A/N: My first Hao/Yoh and Shaman King fic. Written based on the anime only as I have yet to get my hands on the manga scans. Happens around the time just after Lyserg and the X-Laws got a taste of Yoh's Nidanbankai (did I spell that right?). Since it's not specified how long they take to actually get anywhere, I shall take my liberties; three months is a long time. If the title is weird, I'm sorry; I ran out of suitable ideas. Taken from the title of PoT's Fuji brothers' image song.

"..." speech

/.../ thoughts

Disclaimer: These things are called fanfiction for a reason, you know... And why aren't Hao and Yoh canonly (and openly) gay? Because I don't own Shaman King, of course.

Sempre com Irmao

Always with My Brother

Chapter 1: Fire

(Theme 1: Rain; Keyword 1: Umbrella. Theme 3: Sleep; Keyword 3: Robes)

Fire, fire, burning bright

Another soul you'll sear tonight

A warming flame, an intense heat

Dance on the coals beneath my feet

I walk a path that's out of sight

an estranged soul someday to meet

Burn for me and be my light

Burn for me, dark is tonight...

If there was one thing Asakura Hao really couldn't stand about his other half, it was the younger boy's obsession with that... thing he called friendship and his persistence in doing the impossible (a.k.a. opposing him). Well, technically, that made it two things, but who was counting? There was probably a list of other smaller, less annoying aspects as well anyway. He fingered his right earring as he watched said younger brother make a complete fool of himself with his so-called friends through the fire before him, something he did whenever he was deep in thought, which was a rare occurrence; few things in this world of foolish humans ever required much thought on his part these days.

The more he looked at it, the more he believed that that bunch of weak idiots was the very basis of Yoh's problem. He turned his gaze away from the fire and up towards the clear night sky instead. He liked this cliff; it offered him a clear view of the stars at night and stargazing was one of those tremendously simple pleasures of life that he enjoyed. The stars were constant; they had remained very much the same throughout the last one thousand years and even before that, unlike the hearts of people that could change within seconds. And few would know that better than him, he who had always been able to hear the thoughts of men even when he really wished he couldn't. He absently let his hand fall to his side.

His twin was never going to get stronger at this rate, not even with the Chou Senjiryakketsu, not as long as he had those human weaklings to fall back on and drag him down. If he allowed things to proceed the way they were, the Shaman Fight would be long over and he would most likely be on his way to his next reincarnation before Yoh grew as powerful as he himself had been one thousand years ago. That totally messed up things. As long as Yoh didn't get stronger, he couldn't merge with him. He was going to have to take matters into his own hands. He found himself reaching up to finger the wooden earring again and stopped himself. He was going to break the earring someday, which simply wouldn't do; he liked this pair, for a reason he himself couldn't pinpoint. It was the first unnecessary item he had gotten himself and he had pierced his ears the instant he thought his head had grown heavier than said pair of earrings, which was indeed heavy.

Trying to annihilate his brother's band of worthless comrades would most probably result in his prized other half getting injured, since his foolish little twin would –no doubt- go so far as to use that precious body to shield them. So selfless was he, so Yoh. That left one other option. The older Asakura smirked as he thought about it, rising from his seat on the solitary rock on the reddish, slightly sandy cliff. Nothing and no one ever messed up Asakura Hao's plans; he'd make sure of that.

Asakura Yoh sat on a rock, shaped like another rock on a nearby cliff, gazing up at the stars. There were so many of those twinkling stellar bodies in sight on the night sky tonight. He smiled, reaching up towards them, stretching his hand out as far as he could reach, and imagined what it would be like to grasp one of them. Stargazing was one of his favourite pastimes, along with sleeping, soaking in hot springs and eating. He turned slightly to glance at his friends, all sleeping near the fire they had built a slight distance away. He wondered when they would finally reach Patch Village, so he could finally sleep on a decent bed and get some decent food AND not have to walk so much everyday. This really didn't fit in with his idea (or rather, ideal) of an easy life. Not to mention the fact that his scary fiancée was here to dish out her insane training programmes as well.

He froze as Kyouyama Anna stirred slightly as if hearing his thoughts, before returning to sleep peaceably. Sometimes he wondered if he really was that transparent or if she perhaps had psychic powers along with spiritual ones. Anna. Did she really love him, he wondered, or had she perhaps taught herself to after resigning herself to the fact that they were engaged? He knew she cared –of course she did- even if she had obscure ways of showing it, but was that love? On the other hand, he wasn't sure he loved her either. He liked her, yes, cared about her, of course, but no, he didn't think he loved her. He sighed softly. Perhaps he should break off the engagement; committing themselves to a loveless marriage would only make them both unhappy.

He turned back to the stars. If he looked closely enough, he could see the pictures they made up in the sky as constellations, and if he tried hard enough, he could almost imagine what the pictures were. Tonight, he thought the stars looked like they were forming a plate of yakisoba with the tip of Ren's hair sticking out of it. He chuckled softly at the image; thankfully, none of his friends were psychic. His thoughts tonight would have gotten him in serious trouble. Smiling, he aimed his outstretched right hand at one particularly bright star and made as if to grasp it... only find his hand closing over someone else's. The hand was warm and smooth, but he stiffened at the aura he sensed behind him.

"Hao," he enunciated the name softly, not wanting to wake his friends. Was the other here to fight or attempt to kill them again?

"No," the older shaman answered in response to his thoughts. A pause. "Not if you come with me," he added.

Yoh sighed again. There was always a catch, always. "Where?" he asked quietly.

His brother smirked slightly, sliding his hand down Yoh's arm in mild appreciation. Being his twin had its physical perks. "You'll see..." he replied vaguely.

The younger Asakura quickly snatched his hand back down as felt his hair stand on end.

His twin's smirk simply widened at the knowledge that he was making him uncomfortable. "Leave them a message..." He paused almost as if in thought. "Say you have something to do and will be gone for about a week. Tell them to go on ahead and that you'll meet up with them later."

Yoh jumped up and spun around in shock. "A week!" he hushed his surprised exclamation. "They'll suspect something." What would Hao want with him for a week?

"It doesn't matter." Hao smiled calmly. "They won't be able to do anything about it."

"What do you want with me? Where are you taking me?" he demanded. It wasn't about fear; it was about wariness. Just because he didn't really fear his twin didn't mean he was about to simply walk off with the power-crazed pyromaniac for no good reason.

"Such charitable thoughts you have of me, otouto-kun" said shaman observed lightly, a mildly amused smile on his face. He slid an obsidian glance towards his younger brother's sleeping 'friends'. "Ah, they're sleeping by a fire..." he mused quietly. "How convenient." He paused. "Maa... Not that it makes a difference," he concluded with the slightest shrug to lean shoulders.

The younger shaman recognised the veiled threat in the words and remained silent. They weren't –not even collectively- strong enough to fight Hao yet. A week with his rather manic twin for the lives of his friends. It was a simple and obvious choice. He looked around for something to pen the message on and failed to find a piece of paper.

"Need a pen and paper?" the other offered politely, a piece of paper and a fountain pen in his outstretched right hand.

