"Shirou Never Misses" by Mereo Flere
A/N: Originally written for a contest, I never actually finished it in time. Decided to rework it into a oneshot, and…
…well, here it is. It's sort of embarrassing, really.
Ever since she was a freshman, there were few people in the school who were able to challenge her. Regardless of the sport, her own natural athletic ability allowed her to surpass anybody else. It was a talent so great that, in the entire student body, there were only two people who were capable of defeating her in any sport.
The first was Tohsaka Rin, her friend and the school idol. If Ayako was talented, then Rin was an all around genius, combining strength, brains, and beauty. Though Ayako had no idea just what kind of training Rin had gone through, there was no doubt that Rin was a force to be reckoned with.
The second was a boy named Emiya Shirou. Compared to Rin, or even Ayako herself, he wasn't well known; at best, he was seen as the best friend of the student council president, Issei. But, she still remembered the way she had met him vividly.
At that time, she had already defeated every other athletics club in school, challenging them to their chosen sport. Only the archery club was left, and back then it still didn't have many members. In fact, on that day there was only a single person, a freshman like herself. When she had entered the club, challenging it to a match, she had seen him there alone, practicing diligently by himself.
He had greeted her with an awkward smile, as if he had no idea what she had accomplished or what she had set out to do. Still, he offered a bow that he had maintained himself, and had taught her the basics of shooting.
The truth was the destined match she wanted against him never came. At every single step he had remained ahead of her, and for all that time she followed. Before she knew it, she had become part of the club, still trying to catch up to him.
…but that time of chasing after him was over. Now that same boy, who she had arrogantly considered a rival, was now standing in front of her, holding out an envelope to her.
She didn't know what to think when he had asked her to meet her alone after practice. She didn't know why her heart had started to flutter when he nervously approached. Most of all, however, she wondered how she should react, when the boy suddenly bowed, thrusting the letter towards her.
「 _ 」
Because her heart had been beating too loudly she didn't hear him clearly. Eventually, they just ended up standing there awkwardly for a few moments, as she processed the scene in her head. Finally, she blushed and gingerly took hold of the letter in her fingers. Trying to sound as casual as possible, she voiced her acceptation of his feelings… even while she held back a smile as she thought of the future.
She thought about how much she would gloat to Tohsaka about winning the bet the two of them had made, over who would get a boyfriend first. She also thought about the lunches they would eat together from now on and worried about how much better at cooking he was than her… and, she thought about how she had never expected this sort of thing from him.
Then, he straightened up, a much more tired smile on his face than she had anticipated. Before she knew it, he had apologized to her, and thanked her for understanding his circumstances.
It was only later, after she had finally read the letter, that she realized he had withdrawn from the club.
Time moved on. It was always inevitable. Before Ayako knew it, graduation was already drawing near. When she thought about it, the time she had spent together in the same club with Shirou hadn't even been that long. Then again, that she couldn't help but wonder how different things might have been, had she refused his resignation.
Then again, perhaps it was always inevitable to have some regrets. Even though she had enjoyed her time in school, there were plenty of other things Ayako wished had happened differently.
"For instance," she said with a sigh, looking over to her companion, "Wouldn't you have liked to see who would have won our bet?"
The person she was speaking to was none other than Tohsaka Rin, the school idol – and one of Ayako's closest friends. Though it wasn't often they saw each other these days, they had finally managed to catch a rare chance to meet each other after school.
But you know, Rin couldn't help but smile a little, listening to Ayako. In fact, with that last question Ayako asked, Rin had to stifle a laugh; not that Ayako didn't notice.
"W-what is it?" Ayako asked, raising a brow. It wasn't strange, was it, to see which one of them would come out on top, right?
"I…it's nothing, really," Rin said, waving her hand. "But you know, it's not like school is over yet. In fact, now would be the perfect time to snag someone.
"That is, if you were brave enough."
Ayako's eyebrow twitched. Rin had a point. There was still a month left in their senior year; plenty of time to get a boyfriend. But…
Ayako simply shrugged her shoulders. "What would be the point? If you look at it one way, there's 'still a month left.' However, if you look at it in at another way, there's 'only a month left.'"
"Excuses, excuses," Rin said playfully, sticking out her tongue. "In the end, what matters most is that a precious memory is made, right?"
There was a pause. Ayako stared at Rin for a moment, before rolling her eyes. "When you say it like that, it sounds like you're thinking of something dirty."
