A/N: Okay, so this chapter turned out MUCH longer than the last. In light of how Neon, my beta, thinks that Yoh should be spazzy, I have added a few more spaz!Yoh scenes here. And of course, mustn't forget oranges for Garnet-chan. Also, there's (amazingly) less UST and more love, which they both need kthx, so shut up even if you think I'm nuts. Anyhow, it also took longer than expected to write so I'm eternally grateful that the deadline for the contest has been postponed. In any case, HaoYoh is love and accursed be those who do not review... Comments and criticism, as I cannot seem to stress enough, are verily very appreciated, so quit being stingy with them. Oh, and to reply a few I've received that actually need replying.

Dyana: While I'm very glad you even clicked on the link in the first place, I'd like to make it clear that this fic is marked yaoi M I would have put a MA rating on it just in case if I could, since I'm not sure where the lines between ratings lie for a reason and there will (in this very chapter) be things you are bound to feel uncomfortable with. As such, I take it as agreed that should you read on anyway, you will neither flame nor report me for what I have written. In any case, I understand your religious reservations and I do not plan on changing or influencing you otherwise. Thank you very much for reading and reviewing; I'm happy you liked the story. Also, regarding the title, what language were you correcting me in? I believe the title's in Portuguese and your correction appears very Spanish to me.

Kari: Thank you! I'm really happy to hear you liked it so much. I'll finish all the fics eventually, I promise. I'm sure there are many good writers out there and I welcome you to the fandom of Shaman King! However, for obvious reasons, the number of authors who write this pairing are amazingly small... a factI regret. If you like, you could try Garnet-chan, lilc, and shinigami neko. They generally write shorter fics and they are pretty good with this pairing! Thank you again; it gives me great pleasure to know how much you like my work.

Lilc: Thank you! I heard about you from Garnet-chan. She says you two are very close. Good to know you like my work!

Everyone Else: Yes, I will finish it (unless you people stop reviewing first). I totally agree that there isn't enough HaoYoh around. I wish I could update faster, but unfortunately, writing is not an easy job. Thank you very much for reading this and above all, REVIEWING!

Disclaimer: The name says it all – fanfiction. Enough said.

Sempre com Irmao

Always with My Brother

Chapter 2: Darkness

(Theme 2: hot springs, Keyword 2: tea)

The fall of night on a shadowed street

goes unnoticed as darkness breeds

Mysterious strangers destined to meet

Ahand into shadow another leads

Of sweet seduction of the night,

of the inferno's consuming heat,

the danger signs one never heeds

Oh, lead the lost back to the light!

It was strange... How had they gotten so close? Asakura Hao stared at the face of his sleeping brother just three inches away from his own, looking so serene and cute. He had simply woken up this way this morning with Yoh's arm around him and his first reaction idea was to wake Yoh up with a burnt ass and make sure he learnt the error of his ways. Then he had looked at the sleeping form beside him for a while and the weirdest thing was that he realized that IT DIDN'T REALLY BOTHER HIM. He had never allowed anyone to get this close to him before, with the exception of Opacho. And they were enemies. And Yoh was weak. Weaklings shouldn't even be allowed within his presence for no special reason. And yet... He continued to gaze at his younger brother who had yet to stir although it was ten in the morning. Well, come to think of it, there was a reason: this was his game after all... And he supposed Yoh was technically him, so it wasn't all that different from sleeping alone...

Suddenly, he smirked at an idea. The look on his face didn't bode well for anyone, really, and his little brother just had the luck of being his current victim... The older shaman checked on his sibling's thoughts; good, the other appeared to be dreaming of something he didn't want to know about. He leaned forward and pressed his lips to the shorthaired boy's. Time to see how far he could go with Yoh asleep... His twin's lips parted in invitation almost instantly, only a sleepy grunt to signal that he somewhat knew what was happening. Apparently, his little brother's subconscious mind didn't quite agree with his conscious one. His smirk widened before he deepened the kiss to taste what he could only describe as uniquely Yoh.

/Yoh/ he thought smugly. /Do you know, I wonder, what it feels like to be incomplete/ He explored the deep recesses of his twin's mouth, hands moving to untie the sash on the robe. /No, I don't believe you do... After all, you don't know any better.../ His hands found their way to bare skin and began wandering in a seemingly aimless fashion on his sleeping companion's body. /Maybe I should teach you what it's like to feel complete, otouto-kun./

Hao broke off the kiss to move down to the sleeping boy's neck. Yoh's only response was to roll onto his back, giving his older brother even better access. The fire shaman grinned as he shifted his position slightly to accommodate; oh, this was better than he expected. Scraping his teeth lightly against the vein there, he trailed down to his younger brother's collarbone to suck gently along it. He contemplated leaving marks, but then, he wouldn't get to spend the rest of the day annoying Yoh with his I-know-something-juicy-that-you-don't look and attitude, and that was just too much fun to pass up on.

Out of the blue, he stopped; something was wrong. He could feel it, sense it; there was that warning feeling of some inexplicable whirling sensation at the back of his mind that he had learned to trust. He tensed slightly, raising his head about a foot so he could look around warily. Something bad was going to happen; he just knew. And then suddenly, there was sharp burst of pain on his forehead as two heads collided and Yoh sat up screaming, "Nooooooooooooo...!", leaving him lying on the futon rubbing his bruised brow.

Asakura Hao twitched slightly. This was his room and his futon. People do not get hurt first thing in the morning in their own room without making the person responsible pay dearly for it. His twin had better have a good reason for this. Said twin turned to look at him then, tears cascading down his face, which also had a pained look to it. Predilection on Hao's part indicated that no, he wasn't going to like what he was about to hear from his idiotic little brother.

"HA-O... Hao..." Yoh sounded like his world had just fallen to a thousand little shards at his feet.

Searching deep within for that hidden reserve of patience he knew rather well he didn't possess, he slowly, deliberately asked the question he really didn't want an answer to. "What?"

"Anna... Anna, she... SHE DESTROYED ALL THE ORANGES IN EXISTENCE!" he pounced on his elder brother, grabbing the longhaired boy by the shoulders. "ORANGES ARE EXTINCT! ORANGES ARE EXTINCT! THEY'RE EXTINCT! FUNGA FU FU!" The younger shaman shook his twin slightly, trying to get the significance of the situation through to the now very annoyed pyromaniac.

/Bad move, otouto-kun, bad move/ he thought, but forced a smile nevertheless. This was his room after all. Normal Hao was evil enough for world-domination Hao; annoyed or ballistic Hao was going-on-homicidal-spree Hao. "Yoh," he said calmly, a closed-eyed smile on his face as he reached up to grab his brother firmly by the shoulders. "Oranges are not extinct. Come with me a moment, will you?" He helped his ignorant little brother up, retied the sash on the robe and lead him out the door, closing the fireproof door to his room behind him with a soft click.

"Really?" Yoh sounded so hopeful... he just didn't know how bad Hao had it in for him.

The older Asakura turned, still smiling. "Aa."

"Thank The Great Spirits," Yoh breathed, sighing in utter relief.

That was where the morning's peace and quiet ended.

"YOU. DO. NOT. WAKE. UP. AND. BASH. ME. ON. THE. HEAD. IN. MY. OWN. ROOM. FOR. STUPID. ORANGES!" Hao very nearly yelled, throwing a fireball in his brother's direction with every word except 'oranges'; that warranted a stream of fire, followed by even bigger blasts of flame.

Just then, Opacho walked out of the bathroom on Hao's left with a basket of the clean laundry she had just fetched from the washing machine in said bathroom to see her Hao-sama's little brother squeaking and jumping around like a chimpanzee on crack to avoid his elder brother's fireballs. She paused, assessing the circumstances. "In retrospect, some of these could use a round in the dryer," she told herself thoughtfully. Turning around, she made her way back into the bathroom and closed the door behind her. Locked it.

"So... Um, why were you uh... in the way again?" Yoh asked his elder brother as he chewed on a slice of strangely delicious bread. It appeared to be freshly baked.

Quite a few possible responses went through a now much calmer Asakura Hao's mind as he spread some marmalade on the slice of bread he was eating. Among them were 'I was having my way with you' and 'Performing a little experiment on you', both of which wouldn't quite do. He paused, turned to his twin, and gave him his best that's-for-me-to-know-and-for-you-to-find-out look complete with matching smirk. "I was plotting devious ways to wake you up," he replied, amused tone in place. That was pretty much the truth. Once again, Hao didn't lie. He was evasive, perhaps, but he didn't lie.

The younger of the twins frowned. He somehow knew Hao was just trying to bait him with that look and he didn't like it. "Shouldn't you be on the way to Patch Village too? We're only given three months." he said instead, looking around. In retrospect, he doubted Hao would do that if he thought Yoh liked it.

"I know exactly where that is, otouto-kun. I could get there in under three days if I really wanted to," came the smug reply. Indeed, how true; Hao most certainly did it purely for self-entertainment and he just happened to be feeling sadistic. It also didn't help that his little brother was so fun to torment.

The shorthaired brunet tried to ignore that smug tone and switched back to the subject at hand. "Um… And why did you want to wake me up?" he tried.

"It's ten o'clock. This is training, not holidays," came the even smugger reply.

Yoh gave his brother a dirty look accompanied with a pout, but that only got him a warm –albeit still very smug- laugh in response. He smiled, wondering if Hao always laughed so easily.

"When I'm in a good mood, yes, otouto-kun. Surprised?"

The younger Asakura turned to face his twin, a soft smile on his face. He shook his head. "Happy," he corrected quietly.

The longhaired boy paused, looking at his sibling in mild incomprehension. Two pairs of deep black eyes met across the breakfast table, one soft, the other blank and unreadable. Finally, it was Hao who broke eye-contact first as he turned back to his breakfast, never having said a word.

"Wow... This is beautiful..." Asakura Yoh murmured in wonder at the lake in the middle of the clearing.

Hao had taken him somewhere through teleportation again and they were now in the middle of a beautiful evergreen forest, looking at a lake that seemed almost too round to be natural. The clear water was still on its surface, like a mirror that reflected the heavens. He would have wanted to come here at night when the stars were out. Somehow, he thought he could probably see more stars reflected off the calm surface than in the sky itself.

"We can come again at night if you like," his twin murmured suddenly, lips brushing against his ear lightly.

The younger shaman yelped and jumped away in alarm at that, feeling goose bumps rise. When had Hao gotten so close again? "Yeah! At night would be nice," he said sheepishly, his heart pounding in his ears.

Hao smirked; oh, he loved this. "So, shall we begin?" he suggested, turning to face the lake once more.


"Training, Yoh, remember your purpose," his voice losing the tone of smugness and mild amusement to take on a more serious one.

