Rin leaned against the stone pillar at the entrance of the shopping arcade, feeling out of place and increasingly out of sorts. The long black skirt and cream blouse that had seemed perfect when she set out that afternoon—stylish, but still casual enough for friends—now felt like a neon sign declaring she was waiting for someone.
Someone who still hasn't shown up, and she was sure the passersby had noticed. Admittedly it was still five minutes to eleven o' clock, but she couldn't keep from tapping her foot.
Damn that Ayako, for getting Rin into this situation. Yes, she had expressed mild curiosity about what kind of person Emiya had grown into. By that, she had actually meant whether reality had finally ground down the boy who refused to accept his limits; finally torn the pole from his stubborn fingers—
— finally killed the fire that blazed in him, the fire that had once challenged Rin to keep reaching for her goals despite the doubts and guilt and loneliness dragging her down—
But of course Ayako had interpreted it as the remnants of a crush, which was doubly irritating because it wasn't entirely wrong, even if it was a distant thing after all these years. Which meant Ayako had gotten involved, and now Rin was standing here like an idiot, waiting for a man she barely knew and hoping for… what, exactly?
To satisfy my curiosity, she told herself, even though it didn't sit quite right on her heart. To see if at least one of us got the future we reached for. She sighed. And also an excuse to leave the library for a few hours.
She checked her phone again. No messages, or so she assumed by the lack of a red exclamation mark next to the messaging app. But wait, what if she'd messed up the settings again?
Sakura says he's busy all the time, she thought as she pressed her finger on the icon, with rather more force than necessary. Her brows knit together. If he went and cancelled on me—
"What?" she snapped, and found herself staring into Emiya's earnest face. "Oh. There you are."
She really hoped that the embarrassment she felt burning her face wasn't visible.
"Is everything okay?" he asked, brows furrowed.
"Yes, everything's fine," she huffed. "Just checking something, that's all." Realigning the thin straps of her purse, she offered him her brightest smile. "Shall we get going, then?"
"Yeah." He peered ahead into the arcade, with its patterned-tile floors and array of brightly-coloured storefronts. A few shoppers were already milling around, the first trickles of the river that would pass through closer to noon. "You're here for clothes, right?"
"I could use a few new blouses, and maybe a skirt or two," she said, "Especially now that I've got someone to carry the bags for me."
"Hey, we're not—!"
"Pfft, hahaha! You should have seen your face." A cat would have envied her smirk. "Although if you did want to hold them, we could call it a fee for showing you around."
"It's overpriced," he frowned, though the corners of his mouth were threatening to turn it into a smile. "This is daylight robbery."
"Any guy should be happy to be robbed by a beautiful woman!" she declared, entirely unabashed.
They traded quips as they headed inside, Shirou walking slowly as he took in various shops. It gave Rin the opportunity to appraise him, from the tousled red hair to the green jacket and comfortable gray slacks that encased his long legs. They looked serviceable enough for a day strolling in the city, but they were definitely not date clothes. A part of her was vaguely disappointed by that, before she swallowed it down.
Sure, he aged well, but neither of us came here with those expectations. We were never close in high school, and it's been years since. Her nose crinkled. Still, you'd think he'd make a bit more effort for a beautiful girl.
"This one?" called Shirou, tilting his head at a store lined with racks of casual clothes in a variety of autumn styles.
"Good eye," she nodded. "An old hand at this, hmm?"
"Not really. But it's pretty straightforward, isn't it? I mean, most clothes pretty much look the same—"
One look at her withering expression brought him to a halt.
"I see I was mistaken," said Rin loftily. "I'll give you a crash course, then. Consider it part of your package."
Seizing him by the arm, she tugged him into the store. A bit forward—actually, a lot too forward by Japanese standards, even if time in London had relaxed her own—but Rin didn't care. That was the kind of ignorance that just couldn't be allowed to stand a moment longer.
The saleswoman gave Rin a polite berth as she stalked through the racks, picking out what she needed to prove her point. A ruffled red blouse here, a pair of leather boots there. Soon both of their arms were full. She left him standing outside the changing room while she got to work.