He took the offered stationery and began to pen the necessary message. His companion's long brown hair and white poncho billowed in the gentle breeze that suddenly picked up. The easy closed-eyed smile never wavered, and he had to wonder if his brother was perhaps faking the pleasantry sometimes. Done with the note, he used a medium-sized stone as a paperweight and placed the small square piece of paper slightly nearer to his slumbering comrades, before turning back to his mirror image. And indeed, the older shaman really did seem like his reflection in a mirror, completely identical on a physical level, but totally inverse in every other aspect. The smile widened as Asakura Hao stretched out his right hand again, inviting his younger twin to take his hand.

Yoh stepped towards him, hand reaching out. "Where are we going?" he asked, curious now, as he placed his hand in his older sibling's. It was a perfect fit; they were twins, after all.

Fire began to circle them, a magical fire that burned intensely with an unfelt heat, as the other opened those eyes the colour of the midnight sky, eyes that were almost exactly identical to his own. "Somewhere," he whispered the reply, still smiling that serene smile.

And for a moment, Yoh experienced a slight floating sensation before it felt like he was falling endlessly and then an utter blackness overtook him. Only the warm hand gripping his own remained.

The sun shone in through an open window as pale green cotton curtains billowed in the chilly early morning breeze, which carried the scent of ripening wheat on it. He turned over in the soft warm bed to face away from the sunlight. Then, suddenly he sat bolt upright as his sleep-fuzzed mind finally processed what was happening. Asakura Yoh blinked at his surroundings. A bed? A soft white pillow under his head just moments ago matched the colour of the white sheets he was sitting on. A thick wool-lined pale green blanket large enough to cover four people his size had been draped over him; someone had tucked him in. He smiled slightly at the thought; it was a nice thing to do.

Outside, a slowly turning windmill stood a small distance away on a carpet of greenish-yellow wheat plants that swayed in the fresh-smelling breeze, which stretched out as far as he could see. Patterns had been painstakingly moulded into the fine plaster of the white stucco walls, patterns that coalesced into... seals. Shamanic seals. Alarm bells sounded in his head as the image of a familiar smiling face, of long brown tresses billowing in the wind with a far greater grace than the curtains, of a warm strong hand holding his own tightly flashed through his mind. Hao. Something just had to be wrong; he knew it, could feel it in his veins, his bones, his soul.

Jumping to his feet in alarm on the varnished pinewood floor, the shaman tore towards the lacquered pinewood door, threw it open without stopping, and ran right into somebody, somebody of equal height and near-identical physiology. That resulted in two sore noses and one very awkward position as Yoh found his lips pressed against his pyromaniac twin's with the other's deep intense onyx eyes staring straight into his own. Those dark eyes blinked with almost excruciating slowness as he stumbled backwards, mind blank and numb from shock for the very first time in his life, his right hand rising of its own accord to cover his mouth. Then, a pink tongue flicked out to lick soft lips now formed into a pleasant smile as the other's eyes slid shut.

"Maa... I knew you were friendly, Yoh, but that's quite a greeting to make my morning with," Asakura Hao told his twin, amused.

That's when the spell broke.

The younger shaman's eyes widened and a look of pure horror and disgust formed on his face as he tried to talk through the hand covering his mouth. "Mmmngh!"

Hao raised his eyebrows. "The bathroom?" He stepped backwards to the plain stucco wall of the corridor in order to let his brother out of the room. "On the left," he replied politely in response to the other shaman's thoughts.

The junior Asakura made a dash for it past his all-too-cheerfully laughing elder brother, slamming the bathroom door behind him to keep out any interruptions as he properly washed and rinsed his mouth and sanity.

/I just kissed my brother./

/I just kissed Asakura Hao./

/I just kissed my twin./

/I just kissed my brother./

/I just kissed my brother./

/I just kissed my brother./

"And I'll make you do it again if you don't stop thinking like that right now," said brother informed Yoh with warning vehemence to his voice. He hated being telepathic, had always hated it. Humans always said that ignorance was bliss and for once, he agreed with them on this. The minds of 99.999999 percent of the world were so small, so narrow, so blind that listening to their infinitesimal vision and frame of mind and thinking was nothing short of pure suffering. The ones who held sinful filthy thoughts only made things worse as he wished he could just find everyone of them and burn them to fine ash at that very instant; it was utterly frustrating. "You didn't even bother to greet Opacho whose cooking you are currently eating," he continued with mild irritation, leaning back in the simple pinewood chair he was sitting on.

The younger of the twins looked up at the little African kid in an orange toga sitting opposite him at the small square pinewood table who didn't look the least bit happy about being neglected. He tried a smile; it usually worked, except that it didn't. The child frowned and turned to Hao.

"Hao-sama, Hao-sama's otouto is cold. Opacho doesn't like him."

Yoh turned helplessly to his twin, wondering what the longhaired shaman would say to that. Much to his surprise, his estranged relative merely smiled an amazingly gentle smile at the little girl. "Don't say such things about him. Yoh's very nice. He just suffered a bit of a shock this morning." At this, the pyromaniac's smile became a devilish grin.

/Do you really derive enjoyment from watching me suffer/ Yoh wondered, grinning outwardly as Opacho turned back to him. "Sorry. Hi, I'm Yoh. And you're a great cook. Honest." He turned to Hao for support.

Hao continued to smile with his eyes closed and propped his chin up with his right hand, and Yoh received an amused nod in response to his mental question as his twin verbally affirmed his honesty to a now satisfied Opacho.

/Did I ever tell you that I really hate you/

"Enough times that I no longer believe it," came the amused reply. Hao had never tried to train this power like he did with the others because he despised its very existence and he never wanted to hear any more than he already could; otherwise, he would very likely also be capable of replying mentally.

A mildly confused Opacho looked up to give them a questioning glance, to which the older shaman replied with a quick wink. The little girl giggled and Yoh watched in astonishment as his twin, who had been called evil and insane and so many other horrible things for as long as he could remember, made funny faces at the child as she giggled almost hysterically.

/Hao.../ He smiled to himself. /You're not entirely evil after all/ he thought. If Hao could be nice to a child, then he had the capacity for kindness to others. If he was a shaman, if he saw spirits, then he wasn't pure evil. That was all he needed to know for now. Mercifully, the other shaman was too engrossed in amusing his African companion to notice his thoughts. "Ne," he asked cheerfully, making them pause in what they were doing. "Where can I get seconds?"

Opacho simply pointed to a pot on the adjoining kitchen's stove. A slender and simple pinewood arch had been placed between the kitchen and the small dining area where the wall surface changed from stucco to white ceramic tiles with simple relief designs. The kitchen counter was covered in the same tiles and the stainless steel sink, taps, stovetop and other kitchen equipment were arguably the most modern things in the house. No TVs, no computers and no radios. The only other piece of modern technology in the cottage was the ceiling fans in the various rooms and areas. Apparently, Hao was opposed to modern technologies unless it had some significant use or it was easier to have it than to get by without it.

