"So Judaime, did you manage to get any extra kendo practice in? I spent most of yesterday practicing." Gokudera said with his usual unnervingly large smile as he continued to try desperately to make small talk. It felt weird, how he wasn't asking any questions about what had happened the night before, or even mentioning anything about it, even though he clearly wanted too. The way he wasn't asking about it was getting a little tiresome.
"Reborn had me practice the forms a little yesterday morning, but I was a bit distracted." Natsumi replied, before biting the bullet and just asking him. "Gokudera-san, you haven't asked at all about what happened yesterday after you left."
"Ah, that is…" Gokudera stammered, his eyes going to Reborn who was walking along side them on top of the wall that divided the houses.
"I forced Gokudera-kun to sign a geass contract last night, to prevent him from speaking to anyone from the mafia world about either your seal's existence or removal, or about Shirou-kun's abilities in general." Reborn informed Natsumi. "It seems he is worried that the contract forbids him from talking to you about it as well, though it won't punish him for talking to you, me or any of the members of the Emiya clan."
"It won't!?" Gokudera said in shock.
"Reborn, you made him sign something as dangerous as that?" Natsumi said in surprise. From what she had learned from Shirou, geass contracts were serious business. If Gokudera accidentally broke it, he could suffer serious damage to his soul.
"While I would like to say that Gokudera is loyal to you, he has too many old connections. This was for your own safety." Reborn said. "Besides, he volunteered for it."
"Don't worry, Judaime. This way, even if I am captured, I could never divulge any of your secrets." Gokudera said.
"Um… thank you?" Natsumi said, not really sure how to respond to that.
Forcing the geass on Gokudera was more important than Natsumi probably realized. Gokudera had been exposed to the Ninth multiple times in the past, and was brought up by Timoteo as a possible Guardian for Natsumi despite his bad track record and attitude towards women. While Reborn had agreed for Bianchi's sake, it did likely mean that Gokudera was in the man's pocket, either consciously or unconsciously.
"Judaime, did everything turn out alright? You seem fine but…" Gokudera started to ask after being given the all clear by Reborn.
"I'm alright. Actually, I've been feeling better than ever since Shirou-senpai managed to remove the seal." Natsumi said with a smile as she looked up at the sky.
"Th… that's great." Gokudera said, though his smile looked a bit more forced than before. It was always like that, every time someone mentioned Shirou.
"Reborn, I sort of get why my flames and seal needed to be kept a secret, but why do you and Uncle Kiri keep making a big deal out of keeping the fact that Shirou-senpai can use magic a secret? Don't you all also use magical stuff too?" Natsumi asked.
"I suppose it is too early for you to tell the difference, but you can't compare what we do to what he does." Reborn said with a shake of his head. "While we do have access to magic items, all of them are either relics of the past, copies of those relics, or vessels used to transport those relics' power. Even after hundreds of years of study and trillions of dollars invested, we barely understand any of it. However, Shirou hasn't been making cheap knock-offs of the old relics. He might just have an actual idea of how magic works and how to create new magic items. Using nothing more than the materials one could get at a hobby store, he created magic items that are worth millions. Not only that, he has an in-depth knowledge about things from the age of magic. That alone makes him a resource that most Famiglias and countries would go to war in order to obtain."
"Wait, countries!?" Natsumi shouted in surprise.
"Did you think that the countries didn't know about the darker world? Almost every major nation has some kind of special shadow agency that deals with Flame users and ancient relics." Reborn said. "But they really aren't all that strong compared to the more established Famiglias, since they lack the old knowledge that the mafia has been hoarding for generations, and often end up making commissions to freelance hitmen, like Kiri-kun and Iris-chan. But that's exactly why they would be especially desperate to get their hands on someone like Shirou-kun, and in my experience, they are rarely shy about how many bodies pile up. That's what happens when you have completely unregulated groups like that."
"I didn't realize that Shirou's magic was such a big deal." Natsumi mumbled, trying to imagine a war starting over him.