Rin found herself smiling as she pulled on the first outfit, a demure gray sweater and long skirt. Follow it up with the blouse and the tight slacks, and he'll have to eat his words. The thought sent a little thrill down her spine, the first she had felt in some time.
But when she showed him the clothes—okay, modelled them for him, she hadn't quite lost her inclination to preen even after everything—he only briefly glanced at them before delivering his verdict.
"Sure, that looks fine."
"I'm not sure I see the difference, aren't they both red?"
"The material on this one looks tougher. It'll hold up better to a laundry machine."
Dissatisfaction gnawed at Rin's belly. The nerve of the man, sitting there looking so indifferent when she was putting her fashion skills to the test. She swept her gaze over the store, looking for something that might pull him from his calm, when inspiration struck.
"Thank you, Emiya. You've been very helpful," she purred, noting with some satisfaction the touch of alarm in his eyes. Not so stupid after all. "But while we're here, shouldn't we look for you as well?"
"Huh? No, no, I've got everything I need—"
"Nonsense. Just the other night, Matou—" the name was sour on her lips, but it was a necessary evil here, "—was complaining that you've barely got any work clothes. Now's your chance to stock up."
"I suppose," he said doubtfully, looking towards the dress shirts on the far wall. "Maybe one of those—"
"Oh no, Emiya. Let's start with the discount rack first, mmm? After all, you said it yourself — most clothes look the same."
With that, she pressed an absolutely atrocious number into his hands, a shirt with black stripes so erratic, any self-respecting zebra would have snorted in derision.
"Oh come on, Tohsaka!"
"It'll be fun!" She flashed him a winning smile as she reached for an oversized set of sunglasses. "Here, try these on too. A perfect match!"
Shirou crossed his arms defensively, and for a moment she thought she had pressed him too far. But before dismay could settle in, he was smirking at her.
"Okay, but only if I get to choose yours, too."
"Hey, wait a minute—"
Too late. Shirou had already grabbed the offered items, then pressed a hideous floral print dress on her in return. The challenge was all too bright in those sherry-brown eyes.
"Fine, you're on! Loser pays for the other's lunch."
Fortunately the food at the cafe was really good, which took some of the sting out of Rin's eventual defeat at the hands of a plaid abomination masquerading as a coat. Not to mention the picture of the two of them wearing silly hats and glasses, smiling for the camera like a pair of idiot teenagers. Perhaps it wasn't exactly elegant or dignified, especially since she'd needed him to figure out the function on her phone, but it was the most fun she'd had in a while.
Even if they did end up arguing a bit about the cafe's recipe for beef stew, and whether curry had any place in gyoza dumplings.
By the time Tohsaka paid the bill and they returned to the bustling arcade, Shirou was feeling pretty satisfied with the day. From their days back at school and her demeanour at the reunion, he had expected his former classmate to be all grace and poise. She was, when she remembered to be, but the business with the clothes had also revealed hints of a competitive streak and acid tongue that didn't fit with his image of the school idol. When she had declared that cooking was a woman's instrument of war, slapping her palms down on the table rather than smiling demurely, he could see the shadow of the devil Issei had always insisted lurked under her mask.
Instead of disappointment, he found himself rather liking it. The more he poked at her, the more her eyes brightened as she poked back. Still only a ghost of her old spark, but he was glad to see it.
Shirou was just pulling out his phone to check the time when Tohsaka tugged at his arm again. "Got time for one more stop, Emiya?"
He didn't really, but nodded anyway. "Found another way to embarrass me, have you?" he said, then frowned. "A bookstore?"
"Hmph. I thought you might deserve something for being so patient, but now I'm not so sure…"
"Is the lady Tohsaka dissatisfied?" he smiled, then pulled away. "That's fine, then. It's getting late anyway—"
"Oh shut up and come!" she snapped, her grip turning to iron.
As soon as they set foot inside the store, Tohsaka made a beeline for the foreign books. Given that he couldn't read half the titles of the hefty volumes she pulled out and considered, he found himself drifting over to the manga section. Shinji would probably scream at him about appearances and professionalism, but hanging out with the former school idol had put him in a nostalgic mood.
