Disclaimer: I don't own these characters, but I did write the story myself, so the blame falls solely on my shoulders!


After the incident, Ren had stayed at the inn with Ana, Yoh and Horohoro for a few days to recover. He had not wanted to go home and face what Kaoru might have done when in possession of his body. Most of all, he had not wanted to leave Horo. In the darkness, the only thing that had been keeping him sane was the hope that Horohoro would rescue him. When he was feverish, he had blurted that out and even though he had felt instantly embarrassed, Ana had told him that as embarrassing as it was, it was that single hope that had kept his soul from being warped as Kaoru's had been.

The plants that Horo and Ren had seen were called Hell Vines, Ana had told them, showing them several books that had long, detailed accounts about the plants and how to deal with them. They were plants that fed off of the spirits of humans, often times keeping human bodies that were discarded as cages for the soul until the plants could feed on it. Kaoru's decision to exchange spots with Ren had been a risky move, but potentially his last chance to enact his revenge: in a week, the old park was set to be torn down. The lake would be drained and the Hell Vines would die. With them gone, all of the bodies hidden there will be found and given a proper burial. If Kaoru's bones had been cremated before he had a chance to get his revenge, he would have been banished from the mortal world unfulfilled.

Even though Horo knew he should be happy that the souls of countless people would be able to soon be put to rest, he did not know how to feel for either Kaoru or Yamada, the image of their last embrace having been seared into his mind. They held each other so tenderly. Yamada had been with Kaoru, perhaps, but it had been Ren's body that he had been holding. It was Ren's body that had been drenched with his blood. Even when he had pulled Ren out of the water, his clothes had been soaked with Yamada's blood.

To Horohoro, everything that had happened the last week seemed absolutely pointless. He could not understand why Kaoru had been driven to take the life of someone he had once cared so much about. How could two people that might have loved each other once been driven to commit such unspeakable acts towards one another? It left a bad taste in his mouth.

Walking into the room they had given Ren to recover in, Horo smiled. "Hey there Ren… I hope you've been resting well. Doctor's orders, remember? And look, I've got soup! It's a family recipe, so you'll be up and being your normal haughty self in no time at all!" he said, sitting beside Ren's futon. The dark haired teen just looked over at him with a casual huff. There were stacks of old newspapers around the bed.

"Thank you. Hopefully it's a little better than the last family recipe you brought for me. That one was so bitter I thought I was going to die," he said, unable to stop himself from slightly smile as he went back to reading the paper. Horo just snickered, knowing Ren was teasing.

"So, found anything? You've been reading those old papers for a long time now. I don't get why you're so interest in learning about that Kaoru guy or Yamada. They're gone now. After what they put you through, put us through, I would think you'd be happy they're gone."

Ren just sighed as he shook his head. "For what its worth, I think I've started to get a better understanding of what happened. And I know you want me to just put this all behind me, but I can't. I need to understand what could possess someone do something like that… murder, hatred, revenge. I always used to think those were things that only evil people could do, but from the picture I'm getting from all these accounts, even people who are in love can do evil to one another," he said, shoving some newspapers into Horo's hands, pointing to several articles.

"Kaoru had gone missing years ago. He'd been very sick at the time and his family had tried to keep him at the hospital, but he'd run away. It was always assumed… he had run off to be with a girl friend or something, someone he had met at the art school he had been attending before he became sick. But… it's obvious that he's run off to be with Yamada. I mean, they went to the same art school and look, they were even in the same clubs together. Whatever happened, Kaoru seems to think that Yamada was the reason he died. He hated Yamada enough to take my body and use me…to kill him. But even then, Yamada held him. He died holding the person who accused him of murder. I need to understand what could drive them to this. I need to. I don't care if you don't get it, Horohoro," he said, his voice slightly wavering before he could clear his throat.

Horo set the newspapers away after a moment as he wrapped his arms around Ren and pulled him close. Initially, Ren struggled, but slowly settled against Horo, taking comfort in his warmth. "I think I do get it, Ren. This whole obsession you have with those two has absolutely nothing to actually do with those two at all, does it? At least, not in their story specifically. You're researching Yamada and Kaoru but it's really your own life you're interested in learning about. I know that's true because I've been thinking about those two as well. Maybe even for the same reasons." Ren buried his face against Horo's chest, clenching his jaw. He made no effort to argue, for once.

"Whenever I tell you how much I like you, you shrink away. It's obvious you don't know how to react to me. And this whole thing, it's got you scared. I know what you're thinking because I've been thinking about the same thing. At some point, Kaoru and Yamada probably held each other like this and thought that they really loved each other. But something changed and now they're both dead at each other's hands. I want to know what happened that caused their love to turn to hatred just as much as you do, but they're gone. Not just in body, either. The way they held each other, its obvious neither of them have any more regrets to keep them grounded to this world. They're both gone and short of summoning their spirits from the afterlife, we won't ever know where it was their relationship broke down. What could drive lovers to hate each other? To kill each other? How can I make sure that I don't fall into the same trap? I don't think those are questions that Kaoru or Yamada have answers to.

"I don't know what happened between those two, Ren. Chances are good that we will never know the whole truth behind what they did, all of the secrets between them. All we can know for sure is ourselves. Even someone like me who's been the one chasing you the whole time, even I didn't realize just how much it was you meant to me until I realized I had failed to protect you. I can't promise what the future holds for us, but I can tell you that right now that no matter what happens, I will always be honest with you, Ren. My grandmother used to say that without secrets to cast shadows, hatred and distrust can never grow. I believe that, Ren. While my whole heart I believe that," he said, pulling away slightly to cup his cheek. "And to be honest with you right now, I want you to know that I trust you, Ren. I trust that you will never be like either of those two. You won't ever hurt me."

Ren was quiet as he just slipped his arms around Horo. They were alone, free from all prying eyes, so he allowed himself a moment of weakness. "You're such an idiot. You say all of these really embarrassing things without any consideration for how difficult you're making it for me to follow your bold declarations. I'm not good at big confessions. But, I can say this: I know that I trust you, too."

Horo chuckled a bit, placing a kiss on his forehead cause Ren to groan in embarrassment. "Does that mean you would go so far as to say you love me?" he asked hopefully, leaning in close to kiss Ren's lips. Ren put a hand out and blocked the kiss.

"Don't get ahead of yourself," he muttered as he watched as Horo pouted. Slowly, he cracked a smile. "I wouldn't say that I love you , but you certainly are starting to grow on me," he muttered as he moved his hand away, leaning in to press his lips against Horo's.

It was not quite the heartfelt confession that Horo had seen play out on all of the soap operas on television, but it was good enough for him. He had already gone through so much just to hear Ren say that he trusted him. Horo just had to learn to have patient.

After all: good things come to those who wait.


Author's Note: So this is the final chapter. I hope that you've enjoyed this little romp through Shaman King non-canon! Ideally, I would like to do one more story to end this "arc". If "The Mountain Inn" was them learning about their feelings and this one was them finally becoming something like a couple, I would like to do one more about them as an actual couple. Eventually. Anyway, again, I hoped you enjoyed the story. If you have some extra time, let me know what you thought!