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Where love once grew

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Kiritsugu always returned at night.

Some of the best memories that she had come to associate with her father were of him standing at her doorway after she hadn't seen him in weeks, the soft flicker of the hallway candles leaving him a dark silhouette. Ilya would jump out of bed immediately, and when Kiritsugu moved the light would shine on his face and he'd be smiling at her in the calm, easy way he always did that made Ilya know that she'd been missed.

Sometimes his return wouldn't wake her up and Ilya would wake to find that her blankets, which she usually threw away from herself while sleeping, had been tucked neatly under her chin during the night, and Ilya would smile to herself and run to her parents room. Kiritsugu would be asleep, as he always was after long missions, and her mother would tell her not to disturb him - but to no avail. She'd jump up beside him in bed and shake him awake, demanding to know what presents he'd brought for her while her mother laughed and Kiritsugu rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

Usually it was dolls from wherever he'd been. Ilya had gathered up an impressive collection of ethnic dolls with all kinds of colorful dresses and beautiful hair styles. Often he'd bring back foreign candy too but Ilya really preferred the dolls. They tended to last longer than the time it took to unwrap them.

It was with those thought running through her head that Ilya lay awake in bed, eyes focused on the window that she couldn't look out of from where she was laying, her ears perked for the sounds of one of Kiritusugu's cars pulling up besides their house.

It had been two weeks already - more if she was counting when the strange woman in the blue dress had arrived at their house - and her father had promised her that he'd return. Which he would: but when he did it would definitely be at night. Ilya hadn't been sure which night so, like the past four nights, she lay awake in bed once again.

Ilya started when a soft knock came to her door.

"Ilya-sama? May I come in?"

Ilya lay back down on her bed. Just one of the maids. "What is it? I'm trying to sleep." She lied. Her maids all knew that she'd become a night-owl as of late.

"I apologize, Ilya-sama, but Jubstacheit-sama wishes to speak with you."

Ilya sighed and rolled out of bed.

 

"Lies!" Ilya screamed. "You're lying!"

"Ilya," Jubstachiet said firmly, "lower your voice."

"No! No! No!" Ilya screamed louder. "I will not lower my voice! Why would you say something like that?"

Jubstachiet folded his hands under his chin and watched her patiently. His eyes were harsh, the way they always were when he was judging her like a petulant child but this time Ilya didn't shirk away as she usually did. She stared back, hands fisted, nightgown twirling around her as she paced the room. Finally, once Ilya was sure she might actually hit the old man, he spoke.

"Kiritsugu has betrayed us." He said again. "He has destroyed the Grail, our family's dreams, and he has run away."

"Shut up! Why would he do something like that?! He loves mother and he would never do that to us!"

"Ilya!" Jubstachiet said, rising to his feet. "Sit down!" Ilya flinched and tried to meet his gaze but couldn't for very long. She took her seat across from her elder and gripped the side of her chair tightly. Jubstachiet took his seat again.

"For whatever reason," he began, "Kiritsugu decided to use his Servant to destroy the Grail. Do not interrupt me Ilya" He said as Ilya tried to speak. "What I say is the truth. There is proof in the tattered remains of the city he nearly burned down in the act."

Ilya looked down at her hands, her vision growing blurry. "But...why would he do that to moth - why would he destroy the Grail?"

"I cannot tell you that Ilya, for even I don't know." Jubstachiet shook his head. "Perhaps it was wrong of us to involve an outsider in our affairs. He never had as much at stake as we did. I may be at fault."

Ilya wasn't sure she'd ever heard those words come out of her elders mouth. "Where is he? Where's my father?"

"Your father has fled in disgrace."

Ilya shook her head. "He said he'd be back as soon as his business was done."

"He also meant to use the Grail to bring the world peace; I do not think that was the only one of his plans to fall through."

 

Ilya crawled back into bed and stared at her ceiling.

She was tired, more tired than she thought she'd ever been but she knew there was no chance of her falling asleep that night. I might miss it when Kiritsugu comes home, a stupid voice in her head whispered, he always comes back at night, and Ilya placed her pillow over her head to try and smoother the voice out. He's not coming back, idiot.

But she couldn't sleep. When she heard the soft chime of her clock telling her that it was 4am, Ilya was sitting at her windowsill, waiting to see when Kiritsugu's car would pull up.

 

"If he really wished to return, he could Ilya." Jubstachiet said to her one day "He is a powerful mage and a brilliant man. He has no desire to see you, child. He knows of his failure and his shortcomings and he has chosen to live in disgrace rather than subject you to his presence."

Ilya had frowned at him in disbelief.

"Do you truly think we could keep that kind of a man away if he really wanted to get in?"

Ilya had shouted at him for that. She wasn't sure what she'd said but it had probably just been a string of curses and wishes for his death. Ilya sighed and rolled her shoulders. They were stiff from sitting at the window all night again but Ilya didn't dare leave.