The other's shoulders sagged at that. /Not again.../

"Summon a water spirit, otouto-kun."

The blank look on Yoh's face was appalling.

"Please tell me you've done this before." What was the Asakura clan coming to these days?

The younger of the Asakura twins shook his head sheepishly. He supposed he had been taught once, a long time ago, but he had slept through the lesson and never reviewed it due to pure laziness.

Asakura Hao tried very hard not to kill his twin as he picked up on the younger brunet's thoughts. Great Spirits, the boy was hopeless. How had he gotten an other half like this? "You have at least done leaf ones then?" he asked, mildly exasperated. He assumed Asakura Yohmei would have at least managed to teach his grandson that.

"Yeah, those I have." The shorthaired boy grinned widely at that.

"It's almost the same. Try."

The other nodded, making his way to the edge of the lake. He slid his eyes shut and called on the nature spirit in the water. Admittedly, this would probably be more of Horo Horo's area, but still... He was a shaman, after all. Meanwhile, his elder brother had gathered some dry twigs and leaves on the ground and had by now started a fire with them. Out of the blue, Yoh just flopped back gracelessly onto the grassy ground with a groan some time later. His twin raised an eyebrow at that. Was his other half really so hopeless? The shorthaired boy must have felt his sibling's eyes on his back, for he turned to face the other, tears cascading down his face. The older brunet suppressed a twitch.

"It's stubborn and mean! It refuses to come out!" the younger shaman protested.

This time, his brother couldn't repress the twitch. But he kept his voice calm. "Of course it's harder than the leaf ones. But if..." He twitched again. His lazy fool of a twin had fallen asleep right there on the ground. He marched over in several fluid steps and lifted his brother up by the neck seemingly effortlessly. Asakura Hao did not take well to being ignored. He slammed the shorthaired boy into the nearest tree trunk, waking the other up by nearly strangling him again. "You do not fall asleep when I'm talking to you. Do I make myself clear?" he demanded rather fiercely.

Yoh choked and tried to nod, but failed. Not for the first time was he thankful that Hao was psychic, for the other loosened his hold slightly.

"Now, as I was saying, show a little power." The emphasis on the word 'power' was obvious as Hao waved his free hand in the direction of the lake and a wispy translucent water spirit rose out of the water and hurried over to him, seeming rather frightened. Indeed, Hao did rather epitomise power in a shamanic sense, so it wasn't surprising that he inspired such fear in an ordinary nature spirit. He dismissed it and turned back to his little brother who appeared to be having trouble breathing. "Or sincerity. Or effort. Whatever works for you as long as it obeys." He released his twin, who sank to his knees on the ground, and walked back towards the fire. "Well, go do it," he commanded.

The younger Asakura nodded even if his twin couldn't see him and rose to do as he was told. He was almost convinced that his brother was worse than his fiancée now. Almost. It seemed that Asakura Hao's newest hobby was attempting to strangle his younger brother.

"It isn't."

The shorthaired boy turned to look at his estranged sibling, now on one knee by the fire. He didn't recognise the tone to that normally amused, pleasant, smug or annoyed voice. It seemed almost... gentle... He wasn't sure.

"I... don't really want to hurt you. You are me, after all, and we will be one again someday; I'd much prefer you alive and in optimum condition for merging." The fire shaman tossed a few more twigs into the blaze. "So don't make me. I can and will kill you if it suits me, even if I prefer not to."

Yoh blinked at that. It was so strange, he was having trouble believing that he had just heard Asakura Hao say that he didn't want to hurt somebody, someone he considered a lesser being at that, even if it was in line with his goal. Yet, he smiled widely, content to accept it; he had always wanted to believe that his brother wasn't completely evil, that he had some goodness locked away somewhere, even if it was just a shred of it. He liked to believe in the good of people, after all, and there wasn't a person on earth he would have wanted more to believe in than his very own twin brother.

"Uh... Well, you see, I don't want to oppose you either... Killing you would be like killing a part of me too, wouldn't it? I wish you weren't trying to annihilate humanity. Then we could be like brothers in a normal family." He crossed his forearms behind his head in relaxed manner with a carefree closed-eyed smile on his face.

The older shaman stood up abruptly at that. "And I wish you understood why I want the human race extinct, otouto-kun." He paused. "Go summon it. It's about noon." His voice had already lost that alien tone to it.

The other brunet nodded, strangely feeling a tad disappointed. What had he expected? What did he want? He moved to the water's edge again, slightly confused, but this time, he managed to coax the spirit out by promising that he wouldn't let Hao destroy the poor little water being. The creature was rather terrified; obviously Hao had shown it more than a fair share of his power. Still, at least he hadn't extinguished its existence yet. Then again, it probably wasn't in any danger, since Hao loved nature if nothing else; he wasn't likely to destroy a nature spirit.

/Does he really only love nature/ Yoh wondered. /That must be a rather sad existence.../ To not know love was to live an empty life; no, it probably wasn't even life without love, it was an existence. Without love, there was no passion and if one felt strongly about nothing, then there was no meaning to life. The other's goal didn't count; if he succeeded at revamping the planet, then what? There would no longer be any reason for him to live. His twin would never be happy this way. Admittedly, nature was a great vision to live for, but even if he turned the world back to what it was like during the age of the dinosaurs, he'd still be alone. He would never find love and never be happy.

Hao sensed the other's thoughts and hid a frown. He hadn't felt sympathy from another in aeons and he wanted none of it either, but he remained silent. This was no time to chat or dispute; now that Yoh had gotten the spirit out of the water, it was time to get on to the actual business of training. He tossed his brother an aquamarine crystal, which the other caught with ease, much to his relief. If the boy couldn't even catch decently, he didn't know what he would do. "Oversoul with it."

The other gave him the most incredulous look of disbelief he had ever seen on that familiar face.

"Oversoul with it," Hao repeated. He wasn't a very patient person, really. If he had to repeat that again, he'd probably burn something on his twin's body.

The other Asakura twin quickly did as he was told; he wasn't psychic, but he was neither blind nor stupid either and it didn't take a genius to notice that Hao was getting annoyed again. He did not want to get fried. Apparently, the mere sound of Hao's voice had convinced the water spirit that whatever Yoh had to do was a good idea and it obediently entered the crystal. He felt a little sorry for the creature, really; it was so terrified of his elder brother. Crystals were good mediums, especially for elemental spirits; they catalysed the spirit's energies and it was always easy to find one that fit the element of the spirit. Aquamarine was a water crystal, so it fit this one just fine. He looked at the mist around his arm that seemed to emanate from the now glowing crystal; it was pretty. The mist seemed to dance a little as if flattered by his appreciation. He smiled.

"Break this Oversoul with it." Hao's voice sliced through his thoughts like the Harusame would slice through butter.

The shorthaired boy turned to face his twin and gawked at the sight of the huge fire spirit before him. So at least it wasn't the Spirit of Fire, but fire was definitely Hao's element.

"There's a limited amount of furyoku in it, an amount you should be able to handle by now." Hao declined to vocalise the thought he had then. /If you can't handle this level of furyoku now, I'll probably kill you for being so useless./ "I won't recharge it or add any furyoku and it won't attack. Now, just break it." The pyromaniac leapt up onto a tree branch and sat down there to watch.

Yoh glanced at his water spirit and shrugged. Oh, well... Things would work out somehow. Thus, he added more furyoku to it; the Oversoul expanded and he tried an attack. Nope, it didn't work. Hao shook his head from where he sat upon the tree branch; it was going to be a long day.

Yoh sank to the ground in exhaustion, the water spirit leaving the crystal and returning to the water rather apologetically as his Oversoul faded. It was growing dark here and no, he had yet to succeed at breaking the Oversoul Hao had told him to break. He looked up at the tree branch his twin was perched on. The other seemed to be looking out at the lake, his hand moving on a... SKETCHBOOK? Wait a second; his brother drew? He rose and made his way over to the tree, tired but curious. The other looked down at him and their dark eyes met for a long moment before the elder sibling spoke.

"You're hopeless."

The shorthaired boy laughed tiredly. "You did keep all the good stuff with you."

"N..." The fire shaman stopped. /Not all/ What was he saying? There wasn't a single good point he could see beyond the physical on his other half. "It's six. You've spent six hours trying to break one Oversoul and you have yet to succeed. How my other half can be this weak is beyond me," he said blandly instead. He averted his gaze to the sketchbook on his lap. "It hurts my eyes." The last four words were condescending. The boy didn't even see the point. Really, had that been anybody else, that person would have been burnt to a crisp by now, soul devoured by Spirit of Fire. However, Yoh was a power source he still needed, so until he had found himself another suitable source of power, he'd likely have to keep the boy alive.

The younger twin glanced at the sketchbook, curiosity getting the better of him. Using the last of his furyoku, he leapt up onto the branch his elder brother was on and peered at the page Hao was at, only to gasp in amazement. The pyromaniac had used drawing charcoal to sketch out a beautiful picture of the lake on the book's slightly textured paper and Yoh could only imagine how it would look painted and coloured. With the right colouring, it would look as if real. Asakura Hao didn't just draw; he was a great artist.

An amused small smile curved the older shaman's lips. "Don't look so surprised. I learned in the Heian era. The fine arts were proper skills for the upper classes during that time. There wasn't a noble alive then to my knowledge that didn't know at least one form of creative art, one style of calligraphy, one musical instrument, and either Go or Shougi, of which Go was generally preferred. It just took a little practice to regain the muscle memory." He chuckled slightly, a hollow yet mildly amused laugh. "Well, I suppose you WOULD be surprised. Your history is worse than your shamanism, that is to say disastrous."

Asakura Hao seemed more normal than he'd ever imagined. Yoh looked first at the drawing, then back up at his brother, about whom he realized how little he knew. "So you enjoy drawing?" he asked then.

The other blinked. Then, he looked at the pond. The sun's waning rays cast an almost golden glow over the clear water's surface that reflected the darkening sky like a perfect mirror. The amused smile on his face softened to an almost sad one. "Yes. I like capturing what's left of nature's beauty before those small humans destroy it all." His voice was sad too, sad and slightly bitter. "And yet you wonder why I want them gone." He shook his head in mild exasperation, leaning back against the tree trunk.

The younger of the two reached out then, to remove a leaf that had fallen on his elder brother's hair from the tree. It was yellow, just a shade or two shy of the hue the sunset's reflection cast on the still surface of the round lagoon. He felt the fire shaman's eyes on him as he did so, watching his every movement... as if wondering what he was doing and why, yet not particularly suspicious of it. He flicked the leaf away and it slowly floated to the ground, carried slightly further away by the slight breeze that had begun to blow gently, making fine ripples on the water's surface.

