Chapter 51: Restructuring
I do not own Fate/Stay Night and stuffs.
o. o. o.
When Luvia finally arrived back at the Emiya household with Caster and her unconscious sister in tow, the last thing she expected was to be assaulted as soon as she opened the door.
Thankfully, what was being attacked was her sense of smell by what appeared to be Dinner being made.
"I take it that the boy is finally up," Caster mused, trying hard not to be pleased by what she was smelling. As much as it pained her to say good things about Shirou, she could not deny that he was a talented chef.
Luvia nodded in agreement just as Rider materialized a short distance in front of them. "Hello, Rider. Since the house does not appear to be in flames like half the town, I suspect that nothing of particular worth has happened yet?"
The blindfolded woman just barely shook her head, putting the least amount of energy into the gesture. "Everything has been tame so far. Shirou is making dinner for everyone, but he appears to be bothered with a trial that will take place tomorrow morning. He will likely speak to you about it soon."
"Lord El Melloi II. So everything will be known then. Or at least, everything that needs to be known." Luvia had mixed feelings on the man that had essentially walked her and Marjatta into a near certain death. She understood why he did it, but that didn't mean she had forgiven the man for doing so.
Judging from the look on Caster's face, she shared similar feelings about the man.
"What of the girl?" Rider calmly changed subjects, speaking as few words as possible.
"What is her condition? Will she be a problem? Are there any complications at the Temple?" These questions and more were insinuated all at once without being said, and all heard as clear as day.
Even if they were under a ceasefire, there was no doubt in Luvia's mind that Rider would slit their throats in an instant if she thought it was for the best.
"She's unconscious and weak from her ordeal." Caster spoke up confidently in a tone that showed no doubt. "She will not be up for another day at least, and longer still to fully recover. Her body has been, adjusted, by my other, and I am still unsure what the full scope of these changes may result in. In any case, I doubt that she will have full control over her circuits anytime soon."
A magus that couldn't control their power was not much different than a normal human. Meaning her threat level was significantly lessened. She wasn't completely harmless, but her options were at least more limited now.
Rider nodded faintly. "Saber wished to speak to you later, Caster. She is concerned that Shirou may still be experiencing effects from the fight against Gilgamesh."
Caster's initial reaction was to decline. It wasn't simply a matter of the fact that she didn't want to be near the boy anytime soon. Rather, she simply doubted that she could do anything at this stage. While she was most likely the greatest thaumaturgical healer on the planet at the moment, her abilities still paled in comparison to the absurdly potent artifact residing in the child's body.
Avalon. That scabbard was an unreasonable piece of work, even by the standards of most Noble Phantasms.
That initial reaction passed but a moment later. Even if the war was over, nothing was ever as it seemed. Saber's reason to see her may be genuine, but she doubted that it was the only reason to seek a meeting. Like it or not, it was probably something important.
"I'll seek her out as soon as we are done tending Marjatta," Caser simply replied, hiding her thoughts. It was likely that her Master and Rider had come to the same conclusion that she had. "Has the room we specified been prepared?"
"Mmm." Rider nodded, turning her attention back to the unconscious girl in Caster's arms. Rin and Sakura had modified one of the guest rooms to ensure the girl's recovery went smoothly. It wasn't ideal, but it was clean and better than nothing.
She didn't have to say what would happen if Marjatta became a problem. While Shirou was a kind enough person to provide services to her recovery, it didn't change the fact that no one in the building wanted anymore trouble if they could help it, even if it meant causing more trouble in the process.
Some more willing than others.
"It smells wonderful inside." Luvia brushed off the unspoken ultimatum as if she didn't notice it, taking her shoes off in the entranceway. "Is our host preparing a feast?"
"Sakura thought it would be appropriate to purchase food earlier. She was, determined to include the Servants in tonight's meal." There was the faintest hint of endearment in her voice. Only people that knew her would be able to pick it up.
"And knowing Shirou, it would be an insult if he didn't utilize those resources and his kitchen after doing nothing but fighting and planning for the past few weeks." The blonde sighed. Some things never changed. "I dare say we might expect an unnecessarily extravagant feast tonight."
For once, Caster was looking forward to something involving the boy. "Sounds intriguing. I have only seen and partaken in some of the cuisine of this era. Tonight should be a welcome treat."
The neutral aura around Rider lightened slightly, as if expressing her agreement. "Most everyone is in the living room now. I will let them know you are here."
Before another word could be spoken, the Servant vanished.
"Not one for conversation, is she?" Luvia sighed.
"No. However it is clear where her loyalties are." Caster shared her Master's sentiments. "Hopefully tonight's festivities will relieve some of the stress that has accumulated."
"I'm more hopeful that nothing else occurs that will ruin our victory." Luvia yawned. She had spent the entire day with Caster at the Temple, and due to the overwhelming amount of prana still in the area, she had been unable to get a wink of sleep. As soon as everything important has taken place and she ate her fill, she was going to sleep until she was either satisfied or something had volunteered itself to take a buckshot of Fin curses to the face.
"That is a grand hope indeed, Master." Caster chuckled as she followed Luvia into the living room where everyone was gathered.
Much to her surprise, Lancer's Master was already up and about. Or rather, she was sitting on the couch in front of the television talking to Illyasviel, while the two Banshee girls that now served as her legs were playing with the remote control with interest. It was clear that the woman was exhausted and uncomfortable with so many Masters and Servants in the same room, but she seemed to be adapting well enough.
At the dinner table, Saber, Lancer, and Rider had situated themselves casually, drinking alcohol and conversing to varying degrees.
And in the kitchen, Rin, Sakura, and Shirou were cooking a whole slew of dishes. So many in fact that there was little room between where one set of ingredients and plates ended and another began.
Correction. Rin and Sakura were cooking. Shirou on the other hand, well, they didn't really have a word to describe what he was doing. He appeared to be nothing more than a blur, moving from one part of the room to the other, focusing on preparing another slew of ingredients or finishing off an appetizer or stirring something on the stove.
"… Huh." Master and Servant tilted their heads to the side in genuine fascination.
"Heheh. Yeah. That was pretty much everyone's reaction when they first saw Onii-chan like that." Illya giggled at their expressions. "I can't tell if he's trying to show off, if he's really that stressed out, or he really enjoys working himself to death right after almost getting killed."
"Judging from our connection, I believe the appropriate answer to that question is 'yes'." Saber calmly threw her two cents into the conversation with a wry smirk before drinking.
"I think you lucked out, Rider." Lancer grinned like a child. "If the kid had been moving like that last night, I don't think you'd be here with us right now."
"At least I wasn't almost bisected," Rider quietly shot back. It wasn't that she was sulking or shy. She just didn't like dealing with Lancer. He was too loud for her tastes.
"Eh? What was that? Speak a bit louder. I can't hear you." Lancer leaned forward, his voice growing as the distance between the two lessened, one hand cupping his ear.
"Lancer. Rider. Calm down. Haven't we all had enough fighting for one war?" Saber tried to play mediator between the two.
"Tch. Big words coming from the one that was nice and safe at the kid's side the entire time." Lancer turned his ire to her instead. "Would you look at the nerve of this one, Rider? Come to think of it, Saber hasn't even fought Berserker yet either. Where does she get the gall to tell us what to do?"
Rider nodded quietly, but firmly. The sudden change in focus was completely unlike her save for the small twitch on her lips that dared to betray her amusement.
"Humph. Is that all?" Saber puffed her chest out proud, not at all retreating from the accusations. "Fine. I shall give you that, but in turn, I raise you Gilgamesh."
"What is this? Are they complaining about who had it worse or making a betting pool?" Luvia wonder out loud as Lancer groaned like a child.
"Let them be, Master. It's not uncommon for warriors to banter like this. I witnessed this a good number of times when I was still in Colchis." Granted, it was more between members of the neighborhood watch and her brothers complaining about dealing with her Father's bulls or the Sleeping Dragon, but the similarities were still there.
"Ah. Luvia, Caster. You're back." Sakura broke away from the kitchen to greet the two.
She completely ignored the fact that Shirou seemingly teleported into the spot she had just occupied and continued to stir up some confection the instant she had left the room.
"How do you keep up with that?" Luvia blinked, leaning to the side to continue watch Shirou defy the laws of common sense. In her mind, referring to her host in such a base term was completely warranted.
"It's more like he just works around us." Sakura laughed, looking to the side in a way that indicated that she was overlooking a few things to help convince herself that what he was doing was normal. "So long as what we make is in line with what was planned, and we do it well, it all eventually works out in the end."
"That and we don't throw him off tempo!" Rin called from over her shoulder. "He gets real whiny whenever we do something that stops him from cooking!"
"I do not cook! I manifest culinary brilliance!" Depressing as it was to admit it, but that was probably the most motivated and energetic that Shirou had ever sounded since the war started. "Trace On!"
"… Huh." Caster repeated herself, noticing that the boy's eyes were glowing silver as he worked. Every time he jumped from one station to another, the tools in his hands disintegrated in a blink, only to be replaced by new ones the next instant. "Well, at least we know that his circuits are functioning adequately."
"Just let him be. He'll calm down eventually." Sakura sighed. "He's cool and collected when fighting and using magic, but those don't let him vent his stress properly. At the very least, he's not trying to accelerate himself."
"That's a great idea Sakura! Time Al-"
"Don't you dare even think about finishing that Aria, Shirou Emiya, or so help me I will kick you out of the kitchen! The fact that you own it is irrelevant!" Somehow, Rin had managed to hit Shirou's skull with a solid right hook despite how fast he was moving around the room.
It was at this point that Caster decided to purge the past thirty seconds from her mind in order to maintain what little grudging respect she had for the boy. And herself. "Sakura, was it? Where are the accommodations that have been prepared for us?"
"Right this way."
Sakura led them out into the main hallway that connected most of the guest rooms that faced the back yard. She walked to the very last room and opened the door to reveal one of the two western style bedrooms in the building, the other being the one that Zouken had momentarily occupied that Sakura was using now.
At face value, it did not appear any different than the other rooms other than the decor. Thaumaturgically though, it was completely sealed off from the outside world despite its thin Japanese walls and foundation. To be able to set a boundary field like this up in such conditions was an impressive feat in this day and age.
That being said, it clearly wasn't up to Caster's standards, as she muttered a good half a dozen lines of unpronounceable arias before she was satisfied enough to use the room.
"I'm curious." Luvia glanced at Sakura as her Servant tended to her sister. "I thought you'd be more apprehensive about seeing Marjatta. What with how your last encounter turned out."
"The war is over. I have no need to fight her now." The latter shrugged helplessly. "It is not as if I was completely innocent either. I almost fed her to Zouken's worms at the end of our fight. If she hadn't called her Servant, she would have been dead by now. As far as I'm concerned, it's all in the past now."
Luvia suppressed a shudder. Magi could be unsavory characters at times, but it took a special kind of twisted individual to speak of those… things, as if conversing about the weather. Yes. It was definitely best to let sleeping dogs lie, and ensure that Marjatta did the same. "Considering how I was contracted to kill Shirou, I would look foolish if I could not say the same."
Sakura's smile widened slightly, and her posture relaxed.
"Hm? What is it?"
"No. It's just, you're calling Shirou by his name again."
