A Different Path
Changing Fate: Revision I
The black swordsman and the one who was determined to become a hero raced through the night. Past the park, across the bridge, and into the neighboring town of Shinto, Shirou and Kirito ran at a speed greater than any normal human could. The former wasn't even aware of his actions, his mind steeled with the imperative 'to save' causing him to subconsciously reinforce his body to fulfill the command. The latter was aware of his actions, and especially that of his Master's, but disregarded it for the more pressing matter: the dying girl in his arms.
With dazed eyes, the brown-haired girl hung onto consciousness and life by a thread that was fraying with every passing second. Blood leaked from the wound on her neck, only prevented by the firm pressure Kirito applied. Even then, the warm liquid spilled with every pulse running through her veins.
Yet, it was slowing. As she had yet to be treated, that left only one cause, one that neither Kirito nor Shirou would accept.
Kirito grimaced at the thought. They were almost to the church now, only a few more minutes at the speed they were going. While he could probably make it in record time if he used all his speed, with Ayako's current condition as it was, it would do more harm than good. They were pressing it as is, running at a speed close to 50 km per hour.
A weak voice jarred Kirito out of his thoughts. "What's happening...?"
The black swordsman took a quick glance down at the girl he was in the process of saving and flashed a brief smile. "No worries Mitsuduri-san. Shirou and I will get you to help. Just sit back and enjoy the ride."
"Shirou...?" The girl slowly blinked, showing a vacant expression that was a farcry from the strong and energetic girl Kirito had seen just this afternoon. "Ah." A moment of clarity entered her eyes as recognition flitted across her face. "You're Kirito."
Even if Kirito had only met her for a brief moment, to see Ayako like this had the black swordsman seething. He could only guess at what his Master was feeling at that moment, but the fact that Shirou hadn't spoken a word since the start of their rapid sprint was telling. Yet, Kirito had a lady to tend to, and could think about his Master later. "Yes, I'm Kirito. But please, Mitsuduri-san, stay silent and conserve your energy." Kirito gave Ayako another smile. "If you're mad at Shirou, it would be better to tell him when you're back in top shape, and that's not going to happen unless you rest."
Ayako gave a small shake of her head, eyes starting to flicker shut.
Kirito ground his teeth at the sight, then raised his head. They were almost there. Just a few more seconds as they climbed the hill.
"...not mad. Worried. Emiya... not a gamer."
The girl's eyes were closing, and Kirito realized with a start that her pulse was almost gone. Not only that, but the amount of blood had slowed to almost a complete stop as well.
"Stay with me, Mitsuduri-san. I know I said you should rest, but please, don't close your eyes. If you do-"
Ayako took a deep breath, her eyes briefly regaining that energetic spark Kirito had seen earlier in the day, and focused Kirito with an intense gaze. "Protect him."
The church doors slammed open as Shirou rushed past.
Ayako closed her eyes.
Shirou wasn't the type of person to pray. Sure, he offered little prayers here and there out of habit, such as when he left his shed or burned incense for Kiritsugu in rememberance, but Emiya Shirou was not a person to believe in prayer to a higher deity. As a magus, he knew exactly what the so-called 'gods' were actually like, after all.
But if Shirou had been the type to pray, there was no doubt that he would have done it, there and then.
They had wasted little time after arriving to tell the priest what had happened. Truth be told, it was a desperate gamble, considering that Shirou hadn't been sure the priest could actually heal anyone, but thankfully Kotomine had taken Ayako without question and stated that he would do the best he could.
It had been hours since then, and Shirou was left by himself in the church pews. While Kirito had entered with him, the priest's reminder that Servants weren't officially allowed in the neutral zone of the church had led the black swordsman to wait outside.
Alone, sitting on those wooden benches, Shirou found his thoughts drifting to the topic that he had been keeping away by sealing it under a layer of steel. Yet, it could hardly be avoided now.
