AN: Written as a birthday present for Sihaya-chan, a dear friend and terrific artist. Check out her amazing work!

Warnings: Shounen ai, AU, OOC, fairy tale...prepare to suspend your disbelief ;

Part 4

Descending down the mountain was infinitely easier than climbing it and Tezuka shortly found himself back in flatter territory. He couldn't keep himself from glancing now and again into his pack, amazed that he'd actually found all three objects. The only thing that remained was to travel to the Wishing Pool itself and, then, he would finally be able to make his wish.

Kue claimed to know where the pool could be found and led Tezuka east from the mountains into the wild, uninhabited lands. The forest grew thicker as they went, until the gnarled trees formed a nearly impenetrable barrier. Unable to fly in the close surroundings, Kue rode on Tezuka's shoulder, providing him with directions.

"What sort of adventure will I have once I reach the Wishing Pool?" Tezuka inquired. He was surprised when Kue merely shrugged.

"Unfortunately, I can give you neither suggestions nor advice. You are familiar with the tales, so you should be well aware that not much is known about the pool. Its origins are a mystery to even the wisest of scholars. All I can tell you is that you'll likely need to use all of your wits and the powers you've gained from the three objects to attain your goal."

Tezuka mulled over the swallow's words as they journeyed. After several days, just as the dense growth threatened to stall him all together, Tezuka found himself stumbling into a large clearing. He felt his stomach rise into this throat at the thought that, at long last, his quest had finally reached its end.

But, instead of the pool he'd expected to find, the only thing Tezuka could see was a wide expanse of barren sand. There was nothing to disturb the stillness of the spit. No chirping birds, no rooting creatures, not even the buzz of insects broke the unearthly silence of the place.

Tezuka stared out at the empty field for a long moment, trying to ignore the disappointment that clenched in his chest. He felt a small weight abandon his shoulder and looked around only to see the flutter of the swallow's wings as it disappeared into the thick blackness of the forest. Once again, he'd been left behind. The heavy weight of loneliness pressed in on him as it had when Tensai had abandoned him. Why, he wondered, did his friends always leave him?

He knew that he would never find his way back home without Kue's help. No, he was doomed to remain in this desolate place, his dreams and hopes blown away in a flurry of sand. He would have nothing but time to contemplate his inability to keep a friend.

Unable to think of what else to do, Tezuka turned around in a circle to survey what would be his new home for as long as he lasted. That's when he realized that he wasn't truly alone. At the very edge of the tree line on the opposite side of the clearing sat an especially tiny chibi, staring morosely out over the sand.

Tezuka walked towards the small boy, keeping to the edge of the sand. He couldn't say why he was leery of crossing the stretch directly, but, something told him to be cautious. As he neared the boy, he noticed that his legs were covered by black short pants and his small body was encased in a white shirt. A mop of messy, black hair, even wilder than his own, poked out from beneath the brim of a curious hat. Tezuka paused at the boy's side, waiting patiently until the boy looked up at him with a large pair of sullen, hazel-gold eyes.

"Hello, I'm Tezuka," he said, undaunted when his greeting received nothing more than a darkening of the surly stare. "Do you know where I might find the Wishing Pool?" he continued, figuring it couldn't hurt to ask as there was nothing else he could do. "I have gathered all three of the magical objects spoken of in the legend and, now, I wish to ask for one thing that I want more than anything in the world."

The boy glared at him for a long moment before replying in a young, but husky voice.

"I, too, wanted to make a wish, but I knew that I wouldn't be able to find all of the objects. I could never defeat that hyper nymph for his shoes, the sneaky sorcerer's viper, or those lumbering giants.

"So, I gave up looking." The boy lowered his chin onto his raised knees, clasping his legs with his arms, and looked back out onto the sand. "I don't even think it exists anymore, if it ever did in the first place."

