Nine months. Fujimura Taiga frowned at the thought. Shirou, her Shirou, her little brother had not left his house in over nine months. The funeral of his wife was the last time anyone other than Taiga, Rin, or Luvia had seen the man. Taiga spared a moment to ruminate on those two, and the strange revelation it had been to find out that Tohsaka Rin was somehow Sakura's biological sister, and that she'd gotten a rich girlfriend of all things while studying in Britain.
Still, of the students she had taught Shirou continued to worry her most. He'd seemed to just shut down after Sakura's death, sitting in the main room of the house and refusing to do so much as move. Oftentimes she wondered if he was even eating or sleeping when she didn't have time to come by and force him. She still recalled with a sense of dread her attempts to get the man to go to work. As it stood it seemed like Shirou's garage would soon be run entirely by her father, Raiga.
Even so, Shirou was her little brother, perhaps not by blood but by the gods she had mooch- err, shared enough meals with the young man, and that had to count for something. Unfortunately for the both of them, Shirou's malaise had a rather negative impact on both of their dietary expectations, which is to say that for the past nine months take-out had been the word when it came to breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Unlocking the door to the Emiya compound, Taiga idly wondered where the last puzzle of the Emiya marriage had disappeared too. Now, Taiga knew what her students often thought of her, that she wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed or that her bombshell body and exuberant attitude meant that she wasn't very intelligent. Well Taiga knew those people were both wrong and possibly jealous of her feminine grace because not only was she quick on the uptake but she was very observant. True, in the three years she had been in and around the married couple's lives she had never once actually caught sight of the strange "other woman" she knew was there, it still bothered her. She'd found evidence of a third Emiya estate resident more than a hundred times over the years but it wasn't until after Sakura's death that the mysterious person seemed to truly matter.
She'd furiously confronted Shirou long ago when she first found a pair of women's apparel that would have never fit Sakura nor could she imagine the young woman actually consenting to wear some of the more... restraining accessories built into the thing. Shirou had looked more ashamed of the evidence than Taiga herself had before a beet red Sakura had come to claim the outfit and insisted that the whole thing had been her idea in the first place. While initially mollified, Taiga had still known that the outfit had been too large for the girl, and over time continued to find strong evidence of there being a second woman living in the house. She'd let the matter drop, but now with Sakura dead, and Shirou being completely unresponsive to the outside world she wished that mysterious woman would appear, if only to give Shirou the kick in the pants he needed to begin picking up the pieces of his life.
Medusa would have sighed, if she were still capable of breath. Instead she just continued to float in spiritual form slightly behind and to the left of Shirou. The man had not moved in four days and Medusa was running low on options. Since Sakura's death she had been confined to the barest minimum of manifestations, Shirou's circuits working their hardest to keep her anchored to the world but unable to manage much more. She was an Anti-Hero, a being of might and legend and at the moment she couldn't even manage a stiff wind. Insubstantial, intangible, invisible, and for all the world she was less than a shade, but her Sakura had entrusted her with Shirou and demanded that she ensure he fulfilled his promise and for her failure to guard Sakura, she would not let Shirou out of her sight- metaphorically. With the loss of her ability to manifest physically she was once more forced to don Breaker Gorgon to ensure the passive prana expenditure that was her mystic eyes did not further cripple her Master.
"Shirou. You have not eaten in days. You have not slept either. I am aware your continued support of my existence puts you in some degree of discomfort, but you must do something. Taiga will be arriving shortly. If you do not remove the trash she will discover that you have not moved since her last visit. At the very least you should bathe, while my astral form is unable to smell you I can safely say you are in dire need of soap."
Medusa was not lost in the irony of being the most verbose participant in a conversation. Shirou had been silent for so long after her death that at first Medusa worried that Shirou was unable to hear her. Those fears had been allayed one evening not two months ago when Shirou had turned to look directly at her astral form and asked a question that had thoroughly disturbed her, and confirmed some of her other fears.
