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Morning came too soon for all parties involved in the festivities of the previous night, but came it did.
Jun rolled over onto her side, trying to ignore the sunlight penetrating her eyelids, but to no avail. Not that she minded the view when she her eyes did flutter open, as her devoted Jiang-Si was sleeping peacefully at her side. Smiling, she ran a hand up his torso, admiring his physique as she did any morning she was able to wake up beside him. She smiled sadly, hoping she made him as happy as he had made her over the years.
Bailong's eyes flickered open quickly, a shiver running up his body from her subtle touch. He smiled cheerfully, glad to see her once again, "Good morning, Jun," he spoke softly, forgetting to address her with a proper title in his drowsiness.
"Good morning, love," she said, a surge of warmth rising up in her heart at the sound of her name on his lips, "Did I wake you?"
"No, of course not," he lied sleepily, wrapping one strong arm around her shoulders contentedly, pulling the young woman slightly closer to him, "Sleep well?"
"Very well, thanks to you," she said, kissing his cheek.
He smiled, allowing his hand to fall dangerously close to her exposed left breast (the fullness of her bosom never ceased to astound him), the tips of his fingers brushing ever-so-lightly against it, "I'm glad to hear it."
"And you?" she asked, enjoying his touch.
"Magnificent, as always after…exercise," he told her, his grin widening a bit. His hand inched slowly downward, gently caressing the skin under his hand, his bravery increasing as she made no move to resist.
"Mmmm…" she sighed, smiling demurely, "What would I do with out you…?"
"I feel the same about you, Jun," he answered evasively. What she would do without him would most likely lead a more normal life, give her affections to someone else, someone who could possibly promise her a life filled with more mature happiness, such as children and marriage. These thoughts saddened him, but he kept these feelings locked away as best he could.
Too sleepy and enamored by his caressing to notice the hurt behind his eyes, she rolled over closer to him, "I love you, Bailong…"
Forget the past, worry not of the future, live in the present. It seemed that might be the only way he could survive the coming years. If any liquid remained in his tear ducts, it formed now, and he blinked it away easily, 25 years of death far too much to defeat, "I love you too, Jun…"
"Yoh, what're you going to do when you become Shaman King? Do you have any plans or are you just gonna go right to 'living the easy life'?"
"What the…?" Yoh was standing in his own courtyard on a sunny day. "Wait…" he turned to towards the house, where his best friend was seated, legs tucked under his small body, but he was different, younger. Maybe only 13 years old. "Manta…?" Yoh asked, "What're you talking about? I am –"
Out in the courtyard, perhaps a dozen normal paces away, a younger Yoh Asakura paused in his training, leaning against the still-sheathed (no accidents necessary during sword practice) Harusame. He smiled broadly, wiping sweat from his brow, "Aw, you know me. I hate work. I wouldn't even be out here except for the fact that Anna'll kill me if I stop. When I get to be Shaman King (after getting rid of the star of destruction), I'm just gonna kick back with my records and try to enjoy life."
Yoh gaped at his younger self. Had Ren and Horohoro been right? What had he been doing for all these years since the Shaman Tournament had ended? Was this really all he cared about? "No…my friends…" he murmured, "You can't forget them…"
Manta chuckled, shaking his head, "Of course, I should've known. Nothing wrong with having a little time to number one, right?"
"Exactly," the young Yoh said with a grin, "The others can do the same, I'm sure."
Before Yoh had a chance to attempt to make contact with the shadows, he felt a sharp pain and then a pull in his stomach and there was a fierce wind and his eyes shut instinctively. When he opened them again, he was inside the inn, in the living room. "What now?" he wondered aloud.
"All hail to master Yoh, leader of the Shamans!" Ryu proclaimed loudly to the room, raising a glass (contents of which he had simply described as "Nothing you need concern yourself with.") and placing his foot on the table, trying to make his declaration known to all.
Yoh Asakura, newly-crowned Shaman King, blushed deeply (from both the contents of his already twice-emptied glass and embarrassment), "Heehee...I really never wanted to be worshiped, Ryu."
His dirty-blonde-haired fiancé, Anna scowled (her face also slightly reddened from intoxication), "I'd appreciate it if you kept your worship off the table, at least."
The eldest member of the group (and also the only one legally allowed to purchase alcohol amongst them) grinned, then downed the contents of his glass, wiped his lips off with his sleeve and sat down once more, "Apologies my Queen."
Anna smirked, liking the new title. She turned to her fiancé, smiling, "Did you hear that? Queen. You'd do well to follow Ryu's example."
Tray, seated next to Yoh, rapped his glass against the table, "Less talk, more bubbly."
"That goes for you too, snow bunny," Anna snapped at him.
Horohoro rolled his eyes, "Ryu, pass the bottle, would ya?"
"I remember this party…" Yoh said quietly, with a small smile, "I wonder why I'm remembering this stuff now…? Boy it really was a while ago…"
"Um...don't you think you've all had enough?" Tami asked, meekly glancing down at Manta, who was sleeping soundly, leaning against her arm, unable to handle his alcohol.
Tray glanced around, "Can I have Ren's then?" he asked, his sights set on the Chinese youth's still full glass. Ren seemed to not even realize that the cup sat in front of him on the table, much less the fact that he hadn't even attempted to raise the glass to his lips during the first proposed toast to Yoh's reign.
At the mention of the Mandarin teen, Tami turned to glance at him, "Um...Ren-san?" she asked, tapping him lightly on the shoulder.
His head snapped up at once, almost as though he were being awoken from a trance, "Sorry?" he asked, still not entirely focused on the world around him.
"Are you alright?" Tami asked him worriedly, "You haven't touched your food."
He blinked blearily and shook his head, trying to clear it, "I'm...not very hungry," he responded dully, his voice devoid of feeling.
"You haven't eaten all day," Anna said mildly, "That's not very polite. Tami worked hard on that meal."
"It's really no big deal," Tami said hurriedly.
"Sorry," he replied thickly, his mind much too consumed by other matters to allow him to give his full and proper attention to trivial matters such as food consumption and proper manners.
"Perhaps it would be time for you young ones to get some sleep," Amidimaru suggested, hovering over a passed-out Pilika.
Yoh yawned loudly, standing up and stretching, his arms stretching upwards towards the ceiling as far as they would allow, "Yeah, you're probably right..."
"That does seem like a good idea," Anna said, getting to her feet as well, "Ryu - you can take care of the dishes, right?"
He sighed, but nodded obediently, not wishing to start a row with the Shaman Queen over petty issues, "Of course, my Queen." He watched as the rest of the group made their way up the stairs, supporting those of the group who were already snoozing. Tao Ren lagged behind somewhat, still looking somewhat dazed.