Tezuka blinked at the boy, taken aback at the gloomy pronouncement. Was the Wishing Pool merely a legend, after all? He had believed his mother's story since the moment he heard it, never doubting its veracity. But, what if he'd been mistaken? Didn't Momo the giant say that even he wasn't sure if the pool really existed?

Tezuka's pack shifted against his back, the weight of the items within pressing against him. All at once, the uncertainty engendered by the boy's pessimistic words lifted from him. Of course, the pool was real. Wasn't the fact that the magical objects existed, just as told in the story, proof enough of that? Removing his pack, Tezuka retrieved the leaf and the sphere and pointed towards his shoes.

"I'm sure you are mistaken," he replied. "Otherwise, how could I have found these?" The boy looked back up at him, one eye brown raised sardonically.

"Is that so? Huh, you're more stubborn than any of the others, I'll give you that much."

"The others?" Tezuka asked.

"The other fools who have come looking for the Wishing Pool. You're also the first one to actually find all of the objects. I have to say, I'm a little bit impressed. Here," he said getting to his feet, "I'll make you a deal.

"I also came looking for the Wishing Pool except I know how to find it. Only, I couldn't without having the objects. I'll tell you how to find the pool if, and only if, you can tell me exactly what is that I want to wish for."

The boy looked up at him with a snarky grin, certain that Tezuka wouldn't be able to solve his riddle. Tezuka looked down steadily at the smaller chibi, refusing to let his anxiety show in front of this little brat. He was desperate to make his wish and was determined to figure out what the other chibi wanted badly enough to seek out the pool. What could it be? Was the answer written in the boy's face? Maybe in the very sand? After a many silent minutes passed, the boy's grin grew in both size and attitude.

"You might at well give up. No one has ever figured it out, so, why should you be expected to?" He shook his head at the taller chibi.

"Mada mada da ne."

Tezuka might have asked the meaning of the strange phrase but, out of the blue, inspiration struck. He blinked as he realized that he'd actually figured out the boy's riddle. He looked down at the small chibi and let his own lips quirk up in a mildly triumphant smile.

"Wait here for a moment," he said, pleased when the snarky grin changed into a perplexed frown. Without further ado, Tezuka gathered up the leaf and golden sphere into his pack, shouldered it onto his back, and promptly headed back into the forest. He ran quickly, using the shoes to avoid the contorted tree limbs and crowded roots. He ran for a long time, covering a lot of distance thanks to his speed.

Finally, he paused at the edge of a ravine that was nearly a day's normal travel from where he'd left the boy. He stood quietly for a moment and looked over the edge. He nodded to himself as his suspicions were confirmed. Using his new found agility, Tezuka clambered down the steep wall of the sheer face of the ravine. About halfway down, he stopped and, with enhanced strength, pushed away a large, heavy boulder, revealing a small, dark cave.

The sound that he'd heard even at the sand spit thanks to the golden sphere, burst forth loudly from the cave. He reached carefully into the tight space and pulled out small, furry bundle of frantic movement. Tucking his burden safely into his tunic, Tezuka scaled back up the ravine wall and headed back to where he'd left the boy with light steps and a lighter heart.

The boy was just where he'd left him, still staring petulantly out over the sand. However, when a small, pleading sound reached his ears, the boy lost all appearances of disaffected apathy. He bounded to his feet and stared in Tezuka's direction, the wide-eyed look of impassioned hope on his young face almost painful to see.

"I believe this belongs to you." Tezuka reached into his tunic and held out the fluffy, squirming animal. Tears welled up in the boy's large eyes and a faltering hand reached up as though afraid it would disappear if he touched it.

"K-Karupin? Is it really you?"

The cat leapt from Tezuka's hand and settled in the boy's arms with a resounding purr. The chibi buried his face in the feline's thick fur, his narrow shoulders trembling from the force of his silent sobs. They stood that way for a long moment and Tezuka congratulated himself on a job well done.

"Karupin, where have you been? I missed you so much." The boy's voice was even huskier, choked as it was with tears of joy.