Luvia flinched at the statement. "I, suppose I am. It's not unwarranted. If not for him, I wouldn't have my sister back. Whatever he may be, he's still true to his word. No matter how infuriating that may be at times."
Sakura looked at Luvia with an unreadable gaze for several long and awkward moments before bowing deeply. "I'm sorry."
"I... excuse me?" The blonde was completely confused and caught off guard.
"It's partially my fault that Shirou had to keep everything a secret the way he did. If I didn't introduce him to Grandfather those years ago, Shriou wouldn't have been stuck under his gaze and would have been able to warn everyone, warn you, before things escalated the way they did."
Luvia did the first thing that came to mind. She groaned. "Haaah. Not this again. First Shirou now you. Look, Sakura. Right now, I don't want to blame anyone anymore. I'm just tired of it all. The meaningless War. The meaningless fighting. The excessive unknown agendas that everyone seemed to have. I would say that I'm partially at fault as well taking the contract to kill him, but, joke's on me, he predicted that might happen practically the day he found out I was a Master too. Meaning, I was technically more liable to get killed by the end of all of this than anyone else in the War that hadn't already gotten on Shirou's laundry list. You are not at fault. I am not at fault. Shirou's infuriated us for many reasons, but ultimately, he's not at fault either. The ones that are at fault are dead and gone. Let's just leave it at that and try to get things running as smoothly as possible from here on out, ok?"
Sakura smiled sadly. "But you still don't trust him anymore."
The words speared through her chest, but she could not deny them. Sakura's apology had been genuine, but it was not for her own sake. It had been to try and repair at least some of the relationship that Shirou and Luvia once had.
"No. It's not that. Not exactly." She shook her head.
Luvia sighed. "I know it's hypocritical of me, considering I took a job to kill him, even if I did intend to back out of it before writing my name on it. I know he didn't want to use me the way he did, but… as foolish as it is, I still have my pride as a Magus and as a mercenary. I walk alongside death more than most as part of the family business. The fact that I wasn't prepared or aware of any of this, let alone led through it all as if I was blindfolded is just… I'm infuriated at myself for being so pathetic. And, logical or not, I blame Shirou for being angry at myself."
Despite her declaration, Sakura just smiled understandingly. "Do you blame him because you believe he is responsible, or because he is the only one left that you can blame that isn't yourself?"
"Does it matter? Either answer merely underscores how petty I am."
"Magi are petty and shameless by default, but few ever seem to recognize or even notice it. The fact that you recognize it exemplifies just how much more self-aware and human you are than the normal magus." Sakura didn't back down. "Tokiomi Tohsaka, my father, sold me to the Matou, to Zouken, thinking that he was doing me a favor. The Einsberns lied to Illyasviel about what happened in the war, and would not listen to Kiritsugu's warnings, even after he saved humanity. If those are examples of the three great families, then you, as a representative of the Edelfelt family, have already surpassed them by means of pure common sense."
"And that matters why?"
"Because that's why Shirou thought that you were worth caring about. And now, now you should know better than most that whatever he does, it is always intended for our benefit. Never his."
Luvia's voice caught in her throat.
"You're not a bad person, Luvia. You're not a good person, but you're not a monster or a selfish fool like nearly everyone else in our world. More importantly, you are still you. You haven't thrown yourself away for pointless dreams that aren't even yours in the first place." Sakura smiled gently. "You... are you. And Shirou saw that."
She didn't know what to say to that.
Sakura decided that their conversation had gone long enough. "You look exhausted. I doubt that you got any proper rest at the Temple at all. Then again, it's unlikely anyone could willingly. Get some rest. We'll come get you when dinner's ready in a couple of hours."
Luvia watched as Sakura left the room and quietly closed the door behind her, mouth half open as if wanting to say something.
Her attention was drawn to the Servant she had completely forgotten about until that moment. "What's so funny?"
Caster stifled a giggle as she continued to situate and examine Marjatta as the girl rested in her new bed. "Oh. Just marveling at the irony. You bicker frequently enough as it is with Archer's Master that it's become an expected occurrence. And yet with a few kind words, Rider's Master, her younger sister, left you speechless with but a few kind words. I just found the fact amusing."
She glared at her Servant and looked like she was going to snap at the woman before letting her body go slack. "Not now, Caster. If there was one thing that she was correct about, it is that I am so weary that I can barely think straight."
She looked down at herself. While thaumaturgy was useful at times, it did not hide the fact that she was still wearing the same attire that she had battled in last night. The stench of soot, fire, and flaming ox… everything, were still hanging around her like a second layer of clothing.
And yet, as disgusting as it sounded, she felt like she could easily fall asleep without changing or freshening up right then and there. Oh was she tempted to.
"I am going to clean myself. If I'm not back in half an hour, assume I fell asleep and am drowning in the bath."
"Is that a request to resuscitate you after the allotted time, Master? Or leave you be?"
"Hilarious," Luvia grumbled, leaving the room, the dregs of her self-control and poise bleeding out of her by the second.
The Servant chuckled as she was left alone to tend to Marjatta in peaceful silence.
"… While I wouldn't put it past you, I somehow doubt that you are here for the girl." She spoke out loud. "Quite frankly, I am unsure what such an omen bodes for the future."
Assassin didn't respond from the other side of the room.
"While she is past the worst of her ordeal, Marjatta does require further treatment. It would go faster if I did not have any distractions or superfluous contamination in the room." Caster sighed, feeling as if she was talking to herself.
"… You should have felt it by now."
Ah. So that was what he was here for. The faint but irregular power in the air over the city. "Hoh? I am surprised that you noticed it as well. I was going to bring it up after dinner. I must admit, I didn't detect it myself until I was travelling back. The amount of power that my counterpart had accumulated and contaminated had admittedly dulled my senses from exposure. I only noticed recently due to my Master requesting the most security my mysteries could provide on our return trip."
"Lancer claims it's been here for a few days. He felt something not related to the Grail in the air," Assassin provided.
"That doesn't surprise me." Caster looked up as if seeing something through the walls in front of her. "There is little that the wind does not carry ahead of the source. Especially if it originates from the sea."
"The sea?" For once, Assassin sounded like he had an emotion.
"Is it that hard to believe? I may be a descendant from Lord Helios, and my summons may breathe flame, but the entirety of my life has always been accompanied by the coast where land meets water. Be it hero or monster, the sea and winds will always have their ways to foretell the coming of those beyond the blue horizon. There are not many Heroic Spirits that are able to read those subtle signs as well as I."
Kiritsugu didn't say anything. Instead he turned to the door.
"Are you going to ask the boy?"
"Whatever this new force is, it's not related to the Grail. Not directly at least." Caster elaborated. "Even so, I would not be surprised if the boy knew something that we did not. Be it nature, habit or fate, we can't deny that he tends to have a pull for irregularities like this," Caster mused. "Of course, judging from everyone's behavior, he still is not aware that you are here."
A faint click was heard. Barely audible, but loud enough to deafen those that could hear it.
"Behave yourself, Assassin. I was merely verifying my suspicions." Caster did not seem at all worried about the unspoken threat of ending up like her counterpart. She was more interested in just how Marjatta's strained body was still somehow intact. The child's bodily and spiritual assets had been pressed to their limits and then some, yet she would still be capable of her normal basic functions soon enough. "Somehow I doubt you would have wished for me to aimlessly bring you up in conversation by accident."
"… This stays between the Servants. We can't risk stressing the Masters further." Assassin all but ordered.
"Save for the boy, no doubt. You will hear no arguments from me. You are not the only one that can see that they are all due for some respite. Then again, the boy is, once more, the exception. Should he know something, it would be best to know sooner than later, to avoid any potential missteps."
Caster paused, as if just remembering something. "Of course, there is nothing adverse about some simple preemptive reconnaissance in case the child is in fact innocent of our suspicions, though I have doubts you will find much. To stain the town's air passively, the source must be in an adequate position. It is not at the coast, but further to sea. Unless you have the means to properly conduct an investigation in open waters without detection, I would not risk anything invasive just yet."
She waited for an answer, but none came. Assassin was not there.
A bitter laugh escaped her lips. "Then again, you are that boy's father. Those infuriating habits of his must have come from somewhere in the first place."
Personally, she wouldn't doubt that Assassin had been looking for a reason to leave the property.
It would have been torture to keep himself hidden once the boy had finished cooking tonight's feast.
o. o. o.
"Yo. How you holding up, Master?"
Bazett jumped, her nerves on full alert as Lancer materialized almost right next to her. "Lancer!"
"Calm down. It's just me." He waved off her alarm before handing her a beer. "Looks like you could use a little something to take the edge off."
The woman glared at her Servant before wordlessly snatching the can from his hand, opening it, and downing half of the contents in a single go.
"Yeah. Saw that coming."
"Shut up." She drank too quickly, resulting in a short session of coughing before she managed to calm herself.
"Not making fun of you. I've felt like shit before too, you know."
"You've been mind controlled for almost a week and almost helped destroy the world?"
"Nope. You ever kill your kid with your own hands?" Lancer asked without a hint of heat or scorn.
The Enforcer froze, stunned by what her closest ally had implied and what he meant. She was acting like a child, and it took Lancer of all people to point it out to her. "… Sorry."
"No worries, Master. You've been through hell and only just now are getting used to not being stuck in shit again. You're not the first or the last that's gonna go through it. Sucks, but that's how it is. No use moaning about it now. Not when the kid's making a feast for us."
Trapped but not trapped. That disgusting witch. To think that the Servant would have used her mangled and abandoned legs to control her like that?
She had been aware of everything she did, every controversial action that went against her very nature, yet simultaneously her mind could not seem to make that jump between "this is not something I would and want to do" and "do not do this".
She had fought Shirou. She had chased after Rin. She had told Caster secrets. She had handed over control of Lancer to Caster. She had learned about what Caster was doing.
She had been a liability.
And now her beer was empty.
"Here." Lancer was holding up another can in front of her. "Last one though. Any more and it would kill your tongue for later. Pretty sure you would murder me if I let you do that."
"Shut up." Her body moved automatically, and she was drinking before she knew it.
"Making a real good impression for the kids you know." He nodded to the two Banshee girls that were talking with Illya just a short distance away. It only took a few moments to realize that the children always made sure to have their mother in their peripheral vision at all times.
She paused with a grimace. Kids. Legs. Banshees. Daughters? There were so many words to describe their relationship that were true, but so many of them just didn't fit together.
"Hey. Don't tell me you're still angry about me getting them for you."
"Yes. No. It's… I don't know, ok? My head's still in a fog and…" She made to take another sip of her drink when Lancer caught her hand.
"From past experience, I've found that it's better for everyone to drink after you manage to sort your words out, not before."
She didn't know what surprised her more, the fact that he was giving her sound advice, or that he was telling her not to drink for once.
"Haah." She sagged in her seat, looking at the nubs that remained of her original legs. "I remember it all. The orders. The fighting. The confusion. But… the girls remember it too."
"Yeah, as far as earliest memories go, you could have done better." Lancer's words were sharp, even if they were intended to lighten up the mood.
"Relying on their voices to keep me sane and lucid probably didn't help."
"It had been touch and go for a while." She didn't want to remember it, but there had been a few points where Caster had almost given to her impulse and tried to turn the girls into mystic codes. She didn't know what the Servant had in mind for them, but it wouldn't have been good.