"Hey Ren, are you alright? You were pretty quiet tonight," Yoh started, placing a hand on his friend's shoulder as the Chinese teen turned to head into the small visitor's room, "I mean, I know you don't like parties much but-"
The young man swatted the newly-appointed Shaman King's hand away, "I'm fine," he responded, a touch of his old edginess back in his voice, "Good night." He finished shortly, taking a step forward and then slamming the sliding door behind him.
Yoh rubbed his hand, somewhat taken aback, "Sheesh, what's his deal?" he inquired to no one in particular as Horohoro trudged up the stairs behind him, "Was it something I said?"
The Ainu shook his head, "More like something you did. I think he's jealous that you won the Shaman tournament," he grinned widely, "It means that he's inferior to you now. Life is bliss I tell you, sweet, sweet bliss." Noting the concerned look on his friend's face, Tray softened somewhat, "Hey, he'll get over it by the morning."
Asakura paused a Moment, considering this, then his expression brightened, back to its usually cheeriness, "Yeah, you're probably right."
"Oh no…" Yoh whispered, Anna's words ringing in his ears, "Ren…no!" his volume rising, he dashed up the stairs after the Chinese memory.
Within his own quarters now, Tao Ren was just barely able to drag himself over to the small bed, which was neatly kempt and rather dusty due to disuse. The room was mostly bare, with the exception of an empty dresser positioned in a corner and a coffee-table resting in the center of the room, still only a few feet from the bed.
The young man slumped down onto the bed, his eyes wide and somewhat bloodshot, unable to concentrate. How had his life, his very destiny and meaning, been so quickly decimated? The last few days seemed to be nothing but a blur of battle scenes, the final few shaman fights replaying over and over within his mind like a horrible nightmare, each pounding in the most undeniable, unbelievable fact: he had lost. The tournament was over and, despite all the never ceasing effort put forth into all fourteen years of his life, the Shaman Tournament was over and he had been defeated.
Ren held his head in his hands, his fingers moving slowly through his hair, disrupting the normal style of his head fur. Nothing after his victory (so certain in his mind) had been torn away from him seemed to have even penetrated his thought process yet. Asakura (BASTARD!) had mentioned something about a party. When? Feebly, he started up the oracle bell still tied tightly around his forearm, but the result had not changed within the last twenty-four hours. A message in all white, capital letters flashed across the screen over and over, as if to mock him: ELIMINATED.
"Master Ren? Are you alright?" The concerned voice of his guardian ghost, the mighty Chinese warlord Bason, reached Ren's ears, but he just continued to stare at the horrible flashing word.
Bason, in his flame spirit ball, floated up close to his shaman partner, "Young master?"
"Leave me be, Bason," the Chinese youth responded, his voice void of emotions, trying to remain as calm as possible. Of all the feelings swirling around within his confused and desperate mind, shock was taking precedence over the others, though anger and despair were sure to follow suit.
The little spirit nodded and vanished within his tablet. Ren set the small offering stone on the coffee table, then switched off the traditional pager.
Yoh attempted to open the door, but his hands passed right through it. Thinking just straight enough to take advantage of this discovery, he stepped into the room. He was hearing voices that he was certain he would not have been able to hear had he been physically in the room, and he simply stood still, gazing numbly at his friend, dreading beyond dread what he knew had to be coming.
Defeat. The very concept was baffling right down to the core. He had been promised, guaranteed rather, since his days as a young boy that it was predetermined, his destiny, his very purpose and meaning of existence to become the Shaman King. He was to wear the crown, to rule over all of the Shamanic world. His parents (though certainly his mother less so than his father) had assured him that it was only a matter of simple preparation and training. There was no if, merely when. This build of confidence, along with the most impressive over-soul among human entrants, was enough to make even his ornery old grandfather crack a rare smile or two.
A cold chill ran down the young man's spine. The tournament had concluded several days ago, but he had yet to summon up the courage to tell his family the news even he still couldn't bring himself to accept. What could he possibly tell them? Surely his mother and sister would offer their sympathies and comfort, but it wasn't the females of the household that concerned him.
He loosened his pitch-black neck tie uncomfortably, swallowing nervously. It wasn't in his father's nature to understand, or forgive. In the older man's sick, demented mind, failure was nothing short of an insult to the family pride and honor, and that was something he simply didn't tolerate. Ren lowered his head, rubbing his eyes with both hands, trying to wipe away the beginnings of two tiny droplets of liquid. It wasn't becoming of a Tao to simply break-down in such a fashion. He had more pride than that.
But what pride did he have left, really? Could he be proud to bear the name of all the ancestry and legacy he failed to uphold, or to live the remainder of his days as merely Yoh Asakura's (BASTARD!) second? Any honor he had had was stripped away when his rival (and yes, though it was painful to admit, one-time friend) became the Shaman King.
All these different notions were beginning to give the young man a headache, but there was nothing he could do to stem the flow of unanswerable questions and haunting thoughts. The lights all about the Asakura house began to dim one by one, as the other residents began to surrender to slumber. With less luminosity surrounding the complex, the shine of the full moon began to work its way into the guest chambers, throwing an eerie glow onto each and every object, expanding and distorting the shadows. He hadn't planned for this; there had never been a scenario in his mind where defeat, humiliating, degrading downfall was the outcome. He had no options left- except…
Slowly, Ren stood and walked over to his luggage (an assortment of various bags), which had been shoved roughly into a corner by the fools who had insisted on helping him put it away upon their arrival. He firmly grasped the handle of a small, black suitcase and carefully brought it over to the coffee table setting down the travel case. Wearily, he sat down on the bed once more, rubbing his eyes to try to clear them. The poor lighting in the room and the lack of sleep he had gotten in the last seventy-two hours was beginning to affect him.
Ren had hoped never to have to even open this particular piece of luggage, a parting gift from his father that had been found among his luggage on the airplane they had used to reach America. The symbols printed on it were in his native tongue of Chinese, reading "Death before Dishonor". Thankfully, only Bason and he knew what it was to be used for, as none of the others could read and translate the symbols.
The Tao family, a renowned group of assassins of old, had always considered it a necessity to carry with them a form of suicide. Insurance, an exit strategy of sorts in case the worst should occur (capture). As the world moved further towards civilization, this tradition tapered off. However, for an event as important as the shaman tournament, precautions had obviously been taken for him.
He leaned forward and opened the case, revealing Styrofoam coating with nothing but a small, ten milliliter vial of clear liquid in the center. Ren picked up the tiny container, carefully removing its covering. The putrid, bitter-almond odor slowly wafted out, causing the young man to wrinkle his nose in disgust. Cyanide. Even an amount as small as this would be enough to kill a fully grown adult male, as the compound simply destroyed the body's ability to utilize oxygen within its blood cells.
