Rusty Heart (Finale)
Published: 01.21.2014 – Beta: Obiki Doragon
The sun peeked out from the hills that surrounded Kyoto, bathing the city with its warmth.
Motoko stirred awake and sat up in her futon. Naru, a few feet at her left, was sleeping still sleeping soundly in her own covers. Kitsune on the other hand was sprawled ungraciously with all limbs sticking out. Kaolla had somehow rolled with Shinobu and was hugging the barely older girl with all the strength her limbs could muster, which caused Shinobu to squirm and moan in discomfort in her sleep with a purple tinge to her features.
They all had to be dead tired from the previous night, the kendoka mused. She, on the other hand, was feeling alive and energetic like she probably hadn't since her childhood. Is that what it felt like, looking at the world with renewed eyes?
She slipped out of her futon and changed in her usual hakama. Silently as possible she left the room she shared with the four other girls and went for the garden. There weren't many people awake yet and she thoroughly enjoyed the peace of the early hours.
She shouldn't have been surprised, however, that he would be already awake. Emiya Shirou was sitting on the patio, overlooking the gardens, with a cup of tea in his hands. There was a contemplative look about him that made him look older than he actually was. The patch of white hair didn't help either.
She recalled the previous night, how he dealt with her sister, the way his appearance changed and the power that accompanied it. What was his history? As an Urashima, his blood couldn't be anything but purely human, so it wasn't a matter of supernatural ancestry. Was it something he had picked up on his travels? Was it a skill that could be learned? It was something she couldn't begin to fathom.
"Good morning, Aoyama-san," the redhead greeted without turning, startling her out of her musing. She should have known better than to try and sneak up on him, even involuntarily. "Up already?"
"Yes, I was never one to sleep much," she replied, voice smooth. "Besides, I admit that I'm looking forward to the training. My current mood isn't exactly conductive to sleep."
"It won't do much good to get too worked up so early in the morning," he patted the floor beside him. "Have a seat."
"Yes, Emiya-sensei," she replied as she took a place at his side. Emiya seemed about to protest her use of that title for him, but then settled and sipped at his tea. He probably knew by then that she was nothing if not formal.
"Tea?" he offered moving the tray with another cup and the teapot over to her side.
She politely accepted and mimicked him as he enjoyed the quiet and the warm drink.
"You are a mysterious person, sensei," she finally said.
"Hmm?" he asked as he sipped at his tea.
"I mean, I don't really know much about you. Your existence is shrouded in mystery and the more I find out about you, the more questions I'm left with."
He put down his cup, still staring in the distance. "Fifteen years ago, there was a huge fire in Fuyuki. Over five hundred people died in it."
"I… remember you telling this before, the day you came at the inn. That is when you were orphaned and lost your memory, right?"
"Correct. I don't remember anything before that point. You could very well say that the person I am today was born in those flames. It was a sight that should belong only in nightmares. People were dying left and right, consumed by fire."
"It must have been horrible," she supplied, not understanding where this topic was going, but hanging to every word nonetheless.
"I was utterly powerless to help anyone. Hell, I wasn't even able to save myself. It was my foster father who stumbled upon my dying body and carried me to safety. Actually, that's my most vivid memory, seeing my father crying tears of joy for being able to save even just one life struck me. I clearly remember thinking that if I helped people like he did, maybe I would have been able to find the same happiness."
"Go on, please."
"To make a long story short, I decided that since I survived when almost everyone else died, I should have lived my life to help other people. I know, I know, it's a twisted reasoning, you won't hear me denying it, but it worked for me. Then… things happened, both good and bad, and I realized that it wasn't enough to cut it, that I was still weak. Too weak at that, so I sought to become stronger to help as many people as I could and… well, I'm here today."
Motoko was silent as she processed the story. "I understand," she finally concluded, "your reason for being so strong is because you fight for something beyond yourself."
"I guess you could say that," he agreed. "Does that answer your questions?"
"Not all of them, no," she smiled, "but it's a start; thank you, sensei."
"You're welcome," he nodded, putting down his cup. "Now I believe it's better if we wake up our companions and get a move. The day isn't getting any longer."
"Of course, Sensei," she agreed standing up and following him.
