Second xxxHoLiC fanfic... hope it goes well.

--W I S H--

Yuuko Ichihara- the Space-Time witch…

Her name would inspire feelings in anyone- some regret, some awe, and others still a sense of confusion. Just who was this woman with long black hair, who had an affinity for the butterfly and the abstract? Many had attempted to deconstruct this woman, to take her apart, to understand her. Many have failed, few have ever gotten close, and no one has succeeded.

Yuuko ran a shop- a store where one's wished could be granted- for a price.

Sometimes the price was too hefty for one to pay. Sometimes it was unreasonable and odd, different from the usual price of money or barter. And sometimes it took time to pay off. Yuuko had a worker in her shop, one who was paying off his debt by cooking, cleaning, and organizing everything in her storage room, or 'treasure room' as she called it. He had a wish. Slowly, he was paying the price. His name was Kimihiro Watanuki.

The boy was a hard worker, no one could deny that.

He had things rough. He was an orphan, losing his parents long, long ago, being raised by someone other than his family, living alone and working on his own, striving for success. He was a great housekeep, and his cooking was absolutely amazing. He tended to blow things out of proportion, freak out over small things, and had an easily agitated temper. He was a tall and lanky boy, with dark, messy hair and mismatched gold and blue eyes behind spectacles, a remnant of his friend Domeki Shizuka's offering, who had given him half of his right eye when he lost his own to a spider matron. His wish was simple- to get rid of his supernatural vision.

For you see, Watanuki could see ghosts.

But instead of just seeing them, he was constantly hunted by them. Something in his blood made him delicious to their gaping jaws. He had to run away from something no one else could see, or risk dying by the hungry maw of a ghastly creature in the unknown, unseen realm. Often, he would find himself behind the shop's gate, panting, taking in breathless gulps of air, legs trembling from his recent run-in with these creatures. Should anyone see him running into the gate that the store was secluded behind, they would see nothing more than an empty lot, overrun by weeds and crabgrass. For only those who need to enter the store may see it.

Yuuko granted wishes to anyone who would pay- even the gods themselves.

May people, animals, things had problems or desires, so who would they go to in order to solve them? Yuuko, of course. The witch had granted wishes to many creatures- to a woman, who wanted to get rid of a photograph of her horrible past. Her price? To never be recorded again, lest the image reappear on the media as well. To a rain spirit, who needed help in saving an 'essence'- hydrangeas being tainted by the blood of a child's corpse. Her price? A rare Pipe Fox Spirit, said to bring both fortune and misfortune in a single stroke. And even a ghost, who believed herself to still be alive, said that she heard things in her house. She believed it to be haunted. Her price? An exorcism. One that would send her to the afterlife.

With each wish she granted, Watanuki began to see more and more of that which should not be seen. He saw gods, spirits, monsters, creatures in the dark. Greed, anger, lust, sadness, desperation, and fear were included on his list. So far he had not seen a single human person step into the shop with a truly good wish. Until one day, when a boy a little younger than him stepped through the door…

That day had dawned stormy, the sky threatening to explode in a flurry of raindrops and lightning. Watanuki had school off for a while- a break. For many students, it was heaven. For Watanuki, it simply meant more work. He was sweeping off the porch that wound about the house when a familiar cry of "WATANUKI! LIQOUR!" reached his ears from Yuuko's room. He sighed and rubbed the back of his head. "Yes, Yuuko-san!" He called back, rather tiredly. "It's like she bathes in liquor 24-7…" He muttered, walking into the kitchen and grabbing a tray, placing the bottle of sake atop it and making his way to her room. Halfway there, he yelped and almost dropped the tray as something dashed in between his legs.

Watanuki groaned and yelled, "Mokona!! Stop that!" A black rabbit-like creature hopped onto his shoulder, an earring dangling from its left ear, a red ruby on its forehead. "Eh, Watanuki, hurry up!!" It chided in his ear, hopping off and rushing back to the room where Yuuko was secluded.

The hired hand moaned pathetically and walked to the sliding door, which was open to reveal the witch herself, hair dragging the floor even while in a high ponytail, collapsed on her favorite lounge chair, pipe held lazily in between her slender, pale fingers. Her kimono was inlayed with butterflies fluttering. Watanuki could've sworn one moved. She perked up from her languid position at sight of the bottle. "Thank you, Watanuki!!" She cheered. The boy set the tray down and rolled his eyes. "You get one less bottle tonight!" "You gotta be kidding!!" Yuuko and Mokona yelped angrily, fists raised in unison in the air. "That's outrageous!"

The boy ignored their protests and shut the door behind him, walking slowly back to the entrance, lost in a daze of sorts. His black uniform made his pale face stand out, giving him a ghost-like appearance. "Hey, are you ok?" Watanuki shot from his daze and looked to the side, realizing he was at the entrance of the shop. A boy was standing there, hands lying warily at his side. Another, much shorter boy who came up to his knee stood beside him, carrying a huge book in his hands.

