(A/N) As tears of joy trickle down my cheeks, I publish the second chapter in celebration of Jalter finally poppin' up. I didn't even know rainbow-coloured summons were a thing until it happened to me.
*Checks SQ spent* It was a pyrrhic victory, but a victory nonetheless.
Addressing the previous chapter, it occurred to me that I don't know if Gil would actually die like a servant since he has a flesh body and all that jazz. Oh well, I'll just ignore that bit for now. Feel free to hmu if you have any input on the matter.
As I expected, I woke up in a hospital room.
…That wasn't true, actually. I expected this to be some sort of deranged dream that I'd snap out of any minute now. However, as it became apparent that it wasn't the case, I settled on going with the flow.
I grimaced as I remembered what it was that had likely landed me in this bed. My memory was a little foggy, but I could still feel the phantom pains of all my muscles failing me at once.
To my saviour, I probably seemed like a messed-up wax doll when it happened.
I tentatively flexed my arm and was pleased to know that my lack of body control was but temporary.
I didn't know what happened, but I could only assume it was some sort of neurogenic shock caused by… however it was that I was actually here.
My head snapped to the curtain to my left, as I saw it being ruffled by something other than the draft of the open-concept space. Once I saw who passed over to my side, though, I managed to relax almost immediately. With any luck, he didn't notice my discomfort.
"Hey, kid," called out Kiritsugu. Next to him was probably the nurse that alerted him of my waking. I tried my best to keep my facial expression even as I met his gaze. "Do you remember what happened?"
I didn't answer for a moment, trying to figure out what I wanted to say– if anything at all.
The furrow of his brow told me that he was trying to figure out if my lack of verbal response meant that there was something wrong with me.
I eventually settled with, "You saved me from the fire."
His brow relaxed. "Mhm."
Kiritsugu moved to take a seat at the end of the bed but thought better of it. "The doctor told me that they couldn't find any relatives of yours. Do you think you could give him a hand?"
I shook my head. "I can't remember."
It wasn't a lie, technically.
"Your name, then?"
Some days, I did wonder if I was ever given a name other than the one known to me.
Kiritsugu looked at the nurse strangely. "Would you mind giving us a second?"
Though the woman did do as he asked and left the room, I doubt she would've so readily obeyed his request if it wasn't for magecraft influencing her inclination on the matter.
"This might be a little forceful to ask right away, but what would you prefer? You can go to the orphanage with the rest of the kids here, or," he thumbed his collar bone, "you can come with me, a man you've just met."
…Really? Right into it? Wow. I must have been pretty fucked up if I ever thought this was a good idea.
I pointed my finger at him.
Kiritsugu looked every part the mess he surely felt like. His hair was matted, his stubble was more prominent than it usually was and his clothes were dishevelled. Even so, the soft smile that crossed his lips when I pointed at him betrayed all of that.
"Good, good!" He fumbled around with the briefcase he had with him. As it clicked open, he paused. "Oh, uh… There is one thing I suppose you should know. Might as well say it now rather than later.
"I am a magus."
I was beginning to think that my issues in life had less to do with my obsession with being a hero and more the fact that someone like him was allowed to raise a child at all. Then again, I doubted with great prejudice that the man went through any legal streams to get the paperwork pushed through.
Thanks, local Yakuza boss who's name I couldn't remember right now.
Once again I was taking too long to answer him, and I had a feeling that my paranoid adoptive father was trying to decide whether or not he should wipe my memory of everything he just said on the spot.
Decidedly, having someone mess with your memories was not fun. I got out of bed and tried to make my intentions clear. "Are we leaving now?"
The way he was staring at me likely meant that he wasn't expecting me to be capable of moving on my own. Even if I did have Avalon in me.
…Come to think of it, I definitely felt the influence of Avalon's mystery on my body. That meant that Avalon was inside me for the first time since I was a boy.
Erm, a boy the first time around.
I dressed in khaki shorts and a white t-shirt that I found folded at the end of my bed. My own clothes were definitely burnt beyond recognition, so I assumed it was a new pair laid out by either the hospital staff or Kiritsugu himself.
As he took me away, I tried not to meet the eyes of the other children in the hospital room. Many of them were likely orphaned by the tragedy that befell the city, so I doubted seeing a kid that they considered to be in the same boat be taken in so readily sat well with them.
It wasn't anything that I would have ever taken note of before, I wouldn't think. For all the claims my younger self made of being an individual who would save "everyone", things like empathy were beyond me.
Whether or not that was still the case now, I couldn't say for certain.
