privilege to brand him as hers.

"The blue-haired Ainu loudmouth? What is so fascinating about him?" she asked, a hint of curious amusement in her even voice.

"Nothing. Absolutely nothing."

"Then why do you need a love potion?"

"Long story." Tamao bowed in front of the itako. "Please, have mercy, Ms. Anna! Please make me a love potion! I promise to do anything you want me to do."

"Get up."

"Huh?"

"You told me that you're going to do anything that I ask you to do, didn't you? Get up."

Tamao did as told.

"Go get the ingredients." Anna took a notepad and started to jot down the needed things.

"T-That's all?" She was anticipating the kind of things that Horo Horo and her master went through.

"Do you want more?"

"O-Of course not!" She hurriedly took the list from the itako and hurried out of the house happily.

Horo Horo rested his back against the door, in deep contemplation. He was walking in the hallway when he heard the conversation between the two girls.

So Tamao is going to use a love potion on me, huh?

Let's see if even that can help you.

Tamao had found the herbs, the honey, and the heart of a pig. Now all she needed to do was to pick up the last ingredient.

A piece of hair from Horo Horo's head.

She put her basket down on the kitchen then went to Ryu who was sweeping the yard dutifully. "Have you seen Horo Horo?"

Ryu turned around furiously. "How many times do I have to tell you not to disturb my special training under Ms. Anna-" He stopped when he saw the scared-looking Tamao. Instantly, he grinned. "Tamao-san! How are you? I thought you were Horo Horo."

"Um…fine?" she squeaked. Ryu sure was scary awhile ago!

"Um…are you doing anything tonight?" asked the man shyly. "How about if we go out on a date tonight, huh? Huh?"

Her face turned warm. "Y-You see…"

"Hey!"

Ryu perked up when he saw Anna standing outside, looking at him lethally. He immediately went back to work,

"Did I just see you stop from your work?" she snapped.

"N-No, Ms. Anna!"

"Good, then continue with your work!" She turned to Tamao. "Horo Horo's asleep in his room already, I think."

"Thanks, Ms. Anna!" Tamao hurried towards the bedrooms.

True to the itako's words, the Ainu boy was already fast asleep, snoring loudly even.

Tamao seized the chance to do what she was supposed to do. She carefully tiptoed into the side of the boy and knelt down. He was still asleep. Cautiously, she leaned down towards him, her trembling hand targeting his hair.

When he suddenly moved and moaned. "Pirika…zat yhou?" he said groggily. He suddenly pulled into his arms the shocked Tamao. "Go to sleep with me," he mumbled, hugging her tighter.

She resisted the urge to gasp, especially when he felt how strong and warm his arms were. She looked up and tried to move her free hand towards his hair, but his arms encircling her tiny waist crushed her closer to him.

"Stop moving and start sleeping," he grumbled, eyes still closed. "I want to sleep already."

Her face hit his chest, and within her, she felt electricity running up and down her spine. She had to get out of here! She wiggled out of his arms determinedly, but nothing happened.

No, something did.

Horo Horo opened his eyes.

In his dreamy state, Horo Horo thought he could make out the shocked face of Tamao, but he reminded himself that it was impossible for that to happen. He concluded that he was still dreaming.

And since it was all a dream, he could do anything.

Anything.

"Come here." He pulled her back into his arms and straddled her, on his face a lazy grin. "The cutest eyes I have ever seen…and the softest…" He leaned down towards her.

Tamao panicked when she realized what Horo was about to do. She immediately reached for his hair and plucked a strand out.

"OUUCCCCH!!!!!" Horo Horo snapped out of his dreamy state. He held on his head, wailing.

Tamao looked down on her hand and noticed that along with the strand she plucked out, several more hair strands went along. She wouldn't be too surprised if Horo's hair roots were uprooted with her pull.

It was his fault! He scared me back there! I thought…I thought…

"What's the big idea?" he demanded. "Tamao, what are you doing in my bedroom?" He took his blanket and hugged it to his chest, face contorted in horror. "A-Are you going to rape me? Because you are desperate to make me fall in love with you, you're going to use brute force on me? How could you, taking advantage of my vulnerability when I was sleeping?"

Now Tamao wanted to tear her hair out! "It's not that! It's…it's…"

As he watched the girl twist and grope for words nervously, Horo Horo couldn't help but grin. His hair might never grow again, or his balding process might hasten because of what Tamao did to his scalp, but he didn't care. For one spellbound moment, he felt what it was like to have his beloved in his arms.

