Disclaimer: Shaman King is © Takei Hiroyuki, Shonen Jump, Viz, various Japanese companies, etc. It does not belong to me, more's the pity. This is a non-profit fanwork, and that being said, take and die . . . multiple times.

Shadows and Twilight
by Fushigi Kismet

She was wrapped in shadows dyed the color of twilight as she made her way down the lined path of the cemetery. The normal chatter and noise ebbed away as she strode nearer and the ghosts faded and went wherever ghosts go when they don't feel like being present. The full moon should have been out, but it too had vanished behind a thick sea of clouds. It didn't matter much; even without the light she knew the way.

The path was engrained in her now, something more than memory - and more painful. This was her daily duty - she had not missed a visit, save one, for more than seven years. And that day she had lit her sticks of incense in the house as a blessing and Manta had run with them, slipping and sliding in the rain, to place them before the grave.

That day they had all thought she was going to die - but that, she attributed to a mixture of hysteria and stupidity on their part. They didn't understand such things were ordinary enough, as it were. If she was going to die from something like that, she might as well die from mortification. Dying was too easy. Hers was not an easy life.

She knelt before the grave and offered up her customary prayer. There had been angry words in the beginning - sharp, biting, bitter, but all that had passed and her words were as soft and quiet as they had been that night seven years ago when she had sat vigil here beside him. That had been the last night. Thereafter, she had made all her sojourns in daylight where memory did not threaten to overwhelm her as completely as it did now.

Fingering her string of beads, she finished her prayer then rose slowly. She was right. She had grown after all. Now she was finally strong enough to accomplish the task that had been beyond her skill all those years ago.

The beads clacked against each other as she moved them, her mouth intoning the words,

"One I place for my father."

If anyone knew what she was doing, they would without doubt try to stop her. It was dangerous - reckless even. She didn't care.

"Two I place for my mother."

She thought the words she hadn't let herself think for seven years and almost smiled. It would be all right. She would manage somehow.

"Three I place for my brothers back home. Here I offer my flesh to aid your soul's release."

She cast the loop of beads into the air and brought it down over herself. Immediately she felt the spiritual presence entering and filling her like water filling an empty vessel, if water brought with it an overwhelming wash of sensory overload and the subsumption of her soul. It was difficult enough to retain a sense of oneself with a normal possession - this was nearly impossible.

She would not lose. She refused to lose.

And then, she felt a drawing back as that other soul asserted control and peeled itself away from the edges and corners of her essence.

She was almost irritated.

There was nothing for a moment; then he spoke through her own body, but in her ears it was not her voice that she heard but his.

"I'm sorry."

It was more difficult that she had thought - to listen to those words.

"So am I."

It was harder still to accept them.

He smiled; she could feel the smile on her lips, reached up to touch them with her fingers.

"This wasn't what I thought it'd feel like."

"No?" she whispered. "It's just my body, after all."

He said nothing to that. Perhaps he'd thought she would answer differently, be secretly flustered or angry. She was neither. It was true - it was merely her body and to him there was nothing secret or unknown about it. How could there be when he knew the very shape and nature of her soul? How could anything physical possibly compare in intimacy to that simple fact?

Knowing her thoughts, her hand rose to stroke her cheek and he said tenderly, "Anna."

She drew in a harsh breath. Somehow, she hadn't expected this either. That he would feel like this and still be exactly the same.

She was suffused in his scent, a mixture of leaves and rain, a hint of sweat. It was very warm, the two of them together.

There had been times like this when they had lain tangled together in the middle of hot, humid nights that built one upon another before a thunderstorm, her cheek pressed to his chest, his arm around her shoulders; it would have been a relief to pull away, if only to free themselves from each other's heat, but they did not. The fans would whir, blowing meager streams of cooled warm air across the room and she would press closer to him, though she was not cold, and he would run a gentle hand down the back of her head to the small of her back, smiling that little smile of his. And she could not berate him or say anything in response because it was meant for her.

The first time she had seen that smile felt like a time and place completely disassociated from the present. But if she focused on it, she could remember it with surprising clarity.

They had been crowded together in a small bathroom, Yoh sitting on the only available seat since there was only a shower and no tub. He was cut and bruised in a dozen places, and some of the wounds were still bleeding.

