Completing the Circle

 

Soul of Fire

 

I jerked the reins of my horse to hold it back for a moment, and studied the trail leading into the forest. Was it level enough? In the rapidly fading daylight, it was hard to tell. I really didn't care how long it took me to reach Masara, as long as I was there before the Fire crisis began. It felt great just to be out of the palace. For now, that was enough.

Guess I could camp here for the night. I dismounted and led my horse over to the trees, tying the reins around a low-hanging branch so she'd be able to eat. It's my fault for starting out so late...

Still, I didn't regret it. I mean, come on. How long can one person hand around that hell-hole of a palace without feeling urges to take their own life? I didn't think I could've lasted much longer, even with Nanami's help. Though I'd probably have wound up taking more lives than my own... A smirk spread on my lips as I pulled out my bedroll. Hey, why go down without taking a few of those irritating people who made your life hell with you?

I set to work building a fire -- which wasn't a whole lot of work, considering all I had to do was pile some twigs together and will a flame into existance. Simple enough. There were times when I thought that being a Fire mage was the greatest blessing that I could ever have been given. I mean, it sure did come in handy at times like that, didn't it?

Of course, when I'm trying to be calm and my fingers start smoking, then it's just a nuisance.

I'm free. I could hardly believe it. No more palace drudgery. I didn't ever have to go back there if I didn't want to. Living my life in nice, peaceful obscurity sounded just fine to me. As long as I have food and a warm place to sleep... And Satoshi, of course. My Satoshi. I'd spend the rest of my life searching, if I had to. My mysterious love was out there somewhere, and a lifetime of searching would be worth it if we could be together even for just an hour.

As if that wasn't the sappiest thing I've ever thought in my life. I grinned. It was way too exciting for me to care. Somehow, I think, I'd convinced myself that Satoshi lived in Masara, and that as soon as I got there, we'd meet. And then I'll grab my beautiful dream right off the street and we'll have to lock lips until neither of us has any air left in our lungs at all! I closed my eyes. To kiss Satoshi... The idea sent shivers down my spine.

I was never going back to the palace. I meant that. Nanami could take care of things just fine, and while I couldn't say I wouldn't miss her, I knew she could take care of the country. She was compassionate and capable -- the throne couldn't be seating a better ruler. I loved and trusted my sister, especially when it came to things like this. She understood, I think, why I was leaving. And I knew she'd miss me, but the business of ruling was her one great passion, and that would keep her happy.

I finished with building a small fire to cook with, igniting a small spark with my fingertips. Hope this doesn't add to that Fire crisis. It had been time enough since the Water catastrophe; I could expect the next to happen any time now. The smoke from my tiny flame rose up into the darkening air, and my eyes followed it, a smile building on my face. I did love fire; it was my Element, after all. But the amount of smoke I saw made the smile dissolve into a frown. There shouldn't be that much, should there?

I stood abruptly, and took in a breath sharply. Most of the smoke I'd seen wasn't from my fire at all -- it was coming from the forest! Gods, no! I smothered my own fire with a wave of my hand, then hastily mounted my horse and spurred her onward into the forest. This isn't the Fire crisis, is it?

Reaching out, I sensed the flames -- down near a slight ravine, cheerfully feeding on a ready supply of dried forest junk. Since the Water crisis had ended, it had been unusually dry and very hot; this kind of climate was a fire' paradise. And with the way it was spreading, the garbage laying around the ground -- broken tree branches, dried moss, dead leaves for the most part -- had spent far too much time piling up. Doesn't Masara have an Earth mage? This place is a horrible fire trap...

There it was -- the edge of the burning section. I jerked the reins to halt my horse, and surveyed the situation. The way that was spreading, it would expand back toward Masara -- which had more to do with the wind than anything. But beyond the city, there was a huge grass field... My blood ran suddenly cold. When even a touch of that fire hit the grass, it would go straight across the whole expanse of it in less than a minute. And then we'd have an inferno on our hands, not a little forest fire.

They'd better count their blessings that I got here when I did! I dismounted again, this time leaving my horse free in case I missed part of the fire and it came that way. She would likely head towards Masara, or back to Tokiwa -- someone would care for her, anyway. I didn't need her any more, really, so it would be better if she made it to safety.

Yes, I cared about my horses. Strange, wasn't it?

Well, now, let's hope no one was taking a stroll down through that ravine. I reached around for the edges of the fire and turned them back inward, where I could merge it all into one huge flame and then put it out. Of course, I could do the same thing if they were all separate, but it was easier to...

"Somebody help me!!!"

I froze. That voice had been shrill with terror, and coming from... No!

"Please... Somebody, anybody... HELP!!!" I heard coughing noises following that.

Oh gods... There's somebody in there! I completely lost my head then, and did something I would never have dared to try under normal circumstances. I froze the flames right where they were -- every single one of them.

Halting fire like that was a dangerous thing to do, because the nature of Fire is one that urges it to expand and destroy every minute it could. If I lost control, or released those flames for any reason whatsoever, they were going to rage. And then I'd have to recapture the edges, there'd be a bigger fire on my hands, the damage would be more, and it would be that much more difficult to put out.

However, at the moment, I really didn't give a damn.

Stalking forward, I moved through and around flames -- I was a Fire mage; as if I could get burned by any of it -- and down into the ravine. Somewhere down in there, I could hear someone coughing weakly, so I pushed aside a bunch of half-fried bushes and hurried onward, finally reaching the one bit of unburned land left at the center of the fire-ring I'd created...

A large set of luminous brown eyes met mine...

I don't remember thinking much after that.

He had the deepest black hair I'd ever seen, the kind that would feel like silk beneath my fingers. Skin that looked pale and smooth even beneath the mud and ashes that now coated both his slender arms and the most beautiful face I'd ever set eyes on. He looked as though he'd be shorter than me when standing, and he was so slight that his frame could almost be called delicate but for the lithe muscle of it. Still, the most stunning thing about him was that set of huge brown eyes. I couldn't stop staring. They were so soft... so perfect... so... everything I'd dreamed, and more.

"Satoshi?" I barely whispered, once I was able.

His eyes went even wider, and I saw recognition in them. "Sh-Shigeru...?" he stammered out. Gods, even his voice was beautiful. I nodded slowly, keeping our eyes locked. I've seen him... I'm with him... My gods, the dream... This was exactly like it. To the last detail.