"And who says I'm not~"
"That settles it. You are, aren't you?"
"And who says I am~"
There was a beat, as Ayako tried to stare down Rin, who only smiled impishly in return. After a moment, though, they both laughed. It truly had been a long time since they could hold a conversation like this. And, perhaps, it would be a long time until they could again.
"But you know, I really do wonder…what kind of boy the mighty Mitsuzuri Ayako would go after."
"I could say the same about you, Rin."
The conversation moved to other things. At some point or another, they started to talk about their future, mostly about what they were going to do after they graduated. Rin, it seemed, was going to be heading to London, studying at some institution overseas.
Compared to Ayako, it was really amazing; just what one would expect of the school idol. Ayako herself was a good student and athlete, but even a scholarship to Shio University didn't seem to be on the same level.
For a moment, her thoughts drifted. It wasn't the first time she had talked about her plans, nor was it the first time she heard what others were going to do. Everyone in school seemed excited and worried, except for Rin. She was the only person who seemed to be really prepared for what they wanted to do.
No. That wasn't necessarily true. There was one person who didn't seem to be worried about concerned at all about graduation.
"Hm…I wonder what Shirou plans to do…"
Ayako blinked. The words had left her mouth before she had even realized it. It had only been a momentary weakness, but…
She knew. All it would take is for her to turn her head, back to where Rin was sitting, and that devilish smile would be there. There was no way that Rin would've missed it – and there was no way that she wouldn't tease Ayako over it.
And, so Ayako didn't turn her head. There was no way she could look at Rin after a slip up like that. It would be embarrassing enough just to listen to her.
Yes, she thought, cringing internally. It would be very, very embarrassing. Even though she couldn't see the smile, she could hear it in Tohsaka's voice.
"That's quite an interesting name you just said."
"Well, you know," Ayako replied, being careful not to stutter. "Someone as wishy washy as him probably hasn't given it any thought at all. Who wouldn't be worried about a friend like that?"
That was right. As far as Ayako knew, Shirou hadn't applied to any colleges or universities. Actually, in all the time she had known him, he hadn't really talked about what he wanted to be.
"So, why don't you just ask him yourself?"
"Eh?" There was a blink. Maybe two. "Wouldn't that be a bit strange, just popping up to ask him that?"
"Why would it?" Rin said – but Ayako could still hear a devious tone in her voice. "After all, 'who wouldn't be worried about a friend like that'?
"Besides," Rin continued, turning a little more serious. "It wouldn't be the first time you would've pestered him over something."
"That – that was different."
"How so?" Rin asked, tipping her head to the side.
"I was the captain, and it was waste to see someone of his level leave the team, you know."
"Then you shouldn't have let him go in the first place," Rin said, a small frown on her face.
Ayako cringed, remembering the day she had accidentally accepted his resignation. "Yes," Ayako said, unable to deny it was a mistake – but it wasn't like Rin had to know just what kind of mistake it was. "But, I don't see what that has to do with anything."
Rin smirked. "It might not have anything to do with anything. But you know, you really are an amazon."
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Ayako asked, raising her brow.
"Oh, you know…"
"No, I don't."
"It's nothing. Nothing at all."
Rin smiled again. Though she tried her best, Ayako simply couldn't stare her down. Tohsaka Rin was just not a person who could be easily fazed today.
"Whatever, I give up," Ayako said, throwing her arms up in defeat.
"But you know," Rin added, looking away from Ayako. "I don't recall you ever being the type of person who would leave behind surrender so easily."
Ayako sat back in her seat. Her eyes followed Rin's, towards the school windows. Looking outside, towards the empty schoolyard, she couldn't help but find that familiar sight somewhat depressing.
"Regrets are inevitable, aren't they?"
"No," Rin said wistfully, as she gazed out towards the now setting sun. "They don't have to be. It's not too late to try to win, you know."
Even after a week had passed, those words hadn't faded from Ayako's mind.
Regrets were inevitable. Every person was bound to leave some behind. And yet, she couldn't help but wonder when she had started thinking that way. To begin with, it was depressing – too depressing to think that way; it simply didn't suit her at all.
Ultimately, Rin was right – she owed it to herself to try one last time.
That is, she had to try one last time to beat him of course. After all, she needed to see just how far she had progressed.