"Take off your shirt," she had told him matter-of-factly and he had done as he was told.

She hadn't flinched at the sight of his battered body - he had come nearer death than this on many occasions and this was no more pain than some shamans went through as a matter of ritual. Pain made one stronger. Yoh was strong enough to take it, she was sure.

But even so, she didn't like seeing him injured. Every pain he felt, she felt more acutely, as though it were, in fact, her own, no matter how stoically he bore it and how blithely he smiled.

She had turned to fetch more gauze and bandages from the cabinet and when she had turned back to him he had been sitting very still, watching her steadily with his eyes. She had crouched down next to him to dab antiseptic on the scrape on his shoulder, and suddenly his lips were lightly meeting hers.

It was unexpected, unlooked for, and yet, there it was - she could not deny it, did not wish to, had never done so.

He was so beautiful, smiling for her, that her heart almost broke.

It had been such a long time since she had first accepted that she loved him, but when had it become so easy to do just that?

Yoh made things easy.

From then it had been even easier. Not the Shaman Fight, not outside things - but they, themselves that had been settled decisively and without comment. There was no doubt, no hesitation, nothing to keep them from walking straight down the path they had chosen together.

They married with very little fanfare right after high school and set up house in the Tokyo house to start with. Perhaps "set up" was too strong a notion; indeed, it was little more than airing out the rooms, rearranging what little furniture there was, and finding places for all the wedding gifts. The biggest change was moving her futon into his room.

But just that was enough to make the place they had lived for the past few years completely different.

And somehow, they were very happy.

But, like all things, that too came to its appointed end.

They had both known it would. Saviors, even Shaman Kings, held very little mortal time. Too much effort and essence went into such a role, even for someone who lived as effortlessly and easily as Asakura Yoh.

Perhaps especially for Asakura Yoh.

There was nothing much of note to mark those days. They came and went, rose and fell, like the coming and going of breath and just as easily and thoughtlessly. It was not in them to dwell on future endings, on changeless circumstances. They were people who could only live knowing that it was within their power to refashion their own lives. So they did not think of it.

Whether they should have or not, Anna never felt the need to examine. What had been could not be again. Their choices, once made, could never be unmade.

It had been their choice, that night. A simple, straightforward desire.

They were nothing but straightforward - he in his thoughtless lackadaisical manner, she in her bluntness bordering on pain. But even so, when she reached up to him that night and slowly pulled him down to her, they had both been blushing. The touch of his skin, his lips, his body, all so familiar to her, so achingly precious each instant they touched, whether it was the flat of her hand against his cheek or the raw sensuality of their lovemaking, was suddenly strange to her. She felt as though she were wearing a different skin and seeing him through different eyes but that her voice was the same and his. And his spirit, seeping through his skin and soaking through her, brushing her soul with the same careless intensity of his lips along her body, that was him. It did not matter what skin she wore after all. So she could shut her eyes and give herself up to him completely and utterly, as she had never had cause to do before.

But then, she had thought later, lying in his arms and stroking his sleeping face with a tenderness she would never show him while awake, one did not choose to conceive a child every night. And certainly not an Asakura. That was never something to be done lightly.

His fingers caught her hand and he smiled at her, lazily opening his eyes before she could quite suppress her expression. He kissed the knuckles of her hand, all the while looking into her eyes. When he finished he stroked back a wayward lock of her straw-colored hair, and kissed her eyes, one by one, before pressing his lips firmly to her mouth.

"I love you," he said, and she knew, slow, creeping fear icing her veins, that he was telling her he was dying.

She wanted him to live. Desperately, heedlessly, impossibly, she wanted him to live. She loved him like that. But he calmly, deliberately, and ruthlessly silenced her protests as he showed her through loving her that the only way he suffered was in the knowledge that soon he would be without her.

When the glow of morning colored the horizon, he pressed a kiss to her flat stomach, and said with a smile, "Our child will be beautiful."

She shut her eyes, knowing, wearily, that he would not live long enough to see the color of his child's eyes.

It started slowly enough. A shortness in his breath, pain that he chose, clumsily, to hide from her, until she wanted to hit him so that he would at least admit to that pain if not the other. But she dared not. A part of her was afraid he would still say nothing, would simply smile and touch fingers to the rawness of his face, and by doing so would become someone completely alien to her understanding of him. It was not so much that she feared his mortality, it was his immortality that she silently cursed.