"Why can't I die?" Shirou had been pleading with her then, asking a question Medusa had been forced to contemplate after observing Shirou firing all twenty seven of his circuits non-stop for nearly seven months. Impossible was the only word Medusa could use to describe it. Since then she had convinced Shirou that she could subsist on just twenty-three of his circuits active at any one time, and while it was certainly true that she could she did not enjoy being unable to enact even the most minor exertions of force upon the world. She couldn't even read anymore without Shirou to turn the pages for her and the man was still entirely too sullen to do anything. The decreased strain on his circuits did however have something of a positive side effect.
Medusa had been worried at first, when Shirou had been straining himself and his circuits. His skin had grown an unhealthy shade of brown, his hair had greyed and his eyes when he opened them were entirely too metallic in color. It did not escape her how similar to Archer he appeared, nor was she entirely unaware of the circumstances of Archer himself. She had long ago worked out that somehow a Hero from the future had been summoned, and that in all likelihood Shirou was that hero. She had thought the future that had birthed that Shirou, that Anti-Hero, had been averted when Shirou cast his childhood fantasy aside to pursue Sakura.
Medusa found herself wondering if she was capable of preventing that future in her current state, but that worry soon fell by the wayside when Shirou stopped straining his circuits so hard, his skin tone returning nearly to normal, slightly darker by a shade, with the grey in his hair now looking more like the natural course of aging for a man twenty years his senior. Shirou's eyes though, they returned entirely to normal, a fact Medusa was grateful for more than even she wished to admit to herself. Those eyes had been one of the first things she had noticed about Shirou, when she had finally been able to look at the world without Breaker Gorgon restraining her sight.
Of course, thanks to Breaker Gorgon her only real source of information about Shirou's current appearance came from Taiga's regular weekly visits.
Taiga opened the door and was immediately assaulted by the stench of week old takeout, and an unwashed Shirou left for who knows how long brooding in his own mess. It broke her heart to see him like this, and Taiga wanted nothing more than to just hug him until everything was all better, but as he was, Taiga was worried she might choke on his stench before she got close.
"Shirou, I know I'm a guest but please, take a bath. I'll try to clean up around here and we can eat dinner like we used to, ok?" Taiga waited a moment at the invisible boundary that separated the entrance from the main room, hoping for something, any sort of verbal response. Instead Shirou stood like a poorly made marionette, shoulders hunched and plodded into the bathroom down the hall. Taiga's enthusiasm and attempt at casual demeanor rapidly evaporated as she looked around the room, keen eye digesting the fact that a thin layer of dust had sprouted everywhere Shirou hadn't been.
That dust covered everything but the small space Shirou had been sitting earlier. He even left footprints in his trek to the washroom, a fact that slightly boggled Taiga until she realized that Shirou just hadn't moved from his spot since the last time the room had been cleaned. Taiga felt the icy chill of realization as she remembered herself cleaning the last time she had been here, eight days ago.
Guilt, anger, frustration, and fear warred for Taiga's emotional response to this realization, simply knowing that if her observations were correct the take out containers left on the table from previous meals had in fact been there since last week. More pressing was the fact that Shirou, her kid brother was doing his level best to kill himself by inaction. Everything about that idea made her boil with rage, her impotence in the face of her little brother's despair fueling her own depressive thoughts before failing before her white phosphorous-like temper. This could not stand- and Taiga knew just the people she needed to call to this intervention.
Quietly trashing the week old boxes Taiga set the new food onto the table, and navigated towards the kitchen. The phone was nearly buried behind the now disused cutlery but nearby a small phone book held the information she sought. Rin's number was easy to find, and even with the United Kingdom country code it took barely ten seconds to enter the number into her new cell phone. She couldn't call now, with the time difference Taiga doubted the other woman would pick up if she didn't know the number. Thus she resolved to call once she'd looked up what time roughly equalled the late afternoon in England.
Plan firmly in mind she set about mentally preparing the necessary guest list. Ayako and Issei should still be attending university, but that was a short train ride away so it was hardly an inconvenience. Her father would be difficult to convince, given that his stance thus far had been to "let the man grieve over his wife in peace" but even he couldn't turn a blind eye to his adoptive grandson grieving himself to death in this empty home. No, the irate old man would come, and if she knew her father he would hatch some scheme to make Shirou get back to work. That would be a step in the right direction at least.