"It's not so much the magic itself as it is the knowledge that produced it. In our world, that kind of knowledge is power. Power enough to perhaps conquer the entire world." Reborn said in a serious manner. Then his tone turned cheerful. "And that power just fell right into your lap. Aren't you lucky."
"Reborn…" Natsumi sighed. She didn't want to think of Shirou in that kind of manner. Though she had to admit, she was lucky. If Shirou hadn't had this knowledge, she would still have that seal on her. But that didn't change how she viewed him.
To her, Shirou was a good friend and an older brother figure, and she didn't care about anything else. Same went for Uncle Kiri, Aunt Iris and Sella and Leysritt, they were all just people who were Natsumi's family.
Reborn could tell that Natsumi still didn't get the implications of Shirou's knowledge. Normally, it would take years of training that bordered on cruelty to gain even the slightest bit of control over one's flames. Yet Shirou-kun could simply give it to Natsumi and Illya in an afternoon. Imagine if an entire army could do the same? An army of one million people with superhuman strength, who could dodge normal bullets and punch through walls. Reborn's comment about world domination wasn't a joke, any country that monopolized on it could easily take over the entire world. Even an organization as massive and wide spread as Vongola had fewer than two hundred true active flame users.
And this wasn't even mentioning the possibility of mass producible rings, what was once one of the most limiting factors for the instruction of more flame users.
If Shirou wasn't the spitting image of his father when it came to personality, a generally cautious individual who became a complete hot headed when it came to matters involving the people closest to him, then Reborn might actually be worried about world stability. As is, Shirou was very unlikely to try to take over the world or assist anyone in such a venture.
"Looks like your school is coming up. And you've got plenty of time too, for once." Reborn said a little cheekily.
"And whose fault is that?" Natsumi pouted, giving Reborn a suspicious glance. "Reborn, you aren't plotting anything, are you?"
"You wound me. I might have been harsh to you, but it was for your own benefit." Reborn said, doing his best to sound like the victim. "Stress and conflict were necessary for you to start to gain access to your flames, so in order to help you, I have no choice but to interfere with your life. But know that you have full access to your flames, that is no longer needed. And since you have progressed so smoothly, I think I can afford to give you a break, until we have the plans for your physical therapy and schoolwork straightened out."
Of course, the truth was that he was holding himself back until he could trust Shirou to examine his curse without using the opportunity against him, but Natsumi didn't need to know that. Though it was true that Natsumi's sudden progression meant that his usual teaching methods were a lot less necessary, that didn't mean he wouldn't prank her a bit in the future.
"Really?" Natsumi asked, voice full of suspicion.
"Yes. Really." Reborn lied effortlessly.
Until he managed to charm Shirou, he would just have to settle for bullying Gokudera while no one was looking. Though the fact that Gokudera simply accepted anything Reborn said as the truth was a bit of a disappointment in these kinds of things. What's the point in shaving someone's hair off before a school sports day and telling them it makes them more aerodynamic if they are going to thank you for the help?
As annoying as Natsumi's little squeal was, he was going to miss it. Hopefully he couldn't start showing signs of withdrawal or anything. Maybe he could leave the Emiyas in charge for a day or two to go pick on Pipsqueak Dino for a bit.
Though as they walked through the gate to the school, Reborn realized that his assistance was hardly necessary as a voice called out to them. "Herbivore." Hibari said sharply, students jumping out of his path as he walked, praying he wasn't talking to them.
"HIIEEE!" Natsumi squealed in panic as she quickly realized that Hibari was looking straight at her. His weapons were in his hand.
The sound was like music to Reborn's ears.
"Emiya. Where is he?" Hibari demanded of the girl and Gokudera.
"I… He… He…" Natsumi started to stammer, still unable to pick her words in the face of conflict.
"Speak clearly, or I will bite you to death." Hibari said, his almost nonexistent patience running thin.
"HIIEEE!" Natsumi squealed again.