If he had been anyone else it would not have mattered. But he was who he was and because of that, death did not hold the same meaning. Even if he had not taken the power of the Shaman King into himself it would not have mattered so much . . . but he had, and for him, death was something that even she could not reach. He would move beyond the realm that mortals could touch into the dominion of the Great Spirits.

He did not seem to think of his death in those terms. She caught him one morning cheerfully scribbling out a long list of what would go to whom – it was his notion of a will. She would have burned it but he gave it in a sealed envelope to Manta and had him hide it without telling him its contents. None of them knew. His friends, his comrades, his enemies . . . none of them knew, not even Manta, until it was too late to pretend anymore, until they could not help but know that he was not long for their world. Amidamaru and Anna alone shared the burden of those first, long days. They kept up a pretense of normalcy that didn't fool Yoh at all. He watched them both calmly and humored them accordingly.

To his friends he spoke of nothing but becoming a father and they all joked with him and speculated about the child's future. It hurt her, sometimes, to hear them saying how good a father he would make, and how, if he was going to name the first child after Horohoro or Ryu or whoever was insisting on getting a namesake that day, the next one would have to be called Manta or Ren. Yoh would grin and say nothing as they laughed and told him to name the kid after himself – there would be plenty more to follow.

She even subjected herself to their careful scrutiny and pretended not to notice their stares and hear their whispers as they worried for Yoh's sake about the state of her health or the child's health or whether she ought to be eating more or what kind of baby presents she was expecting. She knew he was proud of her, of the life growing within her. His and hers, that tiny perfect soul.

She bore it all and moved through those days with the strength that would carry her through all the others that were to follow. Part of her wanted to believe that surely, surely this life would never change. How could it when he was still so stubbornly alive?

A month passed. She was feeling the first effects of her pregnancy and stood, one night before bed, with her hands resting lightly on her stomach, her eyes closed. A warm spirit, a bright soul – so much like him. A child waiting to be born. A man waiting to die. Why did he laugh so much as he suffered? Why wasn't she strong enough to suffer this pain as she had all his other hurts?

He came up from behind and wrapped his arms around her, burying his face in her hair, his lips against the nape of her neck.

"It doesn't hurt," he said.

"Yes, it does," she answered the lie, reaching up to cover his arms with her hands.

"I'd be worried if it didn't," he said, kissing her neck.

"Idiot," she bit out, appalled to find herself crying.

He'd turned her in his arms then and reached up to gather her tears on a finger. "I'd have to be to make you cry, wouldn't I?"

"Idiot," she said again, but there was no heat or force behind it.

He tipped her face up to his, his eyes calm, his expression unreadable to her for once. She shut her still-damp eyes, and let him kiss her.

Ah, she thought, putting her arms around his neck. How short is life. How fleeting is happiness.

He worsened suddenly, inexplicably. One day he bent over coughing; the next he lacked the strength to rise from his futon. She tended him meticulously, her words brusque as usual, her hands more tender than any nurse's – a wife's hands, a lover's hands. His headphones were carefully hung up next to him and a selection of Bob played continuously in the background. The house was never more quiet than in those days. Even the spirits went to ground.

She spoke very little but he kept up a continuous stream of chatter as though to make up for his immobility. His friends trailed through the house and spoke to him briefly, lightly, of inconsequential things. When they left Anna saw them wipe away the tears that she herself could not shed.

Hao came once and only once in a subtle blaze of flame and power. He whispered something to his brother that no one else in the world could hear before disappearing as abruptly as he had arrived with a smirk of acknowledgement in Anna's direction. Yoh was smiling when Anna came in afterwards and all he would say to her about it was, "I feel better about things now."

Manta visited the most often and would read to Yoh and reminisce about the old days. They spent many hours laughing and she could only look at them and think of how young they had all been, so long ago. How young they all still were.

Finally, they returned to the family home. She had stubbornly resisted for as long as possible, but Tamao arrived at the house one day and cried on her shoulder for so long that Anna gave in out of sheer exasperation. The Asakuras did their best to make him comfortable and Anna reluctantly took shifts with Tamao and the other women as they chided her to look out for the child's health – a duty she could not ignore.

