The Wagtail's Cuckoo: Epilogue
Time moves faster when you're having fun.
Shirou had already made a note of this phenomenon, though he still didn't appreciate it very much.
It was in this way that two months had passed, and already things were about to change again.
"Shirou!" Chiho shouted from the living-room. "Wake up already! You need breakfast before you go to school!"
The boy in question, having long ago resigned himself to this morning ritual, rose from his bed and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He yawned, and made his way over to his dresser where the uniform that Uzume had presented to him the day before had been laid out for him to wear.
He put it on, frowning slightly as he did because it wasn't quite as comfortable as the monk costume that he had convinced Uzume to repair, (Uzume had asked him why he was so attached to it, and Shirou's only explanation was that he was fond of it. His sister had then mumbled something about him 'inheriting the taste-for-weird-clothing gene',) and then went to join his nee-chans and the other residents of Izumo Inn for breakfast.
... who apparently weren't there. Again.
Minato and his friends rarely were, these days. They were off fighting The Serious Man, (who Shirou had only recently learned was actually named Higa,) apparently, for what he had done. Nobody would tell him just what that was, however, so Shirou wasn't entirely certain how he felt about this. On the one hand, The Serious Man deserved to get hurt. On the other, the mornings were pretty boring recently.
Sitting across the table next to Miya-sensei, was Kusano. She was happily digging into her breakfast with gusto until she noticed him, and then took a moment to scowl at him.
Until recently, the two of them had settled into a kind ambivalent truce that was subject to the whims of children. Which of course meant that it lasted only so long as others were around to witness it.
Whenever that wasn't the case it was only a matter of time before they attacked one another.
Which, because Kusano wasn't quite old enough to be discreet, soon led to Uzume carefully explaining to him the nature of the Sekirei and his own unique ancestry. The hope had been that he and Kusano would bond over their shared heritage.
But children, especially children who have recently learned that they were more than mundane, are volatile creatures. If anything, their mutual aggression only intensified: it wasn't as if Shirou could be permanently hurt, after all. And it was a learning experience all in its own to have to learn how to dodge through vine-whips.
Shirou glowered right back at her, and would have continued doing just that if Uzume hadn't unceremoniously pushed him towards the table as she made to sit down as well.
"Get a move on, bro," his sister told him. "You're not going to be late to your first day. Chiho would have our heads."
Shirou grumbled resentfully at this, mostly because it was expected of him. But he did as he was bade, all the same, noting that Chiho was watching him carefully once more.
In light of the discovery of just how 'strange' he was, Chiho had been inexhaustibly probing just how deeply the scars of his ordeal went. And then being surprised at how shallow they were. Not because he was unaffected by it, (although it could be said that he wasn't,) but rather because there was nothing else for him. There was only the fire, that smile that even now incited jealousy in him, and his sisters. There wasn't a whole lot to scar.
And so she spent most of their time together teaching him about how 'normal' people lived. About school, about hobbies, about friends, about a great many things that Shirou wasn't entirely too sure how he should feel about. It was a whole new world for little Shirou, and he hadn't even been out in it yet.
Luckily, however, Uzume was there to give him the CliffNotes.
School became somewhere he didn't want to be but had to do well at or else Chiho would be disappointed with him. Hobbies were things he did to entertain himself. (He had yet to find one, however.) Friends were people who would deal with his strangeness long enough to realize that he was just a bit strange and not a robot. And the rest of the world was likewise reduced to grossly simplified statements or explanations.
It was very helpful.
However, there was something that was niggling at him in the back of his mind. It had bothered him for a while now, and this seemed like the best time for it.
"Why do I have to go to school, but not Kusano?" he asked, and then bit into a piece of toast.
"Kuu-chan is a special case, bro," Uzume explained, earning her a curious glance from Shirou. She looked like she was about to expand upon the explanation, but hesitated when she saw Miya watching her carefully. Unwilling to annoy her landlord, his sister decided to take a different approach. "She's learning other things than you are, and they're just as important."
Shirou recalled some of the things that Chiho had said would be taught to him, and then remembered that Uzume had handily summarized them all as "Pretty much everything you might ever need to know about anything". He wondered briefly what Kusano could be learning that was just as or more important as this, and debated whether he could ask he could be taught it as well.
He was certain he could learn it better and faster than Kuu-no-baka would.
But then he remembered Chiho-nee wanted this for him, so he would just have to grin and bear it.