"…and that's why you dragged me out here?" Shirou asked, smiling weakly.
"More or less."
Though he had intended to go home after class, Ayako had appeared in his classroom almost before he had even a chance to get out of his seat. Then, in front of his entire class, she challenged him to a duel.
He refused. Or, at least he tried to refuse. And yet, here he was, standing on the archery field, standing in the club's uniform, bow in hand already, and the targets set up before them.
"Tohsaka put you up to this?" he asked, making sure once again.
"In a way," she admitted. "I don't want to have any more regrets, after all."
Shirou sighed, but accepted it. Somehow, if Tohsaka was involved, then it couldn't be helped. But you know…
"Are you sure you'll be satisfied with me?" he asked, holding his bow at his side. "After all, it's not like I've been practicing."
"Of course," Ayako said, grinning.
The two of them were not alone. There were those who had witnessed the challenge, or had heard about it from other people, who had come to watch. The Archery Club members themselves had taken this opportunity to sit back and just watch – thankful for the opportunity to take a break so close to the end of school. Even so…for Ayako and Shirou, none of those people mattered. Not the number of people, nor their identities, nor what they were doing had any weight in their minds.
When each of their turns came, it could be said that they thought of nobody else – not even each other. The way of the bow was a martial art, a technique refined through generations and generations of practitioners – and, every movement was taken, mind clear of unnecessary thoughts. Both of them had put countless hours of practice into their training – flowing from one step to the next.
Every step served its purpose. There was no meaningless movement in the technique. However, though their actions were the same, though the same procedure had been followed, and though the results were equal to the untrained eye, Ayako knew that there was still a gap between herself in Shirou. For a guy who said he hadn't practiced, that gap had somehow only grown in the time since he had left the club.
The crowd cheered as she hit her target, just as Shirou had done before her. The number of points they had scored was the same, and looking at the targets one could hardly see a difference between the two. Though she threw him out of her mind every time she shot, when it ended he came suddenly back to the forefront of her thoughts.
But it was more than that. When she watched him, she understood that the difference between them was more than a level of focus. The fact was that this simply came more natural to him than her. It was as though he was born to be an archer.
An arrow shot by him would hit its target because, in his mind, it had already done so. The only time she could remember him missing the target was when he had purposefully aimed at something else… and before she knew it they were already down to the final shots.
While some people would choke under pressure, this was not something that would happen to Shirou. To begin with, there was nothing for him to be pressured by. Technically, he had nothing to lose from this from the start. It was only natural that he didn't worry about the conclusion like she did.
In the end, the only way to beat someone like him was to screw him up.
"…say, Shirou," she said, holding up a hand – stopping him from simply beginning his next shot. "How would you like to put a wager on this last one?"
"Then," Shirou began, stroking his chin. "If I win, you have to take cooking lessons from me."
Ayako blinked. "H-hold on," she said, crossing her arms over her chest. "What kind of condition is that? Shouldn't you be asking for me to do something for you?"
"But I am," he said, raising a brow. "I'm worried about your lack of femininity, honestly – so I think this is necessary for your future." He nodded sagely, as though he had been concerned about this for a long time.
Ayako felt her pride shatter a little, and gave Shirou a pout. "Fine," she agreed after a few moments, bowing her head. "But, if I win…you have to take me out on a date."
The world seemed to stop at that moment, as Shirou processed what it was Ayako had said. Even the crowd seemed to be stunned by this turn events, and Ayako knew that if she looked up she would no doubt see nearly everybody staring at her in shock.
Eternity seemed to pass in an instant, before she finally heard Shirou say, "Okay."
It was calm, too calm – as though it hadn't affected him at all. When she looked up, he had the same serious face as he had before, collected as ever. When he raised his bow and took aim, she already knew that he wouldn't miss his target.
"Somehow, it doesn't really feel like I've won," Ayako muttered, even as the crowd cheered for her after she landed her arrow in the center of the target.
"What are you talking about?" Shirou said. "You got the most points."
Ayako stared at Shirou, frowning at him – though all he did was grin goofily back at her. Then she looked at the last arrow he had fired, still embedded into the ground, wondering if he couldn't have been a little more subtle.
Then again, it wasn't as though that word had been in Shirou's dictionary to begin with.
"Well, a win is a win, I suppose," she finally said with a shrug, allowing herself a small smile.
Next time, though, she would definitely beat him for sure.