"Not all humans are like that," Yoh said at last. "There are many who are working to save the environment."

"Ch'," Hao scoffed at that. "Yeah, they sit around and talk about it but they never give up their air-conditioners and cars and never stop clearing forests for property development anyway."

"The population's growing, Hao; we don't have a choice. People need shelters and infrastructure."

"That's why we should decrease the population."

Yoh sighed. That wasn't his point. "And saving nature doesn't mean annihilating one entire species. It may be the affliction, but we're supposed to remedy the affliction, not get rid of it entirely. By completely wiping out the issue, we destroy both the good and the bad aspects of it. Take Horo Horo for example; he wants to restore nature too, but killing off the human race isn't part of that plan because he knows it isn't the answer."

"That would be a short-term solution. As long as mankind exists, it will continue to poison the planet. The human race is the root of the problem, a root I intend to exterminate." Determination lined the pyromaniac's words. "And pray tell me what the good aspects of humans are because I have long since been unable to find any."

"Well, in a relevant point of view, we have found ways to recycle most things and reduce wastage of natural resources. We have found ways to clone endangered species so that they don't go extinct. We have also made certain species of plants stronger and more resistant to disease so they don't die out in certain areas. Technology is also growing increasingly environmentally friendly. Humans are capable of caring about the Earth; most of them just haven't quite realized the full impact their daily lives have on the planet yet. It's about education, Hao, raising awareness, not revamping the planet sans the human race," he shorthaired boy replied, sounding very tired.

"Firstly, humans are the cause of the problems in the first place. And if education was effective, the world wouldn't look the way it does now."

"People are trying to change that."

"Secondly, these ones you speak of, my dear little brother, I've seen the lengthy extravagant campaigns they go on. And the campaigners commit the exact same sins they are trying to convince others against."

"Most nature activists practice what they preach."

"Not the millions I've seen. They drive, they smoke, and they work in air-conditioned buildings like the rest of their sinful species."

"What do you expect them to do, Hao?" the younger Asakura demanded in frustration. "They can't teleport around like you!"

"Exactly why shamans like myself should be the only ones alive on this planet; we won't pollute it," Hao finished smugly.

Yoh squeezed his eyes shut, heaving another sigh, a long drawn out one. "I... I really can't your mind." His brother was stubborn... obstinate even, maybe. He didn't think he'd ever meet a more dogmatic person in his lifetime.

"No, but you were planning to forget that for the week, weren't you?"

He looked up at his elder brother, meeting the other's calm onyx gaze sadly. The other shaman closed the sketchbook on his lap and slipped the piece of drawing charcoal into his pocket. He held the book away from him and it disappeared in a burst of flames on his hand, obviously teleported back to an appropriate place in the cottage. Still Yoh said nothing.

"Do you like the sunset, otouto-kun?" his twin questioned then, a light tone to the query.

He blinked. "Of course I do. It's beautiful," he answered, thrown mildly off-balance by the sudden change in subject.

Suddenly, he gasped as Hao abruptly pulled him towards himself so he was leaning on the fire shaman, looking alarmed as strong arms circled his waist. He wasn't going to do anything again, was he? The pyromaniac smirked at his twin's obvious discomfort, but simply said pleasantly, "Then watch it with me, Yoh. You wanted to see this place at night. We shall wait a while for the stars to come out."

The younger shaman's eyes widened slightly, but he said nothing, turning instead to look up at first the sky, then the reflection of it on the water of the loch. The breeze had picked up slightly and now blew a few strands of his hair into his eyes. Involuntarily, he felt himself relax in that warm embrace; it was so peaceful and... for once, he wasn't watching this alone. Not that he was always watching it alone anymore; he now had Manta to watch sunsets and stargaze with. However, he knew Manta didn't feel the same sort of connection he did with these seemingly simple things. He appreciated it, but he didn't feel that special bond with it.

Somehow, with Hao, Yoh knew he felt the exact same way about these awesome natural phenomena. And that sense of mutual understanding made the feeling of simply watching the sun slowly sink into the horizon and the sky gradually darken to a deeper shade of blue so much more fulfilling. He closed his eyes as the arms around him tightened marginally. It was a sacred moment, one he was confident his twin wouldn't try to destroy by doing anything strange, so he allowed it. It almost felt like they had been brothers forever, like they had spent all this time together instead of apart. Asakura Yoh really wished that were true.

"Mmngh," Yoh grunted, tossing in bed. It was late, past normal bedtime; couldn't they stop that noise? Wait, why couldn't he move his hands freely? He opened his eyes, now wide awake in alarm. What was happening? He froze suddenly. He heard a squeak. And there were other moving things on the bed. "Hao?" he called out warily.

What seemed like a thousand squeaks answered him, accompanied by the sensation of things scurrying over him.

"HAAAAAOOOOO!" he yelled now in near panic, tugging on the bonds that tied his hands to the headboard of the bed.

Meanwhile, just on the other side of the pinewood door...

"Opacho, how many mice did you put in there?" a certain fire shaman asked his African companion with an amused look on his youthful visage as they both began strolling down the corridor to their rooms.

"Thirty-five, Hao-sama, as ordered. Twenty-nine mistakes yesterday plus today's six hours equals thirty-five mice for Yoh-sama," the child replied matter-of-factly. She was pretty good at math for a five-year-old who had never been to school. Her Hao-sama had taught her well, after all.

Hearing his twin's panicked scream again brought a sadistic smile to Asakura Hao's lips. "Good, Opacho, very good." He knew very well that his little brother was mildly muriphobic; the kid was terrified of mice.

"Yoh-sama is being punished," the little girl agreed.

"Not really."

"Hao-sama?" she looked up at her lord curiously.

"It's also a form of training. It's to teach one to think calmly even in face of his or her greatest fear." Yoh screamed again and Hao simply shook his head in mild exasperation. "The key, Opacho, to this exercise is really simple," he continued explaining calmly, stopping as they arrived at the door to the five-year-old's room. "All he'd have to do is surround his body with furyoku and they'll stay away; animals are really sensitive to these energies. However, in a state of panic, one loses the ability to think logically. Thus, some people who do know that might never even consider it. As for Yoh, well... let's see just how hopeless he is." Hao smiled a closed-eyed smile.

His companion nodded in understanding. "Good night, Hao-sama," she wished him cheerfully, opening the door to her room.

"Good night, Opacho," he returned pleasantly. She closed the door and he returned to his room amid more of his brother's screams. Today had certainly been a very, very good day.

"Today, we shall have combat training."

Yoh looked up at his brother in mild confusion, fingering the one of the plasters over the few mouse-bites he had gotten the night before. He swore his brother knew he was afraid of mice and had put them in his bed just to torment him. Why else would his hands have been coincidentally tied to the bed as well? Well, if they were going to have combat training, that meant he was going to see Amidamaru again, right? His expression turned cheerful.

"No, martial arts, I mean," Hao responded to his twin's thoughts again. Most battle shamans learnt a little martial arts during their training because it taught one to control chi, which was a type of energy just like furyoku. In learning to control one was the key to learning to control the other. Besides that, it wasn't sufficient to rely on one's spirit in combat; the shaman's body must also be fit and capable of launching and dodging attacks. Also, it taught mental and physical discipline, which was as important to a shaman as it was to a martial arts practitioner. Thus, martial arts were a part of most battle shamans' training programmes.

The other's face fell at that. Not only was he not going to see the samurai spirit again, but he was also not the family's greatest martial artist. And he didn't think the rain would save him either. Firstly, the sky above them where they now stood just outside the cottage was clear and blue. Secondly, even if it did rain, he doubted Hao would stop the activity.

"Oh, and to make things more interesting..."

The younger brunet stiffened; it sure wasn't going to be good news his twin had for him.

"It's now about eleven; Opacho will finish cooking dinner at about seven this evening. You have approximately eight hours. If in these eight hours, you manage to land eight blows on my body, I'll do anything you ask until tomorrow morning. If you fail... Well, then the reverse works for you too. I get to do whatever I want to you until tomorrow morning." The fire shaman grinned at that. That was an average of one hit per hour. In the rare occasion that his little brother was actually up to the task, the kind-hearted boy wasn't even likely to make him do anything horrible. On the other hand, if he won, he would get to torment his twin to no end for the next maybe twelve hours. "So, how does that sound?"

Even Yoh knew that Hao wasn't really asking; he had already decided on doing that. There wasn't really a way out of it and trying to escape would only make the sadistic pyromaniac even more enthusiastic about implementing his great idea. "Do I have a choice?" he asked, shoulders sagging; if he knew his brother as well as he thought he did, the outcome of this was a win-win situation for the other and a no-win situation for him.

"Well, no, I suppose not," his brother replied with almost sinful glee, proving his point.

The younger Asakura simply sighed at that. Asakura Hao wasn't the type that took 'no' for an answer.

"Shall we begin? Your time runs out even as we speak," the other shaman said calmly now, removing his poncho with one hand and tossing it aside in a seemingly careless manner. It ended up hanging on the doorknob of the house anyway; the longhaired boy was just too perfect.

Long brown tresses fell past lean shoulders to end somewhat below the other's slim waist, complementing the tanned skin on that thin yet muscular frame. At the sight of the star-spangled belt and straps on the pair of baggy dark red and green pants, Yoh thought Hao had the strangest tastes in clothing. Even the leather arm-guards he wore had stars on them to match. Yet somehow, as he stared at that familiar form before him, the other standing there with his eyes closed and hands at his sides as if getting himself into the proper mindset for the coming task, Yoh thought his twin was extremely sexy.

Suddenly, he choked. Oh, Great Spirits, what was he thinking? He blushed, hoping his brother wouldn't open his eyes right then to see his flushed cheeks. That was his elder brother he was looking at! Not only were they both guys, they were also siblings in both blood and soul. Those were neither appropriate observations to make about his companion, nor was this a proper time to be thinking about such things. He closed his eyes and focused on preparing for the task at hand, calming his errant thoughts and finding his centre.

When he opened his eyes again, he found the other looking at him with a kind of composure that was almost eerie. In a fluid motion, his elder brother got into a fighting stance. He responded likewise. Yes, he would manage eight hits today. The dire consequences of failure had been thoroughly revealed to him the night before. There was no saying where his brother would stop at when it came to torturing him. Asakura Yoh most certainly wasn't spending another night tied to a bed full of mice, even if he had accidentally discovered that furyoku kept them away. No, no evil mice tonight.

Then, Hao grinned and in an instant he was suddenly behind his little brother, who dodged the blow just in time to avoid a very bruised back. The fire shaman attacked again, this time aiming at his twin's abdomen. Yoh successfully blocked the punch with one hand and threw one of his own towards his opponent, only to have his hand caught. Abruptly, the pyromaniac spun him around so he was being hugged from behind with his hands pressed to his chest by the other.