His friends still visited as frequently as ever and she was forced to admit that there was some comfort to be found in the familiar surroundings of the Asakura complex. The noises and smells of his childhood were a comfort to him, but, he was apt to say and she was forced to agree, nothing beat the quiet feeling he got in their own home in Tokyo.

One day, she woke to see him sitting up for the first time in two months, his eyes staring into the distance.

"What do you see?"

"Eternity," he said simply, and turned to her with a smile. "It's really big."

In the end he did not linger. His body shook once as though all the strength in it had burst and gone, then he smiled, shut his eyes and died swiftly in her arms. The passage from this world to the next was so effortless that she would not have known, but for the sudden, complete and utter absence of his self.

Amidamaru knew, too, that he was gone, but his attention was not for his departed master but for the woman who held him quite still in her arms before laying him gently down on the futon and allowing his body to settle into peaceful repose under her careful guidance, murmuring in a low voice as she did so. She tried to stand, one hand lingering on the cloth of his robe as though it had forgotten how to move. Finally her fingers let go and slowly curled in on themselves until they were touching her palm. She allowed herself to fall from her crouch into a kneeling position and drew the closed hand back against her breast. She stayed in that position and looked down at the body for a long moment. It wasn't until then that Amidamaru noticed the wet gleam of her cheeks.

His family conducted all the customary rites and held his funeral as a quiet affair. It couldn't help but be large – Asakura Yoh had hardly lacked for friends.

Afterwards, Anna retreated into the main house, only venturing out once nightly to walk the path to his grave. The child grew steadily and that alone kept her sane as she sat day after day and listened to the unbearable quiet. The others worried about her, worried about the child, worried to such a degree that they dared intrude upon her solitude to provide what little comfort they could. And she even bore their good intentions as she had all the rest.

One night it rained, a steady downpour from the heavens, and she gave birth to Yoh's child. Anna looked at her with a mixture of weariness and relief, realizing with a start as she held her that this child had become the entirety of her world. Turning to Manta who had come in a decorous interval after the birth, she asked for incense, lit it, and bade him tell Yoh that he had fathered a daughter.

That done, she had Tamao bring her writing paper and a brush and proceeded to write in careful, sweeping script the name of the child.

First she wrote the "Asakura" with the pride of a woman who had married into a great family, the pride of a wife who had guided her husband to far more greatness. Then she wrote out the kanji for "seven" on the slip of paper. "Nana" they said, but "Shichi" was the true name. The sound "shi" of "death" and "chi" of "power." An unlucky name. But Anna thought more in terms of fate than she did in fortune, and was not a Shaman's life tied inextricably to the power achieved from death - that remained beyond death? She feared the annoyance of taxes more than that of dying.

"Seven" also held meaning. They had shared seven years together after the conclusion of the Shaman Fight. He had died the seventh day of the seventh month. She had carried the child for seven months after his death.

She chose not to write the hiragana. Names held power. The kanji was enough.

Then she let Tamao take the brush and paper away, and, still cradling her daughter to her, fell into a long, dreamless sleep.

The next night she ventured down to cemetery several hours later to avoid detection and sat beside his grave, her fingers stroking the newly grown grass. She spoke for a long time, until the sun limned the leaves of the trees with gold. Then she prayed and conducted the ritual to recall the dead to the living world. For an instant she touched the edges of the Great Spirits. For an instant she sensed his presence. For an instant only, then she had returned to herself, a widow sitting beside a damp grave shivering in the chill of the morning. For the first time since his death, she tasted sorrow as sharp as the moment when he had left her arms for a place forever denied to her.

She stood slowly and returned to the house where their daughter waited.

"You're warm," she whispered inanely, concentrating on his presence within her.

"You'll catch a chill visiting graves at night."

"Is that any way for you to talk to your wife?"

He smiled a bit self-deprecatingly and scratched at her cheek in a well-practiced motion as she effortlessly reminded him with one sentence of innumerable similar escapades of his own. "Guess not."

"It's better at night. Less chance of interference."

"They'd try, wouldn't they?"

"And fail. But it would still be an annoyance. That's why no one's around right now."

He took it as the apology it was meant to be. "That's all right. It's enough right now. Just you."

"There's one other person here who carries your name."

He said nothing to that, but she knew that he understood.