He blinked twice more, and his body crumpled in a dead faint.

~~~~~

It had started out as a nice day.

Satoshi stole a piece of toasted bread from Hiroshi's plate when he wasn't looking, and folded it in place over a hunk of cheese, ham, lettace, tomato, and various other assortments, before taking a huge bite and smiling in satisfaction. "After lunch," he announced, to Hiroshi and Kasumi, "I need to go clean up the area near the ravine."

"Why?" Kasumi asked curiously, eating her own, more plain lunch. "What's wrong with it?"

"Well, there's all kinds of dried out dead forest junk lying on the ground around there," he explained. "And with the weather as it is, that makes it a real fire trap. It's a big job, though; I'll probably end up spending the next few days on it. So I'll keep camping out, like I have been." He smiled sweetly.

"You aren't doing this just for us, are you, Satoshi?" Hiroshi asked suspiciously. He'd almost even refused to let Satoshi camp out the first time, which had been on his and Kasumi's wedding night. It was just a matter of consideration, though, really. They were married now, and who was he to impose on their nights together?

"Of course not, Hiro-kun," Satoshi answered glibly, taking another bite of his creation. He chewed and swallowed before continuing. "It's part of my duty as an Earth mage; if things are in poor condition in the forest, then I have to fix them."

"Anything you say, Satoshi." Kasumi shook her head. "It's not like we can force you to stay if you really want to go." She smiled at him, and he knew she realized that his excuses were all a load of crap. "Just be careful, OK?"

Satoshi grinned. "Anything you say, Kasu-chan!" He gulped down a mug of water and beat a hasty retreat out the door. That was close. Poor Hiroshi -- he's too generous for his own good, I think.

It was hot out... had been for a while, actually. Satoshi had opted for a short-sleeved tunic -- borrowed from Hiroshi, since he still hadn't gone back home yet. I like it here so much... I hope Mama doesn't worry too much. Well, he'd soon be 18, and then he'd be free to go wherever he wanted. I think I'll stay in Masara, though. Since I've had Hiroshi introduce me around, people have been asking me to do a few things for them... and Masara needs an Earth mage. It's good to feel wanted. He grinned as the forest closed around him. You'd think it would be colder in here... Oh well, I'll live. Time to get to work.

The land in and around the ravine was totally littered with what Satoshi liked to call 'forest trash'. Mostly dead leaves, and broken tree branches... or bits of dead plants and moss. The best way to deal with the leaves and tree branches was to decompose or dissolve them so that they became a part of the earth. A simple touch, or a thought, was usually enough to complete that little task, but he had to cover each small area separately, rather than doing it all at once. The plants and moss had to be replanted and refilled with life again... there was always have to be plants that died, though, so it was important not to bring them all back. And it was a good idea to keep doing this sort of work on a regular basis -- perhaps once or twice a year? It was just something that helped. It would take a long time...

But it's worth it. Satoshi smiled to himself, enjoying the use of his Earth powers. I know there's going to be a Fire crisis sooner or later, and everything I can do to help is going to be worth it. Besides that, it was something he enjoyed, even if it was work. Earth tasks were never really a chore to handle.

It was unusually hot out... Satoshi sat back after some time, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. I'm roasting in this heat! How long have I been working for, anyway? The sky was already starting to darken. Wow, I didn't realize... it's been hours... He glanced back ruefully. And I don't have much to show for it. But I did say it was time-consuming...

"Whew!" He flopped back down to the ground, suddenly tired. "That stuff really does take it out of you -- huh?" Satoshi sat up again, sniffing. Is something burning...? Oh... His eyes widened at the thick cloud of smoke in front of him. That's why it was so hot! He whirled around. Oh no! The smoke circled him. Which way is it coming from?

Satoshi could hear fire crackling now. From... that direction? He tried to run the opposite way, but was brought up short by a wall of flames. It's so huge! How am I going to get through this? And look how fast it's burning... Fear made his eyes widen, and he backed away, then spun around to face... More fire! Oh gods, no! He turned and run to the side. If I can get between the two flames, and out of the way, then I can run back to Masara and get Kasumi out here to douse them...

It seemed like a good enough plan. Satoshi ran further down into the ravine, trying to get beyond the range of that fire patch. It seemed almost like everywhere he went, there was more fire. It's as if it's following me! The smoke was blurring his vision and making his head feel light... No! He ducked back under a tree branch and found more fire in his path. But it couldn't have...

Satoshi looked around. A huge ring of fire surrounded him, rapidly closing in. He leaned his back against the tree behind him, and sank slowly to the ground, eyes tearing from the smoke no matter how he tried to shade them. That's it, I'm dead. But I don't want to die!

"Somebody help me!!!" he cried out, desperately. That's not going to work, you idiot! There's no one out there to help you... You're all alone.

The flames closed in further, ready to move in for the kill, and he shied back, shielding his face. "Please..." Satoshi begged, even though it wouldn't do any good. I don't want to die... He couldn't imagine a more horrible way to go than by being burned alive. I was so fascinated with fire, and now it's going to kill me... "Somebody, anybody... HELP!!!" The smoke choked him, and he started to cough.

And then the weirdest thing happened: the fire froze.

It took him a moment to realize, once he looked up again. Satoshi blinked. But how...? Then there was movement over to one side. Someone was coming. There's something familiar about this... He gasped. That's not...

The tall figure stepped into his clearing and a pair of stormy blue-grey eyes met his.

Oh. Satoshi stared dumbly, unable to breath and afraid to move in case it all vanished. Am I... am I still dreaming? Shigeru...

His hair was burnished red, like fire, and the light from the flames just set it off; it was so perfect. His face was cut just so, darkly handsome, suiting the deep coloring of his hair exactly. He was tall with strong shoulders and a slim muscled look about him -- gorgeous! But the most amazing thing, Satoshi noted right off, were the unreadable, stormy eyes that stared back into his -- so strong and beautiful at the same time... Perfect. Even in dreams, he couldn't have imagined him better than he was right then.

"Satoshi?" the figure barely whispered, and Satoshi's eyes went wide, as all of his doubts were dispelled at once.

"Sh-Shigeru?" he stammered. The taller boy nodded slowly to confirm it. He is! He's my dream-person -- and he saved me, like he did in the dreams...

Exhaustion caught up with Satoshi then, and his body crumpled. The last thing he remembered was being lifted in Shigeru's arms, and then everything faded away to darkness.

~~~~~

"Closing time." Hiroshi smiled at Kasumi as the last customer walked out with the bottle of ointment she'd just purchased. "We should head back home and have some dinner, don't you think?"

"Fine by me." She moved to blow out the lamps while he opened the door and took the key from his pocket. He'd just locked the door when a voice from behind took both of them by surprise.

"Mikagami Hiroshi?" The red-haired stranger sounded only slightly uncertain. "I was told you were the healer here, and I have a patient..." He was cut off then, because Hiroshi recognized the limp form he had cradled in his arms.

He slapped a hand to his face. "Gods, Satoshi... we can't let you out on your own for a second!" He grabbed the Earth mage's wrist and checked for a pulse. "I believe this is the third time he's been carried back to my place unconscious, right, Kasumi?" He turned to look at his wife, but she was staring at the stranger, in opened-mouthed astonishment.

"Can you help him?" the stranger demanded, eyes close to looking desperate as he watched Hiroshi. The healer nodded, turning from Kasumi again.

"He's just exhausted. This has happened before -- twice, actually." Hiroshi sighed. "So, what happened this time? And who are you, while you're at it?"

"There was a fire," the red-head explained. "I found him in the middle of it, so I put the flames out and brought him here." He shrugged. "I'm a Fire mage; I guess he was just lucky that I happened to be around. And my name is..."

"Ookido Shigeru," Kasumi cut in, giving the stranger a searching glance.

Hiroshi blinked. "You know him?"

She smiled. "He's the King of our country, koi. I've met him -- but it was a while ago, so I doubt he remembers." The smile on her face turned wicked as she looked back to Shigeru. "Although I'm sure you remember my sister Sakura."

"Sakura... oh!" He shifted uncomfortably and clutched Satoshi a little closer. "The Princess of Hanada. Right. And you're her sister?"

"One of them." Kasumi shrugged. "I usually don't care to have that generally known. But I would like to know why you're out here, your Majesty." Her gaze dropped very obviously down to Satoshi's unconscious form.

Shigeru... Hiroshi caught on. "Oh! You're the Shigeru. From Satoshi's dreams. Right?" He smiled. "He'll be pretty happy to meet you, I think."

"I guess." Shigeru gazed back down at Satoshi's face and his eyes softened. "My sister's ruling the country, anyway. I wanted to come here in case I was needed -- because there's going to be some kind of Fire thing happening and I thought I might help..."