He was in seventh heaven.

That night, as he prepared to sleep, he had an unexpected guest…

Horo snapped out from his trance when the door of his bedroom opened, revealing a Tamao dressed in her pajamas, clutching her pillow. She looked at him uncertainly. "A-Am I disturbing you?"

"You already did," he snickered. "You might as well make the most out of it."

She shut the door shyly. "W-Well…I want to ask if…if I can sleep here with you."

To say he was shocked was an understatement. Why would Tamao sleep in his room?

She answered his unvoiced question.  "Ryu is outside my room, waiting for me. There are no other guestrooms available, and I'm too shy to disturb the others who might be sleeping already…."

"So you ran to me?" he asked, pleased that she came to him immediately.

"Well, it is your fault why Ryu is suddenly chasing me around," she said, hands on her hips.

He shrugged. "Well, if you didn't make a love potion-"

Her pillow slammed on his face. "Shut up!" she wailed, her face flushed. "How should I know that you know already that it is a love potion!"

"Meeeeh?" He gestured to himself innocently.

"Yes, you! Ms. Anna said that she sensed that you know about the potion that's why you gave Ryu some of it."

He laughed. "Well, Ryu was thirsty."

"Nevertheless, you should have told me earlier, so I wouldn't look like a fool," she said.

"You were cheating," he reminded her. "Love potion is not part of the one week operation you dared to undertake. You have to make me fall in love with you in the most natural way!"

"Hmp! Did you really drink the potion?" she asked curiously.

He grinned and nodded. "You saw me. I drank it."

"B-But why is it not affecting you?" she asked.

"Don't ask me," he said, shrugging. His eyes averted hers. "Let's go to sleep."

Tamao was about to lie down Pirika's bed when he called her.

"Don't try anything funny, Tamao. If you try to rape me again-"

Her pillow found its way to Horo Horo's face again.

Ten minutes later, Horo Horo realized that it was harder for him to sleep. He looked at the girl near him then sighed. "Tamao? Still awake?"

He heard a muffled yes.

He looked at the ceiling. "I think it's one of those nights when amnesia suddenly attacks me."

"It's insomnia," she corrected.

"Amnesia, insomnia. Who cares, as long as the both end in –sia?" Horo turned to face her, whose back was facing him. "Let's chat."

"What do you want to talk about?"

"Anything. Like…when is Master Yoh coming back?"

"Tomorrow evening. However, I can't go there to meet him. I'm too shy to ask Master Yohmei if I can tag along when I meet him. Ms. Anna, more so."

"Then you'll just have to wait for him here."

"Yeah."

Horo cleared his throat. "M-Maybe you should give Master Yoh up already."

He heard her sigh.

"He doesn't really know how much you love him," he continued slowly. "W-Why don't you just save that love for someone who'll appreciate it."

"Easier said than done," she said, sighing deeply again. "All my life, I had loved him from afar…"

"That's because all you see is Master Yoh. You don't pay attention to the other people around you."

"What are you talking about? There are no other people!" She turned to him, eyes glistening with tears. "Who would fall in love with me? A mere trying-hard prophetess. I'm not even as strong and as calm as Ms. Anna, or as wise as Madam Kino. I'm not as brave as your sister. And I even had to resort to love potions just so one man could fall in love with me. Who would love me then?"

"Tamao…" He clenched his fists. "Stop crying, you idiot!"

She flinched.

"You know what, the only thing I want to do now is to give you my sight, just so you can see how truly special you are!" he yelled.

A tear streaked down her cheek. "Horo Horo…"

"You may not be like those said people, and sometimes you may be hopeless, but that's because you are you. I…we love you for who you are." Horo Horo smiled at her. "Tamao, you're really special. You're kind, although you're not kind to me," he said ruefully. "But that's beside the fact. You are lovable in your own way, so…so… " He blushed faintly. "Master Yoh is too dense sometimes, but you must not think that it's the end of the world. There are other people that love you, if you will only look around."

She sniffed. "You're nice…that sounds good…Are you sure you're Horo Horo?"

"Yup, the one and only."

"Thanks. If you're always like this…you can make any girl fall for you."

He merely smiled at her, but inside, he felt his heart race. "Go to sleep, Tamao. You need it."

"Yes."

He looked back at Tamao, who was fast asleep already. He crawled towards her and tucked her in, blanketing her.

