Alright everyone, this chapter is late. This is because my beta-reader Crazylich79 has been going through a very busy time and couldn't find the time to proofread this chapter. He still hasn't by the way.
However, I'm still posting it here now, so that you can read it. Keep in mind however that this is only a draft. It is entirely possible things will change later on, when Lich can check it out. There might not change a lot, or it will become radically different, I cannot comment on that yet.
Thank you for your patience and understanding.
Sakura and Shirou were on their way home from a walk through town when they were suddenly addressed by a mysterious figure.
"Emiya-san? It's me, Yosai." The man said with a smile. "Fujimura-dono would like to speak with you, so can you please come with me?"
The man looked entirely professional and business-like in a formal suit, accentuated by sunglasses and black gloves, yet the air around him spoke of someone more dangerous than any normal businessman could ever be.
Sometimes, recognising Old Man Raiga's men really was way too easy, even if Shirou hadn't already been familiar with Yashami Yosai.
Shirou nevertheless looked at Yosai-san in confusion, wordlessly asking him to explain himself further.
That seemed to confuse Yosai in turn.
"Taiga-anee-san should have mentioned this morning that Fujimura-dono wanted to speak with you."
"Fuji-nee didn't come over this morning." Shirou said. "She probably stayed up too late yesterday and overslept today."
Which was perhaps for the best. Ayako had still been present after all, and if his honorary big sister found out he had spent the night in the same room as her and Sakura…
Well, he didn't know what she'd do, and he didn't have a particular wish to find out either.
"Right." The man nodded with a tired sigh. "She was supposed to tell you in advance so that you could prepare. I hope this doesn't interfere with your own plans too much?"
"Not really." Shirou said, looking at Sakura, who shook her head. "We didn't have anything planned for today."
"Then please come with me. I don't know what this is about myself, but Fujimura-dono said it was very urgent."
"Okay." Shirou nodded, before turning towards Sakura. "I don't know how long this will take, so please don't wait on me for dinner."
They were only a few streets away from Old Man Raiga's home, and since Shirou's house was right next to it, there should be no problem in Sakura going home alone.
"I'd prefer to come with you though." Sakura pressed her lips together as she turned towards the man. "Can I do that?"
"Uhm, sure, I suppose?" The man seemed hesitant, but relented quickly. "But you might have to wait in the guestroom."
"That's fine, I understand." Sakura nodded, quickly taking Shirou's hand in her own. "Please lead the way."
The man seemed somewhat amused by Sakura's behaviour, but didn't comment as he turned around and started walking towards their destination.
With the man's back turned towards them, Sakura gave Shirou a questioning glance, but he shook his head slightly. He didn't know what this was about, and he was unsure of what to tell her.
He gave her a smile, before motioning for her to be patient, slightly squeezing her hand to try and reassure her.
Sakura nodded once, before softly squeezing his hand in return.
Shirou smile widened at the subtle display of affection but he returned to his expressionless face quickly after.
He didn't know what this was about, why Raiga would summon him in such a way, but he would find out soon enough.
Shirou sat in a chair across from Raiga's desk, patiently waiting for the man to explain why he had been summoned. He had been brought here immediately upon setting foot in the house, while Sakura had been shepherded off to a nearby guestroom until they were finished.
Their guide had been dismissed, leaving only Shirou, who was getting a bad feeling about all of this, and Raiga, who was behaving very uncharacteristically.
It wasn't unprecedented for Raiga to invite Shirou to his office every once in a while, to talk for a bit about how things were going for him at school, how Sakura was doing, and about what secret information Taiga had told them that morning.
This wasn't at all like those times.
Usually, Raiga would notify him several days in advance that he wanted to talk, not have him picked up on his way home from school without any warning or explanation.
Moreover, Raiga was usually boisterous, enthusiastic, dare he say it, loud even. He started talking the moment Shirou entered his office and had absolutely no problems saying exactly what he wanted to say, even if it might be rude or unwelcome. He actually was a lot like Taiga that way.
Which was why it was so strange that the man hadn't spoken a word yet so far, aside from a short greeting when Shirou had entered his office. He seemed to be mulling over his words, his expression unreadable.
Confused by this new behaviour, Shirou kept his silence, giving the man some time to think.
While waiting, Shirou couldn't help but notice Raiga was looking haggard and stressed. There were bags under his eyes, deep lines all over his face, and his clothes were unkempt. He gave the impression of someone who hadn't rested nor washed recently.
Now that he thought about it, everyone in the Fujimura-estate currently gave such an impression. The heavy tension in the air had everyone on edge, and the men all seemed to be preparing for a fight of some kind.
Though they had tried to hide it, Shirou had clearly seen firearms lying around in the estate, something that made him wonder if he should intervene in whatever this was.
Raiga then finally seemed to make up his mind. He took a deep breath and gave Shirou a flat stare.
"Shirou." His voice was neutral, almost cold. "Thank you for coming."
"No problem." Shirou sat up straighter in his chair. "What did you want to talk about?"
"Something important, but I need a promise from you first. What I am going to tell you now is of great importance, for both us and many others out there," said Raiga, his hands tightening. "Some of the things I'm going to say might be a bit… disconcerting and… shocking for you to hear, but don't interrupt until I am done."
"I need you to promise me," Raiga rumbled. "I mean it. Promise me, Shirou, promise that you'll let me finish before walking away or doing anything drastic."
"…I promise that I'll let you finish before leaving or doing anything drastic." Shirou swore reluctantly, eyes narrowing in suspicion.
"Good. That's good to hear." Raiga sighed in relief. He then cleared his throat, before almost casually dropping the bomb on Shirou. "I know you're Rakurai."
Shirou didn't respond immediately, instead choosing to regulate his breathing and push back the instinctual urge to hypnotise Raiga.
"Who else knows?" he asked instead, pressing his fingertips together, keeping a very tight lid on his emotions.
"Taiga knows." Raiga shrugged.
"No one else?"
"Not to the best of my knowledge. And no one will hear about it from me or Taiga either, that's a promise."
Shirou released a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding, suddenly feeling how his heart was almost beating itself out of his ribcage and all his muscles had tensed in preparation for a fight.
"I'm sorry to spring this on you so suddenly," Raiga went on after Shirou had collected himself. "If it makes you feel any better, I never would have guessed that you were Rakurai if Taiga hadn't been so horribly bad at keeping secrets. You and Rakurai are… almost nothing alike."
"Well, that's sort of the point." Shirou sighed. "I already figured I couldn't keep it from Taiga forever, but I didn't think you would find out so soon. I'd have thought she would be able to keep it a secret for at least some time."
"Taiga is a good person, just far too loose lipped for someone so perceptive; able to discern your secrets with ease yet incapable of keeping them."
"Yeah, I suppose so." Shirou smiled wryly. "Aren't you going to ask how it's possible for me to be Rakurai? How I regularly 'do the impossible'?"
"Ah, but Shirou." Raiga shook his head in mock disappointment. "Did you really think I didn't know?"
"Didn't know what?"
"My family, the Fujimuras, have ruled this city for many years." Raiga said wistfully. "For all those years, we have closely watched over our home, tended to it with care, kept an eye on everything that was happening. While we have mostly kept to ourselves unless prodded, is it so strange that we'd know when a bunch of entitled man-children came here to have their little war?"
"…It would seem I greatly underestimated you, Raiga-san." Shirou huffed, eliciting a grin from the man. "I take it I do not have to explain how dire the need is to keep it all a secret?"
"Indeed." Raiga nodded sharply. "Kiritsugu explained it already, so there's no need for you to repeat it."
"That's a relief. I suppose I don't have to wipe your memory then." Shirou replied back jokingly.
It was against all rules of the Clocktower not to hypnotise or kill Raiga of course. But even if the man didn't have contingencies for being hypnotised or killed, which he almost assuredly did, he was still Shirou's adoptive grandfather, someone he wouldn't hypnotise lightly and would never just kill.
Just one more crime against the Clocktower on his already quite extensive, completely hypothetical record. His father would have been proud.
"But, Shirou, I didn't just call you here to chat about magic, or to let you know I know," Raiga suddenly growled, his expression turning grim. "I called you here because there are problems concerning your career as a vigilante."
"Uh?" Shirou cocked his head to the side, his muscles tensing again. The bad feeling he'd had since the beginning intensified.
"Now, let me just say that I don't disagree with your basic plan of being a vigilante. I wouldn't have had any problems with 'Rakurai' if it had just been you beating up criminals and taking them in." Raiga began, his tone making clear that there was a 'but' coming. "But you've gone too far, Shirou. You've gone way too far, without having a single clue about the consequences of your actions."
"What are you talking about?" Shirou frowned. "What consequences?"
"Your actions over the past months have brought chaos to the underworld," Raiga explained, his voice turning neutral and detached, as if he were speaking to an underling that had failed him. "A prefecture-spanning war is on the verge of breaking out due to the imbalance in the underworld caused by your removing of important criminals; people are being assassinated and new gang bosses are trying to rise everywhere, taking advantage of the turmoil you created."
Shirou froze, horror and confusion widening his eyes, but the man continued unabated.
"By taking down so many criminal elements, you removed the pillars that the stability of the underworld rested upon. Now everyone is fighting everyone, desperately trying to carve out their place in the new status-quo," Raiga went on relentlessly. "To make things even worse, you've scared them. That's driven them into the arms of demagogues, who are now inciting them to war."
"War?" Shirou ground out through a constricting throat, feeling like he'd been punched in the gut. "Against whom?"
"Ideally for them, war against you. If they'd known who you were, I have no doubt they'd be trying their hardest to kill you and everyone you care about. Since they don't know and see no way to find out, they'll declare war on everyone else instead."
"Why? How does that help them?"
"It doesn't," Raiga said bluntly. "The only ones who benefit from all of this are the demagogues I mentioned earlier. They're using everyone else as steppingstones to get where they want to be. They don't care about the regular criminal Joe or what he wants, they just pretend to, so Joe does what they say. They are the real problem here."
"Because they want to profit from the chaos I caused?"
"Because they already profit from the chaos you caused, and because they won't stop, even when the chaos is over." Raiga's mouth set in a grim line. "If something isn't done about them fast, we might see scenarios similar to Italy and Chicago at the height of the mafia's power here. Do I need to tell you how bad that would be?"
"But that couldn't-"
"We are talking about open assassinations here, Shirou. Police officers and their families murdered in their houses, judges being executed on the streets, large scale liquidations happening everywhere as the streets run red with blood. Total chaos, with us trying to keep up and plug the lea-"
"Old man, what are you talking about?!" Shirou snarled, slamming his hands on the desk. "I understand that I hit too many places too quickly, but I fail to see how my actions can result in… something like this. We have functioning law enforcement, don't we?"
"So did Italy and the States." Raiga replied darkly. "I admit my predictions are a definite worst-case scenario, but that doesn't take away the fact that certain people are going to try their hardest to make it reality. I expect news of assassinations to reach my ears any time now. In fact, it already has. That man in prison, Kurata, was an excellent example of gang leaders silencing someone who, in their minds, betrayed them. This is what we can look forward to if nothing is done, Shirou, and you are partially to blame."
Shirou stared at his surrogate grandfather, shock and shame fighting for dominance in his mind.
"I-I d-didn't mean-" He choked out, but Raiga interrupted him.
"Of course you didn't. I don't doubt that at all. You failed in considering the consequences of your actions, but you are an inexperienced boy, so that is understandable. Nevertheless, it does present a problem. One that I would like fixed."
Shirou remained speechless, confusion, shock and guilt warring for dominance in his mind.
Seeing his misery, Raiga sighed.
"I hate to press even more now, Shirou, but I have to ask. What were you planning when you became a vigilante? What were your goals?"
"…I wasn't planning anything," Shirou said listlessly, guilt beating out every other emotion. "I just started fighting criminals one day and… I guess I never stopped."
"So you went in without any consideration, without thinking things through." Raiga sighed, shaking his head in disappointment. "Kiritsugu didn't teach you anything, did he?"