Hiroshi and Kasumi exchanged looks. "Well," Hiroshi said finally, breaking the silence. "You found the right people to talk to. I guess we can all go back to my place and Satoshi can sleep while we fill you in on what's happening."

Shigeru looked puzzled, but he fell into step beside them. "What does that mean?"

"We'll explain when we get there," Kasumi promised. "It's kind of a long story."

There's an understatement if I ever heard one! Hiroshi smiled and rolled his eyes. And I think there's enough on Shigeru's mind already, what with Satoshi and all... He glanced sideways and saw the red-haired King watching the unconscious boy in his arms with so much emotion... It nearly took Hiroshi's breath away. Wow...

"Um... Hiroshi?" Kasumi tugged on his arm. "We have a visitor."

"What?" He looked up, and saw a familiar figure sitting on the front of his doorway. "Takeshi? What are you doing here?"

"Waiting for you." The dark-skinned mage stood, then glanced at Shigeru. "I just need to give you a piece of advice, healer, then I'll be going again."

"What's that?" Hiroshi handed Kasumi the key so she could take Shigeru and Satoshi inside.

"It's about that union between Fire and Earth," Takeshi explained. "Your Earth mage is going to have to be a virgin, so I suggest you do your best to keep those two apart if you can. Don't let him do anything stupid."

Hiroshi bit his lip. "Takeshi, that's going to be like trying to keep the sun below the horizon! How long do I have to do this for?"

"Not long. The Fire crisis is going to be soon, and then I'll run your ceremony for you." Takeshi grinned. "Cheer up, Air mage. You can handle it."

"Easy for you to say," Hiroshi muttered, watching him move away. He sighed and went on inside after the others. Keep those two apart? Yeah righ! Well, maybe if I explain it to them...

"Something wrong, koi?" Kasumi asked. Satoshi was lying on the couch -- again -- and Shigeru sat beside him, eyes fixed on the unconscious boy's face. He held one pale hand in his own gently, and didn't even look up at either of them as they talked. Hiroshi didn't even think he'd have noticed if the house was falling apart around him.

"No," he said, in answer to Kasumi's question, then sighed. "Nothing's wrong. Takeshi just told me something about Earth and Fire, that's all." She looked at him curiously. "I'll explain it in a bit, but first, let's get Shigeru to sleep, all right? He looks like he's trying to hide the fact that he's exhausted." Of course, people who try that with me never seem to get away with it...

"Sure." Kasumi smiled. She reached over and disentangled Shigeru's hand from Satoshi's, making him look up at her in alarm. "Don't worry, Shigeru," she assured him, starting to pull him into the new spare room. "We won't take him away from you. And, you know, I don't think he'd ever let us take you away, now that you've found each other."

"But..." He looked back at Satoshi with an almost naked longing.

"There's going to be plenty of time for you to spend with him when he's awake," Hiroshi added, closing the door firmly behind them. "I don't think we can explain this to you if Satoshi is in the same room. Not and expect you to listen, anyway."

Shigeru sat down on the bed and smiled faintly. "Probably not," he agreed.

"All right," Kasumi began, sitting in one of the chairs. "I guess there's not much point in wasting time, is there? To start with, all these catastrophes we've been going through are part of a prophecy, and in each one, there's a mage who calls on this central power for that particular Element, in order to fix things up. With me so far?"

Shigeru frowned. "So each time there was a crisis, it was just one person fixing it?"

"Right." Kasumi smiled and pointed to herself. "Water crisis," she said, then pointed to Hiroshi. "Air crisis." Her hand swung in the direction of the sitting room. "Earth crisis," she finished, then smiled at the astonished Shigeru.

"You... fixed them?" he barely managed to whisper, and she smiled angelically back at him.

Hiroshi had to smile. He should wish that Kasumi wouldn't do that... but she was so adorable when pulling off something like this. I guess it's no use; I'm hopelessly in love... "See, you have to call on these central powers to fix the mess up," he explained, taking up the story from where Kasumi had left off. "And when you do that, you become like a living representative of that Element."

"Right." Kasumi looked like she was enjoying Shigeru's amazement. "And once that happens, there are things you have to do. For example, Air and Water have to marry." She smiled up at Hiroshi, who felt his heart flutter in response. "That's already taken care of, though."

Shigeru looked thoughtful. "Like the creation of the world," he mused. "That makes sense. So, do Earth and Fire...?"

"Nope." Kasumi grinned wickedly, and Hiroshi sighed. "Apparently, their bond is physical rather than spiritual, so they do something... else." She raised a suggestive eyebrow.

Shigeru looked horrified. "Then Satoshi has to..."

"Sleep with the Fire mage," Kasumi finished for him. "Yup. But don't worry, Shigeru. For all you know, it might be you."

"Doesn't matter if it is or isn't," Hiroshi added firmly, and they both gave him surprised looks. "Takeshi just told me that Satoshi has to be a virgin. He gave me one very specific instruction, in fact: keep the two of you from doing anything stupid."

Shigeru's eyes narrowed. "So let me get this straight: if I'm not this Fire mage, then somebody else gets to bed Satoshi before I do?" A thin layer of smoke seemed to be rising from... his fingers? Well, at least we know he wasn't lying about being a Fire mage!

"That's about it." Kasumi was unperturbed. "But I wouldn't worry about it, Shigeru. These things have a way of working themselves out most of the time." She smiled again at Hiroshi.

"They'd better," Shigeru growled, glaring at the wall as if looking for some place to vent his anger. "I didn't come looking for him just to lose him to someone else, you know."

Hiroshi took in a deep breath and counted to ten. "Oh relax." He pushed Shigeru back so that he was in a position to get some actual sleep. "You won't have to worry about losing him; he's been madly in love with you for years."

"You know what I mean." Shigeru scowled at the ceiling.

"All right, I do. Now go to sleep." Hiroshi grinned evilly. "Or do you need a tonic?"