"Yes, I am," said shaman affirmed, a rare bitterness in his voice. "Their creation is what destroys nature, what destroys this beautiful world we live in. Filthy humans destroy nature to create them without ever realizing how much damage they do, how they are ruining the very thing that gives them life, how..."

"But they are as much a part of nature as everything else is," Yoh argued as he scooped more porridge from the pot on the stove.

"Other creatures don't destroy everything else through their very existence. Will you get me another helping too?"

"Sure." He walked back over to the table with his filled bowl. "Mind having mine first?" he asked as he set it down and picked his twin's up.

Hao shook his head and started on the filled bowl. They were essentially the same person after all; he didn't suppose there was a difference.

"Not all humans are like that. Most of them aren't," the younger shaman continued with the debate. Hao just didn't and couldn't understand.

"Can Yoh-sama get some for Opacho too?" the African girl asked cheerfully.

"Yeah," he responded with a wide easy smile, taking her bowl back to the pot with him.

"If every one of them destroys at least one thing or creature, that's enough damage done."

Yoh sighed as he filled the bowls. "I suppose I can't convince you not to destroy all humanity?" he queried as he brought the filled bowls back to the table and set one down before Opacho who chirped her thanks before walking around the table to his seat.

His twin swallowed a mouthful of porridge before speaking. "No. They're sinful, they're fil..." He was silenced as Yoh touched two fingers to his lips. When had he gotten complacent enough to allow a lesser person to lay even a finger on him? He usually had to check his reflexive response; just now, he hadn't even responded. He couldn't seriously be getting sloppy with age.

"Don't." The word was a whisper as younger of the twins sat down again. "I'm going to be here for a week; don't spoil the week for me. Things will work out somehow. I don't want to hear it," he told his brother, who was still staring in bewilderment at the slender digits on his lips, softly. Then he withdrew his hand, but not before wiping a slight trace of porridge off the other's cheek with one finger as he did so, and resumed eating.

It was quite a few moments before a slightly confused Asakura Hao returned his attention to his food.

"So what did you bring me here for?" Yoh questioned his elder brother as he passed Opacho a freshly washed bowl to dry.

It had been quickly established that Hao was the only person around who didn't have to do any work; Yoh had to wash the dishes as Opacho sat on the kitchen counter with a dishcloth to dry them while Hao sat on a settee of rattan and tatami, leaning on one of three pale green cushions, in the spacious living area. Or rather, the almost unfurnished living area. Besides the settee Hao was sitting on and the large woven wool rug he rested his bare feet upon, the large area to the left of the door that appeared to mark the transition from living area to dining area was devoid of furniture. Only a brick fireplace against the wall that formed the corridor to the rooms took up a little of that wide space.


He nearly dropped the bowl he was passing to Opacho. "Training?" he echoed incredulously.

"Aa." He could feel the older shaman's midnight gaze on his back, intense enough to burn holes in him. "You know my plan."

"To destroy humanity and revamp the planet, yeah. How does training me fit into that?" he enquired. "I'll oppose you; you know that, Hao. Why would you want to make me stronger?" He started scrubbing the pot they had boiled the porridge in.

"I told you." Yoh stiffened. When had his brother gotten so close? He could feel the other's breath on his skin, at the nape of his neck. "I will take that body back someday soon." A smooth finger trailed down the back of his neck languidly then, tracing his spine and leaving goosebumps in its wake. In a flash, he had put the half-washed pot down and spun around to face his crazy twin, if only to prevent the other from continuing the gesture. Two almost-identical pairs of obsidian eyes met as Hao leaned ever closer to his little brother, Yoh having no way of escaping with his hands resting on the edge of the sink on either side of the younger shaman. His smile was eerily pleasant as he murmured his next words approximately one and a half inches away from his captive's face. "Everything that is you belongs to me, otouto-kun. And I will take back what is mine." The smile became a smirk as a few beads of sweat trickled down Yoh's forehead.

Hao's hair was blocking out the light in the bright kitchen and the scent of strangely fragrant smoke and ash was making him slightly nauseous as Yoh leaned back as far as he could without falling into the sink. What was the deranged pyromaniac thinking? 'Uncomfortable' didn't even begin to describe the proximity between them. "I..." he began, having to find his tongue again. "I still don't see how training me would do you any good. Won't it only complicate the process of taking... back what's yours?" He carefully avoided the word 'me'. If Hao came any closer, he thought he'd have a panic attack.

Apparently satisfied with the level of discomfort he had caused his twin, Hao stepped back, his pleasant demeanour once more settling over his face. "Perhaps. But then your weakness is also a problem for me." He turned around to saunter back to the settee. "You might end up decreasing instead of increasing my powers after the merge," he tossed back over his shoulder.

"The merge?"

"We will return to being one person. Asakura Yoh will cease to exist. You are I and I am you. It will be that way again," the senior Asakura clarified. Then he paused midstep. "Hurry with the dishes, Yoh. Seven days isn't many. You need to begin."

Yoh turned back to the dishes and picked up the pot once more, tears cascading down his face. He wasn't particularly worried about what Hao had said. Things would work themselves out somehow, but... just when he thought he was away from Anna... just when he thought he'd at least have seven days of freedom from her insanity if nothing else, he now had to bear the brunt of his brother's insanity. He sighed. Where was the easy life he'd always planned on living?

Meanwhile, at Yoh's camp, a heated argument –The Great Spirits forbid one to call it a debate- was ensuing. No one was happy to find the note on the ground and their leader missing with the flimsy excuse of having a task to carry out that he hadn't even cared to describe. Technically, only two people were actually participating in the argument. The rest were doing or trying to do more productive things with the exception of Chocolove who wasn't in any condition to do anything after the severe bludgeoning and poking he had received from the two arguing parties. Faust VII was packing up the rest of the camp with the help of his beloved reanimated wife; Manta was attempting to find anything he could in his computer, not that he thought it would help, but there was nothing else he could do and it helped take his mind off how upset he was that his best friend hadn't told even him about planning to disappear.

Ryu was moping in a corner, his hair as big as mess as his morale, since there seemed to be a direct relation between the quantity of static that maintained his hairstyle and the level of his morale. Moping wasn't exactly productive, but as far as where Itako no Anna was concerned, at least it was silent. As it was, she could feel the vein in her left temple popping as she observed the idiocy of a certain Ainu and a certain Chinese youth from where she sat cross-legged on the ground. Tamao, at least, was doing something useful by attempting to scry for Yoh's location, but Anna personally doubted the young acolyte would be able to find her lazy fiancé. If she knew Yoh as well as she thought she did, there was only one possibility as to what could have caused his evanescence. And that made locating him out of the question. But...

"You're the idiot! Why would he go looking for a toilet in the middle of nowhere!"

"Nature calls! Wouldn't you go if you had to, baka!"

"Kisama, what have we been doing about it so far!"

"Well... Well maybe he got lost!"

Anna clenched her fist. The situation's utter lack of intelligence was grating on her nerves, never mind the fact that she would never show how worried she was about her childhood friend and fiancé.

"So maybe there are thirty-three places in my country where one could get lost after making just one wrong turn, but..."

"Sasuga na bocchama!" (Such brilliance as expected of the young master.)

