He was a kid like her, with hair as red as her's, and hands that bled just the same. So why was it that he tried so hard to protect everyone around him? He never complained when he took on another's work and added it to his own. He never complained even as he collapsed from exhaustion everyday, his body bruised and malnourished.
"Erza quickly!" Jellal, her blue haired friend urged. "The guards are coming."
"I know!" Swiftly, Erza stuffed what little loafs of bread she had stole from the guard's table into a small hole in the wall. However, it did little to hide the food from sight, she had to find som-
"-You there, stop!"
Erza froze as Jellal clenched his fists in frustration. They needed that food. The food provided was meager at best and only enough to ward of death. However, Sho, one of Erza's friends desperately needed the food, his body coping with a sudden flue. However, it should be fine by the morning should he eat well and recover.
The guard approached Erza, each step echoing into her ears and quickening her heart beat. Her hands began to tremble as she slowly turned around to face the guard, her back obscuring the food from view.
"Another one of you wretched slaves thinking its okay to slack off from work." The guard scoffed. "It sickens me." The guard grabbed the baton holstered to his waist. "You know the dr-ackk!"
Erza's eyes widened in surprise.
"Hurry!" Was all the red haired boy could say before he scampered away from the guard he tackled to the ground. Enraged, the guard chased after the boy, baton grasped tightly in hand.
He knew, and yet he...
Erza watched distantly as the boy with hair as red as her's disappeared behind the corner that she knew all too well was a dead end.
"You heard him, lets go!" Jellal said as he ran up to Erza.
"W-We can't just..." Erza's words died in her mouth, the sound of flesh against metal encompassing the small room.
Jellal's face was grim.
"...We need the food for Sho." Jellal said bitterly.
"B-But, damn it this isn't fair!" Erza raised her voice.
"I know bu-" The sound of a guard's footsteps grew near. "-Oh shit!"
Jellal grabbed Erza by the arm, and the food with his other hand before running back to the general safety of their cell. The sound of flesh against metal ringed clearly in both of their ears for the entirety of the run.
"You foul thing," Erza's eyes opened wide as the door of the cell she and the others occupied was suddenly forced open. "One of these days I'll kill you for your disobediance."
"Enough Balpor, this slave is our most efficient worker." Another voice said.
Erza pushed herself off the ground and scrambled over to where Jellal, Sho, Simon, Wally and Millianna were huddled by Rob.
"..." The guard tossed the boy gripped in his hand towards the floor. "Next time the punishment will be far worse."
The guards closed the door behind them and promptly walked away.
Erza and Jellal were the first to move upon spotting the familiar tufts of red hair. It was the boy who had helped them earlier. Bruises covered his body from head to toe, other areas littered with bleeding cuts. It was the sheer amount of blood staining the boy's dirty rags that caused both Erza and Jellal to look away in guilt.
Rob came and approached both Erza and Jellal, Simon and the others staying tentatively behind him.
"It's quite a beating." Rob said softly. "Truly not one meant for a child no older than the rest of you."
Jellal clenched his fists. He hated this place, this tower in the middle of nowhere. He hated the people who stole him and the others from their homes to be treated as no less than animals.
Rob's hands went to the small sac tied around his waist where he kept a supply of gathered bandages. It was difficult hiding them from the guards, but none truly questioned him for possessing what amounted to little more than thin strips of cloth.
"Lift up his shirt child." Rob asked Jellal. "I need to bandage his wounds before he loses too much blood."
Jellal nodded his head before tentatively lifting the shirt off of the boy's back. The wounds were truly worse than they had first appeared. Skin was flayed in areas as if a dull knife was used to cut into it. However, it was the wound located at the center of his chest that elicited a silent gasp from all present. It was a star shaped stab wound directly over the boy's heart. What's more, the attack inflicted seemed to have pierced straight through the boy; if the scar directly on his back was any indication.
"My god." Rob muttered in shock. "What have they done to you..."
"...Nothing...that..can't...be...healed." The boy blinked his eyes open. They were a deep bronze.
"Those aren't injuries to scoff at child." Rob said. "Now let me bandage you."
Weakly nodding his head, the boy allowed Rob to bandage him.
"This, I've never seen such a magic before." Rob muttered in amazement.
As Rob was bandaging the boy's wounds, he could visibly see the boy's wounds closing up and repairing themselves. Truly it was a magic invaluable to the harsh conditions of the Tower of Heaven.
The word 'magic' instantly garnered the attention of Erza, Jellal, Simon, Sho, Wally, and Millianna, but they knew better than to press an injured person for answers.
"Magic-" The boy coughed out blood and leaned himself against the cell's walls. "-you could call...it...that."
