The Wagtail's Cuckoo: One
His eyes hurt, and he would have said that his body felt as if it had been flayed and then roasted if he had ever had to conceive of such a thing before that moment. It felt as if every inch of his body was burned.
Happily, however, even this was a vast improvement over the sensation that had burned itself into his memories. Walking through burning streets, ignoring screams of pain or silent pleas for help. Flesh melting or burning with the heat of the fire that raged around them. The terrible fire raged all around him, burning wood and stone and flesh and bone. It burned inside of him, and he was forced to leave much of himself behind in order to save himself from it. He gave it everything: his memories, his hopes, his fears, his dreams, even the things that he himself was not aware of. They were all fed into the fire and replaced by a single, powerful desire: to survive.
But in the end, even this was not enough. His desperate dash through the hellish streets of his neighborhood became slower and more laborious with each step,
A distant shadow of a hand reaching for an infernal sun...
Falling to his knees, crawling through the burning ashes...
A final resignation, the expectation of defeat in the face of impossible odds...
No despair, no fear. Just quiet acceptance of his fate. Surrender.
And then a smiling face, pure joy as a man lifted him from the ashes and into safety.
Those were the only two things he remembered: the fire, and the joy that one man had when he had found someone still alive amidst all that carnage.
And now here he was, with aching eyes and burning body, starting up into the blinding whiteness of the hospital's ceiling.
"Urgh," he said, and tried to sit up.
"Hey, settle down there kid," a female voice said, and the boy turned instinctively towards the sound. A white-haired woman in a lab-coat was looking up at him from her previous study of a clipboard. "You might ruin the bandages."
The boy froze, and realized that he was indeed covered in bandages. He wouldn't have known it, but he was very fortunate about this. Otherwise someone might have noticed how extraordinarily fast his skin was healing.
"Agh," he said in acquiescence, and when he realized that he had only managed another unintelligible grunt he made do with a small nod. He laid back down on the bed, but continued to watch the woman.
She took a quick look back down at her clipboard, and then put it face-down on her lap with a small sigh.
"Alright, let's get this over with. My name is Takami Sahashi, and you're in Shin-Tokyo right now getting some very intense care. Now, before we go any further I need to ask you some questions. Is that alright with you?"
The boy wanted to say that his throat hurt, but the woman hadn't asked about that.
"'s," he said instead, the hiss of his rasp managing to convey his agreement. Luckily the woman seemed to catch his meaning because she went right on to ask her questions.
"Does the name Emiya Kiritsugu mean anything to you?" She asked.
"Ngh," he grunted again, and with a growing annoyance realized that his voice stubbornly refused to work with him. Instead, he merely shook his head.
"Definitely not your father, then?" she asked, fishing for an answer. "Maybe an uncle, ridiculously elder brother?"
"'din'ngh," the boy tried to say 'I don't know', but he still couldn't quite manage it. The effort of it hurt his throat. It seemed that for now, words would not suffice. Another shake of the head.
"I thought not," the woman said, nodding to herself. "His DNA profile looks nothing like yours."
She took a moment to look back down at her clipboard, taking note of something or other.
"Mmhmmm..." she hummed quietly, and then looked back up. "Alright then, what's your name?"
The boy briefly tried to think of a way to tell Takami his name without actually saying it because his throat was really hurting, but soon gave up. It seemed a shame that even with so little about himself still intact that conveying who he was would be so difficult.
"Shh," he tried to say the letters that made up his name despite the pain it caused him. "Shheee,"
"It's okay, you don't have tell me right now," the woman said, looking concerned about the way his voice rasped.
"Shii-roou," the boy croaked, and coughed quietly.
"Shirou?" the woman repeated with much more articulation. The boy nodded, and settled back down once more. "I suppose a last name would be too much for now. Oh well, at least we don't have to put 'John Doe' on your charts anymore. You just rest up for now, okay, Shirou-kun? You'll be better soon, we'll make sure of it."
Shirou nodded tiredly, and closed his eyes and tried to go so sleep. As he did so, he couldn't help but overhear the woman talk to herself once more.
"Jeez, that kid is a wreck," she said quietly, but not quietly enough. "I guess it's no wonder nobody else survived. I hope mom and dad weren't there when it happened. Ugh, I hate this..."
Her voice echoed away into nothingness as sleep took him. It left him alone with his thoughts, with his memories.