"He was trapped in a small cave in the side of a ravine wall." The boy looked up at Tezuka's explanation.

"The ravine? That's where he was?" He blinked for a moment before groaning. "Of course! We were playing there when Karupin disappeared. There had been a rock slide and it got too dangerous for us to stay. I looked around for him everywhere, but, I never could find him." The boy hugged his beloved cat tighter and scratched the contented creature beneath its chin.

"My name is Ryoma, by the way. Thank you so much for finding him for me. But, how in the world did you guess that I was looking for him?" Tezuka smiled and pulled the golden sphere from his pack.

"It was only thanks to this. I saw the small strands of hair on your black shorts and knew you must have had a cat at some point. You can never completely get rid of cat hair. Also," he continued as Ryoma chuckled, "once I knew what to listen for, I could hear his faint mews. It was rather far away, but, the sphere gives me extremely acute hearing. After that, it was a simple matter to track down by listening to his cries."

Ryoma smiled up at him, the expression utterly genuine this time. He took hold of Tezuka's hand and urged him to turn away from the sand towards the trees.

"Again, I thank you. And, now, I'll fulfill my promise." After a moment, he said, "Okay, you can turn around now."

Puzzled, Tezuka did as he was bid, wondering what was suddenly so interesting about the spit of sand. To his amazement, the desolate expanse of sand was no more. Instead, he looked out on a lush carpet of grass and brightly colored flowers. All around, he could hear renewed signs of life: chirps, scurries, buzzing, and the soft tinkle of the wind. Even the trees had changed, morphing from the tangled nightmare of branches to a picturesque woodland of tall, stately foliage.

And, in the midst of it all, a small pool, ringed with gleaming white stones, glistened in the sunlight.

There it was. What he been dreaming of since his mother had read to him while he snuggled in her lap, lost in the fascinating tales she'd weaved. He'd found Wishing Pool at last.

Tezuka glanced around, wanting to thank Ryoma for helping him, but the boy had disappeared. However, this time, Tezuka was not sad at being left alone yet again. This time, he had the means to relieve his unrelenting solitude.

Without a word, Tezuka stepped up to the pool and peered down into the still surface of the water. He took the golden sphere and the Leaf of Power from his pack and removed the white shoes. Feeling not even a moment's regret at the loss of their incredible powers, he dropped them into the pool, where they quickly sunk into the shadowy depths. And, then, speaking with his heart rather than trusting to words, Tezuka made his wish.

What Tezuka desired more than anything in the world was a friend. A friend with whom he could shares his hopes and his fears. Someone he could grow up with. Someone who would always understand what he was thinking and feeling even when he didn't understand himself. A friend who would hug him when he was sad and laugh with him when he was happy. But, most of all, someone who would love him and who he loved in return.

Tezuka stood before the well, his eyes closed as he made his entreaty. When he finally opened them, the clearing remained calm and empty, save for the rustling music of nature. He wasn't sure what he'd been expecting to happen. For a friend to magically appear from the well, perhaps? But, when nothing did, he felt the obliterating crush of disillusionment. Even though he'd found the fabled objects and succeeded in his quest for the pool, it seemed as though he was doomed to remain forever alone.

He turned away from the pool in defeat, his mind empty of thought in the wake of his failure. But, when he looked up with tired eyes, he saw an elusive yet familiar figure. A small chibi stood before him, his light-brown hair ruffled by the gentle breeze. He stood with clasped hands, his small frame capable despite its misdirecting air of fragility. His eyes were closed in a pleasant smile. But, at Tezuka's gasp of recognition, they opened revealing a mischievous gaze of piercing blue.

"Hello, Tezuka. I'm Fuji, though you have known me by many other names. I congratulate you on achieving your goal, but, surely you must know that you never needed to go to such lengths. I've been watching you for a long time and, had you but asked, I would have been forever at your side in the merest of instants."