"Hey, leave dad out of this!" Shirou snarled, anger bubbling up in his breast for the first time in the conversation. "He did his best to train me-"
"Yet it was clearly not enough, if you ended up playing the vigilante without any kind of preparation or forethought," Raiga cut him off. "I thought he didn't want you to become like him."
"What? No, of course he didn't."
"Your behaviour suggests otherwise. Who made you judge, jury, and executioner, boy? Who told you that you were allowed to decide the fate of others?"
"No one, and I do nothing of the sort. I always deliver them to the proper authorities," Shirou said, unwilling to let that remark pass. "I only killed once, to save those girls, and that was an accident."
"And what will you do when you slip up again?" Raiga demanded, giving Shirou a figurative punch to the gut. "What will you do, when you find something so utterly despicable that you decide to be the judge anyway? Was it right what you did to Oni? Will you do the same to a terrorist? A murderer? A rapist? Will you be the judge for the wife beater? For the drug dealer? For the petty thief? When will you stop? What limits have you set for yourself, Shirou?"
Shirou couldn't answer that. He didn't have any limits set for himself. He'd never even thought about limits. He just wanted to become a hero...
"You're not ready for this, Shirou," Raiga said, softening his tone. "Society follows the rules of due process not to help the criminal, but because there have already been examples of what happens when we think we're completely right, and don't give the other the possibility to defend themselves. You can't be the judge for them, Shirou."
Shirou bowed his head, his fists clenched, regret and self-disappointment flowing through him in equal measure.
"Your actions were rash and impulsive, and you have disturbed the hornet's nest. You were both too fast and too slow in your actions. Too fast, making it noticeable and scary just how efficient you are. Too slow, because you let the gangs catch up with you before finishing them all. So now we have war on the streets, and for what? Nothing."
Shirou's head shot up again at that last remark. He wanted to protest, to tell Raiga that he had mostly done it to catch the Magi, to stop them from abducting and murdering thousands of innocent people. He wanted to tell the man that his outings had allowed him to save many people that would otherwise have been brutalised, mugged, raped or even murdered, but Raiga didn't let him get a word in.
"I know you only tried to help," Raiga sighed deeply. "But you went about it the wrong way. I'm sorry to say it, Shirou, but you can't become a hero like this-"
The door was thrown open so violently Shirou swore he could hear it crack when it slammed into the wall, brutally cutting Raiga off as Sakura stormed through the opening, her eyes blazing as she glared down at Raiga with palpable fury.
Her purple hair swayed violently as she moved, her hands were balled into fists, and her face was contorted in pure rage, all of it aimed at Raiga.
Shirou realised with shock that this was the angriest he had ever seen Sakura be, all the previous instances, rare as they were, being mere annoyance in comparison.
Perhaps it was that unfamiliarity with Sakura being enraged, or perhaps it was the fact that this was the first time anyone had gotten so angry on his behalf, but Shirou found himself paralysed, not even capable of wondering when or how she had gotten here.
He could only look at Sakura, who seemed like a radiant, avenging angel at that moment, coming to aid him in his moment of weakness, as he had done for her.
Shirou was literally struck dumb, and so was Raiga, allowing Sakura to say her piece.
Sakura had been led to the guestroom by Yosai-san, to wait until Senpai and Fujimura-san were done with their discussion. She had every intention of doing exactly that, knowing better than to intrude upon private discussions between family-members.
It was unfortunate though that she was quite thirsty after having taken a walk through town, and the guestroom didn't seem to hold any water. When she stepped out to try and find a guard, perhaps Yosai-san, she was surprised to find the hallway was completely empty.
Slightly unnerved by the complete silence, Sakura slowly wandered around, looking for either people or a source of water, hoping that her sneaking around wouldn't be seen in a negative light.
It wasn't long before she somehow found herself in front of a door. She had every intention of walking past it, but stopped when she heard Fujimura-san's muffled voice coming from behind the door, followed by Senpai's voice.
Now, the question was whether she'd walk away pretending she hadn't heard anything, enter the room to ask for help, or try to listen at the door.
After a moment of thought, she decided to enter the room to ask for help. Certainly, Senpai and Fujimura-san would be understanding of her trouble, right?
She approached the door slowly, walking forward until she could hear what was being said in the room.
Sakura thought her heart would stop when she heard Fujimura-san reveal he knew Senpai was Rakurai, every thought of entering the office leaving her mind at once.
For a few moments, she almost panicked, but relaxed when Fujimura-san promised he wouldn't tell anyone. She almost sighed in resignation too when she heard that it had been Fujimura-Sensei who had revealed the secret to Fujimura-san.
At this point, Sakura should have walked away, she knew that, but curiosity won out nonetheless. She sneaked over to the door and pressed her ear against it, listening to what was being said inside.
That Fujimura-san knew of magic shouldn't have been as big a surprise as it was, but Sakura nevertheless bit back a gasp upon hearing just how much Shirou's elderly neighbour actually knew.
Sakura's mood rapidly soured however when Fujimura started ripping into Senpai, pinning the entire blame for the current situation on him, which she didn't agree with at all.
Senpai taking down criminals was a good thing; it kept those criminals from hurting people. Perhaps this was just her naivety talking, but criminals shouldn't be left alone merely because they would become aggressive if they weren't.
Fujimura-san might have had a point with his lecture about consequences, if he hadn't tried to pin all the blame on Senpai again. He had done nothing but stopping evil people and saving the innocent, and certainly, that was what mattered?
The fact that the underworld was now responding so violently to his actions was not in any way Senpai's fault. The moment those criminals started doing illegal things, they were evil and had to be stopped. They had no right to complain, and this entire 'war' was nothing more than a tantrum thrown by man-children who suddenly found they couldn't just do whatever they wanted.
But no, it was all Senpai's fault, somehow.
The talk about judge, jury and executioner was even more nonsense. Senpai had never taken those roles. He had never presumed himself to be any kind of authority, he had only ever taken down the criminals so the police could take them in for an actual trial. It was utterly unfair for Fujimura-san to scold Senpai for something he had never done and would never do, just because the older man thought there was a possibility it might ever happen.
Sakura was already angry, but then, Fujimura-san said something that could not be ignored or forgiven.
"You cannot ever become a hero like this."
He said it to Senpai with nothing but complete certainty in his voice, as if it were a simple fact.
So the criminals he stopped counted for nothing.
So the innocent people he saved from being hurt by those very criminals counted for nothing.
So stopping those monstrous Magi and again saving thousands of innocent people counted for nothing.
So saving those towns from the Dead Apostle and the Phantasmal Beast counted for nothing.
So killing Zouken counted for nothing.
So saving her counted for absolutely nothing!
A red haze formed before Sakura's eyes, drowning out every thought of stealth or discretion.
She rose from the spot she had been kneeling on, and without further ado, kicked in the door.
Fujimura-san just about jumped out of his chair in shock at her sudden entrance, while Senpai froze at the sight of her. His eyes were wide as he watched her, a twinkle of something shining in there.
For the first time in her life, however, Sakura completely ignored her Senpai, in favour of focusing on the man behind the desk, who almost shrunk in on himself under her glare.
"How dare you!?" she shouted, smashing her fists on the desk. "How dare you say that?!"
It was terrible, unforgivable.
"Senpai is at fault for this?! Are you out of your mind?! All of this was caused by those criminals, not by Senpai! If they had not existed, Senpai wouldn't have had to fight them and none of this would have happened! How is Senpai responsible for what they did?! How can you blame Senpai for something he never had any control over?!"
Where before it had been Shirou who was overwhelmed and unable to respond, now it was Raiga who couldn't get a word in, still looking flabbergasted at Sakura's sudden entrance.
"Senpai does not do this for fun! He has a reason to do what he does! He has limits and he has thought about his actions! He has never killed anyone, only when he had no other choice! Only when people, innocent people, were going to die!"
Tears prickled in Sakura's eyes, but she paid them no mind as she kept yelling.
"Since when does the Fujimura-clan bow to the threat of violence?! Since when should you leave evildoers alone because they are scary?! I thought that heroes did what was necessary, despite the fear of reprisal?! But no, you sit here, judging Senpai, content to be on the defensive, while teenagers fight the battles and save people who are in danger!"
She saw Senpai stand up from his chair from the corner of her eye, but she ignored him.
"Senpai saved thousands of innocent people. Thousands! No matter how 'disturbed' your underworld might be, shouldn't that be worth it-"
Sakura then faltered, when Senpai placed a hand on her shoulder, squeezing hard enough to snap her out of her rage, before giving her an understanding, yet warning look, one she immediately understood.
It wouldn't do to lose her head here, not if she wanted to argue convincingly. Just shouting whatever came up in her mind wouldn't convince Fujimura-san of anything.
The purple-haired girl took a deep breath, trying to calm herself, before turning back towards Fujimura, who seemed to have recovered a bit from the scare.
"Senpai is a hero, Fujimura-san," she bit out, glaring at the man who had dared deny it. "He stopped bad people and he saved innocents on more occasions than you can count. You sit there, condemning him, while you seem to only know a fraction of the whole story. Senpai hasn't gone around Japan just to beat up criminals. He protected and saved countless innocent people from dangers you do not seem to know of. He even saved me."
Fujimura's eyes widened, before he looked from Sakura to Shirou and back.
"…Zouken?" he asked softly, though he already seemed to know the answer.
"He was evil," Sakura whispered, for a moment regressing to that timid, scared girl she used to be, before she rallied again. "And he is far from the only monster Senpai has destroyed. Senpai is already a hero, and you would have known that too if you had bothered to listen to him instead of immediately accusing him of recklessness and impulsiveness."
"Well, I am pretty impulsive." Senpai laughed sheepishly, before clapping his mouth shut again when Sakura glared at him from the corner of her eye.
"…I seem to be missing a lot of information," Fujimura said cautiously, no doubt wanting to avoid setting her off again. "I apologise if I spoke too soon, and I apologise to you, Shirou, for not letting you talk. Perhaps you could enlighten me as to what has really been going on?"
"Sure, if you've got a few hours." Senpai said with a wry smile.
"I've got the entire afternoon."
"Well, in that case, the first thing you should know is that I didn't visit all those cities merely because I wanted to fight gangs. I mainly did it to gather clues and evidence about certain Magi…"
As he told Raiga about what he had been doing over the past months, Shirou made sure not to mention anything related to Mjolnir, Thor, gods or different universes, instead attributing his incredible feats to his innate talent at Magecraft. The irony was not lost on him.
He also made sure not to give any potentially dangerous information, such as important names, locations or institutions. Lord El-Melloi and Bazett were not mentioned for instance, and neither was the Clocktower except as an aside when explaining the Moonlit World. He even mentioned Rin as little as possible, and left Kotomine out completely. Raiga didn't need to know about them, and their secrets weren't Shirou's to reveal anyway. Call it paranoia, but he would prefer it if as few people as possible knew about the crazier stuff in his life.
While Shirou was talking however, his mind was elsewhere.
Sakura's sudden interference had been both shocking and… well, kinda cool, how she had kicked the door open and had marched in as if she owned the place, looking ready to fight anyone who said otherwise.
He had never known that the gentle girl could become so angry, and that it was on his behalf made Shirou feel… well, he didn't know what he felt exactly, but it was a good feeling.
There was something that nagged at him about Sakura's interference though, namely the fact that she had somehow made it to the office without being stopped by Raiga's henchmen, who should have been standing guard.
'Did you have something to do with this, Mjolnir?' Shirou asked the hammer, but it refused to answer him, pretending it couldn't hear Shirou while radiating smugness and self-satisfaction.
That pretty much answered his question.
"I see." Raiga sighed when Shirou finished his story. "You really did take this much more seriously than I thought, just in a different way. Heh, way to make me feel like a fool for coming at you so hard. I apologise for my harshness, though I hope you understand that I stand by what I said."
"Yes, I understand, you do have a point," Shirou admitted. "I got so engrossed in the magical side of things that I completely forgot that there could be consequences in the mundane world as well."
