A/N: So, it's here now, my first full length fic. Rip it to shreds, mock it, do what you will. All feedback is good feedback. As usual, I don't own any of this shit, or the characters. Most of this has been published already on Beasts Lair, and there's some extra goodies there as well, so if you want some extra shit, look for it there. Oh, and fuck 's upload system. Annoying compared to forums.
Ten years. God, had it really been ten years since he'd seen his daughter, since he'd held his wife, since he'd pulled his son from that fire? Kiritsugu Emiya took another drink of the rice wine. He was feeling his body starting to shut down even more than it already had over the ten long years he'd been suffering. He had a month, maybe two left by his estimations. But he wasn't going to tell Shirou about that. He was 17 already, and could take care of himself. Shirou didn't need to worry about an old man like him as much as he did. When Kiritsugu had taken a turn for the worst a few years back, Shirou had wrangled one of the Matou's to come over to help take care of him with Shirou and Taiga. Or had Sakura simply stuck around until Shirou caved and accepted her help? He couldn't remember. Sakura also reminded him of Iri in a way he couldn't place. She seemed smitten with Shirou, though he hadn't seemed to notice. Taiga sure as hell had though, and was worried he'd be lost forever to her feminine wiles. Kiritsugu believed that she was worried because she'd lose the luxury of Shirou's cooking.
Taiga was another reason that Kiritsugu was likely still around, still pushing through the pain. She was so much like Shirley it hurt. She had that same happy go lucky attitude, that same smile, that same way of always somehow bringing a smile to his face. He didn't want to see or even think of that face in pain again. Ever again. God. That still haunted him. Over twenty years later, and he could still remember the look on her face when she asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. And the look on it when she wanted him to end her life, and he didn't have the willpower to do it.
Kiritsugu took another drink out of the paper bag covered bottle as he took a look around him. Somehow, he'd been drawn to this park again. The barren field was a reminder of that terrible day. A sea of fire. Screams of the dying. All his fault. It had been a living hell. Being able to save even one person from that fire had made all the difference in the world to Kiritsugu. He didn't know what he would have done if he hadn't saved Shirou from that fire. No, he knew exactly what he would have done. He would have died in a fruitless attempt to get to Ilya out of the Einzbern's hands. As it was, he'd given up on ever seeing her again. Kiritsugu hadn't attempted to visit the Eizenbern forest in years. Each time Acht had closed the barriers to the castle, and frustratingly, he couldn't find a way through them. The Magus Killer could have no doubt about that. Kiritsugu Emiya however, could not.
Kiritsugu looked around, and saw a teenager, about Shirou's age, black haired and aquamarine eyed, wearing a red shirt and a short black skirt. Something about her also seemed familiar.
"I don't think you should be drinking in the middle of the park." The girl said, giving him a harsh look of disapproval.
"And I don't think you should be out in public with a skirt that short." Kiritsugu replied, taking another drink of the wine. The girl blushed, looking away and muttering a few insults under her breath as she walked off.
That could have been handled better, Kiritsugu admonished himself. He winced in pain as a spasm racked his body. Another dying and cursed circuit had failed. There went another couple weeks of his of his soon to be over life. Gone in an instant. Just like that. He'd been drinking in the hope that the pain would be deadened by the alcohol when it happened. No such luck. The bottle went up again, and the last drops dripped into his mouth. Kiritsugu discarded it with an offhand throw, and stood up. It was time to head home. Might as well enjoy it while he still had time to live.
Meanwhile, an unseen person watched him go, staring in disbelief at his back.
Archer could not believe what he had just seen. Everything was different now. Everything was coming back. The old man was still alive. His father was alive. That wasn't possible. He should be dead, having died peacefully passing on that ideal to him at the start of this Grail War. Therefore, this timeline's Shirou was not the one he had been. He never made the foolish choice he had. He would never make that deal. Archer was in a world where he had not been made. And he intended to keep it that way. A plan was forming within his mind. He had two days. He couldn't reveal to Rin who he was. He needed to make sure that certain things weren't that different. Had any of the Servants of the Fifth War changed? Was Shirou even a Master? No, he had to assume that certain things hadn't changed, even with the old man kicking around. Or at least he hoped so. He'd grab a newspaper out of a trash can or something later tonight, make sure that the events that had lead up to his Grail War were unchanged.
"That pervert! What right does he have to say my skirt is short?" Rin muttered, still fuming over the encounter in the park, even half an hour later.
"He has a point Rin. It is a pretty short skirt. If you trip, everyo-"
"Don't you even start!"
The girl blushed even more than she had when the old man had told her, in a much blunter way. Archer resisted the urge to grin. Some things would never change.
"Sempai wanted to become a superhero?"
Taiga put up a cat like grin, and took another massive bite. Shirou just kept on eating, hoping no one would notice the brilliant red his ears were turning.
Kiritsugu tried to hide his own grin as he continued.
"That he did. He wrote a paper on it as a kid. I would guess I'm to blame for that. I had the same wish at that age."