"Oh, yes, I'm fine." The hired hand laughed, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. "Are you here to see Yuuko-san?" The two seemed confused and looked down for a moment, trying to come up with an answer that made sense. Watanuki completely understood. The first time he had come to Yuuko's shop, a strange force made his legs act on their own and drag him here.

While they pondered, the teen took a chance and examined the two newcomers. The one who had spoken looked around 15 years or so, with dark, charcoal hair that shone brown in the light overhead. Bangs framed his face from a pair of bright orange headphones resting atop his head, behind his ears. He had tan skin, dark and lazy eyes, and a kind and soft air around him. A necklace of three claws, Watanuki believed, dangled leisurely from his neck.

He was wearing a school uniform, but it wasn't one Watanuki was used to seeing. Instead of a pure black turtle neck with white buttons, he had a tan button-up shirt that was unbuttoned, showing his bare chest underneath. Instead of simple black pants, he had green ones that were rolled up at the bottom. And instead of black dress shoes, he wore wooden sandals.

Looking at the little boy beside him, Watanuki assumed the boy was a dwarf, seeing as he was wearing the same uniform as his friend. 'He looks like a five year old…' It was true- He had short, dirty blonde, shaggy hair in a bowl cut 'round his head, sneakers that looked too big for him altogether, a small, green uniform tie with a silver pin on it holding it in place to match his school outfit. He appeared young and innocent, but his aura seemed ready to fight or flight…or yell, if the case may be. In a way, he seemed more like Watanuki.

"Well, it's kinda hard to explain…" The dwarf said nervously, fiddling with the corner of the book cover. "Something made us come here. Y'know, like possession?" The taller grinned, sticking his hands into his pockets. "Yoh-kun, don't give everything away to a stranger!" The shorter boy hissed to his friend, making wild gestures with his short arms. "Chill, Manta, he looks like a nice guy. Besides, I gave everything away when I met you, didn't I?" "That's not the point, Yoh-kun!!" The taller laughed and made a brushing gesture with his hand. "Well, we're here and we don't understand why. Would you happen to know?" The question was directed to the teen, but before Watanuki could open his mouth to speak, a silky voice said, "That's because you have a wish to grant…"

Turning slightly, he could see Yuuko standing, pipe dangling from her fingers, red eyes narrowed and serious. "…because hitsuzen is at work…" The taller looked up to the witch with droopy eyes, almost as if he was tired. But under that, Watanuki saw something frightful- ferocity to attack, defend, to fight to the death- and something old- like he had seen too much of what shouldn't be seen. How could one look so lazy and wary at the same time? "'Hitsuzen?' What's that?" Watanuki was startled as the little one threw open the book cover and flipped pages as fast as his little hands would allow, coming to rest under a section titled "H". The hired hand had glimpsed the kanji's that made up the cover as the boy opened the book. "The Mantannian Dictionary".

"Hitsuzen- fate or destiny that cannot be changed. Synonym- inevitability." He glanced up at the witch and smiled. Watanuki had to remind himself that the dwarf was in middle school. That smile made him look like a child. "Are you saying that we came here as an act of fate?" Yuuko smiled herself and nodded. "Yes." The little one closed his dictionary with a 'snap' and snickered. "Lady, you are seriously messed up in the head." Had it been Watanuki he was talking to, the boy would have received a tirade of insults and accusations. But this was Yuuko he was talking to. She simply let that grin stay on his dark lips, red eyes following the movements each boy made.

"No, Manta, I think she's right." The younger boy- Manta, was it? - stopped his chuckles and looked to his friend in confusion. "Yoh?" The taller of the two, the dark haired, stepped up a little closer to Watanuki, and looked at his eyes. Despite trying to ignore the boy's intentions, Watanuki felt himself compelled to look him at directly, almost as if he could be at ease around him. "You see spirits, right?" In shock, the older felt himself blurt out, "How did you know?" He didn't bother to cover his mouth like he usually did.

The boy that stood before him- Yoh, right? - smiled and said softly, "Because I do too."

Only one person had been able to see spirits besides him, and that was his friend Kohane, a child exorcist, whose mother never cared for her at all, only for the money she produced. Hearing one say so bluntly, no seriously that he could see the dark world Watanuki could see, left him shell shocked. As he stood, stunned, Yuuko's silky voiced asked from beside him, "Your name…?" She must have pointed, because he heard the shorter boy say, rather hesitantly, "Oyamada Manta." "And yours…?" Something was different as she asked the other, taller boy. Somewhat curious, and yet knowing. The taller hesitated and spoke quietly, "Asakura Yoh."