Shigeru shut his eyes as if there was a burning twig poking at them.

~~~~~

Kasumi finished drying off her plate from supper and handed the towel to Hiroshi. "So when do you think they'll be waking up?"

"Pretty soon." He towelled off his own dining apparatus then took both hers and his and stored them away. "It's been a few hours now. The funny thing is," he added, with a grin, "they'll wake up just in time to go back to sleep."

She laughed. "That's true, isn't it? I don't think it'll matter to either of them, now that they're together. I think they'll be happy just to see each other, don't you?"

"Exactly, koi." He smiled, and she saw affection in his eyes as he looked at her. It was so sweet... Enough to make her want to melt. "I doubt they'll even acknowledge our presense once they see each other."

She smiled and leaned up to kiss him softly. "Now that presents us with a pretty interesting opportunity, doesn't it?" Her lips curled into a smirk against his.

"Kasumi!" He blushed. Hiroshi was so adorable when he blushed. But he did appear to be considering the idea... "Just wait until after we actually turn in for the night, all right?"

"Spoilsport." She grinned. "Just teasing, koi. Of course we'll wait."

"Good." He kissed her forehead softly. "Because I think Satoshi is waking up..."

Kasumi look up, and saw the Earth mage stir slightly. "You're right, he is." She moved over to the side of the couch, just as Satoshi's pair of hazy brown eyes slid open. He blinked a few times, disoriented, then noticed the two of them.

Immediately, he sat up, looking around frantically. "I thought... I..." His eyes began to tear over. "Just another dream? But it seemed so real... I saw him..." There was a note of desperation in his voice as he looked up at Kasumi and Hiroshi pleadingly.

"Relax, Satoshi." Hiroshi put a steadying hand on his shoulder. "You weren't dreaming this time." He stood. "Stay here with him, koi. I'll go and wake up our guest."

"Guest? Does he mean Shigeru?" Satoshi gripped Kasumi's hands. "He brought me here, didn't he? And you saw him... He's definitely real... He's got red hair, stormy eyes; he's tall... Tell me he's real, Kasumi!" His grip on her hands tightened.

She laughed. "Don't worry so much, Satoshi. Of course he's real." Hiroshi chose that moment to come back into the room, leading a half-awake Shigeru... who took one look at Satoshi, and then couldn't look anywhere else. Satoshi gazed back at him, totally enraptured.

Kasumi pushed Satoshi's limp hands back into his lap, stood, and then pushed Shigeru into the seat she'd just vacated. "There we go... I'd imagine the two of them have a lot of staring to do, don't you think so, koi?" She leaned against Hiroshi and smiled as he wrapped an arm around her waist, drawing her closer.

Shigeru took one of Satoshi's hands in his and just held it, as the two of them stared into each other's eyes, totally blind and deaf to the world around them. He finally spoke then, so softly that Kasumi could hardly hear the words. "You're even more perfect than I imagined."

"I didn't even know what perfection was until I saw you," Satoshi whispered back.

"They're so horribly romantic," Kasumi commented softly to Hiroshi, smiling.

"I think they're entitled," he murmured in response. "Just imagine what it must've been like, to be in love and to not be able to see the person you're in love with. They're only going to get worse before they get any better, Kasu-koi."

Shigeru was already leaning toward the dark-haired boy, face fully readable in its uncontrolled expression of longing. "Satoshi..." he breathed.

"We have company." Satoshi didn't look away from Shigeru as he spoke, but his lips curved in a smile. "Later, Shigeru. Not now..."

Hiroshi coughed. "Actually, not for a while," he interrupted. Both Satoshi and Shigeru looked up at him in surprise, blinking as if they'd been snapped out of some sort of trance. "Sorry," he apologized. "But you do remember what I told you, right, Shigeru? Satoshi has to be a virgin."

The Earth mage's face fell -- into a comic expression of dismay. "But why?"

"Exactly what I was wondering," Shigeru muttered, squeezing Satoshi's hand.

Hiroshi shrugged. "Takeshi's orders. And you know what that means, Sato-kun: it's got something to do with that prophecy."

"But Shigeru's the Fire mage anyway, isn't he?" Satoshi looked peeved. "So what does it matter?"

"It matters, Satoshi," Kasumi cut in. "And how do you know that Shigeru is the Fire mage from the prophecy? That has yet to be proved."

Satoshi glanced up at Shigeru and smiled as their eyes met again. "It has to be Shigeru," he said, with certainty, then frowned hesitantly. "Doesn't it?"

"It will be!" Shigeru assured him at once, and they lost themselves in the intensity of another deep gaze. "You think I'm going to let anyone else have you? You're mine, Satoshi."

The black-haired boy stared back at him wonderingly. "Shigeru..."

He pressed a finger over Satoshi's lips. "Don't argue."

The younger boy smiled around it. "I won't. I promise, Shigeru."

Kasumi resisted the urge to comment and turned her head back up toward Hiroshi. "So what are the sleeping arrangements, Hiro-koi?"

The Air mage took in the pair before him -- the intensity of Shigeru's gaze... the smile on Satoshi's face... He groaned and ran a hand through his hair. "Are separate houses out of the question?"

~~~~~

I stared up at the ceiling, smiling inanely. My heart was full, and I felt lightheaded. Satoshi is so beautiful... I don't think I ever could've imagined him more beautiful... he's perfect... I wouldn't be sleeping that night, for certain. Yeah right. Sure, sleeping was great when it was the only way I could see Satoshi, but now he's here when I'm awake... I was so wide awake it wasn't even funny. There I was in Hiroshi's guest room, and there was only one thin wall separating Satoshi and me.

I can't take this! I rolled over and clenched my fists around the covers, so hard that I thought I might've started to char them a bit. I want to be with him, right now! Why are they asking me to kill myself with all this waiting? I'd seen Satoshi, and that made that longing so much worse. I wanted to hold him, feel his body pressed against mine, stoke his silky hair and rain kisses all over that soft skin of his. I shifted uncomfortably. This was killing me! I want him, damnit! I can't wait any longer... Screw this!

With that thought, I slid out of bed, getting silently to my feet. I was dressed only in my shorts, so I dug into the closet and snatched out a robe to throw around my shoulders. Then I crept out of the room as silently as I could, watching the door to Hiroshi and Kasumi's room warily. They must've been asleep, because I didn't even hear a single noise coming from inside. Yes! I thought triumphantly, and continued on my way back to the sitting room.

Satoshi was laying on his side when I got there, eyes closed, looking absolutely angelic. I paused for a moment just to watch his chest rise and fall slowly. It was so hard to take in, that he was here, and I could actually touch him for real, and talk to him, and bask in his presense. I don't think I'd ever been more happy in my life. I actually had him; he could be mine...

I didn't even care if he was sleeping; I couldn't help myself. Carefully, I crouched beside his beautiful face and reached out a hand to softly brush his cheek. His skin was softer than anything I'd ever felt before.

Satoshi's eyes opened immediately and he smiled at me. Guess he wasn't asleep. "Hi Shigeru," he murmured, still gazing into my eyes with enough love and adoration to make my heart melt. "What took you so long?"

I grinned. "Wrestling with my conscience." He closed his eyes blissfully as I stroked his face, then he reached up to place his hand over mine. "But who needs a conscience?" And, honestly, everything I'd ever wanted was right there in front of my face, within arm's reach. Satoshi was my love... my life... my everything. When did I get so damned poetic, anyway?

He sat up and as the covers fell away, I realized that he slept bare-chested as well. This was interesting... I admired the smooth, lean lines of his body for a moment. Then I ran my fingers lightly down along the line of his jaw and onto his shoulders, making him shudder and blush, just a faint tinge of red on his ivory skin. I was totally mesmerized.

"Can we... go into your room?" he asked softly, staring up at my face. "I just... I know we can't go too far or do anything stupid, but... I want to get to know you better, you know..."

"Sure." I offered him my hand and pulled him to his feet. He reached for my other hand and drew me closer, so we stood just inches away, staring hard into each others' eyes. I could feel the heat from his body so close to mine... it was a heady experience.

"Let's go then," he said a bit breathlessly, and moved back, pulling me along. I wanted to grab him and kiss the breath out of him right there, then lower him to the couch and join us in body as well as spirit. But I forced myself to wait. I'd have him alone soon, in a guest room, with a nice big bed... And I didn't want to wait for someone else to have him before I could. Maybe if I can be with him tonight, then he won't have to sleep with anyone else.

My jealousy melted away in the face of desire as Satoshi shut the door and turned to me expectantly, stepping closer. "Where were we, Shigeru?" he murmured softly, running his hands over my chest. I caught his soft fingers in my own and pulled his body to mine so that we were almost touching. His breath quickened as I freed one hand to cup his face.

"I was just about to kiss you, my Sato-chan," I breathed, then tilted his face up and tasted his lips for the first time.

It was the most incredible feeling. Satoshi was soft against my mouth, his lips pliant and eager. He was sweet and perfect and... I couldn't contain myself, not with his mouth just as hungry as mine was for more. It was probably by some silent mutual consent that the kiss deepened into what it did... I slid my tongue along his lips and they parted instantly, his body pressing against mine in surrender as I feasted on that sweet mouth. My arms slid around his waist, pulling him in closer. Mine. You're mine, Satoshi.

