Debt of a Sword

Author's notes: Just like with Erogame Protagonist, sometimes I post various omake on the omake thread of the forums, and well, this was one that gathered enough steam to actually warrant a real chapter dedicated to it.

This one can be blamed entirely on the fact that I've been wanting to write a Shirou/Miya fic since the moment I decided that they just couldn't work in In Flight. This story probably shouldn't be considered an alternate universe to In Flight, seeing as it has Minato in it. Shirou could honestly come from any of the original routes in Fate/Stay Night here, so I guess its up to the reader to decide what they want.

That being said, enjoy!

Part 1

When Shirou first met the creature that he would one day come to know as Miya Asama, the first thing he noticed about her wasn't the fact that she was an alien. It wasn't the scent of blood which died the very air around her an imaginary crimson. It wasn't even the fact that she had a shade of hair he hadn't seen anything close to since Rider had been taken out of the Grail War.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first thing he noticed about Miya was her sword. And what a sword it was.

It was ten hands long, and even sheathed in what looked to his experience eye to be a scabbard of some modern synthetic polymer which was obviously crafted sometime within the last year, eight months, three weeks, and between two and five days ago, the sword sang to Shirou in a way which not even the Noble Phantoms in his reality marble sang.

In fact, if Shirou were to try and ascribe a feeling that could be associated with the blade that had captivated him, then it would be the same feeling he received when he set eyes on Avalon. That right there was enough for a few warning bells to go off in his head.

"Excuse me," a voice interrupted his thoughts, and Shirou realized that he had apparently frozen in place on a busy street just so he could hold up traffic to stare at a complete stranger. Luckily, it seemed that the strange woman seemed to be more amused than offended by his stare. "Is there something I can help you with?"

"Uh," Shirou began, giving himself a brief shake like a dog in order to pull himself away from his entrancement. "Oh!" he added a second later, feeling himself flush in embarrassment. "I'm terribly sorry about that," he apologized, bowing swiftly.

"Fufufu," the strange woman giggled, one hand coming up to cover her mouth as she did so. It was only now that Shirou properly turned his attention to the bearer of the sword, and he was quite thankful that he had bowed low enough to conceal his expression as shock over what his senses told him shot through him. Fortunately, it seemed that the creature he had inadvertently drawn attention from didn't seem to notice. "If you were thinking of trying to pick me up, then I should warn you. I'm an engaged woman!"

"That's not it at all," Shirou hastily assured the creature, finally raising his head once he was sure he wouldn't reveal his unease. "I was just taking a moment to admire your blade."

The creature gave him a smile which while still cheerful was a trifle condescending in his opinion. "Oh? This old thing?" she shook the sword casually, and Shirou found himself inadvertently following the path the blade described. "I was actually thinking about throwing it away soon," the creature shrugged, sounding as though she was talking about an old dress or pair of shoes that she had grown tired of and was thinking of discarding.

"Throw it away?" Shirou yelped, the very idea so unbelievable that he didn't even realize the way he was gawking at the now very amused thing in front of him. "Do you know what that is? And you're just going to throw it away?"

The creature tittered again, and Shirou got the impression that yes, she was perfectly aware of just what the sword in her hand was but she doubted he really did. "Oh, I don't need it anymore," she smiled. "Why would a married woman need something like this?"

"But..." Shirou cut himself off before he could argue any further. The whisper in his mind, the train of thought which was alien and inhuman and that no one else in the world could emulate beside him had been there the entire conversation, telling him the age of the sword, the history, the feats it had accomplished, even its name. It was so ever present to the magus that even he couldn't say exactly when he had identified the blade the creature was waving around casually, but he knew what it was now, and it was no surprise that he had found himself comparing it to Avalon.

After all, it wasn't often you found an original weapon that had spawned a Noble Phantasm, but the blade in front of him was one such marvel: a sword which had surpassed the ages, whose name had grown so renowned that even its myth had power.

"I tell you what," the creature said, beaming him a smile as she did so. "I was just going to throw it away, but since you seem to like it so much, here." Without another word, the female thing tossed the sword lightly to Shirou, and he dropped his tool box as he hastily and clumsily wrapped his arms around it to catch it, fumbling with it slightly as he did so.

"B-but," Shirou began, though even as he protested the priceless gift which had bestowed at him apparently on a whim he clutched the sword to his chest tightly. It wasn't greed which motivated him to do so, or some devotion to historical upkeep, but mainly just his nature. As a sword himself, Shirou was always fond of weapons. And as a collector, the acquisition of blades was as much a part of him as his skin or his hair. Normally it wasn't something that showed, seeing as his collection didn't need to be physical, but since his collection was his world, it was still a part of him.

"Well, Mr. Stranger," the creature tittered again. "I need to be going. My future husband is waiting for me!" Despite everything else that happened, the way the creature blushed and giggled euphorically at the words 'my future husband' was probably the thing which unnerved Shirou the most in the entire meeting. Twirling like a schoolgirl, the bloodied creature nearly skipped away, apparently having already dismissed Shirou entirely from her mind.

"Uh," Shirou began, wondering if he should speak up and insist on returning the far too opulent gift but not quite being able to bring himself to do so. "Thanks?" he finally got out, watching the thing leave. Despite himself he couldn't stop a slow shake of his head. "Wow. So that's what true love looks like."

Part 2

The second time Shirou met Miya Asama, he actually got her name.

It had been two months, nearly three, when Shirou next came across the creature that had so casually bestowed upon him a treasure so rare that it bordered on the incalculable. And when they met again, it was in a super market.

The moment Shirou set foot in the convenience store, one he had visited many times before, mostly on Thursdays because that was when the sale on vegetables occurred, the scent of blood let him know something was off. He very nearly called off the whole trip in order to get away with from it. However, the deals on nappa cabbage that this conbini offered really were the best in town, and well, Shirou didn't like letting ominous threatening atmospheres interfere with his daily life much on principle.

And so, when he was cautiously making his way through the dairy section a little past the fresh meat aisle, when he caught sight of a familiar light purple hair he paused. It was then that he remembered just where the sense of nostalgia that the scent of power in the air he was feeling came from.

However, that didn't prepare him for just what he found the creature who had gifted him an invaluable treasure doing.

Someone as ominous as that thing had been shouldn't be biting their nails, looking between a shopping list, a set of Ice-burg lettuce, and a set of Romania lettuce with a look of such abject confusion.

For a moment, Shirou actually contemplated just bringing his shopping basket up to cover his face and quietly leaving the store.

However, a much larger part of Shirou saw someone who was in need, moreover someone who had done him a good deed in the past at that, and before Shirou could do anything else he found himself tapping the creature on the shoulder.

"Excuse me," he began as the lavender haired thing started. "Do you need any help?"

"Ah," the female creature blushed slightly as she spun, tucking the two heads of lettuce behind her as though to hide them from sight. "Oh, no. I'm fine!" the creature said, sounding as though not even she believed the statement.

"Are you sure?" Shirou asked, his concern still plainly evident as he tried to figure out what the creature was doing.

"Oh, I'm fine," the creature repeated a little quickly. She began to smile, regaining her confidence as she turned her attention away from the greens she had been contemplating. "Do I look so desperate that even strangers feel the need to approach me?"

The last bit she said was a little teasing, but it gave Shirou pause none the less.

"Strangers?" he repeated, a little surprised by the words. "Does that mean that you don't remember me?"

"Oh?" the creature said, smiling slightly as she did so. "I'm sorry. But I can't recall having met you before. Have we been introduced in the past?"

"No," Shirou admitted, scratching the back of his head as he did so. "But you did give me your sword."

The creature blinked, and then Shirou was treated to the sight of the thing's eyes widening, honest surprise on its features. "Oh my!" the lavender haired thing gasped, both of her hands coming up to cover her mouth in surprise, heedless of the lettuce still clutched in both hands. "My goodness!"

"You honestly don't even remember," Shirou stated, shaking his head in bewilderment. If he had a priceless antique blade of immeasurable power, he would sure remember just who he gave it to, that much was for sure.

Though for Shirou, the answer to that would most likely be 'no one'. He still had the blade. It had taken him some time to find the appropriate tools, but he had already started to get in the habit of cleaning and checking it once a week.

A blade like that deserved to be well kept.

"Oh," the creature said, blushing again as she finally recognized him. "I'm terribly sorry," she began, rushing her words as she tried to make excuses. "But, well, that was the day my husband proposed to me. I'm afraid I don't really remember much of it..."

"It's fine," Shirou cut her off, but now he was smiling. "I got the impression that you were distracted back then. You looked very happy, after all." Despite himself, he chuckled briefly, and in response the creature began to giggle helplessly. "Did everything work out? Am I now addressing a 'Missus' rather than a 'Miss'?"

At his prompting, the creature blushed again, and the smile on her face reminded him of the same euphoria he saw back when he first came across her. "Yes!" she declared, a little too loud but obviously happy. "For over a month now!"

She seemed so proud of her new status as a wife that Shirou could only smile again. "Congratulations," he told her, and he meant it.

It made him happy to see others happy, and whatever this creature was, her happiness was pretty damn obvious even to someone as oblivious as him.

The creature didn't say anything to his heartfelt congratulations, but her smile was positively beatific.

"So what are you out shopping for?" Shirou asked, now that the ice was broken his curiosity over what the creature had been so confused about peeking through. The creature flushed, and apparently only then realized that she was still holding two sets of vegetables in either hand. She quickly tossed them back on to the vegetable rack, before tucking her hands back behind her back once more.

"Oh, it's nothing," the creature assured him. The high flush on her cheeks seemed to contradict the statement, even as she continued. "I was just planning on preparing sukiyaki tonight, and I was trying to decide which type would be best."

The creature beamed with forced cheer, but despite that Shirou was still confused.

"Oh," he began, idly rubbing the back of his head. "Is that so? I have to get that recipe off of you then. I've never even heard of lettuce being used for sukiyaki instead of cabbage."

"Lettuce? Cabbage?" the creature repeated, sounding a bit confused. "Is there a difference between the two?" she asked, bewilderment in her voice. Shirou paused, slowly focusing his full attention on the female.

"Yes," he said slowly, his eyes traveling down to the cart beside the creature. "Um, I have to ask further. Most recipes I know for sukiyaki involve flavoring the soy sauce with sugar. Is that the same recipe you're using?"

"Of course!" the creature declared instantly, nodding her head quickly. Shirou studied her cart a bit further.

"So then what are you buying all that salt for?" he prompted her, and she flushed again.

"Uh... You mean that isn't sugar?" she muttered, her eyes quickly flashing to confirm that yes, the three bags in her cart did indeed have salt and not sugar in them. Her flush grew even further.

"And customarily sukiyaki uses snow peas, not green peas," Shirou added as well, and finally the creature slumped down leaning against her shopping cart as the strength left her body.

"Um," the thing began, sounding hopelessly humiliated. "I may be a tad bit inexperienced with cooking," she finally admitted in a whisper, despair obvious in her tone.

Shirou straightened, a firm expression descending on his face. He was a man who believed in helping others. Moreover, this thing, whatever it was, had given him a priceless gift without even realizing it in the past. And more than that, he was a chef.

It might not be much, but it could begin to repay the debt he owed this poor lost sheep.

"Well," he began, taking the creatures shopping cart and gently nudging it forward. "The first thing you need to know is that there are three kinds of cabbages that this conbini offers. The one that works best with sukiyaki is actually on sale today..."

The creature blinked in surprise, taking in his words without comprehension for a few moments before she seemed to realize what Shirou was doing and began to quickly trail after him, her eyes wide as she paid close attention to his words.

She had been listening for ten minutes before she realized that she had made a grave oversight.

"Um," she began, interrupting Shirou's lecture on the different types of sauces that went well with sukiyaki, and what types of egg made the best dipping sauce. "My name is Miya. Miya Asama."

She still got a thrill out of using her husband's last name in conjunction with her own.

Shirou paused, and smiled back. "Mine is Shirou Emiya."

Two hours later, Shirou was still talking, though his voice was a bit hoarse at this point. Both he and Miya were making their way towards Miya's home, him following her lead. He was laden down heavily with a number of shopping bags, both his and hers.

Miya, on the other hand, had purchased a little notebook from the stationary section of the conbini, and was even now furiously jotting down notes.

"... so once the boiling point is reached, you can refresh the sauce with either pure soy or more sweetened soy," Shirou was explaining, Miya nodding furiously as she continued to copy his every word. "If you're using a lot of cabbage, pure soy is better. Cabbage is a natural sweetener. Also, remember to drain the tofu well before hand. Drained tofu absorbs flavor better..."

"Wait," Miya cut him off, her eyes tracking over her notes as she held up the hand with a pen in it to make Shirou wait as he continued to give her cooking tips. "How do you drain the tofu again? You mentioned paper towels, but won't those misshape the cuts?"

"Oh, yeah," Shirou nodded. "But it's a matter of time versus quality. For quick and dirty you have to..."

"Uh, Miya-chan," a new voice interrupted the two's conversation, and both of them blinked as they looked up. Miya was actually surprised to realize that the two of them had actually made it all the way back to her home, and Shirou's attention was divided between the home they had arrived at and the man who was looking back and forth cautiously between him and the creature he had been teaching how to cook. "Who is this?"

"Takehito-san!" Miya eeped, blushing slightly when her beloved husband appeared all unexpected before her. "Ah, this is... um, that is..."

The sight of the creature, of Miya, acting so shy and demure around her husband was enough to once more cause Shirou to take action. Miya, because it didn't feel right to call her just 'the creature' in his head anymore, not now that he had gotten to know her better, was obviously so flustered and in love with her man that Shirou decided instantly that he would do everything he could to set the two at ease.

"Pardon the intrusion," Shirou stepped up, bowing to a respectable level to the other man. "I don't mean to intrude. Your wife," Shirou made sure to use the appropriate title and not imply any excessive familiarity with the man's spouse, "has done me a favor in the past. When I met her in the store, I unnecessarily began to offer some advice on how to prepare some of my recipes. She has been kind enough to indulge me."

Takehito felt himself relax slightly as the strange man his Miya had shown up with clearly sent up the flag of 'sorry, I don't mean to intrude' that only a man can identify when they think their girl is being sniffed at. Well, that and the sight of his wife flushing so cutely was too adorable for him to hold a temper over.

"Ah, I hope that Miya hasn't been inconveniencing you," he replied, bowing back to the newcomer. Both Shirou and he rose from the bows at the same time, and the tense moment passed.

It was a few hours later, after Takehito had invited his wife's new acquaintance in for a cup of tea in repayment for his help that Takehito discovered just what the newcomer did for a living. Miya was already in the kitchen, and despite how much he loved his wife he felt himself cringe internally.

Miya was beautiful, and he loved her, but he feared for his safety every time she put a pot on the stove. No greater love has a man than to eat the cooking of a woman who didn't know what she was doing in a kitchen.