"Indeed. Not that I blame you for prioritising this 'Clocktower' over the Japanese underworld, but it does present a problem." Raiga sighed, looking at Shirou with apologetic eyes. "Shirou, I am aware you might not want to hear this, but my advice would be to stop being a vigilante. Focus on the magical side of things for now, but leave the gangs be until you know what you'll be getting into."
Shirou closed his eyes and nodded. He understood where Raiga was coming from. He had messed this up, he hadn't anticipated the consequences of his actions, and he had to accept that and try not to make the problem any worse.
Besides, he would be going to the Clocktower soon, and his schedule was getting fuller by the month. It wouldn't be long before he would simply lack the time to make his outings.
He looked at Sakura, but she just shrugged, leaving the choice up to him.
Well, then the decision wasn't hard to make. Perhaps it was indeed time to stop being Rakurai, at least for now.
"I agree, old man." He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "It really is too much trouble for me to handle now. I'll leave my other identity for what it is."
"…Ah, hahahaha, about that." Raiga laughed awkwardly, making Shirou look up at him again and Sakura narrow her eyes in suspicion. "I was actually hoping Rakurai could help me out with something."
"What's this all of a sudden?" Sakura huffed, lightly glaring at the man, who again sunk back into his chair. "Did the two of you not just agree that Senpai should stop being Rakurai as soon as possible?"
"We did, we did. It's just that… well, remember when I said your actions would have consequences?" Upon Shirou nodding, he went on to drop another bomb on the redhead. "It just so happens one of those consequences is on his way here."
Raiga then explained about 'the Brat', an up-and-coming crime lord that hoped to add Fuyuki-City to his territory. There were others with that same goal, but the Brat was the only one who might actually be capable of achieving it right now.
"He's coming to Fuyuki-City now." Raiga growled in clear anger. "In fact, my boys already had to fight off one of his groups at the town's border a few days ago. Shirou, I hate to ask this after telling you to stop being a vigilante, but I need your help. Are you with me?"
That went without saying. A criminal was threatening his city and his loved ones. As a hero, as a man, he couldn't let that happen. He would protect them, no matter what he had to do.
"Do you have a plan?" Shirou asked, rising from his chair.
"So you'll do it?" Raiga perked up, grinning widely when Shirou nodded. "Yes! Okay, I do have a plan. Please, Shirou, sit down again, and Sakura, please take a chair as well. We'll probably be here for a while."
Shirou quickly grabbed a chair for Sakura, before taking a seat again.
"I'll bring you both up to speed at once," Raiga said, reaching into a drawer and pulling out a large stack of paper. "In short, we are now at a critical phase. It is at this point that new big-time criminals either solidify their rule for a long time to come or are taken down and forgotten. We of course want the latter."
"Of course," Shirou nodded, taking the papers and leafing through them, noting the large amounts of information on them. "I take it that's what you want me to do? Take them down? I can do that, but I'll need information. Names, bases, allies, or at the very least a general direction."
"Everything you need is in that stack of papers, my boy." Raiga grinned with pride. "What you have in front of you is the culmination of almost two centuries of making alliances, exercising soft power and keeping our word. When I asked, many people were more than happy to give me every bit of information they had, out of loyalty, friendship, or because they just plain trust me to handle this situation."
"That's really impressive, Fujimura-san," Sakura said, looking over Shirou's shoulder. The redhead had to agree with her. Where he would have had to spend months searching to collect all this information, Raiga had put it together in no time at all.
"Thank you, dear." Raiga chuckled. "Now Shirou, all these jackals and vultures need to go. I want them in police custody, preferably with enough evidence to get them locked up for a good, long while."
"That should be easy enough, it's what I normally do anyway."
"Ah, that's good, because I actually need you to do some additional stuff on top of that."
Shirou raised an eyebrow, prompting Raiga to explain.
"You are of course aware of the wide-spread corruption in the Fuyuki-City police department. I'm sure Kiritsugu has already told you that there are many officers who broke their oaths to the law and betrayed everything they stand for by letting themselves be bribed. Now, many of those officers work for me, but recently, some of them don't anymore. They've been bought by the very crime-lords we now want to deal with, and they stand ready to follow any order they are given, including silencing traitors."
"Silencing traitors?" Shirou asked sharply. "Raiga, are you saying that you think that the criminals I deliver to the police will be murdered?"
"I do not just think so, I know so," Raiga corrected him. "That is why you'll have to send those criminals to specific locations, at specific times, so that my officers can handle it from there. It's all in the papers I gave you."
"Very well." The redhead nodded, deciding to ignore Raiga's blatant confession that he had bribed multiple police officers.
"It's of vital importance that this is done quickly, Shirou. We can't let the Brat consolidate his rule, or we'll never get rid of him."
"Understood, I'll deal with him as soon as possible. Do you know where he is?"
"Not where he is now, but I'll find out, I promise."
"Good enough, I suppose." Shirou nodded. "I'll deal with him when you have found him then."
"Splendid. What do you think of the plan, Sakura-chan?"
"W-What?" Sakura seemed startled at suddenly being addressed. "Ah, I don't really have an opinion on this, but I guess it sounds good?"
"Excellent. Then I wish you the best of luck." Raiga grinned, before standing up…
…and suddenly bowing to Shirou.
"R-Raiga, what are you-"
"Though I already apologised, please allow me to do it again. I shouldn't have judged you as quickly as I did. You didn't think things through enough, but you weren't nearly as callous or foolish as I thought."
"Ah, no, you were quite right. I really should have anticipated what my actions would result in." Shirou waved off the apology, rubbing the back of his head.
"Nevertheless, I owed you a formal apology." Raiga laughed. "Not in the least because your girlfriend over there might kick me through the wall if I didn't."
Sakura blushed slightly but didn't refute Raiga's words.
"Was there anything else you wanted to talk about, Raiga?" Shirou changed the subject.
"No. It's late already, so go home and go to bed. I imagine you'll want to recover from today's shock. I'll let you know when I have more information for you."
"Okay. Take care, Raiga-san."
"Bye bye, Fujimura-san."
"Good night, you two."
As they walked through the halls of Raiga's home, Shirou's expression was stoic, his emotions kept under a tight lid.
Only when they were out of the Fujimura-estate and safely back home, with Sakura excusing herself to go to the bathroom, did Shirou allow himself to collapse at the table, the stress of the day finally catching up to him.
He'd been able to put on a strong front to Raiga, but the man's words had hit him far harder than he'd let on.
His actions had brought about so much suffering, his thoughtlessness had cost people their lives. Even though he knew saving everyone wasn't possible, that hurt a lot, and it was clear he needed to re-evaluate a lot of his choices.
For now however, Shirou pushed away the melancholy. He couldn't brood now. Sakura would be back any moment after all, not to mention that he probably had to tell Ayako about this new development.
In fact, he should ask her over to his house tonight, so that he could tell her as soon as possible and because… well, he really could use her company.
He wondered what she was doing at the moment.
Ayako was just finishing the last of her chores when she heard her mother come home from work.
Happily running into the hallway to greet her, Ayako couldn't help but marvel at just how little had changed since yesterday.
It was almost insulting. She'd learned, only a day ago, that the world was infinitely more complicated than she'd ever thought, that there was an entire world hidden from her sight out there, with magic and wizards and more, yet despite her new knowledge, everything in her life had pretty much stayed the same.
She still had to spend her day doing homework, she still had to do her chores, the people on the streets still walked past her without a glance, the shops still sold the same items as ever, and her family still behaved the same as always.
The brunette wasn't quite sure what else she had expected, but… perhaps something more?
There was no epic quest to throw a ring into a volcano, no evil empire to defeat, no empty throne to claim, no dragon to kill or beautiful princess to rescue and marry. She was still the same old Ayako, albeit with a little more knowledge than before.
She wasn't complaining of course, she was very grateful for the life she had. But still, it was strange to be doing the same mundane things as always even though she now knew she was friends with actual, real-life wizards.
At least the day had started on a high note. Waking up in the arms of her loved ones had been fantastic, and definitely something she wanted to repeat often, like, every night from now on for the rest of her life.
Ayako couldn't suppress her smile as she thought back on that morning.
Ayako had always disliked mornings, though that little fact might not always be apparent from her general behaviour.
Waking up on a comfortable futon, wrapped in warm blankets, yet knowing that she'd have to leave them in favour of the cold, hard ground and the weight of responsibilities, no, she didn't like it one bit.
She did have the fortune however that, once that first step of getting up from the futon was over and done with, she was immediately functional, without being a zombie for some time, like her mother.
Most people considered her a morning person because of this, and she kinda was, once she had gotten past that first step.
When Ayako woke up that particular morning however, she saw right away that leaving the futon would be extraordinarily difficult, if not downright impossible.
She was lying right next to Shirou, with her head on his shoulder and her hand on his chest, while he had his arm wrapped around her waist, pulling her close to him. She could clearly feel the warmth of his shoulder under her cheek, and she could feel the muscle definition in his arm and his chest.
Not only that, but Sakura was in exactly the same position on the other side, her hand, her incredibly soft and warm hand, on top of Ayako's, looking incredibly peaceful and content with her situation.
All in all, they made for a peaceful and idyllic picture when seen from an outsider's view.
Ayako struggled not to scream when that sunk in. She was lying next to her crushes, after spending the night together! That was literally a dream come true.
How was she supposed to get up now!?
How could anyone expect her to abandon this, this heavenly place? Could she even leave with Shirou's arm wrapped around her and Sakura's hand on hers? Did she want to even if she could?
What if they woke up? Would they be embarrassed? This was quite a bit more than just sleeping in the same room.
Would they be mad at her? It was her who had convinced them to sleep together after all.
Ayako took a deep breath through her nose, trying to calm herself.
This wasn't bad, it was just… surprising, and no doubt Shirou and Sakura would be very understanding of the situation.
Yes, of course. She was just overreacting. She just needed to wait for a bit until the other two were awake, and then they could all laugh about it as they began their day.
Rather satisfied at her excellent plan, Ayako snuggled up to Shirou the tiniest bit more, before attempting to doze off again, now perfectly content.
After a few minutes however, when sleep just wouldn't come, the brunette lifted her head slightly to look at Shirou's face.
She was silent and careful, yet despite her care, she was still met with two golden eyes looking right back at her, a curious yet playful twinge visible in them.
"Good morning, Ayako," Shirou whispered with a smile. "Did you sleep well?"
"…Yes?" Ayako squeaked, feeling an awful lot of blood rush to her face. "E-Eh, g-good morning, uh, how long have you been awake?"
"For a while now." Shirou said casually, as if it was no big deal. "I couldn't really leave without disturbing you two, so I decided to wait until you were awake. I hope this wasn't too uncomfortable."
"I can say with confidence that you are the most comfortable pillow I've ever had," Ayako blurted out, trying to regain some of her usual bluster. "Ten out of ten, would sleep on it again."
"Is that so? I'm happy I could be of service."
Ayako almost pulled a face at those words.
What the hell? Why was he talking as if he'd been doing her some impersonal favour? He wasn't just a convenient pillow or teddy bear. The main reason she had been so comfortable was because it was him who she'd been lying on.
He really, really needed to be hit around the head with an actual confession, didn't he?
"Shirou, I-" Ayako began hesitantly.
…Before she was interrupted by the cutest groan she'd ever heard.
"Oh? S-Senpai? Ayako?" Sakura mumbled, looking cutely confused at her situation, before understanding dawned and a smile appeared on her face. "Good morning."
"Good morning, Sakura," Shirou said warmly, while Ayako lifted her hand in greeting.
Then, with a groan of his own, Shirou sat up, taking both girls with him as he did so, still having his arms around their waists.
"It's time for breakfast," He said, before turning to Ayako with slight concern. "How are you holding up after yesterday?"
"Perfectly fine," She assured him, trying very hard to not let it show how much she liked their new situation. "I mean, it's like anything really changed, except that I might notice more from now on."
Shirou and Sakura shared a look, before the purple-haired girl spoke up softly.
"That's the problem, Ayako. Once you start noticing certain things, they start noticing you."
And on that note, that still sent shivers down the brunette's spine whenever she thought of it, they left the bedroom.
