AN: I am still totally not writing Fate Stay Shrike. Because I really don't want to slog through FSN again to refresh my memory only for some anal-reten- person to deride me for not being faithful to canon when I then flatout ignore most of the boring parts. No amount of pleading, cajoling, prodding, PM'ing or joke telling will change this simple fact. But feel free to try, because it makes me smile.
This was written... well, mostly just 'cause. And since I had it ready, I figured I might as well spread it 'round. So... yeah. Enjoy.
The Nine Year Prologue
Hidaka Shirou, the adopted child/brother of a genetically modified alien known as Sekirei named Uzume and a young human woman named Hidaka Chiho, waved goodbye to Minato Sahashi and his Sekirei as they packed the last box into the moving-truck that would take them to their new home. His precious sisters stood beside him, watching the inevitable squabbles and bouts of bickering that ensued.
In the wake of the Sekirei Plan the young ronin student had found that his fate had taken a sharp turn towards the better. With MBI supporting them they could afford an actual home rather than the modest rooms of Izumo House.
And it certainly helped that Miya-sensei was kicking them out for 'being too lewd', whatever that meant. There had been a great deal of talk about 'celebratory sex' that people thought they were being subtle about, and apparently Miya did not approve. Things had progressed rapidly after that, and now it looked like Izumo House was going to become a great deal less noisy in the near future.
And though he lacked the knowledge to express it, there was something inside of him that felt a small amount of remorse for their departure.
But even if he had been aware that he possessed the faculty for such emotion, there was a larger part of him that found a silver lining to the whole situation: his archnemesis, the bane of his existence, was leaving Izumo House. He couldn't help but think of this as a triumph, an ousting of a malevolent spirit that had been tormenting him from the moment they had crossed paths. It was childish, but then he was a child. Even he was a bit... different.
The focus of his animosity stood just outside of his reach, glowering petulantly at him even as she hugged the small plush cat that had been gifted to her from her precious 'nii-san' in one hand while holding the edge of the ever-cheerful Musubi's skirt with the other.
"Shirou-baka," #108, Kusano said tersely, tacking on the insult almost reflexively at this point.
"Kuu-baka," Shirou answered in kind, consciously speaking in that 'empty' way that seemed to anger the little girl so much.
The enmity between the two was palpable, and because they weren't even teenagers yet it was also quite adorable. Adorable in a "I really hope you grow out of this"-kind of way.
"You haven't won anything," she told him with childish ambivalence, as if she had sensed his subtle air of smugness. "Kuu-chan will be back to visit Landlady-san, and she'll beat you again."
"And I will get better every time," he countered easily.
"Hmmph," the girl clearly didn't think much of this assertion. "We'll see."
And with that said, his arch-rival turned her back on him and was out of his life. Or his house, rather. It was most certainly a given that the two would meet again, as his sisters were good friends with Minato and his Sekirei.
The small congregation watched the van drive away until it finally rounded a corner and vanished from sight.
It was only then that it really sunk in for everyone present that Minato and his friends really had left them to start a life of their own. An awkward silence settled in as everyone became dimly aware of the hole that appeared in their daily lives. Izumo House would no longer filled with
It left with a bitter aftertaste with them.
Well, all of those except Shirou. But that hardly counted, because Shirou was... different. If being fatally wounded by a knife (he got better,) couldn't faze the boy, being left behind wasn't about to do the trick. So long as he had his precious sisters, there was nothing in the world that could hurt him.
Uzume-nee sighed, rubbed something from her eyes.
"It's going to get very quiet from now on, isn't it?" she said almost remorsefully.
And that just wasn't something that could be spoken allowed at Izumo House without being proven to be patently wrong.
"Shirou-nii!" a young girl cried out, and a moment later a streak of white and silver bowled him off his feet with enough force to cause his ribs to ache. (Or, more accurately, to crack his ribs. Pain was relative when you didn't have to deal with it for very long.)
"Emiya-san," he greeted her as he struggled to sit up, not responding to her insistent use of the affectionate honorific. She wasn't his sister: she just said she was.
"Mou," Emiya-Einzbern Ilyasviel huffed with a scowl. "You're supposed to call me Ilya-nee!"
"But you're not my sister," Shirou pointed out.
"Mou!" the little girl huffed, puffing out her cheeks childishly as she did. "
"Just because you say it doesn't make it so," Shirou pointed out, much to his adoptive sister's silent amusement.
Ilyasviel's father, Emiya Kiritsugu, chose that exactly moment to follow after his daughter with look of mild embarrassment and subtle, quiet happiness. It looked out of place on him, somehow. As if it were the first time it had happened in a very, very long time.
"Sorry to stop by unannounced, but she ran on ahead without asking," he apologized.
"Ara," Miya said, raising an eyebrow. "I don't think I've met you before."
"Oh, he's new to the neighborhood," Uzume explained, nodding appreciatively at the man. "He's the one who saved the little bro."
"Indeed?" Miya said, and her eyes narrowed slightly, almost calculatingly, before her expression brightened. "Well, then feel free to visit whenever you wish, mister...?"