"Oh, don't make that face, Shirou-kun," Chiho chided gently from beside him, apparently having noticed the look of resignation he was wearing. "School will be fun. I know you'll enjoy it!"
"And it'll be good to get out of the house for a while each day," Uzume added. "Y'know, meet other kids. Play with them. Learn how to not be weird. Ack, murder eyes!"
The last outburst was blurted out as Chiho leveled the woman with a reprimanding glower, though her expression quickly melted when she noticed Shirou was watching her with curiosity. He didn't know why Chiho-nee acted like that whenever Uzume brought up his... oddness. They seemed to be in agreement that his behavior was something to correct. So why be shy about mentioning it?
But, he supposed, it was things like that that made him different. Not knowing what was wrong about the situation was itself an indicator that it was wrong.
Probably. He wasn't too certain about the specifics, and he suspected that that was also a part of the problem.
Too difficult. Better left to his sisters to sort out. They knew about these things, after all.
He concentrated on eating his breakfast instead. That, at least, he knew about.
Smalltalk was made as he did so, errant banter between the owner of Izumo Inn and the new family that was forming inside it. In a way, it wasbetter that Minato wasn't there at the moment. Things would have awkward.
More and more each day, there a line was being drawn between Minato and his lovers and what was rapidly becoming referred to as 'the Hidakas'. It wasn't done out of hostility, however: they merely recognized that, as much as they got along together, Uzume, Chiho and Shirou were something that the others weren't: they were a family, rather than an aggregation of lust and love bound together by circumstance and alien mating practices. The two groups were close, but both recognized that the others were closer still to themselves.
Which was just fine with Shirou.
He finished off his brekfast all too soon, and upon noticing this Uzume cleared her throat.
"Alright, time to go, bro! Your backpack is by the door: go put on your shoes, and we can head out," Uzume ordered him, grinning warmly. "Chiho and I will be with you in just a sec."
Shirou nodded and did as he was told, reflecting as he did that each morning would be like this: accompanied by his onee-chans on his way to school, not distracted by the other residents of Izumo Inn or the various goings-on that tended to crop up the longer they were there.
He decided that maybe school might not be quite so bad.
*Later, on the way to school!*
The spring morning was warm and bright, and the hustle of the day had not yet had a chance to sink in. And so Shirou and his sisters had a relatively quiet trip towards the school that Shirou would be attending, basking in the comfortable silence.
But they didn't make it very far before Uzume noticed something amiss about their route.
"Hmm?" She said, pausing to look at a large moving truck with an array of furniture being carried into an apartment block. "What's going on here?"
Shirou and Chiho slowed down to a standstill in order to take in the scene. One of them was only mildly curious, but the other was intensely interested. And that other person was Shirou. There was something very familiar about something that he was seeing, but he couldn't quite place it. He just knew that it was there.
"I'm not sure," Chiho said slowly, and frowned contemplatively. "It looks like someone's moving in."
Shirou, his eyes locked onto one of the people supervising the movement of various items of furniture, suddenly spotted what it was that was niggling away at him. And then recognition dawned on him like a rising sun.
"That man," he said quietly, never once looking away lest the object of his attention vanish. "I know him."
"Eh?" Chiho said, surprised. She leaned down next to him, a inquisitive expression on her face. "But, I thought you said you didn't remember anything before the-" her mouth snapped shut suddenly, a mild blush appearing on her cheeks. Obviously there was something she didn't want to say.
Uzume, on the other hand, had no such compunctions. After all, she was the most acquainted with just how... different Shirou was: she knew he wouldn't be offended.
"Before the fire," Uzume finished, frowning over at Chiho. "But yeah, I thought that was the case as well."
"I don't," Shirou stated, still staring. He shrugged at their questioning looks. "I saw him during the fire. He saved me."
Silence greeted Shirou's statement as the two women took this in. And then their eyes went wide, and all thought of school was forgotten as they both turned to look at the man in question.
"A, are you certain?" Chiho asked.
"Y, yeah bro, this is kinda heavy, y'know?" Uzume said, sounding a bit nervous for some reason. "Is he really the guy?"
"Yes," Shirou said in no uncertain terms. "I could never forget him."
Chiho and Uzume exchanged troubled looks with one another, each of them worried for their ward for different reasons.
Uzume, having for so long been engaged in the shadier aspects of the Sekirei Plan, had come to the (correct) conclusion that a man who made it out of a devastating fire when almost nobody else did was probably involved in some way. That the fire in question had happened so far away, or that the man in question had in fact rescued one of the only other survivors was a moot point to her: he was dangerous, and that was that.