Breakfast had been a quiet affair without Fujimura-sensei, none of the three present having any desire to break the immensely peaceful atmosphere hanging around the house
They had said their goodbyes at the end of the morning, and Ayako had gone home, where her father had put her to work.
It had certainly been very nice to spend the night at Shirou's and Sakura's place, but Ayako was still left with the question of when they would ever have their love confession.
According to her loved ones, they still hadn't told her nearly everything they wanted to, which meant the coming conversations would probably be dedicated to more stories about the Moonlit World.
It would no doubt be very interesting, and it was good for the two of them to get it all off their chests, but it was still a pity that it delayed their special moment so much.
Maybe she could squeeze it in somewhere? Maybe there would be a gap in their schedules? Would that be okay? She would have to talk with Sakura about it, but she hoped it was possible and that it wouldn't be delayed again.
She was really starting to dislike all those strange happenings that prevented Sakura and her from finally making their move.
If she didn't know any better, she'd almost think she was in some kind of anime.
Ayako crossed her fingers, desperately hoping it was a fun, light-hearted kind of anime, with lots of happy endings all around and plenty of comedy and the tiniest bit of drama and action to spice things up.
Definitely not one of those grimdark ones, where people suffered for the sake of suffering and villains were so evil that they could hardly be called people anymore.
She'd even settle for an eroge, as long as it stayed bright and happy.
Absolutely no NTR though. If that happened, she'd convince Shirou to destroy the world and move them away to a better reality.
She was going off on a tangent however, and she really didn't have time for that. She still had to set the table before her father finished cooking.
Dinner was a peaceful affair, except for some good-natured ribbing from her parents about her spending the night at a boy's house, but that had been entirely expected.
The doorbell, on the other hand, was entirely unexpected. Her breath hitched when she found Shirou and Sakura standing outside, looking very serious and stern.
"Good evening, Mitsuzuri-san, Mitsuzuri-san, Midori-kun, Ayako." Sakura greeted them one by one. "Please forgive us for the interruption, but we need to borrow Ayako again for the night."
"Oh?" Her mother smirked, delighted at all the new teasing material. "Can't bear to be separated from her anymore? Of course you can borrow her, just make sure to return her in pristine condition."
"Oi," Ayako grumbled, only to be ignored.
"Thank you, Mitsuzuri-san." Shirou smiled, before turning to the brunette. "Will you need some time to pack your things?"
"Uh, just give me a few minutes," She replied. "I just need my nightwear and a toothbrush."
"Have fun, dear." Her father smiled at her, before narrowing his eyes at Shirou. "I want no funny business, boy. You will not lay a hand upon my daughter without her consent, and you will stay in your own room at night at all times, understood?"
"I understand perfectly well, Mitsuzuri-san." Shirou nodded, looking perfectly innocent, while the slightest hint of a smug grin flashed across Sakura's face and Ayako had to forcibly push back a blush.
"As long as you remember that," Ryozo nodded gravely.
"Alright, I'm off. Bye." Ayako called, waving her hand as she walked out of the door.
Her parents and brother waved back, before the front door was closed again.
"So, guys, what did you want to talk about?" Ayako asked, happy to be with them again. "It must be serious if you're coming to pick me up in the evening."
"It is," Shirou said. "I had a conversation with Fujimura Raiga this morning, and I learned about some… concerning matters."
"Concerning matters?" Ayako blinked in surprise, wondering what he was talking about. Surely he would be able to handle most things with ease?
"Please wait until we are at home and under the Wards," Sakura whispered into her ear. "We'll explain more about it then."
"Ah, sure, I guess?"
Well, that was disconcerting, and ominous, and probably bad news altogether.
The brunette couldn't suppress a deep sigh of disappointment as she realised the confession might be delayed even more now.
Stupid, long-running, overly dramatic anime. It was taking itself way too seriously!
What a giant clusterfuck!
Osaki was not normally one for swearing, even in the privacy of his own mind. He'd rather not be a bad influence on his girls, not to mention that Yomaura severely disapproved of it. She considered it 'outright plebeian' whenever someone used overly crude language and wasn't at all afraid to make her opinion known.
Right now however, he felt he was entitled to some bad language.
According to the latest reports from the moles they had in Fuyuki-City's underworld, it wouldn't be long before the city would become the stage of a gang war.
A freaking gang war!
Apparently, there was a new crime-lord on the rise, trying to expand their territory into Fuyuki after already striking several other cities in quick succession.
Based on what happened in those other towns, Osaki could soon expect shootouts on the streets, murder in broad daylight, a drastic increase in crime-statistics and generally much more violence than he wanted in his city.
This should have been enough to immediately proclaim an emergency-situation in the entire city, to have every officer work double shifts and to have the heavy troops stand ready at all times.
None of the sort had happened.
Even though the reports from their agents had arrived days ago, life went on as it always had. Most of his direct superiors were outright refusing to do anything, and many of his colleagues acted like that was perfectly reasonable.
A small-scale war was about to start in their very own city, yet they remained completely unconcerned, outright ignoring him when he suggested taking measures against what was coming.
It was infuriating that they behaved like that, but not surprising, not truly. Osaki already knew, or at least heavily suspected, what was going on.
It was entirely possible that many of his colleagues and superiors had been bought by the gangs that were involved in the upcoming conflict.
They sickened him, both his colleagues for their spinelessness and greed, and the gangs for interfering so blatantly with law enforcement.
Without a way to get reinforcements and unable to make his colleagues see reason, it seemed that he would stand alone in the coming conflicts.
Well, not completely alone.
Osaki glanced to his side, where his ever-faithful partner was also reading the reports from their moles, his mood reflected in the heavy frown on her face. He had no doubt she would stand by his side, as she always had.
There were several others he trusted to act when it was needed as well, and he still had friends left in higher places, so the situation wasn't completely hopeless. They just needed to be very careful about what they were going to do when the fighting started.
He had noticed something odd about his partner however when he had informed her of what was coming.
Yomaura was rather new at the job. Not a complete rookie anymore, but it had been just two years since she'd made the career-switch from working at a pharmaceutical company to becoming a detective, leaving her with relatively little experience. Additionally, she'd never been in a large-scale conflict of any kind before.
The news that an actual gang war was rapidly approaching should have shaken her to the core. She should have been nervous, high on adrenaline and shaking in anticipation for her first trial by fire. That's what happened to him back then, as well as to every officer and detective he knew.
Not Yomaura Taya. When he had told her of the impending disaster, she hadn't batted an eye, just sighed deeply as if it were all a bother she'd rather not deal with. Had she been a veteran, that sort of behaviour would have been expected. She wasn't a veteran though, she was still a rookie, his Kohai, and she shouldn't be so unconcerned about her first crisis.
Not for the first time Osaki wondered just what kind of childhood his partner had had to make her so jaded, so unaffected by the possibility of having to fight for her life in the near future.
It couldn't have been good. In fact, coupled with the fact that the mere mention of her family made her clam up completely, and that a matter related to her past had reduced her to tears on several different occasions, as well as the terrible state he'd found her in several days ago, it painted a very bad picture of her youth.
He didn't have to be a genius or psychologist to deduce that she'd most likely been abused as a child, and not a little bit either.
He wouldn't pry, he had promised her that, but after this was over, perhaps he should talk with her about visiting a psychiatrist, or at least doing something to deal with the scars it had no doubt left on her. Again, finding her bloody and almost lethally ill in her bed had been an immense shock to him, and though he did his best not to bring it up anymore, as she had asked him to, he couldn't possibly leave it at that.
The only solace was that she'd been behaving pretty much normally again since she was staying over at his home, under constant surveillance from him and his girls. The dour, depressed mood had as good as disappeared, and the respectable, fiery and dedicated woman was back.
"This is absolutely ridiculous." Yomaura spat, throwing down the report she had been reading, a furious expression on her face. "What kind of gang would engage in open warfare in a city? Are they out of their minds?"
"They've gone unopposed for too long." Osaki shook his head, glad to see her so spirited again. "The only resistance they've gotten so far are other gangs, not the police. I suspect bribes played a heavy role in this, and they probably think they can get away with it again."
"Well, I can hardly disagree with them on that. Our colleges fold as easily as wet paper when you offer them some money." The redheaded woman sighed in response, slumping in her chair. "Man, all of this almost makes me want to go out and punch them all in the face."
"I think vigilantism is better left to the professionals, like Rakurai." Osaki smiled, missing how his partner tensed up at the name. "I wonder if he'll come to Fuyuki for this?"
"Maybe he will," Yomaura said, her voice neutral. "I suppose we'll have to see."
"Dealing with the gang war has priority for now of course, we won't be able chase him while innocent people are in danger, but when that's done, we might have a chance to finally get him, or at least make some progress on our case again."
"Yeah, about that," Yomaura began slowly, fidgeting as she looked at him from the corner of her eye. "I have been thinking, Senpai, and I think that, perhaps, it would be better if we didn't chase him at all."
"Not chase him at all?" Osaki was honestly surprised by her words. Yomaura had never before argued in favour of letting a perpetrator walk free "Do you have a reason for suggesting such a thing?"
"It's just, he's dangerous, Senpai. He has defeated dozens of men on his own with ease, even when they had weapons. He is clearly far more dangerous than we anticipated, and I don't think we stand a chance against him if we ever manage to find him."
"I know the chance of us taking him in is very small," Osaki sighed, rubbing his forehead. "But even just a glimpse of him, or a few words spoken, could provide us with a lot of information."
"But what if he attacks us?" Yomaura protested, sounding more nervous than when she heard she would have to throw herself into a firefight between rival gangs. "You-, I mean, we could be hurt."
"That's a part of the job. When we became officers of the law, we accepted that we could get hurt. I won't back down just because it is getting dangerous."
"N-No, o-of course not. I'd never suggest such a thing" Yomaura cried, shaking her head in dismay. "I-It's… It's just… I-It's just that…"
His partner struggled for words, but she didn't seem to be able to think of anything to say. She bit her lip in desperation, while Osaki found himself getting worried. Getting upset was exactly what she wasn't supposed to do.
"It's just that?" he prompted her gently, trying to not let his concern leak into his voice.
"…No, never mind. I-It was stupid of me to suggest such a thing. Just… Just forget about it, Senpai, don't mind me."
'Forget about it'?
Easier said than done when she looked like a kicked puppy, one that had everyone it cared about taken from it. Osaki suddenly wondered if this matter had perhaps also played a role in her recent breakdown.
Family-trouble, along with fearing for her life and the life of her partner because of a case they would likely never solve? No wonder that had hit her hard.
He couldn't say he understood what she was going through, he never seemed to understand anything these days, but he did know he needed to do something right now. His pride as a man would allow for nothing else.
So, for just this once, he pushed his convictions aside, a little bit.
"On the other hand, the rules do forbid us from acting rashly." He said in a ponderous voice, placing a hand on his chin. "Chasing Rakurai will be impossible without a team of at least a dozen men."
Pretending he didn't notice Yomaura perk up next to him, he nodded to himself, still feigning to be thinking deeply. "The brass won't like it if we blow our chance to arrest Rakurai because we went after him with just the two of us, so on second thought, I suppose we'll let it be."
"YES! Eh, I mean, y-yes." Yomaura's eyes shone. "Really, he is a nefarious person, Senpai. We need to thread carefully if we want to defeat him."
Osaki still wasn't sure just what it was about Rakurai that made her so apprehensive, but at least she was a little more upbeat again.
What he was doing wasn't at all according to regulations, but when it came to having to choose between his faithful Kohai and the rulebook, the former would always win.
Shirou sighed deeply yet again as he placed his head on the table in front of him.
Sakura and he had told Ayako everything about the new situation a few hours ago, and Ayako had reacted exactly as Sakura had predicted she would.
With a lot of rage towards the 'jackals trying to profit from Shirou's hard work', while simultaneously assuring him that she didn't blame him for anything.
A nice thing to say, but not something Shirou agreed with. He was most definitely to blame for this.
Perhaps having noticed his bad mood, Ayako had insisted on staying the night again, and Sakura had instantly agreed. Her parents had expected that anyway, so there was no problem on that end either.