"Hey, knock it off!" Gokudera said, stepping out in front of Natsumi. "Who do you think you are, threatening Judaime like that?"
'Ah, look at that, Gokudera is a fast learner.' Reborn thought sarcastically right before Hibari struck.
Merely being exposed to Sky Flames a few times over the years had caused Gokudera to become above average for a human his age, and his middle school boy body had strength closing in on a full grown professional athlete.
That said, Hibari wasn't your ordinary middle school thug. While he was a restless and unwilling student, he had still trained under Fon, the world's most skilled martial arts master and the Strongest Storm, and he had all the talent one would expect from his bloodline. Hibari could access his flames on instinct and had the kind of strength and speed needed to effortlessly tear through steel and deflect bullets.
Gokudera might as well be a defenseless kitten and Hibari struck every single opening the silver haired boy had left on his body within the span of two seconds, leaving the body battered on the ground. Though if Hibari hadn't had his kiddy gloves on, Gokudera would have surely died.
"Gokudera-san!?" Natsumi shouted in surprise as she looked down at the injured boy.
"Your repeated disturbances are irritating, Dynamite Herbivore." Hibari said coldly as he kicked the already downed Gokudera, causing him to go skidding across the ground.
"You… bastard." Gokudera tried to gasp, fumbling with his dynamite, only to earn himself another kick.
"It seems I have been too lenient on you. I'll have to fix that." Hibari said with a crocodiles' smile, raising up his tonfas.
"Please stop!" Natsumi cried out. This wasn't right. She couldn't take just watching this happen and had moved between Hibari and Gokudera, holding her arms out wide.
"Judaime… don't." Gokudera gasped as he couldn't properly get air into his lungs.
"Move." Hibari said sharply.
"N...No." She was scared, but she didn't move. But as she stared with fearful eyes at the prefect, something else caught her eyes. Reborn was standing behind the boy, sitting on top of a giant bright green spinning top.
A spinning top...
"Very well." Hibari said before lashing out with his tonfa.
Reacting on instinct alone, bent backwards, causing the weapon to pass only inches away from her face as she fell backwards. Her right hand went to the ground to support her, as she kicked out at Hibari's face with her left leg.
Hibari dodged the kick by moving just a few inches to the side, letting the girl's heel pass right over her shoulders as he thrust forward with his other arm.
Natsumi couldn't see the attack, but she knew it was there all the same. She had known from the beginning that the follow up would be coming. Which is why she kicked down her extended leg on Hibari's shoulder, using it to push herself out of the way of the swing as she performed a sort of one armed vault, pushing herself ten feet into the air as her momentum carried her away. She twisted in the air and landed on her feet, facing Hibari with legs spread and her arms out by her sides. Her hands were open and laxed in a defensive stance.
Hibari was surprised, but that surprise turned into a predatory grin as he could barely feel the girl's flames flickering underneath the enchantment that Shirou had provided for Natsumi. "You've changed, Herbivore." The black haired teen said as his bloodlust started to rise.
"Please stop this, Hibari-senpai." Natsumi said, her voice calm as she looked at Hibari with soft orange eyes.
"Not a chance." Hibari said before starting to rush forward.
Natsumi could see it all, his every move as it came. However, being able to see it and being able to do something about it was another matter entirely. Hibari wasn't holding back anymore and his speed and strength far exceeded Natsumi's.
Reborn watched as the girl was driven into a constant retreat, trying to deal with the rain of blows as they came. She was doing well, extraordinary well. Not only had her Sky Flames started to grow in response to the threat possessed by young Hibari, but so had the legendary Vongola Hyper Intuition. The ability to read the actions and responses of any living thing. She was reacting to his attacks before he could ever make them, remaining a step ahead of a boy who had been training in combat since he could stand.
It was impressive to see, but also left a nagging feeling in the back of Reborn's mind.
Hadn't Shirou been doing the same thing?