In his dreams, the fire still burned. He still ran through them, trying desperately to avoid the same fate of those around him. Failed to do so, and fell.
A lone survivor.
Yes, that made sense.
It was only through chance that he was saved, after all.
A wave of gratitude toward his unknown savior surged through him, along with something else. Something that he hadn't quite processed at the time but now could. It was something that he had thought he'd lost in the fire: want. Desire. Aspiration.
He wanted that smile for himself.
*Later That Week!*
Uzume wasn't in the habit of checking in at the desk when she wanted to visit Chiho.
Having to deal with Higa's secretary over the phone was bad enough: she didn't want to risk having the man himself soil her time with her precious Ashikabi with his demands in person. Much easier and better to just let herself in through a window in one of the empty rooms and then make her way to her Ashikabi's room on her own terms.
There was a minor complication, however, in that the room in which she normally snuck through wasn't empty this time.
It was bound to happen sometime. After all, this was a hospital. And humans were pretty squishy. It was hardly surprising that they would manage to hurt themselves at one point in time or another. So the surprise wasn't in that the room was occupied.
Instead, it was the occupant that surprised and worried her.
Laying there quietly, with keen brown eyes that poked out from a mask of bandages watching her like a hawk, was a young boy or girl. She wasn't sure whether it was a boy or a girl because they were covered in bandages that covered most of their body. Patches of dark and blistered skin surrounded those eyes that seemed riveted on her, which served only to make her more uncomfortable.
"Err, heya," she greeted with some embarrassment. "Sorry to burst in like this. I'll be out of your hair in a second."
"It's fine," the Boy(?) said with a raspy voice, not at all bothered that some strange woman had just jumped through the window of his room. "I was just sleeping."
Uzume raised an eyebrow at this. His statement seemed paradoxical to her: if someone had woken her up she certainly wouldn't be fine about it. But then again, she recognized that she might be a minority in this matter. The way Izumo House was filling up with such energetic people lately, as fun as it they could be, was slowly putting an end to her days of sleeping in past noon and then wasting the rest of the day in nothing but her underwear.
"Heh. You're weird, kid," she stated and gave him a smile. "What's your name?"
"Shirou," the boy said simply, still watching her. "What are you doing here?"
"Heh, what do healthy people do in a hospital?" Uzume said, still grinning. "I'm visiting someone!"
"Oh," Shirou said, and his eyes turned downward for a moment. He sounded thoughtful. "I see."
Uzume thought that his answer was strange. Very, very strange. It was as if he was making a note of this and filing it away for later. As if he had never encountered this information before.
But that couldn't be right.
She looked around the room, hoping to find something that would help her make this situation less awkward. A stuffed animal from a worried parent. A favored toy from a loving sibling. A card from a childhood friend. Flowers. Chocolate. Something she could tease him about. Something that would make him laugh or smile. Something that would make him forget that he was in a hospital covered in bandages.
But there was nothing.
The room was as empty as it had been the last time she had been there except for the boy himself. If someone removed him from this room, there would never be any sign that he had ever been there.
The question was out of her mouth before she could stop it.
"Are you here alone?" she asked, trying not to sound overly concerned.
The boy gave her a small nod.
"Yes, of course," he said casually, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. "I was the only survivor."
Uzume's blood ran cold at that, the implication rocking her down to her foundations. She'd known that the Sekirei Plan was getting dangerous, but surely it wasn't this bad, was it?
"Have you been here long?" she asked, though she didn't know why. She didn't want to know the answer. She didn't want to know about this situation. As selfish as it sounded, she wished that this boy had been in a different room today.
"A few days," he answered.
"And nobody's come to visit you at all?"
"The nurses come and help me out," the boy said, as if that counted. "And the doctor stopped by yesterday to see how I was doing.
"But nobody else? Not even your mom or dad?"
"No," Shirou said, not an ounce of sadness in his voice. "I think they're dead."
Uzume stared at the boy, amazed and horrified at the blunt way he talked about his own parent's death.
It had to be an act. He had to be lying. He had to be mistaken.
But somehow, she didn't think any of these possibilities were true. There was no hesitation in his answers, not an ounce of doubt. He knew these things to be true, and he wasn't letting it bother him.
He was different from other humans.
"Shirou-kun, would you like to meet a friend of mine?"
She didn't know that he couldn't say 'no' to her request, any more than Takami could have known that he would answer her questions despite the pain it caused him.
But they would both be glad of that, later.