Shinji was a Master. Not only that, but he had been the very type of Master that Shirou was determined to stop. The way that his estranged friend had callously stood aside, talking about the war with a casual air, and then completely ignoring the girl bleeding out behind him...
Shirou gripped his hands as he recalled the way Shinji had brushed off her presence, saying what happened to her was just a case of bad luck.
"Damn it!" Shirou slammed his fist against the bench in front of him, the impact resounding through the church. The red-head winced at the echo, realizing that he had just cursed in a holy place, as well as strike its property.
Shirou let out a long sigh and leaned back, staring at the ceiling above. Seeing the pure white color brought another spark of rage in his chest, as it reminded him of just how badly he had failed.
"Ayako... I can't believe it." Shirou closed his eyes. It was unbelievable, really. His mind had frozen when he saw Shinji standing there, not able to come to terms with the fact that his old friend was a Master. Of course, it made sense that an arrogant person like Shinji would be chosen for a war to grant any wish, but Shirou didn't think that his estranged friend was that far gone. For him to have used his Servant to feed on innocent people, not even bothering to care, even when it was his co-captain of the Archery Club... Shirou didn't know what to think.
He had thought it would be easy. Emiya Shirou wanted to be a hero, a defender of justice that would save everyone. Emiya Shirou joined the war to protect the innocents so that a disaster like the fire ten years ago wouldn't happen. But above all, Emiya Shirou wanted those around him to be happy. He just wanted those people around him to smile.
So it was simple. Fight in the grail war, beat the corrupt masters, win the grail and save as many people as he could. It was clear cut. Black and white. If there was a danger to the city, Shirou would be there to stop it. It was his duty as the one who adopted Kiritsugu's dream, as well as the penalty of atonement for living where everyone else died.
As long as he won the war, the city would be safe. It was that simple.
Yet, Shirou was beginning to wonder if it really was that simple. It was true that if he won then the town would be safe. It was also true that a hero, and more specifically Kiritsugu, would be an active participant in the war and fight to end it, ensuring that good triumphed over evil and that everyone was safe.
But a hero couldn't save everyone.
That was the first lesson Kiritsugu had told him when Shirou showed interest in the elder Emiya's dream. Intellectually, Shirou understood that fact. After all, in reality there were some people that just didn't want to be saved. Then there was the fact that a hero couldn't be everywhere and do everything.
Even so, Shirou denied it. He wanted an ideal utopia where everyone could be happy. A place where smiles were all that could be found, where a thing such as crime or sadness didn't exist. He was young, naive, and idealistic to a fault. If a place like that didn't exist on Earth, then Shirou swore that he would make it, and that was why he chose to be a hero, a defender of justice.
A hero couldn't save everyone, and the ideal Shirou chased, the utopia he wished for would be nowhere to be found. That was what Kiritsugu had attempted to communicate to his adopted son prior to the elder Emiya's death. Yet, Shirou's pure devotion to the dream and fervent resolution had put that thought far from both Emiya's minds in their last moments together.
Now Shirou saw and felt first-hand what his father had to go through when pursuing his dream.
"A hero can't save everyone..." The words were murmured, almost like a whispered taboo. Fitting, as they were if one considered Emiya Shirou's life-view. He, who vowed to save everyone in atonement for living, was saying that it was an impossible dream. Such words could only be compared to the worst of curses when thought as such. Yet, for some reason, at that moment when it seemed that Ayako's death was imminent, Shirou couldn't help but believe that it was true, if only by the slightest margin.
Approaching footsteps brought Shirou out of his thoughts, and he raised his head to see who they belonged to.
Kotomine came to a halt a few paces away from Shirou, and smiled. "It is done."
Shirou shot to his feet. "Is she alright? Did you manage to save her?"
A glint of mirth entered the priest's eyes at Shirou's words. "I did not save her."
Shirou's heart fell, and something inside him cracked at those words. "Then she... Ayako's..."
"I did not say she died, Emiya Shirou. Merely that I did not save her. After all, was it not you and your Servant that brought the girl to me?"