"I'm a repair man," Shirou explained, his eyes drifting around the dining room. Takehito felt a moment of shame that the inn he had just bought was in such bad repair. The ripped shoji, the musty tatami, the creaking floorboards...

It was a far cry from the home he envisioned it being once he finished fixing it up.

"I could use a few of those," Takehito joked, trying to brush off the disrepair of his new house. "I just bought this place, and I'm afraid work keeps me busy. I only have an old college friend to help me fix it up, and well, Seo is a bit unreliable."

"If you'd like," Shirou began, still eying the room around him as his mind once more unconsciously absorbed every detail of his surroundings. "I could give you a hand. Your wife did me quite a favor before, and getting a chance to see a beautiful old home like this restored would be a good way to repay that debt."

Takehito was uncertain at first, but hesitantly told the stranger that he'd think about. When he asked for a business card, he was a bit bemused by what he found on it.

"Shirou Emiya, Repair Wizard?" Takehito read, suppressing a snort at the ridiculous title. Shirou actually looked embarrassed himself.

"It's a bit of an inside joke," the redhead admitted sheepishly. Takehito shook his head in bemusement, before his expression sobered.

"Emiya-san," Takehito began, his tone serious. Shirou stilled at the change in tone. "While I appreciate the thought, I hope you don't take offense at me being a little suspicious. Let me ask you just this: you wouldn't happen to have any untold intentions towards my wife, would you?"

It was suspicious to Takehito to see some stranger suddenly get so close to Miya. This was Miya, after all: the first of the Sekirei, the unmatched champion of the Disciplinary Squad, the heartless killer who had only recently learned that there was more to life than just bloodshed and battle.

The response Takehito got surprised him.

"Ah," Shirou smiled, his expression confusing to Takehito. It was something bitter, and something sweet, and something both nostalgic and regretful as well. "Don't worry, Takehito-san. I'm not looking for anything like that right now." Shirou debated about going any further than that at the moment, but decided that a man had a right to worry about his wife's safety. "I recently got out of a pretty serious relationship. I'm afraid it didn't end well. I don't think I'll be looking to start a new one any time soon."

Takehito hesitated, wondering if he could trust this man's words. No, the words themselves were generic and cliché. It was the other man's face as he spoke.

Takehito decided to not press on the matter.

"I'll think about it and give you a call later," he told Shirou, and Shirou gave him a brief smile, before making his excuses and leaving for the night.

Later, when Takehito was faced with his wife's dinner, he decided that he might follow through with hiring the strange repair man. It was the expression on Miya's face when for the first time ever Takehito ate something prepared by her and managed to keep a straight face. No, more than that. Takehito wasn't certain what miracle that Shirou had prepared, but for the first time ever, not only was Miya's cooking edible, but it was good as well.

Shirou would never know, but it was that moment that both Takehito and Miya decided that they would invite him over again. Takehito because it was a chance for Miya to start advancing in the domestic arts, and Miya because it meant that she might be able to bring that same look of delight that came the first time he ever truly enjoyed her cooking.

Part 3

For over a year, Shirou, Takehito, and Miya knew each other. For only a little less than a year did they consider each other friends.

For Shirou, the strange camaraderie that developed was a slice of normality. For him, it was a vision of happiness, of what the world could be like if only it tried. To see Takehito and Miya together was a relief to him, the knowledge that there really were happy endings, and that even if one wasn't waiting for him at least he could help others find it for themselves.

For Miya, it was a strange thing entirely. Then again, for Miya, everything was strange. For her, there had only been her feathers before. Protecting them, getting them the help they needed to be able to grow and flourish, making sure that they would be safe, even if it required the help of MBI and that Minaka in order to get it. To have Shirou around, a person who had nothing to do with the responsibilities from before she had given away her blade and devoted herself to her husband, it was a way to measure herself. Shirou was just an ordinary human, after all. He had, to her knowledge anyway, never had to risk his life, to fight for something which seemed impossible to truly obtain. He was just a stranger who had been in the right place at the right time. For both of them.

After all, if he hadn't been there after her husband had proposed, he would never have received her sword once she had no more use for it. Moreover, if he hadn't been there that day when she had been shopping she might have had to resort to asking, and here she shuddered at the thought, to asking that Seo for help with her cooking.

To spare her the indignation of dealing with that trash was enough on its own to justify her accepting his presence. But even besides that, Miya still found herself enjoying Shirou's company.

He was such a kind soul: so gentle, so understanding. If it hadn't been for that dreadful S-Plan that Minaka had been insisting on more and more recently, Miya might have sought to introduce him to a few of the one hundred and seven others of her species that were beginning to awaken.

Considering the way Sekirei bonded to their Ashikabi, Miya just knew that if one of them were to select Shirou then it would be a chance for happiness for both of the bonded pair. However, with Minaka becoming more and more insistent on that ridiculous plan of his, Miya decided that she would rather spare her friend the burden of being involved in something so dangerous.

He deserved a chance to find happiness like she had, without something so appalling looming in the background.

Maybe she should see about making some human friends. That way she might be able to play matchmaker after all!

As for Takehito, despite his earlier nervousness about Shirou, he quickly got over it. The strange handyman quickly became someone whose peculiarities were no longer uncomfortable but merely unusual.

So what if Shirou could cook well. Once he had been compelled to reveal his past, it was no surprise. Shirou had been living on his own for a while now, after all. It was no surprise with that considered that he would know his way around the kitchen.

So what if he always seemed to know exactly what was to blame the moment something went wrong with the newly dubbed 'Izumo House'? He was a handyman, after all. Honestly, if Takehito wasn't already having doubts with the direction MBI was going then he would have sprung to get Shirou involved on the maintenance side.

Shirou was just that darn good, and Takehito could think of at least a half dozen times when having someone with that much skill at repairs around would have saved a good dozen hours and probably a couple hundred thousand in yen when it came time to make repairs.

Besides that, it was directly thanks to Shirou that Takehito could honestly look forward to the meals that awaited him when he returned home to his wife.

Oddly enough, this development was something that all three of them took a great deal of satisfaction in. Takehito because the taste of his wife's cooking was something that he was rapidly coming to not only enjoy but to anticipate soundly. Miya, because she was beginning to be able to enjoy 'The Joy Of A Woman' that she had heard talk about before. And Shirou, because not only was he repaying his debt to Miya, but because he took satisfaction whenever someone enjoyed his cooking, and he had come to discover that he also enjoyed when someone enjoyed the fruits of his labor when it came to teaching another his favored past time.

That wasn't to say that the year that the three spent together, with Shirou as a friend to both Takehito and Miya while the two of them enjoyed what seemed to be a perpetual honeymoon, wasn't without stumbling points. However, all three were willing to turn a blind eye to some simple things in order to enjoy the peace that had developed.

So what if every once in a while Takehito would disappear for a week or two? He had an important job with MBI, after all. Shirou would simply continue his lessons on cooking with Miya, and occasionally put in some repairs that needed to be done on the rapidly improving Izumo House. It wasn't like Takehito was doing anything dangerous that would put him in trouble internationally.

So what if every once in a while Shirou would vanish for the same amount of time? He was most likely receiving an out of town order, or maybe was simply too swamped with work to be able to show up for dinners. It wasn't like Shirou was doing something dangerous like interfering in dangerous situations which might end with him dying or anything.

And if just once, Takehito might have invited Shirou to stay the night, and then tried to join him in the bath, so what? It was a common thing for bath time to be communal in Japan. It wasn't like he had known that Shirou had apparently gone under some pretty extensive surgery, if the scars were anything to tell by. It was natural that Shirou, who was obviously shy and uncomfortable talking about his past would go out of his way to avoid ever staying for a bath at Izumo House afterwards.

And so what if sometimes Takehito would return from his long absences tired, run down, and ever increasingly in despair? Shirou had never asked about what the other man did, but he had gathered enough to know that the other man's job was apparently pretty important with a rather big company. Working for corporate Japan, with a task which was apparently pretty demanding, well, having down and exhausted days must be pretty common. Whatever project was bothering him, Shirou was certain that if Takehito needed help he knew he could ask.

And so what if Miya occasionally noticed both her friend and her husband having problems with their personal lives? She knew that things might be going bad with MBI, but she was confident that if it ever came to it that Takehito knew he could ask her for help. He already conferred in her his worries, and on occasion they even tried to think of alternatives where either one might be needed to do something drastic. At least she knew that Shirou would be safe, even if things were to maybe become hard for her and Takehito.

And on Shirou's side, she knew that he was getting plenty of work to be able to support himself. Ever since Shirou took over the repairs of Izumo, she had taken a great deal of delight in watching him also absorb Seo's contract with it.

Gods, how she disliked her husband's other friend, the good for nothing one. Just watching him try to whine his way out of an honest day's labor, only to be shot down first by Takehito, and then later by a stern Shirou, ah, how it made her day. It would do the bum some good to learn what it felt like to work for a living!

Honestly? Why couldn't her husband have more friends like Shirou?

And so a year passed. It wasn't exactly the three of them together. It was more of the two of them plus one other together. For Shirou, he was happy to have a friend in the blissful couple. For the couple, they were happy to have a friend in the earnest other.

And then came the last time Shirou met Takehito.

He had been working when he received the call. He grunted, not paying attention to his phone for a moment as he tried to wrangle that last inch out of the pipe he was trying to connect. It proved to be a fruitless effort. He had honestly thought he'd be able to finish the plumbing job without having to get more supplies. But even the 'Repair Wizard' could be wrong at times.

And so, swearing to himself under his breath and covered in dirty water, he finally decided to take a ten minute break to answer the phone.

"What?" he grumbled, putting the receiver to his ear.

"It's Takehito," the other voice said harshly, and Shirou froze when he identified Seo sounding unlike anything Shirou had ever heard the irresponsible underachiever that he had taken under his wing nearly twelve months ago sound like. "He's been hurt. They're... They're not sure..."

Seo trailed off, and judging from his tone Shirou knew that it was bad.

Later on, he'd pay the clients for the door he broke down when he was exiting. Honestly, Shirou never considered the door to be his fault. It had been stupid enough to be in his way when his friend had needed him. The door frame had been an unnecessary casualty he might later admit, but well, it had been close to the door and the door had to go.

It took him longer than he wanted to get to the MBI facilities where Takehito was being treated. He had been forced to compose himself while he waited for endless miles of red tape to be wasted to prove that he had a right to be there.

It had taken more of his patience than he'd ever admit to out loud to force himself to sit through that red tape.

When he arrived it was to find a room not too unlike any other hospital waiting room in the country. There were only two others waiting for him there. Seo was pacing like an caged cat, the part timer bristling as he vented nervous energy with both a growl and his endless walking.

Miya was still.

She had seated herself on an uncomfortable looking plastic chair, bent over her legs as her lavender hair fell like a curtain around her face. The only part of her Shirou could really see were her knuckles, squeezed white in the hakama she had taken to wearing.

Shirou froze, wanting to ask so many things but not knowing where to start. It was then, when he was trying to get his thoughts together, still reeking of plumbing water, that a doctor came in.

"I'm sorry to say...," was as far as the lab coat wearing technician got before Shirou already knew what the rest of the news would be.

Seo raged when he found out that his friend had died. The part timer ranted, and threw chairs, and screamed. The doctor had to call in an orderly to contain the other man's rage.

Shirou didn't pay any attention to it. He was too consumed by the change that had come over Miya.

The creature that he had grown so used to had changed. It wasn't visible in her body; she gave no visible signs of what had happened to her. But Shirou could smell it.

The scent of blood had begun to diminish after so long, but it returned. And it had brought along a new scent. It was tangy, and sour, and bitter, and it brought bile to Shirou's throat. Even though it was so strange and wrong, Shirou found he could identify it.

It brought to mind feelings that Shirou too often felt: Regret.

There was no warning when Miya finally moved. If Shirou hadn't been on edge, he might have missed it. One moment Miya was still as a statue. The next she was screaming, her eyes red and tears already coursing down her cheeks. It was irrational, and it was wrong, but for the distraught creature there must have been no other target for her rage and sorrow. Maybe there were better targets for her to vent on, maybe there really were responsible parties for what had happened to her husband.

None of them were there at the moment, and so Miya chose the only target she could grasp: the doctor who had given the news.

It was wrong of her to target him. He had done his best, and didn't deserve the creature's wrath. And so Shirou put himself between her and the poor startled soul.

Miya didn't seem to recognize Shirou as she struck, her hands stretched like claws to attack the startled doctor. Her first blow caught Shirou on the cheek, starting below his ear and ending at his jaw. He caught her hand a moment afterwards, but even as he did so he could feel blood already beginning to swell from the new wounds on his face. He was lucky, he supposed, that Miya seemed too gone to truly focus herself. He managed to catch her next attack without taking any further damage.

She struggled against him as he did his best to suppress her. It was hard, and he had to Reinforce himself as best he could and even then it was a near thing. But Miya's heart wasn't in it. Her heart was in the room next door, where her husband no longer lived. Her heart was gone from her.

And so Shirou ignored the shouts of alarm and disturbed noises around him as he kept Miya from doing something she'd regret even further later, something which would only fuel the change in her power that he sensed. After a minute, the weeping widow finally collapsed, and Shirou let her hands go when she fell against him. He felt her tears soak his shirt as her newly freed limbs wound themselves into the front of his chest and clutched desperately there. He felt her shake when he put his arms around her to give what comfort he could.

He felt the way the scratches on his cheek didn't heal, despite their superficial nature. He found that he wasn't surprised by that. He had known that Miya was powerful, after all. Sometimes wounds from powerful creatures lingered, even with Avalon's presence.

What he didn't feel was tears of his own, despite the way Miya wept, or the fact that even Seo's eyes weren't free of moisture.

"Just another that I couldn't save," was all Shirou could bring himself to say. Just another on the list of failures that he could attribute to his name.

Still, even if he couldn't save Takehito anymore, he could at least help Miya.

It was all he could do, in the end.

Part 4

In many ways, the cruelest things Shirou ever did to Miya happened right after Takehito's death.

It began two days after Takehito had passed away. Shirou had called off his appointments for the week, and had retired to his small apartment in order to be alone with his thoughts. Strangely, for Shirou, whose thoughts were always those of swords, he found comfort in the blade the new widow had given him so long ago. Having the sword out, applying the polishing oil, then shining the blade until it shone like a mirror, it was an action which consumed Shirou, let his mind focus on things which were far away, and not back in Shin Tokyo.

"Oi!" the voice that interrupted from his thoughts caused him to jump and nearly cut off his own fingers as it drew him away from his grief. He realized that it was dark out, and that the only light in his room came from a nearby streetlight that managed to shine through his window. The blade caught that light, reflecting it silver onto his roof, and only a second shout of, "Oi! Boss, you in there?" kept him from once more losing himself in contemplation.

