Disclaimer: Fate/Stay Night is the property of Type-Moon and Geneon. They own all of it, and I won't earn a cent from writing this.
…which sometimes makes me wonder why in the HELL I do this…
C&C is welcome at hawker(underscore)748(at)hotmail(dot)com.
Forest for the Trees
Chapter One: First Meetings
For Shirou Emiya, Fuyuki City would never quite feel the same way again; it had been a year since the end of the Fifth, and FINAL, Holy Grail War. After they had won, his Servant, Saber had then gone back to her own time, leaving Shirou only memories of his time with her. It had been the right thing to do; Saber hadn't belonged in this time, and Shirou didn't regret letting her go, but that didn't stop him from missing her.
Shirou had loved Saber; he'd risked his own life to save hers, something that had struck others as almost insane, the lengths he had gone to protect a Servant, beginning with the blow he'd taken from Berserker meant for her. His relationship with her had been the most intense and important of his life, and there had been times he'd found himself wishing that they could have met under normal circumstances. The thought of being able to live a normal life with Saber had entered his mind from time to time, but he'd dismissed these thoughts as unlikely flights of fancy.
Shirou continued to walk around aimlessly, an activity that made him think of the patrols that Rin Tohsaka had used to conduct with her own servant, Archer. He would never understand the man's antipathy towards him, but he'd been a good servant to Rin, and while she hadn't had romantic feelings for her Servant, Shirou knew that there were times when she missed his company. 'She knew what it would be like when it was over,' Shirou told himself. 'She didn't let herself fall in love…' He shook his head to clear it, picking up the pace of his walk, hoping that it would help calm down his turbulent thoughts.
He knew he'd never see Saber again, that she'd slipped back into the mists of time, but Shirou couldn't keep the breath from catching in his throat every time he saw a flash of blonde hair. Even a year later, he felt his heart skip a beat when he saw a woman with light hair on the sidewalk ahead of him, the familiar sensation of disappointment flooding over him when she turned to face him. As he knew it would be, it wasn't Saber, and he swore silently at himself for foolishly letting himself hope that the impossible had somehow been made real. Letting out a sigh, he walked past the woman, causing her to wonder briefly why the young man who'd brushed by her wore a look of profound sadness.
Letting his mind wander, Shirou continued to stroll with no destination in mind, absently noticing another woman struggling with a few bags of groceries. He walked by her, but his inherent good nature took over then, and he turned back and approached the struggling woman. "Excuse me ma'am," he called out. "Do you need a hand?"
"Thanks, but I'm fine," she replied tersely, gripping a bag tightly, even as it slipped through her fingers.
"Are you sure?" Shirou pressed. "I think you're going to lose one…"
"I said I'm fine!" the woman insisted. "Run along kid, I don't nee- Shit!"
Shirou saw the bag slip completely from her grasp and he quickly moved to catch it, stopping it from hitting the sidewalk at the last moment. Making sure he had a good grip on it, he stood up and noticed the woman watching with a look that was half gratitude, and half embarrassment. "…Thanks…" she murmured.
"No problem ma'am."
"That's the bag with all the jars in it. No surprise that's the one I'd drop…"
"Don't worry, I caught it," Shirou reassured her.
"I'm sorry I bit your head off kid," she apologized. "I've had a bad day, and you just wanted to help…"
"No harm done…"
The woman gave Shirou a curious look. "Wow. Who says chivalry is dead…? You think you're some kinda knight in shining armor kid?"
An image of Saber in her armor, standing proudly and wielding Excalibur, entered his mind. "No. No, I don't…"
"…Okay… Just let me have that bag back and I'll be on my way…"
"I can carry it for you ma'am." Shirou offered.
"Thanks, but I don't want to be an inconvenience…"
"There's no trouble ma'am."
The woman opened her mouth to dispute that, but simply let out a sigh. "You won't take 'no' for an answer, will you kid…?"
"Fine," the woman relented. "But if you call me 'ma'am' again, I'll have to hurt you. I'm not that old…"
"I'm sorry ma'am… I-I mean…" Shirou stammered.
"Okay Ms. Harumi."
"Just Harumi," she corrected. "What do I call you? Or do you like being called kid?"
"I'm Shirou Emiya."