For a moment, Shirou considered punching the fake priest in front of him to wipe off that smug look on his face, but decided against it as the man would probably disqualify him from the war for that. Most likely while laughing.
"In any case." The priest continued, smoothing his features to a serious expression. "You were fortunate to have brought her here so quickly. Were you even ten seconds later I would have had to see her as a priest."
Shirou nodded. They were lucky that they made it so fast, though Shirou was puzzled on exactly how that happened. He had vague memories of using reinforcement after fighting Shinji (and using sword skills), but he would have to ask Kirito to be sure. With that thought settled, Shirou turned his attention back to the priest. "Then... she'll be fine?"
Kotomine nodded. "Indeed. There's no doubt that the girl will make a full recovery, though that could be said to be a measure of her will to live rather than my ability. After all, most would die after losing over 40% of their blood, not to mention the spiritual damage she had been inflicted."
The way that the priest purposely waited to explain the severity of Ayako's injuries clearly reminded Shirou of why he didn't like the man. Kotomine was the type of person to withhold information, guide you along on a false trail, dash your hopes, and then take pleasure in doing it. Again, Shirou felt the urge to punch the fake priest, but suppressed it. He did heal Ayako, after all.
Shirou's display of gratitude was met with a widening smile on the priest's face, and that thrice damned glint in his eyes. "I would not be thanking me yet, Emiya Shirou. From your reaction to the news, am I correct in assuming that you know this girl personally?"
The red-head felt a sense of forboding, and he reluctantly answered. "Yes. She's a friend of mine."
The priest tilted his head to the side the slightest margin, an amused expression on his face. "I see. Then I believe I shall leave you with the duty of preventing the knowledge of Magecraft. After all." The priest paused, this time breaking into an actual grin, a sight that sent shivers down Shirou's spine. "I'm sure that a hero like you understands the problems that would occur should word reaches the Clock Tower that there was a living witness to the war."
Shirou froze, not having considered that avenue of thought at all.
Kotomine placed a hand on Shirou's shoulder and beckoned him to the back room. "I will wait for you here if you need me. Go, Emiya Shirou, and see to the one that you have saved."
The words rang hollow to Shirou's ears, especially considering the unspoken message that witnesses to the grail war were to be silenced, permanantly and that it fell to Shirou to do it.
The red-head numbly walked to the back room as these thoughts echoed in his head. Just as Shirou placed his hand on the door knob, Kotomine called out again.
"Ah. One more thing."
Shirou was loathe to turn around, but did so knowing that it'd be far more unpleasant than if he didn't, not to mention the fact that the priest would likely taunt him as well for his cowardice. "Yes, Kotomine?"
The priest raised an eyebrow. "I do not know what I have done to earn your animosity, Emiya Shirou..."
The red-head thought that was about as likely as Shinji redeeming himself, but let the priest continue speaking.
"Yet I would offer you a piece of advice."
"Oh?" Shirou asked. "And what would that be?"
Kotomine smiled, reminding Shirou all of a sudden of a predator stalking his prey and Shirou had yet another sense of forboding. "Nothing much, only that I recommend not killing someone you save if they're a woman. Having her die in front of you hits pretty hard."
For a brief moment, Shirou stood there, his hand on the door knob and looking back at the priest. He blinked, considering the man's words, blinked again when he saw that Kotomine was deadly serious, and finally turned around with a weary sigh, ignoring the growing headache he had. "Right. I'll... remember that."
Not wanting to spend another second with the priest, Shirou stepped through the door and into the back room where Ayako was.
The backroom was a simple lounge area, with three couches positioned around a table in an almost complete rectangle. Ayako lay on the middle sofa, directly facing the door Shirou entered through, eyes closed in a restful sleep.
Shirou gently closed the door behind him, not wanting to disturb her rest, but Ayako opened her eyes. She looked around the room in confusion, then noticed Shirou standing by the door. "Emiya-san?"