"Yeah," Shirou called back, coughing as he realized that he was thirsty. "Just one second."

It was a guilty pleasure of his, but he made sure to take his time straightening up a bit before he opened the door to confront the interrupter. It always seemed to lighten his mood a bit when he heaped grief on the other man. Finally, he opened his door to the street to confront an impatient Seo. "Yeah, what is it?"

Seo wasted no time in getting to the point. "It's Miya," the part timer declared, scowling as he did so.

Shirou suddenly didn't feel too happy about having kept the other man waiting.

"What is it?" Shirou demanded, instantly focused, an edge of worry in his voice. "Is she alright? Has something happened?"

"She's fine for now," Seo interrupted him, running his hand through his hair as he did so. "But I don't know if she should be alone right now." His scowl widened. "Even if she's a heartless shrew, Takehito meant the world to her," he added. "I just don't know what she might do if she was left to herself at a time like this."

"And you came to get me to do it?" Shirou demanded, eyes narrowing. "Couldn't you have gone there yourself and then called me?"

"I tried, man," Seo protested, and glanced up to show what promised to be a prodigious bruise forming on his cheek. "But you know how she and I get along, and well, it didn't turn out too well."

Shirou grimaced, his own hand coming up to touch the bandage on his cheek where the wound that Miya had given him still lingered even now. He was beginning to suspect that he might just have picked up a new scar to add to his collection. Considering the state Miya had been in when she got the news, Shirou could see the logic of Seo not being around her, and him stepping in to pick up the slack.

"I'll be right there," Shirou declared.

Shirou arrived at Izumo House to discover all the lights off, and the front door open. He felt a moment of worry for his friend, and immediately rushed in, only pausing to call out a customary, "I'm entering," as he began a search of the premise. It didn't take him long to find the widow. She was kneeling in the dark living room, staring listlessly at her lap. She smelled like she hadn't moved in a while, not to use the restroom or the bath.

"Miya," Shirou called, and he was relieved when the woman moved slightly in response to his voice. Carefully, he approached the kneeling female, but paused when he caught sight of what she was holding in her lap. It was a picture, of her in a white dress and Takehito in a suit. The two were beaming happily up at the camera, looking like nothing could ever get them down.

"Shirou-san," Miya murmured, not moving any further as he approached her. "What am I supposed to do now?" Her breath hitched as she continued. "He's gone. I love him, but he's gone..."

Shirou took a deep breath, and then set himself. It looked like he was going to have to bear the weight of supporting his friend for a bit. Honestly, he should have been doing this already.

"For now, you need to take a bath and change your clothes," Shirou declared firmly, and Miya glanced up at him, eyes unfocused as she didn't seem to understand his words. "Takehito would never want to see you in this state."

Miya only then seemed to realize just how soiled she had become. She glanced down, biting her lip as she looked at the picture once more.

"After that," Shirou continued, reaching his hand out to help the kneeling lady up. "We'll have to make arrangements for his affairs. Have any preparations for his funeral been made? After that's done, I'll show you how to make a shrine for him." It was blunt, and forceful, and Shirou felt like a heel for bulling ahead, but it needed to be said, and right now he was the only one to say it. Miya glanced back up at him, before slowly reaching out to take his hand. She seemed too confused to even take offense at his actions, instead just moving to follow his directions. It would be enough for now.

Shirou couldn't save Takehito, but he could at least do something for Miya.

Part 5

Before his passing, it had always been the three of them when they interacted. It wasn't that two of them didn't interact with each other if the third wasn't around. For Miya and Takehito, that would have been impossible. It was just that when the three were together, interactions would involve all three of them.

After his passing, it was much the same, though in a different way. Before, it had been Shirou, Miya, and Takehito. Afterwards, it became Shirou, Miya, and the ghost of Takehito.

"I don't understand what the point of this is," Miya snapped at Shirou, eyes narrowed as she glared at the handyman as he continued to drive the nail deep into the board.

"It's a shrine," Shirou patiently explained to the other. He had chosen the wood and designed the shrine himself. Even now as he continued to assemble the small cabinet like structure, he was already planning the kind of varnish he would use, considering what type of lining should go on the shelves.

"I know that already," Miya snapped, her voice rising as she snarled at her friend. "But why should I bother with such a thing! He's dead, damn it! Nothing will change that, not some worthless piece of junk! Nothing we can do will help him, so why bother doing anything at all!"

"Shrines aren't for the dead," Shirou explained, weathering the sudden rage of the widow patiently. "They exist for the living, so that they can remember those who passed on, and help them come to peace with their loss."

"Forget coming to peace!" Miya raged, stamping her foot hard enough to cause the floorboards to creak ominously. Shirou wondered if the widow even realized how much of her inhuman strength she'd been showing him the last few weeks. "I don't want peace! And I don't want to remember! I wish I had never met that man! I should just forget him. I should throw everything he had out and go back to MBI..."

Even as Miya ranted she stalked towards the shelf where the picture of her and Takehito on their wedding had been set up. For a moment Shirou thought he'd have to interfere, to get between her and the picture so she wouldn't do something she'd regret later. Thankfully, the moment she got close to the picture Miya froze, her eyes locked helplessly on the scene it showed.

Then all her rage left her and she sank to her knees again, head in her hands as she sobbed. Shirou moved hesitantly to stand beside her, one hand coming down to touch her shoulder slowly.

This was what Miya was like, ever since the incident. At times she would rage against the unfairness, and others she would weep. It was normal, that much Shirou knew. Everyone mourned differently, and this was just Miya's way to come to terms with what had happened. He wasn't certain if her fit of anger was over until she reached up with one hand to clutch the hand he had offered her, holding it like a lifeline as she expressed her grief.

It was like this for months, but as bad as it was the first few weeks, slowly, ever so slowly, it began to pass.

"It's lovely," Miya complimented Shirou when she finally beheld the finished shrine that he had been constructing for her. Her eyes were a touch red from the last crying fit she had, but she was calmer now than Shirou had seen her be for weeks.

"I'm glad you like it," Shirou told her, grunting slightly as he finished settling the small cabinet in a corner of the living room. He had already set up the dais for it, and the urn for burning incense was a little to the side waiting to be put in place.

"Shirou-san," Miya began, glancing over at the wedding picture. In recent weeks the battered photo had begun to show the wear and tear of her attention to it, and in response Shirou had made sure to find a suitably durable frame to put it in. "I'm afraid that you've worked so hard on it, but I, well, I," Miya paused before quietly confessing what was bothering her. "But I don't know what to do with a shrine."

It was an odd reminder to Shirou that for all the familiarity that had grown between him and her, she was still not human. He had never managed to identify just what her species really was, but he found he no longer particularly cared. She was Miya, and she was his friend.

"First," he began his explanation of how to treat a shrine, "you have to choose what items to put into it." He opened the lacquered sliding door and displayed the small shelf that was used to hold treasured items of a loved one so that the mourner could view them as reminders.

Miya hesitated, and her eyes tracked over to the photo once more. By the time Shirou finished his explanation, the photo had found a new home in the very center of the new shrine.

But even if things were slowly getting better for the new widow, there were still times when her grief would come back for her. It was on one such night that Shirou had decided to drop by Izumo House after a late days work in order to check on her and discovered that he would no doubt need to spend a long time at the house in an official capacity.

The front door had been torn off, and many of the walls had been broken as though by great force. Shirou had a cold moment where he worried that someone had actually attacked the widow, that maybe one of his enemies had decided to try and use her as means to get to him, and he abandoned all decorum to race into the house, already calling out to see if she was alright.

"Miya," he shouted, "Mi-" he cut himself off when he came across the lavenderette. She was sprawled in the center of the room which held Takehito's shrine. The room looked as though it had been put through a blender. The tatami was ruined, shreds of the mats spread through the room with some still floating in the air as it settled. The walls had been torn apart, great gouges and rips a testament to the fury that had assaulted them. Furniture was destroyed, and the light bulb of the room had been shattered.

The only thing that wasn't damaged was Takehito's shrine. Miya was curled in front of it, rocking back and forth slightly as she sniffled, most likely the last lingering symptom of the rage which she hadn't been able to vent at the shrine itself.

"Miya," he began again awkwardly, once more reaching out to touch her shoulder gently. He took it as a positive sign when she again took his hand in hers. At least, he thought so at the beginning. When she suddenly pulled at his hand with sudden and unexpected force he found himself stumbling to a sitting position with a surprised noise. "Miya!" he yelped, "what are you..."

That was as far as he got before she put both her hands on his chest, fisting his shirt in her grip as she pulled him forward. She put her forehead against his chest, and he could feel her shaking as she leaned against him.

"I woke up earlier," she whispered hoarsely. "I tried to roll over to find Takehito, and when he wasn't there I realized I wasn't even surprised anymore. I was always surprised before, but now I'm not."

Shirou wanted to say something to comfort the woman, but found he had no idea what to say. Instead he just awkwardly put his arms around her shoulders, giving what nonverbal support he could. He felt her shudder again.

"It's been so long since he's been gone," Miya whispered, still shaking. "It's been so long, and I'm so lonely..."

At first, Shirou mistook her words for just another of her crying spells, and thought that she only needed a shoulder to lean on. And lean she did.

It wasn't until he felt her lips on her neck that he realized he was mistaken about her intent.

Her kisses were rough, and sloppy, and the moved higher and higher towards his cheek. Shirou froze, not knowing what to do, how to respond to this new aggressiveness.

It was only when her hands came up to cradle his face and she moved to kiss his lips that he finally reacted.

Her eyes widened in surprise as his hands went to the back of her head, and she grunted when he forced her mouth from his, her head back down until it rested against his chest once more. She struggled briefly, and Shirou once more grunted as he had to Reinforce himself to keep her from hurting him, but finally the strength went out of her body, her hands went back down to grip his shirt again, and her tears came once more.

He knew why she had done what she nearly had done. She was lonely, and she wanted comfort, any comfort, to just be with someone, anyone, to help her forget.

Shirou couldn't be that someone though. Not when he knew how she'd feel in the morning, what giving in to her spontaneous seduction would mean for their friendship.

When she finally cried herself to sleep, he made picked her up and put her to bed. She didn't wake up the entire time he was moving her.

The next day, he wasn't certain if he should go see her again. Not so soon. However, Shirou wasn't much for cowardice, so he forced himself to go back to Izumo House.

When he arrived it was to discover that most of the damaged furniture and mats had been disposed of. The walls still had holes in them, but the pieces that had broken off had been cleaned up as well.

Shirou found Miya in the room with her husband's shrine. She looked very different then when he had found her there the night before. She was kneeling, composed with her eyes closed as she prayed in the way Shirou had explained to her when he first finished the shrine. She seemed peaceful, more in control of herself then Shirou had seen in a long time.

Quietly, Shirou decided not to interrupt the scene. Instead, he waited patiently for her to finish her prayer.

Finally, Miya opened her eyes, standing in one easy motion. When she turned to find Shirou watching her, she paused, and Shirou realized that she hadn't realized he had arrived.

"Ah," the widow murmured, and Shirou noted that she sounded more composed than she had in a long while. "I'm sorry," she continued, approaching him slowly. "Have I kept you waiting for long?"

"Only a minute or so," Shirou gave a white lie. He paused, studying his friend carefully. "How are you doing?"

"I..." she trailed off for a moment, and then a strange and confused smile appeared on her lips. "I feel better," she finally concluded.

"That's good," Shirou smiled back. Miya's own expression became more relaxed as she returned the gesture. It faded as her eyes drifted from his, down to his cheek.

"Shirou-san," she began slowly, pausing to take a deep breath. "I'm afraid I owe you an apology..."

"It's fine," Shirou hastily assured her, thinking he understood that she was referring to the night before. "I'm just glad you're feeling better."

"Not just for that," Miya added, one hand slowly coming up to touch his cheek. Shirou realized what it was she had been looking at.

It turned out that the claw marks she had given him the day Takehito had passed had ended up being one of the few badges his body had decided to keep afterwards. They were light and thin, barely noticeable unless you were looking for them, but it appeared that Miya had been looking for them.

"It's fine," Shirou reassured her once more, and her smile slowly returned, though a bit smaller.

"Shirou," she began, and her eyes went back to his once more. "Thank you," she finally added, bowing as she did so. "Thank you so much, for everything."

"You're welcome," Shirou told her, and he felt his own smile returning as well.

It looked like Miya was finally going to be alright.

Part 6

It was several months later that Shirou ended up moving in with Miya. Strangely enough, this wasn't a move he really saw coming, but when it happened, he couldn't see it happening any other way.

It began a month or so after Miya truly began to recover from the loss of her husband. On that day, Shirou came to Izumo House expecting pretty much what he normally came across: him and Miya exchanging little details in their recipe experiments, maybe a little reminiscing over Takehito, and possibly a chance to discuss ways to amuse themselves through Seo's suffering.

Somehow, picking on the late Takehito's unruly friend just never got old to the two. Strangely enough, on Seo's side, the abuse he got from the two was accepted with strange magnanimity.

It just didn't feel right to any of them, Seo included, not for a little playful abuse to spread around.

However, when Shirou did arrive, it was to discover that at some point in time a hooker had gotten drunk and passed out on the front steps of Miya's house.

That was the best way for Shirou to describe the creature which had appeared in front of Miya's home. It held the scent of power which was strangely reminiscent of the lavenderette, but was different as well. It was like a spring breeze, combined with a winter breeze, with a hint of fall breeze as well. Maybe with a bit of summer breeze added in, just for kicks and flavor.

Whatever the case, Shirou hesitated when he came across the creature, sleeping with her clothes in disarray and clutching a half full bottle of sake which was slowly leaking out onto the woman's rather bountiful chest.

"Um," Shirou began, staring at the snoring female. "Miya," he called out in a louder tone, hoping to get his friend's attention so she could help him deal with this. "You seem to have a guest."

"Uhh," the drunk lady moaned, clutching her head as she began to stir. "That's not what's supposed to happen. Don't you know that when you come across a lady in this state the best thing you can do is steal her panties?"

"No," Shirou told the newcomer firmly. "No, that is not the appropriate response at all."

The creature's eyes creaked open in a move so ponderous that Shirou wondered if this Sisyphean effort shouldn't be accompanied by dramatic music in order to signify the rarity of what had just occurred. She studied Shirou for a moment, and then snorted, a bitter noise.

"You're cute, but not as cute as him," the thing said despondently. "Go away, Stranger-kun. I got important things to do."

"I'm sure you do," he told her, before reaching over her prone form to knock firmly on the door.

When Miya finally arrived she caught sight of Shirou and began to smile in welcome. Then her eyes glanced downwards at the semi-comatose form at her feet, and the smile vanished. The lavenderette gave a rather put out upon sigh at the newcomer.