He had packed lightly so it didn't take him much to put everything into his backpack. The girls, on the other hand… well, they were girls. If there was thing he had learned, it was that they wouldn't just roll out of bed and start the day without working on their appearance. It didn't bother him, but he couldn't understand how they coped with the daily hassle.
… That he didn't appreciate the results of the efforts of said hassle would be a lie.
Still, he was long done packing and he was waiting for the other so to be done when the receptionist called him.
"Excuse me, Emiya-san? There is a visitor for you at the entrance."
"A visitor?" he asked, mostly to himself as she stood up. "Who could… oh," he nodded, "Good morning Aoyama-dono."
Aoyama Hisashi, Tsuruko's and Motoko's father; stood by the entrance, surrounded by four other men in traditional clothing that didn't seem all too happy to be in Shirou's presence. No wonder, since they were four of the people he had clobbered on his way to the meeting the previous night. The feeling was accentuated by their lack of weaponry, probably due to the elder Aoyama's orders. They were a sturdy bunch, though, to be already up and walking after Shirou smacked the around.
"Emiya-dono," The man greeted, equally polite, "Would you mind walking with me? I believe we have a few matters to discuss."
"Of course," he nodded. "Just give me a moment."
He told the receptionist to inform his companions that he was leaving for a little while and that he would be back soon, and then he followed Hisashi out of the inn and through the streets of Kyoto.
"You have caused quite the stir among my clan last night, Emiya-dono. We have been quite, ah, upset about the recent development. I daresay that Motoko's faults have mostly been forgotten in the wake of your passing."
"I apologize for the unneeded trouble," he replied.
"Unneeded?" he shook his head. "Not at all, There has been far too much complacency in our ranks in the past decades. Years of peace and isolation rusted our abilities and our common sense. It was a good wake up call, if an unorthodox one at that."
Shirou didn't know what to reply, so he kept silent.
"Tell me, Emiya-san, do you know the history that ties my clan to your family of birth?"
"I'm afraid not. I've been just recently acquainted with a few relatives and I didn't have the opportunity to familiarize with their backgrounds. Other… matters came up."
"Hm, I'm not surprised. Your grandmother is a very sly person. Don't mistake me; I say it as praise. It takes unparalleled wits to keep a solid control over the Urashima Conglomerate. Well, it's not my place to enlighten you on matters regarding your heritage, but I suggest you look into it as soon as you can."
"Aoyama-dono, is there a point to this conversation?"
"Ah, yes. Forgive the ramblings of an old man. Actually, I intended to talk to you about Motoko's situation. As you are aware, even if she retains to right to challenge Tsuruko for the title of heir due to your victory last night, she still was banished from the family. Being not of age yet, she needs a legal guardian."
One his man handed him over a stack of papers, which Hisashi passed over to Shirou.
"Here's the necessary paperwork for you to get guardianship over Motoko for the foreseeable future. She will be your ward from now on."
"You would hand over your daughter so easily, Aoyama-dono?" he asked with a tinge of annoyance and anger.
The older man glared at him, but then he sighed.
"I can understand why you would think that Emiya-dono, and while I don't know what Motoko might have told you about me, if she even ever mentioned me, I assure you that I have only the best in mind for my daughters."
"Is that why you're sending her away?" he asked. "Are you afraid that your influence will cause her to fall into her Inverted state?"
"You seem to be quite knowledgeable about our heritage for someone who didn't have any contact with the Urashima. Nevertheless, for your earlier display I suppose you know a thing or two about the things that lurks in the darkness of this world. Even then, you are mistaken. Motoko's blood is not nearly as thick as our own. Her mother was not… like us."
"I see," he replied evenly, mental gears spinning rapidly. "So this is about her mother?"
"No. It's just something I should have done long time ago, but I was too cowardly to do it until now. Emiya-dono, if you care about Motoko's happiness at all, you'll see that she lose that challenge three years from now," the man sighed wearily. "There's only sadness to be found in our midst."
Shirou scratched his head, looking to the side toward the horizon for a moment.
"Let me tell you a story, Aoyama-dono. A story about a woman I once knew," he began slowly. "She was strong and proud, but even though she was perhaps the strongest person I ever met she was also extremely sad. She had bet her life on a dream and that dream failed her, or rather, she failed that dream. In her last days she sought to undo everything she had done, to make things as if she never existed, never mattered."