The only reason why she didn't was because the Servant couldn't risk exposing her unstable pseudo Lesser Grail with the reality altering properties of two adolescent Banshees screaming in a unique harmony that disrupted the local timespace and natural rules of causality.
It had actually been her idea, albeit, it was more of a desperate impulsive gamble. Taking the bitch out with them if she pushed her luck. Thankfully, the kids had a surprisingly large range. They could actually reach one side of the Temple from the other with their lungs if they worked together.
In hindsight, it probably was for the best that she didn't know setting off all that power would have more or less destroyed the entire city.
"Looks like it." Lancer leaned back, giving her a lazy stare. "Doubt you're interested in going back into the field anytime soon."
Bazett looked down at the can that she was cradling with two hands, shaking slightly nonstop. "It doesn't matter whether or not I'm interested. Right now I'm little more than a liability."
"Hoh?" The Servant looked at her with some interest, but decided to keep his words to himself.
The pair were interrupted from their conversation by Shirou, oddly enough, holding a bowl of soup in his hands.
The teen smiled at her kindly. "I thought that you were trying to distance yourself from the old man's habits. You know how bad drinking on an empty stomach is."
A sullen look and puffed out cheeks were her instant response. "Shut up. Can you blame me after what happened?"
"When I have something better for you in my hands? Yes." He slowly exchanged the drink in her hand with a small bowl filled with a clear broth soup.
"Cocky brat." Despite her words, Bazett couldn't help but smile. This kid was more like a doting mother than an annoying brother at times. Only he cooked way better.
"I've earned the right." Shirou put her drink on the small guest table in front of her before donning a worried look. "How are you holding up?"
"First Lancer, now you. Am I that pathetic looking right now?" She groaned.
"Yes." Lancer answered immediately without remorse.
Shirou shook his head. "You can relax Bazett-nee. The War's put on indefinite hold. We're not going to be doing any fighting anytime soon…"
"Shirou, you've saved my life, and I love you like family, but if you don't get to the bad news that you clearly don't want to talk about fast I'm going to break this bowl of soup with your face." Bazett frowned.
"Get to it, kid. That looks like good soup. It would be a shame if it went to waste." Lancer added his two cents.
The boy sighed. "Waver-nii helped me out in his own way in all of this, despite his orders from the Archibalds. His aid to the Edelfelts with their preparations for the War was in line with my plans. The Clocktower, and more importantly, the Archibalds found out. His trial's taking place from our perspective at ten tomorrow morning. We're being asked to participate as potential witnesses or accomplices."
To her credit, Bazett's initial reaction was merely to look at him in genuine surprise for several seconds before groaning and leaning back in her seat. "Shirou, did you really have to take away the beer before telling me that?"
"Geez. Who knew the monster from last night was such a wet blanket?" Lancer chuckled.
"Nee-san. You know, you can always order him not to eat with us." Shirou offered.
"Now you're just playing dirty."
"I'm sorry. All the hits to the head must be impairing my memory. Were you there last night? My cooking is only for those that participated during the fight."
"Oho. Those are dangerous words to throw around, kid."
"Boys, shut up or at least one of you is getting a Gae Bolg by the time I'm done with my soup." Bazett cradled her meal, trying to ignore the war of words happening over her head. Likewise, neither one of them noticed the small, amused smile on her lips.
"Fine." Both pouted at the same time before giving one another a wary look.
"She threaten you with humiliating bodily harm often?" Lancer probed.
"They all do, but most tend to hold back enough so that I can do chores for them later." Shirou shrugged.
The Servant ignored the stares they were getting. "Should have seen that coming. You do realize that more than one of the girls here want to talk to you in private, right?"
"Yeah, but making the celebratory dinner is going to take a lot of time to set up."
Lancer paused. "Wait, are you actually saying that a teenage powerhouse like you is passing up-"
"YES! HE WOULD! STOP TALKING LANCER!" More than half of the females in the building shouted in annoyance and frustration.
Looking around in complete disbelief, he turned back to his host completely bewildered. "Holy shit, kid. I knew you were nuts, but this is going into the realm of insanity."
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
It was only because Lancer was the sole individual looking directly at the teen that he saw the small twitch of amusement on his lips.
Oh. He was going to have to reevaluate his impression on the kid. Cocky little shit's not as oblivious as everyone thought. Still messed up, but not oblivious.
"Funny. Hilarious even." Lancer played along with a wry grin. "Are you sure you're still all there? I saw that kick Rider landed on you. By all rights, your skull should have either been crushed or caved in."
"Don't remind me. Just thinking about it is enough to give me a headache." The teen muttered before giving a small smile and briefly reverting the state of his injury from Gilgamesh, covering nearly a third of his head in a metallic scale mesh. "Thankfully, she hit my good side, so the damage wasn't too terrible."
"The fuck?" Lancer and Bazett gaped at the same time, completely unprepared for the reveal.
"Language," Saber chided from another part of the room, ignoring Rider's equally stunned expression. "There are children present."
"Let's just say that I didn't make it out of the fight against Gilgamesh in one piece. And the recovery process resulted in some, side effects."
Bazett knew bullshit when she heard it. Especially when it came from Shirou. The looks that some of the people shot their way while trying to be discrete didn't help. "I'm assuming that's the official story."
"It's what happened," Shirou casually brushed off her accusation.
The young woman groaned, seeing none of his usual tells. Wonderful. He was telling the truth, but not the whole truth, because knowing how things have been so far, and Shirou's luck, the whole truth would get them all into deep trouble. "Fine. Fine. I get it. That's what happened. Just, shut up and let me enjoy my soup before you give me another reason to dump it on your head."
"As you wish." The young chef bowed deep in an almost mocking way. "I'll get the tray out for everyone else's appetizers in just a moment."
"Appetizers," Lancer snorted, more in disbelief than anything. "This kid really is going all out. If I didn't see him fight, I'd think his goal was to be restaurant owner."
"Quiet. Soup." His Master ignored him for the warm bowl in her hands. She pretended to not notice the look he shot her as she began to eat. The soup took priority. The soup made everything bad go away.
"Aaaah. Mama really likes it." The young Banshee with yellow hair swooned.
"Mmm. It must be really good." Her red haired sister nodded.
"Of course it is. Onii-chan's cooking is really good. He even makes waffles," Illya stated proudly.
"Waffles?" The two girls tilted their heads to the side curiously. Obviously, being only a few days old, they were not familiar with the food.
"Waffles." Illya nodded. "I'll get him to make some tomorrow for us. I'm his adorable sister, so he'll do anything I say."
"I can still hear you, Illya!" Shirou shouted from the kitchen.
"That doesn't make what I said any less true!" She held her ground.
"Waah. Uncle Shirou really is a good person." The blonde girl cheered. "I thought he was scary when I first saw him, but he's really nice! Just like you Auntie Illya!"
"Hey! What's that supposed to… wait." The Homunculus paused as her mind caught up to what was just said. "Did, did you just call me 'auntie'?"
"Mmm." The red haired girl nodded, clearly not seeing what was wrong, even as everyone else in hearing distance was holding back various expressions of amusement. "Uncle Shirou is like a brother to mama. So if you're his sister, then you're like Mama's sister, so you're also our-"
"Sister." Illya cut them off with a vacant smile on her face that was somewhat concerning. In a way, it was even more ominous than the one she had given Shirou when they first came across one another just a few weeks ago. Unhinged even.
"But," The blonde was confused and about to say something, but the eldest of the three interrupted her with a hand on each of the Banshee sisters' shoulders.
"I am not your aunt. I am your big sister. I am big sis Illya. Not Auntie Illya. Am I clear?"
"Mama. I'm scared." The blonde was starting to cry, this time out of fear rather than instinct.
"Illyasviel. Stop bullying my legs," Bazett absently chided while drinking her soup. "If you're that cranky, wait until after dinner."
"Mamaaa." The redhead also began to cry at this point.
"Illya, let them go or no waffles." Shirou came from the kitchen with a tray filled with small bowls of soup for everyone.
Her hands retracted instantly, but the puffed out cheeks indicated it was under duress.
Lancer looked around at everyone in the room with a dead stare, all going about as if nothing was odd or out of place.
Cu Culaiin has been in tons of victory parties during his life. Roudy drunken brawls. Somber noble gatherings. Fancy awards. Angry crowds that were displeased with the results. Funerals. Riots. Marriages. Hell, he's even been to a couple of child births.
But even so, he's never seen an after war gathering that was so… mundane.
It was so bewildering that he didn't know if he was horrifically smashed or still under the Witch's spell.
So caught up in his thoughts, Lancer didn't consciously notice accepting the bowl of soup and absently eating some of it.
… So that's why.
Lancer looked around at everyone in the vicinity with a hint of betrayal as they moved towards the tray that Shirou had delivered. "Are my Master and I the only ones that haven't been in this place since the War started?"
Looks of confusion scattered around as everyone turned to look at one another with curiosity.
"I've been here a couple of times." Illya mused.
"The same, but then again, I also have Archer." Rin shrugged, ignoring the look that Shirou gave her.
"I've spent most of the War here. Rider was here before she was captured." Sakura informed everyone from the kitchen.
"Hm?" Caster walked into the room, confused. "Is something amiss?"
"I believe that Lancer is curious as to who has already partaken in some of Shirou's hospitality since the war has started." Saber filled her in.
"Oh. Yes, my Master and I have also been guests here some number of times," the Princess confessed without a moment's hesitation.
Doing the math in his head, Lancer realized that the only ones that remained was Assassin, the Witch, and himself.
He coldly turned to his Bazett. "My evaluation of you as a decent person and a capable Master has just taken a serious hit."
"Shut up and eat, you big baby. The soup's getting cold," She shot him down instantly without even bothering to look at him.
The sad thing was, Lancer couldn't find a reasonable argument against her order.
o. o. o.
Taiga hummed joyfully as she walked down the street.
She didn't appear at all bothered by the chaos that shook the town last night if the care free smile on her face was any indication.
She was not worried at all that something might be amiss from her lax posture and irregular walking method. She didn't seem to have a care in the world if the jaunty tune could be heard.
All that was on her mind was checking up on Shirou and mooching a meal off of him. Her adorable little brother had a habit of going overboard with his cooking whenever he finished with a big project or needed to vent some excess stress, so tonight's dinner should be absolutely divine.
So care free was the woman that it was nothing short of astounding that she heard a metallic click from a nearby alleyway between two buildings across the street.
Even more astounding was the fact that, upon hearing said out of the place sound, the woman instantly turned towards it, hand reaching behind her back with practiced ease.
A man half hidden in the shadows seemed to materialize from nothing. He didn't say anything, and his clothing hid much of his features, but it was obvious that he was there for her.
"Can I help you?" Her voice held a familiar playfulness to it, but there was a new edge and foundation that betrayed just how serious she was taking things.
"Ashes of a corpse," the man stated ominously, not bothering to acknowledge her question.
This time, there was none of her normal aloofness. Pale face. Stiff posture. Whatever she had expected had not been that.
The man didn't seem to like her reaction, and slowly retreated back into the shadows.
"W-wait!" Taiga nearly shouted in alarm, but didn't dare chase after him. "Ashes in a forge."
He stopped, but still didn't approach her. "A corrupted assistant."