The difference in power between Natsumi and Hibari was around half the difference in raw strength between Shirou and Reborn himself, and yet Shirou had managed to not only hold his own against Reborn, but force the hitman onto the defensive more than once. He'd also done the same with Yamamoto Tsuyoshi, fighting the man while using only around a fifth of Tsuyoshi's strength.
As Reborn pondered this, things took a term for the worse for Natsumi, who after successfully grabbing onto Hibari's wrist and trying to lock his arm, was flung to the ground through pure strength. Hibari was making to attack again, before she could recover herself, when a small round stone came flying at his head as if fired from a gun.
The prefect reacted on instinct and deflected the projectile with one of his tonfas, which let off a metallic hum as it vibrated from the impact. His attention pulled away from Natsumi, Hibari turned to look at Reborn, who was standing casually a few feet away, tossing another rock up and down in his left hand while his right was in his pocket.
"Infant." Hibari said, seeming to completely forget about the girl as he locked his predatory gaze on Reborn.
"That's enough fun for you, Hibari. As entertaining as Natsumi might be for you, she is still recovering from an ordeal. So I can't have you hurting her." Reborn said in his usual cheerful voice. "Besides, the one you really want to fight is Shirou-kun, isn't it?"
"Emiya isn't the only one I want to fight." Hibari said, raising up his tonfas.
"If you can manage to beat Shirou-kun, then I'll let you have a crack at it." Reborn chuckled in response. "But I'm afraid I ran the boy a little ragged over these last few days, so he's sleeping it off at home. He said he will be coming by after school though for the Kendo practice, if you are still interested."
"Is that so." Hibari said, his body relaxing as he turned to leave. "He'd better be there. Or I will bite you to death."
As Hibari left, Reborn's smile faltered a little as he gave an inward groan of annoyance.
"That was scary." Natsumi said with a sigh as she came down from her flame activation high. She rubbed her arms, which were a little sore, but didn't hurt too much, all things considered.
"How are you holding up?" Reborn asked her.
"I'm fine. But you could have stopped him sooner you know." Natsumi complained weakly.
"I was hoping I wouldn't have to." Reborn replied. "The geass contract I signed when I agreed to become your home tutor forbids me from interfering with your battles, other than to use Dying Will Bullets. Even doing something as simple as tossing a stone is a punishable infraction."
"What!? Are you going to be alright?" Natsumi said, seemingly frightened for Reborn.
"Don't worry about it. I'm not so weak that the punishment for such a minor infraction would hurt me. I've just got a bit of a headache." Reborn said with a dismissive shrug. He didn't need to tell her that if Gokudera had committed such a knowing infraction of his contract that the boy would be unconscious for a week. "Your health right now is more important. After all, we can't have you getting injured before the Kendo tournament. After how well you handled Hibari-kun, you should be one of the starts rather than the substitute. Way to go, Natsumi."
"Reborn…" Natsumi said, sounding depressed by his praise.
"Judaime." Gokudera said as he got to his feet and walked over to her, dragging his feet and he looked a mixture of awed and depressed. "I'm sorry, Judaime. Even though you were right there, I couldn't even mount a defense against him. I'm an embarrassment as a subordinate."
Natsumi flinched at his words. "Stop calling me that." She said through gritted teeth. "I am not your boss and I never will be."
"Judaime?" Gokudera said, taken aback.
"I am not part of the mafia and never will be! I hate the Vongola Famiglia! If it was up to me, the entire thing would be destroyed!" Natsumi shouted into Gokudera's face, completely ignoring the fact that they were out in public.
That was fine, the moment Hibari started to perform inhuman feats of strength, the wards around the school caused all the normies to have their eyes glaze over and ignore anything out of the ordinary.
Still, Gokudera looked heart broken at Natsumi's declaration of her hatred. Though he was even more shocked by Reborn's response. "That's fine."
"Reborn!?" Gokudera said in complete disbelief.