Shirou took his time, but eventually returned washed and looking somewhat more alive than he had when she'd arrived. He retook his seat, looking for all the world like a kicked puppy. Taiga saw no need to resist her inclination to hug the man in a bear crushing embrace. Shirou showed no outward sign of it but Taiga was positively certain that he was grateful for the contact. Placing the takeout boxes on the table (chinese, she'd passed by this wonderful smelling place advertising the spiciest mapo tofu ever made, her curiosity demanded she try it) she pushed the meal she'd bought for the man to his side of the table, noting with curiosity the strange face he makes when he opens the box. Pausing for just a moment while breaking his chopsticks, Shirou almost seems as if he's mumbling something.
Oh well, its better than him being completely silent as he's taken to being. Knowing that conversation would be her job yet again this meal Taiga quickly gave thanks for the food and began to dig in, periodically scrambling desperately for more water from the kitchen. Damn, those people down in Taishan hadn't been joking about the spice!
Medusa listens to the scene with no small amount of mirth, inexpressible in her current form though it may be. Shirou's half hearted mumbling brings a small light of hope into Medusa's ghostly essence, Shirou had been far too silent for far too long. Still it confused her slightly how that priest being back to haunt him and the appearance of the aromatic dish in front of him could be related. Perhaps the priest had caused him some harm with the dish?
No matter. With Taiga's arrival also comes the welcome break in the monotony of her vigil over Shirou. Taiga would bring news of the others in Shirou's life, of what was happening outside in the world. Truth be told Medusa was something of a homebody, she knew, but even then she had revelled in her freedom to go out and speak with other people. It wasn't until she was once again confined to a single place that she was reminded of her monstrous past.
But Taiga's visits helped, both for her own sanity and for Shirou's. Shirou was slowly beginning to ask questions. They were short, and always to the point, but it was still a marked improvement from his previous behavior. Taiga would talk and talk until she was blue in the face when she first made regular visits in the wake of the funeral, but Shirou would remain as conversational as a brick. Now, Shirou occasionally greeted Taiga when she entered, ask a token question about Raiga or his garage, he even once inquired about Ayako and her university studies. It wasn't much, but it was progress- of a sort. Medusa was still certain that Shirou was self destructive, his eating habits proved it to her. Had he truly been human his body would have died of thirst within that first month. Instead it seemed that Touko's craftsmanship had given Shirou a body impervious to simple dehydration or hunger.
Amidst these thoughts Taiga's voice rang like a warning bell, chiming the imminent doom of an approaching army.
"-and then the Director was so impressed with my English that he offered me a promotion! Regional supervisor for a new school district in Shin Tokyo! Can you imagine? Me, in charge of a whole city's English education department. Raiga says he'd prefer that I stay with him in his twilight years but he can't fool me, he's still just as spry as he was fifteen years ago. He's probably worried about those rumors the other bosses' have been on about. Still, its a rather moot point. I can't just pack up and leave my family." -at least not while you're like this, went Taiga's unspoken regret.
Medusa felt both relief and guilt for Taiga's decision, Taiga's regular contact was helping Shirou recover, she knew, but it was also obvious that this was a rather large step forward for the woman. Few female teachers reached administrative work in Japan, most opting to be career teachers or marriage and subsequent homemaking. Taiga passing on this opportunity would likely stall her career permanently. Still it came as a surprise when Shirou spoke up, the barest hint of anger in his voice.
"Fuji-nee, you should take the job. You can't let yourself be held up on account of …"
"IDIOT! The first time in nine months that you string more than six words together and you're telling me you're fine?! LIKE HELL! You're my precious little brother, and I'll stick with you until you get up off your lazy bum and return to the land of the living!" Taiga accentuates her point by slamming her hand down on the table, wincing at the impact.
Medusa judges from the slight difference in where Shirou's voice originates that his head is hanging low when he replies.
"I've been very selfish. I'm sorry." Is that the sound of a teardrop striking tabletop? Taiga must have been so stunned by Shirou's words she dropped her spoon, because the clatter of plastic striking curry is the only thing Medusa can hear, aside from both person's heartbeats. The sudden silence is broken by the crack of a palm against cheek as Taiga connects solidly with Shirou's face. Safe in the knowledge that in spiritual form only the bearer of her command seals can hear her Medusa remarks, "You deserved that."