"Okay Emiya, follow me…" Harumi told him. "It's just a few blocks."
"No problem Harumi," Shirou replied. "I can take another bag."
"Okay," she said, handing him another bag which he accepted easily. "Thank you…"
Harumi nodded at that and then started walking, Shirou falling in step behind her. They walked in silence, Harumi barely acknowledging Shirou's presence, and he was smart enough to realize that she wasn't in a talkative mood. The two of them walked for nearly a kilometer before Harumi stopped at the gate of a rather sizable home. It wasn't quite as sprawling as his own property, but Shirou figured that the home was a lot bigger than his own, with two stories, and a couple of good sized outer buildings as well.
Opening the gate Harumi gestured for Shirou to follow her, and she walked up the path to the front door, opening it without announcing her arrival, kicking off her shoes and taking the bag inside. Shirou stayed on the porch. Patiently holding the groceries until she returned after a few moments and handing them to her when she reached for them. He bowed politely and was turning to leave when she spoke.
"I-I've been a bit rude," she admitted with a sheepish look. "Can I at least offer you some tea as thanks and an apology?"
"That's very kind, but you don't have to…" Shirou assured her.
"Please, I'd feel better if you did…"
"I don't think it would be appropriate…"
"Appropriate?" Harumi repeated. She then chuckled, shaking her head in amusement. "Shirou…"
"If you think I'm going to offer you more than tea… You've been watching too many movies…"
Willing himself to NOT blush, as that had been exactly what he had been thinking, Shirou replied, "Not at all."
"Then get in here…"
"Yes Harumi…" Shirou removed his shoes and followed her into the house, idly noticing just how impressive a residence it was; the antique furnishings alone would be worth the cost of some houses. Rin Tohsaka and Shinji Matou's homes had both boasted an impressive collection of antiques, but Harumi's had them in staggering quantities. Shirou had realized that she was wealthy just from the size of the home, but the furnishings were simply further proof. 'Jeez, if she's THIS wealthy, why didn't she just call a cab?' he asked himself. 'Or have them delivered?'
Belatedly realizing that he was staring, and not wanting Harumi to think that he was casing the joint with the intention of robbing it later, Shirou forced himself to follow her, keeping his eyes forward. The two of them reached the kitchen, the granite countertops and stainless steel appliances merely another reminder of the opulence of the home, and Harumi put the groceries away, telling Shirou to have a seat as she put on the tea. Feeling very self conscious and out of place, Shirou tried to keep from fidgeting as he sat at the table, wondering why he hadn't simply declined the offer. 'It would have been rude to,' he admonished himself, silently answering his own question.
When the water finally boiled Harumi turned off the gas and poured the water into a pot, dropping in two tea bags and replacing the lid. "Do you mind Earl Grey?" she asked him. When he indicated that it was fine she fetched two cups and brought them and the teapot to the table. "Cream or sugar?"
"That's how I take it too," Harumi told him with a faint smile. Filling the cups, she handed a steaming mug to Shirou before she brought hers to her lips, taking a small sip. "Perfect… Thank you again for your help, Emiya-kun."
"It wasn't a big deal Harumi, I'm just glad I could help."
"I'm glad you did, replacing all of those jars would be a nuisance…"
"What was in them?"
"A few different ingredients," Harumi explained. "Artichoke hearts, capers, anchovies…"
"You were making a salad?"
Harumi raised an eyebrow and looked at Shirou carefully. "Why do you ask?"
"That's what I'd use those for."
"You're a cook?"
Shirou shook his head. "I can cook, but I'm just a high school student… But I have cooked for others though."
"I-I don't really have a family," Shirou admitted. "My parents were killed over a decade ago, and my adoptive father died about six years ago…"
"I-I'm sorry," Harumi apologized, not able to meet Shirou's eyes.
"Don't worry about it," Shirou replied dismissively. "I don't mind talking about it."
"Water under the bridge… I cook for myself and my friends. I always liked it, and I just got kinda good at it."
Appreciating the return to the original topic, Harumi asked, "Those things would only work in a salad?"
"Well, it's what I'd use them for… What did you have in mind?"
"Omelets? You mean like for breakfast?"
"Brunch," Harumi clarified. "Some acquaintances are coming over, and as host I'm expected to cook for them…"
Shirou found himself nodding. "Ah, cooking for people who've invited themselves over…"
"You've had to do that?"