"Enough speaking child, rest till you get better." Rob said.
With much pestering from Rob, the boy closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. A moment passed before the others began to talk to themselves by a corner of the cell.
"It was him wasn't it." Sho said. "The one who helped both of you."
Erza and Jellal nodded their heads, absently sending glances towards the sleeping boy.
"They call him Shirou." Millianna said. "He helped me once before when I hurt my ankle."
"He also did my share of the work in the mining area when my hands began to blister." Simon added.
Unknowingly, they all glanced at the bloody rags laid plain across the floor and shivered. Not one of them could imagine the amount of pain Shirou must have gone through. Sho rubbed on his arms in discomfort, realizing what Shirou had done for him. Why would he do such a thing? It didn't make sense, not in the Tower of Heaven where the weak died one by one.
However, how one could live with a hole through their chest was the bigger question.
"So he helped Sho, Erza, and Jellal." Wally said after a moment. "When's it my turn?"
They glared at Wally.
"...It was a joke." Wally muttered. "But still, I can't believe someone has hair as red as Erza's."
"Now that you mention it, you're right." Jellal said.
Erza began fumbling with her neck length hair, twisting it around a finger.
"But there are other people with red hair." Millianna argued.
"In this tower?" Simon asked. "Unlikely."
"Children, you should all take after the boy and get some rest." Rob interrupted as he sat down by the cell's walls. "We never know what might happen tomorrow."
Reluctantly, they all took after Rob's words, despite the numerous questions each had in their minds.
"You're finally awake." Simon tugged lightly on Shirou's tattered clothing. "We have to hurry before all the remaining food is eaten."
In the tower of Heaven meant to bring back the legendary dark mage Zeref, food was only provided once in a day- at the breaking of dawn. By the slivers of light peaking in through the cracks of the cell, it had long since passed day break. Perhaps it was mid-noon, an hour before the guards would force the slaves into labour.
Simon stood across from Shirou along with the others who had waited for them despite knowing that they may miss their meal. Rob however, had woken up early to heal another child in another cell. It was testamount to the gratitude they felt towards Shirou that Jellal, Erza, Sho, Millianna, and Wally, did not utter a complaint as Shirou wiped at his eyes and tiredly pushed himself up into a sitting position.
"Food?" Shirou muttered as he cleared his vision.
"Yeah, the garbage they feed us with." Jellal said. "But it's better than nothing."
Shirou tested his arms and legs before gingerly standing up on his feet. Not a single bruise remained from the previous night, blood peeling off to reveal new skin.
"Garbage?" Shirou said as he placed his bloodied shirt over his chest. "I call it food."
"That crap? Food?" Simon said exasperated. "Your wounds may be healed, but your mind is debatable."
"Simon!" Erza admonished.
Shirou let a small smile grace his lips.
"You'll see what I mean. First we have to get the food, then we have to take it to Bare's Bottom." Shirou said.
Bare's bottom was a small area devoid of anything; it was just a space where a portion of the tower hollowed out.
"What are we going to do there?" Erza asked.
"Eat." Was all Shirou said as he made for the slave's canteen.
As it would turn out, Bare's bottom wasn't as empty as Erza had assumed. It was full to the brim with the elderly and young children. Understandably, there were no adults since they were required to work immediately upon waking up. Strangely, all off of them had food in their hands, and yet none of them proceeded to eat any of it.
Upon sighting Shirou, smiles lit up their faces.
"W-What's going on?" Millianna asked as she and the rest were surrounded by people calling out to Shirou.
Jellal, Simon, Wally, Sho, and Erza, had no answer.
"Alright everyone," Shirou said. "We all know how this works."
Nodding their heads, one by one the children and the elderly deposited the food they had in their hands on a mat against the floor. The amount laid down didn't look as if it was even enough to feed half of the people within the room. Shirou urged for Erza and the others to do the same.
"Alright, what's going on?" Jellal asked as he laid the garbage given to him at the slave's canteen down.
"Name's Sorano, First time?" A silver haired girl asked, her bangs covering her forehead. She was about the same age as Jellal. Her skin was pale and her eyes a curious brown.
"Y-Yeah, name's Jellal." Jellal muttered as a child pushed past him. "Why is Shirou sorting through the garbage, and where did you all manage to hide a pot that large?"
Beside Shirou was a pot large enough to fit the contents of all the food gathered.
"U-Uhm," An orange haired boy interrupted. "I hid the pot with a little Earth Magic."
Jellal stared at the orange haired boy before he heard Wally choke a gasp. Concerned, Jellal, Erza, Simon, Millianna, and Sho turned to Wally.