"Oh god…" Yoh said, running towards the boy, arms going right through the table as he made a grab for the bottle, "No! Ren, god no! Where's Anna?" he said, turning towards the door in a panic, "She said she was able to stop him!"
"Master Ren, what are you doing?" Bason cried out, seeming to mirror Yoh's own words, surprised and somewhat frightened. Within his tablet, the guardian ghost (who had been attempting to remember what sleep was like since Lord Ren had told him to make himself scarce) had gathered up his considerable courage and popped out in spirit flame mode, to see if his tired master had managed to fall into slumber yet. The sight that met his eyes was the source of his outburst, causing his form to involuntarily return to the state he had assumed during life.
The young man didn't responded, intent on ignoring the spirit. He lifted the vial up nearly to his eye level, gazing at the liquid hypnotically. How could one make such a decision based on simplicity or the pain involved? Suicide was the way out of a coward, something Ren had certainly never considered himself. But death so enticed him; It was just waiting to enter him, to end his pain quickly and efficiently. It would be so easy, after all…
Bason flew from the room in a panic, pinning his hopes that there was someone within the house that was awake, or at least not too intoxicated to help him.
"Ren, stop it please," Yoh cried, on his knees beside the boy, looking up at him helplessly, "Please don't do this…"
Slowly, deliberately, Ren lifted the tube up to his lips. There was nothing left for him now, nothing that provided the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel as far as he could see. What was death anymore anyway? He had inflicted enough of it during his short lifespan, what was one more: his own? The young man closed his eyes. It was said that the Great Spirit saw suicide as quite the serious sin, but the words on his briefcase sealed his fate: Death Before Dishonor. He tilted his head backwards, mouth open enough to let the vial drip its killing toxin into his body.
The door slid open and Anna's protests at being dragged out of bed ceased as she watched the Mandarin slide off his bed and hit the wooden floor. "Ren…" she said, hurrying to his side.
"You're too late…" Yoh sobbed, tears pouring down his face, "You said you'd save him but you didn't…"
Liquid cyanide was never meant to mix with the human body, able to kill victims in just a few short seconds time. Tao Ren lie dead on the ground, his eyes wide and wet from tears that had been forming, gazing out at the world but seeing nothing. His lips were tinged blue from the instant suffocation process. Next to the Shaman Queen, white streams of tears flooded down Bason's face as he wept uncontrollably.
Anna reached out and closed his eyes with one hand, tears slowly forming in her own. "I…I have to call Jun…" she stammered, standing up shakily.
"No…this didn't happen – this wasn't supposed to happen!" Yoh cried, trying to grab hold of the lifeless body as Anna left the room, but as he reached for it, he felt the tug on his stomach again and black flashed before his eyes.
"What the hell kinda freak are you anyway, bitch?"
"The hell do you care?" a tall woman with long blue hair was standing inside a circle of men on motorcycles, many of whom were holding pieces of a giant suit of armor.
"Wait…Kanna…?" Yoh asked, mind still reeling from the previous vision. He was now kneeling at the top of a fire escape, looking down at a crowded alley.
"You're trespassing on our turf, you fuckin' whore. Normally we'd except cash as payment for that kinda mistake, but attackin' us too means we're gonna hafta charge somethin' a little stronger…" The leader said, a particularly gruesome thug of probably twenty-six or twenty-seven years of age. He was clad all in black garments (leather, by the look of them) and had two pistols shoved in his pants pockets.
"Oh, you're out of your fucking mind," she said, spitting at the ground near his feet, "Get out of my way before I really get angry."
The man stood, frowning, "I don't think you got any more magic freaks on ya, bitch, so why don't you just shut the hell up? This'll go a lot faster that way…"
She took a step back, into the waiting arms of one of the lower-ranking members. He looped his arms under hers and up around her shoulders. "She ain't goin' nowhere, Boss – g'head and have yer fun."
Yoh felt his stomach turn upside down and hoped it would be taking him someplace else, but he didn't move. Nothing changed, and he felt his throat go dry as the leader approached the woman. True she had been an enemy – but no one deserved this.
"Kanna!" a voice cried, not too far away from the sound of it. Bokuto no Ryu was standing only a few yards away, his signature weapon in hand. He looked a bit older than the Ryu from the party scene, perhaps three years or so, "What is going on here?" he had met the German woman at a nightclub just a few days before, and the two had promised to meet again at a restaurant in the same area. Their plans had been for thirty minutes ago, prompting him to go searching the streets for her. This was a particularly dangerous part of town, he should have known better than to make a date around here again!
"Get out of here, Ryu!" the young woman shouted to him, "I'll be fine – just go!"
"What in the world…Ryu?" Yoh asked aloud, completely baffled.
"You lost pal?" one of the other criminals asked irritably, his teeth clenched around a lit cigarette. The man dismounted his bike, hands in his pockets, "'Round here you gotta pay if you wanna live, and you really seem to got a death wish commin' here…"
The warrior of the wooden sword had his fists clenched, one tightly squeezing the 2.5 pound, perfectly legal weapon he often carried with him. His breathing was slow, controlled. Acts like this were despicable, but it was his fault for making her come here again in the first place, "You should let her go right now…" he warned, staring past the crony heading towards him at the leader of the group.
"Relax, man," the leader said with a lecherous grin, "You can have her back when I'm done."
Infuriated by this comment, Ryu leapt forward, smashing his sword against the lackey's skull, his purple oversoul now engaged. Taken by surprise, the man went down hard, bleeding from his head, "Do not touch her!"
"It's another freak!" another man cried.
"Kill him already!" the leader barked, fear evident in his eyes.
The ensuing brawl was sickening to watch, fierce and terrible. Several shots were fired, some finding targets, others simply ricocheting off crumbling brick walls, making themselves even more dangerous. The entire affair was over in less than fifteen grisly minutes. Each and every one of the twelve men lie on the ground now, unmoving, bleeding and bruised from various wounds.
Ryu was not unscathed himself. His shirt was torn, revealing his muscular chest as it rose and fell quickly, trying to absorb more oxygen. His wooden sword (the remains of it) was still held firmly in his right hand, but the left was now covering a large, red patch on his left leg, where a stray bullet had caught him. Other numerous, smaller injuries dotted the man, "Kanna…" he panted weakly, "Are you…alright?"
"Yes…" she said, coming up beside him, "I'm fine…but we need to get you to a hospital," she put a hand on his arm gently.
Yoh breathed a small sigh of relief, though still feeling relatively nauseous, "He made it…" he said, resting his head against the railing of the fire escape, "He's gonna be okay…"
Just behind Ryu's feet, the leader of the gang, a long trail of blood dripping down the front of his face from a wound on his head, screwed up his face, opening his eyes quickly. He sat up quickly and swept out at the two with one leg, adrenaline fueling continued action. 'Goddamn freaks!'