The taxi ride to the house was a quiet one, awkward due to the fact that neither Kiritsugu nor myself were expert conversationalists. The best I could manage was snark, and snark wasn't a good conversation starter.
The sound of power tools and other such heavy machinery assaulted my ears the moment we approached Kiritsugu's property. Scaffolding lined the bare walls of the Japanese mansion and various features I'd grown accustomed to –such as the flower garden– had yet to be added.
Watching the construction workers run freely through the house, I wondered if the old man had already removed all traces of magecraft from the area.
My eyes fell to the inconspicuous shed nearby.
Maybe not, then.
"Shirou," my adoptive father grabbed my attention. "Sorry, but I'm having… renovations done to the place. It might be awkward getting around for a while, more so since you aren't accustomed to everything yet."
"Can I… help?" I asked, looking at the men and women doing their job. I never liked to see others hard at work while I sat back on my laurels.
"No, no," Kiritsugu denied me, likely trying to be accommodating. Unfortunately, all that accomplished was assure I'd be restless by the end of the hour. "Instead, let's go inside and get your schooling sorted out."
"My schooling?" I parroted tentatively.
"Yeah. You're about the age where one would enroll, I'd think. Since we couldn't find any existing records, we'll have to start from scratch."
That was another thing I never understood, though admittedly I didn't try that hard to understand it in the first place. I may have been orphaned by the fire, but that did little in the ways of explaining why there was not a single piece of legal documentation or identification to my name.
Quietly, I followed the man into a barren room that would one day be the dining area, as the bare-bones kitchen was my reference point.
It hurt me to see the kitchen in such an abandoned state.
We sat cross-legged on the tatami. Kiritsugu pulled out papers from his briefcase –school registration papers, I noted– and placed them between us. I chose to ignore the fact that any paperwork I'd needed thus far was conveniently stored close by.
"Starting next week, you'll be attending Homurahara Elementary School. It's within walking distance, so I'll show you the way on foot."
I nodded. There wasn't much for me to say.
…Though the more I thought about it, going through Japan's educational system with a bunch of grade-schoolers was going to be a pain, wasn't it?
The gravity of my situation probably hadn't been cemented in my head, that much I knew. On the other hand, that process had been accelerated a good amount the moment I stepped out in front of my new…
Well, I wouldn't exactly call them peers.
The crowd of six and seven-year-olds looked at me curiously, probably wondering why there was a student transferring in near the end of the school year. Truthfully, part of me wondered the same thing.
As the teacher signalled for me to introduce myself, I spoke clearly, "Hello, everyone. I'm Emiya Shirou. Please take care of me."
It was a little short and to the point, but I doubt any of the students cared.
"Thank you, Emiya. Please, take the empty seat next to Tohsaka."
I did just that. Gently so as not to make too much noise, I pulled the chair back and moved to Rin's–
I blinked owlishly. Rin? Tohsaka Rin?
It didn't occur to me that she was ever in my class this far back. Then again, it's not something I would have remembered either way, since I didn't actually know her properly until my second year of Highschool– or at least, that's what it seemed like whenever I saw my younger self's interactions with her during the grail war.
She noticed me staring. I could see the effort she was putting into not making a face of disgust at some random kid looming over her.
She smiled. "Yes?"
I shook my head. I'd deal with all of this later… or not at all. I hadn't decided yet.
I finally took my seat. To my embarrassment, it had just occurred to me that the class had been waiting on me to start the lesson.
The teacher began speaking about some sort of basic mathematic method that was more or less common sense to someone who'd lived as long as me. As if a spell were cast on my person, draining me of any attention I might have otherwise paid, my chin dropped into my open palm. I could already feel my eyes grow heavy and lidded.
It was some thirty or forty minutes later that I felt a piercing glare directed at me. Inconspicuously, my eyes rolled to the side to catch Rin, twitching brow and all, face me with a fury that told me that I'd personally offended her.
Not that I found that to be a particularly difficult task, mind you.
Honestly, at such a young age, it was impressive how much Rin could act like Rin.
I decided that I needn't pay her any mind for now, and turned my unfocused vision back to my front.
I'd soon learn that was a mistake.
"Emiya-kun," a saccharine voice chimed behind me.
Nary a step away from being free from the classroom, I sighed and turned around to face chibi Rin.
"Is there something that I can help you with, Tohsaka?"
I didn't mean for that to sound as disingenuous as it did. Really.
Oh. I made chibi Rin mad.