Chiho's worry, on the other hand, could be said to be a great deal less pressing. Her main worry was that Shirou would remember the fire that had so badly warped him. She was, alas, operating under a false pretense: that Shirou didn't want remember. She couldn't comprehend that someone wouldn't feel very strongly about that sort of thing, even if she had heard it from his own mouth herself.
"Well, I guess there's only one thing to do then!" She announced, suddenly full of enthusiasm.
"Eh?" Uzume grunted, surprised at this new turn of events.
"What do you mean, Chiho-nee?" Shirou asked, confused.
"We have to thank him, of course!" the woman replied, and grabbed both Shirou and Uzume's hands. "Come on Shirou, Uzume! We have to show our gratitude!"
The young woman pulled the two along with her, ignoring Shirou's bemused expression and Uzume's squawk of surprise.
The sound of it caused the man in question to perk up and quickly turn to face the source, looking wary. Failing to see any immediate threat, however, he allowed himself to relax and greet the strange trio.
"Hello," he said, still a bit wary of the newcomers in spite of their relative harmlessness. "Can I help you?"
"Oh, no!" Chiho assured him, still radiating happy enthusiasm. "We just wanted to thank you!"
"Excuse me?" Kiritsugu seemed taken aback by this possibility. After all, it wasn't one he was confronted with very often, after all, despite what had once been his dream. "I... don't think we've met?"
"Oh, we haven't," Chiho said brightly, and let go of Shirou's hand long enough to push him towards the elder man. "But this guy seems to think you have."
"... Hello," he said, a bit uncertain of what was expected of him. Time was passing, however, and he would have to say something else soon. "... thank you for helping me."
Kiritsugu looked down at Shirou for a moment, as if doing so would cause an answer to appear any further. Luckily, however, this seemed to be the case as recognition passed over Kiritsugu's face and the smallest of smiles appeared.
"Ah, I'm glad to see that you've recovered," he said warmly, and bent down to his level to give him a tired smile. "I'd hoped for the best when they wouldn't allow me to visit you, but it's nice to see that you made it out ."
"You tried to visit me?" Shirou said curiously. A memory came back to him of the first time he had met Takami, and with it came a name. "Are you Emiya Kiritsugu?"
The man seemed surprised by this.
"I- yes. Yes I am," the newly introduced Emiya Kiritsugu said, sounding a bit uncertain as to how to proceed. "How do you-"
"Daaad, we have to finish unpacking!" a little girl's voice shouted, and a moment later said little girl hopped out of the carrying a ridiculously large stack of boxes. "Stop talking to those weirdos and help!"
Whatever the man had been about to ask Shirou was forgotten as Kiritsugu gave a light chuckle and rose to his full stature once more.
"Ahah, you'll have to excuse my daughter," he apologized on her behalf. "She can be a bit willful at times."
"Daaad!" the girl protested, and dropped her boxes on the ground (there was a loud 'crunch' as something fragile, ancient and quite possibly priceless was broken) in order to put her hands on her waist in a childish display of anger. "Don't say that sort of thing in front of strangers!"
"If you don't like it, you shouldn't give me the opportunity to do so," Kiritusugu admonished her in return. "Patience and reservation will serve you better than impatience and a lack of manners, Ilyasviel. You would be best served by displaying such qualities."
The girl huffed petulantly, and then folded her arms and deigned to look at the person her father had been talking to just a moment before. Thoroughly unimpressed with what she was seeing, she nevertheless gave a brief sigh of annoyance before resigning herself to conversing.
"... So, you know my dad?" she asked, sounding thoroughly disinterested.
Shirou, however, was not one to pick up on subtlety, even the not-so-subtle kind. So he didn't hesitate for a moment before answering without a hint of annoyance.
"Yes," he said earnestly. "He saved me from dying."
Ilyasviel blinked in surprise at this, and then broke into a wide smile.
"Hehe," she laughed happily, and beamed happily at her father. "Yeah, he's the greatest, right?"
"... he's as good as my onee-chans," he answered diplomatically.
"Eh?!" Ilyasviel grunted in annoyance at this, displeased with the notion that her father might not be a pillar of the universee. "What do you mean, 'as good as'?! What makes them so great?"
"Because they're my onee-chans," Shirou stated, which earned him a pair of 'awws' and a fond ruffling of his hair.
"What? That's not a reason at all!"