With that thought, I lifted him right off of his feet and pressed him down onto the bed softly, letting my lips wander from his mouth to explore the smooth ivory skin of his face. I lingered on the soft spot between the corner of his jaw and his earlobe, and he whimpered appreciatively. "Gods, Shigeru..."

"Like that?" I whispered into his ear, making him shiver and nod. My lips pulled into a smirk against his skin. Good. There's more to come, and I don't want you to be thinking too much... just feeling... I latched onto the prominent tendon at the base of his neck and he let out a shuddering sigh. I was loving this, making him feel so good just by touching and kissing him.

"Oh..." He groaned slightly as I moved down, this time holding on to his arms as I licked down his chest. He trembled slightly and I ran my tongue around one nipple. "Oh!" He arched involuntarily, body straining against mine as I forced those slight moans and whimpers from the back of his throat. "Sh... Shi... geru..."

"Shh." I kissed his stomach softly, once again letting my tongue run against the soft skin, tasting him. I'd never had anything so delicious before in my life. And he was hardly coherent any more, flushed with passion and panting heavily from wanting me. I smiled and ran my finger along the waistband of his shorts, moving up to take his lips once more. "Let me love you, Satoshi," I purred against his mouth. "I promise I'll be careful. Please."

"I -- I... have to..." He was having trouble thinking; I took immense pleasure in that fact. "... have to be... virgin..."

He's not still worried about that, is he? We were in love with each other, and we both knew it. I didn't understand why we couldn't just be together. I frowned and captured his lips once again, this time letting my hand clutch the waist of his short...

He broke from my kiss and grabbed my hand. "No," he gasped hoarsely, and then... "No, Shigeru." That time his voice was more clear. "We can't."

I sighed, frustrated. He'd just made himself quite clear; I was treading in forbidden waters. As much as I wanted him, I would never go against his wishes. "All right," I said, slumping back, defeated.

He smiled faintly and lay back, sighing. "I'm sorry... I want you, too, Shigeru, but we just can't... Not now." His hands twined in mine once more. "Thank you for putting up with this."

"I'd put up with more." I freed a hand and brushed the hair back from his face. I was right; it felt just like spun silk... "All that's important is that I can be with you. I love you, you know."

"Love you too." His smile was just so beautiful, and the way his eyes shone... I could stare at them forever. "Can I sleep in here with you tonight, Shigeru? I just... I want to be close to you. If you don't mind." He gazed at me shyly.

"No objections here." I slumped down beside him, and gathered his light form into my arms. He was warm, and I loved the way he just fit there, like we were made as one but separated some time in the past. Hey, who needs sleep? I just like knowing that he's here and he won't fade away.

"Mmm." He snuggled in closer to me and sighed in contentment. I think he was even more comfortable in that position than I was, or maybe he was just tired, because he fell asleep almost immediately. I let the soft sound of his breathing lull me to sleep after him, and into the sweetest dreams I'd ever had... With Satoshi in my arms.

~~~~~

The first thing Satoshi felt when he drifted awake was warmth. Not uncomfortable warmth, but a kind of safe, happy warmth that made him smile sleepily even before he opened his eyes and found himself in Shigeru's arms. It is real. He closed his eyes and savoured the feeling, giving thanks to whatever gods were listening. He's here, and he loves me... Everything's perfect.

The Earth mage looked up at Shigeru's face; he was still asleep, his breathing deep and even. I've never seen anyone so perfect before... He's amazing, really. It was worth that terrifying incident, and more, to be able to lay there in the arms of the person he loved more than anything else in the world. Because I love him, and now I'm his, and he's mine, and we'll never be apart. Satoshi let his fingers run softly over Shigeru's body, memorizing the feel of it.

He was still in the robe he'd had on last night, but his chest was bare, and Satoshi could feel the smooth muscle on it. It was incredible. He was incredible. And the black-haired boy in his arms was in heaven. I'd stay the rest of my life right where I am if I could. He sighed in absolute contentment and softly kissed Shigeru's lips. He tastes so sweet... and I love him, so much.

"Mmm." Shigeru's arms tightened suddenly around him, and then he parted their lips again, just slightly. "Nice way to wake up," the older boy murmured, one hand running through Satoshi's hair in a way that sent shivers of ecstacy all through him. He closed his eyes in bliss, and Shigeru smiled. "Good morning. Did you sleep well, koishii?"

That word. Satoshi's breath caught in his throat. Koishii... another word for beloved. Hiroshi and Kasumi used it all the time, for each other. And to hear it from his lips, meant for me... "Everything was perfect," he breathed, staring up into the sleepy blue-grey eyes above his.

"Good. I like it when you're happy." Shigeru kissed him gently. "So, what's on the agenda for today?" A delicious smirk spread on his face. "Besides a lot more 'getting to know each other', as you put it last night."

Oh... Satoshi blushed. Well, that had been what he was thinking when he'd said the words. I just... never imagined... "I never thought it would be like it was last night," he admitted.

Shigeru frowned. "Didn't you like it?"

"No, no, no!" Satoshi's eyes widened. "I did, Geru-chan! I loved it, and I want you to do that to me always, and I want to do it to you sometimes too, but I just... it was so new, and I... I couldn't have dreamed... that it would be so..." He shut his mouth before his babbling could get even worse.

A low chuckle emerged from Shigeru's throat. "Well, it's not like I've ever done it before, either. But I'm glad that you did enjoy it, koi. Had me worried for a second."

"I'd enjoy whatever you did to me." Satoshi snuggled into the young ruler's chest. "I can hardly believe we're actually together; I mean, it seems so unreal. How did you find me, anyway?"

Shigeru started to brush his hand through Satoshi's hair again. "I heard you yell for help," he answered. "But if you mean 'how did I know what part of the world to find you in', I took a guess. When you asked for my help that one time, I found out from the royal mages that it was about the same time when the Earth crisis happened. So I figured you were here, since this is where it took place." He smiled. "I didn't know that you were the mage who fixed the whole thing!"

Satoshi laughed softly, then his mind caught on something said in the middle of that. "Royal mages? Did you live at the palace, Shigeru?"

"I used to be the King." The older boy leaned back a little and looked him in the eye.

He blinked. "Used to be? How come you aren't still?"

A corner of Shigeru's mouth tugged upward. "I ran off to come here."

So... you might go back? Satoshi didn't voice the thought out loud, but it worried him. He couldn't imagine having to live in a palace, learn 'etiquette' and such, not be able to go outside whenever he pleased... But I'd do it if it was what Shigeru wanted. I'd do anything to keep him.

"Is something wrong, Sato-chan?" Those stormy eyes were fixed on him with a worried expression.

"Nothing." Satoshi pushed the thought to the back of his mind and buried his face in the spot where Shigeru's neck and shoulder met. "I'm happy, koi. Really happy. I love you."

"I love you too, Toshi-chan." His voice was considerably softened. Satoshi smiled in spite of himself. "I'm glad we don't have to meet in dreams any more."

"Except that now we have to behave." That was the wrong thing to say; the Earth mage knew it as soon as the words were out of his mouth. Just mentioning it made them both very aware of their half naked and snuggled in bed state. Oh... whoops. "Er... behave. We have to behave." He shifted a little, nervously.

Shigeru slid his hand over the younger boy's hip, then down to rest at his lower back, possessively. "I still don't understand why we have to," he whispered, pressing his forehead against Satoshi's.

"It means the fate of the world, Geru-chan." He pulled away, feeling cold without those protective arms around him. "Look... touch... but don't take." He turned and looked over to meet that gaze once more.

"I'll do whatever you say, koi," Shigeru agreed softly, and the intense look in his eyes pinned Satoshi in place. He smiled faintly. "But that doesn't mean I have to like it."

Satoshi gave in and burst out laughing suddenly, falling back onto the bed and clutching the covers tight in both hands. "I'm sorry," he gasped. "I just... hate this about as much as you do... and it scares me. I mean, what if that prophecy Fire mage isn't you, and then it turns out to be a total stranger?" He shut his eyes tightly. How would I do it? How could I possibly be with anyone but Shigeru?

The Fire mage reached over and pulled him back into a comforting embrace. "Don't even think it!" he growled. "Because if anyone's goign to be that prophecy mage, it's me." At Satoshi's surprised look, he grinned. "What? You think I'm going to let anyone else into your bed? You're mine." The last was breathed into the younger boy's ear, making him shudder.

"You're just as much mine as I am yours!" he shot back, trying to ignore that onslaught of desire. "Just... in different ways, that's all."

Shigeru pulled back and gave him an amused look. "And would you ever let anyone else have the chance to sleep with me?" He raised an eyebrow.

"If we were in opposite positions right now, I don't care who it was, I'd never be able to like that person." Satoshi frowned. "But this is the fate of the world, and I'll do what I have to, Shigeru."

"I understand." The older boy kissed him gently and sighed. "But I'm going to be that prophecy person, even if it kills me!"

Satoshi couldn't help but laugh. "You know, Shige -- "

The door flew open before he could finish. "Shigeru, do you know where Satoshi is-ss-ss... oh." Hiroshi's face went from worried to shocked to embarassed to resigned, and then settled on a narrow-eyed frown. The look very clearly stated 'you two are in deep trouble'.

The two looked at each other guiltily. "Heh. Funny thing, Hiro-kun," Satoshi tried, with an appealing smile. "Guess I got up for a snack and lost my way back to the couch!"