"I understand that feeling, Emiya-dono. When the things we cherish turn to ashes in our hands, we wish we had never taken hold of them in the first place. This is why I'm begging you to reconsider-""
"No," he cut her off. "That's not it. Though she had a chance to forget things and be at peace, if only briefly, in the end she was confronted with her shortcomings and she faced them. Though she regretted failing what she had strove for, she accepted that she had done her utmost best and passed away with a smile."
"Shut up and listen," he snapped, uncharacteristically harsh, eyes flashing gray, "human beings have no direct power over sadness and happiness. They can't really know if the things they'll do are going to turn out for the best or not, nor they should. The only thing we can do, the only things that really matters in the end, is to do the thing you believe right until you believe them to be right. Even if the only thing that await us at the end of our path is" -being betrayed by your own ideals- "nothing but failure and disappointment there's nothing worse than betraying your own self."
"… I have misjudged you, Emiya-dono," Hisashi stated quietly, eyeing the man who had stepped uncomfortably close. "Under that calm appearance of yours there is a burning passion that is rare to find nowadays. I suppose," he sighed, "that I can take this as a small measure of comfort. You are not the man to who will steer Motoko away from this path, as I hoped, but at least you are the person who will see that she doesn't walk down it unprepared. Very well, I acknowledge that there's nothing I can do or say to change your mind. Here," he said passing over the documents for Motoko's guardianship. "They have already been filed to the proper authorities. Motoko is in your care from now on."
Shirou took the papers and browed them over. It was all correct as far as he could tell with a cursory glance. Everything was- wait a minute.
"Aoyama-dono, what exactly does this-?"
Motoko's voice interrupted him and they all turned to look in her direction. She was running toward him with an alarmed look on her face, the other girls in tow a few meters behind. She almost recoiled when she saw Hisashi, but she frowned and approached at higher speed.
"Sensei," she breathed as she reached him. "Chichiue," she greeted her father with a glare. "What is going on here?"
"Nothing much, daughter, just ironing out the details of your permanence under Emiya's care is all. I believe everything is already said and done, though. I shall take my leave."
"Wait! Aoyama-dono, just a moment, this isn't right." Shirou said waving the stack of papers.
"I believe I know what you are referring to, Emiya-dono, but you are mistaken. As you said just now, a man has to do what he thinks right until the very end," he smiled a smile far too reminiscent of Kirei's at his finest. "Certainly you don't intend to turn on your words right after you spoke them."
"Ugh," he groaned, caught in a trap of his own making.
"Best of luck, Emiya-dono," he chuckled. "I'm sure you'll need it from now on."
With that, the elder Aoyama slipped into an alley with his bodyguards and disappeared from sight. A moment of silence went by, during which the rest of the girls caught up with them. It was Naru who spoke first.
"Emiya-san, what happened?"
"I think I just suffered the vengeance of the Aoyama clan."
"Sensei," Motoko cried out, "did he do something to harm you?"
"Harm me? I believe he just pulled a prank on me, or rather, on both of us."
"A prank?" she blinked, clearly unfamiliar with the concept of Aoyama Hisashi pulling pranks. "What do you mean?"
As an answer, Shirou handed her over the guardianship documents. Motoko took them carefully, as if anything from her father was to be handled like it would bite her. She read through them and slowly her eyes widened a faint tinge of red spreading across her cheeks.
"What?" Kitsune asked seeing Motoko's reactions. "What is it?"
"It appears like that my clan went through with the banishment, as I expected, but they didn't change my name to be the same as my mother's."
"Uh," Naru asked. "So you're still an Aoyama? Well, that's what you wanted to begin with, right?"
"That's not it," she shook her head without moving her eyes from the line that had caught her attention. "Not it at all."
Frustrated with the lack of a straightforward answer, Kitsune stole the papers from Motoko's hands and scanned them over. After a moment she burst out laughing.
"Oh my god, this is too precious," she said between pearls of laughter. The papers fell from her hands, scattering on the ground where everyone could see them. The name at the top of each sheet slapped them in the face.
Shirou could only sigh while his tenants broke down into their own peculiar reactions to any shocking news that bore his name. Kitsune kept laughing, Shinobu's eyes filled with tears and Narusegawa seethed angrily.