"Emiya," Kiritsugu supplied, and nodded respectfully to the matron of Izumo House. "Emiya Kiritsugu. Thank you for your welcome."
"So polite," Miya said, and smiled. "Please, why don't you and your daughter stay for dinner? Little Shirou is dear to us, and it's the least I could do for his rescuer."
Kiritsugu looked like he was about to politely decline, but he was abruptly interrupted.
"Say my dad is the best already!"
"He's as good as my sisters!"
The attention of the adults were drawn downwards, where the two children had devolved into an impromptu wrestling match. Somehow, despite Shirou's many fights with Kusano, the boy was being soundly trounced by the much shorter girl, who had straddled his chest and was trying to get a hold of his wrists. Shirou, for his part, was trying desperately to wriggle free from the girl, but was having some difficulty. She seemed... well, freakishly strong. There was no way her thin limbs could hold onto him, and yet they managed it handily.
"How does he do it?" Uzume asked quietly, her mouth drawing upwards into a smile. "It seems like he gets into a fight with every girl his age. It's uncanny."
Chiho sighed and shook her head at the display
"He gets it from you," she chided, though by her wry smile she obviously wasn't very serious about it.
"Aw, that's not fair!" the sekirei pouted. "How could he ever have gotten it from me? All I ever did was... fight a whole lot of sekirei," her indignation dried up a bit as she remembered what she had been doing not so long ago. "Damn. This is my fault, isn't it?"
Kiritsugu laughed, and for just a moment the world seemed to stop what it was doing.
"You know what?" he said, still watching his daughter fight the boy he had saved months ago. "I don't think I want to get in the middle of that. I'd love to stay for dinner."
"Hey! Biting isn't a allowed! Biting isn't- ow!" Shirou yelped in sudden pain. "You bit me!"
"Uzume-nee!" Shirou wailed pathetically. "Save me from this crazy girl!"
Izumo House never did stay very quiet for very long.
The Five Year Prologue
Hidaka Shirou was calmly walking home when his phone suddenly began ringing. It had been a birthday gift from Uzume, who had one day decided that it was just too weird for Shirou to not have one in this modern age. For this reason, despite the fact that Shirou had possessed this very phone for several years, it was still in almost the exact same condition as it had been the day he had received. It even seemed to shimmer with newness, something that always confused anyone who knew its age. He had taken care of it that well.
Shirou sighed quietly and answered it, momentarily stopping on his way from school.
"Shirou!" a frantic voice said through the cell-phone. "You have to help me! This is an emergency!"
Shirou didn't overtly react to the desperate voice on the other end of the line, but he did smile. Just a little. Nobody that didn't know him would have noticed it, but it was there and full of vindictive glee.
Anybody that knew him would also know that such a thing very rarely happened. And when it did, it could only mean one thing.
"Hello Kusano-san," he greeted calmly. "How was your first day of school?"
And what it meant was that Hidaka Shirou had just beaten Sahashi Kusano at something.
"Horrible! Who is Tokugawa Ieyasu? What's titration, and what do I need it for? What's derivation?" the young Sekirei asked with a single, frantic breath.
"Hmmm..." Shioru said, miming the appearance of carefully considering her questions even though she couldn't see him. "Those sound like things that I learned in my history, natural sciences and math classes. But, oh-! You weren't there! So you must not have known about any of those things," Shirou paused for a moment for dramatic effect. "That must be have been terrible," he said with false sincerity.
He didn't fool anybody.
"This isn't funny, Shirou!" Kusano huffed. "You have to help me!"
"I really don't," Shirou cheerfully corrected her. "I have to practice with Miya-sensei first. And then I have to help Chiho-nee make dinner. And then Ilya-san wants to go watch a movie."
"Rrrgaaah!" Kusano growled/shouted into the phone. "You stupid sister-con! You aren't- wait, what are you practicing with Landlady-san?"
"... Swordsmanship." Shirou admitted reluctantly. "She caught me playing with her katana a few months ago, and now I have to learn how to 'respect the skills of a swordsman'," he sounded as if he was reciting something from memory.
"Unfair!" Kusano complained loudly. "Totally unfair! Why does a sister-con like you get to-"
"I'm not a sister-con," Shirou said with a scowl. "Really, only a pervert like you would think that-"
"Oniiii-chaaaaan!" a panicked, female voice cried out from down the street.
Shirou froze at the voice, all semblance of cheerfulness evaporating like morning mist under a harsh sun.
"I'll talk to you later, Kusano-san," he said quickly. "I wish you luck with your studies."
"Wait, what? No!" Kusano protested. "You can't just hang up on me you stupid sister-co-!"
Shirou proved her wrong by doing exactly that and turned to face the new voice.
"Ilya-san?" he asked, sounding concerned for his would-be sister.
The two had, through mysterious and unknowable circumstances, become fast friends despite their somewhat rocky first encounter. It was mostly helped along by the fact that Ilyasviel was one of those unique individuals who could flat out ignore Shirou's less than normal behaviour. She never seemed bothered that his emotional depth never managed to reach much greater than knee-height for any situation that didn't pertain to his sisters, though her ongoing campaign to become one of them might have had something to do with that.