"How brilliant is that! Goddammit!"

"But this isn't my country!"


That was the sound of Kyouyama Anna's patience as it finally wore out, resulting in Horo Horo and Ren's being properly embedded into the nearest cliff face by a technique better known as the legendary Secret Double-Handed Killing Technique. The itako herself had never christened the move; she cared little for names as long as it brought results, and that it certainly did in most glorious fashion.

"Tamao, you can stop. Faust, Elisa, Manta, let's go." Her expressionless visage never wavered as she began walking.

"And where are we going, Anna-san?" the blonde necromancer asked politely, falling in step behind her with his wife.

"Patch Village. We proceed with the journey as planned."

There was a cry of pain as Ren poked Chocolove with his hair again before the aspiring comedian had the chance to even open his mouth.

"I wasn't even going to make a pun!" the victim protested.

"You do that just about every single time you open your mouth," riposted the spear-haired boy, whose hair's spikiness appeared to increase with his level of irritation.

"But... But what about Yoh-kun?" Manta asked then. He felt small; he always did. He was always the only one who couldn't contribute, always the one that had to be kept out of danger. And when Yoh wasn't around, the feeling just intensified. It sometimes felt like Yoh was the only one comfortable treating him as an equal, like the others only did so because of Yoh. He knew that wasn't true, really; he was just closer to Yoh than to the rest of them, but he couldn't help feeling just a bit insecure sometimes.

His best friend's fiancée stopped right then. And everyone, who had by now fallen in step behind her, almost automatically held his or her breath waiting for an outbreak of violence or some grand announcement from the unpredictable itako. She looked up to the sky, remaining silent for a moment as a slight breeze picked up. "The only reason Yoh would pull something like this is Hao," she said at last. "There is nothing we can do. Tamao won't be able to locate him; Asakura Hao covers his tracks well. We can only believe in Yoh and do as he advises." Her voice remained as toneless as ever.

The rest of the group followed her in a rather heavy silence. She was right, as usual. There was nothing to be done about it and no one was in the mood to say much of anything, not even the noisiest and loudest of the group. They would just have to keep searching for Patch Village and hope that Yoh would return in a week's time as promised.

"Say what!" Yoh's eyes were wide with disbelief at what his brother had just proposed. Well, a better word would be 'demanded'. It appeared that Anna and Pirika had finally met their match in devising insane training routines. No, this probably suitably upstaged them both. Asakura Hao was more than just a little psychotic.

"Well, get going. You heard me. Ten kilometres, hopping on one leg at a time. Three on the right, then three on the left, then three on the right again, and so forth. Not one hop more nor one hop less. And in case you're thinking of running away with your spirit, I just thought I'd let you know that he's temporarily sealed in and will be right here." Hao pointed at the small wooden memorial tablet with an ofuda on it atop the fireplace in the living area from where they were standing at the door.

"A... Amidamaru! But that's mean!" Yoh protested. Hao had apparently stolen it from him while he was unconscious the night before. No wonder he hadn't seen the samurai spirit all day.

"It's worse if you let him stay there," came the reply.

"Amidamaru!" Yoh made a dash for the tablet, only to suddenly end up against the opposite wall with his hands pinned above his head and Hao a mere two inches away from him. His brother was... fast. He could feel the other's body heat and the breath hitched momentarily in his throat. What... What was this feeling, this strange sense of anticipation that tingled down his spine?

"I meant to get your training over with as soon as possible, not try to get past me to him," the older Asakura murmured softly as he leaned forward to say the words into his younger brother's ear. "What made you think you could anyway?"

Yoh remained silent, having lost his voice. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears and he wondered if his elder brother could as well.

"Now go, and be sure to do it exactly as I say," Hao said, releasing his twin and turning around. He didn't understand that feeling that swirled in his gut, that feeling of wanting to press his body to his brother's, and he resisted it. He could perpend it later.

The younger shaman exhaled the breath he didn't know he had been holding and resignedly made his way to the door. Hao was right, of course; he wasn't exactly capable of doing that just yet. And in any case, Amidamaru was safe; Hao didn't really have any reason to destroy him.

"I could always feed him to Spirit of Fire."

Yoh froze. There was that. Amidamaru...

"It's better for me to leave him with you." Hao smirked. Tormenting his little brother was infinitely fun. The guy was just so easy to freak out.

The younger Asakura's shoulders sagged. The other seemed to perversely enjoy torturing him. He put on his clogs and opened the door.

"Opacho, follow him. Count how many times he makes mistakes. The number will be important in determining something else."

"Yes, Hao-sama!" the child chirped, but did not move from her spot, obviously intending to carry out the task through astral projection.

Yoh sighed. Just his luck he knew so many slave drivers. He lifted one leg and hopped forward three times on the other before switching legs. He felt more than saw Opacho pop out of nowhere behind him. He sighed again. This was tiring. It was going to be a long day.

A clap of thunder resounded in the steadily darkening sky as Yoh sat, resting, on the dirt path through the surrounding wheat fields. He didn't care if it dirtied his pants; if he continued hopping, he would probably collapse. Hao was definitely worse than Anna. Infinitely so. He looked up at the sky. The clouds were a dark stormy grey; it was going to rain very heavily soon. He heaved a long drawn out sigh. He seriously doubted Hao would let him get away with not finishing the ten-kilometre-hop even if it was raining fire. In fact, he strongly believed that his twin would probably be the one making it rain fire if he tried. Hopping was very much tiring than running, especially since the ground was uneven and he had to count exactly how many times he was hopping on each leg.

"Hao-sama will not be happy to see Yoh-sama slacking off," a spirit Opacho said suddenly from where she was hovering beside him.

"But Opacho," the younger of the Asakura twins protested, tears cascading down his face. "If I keep going, I'll break my legs." He wondered at the kid's furyoku level, actually. She had been in astral projection for a very long time.

The African toddler fell silent for a moment. Hao-sama's otouto was pretty weak. No wonder Hao-sama had insisted on training Yoh-sama personally. "Opacho's Hao-sama can do this non-stop for at least twenty kilometres without making any mistakes," she said then, looking mildly disappointed. "Hao-sama's otouto can't even do ten..."

Yoh sighed. Was he really that much weaker? He honestly doubted he was anywhere near done with the day's ten kilometres. He stood up to continue even as the first drops of rain began to fall. Tiredly lifting a leg, he proceeded with hopping his way through the remaining kilometres. The rain pelted against his face as he fought through the fog of exhaustion threatening to overwhelm him. The downpour was getting heavier and he didn't even have an umbrella. The wind was blowing and he was drenched, completely soaked and very cold.

But he had to at least try to complete the training. How would he ever get strong enough to keep Hao from destroying humanity if he couldn't even do this? He would have very much liked to keep believing that things would somehow work out, but the experience with Faust and Manta had taught him that that wasn't always the case. He also had to win the Shaman Fight to become Shaman King and give himself and Anna an easy life, failing which he would probably die a horrible death at Anna's hands. Or have a fate worse than death.