Sakura stared attentively at the older man, holding on his every word, Taiga and Shirou both shoveling their food down like they were possessed.
"I actually tried to do it too." Kiritsugu continued, having paused to eat some of his dinner. "And I wish Shirou the best of luck at it. It's a hard road to walk alone."
"What made you stop, Kiritsugu?" Sakura asked. Shirou stopped eating, looking at his father with an inquisitive look. Taiga perked up as well, for once actually ignoring the food in front of her. Despite living in the house for pretty much as long as Shirou, she still found Kiritsugu a mystery to her. He had rarely spoken about his past, and despite being the closest person outside of Shirou to the man, she still knew little about him.
"I got old, and some… other things happened." The man said reluctantly in a soft and mournful voice, wringing his hands slightly. Dead silence followed. Kiritsugu kicked himself under the table. He'd just killed the mood more effectively than he had any man. God dammit.
"I am sorry if I offended you. It wasn't something I should have asked," the girl mumbled.
"No, no. I'm not offended. Just some bad memories I'd rather not re-visit anytime soon."
Taiga quickly attempted to steer the conversation to a happier topic, but her efforts were in vain. The rest of the dinner was quiet as the grave.
Sakura got up to leave soon after she finished eating.
"It's getting late, and I should be getting home. Thank you for the meal."
"I'll take you there. I need to stretch my legs anyway, and it's dangerous for you to walk home alone this late." Shirou said, rising from the table. "Are you heading home as well Taiga?"
"Nah. I'm going to stick around for a little longer before I go." She said. No one caught the venomous glance she threw in Kiritsugu's direction.
After the teens left, Taiga turned her attention towards Kiritsugu, who was attempting to sneak away, wisely guessing he was about to become the next target of either a ribbing or beating. The wrath of the Tiger was unleashed.
"Oh no you don't!" she snarled, grabbing Kiritsugu by the collar of his shirt, and steering him back to the table. "We're gonna have a talk. Why'd you have to ruin dinner like that?"
"It wasn't intentional Taiga. It's just…"
"Just what Kiritsugu?" Taiga angrily shouted, reminding the man of a tiger roaring.
"It's about today. It's…"
Taiga softened a bit. "It's the tenth anniversary of the fire today. I forgot. Is that what you meant by bad memories?"
"Yes." Kiritsugu seemed to age another ten years with that statement.
"Want to talk about it? Shirou seems to have moved on from it."
Kiritsugu considered it for a second. He'd kept a lot of things to himself for so long.
"You've probably heard this from someone already, but it was like diving into hell on earth. I saw people give up and die, others trying to cling to life. Some sacrificed themselves to save others who died seconds later. I searched, and searched the rubble and wreckage." Kiritsugu started staring off into the distance. Taiga just listened. "Eventually, I became some sort of machine. The next person I would find would be alive. I kept telling myself that. I had to. Otherwise I'd have broken down. And then, I found Shirou. He was barely clinging to life, hand outstretched to the sky. You have no idea how hard I cried. I said thank you over and over – to Shirou, to whatever god was watching, to the world that let me save just one person – and I carried him out of that hell. And then I went back in. I didn't find anyone else. So I left. Saving one person was enough."
"So you adopted Shirou after that?"
The pair was silent for a while. Taiga was the first to break the ice.
"A little. It…" Kiritsugu tried to find a word that would fit. 'It helped' wasn't right. It had eased the pain. He'd still kept a lot of the details to himself, and there were a few he'd likely take to the grave, which seemed to be coming closer. But being able to die with a clear conscious was now a distinct possibility.
"It's a relief." Kiritsugu said, and was slightly surprised that he truly meant it.
Taiga had gone home before Shirou returned.
"Training tonight?" Kiritsugu asked, from his usual medative spot.
"Yeah. You haven't really done magic with me in a while, have you." Shirou said walking across the yard to the shed he practiced both repairs and magic in.
It was an offhanded remark, not really a question, more a statement of fact. And one that cut deep into Kiritsugu. For most of his life, magic had been at his side at all times, a constant tool that was fused to his very being. Six years ago though, it had started fading away along with his life. Now, he couldn't even perform that risky procedure he'd taught Shirou - as he couldn't detect any circuits in the boy – to practice any sort of magic.
Not that he had actually needed to use magic for so long. The last time he used it seriously was... Kiritsugu tried to remember. It had been… oh right, the bounded field around the house. It had been all he could manage after his duel with Kotomine. In retrospect, this should have been his first indication that he would be losing his ability to perform even the simplest spells. Even reinforcement and projection, among the most elementary of magical talents (And all he was able to teach Shirou) were beyond his reach, and had been for years.
With a sigh, Kiritsugu pulled himself up out of his sitting position, wincing slightly as his body protested at the movement. He felt older than he really was by about twenty years. No wonder Shirou called him "Old Man" once in a while. Tired, he collapsed in a heap on his bed. Dreams would bring no respite for Kiritsugu though, not tonight.