"Watanuki." The hired hand pulled out of his muse and looked towards his employer. "Yes, Yuuko-san?" She smiled at him and said, "Please take these two to the room." "Hai." He bowed and motioned for the two to follow. The 'room' was the size of a small living room, with nothing more than a small table and a couple of chairs. It was where Yuuko interviewed her customers, and discovered their wishes.

He got the two settled in the chairs (Manta had to sit on his dictionary to see over the table), and left them, hiding behind one of the various screen doors that sheltered the room. Peering over the edge of the door, he went into 'spy mode' as Yuuko entered the room and sat on a chair herself. "Why are you here…?"She asked softly, placing a small bowl of water on the table that she had carried in. The two glanced at each other. "L-Like we told that guy before you, we don't-" Manta began, but was cut off as Yoh interjected, "-Because we're supposed to be here, right?" She grinned. "You aren't as dull as I believed." Watanuki noticed that Yoh didn't get upset, just smiled as if he had been praised.

"Place your hand on the water, Asakura," She commanded. Manta looked like he was about to shout at the woman in confusion, but Yoh laid a hand on his shoulder and silenced him. "Easy, Manta." He nodded and gently held his hand over the water, the lazy look worn loosely over the wary guard underneath. Once his hand made contract, a shine of light came forth, not from the water, but from Yoh's outstretched hand. Yuuko's grin manifested to a smile. "Asakura Yoh. Age 15. Shaman. You 'killed' your brother, Asakura Hao. Your wish lies in that field." Manta's look of awe instantly went to shock as he stared at his friend. Hesitantly, the teen removed his hand from the bowl. Once the light faded, he held his hand in the air and stared at it, almost spitefully. Watanuki almost fell from his position behind the screen. 'K-killed his brother?!'

"You can't be serious, Yoh-kun!!" The midget yelped shrilly, hopping onto his book and pointing accusingly at him. "You can't think of bringing that psychopath back to life!!" Yoh looked at Manta with a silent glare that made Watanuki's skin crawl. Something wasn't right about that look. "I'm not, Manta. I didn't kill him." "…You what?! B-But we saw you! We saw you come back to life and kill him with a single stroke!" "Manta, I didn't kill him. You wouldn't murder your little sister, how could I murder my brother?!" 'He's not really your brother, Yoh-kun…" "Manta, I don't care." He stood from the table, hand clenched at his side.

Yuuko, who had been watching the conversation in interest, smiled. "You have a wish, do you not?" The teen, his eyes growing old and tired under her smirk, nodded and sat back down in the chair, burying his head in his hands, hiding his face from view. "What is your wish?" She asked softly, reaching over the table and brushing his bangs away with a tender, almost motherly push.

"…" He didn't respond, slumped in his chair like that. For a moment, nothing moved but his back, up and down, showing his was still breathing. Manta seemed shocked; His hands fell at his sides, and he seemed hopeless and confused. "Yoh… Y-You never cry…" Only then did the hired hand behind the doorway see the drips of water trailing through the spread fingers. "I-I…I wish I knew… i-if he was ok…" It was quiet and broken, riddled with guilt, barely audible, but it was there.

Yuuko's smirk didn't seem so mocking now- in fact, it was gentle and caring. "Your wish will be granted…for a price…" "I-I'll pay…" She stood straight and walked over to him, hands lain delicately at her sides. "What do you hold dear? What defines you?" Yoh looked up, face contorted in guilt and tear tracks worked down his face, reached and took the headphones off his head without hesitation. Yuuko took them from him and slipped them into a pocket in her kimono. There was no bulge showing that they were there.

"Very well." She swept around, her back to the boy weeping and the boy in shock. "Your wish will be granted." She made her way to the door, and gently pushed it open, pale fingers hooking over the edge in a gentle grip. Watanuki was surprised to see another boy standing leisurely behind the door. He looked just like Yoh, but with long brown hair, and yellow star earrings dangling from his ears in between the strands of mahogany. He didn't have on a shirt, but a poncho that billowed out behind him like some monstrous beige cape. His hands were encased in finger-less burgundy red gloves with gleaming yellow stars attached. Crimson pants that flowed downward were fringed with star-spangled belts on dark red leather. A sharp 'ching' of metal clinking against metal echoed from him as he stepped into the room, and a faint smell of ashes came with him.

Manta's face contorted into fear when he entered and he tumbled from the chair, landing flat on his bum as he looked at the boy with wide, disbelieving eyes. "H-Hao…" The boy, Hao, glanced briefly at him before focusing his eyes on Yoh, whose hands had fallen from his face, expression in surprise and relief. "HAO!" He shot from his chair, dark hair falling freely into his eyes. The long-haired boy grinned and held up a hand in greeting. "Hey, otouto."