"What? No!" Yoh cried, gripping the bars of the railing. It was supposed to be over!
The man caught the falling Ryu by the remains of his shirt, pulling the injured warrior of the wooden sword back up. He reared back a fist, "Shoulda stayed outta it, freak!" With a horrible 'crack!', the fist connected with Ryu's jaw, sending Yoh's friend stumbling backwards into the middle of the street.
"Ryu!" Kanna cried, as the glow of headlights loomed towards them, "Watch out!"
His eyes locked with hers briefly, but his furiyoku was gone and his physical strength ebbed too far to stop his Moment, "Ka-" In a flash the approaching vehicle (going far over the speed limit, fearful of being stopped by the very gang the warrior of the wooden sword had just fought) rammed into Ryu, sending him flying. He landed a few feet away, his crumpled body broken, the life smashed out of it by the impact. The automobile rushed away, one headlight shattered and a large dent in the front right corner, but otherwise unscathed.
"RYUUU!" Yoh screamed.
Kanna turned around and punched the gang leader so hard Yoh could hear the neck snap and before the thug could even hit the ground, the German woman was running towards the lifeless body of a man she had hardly known – and now would never know.
Yoh held his hands over his head, grasping the hair underneath them and shut his eyes. This couldn't be real, what was happening to him? What were these horrible images that presented themselves, why couldn't he make them stop? His friends weren't dead- he'd just seen them yesterday! They weren't, they couldn't be, no- no- NO!
The sick feeling returned to his stomach, pulling him along, the night scenery blurring and fading away, becoming replaced by a very different picture.
"That stupid kid is back again."
"He just doesn't quit!"
Horohoro, age 17 (on leave indefinitely from school), was standing in front of a large span of marshland, his trusty snowboard on his back. His arms were spread wide, his jaw set in grim determination, "Why can't you guys just go build somewhere else? There's plenty of space in the mountains!"
"What's with this kid?" one trucker muttered to the other.
"We've got the legal claim to the land, why won't he just let it go like the rest a'the people around here," the other nodded.
The Ainu male swallowed in anxiety, a sweat drop slowly making its way down the back of his neck. Once he had learned that Kori's homeland had been auctioned off, he had left Tokyo with the full intent to save it from the land-thirsty developers at any cost. But…he was afraid, truly. He was brave, but he didn't want to face judgment yet. He didn't want to die so soon, like Ren or Ryu had, "C'mon! Can't you leave anything alone?"
"Kid! We don't wanna hurt you! Get outta the way!" the passenger seat occupant shouted into a megaphone.
"Tray!" You said, urgently, standing beside his friend, "Please, no, not you too!"
Horohoro made no effort to move, his hands still raised, but tears were now pouring down the front of his face, his nose producing excess phlegm, "Yoh…" he muttered softly, "I needed ya for this one, man…" When he had announced to his friend that he was leaving for the Ainu Prefecture, he had asked Yoh to come along with him, to help him save what was left of Kori's homeland. But the Shaman King had refused him. Yoh'd never really quite recovered from the deaths of two of his closest friends…
"I'm here, Tray, I'm here," Yoh was sobbing again, it was just too much, "No…no please…"
Being a martyr for his cause would get the developing company's license revoked, probably put a few people in jail for a while, perhaps protect the land for another few years. Oh well, whatever it took. Horohoro, hiccupping uncontrollably, thought feebly as the bulldozers rushed towards him, 'At least Kori didn't have to see me like this. Mom, Dad, take care of her for me now…'
"TRAYYY!" Yoh sunk to his knees as the bulldozers rolled right through him, killing his friend instantly. As they thundered past, leaving nothing remaining, he hung his head. "Why…why Great Spirit…? What have they ever done wrong…? Why couldn't I help them?" he wailed, "It's not fair…it's all my fault…all my fault…"
"Yoh! Yoh, please wake up!"
Yoh Asakura awoke with a start, his body drenched in sweat, shivering uncontrollably. His breathing was unsteady, and he turned towards Anna, his eyes wide, "Wh- Where-? Oh," he calmed down slightly, relieved by the presence of the bright morning sun and his newly-wed wife, "H-Hi…"
"You were crying…" she said, stroking his damp hair out of his face, "Were you having a nightmare?"
"Nightmare…" he said softly, realization dawning on him. A dream, that was all. Nothing more than a dream… "Yeah, I guess so…"
"It must've been intense…" she said, continuing to stroke his head gently.
The Shaman King felt his strength leaving him slowly, and he sunk his head down against her shoulder, fresh tears forming in his eyes, "They died, Anna…I let them all die…"
"It was just a dream, Yoh…" she said soothingly, "No one's dead…"
"Promise?" he asked weakly, his arms hugging her close to him.
"I promise," she whispered, kissing his forehead, "It's alright, I'm here." After a Moment of just letting him hold her, she asked gently, "Do you…wanna talk about it…?"
He took a deep breath, still trying to calm his very unsettled nerves. He could only imagine how hard recounting the dream was going to be, having to relive the hellish nightmare his wandering mind had forced him to endure. Today was supposed to be one of the happiest days he would ever experience. He and Anna began their honeymoon today, why did it have to start out on such a somber note? Yoh wished he could refuse her inquiry, brush off the incident until a more appropriate time presented itself. It would be the sensible thing to do, but his heart told him otherwise. Numbly, he nodded his head, sitting back slowly. Then his lips began moving, almost automatically, pouring forth from his tortured memory…
Anna listened silently, keeping her hands on his arms supportively as he explained it to her. "I don't think this was just another nightmare, Yoh…" she said as he finished rehashing it, rubbing one shoulder soothingly, "Do you?" There had to be meaning behind it – after the events of the past few days, it was just too much of a coincidence.
He sniffed loudly, trying halt his runny nose again, a new wave of emotions threatening to overcome him from having to recall the unpleasant memories, "I dunno what you'd call it if not a nightmare…" The oddity of the dream had hit him, considering recent happenings around him, but he simply didn't know what to make of it.
"Yoh…I think what you had was a vision from the Great Spirit…it's something that you should probably get used to," she said, hugging his bare body close to hers, "He's going to communicate with you in this way more often."
The Shaman King's face contorted in an expression of absolute fear. The Great Spirit had put him through that Hell? What if Anna hadn't been there to wake him up, how much longer would the vision have gone on? How many more of his friends would he have had to watch meet their ends? Terrified by the thought of having to undergo further torment of this kind, he clung a bit more tightly to his bride, his voice tremulous, "L-Like this?" Throughout his life, he had only ever experienced a single vision, a brief flash of enlightenment just after he won the Shaman Tournament. Foresight was more Anna's area of expertise, or Tamera's.