"Yes it is," Shirou countered calmly. After spending so much time tolerating Kusano, it was strangely easy for him.
"No it isn- Stop that!" the little girl shouted, realizing that she was going down a road that would inevitably lead to a rapid exchange of 'nuh-uh!' and 'uh-huh!'. She refused to be brought down to such a level. "Fine then! I'll solve this once and for all! From now on, I'm your sister too! That means that my dad is the best!"
"Eh?" Shirou grunted in surprise "How, wh- what?"
Now, it should be said that, as an elder sister, there are certain responsibilities that needed to be observed. Certain obligations that needed to be fulfilled.
And one of the most important of them was to mercilessly tease their younger siblings.
It was an instinct so intrinsic and primal that even aliens possessed it.
Uzume, in fact, possessed it in spades.
"Hehe," she chuckled, grinning mischievously. "You work quick, bro!"
Even Chiho had it, though of course to a lesser degree.
"Oh my, Shirou," she said, and held a hand to her cheek in mock despair. "I had no idea that you would replace us with someone else so quickly!"
Shirou, for his part, was largely immune to such things as 'irony' and 'mockery'. They required an understanding that Shirou had not quite yet mastered.
So when he heard this, there was only one way he could interpret it: literally.
"What? But- no! That's not true, Chiho-nee!" he cried out in dismay.
This was to Uzume what blood in the water was to sharks.
"Oh, whatever shall we do, Chiho?" she lamented theatrically, seeming to swoon into Chiho's arms. "Our own little Shirou has abandoned us so soon after we adopted him! Oh, the betrayal! Oh, the heartbreak!"
"No!" The boy refuted desperately. "Uzume-nee, don't believe it!"
If Chiho had been a less kind person, she might have continued on in this vein. As it was, however, she took pity on him and decided to end this bout of teasing before it could get any worse.
Which wasn't to say that she wouldn't exploit it while the opportunity was there, however.
"Oh, I suppose that the only thing that Shirou-kun could do to prove his love is to hurry to his first day of school with us before he's late," Hidaka Chiho said, thus proving that even when nice an elder sibling is always manipulative.
Uzume, though somewhat annoyed that her fun was being cut short, nevertheless played along with her Ashikabi.
"Ah!" she gasped, quickly latching onto this new idea. "That's right! Shirou-kun knows how important it is to us that he goes to school, doesn't he?"
As has been noted before, Shirou wasn't exactly the brightest star in the sky when it came to picking up on the subtle cues of others, and so without a moment's hesitation he leaped on this new chance to prove his devotion.
"Chiho-nee, Uzume-nee!" He said, grabbing both their hands. "We have to hurry! We need to get to school!"
And with that the three of them were off once more, though Chiho took a moment to turn back and wave a farewell at them.
Emiya Kiritsugu and his daughter watched them go with bemused interest, neither one speaking until the three turned a corner and vanished from sight.
"Well, they're a strange group," Kiritsugu said at last.
"Kinda, yeah," Ilyasviel agreed, and grinned. "But they seem pretty of fun."
"'fun'?" her father repeated, raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah!" the little girl eagerly affirmed. "Like they haven't got a care in the world."
Kiritsugu looked at her for a moment, and then sighed melancholically.
"... Well, it's nice that the world is like that for some people, I suppose," he said wryly.
Ilyasviel seemed to pick up on his souring mood, and placed her tiny fists on her hips in mock-irritation.
"Didn't you save Shirou-nii from a fire?" she asked rhetorically, and without waiting for an answer she continued. "And isn't he why we moved here in the first place? To make sure that nothing bad had happened to him?"
"... point taken, Ilya-chan," Kiritsugu admitted with wan smile. "And I see that you've taken your earlier proclamation seriously."
"Of course!" Ilyasviel agreed happily, and bent over to pick up her unreasonably large pile of boxes once again. "Because everyone needs to know how great you are!"
Emiya Kiritsugu's smile faded at that, dying at the edges.
"I'm glad you think so, Ilya-chan," he said, and resumed packing away his belongings.
He wondered briefly if he should invite young Shirou and his sisters back sometime. It might do his daughter good to have a family like them around to balance against his own melancholy.
But that was a thought for another day.
For now, he was merely glad that the boy was fine, and adjusting well to life as a normal child.
Well, relatively normal. He was pretty sure that most children weren't raised by something so obviously Not Human.
Next up: Fate/Stay Shrike
That's not happening.