"You are going to inherit the legacy of the Vongola Famiglia, that is not negotiable, but what you do with it is completely up to you. You can walk away from the mafia if you want, or you could use your power to bring the whole thing down. It's up to you." Reborn said casually. "Though I have higher hopes for you than that. That you will be able to use what you gain to fix the Vongola Famiglia and return it to being a force for good." Reborn looked at Natsumi with his large black eyes. "I can try to influence you all I want, but at the end of the road, you will be in charge."
"I'm… I'm not going to change my mind." Natsumi said stubbornly.
"We'll see." Reborn replied with a knowing smile. He would do whatever it took to change the girl's mind, so that she would change the Vongola Famiglia, rather than simply erasing it. "Now how about you two get to class. You don't want to give Hibari another reason to go after you, do you?"
Rest didn't come easy to Shirou. He was still too caught up on the absurdity of what Reborn had dropped in his lap.
Rainbow Fragments. The crystalized remnants of the Bifrost, the rainbow bridge which spans between worlds, after it had been destroyed during Ragnarok. The original Bifrost would have occupied the same level of existence as Excalibur and Avalon. Even a mere fragment held power that was simply insane. Rin would have gone foaming at the mouth the moment she laid eyes on the stones.
To have such unbelievably mystical artifacts pushed onto him…
It was as if Zelretch had walked through the door and asked Shirou to take his Jeweled Sword from him because he couldn't be bothered to carry it around anymore. Shirou hadn't been sure how to even respond to such a thing. What in the world was Reborn thinking just giving them away?
Did Reborn not realize just what he was giving Shirou, or was Reborn such a monster of such ridiculous magnitude that even the Rainbow Fragments didn't feel that important to him?
Either way, Shirou's mind had lingered on what exactly he would do with them. Between Rin and Zelretch's weapon shaped creations, Shirou had the blueprints to some of the greatest examples of Jewelcraft ever devised stored away in his Unlimited Blade Works. With those, along with his own experiments on the creation of flame rings, Shirou was fairly certain he could use the Rainbow Fragments to create Greater Mysteries that could rival some Noble Phantasms… and then give one to his little sister who is trying to play at being a 'magical girl'.
The image of sweet little Illya accidentally vaporizing an entire city block flashed into Shirou's mind.
Limiters. There would need to be limiters.
Because of such unnerving thoughts, it took awhile for Shirou to actually get to sleep, and it was no more than two hours after he shut his eyes that they came snapping open again as the fire alarm went off.
Shirou was out of bed in an instant and into the kitchen just in time to see a large stove fire being put out in a small flash of blue light, leaving a very frustrated looking Kiritsugu staring down at the burned contents of the pan that he had somehow managed to set on fire.
"Dad?" Shirou said, surprised to see Kiritsugu trying to cook something.
He had never tried to cook before in either this or his previous life. In Shirou's old life, Kiritsugu had never made anything save for microwave dinners.
It then occurred to him that they didn't stock any of those in the house, because Shirou won't let people eat them.
Kiritsugu turned to look at Shirou before averting his gaze a little and seeming to hesitate with the idea of trying to hide the pan behind his back. "You're not in school?"
"I ended up pulling an all nighter last night to finish the modifications to Natsumi's uniforms, so I figured I would get some sleep." Shirou admitted. "Considering you were gone this morning, I'm guessing you and mom went after whoever it was who was responsible for the seal."
"For the most part. We planned to be home before breakfast, but were delayed." Kiritsugu said.
"Then you must be hungry. I'll make us all some lunch."
"...That would be appreciated."
"Thank you for the meal, sweetie. It was delicious." Irisviel said cheerfully as she got up from the table to bus her plate.
"You're welcome mom." Shirou replied.
Despite everything that had happened and everything that had been left unsaid in not just these last few days, but ever since Shirou had first come into their lives, it had still been a quiet meal. An awkward meal, at least for Shirou.
Even though Kiritsugu had taken the time to give Shirou a brief run down about what was known about the Dying Will Flames and a few papers that Shirou could read over, neither he nor Irisviel had asked Shirou anything about his past. They had been respectful of Shirou's privacy, but…
"Mom, dad, I'd like to talk to you two for a bit, if you have the time." Shirou said, not entirely sure how to proceed.