"A pen of slaughtered chickens."
The stranger nodded. Instead of melting into the darkness like before, he simply walked backwards to hide from public sight.
Taking the cue, Taiga followed him quickly, looking around to see if there was anyone else there. Both stopped halfway down the alleyway.
"How do you know Kiritsugu?" At no point did her hands stray from whatever she was hiding on her person. The only person that she was aware of that knew that chain of codes was her dead neighbor, so it was the only logical conclusion she could come to.
Despite it being midafternoon and there being plenty of light outside, she was completely unable to determine any unique physical characteristics about him other than his heavy coat, suit and tie. It was annoying and frustrating, but she didn't say anything about it. Yet.
"We... share similar goals." The stranger chose his words purposefully. "You are a resource, as am I."
"Then why have I not seen you before?" She frowned, her hand slowly going for her waist.
"The same reason why you have not exposed yourself to Shirou. Or the others for that matter." His voice was ominously toneless, and yet masked in a way that she could not recognize. Ironically, it was that seemingly emotionless manner of speaking that seemed to trigger a sense of déjà vu in her more than his voice ever could.
It couldn't be. "Then I'm guessing that our tasks now match up?"
"Possibly." The man was frustratingly evasive. If he was affected or amused by Taiga's annoyed expression, he didn't show it. "Shirou's completed his task on the mountain. The War has been put on indefinite hiatus."
"About time," she huffed. "I don't know how much more of this I could stand before cracking. Watching over him is fine and all, but any more of this and half the town was liable to go up in flames at the rate things were going."
Eight years of training.
Eight years of studying.
Eight years of casually listening in on conversations, making copies of books, of monitoring the town using her grandfather's men…
Eight years of keeping an eye out for Magi.
Eight years of quietly taking out anyone that even dared to try and lay a finger on her little brother.
Two weeks of seemingly meandering through a secret war, gently guiding people where they needed to go…
The final hidden card of Kiritsugu Emiya. A piece on the board that no one knew about. Not even Shirou.
"Does he suspect you?"
"No. If you know him as well as I do, then you'd know that he's dense as can be when it comes to the people he's close to." She sighed. The boy was too trusting. He scanned his home regularly for bugs, but the poor child never once thought to check her for a recording device whenever he hit her with a sleep spell after she barged in on his meetings. She didn't know literally everything, but she knew enough to put the pieces together. "It's for the best. I don't want him to see me as anything other than his adorable older sister. I've gotten close to the girls too."
"You mean other than half of the town by the temple being blown to kingdom come by legendary warriors from the past?"
"I mean anything that isn't obvious." There was not a hint of amusement or annoyance in his voice.
The woman pouted, clearly expecting to get some sort of reaction from him. "No. The number of magi that have tried to sneak into the city or spy on Shirou's home dropped to nothing six months ago. No doubt because of the War's announcement. The only extra magically inclined people here should be part of the cleanup crew. My boys have been busy trying to help with repairing and minimizing the damages all over town, but that's family policy. We would have done that regardless…"
"What is it?"
"Nothing. It's just, there's been a few new faces that popped out of nowhere recently that helped with the first responders. Mostly military. JSDF and some US troops from Okinawa. They seem legit and are helping out. I'm getting names, ranks, and squads, but getting so many guys like that here so quickly without notification from the government is odd. Normally the mayor would be informed about the moving of so many men, but even he was surprised by their appearance. We didn't even get this sort of treatment during the fiasco ten years ago. I suspected them at first as well, but they don't trigger any of the devices I have that ID magi, so I assumed they were good."
Judging from the fact that the shadowed man didn't immediately say anything, she had just told him something useful.
"I'll tell the boys to keep an eye on them."
"No. They will already be on alert. Let them play their roles. Keep to cursory observation." Her offer was shot down. "Any activity by the coast?"
"The coast?" She blinked in confusion. "No. Nothing's wrong there. Everything's been focused on the mountain lately. After the curfew went up for the city, the activity there slowed to a crawl. Even the local gangs have been more careful with their dealings, not wanting to get caught up in whatever was setting everything on fire."
"Hmmm." The quiet man let out an uncharacteristic hum of annoyance.
"What's wrong? I thought you said the War ended last night."
"… It did."
It took a few moments for his words to sink in, only to make the woman swear as a result. "Shit. Don't tell me there's something else here. The town's barely holding itself together."
"We don't know what it is or its goals are. Only that it's here and originated from the sea. For all we know, it might just be passing by."
"Fat chance of that knowing our luck."
His silence was damning.
"Is there anything else I need to know? Government conspiracy? Aliens? Oh. Maybe there really is a dragon living in the river." If there ever was a time to abuse Shirou's cooking and gorge herself to forget her worries, now was it.
It took a few moments for the man to break his silence. "… I would advise against visiting the household tomorrow. Waver Velvet is under prosecution for his actions in England, and those participating in the War are the leading witnesses and accomplices."
"What?" The woman stood ramrod straight in alarm.
"Shirou is not one to disregard a situation like this. There is nothing you can do for either of them regardless. Rather, if you try anything now, you'll just make it worse."
"Tch. So it's just the same as usual then. Stick to the background and pretend that I'm clueless about everything."
There was an uncomfortable silence between the two. "… You've done well. It was unlikely that Shirou would have been able to gather the other Masters to his side without significant issues had you not helped."
Illya. Luvia. Both girls had been guided in one way or another to Shirou by her hand one way or another over the course of the past two weeks. From an outside perspective, it may have appeared to be simple convenience or luck, but in reality, it was anything but.
"Says you. That kid should have been born in a manga. He's a total girl magnet. Clueless dolt has a harem and doesn't even know it. The girls would have been gathered to him eventually regardless of what I did."
"Don't underestimate how spiteful magi can be. Even children can be monsters in this world. The fact that most of the participants in the Grail war are teenagers at the oldest should be enough proof."
"I'm not. Doesn't mean I have to like it. I am a teacher after all. I'm supposed to take care of kids. Not kill them." She was not ignorant of her hypocrisy. She could only turn a necessary blind eye to it every now and then.
"The world is unfair. We would not be here otherwise." His tone was dark and unyielding, accepting no further excuses.
She glared at him with blank hazel brown eyes. Her pupils were contracted to the point of barely non-existent, symptoms of countless hypnotic suggestions being placed on her almost ten years ago. Habits and skills that she had been coerced to consciously and unconsciously learn and adapt over the years in order to circumvent the standard practices of magi.
In normal practice, the method it was used to cultivate and raise ideal servants when familiars and constructs were not options. The rules and restrictions imposed on the subjects were harsher on the psyche, ensnaring their minds to become little more than slaves if they survived the conditioning sane. Fortunately, it was rarely used, as most deemed it inefficient in general, preferring competent assistants or familiars to assist their work. If the subject had any talent in thaumaturgy, no matter how small, the chances of them breaking free of the compulsions and doing something undesirable was a very real risk.
However, should the subject willingly accept compulsions that were less restricting in nature, and use them to their advantage, then they could technically be used as a rather efficient training and habit developing tool.
Of course, there were some negative side effects. Erratic personalities were not uncommon as a result. Shortened attention span. Easily excitable and emotional mood swings…
… All already perfectly normal for one Taiga Fujimura.
Another sacrifice for the sake of the world.
There was an awkward and cold silence between the two. The temperature dropping with every passing second.
"Is there anything you wish to ask?" he asked quietly, some of the imposing weight in his voice seemed to recede, an indication that at the very least, he too did not want to talk about something that would only make things worse.
It was clear that there was something on the tip of her tongue, but for once, Taiga seemed to be unsure if she should say it or not.
Before she could say it however, a third voice spoke up.
"Is there a problem?"
From the edge of the alleyway, Soichirou Kizuki walked into view without a sound, his posture and breathing beyond perfect as always.
"Kizuki-sensei?" Taiga blinked in surprise, not expecting him to appear so suddenly, before cursing at her moment of distraction and turned around again. She half expected the man to be gone in that moment of confusion, but surprisingly he was still there.
"None. Just discussing current events." If he was surprised by the newcomer's appearance, he didn't show it. Nor was he worried about being found out.
"Those at the temple are recovering from last night. There are no casualties. Nothing appears to be permanent," the teacher reported as easily as breathing. He knew that it was not close to the top of things to be worried about, but it was something he felt compelled to inform them of regardless. "Fujimura-sensei."
It was a greeting, rather than a question. He was not at all perplexed as to why she was in such a suspicious situation.
After all, she was the person that had convinced him in the end to give into Shirou's request for a sparring partner.
"I… how long are you going to stay?" It was clear that she wanted to ask something else, but she settled for a question that was just as revealing and damning.
There was an uncomfortable silence for several long moments before Kiritsugu Emiya took a few steps forward. It was a meaningless gesture in most circumstances, but the small change in location somehow enabled the two humans to see the man uninhibited now, instead of being half concealed by the darkness.
"As long as needed." His tone didn't change, and even his face seemed as impassive as Kizuki's at first glance, but his dull eyes betrayed the slightest hint of insecurity with his answer.
Taiga frowned and shook her head. "That's bullshit. After all that's happened, Shirou and Illya are grown up. They have each other and everyone else here. They don't need you now and you know it."
Assassin frowned. It wasn't often that Taiga spoke harshly to anyone, much less to him.
"How-e-ver!" she continued, pointing at him accusingly. "That doesn't mean that leaving without doing anything won't have consequences. I don't care what insane hocus pocus magic made things so that you're here, but I know for a fact that if you just vanish without a word, you'll do more damage to those two than you could ever do with a gun. Or a knife. Or the ridiculous amount of bombs you somehow carry with you."
That was an understatement, but her point was still valid. "… I'm a Servant, Taiga. A glorified copy at best. You know I'm not really-"
Somehow, despite being a Servant, he had been caught unprepared as the woman stomped up to him and pointed a finger directly between his eyes. "Shut up!"
Surprised, he simply blinked in confusion. To his slight annoyance, he noticed that Kizuki didn't seem to so much as twitch in reaction to the woman's actions.
"Stop making excuses! You were the one that fought in this war. You were the one that tried to help out whenever you could. You were the one that everyone has been worried about ever since they found out who you were. If you're a copy, then so what? That only means that a copy is going to take responsibility for its actions!"
Damn. She had a point. Things must have changed more than he thought if Taiga could be so insightful.
"You," For a moment, it looked like Taiga was building herself up for another tirade, only to catch it just in time, forcing herself to calm down, albeit begrudgingly. "You died with regrets, Kiritsugu. More regrets than anyone should ever have. Don't add to that list now. Not when you can do something about it this time without consequences."
Servant and Human stared into one another's eyes. One clouded from pain and experience. The other from conditioning and magic.
"… Hah." It was a crude hybrid of laughter and a sigh of defeat that escaped the Servant's lips. The first sound of genuine positive emotion that he had made since being summoned. "To be told off like this. Iri would have adored you."
A small, playful smile escaped Taiga's control. "Not the first time you've said that you know."
"I know." He remembered the time he had spent with the young woman, away from the rest of his family, training her in earnest to be the ally that Shirou would hopefully never knew he had or needed. It had taken some time to convince Raiga to let him teach the girl what he could, but it was an investment well worth it in the end. What he couldn't pass on, he had made sure to get teachers for.