"Kazehana," Miya muttered, sounding completely unsurprised at the state of the hooker. Shirou on the other hand realized that this wasn't some strange drunk they'd have to send on her way.

"Miya-chan!" the newly identified Kazehana crowed, before stopping to burp conspicuously. "I've come to play!"

"It certainly looks as though you have," Miya noted, her nose wrinkling slightly at the smell of booze which hung off this newcomer.

It was later, after Kazehana had been brought in and supplied with a change of clothes while her dirty set got set aside for washing that Shirou began to get an understanding of the situation.

"Hehehe!" Kazehana giggled, waving one hand idly at Shirou as she continued to sip at the sake bottle that they still haven't managed to pry from her fingertips. "So this is the one you ended up getting all lovey dovey with, Miya-chan!"

Despite himself, Shirou winced. The three of them had been sitting at the dining room, mostly so that he and Miya could try to question the drunken newcomer. It hadn't been going to well. Shirou wasn't certain how much Kazehana had to drink before arriving at Miya's doorstep, but it must be a lot considering the way she didn't even notice how Miya paused.

"Actually, no," Shirou cut in, hoping to spare Kazehana from further embarrassing herself. "I'm just a friend coming by to visit." He wanted to give the obviously oblivious newcomer a bit more warning, especially in light of the fact that while Miya had gotten a lot better in the last few months it didn't mean that she was completely well yet.

Unfortunately, Kazehana appeared to miss the warning in his tone.

"Oh!" she instead gave Miya a sly glance. "I always wondered what it would be like if you ever thawed, miss 'Head of the Disciplinary Squad'! I guess now I finally know! Having a lover on the sly, you kinky girl you!"

"Shirou-san," Miya ignored Kazehana's lewd implications completely, instead giving the only male present a polite smile. "It seems I have to deal with a rowdy kohai for a moment. Would you mind calling the evening short while I deal with her?"

It was such a polite smile that it instantly set Shirou on edge. He had dated before, after all, and he knew what that look meant.

It meant get the hell out now, while you still had your skin.

"Well," he laughed nervously, not wasting any time on making his escape. "It looks like the two of you have a lot of catching up to do! I'll just head home now."

He never knew what Miya did after he left, and quite frankly he never wanted to know. All he knew was that from that day forward Kazehana, who was apparently going to be living at Izumo House for a bit, never once referred to him by anything less polite then 'Emiya-san'. She never ever even tried to imply that their relationship was anything less than cordial afterwards.

And she always made it a point to leave the room as quickly as possible whenever both of them were present, usually while sweating profusely and stuttering slightly.

It was a bit later, after the addition of Kazehana had begun to lose its novelty, that two more newcomers made their way to Izumo House.

Shirou had shown up after work like he usually did, and this time the newcomers were already inside and chatting with Miya when he found them.

"Oh," Shirou began, looking slowly between the two new females who had arrived. One of them smelled like a linen closet to his senses, and the other gave him the impression of ozone after a lightning storm. "Pardon me," he added, glancing between the two who were seated opposite his friend. The linen closet was wearing the weirdest bikini he had ever seen, nothing but white cloth wrapped in strategic areas, and the ozone scented one was wearing a cheongsam of some sort. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything."

"Oh, it's no problem at all, Shirou," Miya assured him, looking calm and composed as she sipped tea with both hands, her eyes demurely shut. "Just two more old acquaintances looking for some assistance." Miya sighed, one hand coming up to rest on her cheek. "My, what does it say about an old lady like me, if so many of the friends of her youth keep needing help!"

"Miya-tan," the cheongsam wearer protested, fixing her glasses as she did so. She had long red hair, braided on both sides of her head, and was clutching a box to her chest. Shirou noticed that both it and the two creatures who had arrived both looked a little scuffed.

"Oh!" Kazehana, who had been slouched in a corner with a bottle of sake, apparently just a witness to whatever conversation that was occurring between the newcomers and Miya, exclaimed. The nervous lush flinched away from Shirou's entrance, looking hastily to the door which led to the courtyard as a means of escape from being with both of them at the same time. "I just remembered something I had to do. It was far away. Very, very far away."

"Sit down, Kazehana," Miya told her sternly, and the slightly tipsy woman instantly folded her feet under her in a formal sitting position.

"Yo, bro," the linen closet girl greeted him cheerfully, raising a hand in a mocking salute. "You another refugee in this madhouse?"

"Not quite," Shirou told her, responding to her casual tone with a warm smile. "I suppose I'm one of the custodians, more than anything else."

"Heheh!" The bikini girl grinned easily back at him, and Shirou found himself liking the casual creature, whatever the heck she was. "You got style there, don'tcha bro!" Her grin became somewhat considering, and she gave Shirou a once over. "Who knows. Maybe you might make a descent Ashikabi..."

"Shirou," Miya interrupted, her voice cracking like a whip despite the casual tone of the conversation. Instantly, the redhead's eyes narrowed at her tone. It had a hint of warning, but not aimed at him. It also had a touch of something hard, and the scent of regret that had tinged Miya's aura strengthened slightly. Miya paused, and when she continued her tone was much more cordial. "I'm afraid this is another conversation which I'd prefer to remain private."

Miya's tone was apologetic, but Shirou could read between the lines.

It looked like the not humans needed to discuss some inhuman business for a bit.

"It's fine," Shirou reassured, giving a smile at Miya which she gratefully returned. "I'll come back by tomorrow?"

"That would be wonderful," Miya assured him. Her grin widened, becoming something easier. "I have a wonderful idea for how to deal with Seo-kun!"

Shirou smiled in response, and made his excuses.

However, once he left, he casually paused outside the very edge of Izumo's property. Something was going on, and it wasn't just concern for his friend which caused him to reinforce his ears as he tried to get some insight into what was occurring.

"Wow, sis," Shirou could identify the bikini girl's voice easily. "That's some guy you got coming to look in on you. So..." her tone turned sly. "What's the story with that?"

In the background, Shirou could hear Kazehana release a shaky hiss of breath.

"Matsu wants to know too!" This voice was the redhead, and Shirou noted she sounded a bit... peculiar. "That wasn't Takehito-san. Has Miya-tan and Takehito-tan decided to do a little exploring in the bedroom?"

"Quiet you fool," Kazehana hissed, desperation in her tone. "You know not what you do!"

"Shirou is a very dear friend of mine," Miya began, her tone very calm and polite. In normal situations, it would be the kind of tone that one would expect out of common conversation. From Miya in this particular instance Shirou noted that it was a little unnerving. "While Takehito was still alive, he was a friend to both of us."

"Miya-tan," the redhead began, her tone one of surprise and shock. Shirou realized that this self-proclaimed 'Matsu' had already picked up on what Miya was implying. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."

"It was some time ago that it happened," Miya allowed, regret in her voice. "When it did, Shirou was very good friend to me indeed. If it wasn't for him, I'm not certain what I might have done."

Something twitched at Shirou's senses, and he couldn't quite suppress a shudder as something manifested in his range of senses. It was something cold, something which set his body to chills and made him shudder involuntarily. His reinforced hearing picked up Kazehana's whimpers, and Matsu and the bikini girl's gasps.

"It would be poor form of me to repay my friend's actions by getting him involved in something as distasteful as this so called 'Sekirei Plan'," Miya continued, and Shirou wondered just where the sound of wood blocks came from. "Because of that, if you are to stay here, any mention of such, as well as any indecent actions, and this means you Matsu, are strictly PROHIBITED."

"Oh god," the bikini girl whimpered. "It's eyes. Why is there blood there?"

"If you are to stay here," Miya continued, the wood blocks joined by something Shirou could only describe as 'the hellish chorus of the damned, singing an adulation of despair so profound that even the righteous would weep at the horror of their voices', "then you should know that if you ever violate these conditions, then not only will I cast you out, but I shall deliver you, tied like a hog, to the very door steps of MBI myself. By the time I release you there, you shall welcome whatever fate awaits you as a release from my fury." The chorus picked up its wretched anthem even further. "Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes! Yes! Now please, stop!" Matsu begged, sounding as though she would do anything to escape whatever was going on in that room that Shirou couldn't see.

"Good." Just like that, the strange feeling on Shirou's senses vanished, and Miya's voice was once more the calm and gentle tone he had grown accustomed to. "Now. Let's discuss what is necessary to help you, Matsu-san."

"Screw this," the bikini girl's voice was shaky. "I don't think I'll ever look at a guy ever again. Maybe I should think about girls as an Ashikabi."

Shirou decided to call it quits for the night. At least he finally had a name for whatever it was that those creatures were.


It was later while Shirou was helping Miya to get that last extra mile from the water cooler that the concept came up.

"Mou," Miya sighed, helping Shirou as he squeezed himself into a tight corner to adjust a hose connection. "There are just so many of them now. All they do is lay around the house, eating and complaining. Maybe I should start charging rent."

"That might not be a bad idea," Shirou grunted as he forced the connection to turn one more time. "It might be a way to help fill this place up. If you were to open it as an inn or a dormitory or something, than you could use the rent to help with the upkeep."

"I hadn't thought of that," Miya admitted, pursing her lips as she considered the possibility of changing Izumo from just an old home that she had once sought to share with her husband to a place of residence. It would help fill up the house, and though Takehito had made sure she would be well cared for it didn't hurt to have a little extra income in her life.

The only skills she had were cooking and killing, after all. Only one of those was really good for a sedentary lifestyle like she had come to favor.

"Well, if you do, let me know," Shirou joked back. "Do you have any idea how high my rent is?"

He had meant it just to be something to laugh at, but Miya's lips pursed even further.

"Well, if you did stay on as a handyman, than I could give you a decent cut on the rent," she teased back, and Shirou grinned.

It was nice to see his friend relaxing more lately. He found out later she was being serious.

Negotiations were fierce, but eventually Shirou talked Miya into letting him pay a fee to stay. It was greatly reduced, but he was happy to help contribute to the upkeep of the newly formed inn he had spent so much time fixing up.

For Miya, she was still disappointed that she couldn't get him to stay for free. After everything he had done for her, it seemed wrong to demand money to stay in a house which he had put so much time into. Still, at least she had got him down from the full price.

Shortly after Shirou moved in, the shack out back being his unofficial workshop, Kazehana departed for parts unknown.

There was only so much booze in the world, and there wasn't nearly enough for her to put up with the pressure of being around an overprotective Miya on a warpath.

Part 7

For a while, things went much the same in the newly adjusted Izumo Inn. One of Shirou's first jobs was to install a fake door for the other redhead, Matsu. After that, he ended up installing a whole lot of wiring as well. And strange things called 'broadbands' and 'cable'. He wasn't quite sure what they were for, much to the rest of the inn's amusement, but he sure knew how to lay 'em like a pro.

The inn wasn't exactly high traffic. Yes, Kazehana apparently fled the moment it became apparent that both he and Miya would be in close contact quite often, probably for the sake of her sanity. Shortly afterwards, a newcomer came, another of the creatures, the Sekirei. This one was male, and when he first arrived he seemed so hopelessly lost with what to do with himself that Shirou made sure to go out of his way to help the other man, Homura he was called though later the creature changed it to 'Kagari' for some reason.

Shirou wasn't quite certain why Kagari was so fond of discussing the topic of 'saving people', but since that was a topic Shirou felt quite strongly about he was happy to talk about it.

If only he knew just what his innocent conversation had helped lead to in the case of that particular Sekirei, Shirou probably would have...

Well, he probably wouldn't have done anything different. It would have been nice to have another hero of justice around on some of his more exhausting trips around the world.

However, nothing stayed the same. Not for long.

More and more, Shirou started to find Miya breaking off quiet conversations with a worried looking Matsu. More and more, Miya began to talk less about random things and focus more on inconsequential topics, leading conversations away from topics for reasons he wasn't quite certain about. And more and more, he found her making use of the shrine he had built for her almost a year ago by then.

"Shirou," Miya herself brought up her growing distance one night. It was late, and the moon was full. It was getting on towards the end of autumn and winter looked as though it planned to advance soon. "Lately, we haven't had much of a chance to talk."

"Mmm," Shirou agreed, nodding slightly. Honestly, he just wanted to go to bed. He had just gotten back from a particularly exhausting trip, one involving no less than three Dead Apostles, a freaking Shinso, and that madman the Satsujinki himself. Luckily he had gotten clear before the Mage Association arrived, but man, right now Shirou was very much feeling his own mortality. He began to wonder if maybe he was getting too old for these kinds of adventures, but decided that being in his late twenties was still more than enough time to continue helping others.

Miya apparently took his noncommittal grunt negatively, and the widow shifted slightly, glancing down at her lap. The two of them were kneeling in the corridor, looking over the garden of Izumo House as lit by the moon. Between the two a pot of tea sat, with cups held by both of them as they sipped the beverage. Shirou had sprawled himself out, flopping down to let his tired limbs spread, and Miya had kneeled in a traditionally demure position, the cup cradled carefully with both hands as it rested in her lap.

"I feel that I should apologize for that," Miya continued, shifting again in a gesture which betrayed her nervousness. "It seems that many less savory remnants of both mine and my husband's past are beginning to make themselves known."

"And you don't want me to get involved?" Shirou prompted, remembering the conversation he had overheard when Uzume and Matsu first arrived at Izumo, looking for help apparently.

Miya paused, some kind of internal debate going through her before she finally gave a stiff nod. "Shirou," she began, apparently feeling the need to explain her decision to her friend. "It is not that I don't trust you, it's just..." Miya hesitated before she sagged slightly. "It's just that both Takehito and I, before we got married, were involved in several things which are painful to remember these days. I just don't want the mistakes of my youth to cause you harm."

Shirou paused, glancing over at his friend, forcing his tiredness away through pure will. This was important to Miya, and the least he could do was pay attention. Briefly, his mind wandered back to the sword which had been the cause of their first meeting. He still had it. Sometimes, he brought it along with him when he wandered the world, but for the most part it was actually in his room, on a small display case that was easily concealable.

Worry over Miya one day asking for it back had long ago been overshadowed by a desire not to let her lay eyes on it. The first time she had, she had paused, a grimace on her face, and that strange scent of regret and self-loathing that he had noted ever since Takehito had passed had increased. Shirou didn't think Miya would ever ask for it back.

He also had begun to think that maybe she really did know just what the blade was. And maybe, some part of its bloody legend might have been contributed to by the seemingly demure creature.

"I would never forgive myself if some mistake of my youth were to cause you harm," Miya concluded, staring far beyond the cup in her lap at something only she could see. "It would be a sad way to repay all that I owe you."

"You don't owe me anything, Miya," Shirou assured her instantly. It was his turn to settle back and make a small confession. "The second time I met you, I felt like I owed you, actually. Considering what you gave me. But that changed over time." Miya glanced at him, curious by his confession, and he gave an awkward smile. "We are friends, aren't we? And friends can help each other out without owing each other anything."