"Isn't there even one thing you're competent at, otouto-kun?" Hao murmured the question teasingly, his lips brushing his twin's right ear. He smirked at the slight shudder that went through the other shaman's body at that.

Yoh lifted a leg to kick his brother; Hao responded by blocking with his own leg, then releasing his younger brother and backing off a several steps only to aim a kick at his back. His opponent ducked in the nick of time and attempted a low kick at his leg, but he sprang into the air and somersaulted to land a small distance away where he returned to his original position. It would be noon in about fifteen minutes; the grin on his face simply widened. His twin wasn't going to succeed today, not by a long shot. The younger Asakura turned to face his sibling, returning to his original stance as well. Today was day three of training with Hao. Everyday of this week was going to be a long day.

Yoh panted heavily, sweat dripping down his face and body. The sky was dark; it was probably nearly seven. Thus far, he had managed five hits to his elder brother, which he strongly suspected that the other had allowed just to get his hopes up. Hao didn't even seem to be exerting himself. Of course he was sweating too, but his breathing was normal and he didn't seem the least tired. He had also inferred by now that the fire shaman didn't really even plan on injuring him, since all the blows he had received from the other weren't very painful. He took his shirt off and used it to wipe the sweat off his brow. Hao let his hands fall to his side as he looked up thoughtfully at the sky.

"The sun has set; it's past seven." He returned his gaze to his breathless twin. "There really isn't anything you're good at, is there?"

The younger shaman didn't reply, still struggling to catch his breath.

Well, the pyromaniac supposed that wasn't entirely true. His little brother was better than a whole lot of the people who called themselves shamans with the miniscule bits of spiritual power they possessed; he just wasn't as good as Hao expected him to be. The other brunet had roughly half of his power, but he was only using maybe twenty percent of that potential. He needed at least another thirty percent of that awakened before merging would have a positive effect. He didn't expect his twin to ever become as strong as he was in this lifetime, but at least half as strong he was would have been sufficient to bring about satisfactory results after the merge. Oh, well...

"Please don't put mice in my bed when I'm sleeping again," Yoh said suddenly.

Hao grinned rather wickedly at that. "No, since you've passed that last night, I won't."

"Passed?" The younger Asakura didn't understand.

"It was just another training exercise. Since you succeeded at that one, I see no reason to repeat it."

Training? The word he had been thinking of started with 'T' as well, and it wasn't 'training'; it was 'torture'.

"Well, I suppose I could always blend orange smoothies for you tonight instead."

Yoh heaved a sigh of relief. Now, that didn't sound too bad. After all, how bad could... ORANGE smoothies? Hao was going to BLEND ORANGES? "NOOOOOO...!" He was horrified. How could anyone BLEND ORANGES! Oranges... Oranges were... Oranges were sacred! Funga fu fu!

Hao laughed. That look of pure horror was the most entertaining thing he'd seen today. "In retrospect, I really don't like orange juice. Maybe we'll have tea tonight instead."

The relief on the younger shaman's face was obvious. Just then, Opacho's head popped out the kitchen window.

"Hao-sama, dinner's ready."

"Aa, I'll be there soon," he responded without looking at the girl, who then returned to whatever task she had yet to complete. His eyes were on the drop of sweat that trickled slowly down his twin's chest. On his lips, he could still taste that tang that was simply Yoh from when he had kissed his brother before.

Yoh looked up at his rather manic twin, sensing the intense gaze that lingered on his bare skin like the other was trying to burn him just by staring. Their eyes met... and for a very long moment, nothing happened. Several more drops of sweat trickled down the younger shaman's brow as the fire in that powerful gaze threatened to swallow him whole. And then suddenly, his back was pressed to the whitewashed brick wall of the house, his wrists pinned on either side of his head by his brother's hands. Said brother had his lips on Yoh's collarbone, sucking hard enough to leave marks this time, and his knee was sliding up the younger Asakura's inner thighs with almost excruciating slowness.

A gasp escaped the shorthaired boy's lips as he felt his body respond to his elder brother's actions. "No... Hao... Please, no." His breathing was ragged as he struggled against the other's firm grip on his hands.

"I recall that we had an agreement." The words were murmured huskily against his skin just before a warm mouth closed over his left nipple and sucked hard on it.

He had to bite back a moan as the sensation hit home. "Great Spirits, no, Hao... J-Just not this...Please!" The fire shaman's knee had brushed against his hardening length and he knew his control wouldn't last much longer. /It shouldn't feel so good, so right.../ he thought desperately. They were both guys, they were brothers, he was engaged, they were enemies... There were so many reasons why this was wrong. And yet, why couldn't he resist? Why did his brother's touch evoke such feelings in him, such longings?

"Just admit how much you want it, Yoh. It fills up a kind of emptiness in you that you've never noticed before, doesn't it?" Hao released his younger sibling's left hand to remove the panting boy's pants.

Yoh moved his free hand to push his twin away, but somehow, it ended up buried in soft brown hair instead. "I... H-Hao, no... Aaahh!" The cry spilled forth before he could repress it as soft lips closed around his now exposed erection. His hand fisted in the pyromaniac's hair as he squeezed his eyes shut and bit his lip.

The senior Asakura sucked gently on his prize, pressing his tongue to the tip of his twin's length, feeling desire rise in his own body at the sound of the other's breathless moans. He was well aware that they were outside and could likely be caught in the middle of this, but as far as where he was concerned, every single farmer within a twenty-kilometre-radius could drop by to watch him screw his younger brother and he still wasn't going to stop. Oh, no, not when Yoh was like this, breathless and lost in his own desire and unable to resist the longings that echoed in his soul. He would show him indeed, what completeness felt like. The humans... Well, if they proved enough trouble, he could always just introduce them to Spirit of Fire.

He released Yoh's other hand as he sucked harder, feeling his twin's knees grow weak and knowing that the other was now too far gone to resist. He tugged the green pants down to its owner's ankles before reaching back to brush his fingertips lightly against his partner's entrance, hearing the wanton cry on the other brunet's lips as he traced that cleft teasingly. The shorthaired boy arched his back in response, his other hand falling to rest on his elder brother's bare shoulder. He was close and even if he knew it was wrong, that they shouldn't be committing this sinful act, he also knew his brother was right about at least one thing: Great Spirits knew there wasn't an instant in his life when he had felt more complete than he did right now.

Hao stopped what he was doing when he tasted semen in his mouth; if he kept at it, his twin would climax before they even got to the best part. He coated three fingers with saliva and reached around to slide one past that tight ring of muscle. Of course, he could always just not bother, but then... where would the fun in that be? If his righteous little brother actually admitted to himself how much he had enjoyed this, he would likely sit around feeling guilty for days and years after and Hao could then spend the rest of all eternity rubbing it in. He smirked at the thought.

"Hao, please... We... I... I'm engaged..." he heard his brother gasp out in a last ditch attempt to stop him, stop them both.

"To a woman you know you don't love," he agreed, pressing lustful kisses to sweat-slick inner thighs.

"I'm... the heir of the clan... I can't..."

"You're not the last Asakura son in existence." The fire shaman undid his own pants, wondering why he was even bothering to convince the other. "The last of the main house, maybe, but not of the clan."

Yoh opened his eyes then. "There are branch houses?" he panted in surprise.

Hao shrugged. "Plenty. They always found an internal army of shamans to make attempts on my life. Not all are battle shamans, of course. That's a main house speciality. Most of the rest are demon hunters or itakos like your icy fiancée." He rose to his feet as he inserted a second finger into his twin who flinched slightly in response.

The younger brunet looked away, not wanting to meet the other's gaze lest the other see his lust-darkened eyes. "Don't... Don't say things like that to get your way." He bit his lip and cringed slightly as a third finger entered him.

His brother fingered the bear-claw necklace on his neck. "I wouldn't." The pyromaniac paused to press a kiss to Yoh's Adam's apple. "I don't lie to you," he continued, reaching out to turn his twin's face towards him so he could catch the younger brunet's eyes. Midnight eyes met. "I don't have to. I can take what I want from you by force..." he informed his little brother, leaning forward to capture his lips in another kiss. "... but I don't think you'd like that." The last words were murmured against parted lips an instant before they kissed again. Yoh's cry of pain was muffled by the kiss they shared as his brother splayed his fingers within him. Hao then slid his fingers back out of his twin's body and broke off the kiss to push Yoh to his knees. "Do it," he whispered. "Or it will hurt."

Somehow, the younger shaman knew exactly what his twin wanted and closed his lips over the other's length. He sucked on it gently at first, then harder. The elder Asakura moaned, his hands fisted in short brown locks. Yoh blushed faintly, but did not stop. Great Spirits, this was so wrong, but why did it feel so good for them both?

"Perhaps because it's wrong," the fire shaman responded raggedly to the other's thoughts, stopping his twin with more than a little reluctance and helping the shorthaired boy stand. At least the kid was wise enough to leave a lot of moisture behind. He spun him around to face the wall, supporting him with an arm and positioning himself appropriately. "I heard that forbidden fruits are always the sweetest."

"Don't," Yoh heard himself say. He wasn't even sure of what he wanted anymore. How did he really feel about his twin? How did he feel about this? He squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his cheek to the rough surface of the wall. The other's touch was like a drug he couldn't seem to get enough of.

"Don't what?" said twin prompted, trailing kisses down his spine.

Great Spirits knew he should have said 'don't do it', but the words he heard spilling forth from his own lips as the pyromaniac's hand returned to close around his hardness were rather different. "Don't... Please... don't... don't... don't stop..."

Hao grinned as he nuzzled the back of his twin's neck and pressed forward, entering his sibling in one swift motion as the other bit back the cry of pain that threatened to escape. He paused, deciding to wait for the younger boy to get used to the sensation.

"Hao..." Yoh breathed his name softly, desperately. The younger brunet knew he'd regret giving in to this for all time, but right in that moment, he no longer wished to think about that. The time for turning back had long since passed him by and he hadn't had the strength to resist. Now, it was too late; he no longer had a choice.

"Yoh... What does it feel like?" his brother asked, but before he even had the chance to answer, the other was already moving again, thrusting into the pliant body before him and stroking the erection in his hand, eliciting moans of mixed pleasure and pain.

/Like sin/ he thought as he felt his orgasm approach. It was wrong, but he knew only one other thing with utmost certainty now.

"Hm..." was the only response he received to that thought as Hao continued to drive into him, continued stroking him to completion.

No one would ever touch him deeper, fill him so completely.