For a moment, everything was silent and still. Yoh's trembling form slowly worked it's way up from the table and walked slowly, deliberately to the boy, a hand reaching up and bushing the hair away from his face. "I-Is it really you?" His free hand grabbed Hao's, as if daring him to prove that it was an illusion. "A-Are you… really Hao?" The boy with brown air smiled and gave Yoh's hand a slight squeeze. "In the flesh, otouto." Yoh's smile came back and his eyes brimmed with unshushed tears. "Y-You're ok! Y-You're alive!" He threw his arms around Hao and hugged him, burying his face in the flowing cloth that shielded his shoulder, body wracking with sobs held back. "I'm s-sorry, aniki…I'm sorry…I'm so sorry…" Slowly, surprise fading into comfort, Hao's gloved hands laid on Yoh's back as he returned the gesture, holding him close. "Easy, otuoto. You can cry… I'm here… I won't leave."

Something odd happened as the two embraced, Watanuki remembered as he pondered over the events later on. When he looked at the two and watched from his hidden position, he noticed that a slight glow encased their forms, twisting and twirling in elegant shapes around them. And a feeling that hadn't been felt earlier erupted in the small room, just about knocking the hidden Watanuki over. A feeling of wholeness… of being one. And just like that, it was gone. As the light only he could see faded, the hired hand heard Yuuko say quietly, "Your wish has been granted, your price paid. Both prices."

He didn't remember them leaving, but remembered Yoh's tears… and his smile.

Watanuki, to this day, could still see the forms that twisted and turned overhead in unison, and to this day he could see that glow that had shone forth. From the glance he spared at Manta's prone form, he could tell that he saw it, same as he. And something in the dwarf's eyes made Watanuki feel relief. As he pondered the events a week or so later, he became so confused that he went to Yuuko for answers. "Yuuko-san…" He was in the doorway of her room, standing uneasily, tray clenched in his hands. The witch, once again collapsed on her couch in a simple white kimono, looked up at him, removing the pipe from her lips. "Yes, Watanuki?"

He fidgeted. "Yuuko-san… W-What happened to Yoh-kun?" The witch, her dark hair sprawled over the cushions, eyes hidden in her pipe smoke, smiled. "Well… one could say he is happy with his wish… another could say he's upset..." She took another breath in the scented smoke and asked, "Did you see something I didn't?" Watanuki gave an almost fearful nod. "H-Hai." "What did you see?" She asked quietly, blowing out another stream of smoke into the musty air. When he relayed the scene, Yuuko nodded to herself and gave that all-knowing smile once again.

"Yuuko-san… I-I felt something from Yoh-kun when he came in…" He could feel that small memory building up in the back of his mind. "Almost like…H-He wasn't…real… he seemed empty…" Watanuki knew that his employer knew something he didn't when her thoughtful grin faded into a sympathetic frown behind her strands of ebony hair. It was sad and almost regretful. "W-What was he, Yuuko-san?" He asked boldly.

She looked up to Watanuki with limpid red eyes and said quietly. "He was human… but he was never meant to exist." "…What?" "Watanuki…" She sat up, back against the couch. "…you said that you felt that Yoh was empty…almost. Then, when Hao stepped in, you said that something glowed when they embraced." Her frown grew colder. "Yoh was never meant to exist. Hao made a big mistake. One he ended up regretting. And Yoh suffered from it."

Watanuki adjusted his glasses and asked curiously, "W-What do you mean? I thought that…Yoh killed Hao, right? I-I mean…" Yuuko's eyes seemed to grow heavy. "Watanuki, Hao was the one who was to be killed. He was evil. He is much older than even myself. Hao has died twice and come back to life three times…" The hired hand felt his mind reel and the sudden information given to him, but Yuuko didn't stop. "When he reincarnated the third time, his soul split and was given to another body… a twin, Watanuki. Yoh was that twin." She took another drag from her pipe. "In other words, Yoh was not meant to exist, as I have said before." She blew out a stream of smoke. "He's living on a borrowed soul, and it's not even whole. He'll eventually have to give it back…and when he does…" She pulled the headphones from her pocket and looked at them curiously. "…Then he's gone for good."

Watanuki felt a tremor run through him. 'B-But that isn't fair!" He proclaimed, throwing the metal tray to the floor. It landed with a deafening clatter on the wooden floor. "He didn't so anything, why should he have to suffer?!" Yuuko watched the action passively and held the headphones out for Watanuki to take. As an unhappy calmness washing over his anger, the hired hand took the item in his grasp and looked at them curiously. "That's why it's up to those two." She said quietly. "It's up to those children to change their fate."

"I'll take them to the treasure room." Watanuki said quietly, in a downbeat tone. He left the room silently, gently the shutting the door behind him. Yuuko was left in her hazy room, smoke swirling around her in gentle, lazy curls. She smiled sadly and pulled another item from her pocket. Hao's earrings.

"The future rests with the choice of those children."