He felt numb; somehow, he wasn't really sure about what he was doing anymore, like the rest of the world had somewhat faded out. There was just that vague sensation of mindlessly hopping forwards on one foot at a time. Even the wind and rain seemed to haze out of his consciousness. The one sensation that remained was that of the cold, the cold that seemed to seep right through to his bones. Asakura Yoh hated the cold. That was why the thought of visiting Horo Horo in Hokkaido filled him with dread. He didn't think he would survive the freezing subzero conditions there during the colder seasons.

Right, hop, hop.

Left, hop, hop.

/When is the rain going to stop/

Right, hop, hop.

Left, hop, hop.

/It's frigid out here./

Right, hop, hop.

Left, hop, hop.

Right... hop...


The brunette fell forward as his consciousness finally slipped away... right into another's waiting arms. So far gone was he that he had failed to notice that the rain had stop pelting against his body thanks to the large dark brown umbrella that was now being held above him.

"Now that I've finally found the umbrella and gone to all the trouble of bringing it out here to you so you don't end up sick and unable to train, I find you here, collapsing only three hours, 12 minutes and 26 seconds, and 8.3 kilometres into the training. How many mistakes, Opacho?" Asakura Hao asked the spirit girl as he repositioned his twin's unconscious and sodden body against him.

"Twenty-nine, Hao-sama," she replied matter-of-factly. "He also stopped to rest for a while."

Hao couldn't repress a sigh. "You're a really sorry excuse for my other half, Yoh," he told his cataleptic little brother. "Return Opacho. I'll be there in a moment."

The child nodded and disappeared. Holding Yoh against him, the older shaman slid his eyes shut and contacted the Spirit of Fire for teleportation. The familiar sensation of moving through time and space, that slight floating feeling, came and passed, and they were suddenly in the cottage again, right before the fireplace. His twin felt cold to the touch, so that spot was just right. Ignoring the fact that his poncho was wet as well and that doing so would end up soaking the carpet, he put down the umbrella and laid the shorthaired boy on the warm spread, kneeling beside him.

"Hao-sama?" Opacho enquired from behind.

"Get a towel and something dry and warm to wear."

"Hao-sama's clothes?" she requested clarification with more than a little surprise. Hao was rather... dogmatic about his belief that he was unequalled in every aspect of the word; he didn't share personal belongings with anyone.

He paused. The girl was right. His clothes were the only ones that would fit. He hesitated. There was no way in hell he was letting some lesser creature use his belongings. The older shaman's fingers seemed to reach out of their own accord to brush against Yoh's cheek. Cold. He sighed. They were one and the same after all. It probably wasn't any different from wearing them himself. "Yes, get it." As an afterthought, he added, "One of the dark red robes. They're warm."

"Yes, Hao-sama." She went to fetch the requested objects, leaving the pyromaniac shaman alone with his twin. He reached out tentatively again, this time sliding his fingers through his little brother's short wet strands of brown. Asakura Hao barely noticed the ghost of a wistful smile that began to form on his own face.

The room was dark, or was it simply because his eyes were closed? No, the window had been shuttered and all the lights were off; the rain had yet to cease. He could hear the loud pitter-patter of raindrops on the zinc roof and the howling of the wind outside the cottage. Asakura Yoh snuggled deeper into the thick blankets; the room was cold. He hated the cold. Then he paused. How had he gotten back? He certainly didn't remember returning. Realization dawned upon him and he sighed. He had obviously passed out, and he supposed that Opacho had called Hao. The pyromaniac most certainly wouldn't be pleased at having to go fetch him in the rain, especially since he hadn't even completed the training. On the other hand, since when had pleasing the other become an issue for him?

Not for the first time, he pondered on his feelings for his twin. Asakura Hao. Did he hate the other? No, it was hard enough for him to hate anyone at all, let alone his own elder brother. Perhaps dislike was a possibility, but then, he didn't feel any malice towards the older shaman when he wasn't killing or hurting others. He disliked Hao's actions, not his person. He didn't particularly like his brother either, nor did he particularly enjoy the other's company. It was just... alright somehow to be here in the same house, eating together, and having the other training him instead of trying to kill him.

Sometimes he wondered if Hao would go to kill his friends while he was busy training outside, yet for some strange reason, he doubted it. It wasn't impossible, of course, but the other Asakura had said he would leave them alone if he came with him; he believed that, that the other would keep to his word. Hao was many things, but he wasn't a liar. He may keep secrets to himself or even be evasive, but Hao never spoke lies; this, Yoh was fairly certain of. Well, if he had to choose, perhaps he'd pick curiosity. He wanted... to understand Hao, figure out how he had begun to view all of humanity as evil.

Perhaps... Perhaps he could change the other's mind, instead of having to end up killing him to save humanity. No matter what kind of person the other was, they were still brothers in soul and in blood; given a choice, he would never want to hurt or kill Hao. He wondered who it was who said that one should always be kind to the unkind as they probably need kindness the most; he truly agreed with that statement. Hao... He wondered every once in a while if his twin was perhaps beyond redemption, but he had always pushed that thought away; Yoh refused to believe that anyone was beyond redemption, not even Hao. Everyone deserved second chances in life.

Yoh rose and slowly made his way to the door, grabbing the orange headphones he found beside his pillow as he did so and putting them back where he usually wore them. Much to his chagrin, he had left his portable CD-player with the rest of his belongings at the camp. He could just about make out the shape of the door in the dark and he groped for the knob. He at least owed Hao a word of thanks for going to fetch him. Opening the door silently and stepping out into the corridor lit by three oil lamps hanging from the ceiling, he looked at the remaining three doors along the corridor, realizing that he had no idea which room was Hao's.

The one on his left facing the shuttered window on the other end was the bathroom. That left the two rooms on his right. He turned in the appropriate direction and shuffled forward, glad for the thickness of the dark red long-sleeved robe he was wearing. It afforded him quite a pleasant warmth and ended slightly below his knees. It almost certainly belonged to Hao; it fit him as if it had been tailor-made for him. His own clothes must be soaked from the rain. He smiled slightly for no particular reason; it somehow felt like a pleasant evening despite the rain.

Judging from the position of the doors, the farther room was bigger than the one directly next to his own. That was presumably Hao's room; it was his house after all, so it stood perfectly to reason that his room should be the largest in the house. Opacho probably didn't need such a large room either. He knocked gently on the pinewood door, doubting Hao would appreciate loud noises. There was no answer. Yoh tried again just a little harder, but there remained no response from within. This time he tried door instead. Much to his surprise, it was unlocked and opened easily and soundlessly into what seemed like a different world.

While the entire house had been designed in a rather western countryside fashion, this room looked like it had been lifted out of the pages of time, like a perfect recreation of a traditional Japanese bedroom from a time long gone by. Only the door seemed out of place and even that had been hidden from view by three long strips of cream-coloured silk cloth hanging from just above the doorway. He shut the door silently behind him and looked around. The stonewalls had been covered in wood and the floor with tatami mats. On the wall facing him were two windows without shutters. Instead, the roof had been lengthened appropriately to permanently do away with the necessity of ever closing the windows.