Without any warning a blur of movement slammed into him with the force of a truck, and if not for the fact that Shirou had reflexively gone limp he was certain he would have broken several ribs.
"You have to help him, onii-chan!" Ilyasviel said in frightened rush. "You have to help my dad!"
Whatever amusement Shirou might have drawn from one-upping his arch rival evaporated like morning mist under a Saharan sun, replaced by sudden sinking feeling in his stomach.
Emiya Kiritsugu hadn't been doing well lately. He'd been getting progressively weaker for months, to such a degree that a few days ago the man hadn't even been able to get out of his bed.
He refused to meet with any doctors, claiming instead that it was just his time. Which didn't make any sense to anyone, as the man barely even had wrinkles on his face. He was in the prime of his life, and should have at least a few more decades.
That his daughter would be so distraught that she would seek out Shirou's help told the teenager everything he would need to know about how dire Kiritsugu's situation was. And even if Shirou had no medical training whatsoever, he wouldn't have been able to ignore his saviour's plight. Especially not when one of his only friends so desperately needed him to help.
"I don't know what I can do," he admitted. "But I'll do whatever I can."
But Shirou hadn't been able to do anything to stop Emiya Kiritsugu's death.
While he possessed a preternatural ability to recover from wounds, what Ilyasviel had failed to understand was that he couldn't pass it on to other people. It was a part of his heritage, a part of his very being. It wasn't some magic cure-all. It wasn't a miracle.
It was just the luck of genetics.
The look Ilyasviel had given him as he explained this had said in so many volumes that that was the dumbest thing she had ever heard, but hadn't asked for his help again.
In the end, all he could do was keep her company as her father spoke his last words to her.
He watched with detached interest as she tearfully promised to uphold his ideals, to realize his dreams, to do everything that he would never would. He allowed himself to be squeezed with terrifying strength as the girl latched onto his chest and sobbed heavily into his shirt when the light finally went out of Kiritsugu's eyes and his breath stopped.
He did his best to support her as be as he could. Which, given that he had the empathetic ability of a skink, wasn't a whole lot.
He hated that the only person she had to help her through the situation was him.
She didn't deserve this. Someone needed to help her. Someone needed to help her pick up the pieces after her world.
And Hidaka Shirou, who carried within him the memory of dying among the ashes of Fuyuki City and the smile of the man who had saved him, knew that that someone had to be him.
He would have to do better for her.
He couldn't be just her friend. He had to be to her what Uzume-nee and Chiho-nee had been to him when he had first woken up into a world he didn't remember.
"Don't worry, Ilya-nee," he told her, and awkwardly hugged her. The petite girl shrieked in grieving fury and tried to push him away, but he held on. "I'm here."
She could hit him. Hurt him. Scream at him.
But he would always be her brother.
Because she was his sister.
And he would die a thousand deaths before he let anything hurt her. While he of course hoped it wouldn't be necessary, it was still a sacrifice he was prepared to make.
But the two of them were apparently of differing opinions on the matter, because as soon as the girl found enough leverage she pushed herself away from him with alarming strength. Shirou felt something inside his chest creak and snap even as the pain surged throughout him in pulsing waves, but he let it pass through him without letting it affect him. It wasn't about to kill him anytime soon, after all.
"Go away," Ilyasviel ordered. Her voice was strangely hollow.
"But I'm your brother, aren't I?" he asked, wheezing as he did.
"No," Ilyasviel told him harshly. "You're not. We never were. It was just a game. It's your fault."
Shirou felt his insides drop at that.
"I'm sorry I couldn't help, Ilya-nee," he said, and tried to sound as genuinely sad as he could about it. He was sad, of course. He just wasn't used to expressing it. Ever. "There wasn't anything I could-"
"Just go away, Hidaka Shirou," she interrupted coldly.
The rejection hurt.
And that surprised Shirou.
It was like how he had felt the day Uzume had left him, years ago. But worse, somehow. He couldn't tell why it should hurt so much to be spurned out of hand, but it did. It was like a part of his soul had been torn free and then crushed. It left him feeling hollow.
It felt horrible.
How could he be for her what Chiho-nee and Uzume-nee were for him when she wanted nothing to do with him? How could he-
Chiho-nee and Uzume-nee.
That was it.
"I'll fix this," he said resolutely, and smiled at her. "I'll become closer to you."
"Eh?" Ilyasviel grunted, somewhat disconcerted at the way his face had lit up. Her expression hardened as he approached her. "What are you-Mmph!"
Whatever she'd been about to say was abruptly cut off as without warning he drew her in close and kissed her on the mouth.
It was not the "adult kiss" that he'd seen his sisters exchange on occasion, but rather a chaste, gentle pressing of lips that he'd seen so many times in the romance comics that Kazehana would occasionally give him. It was soft and awkward, embarrassing and sweet. It was both their first kisses, and it took both of them by surprise.
The two of them simply stood like that for a few moments, one so shocked that she do nothing but tremble while the other waited for something to happen.
It never happened, and the moment ended.