"The love potion didn't work," he said to the sleeping girl. "Because I had been loving you since long ago." He leaned down on her and planted a light kiss on her hair, then crawled back to his bed.

Secrets though, cannot stay forever hidden.

"Tamao!" called Horo Horo excitedly.

The maid looked up. "What is it?" She prepared herself mentally for the tricks that the Ainu joker might pull on her.

Instead, he just grinned. "What I'm going to tell you will make you so happy that you might even kiss me."

She rolled her eyes. "Oh yeah? OK then, rock my world."

"I made Master Yohmei agree to take you with him and Anna when they meet Master Yoh!" he announced.

Her eyes widened, then looked at him, asking if he was serious. When he nodded, she threw her arms around him happily. "Ah, Horo! Arigatou!!! Domo arigatou!!! You made me so very happy!"

"I know," he agreed, and she didn't see his eyes sadden.

She pulled away from him when she remembered who she was hugging, but she didn't let go of his hands. "You may sometimes be an annoying jerk who lives to exasperate me, but guess what, you can actually be very cool."

"Yeah." He forced a grand smile. "I know that you'll say that. I'm just glad you're happy."

She frowned. "You sound different."

He turned his back on her. "You're imagining things. Well, I gotta go. Anna will kick my arse if I don't get back to my post-training exercises." He started to run off, then turned to her again. "Tamao, you owe me a kiss."

Thinking he was kidding, she nodded cheerfully.

Horo Horo was practicing his oversoul repeatedly in the bamboo-covered area of the Asakura yard.

That is how Manta saw the Ainu boy that late afternoon. "Horo Horo!"

He stopped. "Manta?"

"So why are you training when Anna is not forcing you to do so?" asked the small boy curiously.

"I…I need something to do," said Horo, averting his eyes.

"Why don't you just wait for him in the house? Yoh-kun will be home in just a few more hours."

He hugged his skateboard. "Maybe later."

Realization dawned on the dwarf's eyes, but he continued to interrogate Horo innocently. "Besides, don't you want to see Tamao and the others off?" he asked.

Horo Horo placed his arms behind his head and lied on the grassy field. "They're grown-ups already. They can walk without my help."

"Yeah."

Silence.

"Well, I better go back to my practice." Horo jumped up from his position. "Just tell Tamao to take care on her way and greet Master Yoh for me."

Manta stood up too. "Will do." He raised a brow as Horo fused Kururu into his skateboard. "By the way, by any chance, do you have any feelings for Tamao?"

Horo, who was going up on his skateboard, fell down.

"She left already, huh," said Horo as he looked up at the ceiling. He was lying down on his bed on his stomach as Manta helpfully massaged his back. "Did she look happy?"

She didn't, but so as not to worry the Ainu boy, Manta nodded.

"I'm glad," said Horo Horo truthfully.

"You have feelings for her…but you are pushing her towards another boy," said Manta. "I don't understand…"

"You will, when you meet that someone you will love with your everything," said Horo.

"Tell me about it," said Manta, peeking at the door.

"When you love someone, you would only want her happiness. When she's happy, you're happy too. Even if it hurts here," Horo slightly raised himself to show Manta that he was pointing to his heart, "if it will make her happy, you'll endure the pain and do it." He laid himself down again. "You'll do everything for the woman you love."

He stopped talking when he heard a sob from outside the door. Manta stood up calmly and opened the door, revealing a tearful Tamao who caught each and every word he said.

His face turned pale. "Uh…" He began to sweat nervously. "How long had you been there?"

"L-Long enough to hear everything that you've said," she replied shakily.

He looked down. "I see."

Manta gave Tamao a gentle shove into the room, then shut the door.

Tamao sat beside him, not taking her shaking eyes off him. Horo, on the other hand, couldn't look at her. Now that his biggest secret was revealed, he didn't have the face to look her way.

"W-Why?" she asked quietly.

Horo smiled uncertainly. "That's a broad question."

"It's the only question I can think of right now."

Horo grinned sadly. "So…um…where do you want me to start?"

"From the beginning."

"Once upon a time…"

"Horo, I want a confession, not a fairy tale story telling."

"Um, OK."

Horo Horo had finished his explanation – about how he loved her secretly from afar since childhood, about how he struggled to be better than Yoh in at least one way so as to get some of her attention but still failed, and how he still love her now with even more fire; and he waited for Tamao's reaction nervously.

She shook her head sadly. "You're just saying that…because you drank the love potion."