Miya thought on his statement for a moment, and then she smiled again, this one more content and wider. "Indeed," Miya agreed. One of her hands came free from her cup to seek his, resting gently on the back of his hand. "I can think of no better friend in all the world."

Shirou reversed his hand so he could grip hers back. It was a strangely intimate moment, yet not one which had forward overtones. It was just too friends, showing their relationship with simple and innocent skin ship. Still, it seemed that something still worried Miya.

"Are you sure that it does not bother you?" she asked one last time, unconsciously chewing at her lip slightly.

Shirou thought to what he had just got home from doing, and wondered what Miya would do if he knew just what he got up to when he was out on one of his 'business trips'.

She wasn't the only one who was holding things back to protect the other. He could hardly begrudge her her secrets when he had so many of his own.

"I'm sure." Shirou was certain of it.

Miya smiled again, and the two continued to watch the last of the autumn leaves fall in the chilly night.

For a while, even the secrets became routine between the two. It reached the point that Shirou could always tell whenever it was that Miya wanted privacy with her house-guests and would make excuses to leave by himself prompted only by a glance.

And then things changed again. Whether for the best, or for the worst, Shirou wouldn't be able to tell for a while.

Part 8

There were two meetings which Shirou ultimately ascribed the eventual change that occurred between Miya and him.

The first meeting literally fell out of the sky on the two of them.

Shirou had been relaxing after a hard day's work, this one involving less mortal peril and more dying washing machines, with Miya once more as had somehow become their custom over time. It had been a cloudy night, the promise of rain just beginning to be delivered on.

"Oh my," Miya sighed, shivering slightly. The two of them had been sharing a blanket together. "I thought that since spring was here we could start expecting warmer weather," she sighed petulantly. Shirou grinned at her. Miya tended to put on a rather stern front around the rest of her boarders. It wasn't often that she let herself indulge in childishness.

It had been a much more common character trait back when Takehito was around, he thought, before quickly thinking about something else.

"Well, look on the bright side," he reminded her, taking a sip of the tea they were sharing again. "At least it's not snowing."

"Hmph," Miya gave a delicate snort, pouting again. "I swear. One of these days, I'm going to lose my patience with the weather and just cut a set of rainclouds in half!"

Shirou was about to comment on the improbability of such an act when quite suddenly, as though by magic, the rain clouds did indeed start to dissipate with unnatural swiftness. To Shirou's expert eye it looked as though some kind of aerial explosion had occurred, causing the clouds to be forced apart internally.

"Uh," he began, turning to check to see if Miya was still sitting beside him. "That wasn't you, was it?" he asked, not sure if he was joking or not. To this day he was still unaware of the exact nature of his friend's abilities.

Miya on the other hand blinked, looking quite surprised herself. Finally, she glanced back down at the tea, pursing her lips as she did so. "Did Matsu leave another of her experiments in the cabinet again?" she wondered, frowning as she tried to figure out whether or not she was accidentally drugged.

"Again?" Shirou repeated, wondering just what particular incident in the past made a concern like that one of the first things Miya check for. "What happened the first time?"

"Ah," Miya began, before looking to the side, a slight blush on her face. "Never you mind that, Shirou," she told him evasively.

"Well, when you put it like that, I want to know even more!" he whined, wondering just what it would take to convince Matsu to share the details of that specific episode with him. There was nothing wrong with having a little friendly ammunition for the next time he had the need to tease or blackmail her with. Then he paused, cocking his head to the side. "Do you hear that?"

"Hear..." Miya began and then paused herself. It sounded as though someone was screaming while approaching at very rapid speeds. "What on earth...?"

The noise continued to grow in volume until finally it ended with a thunderous crashing noise as a pair of bodies descended with unnerving force into one of the trees which lined the edge of Izumo House.

"My word!" Miya blinked, looking surprised at the incident. Shirou couldn't help but agree. Honestly, he'd seen some strange things in his time, but two people just falling out of the sky? Yeah, that ranked pretty high up there.

"Are you two alright?" he called, shrugging his way out of the blanket to go check, hoping that he wouldn't need to call an ambulance or anything.

"Ow, ow, ow," a male voice responded, sounding hurt but more or less intact.

"Ah," a female voice added, sounding concerned yet still upbeat. "Minato-san! Are you okay?"

And that was how Shirou and Miya were introduced to Minato and Musubi.

"I'm terribly sorry about this," Minato later apologized to the redhead after he had changed into some of the handyman's clothes.

"It's alright," Shirou assured him, collecting the newcomer's damaged garments for laundering. "I'm just glad that you two are alright. Though honestly, if you two are going to rent a stunt plane this late at night you should at least pack a parachute, never mind buckling in better!"

Yes, Shirou was aware that Minato's hasty excuse was complete bull. But he had to give them points for trying at least.

"Haha," Minato laughed nervously, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. "Still, I have to apologize again. I feel terrible, interrupting you and your wife like that."

Shirou paused, blinking at the other man's mistake. "Miya isn't my wife," he told Minato gently, and the multiple repeater looked surprised.

"Really?" Minato asked, wondering if he had missed something. "But the two of you were sitting near together, and you looked so close."

"I'm sure," Shirou assured the other man, giving him a comforting smile. "I was a good friend of Miya and her husband before he passed away."

"Oh," Minato said blankly, realizing that he had inadvertently started skirting a landmine. "I'm terribly sorry for being presumptuous," he apologized hastily. "It's just that when I saw the two of you together, I just thought..." He trailed off, realizing that he was just digging a deeper hole for himself.

"Like I said, its fine," Shirou reassured him once more, heading towards the door back to Izumo House proper. When he opened it it was to discover with surprise that at some point Miya had arrived, and was apparently waiting outside for the two of them. "Oh, Miya," he greeted her. "We were just coming."

For some reason, Miya took a second to respond. It appeared as though she had been lost in deep thought, and judging from the expression on her face it must have been an unexpected or surprising train of thought which she had been pondering. It was only after a few seconds that she seemed to realize that he had spoken to her.

"Oh," she breathed, one hand coming up to cover her mouth as she blushed in what Shirou assumed was in embarrassment over having been distracted. "Oh my," she murmured again, the blush widening as she looked at Shirou strangely, as though it was the first time that she had seen him. Her blush brightened a bit, and she hastily looked aside. "Whenever you're ready, please come this way," she told the two of them before hurrying off, apparently having forgotten something back in the house.

Shirou idly wondered just what that was about while he led Minato back to meet up with his Musubi. Had he left the sword out again by accident? If he had, he supposed that might explain her surprise.

Part 9

The changes that Minato brought to Izumo House were quite a few.

For one thing, Shirou quickly realized that Minato was the first time another human like him had started living there. However, whatever it was that the rest of the residents were it looked the unassuming repeater was eyeball deep in them. It made things awkward a bit at first. There was an interesting scene the day after Minato and Musubi came to live at Izumo House where Shirou returned home to discover that he'd have to fix the bathroom wall and that both Uzume and Musubi were looking pretty sheepish while Minato just looked embarrassed. All three of them looked pretty nervous around Miya for a bit too.

That didn't surprise Shirou that much anymore. Most of the other residents looked nervous around Miya at times. These times were usually preceded by either indecent behavior, careless talking of things Miya was trying to keep from him, or damage to Izumo House.

However, the biggest change that Minato brought was that he seemed to be the herald to a slow increase in the number of residents. It was only a week after he arrived that another resident, a tiny little sprite that went by the name Kusano and reminded Shirou almost painfully at times of Illya, albeit without the innocent viciousness or the gigantic blood thirsty Berserker.

However, it was the second encounter that stood out more in Shirou's mind.

That was the one he had nearly died in, after all.

It occurred while Miya and he were coming back from a shopping trip. Miya had made long strides from the confused newlywed who didn't know the difference between cabbage and lettuce, becoming a cook that Shirou could proudly call a peer. That being said, Shirou hadn't been idle himself in that time, improving his own recipes and experimenting on his own whenever he got a chance to steal the kitchen from the lavenderette.

Because of that, it wasn't uncommon for the two of them to go shopping for ingredients together and spend the time discussing new recipes.

"And I don't care what you say," Shirou sniffed, turning his nose up in playful disgust at his shorter companion. "The use of hamburger and bacon does not count as sushi. It doesn't matter how you prepare it!"

Miya giggled, a demure feminine sound as she took in her companions response to her suggestion. "But Shirou," she began, innocently. "Surely if you just use enough soy..."

"I didn't raise you to be a heathen, Miya," Shirou told her with great pomposity. "I thought I taught you better than that!"

Miya brought up a hand to ineffectively conceal her smile as she continued to tease her friend. Honestly, she would never actually use that bizarre recipe she had come across while watching late night television the other day. She preferred cuisine that leaned more toward the vegetarian side herself. But cooking was one of the few ways she could always be assured that her teasing would get to Shirou.

Then she happened to glance away from her taller friend, and caught sight of who was approaching from the opposite direction, apparently having just left her house only moments ago.

Miya stopped smiling.

"Honestly," Shirou continued, not catching the change in Miya's mood at first. "If the food is already cooked, it's better to eat it in the form it comes in. Hamburgers, regardless of the amount of bacon involved, shouldn't be changed..." He trailed off as realized that Miya had fallen a step behind him, and when he glanced back the sight of her caused him to stiffen.

Her eyes were hard, like agates, and her lips were white from the pressure she was pressing them together with. He noticed that her knuckles had also paled; tightening around the shopping back so strongly that the wicker was crackling. With growing alertness, Shirou tracked where her eyes were locked, a hammer in the back of his head cocking as he subtly prepared himself for conflict.

Shirou didn't even realize that the woman approaching was a Sekirei at first. He subconsciously had begun to categorize and track the creatures whenever one was around, and it took him a second to realize why he hadn't felt this one approaching. It was because female with long grey hair and a short black kimono that was approaching, smiling like an angel, had a scent so similar to Miya's that he had subconsciously disregarded it.

Whoever this newcomer was, they smelled of blood.

"Oh?" the newcomer cocked her head to the side slightly, still smiling benevolently as they finally came within speaking distance of the still pair.

"Just this once, I'll ignore you," Miya told the newcomer, who Shirou was beginning to suspect might be an old acquaintance, one not looked upon favorably by his friend. "The next time you set foot in my home, I won't forgive a trespass in Izumo House."

"Ah," the grey haired female sighed, sounding pleased about something. "Still the same old Miya. So scary." The change that came over the placid expression the newcomer had been wearing was electric as her eyes narrowed and a leer meant only to show teeth. "It excites me!"

There was a blur of motion as both the newcomer and Miya spun, twin moves designed to allow them to go for blades at their waists that weren't there. In the absence of steel the newcomer's hand came up empty.

Miya's came up clutching a large daikon radish, sending various fruits and vegetables tumbling as she wrenched it from the shopping bag to brandish it like a blade.

"Too bad I don't have a sword," the newcomer mourned, her expression once more cheerful and innocent. "Unless you plan to fight me with that?"

Miya closed her eyes in frustration, unable to completely suppress a blush of embarrassment over threatening someone with food stuffs.

"And as for you," the newcomer turned to Shirou, and Miya's eyes flew open as she realized that her friend was still present. She turned, mouth opening to offer a hasty explanation, though she had no idea what she was going to say, only to pause as she took in the same sight that the other Sekirei had taken in. "What are you going to do with empty hands?"

Shirou had also stepped back, though without the wide motions that the other two had. He stood, legs shoulder width apart and hands down at his sides, open slightly as they stopped just short of clenching imaginary blades. He wasn't quite certain what was going on, but he was prepared to act anyway.

"Who says they'd be empty for long?" he asked bluntly, his tone low and filled with warning.

"Hmmm?" the newcomer hummed, eyebrow raising in curiosity before a small smile started to form. "Well aren't you an interesting one? No wonder you caught the ace's eye." The newcomer smiled benevolently once more. "I'm called Karasuba. Tell me, Shirou," she didn't even try to pretend not to know his name, and Shirou wondered just where she had gotten that information from. "Would you be interested in coming with me? I can promise you a good time..."

"Enough," Miya snapped, her teeth gritting. "Begone from here! Your ominous shape soils the eyes that behold it!" Her eyes narrowed even further. "And if you so shamelessly proposition my Shirou again, then truce be damned, I'll..." She cut herself off, snapping her lips shut as words apparently failed her in her rage.

Karasuba's grin widened. "Well. Isn't that interesting? I guess you're still the same as ever." With one last look at the two, Karasuba bent down, claiming an apple which had fallen to the pavement. "Number zero one, Miya."

Miya stiffened at the title, and though Shirou honestly had no idea what it meant, it was obvious his friend was not happy to have it said.

"Let's meet again sometime, with swords," Karasuba called behind her as she turned, biting into the purloined fruit. "You too, Shirou. I'm interested in just what kind of skills you got to get our Miya's eye."

"Wait," Miya snapped, and Shirou gave her a cautious look, wondering just what his friend was about to do. He could recognize a provocation when he saw one, after all, and so far this Karasuba looked to know just what buttons to his on his lavenderette friend. When Karasuba paused, Miya continued, holding her hand up in front of her palm up. "For that. One hundred thousand yen for it."

Karasuba blinked, and even Shirou was a little surprised. That apple had cost a hundred and forty seven yen. To go up to a hundred thousand for it was quite a markup. "Where do you shop?" Karasuba wondered, glancing at the fruit idly. "Even I know a cheaper place than that."

"I was not referring to just the apple," Miya told her, eyes narrowed, and Shirou got the message. Miya was saying that Karasuba had to pay for something, though Shirou wasn't quite certain what the grey haired Sekirei had done to warrant such a bill.

"Oh?" Karasuba at least seemed to understand. Her smile widened once more. "So that's how much its worth to you?"

"No," Miya growled. "But you wouldn't be able to afford the price if you ever were to do so again."

Karasuba's smile bared teeth once more, and then she turned and left.

Shirou was left wondering just what was going on, the growing sound of helicopters in the distance a backdrop to his confusion.

Part 10

Just like Minato was a precursor to a change in the status quo, Shirou noted that Karasuba too brought her own number of modifications to the situation with Miya.

For one thing, Miya had taken to seeing Shirou off more, and greeting him when he returned. In the past, whenever Shirou had to head his work he'd simply call out the traditional 'I'm going' whenever he left, and in response Miya would occasionally call back a 'Go and come back safely', from wherever it was she was in the house. Now though, whenever he started to head out the lavenderette landlady would make sure to escort him to the door.

At first, Shirou wasn't certain quite what she meant by this change in action, but one day when he came home with a small scuff on the back of his hand where he had gotten a little careless while handling some abrasive insulation he caught sight of the way Miya's eyes instantly honed in on it, and the way they narrowed briefly before relaxing afterwards. It was then that Shirou realized that Miya was making sure to check him for any injuries on his return.