With a magnificent display of self-control on her part, she was able to keep her smile. Unfortunately, the violent wriggling of the rest of her face was out for the world to see. "Why, yes, Emiya-kun, you could. I don't mind if you don't care for your own acadimi–"
"–academic success, but would be nice if you didn't show it so openly, for the sake of the other students."
…Did she just fumble a big word? You're adorable, chibi Rin.
"What do you mean?" I asked innocently.
"Your posturing is distracting and annoying. Stop it."
I suppressed a grin that threatened to break my mask of indifference. Rin had always been smarter than me, so it was rare that I'd ever been able to one-up her. Now, though… "The subject wasn't that difficult. If you have problems, feel free to ask me for help."
Wow, did she ever look like she wanted to rip off my head. "I'll manage, thanks."
Amazingly, she spun around and walked back to her seat.
Smugness swelled within me.
I left the school grounds in a hurry, intending on getting home so that I could make myself lunch. I was lucky that classes only went until noon for my grade.
Others my age had plans similar to mine, as many of them had gathered at the front of the school. Most of them were being picked up by their parents or legal guardian.
As I walked home by myself, I wondered how a normal child would handle Kiritsugu's very hands-off parenting. I would think this was the part where I either got kidnapped, got hit by oncoming traffic, or taken under the wing of a bunch of older delinquent kids.
I snorted. Yeah, right.
"What are you looking at, weirdo?"
I found the source of the voice near the playground further down the street and quickly deduced that the question wasn't directed at me.
A group of children, likely of an age similar to my own, were bullying –if it could even be called that– a diminutive girl. I couldn't tell if her stature was a product of her actual height or merely the fact that she was curled in on herself.
"Well, creepy-eyes?" another child asked. They were all trying to look bigger than they were, which wasn't too high a benchmark to start with.
She didn't say anything. She was either mute or really didn't want to talk.
I saw her purple hair.
"Excuse me," I interrupted them, "can I play with you guys?"
"Eh?" I received a look that I was positive was copied from a tough-guy stereotype on TV. "Who're you?"
"I'm Shirou," I replied simply, pretending I was oblivious to their blatant antagonism. "Are you playing tag?"
Even at their age, they probably knew that coming out and saying that they were playing "bully the smaller kid" was some sort of social faux-pas. They made the smart decision and backed off.
"Whatever, man," one scoffed. "Let's go, guys."
And with that, their strategic retreat was made.
That was easier than expected.
Then again, I was used to dealing with creatures that didn't just back away because you asked them to.
I crouched next to Sakura. "Hey. You okay?"
Her eyes rolled up to meet my own, and I had to bite my lip to resist a gasp of surprise. In all the years that I –or Emiya Shirou, rather– knew this girl, not once did she ever look so… dead. That said a lot because I'd seen some terrible things happen to her.
I never realized how much more human she seemed after we had met.
Seeing someone we love so much destroy themselves like that… it hurt us more than we could ever bear.
I began to wonder how big a part of Sakura was dependent on me.
"I need to go home," she said suddenly, "Grandfather doesn't like it when I'm late."
I froze, watching her walk away as if nothing happened. I didn't know what possessed me to do it, but I grabbed her arm.
She looked at me questioningly.
"Come with me. I'm making lunch."
Just like that, I pretended she didn't speak at all. With no resistance on her part whatsoever, I dragged her with me back to the house.
I knew this was basically kidnapping, but whatever. The fact that she didn't resist me meant that she'd learned that any resistance would be met with punishment. If I could take her from the Matou household for any amount of time, I would.
"Grandfather will be angry."
I stopped walking and grabbed her by the shoulders.
"I'll protect you."
I said that to her, but to my ears, it sounded more like I said it to myself.
She wasn't very talkative.
That's alright, it'll come with time.
Hopefully, not too much time.
As we entered the house, I could hear my father on the phone in another room.
"Are you sure?... Yeah, I can… I can be in Zurich by tomorrow evening… Yes, bring them… Thank you."
When I was sure he was off the phone, I called out, "I'm home!"
I heard his footsteps grow louder. "Welcome back, Shirou. I didn't know what to do for lunch, so I–"
He looked like he swallowed a lemon when he saw Sakura.
"Who's… this, Shirou?" he asked me in the voice of a man trying to keep his composure.
I stared at her pointedly. She got the message.
"Matou Sakura," she introduced herself with nearly tangible discomfort.
He wanted to say something, I could tell. "Is she your classmate, Shirou?"
"No, I met her on the way home. We're friends now."
I guess being a kid wasn't all that bad. I could get used to this conveniently one-dimensional reasoning.