He said he'd be back. He always comes back.

Once Kiritsugu had been gone for two month on one of his missions. He was supposed to have been gone for only three weeks and four weeks in, mother had started to worry. She'd tried to keep it from being obvious but it always was. She brushed Ilya's hair the wrong way and ended up pulling at knots, and wouldn't stop looking towards the window like she was waiting for something. When Kiritsugu finally did came back, arm in a sling and covered in bruises, her mother's face had light up so brightly that Ilya couldn't believe she hadn't realized that her mother's eyes had been as dim as the last embers of a fire for the last several weeks. He'd slept for almost two days straight after that and had walked with a limp for several weeks - but he'd come back.

"I'm tougher than I look." He'd said to her with a smile, pulling a bag of sour candies he'd picked up in Manila out of his coat. He hadn't been able to carry her for a while after that but Ilya hadn't minded. Her father was back, that was all that mattered.

 

"What season do walnuts grow?"

The maid handed Ilya her tea, face impassive. "I do not know, Ilya-sama."

"Are they year round? I don't think they were here a little while ago." Ilya blinked. It's brighter outside of her window then it was a few days ago. Or was it a few weeks ago?

"Perhaps, Ilya-sama. I do not know."

Ilya huffed. "You can go." She said, and the maid bowed once and complied. Outside the snow-free ground was thick and wet from the near constant rains. Today at least, the sky was clear and a heavy magenta in the dusk light. Ilya felt like she could count every walnut down in the courtyard from all the way in her room.

 

"Ilya-sama?" A voice behind her said. Ilya didn't turn. She didn't need to turn, she didn't need to listen to the same lecture again. "It's very late, are you sure you wouldn't like to sleep?"

"No." Ilya said quickly. She swung her feet back in forth from her seat on the windowsill and noticed for the first time that her feet just barely scraped the floor when she did. When had that started happening?

 

"Ilya-sama?"

"What is it?"

"Jubstachiet-sama wishes to speak with you."

Ilya turned. There was something different in the young servant's voice than the apathy she usually heard there. It was in her eyes too, and the eyes of the woman behind her. Neither of them dared to look at her but Ilya could still feel it fuming out of them in waves.

Pity.

"What is it he wants to talk about?"

The maid shook her head. "I'm sorry, Ilya-sama, he did not say."

Ilya nodded and got up. She wasn't sure why she knew exactly what it was, but she did. She didn't need to hear Jubstachiet say it. She wouldn't hear him say it. That way it wouldn't be true.

"Tell him I'm busy." She said, and she left.

Neither of the maids tried to stop her from leaving, though they gave each other odd glances. Ilya had never tried to leave before, they probably had no idea what to do. So Ilya kept walking. Down the stairs, through the halls, until she was out, breathing in the winter night.

She hadn't thought to bring her coat with her but Ilya didn't care. The snow was coming down hard across the forest and the wind felt like pins piercing her skin. Ilya kept walking, ignoring the voices behind her. She walked until the trees hide her from sight and the castle was gone and the world before was nothing but white, burying her up to her thighs in it's cold embrace.

But eventually the winter won the war it had been waging against her body. The numbness creeping through her left her limbs too heavy to move and she fell to her knees in the snow. She wasn't sure if the wetness on her face was from the melting snow or her tears but she knew that the sounds she was making must have been sobs because her body shook, and chest ached with them.

"Kiritsugu!" She screamed into the night. "Kiritusgu, you liar! You said you'd come back! How could you - " Ilya's voice caught in her throat and she clutched her chest against the knot of pain growing there.

"How could you..."

Ilya thought of calloused hands brushing the tears from her eyes when she'd fallen and scraped her knees.

"You couldn't have - "

Ilya thought of a bright smile on a face so much like her own but so much more beautiful, telling her it was okay if she never came back. It was the way it was supposed to be.

"You both had to -"

Ilya thought of cold nights spent laying between the only two people in the world that mattered. This is how families in Japan sleep, he'd said. Mother, father, with the child in the middle. It looks like the sign for "River". And mother had laughed.

"You'll get to see it someday, she'd said to Ilya. But not with me, her eyes had said.

"...die." Ilya said, but the wind stole her words and left her lips and tongue burning from the cold. The winter stole everything. She tried to remember how warm her mother's embrace had felt to her but all she knew was the way cold wrapped her up, more solid in her mind that her mother's touch. More constant that her father's hands when they tucked her blankets under her chin, but infinitely more cruel. The winter would not be a kind and gentle parent to her.

Kiritsugu owed her a lot of dolls when he got back, Ilya thought. Hundreds. He'd have to buy her a small armies worthy for her to even think about forgiving him now.

Off in the distant night, frantic voices called her name, and Ilya laid in the snow, ignoring them, wishing they were all dead.

In the darkness of the Einzbern forest, five years since the day her father had abandoned her, Ilya hated.