"I don't know," she said, running her hands up and down his back, trying to calm his ragged breathing, "But I do know he sent you this for a reason…We can't ever let those things happen, right?"
"Right," he agreed, very much glad for her comfort and support, her touch slowly beginning to sooth him, "Right…"
"Being Shaman Royalty certainly isn't about living an easy life style," she said with a smirk, "You know that now…"
He sighed, a tiny smile finally crossing his face, "Yeah, I know…"
"But that probably would've gotten boring really fast, don't you think?" she asked, pulling back so as to look him in the eye.
"I dunno," he chuckled, "Me and you with nothing to do sounds kinda fun to me…"
"But it's more fun with everyone else around, so we'll do our best to keep it that way, okay?" she asked with a smile.
"Okay," he agreed, his usual, cheerful disposition returning rapidly to him, the horror of the night slowly fading as the sun rose ever-so-slowly, filling the room with its light and warmth.
"Okay," she echoed, leaning in to kiss him lovingly.
The dawn always happened upon Tao Ren much too quickly. His body, trained to reactivate into consciousness at 6:00 AM every morning (it took years of routine to achieve this habit), had done its job as usual. Breaks in routine were not always a bad thing, such as in scenarios like the one he found himself in today. After a night of particularly fervent escapades, it simply wouldn't be kind to Tamera for him to leave (in order to freshen up and the like). So he lay there in bed, for 45 minutes now, contentedly watching his lover slumber peacefully next to him.
"You certainly are fond of her, aren't you Master?" Bason asked quietly, floating in spirit flame mode at the Mandarin's side.
"I believed I've passed the point of fondness, Bason…" he replied, equally soft of voice.
The color in the Chinese Warlord's face darkened and his eyes became wide and shiny, "I had never dared to hope for this before, Master. I am truly happy for you."
He smiled a tad, going slightly red, "Thank you…"
Both of their attentions were caught when the women beside the Mandarin stirred and awoke. As her gaze fell on her beau, she smiled in surprise, "You're still here…"
Ren grinned, leaning over closer to her, kissing her gently on the forehead, "Good morning."
"Mm-hmmm," she nodded, stretching her arms around him, "This is a welcome change. It's nice to see you when I wake up."
The closeness of his body to hers had begun to cause natural chemical, hormonal reactions within him, triggering appropriate body functions as such. Not that this was a particularly bad thing, just with the potential to be a tad embarrassing, "It certainly is different, isn't it?"
"It is," she said with a smirk, "Seems like somebody's a little randy this morning…"
Further blood diverted itself from usual activities to enter his cheeks, "Is that my fault?" he asked, mocking indignation.
To this she laughed, "No, no I suppose not. Maybe you'll reconsider always leaving me in the mornings, hmm?"
"I don't always…"
"But when you do, look at what you're missing out on," she said, kissing him for a good, long Moment.
Ren drank her in deeply, enraptured by her sweet touch. When they next broke apart, he inquired breathlessly, "Shall I make it up to you?"
"I'd like that," she nodded, pulling him down to kiss him again.
"I'll just, um, inform the others that you might be a few minutes late to breakfast…" Bason said aloud more to himself than the two below him, averting his eyes.
"You do that," Ren muttered against his lover's lips, and the ghost flew hurriedly out of the room.
"Man, are we the only ones not screwin' around?"
"Sure seems that way…" Manta sighed as Ryu wept into the table top. In an attempt to comfort the older man, Lyserg patted him on the back hesitantly.
"Man, I really hope Master Yohmei and his wife show up soon…" Horohoro continued, trying to stave away some most disturbing thoughts.
"Oh gross…" Pilika said, making a face at her mug of coffee. Joko, seated next to her, nearly choked on his own drink.
"Well, don't think about it!" the Ainu male said loudly, even more disgusted at his sister than his previous thoughts.
"Don't think about what?" Tao Ran asked, entering the kitchen.
"Er, nothing," Manta covered for them hastily, inclining his head for a few brief seconds, "Good Morning, Ms. Tao."
"Good morning boys," she said, pouring herself a cup of tea and then sitting down beside them, "It seems we're all suffering from a bit of post-party depression, eh?"
"More of a different kinda' depression," Horohoro said, trying not to moan into his own mug.
"Ooooohhhhhh…" Ran said with a knowing smile, "After all the fornication last night, we're all feeling a bit left out, aren't we?"
"Aren't you?" Ryu's muffled voice drifted up the table.
"I've got someone waiting for me at home," she said, "Not to make you feel any worse, of course."
"No, of course not…" Tray told the older woman pitifully.
"Oh my darlings," Ran said with a hint of a maternal tone in her sultry voice, "You needn't worry – you're all young. There's still plenty of time to lose your innocence."
"It's hard to think of it like that when I look around and see neither of your offspring here, Ms. Tao…"
She laughed lightly at this, "Well, I can't deny that strong libidos run in the family."
At that Moment, Bason ironically (and fittingly) floated down the stairs, still in spirit flame mode, hovering up close to Lady Ran's ear, whispering rapidly. Horohoro raised an eyebrow at Manta, who mirrored the sentiment.
"Like I was saying – strong libidos," Ran said, rubbing the back of her head embarrassedly, "Seems my son and, I'm sure, future-daughter-in-law will be a little late to breakfast."
"Has there been any talk about that subject?" Manta asked curiously, watching Bason scurry away in embarrassment.
"You mean marriage between my son and Miss Tamamura?" Ran guessed, "Jun and I have speculated, naturally, and I do expect the ceremony yesterday put the idea in the dear girl's head."
"So then there's just him to worry about, right?" Tray chuckled, sipping at his drink bit by bit.
Ran sighed at this, "Unfortunately, yes…"
Footsteps on the stairway alerted the small group to the arrival of the Asakura newly-weds. Lyserg looked up from his attempts to console Ryu, nodding respectfully, "Morning guys…"
"Morning," Anna nodded, and as she went to fix herself some nourishment, her husband knelt down and hugged the warrior of the wooden sword from behind.
The older man straightened up quickly, very taken aback, "Master Yoh?" he asked, confused.
"I…I love you guys," Yoh mumbled into the back of Ryu's shirt, "And I don't think I tell you that enough."
The color in Ryu's cheeks reddened considerably, "Master Yoh, are you alright?"
"Seriously, are you feeling ok, buddy?" Tray asked, raising an eyebrow at the Shaman King.
"Yeah…just a little shaken, I guess," Yoh said, releasing Ryu and shifting to sit beside him, "I had a vision last night…and it made me realize I shouldn't take you guys for granted…"
"A vision?" Manta wondered aloud curiously, "Kinda weird timing for that sorta thing, isn't it?"