"Hidaka Shirou!" Ilya shouted, her cheeks a bright red with outraged embarrassment. "What do you think you're doing?!"
Shirou, for his part, seemed equally alarmed at this development, but not for the expected reasons.
A bond should have formed between them in the moment he received her genetic information (that is to say, her saliva), just like one had formed between his sisters upon their first kiss. She should have become his Ashikabi, his destined one. That was what was supposed to happen! That was his heritage as a Sekirei!
"Nothing happened," Shirou whispered, his voice low with horror.
He was supposed to have his wings now. He was supposed to be the closest person to her, now and always. He was supposed to have enough power to make sure that nothing could ever hurt her again.
But nothing had happened.
Nothing had changed.
But he wasn't a Sekirei, was he? Uzume-nee had explained it to him, years ago. He was only very close to being a Sekirei. He had the abilities of one, but not unique biology that usually came with it.
He was, in all the ways that mattered, human.
A conversation from years ago returned to him
"He's as close to a Sekirei as a human can get... how long do you think it will be until someone decides to push him even closer?"
Shirou narrowed his eyes with new determination.
Four years. That's how long it took. And that person was him.
"Don't worry, Ilya-nee," Shirou said brightly. "I'll fix this! I'll fix everything!"
All he needed was someone to give him a push. And he knew exactly who to ask.
Sahashi Takami sat in perfect silence watching the pair for a few moments after Shirou explained what exactly he wanted from her. There wasn't really anything else she could do, seeing as she was being asked to do exactly what she had warned Uzume aboutyears ago. Really, the only way it could have been any more ironic was if some kind of insane new battle royale were to pop up for him to get swept up in.
"Let me get this straight," she began with strained patience. "You want me to perform extensive and at times horrific experiments on you?"
"No," Shirou said. "I want you to make me a sekirei."
"Shirou, those two things are pretty much one and the same."
"Oh," the teenager seemed wholly unaffected by this revelation, and promptly proved that that was indeed the case. "Then yes."
Takami sighed and rubbed her forehead.
"Number 10?" she said, suddenly very weary. "Do you have any idea what's going on here?"
Uzume, for her part, was watching her young ward carefully.
"No idea," she said guilelessly, and shrugged. "He just told me he wanted to talk to you. Never told me why."
The geneticist sighed again, feeling a headache coming on.
"Why?" she asked tiredly.
Shirou gave her a strange look.
"Because I want to be a sekirei," he answered, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
"No, I meant-" she remembered just who she was talking to. This was the child who had no fear for death. Someone who would spend their last breath wishing a loved one a welcome home. Someone who, by all accounts, wasn't well known for making the most sense. Having the context for his decision wouldn't necessarily make anything better.
She decided to try a different route.
"Are you certain about this?" she asked gravely, trying to impress upon him the full gravity of the situation. "This isn't something that can be undone. Once we start the process, we can't stop. You'll never be the same."
"Yes. That's what I want."
Takami watched the teenager carefully, trying in vain to divine what exactly was going through his mind. He remained, however, as inscrutable as ever.
"Well, we'll of course first have to see if you can perform the bonding ritual naturally, just to make sure that you-"
"I can't," Shirou informed the scientist promptly. "I know. I've experimented."
Takami raised an eyebrow at this.
"Really?" she said archly. "Well, that saves us some time, I suppose. We can start out with some more extensive genetic mapping, then, and see where we should-"
"Waitwaitwait, hold on a moment!" Uzume interrupted abruptly, crossing her arms in front of her. There was a look of sisterly, malevolent glee on her face as she turned to face Shirou. "Experimented?" she repeated the word excitedly. "With who?"
Shirou realized just what he had said and who he'd said it within earshot of, and instantly regretted his poor choice of words.
"That's not important," he said desperately.
"Of course it's important!" Uzume refuted hotly, and without warning he was wrapped in her arms as she hugged him tightly, giggling helplessly. "My little brother is growing up so fast! He's already experimenting with boys!"
"Uzume-nee!" Shirou protested weakly, struggling to regain control of the situation. "It wasn't a boy!"
"So it is a girl!" Uzume crowed triumphantly. "I knew it! Now tell me who it is!"
"As charming as this is to watch," Takami broke in, taking sympathy on the furiously blushing teenager. "We really need to focus."
"Right!" Uzume agreed, even though she clearly had no intention of doing so. "We need to focus on Shirou making out with Kusano!"
"What?" Shirou blinked, then scrunched his face up in disgust. "No! I'd never kiss Kusano! She's-"
Sahashi rubbed her forehead to hide her smile at the antics. But all the same she summoned up a pair of security guards from the hallways with a push of a button by her desk.
The two entered the office cautiously, and upon seeing that there was no violence impending they visibly relaxed. (It hadn't been that long since the sekirei plan had ended before it could reach its culmination, and they were still justifiably nervous about being around possibly violent sekirei. Karasuba had that effect on people.)
"You called us, ma'am?" they asked suspiciously.
"Yes, could you please escort number 10 to the lobby? I have something serious to discuss, and she isn't helping."
"Eh?" Uzume said intelligently. "You can't do that! I'm his guardian!"