He could never catch a break.
Later that day
The six travelers finally stood in front of the Hinata-sou, after a hectic trip back from Kyoto. It had taken hours to placate and explain that not, if fact, married just because Motoko's father had decided to have her name changed into Emiya, and no, it didn't count as an engagement either.
Kitsune constant teasing served only to reignite the fire of the discussion every time it was about to dwindle. Damn sly foxes.
Still, they had made it back home somehow and they all went to the dorm's living room.
"Motoko, are you really okay with this?" Narusegawa asked as they waded through the corridors of the dormitory. "I don't think these documents are valid until you submit your signed copies."
"Narusegawa-san is correct," her sensei interjected as he dropped their luggage in front of each room. Motoko was the only one who insisted to carry her own. "You don't really have to go through with this."
"Father is a stubborn man," Motoko replied. "This is likely his vengeance for having his clan humiliated in combat. I'm quite sure he wouldn't relent on these terms. Even then, I find much more unpleasant having to beg him for anything than to be called Emiya for the next three years. That is, if you don't mind it, Sensei."
The redhead shook his head, and they all moved to the living area to relax for a while. Shinobu and Kitsune, having their rooms situated on the first floor, were already there. Shinobu had taken the time to prepare a few drinks for everyone. Once they all sat and took a moment of respite, Shirou continued.
"To be honest, there's a lot of baggage associated with my name. The previous two bearers haven't led very fulfilling lives, and they have met abrupt and early ends. I'm not really set on a path of success and happiness myself either. However, it should be fine if it's only for a while."
Motoko nodded and remained silent. Truly this turn of events was most unexpected, but what wasn't in the past few weeks? Things had changed, she had changed and her name had changed. Moreover, it wasn't the end of it just yet. The course of her life had taken a sharp turn in an unknown direction, but it was fine.
Lately, her respect for this man sitting at the opposite side of the table had grown in measures she had before thought impossible. Under the name of Aoyama, she had done many things she regretted and brought her family great shame. To have the opportunity to grow stronger carrying the name of the man who had shown her how mistaken she used to be was oddly fitting. It made her feel truly his disciple, not only in swordsmanship but in life as well.
"It's alright," she confirmed. "After all, as you said, it's the name of the person who saved me. As your disciple, isn't it fitting that I too will have to carry this name until I fulfill my oaths?"
Sensei snorted. "I suppose it does. Careful though, we Emiya tend to be overachievers. If you don't pay attention you'll end up striving for impossible things."
"Spoken from experience, Sensei?"
"Quite," the redhead nodded, gaze set on some distant goal, invisible to them.
"You don't seem to be regretting it," Motoko noticed.
"Regret?" he blinked. "No, there are no regrets at all. This is the only path for me."
"As is mine, Still…," Motoko stopped with a pondering look on her face.
"What," he asked, leaning forward. The other tenants' interest was piqued up as well. "Is there a problem?"
The sword-maiden smiled with a strangely playful gleam in her eyes, putting down her glass, and for a brief moment she looked too much like her sister. Shirou couldn't help but shiver.
"You said that you'll make a swordswoman capable of beating my sister. If I fail I'll be bereft of a family and I'll be stuck with your name. If those events come to pass will you… take responsibility, Sensei?"
"Erk?!" Narusegawa chortled spewing her drink into her glass, while Shinobu's fell and crashed on the floor. Even Kitsune was gaping at the sheer boldness of Motoko's statement. To have reduced the resident seductress to silence, it was quite something.
Shirou choked, coughed and blushed furiously. By the time he and the others had regained his wits, Motoko had slipped away, not waiting for an answer. They all remained sitting in a shocked silence until Shirou himself broke the ice with a low chuckle that was a mix of amusement and genuine fear.
"Damn it, she's too much like her sister already. What the hell did I sign up for?"
It was all that was needed to break the spell cast upon them. Narusegawa jumped to her feet, running after the other girl.
"Motoko! Wait, Motoko! You couldn't possibly mean that, right? Motoko!"
Kitsune, on the other hand, patted Shirou on the shoulder in genuine sympathy. "You know Shirou-kun, I'm afraid this time you've bitten more than you could chew. I really wonder who will be training who."
"That makes two of us, Konno-san," the redhead sighed wearily, pinching his nose as if the gesture alone could quell the coming headache. "That makes two of us."