They looked at his grave and he noted the burnt sticks of incense.

"You didn't attempt it on the anniversary of my death," he said, reflectively.

"It would have been too morbid."

"Ah."

They stared at his gravestone for another still moment then turned, and she murmured, "Come then . . . and see your daughter."

At the end of the graveyard she/he/they paused to regard the silent figure before them.

"Hello," Yoh said. "Amidamaru."

The samurai looked like he was blinking back tears. "Yoh . . . Yoh- dono!"

Anna felt the smile touch her lips. "Have you been taking care of things, Amidamaru?"

Have you been taking care of everyone for me?

"Yes, but it seems," he looked at her from the corner of his eyes, "that Anna-dono has ideas of her own."

Yoh laughed. "Hasn't she always?"

Anna suppressed the urge to slap him and tell him to run ten laps around the grounds. It was her body after all.

She felt a tickling sensation and realized that it was his silent laughter and she felt like laughing too, like crying, like grasping onto the feeling of his mirth as to something infinitely precious. She settled for pressing her lips together and saying to the two of them, "Let's go."

She felt Yoh shrug and relinquish more control to her. Her steps quickened as they stepped out of the cemetery onto the finely paved pathway, Amidamaru hovering like a familiar and comforting shadow at her side.

Yoh and Amidamaru quietly chatted like the old friends they were as they walked until they came to the door of the wing of the house Anna and Yoh had been given as their own.

Amidamaru bowed at the doorway and said, "I dare not go in."

"Why not, Amidamaru?"

"His presence will wake her," Anna explained. "She's done so much training with him that she's attuned herself to his presence and if he comes inside the house she'll wake up immediately."

"What about me?" Yoh asked wryly.

"What about you? You're just some strange super-powerful ghost passing through the house. Nothing new considering the people who come to visit. She'll tune you right out."

"Wonderful."

Anna permitted Yoh to grin apologetically at Amidamaru before stepping inside.

"She's spiritually perceptive, is she?" was his cheerful comment.

"Ridiculously so."

"Must be a maternal trait."

"No doubt."

Anna slid aside the door and they stepped inside, their voices automatically falling silent.

They approached the bed slowly, Anna's legs filled with Yoh's trepidation, and came to a stop just next to it, Yoh and Anna looking down at the slumbering girl through the same set of eyes.

She was sleeping, mouth open, limbs askew, breathing lightly, half crushing a stuffed cat with one arm.

"Looks like a good dream."

She stirred a bit and hugged the cat closer to her, mumbling a bit.

"Her hair is fine like yours," he murmured, reaching out a hand to stroke it gently away from her face.

"It's your color," she said dismissively, "and she wears it like you did."

"Did she decide that on her own? I see." He smiled indulgently, gazing down at his gently slumbering daughter. "She's got your nose and the same stubborn angle of your jaw."

"She has your eyes," Anna whispered, looking at their child, willing to speak without pretenses, "and the shape of your mouth, and your heart and kindness and fortitude."

"Ah."

She felt the painful ache of his heart, the sense of yearning, of loss that swept over and through him that he would never know this girl and she would never know him - that with all the things he had gained in the course of his life, this was the one he had lost.

"She listens to Bob."

Yoh laughed, his voice low. "She has good taste then. I wonder who she gets that from?"

Anna was silent for too long and she stirred as she felt the touch of his hand through the motion of her own, cradling itself against her cheek.

She leant into it, her eyes closing. "She wants to be a Shaman. She's very gifted - you and I never had as much furyoku or dedication at her age. I'm glad she was born . . . afterwards. That she didn't have to face what you did. But she really would have made a brilliant Shaman King - just like her father."

"Nana," he said then smiled, shaking his head. "Shichi."

Yoh was not afraid of death either. Nothing about it had changed him.

"It's "Seven" in English, isn't it?" he asked her, and she knew he was teasing her. "A lucky number."

Yes. A lucky number for an unlucky name.

"Yohanna's not bad either. Or Yohko." He paused. "But I wouldn't have liked naming her after me no matter what everyone else thinks. It's too much pressure to put on her. So maybe just Anna? Annako?"

"Are you saying you don't like the name I gave her?"

"No." Softly, carefully, tenderly, "You had your reasons, didn't you?"