Currently, it was deep in the night, the only sounds being Sakura's pen scratching in her puzzlebook, Ayako turning the pages of her new manga and Shirou periodically making a displeased sound.
He had asked the girls to leave him be for the night, so that he could think about what had happened over the last months and try to learn from his mistakes.
They had acquiesced to his request and hadn't spoken a word to him since, but they also refused to go to bed before him, stubbornly remaining at the table even though they were both nodding off.
Though he disapproved of their willingness to deny themselves rest for his sake, he was touched by their concern, and was more than aware he had no right to reprimand them without being a massive hypocrite, something they'd call him out on immediately.
Besides, he really appreciated their presence, as it was currently the only thing preventing him from completely wallowing in guilt and feelings of failure.
Because he had failed, undeniably and without question.
He had tried to be a hero of the people, to be an Ally of Justice, but he had failed.
His inaction and thoughtlessness had allowed vultures and jackals to rise and threaten countless innocent people, people that wouldn't have been in danger if he hadn't acted so stupidly, if he hadn't done anything…
…Or if he'd done more.
Him taking down so many criminals in so many places, non-lethally at that, was clearly blowing up the legend of Rakurai in spectacular ways, something which largely contributed to the current chaos in the underworld.
His focus on trying to save everyone had caused him to act rashly, without thinking of the long-term consequences and without due consideration for the possibilities of something worse arising in the place of the evil he'd removed.
It was frustrating, maddening, sickening even…
…Because he couldn't think of anything else he could have done.
Now that he had the power to help, he couldn't just sit back and do nothing, no matter how much wiser than might have been. He couldn't ignore those who needed help, like those people he rescued from Oni, the people captured by the Magi and those that were threatened by the Apostle and Phantasmal Beast.
He simply couldn't, that wasn't the way of an Ally of Justice.
But in trying to save everyone, he might have doomed many people to a horrible fate.
Perhaps it was things like this that had moved his father towards the path of last bloodshed, where he had killed indiscriminately in order to save as many people as he could, because he could see no path without bloodshed, because there was no way he could save everyone.
That was not Shirou's way though.
If he had any choice at all, it would never be his way.
Even if things like this were to continue for millennia, even if he were to make mistakes over and over again, even if he could never become an Ally of Justice, he would not abandon his ideals.
They were imperfect, hypocritical, horribly flawed even, but they were his, and in his eyes, they were beautiful.
To save everyone. To have no one around him cry ever again.
A more peaceful world, where people could live without worrying about being killed, robbed, or otherwise threatened.
Something like Avalon itself.
That was what Shirou dreamed of; that was the ideal world.
For now though, such a thing was nothing more than a fantasy. He had ruined the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of people through his impulsive actions.
He knew it was easy to talk from hindsight, but if he'd just done a few things differently, if he'd thought things through a little bit more, he might have-
His thought process was brutally interrupted when he was suddenly poked in the cheek, with quite a lot of force.
"Senpai." Sakura said, her finger still outstretched. "I think it's time to go to bed."
"Ah, well, okay. Good night then." Shirou did his best to smile, only to have it falter as she kept staring at him. "Is there something wrong?"
"Yes, there certainly is," Ayako drawled. "How long are you planning to stay up for? Don't tell me you're going to mope for the entire night?"
"I don't need as much sleep as you do, so there's no problem if I stay awake."
"That may be, but the problem Ayako was referring to is not that you might miss sleep." Sakura corrected him sternly. "You're just going to beat yourself up over things you can't change anyway. Wouldn't it be better to just sleep and forget it all for a while?"
"I can't do that." Shirou instantly shot down the idea. "I have to plan for the future, and figure out what I did wrong so I don't repeat my mistakes. I can't let this happen again."
Sakura cocked her head to the side, before she reached out and put her hand on his cheek.
"Senpai," she said softly, smiling sadly at him. "I understand that you feel terrible, but staying awake the entire night to agonise will do nothing but make you feel more miserable than you already are. Take it from me."
"Yeah, she's right." Ayako instantly agreed. "It's like mom says. Things may seem hopeless when you mull them over in the dead of night, but if you take your mind off them and go to sleep, everything will be a lot brighter in the morning."
"Well, I guess so, but still-"
Shirou's protests fell flat however, when he saw Sakura look at him with dewy eyes, her features speaking of complete exhaustion, and Ayako glare at him with eyes full of challenge, her hands on her hips, as if daring him to try and argue against her mother's words.
Well, they did have a point, wallowing in self-pity the entire night wasn't productive at all. Not to mention that he was keeping them awake.
"…Never mind," he amended, pushing his worries to the back of his mind. "You're right, of course. I can continue moping tomorrow. Let's just call it a day."
Not waiting for a response, he promptly took Sakura into a bridal carry, making her squeak in surprise. "Off to bed with you now."
"Off to bed with us now," Sakura reprimanded him, sending him a weak glare. "You need your sleep as well, Senpai."
"As you say, my lady, I live to obey," Shirou teased, though he was surprised when, instead of a blush, his remark elicited a small smirk from Sakura.
"Precisely so," she hummed, letting herself hang backwards lazily in his arms. "Now carry me to bed, servant."
A sleep-deprived Sakura was a bossy Sakura apparently. That was something Shirou would definitely have to remember for the future, and judging from Ayako's half-shocked, half-delighted expression, he wouldn't be the only one recalling this scene for a long time to come.
"If I wasn't carrying you, I would totally bow down now, my lady," he answered her, to her obvious satisfaction, before making his way over to their room and placing her on one of the futons. "Before I join you, may I be excused to retrieve Ayako as well?"
"Do it quickly." Sakura sighed dramatically, as if making an enormous concession. "I expect you back within fifteen minutes though, so hurry."
"It shall be as my lady commands." Shirou smiled, actually bowing this time.
Upon returning to the dining room, he was met by the brunette, whose body shook with repressed mirth.
"Oh god, that was so funny." She giggled. "I never thought Sakura could talk like that without stuttering and blushing."
"Neither did I," Shirou admitted, before promptly taking Ayako into a bridal carry, eliciting a squeak from her as well. "But I guess it's a good thing she's becoming more assertive."
"I thought I was going to be the dominant one though." Ayako muttered, too soft for Shirou to hear. "But yes, that is good. Why are you carrying me though? I can walk by myself."
"Of course you can, but Sakura wanted us with her as soon as possible, and this is faster. Does it bother you?"
"Ah, n-no, it's actually rather nice."
When Shirou walked into the bedroom, he saw Sakura was already half-asleep, though still awake enough to give him an approving smile.
He gently laid Ayako down on the futon on the opposite side of Sakura, and then took the middle one for himself.
The moment he laid down next to her, Sakura latched onto his arm and promptly fell asleep, not even giving Shirou the time to wish her a good night.
Ayako giggled at the sight, before wishing him a good night and falling asleep herself, mumbling something about 'a difficult morning tomorrow' as she dozed off, leaving Shirou the only one awake.
It was quite fortunate that they had another free day tomorrow, as it really was quite late already, and Shirou felt guilty for keeping the girls awake for so long.
Of course they wouldn't go to sleep when he was moping. They were much too kind and sensitive for that.
He would have to account for that in future. It wouldn't do to inconvenience his friends because of his own problems.
Speaking of problems, Taiga wouldn't be visiting tomorrow for the third day in a row, something that saddened Shirou. She knew he was a Magus apparently, but she'd never told him, and he had no idea what she thought of it. Would she be angry at him? Would she be sad? He didn't know, and it concerned him.
Shirou sighed deeply, tightening his hold on the girls. He'd gone from moping about the consequences of his actions to moping in guilt over keeping secrets from his big sister. That was no progress at all.
Still, his mood wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been. If it hadn't been for Sakura barging in and setting him and Raiga straight, he might have sunk into one of his depressions, just like after the fire and after his dad had died.
He gave the plum-haired girl next to him a fond look, before, in an impulse, softly kissing the top of her head.
He really owed her a lot, and he wished there were some way he could pay her back and make it clear to her how much he valued her.
How much he valued both girls sleeping next to him.
Sakura, with her supporting attitude, sweetness and delicate charm, and Ayako, with her exuberance, ever-energetic disposition and tomboy appeal.
They really were much more than he deserved, yet Shirou still hoped they would stay with him forever.
He closed his eyes and fell asleep as well, his last thoughts spent on imagining a future with them.
During the last months, Yomaura Taya found her past increasingly creeping up on her.
For years, she had managed to suppress her memories, of her family, of her training, of her former home. She had even managed to forget she was a Magus.
Since discovering the truth about Rakurai however, it was all coming back to her, painful memory after painful memory, most often when she felt a particularly strong emotion that was somehow linked to her youth.
In this particular case, it was shame. Shame that she had been fooled so utterly by people she had trusted.
Yomaura felt ashamed of herself, to an extent she hadn't experienced since she'd failed to kill her dog when her father commanded her to, stating that she had grown 'too attached' to her pet.
It was back when she still cared about his opinion of her, when she still desired his love, or at least his approval. She had tried to bring herself to kill Bones, even though it broke her heart, but she had ultimately failed.
She was too weak, too soft-hearted, and an utter disgrace to her family.
Eventually, her father had killed her beloved Bones himself, and for a long time, Yomaura blamed herself for that. If she hadn't gotten too attached to her pet, he wouldn't have had to kill it.
It was only years later that she realised she had been given that dog to get attached to on purpose. Her father had wanted her to love that dog, so that he could hurt her, either by killing it himself or, even better, having her kill it.
Realising that had played a large part in her eventual decision to leave the family, forever, even more so when she realised such horrible acts were commonplace in the Moonlit World.
It had taken her years to finally understand how badly she had been played by her father, and afterwards, she had sworn never to be deceived like that again.
Well, shame on her, for once more, she had been deceived. Her corrupt colleagues had ran circles around her as she tried to keep up.
Senpai was livid, and Yomaura fully agreed with the sentiment. She too was seething.
What else could you do when you were faced with perhaps the biggest corruption scandal of the decade, right in your very own city?
So many of their colleagues at the precinct were corrupt. So. Incredibly. Many.
Yomaura had known most people at the Fuyuki-City Law Enforcement weren't stellar examples of competence and dedication, but to learn that they had been accepting money on the side in exchange for neglecting their duties was terrible.
There might not be a lot of concrete evidence so far, but if you knew where to look, which Senpai definitely did, it was easy enough to discover the signs. Money tossed around carelessly, far more than an officer earned. Expensive cars and luxurious houses. Unexplained phone calls to unknown numbers. Even if it was never enough to convict, it painted the picture in blighted neon.
It was more than enough to warrant a closer investigation, and when at least half of the police-force showed these signs, that closer investigation had top-priority.
The signs were literally everywhere, and she hadn't noticed anything.
This had apparently been going on for years, since far before she had even arrived in the city, yet she had never had an inkling of it.
She had followed the classes that were meant to train people in recognising the signs, she had discussed it at workgroup-meetings, she had even had a few conversations about corruption with Suki and Chiho.
None of it had apparently helped her one bit. Not even her past as a Magus had helped her any. She had completely lost her touch, trusting people without question until it was proven that she shouldn't. The complete opposite of what she had been taught.
Normally, going against her indoctrination like that was a good thing. This time it had blown up in her face.
The only solace was that Senpai hadn't seen it either. He had told her he assumed that it was just incompetence that made everything go so slow and inefficient, not the biggest 'clusterfuck' he'd ever encountered.
Not to mention they suspected some of the superiors were on the payroll of criminals as well.
She supposed they were lucky that most of their colleagues seemed to have been bought by the local Yakuza-leader, who was relatively decent for a criminal, or at least enough to have the police still do their job as long as they didn't get in his way.
Still, something like this was completely unacceptable. A police-force that had half of its members bribed by external influences was no police-force at all, but rather a bunch of thugs in blue.
It was clear something had to be done before this spun completely out of control and possibly destroyed the populace's trust in law enforcement forever.
Tackling a delicate issue like this required a lot of planning however, as well as more privacy and confidentiality than the precinct could offer them.