"Well sure we have time. You've father and I were just going to get a little bit of sleep ourselves." Irisviel said with her usual smile.
"I'd like to talk to you two about the past. My past, before my reincarnation." Shirou said.
Irisviel's energetic smile became more gentle and motherly as she came over to Shirou and gave him a hug. "If you don't feel comfortable talking about it, you don't have to, but if you want to talk to us, of course we are happy to listen." She said as she stroked Shirou's head.
The boy swallowed in the embrace of the only mother he had ever known. "I want to talk to you about it." Shirou said. "Old memories don't come from another person from the past, but from another me from a parallel world. A pretty distant one, I think. Though I guess a lot of things were the same."
"A parallel world?" Kiritsugu said, seeming to have not considered the possibility.
"I was still Emiya Shirou. The places and events were different, but I was still orphaned by a fire and dad still found me. Though that is where most of the similarities end. I never met mom, because she had died before I was adopted, and the Von Einzbern family, a family of Magus like me, had taken Illya, who was a year older than me, away from dad, who had been too heavily injured by a curse to fight them for her." As Shirou talked, it all just kind of came pouring out. He wanted to talk, he wanted to tell them as much as possible, but he didn't know how much of it he could handle talking about before his heart just shut itself down. So he pressed forward without giving his parents a chance to ask questions. "Dad was my first teacher, though an unwilling one. He didn't want me to have anything to do with the 'Moonlit World' and even purposely taught me wrong in an attempt to keep me away from it all. I kept trying to pester him to teach me more, but he died to the curse just a few years after he adopted me.
"The first time I met Illya was right before I was dragged into something called the 'Holy Grail War'. Seven Magus and seven Servants, I guess you could think of them as magical copies of legendary heroes, all fighting over the Holy Grail, an artifact that could grant any wish." Shirou swallowed before pressing forward. "Illya and I were almost on opposite sides in everything. She had been told by the Einzberns that dad abandoned her and she had been blaming me for everything, though after she found out the truth, we bonded together as a family. The Einzberns had performed experiments on her, causing her body to remain that of a young girl. Even though she was nineteen, she still looked like she was ten. She often called me Onii-chan, as her own personal joke."
Shirou was already starting to choke up. Even with his mother's Sky Flames soothing his soul, he had been burying these emotions for so long it that was like ripping of a bandage and reopening old wounds.
"A lot of things happened. We found out that the Holy Grail had been corrupted and as things progressed it appeared as though the entire world was going to be destroyed. Together, along with some of the other Magus involved, we managed to pull through, but Sella and Leysritt sacrificed their lives for Illya." As he talked, tears started to form in Shirou's eyes, though he just kept going. "After the Grail was finally destroyed, I thought it would be over, but I was wrong. In order to give Illya an edge in the Grail War, the Einzberns did something to Illya. They replaced 80% of her body with artificial magic circuits and her body was starting to reject them. I'm not sure if they were planning on using the Holy Grail's power to fit it or if they simply did care, but Illya only had a year to live.
"After she finally admitted what was happening to me, I did everything I could, searching for some way to help her, to save her life, but nothing worked. As her condition advanced she started to be in horrible pain as her body was effectively attacking her soul, and nothing could help her with the pain. Healing magic, mundane medicine, it didn't matter, her body's own ridiculously high magic power broke it down before it could do anything. Nothing I did could even ease her pain. So in the end... So in the end I… I…"
Shirou couldn't say it. He could still remember the feel of Illya's small body in his arms so tense at first, as she struggled with unbelievable pain… though she went limp afterwards.
Irisviel held Shirou as he broke down, into a stream of apologies. After what he did, he wasn't deserving of a second chance to be a big brother.
Kiritsugu and Irisviel didn't ask any questions. They simply stayed with Shirou, providing him reassurances. They were surprised by the truth, but none of it changed anything.
Shirou was still their son.