If Shirou had to guess, it seemed that the encounter with Karasuba, and the unspoken threat that had accompanied it, had rattled Miya a bit more than she had let on.

However, to the rest of the house who were unaware of the fact that MBI was apparently watching him, and that they had someone rather dangerous doing so, it must have looked a little different.

It was the newcomer, a blonde that reminded Shirou of a windy ocean and whom also apparently attached to a rather embarrassed Minato, who hadn't been well enough informed about the consequences of breaching the subject who first put it into words.

The incident occurred a few days after this blonde, Tsukiumi, first arrived. Shirou had just returned home, and after Miya's customary greeting and inspection the two of them were returning to the dining room. Miya had asked Shirou about how his day went, and Shirou had grumbled briefly about idiot customers, and why some people should never be allowed near a garbage disposal for the good of all humanity.

"And then," Shirou was explaining as the two of them entered the dining room to find most of Izumo House's boarders present, "if it wasn't dumb enough that they had already dumped six weeks of accumulated coffee grounds into the thing, they somehow thought that using their drain as a way to get rid of eggshells and apple cores, they also thought that it would apparently make a good ash tray as well. Then, once it stopped working, they decided to wait a day or two before considering it a problem. And then, if that wasn't stupid enough, they actually figured that hey, maybe if they just jam a broom stick in there maybe that will fix it. So naturally, when I finally arrive and tell them it will take at least two days to clear it all out, they start shouting about how I was worthless as a repair man!"

"The nerve," Miya commiserated, though she made sure to commiserate from a bit upwind of him. The particular scenario he was implying was a perfectly good explanation for the stink that was coming off the new stains on his work shirt, but that didn't change the fact that the smell really was rather pungent.

"Normally I feel a bit bad about charging people as much as I do," Shirou confessed, scratching the back of his head and grimacing when he found yet another piece of eggshell he had missed earlier. "But I am so going to double my prices for these jerks."

"Hmm," Miya hummed, pursing her lips. "Well, if you do, perhaps we put the windfall towards a new air conditioning in the kitchen? Summer is coming, and having a better system would make cooking in the heat a little less uncomfortable."

"What's wrong with the old one?" Shirou grimaced, remembering the beaten down shell he had resurrected in a feat worthy of comparison to Lazarus' return from the dead.

"Oh, that old thing is still working fine," Miya assured her friend, waving one hand idly. "But even if it's working it's still old. A new one will just be more efficient. And then we can take the old one and move it to one of the rooms as well."

Shirou nodded, deeming that an acceptable course of action, and instantly Uzume, who had been lounging idly in the background, shot her hand up like a kid in class begging to be called on by the teacher.

"Oh! Dibs. Dibs!" Uzume sensed the opportunity to increase the comfort level of her room, and instantly moved to secure it for herself.

"But Matsu should get it!" the other redhead argued, folding her arms and pouting. "Her room has so many computers and gets so hot in the summer. In the end she always has to take her clothes off." The hacker paused before a sly grin appeared. "Never mind! Minato-tan, how would you like to come help me out in my room later on when it gets hot out?"

"Now, now, Matsu-san," Miya interjected, sounding innocent. "Do we need to have another discussion about acceptable behavior in Izumo House? And as for you, Shirou," she turned to him as she spoke, wrinkling her nose slightly. "Why don't you go change into something cleaner while I run the bath for you?"

"Yeah, that sounds like a good idea," Shirou admitted, sniffing himself and wincing.

As Shirou began to leave to do just that, Tsukiumi, who had placed herself a bit away from the rest of the groups that she really wasn't completely comfortable being around quite yet, folded her arms and nodded appreciatively.

"I had thought all you monkey..." she trailed off, hastily glancing towards a suddenly narrow eyed Miya, "men, I meant men," she hastily changed her species oriented slur to something appropriate for the supposedly ignorant Shirou, "were completely useless. It's good to see I was wrong. Having a husband as caring as you is befitting of a woman as strong as the landlady!"

It should come as no surprise that most of the room, having previously received strong chastisement for implying a relationship beyond friendship between Shirou and Miya, winced simultaneously at the faux pas. Shirou was among the number who did so, but mostly in sympathy for what he knew was about to come.

"I'm sorry, but you're mistaken," he informed the now confused Sekirei. "Though I was a friend of both Miya and her husband, Takehito, I'm afraid Takehito has passed away."

"Oh," Tsukiumi had the grace to look ashamed of her assumption. "I apologize! I didn't mean any disrespect."

"It's fine," Shirou assured her. "No one had informed you yet, so there's no blame." He glanced at Miya to check to see if she was going to be as forgiving of the mistake as he was, only to pause as he found her not preparing herself for one of her epic lectures.

Instead, Miya was looking away quietly, an unfamiliar expression on her face. She looked... sad for some reason.

She noticed his gaze a moment later and instantly a polite smile was once more on her lips as she seemingly brushed the whole encounter off.

Still, Shirou noticed, and he found himself wondering just where that look had come from.

It was later, while Shirou was once more in his room polishing the blade that had first introduced him to Miya as was his nightly habit, that he happened to listen in on an unusual conversation. He had taken to periodically reinforcing his hearing at times, mostly to see if he could manage to listen in on a conversation which might shed more light onto the nature of the creatures he lived with. This time, he managed to pick up a conversation which seemed to be between Miya and Kuu-chan.

"Now, now," Miya was saying, the sound of spraying water leading Shirou to the conclusion that the two were in the bath. "Good girls should make sure that they're properly clean before getting in!"

"Kuu-chan knows that!" the younger girl declared, sounding petulant. "Kuu-chan is a big girl!"

"Mou, of course Kuu-chan is," Miya assured the girl who really wasn't as big as she thought she was. Shirou heard the sprite growl cutely again, and could imagine the epic sulk which was no doubt forming.

"Kuu-chan is too!" Kuu continued. "Kuu is a big girl, and someday she'll get married to onii-chan!"

Shirou twitched, wondering just how he should react to a statement like that. Part of him realized it was probably just a young girl saying the type of things young girls did. Another part wondered if maybe he should start investigating Minato's behavior around Kuu a bit more thoroughly just to ensure that nothing... unsavory was occurring.

"Oh, I think Kuu has a bit more time before that can happen," Miya stated dryly, leading Shirou to believe that she too was probably contemplating a similar action.

"Hmph," Kuu at last missed the overtones in Miya's voice, and seemed properly mollified. "Mou," she instead continued, sounding like she had just come up with a brilliant idea and had decided to share it. "Kuu thinks that Miya-oneechan should marry Shirou-niichan too!"

Shirou twitched again at that particular landmine, and briefly wondered if maybe he should move to protect the younger girl. She was just too naive to realize just where she was going with that.

However, the expected response from Miya never came. Instead, the only noise Shirou could pick up was the sound of water going down a drain. A few moments of that strange silence, and Kuu once more spoke up.

"Neh," Kuu began, sounding confused. "Miya-oneechan. Are you sad? Kuu didn't mean to make you sad! Kuu is sorry!"

"Ah," Miya finally spoke up, her voice soft. "Kuu-chan did nothing wrong," she assured the now worried other Sekirei. The sound of washing resumed. "But I don't think that Shirou and I will be getting married any time soon. Shirou doesn't seem to feel that way."

"But, but," Kuu broke in, her tone childishly perplexed. "But doesn't Miya-oneechan love Shirou-oniichan? Just like Kuu-chan, and Mu-chan, and Ma-chaan, and Tsu-chan love onii-chan?"

"Ah, but I already had someone I loved," Miya argued, taking the childish debate perhaps a trifle to seriously.

"But if Onii-chan can love all of us, doesn't that mean that Miya-oneechan can love Take-oniisan and Shirou-oniisan too?" It was the logic of a child, but despite that once more Miya was quiet.

"Kuu-chan should be careful she doesn't get suds in her mouth," Miya finally declared, and the sound of washing returned again.

"Glub, glub!" Kuu's response was lost as apparently she did exactly what Miya had just warned her about.

In his room, Shirou sat perfectly still. He didn't even realize till later that he had just slipped in his polish and nearly lost a finger for the mishap.

Just what the hell had that been?

Part 11

For a while, despite the conversation he overheard, Shirou made no move to act on the information he had received. He went to work like normal, he chatted with Miya like normal, he went about his life as he always had. Even when MBI deployed troops in Shin Tokyo, even when the numbers of Izumo House increased with the return of Kazehana whom also seemed to have fixated on the poor Minato, even when more and more often Miya would end up biting her lips and giving him a pleading look for privacy so whatever it was that was going on was being discussed, Shirou never revealed what he had heard.

This wasn't because Shirou hadn't managed to put one and one together. He might be dense, but he wasn't anywhere near stupid enough not to understand what had been revealed to him.

It was because he honestly had no idea to react to the startling revelation that Miya, despite being a widow, and despite being what he had eventually discovered to be an alien, apparently had feelings for him.

What was he supposed to do? He had been a friend to Takehito, and it felt like a betrayal to even consider his wife in such a light. However, Takehito had been gone for several years now by this point. Would that kindhearted scientist want his wife not to move on? Would he want her to be unhappy and alone forever? Somehow Shirou doubted that. Shirou honestly believed that Takehito would be happy with the knowledge that his wife was happy after he was gone.

Would Takehito be upset that it was apparently Shirou that Miya had decided to move on to? Honestly again, Shirou doubted that. He had been Takehito's friend, and Takehito knew him. He believed that Takehito would believe that Shirou would do everything in his power to protect Miya, to be a good man for her.

Despite that, the ghost of the man they both had known continued to lingered. The thought of being with Miya now that Takehito was gone still felt like a betrayal to him.

More than that, for all that Miya had secrets, so too did Shirou. How could he possibly respond to Miya's feelings, when those secrets still lingered, when at any point he might go away to once more slog through the bloody mud of some battle like a scene torn directly from hell? When at any point he might be called on to sacrifice his life so that those thousands, hundreds, dozens, even just one other life can be saved?

Despite that, Shirou found himself spending more time with that blade which had started this whole thing. And despite that, even knowing it was wrong, even knowing that he shouldn't, the memory of that night so long ago, when Miya alone and seeking comfort had pressed her lips to his skin, the feel of them, the warmth of her body as she embraced him...

He had been right to reject her back then. That he did not doubt.

But still his mind lingered, his thoughts drifted to what it would be like if such a scenario were to be repeated, if in her right mind Miya were to once more approach him...

Shirou spent much more time polishing that blade. Despite how Freudian the action seemed to even him, the feel of steel in his hand still calmed him, the weight of the blade's history a stabilizing presence in his mind.

And so time passed. With Minato present, there were far more opportunities for Shirou to listen in from across the inn, and bit by bit the truth of what was happening in Shin Tokyo was revealed to him.

The day events began to move for Shirou and Miya began shortly after Minato and his Sekirei returned home very late at night, actually more early the next morning. The hushed words on their lips when they tried to be discreet around him always circled around one topic.


It had been weeks since Uzume had disappeared, and it didn't take much for Shirou to gather that something was going on with the lively tomboy. He wasn't certain just what. Even if her exact fate had been discussed, it wasn't like Shirou could hear every secret conversation in Izumo House. Sometimes he just wasn't around. Sometimes he was unable to properly listen in without giving away the fact that he had unusual capabilities.

Sometimes, he just didn't want to pry in on every secret conversation that happened around him because it was plain rude.

However, when the monthly anniversary of Takehito's death approached, and more and more often Shirou heard the phrase 'save' in conjunction with Uzume's name, well, he finally made a decision.

Shirou lived to save, after all.

"Well, I'll be going then," Miya announced calmly, dressed in her formal kimono and bearing a basket with the necessary tools and offering for visiting a grave. She had come a long way from the confused creature that hadn't known how to pay respect to a shrine, and Shirou smiled at her.

"Go and come safely," he returned the customary phrase, putting his shoes on and tapping the toe to settle them properly. "I'll be going to."

"Go and come safely," Miya responded with a small smile. Together the two of them made their way out of Izumo House, and when they reached the end of the property they both turned in the opposite direction and walked away; Miya to go see the grave of Takehito, and Shirou ostensibly to go to work.

Miya made the entire trip. Shirou never left the block.

When the attack came, Shirou watched, taking in for the first time a true fight between Sekirei. Uzume moved with hopelessness during the fight, but only at the beginning. When she attacked Minato, Shirou tensed, prepared to interfere. However, he paused when he judged that the blows would be non-fatal.

When Minato attacked Uzume, Shirou blinked. That he hadn't seen coming.

He hadn't thought to reinforce his hearing, so he missed whatever it was that the unassuming young man said to the Sekirei wrapped in bandages, but when she heard it Uzume tensed. Shirou watched, still prepared to intervene.

When the two enemy Sekirei attacked, he winced as the louder one in a striped shirt and wielding what looked like daggers attached to some sort of synthetic cord destroyed a portion of the fence of Izumo House. Luckily, he had long ago started to stock up on repair supplies.

Only an idiot didn't get ready to fix things when they were housing superhuman alien fighting machines, after all.

Whatever the nature of the assault, both Kazehana and Homura seemed more than capable of stopping it. Barring a bit of small damage, it looked like the battle was more or less over. When a phone call interrupted the haphazard play fight between Uzume and Minato, Shirou finally began to relax.

"I'm sorry," Uzume declared, tears of happiness in her eyes as she turned to her former invading companions. "I have no more reason to help you guys. You know, those nee-sans over there are pretty strong. You won't be able to beat them. Just leave."

As though her words were prophecy, the battle was soon over. Shirou let loose a breath, relieved that it didn't seem like he'd need to interfere.

However, it appeared that one of the enemy Sekirei was a sore loser.

"That Ashikabi," Shirou heard the dagger wielding Sekirei growl from where she lay on the ground, defeated. "If I can just take you out, than all those strong single numbers will disappear!"

"Look out!" Uzume screamed, throwing herself between the knife and Minato. She tensed, the bandaged Sekirei expecting the pain to blossom at any moment.

It never came.

When Uzume turned around, disbelief at her survival clear on her face, it was to find Shirou beside her, a few steps away. His arm was outstretched, and clutched in his bare hand was the blade which had nearly taken her life.

"That will be quite enough of that," Shirou declared solemnly.

"Damn it!" the one who threw the knife screamed, yanking desperately at the rope to try and pull the blade free. When the knife wouldn't budge, her eyes widened. "The hell?" the defeated Sekirei gaped. "I can't pull free!"

"I said," Shirou repeated, his eyes narrowed as he turned to give the fallen Sekirei a dangerous look. His hand tightened, his bare palm enclosing the blade. The sharpened steel should have cut into him deeply, however, only the thinnest trace of blood appeared. As Shirou tightened his grip further, a strange noise bit into the ears of all the other listeners. It was like nails on a chalkboard, like a cat screaming...