"R-Richard!" Wally yelled, tears trickling down his cheeks.
"W-Wally!" Richard, the orange haired boy said.
Wally pushed past Erza and Jellal and ran up to Richard.
"That's Richard?" Simon said. "He looks exactly as Wally described him."
Richard was portly for a boy living within the Tower of Heaven, the rags he wore just barely able to encompass his body.
A fragrant smell drifted from the open fire Shirou had lit with two sticks and a small flint. The pot simmering above the fire was probably the source of the smell. Despite the meager amount of food provided, Shirou had utilized it to its full capabilities and was somehow able to cook enough to provide food for all.
"Hurry," Sorano said. "We don't want to be at the end of the line."
And indeed the line was increasingly large. It was lucky that Sorano had informed them quickly enough not to be left at the very back. As of the moment, they were a few people away from the front. It didn't take long for Jellal, Erza, Simon, Sorano, Millianna, Sho, Wally, and Richard to be sitting against the ground with a warm bowl of food in front of them.
"T-This is-" Jellal couldn't finish as he hungrily shoved spoonful after spoonful into his mouth. Bits of food were scattered along the floor in his haste, but not even Erza could reprimand his behaviour for she herself would contradict it.
"...By the gods." Wally said reverently beside Richard. "Where were you all my life?"
Wally and Richard had their moment of reunion and were now enjoying the food placed before them.
As plate after plate of food was passed around to those present, it became quieter and quieter as everyone sat down and began eating.
"Garbage," Simon mumbled. "Who was the fool who said this was garbage."
Milliana, Sho, Erza, and Wally nodded their heads. Jellal just didn't care anymore.
Shirou's voice carried out across Bare's bottom.
"It seems we still have room for seconds."
Bare's bottom, a place normally devoid of life, unbeknownst to the guards, became the only source of happiness in the wretched building that was the Tower of Heaven.
Mirajane never knew why her older brother always referred to himself as 'Archer.' His name was Shirou Strauss, a boy with hair as white as her's Elfman's and Lisanna's. His skin was more resemblant of Elfman's tan, but then again, it did come from their father. Speaking of parents, they died not to long ago... Archer never did explain the exact cause, but he had been the one to shoulder the burden of taking care of everyone. It was why he was never with them in the day; he was always out hunting or looking for work to garner a steady income. An income he never spent on himself. No amount of pleading from Lisanna or Elfman, or even her heated glares could change his decision. Always with that snarky smile, he would change the subject even as Lisanna, Elfman, and even herself, stared guiltily at his torn clothing.
Their clothes in comparison were at a much higher level; enough clothing to keep them warm in the night and pass off as civilized in the town streets. Mirajane didn't miss the way the towns people stared at her brother as he walked across the market to buy food and supplies. It infuriated her how their eyes seemed to put him on a lower level. God damn it, she hated it! Hated the way that she, Elfman, and Lisanna, were only a burden to him. He was only nine, a year older than her, and yet he-he...
Mirajane clenched her fists in frustration.
"Sis, d-don't squeeze your hands to tight." Elfman placed a hand on Mirajane's shoulder. "Y-You're beginning to ble-."
"It's not right Elfman." Mirajane muttered despite Elfman's concerns. "It's just not right."
"Shirou's out again isn't he?" Lisanna asked meakly.
Elfman nodded his head to Lisanna.
"...He also left his portion of the food for us again." Elfman said. "W-When was the last time we saw him eat more than a handful?" Elfman's voice wavered.
Mirajane shivered as she stared resentfully at the sky from the window of the small house her brother provided for, wishing that she could do something for her sibling.
Archer didn't know how or why he ended up where he was now. All he could recollect from his fragmented memories was facing off against Berserker rather than following through with his plan to rid the world of himself. But it didn't really matter now anyway. In this world, Alaya wasn't present to bid her will against his. In this world he had family to provide for. He had had enough of setting lives on a scale, for now he would simply do all in his power to protect his siblings- no matter the cost.
Now if only he could find a way to utilize his magic once again. The feeling of his circuits was different to the point that he couldn't draw power from them. Something had happened during the blank stage where he had died by Berserker's hands and was born into this world. His circuits for example felt as if they were relocated to a physical part of him, into a container of sorts. Until he could find a way to draw forth the power from said container, he was stuck. However, he felt that he was close. He had managed to trace a a small dagger when he was once attacked by a wild boar. Maybe the key to the container was emotion...he would have to dabble with this further, but for now, he needed more money to keep his siblings healthy.
Well, how was it? Good? ...Bad?
Thanks for reading
I do not own Fate or Fairy tail