Yoh cried out in passion as he came, feeling his brother's seed fill him as the other came as well with only a soft groan in his ear. He sank to his knees on the ground as the fire shaman withdrew from him, both of them breathless and spent. The elder twin dropped to his knees behind his little brother as well and leaned forward to rest his cheek on one slim shoulder, arms once again circling that slender waist. They remained that way for a while, sweat dripping down their tired bodies. Then, Hao stood and put his pants back on. It wouldn't very well do to keep Opacho waiting with dinner.

"Opacho waits with dinner," he reminded the other boy before slipping his poncho back on and entering the cottage as if nothing extraordinary had happened, leaving Yoh kneeling on the ground and alone to his thoughts and regrets.

Asakura Hao stared at the flames in the brick fireplace passively. All was silent in the cottage; he was alone. Opacho was there, of course, but her soul was out watching Yoh doing the three-hops-per-leg exercise again, which the boy would hopefully be able to complete this time without passing out. Ever since the incident the day before, his other half had not spoken to him. Dinner had been quiet. Then, the other had gone straight into his room and hadn't come out till the next morning where breakfast had been an equally silent affair. Technically, the shorthaired boy still owed him an entire night of perfect obedience by agreement, but he hadn't felt particularly in the mood to enforce that; he could always claim that some other time when he was feeling more sadistic.

Not that the other brunet's silently ignoring him particularly bothered him; he could always hear the other's thoughts anyway. He just couldn't understand what the shorthaired boy was so upset about. It was just sex, after all; what was the big deal? The younger shaman's thoughts had been somewhat gloomy the entire time. He shrugged. Yoh's feelings were his to deal with; he'd let the other work them out on his own. How human to be so attached to such insignificances... It was infinitesimal.


"Sixteen mistakes, Hao-sama. But he completed it without resting this time."

He smiled pleasantly. That was an improvement. Yoh sat at the doorway, never having said a word as he sat there panting. The fire shaman could sense the gloomy confusion in the other's thoughts; he was still upset, which was strange, since the other was such a happy-go-lucky type and he rarely stayed upset about anything for very long. "Well, since I'm rather more satisfied with today's performance, let's all go to an onsen resort," he suggested.

"Yay!" Opacho agreed cheerfully. She liked hot springs; they were comfortably warm and deep enough for her to swim in.

Yoh simply rose to his feet then and forced an easy smile; no sense bringing the little girl down with his negative feelings. "Aa, let's go," he agreed. Even if Hao was going to do anything, it probably didn't matter after how far they had already gone. And if Opacho enjoyed hot springs, who was he to be difficult and rob her of something she liked? Of course, Hao would probably go anyway, but then again, he liked hot springs too and he hadn't been in one since they started the journey to Patch Village. Since things couldn't get any worse, he may as well join them. Things would work out somehow.

Hao hid a frown. The other brunet suspected he was going to try something again, but thought it no longer made a difference. He sensed that the other was upset, in a way he didn't quite recognise, but upset nonetheless. Well, since they had both agreed –at least verbally-, there wasn't any reason for him to change his mind. He stepped forward and stretched out a hand to his twin as he picked the little African girl up with his other to put her on his shoulder, a hand that the younger Asakura rather hesitantly took. Flames surrounded them before there was that floating sensation of travelling through time and space again, and then they were standing in front of a very Japanese-looking inn in a very Western-looking town.

"Well, shall we...?" the pyromaniac invited, stepping forward into the inn. Yoh sighed and followed him in; no, it really didn't make any difference now if the other were to accost him in the onsen today. After yesterday evening... He sighed again. It was his loss after all. He had succumbed to it; he really had no right to regret.

Asakura Hao wanted to throw something at the boy opposite him right now, hopefully some of his precious oranges so that he could have them burst in his face and be suitably aggrieved. His other half was on the other side of the private hot spring, as far as he could get from him in the same pool of water, a move he knew very well was deliberate. The shorthaired boy had his eyes closed, but his thoughts were as dark as a thundercloud before a storm. Now the would-be destroyer of the human race couldn't really care any less if his twin was falling into some incurable fit of depression... just so long as he didn't have to hear and feel it emanating off him. And goodness knew why he was making such a big deal about one bout of lust.

"Yoh," he called softly from where he sat with his long brown hair pinned up neatly and a small towel on his head, leaning in a semi-relaxed manner against the edge of the spring with his elbows out of the water so he could rest his arms on the water's edge.

The other brunet slowly opened obsidian eyes to glance at him through the steam rising from the hot water between them, his gaze carefully blank.

"Just what are you so upset about? It's just sex, for Great Spirits' sake." His voice was calm, only mildly laced with the irritation he felt. "Tons of people do it everyday."

Yoh remained silent. That was precisely the problem. It wasn't that he particularly minded the fact that they had done that. Of course, he did somewhat mind and it was wrong for a world of reasons, but he'd been partly to blame for it as well and in any case, that was besides the point. What he severely minded was the fact that it was his first time and Hao didn't give a damn. He'd expected Hao to think about it like that; of course, the fire shaman wasn't quite the type to see such things any further than on a physical level, so he hadn't expected any less, but... But it didn't change the fact that he felt upset about it.

Somehow, he was sick and tired of how utterly planned-out his life seemed. Whatever people said about one being able to choose one's fate or destiny was bullshit. In fact, that was probably where he had gotten the philosophy that everything would work itself out on its own. He'd never had a choice, never had it any different. Everything seemed to have been foreordained for him from the beginning. So why should he bother being proactive about anything?

He woke up one morning and was announced to at the breakfast table that the reason he could see spirits was because he had shamanic powers and thus had to learn the ways of shamanism since he was destined to be a shaman and join the Shaman Fight. No, it was his destiny; he didn't have a choice.

Then, another morning a few years later, he had woken up to the grand announcement that that insane sadistic blonde ice demoness that lived somewhere on the grounds was his fiancée and he'd have to marry her someday. Of course, Anna wasn't really so bad, but back then when he had been less than nine years of age and already the victim of her insane training programmes for three whole years, that had been exactly what he had thought of the girl. And no, he didn't have a choice in the matter either.

Then came the newsflash not too long ago that he did indeed have the brother he had always wished for... only that the person in question was a deranged pyromaniac hell-bent on annihilating all of humanity and it was his God-given duty to kill him and save the world. No, that was his preordained responsibility, so there was no escaping that fate either.

And now, he had to come to terms with the fact that said evil twin brother had taken him for the first time and thought it was as insignificant an occurrence as... he doubted there existed anything less significant to Asakura Hao. Everyone wanted his or her first time to be special, with someone special. Could anyone blame him for wanting to have a choice in that at least? After all, he'd never had a choice in anything else before. And Hao couldn't even care less.

"Ch'," said shaman scoffed quietly as he picked up on his little brother's feelings. What a human train of thought. "Chicchieena..." he drawled softly in a condescending tone. (This is the exact phrase Hao says to mean expressions like 'how small'. This is –like- the only bona-fide Hao quote in existence, so I don't want to do anything to it, since that cool OMG-so-Hao condescending effect would be lost in translation. )

Yoh stood up abruptly then and turned around to climb out of the onsen. "Nothing, forget it," he muttered. Hao could never and would never understand.

He had only just gotten out of the water when he was sharply pulled back in by the wrist. He yelped, thinking that he would fall and probably hit his head on the hot rocks at the bottom, but his head never got underwater. Hao had caught him with an arm around his shoulders and his right wrist was still in the elder shaman's grasp. He looked up, eyes wide in surprise and shock, at his brother who simply leaned down to claim his lips in one swift motion.

His lips parted before he could even process what was happening and in an instant, the other had deepened the kiss and released his wrist to wrap the other arm around his waist. And then, just as suddenly as it had begun, the kiss ended and he nearly drowned as Hao unexpectedly let him go and he sank underwater. By the time he had surfaced, gasping for air, the other was already on his way out the door, tying the sash on his white yukata robe as he walked, his hair already let down. The door slid shut behind the longhaired boy and Yoh reached up hesitantly to touch his lips, still staring at the exit. He was so confused now; what was that for?

Hao sipped at the cup of hot mugicha Opacho had poured for him, staring at the bamboo wall before him expressionlessly, lost in thought. He had reacted out of instinct then, pulling Yoh back into the water and then kissing him without thinking. What had he done that for? He had perpended the matter for the past twenty minutes without finding a logical answer. It was annoying. Opacho looked rather happy that she didn't have to cook that night as she sat making a fresh pot of tea. She had apparently enjoyed herself in the women's onsen.

They were now waiting for their dinner to arrive. They had decided to order room service instead of heading to the inn's dining hall, since humans weren't fit for Hao's company as far as where said fire shaman was concerned. He had even requested a private onsen for himself and Yoh, since he was highly likely to burn any human he had to spend any more than five minutes with and that would mean that they couldn't spend the night here. It cost somewhat more, of course, but then again, Asakura Hao didn't have many better things to spend his money on.

His little brother had yet to return to the room and he didn't wonder where the other shaman was. It mattered little to him. They had ordered the most expensive sashimi platter available, supposedly consisting of the highest grade of imported fish available, and sukiyaki with the highest grade of Japanese beef available. If the younger shaman missed out on this great dinner, it was his problem. Hao finished the rest of the now much cooler cup of tea in his hand, leaning back against the wall behind him, and smiled pleasantly at Opacho as the child refilled the cup.

"Excuse me, room service," a female voice called from outside the sliding doors to their room.

Hao nodded at his little African companion who called for them to enter. Four Caucasian women, all dressed in kimonos entered, each carrying a tray of food. They set everything down on the low table by the window to the pyromaniac's right before leaving the room with a polite bow to Hao on the way. But the elder Asakura paid them no heed. His eyes were on his younger brother who was now standing just beside the doorway in the same white yukata robe. Their obsidian eyes met for a long moment as Yoh seemed to search his gaze for something. He didn't look away, simply meeting that searching gaze with a level one. He didn't know what his twin wished to see or find, but whatever it was, he apparently found it, since an easy smile spread wide on the younger shaman's face.

"I haven't eaten such a feast in aeons," he commented cheerfully, never breaking eye contact as he slid the door close after the serving maids and stepped closer.

The elder shaman felt a smile tug on his lips and didn't resist. "Aa, I suppose the fact that you've actually completed one serious training exercise decently is reason enough for celebration." The unhappy tint to his other half's thoughts seemed to have disappeared.

Yoh looked affronted at that and he laughed as Opacho poured them both a fresh cup of tea. He rose to his feet on the tatami floor then. "Dinner?" he invited, looking from one companion to the other.

Cheerful sounds of agreement answered him as they all made their way to the table.