"And I'll be sure to clear everything with you and Hidaka Chiho before we begin any procedures, of course," Takami agreed. "But as I'm sure you remember, we like to play fast and loose with the law around here."
She nodded to the two guards, who gently guided the sekirei out of the office in spite of her protests.
"Bro, you can't do this to me!" Uzume shouted as she was escorted away. "Bro! I have to know! I have to knooooow-!"
Her voice trailed into the distance as the security guards hauled her away, and Shirou tried very hard not to die of embarrassment. He loved his sister more than sunshine, but there were times he wished that she took a little less joy in performing her "sisterly duties".
"Right then," Takai said, returning to a businesslike manner. "I'll have a memo drawn up for your sisters to look over after this, but until then we should have a talk about what lies ahead of you if you choose to go through with this..."
They did indeed have a talk, but Takami could tell the boy wasn't listening. His mind had already been made up long ago. He spent almost half an hour listening to her carefully explain to her why it was very, very bad idea to let someone treat his genetic sequences like they were so many blocks of legos, but no matter what she said he remained determined. It would have been unnerving if it weren't so very annoying.
As he left her office with an eager smile, she reflected that would be a very interesting few years for both of them.
*The One Year Prologue*
Advanced esoteric genetic therapy, as Shirou would find out in the following year, wasn't nearly as fast or as painless as the MBI pamphlet made it out to be. Even if it was assisted by alien technology, two of the brightest minds in the field and a heaping helping of TLC, the ordeal had been an exercise in suffering as each and every cell in his body was slowly but inexorably warped into something inhuman. His innate healing abilities proved invaluable during this time, as a normal human would have succumbed to all manner of diseases and organ failures within the first month alone.
Each new treatment brought with some fresh illness, a new ache, and weeks of fatigue and ravenous hunger. That last part had almost been the most mystifying, because it seemed like he would roll away from every meal, so packed with food as he was, but never gain a pound.
He was quietly glad when he realized that the final visit to the MBI offices consisted not just of thorough examination from a roomful of doctors, but also the application of a simple tattoo: 109, right across his belly.
From that moment on, Shirou began to notice the difference in his body. His body, which had previously been distressingly human, was now possessed of a superhuman strength that seemed to have only a tangential relationship with how actual muscle and skin should function. It was if every fiber of his body had been suffused with a kind of empowering energy.
And there would be more, once he found his Destined One. He could feel it, like a small hollowness that niggled at him with every passing moment. There was a link inside of him, a conduit that yearned for completion. It was a part of him that yearned to connect to another, to bind with love. A part of him that was searching for his Ashikabi, and would never stop until he did.
And once he did, they would be inseparable.
Years ago, that connection would have heralded his initiation into the Sekirei Plan where he would have fought for a life for himself and his Ashikabi. But Minato Sahashi had put an end to all that, and now the Sekirei were free to live out their lives in peace. Or strife, as the case may be.
While Shirou didn't expect to have to deal with anything like that, the boost in power was certainly a welcome development. It would mean that he would have the power to protect Ilyasviel from whatever dangers she might face. Not that she would be facing any, of course. But it was nice to be prepared for every eventuality. Especially since he would complete what he had started out years ago.
Of course, there were other things he would have to do first.
The first of which was to finish beating Sahashi Kusano before she ripped his hide to shreds with the pair of wickedly barbed vine-whips.
Yes, they had come a long ways since their childhood brawls in the Izumo House yard.
Kusano, as if unwilling to be outdone by Shirou in any way, had grown to almost the same impressive height as Shirou. She was only a few inches short than him, but what nature had denied her in height it had more than made up for in other ways. Already there were more than a few sensuous curves to her figure, and there was a great deal of promise that they would only become greater and more pronounced as she really came into her own. She her hair long and tightly weaved into a single braid, long enough that it was a struggle for Shirou to resist the urge to grab a hold of it and prematurely end the fight. (Miya's instruction forbade such underhanded tactics, alas.)
Instead, he carefully blocked one of the whips with the end of his weighted training sword, allowing it to wrap around his weapon with lightning speed before he skillfully yanked the weapon back.
Kusano was pulled from her feet like a fish from water with a yelp of surprise as Shirou turned his wooden sword into a makeshift angling rod. He swung the girl around with deadly intent, quietly savouring her dismayed cries before she realized the solution to her quandary. She let go of the whip and went flying through the air before landing with an agile tumble
"Grr," she growled, and flicked her remaining whip in irritation. "When did you get strong?!"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Shirou replied with a tiny smirk, stealing a leaf from Miya's book.
It felt really, really good to finally have a solid edge on Kusano. For years he had relied on guile, superior endurance and pain resistance and Kusano's own childish temperament to win fights. He'd fought this particular opponent so many times before that each battle almost become rehearsed. He knew her cues perfectly, and had learned to play on her emotions like the strings of a guitar. He would falter there, and she would attack here. Shrug thusly, and she would become enraged.
Which wasn't to say that his nemesis didn't also know him just as well. But he had an advantage on that front, because so much of his behaviour was just plain wrong. He would gladly take a wound that would have maimed anyone without his unique abilities if it meant he would win, and that made it very difficult for someone without them to easily gauge just how far they would have to go to present enough of a threat to intimidate him.
