This fanfic I dedicate to my friends: Jess-chan, Cole-chan, Miko-chan, Apple-chan and to all other Hao/Anna fans.

~ Syaoran no Hime

P R O L O G U E

A couple of years had passed since the fateful shaman fight. I, who had been defeated, was living my pointless existence by counting the minutes away from my death. After I had lost my bid to the shaman king throne, I couldn't think of another reason why I should still hang around and pretend to live when everything had all been in vain. Out of my sheer will for revenge and desire to be the shaman king, I was reborn. Now that both were out of my hands now, death was the only escape I could think of from my harsh fate.

However, one seemingly ordinary day, I received a visit from someone I didn't expect…

"Hao, I know you're just around here," said Yoh, looking around the still forest. "I need to talk to you."

I appeared , but this time, not enveloped anymore by the spirit of fire. "Why, if it isn't my little brother! To whom do I owe this privilege visit?" I made myself comfortable on a nearby boulder.

His face relaxed into a grin. "Hi aniki!"

I blinked. I felt strangely warm when I heard him call me 'big brother'. I shrugged. "Did you stop by here just to greet me?"

"Iie." His face turned serious. "I…I came here to ask a favor from you."

"A favor?" I had to admit, I was curious. What would my little brother need my help for?

"It's about Anna…"

I felt my mouth twitch. "Is she still making you do those brutally insane trainings?"

"Well, yes-"

"And you want me to ask her not to continue with them anymore since the shaman king throne has long been nulled by the Guardians?" I guessed.

"Er…no. It's not really about her trainings." He clenched his fists. "Tamao told me something today."

I remained silent, waiting for the rest of his explanations. However, I could already guess what was on his mind. Not good.

"She told me something bothersome…it's just a prediction, b-but Tamao's pretty good at foretelling events." He sighed deeply. "She told me that I am bound to leave soon, and I cannot come back anymore. S-She told me…that I'm going to die."

Silence.

"Not all predictions come true all the time," I pointed out.

"Still, I want to be sure that in case that happens, everything will be in order," he said.

"In order?" I asked.

"I don't want to leave my duties even if I'm here no more," he explained. "And that's where you come in."

"Me?"

"Shilva taught me an Apache custom back in Patch Village. In case a man dies, his brother is held responsible to look after his wife." Yoh looked at me pleadingly. "When something happens to me, promise me that you'll go to Izumo and look after my Anna. Provide her a good and easy life."

"Yoh…"

"I do love her very, very much, and I don't want her to be left alone. I want to continue making her happy, because it has been all that I want to do ever since. Please, aniki, promise me!" he begged.

I couldn't think of a reply. I was overwhelmed by the extent of human love, which I once thought as feeble and unreliable, just like the human heart. But looking at my brother now, my little brother whose desire to love his lady extended beyond his own life, I was amazed for a moment by its magnanimity. I found myself nodding.

He grinned. "Thanks, aniki! I knew I could count on you!" He propped his arms behind his head. "Now I have to head home and cook dinner for us. Anna wanted something with broth, I think." His eyes lit up. "Hey, want to eat dinner with us?"

I laughed. "Somehow, I don't think your fiancée would like that idea very much."

He waved. "See you around!"

But that was our last meeting. Three days later, while riding home on Yohmei's horse, the animal suddenly went berserk. His death wasn't elaborated anymore, but according to Opacho, he died protecting someone else from the horse' hooves…

His Anna.

"Where are you going, Master Hao?" asked Opacho upon seeing me gathering my cloak.

"I will pay my respects to the bereaved,"  I said simply. "And to make true to a promise."

My servant nodded slowly. "Would Master Hao want some company?"

"Ah no! Izumo is not so far away, although there are times that I miss the convenience of having the Spirit of Fire to take me anywhere I want to." I chuckled. I still felt bad about losing more than half of my furyoku, but Yoh opted to do that than kill me. There were just times that I couldn't comprehend how a human mind works.