Yoh stared down the wide chasm Hao had brought him to. The rapids down below were fast-moving due to the waterfall just a few kilometres to his right. And they were very, very far down below. The chasm itself was approximately a quarter of a kilometre wide across and somehow, instinct indicated that he wasn't going to like today's great training idea.

"Please don't tell me you're going to drop me down there," he muttered.

"No, otouto-kun, of course not. You're more valuable to me alive," his rather deranged twin brother replied with a laugh from where he sat on the hand of Spirit of Fire. "However, if you drop yourself off... I'm just not going to do anything, since that would mean that you're not very much worth saving." The rapids below were very deep; Yoh wouldn't die anyway.

He had expected something like that. Yoh sighed, shoulders sagging; he seemed to be doing that a lot these days.

"Have you ever walked on a tightrope before?"

He turned to look at his elder brother in alarm. He couldn't be serious.

"No? Well then, this would be a good place to start." Hao fished a very long length of rope out of his pocket and hopped off Spirit of Fire to tie one end to the bottom of a nearby tree. Then, he had the spirit take him across the chasm and he tied the other end to the bottom of another tree. "Why don't you try walking across now?" he called out from across the chasm.

The younger shaman stared first at his twin, then back down the very deep chasm, and then finally back at the rope, which was taut and straight and as narrow as... well, a rope. The boy was insane. If he hadn't believed it before, he did now. Only Asakura Hao would think that learning how to walk a tightrope for the first time over a deep chasm with rough rapids below was a sane thing to do. No, Hao really couldn't be serious.

"I am," came the response to his thoughts from across the chasm.

Then, he watched with mild fascination as Hao removed his sandals and put them onto the hand of Spirit of Fire. Calmly, the elder shaman walked to the edge of the chasm and Yoh couldn't help thinking that Hao walked like a true lover of nature indeed; it almost seemed as if the fire shaman's bare feet caressed the very earth he walked on. And then, his elder brother stepped onto the rope and casually walked across, his eyes on him instead of the rope, putting one foot in front of the other like it was the simplest task in the world.

"It is, otouto-kun. It's all about balance. I can even do it backwards. We haven't even gotten to the hard part yet," the pyromaniac said with a pleasant smile as he reached his other half's side.

The shorthaired boy blinked at that, remaining silent. Then suddenly, what exactly his brother had said crashed down on him. "Wait, you mean it gets worse!" he questioned in horror.

Hao laughed then; his twin was so amusing when horrified. Was it any surprise he liked to torment the other? There were few greater forms of entertainment. "This is just the first part. The full training is a bit harder," he explained to a look of even greater horror on his brother's face. "Come, Yoh, since it's your first time, I'll even help you this round." He hopped off the rope gracefully with a pleasant smile. "Take off your clogs and try." He offered the other his hand.

Realizing he didn't have a choice if he wanted any sleep at all that night, Yoh hesitantly took his twin's hand. It felt warm in his grasp. He had to fight the blush that threatened to come to his cheeks at the thought that that hand had probably touched every last inch of his body. Judging by the marginal widening of the smile on the other's face, he supposed the other had picked up on the thought. This time, he really blushed, but kept his attention on the rope. Hao, on the other hand, in line with his mission to make his little brother as uncomfortable as possible for his personal entertainment, was feeling rather accomplished, but the smile remained a pleasant one.

Stretching out his other arm to help himself balance, the younger shaman stepped onto the rope... and nearly tripped as it swayed violently. Hao's hand helpfully moved to grip his arm instead. Yoh smiled sheepishly at his twin whose smile never wavered. Somehow, the younger Asakura knew that wasn't exactly a good sign; his brother was probably plotting some horrible fate for him later. The smile became a smirk, confirming the shorthaired boy's suspicions.

He tried again, this time managing to at least get on the rope for a few moments, only to fall off again... this time, right onto his brother, who staggered slightly, but didn't fall. Their arms slid around each other as one tried to find his balance and the other tried to balance him. Yoh was blushing before he even realized exactly what was going on. It was warm... It felt right, how he had his head resting on Hao's shoulder with their arms around each other. Reluctantly, he pulled away when he found his balance. It wasn't right, he knew, but that didn't make it any less beautiful a feeling.

"You really are hopeless." Hao's words couldn't have shattered the moment any better.

"But it sways!" the younger twin protested. How Hao did it with such ease was incomprehensible. He had walked on poles before; they were fine, since they didn't sway. But this rope...

"Think, Yoh. There's a key to everything."

Yoh responded with a pout at which his brother laughed. He smiled at that; the elder shaman's rich warm laughter never failed to bring a smile to his face. He gave the rope another shot and failed to stay on it for anything more than seven seconds. He sighed. Every time he stepped onto it, the rope swayed violently. Just how Hao did it so effortlessly was beyond him. How could anyone balance one a rope that was swaying... Wait. He looked at the rope and thought about Hao walking on it. /Think, Yoh/ Hao's voice echoed in his mind. When Hao was walking on it, the rope... hadn't swayed.

/Think, Yoh. Think like Hao... Think like... like a shaman./ All of sudden, it made sense. Of course, Hao would have used shamanism.

The fire shaman smiled at that. At least, his twin had some shreds of observance even if he lacked intelligence.

What had he done? Shamanism. Furyoku. /That's it/ he realized. Furyoku. Hao used furyoku to control the rope and keep it still. He stepped onto the rope again, this time letting his furyoku flow into it. Shifting his weight onto the rope, he controlled his furyoku flow so it wouldn't sway. As long as one could control the direction the energy travelled, the object it was flowing in would not budge from that course. It was the exact same way Lyserg controlled the dowsing pendulum with Morphine; he controlled the direction the string was going in with his furyoku.

Asakura Hao's smile widened then. Finally, the kid was showing some bit of intelligence. "Lesson one of today, otouto-kun."

His twin turned to look at him in mild surprise; he'd never sounded so much like a brother before. Or even like a teacher for that matter. The younger Asakura was now balanced properly on the rope that was no longer swaying.

"The first and most basic thing about being a shaman is to think like one. Thinking like those puny humans and their microscopic minds won't get you anywhere."

Yoh suppressed a sigh; his brother would never see humans in any better light, he realized. But at least he was acting a tad bit brotherly. Yoh smiled slightly at the thought. He had realized yesterday when he had searched those deep fathomless onyx eyes that the other shaman did care for him somewhere deep down inside, whether he knew it or not. And somehow, that made the situation so much easier to accept. Somehow, if Hao did care, it was alright; he really didn't mind it so much anymore. It was over anyway; he couldn't change the fact that it happened either.

"Walk across, otouto-kun. I also wouldn't advise looking down." Hao sensed the other's thoughts and was of the opinion that his little brother was considering redundancies again. Of course he cared for him; Yoh was his other half, a useful source of power and a part of his soul. It didn't benefit Hao in the least to have him dead; quite the contrary, in fact. His death would pose a problem to the fire shaman; he would have to find another power source. It was only logical that he cared.

In the younger shaman's opinion, Hao was sounding just a bit too gleeful. "May I ask why we have to do this over a chasm this wide and this deep?" His brother was definitely insane. Or definitely intent on tormenting him to his utmost ability.

"Because people only reach their full potential in dangerous situations like when their lives or something as or more important is at stake. Now, walk."

Tears cascaded down his face as the shorthaired brunet took a careful step forward. What was it with his life and slave drivers who liked to train him? One cautious step after another with his arms stretched out on either side to help him balance and he eventually managed to make it across... and knew without looking that Hao wanted him to turn around and walk back. Slowly, he did so, putting one foot in front of the other with hesitation and wariness. He made it back... to find a sack next to his twin where there hadn't been one before. Obviously, it had been teleported over... and Yoh had the sinking feeling that things were about to get worse. The fire shaman reached into the sack, his pleasant smile never having faltered, and took out three identical clay pots.

"Carry these over the chasm," the longhaired boy told his twin calmly, handing the pots over.

The younger boy was pretty sure he meant across the tightrope. "But..." he protested. "... if I carry these, I won't be able to see the rope I'm stepping on!"

If it was possible, the smile on the other's face only widened. "I meant for you to hold one pot in each hand and balance the third on your head," he explained calmly.

Yoh looked like his soul had left his body as he stood there with his mouth hanging open. Walking while balancing a pot on his head was hard enough to do on its own, but across a tightrope? This was pure insanity.

"If you don't close your mouth and get going, I'll shove a mouse in," Hao said sweetly.

That had the shorthaired boy snapping his mouth shut and immediately turning to the task at hand with tears cascading down his face.

"Oh, by the way, every time you drop a pot, you must return to this side the way you came and start again. You'll keep trying until you manage to walk all the way across and back without stepping off the rope. You have an hour; every extra hour or part thereof that you take counts for one roasted orange tonight. Also, if you fall off the rope, I'll save the pots, but I won't save you; so you're on your own there," the fire shaman continued as he helpfully placed the third pot upon his twin's head for him.

Determination lined the other shaman's tear-stained face as he turned to the tightrope ahead. No roasted oranges tonight; he'd succeed in an hour. Hao wasn't touching his sacred oranges; he'd protect them! Funga fu fu! The fire shaman laughed at that train of thought. It was almost ridiculous to be so worked up over several roasted oranges; in fact, stir-fried meat with oranges tasted pretty good. Maybe he would have Opacho make that tonight and serve it to Yoh to watch him spaz. That seemed more useful than just roasting them; at least frying the oranges would make good dinner. Absently, he wondered if his little brother noticed that he ate marmalade for breakfast almost every morning, since the other didn't like jam and thus, never touched it. Perhaps he should inform him just to see his reaction...

The younger Asakura made his first attempt at crossing the chasm. He had barely taken three steps when the pot atop his head fell off only to disappear in a burst of flame on its way down the gorge to reappear in a pleasantly smiling Hao's hand. Yoh returned to his brother's side and the elder shaman helpfully placed the pot on his head again. He made his second try, this time, managing to walk two steps further than the last before the pot on his head fell off again and he had to return to have his twin place the pot on his head for him again. An hour and a half passed before he finally managed to make it across, only to have the pot fall off his head as he tried to turn on the rope. Another hour and a half passed; he still couldn't keep the pot on his head while turning. Hao whipped a small notepad out of his pocket and wrote a note in pencil to Opacho to fry pork with oranges and make a salad with orange vinaigrette tonight. That was two out of the ten oranges in the fridge down.

