Black vs. White (III)


To the people who really knew him, Emiya Shirou was a man without pride. One could spend their life trying to provoke him and he would not lose his composure, no matter how big a wrong one did to him.

Conversely, when someone did hurt somebody else, he would react faster than one could regret committing the act where he witnessed it. Like lighting up a flame while standing on a pool of gasoline. Thing were of several magnitudes more volatile if the fool with a death wish harmed somebody Shirou cherished in a misguided attempt to get to him.

Therefore, the moment a single drop of blood trickled down Illya's pale neck, it was already too late for the perpetrator to beg for mercy.


Being way taller than the average Japanese man, Shirou was used being started at. Right after high school, he had hit a growth spurt and shot up several inches, thus towering above his countrymen by a wide margin. Rin theorized that his Nerve Circuit making habit had slowed down the process until he stopped doing it, and that his alternate future self's arm had accelerated it instead.

The result was that wherever he went, he stood out both literally and metaphorically.

However, all the height in the world wouldn't have him stared at like it did walking through Hinata City with a gaggle of girls surrounding him. Illya's uncommon appearance was enough to draw the eyes of the onlooker, but with her taking one of his arms, Kanako taking the other and a barefooted Suu riding on his shoulders they made quite a spectacle.

It didn't help that Motoko and Kitsune were following close behind, though for entirely different reasons from one another. Last but not least, there were Naru and Shinobu, who had come simply because they didn't want to be the only one not going.

He went out for grocery shopping. Why did they all have to tag along? At least it would make carrying things back a lot more easy.

He did not expect to run into Evangeline McDowell, the local Second Owner on his way there. Much less in the company of one Noriyasu Seta.

"Ah!" both he and the archeologist said upon seeing each other.

"Emiya."

"Noriyasu-san, hello," he greeted, way more politely. "McDowell-san."

"Oh, Emiya. It's been awhile."

"Wait, you know this guys?" Seta asked of his colleague.

"We've met," she replied noncommittally. "How have you been Emiya?"

"As well as it can be expected," he replied and then he noticed that her eyes fell upon Illya.

"Lady Von Einzbern," she gasped.

"Hm? Do you know me?" Illya asked, looking at the woman with suspicion.

"Of course. Your history is, ah, quite renown. I have once been brought in for a counsel on your case."

"There's no need to stand on ceremonies McDowell-san," said Shirou. "Illya has just come to visit Japan for a little while."

Meanwhile, the other girls were exchanging bewildered looks. What case was this woman talking about.

"Hey, Shirou. Who is this person?" asked Kitsune.

"McDowell-san is a teacher at Toudai."

"What?" Narusegawa nearly shrieked. "Why do you know a teacher at the University?"

"We've met through a professor in London," he explained.

"London?" Seta asked, looking bewildered.

"Yes, what's wrong with that?" asked Shirou with a frown.

"... no. Nothing. I just didn't think you had your fingers in so many pies."

"Oniichan. Who is this scruffy looking man?" asked Illya.

"Right. Right. Introductions are in order I guess. Illya, this is Noriyasu Seta."

"Oh. That guy who always got in your way?"

"It's the other way around!" Seta protested most vehemently.

"Seta-san. These are my adopted sisters Illyasviel Von Einzbern and Urashima Kanako. She's McDowell-san, a professor from Toudai. McDowell-san, these are my tenants from the dormitory I have received from my biological family. Konno Mitsune-san, Narusegawa Naru-san, Maehara Shinobu-san, Kaolla Suu-san and.. uh.. Emiya Motoko-san."

"Did you get married, Emiya-san?" asked Evangeline.

"I'm just her legal guardian. It's a long story."

"I don't doubt. Well, as much as it was a pleasure to meet you all, I have places I need to be. Seta, remember what I told. If you are serious about tenure, get your act together," she said, before turning around and leaving."

"What was that all about?" asked Mitsune, ever unmindful of being polite.

"Mitsune," Motoko scolded.

"Hm. I'm afraid it's my fault," said Shirou.

"Damn right it's your fault," Seta growled as he stepped towards him. "Do you know how much time and money it costs funding an expedition? Because of your maraudings, most of them have turned out with just a handful of dust to show for our efforts. There's only so much anyone is will to waste in something that doesn't give results. I'm at risk of losing my position at Toudai because of people like you."