It sounded like steel grinding against steel.

"Enough. Is. Enough." When Shirou released the blade, the enemy Sekirei tumbled backwards as the force she was pulling with suddenly had nothing stopped it. When she recovered the previously trapped blade, her eyes widened to see that this newcomer had apparently bent her MBI forged knife with his bare hands, the imprint of his fingers clearly visible in the deformed blade.

"Are you even human?" the Sekirei whispered, before Kazehana appeared behind her, one hand up to touch her crest and a Norito on her lips.

The fallen Sekirei did not get up this time.

"Holy hell, bro," Uzume gasped, staring at Shirou as the unassuming, kind and polite, and plain (Alright, not really plain. Uzume thought that Shirou was kinda cute, but Miya had marked him as off limits a long time ago) repair man that she had always thought of as just a big soft nice guy continued to stand with a look on his face more suited to an angel of death. It was a reaction being echoed to a lesser extent by Homura and Kazehana as both of them descended from ground covering leaps to join in at the gawking.

Minato too was staring, but only until he noticed the trail of blood leaking down Shirou's hand.

"Shirou-san! Are you hurt?" the earnest repeater gasped, half reaching out to check on his older friends injuries. Shirou had always been a good guy to him, and Minato respected him immensely. Minato froze when Shirou turned his hard look on him, but then the handyman's expression relaxed.

"It's nothing," Shirou reassured his younger friend, fishing out a handkerchief as he did so. When Shirou held his hand palm up, wiping gently at the traces of blood it revealed that there was no injury whatsoever on him. "Not even a scratch." Shirou tucked his handkerchief away easily, and turned to look at the broken fence from earlier.

"Well," Shirou declared, ignoring the still staring Sekirei. "I guess I better start fixing that. I should be done before Miya gets back." He began to walk away without another word before pausing after a few steps. "Oh, yeah," he added as though only just thinking of it. "Miya has always been a good friend and tried not to get me involved with her problems. I would be a poor friend not to do the same. Because of that, speaking of these events is... PROHIBITED."

It had taken Shirou a long time to figure out that trick. Miya was generally very careful not to do it when he was around. Still, he was a magus, and even if he was a crappy one, a trick like this wasn't something he could pass out.

He had firsthand experience in how effective it was. It seemed even a Dead Apostle would freeze when confronted with it!

Thus, when a shadowy avatar of hate, anger, malice, and pain great enough even to stun the undead appeared in the shape of a bloodthirsty Asura, Minato, Kazehana, Homura, and Uzume all squeaked, the females and Homura all latching on to the only full male present in order to seek safety from the incarnation of rage. Shirou held it for a moment, and then let it disappear.

"Well, I'll be heading off now," he chirped, waving his hand over his shoulder as he headed towards his shack where he kept the spare planks. "You kids clean up, okay?"

The four remained frozen behind him for several long minutes afterwards. Finally, Uzume managed to regain control of her tongue.

"It had six bleeding eyes," she whimpered. "Each one was more horrible than the last. Six of them. SIX!" She shuddered. "I will never feel safe again. I need the comfort of my Ashikabi so badly right now."

"Those two really are perfect for each other," Homura muttered, shaking slightly before he realized that he was clutching onto Minato in a decidedly unmanly way. The fire user quickly released his Ashikabi, blushing brightly as he did so. Damnit, he was definitely not interested in that kind of thing!

"Shut your mouth, fire boy," Kazehana snapped, not bothering to let go of Minato at all despite the shudder that went through her. "Those two must never end up together! Imagine what their children would be like!"

Part 12

When two people live as close as Miya and Shirou did, it was natural that secrets wouldn't last forever.

Shirou wasn't surprised when knowledge of his encounter with the two Sekirei and just what he did during the battle didn't even remain concealed for a week. He also wasn't surprised that it was Minato and his alien harem, and god, how Shirou never thought he'd use the phrase 'alien harem' in a serious conversation, who ended up giving him away.

"You don't understand," Homura was declaring, sounding uncomfortable as he finished his accounting of what Shirou had done to the gathered members who hadn't been there. Minato and all his girls had gathered together in Matsu's room, a place which Shirou had learned to listen into quite frequently whenever a good number of his housemates were missing. "He just caught the blade and then bent it with one bare hand. He can't be human! He must be some kind of secret Sekirei or something!"

"Hmmm," Matsu hummed in response sounding doubtful. "Well MBI doesn't have any information about him besides some basic stuff. Most of what they have about him is in relation to Miya-tan."

"I think he's a clone," Kazehana piped in with a slur in her voice as alcohol made her a bit incomprehensible. "A clone of Miya combined with male DNA. That's why he and Miya can never have children together. It would be like incest."

"Kazehana," Minato sighed, sounding like this wasn't the first excuse he had heard from the wind Sekirei about why Shirou and Miya must not breed.

"Oh! Oh! Musubi knows!" the cheerful first Sekirei of Minato piped in excitedly. "Maybe Shirou-san is a robot from the future sent to protect Chiho-chan from other robots!"

"Kuu-chan thinks he's a butterfly!" Kuu sounded less like she really believed that and more like she just wanted to join the conversation.

"Well, all these theories are interesting, but there's no proof of anything," Matsu pointed out. "The video is a little blurry, and you can't see much of the fight. But he did save Uzume-chan." The hacker paused for a moment. "What does Mina-tan think?"

"I don't know," Minato sounded embarrassed at being put on the spot. "For all I know he's some sort of wizard assassin who lived through some other tournament and likes saving people or something."

Shirou nearly cut off his own finger as he polished the sword at hearing Minato's disturbingly accurate guess. Wow, he thought. Good instincts.

It was because he was busy sucking his thumb to keep the blood from staining the tatami of his room that his attention slipped for a moment. And it was because his attention slipped he managed to hear the exact same conversation that was occurring in the room on the second floor coming instead from the dining room. Shirou paused, listening for a moment longer before he sighed.

Getting up, Shirou made his way to the dining room. What he found there was was none other then Miya, sitting very still as she looked down at some sort of listening device that was shaped like, of all things, a duck.

"Whatever the case," the grainy voice of Kazehana came from the duck as it repeated to conversation happening above for the listening ears of the Inn's landlady, "Miya can never know about this! It would break her heart."

Silently, Shirou reached past the still seated Miya and switched the duck off.

It was later, after the rest of the house was in bed, that Miya and Shirou sat together on the veranda overlooking Izumo's courtyard, a pot of tea between them. It was getting towards midsummer at this point, and somewhere nearby a cotton tree had released its seeds, the white floating puffs drifting irregularly through the air like fairies or snow.

Neither one of the two had any idea what to say to the other.

Shirou wanted to open his mouth, to tell Miya the truth, that he was a magus. To tell her about Fuyuki City and the Grail War. To tell her about the Clock Tower, and the bounties he frequently went on. To tell her about all the wars and battles he had served in either as a mercenary or as an outsider. He wanted her to understand who he was, and why he did what he did.

But how could he tell her that? How could he possibly explain that everything Miya thought about him, as a gentle soul that should be protected above all else, was wrong? That he could go out into the world, calling on blades of legends soaked in blood, immerse himself so fully in violence that he himself was at times nothing more than a sword that wielded itself, and then come back and act like nothing had ever happened?

That he was distorted, twisted in ways which had never healed, and that he could never be just some simple repair man living a sedentary life being protected by his longtime friend.

Miya too had things she wanted to say. She wanted to ask why, why Shirou had never mentioned these things, why he had had kept some part of his life secret from her. She wanted to know if it was true that he was not as innocent as she had always thought, if there were other events where he had involved himself in violence. She wanted to know why he would lie to her, even if it was a lie of omission.

But for her, she couldn't speak because she already knew the answers.

After all, hadn't she done just that as well? Hadn't it reached the point that Shirou already always knew when there was something she wanted to conceal from him, something she wanted to protect him from? That sometimes there were things that you just didn't want someone close to you to have to endure, and even if you had to deceive them than that was fine, just so long as they were safe? And didn't she already know as well that sometimes there were times in your life where you were a different person, that for all that you might be sitting peacefully and sipping tea on a quiet night, once entire armies lost their lives to you, whole battleships failing to be able to withstand your might?

And so the two sat, and the silence between them grew longer and more painful to the two of them.

Finally, Shirou sighed, and shifted, preparing to stand. He made it barely an inch off the ground before he stopped.

At his side, Miya had reached out quietly, her fingers lightly pinching the fabric of his pants as though to stop him from going. The lavenderette stared ahead fixedly, not able to meet her redheaded friend's eyes. Still, Shirou wasn't so dense that he couldn't understand her message.

Please don't leave me.

Slowly, Shirou resettled himself beside her. When Miya still refused to release her gentle grip on his clothes he hesitated.

Finally, slowly and with much awkwardness, not quite sure how what he was about to do would be received, he lifted one arm and gently wrapped it around her shoulder.

Miya stiffened slightly at his touch, before she slowly relaxed. Slowly as well, she shifted until the distance between the two vanished, gently leaning against his side as she hesitantly fitted her own body against his. When her head finally rested against his chest, his heartbeat strong in her ears, she let her eyes close as she felt his warmth beside her.

The two watched the falling cotton late into the night, still not talking. The silence was no longer painful, however.

Part 13

The final contribution to the end of the status quo between Shirou and Miya, perhaps unsurprisingly to both of them, involved a battle. There were just some people who could not escape certain themes, motifs which govern their lives in what some might call fate and others scoff as coincidence. For both Shirou and Miya, that motif had always been, and most likely always would be, combat.

Despite the night beneath the cotton seeds, both Shirou and Miya hadn't really changed their lifestyles much. Now both of them knew that the other had secrets, and both of them could deal with that. There were times, out of sight of the rest of the residents, that Miya would linger a little closer to Shirou, her hand or body brushing against him more than was strictly necessary. But for all the feelings inside Miya, there was still something which made her hesitate.

Shirou too had moments where his eyes would linger more than appropriate on his friend. He would catch his gaze settling sometimes on her lips, the unconscious memory of their feel something he couldn't bring himself to completely disregard. At other times, well, his gaze sometimes wandered a bit lower than was decent.

Shirou was a guy after all, and it had been a long time for him since he'd been with a woman. It never seemed too important in the past, but now that he had acknowledged his feelings for Miya, well, she was an attractive woman. And when she would sometimes lean a bit forward, the edges of her hakama shifting a bit lower on her collarbone, or when she unknowingly bent to retrieve something and her skirt pressed against her in interesting manners...

Yeah, Shirou was a guy alright. And he definitely getting the impression that the revelation that Miya was a woman was monster that he wasn't ever going to be able to get back into the cage.

Still, it wasn't just the ghost of Takehito that caused the two to hesitate to take the last step. Miya had only ever loved one man before, and she had no idea how to go about chasing a second one. On his part, Shirou had never been a play boy, spending more time on the battlegrounds than in the bedroom, and his last relationship had been started on one even if it had ended up in the other.

He didn't quite think that fierce combat was the standard method of initiating seduction, and thus decided to play it safe and take some time.

Unfortunately, time seemed to be shorter than he had thought.

It was in the afternoon when he received the call. He had just finished off his morning client list, and was wondering which restaurant he was going to steal recipes from... um, eat at that is, when the ringing in his pocket caused him to glance down, blinking in surprise.

"Hello," was all he had time to get out before he was interrupted.

"Shirou-tan! Run!" Matsu shouted at him, the panic in the other redhead's voice surprising Shirou. "She's coming! You have to get away!"

"Matsu?" Shirou asked, confusion in his voice as he tried to figure out what his house mate was saying. "What are you...?"

"Miya-tan is on her way, but it'll take her some time to get there," Matsu interrupted again, and Shirou could actually hear the frantic sound of her fingers slamming into her keyboard. "Until then you have to hide! Don't let her find you!"

"Her? Find me?" Shirou repeated, straightening as he realized that whatever was happening, it apparently was important. "Who are you... oh." Shirou cut himself off as he looked up and saw who was standing in front of him. "Matsu," he continued, his voice calm but serious. "I'll have to call you back."

"Well hello again, Shirou," Karasuba's smile was so innocent and benevolent that Shirou knew in his bones how this conversation was going to go from her first word. "I was hoping you'd come with me for a bit. MBI would like to speak to you."

"I imagine the conversation topic would most likely be about Miya?" Shirou prompted, tucking his phone away calmly. Whatever Miya was, he had long ago realized she was strong, strong enough that even with all that was going on in Shin Tokyo it had been deemed safer to just leave her alone.

However, it seemed that his closeness to his friend had finally been noted, and someone somewhere had decided that being reactive was no longer sufficient for dealing with the landlady.

"It's nice to see someone with a firm grasp of reality," Karasuba informed him, tapping the katana in her hand leisurely against her thigh. "Now, shall we go? We are on something of a time limit here."

"And if I decline?" Shirou responded, knowing what would happen next. MBI would want him somewhere far away, somewhere he couldn't be rescued if he was to be leverage to use against Miya. They no doubt had to move fast to get him away, especially if they already knew that she was coming for him.

"Well then," Karasuba began, eyes crinkling. "Then I'd have to insist."

It happened so fast that Shirou was glad he had been waiting for it. The katana cleared the scabbard with the hiss of steel, and arched towards him in a silver blur. It wasn't a lethal stroke, that much he could judge. It looked like it was designed to merely scrape across his chest, a painful and frightening wound intended to startle the unprepared and make them more docile.

Shirou was never good at docile. More than that, when it came to swords he had more than a few tricks up his sleeve.

Karasuba's eyes shot open when instead of being cut or dodging, Shirou simply stepped into the blow, one arm up to present the outside of his forearm and bicep to the blade. When her katana hit the limb, rather than severing it the blade was halted, rocking Shirou back on his heels from the force as the sound of screaming steel scraping on steel echoed from where the blade and flesh met. At the same time, Shirou's other hand came in, his fingers wrapping around the blocked blade, tightening.

Karasuba's shock wasn't enough to stop her from withdrawing her blade fast, once more emitting a screeching noise as it dragged across Shirou's flesh, but by the time she retrieved her blade it was too late. The bottom half was still fine, but the top had been bent slightly where he had squeezed it, the edge blunted where it had dragged across his palm.

Even as she pulled back, Shirou lunged, and Karasuba's eyes widened even further as his once empty hand now held a black scimitar, and though she kept herself from being defeated in one blow in the end it was HER who found herself with a wound stretching across her chest.

Stupid boobs. If they weren't there she would have escaped completely unharmed. It was still just a scratch, but it was the first time that anything beside a Sekirei had ever wounded her, and Karasuba felt a little astonished that this unassuming handyman apparently had that much in him.