She was not an easy student. Eager, but not easy.
Slowly, the Servant began to fade into the shadows. "Shirou's been making a feast for tonight. All of the other Masters and Servants are there. I don't know how they will receive either of you, but I doubt you will leave without some hospitality."
"Kiritsugu! You-!?" Taiga blinked in surprise at his actions.
"I saw you on a whim. I'm just going to my original task now." He placated her in his own way. "Taiga, thank you."
Before she could get another word in, Assassin had vanished into thin air.
"I… Mou! Kiritsugu, you idiot! Having the last word like that!" The woman snapped out of her emotional silence with a just as emotional childish tantrum. "Trying to act all cool and stuff just because you have super powers now! It's unfair! How am I supposed to corner and lecture you on how stupid you're being now!? It's like I'm dealing with Shirou all over again!"
"It makes sense," Kizuki spoke up. "He is the boy's father."
"Don't remind me! It's like Shirou inherited all of his bad habits from him on purpose!" The secrets. The desire to do things by himself. The penchant for collateral damage. The spontaneous proactiveness that kept on making people struggling to keep up with them whenever something caught their attention. It was like they really were blood related.
"Mmm." The man turned his attention back to where Kiritsugu disappeared. Shirou wasn't the only one that shared similarities with the supposed deceased assassin. Rather, it was almost as if he was looking in a mirror whenever he saw the elder Emiya. Empty eyes that took in all details. Perpetually on guard. Perfectly willing to do anything to get the job done.
Other than physical appearances, there were only two real things that separated the two. The first was the means in which they achieved their goals. That much was obvious.
The second though… was something that he had been searching for ever since he started his new life as a civilian. Something he wished to speak to Kiritsugu Emiya about in length about when possible.
That alone was enough to give him reason to speak with the man again soon.
It sounded as if there was something still amiss in the city. Something that didn't directly involve the War. Whatever it was, he hoped that it would be resolved soon.
So caught up in his thoughts, he almost missed Taiga grabbing onto his arm.
"Come on! I'm pissed and need to vent now! Let's go crash the victory party for a secret magic War and eat their food while pretending that we have no idea what's going on!"
… At the very least, if there was anything he had gotten out of this distraction, it was that he would have little reason to doubt his co-worker's situational awareness in the future.
o. o. o.
Lancer whistled as plate after plate of food was placed onto the enlarged table in front of him. "Damn. If this is what you dish out after a big fight, I might have to start upping my game just to get have this happen more often."
"Please don't. I do not fancy our odds of survival should something genuinely require our participation." The Princess sat down next to Luvia with proper posture. "At least, don't while I am around. You are free to risk your life however you please."
"You're too kind."
"So many different dishes." No matter what anyone said, Saber was not drooling at the feast that was laid out in front of her.
"Grilled Cod." Rider's head turned to the sizeable fish that was placed near her and Caster.
"Hoh? Honey glazed pork?" Lancer perked up at a meal that he recalled from his youth.
"Hwaaa. It smells so good." Illya beamed as some sausages were placed near her. "Even Berserker's interested in this."
"Haha. With the amount that the kid's pumping out, we might be able to include even him in this." Lancer snickered.
Rice. Porridge. Mashed potatoes. Mixed vegetables. Sushi. Pasta. An entire smorgasbord of international cuisine came out of the kitchen one after the other, courtesy of Rin and Sakura as Shirou put the finishing touches on what remained.
"Steak. Yes." Bazett pumped her fist in victory as half a slab of meat cut into strips was placed near her.
"It looks so good!" Bazett's right leg beamed, her blonde hair shaking side to side as she looked around frantically at her options.
"Mmm. Even though we know what mom does, this is amazing." The left leg drooled.
"I tried to stop him, but Shirou was insistent that he try to make something for everybody." Rin smiled as she came in, one hand with a tray of dumplings and another with a salad. "Archer. You can stop sulking on the roof. I managed to convince Shirou that you'd behave yourself for the night. You fought as hard as everyone else and deserve to join us."
"I'm fairly sure that there are a few people with you that would say otherwise." EMIYA's usual dry tone echoed through the room.
"And I'm fairly sure that I'm back up to three Command Seals." Rin's kind smile did not falter in the slightest. It wouldn't be a stretch of the imagination to assume that she had already predicted that he was going to be difficult.
There was an awkward silence. "… I would say that you aren't petty enough to use them to make me behave for the night, but I'm still compelled to say nothing but the truth to you."
"Aw. You do know me." Rin's smile turned into something slightly more predatory. "Can you guess what else I would use these seals to make you do?"
"More than you would ever know and I want to admit." There was a long and somewhat uncomfortable silence before Archer materialized at the table with space to either side of him.
"Someone's trained." Lancer smirked.
"I would retort, but the opening you left on yourself is so obvious even a novice wouldn't take it." Archer examined the feast in front of him with critical eyes. Even if he had not been in the cooking scene for an untold amount of time, he could still recognize quality food when he saw it. "It looks, passible."
"Archer, if you even dare try to knock the food that we have been working on all day, I will order you to cater to the whims of everyone here for a week. That includes Lancer."
The Counter Guardian went rigid in alarm, his body shaking no matter how much he willed himself to stay still. "I stand corrected. I apparently don't know what else you would do with your newfound power over me."
"You say the kindest things."
"Hoh? I smell a challenge." Lancer grinned with newfound glee, as if he found a new toy to play with.
"Lancer. The same threat goes for you." Bazett had yet to turn her gaze away from dinner. "Unlike Archer though, I doubt you are capable of cooking, cleaning, housework, or anything redeemable that can be used outside of fighting and thaumaturgy."
"Tch. Low blow Master." No one missed the fact that he didn't deny her accusation.
"It looks like everyone is here." Sakura came in with a few bottles of alcohol. "But, does anyone know where Solomon-san is?"
"Wasn't he with you in the city, Tohsaka?" Luvia looked at her rival curiously.
"We were stuck in meetings all day." Rin sighed, not wanting to remember all the hustling and damage control she had to do. "I actually would still be there if he didn't offer to stay late and cover the rest so that I could help Shirou. In exchange, he made me promise that we'd have four cheese pizza as part of the feast."
Suddenly, the medium sized thin crusted pie on a stand near the end of the table seemed less appetizing to everyone.
"He's quite odd. I've always heard about how terrifying Apostle Ancestors are." Illya tilted her head to the side curiously. "He is abnormally strong. Even Berserker had a hard time against him, but compared to the stories, he's quite reasonable."
None of the Servants missed how Archer fidgeted slightly during the girl's observation.
"Sucks to be him. More for us." Lancer grinned, serving himself some pork that had been conveniently been placed near him. "I don't know about you guys, but in my time, it was considered unsanitary to eat with rats near the food."
"We didn't let dogs eat at the table in my time either," Caster stated as she followed suit.
"Funny, coming from the woman that has a zoo at her command. I thought you'd be used to eating with the animals." Lancer's red eyes flashed hungrily.
"If you two wish to quarrel, do so outside," Saber mediated, her tone and image leaving no room for objection… so long as one ignored the fact that her plate was somehow already piled unreasonably high with a bit of everything. "Poor atmosphere will only impair the quality of our feast."
"When did she?" Luvia tilted her head in mixed bewilderment and confusion.
"I've learned its best not to ask," Rider broke her silence, her plate already littered with her own choices.
"Saber likes to eat," Illya summarized the situation casually.
Rin looked at the Servant's plate before turning to the kitchen where Shirou was, then back to Saber's plate. "… I think we just discovered one of the criteria Saber has for potential Masters when she's summoned."
"No. If that was the case, then Papa would have been able to cook as well." Illya shot the hypothesis down. "From what I've heard, he was more liable to burn the house down than successfully boil water."
Judging from the way Archer appeared to be physically suppressing some of the few memories he still had from his past, the young girl's statement seemed to be valid.
"Oh yeah, I forgot that you were summoned in the last war and remember what happened." Lancer hummed. "So, Saber. What was that one like? How did it compare to this one?"
Saber's hypnotized state was broken by the question, and from her expression, it wasn't a pleasant experience either. "Memories of the Fourth War, are something I would rather not dredge up at this time. It would ruin my meal."
"Yeesh. That bad, huh?"
"If I recall correctly, then her Master at that time was our Assassin." Caster dryly stated the obvious.
Lancer nodded, getting the point. "Right. That bad. Changing topics. Kid! How much longer are you gonna make us wait!? You're blue balling us with this spread!"
"You would know." Archer muttered, only to get jabbed in the ribs by Rin as she sat down next to him.
"I'm just about finished." Shirou came in with a bottle of alcohol. From the looks of the container, it had cost him a pretty penny. "I was thinking that-"
SLAM! "SHIROUUUUUUU! FOOOOOD!"
Taiga stormed into the room with her usual bluster of cheer and inability to wait for permission to enter. Only this time, there were even more people here that she did not recognize. "Ara? Who are all of you-?"
Shirou snapped his fingers.
And the eccentric woman collapsed to the ground instantly asleep.
"I finally remembered to prepare for her this time." The teen puffed his chest out proudly at the successful bounded field he had placed in the entrance to the living room, completely ignoring the stares he was getting from everyone.
"I hope that preparation included preventing her from any harm when she fell." Kizuki entered the room as if nothing peculiar had happened.
"The flooring's soft here. And it's Fuji-nee. She's tougher than she looks, Kizuki-sensei." Shirou greeted him without missing a beat. "Do you want to join us?"
"Wait… You have to be joking!" Lancer pointed at the teacher dumbfounded, remembering how the man would leave and come back to the temple every day seemingly completely unaware of what was going on. "You're with the kid too?!"
"Have we met?" Kizuki turned to the Servant. His question was the only reason why anyone could tell he was genuinely confused.
"No, but, I… Gah! Forget it! If I ask any more questions now the foods gonna go cold!" the Irisman gave up spectacularly.
"At this point, I shouldn't be surprised anymore." Bazett sighed. She had seen the teacher enter and leave the temple many times, and could tell he was trained as a martial artist, but she never expected him to be someone important. "I'm surprised. I didn't think you were a magus."
"I'm not. I am his history teacher that occasionally spars with him. There was trouble at the temple, and young Emiya-kun asked for my help to address it. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement." The stern man looked around for a seat before seamlessly sitting down next to EMIYA's other side.
Bazett blinked. "Wait, you're his sparring partner? He's been hinting about you for years but never told me who it was."
"Is there a problem?"
The Enforcer lifted her hands in defense, momentarily losing her balance in the gesture due to the lack of legs. "N-no. Not at all. Just the opposite. I knew that there was someone here that was also practiced in high level bare-handed combat that Shirou trained with and was curious. It's not often that you come across someone of our skill level."
Kizuki didn't react at first, instead giving her a brief look over before nodding shallowly in acknowledgement.
Bazett gave him a shaky smile and a return nod before relaxing somewhat.
That seemed to be it for their conversation.
No one bothered to comment on the silent interaction. It was understandable, seeing as most of the people there were either experienced warriors or had spent more than enough time with said warriors to understand the subtle nuances and gestures that went between them.
"… Um. This is nice, but are we really going to leave Taiga-sensei there?" Sakura nervously lifted a hand up as if she was in class, prompting most to laugh or grimace uncomfortably due to the fact that they had indeed forgotten about the eccentric woman.