~~~~~

That was just lame. Hiroshi raised an eyebrow at the guilty-looking pair. "Oh, right, Sato-kun, that makes perfect sense. Especially since it's a straight line from the kitchen to the sitting room. I can see how you might have accidentally turned down the hallway and opened the door to Shigeru's room on your way back to the couch." Enough sarcasm? No way. Hiroshi turned his eyes ceiling-ward. "Reassure me, please. Tell me that the two of you didn't just make me shatter the promise I made to Takeshi about keeping you from doing anything stupid."

"Nothing happened, Hiro-kun!" Satoshi was quick to protest. "I'm still a virgin."

The look on Shigeru's face could have withered a cactus. "Unfortunately," he grumbled.

Satoshi elbowed him lightly. "I know how important it is, Hiroshi. I wouldn't give in just like that. But the two of us couldn't sleep last night, and it helped when we were closer, so..." He trailed off.

Hiroshi blinked in mock astonishment. "So you mean you didn't get lost on the way back to the couch?"

Shigeru laughed out loud and Satoshi blushed. "It was the best I could think of," he admitted sheepishly.

"You need to work on that, Sato-kun." The Air mage grinned. "All right, it's none of my business what the two of you do with your spare time, as long as you're behaving to some degree. But hurry up and get dressed, because Kasumi made breakfast this morning and she'll get violent if you don't come in time to eat it while it's still hot." He backed off and closed the door, leaving them to sort themselves out.

"Satoshi was in there, wasn't he?" Kasumi grinned at him as he came back into the kitchen. "I trust they didn't do anything stupid. Otherwise you would have that worried expression on your face."

Hiroshi grimaced. "Actually, I probably would've passed out and you'd be scraping me off the floor." He thought for a moment as Kasumi laughed. "But Satoshi seems to understand how important this is, so I'll trust him to take care of himself."

"That's good to know." She smiled. "At least you won't have to chaperone them."

"Thank the gods!" His fervent tone made her laugh again.

The door to the guest room opened and a fully dressed Shigeru stepped out of the room -- alone. "Satoshi's clothes are out here," he explained, snatching said items off the floor by the couch and then moving back into the room. "We'll be out in just a bit."

Kasumi sat down with her plate of breakfast. "Interesting," was all she said.

"Very." Hiroshi sat down beside her.

They were joined a few minutes later by the happy couple -- perhaps too happy; there was a crimson blush staining Satoshi's cheeks and an unexplained smirk on Shigeru's face. Hiroshi shook his head. I don't want to know...

"Good morning, Kasu-chan," Satoshi said, filling a plate and taking the seat across from her.

"Good morning." She smiled. "Are you going back into the forest today, or did you already find what you were looking for in there yesterday?" Her gaze shifted to the red-head who had slipped into the seat beside his.

"I found what I was looking for," Satoshi answered, not even looking embarrassed in the slightest. He grinned at Shigeru. "And all I had to do was get trapped by a raging forest fire. But I still need to go back, especially now that there's been a fire. If we're not careful, there could be more."

"There will be more," Hiroshi corrected. "Fire crisis, remember?"

"I know, but anything I can do to help will probably turn out to be worth it in the long run." Satoshi shovelled in a mouthful of food.

"I think I'd better come along too," Shigeru added casually. "Just in case there are more fires today. You might need my help."

"Of course, koi." Satoshi smiled brightly and dropped his hand beneath the table. A few seconds later, Shigeru made a kind of 'erk', choked on his food, and turned bright red. Hiroshi hid a smile; obviously, this was revenge for whatever the older boy had done to make Satoshi blush before they came out of their room.

"Is something the matter, Shigeru?" Kasumi asked innocently. Oh, she'd noticed it too.

"Nothing." Shigeru let out a sudden squeak and glared at Satoshi, who was eating away calmly, as if he didn't even notice anything out of the ordinary.

"How long are you planning to stay here?" Hiroshi asked.

"Probably until about lunch time or so," Satoshi answered. Beside him, Shigeru jerked suddenly, then grabbed the younger boy's elbow and hauled his arm up over the table. "What was that for, Geru-chan?" the Earth mage asked with exagerrated innocense.