"YOU COLOSSAL IDIOT! Don't sit here in the house you won't leave, eating food for the first time in however long you've been starving yourself for, and tell me you'd be fine if I left. I raised you better than to lie like that you... you... IDIOT." In spite of her fury Taiga's voice broke into a sob as she finished, reaching forward across the table to pull Shirou's sitting form into a hug squeezing for all she's worth.
"I'm sorry." Is all that Shirou seems to be able to reply with. Even still the flicker of emotion in his voice, the sheer volume of words he has spoken and the fact that Medusa can hear the soft pat of Shirou's hand against Taiga's back in a comforting gesture all are signs of Shirou making some sort of recovery.
Medusa listens to the pair, embracing in grief and pain. Shirou was making progress, and while it frustrated her that she could only verbally contribute, it pleased her all the same that it was happening at all.
Sahashi Takami was not known among her circle of peers to be a very outgoing woman. Even so the past nine months had seen Takami almost in isolation in the lower lab floors of the towering MBI building that dominated the Shin Tokyo skyline. There had been a commotion not unlike a mound of ants after being kicked when Karasuba, the number zero four and head of the Disciplinary Squad, was brought in unconscious and with a head injury that would have deactivated her had she been winged at the time. Many MBI employees speculated that some new American or Chinese government weapon had been used in the airport, but with Karasuba in a recuperative coma and Takami steadfastly avoiding any and all questions it seemed that the mystery of the now dubbed "Airport Incident" would have to wait.
And wait it did, for after three months Karasuba awoke and promptly proceeded to utterly annihilate her recovery room. The glacial looks she shot anyone that even attempted to speak to her left the researchers with little hope that asking what had actually happened would end without bloodshed. Even stranger was the fact that Karasuba, well known for her intense bouts of homicidal zeal was being unusually reluctant about taking revenge. Most MBI personnel had set up a running betting pool of which country would be blamed for the injury and to what extent the damages would be after Karasuba awoke. Bets ranged from major capitals being razed to Karasuba visiting unholy devastation upon politicians and civilians indiscriminately. Karasuba doing none of those things somehow scared the researchers even more.
Sahashi Takami would have cared about these events had she not been struggling with her own crisis in the wake of that fateful airport encounter. Every test, every scan, every computer analysis of the tiny drop of blood taken from the tip of Karasuba's sword told her the same thing. Emiya Shirou and Sahashi Minato had a ninety nine point nine nine seven percent match for the entirety of their available genetic sample. Hair fibers taken from Minato's old clothes had been checked against Shirou's blood, and later after a comprehensive sweep of the interrogation room at the airport skin samples and hair follicles all gave Takami conclusive evidence that Emiya Shirou was Sahashi Minato.
Sahashi Takami's only son, whom she had thought dead in a fire nearly fifteen years prior, had suddenly not been dead all along. And she had stopped looking. That thought more than anything else haunted her. She had gone to Fuyuki, desperate that her parent's house was still there, still safe, with Minato there. She had found instead a burned out husk, collapsed under it's own weight, charred black from the heat and the soot. Officials at the scene had told her that her parents house had been only one block from the epicenter of "the event", the only words they knew to describe the unbelievable conflagration that had burst forth from Fuyuki City Hall that night. Reports from the fire department said that the fire had burned so hot that City Hall had still been ablaze three days later. Her parents house had transformed into rubble and ash by the time firefighters had been able to access it.
They had told her that any bodies left had likely burnt to ash. They had told her the only survivors had been pulled from blazing homes nearly four blocks from City Hall. They had told her her son was dead, and she'd believed them. She'd given up hope and gone home, she had told little Yukari her brother wouldn't be coming home and she had crawled into her bed and sobbed until she couldn't feel anything any more. She'd thrown herself into her work trying desperately to forget, to move forward, to do anything but feel the pain of losing her only son because she had sent him away. It was supposed to have been a simple chicken pox vaccination, it was supposed to work, MBI had spent millions on the damn thing, but then Minato had started to get a fever and Yukari was just too young, too small, for her to catch it.