Speaking of nostalgic, is that Red Lion Requiem? He smiled at the titular character, a retired knight depicted sitting next to a grinning boy and surrounded by armor pieces scattered on the grass. As much as he liked stories about heroes, he liked the ones centered around the people they saved even more. Wow, it's up to volume 23 already. I never made it to number five before studying caught up with me.
Thumbing through the pages, he didn't notice Tohsaka approaching until she leaned over his shoulder.
"Hmm? What's that you've got there?"
"Ah, nothing," he said. "Just something I used to r— hey!"
Cheerfully snatching the book from his hand, she turned it over to read the back.
"I see." Her voice took on a teasing lilt. "Pretty sentimental for a guy your age."
"You're probably into big serious books with sad endings, right?" he said, crossing his arms.
Instead of needling him, she looked pensive as she smoothed a hand over the knight's face. "I used to, because they felt more real. Because that's how I thought the world worked." She sighed. "I think I want to see happy ones now."
She stared at the cover a moment longer, then thrust it back into his hands. "You should buy it." Seeing him hesitate, she clicked her tongue impatiently. "Take some time for yourself too, or you'll burn out. Then you're of no use to anyone."
Shirou opened his mouth to argue, then thought better of it. Shinji kept saying that too. Shirou didn't agree, but… maybe he should try, for their sake.
Tohsaka seemed both surprised and pleased when he bought the fifth volume, intending to pick up where he left off. Pleased enough to buy the next book in the series and add it to his bag.
"A gift for keeping me company today," she said, before shooting him a warning glare. "Don't argue."
"Wouldn't dream of it."
The afternoon sun was warm on his face when they left the arcade, a welcome contrast to his sore feet. We really did play around a lot today, he thought, longer than I planned for. But it was fun.
It was only a passing thought, but it brought his mood crashing down. He didn't deserve to enjoy himself like this, not when all the others would never get that chance. Not when he had been saved, but had yet to save anyone in turn. To think he had let himself get swept along, swayed by a single smile when so many of his clients were anxiously awaiting news about their cases—
"Haa," said Tohsaka beside him as she stretched, the bag shifting in her grip. "That was a bit tiring, but I'm glad we came here."
Despite the haughty tilt of her chin, there was a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. Shirou breathed a sigh of relief as the tide of guilt receded from his lungs, even as Tohsaka glanced at him and her smile faded to a tight press of lips.
Coming here today made Tohsaka happy, he nodded to himself. And if I work late again tomorrow, I can make up the lost time. So maybe… yeah. It's okay if I enjoyed myself, too. He let himself relax, and saw the tension leave her in turn.
When they waved each other off, and she told him they should do it again sometime, he found he was looking forward to it.
Coming home to an empty house didn't bother Rin. Years of practice had eased the vise that once squeezed her heart every time she walked past the silent bedrooms, or set a single plate down on the table. The manor was her domain, where she could let her mask down and practice her arts away from prying eyes. Even if it sometimes also felt like a prison these days, it still offered the simple comfort of the familiar.
The clink of the cup seemed louder than usual when she set it back on its saucer.
Despite her best efforts to stretch out the task as long as possible, Rin had finished hanging up her new clothes. Tea and a light snack provided an excuse to delay things a little longer, but then she would need to buckle down to her magecraft. The syringe was waiting upstairs on the dresser, the one she used to draw blood with which to charge her gems.
Even if the War had been a disaster, Rin was still the Second Owner of Fuyuki. She had responsibilities to carry out, leyline flows to verify and research to conduct. That the Grail no longer offered a path to the Root did not absolve her of her duty to seek another one.
"Look at your foolish Master now, Archer," she sighed, brooding over her cup."Doing the same things over and over, and expecting a different result."
If she closed her eyes, she could imagine the ironic smile set under steel-gray eyes, hear the warmth hidden underneath the sarcastic drawl of his baritone voice. It was a bad habit she had developed after the War, imagining the spirit leaning over her shoulder, offering commentary that was somehow grating and comforting at once. Despite the deadly conflict they had been embroiled with, she had enjoyed his company, even if she had never told him as much.