It was difficult to say, but not so very difficult. "I named her for our happiness - because she is my happiness. I named her for my love - because she is the culmination of that love. I named her because even apart, we three are still connected. Death cannot severe those ties. Nothing has that power.

"I also happen to like the number seven."

He laughed. "It's a good number. I've had my joy of it."

He pulled the covers up around his daughter's chin. "Hello, Shichi. It's your dad. I came for a little visit." He caressed the fingers wrapped around the toy cat for a moment and she stirred again restlessly, so he bent and kissed her on the forehead.

"Good night."

They stepped out of the room and Anna slid the door closed again.

"You weren't kidding about her being perceptive," he said, bemused.

"Do you want me to wake her?"

"To find her mother possessed? Probably not a good idea. It's all right. She should sleep while she can."

"My training routines aren't that bad."

He hastily searched around for another topic, familiar as he was with that edge in her voice. "So what does everyone else call her? Nana?"

She frowned, opening the door to their bedroom. "They all insist on calling her "Jo.""

"Jo?"

"I think it was Lyserg's idea," she said dryly, closing the door. "Something about "Yohanna" sounding like "Joanna." It caught on rather quickly. Ryu likes to call her Jo-hime."

"Really," he said, and she could just picture him trying his hardest to keep a straight face.

"I go to all the trouble of naming her appropriately and she ends up being "Jo" to the world. You can stop laughing now."

"I'm not laughing," he protested feebly. "Anyway, it's all right, isn't it? I mean, they can't come by all that often with you living all the way out here at the main house."

"We're moving, Yoh. To Funbari Onsen Ryokan."

"Ah." There was no surprise in his voice. "So you got it established after all?"

"Of course. Would you expect anything less from the wife of Asakura Yoh?"

"Of course not. You always get things done when you put your mind to it. Even something as crazy as bringing me back."

Her eyes were suspiciously bright. "I can't do it again, Yoh. I've done as much as my skill can allow. This is the first and last time."

His voice was low. "I know. I was surprised you managed it at all this time. It's not supposed to be possible to separate my individual soul from the Great Spirits. But then, that's not something to stop you, is it?"

She tried to smile. Failed. Instead, she focused on the spirit of him inside of her, saw him blazing with subdued blue fire and said, "You knew that when you married me."

You knew everything.

"Not everything," he murmured, separating from her enough to brush a feathery kiss across her eyes. "I knew you were stubborn."

She resolutely decided against retaliation.

"I knew that I loved you."

"No, you knew that I loved you," she said sharply.

He laughed. I knew that too, he was saying silently, holding her with arms that could hold nothing, smiling into her mind.

"I just didn't know," he said, kissing her mouth with a blaze of energy that left her wondering if ghosts could feel so ridiculously alive, if the dead might be better kissers than the living, "that it would hurt this much to leave you.

"It's worse than dying, you know. Dying is a ridiculously easy affair when it comes right down to it. It's moving on that's hard."

I've never moved on.

"I'm not asking you to." He grimaced. "You've got your own mind as to everything. And I know better than to argue with you. Even my brother knows better than to argue with you, doesn't he?"

She dismissed that consideration as no consideration at all.

"Poor Hao," he said thoughtfully, "you're a difficult woman to be in love with."

She thought that rather deserved a slap, but he caressed her hand with insubstantial fingers, and she felt his touch like a warm live current prickling along the edge of her skin.

"I should know," he whispered. "I've loved you since and for forever."

"Yoh."

She felt his spirit separate from her and did not move to stop him, feeling the intent of his actions with the ache of her own body, her own heart.

"I open myself to thee and take thee unto me," she whispered, unfastening her robes and letting them slip soundlessly to the ground.

He stroked the outside of her body as though testing the waters, his ghostly fingers running over the subtle curves of her breasts and thighs and leaving a feeling like electrification behind. She bit back a gasp, and he smiled slightly, his eyes half-closing in acknowledgement of her response to his touch and promising more to follow. His spirit pushed against her skin, his soul brushing through the outer layers to mingle with her own, his essence seeping through her pores and burning in her blood. Her body felt white-hot. He was liquid metal pouring into her through the openings of her body - the channels through which spirits must travel - to pool in the pit of her belly. Pleasure racked her nerves and she trembled as the world exploded within her until her legs could no longer hold her.