It wasn't bravery that allowed him to do so. It wasn't even determination. As Chiho had once noted while wrapping up a particularly deep lash across his chest: it was like his own well-being into account. It was just accepted as a necessity of the situation.
Of course, it hardly made up for the fact that until recently Kusano had had the unfair advantage of being faster, stronger and being able to control all manner of plants. Those were pretty steep hurdles to leap, and Shirou very rarely managed all three. More often than not, their previous battles had ended with him being forced to concede defeat. (And then to endure several hours of gloating, which just wasn't fair at all.)
But for the last half hour Hidaka Shirou had been coolly, calmly and with great satisfaction mopping the floor with his greatest enemy. It was as if a great flood gate had suddenly burst, and almost a decade of quiet resentment had spilled forth to drown the girl. Without better speed and strength, the only thing that number 108 had going for her was her plant manipulation, and that wasn't as much of advantage when he could move just as fast as she could, and the lessons of Miya Asama had turned him into a deadly opponent at close range.
The young man felt the ghost of a smile creep into his features. As small as it was, however, Kusano still noticed it.
"Don't look so confident!" Kusano hissed, and snapping her wrist sharply to cause another loud whip-crack. "I've yet to reveal my true power!"
Shirou stared at his rival for a moment, his satisfaction from a moment ago forgotten. He sighed heavily and lowered his sword.
"If you aren't going to treat this seriously," he grumbled. "Then we might as well not be doing this. I have better things I could be doing."
And like that, the fight was over.
Kusano smirked triumphantly as she allowed her whip to drop to the ground, and folded her arms across her chest.
"Why?" she said with insufferable smugness. "Is it because you know I'll win?"
"No," Shirou refuted, not rising to the bait. "It's because you're trying to turn this into a shounen manga fight."
That earned him a scowl and an annoyed huff from the young woman.
"You're no fun."
"I've been told as much."
Seeing as the fight was over, Shirou put his training weapon aside and began to dust himself off as well as he could before he snuck back home.
It was late at night in Shin-Tokyo, and the mid-town park in which the two had met had certainly seen better days. The tree's leaves were never exactly the lush green anyone expected them to be, nor were they quite as numerous as they should be. The grass beneath their feet was in a similar state, just barely clinging to life wherever it could. It was for this purpose that the park was generally pretty absent of anyone who might wonder why two highschool students were fighting with a ferocity normally reserved for, say, starving dogs fighting over a bacon treat. And that was important, because neither of them wanted anyone to call the police on them again.
"Kusano-chan was really surprised," the girl blurted out suddenly. "She hadn't expected Shirou-baka to ask her out like this."
It had been a long time since they had last fought each other, Shirou reflected. Not since his treatments had begun in earnest had they traded blows physically, as his health hadn't really been up to it. And so he'd avoided her, not wanting to jeopardize his treatments any further than he had to. Instead, they'd settled into a quiet feud in the only field they could compete in, however indirectly it was: academics. It had started out innocently enough. On one of the many times the Sahashis and the Hidakas met up, Chiho had with great pride told Minato of Shirou's good grades. Somehow, despite only having been enrolled in school for a year, Kusano had done better than him the following term. From that moment on the unspoken war between them had shifted. Shirou would claw his way to the captaincy of the kendo club, Kusano became president of the gardening club. Kusano became a junior member of the student council, and Shirou would start a shortlived campaign to become the president. That the green girl had somehow beaten him in that regard rankled him to no end.
"Well, it has been a while since last we fought," the young man said with a shrug, ignoring the implications of him 'asking her out'. "I just wanted to see if you'd become any less of a brat. You haven't."
She glowered at him suspiciously, as if something wrong about his answer. Thankfully, however, she didn't do anything about it.
"Stupid sister-con," she muttered under her breath, and she must have worked herself harder than he had noticed because her cheeks had become flush.
"I'm not a sister-con!" Shirou denied hotly for what seemed like the billionth time. "You need to stop listening to aunt Matsu so much."
"Hmmph, if the shoe fits," Kusano challenged, but grinned. "Wanna go round two?"
"Mm, no," Shirou said, stretching his arms as he did. "I need to go visit Ilya-nee."
This seemed to take his nemesis by surprise.
"Her? I thought you two weren't speaking any more since..." she grimaced. "That time."
No elaboration was needed on which time she was referring to.
"That's not true," Shirou argued. "We just haven't spoken since then."
Sahashi Kusano blinked owlishly at him, and shook her head.
"Only you, Shirou-no-baka," she said with a chuckle. "Tomorrow, then?"
He grinned fiercely at the challenge. "Of course, Kuu-no-baka. Tomorrow."
For some reason beyond anyone's ability to explain, Emiya-Einzbern Ilyasviel was allowed to live alone in the apartment her father had purchased years ago. As he'd said earlier, Shirou hadn't spoken to the girl since they had departed on less than stellar terms, so he didn't know how well she had been holding up. But
There were sounds from the other side of the door like something heavy being pushed across the floor. Which was a strange thing to be doing so late at night.