I started to take my first few steps towards Izumo, then looked up at the sky. "Things I would do for my little brother." I had to smile despite  the gnawing sorrow in the depths of my heart. Until the very last moment of his life, my brother opted to love his Anna more than his own self. Typical Yoh.

But as for me…I couldn't imagine myself doing the same for anyone but myself. I suddenly doubted whether I was the right person to continue looking after Anna.

"No, I owe it to my brother, the only person who truly cared for me," I decided, continuing to walk towards Izumo. "I owe it to him. I will learn to love."

But who was Anna Kyouyama anyway? I remembered her most for being the first and last woman to slap me – one whom I wasn't able to intimidate. Yes, the perfect shaman bride for a shaman king. One who wouldn't hold her husband back, one who was strong enough to look after herself when her husband couldn't. Yet I realized that as I taunted her fiancée, her iciness eventually melted in her flaming fury. Ah, she was a devoted woman too. No wonder Yoh loved her so much.

I then wondered how she was taking things right now. Was she crying? Was she uncaring? Was she putting up a brave act in front of everyone right now?

I hastened my pace. I already want to see the answers myself.

Mikihisa was the one who let me in. Everyone else was looking at me strangely – especially Yoh's friends. I ignored them, and instead headed for the altar by the window. I knelt down and looked at the picture of the lively, grinning Yoh. This was how I exactly remembered my happy-go-lucky brother. I couldn't believe that this was not the case anymore. I bowed at his jar of ashes and prayed for his soul, restating my promise to take care of Anna.

"Have you eaten already?" asked Kino quietly.

I shook my head. "Thank you, but I'm not hungry." I looked around. "Where is my brother's woman?"

"If you must know," said Yohmei, looking at me not without a touch of disgust. "She's resting in her room now. She had undergone quite a trauma, seeing Yoh die right in front of her. She also met an accident herself."

"I see." I stood up and headed out of the door. "I will just come back tomorrow and check on her."

Mikihisa sighed. "I won't do that anymore if I were you. We have all tried to talk with her, but she just shuts us out. She won't even listen to her Kino-sensei."

"I will make her listen then," I promised before leaving. As I pushed the gates open, I noticed something move in the corner. I decided to go check on it with detached curiosity.

Only to find a girl sitting on a wheelchair, her golden hair dancing with the light breeze.

She must have sensed my presence too, for she had turned my way.

Her dark, fathomless almond eyes looked obviously displeased to have a stranger intrude in her privacy. "Asakura Hao," she said evenly. "What sort of ungodly misfortune brought you here?"

"It's been quite a while, eh?" I drawled. "Just a social call, that's all."

"Leave," she ordered before turning away from me.

I didn't. I stepped towards her instead. "Bound by the wheelchair, but still as stunning as ever, dear sister-in-law."

"Is a five-letter word too complicated for you, Asakura Hao?" she snapped coolly.

"Ah, and I thought they said you were emotionally-damaged," I chuckled.

"I think this is an improper time for your social call," she said mockingly. "My fiancé just died, you know."

"I know. I saw there was a lot of people in the house."

She maneuvered her wheelchair to face me. Her eyes looked swollen from crying, but they still roared in anger. "You are a brute through and through, do you know that? Respect my fiancé's wake, please."

"I came here as my brother ordered me," I said. "He wants me to look after you. And yes, I know I'm a brute through and through."

Her eyes froze. "Yoh…asked you to look after me?"

"Right," I said. "So try to control your enthusiasm."

She looked down at her lap, her hands trembling uncontrollably. "Why you?" she hissed.

"I don't know myself, but I respect my brother's wish. So whether you like it or not, you are now under my custody," I said.

"Never!" she said, her voice rising.

"I repeat," I said patiently. "Whether you like it or not, I'll be by you constantly. Deal with it." I bowed. "Good evening, Anna." With that, I walked away.

And thus began my journey in learning to love.

tsuzuku