Kiritsugu tried his damndest to get rid of the young magus heir. "Maybe her parents are worried about where she is, Shirou. You should let her go home; you can play together some other time."
Sakura seemed to like that idea. Sorry, Sakura. No such luck.
"Hm? I promised that I'd make her lunch, though."
With the dinner I made us yesterday, I made sure to let Kiritsugu know that my culinary skills were the one thing I prided myself in. Being new to his parental role, the man was unwilling to take that from me.
"Alright, but make sure she gets home safely after."
I nodded in acceptance of those terms.
I wouldn't, though.
I gestured for Sakura to follow me into the kitchen, idly taking note of what Kiritsugu had in stock.
"You wanna give me a hand?" I asked in what I hoped didn't come across as a demanding voice.
Her body language seemed apprehensive, but she moved towards me just a tad. While she remained reticent for the most part, I could assume her willingness to help me prepare lunch stemmed from some happy memory I wasn't aware of.
I'd take advantage of that.
"Do you know how to cut carrots?" I asked.
As I thought, she shook her head. If she didn't know how to cook in middle school, then she definitely didn't know how to cook as an infant.
"Shirou, be careful with the knives," warned Kiritsugu from his seat at our newly purchased table. I'd tell him not to worry, but what responsible adult left children around the kitchen knives unsupervised in the first place?
It worked to my advantage, I guess.
I stood behind Sakura, holding her hands steady around the blade. I felt her body freeze when I first grabbed her, but she quickly loosened up.
"You hold it like this…"
Before the end of the hour, we'd managed to prepare a simple fried rice dish for three. I could've done it faster myself, but this was more about getting Sakura involved.
I instructed the girl to go take a seat at the table along with my father while I brought the plates. Soon, we were all digging into the meal.
I took my first bite. It was good, but that was to be expected.
Sakura took hers, and I could've sworn I saw a spark of something that could have been emotion.
"Thanks for your help, Sakura. You did a good job."
And I meant it, too.
Her cheeks twitched, almost as if she didn't know what expression she was supposed to make. I could only assume it was happiness.
"I'm sorry to bring this up now, but…" trailed off my father. I did find it a little strange that he had yet to touch his food. "…Something came up, and I'll need to go on a business trip. I'm leaving right after lunch."
Visions of a white-haired girl came to me; someone who I'd never been able to protect.
This was probably just the first trip of many, for the man. I couldn't say I blamed him, though. What father wouldn't want to be reunited with his child?
At least he looked apologetic about it.
"That's fine. I can look after myself for a bit."
A weight seemed to lift itself from his shoulders. "I'm glad, Shirou. I have no business leaving a kid to fend for himself, but this is important and you do seem mature for your age. I should be back before the week is up."
I saw Kiritsugu to the door after our meal. His coat was on, and his briefcase in hand.
"Be good, Shirou. And don't forget to bring Sakura home!"
Geez. He liked to stress that one for some reason.
"I will, dad."
He shuffled awkwardly, not knowing what to do. He settled on giving me an awkward pat on the head.
"I'll be back soon."
The door clicked shut behind him.
"Excuse me…" spoke Sakura in a timid voice behind me. "Will you be bringing me home now?"
Those were the most words I've heard her speak all day.
I gave her a comforting smile. "Not a chance."
"B-but…" she scrambled. "Mr. Kiritsugu said…"
I grabbed her shoulders firmly, feeling her tremble under my fingertips. I grimaced, knowing how fearful she was of being absent any longer than she has been.
"I said I'd protect you, didn't I?"
She didn't try to deny what I was saying, nor did she ask why I seemed to think she needed "saving". In a sudden surfacing of her turmoil, she pulled away and yelled, "No! You can't! You can't…"
"I can. I will."
When I really thought about it, there were few people that I cherished. Decidedly, it would be much easier for me to save those few than everyone on earth.
At least, I hoped so.
"You'll be staying with us from now on."
I've really pushed for a criminal record today, huh? Not only did I kidnap a young girl, but now I'm holding her in my home against her will.
Originally, my plan was to bring her over and figure out how to convince Kiritsugu to let her stay with us after the fact. Now that the old man had so conveniently left the house to me, I had a few days to come up with a good excuse.
"That's no good," she protested weakly.
I tried to get a good look at her, all the while thinking of those I had to put before all others.
Sakura, Rin, Illyasviel– hell, even Saber. Them and many other faces whose names wore from my memory in time.
I would save them if no one else. Maybe that will be enough for me to find "my happiness".