Too late now, like so many other things in Rin's life. Still, when she found herself wandering around the empty house on particularly sentimental days…
Leaning back in her chair, she pictured him turning from his place at the kitchen counter, dishcloth still in hand. Offering her that familiar smirk, that infuriating shrug.
"Give me a break. What happened to the unreasonable girl who called herself my Master? The one so determined to have her way that she almost got us killed several times over?"
"She finally grew up," said Rin, then took a long sip of tea to help down the melancholy.
Since Rin had taken her first toddling steps, her father had impressed upon her that magecraft was a life of pain and sacrifice. But there had been wonder to it too, and the promise of something greater. Something beautiful and eternal, brought within her reach.
The War was supposed to have been her chance to crystallize that promise, and make her ancestors proud. Instead everything had crumbled to ash.
"Oh? And here I thought it was childish spite that drove you to help Waver Velvet dismantle the Grail."
She couldn't help but giggle.
"I'm not going to say it didn't feel good! After everything that damn cup put us through, I really enjoyed ripping the whole thing out from my leylines." Then she sighed, slouching back in her seat. "But it gave me purpose, too. Even if most of the Association lost interest after the fifth ritual failed, it was too dangerous to leave in place. Getting rid of the Grail system was a worthy use of magecraft."
"I don't know," she grimaced. "I mean, I know what I'm supposed to do. Keep researching a way to the Root, raise an heir, pass along my Crest and findings… that's the duty of every magus. It should be enough."
"But it isn't."
"No. But what else can I do? This is what I do, Archer. This is what I am."
The Servant didn't say anything more, but she could sense that disapproving gaze prickling against the nape of her neck. It was intensely irritating, and all the more so because as a figment of her imagination, she couldn't brain him with the pot.
Rin tapped her fingers mechanically on the table, wishing for something to distract her from the emotions roiling in her gut. Her gaze strayed towards the end of the table, and the phone she had absently placed there. She never carried it anywhere near her workshop, sure the stupid thing would ring and break her concentration at the worst possible moment.
She hesitated, then picked it up. Struggling with the menus felt worth it when she finally pulled up the pictures they had taken that afternoon.
She giggled. Emiya looked ridiculous in that hat. Justified revenge after he forced those hair clips on her. And who knew he had a thing for twintails...
A burning twitch in her left arm reminded her that her circuits were charged, and she really should be transferring their power into gems. Rin's smile faded.
"Get serious, Rin. Even if he was interested, you'd only be wasting time. And you're not getting any younger. Twenty-five years old— that's Christmas Cake," she muttered.
Twenty-five, and high time she got married and produced an heir. The stack of letters piled on her desk was a stark reminder. Correspondence from various Clocktower connections and Japanese magus clans, all of them politely but blatantly feeling her out for an engagement. The longer she left the matter unsettled, the more her choices would dry up.
Just pick one, already. Love doesn't factor into this at all, so just logically consider the benefits of each offer.
A memory floated up, blurred by age but still painful after more than a decade. A little girl pulled away towards a waiting car, clutching a pink ribbon in her hand.
Stop it. Just stop it. Father made a terrible mistake, but that doesn't mean all magus families end up like that.
But too many did.
Rin found her eyes straying to the phone again.
Forget it, Rin. You don't even know that Emiya feels the same way. Half the time, it was like he wasn't even there. No, more like he was putting the brakes on to stop himself from being there. She clenched her hands, resisting the urge to chew her fingernail. It's so hard to tell what he's thinking.
Rin hesitated again, then pulled the phone closer. Still, it really was fun... even if it's not a good idea, I want to see him again.
Some of the old greed trickled back into her veins, the magus' desire to build and rule her world. A world consisting of the things she wanted and valued. And right now, she wanted that ruffled hair and steady voice.
Even if Emiya had proven himself to be a sarcastic ass when pushed a bit.
Grinning to herself, she fumbled through the contact list and pressed down, missing the way her thumb slipped in her eagerness. She couldn't quite believe she was doing this.
One ring… two rings… she forced down the small flutter in her heart as something on the other end of the line clicked.
"Millefeuille Bakery, orders and deliveries. How can I be of help today?"
Rin didn't hurl her phone against the wall, but it was a near thing.