Tezuka stared at the other boy, realizing that he'd been seeing those exact pair of blue eyes all of his life. Not only in the bear cub, the baby whale, and the twinkling eye of the sparrow. He also seen them in the stray wolf cub who'd sometimes wandered into his parents fields, in the playful fawn that lingered hesitatingly at the edge of the woods, in countless numbers of birds and beasts that had surrounded him from the moment of his birth.

All this time, he'd been looking for a friend, when his very best friend had been with him all along.

"But, how?" Tezuka asked, staring bemusedly at the smiling chibi. "How have you been all of those different creatures?" Fuji laughed, ever amused at the human's naïveté.

"I am a shape-shifter, of course. I can become any animal I wish. For years, I've roamed the world, flitting here and there with no real place to call home. But, one day, I found you playing in the garden in front of your cottage and I decided to say. Why, I can't say, but..." Fuji paused and Tezuka marveled as the faintest of blushes colored his fair cheeks.

"There was just something about you that made me want to stay close by."

Tezuka's flush was more apparent and deepened even further at Fuji's fond chuckle. The brown-haired chibi had, at some point, moved closer to him and they now stood mere inches apart. Tezuka could see ever facet in the other boy's remarkable eyes and he realized he was staring as he looked down into them, but, found himself unable to look away.

"Um," he said softly, "why did you help me find the pool? And, why did you keep abandoning me?" he finished on a whisper. Fuji shook his head.

"Silly human. I never abandoned you. I simply had to take the form that would be most useful to you at the time. I'm sorry if you thought I was leaving you behind. That was never my intention. And, I couldn't help you when the time came to find the pool. That you had to do on your own. As to why I helped you in the first place, well, it all has to do with the pool itself.

"When I heard your mother telling you the story and saw how much you believed in it, I felt that, at last, my own wishes might finally come true. Do you know that that wish is?" He smiled as Tezuka shook his head. "To become human. To stop the wandering life and to settle down somewhere and live a normal life with someone I care about.

"The Wishing Pool is truly a miraculous thing. It does much more than fulfill dreams. It is the font of all magic in the world. But, its magic only existed so long as it was never used to make a wish." Tezuka started in surprise.

"But, that means..."

"Yes, the pool's power has been spent. All magic will disappear from the world and I say good riddance. I was tired of having to hide my true self from humans. I'm sure your friend Eiji will be quite content to live as a normal boy with that cute baker you helped him finally meet. And, I'm certain that the sorcerer and his familiar will have no regrets about living a simple, snake-free life on their island. As for the giants, they can finally come down from their isolation in the mountains with their loved ones and make new friends now that they've shrunk to normal size.

"And, the little boy who helped you to find the pool? Well, ghosts shouldn't linger in this world. He was trapped here by the pool's power and by his grief at the loss of his pet. But, what he didn't realize was that he, too, had died in that rock slide. So, here he lingered, day by day for over a hundred years, hiding the pool from others in childish petulance even as he waited for someone to free him.

"No, Tezuka," Fuji said softly, his light voice like a gentle caress, "what you've done is a very good thing. And, I, for one thank you."

Tezuka's eyes shut of their own accord as Fuji tiptoed up to him. Their lips met softly, the sealing of a promise in the sweet contact. After a moment, or an eternity, Fuji leaned away. When Tezuka opened his eyes and looked down at his new, old friend, he realized that he would be happy seeing that knowing smile for the rest of his days.

The erstwhile shape-shifting chibi held out his dimpled hand and it was captured by his spectacled friend. Together they journeyed home in a world devoid of magic but filled to the brim with happiness and love.


AN: Hope you liked it! Can you guess what the objects were? Oh, come on, it's really easy!

Fuji's various names –
Tensai: prodigy, genius (you knew this already, ne? )
Rikou: clever
Kue: (from kuenai) crafty

Btw, "Momo" means "peach" in Japanese. Get it?

And, yes, the author is currently on the lam for using the Nike trademark line. HEE!!