"Already dumped her in your room, Sakura." Shirou entered from the hallway. "Sorry, but your room has the least amount of valuables in it for Fuji-nee to break or poke through if she wakes up early. Had to tweak the bounded fields in it so that the smell of dinner wouldn't get to her either."
Rin and Sakura both gave him thumbs up in approval, completely ignoring the looks that everyone was giving them. "Nice thinking."
Clearly this hadn't been the first time that the woman had caused them trouble or woken up ahead of schedule.
"Why didn't I ever think of that?" Archer muttered to himself, mentally kicking himself. True, it would have taken him a while to learn and figure out how to make a bounded field like that by himself, but such a simple and basic field wasn't impossible for him. It would have saved him so many headaches in his life.
Lancer looked around confused, only to see that Shirou's completely odd behavior regarding the new woman was completely acceptable by everyone there. He was halfway ready to rant about how the kid was acting so differently when said source of his frustration came from the kitchen with several bottles of what was clearly expensive alcohol. Giving up, he settled for glaring at Shirou with an annoyed expression. "I've decided that there is no longer any point in having expectations of you. I hope you're happy, kid."
"After what's happened? I think it's better for everyone's hearts if we all adopt that policy." Luvia muttered, getting several nods of agreement around the table.
"I'm glad I've made such a positive impression," the host replied just as dryly before opening the first bottle of sake and began to pour everyone's cups. "Normally I wouldn't do this. I'm not a fan of alcohol in general, and I'm not old enough to legally drink, but so many rules have been broken lately that I doubt anyone cares anymore."
"We're Magi. We're not supposed to care about the rules in the first place." Rin grinned, getting a few smiles around the table. She didn't know much about alcohol herself, but she trusted Shirou was serving them some quality drink for the night.
"Says you. I'm pretty sure that any idiot breaks the ceasefire isn't going to last long. Hopefully, there aren't any idiots here." Their host sighed.
"▄▄▄▄." A soft growl echoed through the room, catching everyone by surprise.
"Calm down, Berserker. Onii-chan knows you're not an idiot. You're just magically insane. And mine." Illya brushed off her Servant's displeasure. Thankfully, the giant was still in his spectral form, so nothing was at risk of being destroyed, yet.
"I'm more surprised that he was able to make that assumption in the first place." Rin blinked in general surprise.
"Heracles has always surpassed expectations like that. Even in the throes of his rage, he is still aware of his surroundings. The Gods would have slayed him long before he completed his tasks if he was not at least this capable." Caster looked at the sake curiously. As royalty, she had sampled many forms of drink before, but this one was new to her.
Shirou, finishing the rounds on the table (only hesitating for a small moment when pouring for Archer), looked at his sister skeptically. "… I don't have anything big enough for Berserker now. I didn't think he'd be interested. Is it ok if I get him a keg of beer tomorrow?"
"Berserker accepts your offer."
"Caster, are you sure you didn't drug us since we got here? You studied under Circe, right? Known for medicines and poisons?" Lancer hush whispered. "I'm genuinely certain I'm seeing and hearing things right now."
"Don't be ridiculous, Lancer," the Princess huffed. "We may have been enemies, but I would not stoop so low as to poison my hosts' food."
"That, and Shirou would have noticed it instantly with the way he's been using structural grasping while cooking," Luvia pointed out, completely unashamed of calling out her Servant.
"What? You might be a Servant, but even I can see a lost battle for you guys when I see one."
Shirou decided to take Luvia's words as a compliment. A jaded, double sided, hurtful compliment.
Finally stopping at his seat, he filled his cup last and put the half empty bottle on the table. The minor bickering and conversations in the room faded to silence as all eyes were on him, no doubt expecting a speech.
Likewise, Shirou looked at everyone in the room in the eyes, taking in their looks, and remembering just what they went through these past few weeks.
He couldn't help but feel slightly disappointed at the one face he didn't see.
"… I could talk about a number of things right now." He stared slowly. "I could go on and on apologizing again for everything I did and didn't do. I could list all the things we've done to and for one another, both good and bad. I could give everyone so many reasons why we should be grateful that we're all alive and working together. But if I did it would only be halfhearted at best even if I meant every word."
He looked up. "Everyone here is a Magus, a fighter, or a legend. We all know the world is unfair. We're all tired of it. We all know that it isn't going to end tomorrow just because we got through the problems we had yesterday. Some of us will end up against one another in the future for any number of reasons. Or none at all. Others the opposite. Regardless, we can all agree that we came here because of the War. We were lied to, misled, forced to do things that we would otherwise never do, because of a failed experiment that no one bothered to do anything about until we bothered to get our shit together."
He smiled dryly. They deserved more than this. More than a hot meal and free housing. All of them did. For their trials. For saving the world. For being taken advantage of in every conceivable way possible. Even that mistake, Archer. But this was all he could give them. He was disgusted that he was only capable of this much. "There's still much we have to deal with. Tomorrow morning we have a meeting and a trial to attend by conceited old fools that think they could have handled the situation better than us. But that's tomorrow. For now, I just have two things to say to you guys that I think we all want and need to hear."
He held up his drink.
"It's over. We won."
o. o. o.
"Kiritsugu, I know you don't like being around others, but this is pushing it, even for you. You're going to miss all of Onii-chan's food at this rate."
Assassin didn't immediately respond. Most of his attention was on the medium-sized cruiser on the other side of the docks that he had been surveying for the past two hours. While it was a military ship, it was nothing particularly special at first glance. Just another standard boat that the JSDF bought from the States at some point. Radar. Antenna. There were some guns on it, but nothing particularly excessive.
Ever since he took his position, he had yet to see any suspicious activity. He had tailed, eavesdropped, and spoken to at least a dozen of the volunteers from the ship, but nothing set off any warning lights. He even sprayed a couple of them with a solution that reacted to concentrated mana on a few of them when they weren't paying attention, but they somehow still came up clean.
He might have brushed them off as a genuine JSDF branch that had simply been in the area and was helping out with the aftermath of the war… if he didn't spot their mistake.
The small violet lotus insignia near the back though had given them away. Not many people knew what it meant, but then again, not many people had been scouted by at least a dozen secret international and government agencies either. The Einzberns weren't the first to ask for a long term commitment. They were just the first to actually get him to sign the dotted line.
The unofficial royal guard of the Prime Minister and Emperor of Japan had no reason for being in Fuyuki unless there was actually royalty here…
… Royalty that didn't come in the form of Servants at least.
"If what you said is true, then there's going to be leftovers," he reasoned. True the meal would be past its prime, but a feast fresh and vibrant was wasted on him, no matter how appealing it would be.
"Not if I let Berserker have the rest when everyone's done."
That had him pause. "… You wouldn't."
"We both know I would."
She would. She's his daughter. Playing dirty was in her genetics.
"… Can he even taste anything?" he asked her, allowing himself a rare moment to let his mind wander. Berserker's Madness Enhancement had rendered the demigod into a near mindless entity of pure destruction, removing nearly any and all forms of higher thought processes. But then again, the five senses were just that, senses. Not thoughts.
"Judging from the way he's looking at dinner, he can at least smell it."
Wonderful. Apparently Shirou's cooking had evolved over the years and had now developed into something that could crack into the minds of the magically insane. He didn't know whether to be proud or annoyed with his son.
"… What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong." He didn't lie technically. There were plenty of things that were suspicious at the moment, certainly, but nothing that was genuinely wrong. Yet.
"Papa. I've spent the last few weeks dealing with Onii-chan manipulating everyone in the War while simultaneously questioning everything I thought I knew about my life. I know you're hiding something."
Kiritsugu grimaced, keeping his eyes on the men and women walking on the ship's deck. Illya would be able to tell if he was holding back from her, but at the same time he didn't want to escalate a situation that they were still trying to make heads or tails out of. "… There's an odd prana signature in Fuyuki. Something that isn't related to the Grail. We, the Servants, think the source is in the direction of the ocean. I'm just scouting to see if I can find anything. Nothing dangerous. For all we know, whatever it is might pass by the area completely without doing anything."
It was wishful thinking. This boat with soldiers that were not supposed to be here didn't look like it was going to leave anytime soon.
But that still left him with a big question. How in the world was this otherwise unremarkable military boat and a source of power strong enough to afflict the air over an entire city related? Even by the moonlit world's standards, the disparity between the two entities was monumental. The only things they had in common outside of the fact that they showed up at the same time, was that they both came from the sea.
Ghosts. Possession. Hypnotism. Homunculi. Apostles. Spirits. Clones. Imitations. The people from the ship matched none of the normal abnormalities. They were physically and mentally normal, albeit extremely well trained humans that were going about helping with the recovery efforts.
They didn't even do anything suspicious during their efforts. The volunteers ate, drank, talked, laughed, sweat, swore, went to the bathroom, and in some cases, even bled like everyone else. No hidden explosives. No listening devices or unknown implements that could affect the local population in some way.
They didn't even bother travelling to any of the places of interest in Fuyuki that hadn't been hit yet, like the Church and the park. Then again, he doubted anyone with a lick of sense would ever willingly visit those places if they were magically sensitive in the first place.
So why did he have such a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach about this?
"Does you have to do this tonight? Is it really that important?"
And to make matters worse, Illya had already caught onto what he was doing. Even if they were talking through their mental connections, there was no mistaking the hurt in her words.
His conversation with Taiga earlier that day was dredged to the surface of his thoughts. He was making the same mistakes all over again.
"… Probably not." He reluctantly gave up the argument.
"Illya?" He frowned at the odd sound that seemed to stand out in his mind like a clap or the impact of something falling.
Had he actually seen his daughter, he would have borne witness to the image of her spit-taking all over Shirou, complete with half a mouth full of chewed up fried rice.
"Is something wrong?"
"Wha-? You agreed with me too easily! What's wrong?! Are you sick?! Is this one of Caster's traps that she set up if she died?! Did she do something to mess with your Mental Corruption skill?!"
For some reason, words that he would have ignored from anyone else seemed to have a property to hurt immensely when spoken by Illyasviel. "I suppose I was worried for nothing after all."
"No! No no no no! Be worried! Be very worried about your adorable daughter! Better yet! Be worried with her nearby!"
He let out a rare grunt of frustration. He had made the mistake of giving Illya an inch and she was going to use the moment of weakness to run a marathon out of him. He'd almost be proud if he wasn't the victim of the screwup. "Illya…"
"Please?" she cut him off, but there was no mistaking the vulnerability in the lone word.
He could practically see her somehow making puppy-dog eyes inside his mind, and he wouldn't doubt it if she was somehow doing it on purpose.
It didn't take long to discover that their compatibility as Master and Servant was unnaturally high. He didn't know if it was because she was tweaked to be the strongest Master by the Einzberns, or because they were father and daughter, but in any case the fact that they could converse so easily over such a long distance was not normal. No focus or spells were needed. It didn't even take much to feel what the other was feeling if they wanted to.
Right now, he felt a melting pot of hope, concern, childish mischief, and a touch of genuine fear.
It was that last bit that did him in. He had already hurt her enough as it was. He'd rather kill himself than be responsible for any more pain.