"Actually, it seemed rather fitting," Anna said, sitting down beside the little man, "Yesterday was a sort of symbolic coming-of-age ceremony. It's no wonder the Great Spirit would want to remind him that looking out for number one isn't his top responsibility. Though the scare tactics seemed a bit extreme."
"Don't let it get to you man," Horohoro shrugged, wishing he had more breakfast but unwilling to make the effort to go retrieve additional nutrients, "Last night couldn't have been all bad, right?"
To this, Yoh blushed deeply, "Well, no…but I didn't wanna rub it in your faces…"
"Well, at least you made the effort to come downstairs…" Lyserg spoke up quietly, scratching his reddened cheek with one finger.
"Yeah, I noticed not everyone is accounted for," Anna said, scanning the group over, "Your parents and grandparents among them, Yoh."
"Please no, not that mental image again…" Joko moaned, head hitting the table.
Yoh thought upon this for a Moment, then realization dawned upon him. His face contorted in obvious revulsion, "Aww- they're so gross!"
Ran laughed at this, feeling quite privileged to be the only true adult present, "Now, your parents I can understand, but you're reading much too much into it – I promise you that your grandparents are merely sleeping. Age tends to lend itself to increasing tiredness."
"Thank God…" Horohoro said, feeling somewhat better now that he was able to confidently purge his mind of the repugnant thoughts that ceased to quiet themselves.
"Now, as far as my children are concerned, I can make no assurances," she said, brushing black-violet hair out of her face, "Though I do wish they would remember their manners and join us…"
"Somehow, I don't think they're much concerned with manners right now…" Manta told her, sighing.
"Well…this is certainly something I could get used to," Tami said, nuzzling up against her lover affectionately.
Ren smiled, happy thoughts of the Moment they had shared still fresh in his mind. He wrapped one arm around her, pulling their bodies still closer together, enjoying the warmth two heat sources in close proximity could produce, "Indeed…" he agreed, his voice a bit higher than he would have liked.
She kissed his cheek lightly, "I'm so glad you love me, Ren."
He returned the kiss, his piercing, yellow eyes focused solely on her magenta retinas, "I'm the lucky one…"
"We're both lucky," she said, sitting up slowly, leaning over him just slightly, "Now, don't you think we ought to go down to breakfast?"
Food might have been the furthest thing from his mind with her in such a seductive position above him. His eyes could no longer remain on hers, the temptation of looking downwards far too great, "Must we?"
"Pretty soon, I think," she said, leaning down to press her lips to his again, "The others are already onto us, I'm sure."
"How soon is pretty soon?" he asked, his face mere centimeters from hers.
"If I let you decide, it would be never, so I guess I have to make that decision," she said, brushing her nose against him, "We really should go wash up…"
His strong arms were now slowly working their way around her back. He knew it was silly, but he didn't particularly want the blissful feelings he was experiencing to come to a conclusion just yet, "We really should..." he murmured in mock-agreement, pressing his lips against hers, a longer kiss than the previous one.
"I don't think you're taking me very seriously," she said with a smile as he at last released her from the lip-lock.
"'Course I am," Ren muttered automatically, his kisses migrating across her cheek down to her neck, his extremely active hormones emboldening his actions.
She sighed, her common sense falling victim to the soft touch of his lips on her skin. "You're really quite evil, you know," she said breathily.
"Yes," he told her confidently, a touch of pride in his voice, his barrage of kisses continuing its path downward.
Surrendering to him once again, she sunk lower onto him, her concerns for the others drowned out for the Moment.
"Good morning, Jun," Ran said as her daughter and the Jiang-Si entered the kitchen, "Nice of you two to join us."
"I don't think we're the last ones up," Jun said briskly, pouring herself a cup of tea, "And it's not even that late, Mother. Honestly, can't you save this for your son?"
"Must I be chastised for simply greeting my daughter?" The elder Tao woman asked, feigning mild offense.
"You must when a greeting comes with such an underlying insinuation," Jun said, leaning back against the counter as she waited for the water to boil, "But please, enough about me, how has everyone else been this morning?"
"Well rested," Horohoro spoke first, his breakfast platter and mug emptied and growing cold in front of him, still soiled.
"Oh…" she said, cheeks flushed, "That's um…good to hear."
"So…" Manta cleared his throat, trying to revive the conversation before it turned needlessly awkward again, "Where are you guys going for your honeymoon?" he asked, turning to Yoh and Anna.
"Huh?" Yoh asked, as both he and Anna looked up, bemused, "Our what?"
"I…I didn't even think of that…" Anna said embarrassedly.
"Oh, sorry," The heir to the Oyamada Company sighed, shaking his head. Nothing he did seemed to go right…
"It's no big deal," she shook her head.
"What's a honeymoon?" Yoh asked, still thoroughly confused.
"It's like a vacation you take with your spouse just after you get married," Lyserg tried to explain kindly.
"With lotsa sex," Horohoro finished, grinning widely.
"Really?" Yoh said excitedly, "Anna – why can't we have one of them?"
"Because we can't afford it," she replied simply, "Vacations cost money, Yoh."
"What about the Oshugi?" the Shaman King rallied.
"I haven't counted it out yet, but who knows how long it'll take to get actual paying jobs," Anna said, taking a bite of her toast, "We can't risk not eating for a month to go on a holiday."
Yoh sighed pitifully, resting his head in his hands and his elbows on the table, "Oh…right…"
"What on earth is everyone looking so glum for?" Keiko Asakura asked as she and Mikihisa entered the kitchen.
"Master Yoh and Lady Anna have no honeymoon plans, and no finances to make them…" Ryu explained, bowing his upper body to the two.
"What are you talking about?" Mikihisa asked, "Keiko – didn't you tell them?"
"Oh!" Keiko put a hand to her mouth, "It may have slipped my mind," she said with a laugh.
"Tell us what?" Yoh asked, perking up somewhat.
"Your grandparents have arranged for the two of you to stay in Atami for a week," Keiko said, "I can't believe I forgot to tell you."
Mikihisa laughed as Keiko stammered out an apology, "Typical, dear. Just typical."
"It's not like I do this on purpose, you know!" Keiko said, blushing.
"I will never cease to be amazed at how much noise you kids can make…"
"Uh, good morning Grandpa!" Yoh said, grinning at the old man, as everyone else snapped to attention, bowing graciously in greeting.
"Yes, I suppose. At least we should be able to get back to more a normal-type racket…" Yohmei said gruffly, making his way down the stairs slowly, leaning heavily on his walking stick to navigate the steps.
"Heh, heh, heh…it was mostly Mom and Dad making the noise," Yoh said, one hand behind his head, "Are they usually this loud or are we all provoking them?"