He knocked on the door.
"Oh," Ilyasviel said, her eyes widening in recognition. "Hidaka Shirou."
A lesser mortal would have been rendered mute by the awkwardness of the greeting, but Hidaka Shirou paid no heed to such inconsequential things as 'social norms'.
"Hello, Ilya-nee," he greeted her with a bright smile. "It's been a while."
She hadn't grown much since he had last seen her. It seemed that whatever had caused Kusano to fill out so quickly had come at Ilya's expense, as she remained almost exactly as Shirou remembered her. His sister barely reached his chest, and had to crane her neck upwards to look at him.
The two stood in perfect silence for what seemed like an eternity.
"Yeah, it has," Ilya said eventually. "Why don't you come inside? We should talk."
"Yes, we should."
Shirou allowed himself to be escorted into the apartment, sitting himself down
"Listen, Shirou," lyasviel began, sounding contrite. "I just wanted to say I was sorry. I was really upset back then, and I didn't mean it."
"That's fine," Shirou said simply, almost flippantly.
"It wasn't your fault, really. I just- eh?" the young woman stumbled over her words as she suddenly realized that she wouldn't have to defend her actions. She stared at him, eyes wide with surprise before narrowing suspiciously. "What do you mean, "That's fine"?"
"That it's fine," Shirou told her.
Ilya opened her mouth to say something, but it looked like she was having trouble deciding what exactly that was. There seemed to be some kind of internal conflict going on within her, no doubt between gratitude for being forgiven so easily, annoyance that he wasn't ascribing the same importance to her apology as she was and doubt that he even knew what was going on.
"Jeez, what is wrong with you?" she said at last, gratitude seeming to win out in the end. "Can't you take this seriously? Here I am, about to pour my heartfelt emotions out in front of you, and you cut me off before I can! What do you have to say for yourself?"
The way she brightened up caused something inside Shirou to stop aching. It was strange, because up until that moment he hadn't even been aware of it. He felt ten pounds lighter, and all the tiny aches he'd accumulated in his fight against Kusano had vanished.
He did what came naturally to him at this point. He hugged her.
"I missed you, Ilya-nee," he told her warmly.
"A- a- ahahaha! You're so strange, Shirou!" Ilya said nervously, flushing with what was no doubt embarrassment at his display of affection. Uzume would sometimes react in almost the same way.
Shirou smiled, and pulled back from her. As he did so, he noted that she must have been tired because her eyes were red and watering up at the corners. Or she could be about to cry. He couldn't really tell.
She smelled good.
Really, really good.
Like warm, sweet honey.
His head started fuzzing up as he tried to identify just what it was about her that was... well, making his head spin.
"Shirou?" Ilya said, concern in her voice. "Are you alright? You're looking pretty flush."
"Uhm, yeah," the young man said, his face warming up as he began to suspect just what was happening. "I'm sorry."
"Eh? What are you sorry fo- mmph!"
It has been said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Emiya-Einzbern Ilyasviel certainly was, because once again she found herself being kissed by Shirou. And Shirou was as well, because nothing was happening. There was no pyrotechnical lightshow erupting from his back, nor could he feel an unbreakable bond being formed. There was nothing for him in that kiss.
He got a few seconds of startled waiting before, just as she had last time, Emiya-Einzbern Ilyasviel pushed Shirou away from her. This time, however, she was much gentler in doing so. What's more, she didn't exactly seem angry. Or she was. It was hard to tell, and Shirou wasn't exactly the best person to do the telling.
"Eh?" Shirou said, his confusion plain on his face. "But it was supposed to work this time!"
Ilya glowered at him when she realized what he had said.
"You said something like that last time, too," she growled at him.
"Uhm," Shirou was a master of conversation. "I can explain?"
"That sounds like a good idea," the way she said it left no illusions of what would happen if she found his explanation lacking.
It took some time to get through it all, and even though even Shirou admitted that his story was pretty hard to believe the girl never once stopped him to explain something better. She took it all in, nodding along with a thoughtful frown. He told her about the sekirei, about the events eight years prior, about his sisters and how it all pertained to their kiss. Somewhere along the way her open hostility had dissipated into the smoldering embers of annoyance.
"Shirou-nii," the pale young woman in his arms asked with menacing sweetness. "Do you mean to say that you only kissed me so that you could 'try to get your wings'?"
While he was quietly happy that the girl had attached the affectionate suffix to his name for the first time in years, Shirou couldn't help but feel a small amount of dread creep into him. Living in such close proximity to women as he did, he had learned a few things about them. Not nearly enough, of course, but enough to know that he had done something terribly, terribly wrong. Worse than pulling hair, even.
Hidaka Shirou had come a long way since the hollow shell of a human being he'd been almost a decade ago. He'd learned that while conventional knowledge held that telling the truth was always best, sometimes the only answer that would be accepted was a lie. What was the most perplexing about this situation was that he knew the truth would indeed be best, but every fiber of his being was telling him to lie his pants off. (But not literally. That would have made things even worse.)
