"Alright Illya, it's time to go to sleep." Shirou said as he gently shook one of the girl's shoulders.
"Ugh, Onii-chan, can't I do just one more raid?" The small girl pouted, trying to use her adorableness in order to get her way. Even after five years, Illya had barely changed at all. Though her body bore small rashes from prana poisoning, she still had the appearance of a ten-year-old girl and looked as fragile as a doll. The things that the Einzbern family did to her body in order to extend her youth still had effect… as well as the changes they made to her in order to empower her for the Holy Grail.
The Pseudo-Spiritrons, or whatever the hell that material was that the Einzbern's used in order to make the artificial magic circuits that now made up 80% of Illya's body, had not meshed well with her. They had predicted that Illya would have only had a single year to live before her body collapsed completely under the strain of harboring these fake circuits. It was only because of Avalon's passive healing power, as well as several other forms of healing magecraft dug up by Rin, Sakura and even Rider that the girl was still alive. But even then, it was only enough to extend the girl's life, not cure her. Even Avalon's effects were not enough, not with the false circuits working against it, not when the thing poisoning Illya's body was part of her body, and not without Saber.
It wasn't until recently that Shirou gained access to the information and funds, through his work as a mercenary, needed to pursue an actual cure. He had been made to fight three Dead Apostles at once, with minimal back up, in order to get it, but it was worth it. The Clock Tower had probably been expecting him to die, maybe even hoping that he would. They seemed to suspect the true nature of his magecraft and probably wanted to experiment on him, but with so many big names having taken a liking to Shirou, they couldn't attack him without risking angering the likes of the Wizard Marshal, so instead they just gave him increasingly more life-threatening missions, hoping that he would die on his own.
"There will be plenty of time for that later. You need to get your rest." Shirou said. He should have been scolding her for staying up as late as she had already, but he didn't have the heart to do it. The… procedure? Ritual? What you want to call the sort of magical surgery they were going to use to remove the fake circuits from her body and replacing it with normal tissue without killing her. It was scheduled to happen in three days' time. Everyone felt like they were walking on eggshells because of it.
"Okay." Illya relented, logging out of her game and taking off her immersion-VR helmet and putting it on her bedside table.
Fascinating things those helmets, providing not just visuals and sound, but also letting the wearer smell, feel and taste whatever was in the game. The things appeared out of nowhere three years back and were considered several decades ahead of their time. The strange thing was that no one knew who invented them and the software was so advanced that no game developer could create things for them, so they only had a single game that was supported. Still, they were a hit that blew everything else off the market. When everyone else was barely managing to make gaming platform to have HD support, it was little wonder why the futuristic headsets were so popular.
Rin and Sakura both suspected Zelretch of having brought them over from a more technologically advanced timeline as his little way of being nice to Illya, after her condition had rendered her bedridden, but the old man denied any involvement. Shirou also had his doubts. If Zelretch felt that strongly about helping Illya, he could have just helped them cure her using the knowledge he had gained over the infinite dimensions.
Regardless, Illya had become addicted to the VR game. A way to explore a whole new world and interact with new people, and all without having to get out of bed. Shirou was happy that she had something she could do, though the constant string of gamer and anime jargon left him baffled more often than not.
Shirou helped her remove the tangle of wires that were connected to the VR helmet from around Illya and placed it on her bedside table. Shirou went and turned off the lights, but before he could leave the room, Illya's voice stopped him. "Onii-chan… would you stay with me tonight?" Illya asked him, her voice pleading.
Shirou paused in the doorway for a moment, his mind going back to the times when Illya would have slipped into his bed at night while he was asleep, and he would find her grabbing onto his arm in the morning. It was things like that the made Shirou realize that while Illya was older than him and smarter than he was, that without the changes in hormones brought about by aging, she still only a little girl in terms of maturity. She was still his little sister.
Over time, and as her health took a turn for the worse, she stopped sneaking into his room at night. He never really thought he would miss those embarrassing moments.
Shirou grabbed a chair and pulled it up next to Illya's bedside and sat down. He would stay there, holding her hand, until she managed to get to sleep.
