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Summary: Dark alternate universe; post-series. What the world might be like if Yoh had stayed dead.

Author's Note: This was written for Anna's birthday (July 22nd). It may or may not be continued, depending on various things. Not sure on pairings, although romance is probably not going to be particularly high on my list of things to have done in this fic. –waves hands- WORKING on You're Mine, but I'm also working on some freelance projects that may actually pay off. So. Expect the next chapter when you see it.

This is a prologue.


Here are the thoughts
Of something like truth
Here are the nightmares
That nothing can soothe

And there she woke, again and again, to see him arched back (and made flat and papery, like vellum and parchment that has faded of age), flung away against a great tidal wave of light. There had been no dramatics, no lights, nothing to give him the death of the hero that he had always been, but he was gone nevertheless, as surely as if he had been turned to an ornate creation of paper and burned.

The first time she started awake was to the touch of his hands over her forehead, delicate and still.

"You're burning of a fever." He said and she sat up, clenching the thin blankets tangled up in her legs to stare at him. Daylight shot through the shuttered windows, and his face did not belong where she could see it.

"There." He said, and his fingertips brushed her face again. The smile on his lips was terrible and sweet, his eyes an echo of the light in her dreams. "Have you lost your voice, Anna?"

"No." She said bluntly. Then, "Get out."

"You're hardly well enough to be issuing commands." He said. One side of his mouth curled up like the lithe lines of a cat, and he leaned forward, his hands even against the bones of her shoulders, pushing her back. His long hair draped against her sides like a mantle, layering her thoughts and burying them in incomprehensible thickness. "Sleep – you need it."

She closed her eyes momentarily and regretted it; memories rushed over her in a great flood of images: Yoh and Hao, black puppets suspended against the light, a soulless corpse, ghosts made corporeal whose shields were broken one by one, and the fading of glory into failures and memories...

Anna opened her eyes and looked up, into his narrow and smiling face.

He said, "Is there something wrong, Anna?" And for a moment the awkwardness hovered over his features, familiar and tantalizing as the presence of a ghost.

There was no ghost, consumed and taken, only the remnants of a personality dissolving into the presence of a person that she had hated and never known.

"Yoh's dead." She said. He only smiled more widely, taking her unresisting hand and pressing it to the pulse at his wrist.

"I'm alive." Hao said, as if pleased by the thought, and rose to exit the room before she, ailing and faint as she was, could find something to throw at him.

-

Here are the words
That have not been spoken
Here lie the dreams
Scattered and broken.

The second time she started awake, she knew Yoh to be dead, his teammates to be gone, and Hao to be in the kitchens, calmly leeching from her refrigerator.

She stumbled down the stairs in her haste, her hand solid and white against the rail, and found him leaning his elbow against the table, watching the stairs as if he had known of her coming all along, and had been waiting for it.

"Are you sure you're quite better?" He inquired, all solicitous charm. She ignored it.

"Get out."

"But you're sickening," The shaman pointed out, smiling placidly. His eyes on her were steady with the sharpness of bones whittled into stakes. "You can hardly be trusted to care for yourself. What would Kino think if she knew that I had left her precious prodigy to kill herself through neglect?"

It was not sickness but shock and she could not understand what could have taken her so long to recover. Grief was not an illness, though men died of it as though it were, and she was not a man. Holding to the one certainty, she said, levelly, "Kino wouldn't think worse of you than she thought already, and it wouldn't matter if she did. What matters is that I've said it once, and this is the last time I will say it: get out."

"Or you'll do what?" Hao nibbled carefully at the edge of a bit of curry bread that he'd found in the fridge. She remembered that Yoh had not cared for it and the sight of him seemed so loathsome so as to make her sick.

She gripped the edges of her beads, her eyes set as if her features had been etched lightly over the surfaces of a stone. "I'll kill you." She said and he smiled.

"With what?" He said, and drew the last bite of curry bread into his mouth to be swallowed. The tone of his voice was cuttingly courteous. "I am Shaman King now – but with more vision than any of my predecessors have had. They could hardly learn to use the Great Spirit in the lifetime they had. While I…"

"While you," she said, curtly, "are a fool."

His eyes locked onto hers, hard as diamonds, and she remembered (now) why her nightmares had all been wreathed in a curling haze of flames, prevalent with a dark stare that did not leave her even in her dreams. "You forget yourself before the new Shaman King." He said with a faint smile.

"I forget nothing." She snapped, and he pulled away to lean against the back of his chair (as if it were a throne of gold, of gleaming things whose illusions she could see if she slitted her eyes and dreamt), half-glaring before recalling himself again and transforming his features into a luminescent beam.

"Well then." He said, standing, "here is a memory of me to last until my next visit." His smile was easily laconic, though with a hint of hard sarcasm that embittered his expression to something she could not understand; as alien to his features as a mask of ivory. Before she could step away, he had moved, with his sinuous snake's grace, to stand beside her frozen figure. Clasping her hand as if it were his own, familiar to him, and dear, he brought it to his mouth and touched it to his lips.

The touch seared through her nerves like a blast of flame, as if she had been placed in a furnace to be slowly decimated into nothingness. A tearing sensation came, papers of memories and all that she had ever been gradually shredded into nothingness, and, superimposed over her distorted madness, the vision of Hao's unmoving smile.

She felt his hands, one sliding gently beneath the bend of her knees, the other to support her back, placing her gently upon a chair in the kitchens as though she were a doll. "Your furyoku's gone." He whispered, and the tiny murmur fell into her ear as though into a deep well; she could not hear the echo, the splash, the resonance that would tell her that she had acknowledged his words at all. "I may bring it back when I feel I want to, Anna, but for now, enjoy your life as an ordinary girl." He touched his fingers to her mouth, an intimacy like a kiss. "I have weaklings to kill, after all."

He swept across the floors in an intricate movement like a dance, crossed the threshold and was gone in a burst of flame.


To be continued.