She had sent him to her parents and for the past fifteen years she'd hated herself for it. For letting Minaka talk her into letting Minato into the test trial, for sending him away, and now, brand new tidal waves of guilt assailed her for having given up so easily. She hadn't checked the hospitals herself, instead just searching the registries, because she'd listened to professionals, to people who supposedly knew what they were talking about. And because she'd done that, she'd lost her son.
He was still alive, yes, but she had not been there for any of the important parts of his life. He'd lived all that time, he'd grown into a fine man, gotten married, and she had been there for none of it. Guilt warred with anger for control of Takami's life with each month that the tests returned from the lab as a match. She'd even taken to running the tests herself, checking the tests herself, and in one particularly guilt filled week performing sequence alignments by hand. The evidence was staring at her even now, as the luminescent display screen continued it's silent condemnation of her parental neglect.
In stunningly high resolution, over one meter of display showed the web site Shirou had directed her too in that cramped airport security room. Standing next to his wife, grinning like an idiot, was her son. Grease splattered on his clothes, some unidentifiable tool in his hand, his wife smiling gently to the camera. Her son, married to such a beauty! With that thought another wave of guilt inevitably followed, because Takami knew that Emiya Sakura had died on the operating table that night.
It was trivial to pull the hospital records, and it had been heartbreaking to read. The poor girl had been crushed between a small van and a neighborhood wall when the driver, a drunk office worker, had fallen asleep at the wheel. She had somehow clung to life for over an hour, missing blood and crushed organs, only passing after her husband had somehow made it to her side.
Takami still could not understand how that had happened. Shirou had somehow left the airport so fast that he registered as little more than a blur on the security cameras. Topping that he had struck Karasuba so hard the alien had fractured her skull. Sekirei biology was still an enigma in certain fields but Takami knew herself that nothing short of two tons accelerating at no less than twenty-five meters per second squared could cause a broken bone in an unwinged Sekirei. It still baffled Takami that somehow the winging process affected Sekirei stress tolerances, but nonetheless if Shirou's body was moving nearly as fast as his fist needed to in order to cause harm to a Sekirei the g-forces should have killed him within a minute.
But if the report that Shirou had been at his wife's bedside when she died was accurate, that meant that Shirou had somehow sprinted out of the airport and across over one hundred and sixty kilometers in under nine minutes. That was simply beyond superhuman, hell it was beyond the Sekirei, and the Sekirei didn't seem to follow any logic for what limited them. It simply didn't make sense.
The only shred of hope for insight as to why her son Minato had somehow sprouted superpowers was the consistent anomaly that arose when she compared the samples that remained of Minato and the samples procured from Shirou's interrogation room. That tiny fraction, only three thousandths of a percent, held the key, she knew it. So she had spent the last month and a half meticulously combing through every MBI database she had access to trying to find clues.
When she did, it took a high powered alien force field generator meant for atmospheric reentry to stop her from throttling Minaka. Even then, she gave herself second degree burns on her hands trying. Minaka sat there in his infuriating high back chair, grey-white hair swept to one side with his square framed glasses somehow shining with an inner light, making his eyes practically invisible. AR prototype? The scientist in Takami asked, before her righteous indignation overwhelmed everything else and she chucked her ever present clipboard at his smug bastard face.
"I WILL KILL YOU, YOU VILE BASTARD!" Takami's screech might have been audible from the adjacent floors of the MBI tower if Minaka hadn't been carefully observing Takami's workstation and thus engaged the silencing shields in his office the moment she'd arrived.
"Now now, calm down Takamin~"
"Calm? You want Calm? Fine, I'm going to calmly rip your tongue out through your asshole you son of a bitch!"
"My my, so angry. What have I done now? I've been so kind as to put my Plan on hold while you worked on your personal issues- what more do you want of me?"
"YOU. USED. MY. SON! That vaccine- it was never a vaccine! You tested some sort of retrovirus on him!"
Takami tried to express her indignation, her fury, her hatred for Minaka at that moment, but all that escaped her throat was a strangled scream as she flung herself across his obscenely large desk and did her level best to crush the man's windpipe with her bare hands. The harsh burn of the interlocking hexagons that formed the energy barrier just centimeters from his skin repelling her efforts. In spite of this, Takami pressed forward, growling her hatred as Minaka stared impassively.