Fortunately, Yomaura was staying at her Senpai's house, being kept under constant watch after he had discovered her several day before, in bed, with a fever, bloody and exhausted from overworking herself and her Circuits.
That last part was annoying, as it prevented her from making more preparations against Rakurai, but staying at Osaki's house did grant them plenty of privacy in the evenings.
This evening as well. Her Senpai had gone home before her, in order to prepare dinner for the girls, and she had followed several hours later. Currently standing in front of the door of Senpai's house, that door was opened before she even had the opportunity to knock, by a brightly smiling Chiho, who was already in her pyjamas.
"Taya-obaa-san." She cried happily, leaping forward to hug Yomaura. "You are finally here."
"And you should be in bed," The redhead lightly chastised the youngest of her honorary daughters, lifting her up and carrying her into the house. "Why are you still up?"
"Dad said you would be late, so I asked him if I could stay awake until you were here." The little sprite beamed, happily latched on to Yomaura.
"Well, here I am, so off to bed with you now. Little girls need their sleep after all. You know what happens if you don't go to bed in time."
"It hurts your brain, disrupts your concentrations, makes your mood bad and kills your sexual drive." Chiho summed up. "But I'm going to bed now. I just wanted to see you."
Yomaura smiled tenderly at the girl, softly kissing her forehead, making her giggle. "I am happy to see you too."
"Taya-obaa-san." Yomaura's smile widened as her other daughter came into view, wearing her elegant yukata, trying to give off an air of aloofness yet clearly hoping for a hug as well. "It's good to see you again."
"There's no need to sound like we haven't seen each other in years, little one," Yomaura laughed as she freed one arm to give Suki a hug as well as kissing her forehead. "But you should be in bed too by now."
"You just want to get rid of us." Chiho pouted.
"Yes, your father and I have important things to discuss," Yomaura shamelessly admitted. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be. It isn't your fault," Suki mumbled as she looked down at the ground. "You have important work to do."
"Thank you, dear." Yomaura smiled as they entered the girls' bedroom. "Would you like me to tuck you in?"
"Yes," Chiho said in delight, while Suki gave a shy nod, still mindful of her elegant facade.
Tucking her girls in went quickly enough, and before long, she was closing the door behind her again, Chiho already asleep and Suki well on her way.
Yomaura then made her way over to her Senpai.
As she had expected, she found him in his study. She locked the door behind her, before also locking the window and closing the curtain.
It was entirely possible for Rakurai to observe them through the window after all, and if he was smart about it, they would never notice.
"Taya." Her Senpai said warmly. "Good to see you. The girls are in bed?"
"They are, Senpai."
Osaki nodded, while Yomaura came to stand in front of his desk, looking the very picture of tranquility for a moment...
Then she smashed her fist down on the desk, suddenly changing into the incarnation of righteous fury. "Those traitors! Those lowlife, backstabbing, honourless curs! Those worthless wastes of space that spit on tradition, honour and duty, with their slimy minds and ugly faces, tempted away from the righteous path with money!"
Her mother would have frowned upon witnessing her act like this. Her father would have punished her, her former fiancé would have chastised her, but her Senpai calmly listened to her rant, occasionally nodding to what she said.
Eventually, she ran out of air, and had to take a deep breath. Her Senpai used that opportunity to speak himself.
"It was certainly shocking to discover this," He nodded. "I have some experience with corrupt colleagues, but nothing on this scale. It frightens me."
"Eh? It frightens you?" Yomaura blinked in surprise. Sure, it was upsetting to know so many of their colleagues had betrayed them, but she would consider that concerning at most. "What is there to be frightened of?"
"This might surprise you, but most people are actually quite decent in general," Koyo began slowly. "Most people in Law-Enforcement wouldn't let themselves be bribed, no matter how much money is offered. The corruption is often limited to several people, who have to be caught and sentenced to remove the rot."
"But?" she prompted him when he fell silent for a moment. "Why is this case any different?"
"Because there are so many corrupt officers." Her Senpai growled. "It goes against all common sense, and I can think of only two reasons why things are so bad here, both of them equally bad."
He held up one finger.
"One explanation is that the criminal elements of this city do not only use money as a way of bribing them, but threats as well. 'Do as I say, and you get thousands of yen. Don't do as I say, and your daughters will be found at the bottom of the river.' There are very few people who can refuse the offer when it's made like that."
Yomaura took a deep, shuddering breath. The mere thought of scum hurting her precious girls…
"I can see why that would be extremely effective," she sighed, before frowning. "Why don't criminals do that all the time then?"
"Because normally, killing cops or their families is the dumbest thing a criminal can do. It ensures the other officers will hunt them down to the ends of the Earth, out of self-protection if nothing else. It has to be clear to everyone that killing members of Law-Enforcement - officers, detectives, judges, whatever - has terrible consequences. As a result, the threatening-part only happens when the criminals already wield great power and Law-Enforcement has been weakened."
"That makes sense." Yomaura nodded slowly. "You mentioned two reasons though."
"The other possible reason is that the Fuyuki-Law-Enforcement is simply rotten to the core, filled with bad elements that have no problem taking money from criminals, far more so than most other cities. Something like that is rare, but it can happen, either by extremely bad luck, or purposeful manipulation by an outside party."
"So, either we have extremely powerful criminals running around or someone is deliberately sending every dirty cop they could find our way?" Yomaura groaned. "What is it with this city all of a sudden? First Rakurai, then an approaching gang war, and now a plot to cripple Law-Enforcement?"
"It would seem so," Koyo nodded tiredly, placing his face in his hands. "And I don't see a way out either, at least not a clean one."
"So you do see a way out then?" Yomaura pressed when he fell silent. She wanted to hear this. Even if it wasn't clean, a solution to this would be most welcome. Sometimes, you had to get your hands dirty in order to do the right thing.
"It's not a very good plan. It basically entails letting the Fujimura-clan deal with the gang war for the most part, while we use that war as an opportunity to gather as much evidence of corruption as possible to clean house after the fighting ends."
It sounded like a simple, yet effective plan. The problem with it was of course that it would endanger a lot of innocent civilians when the war would rage uncontrolled.
"Is there really nothing we can do about the fighting?" Yomaura asked after a moment of thought.
"There are several things we can do," her Senpai reassured her. "I know some people who can be trusted, people from outside of Fuyuki. They would be willing to bring some squads to help here if I asked."
"How about our friends in our own precinct though? Can we involve them?"
"…Maybe one or two, but only those we really trust. We don't know the extent of what is happening here. No one is above suspicion, not until their innocence has been proven beyond any doubt. I'm sorry, but I'm afraid we'll have to do most of the work ourselves."
"So the coming weeks are going to be even more difficult than we thought." Yomaura groaned. "This is going to take a lot of time, isn't it?"
"I'm afraid so." Osaki confirmed, a humourless grin on his face. "Cheer up, Kohai, I'm sure we'll be paid for overtime."
Her only response to that was a glare that suggested very clearly when he could put that money.
The next morning, our favourite trio found themselves sitting at the table in the dining room, the girls listening intently as Shirou told them a story about his time as a vigilante.
They had been going at it for several hours now, even since they woke up, where Shirou had found himself in an… interesting situation.
Sakura and Ayako had been draped all over him, even more so than the day before, and he wasn't quite sure whether that was because they were grabby sleepers or because he was pulling them closer himself. Maybe it was both.
He couldn't deny that it was pleasant, to wake up with the girls in his arms, but he tried not to get too used to it. That would be far too presumptuous of him. Sakura and Ayako deserved better than that.
After they had gotten up, moved past the slight embarrassment of finding themselves in each other's arms, and eaten breakfast, the girls had decided to stick around for the day. To 'stop him from moping around again by keeping him busy', as Ayako had eloquently put it.
As such, they had, after a short discussion, decided to continue their unfinished talk about the Moonlit World. As neither Shirou nor Sakura were quite ready to go into detail about their own pasts however, it had quickly amounted to Shirou telling the girls about his exploits as a vigilante.
Sakura and Ayako had been completely enraptured by his stories, and Shirou had done his best to make them as interesting and funny as possible, even if he had to exaggerate some things here and there. If it made them smile, however slightly, it was more than worth it.
"Catching a group of bank robbers by luring them into a vault and locking it behind them?" Sakura giggled as Shirou finished another tale. "I thought that only happened in films and cartoons."
"Technically, it should, but I've found over the past months that some criminals are stupider than you can imagine." Shirou nodded, smiling as he recalled that particular case. "Normally, I would have just taken them down, but they had several hostages, so I had to lure them away, which turned out to be really easy."
"Hah! Idiots," Ayako scoffed with a large smile. "Though I suppose we should be grateful for that."
"Yes, of course." Sakura immediately nodded. "If they are dumb, Senpai is in less danger."
"It's never really me I'm worried about, I'll be fine." Shirou sighed. "It's all those others that will be hurt because of my actio-"
"What I am surprised about," Ayako interrupted him loudly, blatantly changing the subject. "Is that the police are doing so little about all of this. I would have expected them to be trying to arrest you, but I've noticed nothing of the sort."
"Now, that's not very kind of you," Shirou scolded her lightly. "There is a dedicated taskforce working hard at tracking me down and arresting me. It isn't their fault they are so disadvantaged compared to me."
"There is?" Ayako blinked in surprise. "I haven't heard anything of them before."
"Neither have I, except for what Senpai already told me." Sakura said softly.
"They don't really put themselves into the spotlight, and their existence is pretty secret," Shirou explained. "The only reason I know of them is because of a mayor I hypnotised, who happened to be in the know and told me about their leader. After that, I did some research myself, though I stopped early on."
"Why did you stop?" Ayako asked curiously.
"Because it didn't feel right to violate the privacy of the members of the taskforce when there is no need to. They are not criminals, they are honest people doing their job, and don't deserve having me go through their private lives too much."
"Too much? So you do have some information?" Ayako leaned forward in interest, making Shirou smile wryly. "Oooh, you do. Can we see?"
"…Sure, I guess."
Not seeing any problem with the girls taking a look at the files he'd compiled so far, Shirou quickly retrieved them from his command-room, before laying them out on the table.
"Osaki Koyo?" Sakura said slowly as she read the reports. "Is that the one who has been chasing you, Senpai?"
"He is," Shirou confirmed with a small nod. "We actually ran into him once, right here in Fuyuki."
"He was the officer that held me back from running into the fire from the Matou-estate, right?" Ayako asked, studying the man's picture. "As well as the one who gave his witness-account about what happened there."
"Indeed. Running into him in Fuyuki was very surprising, I thought he was onto me, but it turns out he lives and works here."
"That's quite the coincidence," Ayako frowned. "Is he any good at his job?"
"He is. He only moved to the city a few years ago, but he already is known for his competence, diligence and talent. Apparently, even Old Man Raiga respects him as an opponent."
"That sounds amazing," Ayako said, her eyes shining as she shuffled the papers around. "Do you mind if I take a look?"
"Sure, go ahead."
"So he's come to Fuyuki a few years ago," Sakura said after a few minutes of reading. "He was also the first detective to start looking into the vigilante Rakurai and was eventually appointed as the head of the national investigation."
"I think that means every other detective in the country has to relay everything they discovered about me to him, so that he can use that information to find and arrest me."
"What will they do when they arrest you though?"
"Probably lock me up, though considering there are many who want me silenced, I expect some dirty cops will try to kill me as soon as they can."
Sakura's expression darkened, while Ayako glared at the table, crumbling the paper to a ball in her hand.
Eventually, Sakura took a deep breath and smiled again, though it was a bit forced. "Just make sure you aren't caught, Senpai."
"I second that." Ayako huffed
"I'll make sure of it." He smiled. "Though, considering what happened, I don't think I'll be doing any vigilante-work any time soon anymore, apart from some tasks for Raiga, so it really doesn't matter all that much I suppose."
Probably noticing that his mood was darkening again, Ayako cleared her throat a shade too loudly.
"Well, I'm glad at least someone is competent at law-enforcement. My parents often complain that they can't do anything right."