"I see. I'm sorry to hear that, Seta-san. However, I cannot apologize."

"Listen here, you incredible jackaAAHH!" Seta cried out in pain as Illya stomped her foot on his with a loud crack. "What the hell!"

"Illya!" Shirou scolded. "That wasn't necessary."

"Of course it was necessary. No one gets away with talking like that to you where I can hear it."

"As much as it pains me to admit that, I concur," said Kanako.

"I do not need you to defend my honor, Ilya," said Shirou. "You too Kanako."

"Then defend it yourself for a change. It might not mean anything to you, but it does to me. If you won't do it, I will."

"Goddamnit. Your sister is every little bit as nasty as you are, Emiya" said Seta as he nursed his foot.

That was the wrong thing to say, as everyone who could see Shirou's eyes narrow could tell.

"Seta-san. Illya was in the wrong and I apologize in her stead. However… say whatever you want about me, but if you badmouth her ever again, we're going to have a problem on our hands."

"Then… then tell her to keep her feet to herself!" he objected, though there was none of the previous bite in his voice.

"She won't do it again. Is that right, Illya?"

"Hmph! Only if he keeps his lousy mouth firmly shut. Otherwise he's going to get it again."

"And if she doesn't, I will," added Kanako.

"... you've got yourself quite the throng of defenders Emiya," said Seta morosely. "Forget it. You are not worth bothering with anyway. Just stay out of my life from here onward and I'll call it a victory."

"I'll do my best in that regard," said Shirou. "Goodbye, Seta-san."

"Yeah, whatever," he replied before leaving in a huff.

"That went well," Shirou sighed.

"Life never gets dull around you, does it?" said Kitsune rhetorically.

"I would rather like it if my life was a little bit duller, but fate and people seem to conspire otherwise."

"And by people, you mean yourself," added Illya. "But that's fine. It's the reason I love you, after all."

"... thank you, I guess," he replied. "Now, how about we get on with our shopping and get back? Lunch isn't going to prepare itself."

"Yaaay!" shouted Kaolla, still perched upon his shoulders like it was the most natural thing in the world.


After lunch, Shirou sat on the porch with a cup of tea in his hands. More or less everyone had returned to their rooms, except Shinobu who had taken upon herself to do the dishes.

It was in that moment of quiet that Illya came up to him.

"So that's where you were," she said upon finding him. "Trying to hide from me?"

"More like trying ti find a bit of quiet. How have you been, Illya? I mean really."

"It's… still painful, but it's getting better. The treatment is working as expected."

"That's good. That's really good," he said in relief.

"Yes, it is," she agreed, as she took a seat next to him. "It's all thanks to you."

"Hardly. Sakura and Rin helped just as much."

"And I'm grateful, but they aren't the ones who are still paying the price. They aren't the ones who took the risks. You are."

"And it was worth it. Every little bit of it."

"You know, I'm not sure I actually believe you," she said.

"What? Of course I do," he protested.

"Then why do you hide. I asked around, you know. Even when that man has called you a thief, you didn't say a thing."

"Illya… he wasn't wrong. I might have had a good reason to do all those things, but that doesn't make them right. It doesn't change that I made Seta-san's life more difficult. Illya, helping you was one of the best things I could have done with my life and I'm not going to sully that to defend my reputation with a man that has every reason in the world to dislike me."

"... and then you wonder why I'm in love with you."

"Illya!"

"No, shut up. I know that you don't see me like that, but that's you and this is me. Did you give me a life just so that I wouldn't live it the way I want to?"

"Of course not."

"Well, then please recognize that being with you is what I want for myself. You can keep on not liking me back as long as you wish, but that doesn't change how I feel."

"It's just… it's not… not appropriate."

"Says the guy dating three women at the same time," Illya pointed out.

"I didn't ask for it either," he objected. "If they weren't so adamant about it I…"

"You would have just faded away, disappearing and dying in some God-forsaken place, leaving us tio wonder what had happened to you. Besides, are you telling me you don't love them?"

"Of course I do! Do you think I would have agreed to anything if I didn't have feelings for them? That's not the point!"