Between the windows, in a polished wooden frame hanging from a nail in the wall, was a carefully pressed and folded set of robes in white and dark blue, which he recognised to have been worn during the Heian era of Japan, pinned neatly and securely to the back of the frame along with all the proper accessories to complete the outfit. A traditional Japanese alcove had been built into the wall on his right, in the centre between a traditional bamboo and rice paper sliding door and a beautifully hand-carved wooden cupboard. An ikebana stood there and behind it was the customary scroll, except that it was neither a painting nor a work of calligraphy, but a perfectly drawn shamanic seal.

In the middle of the room, half a tatami mat had been cut out to fit a metal basin for usage as a fireplace, in which a kind of fragrant wood smouldered. He immediately identified the little bit of smoke rising from the glowing embers as the scent he had smelled on Hao's hair that morning. Directly before him, on the floor, a tan-coloured futon had been laid out for the night. Apparently, Hao was a fan of keeping alive all these time-honoured practices. Yoh chuckled slightly; it had never quite occurred to him until then just how old Hao really was.

And that was when the sliding door was opened and the person in question stepped out in a robe identical to the one he was wearing, towelling his long wet hair dry with a large pale-orange towel and holding a bottle of some kind of oil in his other hand. Noticing his presence, the other stopped and two pairs of midnight eyes met across the room as both the plastic bottle and the damp towel fell from his twin's hands and the few moments that passed seemed to melt into an eternity that hung in time. And then in a trice, that moment ended and Yoh found himself choking, his back pressed against the wall, his feet dangling a few inches off the floor, and Hao's right hand around his throat, threatening to crush his windpipe. Not for the first time that day did Yoh find himself impressed at Hao's speed.

"Didn't anyone ever teach you not to trespass into other people's territory?" the older shaman demanded angrily, his voice harsh and power radiating from him in waves. Yoh was so stupid sometimes, so terribly stupid. He should have known better than to come into his room, his private secret haven that he had filled with his memories.

"I... knocked... no... answer..." Yoh managed to get out even as he tried to breathe, his hands rising up to grip Hao's wrist in hopes of making the other let go.

No such luck. The pyromaniac's grip on his throat only tightened painfully as a fireball formed in the fire shaman's left hand. "You could have waited. No one has ever even dared come within ten metres of this house without my express permission, let alone my room. How dare you." The mellow smouldering of the glowing embers in the fireplace suddenly turned into a full-fledged blaze in reaction to Hao's fury even as he said the words, his tone low and livid, his onyx eyes fierce and blazing as they bored straight into his twin's.

It was hard to breathe. Yoh drew in what air he could and struggled to tell Hao that he was hurting him. It took him several tries to finally manage to say, "Ha...o... You're... hurt... hurting... me..."

"And I should do a lot worse!" the older Asakura yelled suddenly, swinging his flaming hand towards his foolish ignorant little brother.

The younger shaman squeezed his eyes shut and braced himself for the fireball he knew was going to be properly embedded in his abdomen... except that the blow never landed. Instead, his brother had slammed his hand into the wall beside him, just half an inch shy of his waist, and leaned forward to press his forehead to the wall, his cheek just touching Yoh's right shoulder slightly.

"I can't kill you now..." he whispered, panting heavily as he struggled to contain his rage, his eyes tightly shut. "I still need you."

Yoh could feel Hao's body heat emanating off the other, could smell the musky scent of those damp tresses, could hear the sound of the other's ragged breathing in his ears. Their bodies were so close, he wasn't even sure whether or not they were touching anymore. If it could get any harder to breathe than it already was, it probably would. The blaze in the fireplace slowly died down to glowing embers once again and suddenly, Hao pushed away to stand in the middle of the room with his back to Yoh, releasing him. He sank to his knees on the floor, choking as he gulped down much needed air.

"I'm sorry," he rasped softly. "I'll leave now if you want." The shorthaired brunette tried to stand, one hand where the other's had been.

"It no longer makes a difference," Hao responded blandly. He went to pick up the towel and rubbed his hair a little more before fishing a comb out of the robe's pocket and combing his long brown hair.

The younger of the two took that as an invitation to stay and remained where he was. Absently, he wondered why his twin had two perfectly identical robes.

"I have several, actually," the other shaman corrected with mild amusement, still combing his hair.

"Whatever for?" Yoh asked with some difficulty. His throat still hurt where his brother had very nearly crushed his windpipe. He had never seen the other so irate before; annoyed, yes, but never so incensed. What about this room was so significant? And speaking of the robe, in any case, he made a mental note to himself to remember to thank Opacho the next day for changing his clothes for him.

"They're comfortable." Hao turned, a distinctly wicked grin on his face. "And do you really think I'd let her do something like that? It'd take her forever, what with the difference in size..."

It took quite a few seconds for what his twin was saying to properly click in Yoh's mind. /That means.../ He cut off the thought, blushing profusely. Wait, Hao was his brother; they were both guys. What was there to be blushing about? What was he thinking? Then, the full weight of the situation sank into him and the image of a certain emotionless female face framed by short blonde hair floated by in his mind. "Noooooo! That means... that means... you've seen EVERYTHING! What am I going to tell Anna! She's going to KILL me!"

The wicked grin turned into an even more wicked smirk as his twin put the comb back in one robe pocket and made his way back through the sliding door. Hao thought Yoh was going just a bit too hysterical, but oh, it was so entertaining! "Now, that would pose a problem to me, wouldn't it? I'd be happy to better acquaint her with Spirit of Fire if that happens..." he called back over his shoulder.

"No! Hao, that's not what I meant!" Hao wasn't seriously going to kill Anna for that, was he? So maybe she was just a tad bit off, but she was his fiancée and he wasn't about to let Hao kill her just for his daily torture. Hao wouldn't, would he? And besides, normal Anna was a bad enough Anna; ballistic Anna was the death of Asakura Yoh. He didn't think he'd dare tell her.

There was the sound of running water accompanied by amused laughter that showed the other was obviously joking -much to Yoh's relief-, then it stopped and Hao returned with a glass of water in hand and a closed-eyed smile on his face. "Here," he offered getting down on one knee before his little brother to hold out the glass to him.

The younger shaman blinked up at the longhaired boy before him, tentatively reaching out for the glass; all traces of wrath were gone, almost as if the incident from a moment ago had never happened. "Thank you," he mumbled, sipping at the cool clear liquid. His throat felt a little better now and it was easier to speak. "How long have I been out?" he enquired, praying fervently that the other had not noticed the now faint blush to his cheeks.

"The whole day." Hao's smile widened as he rose, going to retrieve the bottle of oil he had dropped earlier. "You might have been up earlier had I tried to wake you, but the next item on the training menu needs be done outdoors and it has yet to stop raining. There was also something I had planned for tonight that could be done indoors though..."

Yoh stiffened at that. /No, not another one of those insane activities. Please, no./

"...but I decided to postpone that, since you collapsed."

The younger of the twins exhaled the breath he didn't know he had been holding, shoulders sagging in obvious relief at that. At least his brother still had a shred of mercy in him. He wondered why the other shaman didn't simply stop the rain, which he very well could, since it was disrupting his plans.