"Spread the blame equally among yourselves," he shrugged, his annoyance evaporating quickly, "What's all this about anyway?"
"Oh, Mom forgot to tell us we get to have a honeymoon," Yoh replied, smiling broadly, "Thanks, by the way, Gramps."
He returned the grin, "You're welcome. Enjoy yourselves."
"I think that's everything," Yoh said, slamming the trunk of the cab shut, safely tucking their luggage away safely.
"Thank you for everything, Lady Keiko, Mikihisa-San," Anna said, hugging each of her parent-in-laws.
"Please, it's Mom and Dad from now on," Keiko said, kissing the young woman on the cheek.
Anna's eyes shone and she smiled, "Okay…Mom…"
Tray, sitting on the porch like most of the guests that had been invited to attend the ceremony, stood slowly, setting his beer bottle down to save his spot, "I guess we're gonna be heading out soon too," he said, a hint of sadness behind his even tone. He offered a hand to the King of the Shamans, "Enjoy yourself, you dog!"
Yoh took the Ainu's hand and then pulled him in for a tight hug, "We'll see each other soon," he said, a touch of moisture gleaming in his eyes, "You take good care of yourself, and Pilika, until we get back, okay?"
Horohoro's grin widened, but he too could feel his eyelids willing him to blink away excess liquid, "C'mon, it's me!"
"I know," Yoh nodded, patting his friend roughly on the shoulder, and then turned to the next nearest group of friends, "Lyserg, Faust, Joko – thanks for coming out at such short notice."
Faust inclined his head politely, raising one arm to rest on the front of his shoulder in a bow, "Of course, meinen Könnig."
"Hey, I'm always up for a party," Joko said, giving Yoh two thumbs up, "Let's not wait so long to throw another one, kay?"
"I had a lot of fun," Lyserg started, smiling warmly at Yoh, "I really wish you and Anna the best of luck, Yoh. You're going to be a great King someday…"
"Thanks guys," Yoh said, beaming at the trio, before turning to see who was next.
"MASTER YOH!" Ryu practically tackled the Shaman King, tears running freely down his face as he embraced Yoh tightly.
"Heh, heh," Yoh laughed, as he patted the older man on his pompadoured head, "I'll miss you too, Ryu. Don't you be a stranger when we get back to Tokyo, okay?"
He nodded vigorously, trying to retain a shred of control over his emotions, "Yes, yes of course," he replied, sniffling.
Yoh grinned, and was just about to pull away when the entirety of Ryu's gang joined the hug, each overcome with sentiments at the tender Moment. Horohoro enjoyed a hearty laugh at Yoh's expense as the poor smothered Shaman King struggled to squirm free of the group glomp.
"Guys-Guys, I can't breathe!" Yoh gasped, his body practically being crushed by the force of the gang's emotional Moment, "I love you all too, ok? You can all stop by sometime with Ryu!"
"Alright, that's enough," Anna snapped, glaring at the mob, "Knock it off you guys." The prospect of these over-grown galoots swarming around her house again didn't particularly please her, but if it got them to release her husband, she would put up with it.
In an instant, the nine fully-grown, physically above-average young men that once belonged to Ryu's gang were off of the Shaman King, such was their fear of the young Itako female. Handshakes, in an attempt to seem more masculine than the fools they had been making of themselves, were instead offered, along with congratulations and best wishes about the wedding.
Yoh turned next to the Taos and Tamera, "Um…thanks for coming, guys," he said, smiling at the women, trying to ignore the cold stare he was getting from the lone male of the small group.
Tami's lower lip trembled slightly. As a young girl, her first real affections had been directed towards Yoh, whether he actually ever knew or not. She had been far too shy to ever say anything, and he was already marked territory, as it were. Still, she would always have feelings for him as a friend, a brother almost, to replace that which she never had. The Kokkuri diviner, a bit red in the face, hugged Yoh quickly, "Have a good time, ok?" she said, smiling sadly.
"You betcha!" he nodded, and then leaned forward and kissed the young woman on the cheek, "And don't worry, we'll see each other soon."
Ren, eyes blazing now, took a menacing step forward, reason thrown to the wayside in his fury. How DARE he!
Tami was blushing even more intensely than before, and Ran and Jun each took hold of one of Ren's arms. "We had a lovely time," Jun said.
"Congratulations to you both," Ran added.
Anna stepped up, taking hold of Yoh's arm possessively, "Thank you, Lady Ran."
The older woman smiled knowingly at the Itako, "My pleasure."
Ren, still infuriated, scowled at his sister, "Let me go," he instructed, his voice no more than a tense whisper.
"Behave yourself," Jun hissed back at him.
"Did you see what he-"
Before Yoh could even realize that he had done anything to upset the Mandarin, Anna had steered him off to the last member of their non-relations who had not bid them farewell yet. "This has been some crazy weekend, huh?" Manta asked, smiling up at the newly-weds.
"Yeah, I'll say," Yoh chuckled, one hand rubbing the back of his head, "Hey, thanks for coming, Manta. I know it's hard for you to get time off from your job an' all."
"I wouldn't have missed this for anything," the smaller man said.
Yoh knelt down on one knee, giving a small, unusual height advantage to his friend. He stretched out his arms, offering an embrace, "See ya, buddy!"
Tearfully, Manta accepted the hug, "Take care, Yoh."
A Moment passed, then the two friends released each other. Yoh stood again, patting the dust and wrinkles out of his clothing, then wiped a small droplet of liquid from his eye, "I will, don't worry. Don't let work get you down, alright?"
"I'll try," Manta nodded, "And call me when you get back to Tokyo, alright?"
"Sure thing," Yoh replied, shaking his head up-and-down enthusiastically.
"We'll always keep in touch," Anna added, reaching down to pat their small friend on the head (meant as an actual sign of affection disguised in degradation), "No worries."
He frowned (in good humor though) and tried to fix his hair back into place quickly, "Have fun, Anna…"
"You can count on it," she said.
Yohmei coughed into his hand, not wishing to intrude on the group of three, but also impatient to get his chance to finally say a few words to his grandson and (now) granddaughter-in-law.
Yoh and Anna both turned towards the head of the Asakura clan. "Uh, right – Thanks for everything, Grandpa, Grandma," Yoh said, bowing slightly to the pair.
The old man softened, his wrinkled face cracking into a smile. He held his arms open wide, expectantly, "Yoh, come here."
Yoh knelt down again wrapping his arms around the old man, whispering, "I love you, Grandpa."
"I love you too, Yoh," the elder shaman replied, patting his grandson on the back with his strong hands, his voice just as quiet, "And I want you to know: I've never been prouder of you in my life than I was yesterday, really."
"That…that means a lot, Grandpa," the Shaman King stammered, tears forming in his eyes once again.