"You are right. The point is that you still think you are not worthy."

"... yes. I'm not. I don't.."

"Shut up or I'll slap you. Just like you, I can't stand anyone besmirching a person I love, not even when the one doing it is the person herself. It hurts when you do that. I know you can't help thinking that way. You just need to accept that you are wrong."

"... arguing with you never worked in my favor."

"Yet you keep trying it. I suppose that we've got that stubbornness from dad. Words just won't work on us."

"I wonder, is that good or bad?"

"It's good one is right and bad if one is wrong," she replied. "So it's good for me and bad for you."

"Onii-sama?" called Kanako from the door.

"Looks like the eavesdropper has decided to finally come out," said Illya.

"How long did you know she was there?" asked Shirou.

"Only a few seconds. She's surprisingly adept at hiding her presence. As expected from someone trying to steal another girl's brother."

"Insolent brat. I was merely making sure you weren't up to no good as usual. Onii-sama. It's not fair of you to spend time with her alone."

"My bad, Kanako," he said easily. "Well, I've had enough rest. I should probably go back to my chores. The inn won't keep itself clean. You two try not to break down anything."

Shirou returned inside, leaving Kanako and Illya to stare at each other, both waiting for the other to say something. Eventually, it was Kanako who broke the uncomfortable silence.

"You… you really do love him," she said.

"And you don't. You just want to use him for something. I don't know what it is, but it's nothing good. It's fine, though. He's already figured you out."

"I… I don't know what you're talking about."

"Of course, of course. Forget I said anything. One word of advice, though. The sooner you come clean with him, the sooner he'll be able to help you out. Also, a word of warning. If whatever you have in mind ends up hurting him, I will personally murder you. It will not be a quick thing either."

"Oh, no. My bunny slippers have ran for cover."

Iliya smiled at her sarcastic response but didn't say anything else. She just stood up and walked past her without even looking at her. Kanako remained standing there, looking ahead with an impassible expression, wondering just how much she been seen through.


The afternoon was largely uneventful and evening soon came. Before dinner, as it was custom, the girls went for a bath in the hot springs. Motoko was the one who asked Illya to join them.

The snow haired girl seemed reluctant to join at first, but she eventually decided otherwise. Motoko didn't know what tipped the younger woman into coming, but of course she wasn't about to ask. She just led her downstairs and into the changing room, where the other girls were already getting changed.

Illya disrobed as well, with her back turned to them, and was the last one to follow them out and into the hot springs. One by one, they all dipped into the gloriously hot water. Because Iliya was the last to get in, all the others had a good look at her body.

Especially to the long scar that went from between her breasts to below her navel. No one said anything before she had submerged into the water up to her neck. However, the silence was definitely tangible.

"Well? Either you are going to ask or you start talking about something else. The water is certainly hot but the atmosphere is chilly right now."

"Ah! We didn't mean to stare," apologize Shinobu right away.

"It's fine. If was touchy about it, I wouldn't have come."

"So, uh, what happened to you?" asked Naru.

"My organs weren't developing properly, so I had to have surgery."

"Your organs? Which ones?" asked Kitsune.

"All of them."

"Ew. That's brutal."

"Quite so," she agreed.

"But you are alright now?" asked Shinobu.

"For the most part. I still have to undergo treatment from time to time, but it's manageable."

"So you have a condition? What's it called?"

"It's called Von Einzbern syndrome."

"But-"

"I have the privilege of being the only known case therefore I received the honor to have it named after me."

""Oh, uh. So, what does it do?"

"Hmm… how old do you think I am?"

"Fourteen? Fifteen? I dunno," said Kitsune.

Illya giggled.

"Wait, that doesn't make any sense," said Naru. "She was already born when Shirou was adopted, right? Didn't his foster father pass away almost twenty years ago?"

"But… wait."

"You were off the mark of about ten years, Miss Kitsune, but points for trying."

"Ten ye- YOU ARE TWENTY-FIVE?"

"Give it or take a few months," she confirmed.

"But… but how? Wait... if that's true you're older than Shirou."

"Well, I suppose I technically am his big sister, but I like being spoiled by him so I don't mind if he treats me like I'm the youngest."

"So what? You age slower than normal? How is that bad?" asked Kanako, who up until that moment hadn't said a word.