Hiroshi sighed. It was going to be a long morning.

~~~~~

"Finally!" Kasumi laughed at her husband's relief at seeing Shigeru and Satoshi leave to go back into the forest. "Don't laugh. Even you have to admitt, they were driving us both crazy! I feel as if we're their parents or something."

"Parish the thought!" She held up both hands in mock horror. "Children like them would give us grey hairs before we even hit thirty!"

"True." Hiroshi smiled. "Well, since we had the shop closed all morning, why not take the afternoon off as well? People know where I live if there's an emergency, and besides, we could just spend a nice, quiet day with no worries or -- "

A knock at the door cut that sentece off. "I'll answer it, koi," Kasumi offered, moving toward the door. She swung it open, and a familiar dark-skinned mage entered the room.

"Takeshi?" Hiroshi blinked. "How come you're back here again?"

He shrugged. "The Fire crisis is going to happen some time today, so I figured I'd better be here to perform that ceremony tonight. Do you have an isolated spot for it?"

"Er... isolated spot?" Hiroshi frowned, puzzled.

"For the Earth and Fire mages, of course." He smiled. "I'm going to assume you don't want them in your guest room tonight."

Hiroshi's face twisted into a worried expression. "I hadn't thought of that, actually."

"Takeshi," Kasumi cut in, "did you say the Fire crisis is happening today?"

"Yeah." Takeshi nodded. "Probably by late afternoon or earlier. It's been building for quite a while, truthfully."

"Then we should go find Satoshi and Shigeru," she announced. "It's not a good idea to leave them alone. Remember that forest fire? I'll bet there are going to be more now."

"Leave them alone." Takeshi shook his head. "Shigeru is a Fire mage himself; if he's not the one from the prophecy, he can at least help. And with Satoshi there, we can be almost positive that the prophecy mage will show up in time."

"Can't you tell if Shigeru's the mage from the prophecy or not?" Kasumi asked.

"It would make life a lot easier for both him and Satoshi if he is," Hiroshi added.

"He might be." Takeshi shrugged. "Actually, though, I don't have a clue. I'm not psychic or anything; I just know what the prophecies say."

"Do you know why Satoshi has to be a virgin?" Hiroshi wanted to know. "Because it's been driving Shigeru nuts, and I think he wants to take the rest of us along for the ride!"

Takeshi grinned. "I'm not completely sure, but I think it has something to do with the Earth's purity. Fire is supposed to take that away."

Kasumi had a thought just then, and chuckled. "I hope our Fire mage isn't a girl."

Hiroshi's eyes widened. "Gods, you're right! We'd have to paste a sketch of Shigeru over her face, or Satoshi would be totally useless with her!"

"Actually," Takeshi admitted, "From the way the 'creation of the world' legend is worded, I would've thought that Earth would be female if either of them was. Somehow, I doubt that your Fire mage will be a girl."

"That's good news." Kasumi smiled. "I still hope it's Shigeru, though. Poor Satoshi. I'm going to feel really sorry for him if it's not."

"I'd feel sorry for Shigeru nearly as much," Hiroshi added. "That would really be painful for him. Imagine trying to sit something like that out. He'd be killing himself over it the whole time!"

"True. And it wouldn't help their relationship much either." Kasumi sighed.

"Let's just hope that Shigeru is the Fire mage." Hiroshi smiled again, causing her to do the same. "It's the best-case scenario, right? And remember when we didn't know who the Water mage would be? I spent hours obsessing over the fact that I'd have to marry someone who wasn't you, and then it turned out to be you anyway -- and we're happy now. We have to believe that the same thing will happen for Shigeru and Satoshi."

"Right." Kasumi nodded. Hiroshi is such an optimist! I love the way he makes you always see the hope that things will work out perfectly. "And don't forget those dreams they had, koi. Things like that can't just be coincidence, can they? This kind of situation has to point straight to destiny -- and that's Shigeru as our Fire mage."

"I'm glad you're seeing things my way." He smiled directly at her, and her heart jumped. Gods, he really does affect me, doesn't he? It's hard to believe I couldn't see this for so many years... He's perfect, and he was right under my nose...

Hiroshi colored under her affectionate gaze. "Takeshi... um, do you need to rest for a while? Shigeru and Satoshi are out; that mean the guest room is free..."

"Sure." He rose, smiling. "I seem to be making you uncomfortable anyways. I'll be back out in time to perform the ceremony for Earth and Fire." He paused just before moving inside the guest room. "Try to think of an isolated place for them, all right?"

"I will, I will," Hiroshi promised, and Takeshi nodded, closing the door behind him.

Kasumi glanced out the window and sighed. It seemed like so much was happening lately, in such a short time... It was almost unreal. First they'd found Satoshi in the middle of that little piece of chaos he'd managed to spin himself into, then found themselves facing a massive series of earthquakes just a few hours later. Next, some mage came along telling them they were all part of some strange prophecy, and then just a day later, Hiroshi faced off against a monster storm. And just a few hours after that, she herself battled a tidal wave, realized her love for her best friend, and went on to get married to him! And now Satoshi's dream lover had appeared but possibly couldn't be with him yet because of some prophecy that wasn't even very specific about why. Yes, all in all, it had been a very interesting week.

"I think it'll all work out for the best, Kasu-koi," Hiroshi said softly, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Those two deserve happiness just as much as we do, and we have it..."

"I know." She sighed again and turned from the window.

In the distance, a thin line of smoke was rising...

~~~~~

"I don't suppose you can help me with this, can you?" Satoshi eyed the huge section of the ravine that hadn't yet burned with distaste, then turned pleading eyes toward me. "Please?"

I had to laugh. "An Earth mage, afraid to work in his own Element? Why, Satoshi, I'm shocked!" He made a face at me, and I brushed his cheek with my fingers and smiled. "You're adorable when you're irritated with me, you know."

A smiled inched across his face. "I'm not avoiding doing all that work, Geru-chan. I just think the job will go much faster if we're both working -- and the faster we clear all this junk off the forest floor, the less material there'll be for any more fires to work with."

"OK, I believe you." I grinned. "And I can just burn these things to ashes -- piece by piece, so it doesn't spread -- if you think that'll work."

He looked relieved; the wholehearted smile he gave me just melted my heart entirely. "Thanks, Shigeru. That'll work out just fine."

We set to work. And, honestly, the job was more challenging than it sounded. I'm sure Satoshi enjoyed it more than I did; he was in his Element, after all, and that's always a bonus. Every now and then I looked over to see how he was doing and caught him surrounded by green light, eyes closed in absolute bliss, and totally dead to the world. Also, from what I'd seen of the effortless way he performed the jobs he had set for himself, he was a very powerful Earth mage. More powerful than the mages back at the palace, for certain. Then again, he'd have to be, to stop those earthquakes. And be part of the prophecy.

That line of thought let me straight back to my 'little problem'. I think I'd rather be somehow killed during the Fire crisis than give up Satoshi, but if someone else was this prophecy mage, I might just have to. That's why I had, very truthfully, stated that I'd be the Fire mage from the prophecy even if it killed me. I think I'd want to stay alive, though, at the very least because of how devastated Satoshi would be if I was killed. But still... It was so unfair! I was so upset that it almost made me see sparks in front of my eyes.

I frowned. Wait a minute...

I was seeing sparks in front of my eyes!

A tongue of flame licked at the nearby pile of leaves, then snuffed out as quickly as it had come into being. Across the whole area, little flickers of fire were sparking and then going out; I watched them in utter amazement. But this isn't right... there's something that feels wrong about it...

I glanced over at Satoshi, who was surrounded by a green glow; he hadn't even noticed the strange fire sparks. I looked up in time to see a larger flame taking shape... and from the front, smoke was drifting toward us like a low fog.

That did it. I grabbed Satoshi by the arm, yanking him out of his trance and to his feet immediately. "Shigeru...!" he yelped, startled. I kept the grip on his arm and pointed toward the smoke. "Oh."

"This doesn't feel right, Toshi-chan..." There was an ominous note in my voice. "I'm going to go in there and try to get ahold of that fire before it spreads." A quick scan of the flames told me they hadn't yet moved in behind us. "You go back to Masara and stay with Hiroshi and Kasumi -- where it's safe."

He gulped. "B-but Shigeru..."

"Do as I say!" I ordered. It may have been a little harsh, but the last thing I wanted was for him to be in danger. I waited until he hurried back through the trees before moving forward and losing myself in the one Element I truly considered mine.

The first thing I sensed was power. It wasn't a normal fire; this felt like someone was controlling it, or else it was controlling itself. I could tell right away that it wouldn't want to do what I said, so I braced myself for battle and moved in. The thing was spreading quite easily, and very quickly, even through areas that weren't littered with all of the junk Satoshi and I had been cleaning up. There was more eagerness to devour and destroy than was usual; this chunk of Fire mage gone wild was even almost alive. It wanted to spread through where I was standing, so I was going to have to take steps to prevent that before long. I also didn't want it to reach Masara, though that seemed to be the destination of choice. Beyond that, of course, were the grassy fields that any kind of fire would love, and that was bad -- but in there was Satoshi, and that was much worse. I could tell that the Fire magic involved in that mess would fight me, but I had to halt the flames. I mean, my whole world was directly in its path; how could I let it go?