The note vanished in a burst of flame as Yoh returned and he put the pot back on his little brother's head for him. Inwardly, the fire shaman sighed; his other half couldn't seriously be so stupid, could he? There is a key to everything; the boy just wasn't seeing it. In fact, it was exactly the same thing as the rope. Yes, it was all about balance, but there was also more to it. Yoh wasn't thinking like a shaman. The shorthaired boy tried again only to fail at the exact same spot. He perpended the situation as he walked back to where his elder brother waited with a genial smile and the pot. There must be something he was doing wrong somewhere or not doing. Based on the trend of the tasks he had received before, nothing Hao set before him was impossible; in fact, once one got the hang of it, it always turned out pretty simple. Every task was also something Hao himself could do with ease. What was he not doing right?

He reached the side Hao was on and the pot was placed back upon his head. 'Think like a shaman', his twin had said. What would the longhaired boy have done? Shamanism was the key. Shamanism... Furyoku was the core of shamanism. That's it! Furyoku! The pieces of the puzzle fell and clicked into place in the shorthaired brunet's mind. If the rope could be held still by furyoku, why couldn't the pot? He almost hit himself for taking so long to see it; it had been right before him from the start. A few oranges would be roasted tonight because he had been so dense. He started walking again, not noticing the smirk on the elder brunet's face that indicated that the torture session was far from over. Using his furyoku to hold the pot on his head still, he managed to execute the turn and return without dropping a single pot to the other's applause.

"I see you've finally figured it out," Hao said cheerfully, clapping his hands. "Congratulations." He paused thoughtfully. "You took two hours and five minutes extra to complete this. That makes for three oranges."

Yoh hopped off the rope to give the elder Asakura a pleading look, tears cascading down his phizog. "Just five minutes... Can't we make it two...?" he implored hopefully. At least if he could save one orange... Funga fu fu...

"Nope," came the all-too-cheerful reply. "The time you take is entirely your business."

The younger shaman's face fell at that, his shoulders sagging. "Not even one orange less...?" he entreated again.

The longhaired brunet shook his head. "Anyhow, here's the last part of this training exercise."

Yoh looked up in shock at that. "THERE'S MORE!" he exclaimed in stunned disbelief.

"Hm..." the fire shaman returned agreeably as he took a large jug out of the sack by his feet. "Spirit of Fire," he called. The spirit came and he leapt onto its hand, having it lower him to the rapids at the bottom of the gorge where he filled the jug before returning to his younger brother's side. He took the pot off the other's head and filled it halfway with water from the jug. "Get back on the rope, otouto-kun," he instructed calmly. The shorthaired boy reluctantly did as he was told lest another orange join the other three destined to be roasted tonight as his twin moved to fill the other two pots with approximately the same amount of water. "This exercise is one of the most comprehensive in shamanic training," Hao explained calmly as he poured the water into the pots. "It trains physical, mental and spiritual strength, stamina and discipline, balance, furyoku quantity and control, concentration span, as well as observational skills in your case." He smirked. "Most people would have noticed the key to keeping the pot in place in half the time you took."

Yoh pouted at that but said nothing. Protesting would only make the other more eager to rub it in.

"Walk across and back thrice," Hao ordered. "Don't spill a drop of water. Or you'll have to start again."

The younger twin sighed and moved to comply. The pots were heavy earthenware ones and on their own, they weren't light. Now, with the added weight of the water, they were an effort to carry. But he supposed training was for his own good, after all, so perhaps he shouldn't complain. Maybe it also doubled as a method of torturing him, but if it worked, he should really be grateful to both Hao and Anna. He managed to get the task done soon enough, just under thirty minutes. Now that he knew the key to keeping all the pots there, it wasn't so difficult. The only problem was that he had already used up more than half of his furyoku and the heavier the pot on his head was, the more furyoku was required to hold it still.

Hao offered him a deceptively gentle smile when he finished, one he knew only entailed more torment. He wasn't even surprised when his twin took three bricks out of the sack to put one in each pot. Resignedly, he began walking; he had to walk across and back another three times. He could feel his arms beginning to hurt from the strain of carrying the heavy pots and their heavier contents. The sun was high in the sky; it was probably around three in the afternoon. Yoh was sweating; he could feel the trickling beads of liquid flowing down his body. This exercise was really exhausting. He slowly managed to make it across and back thrice as required in approximately forty-five minutes... only to have the fire shaman add another brick to each pot.

His arms really hurt now, but he struggled on anyway. He'd carried heavier weights before really, but the way Hao was making him carry the pots, which had no handles, almost at arm's length away from his body, was very hard to maintain for as long as he had been doing the exercise. Besides that, he was running out of furyoku and energy. He hadn't had a single break in the training so far and he was convinced that that was the aspect meant to train continuous usage of furyoku as well as physical and mental stamina. The afternoon sun seemed unbearably hot and bright suddenly and he could feel the clammy sheen of sweat on his body that made his clothes stick to him.

Somehow he made it all the way there and back the first time. He started on the second trip across with a soft groan. He wondered if he'd be able to use his arms that night; he could feel them shaking slightly. It was growing extremely difficult to maintain the posture required to keep the water in the pot on his head, but he forced himself to keep his back straight. Hopefully, this was the last thing Hao had in store for him in this exercise. He turned on the rope to walk back across and was relieved to see the elder shaman nod in response to his thoughts, a nice smile on that all-too-familiar face.

Yoh managed to make it back to his brother's side. Numbness was beginning to take over; the throbbing in his arms had dulled and he could barely feel the shaking. He turned on the rope again and blinked several times. Was his vision blurring over? Perhaps the sun was shining just a tad too bright. He stepped forward and began to cross the canyon again. Was the rope beginning to sway...? Or was it just his vision that was beginning to swim? He blinked a few more times and the swaying stopped. He would probably start seeing double very soon. He turned on the rope and indeed, there seemed to be two ropes before him. He blinked again. It took quite a number of blinks to have it return to one rope.

The pyromaniac wondered if he should stop the exercise, but realized that it didn't quite make a difference anymore. In any case, if the younger boy fell off, he could always teleport him to safety. Yoh began walking back towards him for the last time. Hao sensed that the other was at his limits and would likely collapse soon. The shorthaired boy couldn't feel his arms anymore; it was taking conscious effort to keep holding the pots. Yet, somehow, he actually made it all the way back to where his twin quickly relieved him of the pots. The other brunet only just saved the pots in time; his little brother almost immediately blacked out and collapsed in exhaustion. He reached out to catch the younger boy, drawing him close so he could lean against his chest.

Lifting the other, Hao carried him over to lean against a nearby tree temporarily while he went about emptying the water out of the pots and putting the pots and bricks back into the sack. He laughed in mild amusement as his twin started snoring softly. It was an admirable effort, really; the boy could truly be persistent. He took a small towel out of his pocket and wet it with water from the jug before emptying the jug and returning it to the sack as well. The sack of objects vanished in flames at a thought from the fire shaman and he returned to his brother's side. Just as well he hadn't planned anything for later that day; he'd expected something like this to happen.

Reaching out, he dabbed at the sweat on the other's brow with the damp towel. There was no way the younger brunet was going to bed this drenched in sweat. Hao proceeded to wipe his twin's body as best he could without undressing the other. Yoh didn't even stir when his brother reached beneath him to wipe his back and ended up removing the sweat-soaked shirt to put it on the other's bare chest. That done, the longhaired boy lifted his twin into his arms, carrying him bridal-style, and started on the teleportation spell to get back to the cottage. A few moments passed as flames engulfed them and then, they were back in Yoh's room. The elder boy lay his brother down on the bed and decided to let his tired twin sleep for the day.

The sky was dark when Asakura Yoh awoke in bed later that day. The breeze was cool against his face and his arms still hurt dully when he tried to move them. He snuggled deeper into the blankets, smiling slightly. The last thing he remembered from earlier that afternoon was falling off the rope... only to land in warm arms an instant before losing consciousness completely. Hao had carried him back and tucked him in, apparently, and if the pair of boxers he was wearing right now was any indication, changed his clothes as well. He couldn't help blushing at that despite knowing that his twin had seen everything before, touched everything even. That thought only made him blush more furiously. He prayed Anna never found out how far things had gone; he wouldn't survive the journey to Patch Village. Just then, the door burst open to reveal a certain pyromaniac, who simply tossed a T-shirt onto the bed expressionlessly.

"Good. You're awake. Wear that. Opacho's waiting with dinner," his longhaired twin directed before whirling around and closing the door behind him with a soft click.

Yoh sighed audibly, but put the shirt on as instructed. He was increasingly convinced that his twin was a control freak. He was glad, for once, that Anna was his fiancée instead of Hao's. Put them together and there would soon not exist a world for his brother to revamp, since it would be destroyed before the Shaman Fight even began. He walked out of the room and looked at himself in the illuminated corridor. The brilliant crimson boxers were –thankfully- plain as was the nice dark green cotton T-shirt, only that together, they made him look like a Christmas tree; he knew his elder brother had picked the combination on purpose. He sighed. It couldn't be helped that his manic twin thought tormenting him was the greatest entertainment the world had to offer.

He shuffled into the dining area and joined the other two inhabitants of the house at the dinner table. He was overjoyed to see the plate of oranges at one end of the table for dessert. Sacred oranges! Apparently, according to Asakura Yoh's impeccable logic, eating oranges on its own was just fine and peachy, but doing anything like blending or cooking them was blasphemy. Hao smirked. Well, Opacho had found ingenious ways to include oranges in tonight's dinner and he would take great sadistic pleasure in explaining to his twin the night's menu.

"Yoh," he called, a kind of almost saccharin sweetness to his voice.

The younger Asakura turned to face his sibling, who had a familiar closed-eyed smile on his face, with a grin. Oh, he just had no idea...

"We," the fire shaman began calmly. "..., in light of your admirable performance during today's training exercise, are having an orange dinner tonight. This is fresh garden salad with orange vinaigrette. Here we have fried pork with oranges and last but not least, grilled salmon in orange sauce," he explained, as polite and good-natured as ever, indicating each dish he named.

There was a loud thud and Opacho jumped up on her chair to peer over the table with a very puzzled look on her face. "Hao-sama? What's wrong with Yoh-sama?" she enquired, rather baffled.

"Yoh?" the pyromaniac called again, feigning innocence and concern, looking down in mock worry.

The only response he received from the now unconscious boy on the floor was an indistinguishable, incoherent mumbling that sounded vaguely like 'funga fu fu'.

"Hm..." Hao mused thoughtfully, keeping up the façade of innocence. "It appears, Opacho, that my otouto-kun doesn't like processed oranges."

The little girl sat down again. "Hm..." she returned with a shrug as she began on the food. "There are another five oranges in the fridge, Hao-sama. Would Hao-sama like Opacho to make orange juice for breakfast tomorrow?" she asked, taking a piece of fried pork with her fork.

The longhaired boy had to hide a smirk at that. His Opacho was such a well-trained little girl. "Mm, certainly, Opacho. That sounds good. I haven't had orange juice in quite a while," he replied, taking a piece of fish for himself.