"I do not age slower than normal. I do not age properly. Let's just say that my organs were starting to get too big for my body and if I didn't get treated, well… it wouldn't have been a nice thing to see."

"Damn. The treatment must have cost a fortune."

"Maybe so but you can't buy back life once it's gone."

"Hold up…," said Naru. "It's you!"

"Hmm?"

"Your treatment. That's what Shirou spent all the money he made selling all those historical artifacts."

"No way," said Kitsune "Why wouldn't he say so if it was something like that?"

"Because Sensei does not care about praise," said Motoko. "In fact, he seems to actively avoid it."

"Kendo girl here has got it right," Illya agreed. "Shirou doesn't do things to receive praise, and much less he speaks of the good things he has done."

"But… if that's the case, then he…"

"Spent the past few years travelling the world to make enough money to keep my treatment going, yes."

"I don't understand. Isn't your family loaded or something?" asked Kitsune.

"It is. Very much so. The cost of my treatment was a paltry amount compared to our wealth."

"Then why did Onii-sama have to pay for it?" asked Kanako.

"Simply enough, because my relatives did not see any merit in my continued existence. Hence, I was discarded."

"That's… what kind of sick, twisted…," said Naru, unable to finish the sentence.

"Was it because of their falling off with your dad?" asked Kitsune.

"It relates to that. Mostly is because of inheritance issues. I failed to live up to their expectations so they just washed their hands of me. Shirou didn't like that, so after he took me in, took care of my condition and then helped me bringing my case up to the elders. Because of that, today I'm the head of the family. Not that there's much family left to be had after all."

"Oh wow. This sounds surprisingly familiar," commented Kitsune, glancing at Motoko.

"Sensei does seem to have experience with this sort of things," she agreed.

"That's why you are in love with him," concluded Naru, her tone surprisingly soft.

"Not really. I fell in love with him shortly after we met. What he did after only cemented my feelings.."

"But he's still your brother."

"Maybe so, but he's ruined me for other men. I'm never going to find someone else who loves me as much as he does and whom I love as intensely as I do. What's more, even with the treatment, an extremely optimistic life expectancy for me doesn't exceed three decades. I would really prefer to see our eventual child become an adult before I die. I don't have time to waste pursuing unlikely alternatives."

"So you can still, uh, procreate? Won't your baby have the same problem?"

"Yes, I can and no, it's not hereditary."

"God, this conversation is weird," said Naru, shaking her head. "Why are you even telling us all of these things?"

"Because he won't," she explained. "He'll just let people assume the worst of him and he wouldn't say a word. He would just go through life helping one person after another without ever being understood, without ever holding anything. I'm not going to let him do that, so I'm interfering."

"Ah. So that's what Rin was up to the other time," Kitsune realized.

"I assume so. For all her being an annoying interloper, her brain isn't all that bad."

"Damn, is there a single person around Shirou who's had a normal life?" asked Kitsune as she slumped back in the water.

"I don't know, is there?" asked Illya.

The resident of the Hinata-sou looked at each other weirdly. Indeed, every one of them had circumstances that weren't exactly normal. It was way they were gathered there in the first place.

"I'll take that as a no, then," the snow-haired woman concluded. "You should have figured by now that things out of the ordinary don't scare him away. I'm just biding my time as my body develops into full adulthood and he gets rid of the little sister image he has of me."

"Yeah, that makes sense," agreed Kitsune. "I don't think Shirou is a lolicon."

"Unfortunately," grumbled Illya. "But I can wait for him until he sees me as a woman."

"Not afraid someone will snatch him away in the meantime?" asked Kitsune.

"Please," scoffed Illya. "The only person that could do that… no, nevermind."

"No, wait. What were you saying?"

"It's nothing. I don't have a problem talking about my circumstances, but Shirou's are different matter. If you want to know more about it, you'll need him to trust you enough to be open about it."

"Senpai… Senpai doesn't trust us?" asked a tearful Shinobu.

"Why do you expect he would? Did you ever give him reason to trust you with his most intimate secrets? With his heart?"

"But… but… we're his friends."

"No, you are his wards. He's kind to you, he cares for you, but that's just the way he is. He'll let you all use him until there's nothing left of him but bones and he'll do so with a smile, but that doesn't make you his friends."