That was enough for me; I gathered every drop of power there was in me and raged forward in to the heart of this fire. Since I had expected it to fight my control, I wasn't surprised by the fact that it was difficult to get the flames doing what I wanted. I could feel a kind of wild anger -- or perhaps joy -- built in there; to spread and cause chaos was its mission, and I was interfering. What I wanted the flames to do was spread through the ravine and its surrounding area -- enough to soothe that hunger somewhat -- so that I could gather and deal with it. It didn't matter, of course, if it had to go right through where I was standing, as long as I had power left in me. I could endure fire if I had to. I didn't want it to go past the forest boundaries because I was reasonably certain that most people in Masara couldn't. The idea, then, was a good one. The problem was getting it to work. When I tried to circle the fire into a ring around the area, it definitely fought me. It wanted to rage wherever it could, and leaving an empty spaec in the middle of the area it covered was in a way offensive to its needs. Well, I was the one who wanted to be useful. I clenched my teeth, and forced the flames to do what I wanted. Think you're going to get the best of me? Hah! I completed the circle by joining one edge of the flames to the other. There. Now it went completely around me, trapping the entire ravine area inside of it. I relaxed for a moment, just holding it in place. I knew Satoshi had had enough time to make it back to Masara, so there shouldn't be anyone inside that circle except me. He's had plenty of time, and I know he can move quick; he's safe in Masara by --

"Shigeru!"

No! I froze, then turned. "I told you to go back to Masara!" I yelled, not sure whether to be furious or horrified. I can't let anything happen to him...

Satoshi caught up with me, face pale but determined. "I started to, but then I realized something. I need to tell you, Shigeru, that the only way to find out if you're the prophecy Fire mage is to bond with Fire. That's the only way to stop these things. I had to tell you." He looked up at me defiantly.

"Do you know what kind of danger you're in?" I demanded. "You can't go back to Masara now -- the fire's got your escape exit blocked off!"

"I don't care." He met my gaze stubbornly. "You needed to know, otherwise you could've died. I don't care what happens to me." Well, he was brave; I'd definitely give him that.

"I care." I suddenly reached out and pulled him to me tightly. "Stay right here, koishii," I said into his ear desperately, holding him as tightly against my chest as I could. "I'll protect you, just trust me, all right?" He pressed himself against me, clinging to my shirt.

"All right." The words were barely a whisper.

I couldn't let the fire go through where I was standing now, that was for certain. I'd been robbed of that option by the precious life I now held in my arms. With a little luck, though, I wouldn't need to. The important thing was to get everything stable so I could try that Fire bond that Satoshi had suggested. I wanted the fire in a controllable range so that I could keep it contained for an extended period of time. If I wasn't holding the love of my life in my arms right then, I would've let the fires run right through that whole area. With everything in that nice, reasonable range, I could've brought it down lower, until it faded out entirely -- if it had been a normal fire. This one wasn't, and I knew from what I'd just heard that it wasn't going to be halted by normal means. I needed something just right -- like the Fire bond -- that would give me enough of a blend-in to the Element to control its movements. So what he'd told me did make sense.

All right. I gave up thinking and set to work. So I need a reasonable range of ground for this fire. Easy enough. I let it expand outward a little, trimming at the edges of untouched forest ground in a neat ring around the layer of fire. That, I decided with satisfaction, would cover the amount of area I couldn't let in engulf within the circle because of the space Satoshi and I took up. With that taken care of, I let the edge expand further into the inner ring of the circle -- then I halted its advance just as quickly. This was going to be and extremely delicate process. If I'd been alone, it would take seconds; I'd let it go into this area and just have done with it. But Satoshi's steady heartbeat against my own completely ruled that out. I had to be very careful, because a touch of Fire this potent needed only seconds to reduce something to ashes. I couldn't let it touch him at any cost. I continued with the process: freeing the flames, then halting them. It was the hardest, most exhausting thing I'd ever tried to do with Fire -- particularly because it insisted on fighting me for every inch. I got it about halfway in before I stopped for a break. My breathing was ragged, but then, I had good reason. That was really tiring!

"Shigeru?" There was worry in Satoshi's voice.

"I'm OK," I told him, a bit breathlessly. "This is just... extremely difficult. But don't worry about it, koi, I can handle it."

"Are you going to try the Fire bond?" He clung to me a little tighter as if he were afraid that I'd vanish if he weren't holding on to me.

"As soon as it gets close enough," I answered. My voice was steadier now -- good. I was about ready to try it again.

"What do you mean?" Satoshi asked. He didn't back away to look up at me, though.

"Don't get alarmed," I warned him, right away. "But in a short while, we're going to be surrounded very closely by fire. Just relax, OK? I won't let it touch you."

"OK," he sighed, clinging to me in a more secure way. "I know you won't. I trust you."

That was a big vote of confidence right there. Now I had to keep him safe, more so than ever. He trusted me. I reached out for the fire again, feeling far more confident this time. It was like having Satoshi's complete faith in me gave me strength somehow. I let the flames go again -- and stopped them just as quickly. I can do this. I won't let him get hurt. I can control this fire, and keep my beautiful Sato-chan safe, even if I have to kill myself to do it!

Not that I actually wanted to die, especially now that I had Satoshi with me for real.

I finished the fire ring around us. It was still a fairly safe distance away -- maybe about a foot or so -- but if my koi wanted to step away from me, he'd be in trouble. We were surrounded by heat, too, and I'm sure he was uncomfortable. Heat wasn't one of the things that bothered me, though -- cold, on the other hand...

"Are you going to try the Fire bond now?" I could hear the tremors in Satoshi's voice. Despite the heat, he was trembling as well.

"It's all right," I told him comfortingly, rubbing his back in a soothing way. "I'll try the bond now, koi -- you just relax, OK?"

"Yes," he whispered back.

I released my hold on him. "Stay right here," I instructed him, and he watched me, wide-eyed, hands clinging to my sleeves. "I need to actually step into the Fire," I told him, prying his hold loose. "You stay right here where you are, and you'll be safe. Understand?"

"All right, Shigeru," he answered, in a soft, fear-filled voice. His eyes were full of trust, though, despite that obvious terror. He'd do whatever I said.

Good. I turned away and walked directly into the flames -- then I reached out with my mind and tried to let myself be taken over by Fire powers. I felt a violent rush, and then I was burning; my hunger to devour everything in my path was unstoppable. I was unstoppable. Fire took me and held me, taking my spirit from my body and freeing it. With a blast of its power, it placed me before a strange red light, glowing like a mini sun.

My 'eyes' hurt desperately, but I couldn't look away. The red flaring surrounded my entirely, engulfing me whole and then sizing me up. I'm your Fire mage, I told it stubbornly, unwilling to take 'no' for an answer. I am part of you. And then I was being dragged down to the very heart of the earth, where Fire reigned surpreme. I was molten lava, liquid fire. I burned eternally, never stopping in that constant joy of devouring, conquering, feeling. The only thing that kept me from destroying everything in my way was the cool touch of Earth around me -- which I willingly submitted to. But I dominated. How could I not? I was impossibly powerful and strong -- more so than anything else in the universe.

And then it let me go.

I sank to my knees in the place where the fires had been burning. No more. They were completely gone. I'd done it, I'd tamed them! A surge of exultation raced through me. I was their prophecy Fire mage! Excellent...

"Shigeru!" Satoshi knelt beside me, holding my face in both of his hands. "Are you all right, Geru-chan? Answer me!"

I slowly raised my head and gave him a victorious smirk. "You... are... mine," I managed to say, triumphantly, then I sank to my knees as exhaustion took over my body.

 

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