The following morning, the younger of the Asakura twins didn't quite manage to eat his breakfast for a number of unexplained reasons.

"You know what to do," a certain fire shaman said quietly as he jumped up onto a branch on different tree from the one he'd sat on the last time they were here.

They were at the lake again to give his twin a second shot at the exercise of breaking the Oversoul. Hao took out his sketchbook and drawing charcoal to begin sketching a picture of the lake from a different angle, this time including the tree whose branch he had sat upon the previous time. The lesson his little brother was supposed to learn through this exercise was that size was not the equivalent of strength or power, a lesson he doubted the younger boy would manage to learn today if what he was currently doing was anything to go by. He sighed softly. Why, oh why, was his other half so hopeless? It was disappointing. Perhaps he should really just kill the boy and find himself another source of power. The Iron Maiden's spirit seemed like a viable idea. He returned to his drawing and prepared himself for another long day.

Yoh panted heavily, dropping the crystal as his Oversoul faded. The water spirit apologetically returned to her watery abode even as he kept staring at the fire spirit before him as if just by staring, his gaze would pierce through it. The thing had no weaknesses. Not that he expected it to have any; it was Hao's Oversoul, after all. The shorthaired brunet dropped to his knees. It wasn't impossible, of course not; nothing Hao had made him do in their little training session so far had been. There was something he was doing wrong or not doing again. However, he no longer had any furyoku left to try to figure it out and the sky was darkening already, the suns waning rays an orange tint in the horizon.

There was a soft thud behind him as Hao landed gracefully on his feet after jumping off the tree branch. The elder shaman snapped his fingers and the Oversoul before him disintegrated. He felt the energy return to its owner even as said shaman walked up to him. He expected the hand that fisted in his hair, lifting him up by those short brown locks, but made no effort to avoid it; it wasn't as if he could avoid it for long. The elder boy turned him so they were facing each other. His feet were dangling a few inches off the ground and it was starting to really hurt where Hao was holding him. The fire shaman's face had a mildly annoyed look to it, something he had not seen in a long time and hadn't missed.

"Give me one reason why I should not kill a useless puny weakling like you," the pyromaniac told him calmly, an annoyed undertone to his contralto.

He remained silent. He really couldn't think of one. One very good reason that would have worked on most normal people was the fact that they were brothers and siblings don't kill each other. However, Asakura Hao wasn't most normal people and in this pyromaniac's case, that was precisely the sort of reasoning that would sign his death warrant. Thus, he kept his mouth shut.

The other stared at him expressionlessly for a while more before dropping him unceremoniously. He landed on his feet anyway, staggering slightly to find his balance. "You have some time before the Shaman Fight. When it comes, I shall want to see some improvement. Otherwise, should we chance to meet in battle, I will kill you. Make sure you are sufficiently strong to be useful to me by then." That said, the fire shaman held out his hand to teleport them back.

Yoh smiled slightly at that, taking the other's hand. Hao did care; he just didn't realize it himself. Flames surrounded them both and then they were back in the cottage again.

Later that night, a knock sounded on the door of Asakura Hao's room. He knew who it was, of course; he just didn't know why.

"Come in," he called out, just loud enough to be audible on the other side of it, his expression calm and blank.

His twin opened the pinewood door and stepped in with a cheery smile, closing it behind him with only a soft click. He leaned back against the door expectantly, knowing his elder brother would sense his thoughts. The fire shaman was silent for a while, but finally, he inclined his head in almost grudging permission from where he sat cross-legged on his tan-coloured futon without even glancing at the other.

The shorthaired brunet's smile only widened as he came over to lie down beside his twin. It was his last night with his elder brother and he wanted to spend it here. The other boy thought it was ridiculously sentimentally human and trifling, but said nothing. Since it wasn't a huge nuisance to him, he'd allow his little brother to do as he wished. He lay down, settling in beside his twin in silence and turning to lie on his side, facing the window and the starry night sky. Absently, he felt his sibling snuggle closer. Hao didn't push the younger shaman away.

Asakura Yoh sat before his twin brother halfway up a hill in the middle of a familiar red landscape of sandy cliffs with his orange headphones once more upon his head. According to the longhaired boy, his friends would be arriving there shortly. Of course, the other could be lying, but there really was no point in that, so he trusted the elder shaman's judgement. Presently, the elder Asakura was showing him two flames, a small blue one and a slightly larger yellow one.

"Which of these is hotter?"

"Uh... The blue one...?" he replied hesitantly. He recalled learning that in one of the science classes he hadn't slept through.

The flames vanished and Hao fished out a small block of wood and a slightly smaller block of some kind of metal from his pocket. He handed both to his little brother and asked then, "And which of these is heavier?"

"The metal one," Yoh responded easily.

The fire shaman's closed-eyed smile never faltered as he collected the two objects and put them back into his pocket. "Now make me an inference."

The younger boy looked pensive for a moment or two before answering. "Uh... Blue flames are hotter than yellow ones and metal is heavier than wood...?"

His twin suppressed a twitch. First off, that was an observation, not an inference. Secondly, that wasn't even an intelligent observation; that was stating the obvious. The kid was a total idiot. He stood, giving up. The other's friends would be there in a couple of minutes; he could sense their trivial human thoughts. "Think about it, otouto-kun," he told the other boy with a smirk. "Maybe someday you can ask one of your slightly less stupid friends. They should be here in a few minutes." He turned to leave.

Almost of its own accord, Yoh found himself reaching out. He didn't think as he grabbed his brother's arm and pulled the other down to press a chaste kiss to the pyromaniac's cheek. When he drew back, he found the other shaman looking at him steadily. Two pairs of obsidian eyes met for a long moment.

"This doesn't change anything," Hao informed him evenly.

He smiled rather wistfully at that. "I know," he replied softly, sadly.

Hao straightened then. "You might want to remove the sealing ofudas on your spirit's memorial tablet now. He's been there a long time," he reminded his little brother before making his evanescence in another burst of flames.

He stared at the spot his twin had been standing in for a few moments before taking out the memorial tablet in question and ripping off the seals. The samurai spirit immediately popped out, tears streaming down his face. "Yoh-dono!" he cried, latching onto his master. "What happened? I was sealed in for the longest time! It was dark and I couldn't get out and I didn't know what to do!"

"A-Amidamaru... You're choking me..." Yoh replied with a slight laugh. He hugged the spirit, secretly thankful that Hao had sealed him in; he really didn't want anyone to know what had really happened between him and the pyromaniac.

The spirit released him. "I'm sorry, Yoh-dono! I was just so happy to see Yoh-dono again!"

"Yeah, I'm happy to see you again too!" he exclaimed cheerfully, tears running down his face as he gave the samurai a hug.

Just then, he heard the sound of his friends' voices. Ren and Horo Horo were arguing again about something he didn't care to know; it was just their way of showing they cared for each other, after all. The two in question reached the hilltop then, walking into view.

"Hey!" Yoh called out, waving, a wide smile on his face.

Both stopped the argument and simply stared at him for a few seconds. Then...

"Yoh!" Horo Horo shouted, running over. "It's Yoh!" He ran over and clapped said brunet on the shoulder nearly hard enough to hurt.

"Danna!" Ryu ran over and practically clung to the younger boy's legs with tears cascading down his face in joy. ('Danna' is what Ryu says when he calls Yoh 'master'.)

"Yoh-kun!" Faust and Manta exclaimed simultaneously, hurrying over. Faust went to cuddle the shorter boy while Manta simply walked up and smiled at his best friend, who responded with an easy grin.

"Yoh!" Chocolove greeted, waving his hand cheerfully. "I..."

Poke. Poke. POKE.

The aspiring comedian conked out as a result of a particularly hard poke somewhere courtesy of Ren's hair. Everyone laughed. From across the people around him, Yoh smiled at his friend, meeting that golden gaze in silence. The Chinese boy smiled slightly as well, but it was Anna's quiet voice that sliced through the commotion of the reunion.


He turned to look at the icy blonde, offering a passing smile to the blushing Tamao who stood behind her. "Anna," he greeted calmly. The pink-haired girl behind his fiancée only blushed more.

In a quick motion, she tossed him two objects, some of her short blonde hair blown in her face by the wind.

He caught them easily enough. The Harusame and that family heirloom his grandfather had asked her to pass to him for the Nidanbankai. Yes, he had even managed to leave these behind. He smiled at her sheepishly. "Thank you."

She turned away. "I hope you haven't been slacking off."

He chuckled, repressing the urge to tell her that Hao was more than her match when it came to The Torture-Yoh! Training Programme. "No, I don't think so."

He didn't receive a response to that, but Manta spoke next. "Yoh-kun? We heard Hao captured you... What happened?"

That... was a long story he didn't feel like sharing. He could feel the others' eyes on him even as he started walking. "Well, he just evangelised his mission and goal to me," he responded with a careless shrug. The full truth was out of the question, so it was time to be evasive.

"And?" Chocolove asked, having just recovered from severe injuries due to over-poking.

The younger of the Asakura twins smiled and replied without turning. "And I told him we'd help him revamp the planet."

A long pause ensued where everyone froze, looking like all their souls had left their bodies. Then Yoh laughed.

"Of course not; I was just joking."

"Danna... Don't joke about things like that..." Ryu groaned, a pained look on his face.

The shorthaired brunet laughed some more and they all continued on their journey to Patch Village.

Asakura Hao, would-be destroyer of the human race, gazed at that smiling face in the flames from where he sat on the settee in his cottage. He smirked; if only his little brother knew...

"I always wanted a brother too," he murmured quietly to the fire, rather amused. "Albeit perhaps not a silly loser like you... But had they not tried to kill me at birth, we might have grown up together and you wouldn't even be convincing me against destroying mankind. The Asakura clan sealed the fate of humanity more than a decade ago." He chuckled, a cold harsh laugh. Silly humans and their tiny minds couldn't even comprehend the greatness of his vision.

He picked up the sketchbook on the settee beside him and simply looked at the picture of the tree and the lake for the longest time. Something seemed missing there. He took a piece of drawing charcoal out of his pocket and edited the sketch calmly, adding a few touches here and there. When he was done, he gazed at it again. Yes, it looked better now. He rose, a small smile on his face. It was one of his better sketches; perhaps he'd paint it out later. Now it was time to check on the X-Laws and their goddess's pathetic excuse of a grand plan to stop him.

I lost my way for lack of sight

This fading path leads me astray

I live to find a ray of light

within this dark winding hallway

In my darkness, I am alone

so stay with me just for tonight

I fear the coming of the day

when silence chills me to the bone.

End Chapter 2