The red-head let out a small smile. Shirou couldn't help but feel happy. He had saved her. Emiya Shirou had, with help from Kirito, actually saved someone.
And then he remembered that Ayako knew about the war now and the smile faded away.
The brown-haired girl moved to a sitting position on the couch, her gaze never shifting from Shirou. After a few moments in silence, she spoke. "So... is this how you usually spend your nights, Emiya-san?"
"Mitsuduri-san..." Shirou trailed off. What could he say to that? "I'm sorry you got caught up in this."
Ayako shook her head and let out a sigh. "No, I should have known better." She absently raised her left hand and touched her neck, the exact place where she had been bitten.
Shirou felt a bubble of anger at the action. Shinji... he really had no qualms about what he did. And because of that, Ayako was hurt.
He took a deep breath to calm himself, and then spoke. "You don't have to worry about that. The-" Shirou paused unsure of what to say. Did Ayako know Kotomine healed her? He didn't have time to ponder as Ayako began to talk again.
"A hero... That's what you said you wanted to be back in grade school, right?" The brown-haired girl lowered her hand and then examined her clothes, which were slightly torn and damaged from the enemy Servant.
Shirou noticed her actions, but her words were what drew his attention. "You... remember that?" He frowned. Shirou didn't know that he had gone to school with Ayako back then. Of course, it would have been around the time he dedicated himself completely to training, so it wasn't that unlikely he hadn't noticed her.
Ayako nodded. "Of course. How could I forget when you barged in the room wearing a cape and ranting about becoming a 'defender of justice'?" She paused, and then looked at Shirou with a sharp gaze. "That's what you were doing tonight, wasn't it? Not some gaming convention, or other story. You were seriously roaming the streets and being a hero, weren't you?"
"I knew it." Ayako leaned back, closing her eyes in thought. "And here I wanted to make sure you were safe. In the end, I guess I just played a damsel in distress. Even with all my training, I'm still just a weak girl." She let out a sigh.
"That's not true." Shirou smiled. "You came after me, didn't you? Even though you knew how dangerous it was at night, you still decided to keep an eye out. That's more than any other girl could say."
Ayako stared at Shirou for a few moments, then gave him a tentative nod. "I guess so." She smiled. "Then I'll just have to save you next time, Emiya-san."
Shirou began to nod. "That's right- wait!" Shirou shook his head. "That's not right." The ticking of a clock in the room reminded Shirou of why he came in here. "Listen, Mitsuduri-san. There's a few things about the events going on that you should know..."
There was a knock at the door.
Shirou froze. Did that priest come to check on him? Was he going to make sure that Ayako didn't talk?
"Emiya-san? Are you alright?"
Another knock, and then the door knob began to turn.
Shirou stepped into the room, then turned towards the door, one hand grasping Tora-shinai, standing protectively in front of Ayako.
The door opened.
Kirito stepped into the room, still in his combat gear. "Shirou, the priest said we should leave now, whether you've dealt with the problem or not. It's going to be daylight soon, and he doesn't want us around when the first worshippers arive... Oh, hello Mitsuduri-san." The swordsman greeted her with a small nod. "It's good to see that you're well."
"Kirito-san." Ayako returned the greeting. "Thank you for taking care of me." She gave a sheepish smile. "Sorry to be a burden..."
Shirou looked at the two, processed the fact that Kotomine figuratively kicked them out of the church, and that Ayako was being remarkably calm about the entire situation. He pinched the bridge of his nose, that headache threatening to return in full force, and let out a sigh. "Fine. Just... fine. Let's go."
The red-head helped Ayako to her feet and the three quietly left the place of worship.
A/N: Happy Holidays! Apologies for the shorter chapter, but I was ambushed by the holiday season with the arrival of my relatives. Because of that, along with finals, and I grossly misjudged my available time.
On the other hand, enjoy Kotomine being Kotomine and messing with Shirou's head.
I will see you all again with the new year. Merry Christmas, and thanks for reading.