Motoko smiled under the covers of her futon. She was back at the Hinata-sou, the place she thought she would never see again. It was the closest thing to a home she had in years, and yet it seemed so much different now. Before, it was a refuge, a shelter. Now it was the place where she would forge herself into the person she wanted to become.
The change was already taking place, and she was surprised of it herself. The teasing words directed toward Emiya-sensei, earlier that day, were not something she would have been able or willing to utter just a few weeks before. This strange serenity that pervaded her, was this person who she truly was?
Admittedly, she felt rather embarrassed after she spoke those words and she fled the scene as quickly as she could immediately afterwards, but she didn't regret them. Sensei's reaction, everyone's reaction had been priceless. She could see now why her sister loved to tease the people around her so much.
Was this what she had been missing? To have the ability to smile, and make other people smile? Well, no more of that. She was still immature, she knew that, but she now was complete, whole.
Of course there were still many questions to be answered, many things she didn't understand yet. One of such thing was that strange warmth that spread over her when Sensei was close by. It felt like eagerness, yes, to learn from him no doubt, but it wasn't just that. It was a troubling and distracting and strangely pleasurable sensation.
Eventually, she would find out.
The day passed and night returned over the skies of Kyoto. Caressed by a slight breeze, the elder daughter of the Aoyama family climbed her way to the top of the hill.
The clamor of the day and the previous night had dwindled, with the firm decision of her father to entrust Motoko in Shirou's care. Saying that Shirou's assault had caused a ruckus was the understatement of the century.
Far too many things had shattered in his wake. Beliefs, ideals and convictions were being re-examined under the light of his overwhelming victory. Only Hisashi, having showed a firm demeanor he hadn't exhibited in years, placated the other elders who wanted to do something in regards to the entire debacle, though what such a thing was remained a mystery. It was quite obvious at that point that they had no power over him, not even to demand an explanation.
Ultimately, their inability to conceive a course of action gave Hisashi's faction the upper hand in the final decision. Motoko had left undisturbed, temporarily cast out from the family.
Three years and an odd teacher was all she had to surpass her, Tsuruko mused. A long time, and yet not nearly enough needed. If things were as Hisashi thought, if Motoko truly had the potential then surpassing her older sister was only the first of her concerns.
Tsuruko was both anticipating and dreading the day. Both in victory and defeat, Motoko had only things to lose and very few, if none, to gain. All she could do was prepare, be at her strongest, for the moment Motoko came to challenge her. If truly her little sister could not be averted from her fate, Tsuruko would ensure that she was ready to face anything that lay in wait past their confrontation.
"Thoughts?" a man's voice snapped her out of her thoughts.
"Father," Tsuruko acknowledged not showing her surprise as the man emerged from the darkness of the forest around the clearing. "I didn't know you were here. I thought you didn't visit the shrine anymore."
"… I long stopped praying for myself to gods that don't bother answering," the man confirmed, "but I can at least hope they will show compassion to my daughters. The sin of the father should not fall upon the children."
"Father, I never thought you responsible for mother's fate."
"But I am," the man replied sadly. "It was I who killed her after all, just as I did with Motoko's mother. I could never blame her for hating me as she does."
"She's young and she doesn't understand the weight of our curse," Tsuruko objected.
"That doesn't change the fact that I killed her mother in front of her very eyes."
"It was her choice to die for you."
"But it was my hand that did it. There is no changing that truth, Tsuruko."
"You're a stubborn man," the raven-haired beauty sighed in frustration. "Motoko might not have inherited your blood, but she certainly has the same thick-head as you."
"Let us hope that it doesn't become her undoing all the same."
"I will not allow it, father" Tsuruko declared under the night sky. "If it comes down it, I will descend into Yomi myself."
Hisashi didn't reply. The foolishness of her statement was evident to the both of them. Still, she would not let her sister become yet another unwilling sacrifice, even if she had to throw away her humanity for it.
After all, it was the onee-chan's duty to watch over her younger sister, was it not?
AN: Yeah, short update and nothing really exceptional. I just wanted to give a better closure to the arc so that I could make clean start with the next. For a couple of chapters I'm working on this story so the next update should be noticeably faster.
Thank you all for your patience and support