So this, Anna thought, sinking to the ground, was what it was like to be married to a kami. She had never performed it, that ceremony of the Itako. The marriage rites – she had left them unsaid. The only one who had ever possessed her was Yoh, and she had felt at the time that she had no need of gods in that marriage of bodies and hearts. And yet, here again, she was cast in the form of a virgin, and once more their marriage would be consummated, this time through the union of souls.

She rocked back on her knees, her head falling back as she let herself be draped across the ground. Her back arched as his spirit filled her, untold power rushing through her body, suffusing her in the essence of the world embodied in the Great Spirits, in Yoh himself who was one of them now. But it was Yoh who let her taste the sweetness and pain of the world in equal measure, who coaxed from her each level of ecstasy until she tasted Nirvana in the tears springing to her eyes, until her breath was wrung from her body and only his desire kept her alive. She loved him to the point of death and beyond, until her body could no longer bear to contain him, until he touched the bright core of her soul and pierced it in an instant of shared rapture that flooded and overloaded every sense that remained to her until her only cry to heaven was his name, and her sacrifice and the proof of her love was her naked body laid open to him, too spent and consumed to move from the position where he had taken her to wife.

He pressed a gentle kiss to her lips and her eyelids and she felt her body tingle where his spirit had touched her.

Weakly her eyes opened and she stared at his incorporeal form.

Do you love me so much?

"More. But that would destroy your body."

His fingers twined, mist-like, through her own, and he kissed them gently until she could feel her nerves tingling.

"Better?" he said with a smile. "I'm sorry. I might have gone a bit overboard. It has been seven years after all."

With that he proceeded to kiss every inch of her body until it ached back into strained feeling. Her mouth he saved for last, until she could almost taste him. Then he passed through her and all her insides burned back into vivid feeling.

She gingerly shrugged back into her robes, every muscle aching from exertion and forbore to speak until she had tied the robes together. Meeting his eyes, she held out her hand from him to clasp with translucent fingers, his soul drawing closer to her own. Together, they walked to their daughter's room.

As they stood in front of the bed this time, close together but each distinct from the other, she held out her hand towards her daughter, the hand that still tingled with his spirit's touch, and let it drop.

He passed easily from one to the other and Anna felt his essence fading from her like a dream. She made no sound as his soul unwound itself fully from her own, but pain flared up as sharp as a knife digging its way into her heart. He paused to smile at her – his slow, loving smile and the pain receded a little, enough for her to bear it as she had borne it all these years and he turned from her to the small slumbering girl.

He dusted across his daughter's consciousness, swept her essence up in his own for one, priceless instant, then pulled away, light and spirit coalescing like insubstantial mist in the air.

They regarded one another for an eternity, for forever, for the time it took for a single drop to fall in the ocean of time.

"Are you going then?"

"Yes."

She held back all the thousand different things she wanted - had - to say, and instead merely nodded acceptance.

"I love you, Anna," he said, and for the first time she saw the depth of his pain and reached out to him.

His fingers brushed across his own and he smiled at her, his edges and features beginning to blur.

"I love you, Yoh," she said as the last echoes of his spirit vanished and his loving touch faded along with it.

"Mama?" a childish voice said.

Anna turned instantly to her daughter who was stirring, not yet awake.

"Just now . . . I felt someone very kind and very strong holding me in his arms. Was that the strength of the Shaman King?" she asked sleepily, rubbing at her eyes.

"No," Anna said softly, "that was the strength of your father."

Her eyes opened fully and she struggled into a sitting position. "He came to see me?"

"Yes."

Her face broke into a brilliant smile. "Because I'm seven today, right, Mama?"

She nodded once, her throat tight.

"I'll get to see him next time, right?" she said eagerly.

Anna could not answer. Gradual understanding crept into her daughter's eyes, but she simply put her hands over her mother's and smiled.

"Papa says to tell you, that because I'm your daughter, it'll all work out somehow . . . but it might take another seven years. Can you wait?"

Anna, watching the first gold of the sun catching in her daughter's brown hair, rather thought that she could. But seven years was a bit of an overestimate. Yoh always did want to take things easy.

She brushed a kiss across her daughter's forehead. "Tell him . . . because you're his daughter, I don't need to worry."