Master Yohmei just continued to beam, paused a beat, then decided to speak up something that had been on the backburner of his mind since the early morning, "So…when may I be expecting great-grandchildren?" he asked slyly, his voice still only high enough for Yoh to hear.
"Erk…um, well, ya never now, Grandpa," Yoh laughed embarrassedly, "Anything can happen."
"We'll certainly be trying," Anna said, kneeling down beside her husband.
He laughed loudly, releasing his grandson and retrieving his walking stick from its spot on the ground next to him, "Oh, you kids…" he chuckled, shaking his head, "Well, enjoy Atami. There'll be plenty of time to get down to business once the Asakura clan is insured to survive for another generation."
"You got it Gramps!" Yoh said as he and Anna got to their feet again, "We'll see you all in no time!"
"Would you two just get going already?" Keiko laughed as Mikihisa put a hand around her waist, "You're going to miss your train!"
The King of the Shamans ran over to his parents to bid them another quick farewell, hugging his mother for a few long seconds, "We'll send you guys a post-card, ok?"
"We'll be waiting," she said, kissing his cheek and then hugging Anna briefly, "Have a great time!"
"We will!" Yoh called, walking briskly over to their waiting taxi and opening the door, waiting for Anna to enter first.
She waved briefly and then slid inside, her husband following eagerly after her. A short Moment later, the cab was rolling away down the dirt path, carrying the young lovers away to complete their personal fairy tale.
"Well, that's that," Mikihisa said as Keiko dabbed at her eyes with her sleeve.
"I guess we oughta be heading out as well, huh?" Tray asked, turning towards his sister, his now-emptied bottle held loosely in one hand.
"Yeah…" Pilika nodded, "But we didn't preorder train tickets for the trip back."
"I figured we would just wait and buy the tickets for whatever time we wind up getting to the station," Manta said.
"Good thinkin'," Horohoro nodded approvingly, "So where's that fancy bus you used to get us up here?" he asked, grinning at the little man.
"I'll have to call the shuttle company," Manta said, pulling out his cell phone. After looking over at where Ryu and his gang were still waving after the cab, he added, "I may need an extra shuttle this time…"
Meanwhile, Dr. Faust VIII was replacing his white top hat onto his bright, blonde hair. The handle of his single piece of luggage (now with complete and updated measurements for his favorite patient) was already clenched tightly in one hand, the leaf that he had placed in his pocket now carefully pressed and sealed in a small pouch within the briefcase. He bowed to the oldest members of the Asakura clan, and next their children, "Many thanks for your hospitality, it was a pleasure to witness such an auspicious event."
"Not at all," Kino said, nodding at him, "It was a pleasure to have you here. Both of you," she smiled in Eliza's direction.
The German man's cheek muscles pulled backwards, spreading his purple lips into a grin, "Your guest chambers were certainly enjoyable…"
"Of course they were," Yohmei rolled his eyes.
Faust inclined his head again, "Good day, everyone," then started the trek down the dirt path leading away from the Asakura complex, passing Manta (and giving the little man a piercing stare and a tiny smile as he did so) on the way.
Manta laughed and gave a nervous wave to the German as he and his love disappeared, unable to help but feeling just a tad relieved.
"Can't you control yourself for something as simple as a goodbye?" Jun said suddenly, glaring at her brother.
"I will when he can!" Ren snapped irately, shaking her off of his arm, "I think I had every right to be angry- did you see what he did?"
"I can't believe you're worked up over that," Jun said.
"It didn't mean anything serious," Tami said, her cheeks very red, "We're just friends – you know that."
"For goodness sake, he's married now," Jun added.
He snorted, folding his arms crossly, relieving himself of his mothers hold on his other arm, "I don't care…"
"You know what I think you all could use?" Ran asked, "A little time away from Tokyo. What would you say to returning to China with me this afternoon?"
"Oh, mother," Ren sighed, clearly not warming up to the idea.
"I think that might be nice," Tami said meekly, "I haven't seen your home in a while."
His eyes met hers briefly, and his foul temper tapered off into mild annoyance upon seeing her innocent, anxious expression, "Well, I suppose a few days couldn't hurt…"
Tami smiled and Ran gave her son a light hug, "Excellent! I've even brought jet number 33 with me – your favorite."
"Curse you and your temptations, woman."
Her fan contacted sharply with his head as a vein on her temple began throbbing.
Rubbing the back of his head, Ren spoke again, a bit more cautiously and much more modestly, "'Mother'. I meant 'mother'…"
"That's what I thought," she said, her smile returning. Swiftly, she turned towards the remaining Asakuras, "Thank you so much for having us, but it's time we were on our way."
"Please feel free to drop by anytime," Yohmei responded politely, bowing his head slightly to Tao Ran, "It was a pleasure to accommodate you. I'm sorry we didn't send you a more formal invitation in the first place."
"Not at all," she said, inclining her head respectfully, "We'll be in touch! Come darlings, the jet's not far from here," she said sweeping gracefully off down the dirt path.
Ren took Tamera by the arm protectively, following after his mother with his lover at his side.
Jun and Bailong both bowed slightly to the Asakuras before tagging along as well, arm in arm.
"Well, the shuttles should be here in about an hour," Manta said, folding his cell phone shut, "It's a long ride up from town."
"Why don't you all join us for lunch?" Keiko offered.
"Awesome!" Horohoro exclaimed, heading back towards the house, followed suit by the remaining young people.
"So, who's gonna be preparing this meal?" Mikihisa asked as he led his wife indoors.
"I was thinking you might," Keiko said with a smirk, "What do you think, Kino?"
"I think he certainly needs to do more of his share around here," Kino said, just a few steps behind them.
"Er," Mikihisa paused, not liking the way the conversation he had instigated was turning out for him, "Well, I would, of course, but I'm sure my apprentice is already hard at work in the kitchen, and I would hate to show him up…"
"Nonsense, I'm sure he'd be honored to have you assist him," Kino laughed as the three of them disappeared into the house, "Coming, dear?" she called back towards her husband.
Master Yohmei was still staring down the well-worn, beaten dirt pathway leading to and from the Asakura complex, a far-off look in his eyes. His grandson was truly an adult in this world now. He had faced trials and tribulations, fought against great evil, experienced the pain of physical and mental injury, reveled in the joys of love and compassion. Yoh was the King of the Shamans, the one true leader of both worlds. The thought of this made the old man smile happily.
His time was coming to an end, the bitter, paranoid, distrustful pre-Tournament mentality fading with him. His grandson was the future, shining brightly before him, a light for all seemingly without hope to see. Yohmei turned and began making his way slowly towards his wife, his tired body somehow less so than usual, "Yes, I'm coming…"