He eyed the boat skeptically from his scope. Judging from the casual activity and movements of those on board, it didn't appear that anyone was prepared for a major event that night. He had already pinpointed their vessel and confirmed that there was something particular enough about them to warrant further investigation later. Maybe Caster would be willing to help if she was in a good enough mood. Then again, it would probably be better to have her scan the sea itself to try and find the man source for all of this. Either way, it really didn't look like he'd be getting much else from these newcomers tonight. "… Fine."
He had been keeping his Presence Concealment skill up all day, following the suspicious volunteers from site to site. It would be nice to let it down for a bit, but even so, it would be the height of stupidity if he did something to get caught now. His gun vanished into his coat without a sound or reflecting any light. "Don't wait for me. I'm at the docks. It'll take me a bit to get back."
"Heh. Don't worry. I won't." A soft giggle somehow relaxed his body. "I've stopped waiting a long time ago, but, at least now, I know that you'll always come back."
"Haaaa." He breathed out softly as their mental connection slowly faded away, breaking the silence as if he had screamed. "How terrible of a father am I, to hope that my daughter's wishful lies about me are truth?"
As soon as the Servant's unheard words faded away, so did he.
o. o. o.
Rin and Sakura had forbidden Shirou from cleaning up after dinner, much to his visible displeasure.
He had tried to put up an argument, but during the brief moment that he had thought he had achieved a rare gain of ground against both girls, Illya had provided them surprise support and rendered him helpless against them.
Instead, he had reluctantly agreed to their demands. To rest and relax.
The first step of which was to take a shower. He had yet to clean himself since before the last battle of the War, and since he was hosting four full grown human women in his home (technically five if you counted the unconscious Marjatta), a homunculus, and Saber, with only a single full bathroom on the compound, he had yet to find a time where the room was available for himself.
Kizuki had absconded during his respite, taking the still unconscious Taiga with him much to his relief. The man was all business and a professional at that, so there was no worries about their safety.
As for everyone else… they were doing as they pleased. Wandering about the property, helping Rin and Sakura where they could, upgrading the bounded fields, or simply lounging about wherever.
Shirou, dressed in a simple casual robe after a long and relaxing shower, was among the latter. Simply sitting on the porch with a cup of tea in hand, staring aimlessly up at the partly cloudy sky at the waxing moon and the stars that were visible.
Several people had passed by behind him since he sat down. Servants and Masters alike. More than half paused as they approached. Whether out of trepidation or because they didn't know what to say to him exactly, it didn't matter. He had casually accepted more than a couple of soft "thank you"s over the past few hours, but honestly he didn't feel like he deserved it. He had hurt too many people in the process of all of this to be the source of gratitude, allowed too many civilians to die and too much damage to the city in his selfishness to be considered a genuinely good person.
Someone stopped behind him. From the amount of Prana they had, it was a Servant, and given the scent of said prana…
"You kept your promise," Rider spoke at a volume slightly above a whisper.
"I told you I'd get you back." He didn't look away. "It's partially my fault you got caught in the first place. I was sloppy."
"If you think you deserve redemption, I believe you already received enough during our fight." It was only due to their past interactions and experience with one another that he picked up the slight echo of mirth in her tone. "… You didn't have to go so far for me. Unlike the others, I am not a hero. I am a monster."
"You're one of us, Rider. That should be all that matters." Because he wasn't looking at her, he didn't see her twitch, completely unprepared for his reply. "Hero. Monster. It doesn't matter to me. You're not a bad person. If you're in trouble, don't ever hesitate to let me know."
"… You are without a doubt one of the most unreasonable people I have ever encountered." She didn't bother to hide the affection in her voice this time. As cruel as it sounds, she was slightly relieved that her sisters were dead. There was no telling that those two would have done had they encountered the young man.
"So I've been told." Shirou smiled. "Hey, Rider? Thanks for holding back during the fight. I would have been destroyed if you went all out."
A small smile gave way on the Servant's face as she began to fade away into spiritual form. "You underestimate yourself. I wouldn't have been able to hold back even if I could then."
Shirou's mind paused a beat. Even weakened, Rider was still a Servant. He shouldn't have been able to keep up with her as easily as he did. He wanted to argue against what she said, but he knew that Rider had no reason to lie to him. Giving up, he chuckled lightly and shook his head in embarrassment. "My mistake. Is there anything else you want to talk about?"
Almost gone, Rider allowed her smile to widen even more. "I believe you still owe me a bike."
This time he did laugh. "Ah. I did, didn't I? Give me a few days to set something up. I'll make certain it'll be worth the wait."
"Hmhm. How reliable you are." Rider's almost sultry purr tickled his ears, her physical body vanishing. "If it's you, I wouldn't mind staying for a bit longer…"
With that, he was alone again.
"… Why do women sound so damn terrifying the moment they decide to be interested in me?"
"Probably because most of the ones that are interested in you are rather competent and rarely find someone worth their interest in the first place." Saber approached him from the end of the hallway. "That and they know that they'll have competition."
He gave her a dry look. "… Is that coming from experience?"
He received a mocking smirk in kind, knowing exactly what he was thinking. "I'm a king. To many a maiden, there was no greater prize than myself, even after I was wed."
"I think I'll stick to being a blacksmith, chef, and assassin, thank you."
"I should hope so. You'd make a terrible king."
"No arguments here."
Saber stopped right next to him, letting her hand rest on his shoulder. "You misunderstand, Shirou. You do not have the ability to be a King, but you are without question a good leader."
He gave her a skeptical look. "And squire?"
She smirked. "That is still up for debate. I have impeccably high standards."
"Heh. I can never win when it comes to royalty." He shook his head and turned back to the moon.
"Don't take it personally. We are known to be notoriously difficult to please." Saber agreed with a whimsical air.
"No need to tell me twice." The Princess Colchis. The Queen of the Clocktower. The King of Knights. The King of Heroes. Their standards were just too damn unreasonable sometimes.
At the very least, his cooking seemed to be up to standards.
The two stared at the sky in mutual silence for a few genuine moments, just enjoying the other's company.
"Tomorrow's going to be a busy day," Saber noted.
"Unfortunately." He wasn't looking forward to it. He doubted that anyone was.
"Yet it will come regardless." Deciding to attend to other tasks, Saber moved first, gently patting her Master on the shoulder as she walked past him. "There are subjects that some of us wish to speak to you about tonight."
Shirou let out a deep sigh that sounded suspiciously like a groan. Clearly he had some suspicions as to what they wanted to talk about, meaning that there were still issues about that had yet to be resolved that he didn't want others to know about. "I'll be there."
"Mmm." Saber held back her own thoughts on the matter for later as she walked down the hallway, having said her peace.
"You sure are popular, Onii-chan." Like a spirit herself, Illya seemed to pop out of nowhere, and unlike his previous two guests, ignored the sanctity that was personal space to lean on his back.
"Illya." Shirou blinked in surprise before giving her a warm smile. "Are you better now? You were coughing pretty hard earlier."
"Y-yeah. It's no big deal. I was just... eating too quickly." The little fairy looked to the side in embarrassment, and something else. "Dinner was really good. I couldn't help myself."
"Careful not to pick up any more of Fuji-nee's bad habits. It's tough just having one of her around."
He laughed. "Want to take up on my offer this time?"
Illya blinked in confusion at his question, trying to remember what he was talking about. It took a few moments to remember that they had been in a similar position just a week ago, with Shirou sitting in this exact location offering her a seat. She hadn't trusted him back then, but now…
She moved to his right side without hesitation and leaned into his arm with a smile on her face. "It's not the castle in Germany, but I'll suppose this will have to do."
"I'm glad my meager standards are up to your qualifications," he joked.
"It helps that it's warm here." Internal climate manipulation was an easy task for any Magus, but the atmosphere, the people, the world that she had grown up in were all akin to ice. Still… "That still doesn't excuse the fact that you owe me a castle."
The destroyed front of the castle in the forest flashed through Shirou's mind. He was never one to shy away from hard labor and home maintenance, but even he had to admit defeat when it was obvious. "Ah. Ahah. I'll, try to figure something out."
Hopefully, Caster was willing to give him a hand, if for a price. Territory Creation mixed with mysteries from the Age of Gods could work for fixing damaged ancient castles too, right? Please?
"Shirou…" Illya was giving him that look that everyone gave him whenever they were accusing him of something stupid. He hated that look. It made him feel like he was a child that did something wrong.
"R-Really. I have an idea that, might work to fix it? Maybe?"
"… Humph. Better not involve any more bombs," she sulked, but did eventually stop glaring at him.
"I promise. Bombs don't tend to get involved when I'm planning home renovations." Outside of bomb shelters and bomb storage of course. All things considered though, the castle itself should be considered a shelter in itself under most circumstances once properly fixed and its inherent defense based mysteries were back up.
"I'm holding you to that, Onii-chan." She sighed, resting her head on his arm and looked up at the moon with him. "With the fighting's over, Grandfather's going to want me to return ho… to him."
"You sound like you don't want to." If he had been genuine about his statement, it would have no doubt angered the girl. Thankfully there was no mistaking the rare sarcasm in his voice.
"I don't." She pressed herself closer to him.
"Well then that's all there is to it." He smiled. "Good thing I'm the proactive type."
She looked at him in surprise. "You mean…"
"One of the first things I did after waking up. It should be here in a few days at most. Even if the old white geezer wanted to do something, it would take him a while to set up something to get around the Servants here." He smiled in confirmation.
"I…" She had trouble finding the right words to say. Everything that almost made its way to her tongue felt vastly inferior to what she genuinely felt. "I'm, looking forward to it. Thank you."
"Fine. Fine. Whatever you say." He knew a lost battle when he saw one.
"… Nee. Shirou. What's it like?"
"What's what like?"
"Being an Apostle."
He let out a deep sigh. "I'm not really an Apostle, Illya. Even Merem doesn't know what to call me exactly. I don't need to drink blood. My physical strength is only slightly higher than a normal human's. Hell, I don't even have natural night vision like they do."
"But you're still different." She pointed to the satellite in the sky. It was hard to miss how enraptured he was with the moon.
He smiled dryly, caught red handed. "I guess, I don't know. If I were to put it into words, I'd say that the moon, now looks like an irreplaceable piece of art to me now. Something that I can't imagine the world without. During the day, I feel like I haven't slept at all, but at night I'm fully refreshed. Undercooked meats have a new layer of taste that I can't truly describe. Otherwise, I don't feel that different than normal. I don't think myself different than anyone else, or have any violent urges or anything like that."
"Heh? That's it?" She pouted. "How boring. You must be the world's most disappointing vampire. With that attitude, no one would bother making a story or a movie based on you."
He certainly hoped so. He hated being put in the spotlight, and giving other Vampires a reason to go after him was something he was actively trying to avoid. Especially now.
"I think... that Shirou's had enough attention for one lifetime. Illya."
The two teens froze hearing the third voice. Neither one had detected its owner approach, nor would they ever mistaken it for anyone else's.
Without asking for permission, Kiritsugu walked to his son's left side and sat himself down.
It was a crass, informal, and outlandishly offensive way to greet his son properly after so long. After all that they've been through these past few weeks.
So, it was without question the best way to prove that he was Kiritsugu Emiya.
It took more than a few moments for both of his children to mentally reboot from his surprise appearance.
"Hey." Shirou recovered quickly, smiling uncomfortably. "I was wondering if you'd show up."