"My, we haven't been this close since the last time little Minato was the topic of conversation." Minaka's voice, level and even, hit Takami like a freight train.
"I believe you told me then how I should, ah thats right 'stay the hell out of your lives' I believe. I've simply abided by your wishes Takami-chan."
"You knew... You knew he was alive, and you DIDN'T TELL ME!" Incredulity swiftly shifted back into anger as Takami, unable to properly strangle the horrible excuse for a man in front of her, decided instead to scream at the top of her lungs.
"Knew? Nothing of the sort, I suspected that if the treatment had worked the boy would be more resilient, but this- this exceeds even my wildest expectations! Little Minato was able to strike a Sekirei, incapacitate her even! His ancestral Sekirei lineage must have stabilized the artificial core. Simply marvelous!"
Takami, now wild eyed and furious, was struck speechless. This man, this horrible vile man had tinkered with her son's genes, his body, for what? For some sort of superhuman program derived from the Sekirei? What had he meant by Sekirei lineage? Why couldn't she strangle him, why had the universe conspired to put this madman in his position of unassailable power?
"I swear to any god that's listening, I will kill you for this Minaka. I swear it." Finding her voice, Takami croaked out her final ultimatum only to be met with that same infuriatingly calm voice. The voice Minaka only uses in private with those who know that the goofy eccentric genius is nothing more than an illusion.
"Now now, you know that if you do kill me I'll take half the country with me. Including those precious Sekirei you've spent so much of your life on. I've got bigger problems trying to kill me and take my empire, but if you like I can turn my attention on you, and your family. Yukari is attending University this year isn't she? And little Minato just lost his wife, such a shame. Takami-chan, for people that I find threatening there are fates worse than death that can easily be arranged, and I have had a great deal of practice after that debacle with the Americans. Anyone can disappear overnight, and you would never cease to be amazed at what a ludicrous amount of money can spur people to do, but Takami-chan somewhere deep down I still love you, so I won't do anything horrible to you- not ever. Just don't give me reason to do something we'll both regret to people that aren't you."
Takami knew that Minaka had gone crazy somewhere down the line, but this, this was insane. Slowly she backed out of the madman's office, that infuriating smile never fading from his face. Distantly she realized that this meeting was worse than a disaster, it was a possible herald of the god-damned apocalypse. Minaka was too far gone, and worse yet too powerful with his multinational conglomerate wielding alien technology to be left alone. But no one had noticed. Minaka had reached critical mass long ago and now it was only the countdown to his insanity going supernova.
"Oh and Takami-chan? You're still needed in the Sekirei project, so do please contribute, it would be a shame if I had to resort to taking hostages but I'm not above it." Minaka fires his final warning shot as Takami nearly stumbles out of the office, dazed and feeling more terrified than she ever has in her life.
Yeah, so, yeah. I'm not the most regular or reliable updater I will admit, but this is sort of embarrassing me. This chapter should have been out months ago, I profess, but the Minaka/Takami interaction just kept falling flat. I'm trying to keep the whole fic to the Heaven's Feel vibe, what with previous big bads jobbing it up (Karasuba's glass jaw/skull), Uncomfortable family realizations (Minaka isn't friendly insane, he's balls-to-the-wall scary insane), depressing moments (maybe too many of those...), and characters getting to really show off what they can do (Shirou wrecking face).
Now, about some of the exposition- Yes in this fic Shirou is a little more than human, in a number of ways. The Third Magic has done something to his soul he still is only vaguely aware of, Touko's replacement body is way above human norms when prana's actively flowing through it, and last but not least- Shirou's Reality Marble gets a better reason for existing than "he's broken". Seriously if every mentally ill person with decent magic circuits had the potential to manifest a mystery almost on par with True Magic there would be a lot more than six recorded instances of a Human with a Reality Marble. Yes, that does mean that Sekirei themselves have a power akin to Reality Marbles and as such makes them a little more in line with the other known Aliens in the T-M universe. It also serves my purposes to make the Sekirei more of a legitimate threat to Shirou and other magi in the fic.
In the next chapter expect an Intervention courtesy of Taiga, and Karasuba asks "What is love?"