"They are mostly incompetent, that is true," Shirou sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I believe I already told you the Mage Association is doing that on purpose, to hide the Grail Wars, but it's also because of rampant corruption."
"Rampant corruption even." Ayako snorted. "Just corruption wasn't enough?"
"When you put all the rejects and underperformers together, you create fertile soil for things like corruption and bribery." Shirou sighed, his headache worsening as he remembered the state of his city. "Many officers don't serve the law, but the ones who are lining their pockets instead."
"How did you find that out?" Ayako asked curiously. "I mean, I know Law Enforcement is incompetent, but are you sure they are also corrupt?"
"Yes. I learned about it from Raiga, and from another… somewhat reliable source." Shirou said, sheepishly rubbing the back of his neck.
"A somewhat reliable source?" Sakura asked, cocking her head to the side. "Was it during one of your vigilante-outings?"
"Yeah, in Matsue." Shirou nodded. "It was after I had taken down the Magi. I was just fighting criminals, while trying to find the gang-leaders of the city, when I stumbled upon something peculiar…"
"The boss is holed up in a warehouse at the edge of the city, the address is on a note in the bottom drawer of my desk." The hypnotised man grunted as he got up from where Shirou had knocked him down. "You gonna take the boss down? Good. Never liked that hypocritical piece of shit. Always talking about how we're a big family, only to turn around and steal half of the profits. There's probably billions in cash in that office already."
"Billions? In cash?" Shirou did a double-take as he followed the man to his desk. "Wouldn't that be a ridiculous amount of money?"
"Yeah okay, not only cash. Mostly precious stones, diamonds, obligations and more of that stuff. Some artwork too I heard. A whole payload, and none of us ever see shit."
The man continued to complain about his boss as he handed Shirou the address of the warehouse, and continued even when Shirou sent him away to turn himself in.
"Before I go though, there's something you should know." The hypnotised criminal suddenly said, turning around in the open door. "The boss got a lot of cops on the payroll, so if you really wanna get that greedy fucker, you should do what you did to me, ya know, giving me a conscience and everything. Also, make sure you aren't around anymore when them feds show up, cause they'll gun you down for ruining their main source of income."
"Noted. Thank you."
"Not a problem. Stay safe out there."
The criminal really left this time, and Shirou jumped out of the window to make his way over to the warehouse.
He was of course aware that bribery was an issue in law-enforcement. When an officer was offered a lot of money to look the other way for just a moment while, for instance, a load of drugs was being smuggled through town, there were some who would accept it.
This happened a lot more than he'd like. Even Raiga routinely bribed the police in Fuyuki-City to ignore him while he did his business.
Most of the time, just removing the criminals doing the bribing was enough to stop this, but sometimes, the problems went deeper than that, when an officer decided they liked the taste of extra money and went into the extortion-business, or actively went out to find other 'benefactors'.
Shirou had refrained from targeting Law-Enforcement so far, to avoid having them fully turn against him, but he knew he couldn't continue doing that.
Corruption was an evil and punishable offense, that should not be ignored under any circumstances. The police were sworn to protect, and those who betrayed that oath had to face the consequences.
Calling himself a Hero of Justice but letting injustice happen right in front of him would be hypocritical in the extreme.
Shirou arrived at the warehouse after a few minutes of flying, finding it lightly guarded by a few men in dark clothes, who were lazing around, clearly not expecting any trouble. One of them was even sleeping.
They didn't notice him landing near them, and didn't notice him until the last of them fell to the ground unconscious.
The guards inside were a little more disciplined, but nothing he couldn't handle either. Before long, he had reached the office of the boss. He promptly kicked in the door, eliciting a high-pitched scream from the one inside.
Shirou didn't mean to be sexistic, but that scream was remarkably girly.
Which was explained when the boss turned out to be a woman. Shirou didn't let his surprise show, but outside of that one Magus, this was honestly the first time he'd run into a female gang boss.
"Y-You are Rakurai." She stuttered, looking around in the drawers of her desk, probably in search of a weapon of some kind. "W-Why are you h-here? I run only a s-small-t-time b-business, only s-selling drugs. I never m-murdered anyone; I s-swear."
A blatant lie. The crime-statistics for this city, including assault and murder, had gone through the roof in recent months, and every criminal he had interrogated had told him it was because the boss had ordered it, and though they had never referred to her by the correct gender, Shirou didn't doubt that she was in fact that boss.
Unnerved by his silence, the woman searched around more frantically, until with a shout of victory, she drew a small handgun, aiming it at him.
Only to let out another shriek of fear when he knocked it out of her hand. He pushed her backwards against the wall, where she slumped down, whimpering in pain and fear.
"W-Wait, p-please." She begged, holding up an arm as tears streamed down her face. "Y-You don't have to do this, I-I can pay you, anything you want."
Shirou stopped in front of her but made no further move, slightly puzzled why she was behaving so strangely. He hadn't pushed her that hard, not enough for her to be writhing on the ground like that.
Emboldened by his sudden inaction, the woman climbed to her feet again, before suddenly pressing herself against him, speaking with an almost purring voice. "Y-Yes, we don't have to do anything we'll regret later, right, my hero? I'm sure we can find a pleasant solution for all of this. I'll do anything you wan- 'GHHK'?"
Startled by the sudden contact, Shirou grabbed her by the throat and lifted her off the floor, holding her away from him.
He gave the woman an incredulous look. Was she seriously trying to s-seduce him? To convince him to let her go?
His father had never mentioned anyone ever trying such a thing with him. This was supposed to only happen in films!
As the shock about the woman's audacity wore off, Shirou actually felt insulted. Did the woman really think he'd let her go because she offered to s-sleep with him?
He would never do such a thing!
Even if he was that kind of person, the woman wasn't nearly attractive enough for him to even consider letting her go in exchange for s-se-se-sex.
She didn't have Sakura's sweetness or her soft smiles, nor did she have Ayako's exuberance and fiery grins. She didn't have Tohsaka's elegance-
He was getting off track.
Ignoring her renewed pleas, he locked eyes with the woman and promptly hypnotised her. Only when she was firmly under his control did he let her go again, and he immediately took several steps back afterwards.
His caution turned out to be unwarranted. She just stood there; eyes slightly glazed over as she dusted off her clothes.
Only when she once more looked immaculate did she turn her attention back to him. "Hey boss, sorry for that just now, it's just a standard tactic I use to get ahead in this world, nothing personal or anything. It's not something I like to do, but it often works wonders."
"It's quite alright." Shirou assured her, not holding hypnotised her responsible for the actions of not-hypnotised her. "Okay, I'm going to need you to give yourself up to the police, confess to your every crime and help them in any way you can."
"Will do, though I have to warn you that I will most likely be dead before I can be of real use to them."
"What?" Shirou narrowed his eyes at her, his fists clenching unconsciously. "Why?"
"Because a lot of the officers in this city are on my or someone else's payroll. The moment I start singing, they'll get rid of me to save their own hide."
"Is there nothing you can do against that?"
"Hm, well, there are some things I can try. If I pretend that I am a low-level flunky when they arrest me, I might be able to survive long enough get into contact with some of the honest officers."
"Would that really work?" Shirou asked cautiously. "What if the corrupt people find out it's you?"
"Then I'll likely die. I don't see any other way to help the police though." The woman said with a small shrug, apparently not caring much. "It's your call, boss. I don't really care."
Shirou hesitated. He was loath to send someone to their possible death, but this was a criminal, not an innocent person, and her information could do a lot of good in the right hands.
On the other hand, saving everyone was saving everyone, including unrepentant criminals.
"Try to give your information to the right people." He eventually ordered her. "But take as little risks as possible. Your survival is the most important here."
"You got it, boss. Again, I apologise for my behaviour back there."
Looking back on that conversation, Shirou realised how callous he'd been. He might have sent someone off to die and had never spent another thought on her.
Old Man Raiga was right. He really needed to start thinking about consequences more.
"Well, that's how it went." He finished his story, zoning back into the conversation, before he froze.
Both girls were glowering, an almost visible haze of displeasure hanging around them as they seemed to stare off into the distance. Their wrath wasn't aimed at him, thank God, but it was still very unnerving to see.
"Eh, S-Sakura? Ayako?" Shirou eyes flitted between them, trying to remember what he'd said in the past few minutes that upset them so.
"Senpai." Sakura hissed. "That shameless woman. Is she in prison now?"
"Yes." Shirou confirmed immediately.
"Good." Ayako grinned. "That's where she belongs, that bitch."
It was very telling that Sakura didn't seem to have anything to say about the swearword.
"W-Well, she was a gangster, so, yeah, I guess she should be in prison?" Shirou agreed hesitantly, feeling Ayako was not referring to that but not knowing what else to say.
"At least she apologised." Sakura grumbled under her breath. "But only under hypnosis. Some women have no self-respect at all."
"Not a tiny little bit." Ayako agreed.
"Ahahaha." Shirou laughed awkwardly. "D-Did I do something wrong?"
"No, not at all" "Absolutely not." Sakura and Ayako hastily assured him.
"It's good that you didn't listen to her at all." Sakura smiled.
"Even better that you manhandled her in response." Ayako grinned.
"…Right." Shirou cleared his throat. "Eh, shall I continue then?"
"Right, well, as I just said, I sent that woman to the police, but her words about corruption stuck with me. I knew of several officers in the Fuyuki-department who aren't above taking bribes either, so I did some digging. You already know what I found here, a lot of corruption, and I cannot help but wonder if it's the same everywhere."
It was something that really worried Shirou. Even if the majority of the police remained steadfast and above bribes, there seemed to still be plenty of them who did let themselves be paid off, and that could become an enormous problem if left unchecked.
Law-Enforcement was supposed to be a bastion of righteousness, even if the levels of competence and drive of its members could vary. Shirou wasn't so naïve as to believe all cops were perfect good guys, or even close to it, but to hear so bluntly that several among them blatantly accepted bribes and would kill unarmed prisoners to save their own hides was… upsetting.
"Certainly not." Sakura placed her hand on his in a comforting gesture. "A few bad apples do not represent the whole, Senpai. It's bad that they exist, but not a reason to lose faith in the police altogether."
"Perhaps, but you know what they say, 'a few bad apples spoil the bunch'. Not to mention that Fuyuki is far more susceptible to such practises than most other towns. I suppose it is fortunate that it is actually old man Raiga who has most of Law Enforcement in his pocket, or this might have been a real catastrophe."
"Wha-? Really?" Ayako interjected, surprise and shock clear on her face. "Fujimura-san has bribed most of the officers?"
"He told me once." Shirou shrugged. "Apparently, he just wanted to bribe a few officers, but he ended up accidentally bribing at least a quarter of them."
"How do you accidentally bribe a quarter of a police-force?" Ayako asked incredulously, causing Shirou to laugh sheepishly. "I mean, how does that even happen?"
"No idea. I guess the few cops he bribed at first told their friends, who then wanted in, and they told their friends and so on, and before old man Raiga knew it, he basically owned Law Enforcement."
"W-Wait." Sakura held up her hands. "If Fujimura-sama owns the police, is that the reason why they let the matter with grandfather drop so quickly?"
"Most likely. Raiga probably told them to let it be, so they did."
Sakura fell silent, a contemplative expression on her face. He couldn't blame her; he too had needed some time to process the fact that his surrogate grandfather held such power.
"You don't have to worry though." He assured them after a minute. "Raiga's orders are for them to keep the peace in the city, so aside from his own practices, they do enforce the law as they should."
"So that's why you allow it to continue?" Sakura asked, not a trace of judgement in her voice, only honest curiosity.
"Yes. Better Raiga, who at least has some respect for the law and sincerely cares for the city and its people, than someone I don't know and have no connections with." Shirou sighed. "It's hypocritical of me, I know."
"I-It doesn't matter, Senpai." Sakura quickly assured him, Ayako nodding along. "I think you're doing the right thing."
"Thank you." Shirou smiled.
There were times when Waver wondered why he ever accepted the offer to become a lord.
Not only were his duties often difficult and complicated, but it was also exceedingly rare for them to be interesting in any way, nearly always consisting of endless paperwork that other lords usually delegated to flunkies or ignored outright.