"So was I." It was clear that they both seemed to have expected the same thing from him.
"Did you and Illya make a contract, or is this goodbye again? Wouldn't be out of place to do the latter here." His Independent Action skill could only last him for a little over a full day. If he hadn't made any contingencies, the Servant would be running out of fuel right about now.
"No. It wouldn't," Assassin agreed. After all, this was the exact spot where he died half a decade ago. "From what I've heard, you're in more trouble than I anticipated. It would be a pain to let all that work go to waste at the last moment."
"Please and thank you." Shaking his head with a dry grin, Shirou reached into a pocket of his robe and took out a small cardboard container.
Assassin blinked in surprise, spying the rare logo of cigarettes that he imbibed in when he felt particularly selfish. "I thought I got rid of them all."
"You did. Turns out Aozaki has the same crappy taste in these things as you do. Don't know why, but I made her throw in a carton of the stuff during the negotiations when I found out. For nostalgia's sake, probably."
"Hah. No kidding." Breaking character, Kiritsugu let out a dry laugh, taking the gift and storing them away for later. His lungs were magical. Shirou's and Illya's… well, technically they were too, but probably not enough to prevent cancer. "Don't tell me you smoke now."
"With Sirius-jiji as my teacher? I stay away from drugs and alcohol when I can so I don't turn out like that crazy old bastard." Shirou's wry expression matched his father's, simply enjoying the moment with a bitter taste in his mouth. "I'm guessing I'm the last person to know about this?"
"Everyone was too scared to tell you. They didn't want to risk making Kiritsugu mad." Illya smiled innocently, as if pretending that no one had thought that their lives were on the line.
Shirou was terrible at pretending, if the dry look he shot his sister was any indication. "I can imagine."
The little fairy maintained her cherubic disposition, the very image of childish purity.
"She got that from her mother." Kiritsugu threw in his two cents, losing himself in his memories. "After Iri's personality developed a bit, it wasn't uncommon to see her leading around the other homunculi in Einzbern castle to do a whim of hers or another. It drove Acht up the wall whenever she got out of hand, especially since he couldn't do much about it. Justeaze-modeled homunculi always seemed to be considered higher up on the food chain compared to the other versions, even without incentives or impulses."
Illya's smile fell, as did her gaze. "Not for me. I'm... not a pure homunculus. Even if I'm technically the same type as mama, the difference was enough that everyone in the castle listened to Grandfather instead of me. The only thing they recognized me for was my position as the next Lesser Grail. Only Sella and Leysritt ever really paid attention to me, but they're gone now."
"They cared about you." Shirou reached around the small girl and hugged her with one arm. "At the very least, I'm pretty sure that they'd be happy with how things turned out for you if they saw you now."
"Leys would." Illya sniffed. "Sella would try to kill you for hugging me."
"Yeah… sounds about right." Shirou couldn't argue against that. Sella never did accept him in the end.
He wasn't too pleased with that glint of amusement in Assassin's dull eyes either.
The three went on like that for the next hour. Shirou and Illya aimlessly voicing random thoughts and ideas, and Kiritsugu rarely throwing his two cents.
It wasn't perfect. It wasn't ideal. But, for the first time, the three were a genuine family.
o. o. o.
"She's tired," Shirou noted, seeing Assassin come back from putting Illya to bed. The two had relocated to the living room.
"She's supporting two Servants. Even if I am weak, the extra strain would have its toll on her." Instead of sitting at the table with his son, Assassin had decided to lean against a nearby wall.
"Are we finally able to discuss important matters now?" Without waiting for permission, Caster materialized at the table as if she had been sitting there the entire time.
"Dinner was great, don't get us wrong kid. Probably the best meal I've had in this and my past life, but I think we can all agree that we've had our fill of secrets for the time being." Lancer spoke his mind, lounging on the nearby couch.
"It would be best to ensure that the other Masters are unaware of this meeting." Archer was up against the opposite wall as Assassin. "As foolish as it is, it's in none of our best interests to agitate this fragile peace we have just yet."
"They are all in their rooms. Asleep or busy with their own devices," Rider reported, also at the table between Shirou and Caster.
"I can confirm Rider's assessment." Saber appeared from the hallway, closing the door behind her.
To his credit, Shirou didn't so much as flinch or look worried at the fact that all of the Servants in Fuyuki, save Berserker, were looking at him with varying degrees of suspicion.
Damn it. It really had been too much to ask for no one to notice the Vampires until things blew over.
He let out a tired sigh before looking up, cold silver eyes unwilling to betray the slightest emotion. "Tell me what you know already."
It was a long night for everyone.
o. o. o.
"Archer? Can this wait? I'm about to go to sleep." She really didn't want to have to deal with the Tower tomorrow after such a nice day, but she had no choice in the matter.
"… I believe I found the reason why Merem Solomon came to Fuyuki."
"Good for you. Tell me tomorrow." She didn't care about the midget priest or the talking rat arm. Unless the bastard was going to do something big in the next few hours, it could wait.
"Rin. He didn't come here for the Grail. Or to watch the war. Or for the idiot."
… Great. Now he had her attention. "Damn it, Archer. Why are you doing this now?"
"It was the only time I could get you alone without suspicion. You've been with everyone else all day, and they would have noticed you getting distracted. Even now, I'm with the other Servants discussing other matters."
"Other matters?" She didn't like the sound of that.
"Other matters." He restated firmly. "Matters that we can handle for now. But what I discovered, may lead to some issues if not handled correctly."
It spoke leagues of just how bad things could be if Archer was being hesitant. "Does Shirou know about this?"
"I doubt it. If he was, I'm fairly certain he would not be so accommodating to the Vampire."
She wasn't fooled for a moment. That was Archer-speak for Shirou would very likely lose control of himself and try and murder Merem Solomon the first chance he got. "Damn it, Archer. Damn it, Shirou." She didn't bother to keep quiet this time.
"In my defense, this isn't something I was particularly prepared to learn either. Not if it's something that is more consistent across worlds than I hope."
"You have my deepest sympathies." She wasn't in a particularly lenient mood now. "Just what is this terrifying discovery that you've made, Archer?"
"… I don't know if this is consistent with all variations of the Fifth Grail War, but, after thinking about everything carefully, it is likely that in this world, this timeline, -"
It was a good thing that Rin had a room to herself and had set up a few bounded fields to ensure some privacy. Otherwise, everyone in the compound would have either witnessed her face gradually turn ghost white as Archer spoke into her mind.
Followed by a very long and loud tirade of swearing and ranting.
Rin Tohsaka did not get much sleep that night.
She couldn't afford to.
o. o. o.
Omake: The forbidden line.
Materializing in Chaldea, Counter Guardian Emiya opened his eyes. "Archer Class Ser- oh damn it not you again."
Standing in front of him was the familiar, and horrifying sight of the Shirou Emiya that had become an Apostle Ancestor with a vicious grudge against him, even compared to his other counterparts.
The sadistic bastard had made it blatantly clear that spending resources to summon the Counter Guardian just to burn him moments later was something well worth the effort.
What was different this time though was that instead of holding his hand above that infernal burn button (why did those asshole magi have to put it in view of the summoning circle?), the Apostle was surrounded by several dozen Black Keys all aimed at painful but non-vital parts of his body.
"YOU…" Judging from the tangible amount of loathing in the word, EMIYA suspected he was being blamed for something again.
The Counter Guardian lifted his hands in surrender. "Can someone please fill me in as to why he's in such a cranky mood this time?"
A faint cough drew his attention to the side, where he saw Several servants shifting about uncomfortably, pointing at one in particular.
A Servant that looked suspiciously like a cross between Illyasviel and…
"Hi! I'm Chloe Von Einsbern!" The "Choco-loli" of Chaldea greeted him in clothes that looked remarkably like his, if a stripper had her way with them. "I'm guessing you're the Heroic Spirit that I'm modeled after?"
Archer gave the young girl a dead stare that lasted almost ten seconds before turning his attention back to the Apostle. "I take no responsibility for that, however your reaction is completely reasonable and justifiable. Please resume."
"Hey!" Dr. Roman's voice echoed from the speakers. "Damn it Shirou! How many times do I have to tell you to stop killing Servants in the summoning area! You might damage something important!
o. o. o.
Thanks Wayfarer for betaing so quickly.
Told you guys I'd have it in two weeks. For those who are confused by what I mean, I went on a, bit of a rant and explanation, when I posted the latest Watching Porn chapter a week ago. Life's been a bit of a bitch to me lately so I had to take a bit of a break. Actually had to turn the car into the shop a third time because the parts I got during the second were faulty. Thankfully the guys at the shop I go to are solid and fixed it all up for me for free, so there's the silver lining for me there.
Just want to ask and get this off my mind: Is it me, or does the song Footsteps by Pop Evil, suspiciously sound like a potential theme song for Shirou/EMIYA? Seriously listen to the lyrics and tell me they don't line up.
So, admittedly a slow chapter. Again, it was a necessity. Slow chapters aren't my forte, at least from my perspective. It's a pain to get everything to line up in my head when writing these things. Especially when lots of characters are interacting at once. It's hard to get them all down right and in character. Everyone wants to get their own things done, but for the sake of the story, you can only do one thing at a time, which is why I personally find it when the characters are off doing their own things in different places easier to manage rather than put them all in one place.
I admit, I channeled a bit of Carneval Phantasm when writing some of these scenes, but I think that they all deserved some of the well-meaning silliness after the crap they've gone through.
As for Taiga, I just want to ask one question before any of you decide to blow up in my face about what I've done with her:
Look at her eyes. Those dull brown eyes without any pupils that only unique, twisted, and or non-human characters in the Nasuverse have. Tell me, have any of you EVER at one point suspected that there might be something behind them? Because I'm going to be perfectly honest, I am both pissed off and completely bewildered that she was designed with those things and not made significant in any way to the canon plot.
For fucks sake people, she has Sakura's eyes. SAKURA'S eyes. What secrets is almighty Taiga Sensei hiding from us?!
Er. Yeah. Um. You can tell that it's uh, been bugging me for a while, so I kinda did something about it.
As for her Magus Killing potential… just think of her like a stand-alone Maya with her own small private army. Only with personality. Nothing outlandish. Just practical and with better resources and a home field advantage.
For anyone worried that the next chapter is going to be more delays and exposition, don't worry. Jumping straight to the trial from the get go. Gonna skip over all that crap to get the plot moving, and so I can keep you all in the dark for extra suspense. Ain't I a great person?
As for the Merem reason for being in Fuyuki Mystery, you'll see more… hints and allusions to it during the trial. It's not… unrelated, to what's going on.
Still playing FGO… and getting exhausted by the constant events going on. Only gonna use some tickets to try and get Mama Raikou and her amazing Plot…s, but I'm still saving primarily for Swimsuit Arturia and Merlin, because I'm a shameless and predictable scrub.
I'll try and get the next chapter out much sooner. Going on a week's break mid-July to do a river cruise in the middle of Europe with my family, so that should be fun. Amsterdam, here I come.
Nothing else to report on. Still writing. Still working. Still playing games and doing whatever.
Oh yeah. Mother Fucking E3.
… I like E3.
SO REVIEW! WORSHIP THE LOG! BITCH I SAID E3! AND REVIEW AGAIN!