"Onii-chan, if something happens, and I… don't make it…" Illya said softly, Shirou felt bile rise in the back of his throat at her words but fought to keep his body under control. He knew that what they were trying could best be described as experimental and that there was a very real chance that despite their best efforts… that his little sister could die. "I want you to know that I'm glad that I was able to spend these last few years of my life with you. It made me really happy."
"Don't talk like that. I'll make sure that everything turns out okay." Shirou said, tears starting to form in his eyes, though he kept himself quiet. He was glad for the darkness of the room that would hide his weakness from his little sister's eyes.
"I'm glad we had a chance to be a family, Onii-chan."
"Yeah… I'm glad too." Shirou said weakly.
Time passed and Illya's breathing stopped being the fake calm she used when she was pretending to be asleep and became the adorable half snorting sounds that she sometimes made when she was actually asleep, giving Shirou the chance to get up and go to the bathroom and splash water on his face in order to wipe away the trails left by his tears.
Looking up into the mirror he saw his own strange face staring back at him. Though he was only twenty-two or twenty-three, his deep red hair was full of white streaks that caused him to get looks whenever he walked out in public. He counted his blessings that most of the scarred skin from the times when he had used more prana than was advisable was on parts of his body normally covered by clothes. Though there was no denying that he was starting to look more and more like Archer with each passing battle.
That didn't bother him as much as it once might have. He didn't hate Archer, not anymore. He had come to terms with who Archer was and took a sort of comfort in knowing that he was not that man. Archer had been a person who had in life held all lives to be equal and sought to protect as many as possible. This way of looking at things had been what had ultimately driven everyone who once cared about him away and was the reason why Archer had died alone and miserable, only made worse when his afterlife was basically his own personal hell.
It was only after meeting Archer and finding out about his Father's participation in the Fourth Heaven's Feel that Shirou realized something. That the dream he had been chasing all his life was built on an incorrect assumption.
The smile Kiritsugi had given him in that fire hadn't been the smile of a man who had saved someone's life. It had been the smile of a man drowning in despair and guilt who was given the chance to take one final breath before being swallowed completely.
No matter how many people Archer saved, that smile had never been his, not until his final moments during the Fifth Heaven's Feel when he had been told the words that he had always wanted to hear during his eternal torment. 'You were not wrong.'
Shirou had abandoned his dream of becoming a Hero of Justice. Not entirely. He still believed that it wasn't wrong to try and help people, he just couldn't see the people he cared about, Illya, Sakura, Rin, and Rider, and say that their lives were not worth any more to him than any other human beings. To him, they were worth more than the world. Though they still routinely got angry at him for not putting more of a value on his own life.
Shirou turned off the water in the sink, dried off his face and started to head back to his room. Rin, Sakura and Rider would all be arriving in the morning. He would need to get some sleep while he had the chance. Those three probably wouldn't let him have another chance to for a few days if they had their way.
But as he walked down the hall his vision grew dim and his consciousness began to fade.
The first thing that registered with Shirou was the sword gripped in his hand. A blade of a quality he could hardly believe in. It was as if he was holding the world's very idea of a sword itself.
[Legendary Holy Sword]
…Bland as the name was, it was a blade that in its truest form was every bit the equal to Excalibur. A wish of the world given physical form and a Divine Construct. Only rather than thirteen seals holding back the EX rank blade's world-shaking power, this sword had hundreds of millions of seals. While the thirteen Restraints of the Round Table had been enough to bring Excalibur's power down to a 'mere' A++ rank Noble Phantasm, the sheer number of seals placed on this weapon's power left it so pathetic as to be comparable to an oversized butter knife.
There were so many seals and restrictions that trying to grasp them was giving Shirou a splitting headache, and the young man couldn't make out any more than its base form. Shirou tried to decipher the seals to see if they could be removed, but as the weapon seemed to have no history, as if it had been born that very moment, so he had nothing to draw on to find out how to undo the seals.
"Ugh…" Shirou heard groans around him, making him realize that he was not alone and that his face was currently pressed against a cold stone floor.
Shirou looked around him and saw that he was lying on a strange alter with three other guys, each holding a different weapon… and there was glowing paint… and people in priest like robes… and knights.
"Oh please tell me this isn't what I think it is?" Shirou said, closing his eyes and trying to will the world into not fucking with him.
"Oh, honorable Heroes! Please, save our world!"