Waver had to suppress a large yawn as he worked. Filling in the forms and reports were something he could have done in his sleep, and to be entirely honest, sometimes he wasn't entirely sure that he didn't.
It was dreadfully boring and tedious, even more so because he knew no one would ever bother to read any of it, or even just check if he'd actually done it.
His honour as a lord and his loyalty to his king prevented him from slacking off on anything, but he understood perfectly well why most other lords chose not to bother with their paperwork.
Yes, sometimes he really questioned why he'd chosen to become a lord…
…until he remembered that he hadn't.
He'd done his tasks as Lord El-Melloi II ever since Reines, his honorary younger sister, had practically forced the role onto him. There hadn't really been an option for him to refuse. As niece of Kayneth, Waver's former teacher, she had both the moral right and the legal right to demand compensation from him, which she wanted in the form of him being the lord of her family until she reached an acceptable age and level of experience to take over herself.
In all honesty, he far preferred his teaching role over his lordly responsibilities. It was far more interesting, and with Svin and Flat, always exciting. Though from what he was reading in the letter he held in front of him, his job as a teacher might be getting a little too exciting soon.
Fujimaru Shirou was set to come to the Clocktower for that pseudo-apprenticeship that Waver had promised him in return for the Sealing Designees.
Waver already had a plan for the boy. Fujimaru would first receive a short, introductory lesson from Waver in person, before he would be allowed to join Waver's regular classes.
Of course, one short lesson would normally never be enough for someone, no matter how intelligent, to catch up on years of missed education. If it had been someone else trying to join his classes, Waver would have insisted they followed a few beginner-courses first.
He wouldn't do that for Fujimaru. Not because he disliked the boy or considered him a lost cause, but because he knew Fujimaru would not appreciate or benefit from it.
It had been clear enough during their meeting that the boy wasn't interested in following lessons or performing experiments. He certainly wasn't coming to the Clocktower for Waver's classes.
He was coming to London with a completely different goal in mind, though what that goal was, Waver didn't know.
He had speculated a few times, using what little knowledge he had of Fujimaru's character coupled with the most common reasons why people came to the Clocktower, but that hadn't gotten him any further. Waver simply lacked the necessary details to really form a conclusion.
Sure, he had a few theories, but nothing more than that.
Greed for materials or money could easily be ruled out, considering Fujimaru had been perfectly willing to hand over the Magi for free. A thirst for knowledge probably wasn't the cause either, Fujimaru had not seemed particular enthused about learning anything.
A more plausible cause was perhaps the advancement of his family. Fujimaru was not a known name in the Magus Community, so it could be that the boy was hoping to win some renown.
Another likely reason was that he was coming to London for personal business. Perhaps to meet an old friend, perhaps for revenge, perhaps even for love.
Waver crossed his fingers that it wouldn't be something illegal, or that if it was, Fujimaru would at least be discreet about it. He really couldn't use the blow to his reputation that inviting a criminal would result in.
Well, whatever Fujimaru was planning, he hoped the boy was ready for the Clocktower, where his strength would barely help him in the everyday battles.
The cutthroat atmosphere, the constant backstabbing, the ever-lasting grudges, and the eternal battle for dominance were difficult enough for a newcomer to deal with, but Fujimaru would also have to deal with the racial factor on top of that.
Fujimaru was Japanese, that was very clear from his name, his looks, his place of residence and the language he spoke. Unfortunately for him, Japan was an Asian country, and Asians were not looked upon well at the Clocktower.
It happened often enough that Asian Magi were discriminated against, threatened and assaulted for the inanest reasons, ignored during meetings or recruitments, humiliated, or just plain looked down upon with arrogance and disgust. For all that Magi pretended they were civilised, they were remarkably barbaric that way.
This was extra problematic in this case, for if there was one thing about Fujimaru that Waver had been able to discern during their short conversation, it was that he wouldn't allow any injustice to take place in front of him.
Waver groaned out loud. He could already see it before him. Some arrogant aristocrats putting down Asian Magi, Fujimaru arriving and involving himself, those aristocrats being insulted by an 'inferior Magus' talking down to them and a fight breaking out.
A fight that Fujimaru would definitely win, considering he was powerful enough to decisively defeat an experienced Enforcer, without any injuries to show for it. And no, it didn't count that it was only because of his potent healing magic that he had no wounds at the end. No injuries was no injuries, no matter the reason.
Fujimaru was probably strong enough to take on Waver's whole class and win, let alone some lordlings with more arrogance and money than talent or power.
Perhaps the biggest reason Waver was agonising over Fujimaru's impending arrival though, was the illustrious Queen of the Clocktower, Lorelei Barthomeloi, who had already made it known that she was interested in the one who had caught the Sealing Designees.
Catching the attention of that woman could be either fantastic or terrible, depending on how well you managed to fulfill her expectations of you. Waver did not know what the Queen wanted from Fujimaru, but he hoped for the boy's own sake that he could match her standards.
Disappointing the Queen, though not necessarily lethal, was not something you did if you wanted to have success at anything within the Mage Association.
Not to mention that look of immense disappointment she would give you…
Anyway, Waver should be careful in handling Fujimaru, at least until he had more information to work with.
An unknown motive, a strong sense of justice, enough power to equal a high-level Enforcer, and the interest of the strongest Magus of the generation, all put together in one package, a package for Waver to deal with.
The door of his office then suddenly opened, and a familiar hooded head poked through the opening.
"Sir?" A soft, demure voice came from under the hood. "What are you still doing here?"
"Grey." Waver acknowledged his new apprentice. "I'm not really doing much. Paperwork, as well as pondering some recent information and what it will mean for the future."
"What has happened?" Grey whispered, fully entering the room and lifting her head slightly, allowing him to see the familiar face under the hood.
The much too familiar, extremely unwelcome face.
"Grey." Waver glared lightly at the girl, who promptly lowered her head again. "Nothing has happened yet. I just got confirmation that Fujimaru is coming here in a few months."
"Fujimaru?" Grey repeated softly. "The one who helped you in Japan? Isn't that a good thing?"
Waver bit his lip, before sighting deeply. "It isn't that simple. There's a lot more involved than just 'he helped me, so I help him now'. Pay attention while I explain, you might learn something."
He aired his concerns to his apprentice, who listened silently. He couldn't see her face, but he could tell she was paying attention to everything he said. She was a good kid, and Waver was happy he'd been able to save her from her village.
If only she had a different face…
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Grey folded her hands together, slightly fidgeting under his gaze. "I might not be able to do Magecraft, but if you think he'll attack someone, I can help fight him."
"We certainly can!" An unpleasant voice suddenly shrieked from within Grey's robes. "We'll teach that little Magus who is the strongest around here."
"We aren't the strongest, Ad. Please don't say such things." Grey hissed, her quiet deference shifting to irritation as she retrieved a birdcage from her robe, pouting at the strange, grey cube with a face that was in it. "There are many people here stronger than us."
"Just give yourself some time, I'm sure you'll be knocking them all around in no ti- Hey! Stop! Arg!" The cube continued speaking, until Grey began to furiously shake the cage, sending him careening into its bars. "Oof! Ai! Eck!"
"I think he's had enough." Waver said after a while. As amusing as it was to see her abuse Ad, they had other things to do. "Just to be clear, Grey, from what I've seen, you stand no chance against Fujimaru in a direct fight. Perhaps you can strike him down after you deploy Ad to his full form, but Fujimaru won't give you the time needed for that. I do not want you to take him on alone."
"Understood, sir." Grey mumbled, disappointment clear in her voice. "Is there anything else I can help you with when Fujimaru arrives?"
"As contradictory as this is going to sound, yes, I need you to keep an eye on him when he gets here." Waver said, seeing his apprentice stiffen in shock. "Again, I do not want you to fight him, but until we have obtained more information about him, we cannot leave him alone for longer periods of time. Can I count on you to stick to him wherever he goes?"
"Yes sir." Grey breathed, her face breaking into a smile as she looked at him. "I'll watch him for you. I swear it."
"Thank you, Grey, but, please, mind where you look."
"Eck? Oh, I'm so sorry."
Grey lowered her head again, and Waver sighed. It was that she appreciated his dislike for her face, or he would have felt awful for making her hide it like that.
It was cowardly, but he couldn't bear to look at the face of Saber, not after what the Servant had done.
"Oh, sir. Melvin also wanted to speak with you."
Waver groaned. One matter somewhat settled, and the next already doomed up on the horizon.
Truly a lord's work was never done.
"Are you sure this will work, Senpai?" Yomaura asked nervously.
"I have no idea." Her partner admitted frankly, not seeming at all upset by his self-admitted lack of surety. "All I know is that we've got to do something, and that this is our best option at the moment."
"I know, but still, blatantly investigating our own colleagues will not make us popular among the others. You know what happens to people who expose corruption, Senpai."
"Yes, which is why we won't tell them we are investigating them until we have enough to actually make a case out of it." Her Senpai sighed deeply. "I don't like this anymore than you do, going after the people of our own precinct, but we cannot stand aside and let the corruption continue. I won't ask you to join me, but I am going to pursue this, even if it gets me fired in the end."
"Fired, or dead." Yomaura pointed out worriedly. "Being called a rat or traitor is the best-case scenario, Senpai. They might actually kill you for this."
"I know that." Osaki said, giving her an assuring smile, that didn't do much to assure her. "But you also know very well what I think of people standing by and letting bad things happen in front of them to save their own skin."
"You hate that kind of people." Yomaura sighed. She knew all too well that Senpai would never watch passively when wrongdoings were committed, that was one of the things she liked about him after all. "I'm not going to stop you, Senpai, and it goes without saying that I will help you."
"Thank you." Koyo gave her a warm smile, and Yomaura's heart fluttered at the sight. "I'm sorry that things have gotten this far though. I never would have thought moving to Fuyuki would end in me and my partner being in danger because of our very own colleagues."
"It isn't your fault, so don't apologise. Let's just get to work."
Koyo then placed a large box full of reports and other paperwork on his desk, making sure to lower it softly so that he wouldn't wake the girls, who were sleeping in their room down the hall.
As he started to take out entire piles of papers from the box, Yomaura felt like crying.
Not because she was afraid or anything. She could handle mundane criminals easily enough, and so could Senpai.
She felt like crying because by the gods, that was way too much paperwork.
"Oh my, it seems someone failed to properly catalogue this." Koyo suddenly huffed, looking over the dates and file numbers of the reports he'd picked up. "I guess we'll have to put that in order first before we can begin for real. Ah well, it shouldn't take more than a few hours."
Yomaura hoped her internal scream of despair wouldn't disturb the girls in their sleep.
Done. That was a lot of work. Pretty sure the emotional scenes are rather lacking, but that has never been my best point and it will never be.
Also, some people might think it strange Shirou now has to deal with the consequences of being a vigilante while Spiderman or Superman don't, but that's because the Fate Universe does try to apply a tiny little bit of realism, at least in the Mundane World, whereas Marvel does not try that at all.
You can't disturb the underworld like that and expect nothing to happen. Just look at some real-life examples for evidence of my claim.
Point is, Shirou is going to have to consider the consequences of his actions, and that will actually be healthy for him. If he can be steered even slightly into a direction that is away from Archer, then that is good for him.
Sakura finally meets the end of her patience and blows up, like her Senpai. This is also good for her.
Koyo and Taya discover lots and lots of corruption in the precinct, which was sorta obvious if you think about it. Of course those rejects put there by the Mage Association are going to be susceptible to that kind of thing, and now our two favourite detectives have to deal with the fallout. I wonder how that's going to end…
Shirou is also becoming aware of the corruption, and will do some research of his own. I'm sure his path won't cross that of our aforementioned detectives…
Oh, and Waver is already prepping for yet another troublemaker in his class. Don't worry, Waver. This one is always trying to be helpful, which is more than you can say of most others.
Once more my gratitude to Tungstencat, Crazylich79, liamrodhudson110, Manram and Woggie, for their hard work to make this stuff actually readable.
Ted sinks into the ground.