Memories of Saber, Rin, Ilya, Sakura, and Taiga at the dinner table at various times entered Shirou's mind. "Yeah, I have…" he replied wistfully, a distant look in his eye before he returned to the present. "What kind of omelets?"
"Omelets with asparagus, diced artichoke hearts and capers, drizzled with warm garlic infused olive oil…"
Shirou let out a soft whistle. "That sounds difficult."
"It isn't," Harumi replied. "But it looks good and impresses the hell outta people. It's just an omelet with a few high end fillings…"
"I used capers in a salad once," Shirou remembered. "Ilya wouldn't eat them, said they looked funny…"
"Friend of the family. She's an elementary student, I'm her unofficial big brother."
"My adoptive father taught me about using artichokes in a salad," Shirou continued. "I've just used them for that ever since."
"I'll have to try that, never used them in a salad before…"
"And I'll have to try making an omelet like that," Shirou replied. "Is there anything special you have to do to make it?"
"Just blanch the asparagus first, everything else is just like a regular omelet…"
"Where do you get the garlic infused olive oil?" Shirou asked. "Do you make it yourself?"
"I buy it, it's too risky to make it, that's a good way to get botulism. There's a specialty market downtown. That's where I was coming from when we met."
"The shop next to the hobby store?"
"You know it?"
"I've been in there a few times, just to look."
"I shop there from time to time, but only when I need something overpriced and showy…" Harumi chuckled humorlessly and shook her head. "Honestly, I can't believe what they charge for some of the things in there… If I could get them at the market, I'd never go in there…"
"I've never actually bought anything there," Shirou admitted. "It's a little out of my price range…"
"Oh? Then where do you get the capers and the artichoke hearts?" Harumi wondered.
"There's a store in my neighborhood, they sometimes carry them. I buy 'em there when I can…"
"Really? What's it called?"
"I'll have to remember that," Harumi mused. "That market is just too expensive…"
Shirou wondered why someone who lived in a home as opulent as Harumi's would be concerned with the cost of a few groceries, but he didn't mention it. "Glad I could help…"
"So, what's your specialty then?"
Shirou blinked. "My specialty?"
"Your specialty," Harumi reiterated. "You said you cook, right? Everyone I know who cooks has one dish they're especially proud of. What's yours?"
Taking another sip of his tea, Shirou thought for a few minutes, trying to decide what he was most proud of, honestly never having considered this before. Saber always had a huge appetite, but she hadn't been a finicky eater, usually devouring anything placed before her. But when he reconsidered, there WAS one meal that had made a ghost of a smile appear on her graceful visage… "Teriyaki beef…" Shirou murmured. "She really liked the that…"
"What was that?"
Taking another sip of tea to try to hide the bloom he felt on his cheeks, Shirou repeated his answer. "Teriyaki beef. Everyone says I'm pretty good at that."
"Interesting choice. What's your secret?"
"It's all in the preparation…"
"What do you do?"
"You take some finely chopped garlic, a lot of it, and combine it with sea salt and coarse ground black peppercorns. You rub it into beef you've lightly brushed with olive oil before you slice it. Make sure you only cook it to rare as well"
"Rare?" Harumi goggled. "Why not just make steak tartare?"
"Anything over medium rare is a waste of good meat," Shirou countered. "Any more than that, why not just eat a belt?"
"Sorry, but I like having my meat cooked when I eat it…"
"How you cook it is personal preference. And don't forget to let the beef rest before serving."
"Cover it with foil for a few minutes, it lets the juices come back," Shirou explained. "Otherwise it'll be dry."
"I've never heard that before," Harumi admitted.
"Try it the next time you cook beef." 'Assuming there's still any juice left after you've cremated those poor cuts of meat,' Shirou added silently.
"I'll do that," Harumi assured him, tipping her mug, and refilling Shirou's when he nodded at her.
"So, what's your specialty then?" Shirou wondered.
"Blowfish," Harumi replied without hesitation.
"B-blowfish…?" Shirou whispered. "Isn't that dangerous?"
"What's life without a little risk…?"
Harumi laughed out loud at that. "Haven't you ever wanted to face death…?"