It was a dirty trick that Shirou had learned a long time ago. Swords were nowhere near indestructible, and in battle the slightest ding or bend affected the weight of the blade, the arc of the path. He had been hoping to shatter it completely, and though Karasuba's fast reaction had kept him from disarming her, for what came next the blade had been effectively crippled.

"You're strong enough for me to need to use all my power to fight," Shirou informed her, knowing that trying to hold back now would just be his death. In his other hand, a white scimitar identical to the first except for the coloring formed. "But I've fought lots of powerful creatures before. Honestly, you don't even rate in the top twenty."

For a moment, Karasuba just gawked at him. Then, her lips began to spread in a smile. Laughter, laced with disbelief but full of honest joy as well began to echo from her. "So you do have some bite to you!" she chuckled, studying her sword. "Oh, this is great!" Karasuba sank back on her heels, her damaged sword coming up as her grin turned fierce. "I was hoping for something more than just a snatch and grab!"

"Just so you know," Shirou set himself too, blades down to the side as he used his customary battle stance that he had inherited form Archer, "out of those top twenty creatures, I've killed eight of them."

"Now you're just sweet talking me!" Karasuba roared, and the battle began.

With the black Sekirei actively engaging him, actually using her full power, Shirou was thankful that he had used that first counter to cripple her blade, because if he hadn't then he would have quickly been overwhelmed. The enemy Sekirei was fast, and strong, and no slouch in the skill department.

The only thing Shirou had going for him was skill, but it seemed to be enough to hold his own.

The fight only lasted for about five minutes, but in that time Shirou had begun to pant and Karasuba's smile was bordering on orgasmic, and then the fight was over.

Not because either of them won. That was just how long it apparently took Miya to cross what amounted to two thirds of Shin Tokyo on foot.

Both Karasuba and Shirou froze when she arrived. They didn't actually notice her physical presence, but rather it was the overwhelming, mind consuming presence of absolute fury and bloodlust which caused both of them to suddenly become paralyzed.

"You," Miya hissed, her long lavender hair actually billowing around her from the force of her rage as she descended from a nearby rooftop to land at the edge of the battlefield. "You..."

Both Shirou and Karasuba stared as Miya began to stalk forward. Strangely, enough, they both stared for two identical reasons. Even during her time in the Disciplinary Squad, Karasuba had never seen Miya this provoked before, and the sight of the usually composed or clinical former head of the S-Guard consumed by fury was something neither her or Shirou had ever expected to bear witness to.

The second reason was the blade clutched in Miya's hand.

"I thought you threw the Totsuga no Tsurugi away," Karasuba noted, her tone almost clinical as she took in the sight of the ten handed sword, the blade which according to legend had been plucked by Susano himself from the corpse of the eight headed demon snake Orochi, swaying in Miya's hand. It seemed even more beautiful and deadly than it had the last time she had seen it, a testament to the great care Shirou had given it ever since the day an overjoyed fiancée had given it to him in a fit of giddiness. It had been years, but it seemed that Shirou's long custodianship of the blade had finally come to an end.

"I told you, you wouldn't be able to afford the price if you did so again," Miya growled, her hair billowing around her. "Are you prepared to pay it anyway?"

Karasuba smiled. MBI had told her that if it even looked like Miya would arrive she was to flee. They didn't want any chances taken with the two aces of the Disciplinary Squad, former and present, coming into conflict. However, judging from Miya's expression it seemed that MBI had vastly underestimated just how great a response they would provoke with this move.

Karasuba didn't think that anything in the world would stop Miya from her current path. The only thing that might be able to quell her temper was that fine toy that the former ace had found. She glanced over at Shirou, and was unsurprised when it seemed the other warrior had no intention of calming Miya. Instead, Shirou had recovered himself, swords ready and expression set.

"Well," Karasuba began, and despite the fact that she knew what would happen next, she couldn't bring herself to regret it. She had always been one that loved to fight, and to have one last chance to face off against not only the number zero one, but also her strange companion, well, she could die for that. "I guess I better be, shouldn't I?"

With bloodthirsty glee, Karasuba prepared herself for her final battle.

Part 14

The battle with Karasuba changed things between Shirou and Miya. Actually, the battle with Karasuba changed a lot of things, and not just with those two.

"They're still at it," Shirou noted, idly tracking the helicopter which was circling Izumo House at a distance theoretically far enough for them to be safe but still able to observe the premise.

The loss of Karasuba, who Shirou had discovered was one of the strongest Sekirei out there besides Miya as well as being an important member of the squad which enforced discipline on the rest of the species, had shaken MBI up something fierce. Matsu was already locked away in her room, frantically attempting to keep up with how this new development was going to affect the Sekirei Plan.

"They're always at it," Miya sighed in resignation. "Now that I've made a move, they will no doubt be trying to determine what my next course of action will be. Mou," she complained childishly. "Can't they just leave an old widow alone?"

"You're not old, Miya," Shirou told her, a small grin on his face as he let himself get drawn in to her playful mood.

"Well, I am only about a thousand," she admitted, frowning slightly as she realized a bit too late that maybe admitting her real age wasn't the best of ideas.

"Okay, maybe you are old," Shirou allowed, still grinning despite the fact that even he found the number to be a little boggling.

"I was in hibernation for most of that," Miya protested, slapping Shirou on the back none too gently as she glared at him.

It was late at night again, and the two were once more seated on the veranda overlooking the gardens. Though there was still a pot of tea, this time the two weren't seated together like normal. Shirou was sitting shirtless, his body wrapped in a number of bandages to help cover the wounds that he had received during the fight with Karasuba. Miya was kneeling behind him, slowly unwrapping those bandages as she checked on those wounds.

"It is still amazing that such things can exist," she murmured as she took in the sight of mostly unblemished flesh on her longtime friend. The wounds hadn't been life threatening, but he had received a good number of them before Miya arrived to help him. "To think, all this time there were things like this out there."

Shirou opened his mouth to respond, but then closed it without saying anything. He wasn't quite sure what he could add at this point.

After they had gotten home, Miya supporting a mostly still functional Shirou more out of concern then out of necessity, there had been a number of questions waiting for them from the rest of Izumo House. Shirou had answered some, but politely declined the majority of them.

Minato had decided that when a person capable of fighting one on one with one of the most bloodthirsty and dangerous creatures he had ever come across said that he didn't want to talk about something, the best decision was to change the topic. As fast as humanly possible.

But even though Shirou had declined to share most things with Minato and his flock, it was a different matter with Miya. For her, he had told her everything.

"So many scars," Miya hadn't intended to say that out loud, but she didn't even notice her words as her hand trailed down Shirou's newly exposed back. She had never really seen Shirou anything less than fully dressed, and the revelation of just what he had been concealing was startling to her. It was so different from Takehito, who had had an athletic body but hadn't exactly been an overwhelmingly rugged figure. Takehito had been a researcher, and though she had loved Takehito, still loved him truthfully, Shirou was something completely different.

"Most of them heal up fine," Shirou explained, rubbing the back of his head awkwardly as he felt Miya's hand trail down the star-burst on his back. That one had always been a little sensitive. "It takes something really powerful to actually leave a mark that lasts.

"Really powerful?" Miya repeated, and Shirou nearly jumped when he felt one of her hands reach over his shoulder to gently trace the five claw marks which still lingered on his face, the ones she herself had put there so long ago.

"Miya," Shirou whispered, realizing objectively that he might have just offended his longtime friend, but more distracted by the way she had leaned so close to him, pressing her chest against his bare back as her hands explored his face.

"I," Miya began, then paused. Taking a deep breath, she made her decision. "When I learned that MBI was sending that woman after Shirou, I was very frightened," she confessed softly. "It was as though I couldn't think, as though I couldn't breathe. Long ago, I had sworn off getting involved with the Sekirei Plan. I was content to just live in the house that Takehito bought for me, with the friend who had been beside me for so long. But despite that, despite me not having done anything to help anyone else for so long, despite that I had removed myself from the world and all its problems, the moment I heard Shirou was in trouble, the only thing I could think to do was take back my sword and go to him."

Her hand dropped from his face, and both of her arms stretched around him to embrace him from behind. Shirou felt his heart jump when her face found its way to the crook of his neck, burying itself there as she held him tightly.

"You're not Takehito," Miya whispered into his skin. "And I still love him. But I also love you too, Shirou. It's not the same, but it's still there." Miya swallowed, and Shirou could feel the movement through their contact. "Some time ago, you kept me from doing something which I'd regret. I... I don't think I'd regret it this time though."

Shirou closed his eyes as just like once before, Miya began to kiss her way up from his shoulder, to his neck, to his cheek. When she began to close on his lips, he only had the self-control to force himself to ask her once, in a choked voice.

"Miya, are you sure about this?" There were a lot of things Shirou wanted to say, to warn her about. His life was complicated. Hers was too, for that matter. This would change things, and it might not be for the better. It might only make things harder for the both of them.

Miya's only response was to finish the trip to his lips.

As Shirou turned so that he could wrap his arms around her as well, as the two began to move against each other, hands seeking the others' clothes and what was beneath them, he only had time for one strangely disjointed thought.

'Well,' Shirou thought to himself. 'What do you know? Pitched battle really does always work.'

It was sometime later that the two of them laid together in each other's arms. Their first time had been frantic, too much passion and too much repressed feelings getting in the way for them to do much more than desperately consummate. They hadn't even made it off the veranda.

Now the two of them were spooning, Miya being held contentedly in Shirou's arms as the two continued their long time tradition of garden watching in this new position. The teakettle had been knocked over at one point, and the only covering the two had managed to locate had been Miya's opened dougi which was now settled over their hips. It was the only stitch of clothing touching either of the two at the moment, and it didn't do much to protect their decency, but it was the most effort either of them was willing to put into it.

Instead, both of them were content to feel each other. Miya had to suppress a sigh of contentment at feeling Shirou's chest against her back and his arms around her.

This too was most likely that 'Joy of a Woman' that she had heard about so long ago. And it had been a very long while since she'd been able to indulge in it.

It wasn't quite that 'Joy of a Woman' in Shirou's case, but it had been a very long time since he'd held anyone in his arms himself. He'd almost forgotten what it was like.

Strangely enough, even in this position, Shirou's thoughts wandered as they usually did to swords. One specific sword, in truth.

Even stranger, by some coincidence Miya's thoughts were going in the same direction.

"To think," Miya murmured, burrowing down in her lover's arms. "If it hadn't been for you being unable to keep your eye of a newly affianced woman's sword, none of this would have happened." She giggled. "I can't help but feel like I owe that sword something."

"Me too," Shirou nodded sleepily. "Maybe we should pay it back sometime?"

"And how are we supposed to repay something like this to something like that?" Miya asked, indulging in silly pillow talk and loving it.

"I don't know, but there must be some way to repay the debt of a sword," Shirou determined. He should know. Swords were always his forte, after all.

"Well," Miya decided, "I can't think of anything right now, so I guess it'll just have to wait. She wiggled in his arm, turning so that she could face him directly. "For now," she began, her smile turning mischievous as her hand wiggled down between the two of them. Shirou 'eeped' when she found what she was looking for. "I think it's time to put another 'sword' to use again!"

And so she closed in for round two, and Shirou discovered a side of her that only one other person had ever known.

They didn't make it off that veranda for the rest of the night.


"Matsu," Minato's voice interrupted the hacker as she continued to furiously try and discover what MBI's new plans were. She still couldn't believe that the fight had happened, or how well Shirou-tan had managed to due in it, but the facts spoke for themselves.

"Eh?" Matsu looked up, blinking blearily as she did so. She discovered that at some point Minato, Kuu, and Kazehana of all people had shown up in her secret room. Little Kuu was clinging to Minato's leg, hiding behind it childishly, and Minato had a sheepish look on his face. Kazehana's presence had no discernible reason for it, but the wind user seemed amused about something. "What is it, Mina-tan?"

"Well, Kuu here claims she heard a ghost," Minato explained. "And since the last time she thought she saw one it was you, we decided to check up on you."

"A ghost?" Matsu recalled the misunderstanding when she had first revealed herself to Minato, frowning as she did so. "What do you mean?"

"A ghost!" Kuu piped in, clutching on to Minato's pajama bottoms more fiercely. "Kuu-chan can hear it! It keeps making spooky noises!"

"We decided to see if it was Matsu's fault," Kazehana explained, still looking amused about something. "And if it wasn't, we were just going to ask you to check your cameras."

"Well, Matsu has been busy, so it can't be her," Matsu frowned, pulling off her glasses and rubbing at her eyes tiredly. "But Matsu can give Izumo a quick look! Don't worry, Kuu-chan. If it is a ghost, your onii-chan will go scare it off!"

"Mmm!" Kuu nodded happily as Matsu began to quickly scan the cameras she had throughout Izumo.

She only made it to the third one before she froze.

"Holy crap!" she yelped, her face turning red. Then, it began to turn white. Then back to red. Then, almost against her own will, her head began to tilt to the side as she tracked something which was happening on the screen. Then she turned even redder.

"Matsu," Minato exclaimed, growing worried as the hacker continued to react in such a strange fashion. "What are you.. holy crap!"

Instantly, Minato's hands came down to cover Kuu's eyes, even as he too started to turn red. A moment later, he couldn't stop his own head from beginning to tilt.

"What are you two... Oh shit!" Kazehana also turned pale as she discovered what had arrested the others' thinking process. "This can't be! The two can't breed! Think of the children! Think of the..." The wind user began to trail off as despite herself she imitated the other two and her head also began to tilt.

"Um," Minato couldn't quite think of a reaction to what they were witnessing. "So, at least we know it isn't ghosts."

"Wow," Matsu summed up her own reaction. "Matsu has seen a lot of different things, but this... wow."

"Who would have thought that Miya had it in her?" Kazehana muttered, wondering just what had happened to the cold leader of the Disciplinary Squad who had killed thousands to make her like... this.

"Oh, she has it in her alright," Minato muttered, though a second later he blinked, blushing for a new reason at the double meaning of his sentance. "I can't believe I just said that!"

"You know," Kazehana began slowly. "What do you think this is going to do to Izumo's 'Prohibited Lewd Behavior' policy?"

Matsu and Kazehana exchanged glances, and then they both began to grin.

"Well, there's no ghost, so I'll just put Kuu-chan to bed," Kazehana announced, grabbing the still confused girl's hand and leading her quickly out of the room. She paused at the exit, turning to give Matsu a wink. "I'll leave you two to get started, and be right back!"

"Get started?" Minato didn't get what the two were talking about, confused as the secret door closed with a sound strangely reminiscent of a prison door being slammed shut.

Then he turned to Matsu and found her with both hands in front of her, opening and closing like a perverted old man's, her disturbing giggle already emerging from her lips.

"Oh," Minato got it a second too late for him to escape.