"And why not?" challenged Naru.

"Because you wouldn't do the same for him," she explained. "I'm not saying that he doesn't think of you as friends. I'm saying that you are not."

"Listen here you-"

"She's right," interrupted Motoko. "All of us, we've only taken from him. We never asked what we could do for him in turn. Even I, who have benefited most from his guidance, have never asked myself what I could do to repay him."

"But he doesn't need anything, don't you see?" said Naru. "Is there anything he can't do?"

"If you ask yourself that question, then that means you don't really know him," said Illya. "Shirou is just a man, not a god. Why is that you think he needs nothing? He takes your burdens upon himself but do you take his upon you?"

"Well, did you?" asked Naru. "What did you do for him after all he's done for you?"

"Naru… she loves him," said Kitsune.

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"She's trying to make him happy in the only way she knows of. She's got a limited lifetime and all she's doing is wait for him. She's living her life for his sake."

"That doesn't make sense," Naru objected.

"Doesn't it?" asked Illya. "Would you be able to spend all that's left of your life pursuing the happiness of a person that might never see you as anything more than a sister?"

"But…"

"For all the wealth I now possess, I don't have a single thing that Shirou cherishes other than my own life and happiness. Those are the things I want to give to him."

"The very things that he gave you, you wish to dedicate to him?" asked Motoko.

"Pretty much. If you aren't willing to give him as much as he does, how can you call yourselves his friends? Aren't you just a bunch of leeches in the end?"

"Totally," agreed Kitsune without shame. "But since he won't tell us, how are we supposed to figure out how to help him him back?"

"It is said that the journey is as important as the destination," replied Illya. "If you care enough about it, you'll keep looking until you find a way. If you lack even that determination, then there's no point talking about it in the first place."

"I see," agreed Motoko. "It seems that I'm still lacking. Thank you, Illyasviel-san. This was a most enlightening conversation."

"That's fine. I'm saying those things for his sake after all. However, I should probably warn you too."

"About what?" asked Kitsune.

"If you get too close to him, then you might find out that getting away might be impossible and that the price of getting closer could be more than you'll be willing to pay."

"So you are saying… that we might all fall for him?" asked Naru skeptically.

"Fall? I was thinking something more along the lines of crash and burn. I don't doubt you'll fall from him. That was a given."

"You hold him in a very high esteem," said Kitsune. "Doesn't that worry you, that many pretty women might fall for him?"

"Pfft, pretty. Right."

"Are you trying to pick a fight?" asked Kitsune, eyebrow twitching.

"Ah, did I say that out loud? My bad. In any case, the number of women who fall for him have nothing to do with me. Of course, it would be better if they just disappeared but ultimately they are as irrelevant to me as the gravel under my shoes when I go out for a walk."

"Man, you are really hardcore about him. In fact, it's starting to creep me out. I better get out of here before you brainwash me to your cult."

"Yes, I'm out of here as well," agreed Naru.

"Staying in the hot water too long isn't good," said Motoko as she climbed out as well.

Kanako too left, however she did not say a word and so did Kaolla.

Only Illya and Shinobu remained seating in the baths.

"What about you?" she asked. "Are you not afraid I'll brainwash you?"

"Ano… I don't think you'll do that. Also…"

"Hm? Oh, I see. He's already got to you."

Shinobu's face took an intense shade of red and she submerged herself up to her eyes. However, she did not refute the statement.

Illya laughed cheerfully. Despite what she had previously said, she was glad that more people were starting to develop affection for Shirou. After all, as the Lesser Grail, she had been the host of Archer's soul from the moment he disappeared until the destruction of the Greater Grail.

She knew of the cold loneliness of Shirou's alternate future self as much as the man himself did. She would do anything to prevent that from happening in this timeline. Even if that meant sharing him with other women.

As long as they truly cared for him, she would not be pushing them away.

Even when she should have done so for their own good.


XXX


AN: Long time no see, Promises of a Wandering Hero fans. It looks like this story is back on the update roster with a ominous start to boot.

Check out my Pa treon at "pa treon [dotCOM] / neoalfa" for up to three advance chapter, or just leave a review here as show of support

Thanks.