"When you play with the weather too often, it upsets the balance of nature. That can cause a catastrophe," came the reply to his mental question.

His mouth simply formed a silent 'oh' at that. There seemed to be so much more he didn't understand about the workings of shamanism.

Hao picked up the bottle and moved to sit by the fire, opening it and pouring out some oil onto his hand before rubbing it onto his arms. "I spent TEN MINUTES searching around for the umbrella when it started raining, and then when I finally found it, I go out IN THE RAIN –which I hate being in, by the way- to bring it out to YOU, so YOU wouldn't fall sick and be unable to train, and what do I find? I find you collapsing –only 3 hours, 12 minutes and 26 seconds, and 8.3 kilometres into the training, mind you-, needing ME to bring you back here, and thus completely defeating my purpose of going to all the trouble of bringing you the umbrella." Done with his arms, he undid the sash and shrugged the robe off lean shoulders to begin on his chest. "Really, Yoh, you are one hopelessly sorry case of a creature. How on earth I managed to end up with an other half like yourself is so totally beyond me, it absolutely blows my mind."

"Maybe 'cause you kept all the traits you liked to yourself," Yoh found himself saying without thinking.

There was a long silence as the younger shaman wondered whether he had again managed to shoot off his mouth and say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Then Hao laughed, surprising him again. It wasn't the crazed, cold, or evil laugh he had often heard from the other; the laughter he heard now was rich, rich and warm, like any normal person's... somewhat how he himself and his friends laughed when they were together, a laugh of actual mirth and humour.


"You know, you may really be just a tad smarter than I give you credit for," the older shaman said, very, very amused. "You might actually be right." He chuckled a little more, reaching around to apply the oil to his back, which wasn't particularly convenient to do.

"Would you like me to do that for you?" Yoh offered then, somewhat relieved that he had not managed to again enrage his twin and carefully avoiding the word 'help'; anyone knew better than to imply that Asakura Hao needed help in any form. He supposed he owed his twin a favour; he had gone to bring him an umbrella and in effect, rescued him, after all.

The other paused then, another heavy silence descending upon them.

Sensing his brother's hesitation, the shorthaired boy quickly added, "You can always think of it as a gesture of thanks for all your trouble of bringing me the umbrella...?"

A few more seconds passed before the other brunette finally acquiesced with a resigned 'very well', having decided that it couldn't hurt. It wasn't as if Yoh was any threat at all, presently. The younger shaman grinned, swiftly moving closer to sit cross-legged behind his elder brother. He gently swept damp long brown hair over the other shaman's shoulder before taking the offered bottle of oil, pouring some onto his hands, rubbing his hands together a little, and beginning to rub the oil into tanned smooth skin. He could feel planes of muscle beneath his fingers; there was more physical strength in that body that was almost scrawny than one would ever guess. They seemed slightly stiff though, perhaps from strain, he didn't know; Hao never appeared in the least tired.

He put a little strength into his hands, applying some pressure with his fingers as he rubbed in the oil. He'd had to learn how to massage decently for Anna's sake, or rather perhaps, for the sake of staying alive or saving his precious oranges from her evil grasp; she demanded a massage every so often and if she wasn't pleased with it... Well, Great Spirits help her fiancé and anyone who came within range of her displeasure. Hao stiffened slightly at the sudden change, but relaxed shortly. Why his twin was doing that was beyond him, but he reckoned he might as well enjoy it. He smirked; Yoh was too kind, really. His kindness would be the death of him someday.

"You lived in the Heian era?" Yoh questioned softly, looking around the room again.

"If you didn't already know from all the talk about my being alive over a thousand years ago, your history must be pretty bad." His companion's reply was bland.

The younger brunette's face formed an easy smile. "Yeah, I suppose I'm pretty bad at everything except shamanism," he agreed.

At that point, Hao turned his head to give his little brother a look out of the corner of his eye. "I'd be hard pressed to say you were any good at that either."

For a moment, Yoh looked like his spirit had left his body. Then, he simply pouted at his twin who only laughed in response. He smiled; he liked hearing this laughter... it always made him feel like he really had a brother, a normal brother who wasn't trying to destroy mankind.

"Just thought I'd inform you, by the way, that in case this is some part of a devious hidden plot against me, it's not going to work."

Yoh stopped then, falling silent. A few moments passed before he finally asked, "What... What makes you think it is?" He couldn't really blame Hao for saying that; they were still enemies, after all, but... he couldn't help feeling the least bit hurt that the other suspected him of that.

The other shrugged. "You do realize that we are two enemies sitting in the same room?"

He didn't answer, his hands falling to rest on his lap. After a long pause, he finally opened his mouth to speak. "I... I always wanted a brother... albeit perhaps not one trying to revamp the planet," he began quietly. "Datte... I was always alone before, never having any friends, anyone near my age to talk to or hang out with, so... I always wished I had a brother around my age to be with, to talk to, to do what normal kids do... you know, go to the ice-cream parlour together, the movies maybe, or just walking around in the park?" ('Datte' means something like 'because' and is used when giving a reason/excuse; there's no English equivalent that gives quite the same effect)

A long uncomfortable silence ensued as they simply sat there like that, only the shadows cast by the glowing embers on the walls moving ever so slightly.

"What are you trying to say?" Hao queried at last.

"I don't know," Yoh responded then, shaking his head with a small chuckle. "Don't mind me. Is there anywhere else you'd like me to apply the oil to?"

The older boy remained silent for a moment or two, then grinned at the opportunity to once again make his innocent unsuspecting little brother uncomfortable. "Yeah," he returned. "My legs." He had thought of saying something else, but that would result in the other's outright passing out, which would in effect, rob him of the sadistic pleasure of watching the younger shaman's discomfort.

His twin nodded, helping him put the robe back on and moving around to face him to look suitably flabbergasted. Hao tried very hard not to laugh at the expression on the other's face, but failed gloriously; the look was priceless. Asakura Yoh very nearly dropped the bottle of oil in his hand. The sight that greeted him was positively brain-frying. The almighty Asakura Hao's boxers were bright scarlet spangled with bright yellow embossed stars. It was all his younger brother could do not to simply pass out from an information overload and for a while, it seemed like he was content to just sit there acting like a fish.

"Well, are you going to do it or not?" the older of the twins demanded, satisfactorily entertained. It was amazing how much torture he could put his cute younger brother through in a day.

Yoh nodded numbly as he set the bottle down, officially brain-dead from the scene, and began to do as he was told, but oh no, his sadistic elder brother wasn't quite done with him for the day yet.

"Aren't you going to do the WHOLE leg?" he asked, feigning innocence.

Yoh stopped, eyes widening. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but no words came out and he simply sat there blinking, agape and duly speechless for the umpteenth time that day at his twin's proposition.

Hao frankly thought his other half's mess of mangled thoughts at the moment could be summarised along the lines of three letters: W.T.F.? He smirked. Suddenly, he grabbed Yoh's hand, sliding it up his leg and under his boxers to rest on his hip, in effect dragging its gasping owner forward to almost fall onto him. He kept that from happening with a powerful arm around his little brother's waist and pressed his cheek to the younger shaman's to murmur huskily in his ear, "What were you thinking of, otouto-kun?"