Unconsciously, Shirou brought his hand to his chest, absently rubbing where Lancer had pierced his heart. "Not anymore," he murmured.
"I beg your pardon?"
Shirou shook his head. "Never mind… I… just don't feel like risking my life when I eat." 'Be stupid to survive the Grail War, only to die because of a meal…' he added silently.
"There's no risk," Harumi replied dismissively.
"Blowfish is toxic." Shirou pointed out.
"I'm serious," Harumi insisted. "My brother is an executive chef in Tokyo, he taught me how to prepare it…"
"What's it taste like?" Shirou asked, curious in spite of himself.
"Yeah, I am…" Harumi confirmed with a smirk. "Seriously, it's hard to describe… It is very good though…"
"It had BETTER be…"
With a thin smile, Harumi looked carefully at Shirou. "Maybe one day you'll work up the nerve to try it."
"I have plenty of nerve." Shirou replied defensively. "I just don't want to take anymore risks…"
"You wouldn't trust it even if I cooked it?"
"…I didn't say that…"
"Then it's decided," Harumi declared with a nod. "One day you'll dine on blowfish I've prepared…"
"Ummm, okay…" Shirou wondered just how he'd gotten into this.
Harumi drained her mug and set it back down on the table. "I hate to be an ungracious hostess, but it's time for you to go Emiya-kun. I have something I need to do now…"
Shirou finished his own mug. "No problem Harumi, I don't want to wear out my welcome…"
"Thanks again for all your help Emiya," Harumi told him as she followed him to the door. "I'm sorry I was so curt when you first offered to help me."
"It's no problem Harumi," Shirou assured her. "I'm not offended."
"You should be…"
"What would that accomplish?"
Harumi shook her head. "Are you for real?"
"Last time I looked."
A bemused expression came over Harumi. "I wouldn't have believed it…"
"That someone like you existed…"
"That courteous and laid back… Almost restores my faith in humanity. Almost…"
"I've seen a lot," Harumi explained. "I've got a lot of inertia to counter…"
"Glad I could help, I guess…"
"Thanks, I needed it…"
"You're welcome." Shirou stopped to put on his shoes and nodded once more to Harumi. "Thank you for the tea."
"It was nothing. Thank you for your help."
"It was a pleasure."
"Take care Emiya…"
"You too Harumi."
"Who knows? Maybe we'll bump into each other again…"
"Maybe," Shirou allowed.
"Don't be a stranger if you see me again," Harumi told him.
"I won't," replied Shirou. With that, he nodded one last time I farewell and walked out of the house, strolling along the path till he reached the gate, walking through it and heading for home. As he walked he belatedly realized that he wasn't feeling as melancholy as he'd been earlier. 'I guess talking to someone once in a while isn't a bad thing…' he mused.
Shirou felt his lips curl up in a ghost of a smile as he walked, recalling the chat with Harumi; it had kind of reminded him of talking with Taiga, if she'd shown a little more maturity. Shirou loved Taiga like a big sister, but she could be exasperating at times, with a maturity level that seemed to be younger than Ilya's. It was almost refreshing to talk with someone who acted their age, most of the time.
'Nice lady,' Shirou told himself, feeling his spirits rising a little, until another woman with blonde hair came around the corner in front of him. As usual, he felt his breath catch in his throat, as the possibility of receiving his most fervent wish, even if the chance was miniscule, reared its head. The familiar pain of disappointment, and disgust at letting himself dare to hope, came crashing down on Shirou. 'I need to get over her dammit!' he admonished himself. 'Saber's not coming back, I'll never see her again… So why do I keep expecting to see her?!'
Shirou already knew the answer to that question, but it didn't make it any easier to move on. He'd let Saber go, it'd been the right choice, but it was still painful even a year later. Sighing deeply, as he usually did whenever his thoughts turned to the former King of the Britons, Shirou shook his head to clear it, quickening his pace to return home, where a hot soak waited. "Grow up Emiya," he murmured to himself. "Just move on…"
With this familiar thought in mind, Shirou continued his journey home, old memories of his time with Saber pushing out the recent recollections of the brief half hour he'd spent with Harumi.
End of Part One
Notes: This was pre-read by Random1377 and Fatuous One, both of whom have far more knowledge of Fate/Stay Night than I do…
All errors and faults are mine, not theirs.