"Err," he said guilelessly. "No?"
Needless to say, he didn't fool anybody.
"Shirou-nii-no-baka!" Ilyasviel shouted at him, her cheeks a bright red.
"I'm sorry!" Shirou apologized desperately, and held up his hands to protect himself. In doing so, however, he suddenly noticed a large pair of duffle bags. "Wait, are you going somewhere Ilya-nee?"
The innocuous question caused Ilya to freeze in the act of punishing Shirou for his impudence.
"Oh. Yeah," the remorse in the affirmation was obvious even to Shirou. "Uhm. My dad left some business unfinished somewhere. Fuyuki City. Where he... y'know."
Where he rescued Shirou. The memory was still fresh.
Shirou looked over at the bags again, his eyes widening in sudden comprehension.
"You're moving?" he was horrified at the notion. He'd only just reconciled with her, and now she was leaving? It wasn't fair! He had so much to make up for.
Ilya fidgeted with the hem of her dress, unwilling to answer. Which was itself more than enough confirmation than Shirou needed.
"You could come with me," she said quietly.
"You could come with me," she repeated, louder this time. "I, I could use your help for this, Shirou."
The young man hesitated for a moment. His first impulse was to agree, but that would mean leaving his other sisters behind. But that would mean letting Ilya do whatever she had to do on her own alone, and he wouldn't be close enough to help her out if she really needed his help.
In the end, he decided to go with his first impulse. Mostly it was because he knew his sisters were adults, and could take care of themselves. Ilyasviel couldn't be much younger than he was, but she shouldn't be alone while finishing off her father's affairs. If nothing else, he could provide a shoulder to cry on.
"I'll come with you," he said eventually. "If you need my help, then you'll have it for as long as you need, nee-chan.
"Kya~" Ilya wailed. "What are you doing! Stop that!"
"I'm sorry! I don't know what came over me! You just smelled so good, and-!"
"Stupid perverted nii-san!"
*A Few Weeks Later...*
"You know," Shirou said, appreciating the Emiya manor. "At first I didn't believe you when you said you said Kiritsugu-san left you a manor. I mean, why would you live in a tiny apartment if you had something so much bigger?"
"W, well there you are!" Ilyasviel said nervously. "I told you I had one!"
"Yes..." Said slowly, and frowned. "You did. You forgot to mention that it was a dump, though."
It was amazing what almost a decade of neglect could do to a house. It could make it look exactly like ruin, for one thing.
"It is not a dump!" Ilya defended hotly. "It's just- It just needs to be cleaned up!"
"I think one of the compound walls have collapsed," Shirou pointed out unhelpfully.
"We can fix it!"
"I really don't think we can," the young man argued. "Not in time for the new semester, at least."
"Bah!" Ilya dismissed. "School? We haven't any time to waste on something like that, onii-chan!"
"Well, I certainly do. Up until this Grail War of yours starts, at least," he said. "Chiho-nee would kill me if she found out I was planning on using a war to skip out on school."
"Only you would worry about upsetting your sister during a time like this," his companion muttered. "Anyways, hurry up stow your things away in one of the rooms. There's something we have to do before we go to sleep."
Shirou sighed even as he stepped forward. "We don't have to fix the beds, do we? Because I'm not that good at fixing things."
"No, not that. Really, all you're good for is swinging that sword of yours," Emiya-Einzbern Ilyasviel assured him, resisting the urge to sigh again.
"That sword" of course referred to the ridiculously overpowered weapon he carried in a specially crafted sheath, the Totsuga-no-Tsurugi. How the legendary weapon of a god had come into his possession was a mystery that he was mum about.
"There's a certain ritual I have to perform that I need your help with. It's for the war,"
"Oh. Well, that's alright then," Shirou said with a nod. "Do you think you'll have enough time to make dinner afterwards?"
"And leave the sword behind, too," she added on, ignoring his question. "We can't have it interfering with anything.
"I ask of you: are you my master?"
Omake! Kind of!
*Back in Shin-Tokyo!*
"I'm so proud of him," Uzume said, great big manly tears falling from her eyes in streams. "He's such a lady's man! Just one day with his childhood friend, and then they go on to shack up with each other!"
"I wish you wouldn't say it like that," Chiho said with a huff. "He's just going with her to help out and keep her company."
"Heh. Damn straight he's "keeping her company"!" the sekirei said with a knowing chuckle. "That's my bro! I bet he's "keeping her company" all the time!"
"Well, I should certainly hope so," Chiho said with sniff. "It made me so sad to see Shirou mope around like that all the time. They should be making up for lost time."
"Wait, what?" Uzume said, alarmed. "You knew about them? This whole time? How come you never told me anything?!"
"I thought it was obvious. I mean, it wasn't exactly a secret."
"Of course I didn't- wait, "making up for lost time"?" Uzume repeated. "Just how early did they start?"
"What are you talking about?" Chiho asked, confused. "They've been together since they were children, Uzume."
"Wait, hold up, are you saying what I think you're saying?"
"I think I am?" Chiho said, though by now she was so uncertain about just what they had been talking about in the first place.
"Damn. I really am a bad influence."