He snickered softly at the lack of response from his companion, who appeared to be rather slow in processing what was going on. The smirk widened and in a flash, he had Yoh pinned to the floor beneath him. If the shorthaired boy's thoughts lacked coherence an instant before, they were now nonexistent. "Was it something like this?" he questioned then, still in the same tone of voice. Then he leaned down to claim the other's lips without waiting for a reply.

His other half's lips seemed to part for him of their own accord and he took the invitation to deepen the kiss, quickly exploring that willing mouth before the spell of shock ended. And end it did, all too soon, in Hao's opinion. It suddenly seemed to click in Yoh's mind, what they were doing, and his eyes widened as he immediately pushed his elder brother off him in near panic and backed away into the furthest wall. "Oh, Great Spirits, Hao! What are you doing! We're brothers, twins!" he half-screeched at his manic sibling.

The longhaired shaman grinned at his brother's discomfort, licking his lips; Yoh had tasted good. "You don't really think about it that way, do you?" he drawled softly.

"What do you..."

"You've never even once called me 'brother' outside your own thoughts."

That was true, but... "Well... Well, even if you wanted me to start, that isn't the way to go about it!" his twin riposted, nearing hysteria.

Hao stopped then, wanting to bang his head hard against the wall, but knowing full well it was a bad idea. "Never mind. I give up. Forget it." He sighed. How in the name of the Great Spirits could anyone, anything be so dense? "I'm going to sleep," he declared, rising and making his way over to the tan-coloured futon and lying down, tucking himself in.

Yoh sat in the corner for quite some time, leaning against the cupboard and gazing at his brother's still form, trying to calm his frazzled nerves. Almost unconsciously, his hand reached up to touch his own lips. Hao had kissed him. His twin brother had kissed him. Why, he didn't understand, but... in the beginning when he wasn't thinking coherently, he hadn't resisted. It had somewhat registered that his estranged sibling was kissing him, but he hadn't refused it... rather, he had even invited the gesture. It had felt... good. He dropped his hand in disbelief. What was he thinking? They were siblings... That would be incest. But what was that feeling all about? He shook his head to clear his thoughts. It didn't work. He tried again to no avail.

"Unless you don't plan on doing so, I suggest you go get some sleep now, because I promise you'll need it tomorrow," Hao informed him from where he was lying on the futon.

Still confused, the younger brunette got to his feet and walked to the door. He had barely passed the fireplace when he hesitated. "Uh... Anou..."

"What?" the older shaman demanded irritably.

"My room's colder," Yoh said sheepishly.

Asakura Hao would have slapped his forehead right then if not for the indignity of the deed. He hereby took back what he had said about the other shaman's intelligence earlier. His other half had to be the biggest fool on the planet next to humans; either all the time he spent around humans had destroyed his intelligence, or he hadn't even gotten a tenth of Hao's own I.Q. What kind of idiot would ask to spend the night in the room of a person he had just accused of molesting him? In fact, -and he hated to actually be forced to admit this- most humans were probably smarter than that; it was embarrassing. He sighed, exasperated. "Fine. Have it your way. There's only one futon though," he replied without moving.

"Oh, I suppose we can share then. It's just for sleeping, after all," his shorthaired twin responded easily, cheerfully slipping under the blanket beside him.

He moved over slightly to give his brother some space, keeping his back to him. /Oh, Great Spirits, how could anyone, especially my own other half be so stupid/ He really wished Yoh had ended up with at least ten percent of his intelligence; the kid definitely needed it.

"Oyasumi, aniki."

Hao froze. "What did you call me?" He turned to look at his twin in surprise.

"Aniki." Yoh smiled warmly. "You wanted me to call you 'brother', didn't you?"

The older shaman resisted the urge to reach up to rub his temples. "No, that isn't quite what I meant," he muttered.

"Oh... Well, never mind then. Oyasumi." His little brother turned around to face the door with his back to him.

"Oyasumi," Hao replied quietly, feeling strange. In all reality, he didn't remember a time when he hadn't slept alone. He turned back to face the window again. The rain had ceased and the sky was now clear. The many stars were twinkling brightly on that background of the darkest blue and the moon shone her white light on the wheat fields that were slowly turning gold. It was a beautiful sight to fall asleep to and he slid eyes shut, letting slumber take him over.

Yoh turned to glance at his twin, wondering if he was already fast asleep. He rolled over slowly, careful not to wake his companion and tilted his head up slightly to look out the window, up at the clear night sky. He smiled contentedly; he could see so many constellations that night. He didn't know any of their names, but he could always recognise the pictures they formed in the sky and that was all that really mattered to him. Back when he had been all alone, the stars had been his friends. He had often lain out on the grass of the Asakura grounds or the roof of one of the many buildings there to whisper secrets to them and the many spirits that came out to play at that time. Even now that he had friends, watching the stars still brought him a sense of peaceful contentment like no other.

He slid his eyes back down to the sleeping form beside him. The dying embers cast their remaining light over them both, a dim cosy glow. He wondered if this was how they would have been had they been just a pair of normal twins born to normal family, here sleeping side by side on the same futon to wake up the next morning to a delicious breakfast prepared by their mother and fight over who got the bigger piece of chocolate cake for recess before going to school like all the normal kids and visiting the town's favourite ice-cream parlour with some schoolmates before going home. He smiled wistfully at that; wishful thinking was doing nothing for him. Maybe he would pretend just for tonight that they were indeed that way.

"Ne?" he whispered up at the stars. "Maybe tonight I can dream about such a life." He snuggled deeper into the blanket and slid his eyes shut. "Sweet dreams," he murmured, partly to himself and partly to his sleeping twin before sleep settled over him like an extra blanket of the night.

Later that night, Asakura Yoh awoke feeling strangely warm. His eyes widened slightly in mild surprise. Hao had somehow ended up snuggling really close to him. Carefully so as not to wake the other, he reached out to sweep long strands of soft brown hair away from the visage they obscured. The younger shaman couldn't help the smile that formed on his lips. Seeing Hao like this, he looked just like any normal fifteen-year-old boy. His face was so peaceful and serene in sleep, one would never believe he or she was looking at a would-be destroyer of the human race.

Honestly, he thought Hao and him had a frightful lot in common and he hoped he never ended up so bitter with the world; he could feel the intense loneliness that surrounded his alienated sibling and it called out to him like a beacon. He had been alone once, but he had found great friends like Manta and the others, friends that Hao was never going to find because of who he was. His brother had so many people around him all the time, but he still seemed so alone. Hesitantly, he wrapped an arm around his twin.

/Perhaps... If only for this week I can decrease that.../ He smiled at the thought and tightened the half-embrace marginally before returning to sleep, his other half never having stirred.

Flicker, flicker, the flame goes out

I wonder what it's all about

Dark, it is; the night is cold

Forgotten ashes are growing old

In the dark, I grope and scout

Tales of the lost are ever told

The path I walk fills me with doubt

Another light now has gone out.

End Chapter 1

A/N: did more crazy things than I know how to fix... TT