She would have been elated by Horo's confession – why not, for she feels that she likes him too -, but then, he might have been saying that merely because he was under the influence of her love potion. She couldn't accept that.

Ms. Anna was right. Love potions would only complicate matters more, because love can never be manipulated.

He shook his head. Was Tamao just being gentle in rejecting him by using that love potion as an alibi?

She stood up shakily. "I think Master Yoh is home already."

Silence.

Horo Horo suddenly got up determinedly, ignoring his aching back "Before you go down there, I still have to ask you to pay one thing that you owe me."

"H-Huh?"

He held her close to him and leaned down towards her face. "Ms. Tamamura, you owe me a kiss."

The rest of her half-hearted protests were sealed by his mouth lovingly.

"W-Why…did you…do that?" she asked, stammering when they pulled away, catching their breaths.

He grinned; glad that he finally was able to tell her the feelings he had kept so long. "One thing is for sure…I didn't do that because of your damn love potion."

She laughed softly, cheeks flushed.

"Let's go! We can't afford to waste any more time!" said Horo after Kino gave them her blessing. He, Ryu, and Ren would go after Yoh to help him with his battle against Hao.

"Horo Horo…"

He paused from his brisk walk. Tamao was standing by the door, her eyes shaking. He grinned.

"B-Be…" Her face turned red. "…careful."

His heart stopped beating. How many times had he dreamed before that Tamao would say such words to him, which he only hears when she talks with Yoh?

"A-Are you sure you're talking to me?" he asked, voice barely audible.

"Silly. Of course, I am!" With that, she ran back into the house.

Horo touched his heart, which still hadn't ceased its dance dance revolution combo moves yet.

"Look who's wasting time now," sighed Ren, rolling his eyes. Upon seeing the goofy smile on the Ainu's face, he rolled his eyes again.

At the tense-filled crucial moments, just as the Great Spirit began to move, he restated to her his love for her through a text message sent by the Oracle Bell.

I love you. You don't have to reply. I just want to say that, in case something happens to me.

To his pleasant surprise, he got a text from her.

If you want to know my answer, you have to come back here safe. Besides, I don't want a dead man for a boyfriend!

He felt a tear streak down his cheek. Now he was more determined than ever to come back to Izumo.

If only for his Tamao…

Tamao clasped the oracle bell to her chest, silently crying. It had been hours after Horo's last message. No, she was very, very afraid for him. If something happens to Horo…

She clasped her hands in prayer. "P-Please take care of Horo Horo. Allow no harm to come his way…please…"

Just then, the oracle bell rang.

"Tamao?" the familiar boyishly rough voice greeted.

Her eyes welled up with tears. "Horo Horo…"

"It's over…it's all over…" he reported happily. "We got Anna back, and Master Yoh is fine. The Great Spirit didn't harm him."

"H-How about you?" she asked worriedly.

Silence.

"Horo Horo?" she asked, voice more urgent this time.

"Tamao…" He coughed difficultly. "Tamao…I'm sorry."

"Horo?!!" Her eyes widened, her grip on the phone tightening. "Horo, what happened to you?"

"I love you so much…"

Tears finally escaped her eyes. "Horo Horo! Stop talking like that!"

"Please say that you love me too…"

"Y-Yes! Yes, I love you Horo!"

"Even more than Master Yoh?"

"Even more than anyone else in the world." Her voice broke. "What's wrong, Horo Horo? W-Where are you now?"

"Behind you."

She froze, then slowly turned around. Indeed, the ice shaman was standing before her, grinning, as he held his oracle bell up.

She clenched her fists, then slammed his chest repeatedly. "Horo Horo, you idiot!!! You nearly gave me a heart attack when I thought something happened to you!"

He laughingly caught both of her fists and pressed them to his chest. "Will you really cry for me if I die?"

She shook her head. "I-Iie! W-Why should I?!" Her cheeks were a lovely shade of crimson.

"Tamao…" He imprisoned her into his arms, smiling blissfully. "My dear Tamao, how I love you so…"

"Likewise," she hiccupped. "You really scared me there."

"Sorry." He rubbed his cheek apologetically. "But at least I learned that you feel something for me too, aside from those murderous thoughts."

"You were really the champion vex master then."

"Until now."

He grinned, and she grinned back. Everything came in a full circle. Life can be unfair at times, but never unkind. It heard his longing cries for her anyhow.

He turned to the sky, beaming proudly. "Father, this is my beloved."

The star twinkled happily in response.

owaru